THE CO SEQUE CE OF EGLECTI G PRAYER.

BY SIMO CLOUGH

" There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us." — Isaiah Ixiv., 7. Man is surrounded with dangers which no human sagacity can perceive, no human prudence can avoid, and from which no human power can deliver him. He is oppressed with wants, which no creature can supply. It is to God, and to him alone, that he must look for the blessings which he needs ; for it is he thai giveth poiver to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. But man is naturally so averse to prayer, so disposed to confide in his own wisdom, and to trust in his own strength, that he will bear all his own burdens rather than apply to God for relief. It is on this account, that so many faint under their afflictions ; and this was tiie ground of God's controversy with his ancient people. I. In addressing you from these words, permit us, in the first place, to call your attention to the nature of prayer. Many expressions and metaphors are employed by the sacred writers, to represent to us the nature of prayer. It is here set forth, under the idea of calling upon God. It is through the medium of prayer that we make our wants known to God, and petition him to supply them. But petitions, either with or without a form, are not worthy the name of prayer, if they be not attended with a devout spirit. Prayer consists more in the devout exercises of the heart, than in the expression of the lips ; it supposes that we feel our wants. A sense of want excites desire, and desire is the very essence of prayer. One thing have I desired of the Lord, says David, and that icill I seek after. Prayer, without desire, is like an altar without a sacrifice, or without the fire from heaven to consume it. Wlien all our wants are supplied, prayer will be converted into praise ; till then. Christians must live by prayer, and dwell at the mercy-seat. God, alone, is able to hear and to supply their every want. The revelation which he has given of his goodness, lays a foundation for our asking with confidence the blessings we need ; and his ability encourages us to hope for their bestowment. O,

thou that liearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Prayer is also described in the language of the text, as a taking hold of God. God has set himself, as it were, before us in the promises. We are to lay hold on him by faith. Faith is the arm by which we reach God, and the hand by which we take hold of him in the exercise of prayer. Hence, effectual prayer must be offered up in a believing frame of mind. //' any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men Uherally and uphraideih

THE CO SEQUE CE OF EGLECTI G PRAYER. 461 not, and it shall he given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering ; for let not the iravering man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. He that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a reivarder of them that diligently seek him. It is our privilege, then, to lay hold upon God with the strong hand of faith, and, like the patriarch of old, refuse to let him go till he bless us. Yea, it is not merely our privilege to do it, it is our duty to do it ; for this is the very means prescribed by God for the attainment of his blessings. Let him take hold of my strength, that he may ?n,ake peace with me : and he shall make peace with me. Prayer is further called, in the language of the text, a stirring up of one's self to lay hold on God. It is not an easy thing to gain access to God in prayer. We engage in it, for the most part, with much reluctance. The objects of time and sense press upon us, and excite within us such a lively sensibility, that they dry up the very spirit of prayer within us. The press of business, the calls of our families around us, the perplexity and anxiety necessarily attending all worldly enterprises, occupy so much of our time, and engage so many of our thoughts, as to check and stifle the spirit of devotion within us : while, on the other hand, prosperity elates us, and inflates our minds with that spirit of pride, which is hostile to a spirit of devotion. When our enterprises are unsuccessful, and misfortune pursues us in all our undertakings, our spirits sink down into lifeless insensibility. Under these circumstances, when we attempt to approach God in prayer, our thoughts w^ander ere we are

aware, and in spite of all our endeavors to fix them. At other times, our spirits become so depressed, that we seem to lose the accustomed energy of our minds. We need, again and again, to stir up our sluggish hearts, and, if possible, acquire that true spirit of prayer which will enable us to lay hold on God. II. When we consider the duty in this light, we shall see reason to lament, in the second place, the general neglect of it. There are many who live entirely without prayer. Their time, their attention, and their thoughts, are wholly and entirely occupied with worldly concerns. They live as though this world were their eternal and everlasting home. They are not sensible of their spiritual wants, and make no provision to supply them. They are deaf to the calls of the gospel, and blind to their highest, their best interests. They rely on their own industry for their temporal advancement : and, when success attends their enterprises, they ascribe it to their superior skill and discernment. They acknowledge, before God, neither their sins nor necessities. God is not in all their thoughts. Such men in the refinement of their minds, and in the spirituality of their conceptions, are removed but a SEoall distance from beasts that perish. They are characterized by the apostle, as being without hope and without God ia the world. They exhibit the legitimate fruits of Atheism. But there are others, who onW occasionally lift up their hearts to 40*

