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frame of mind upon which the pardon or favour asked would produce a permanent and active sense of gratitude; that the granting of it to prayer would put others upon praying to him, and by that means preserve the love and submission of his subjects, upon which love and submission their own happiness, as well as his glory, depended; that, beside that the memory of the particular kindness would be heightened and prolonged by the anxiety with which it had been sued for, prayer had in other respects so disposed and prepared the mind of the petitioner, as to render capable of future services him who before was unqualified for any: might not that prince, I say, although he proceeded upon no other considerations than the strict rectitude and expediency of the measure, grant a favour or pardon to this man which he did not grant to another, who was too proud, too lazy, or too busy, too indifferent whether he received it or not, or too insensible of the sovereign's absolute power to give or to withhold it, ever to ask for it? or even to the philosopher, who, from an opinion of the fruitlessness of all addresses to a prince of the character which he had formed to himself, refused in his own example, and discouraged in others, all outward returns of gratitude, acknowledgments of duty, or application to the sovereign's mercy or bounty; the disuse of which (seeing affections do not long subsist which are never expressed) was followed by a decay of loyalty and zeal amongst his subjects, and threatened to end in a forgetfulness of his rights, and a contempt of his authority? These, together with other assignable considerations, and some perhaps inscrutable, and even inconceivable by the persons upon whom his will was to be exercised, might pass in the mind of the prince and move his ! counsels; whilst nothing in the meantime dwelt in the petitioner's thoughts but a sense of his own grief and wants; of the power and goodness from which alone he was to look for relief; and of his obligation to endeavour, by future obedience, to render that person propitious to his happiness, in whose hands, and at the disposal of whose mercy, he found himself to be.
The objection to prayer supposes that a perfectly wise being must necessarily be inexorable: but where is the proof that inexorability is any part of perfect wisdom; especially of that wisdom which is explained to consist in bringing about the most beneficial ends by the wisest means ?
The objection likewise assumes another principle, which is attended with considerable difficulty and obscurity; namely, that upon every occasion there is one and only one mode of acting for the best ; and that the Divine Will is necessarily determined and confined to that mode: both which positions presume a knowledge of universal nature much beyond what we are capable of attaining.
Indeed, when we apply to the Divine Nature such expressions as these : 'God must always do what is right '—' God cannot, from the moral perfection and necessity of his nature, act otherwise than for the best,' we ought to apply them with much indeterminateness and reserve; or rather, we ought to confess, that there is something in the subject out of the reach of our apprehension; for, in our apprehension, to be under a necessity of acting according to any rule, is inconsistent with free agency; and it makes no difference, which we can understand, whether the necessity be internal or external, or that the rule is the rule of perfect rectitude.
But efficacy is ascribed to prayer without the proof, we are told, which can alone in such a subject produce conviction—the confirmation of experience. Concerning the appeal to experience, I shall content myself with this remark, that if prayer were suffered to disturb the order of second causes appointed in the universe too much, or to produce its effects with the same regularity that they do, it would introduce a change into human affairs, which in some important respects would be evidently for the worst. Who, for example, would labour, if his necessities could be supplied with equal certainty by prayer ? How few would contain within any bounds of moderation those passions and pleasures, which at present are checked only by disease, or the dread of it, if
prayer would infallibly restore health ? In short, if the efficacy of prayer were so constant and observable as to be relied upon beforehand, it is easy to foresee that the conduct of mankind would, in proportion to that reliance, become careless and disorderly. It is possible, in the nature of things, that our prayers may, in many instances, be efficacious, and yet our experience of their efficacy be dubious and obscure. Therefore, if the light of nature instruct us by any other arguments to hope for effect from prayer; still more, if the Scriptures authorise these hopes by promises of acceptance; it seems not a sufficient reason for calling in question the reality of such effects, that our observations of them are ambiguous ; especially since it appears probable, that this very ambiguity is necessary to the happiness and safety of human life.
But some, whose objections do not exclude all prayer, are offended with the mode of prayer in use amongst us, and with many of the subjects, which are almost universally introduced into public worship, and recommended to private devotion. To pray for particular favours by name, is to dictate, it has been said, to Divine wisdom and goodness; to intercede for others, especially for whole nations and empires, is still worse; it is to presume that we possess such an interest with the Deity, as to be able, by our applications, to bend the most important of his counsels ; and that
the happiness of others, and even the prosperity of communities, is to depend upon this interest, and upon our choice. Now, how unequal soever our knowledge of the Divine economy may be to the solution of this difficulty, which requires perhaps a comprehension of the entire plan, and of all the ends of God's moral government, to explain satisfactorily, we can understand one thing concerning it, that it is, after all, nothing more than the making of one man the instrument of happiness and misery to another; which is perfectly of a piece with the course and order that obtain, and which we must believe were intended to obtain, in human affairs. Why may we not be assisted by the prayers of other men, who are beholden for our support to their labour ? Why may not our happiness be made in some cases to depend upon the intercession, as it certainly does in many upon the good offices, of our neighbours ? The happiness and misery of great numbers we see oftentimes at the disposal of one man's choice, or liable to be much affected by his conduct : what greater difficulty is there in supposing, that the prayers of an individual may avert a calamity from multitudes, or be accepted to the benefit of whole communities?
