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3. Others say, I cannot pray.— The greatest obstacle is not want of ability, but want of will. I know that the poor often say, I have no learn. ing, and therefore cannot pray. And some are ignorant enough to suppose that only ministers of religion need pray. Had you no personal wants, then indeed you might more plausibly thus reason.
But prayer must be the act of your own mind, of yourself individually. God requires you to pray. The prayer of your minister, your relatives and friends, does not make your own prayer unnecessary. Their prayers may be of use in obtaining for you grace to seek God more earnestly; but you cannot expect to obtain his mercy and blessing unless you yourself unfeignedly apply to the throne of grace. And as to ability to pray, it is a deep sense of your necessities that forms the great qualification for real prayer. Hence all persons, high and low, learned and unlearned, are by nature on a level in this respect. A beggar feeling his poverty and wretchedness, does not want learning to teach him to come to ask your alms. He simply tells you his distress, points to his tattered garments, or his pallid or diseased body, and thus most effectually makes his way to your heart. And so, though you cannot read, you may still pray to God, and be accepted by him.
4. It is not an uncommon objection, I an too much occupied to pray.--Prayer is very proper for those who have time, but I am so full of other engagements that I cannot attend to it. You surely do not mean to say so ! Time! cannot get time ! How do you employ your time? Is none of
it wasted in sinful pleasures or pursuits? Do you never find leisure to talk about your children's or friends' good qualities? Do you never find opportunity to thank men for earthly favors? and have you not time to acknowledge God's goodness, of which your lives are full? If you are afflicted, can you not find time to unbosom yourself to a friend, who yet perhaps can afford you no effectual help; and should you not tell your cares and sorrows to God, your best friend, who deliver
you from all your troubles? But you forget that devotion itself is the most important part of your business, the greatest work of your life. You have more to do with God than with the whole world. Prayer will obtain God's blessing on all you do. It will prepare you for a happy eternity. You are not lavishing away your time or misemploying it by prayer. It was a saying of Dr. Donne's, “ that the only time he saved, or employed to the best purpose, he spent in piety and prayer, and in doing good.” I answer your plea of business, by the experience of a devout man, who said, “when I have hastened over the duties of God's worship out of a too eager desire to follow my worldly business, I did many times meet with some secret cross in my affairs; whereas when I took my ordinary time, God did make my other business to succeed the better, or else my mind was brought to a quiet submission to the divine will." No business in the world brings such unspeakable gain as private prayer does. He that prays well, will do all well besides. What are you laboring for? the good things of this life? Remember, then, that devo
tion "procures wealth inestimably precious,pleasure infinitely satisfactory, honor incomparably noble above all that this world can afford.” Look at David, Daniel, and St. Paul, men the most constant in devotion, and yet incessantly engaged, and manifestly blessed in their several stations.
5. Another man will tell us, I find no benefit from prayer.-I have prayed, and seem no better for it ; nay rather worse. If you feel more of your guilt and sinfulness, that of itself is an advantage, and should bring you more to the Saviour. This is a vain excuse. Shall the minister give up preaching because his congregation seem to receive no immediate benefit? Shall the husbandman, because the seed just sown in one part of the field has not directly sprung up, not sow the remainder of the field? Let this objection lead you not to neglect your prayers, but to examine their character. We know that true prayer is attended with the greatest benefits. One devout person would sometimes say to her friends, “I would not be hired out of my closet for a thousand worlds."
6. Some venture to say, “ I am too wicked to pray.—The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.” Is it my duty to pray while unregenerate? But he who thinks that he shall get rid of the duty of prayer on account of his wickedness, does not only confess, but aggravate his guilt and his condemnation.
You must not, indeed, come with the same wicked mind with which you committed your sins; but go grieved and penitent; and the sooner you go the better. “ The ploughing of the wicked,” all they do, "is
sin :" and yet even a worldly man would not therefore justify them in being idle. Your neglect of prayer is perhaps the very cause of your wickedness.
When God had promised the new heart and the new spirit to the Jews, he adds, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them." Who more wicked than Simon Magus? and yet the Apostle calls on him to repent and pray to God. Your guilt should bring you to the Saviour, and not keep you from him. Will not the sick man desire to see the physician? Is keeping at a distance, and contemptuous and negligent conduct in an offender as likely to gain the favor of him that is offended, as a humble and meek confession of fault, and entreaty for pardon? All the practice and conduct of man, all your own experience, all the confessions of sin, and all the petitions for mercy which are recorded in the Bible, testify against such an idea. If
your confession of wickedness be the real feeling of your heart, you see it is the very reason that you should begin to meditate on your sad condition, to repent, and seek God's mercy in prayer. But if it be not the feeling of your heart this excuse for neglecting prayer needs no answer.
7. There are others who seem to think that all exhortations to prayer savor of legality. We are to be saved by believing, and not by working. But how gross is the mistake of such. We press it not as a mere task, or a meritorious labor, but as a plain duty. We state it to be a privilege and a blessing bestowed on all the children of
God. We are not, it is true, saved by our prayers, but by Christ; yet we shall never be saved without prayer, for the spirit of prayer is a part of our salvation. Living in neglect of prayer, is a plain proof, whatever men’s notions or fancies may be, whatever their doctrinal sentiments are, that they have none of the spirit of adoption, and so do not belong to Christ. Nay, a disregard of prayer shows that you have none of the real feelings of the evangelical truth, which, working by love, ever influences the soul to seek the presence of him we love.
Is there not at the bottom of all these objections, a reason of this kind, I dislike prayer—It puts a restraint upon all my ways-It compels me to think of that which I had rather forget?-But what are you thus owning yourself to be? It is the character of the wicked, “God is not in all his thoughts;” they dislike to "retain God in their knowledge.” Ah! remember, all flesh must come before God; he now sits on a throne of grace, where you may obtain mercy ; he will hereafter sit on a throne of judgment, where he will forever condemn those who have not sought and found grace to help in time of need."
ON SECRET PRAYER.
There are some things in which sccret prayer has an advantage over social and public worship. By praying in secret we give God the glory of his being every where present, and seeing and knowing