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ás a sufficient proof of a truly regenerate spirit, perhaps Prayer would be entitled to that pre-eminence;--and this for two reasons, each of which has already incidentally been noticed. First, because it implies habitual watchfulness against sin: secondly, because it has its source in spiritual desires, and is the expression of spiritual affections. It might be dangerous perhaps, to fix the attention too exclusively on any single virtue: yet surely these considerations furnish the most reasonable motives for endeavouring diligently to grow in this blessed grace; while at the same time, they afford occasion for very anxious solicitude and inquiry, to all who are conscious that their prayers are little better than formal exercises, destitute of those deep feelings and earnest aspirations which give to devotion its true character.
Prayer is a very considerable source of Christian experience. Many of us can remember the time when in reality we never prayed. Most of us, it is to be feared, are conscious of considerable variations in the freedom, the seriousness, and the spirituality of our devotions. These, doubtless, arise in part from the fluctuations of health and spirits. In part too they may not improbably be occasioned (so far at least as respects sensible joy and consolation) by the differing degrees of grace, which are wisely dispensed by our great Redeemer with reference to our situation and wants, for our discipline and improvement. But by far the most considerable cause of the inequalities in devotion which some too frequently, and perhaps most Christians occasionally, experience, unquestionably is the increase and intrusion of tempers, practices, or pursuits, which are unfavourable to holiness. If the heart is soured by unkindness, or disturbed by the commotion of angry passions, can we be surprized that our prayers are attended with little profit, and no sensible delight? When the waves are swept by a Levanter, will they cease to rage merely because the blue vault above is serene and lovely? If we rise in the morning full of eager projects for our worldly advancement, or lie down at night, flurried with the rapture, or jaded by the fatigues, of unprofitable diversions, is it a strange thing to find that our hearts, like our knees, are bowed down to earth; that the incense of devotion is in our hands, but there is no fire to make it stream to Heaven a sweet-smelling sacrifice? Prayer is the touchstone by which our lives are tried. It is the magic signet that changes its colour at the approach of every danger. And these things, in their infinitely varying degrees and shades, are the materials of Christian experience. We become acquainted with the order of God's good providence; with our own corruptions, infirmities, dangers, habits, and necessities. Happy, happy they, in whom the spirit of real devotion is ever increasing; who “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God by whom they are sealed unto the day of redemption;" who, observing the ways of their Heavenly Father, aud diligently watching their own hearts and lives,
continue instant in prayer;” and find, in its blessed exercises, an ever-flowing spring of life, and strength, and consolation. They are the fruitful, the joyful, the established Christians. Their's are not the wanderings of earthly pilgrims, feeble and way-worn, labouring up the rude mountains, and shrinking beneath the wintry blast, Their's is the march of angels:
On they inove
Their perfect ranks: for high above the ground
Prayer is our chief security in seasons of difficulty and temptation. Our lives are not long: compared with the eternity that is opening upon us, they are almost nothing : yet such is our present weakness, that we are seldom able to preserve an equal tenor even through these short portions of existence. Distresses come upon us before we are aware, and find us ill prepared. Past failures render us justly distrustful of ourselves; and our happiest hours are saddened with the thought that perhaps temptations may hereafter arise too powerful for our strength; or a new state of things insensibly turn our minds from spiritual pursuits, and steal from us the little hope and joy we have been labouring to attain. Now, Prayer is that blessed mean by which a correspondence is maintained with God himself, and through which spiritual strength and knowledge may always be derived from Heaven, proportioned to our needs. The princess, who by touching a talisman, could summon the mightiest Genii to her aid, had little reason to be afraid of her enemies, though otherwise defenceless. A man who has liberty to draw without limit upon a wealthy friend, will not be apprehensive of want, though his own resources may be scanty. Let us not be fearful. Elijah was faint with his journey, and requested that he might die; but angels brought him food from heaven, and in the strength of that meat he travelled forty days, even to the mount of God. Angels are still "sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of sal,
* Par. Lost, Lib, vi.
God himself is ever present with us, ready to hear our petitions, and able and willing to perform them. How thankful should we be, that he has condescended to appoint a regular medium for communication with him. Only let us cultivate and improve it; let us become acquainted with all the power of prayer, and capable, by active and unremitting exercise, of proving its full energy in the day of our necessity. If this heavenly path be kept open and unobstructed, we may encamp with security, though placed in the midst of our enemies. Our supplies are safe; we are in no danger of discomfiture. “I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest; for it is thou Lord only, that makest me dwell in safety.”
There is yet another consideration which should peculiarly endear to us the exercises of devotion ;-prayer is our best resource in the hour of affliction. When every other prop of earthly happiness is withdrawn, and our weakness totters under the pressure of increasing and complicated distresses, this heavenly stay is still present with us, still sufficient to sustain us. It seems even probable, that God sometimes permits his servants to suffer under privations, and to witness the destruction of many of their fairest hopes, that they may ascertain the full measure of their spiritual resources, and learn “what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward them that believe.” All forgetfulness of God involves the guilt of ingratitude; but methinks there is something peculiarly heartless, and offensive even to our natural sense of justice and generosity, in that fitful and fluctuating piety which can fly to our great Creator and Saviour in the hour of need, yet neglect him in the days of ease and prosperity. Have we
then known what it is to suffer affliction? Have we wandered awhile in the vale of sadness and despondency, crying to God with a faint heart and a feeble voice, hopeless perhaps of succour, yet deprived of every other refuge? What were then our thoughts? What would have been our resolutions and promises, had a voice from Heaven offered us deliverance? Let us measure our obligations to a grateful piety by our own feelings during the season when they were the most just and powerful. Let us think of the astonishment, the very scorn and indignation, with which we should then have rejected the idea of forgetting Him in prosperity, who was our only help in sorrow. “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?"Or have our years hitherto flowed on in tranquil happiness? Has our Heavenly Benefactor shed upon us his choicest mercies, and shielded us from the shafts of destruction that are raining so thick around us? Yet let us not be blinded by the sunshine of our happiness. An hour is fast approaching that will feelingly convince us how frail is the texture of earthly felicity, how unstable the dreams of youth and fancy. Then who will be our refuge? To whom must we raise our eyes for support and consolation? And shall we slight Him in our strength, who will be the only Protector of our weakness? Even in earthly friendships, how dear to us are those who have comforted and sustained us under the pressure of calamities? The affection which has survived prosperity, to which degradation and sorrow have only given new warmth and steadiness; which, like the queen of night, unveils its full beauty when the hours of joy and lustre have passed away, pouring, as it were, a holy light through the damps and darkness of adversity;-such an affection, even in this