462 THE CO SEQUE CE OF EGLECTI G PRAYER. God. They resemble the Jews of old, who only cried to God when oppressed with the weight of heavy and severe afflictions. Lorct, in trouble have they visited thee ; they j)oured out a prayer when thy chastising was upon them. Such exercises, however, hardly deserve the name of prayer. The prophet expressly denies to them the name of prayer, and styles them the mere howlings of distress. Tliey have not cried unto vie with their heart, ivhen they have houled upon their beds : they assembled themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. Such persons, when they are taken out of

the furnace of afflictions, resemble metal extracted from the fire ; they soon return to their former hardness. When lie slew them, they sought him ; and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their Redeemer. evertheless, they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covejiant. Flushed with victory, or animated with the joy of some signal deliverance, they will lift their voice in praise to God, but, like the Israelites of old, they would soon forget his mercies. The waters covered their enemies : there was not one of them left. Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgot his works ; they availed not for his counsel : but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And how many such partial and unstable worshippers has God had in every age and country 1 And is not this the character of many of us ? Surely, this is a very important and serious subject, and one that deserves our strictest attention ; for such worshippers can never find acceptance with God. But there are others, again, who maintain, with consistency, an external regard to the duties of p?-ayer. They will repeat their accustomed forms at stated seasons ; but they are as dry as the bones in Ezekiel's vision, and as destitute of the spirit of prayer as these were of vitality. And there are others who will, at stated or occasional seasons, offer up a few general and cold petitions ; and with this outward act they seem entirely satisfied. They take neither pleasure nor delight in the duty, but perform it as a necessary task, and seem to rejoice when it is ended. But such exercises are essentially destitute of the true requisites of prayer. They do not flow from ardent and living desires in the soul — they are offered up in a cold and formal spirit — they are but the mere offerings of the lips — and as they have not been put forth in the exercise of faith, there is not the least expectation of any answer from God. My brethren, let us not deceive ourselves into the belief, that these cold, formal, and lifeless performances, are acceptable to God. God is a spirit, and they who ivorship him acceptably, must u-orship him in spirit and in truth. To honor God with our lips, while our hearts are far from him, is a sacrifice with which he is not well pleased.

THE CO SEQUE CE OF EGLECTI G PKAYER. 463 But in the midst of abounding wickedness, hypocrisy, and formality, we rejoice that there are some few, indeed, ivho pray to God might. When the prophet declared, that Thei^e is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee, he speaks in general terms ; for there was a remnant then, as there has been in every age and period of the world, who were the true worshippers of God, The prophet himself was one of this class, for he declares, speaking of himself and his associates : Behold, I and the child7-en lohom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and for loonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelletk in Motint Zion. Surely, the prophet did not mean to exclude these in his censure. This remnant stirred iip themselves to lay hold on God , but they were few when compared with the bulk of the Jewish nation ; they may be said, comparatively, to be none at all. And although, in the exercise of charity, the true worshippers of God are vastly more numerous now than in the days of the prophet, yet the smallness of their number, when compared to the body of mankind, should still be the subject of lamentation. And who, in the devout spirit of the prophet, can cast his eye over the Christian world, and view the smallness of the number that stir up themselves to take hold on God, without making it a subject of lamentation before him. But, my brethren, let us bring the subject home, and apply it to ourselves. I rejoice that there are in this church a few praying souls ; but, at the same time, there are just grounds for lamentation that the number is so small. I will make it the subject of lamentation before God, with the humble hope that he wdl regard us with a favorable eye, and shed down upon us the reviving and quickening influences of his Holy Spirt. And let this be a subject of lamentation by every praying soul in the church — let every one who has access to the throne of grace cry mightily to God that he would regard us in our low estate, and that he would especially increase the recent tokens of his favor among us. III. To counteract this evil, we proceed, in the third place, to set forth the consequences of this neglect of prayer. The tokens of

God's displeasure, which those in the text experienced, will certainly be felt by all who neglect prayer. God will surely hide his face from them. He will not reveal to them his glory. The manifestation of the divine presence has been eagerly coveted by the people of God in every age. Moses besought the Lord to show him his glory, and Gixl revealed himself to him. He entreated God thai his presence should go with the children of Israel through the wilderness, and God said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. To the faithful and upright, God reveals himself as he does not unto the world ; he shines into their hearts to discover to them his glory ; and they behold a beauty and perfection in the Lord, which is never seen by the ungodly. To them, he will vouchsafe no such mercy. They who cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God, never behold his glory, never enjoy his smiles.

464 THE CO SEQUE CE OF EGLECTI G PRAYER. His perfections are, to them, rather an object of terror than admiration ; for his lioliness, his justice, and his veracity, are all engaged against them. The prophet declares, that God is angry with the wicked every day, and that they should be turned into hell with all the nations that forget God. either will he manifest to them his love. The humble and devout Christian is the object of God's special favor and regard ; he lifts upon him the light of his countenance, and gives to him the most evident tokens of his approbation. He sheds abroad his love ill his heart, and communes with him daily from off the mercy-seat. He defends him in the midst of danger, and declares he that toucheth him toucheth the apple of his eye. The good man acknowledges, with the Psalmist, that God has put gladness into his heart, which far exceeds the joy of worldly pleasure. But the neglectors of prayer intermeddle not with their joy ; they are strangers to the spirit of adoption, to the love of God, and to the peace of God that passeth all understanding. They desire to banish God from their thoughts ; and wish, like the fool, that there was no God. Finally, he will not communicate to them his blessings. The

