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HYPOCRITES DEFICIENT IN THE DUTY OF PRAYER.
Will he always call upon God?
FROM these words, our doctrine was, that however hypocrites may continue for a season in the duty of prayer, yet it is their manner, after a while, in a great measure to leave it off. This was our subject in the preceding discourse, in which, after having shown how hypocrites often continue for a season to call upon God—how it is their manner, after a while, in a great measure to leave it off—and having given the reasons why this is their manner, I came at length to make application, which I proposed to do in a use of exhortation, in two branches; and first to exhort those who entertain a hope of their good estate, and yet live in the neglect of secret prayer, to reject their hope. One particular consideration I have already laid before men of this character, to the end just mentioned; and I now proceed to say to them,
2. How is your conduct consistent with loving God above all. If you have not a spirit to love God above your dearest earthly friends, and your most pleasant earthly enjoyments; the Scriptures are very plain and full in it, that you are not true Christians. But if you had indeed such a spirit, would you thus grow weary of the practice of drawing near to him, and become habitually so averse to it, as in a great measure to cast off so plain a duty, which is so much the life of a child of God? It is the nature of love to be averse to absence, and to love a near access to those whom we love. We love to be with them; we delight to come often to them, and to have much conversation with them. But when a person who hath heretofore been wont to converse freely with another, by degrees forsakes him, grows strange, and converses with him but little, and that although the other be importunate with him for the continuance of their former intimacy; this plainly shows the coldness of his heart towards him.
The neglect of the duty of prayer seems to be inconsistent with supreme love to God also upon another account, and that is, that it is against the will of God so plainly revealed.—True love to God seeks to please him in every thing, and universally to conform to his will.
3. Your thus restraining prayer before God is not only inconsistent with the love, but also with the fear, of God. It is an argument that you cast off fear, as is manifest by that text, Job xv. 4. “Yea, thou easiest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.” While you thus live in the transgression of so plain a command of God, you evidently show, that there is no fear of God before your eyes. Psal. xxxvi. 1. “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.”
4. Consider how living in such a neglect is consistent with leading a holy life. We are abundantly instructed in Scripture, that true Christians do lead a holy life; that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, Heb. xii. 14. and that every one that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even’ as Christ is pure, 1 John iii. 3. In Prov. xvi. 17. it is said, The highway of the upright is to depart from evil, i. e. the common beaten road in which all the godly travel. To the like purpose is Isa. xxxv. 8. “A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for those:” i. e. those redeemed persons spoken of in the foregoing verses. It is spoken of in Rom. viii. 1. as the character of all believers, that they walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.
But how is a life, in a great measure prayerless, consistent with a holy life? To lead a holy life is to lead a life devoted to God; a life of worshipping and serving God; a life consecrated to the service of God. But how doth he lead such a life who doth not so much as maintain the duty of prayer? How can such a man be said to walk by the Spirit, and to be a servant of the most high God? A holy life is a life of faith. The life that true Christians live in the world, they live by the faith of the Son of God. But who can believe that the man lives by faith who lives without prayer, which is the natural expression of faith? Prayer is as natural an expression of faith, as breathing is of life; and to say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a prayerless life, is every whit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say, that a man lives without breathing. A prayerless life is so far from being holy, that it is a profane life: he that lives so, lives like a heathen, who calleth not on God’s name; he that lives a prayerless life, lives without God in the world.
5. If you live in the neglect of secret prayer, you show your good-will to neglect all the worship of God. He that prays only when he prays with others, would not pray at all, were it not that the eyes of others are upon him. He that will not pray where none bat God seeth him, manifestly doth not pray at all out of respect to God, or regard to his all-seeing eye, and therefore doth in. effect cast off all prayer. And he that casts off prayer, in effect casts off all the worship of God, of which prayer is the principal duty. Now, what a miserable saint is he who is no worshipper of God! He that casts off the worship of God, in effect casts off God himself: he refuses to own him, or to be conversant with him as his God. For the way in which men own God, and are conversant with him as their God, is by worshipping him.
6. How can you expect to dwell with God for ever, if you so neglect and forsake him here? This your practice shows, that you place not your happiness in God, in nearness to him, and communion with him. He who refuses to visit and converse with a friend, and who in a great measure forsakes him, when he is abundantly invited and importuned to come; plainly shows that he places not his happiness in the company and conversation of that friend. Now, if this be the case with you respecting God, then how can you expect to have it for your happiness to all eternity, to he with God, and to enjoy holy communion with him?
Let those persons who hope they are converted, and yet have in a great measure left off the duty of secret prayer, and whose manner it is ordinarily to neglect it, for their own sake seriously consider these things. For what will it profit them to please themselves with that, while they live, which will fail them at last, and leave them in fearful and amazing disappointment?
