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that God's promise to bless his people in answer to prayer, should destroy the propriety or the influence of their prayers for promised blessings ?
1. If it be the design of prayer to move God to bestow temporal and spiritual favors, then there is a propriety in praying for others, as well as for ourselves. We find intercession to be much inculcated in the word of God. The Psalmist calls upon saints to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem;" that is, for the general prosperity of the church. Paul represents intercession as the first and principal branch of prayer. “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men." And James enjoins the duty of intercession upon every christian.
“ Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another." Those who possess universal benevolence, find a peculiar pleasure in praying for others. And it appears from scripture, that the most eminent saints have always been the most remarkable intercessors at the throne of divine grace. But were it not the design of prayer to move God to show mercy,
there would be no propriety nor importance in praying for any but ourselves. If, as many pious divines have taught, the only purpose
ourselves to receive or to be denied divine favors, then there seems to be no ground or reason to pray for the temporal or spiritual good of our fellow men. Our prayers can have no tendency to prepare them for either the smiles or frowns of heaven. If we pray for their outward prosperity, this can have no tendency to prepare them for the reception of external blessings. If we pray for their deliverance from outward evils, this can have no tendency to prepare them for the removal of afflictions. If we pray for their right improvement of divine favors or divine judgments, this can have no tendency to inspire their hearts with either gratitude or submission. Indeed, our prayers for others can answer no other purpose than that of moving the Deity to do them good. Take away this design of intercession, and it ceases to have any meaning, and to answer any valuable end. But if, as we have shown, it be the proper design of prayer to move the Deity to bestow favors, then the effectual, fervent prayers of the righteous may have a powerful tendency to draw down divine blessings upon others, as well as upon themselves. Upon this ground, intercession appears to be as proper and important as any other branch of prayer.
2. We are led to conclude, from what has been said upon
this subject, that we have as fair an opportunity of obtaining divine favors, as if God were to form his determinations at the time we present our petitions. Many imagine that it is a great discouragement to prayer, that God has determined, from all eternity, what he will grant and what he will deny to the children of men. But it appears from what has been said, that our prayers may have all the influence now, in procuring divine favors, that they could have if God were now to form his purposes respecting us. For he actually formed his eternal purposes in the full view of all our prayers, and gave them all the weight they deserved. It is as strictly true, therefore, that our prayers move him to grant us favors, as if he determined at the time of our praying to grant them. Hence we have as fair an opportunity of prevailing upon the Deity to grant us any particular future blessings, as if we knew he had yet to form his purpose of granting or denying it.
This may be easily and clearly illustrated. Suppose two men are condemned to die. Suppose a certain day is set for each of them to plead for pardon before the king. Suppose each criminal has a friend, who unknown to him, goes to the king before the day appointed, and states his case exactly as it is, and offers all the reasons for his being pardoned that can be offered. And suppose the king upon hearing the pleas made in favor of each criminal, absolutely determines to pardon one, and to execute the other. Let me now ask, Can these fixed determinations of the king be any disadvantage to the criminals, when they actually make their own pleas before him on the day appointed? Thus God foresaw from eternity all his suppliants, and all their supplications, and gave them all the weight that an infinitely wise and benevolent Being ought to give them. Their prayers, therefore, avail as much as it is possible they should avail, were God to form his determinations at the time they stand praying before him.
But here perhaps it may be said, there is no occasion of their praying at all, if God foresaw their prayers from eternity, and fixed his purposes in connection with them. The answer to this is easy. When God determines to do any thing one way, he equally determines not to do it another way. When he determines to bring about any event by prayer, he equally determines not to bring about that event without prayer. Thus when he determined to deliver his people from the Babylonish captivity, in answer to the prayers of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and other pious Israelites, he equally determined not to deliver them, if he were not inquired of by those good men to do it for them. Indeed, the influence of prayer properly consists in moving God to execute those purposes which were formed in
connection with prayer. In some cases, God has not only revealed his purposes, but also revealed that they are to be accomplished in answer to prayer. In all such cases, prayers are as necessary as any other appointed means of accomplishing the divine purposes. And though in most cases God has not revealed his purposes, nor whether they are to be accomplished by prayer, yet if some of his unrevealed purposes are connected with prayer, the accomplishment of these particular purposes as much depends upon prayer, as upon any other means or second causes. Hence it appears, that every person may do as much to obtain temporal and eternal blessings, by sincere and submissive prayer, as if God had not from eternity absolutely determined when, and where, and upon whom, to bestow his favors. Even importunity, ardor, and perseverance in prayer, are as proper and as influential in order to obtain any divine blessing, on supposition of God's immutability, as they could be on supposition of his being now at liberty to alter his past purposes, or to form his determinations anew. And since this is the case, we have all the encouragement to pray for divine favors, that rational, dependent, ill deserving creatures can reasonably desire, or can possibly enjoy. For God has determined, from eternity, to hear every prayer that ought to be heard.