faithful worshippers of God have the promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come. God will give to them all the blessings of grace and glory. They may be called to endure great privations, and to suffer severe afflictions ; but they shall be rewarded an hundred fold in this world, and in the world to come receive life everlasting. But the wicked, the profane, the ungodly, the neglectors of prayer, have no part or lot with them. The common blessings of life, which are lavished upon them with a profuse and liberal hand, are turned into a curse unto them : even as David says, Their table shall become a snare, and a trap, and a stumblivg-block, and a recompense unto them ; and their eyes shall be darkened, that they may not see ; and their back shall be bowed down alioay. These terrible curses are the fruits of sin and unbelief; and to all eternity they must ascribe their misery to their own neglect. If all the souls that are banished from the divine presence were asked. Wherefore has God hid his face from you ? they must assign the reason that is given in the text. They will not be able then to offer one justifiable excuse for their conduct ; every mouth shall be stopped, and the whole world of ungodly sinners shall stand guilty and justly condemned before God. In the conclusion of our remarks, we would call upon those who live without prayer, to duly consider these things. This offence has been awfully marked by the indignation of God. My people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust, and they walked in their own counsels. God gave them up, to what ? to their enemies ? to death ? or to immediate and eternal damnation ? o : to what was worse than even that, their own hearts' last, that they might treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. And what is more terrible than for God

THE CO SEQUE CE OF EGLECTI G PRAYER. 465 lo withdraw his restraining grace, and to give a man up to the dominion of his own corrupt passions ? Such men are filled with the inventions of their own wicked hearts, and cherish the most fatal delusions — delusions that beguile them on in the way of certain and inevitable destruction. For this cause God shall send them strong

delusion, that they should believe a lie ; that they all might he damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. These terrible calamities befall men in consequence of cherishing the love and practice of sin, and rejecting the counsel of God. How bitter, then, must be the reflections of those who perish through their own neglect ! And have we not reasons to fear that this may be the case of some who are present 1 Be entreated, then, to seek the Lord while he may he found, and to call upon him while he is near ; for now is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation. They, also, who merely engage in prayer formally, should lay these things to heart. Such persons, being more liable to deceive themselves, are in the greater danger. Our prayers must be fervent, in order to be effectual ; the cold and formal offerings of the lips will never prevail with God. He demands the heart, the whole heart ; and he will accept of nothing short of this. Our hearts must go out in prayer to God, if we would offer to him an acceptable sacrifice. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit ; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. God looketh at the heart, and requireth truth in the inward parts. Upon this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word, God has even promised to do more than to look with a favorable eye upon such, he has promised to dwell with them : / dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and revive the heart af the contrite ones. When our hearts are thus imbued with the spirit of Christianity, we shall be animated with a laudable zeal in the cause of our Master ; we shall press with violence into the kingdom of heaven, and use all diligence to make our calling and election sure. Do we indeed possess this broken, this contrite spirit? and are our hearts inflamed with this holy ardor ? If they are not, rest not satisfied with a round of ceremonies. The form of godliness, without the power of it, can never avail to secure the favor of God ; we must have the spirit of Christ, if we would be his true disciples. Finally, this subject should be particularly remembered by those who profess godliness. Unless we stir up ourselves continually, we shall soon lose the divine presence. And when the presence of God is withdrawn, the soul will be dark and lifeless. It will resemble the dry and parched ground, when the showers and dews

of heaven are withheld from watering it ; or the cold and frozen earth, when the sun is withdrawn to the southern hemisphere. Our light and life come from God, and he imparts these in the same degree as we cherish and exercise the true spirit of prayer. How important, then, that we should guard against a spirit of formality

466 THE SURE FOU DATIO . in prayer, and that we should stir up ourselves to take hold on God. He has declared that the prayer of the upright is his delight, and that he is as well pleased with the sighs and groans of a contrite soul, as with the songs of the angels that surround his burning throne. If we feel weak and languid, dull and heavy, cold and lifeless, let us endeavor to shake off' this spirit of sloth and insensibility — let us bring home to our minds the most powerful considerations, to excite us to activity and diligence in the cause of our dear Redeemer — let us call into active exercise every Christian grace — let us be found continually in the way of duty — and let us add fasting to prayer, and obedience to faith, and charity to love, so that by any and every means, we may stir up ourselves to lay hold on God, and secure to ourselves the promise of eternal life. The tokens of divine favor, which God has recently conferred upon us, are the pledges of greater mercies, if we will but secure them in God's appointed way. He is now stretching out his golden sceptre, and calling us into a divine and more sacred nearness to himself He is calling upon us to open our mouths wide, with the endearing promise that he will fill them. He is stirring us up to the exercise of a stronger faith, a warmer love, and a more fervent spirit of devotion, that he may crown our efforts with a rich and plentiful harvest. He is doing more than all this, he is exciting a deep interest in the minds of sinners around us, and in the midst of us, and disposing them to ask an interest in our prayers. Surely, my brethren, in the midst of so much to interest and encourage us, we shall find it an easy and delightful employment to stir up ourselves to take liold on God, and to cherish a strong, firm, and enduring faith in him.

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