OF THE DUTY AND EFFICACY OF PRAYER
REPRESENTED IN SCRIPTURE.
The reader will have observed, that the reflections stated in the preceding section, whatever truth and weight they may be allowed to contain, rise many of them no higher than to negative arguments in favour of the propriety of addressing prayer to God. To prove that the efficacy of prayers is not inconsistent with the attributes of the Deity, does not prove that prayers are actually efficacious : and in the want of that unequivocal testimony, which experience alone could afford to this point (but which we do not possess, and have seen good reason why we are not to expect), the light of nature leaves us to controverted probabilities, drawn from the impulse by which mankind have been almost universally prompted to devotion, and from some beneficial purposes, which, it is conceived, may be better answered by the audience of prayer than by any other mode of communicating the same blessings. The revelations which we deem authentic, completely supply this defect of natural religion. They require prayer to God as a duty; and they contain positive assurance of its efficacy and acceptance. We could have no reasonable motive for the exercise of prayer, without believing that it may avail to the relief of our wants.
This belief can only be founded, either in a sensible experience of the effect of prayer, or in promises of acceptance signified by Divine authority. Our knowledge would have come to us in the former way, less capable indeed of doubt, but subjected to the abuses and inconveniences briefly described above; in the latter way, that is, by authorising significations of God's general disposition to hear and answer the devout supplications of his creatures, we are encouraged to pray, but not to place such a dependence upon prayer, as might relax other obligations, or confound the order of events and of human expectations.
The Scriptures not only affirm the propriety of prayer in general, but furnish precepts or examples which justify some topics and some modes of prayer that have been thought exceptionable. And as the whole subject rests so much upon the foundation of Scripture, I shall put down at length texts applicable to the five following heads: to the duty and efficacy of prayer in general ; of prayer for particular favours by name ; for public national blessings; of intercession for others; of the repetition of unsuccessful prayers.
1. Texts enjoining prayer in general : “ Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find.-If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?' · Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.' Serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing constant in prayer.' Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.' 'I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.' 'Pray without ceasing.'—Matt. vii. 7, 11; Luke, xxi. 36; Rom. xii. 11, 12; Philip. iv. 6; 1 Tim. ii. 8; 1 Thess. v. 17. Add to these, that Christ's reproof of the ostentation and prolixity of pharisaical prayers, and his recommendation to his disciples, of retirement and simplicity in theirs, together with his dictating a particular form of prayer, all presuppose prayer to be an acceptable and availing service.
2. Examples of prayer for particular favours by name: ‘For this thing (to wit, some bodily infirmity, which he calls “
a thorn given him in the flesh") I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.'—2 Cor. xii. 8; 1 Thess. iii. 10.
3. Directions to pray for national or public blessings : : Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.' “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time
of the latter rain ; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.' 'I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.'—Psalm, cxxii. 6; Zech. x. 1; 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2, 3.
4. Examples of intercession, and exhortations to intercede for others :— And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people ?—Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.' 'Peter therefore was kept in prison : but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.' 'For God is my witness,' that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.'"Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me, in your prayers for me.'
'Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.'—Exod. xxxii. 11, 13, 14; Acts, xii. 5; Rom. i. 9; xv. 30; James, v. 16.
5. Declarations and examples authorising the repetition of unsuccessful prayer :- And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.' And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.' 'For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that
Ι it might depart from me.'—Luke, xvii. 1; Matt. xxvi. 44; 2 Cor. xii. 8.2
[ For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.'--Acts, xii. 5.]
? The reformed churches of Christendom, sticking close in this article to their guide, have laid aside prayers for the dead, as authorised by no precept or precedent found in Scripture. For the same reason they properly reject the invocation of saints; as also because such invocation suppose, in the saints whom they address, a knowledge which can perceive what passes in different regions of the earth at the same time. And they deem it too much to take for granted, without the smallest intimation of such a thing in Scripture, that any created being possesses a faculty little short of that omniscience and omnipresence which they ascribe to the Deity.