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fore easily, and will naturally, be mild and gentle. In every other, it must ultimately be a system of coercion, an administration of force. Society in such a country, is established on sounder principles, is formed with juster views, and assumes a nobler character. It is the society of reason, of friendship, of virtue, of piety. Every thing in the understanding, the heart, and the life, is more accordant with the commands of God, and therefore with truth and rectitude. The bonds, which bind the society together, are stronger ; the trespasses against human happiness are fewer, and less atrocious ; the punishments inflicted by the magistrate are milder, and more rare ; and the safety, comfort, and prosperity, enjoyed, are more absolute, uniform, and entire.
Of all these blessings, Prayer, both public and private, is in such a sense the source, that without it they never existed in this corrupt world, and never will exist. Nor will their extent ever fail to be proportioned to the prevalence of this duty.
I have now finished the observations, which I intended, concerning the Usefulness of prayer by its proper Influence on the Suppliant. The next subject, which demands our attention, according to the plan proposed, is its Efficacy in procuring blessings from God.
Every considerate man will see infinite motives inviting him to pray, when he discerns, that prayer will of course make him a wiser and better man, recommend him to the approbation and favour of God, and prepare him to receive blessings from his hands ; when he perceives, that in praying he has become obedient to a high and solemn command, and more attempered to the spirit and character of heaven. These are the most estimable of all blessings : and, as they are blessings of such import in themselves, and extend throughout eternity, their value, it is plain, cannot be measured.
But to many minds, the hope of being actually answered, and directly, blessed with good, of some extraneous kind, not inwrought in the personal character, and distinct from personal improvement and distant fruition, is usually a still more powerful persuasive to prayer. Some persons would be moved by this consideration, who would imperfectly feel the other, great and obvious as it appears. It is also a consideration founded in truth and reality; and for both reasons, merits a place in this system of discourses.
If I am not deceived, the following observations will place it in a convincing light.
1. From the influence, which prayer has naturally on the suppliant, there is no small probability, that God will grant blessings in answer to the petitions of those, who faithfully perform this duty.
From the observations, made in a former discourse concerning the influence, which prayer has on the suppliant, it is evident, that by the faithful performance of this duty he is, in all respects, made a fitter recipient of blessings, than he can be otherwise. No rational doubt can be entertained, that God will bestow his blessings on such, as are thus fitted to receive them, rather than on such, as are not. It is evidently proper, that he should regard with compassion and kindness, and that he should communicate good to, those, who felt their dependence on him; acknowledged bis sufficiency, and disposition, to supply their wants; humbly besought his mercy ; realized their own undeserving character; and were grateful to him for every blessing, which they received; when with equal propriety he would refuse the same blessings to men, who felt no dependence but on themselves; who were too indifferent, too lazy, or too proud, to ask; who questioned his right to require, and their own obligation to perform, this duty; or who were too ungrateful to acknowledge their own indebtedness to him for the mercies, which they received, or his goodness in bestowing them. Were God to pursue any other course of administrations, it is difficult to conceive how he could act as a moral governor, and re, without coercion, the obedience of his subjects.
2. The instances are numerous, in which blessings are actually given in answer to prayer.
I am well aware of the objection, which lies against this doctrine. It may, I am sensible, be always said in reply, that we know not whether the same blessings would not have descended, if prayers had not been offered up for them. Without the aid of Revelation, I acknowledge, this cannot be known with certainly: since be, who gives blessings, is the only being, who originally knows the reason, for which he gives them. Still, from the course of providence merely, the probability is strong, that the blessings in question are given, only in answer to prayer. In support of this assertion I observe, that blessings have in many instances been given, after fervent prayers have ascended to God, when none but God could have contributed to their existence; when they were utterly unattainable by any human efforts ; after all such efforts had been made without success; after all hope of obtaining them, except by prayer, had vanished; and when, Give us help from trouble, for vain is the help of man, had become the only language, seriously thought of by those who were concerned. Of such instances I could easily mention a considerable number. Many more, there is every reason to believe, are remarked by every observing, religious man. Many more still would, I doubt not, have been remarked, if religious men were more observant, and prayer were more continually and faithfully performed.