It is probable, that some of you who have entertained a good opinion of your state, and have looked upon yourselves as. converts—but have of late in a great measure left off the duty—will this evening attend secret prayer, and so may continue to do for a little while after your hearing this sermon, to the end that you may solve the objection which is made against the truth of your hope. But this will not hold. As it hath been in former instances of the like nature, so what you now hear will have such effect upon you but a little while.—When the business and cares of the world shall again begin to crowd a little upon you, or the next time you shall go out into young company, it is probable you will again neglect this duty. After the next frolic to which you go, it is highly probable you will neglect not only secret, but also family prayer. Or at least, after a while, you will come to the same pass as before, in casting off fear, and restraining prayer before God.
It is not very likely that you will ever be constant and persevering in this duty, until you shall have obtained a better principle in your hearts. The streams which have no springs to feed them will dry up. The drought and heat consume the snow-waters. Although they run plentifully in the spring, yet when the sun ascends higher with a burning heat, they are gone. The seed that is sown in stony places, though it seem to flourish at present, yet as the sun shall rise with a burning heat, will wither away. None will bring forth fruit with patience, but those whose hearts are become good ground.
Without any heavenly seed remaining in them, men may, whenever they fall in among the godly, continue all their lives to talk like saints. They may, for their credit sake, tell of what they have experienced: but their deeds will not hold.—They may continue to tell of their inward experiences, and yet live in the neglect of secret prayer, and of other duties.
II. I would take occasion from this doctrine to exhort all to persevere in the duty of prayer. This exhortation is much insisted on in the word of God. It is insisted on in the Old Testament; 1 Chron. xvi. 11. “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.” Isa. lxii. 7. “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence;” i. e. be not silent as to the voice of prayer, as is manifest by the following words, Isa. lxii. 7. “and give him no rest till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” Israel of old is reproved for growing weary of the duty of prayer. Isa. xliii. 22. “But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.”
Perseverance in the duty of prayer is very much insisted on in the New Testament; as Luke xviii. at the beginning, Luke xvii. 1. “A man ought always to pray and not to faint;” i. e. not to be discouraged or weary of the duty; but should always continue in it. Again. Luke xxi. 36. “Watch ye therefore, and pray always.” We have the example of Anna the prophetess set before us, Luke ii. 36, &c. who, though she had lived to be more than a hundred years old, yet was not weary of this duty. It is said, Luke ii.37 “She departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” Cornelius also is commended for his constancy in this duty. It is said, that he prayed to God always; Acts x. 2. The apostle Paul in his epistles, insists very much on constancy in this duty; Rom.xii.12. “Continuing instant in prayer.” Eph. vi. 18, 19. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance.” Col. iv. 2. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same.” 1 Thess. v. 17. “Pray without ceasing.” To the same effect the apostle Peter, 1 Pet. iv. 7. “Watch unto prayer.”—Thus abundantly the Scriptures insist upon it, that we should persevere in the duty of prayer; which shows that it is of very great importance that we should persevere. If the contrary be the manner of hypocrites, as hath been shown in the doctrine, then surely we ought to beware of this leaven.
But here let the following things be particularly considered as motives to perseverance in this duty.
1. That perseverance in the way of duty is necessary to salvation, and is abundantly declared to be so in the Holy Scriptures; as Isa. lxiv. 5. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth, for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.” Heb. x. 38, and 39. “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Rom. xi. 22. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue, in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”—So in many other places.
Many, when they think they are converted, seem to imagine that their work is done, and that there is nothing else needful in order to their going to heaven. Indeed perseverance in holiness of life is not necessary to salvation in the same way as the righteousness by which a right to salvation is obtained. Nor is actual perseverance necessary in order to our becoming interested in that righteousness by which we are justified. For as soon as ever a soul hath believed in Christ, or hath put forth one act of faith in him, it becomes interested in his righteousness, and in all the promises purchased by it.
But persevering in the way of duty is necessary to salvation, as a concomitant and evidence of a title to salvation. There is never a title to salvation without it, though it be not the righteousness by which a title to salvation is obtained. It is necessary to salvation, as it is the necessary consequence of true faith. It is an evidence which universally attends uprightness, and the defect of it is an infallible evidence of the want of uprightness. Psalm cxxv. 4, 5. There such as are good and upright in heart, are distinguished from such as fall away or turn aside: Psalm cxxv. 4, 5.“Do good, O Lord, to those that are good, and to them that are upright in their hearts. As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity. But peace shall be upon Israel.”—It is mentioned as an evidence that the hearts of the children of Israel were not right with God, that they did not persevere in the ways of holiness. Psalm lxxviii. 8. “A generation that set not their hearts aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.”