3. We learn from what has been said, the propriety of praying for future, as well as for present blessings. If it were the sole design of prayer to prepare our own hearts for the reception of divine favors, there could be no propriety in praying for any far distant good to be bestowed upon ourselves or others. But if it be the proper design of addressing the throne of divine grace, to move the compassion of God, then we may pray for future mercies with as much propriety as for present relief; and our prayers may be of as much avail to draw down divine favors upon the world, hundreds and thousands of years hence, as at this day. There is great reason to believe that the prayers of good men, in all ages, have had a mighty influence in moving God to bestow great and extensive blessings upon future generations of mankind. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, no doubt, prayed that God would put their future posterity into the possession of the land of promise. All the while the Jews were in Babylon, those who were Israelites indeed, no doubt incessantly prayed for their restoration to their native country at the period predicted. All good men, from Adam to Simeon, undoubtedly prayed for the fulfilment of the first promise, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. In all these instances, the prayers of holy men were not lost, but had great influence in procuring long desired and far distant bles
sings. Our Saviour taught his disciples to pray for the future enlargement of his kingdom, saying, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” God intends to send the gospel to the ends of the earth, and bring all nations into his kingdom. And we may presume that the fervent prayers of myriads of pious christians, will avail much to bring about this great and desirable event. If prayer be designed to move God to bestow mercy, then it may be as proper and as important to pray for the prosperity of the church and the happiness of mankind to the remotest ages, as to pray for any present temporal or spiritual good. As the prayers of our pious progenitors have procured great and distinguishing favors for us, so our humble and fervent prayers may procure the best of blessings for our distant posterity. Indeed, it is our indispensable duty to pray for the accomplishment of all the purposes and predictions of God, which remain to be accomplished.
4. It appears from what has been said, that saints are in a safe and happy condition. They enjoy the benefit of the prayers of all the people of God. Good men are required to pray for one another, and they live in the daily performance of this duty. They make intercessions and supplications for all the friends of Zion. They continually pray for the enlargement and prosperity of the church; which is virtually praying for the peace, and comfort, and edification of every sincere christian on earth. These prayers of God's people are very efficacious. They have all the influence which any good man can desire, to draw down the blessings of God upon
him. Must it not be a source of peculiar satisfaction to any pious pilgrim and stranger on earth, to reflect that all God's people are constantly praying for him, while he is passing through this vale of tears?' The effectual fervent prayers of the friends of God for one another, ought to comfort, quicken, and animate them to run with patience and confidence the race that is set before them. They may rely upon it, that they will never be forgotten nor forsaken of God, while so many memorials in their favor are daily presented to the throne of divine grace.
. 5. This subject may remind sinners of what they have to fear from the prayers of saints. Their united supplications for the honor of God, the accomplishment of his designs, and the overthrow of all his incorrigible enemies, forebode terrible and eternal evils to impenitent sinners. The prayers of Noah proved fatal to the old world. The prayers of Lot proved fatal to Sodom. The prayers of Moses proved fatal to the Egyptians and the Amalekites. The prayers of Joshua proved fatal to the inhabitants of Canaan. The prayers of Elijah proved the ruin of Ahab. The prayers of David destroyed Ahithophel. And the apostle John represents the prayers of saints as one procuring cause of the wasting judgments which God has sent, and is still sending upon the antichristian world, by the ministers of his vengeance. “I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God, out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth; and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” This is a lively representation of the power of prayer, to enkindle the wrath of God against the enemies of his church. The wicked, therefore, have abundant reason to tremble at the powerful intercession of the people of God against them. In their present state, they have nothing to expect but that the prayers of saints will prove their final ruin. They certainly will, unless they repent and believe the gospel.
6. Since prayer has such a prevailing influence upon the heart of the Deity, saints have great encouragement to abound in this duty. They are formed for this devout and holy exercise. Having become the children of God, they possess the spirit of adoption, which is the spirit of grace and supplication. It was said of Saul of Tarsus, as soon as he was converted, “Behold! he prayeth." Prayer is the proper business of good men, who have the greatest encouragement to call upon God without ceasing. Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed. And God has never said to the seed of Jacob, “ Seek ye me in vain.” Their prayers are always heard and accepted, even though the things they pray for be not immediately, nor eventually granted. But besides this, there are many other motives which ought to prevail upon all good men to abound in the duty of prayer.
Let them consider in the first place, that this duty is very generally neglected. Though all men ought to pray and not to faint, yet how many cast off fear and restrain prayer before God! How many rise up and lie down, go out and come in, without acknowledging God in any of their ways! How many are so averse to prayer, that nothing but some threatening danger, or pressing calamity, can bring them to the throne of divine grace! How many prayerless families, and prayerless persons are to be found in every place! This melancholy