It will be said still, that even these blessings might have been given, had they not been supplicated. To this suggestion of possibility the proper answer is, “ They might not.” We know they were not given without prayer; and have not a shadow of reason to conclude, that, if they had not been prayed for, they would ever have been given. The suggestion, therefore, is useless to the purpose for which it is made.
But the complete proof lies in this; that certain blessings are not given to men, who do not pray; and those, blessings of the highest importance. Such are Peace of conscience, Joy in the Holy Ghost, the Hope, which maketh not ashamed, Increase of grace, and Final perseverance in piety. These are the best of all blessings : and these are never found by those, who do not pray. They are also blessings, which none but God can give. As therefore, they are given to those only, who pray; so they are plainly given as an answer to prayer.
At the same time, I am bound, as an inhabitant of New-England, solemnly to declare, that, were there no other instances to be found in any other country, the blessings, communicated to this, would furnish ample satisfaction concerning this subject to every sober, much more, to every pious, man. Among these,
the destruction of the French armament under the Duke D'Anville, in the year 1746, ought to be remembered with gratitude, and admiration, by every inhabitant of this country. This fleet consisted of forty ships of war; was destined for the destruction of Nezo-England; was of sufficient force to render that destruction, in the ordinary progress of things, certain ; sailed from Chebucto, in Nova-Scotia, for this purpose; and was entirely destroyed on the night, following a general fast throughout NewEngland, by a terrible tempest. Impious men, who regard not the work of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands, and who for that reason are finally destroyed, may refuse to give God the glory of this most merciful interposition. But our Ancestors bad, and it is to be hoped their descendents ever will have, both piety and good sense, sufficient to ascribe to Jehovah the greatness and the power, and the victory, and the majesty; and to bless the Lord God of Israel for ever and ever.
3. The Scriptures put this subject out of doubt by declaring directly, that blessings are given lo mankind in answer to prayer.
To prevent any misapprehension concerning the views, now to be exhibited of this subject, I observe, that I do not consider prayer as meriting, in any case, the blessings, which are given to the suppliant. All blessings are bestowed upon man by the unmerited mercy of God: as is unanswerably evident from the fact, that men universally are sinners; and deserve, of course, nothing but punishment.
Nor do I intend, that the prayers of men change, at all, the views, dispositions, or purposes, of God. The Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift, is without variableness, or shadow of turning. No suppliant, therefore, is encouraged to pray hy an expectation, or a possibility, of producing the least change in the glorious Object of his prayers.
But I intend, that prayer is, in this sense, the means of procuring blessings : viz. Ikat without prayer the blessings would never be obtained.
In the immutable counsels of God it is established, that there shall be an inseparable connection between humble, faithful prayer, and the blessings, needed by the suppliant. Prayer Vol. V.
is, therefore, as regular, nay, more regular, a cause of blessings, than ploughing and sowing, rain and sunshine, are of the harvest.
In support of this position, I shall now allege several passages of Scripture, sufficient, in my view, to establish the doctrine beyond reasonable debate.
The only condition, upon which mankind receive any blessings, is given us by our Saviour in that remarkable passage : Ask, and ye shall receive; Seek, and ye shall find; Knock, and it shall be opened to you. For, every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. As asking is here made the condition of receiving; it is plain, that, if we perform not this condition, we are assured, that we shall not receive.
Again. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. John xvi. 23. Here the promise is unlimited, as to the good, which is asked ; and absolute, as to the certainty of receiving it. More cannot be expressed, nor desired. Again. Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him. 1 John iii. 22. Quotations of this nature need not be multiplied.
As proof, that prayer is not offered up in vain, I allege Isaiah xlv. 19. I said not to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain. In this passage, God declares, that it was no part of his declarations to Israel, that they sought hiin, or prayed to him, in vain. Of consequence, it was no part of his counsels with respect to that people. But the counsels of God towards his people, in the different ages of the world, are in substance the same. It is now as true, as it was when this prophecy was uttered, that they never seek, that they never pray, in vain.
The prevailing power of prayer is directly, as well as strongly, asserted by St. James. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man, availeth much.
Is any sick, says the same apostle, let him call for the Elders of the Church; and let them pray over him. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick; and the Lord shall raise him up. If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
To illustrate all these declarations, St. James adduces the ex