Christ gives this as a distinguishing character of those that are his disciples indeed, and of a true and saving faith, that it is accompanied with perseverance in obedience to Christ’s word. John viii. 31. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” This is mentioned as a necessary evidence of an interest in Christ, Heb. iii. 14. “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast to the end.”
Perseverance is not only a necessary concomitant and evidence of a title to salvation; but also a necessary prerequisite to the actual possession of eternal life. It is the only wav to heaven, the narrow way that leadeth to life. Hence Christ exhorts the church of Philadelphia lo persevere in holiness from this consideration, that it was necessary in order to her obtaining the crown. Rev. iii. 11. “Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” It is necessary not only that persons should once have been walking in the way of duly, but that they should be found so doing when Christ cometh. Luke xii. 43. “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.”—Holding out to the end is often made the condition of actual salvation. Matt. x. 22. “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved:” and Rev. ii. 10. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
2. In order to your own perseverance in the way of duty, your own care and watchfulness is necessary. For though it be promised that true saints shall persevere, yet that is no argument that their care and watchfulness is not necessary in order to it; because their care to keep the commands of God is the thing promised. If the saints should fail of care, watchfulness, and diligence to persevere in .holiness, that failure of their care and diligence would itself be a failure of holiness. They who persevere not in watchfulness and diligence, persevere not in holiness of life, for holiness of life very much consists in watchfulness and diligence to keep the commands of God.
It is one promise of the covenant of grace, that the saints shall keep God’s commandments. Ezek. xi. 19, 20.—Yet that is no argument that they have no need to take care to keep these commandments, or to do their duty. So the promise of God, that the saints shall persevere in holiness, is no argument that it is not necessary that they should take heed lest they fall away.
Therefore the Scriptures abundantly warn men to watch over themselves diligently, and to give earnest heed lest they fall away. 1 Cor. xvi. 13. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” 1 Cor. x. 12. “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” Heb. iii. 12-14. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” Heb. iv. 1. “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” 2 Pet. iii. 17.“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” 2 John 8. “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.”—Thus you see how earnestly the Scriptures press on Christians exhortations to take diligent heed to themselves that they fall not away. And certainly these cautions are not without reason.
The Scriptures particularly insist upon watchfulness in order to perseverance in the duty of prayer. Watch and pray, saith Christ; which implies, that we should watch unto prayer, as the apostle Peter says, 1 Pet. iv. 7. It implies, that we should watch against a neglect of prayer, as well as against other sins. The apostle, in places which have been already mentioned, directs us to pray with all prayer, watching thereunto with all perseverance, and to continue in prayer, and watch in the same.—Nor is it any wonder that the apostles so much insisted on watching in order to a continuance in prayer with all perseverance; for there are many temptations to neglect this duty; first to be inconstant in it, and from time to time to omit it; then in a great measure to neglect it. The devil watches by temptation to draw us away from God, and to hinder us from going to him in prayer. We are surrounded with one and another tempting object, business, and diversion: particularly we meet with many things which are great temptations to a neglect of this duty.
3. To move you to persevere in the duty of prayer, consider how much you always stand in need of the help of God. If persons who have formerly attended this duty, leave it off, the language of it is, that now they stand in no further need of God’s help, that they have no further occasion to go to God with requests and supplications: when indeed it is in God we live, and move, and have our being. We cannot draw a breath without his help. You need his help every day for the supply of your outward wants; and especially you stand in continual need of him to help your souls. Without his protection they would immediately fall into the hands of the devil, who always stands as a roaring lion, ready, whenever he is permitted, to fall upon the souls of men and devour them.—If God should indeed preserve your lives, but should otherwise forsake and leave you to yourselves, you would be most miserable: your lives would be a curse to you.
Those that are converted, if God should forsake them, would soon fall away totally from a state of grace into a state far more miserable than ever they were in before their conversion. They have no strength of their own to resist those powerful enemies who surround them. Sin and Satan would immediately carry them away, as a mighty flood, if God should forsake them.—You stand in need of daily supplies from God. Without God you can receive no spiritual light nor comfort, can exercise no grace, can bring forth no fruit. Without God your souls will wither and pine away, and sink into a most wretched state. You continually need the instructions and directions of God. What can a little child do in a vast howling wilderness, without some one to guide it, and to lead it in the right way? Without God you will soon fall into snares, and pits, and many fatal calamities.
Seeing therefore you stand in such continual need of the help of God, how reasonable is it that you should continually seek it of him, and perseveringly acknowledge your dependence upon him, by resorting to him, to spread your needs before him, and to offer up your requests to him in prayer.—Let us consider how miserable we should be, if we should leave off prayer, and God at the same time should leave off to take care of us, or to afford us any more supplies of his grace. By our constancy in prayer, we cannot be profitable to God; and if we leave it off, God will sustain no damage: he doth not need our prayers; Job xxxv. 6, 7.—But if God cease to care for us and to help us, we immediately sink: we can do nothing: we can receive nothing without him.
4. Consider the great benefit of a constant, diligent, and persevering attendance on this duty. It is one of the greatest and most excellent means of nourishing the new nature, and of causing the soul to flourish and prosper. It is an excellent mean of keeping up an acquaintance with, and of growing in the knowledge of, God. It is the way to a life of communion with God. It is an excellent mean of taking off the heart from the vanities of the world, and of causing the mind to be conversant in heaven. It is an excellent preservative from sin and the wiles of the devil, and a powerful antidote against the poison of the old serpent. It is a duty whereby strength is derived from God against the lusts and corruptions of the heart, and the snares of the world.
It hath a great tendency to keep the soul in a wakeful frame, and to lead us to a strict walk with God, and to a life that shall be fruitful in such good works, as tend to adorn the doctrine of Christ, and to cause our light so to shine before others, that they seeing our good works shall glorify our Father who is in heaven. And if the duty be constantly and diligently attended, it will be a very pleasant duty. Slack and slothful attendance upon it, and unsteadiness in it, are the causes which make it so great a burden as it is to some persons. Their slothfulness in it hath naturally the effect to beget a dislike of the duty, and a great indisposition to it. But if it be constantly and diligently attended, it is one of the best means of leading not only a Christian and amiable, but also a pleasant life; a life of much sweet fellowship with Christ, and of the abundant enjoyment of the light of his countenance.
Besides, the great power which prayer, when duly attended, hath with God, is worthy of your notice. By it men become like Jacob, who as a prince had power with God, and prevailed, when he wrestled for the blessing. See the power of prayer represented in James v. 16-18. By these things you may be sensible how much you will lose, if you shall be negligent in this great duty of calling upon God; and how ill you will consult your own interest by such a neglect.
I conclude my discourse with two directions in order to constancy and perseverance in this duty.
1. Watch against the beginnings of a neglect of this duty. Persons who have for a time practised, and afterwards neglect it, commonly leave it off by degrees. While their convictions and religious affections last, they are very constant in their closets, and no worldly business, or company, or diversion hinders them. But as their convictions and affections begin to die away, they begin to find excuses to neglect it sometimes. They are now so hurried; they have now such and such things to attend to; or there are now such inconveniences in the way, that they persuade themselves they may very excusably omit it for this time. Afterwards it pretty frequently so happens, that they have something to hinder, something which they call a just excuse. After a while, a less thing becomes a sufficient excuse than was allowed to be such at first. Thus the person by degrees contracts more and more a habit of neglecting prayer, and becomes more and more indisposed to it. And even when he doth perform it, it is in such a poor, dull, heartless, miserable manner, that he says to himself, he might as well not do it at all, as do it thus. Thus he makes his own dulness and indisposition an excuse for wholly neglecting it, or at least for living in a great measure in its neglect.—After this manner do Satan and men’s own corruptions inveigle them to their ruin.
Therefore beware of the first beginnings of a neglect: watch against temptations to it: take heed how you begin to allow excuses. Be watchful to keep up the duty in the height of it; let it not so much as begin to sink. For when you give way, though it be but little, it is like giving way to an enemy in the field of battle: the first beginning of a retreat greatly encourages the enemy, and weakens the retreating soldiers.
2. Let me direct you to forsake all such practices as you find by experience do indispose you to the duty of secret prayer. Examine the things in which you have allowed yourselves, and inquire whether they have had this effect. You are able to look over your past behaviour, and may doubtless, on an impartial consideration, make a judgment of the practices and courses in which you have allowed yourselves.
Particularly let young people examine their manner of company keeping, and the round of diversions in which with their companions they have allowed themselves. I only desire that you would ask at the month of your own consciences what has been the effect of these things with respect to your attendance on the duty of secret prayer. Have you not found that such practices have tended to the neglect of this duty? Have you not found that after them you have been more indisposed to it, and less conscientious and careful to attend it? Yea, have they not, from time to time, actually been the means of your neglecting it?
If you cannot deny that this is really the case, then, if you seek the good of your souls, forsake these practices. Whatever you may plead for them, as that there is no harm in them, of that there is a time for all things, and the like; yet if you find this harm in the consequence, it is time for you to forsake them. And if you value heaven more than a little worldly diversion; if you set a higher price on eternal glory, than on a dance or a song, you will forsake them.
If these things be lawful in themselves, yet if your experience show, that they are attended with such a consequence as I have now mentioned, that is enough. It is lawful in itself for you to enjoy your right hand and your right eye: but if by experience you find they cause you to offend, it is time for you to cut off the one, and pluck out the other, as you would rather go to heaven without them than go to hell with them, into that place of torment where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
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