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vout affections in the hearts of all those who unite with us!
Yes, my Brethren, we, in a particular manner, are under an imperious necessity of having divine assistance in the sacred service, lest, in leading the public devotion, we should sink into habitual formality-lest we should be contented with employing our gifts in prayer, as ministers; without exercising our graces in prayer, as Christians. For dreadful is the state of that minister, who is not much on his guard, in this respect! because the frequent recurrence of seasons for conducting so.cial prayer, not only in public, but also in his own family, in the families of his friends, and when visiting the sick; has, through natural depravity, a tendency to produce an unhallowed familiarity with prayer, and with God-a familiarity, without self-abasement, without faith, without fervour, and without delight.
My Brethren will not be offended, if I should add, There is great reason to suspect, and to mourn over the suspicion, that the inattention and formality in our assemblies, when we are leading their devotion, are too often partly owing to our own want of deep solemnity, of holy ardour, and of spiritual savour, in the exercise. Though daily constrained to lament the want of more spirituality in our secret devotions, and bound to labour for it; we should be still more solicitous in public prayer, when leading the worship, to possess a large degree of clearness in our conceptions; of reverence in our adorations; of self-abasement in our confessions; of earnestness in our petitions ; of gratitude in our thanksgivings; and of sacred
unction through the whole: because the devotion of many others is much concerned on such occasions, iu the apparent frame of our hearts; in the language of our lips; and, perhaps, on reflection, in our example.
Nor is it, under God, of small importance to our usefulness, when officiating as the mouth of a congregation, in prayer, that the rectitude of our conduct, and the piety of our character, be unimpeached and unsuspected, by those who are present, and should add their solemn Amen. For if the conduct of a minister be stained by known immorality, or his religious character be considered as doubtful; those who unite with him, whatever appearance.of devotion there may be in his prayers, will probably have many unpleasing thoughts at the time, arise in their minds respecting him, that will greatly interfere with a devotional frame.
Of all the religious professors on earth, none have so many powerful motives to holiness of heart and life--to spirituality and heavenly-mind. edness; or to lead the exercises of social suppli. cation with deep devotion, as a minister of the word. For as, to suitable petitions in prayer, the habitual dispositions of any man's heart, and the tenour of his conduct, ought always to be in complete unison; so should it be, in a more especial manner, with regard to a professed minister of Christ. Because, whether he stand up in a congregation to interpret the divine oracles, or to be the mouth in prayer, he should appear, and be recognized, as A Man of God* _ much more venerable for his christian character, than for his ministerial office. The former being permanent, and stamping his destiny for eternity: the latter transient, and may be annihilated in a moment.—How it is with you, my ministering Brethren, I do not know; but, as to myself, when reflecting on the numerous obligations under which I am, to be entirely devoted to God; and on the multiplied motives I have, to exemplary holiness, and heavenly-mindedness—motives arising from, my christian profession, my public ministry, my pastoral office, my hoary hairs, and from a vast variety of other sources; my own sermons reprove me; my daily prayers reprove me; and I feel myself deeply convicted before God. Were it not, therefore, for that relief which is administered by the atonement and intercession of Jesus Christ, I should be utterly confounded—I should sink in despair.
1 Tim. vi, 11.
It is much more common, I presume, for ministers to be embarrassed by timidity, when they appear before certain characters among their felJow-worms, to discuss an article of doctrine, of privilege, or of duty; than when, as the mouth of an assembly, they professedly appear at a throne of grace, before the heart-searching God. But whence-if the foregoing particulars be maturely considered — whence can this proceed, in any of us, except from our carnality; our official pride; and our forgetfulness of the Divine Presence in which we stand? Alas! alas! my brethren, we are too frequently, though often insensibly, much more apprehensive of not obtaining that honour which cometh from men, and is usually attached to learning and eloquence; to a lively imagina
tion, and strong reasoning powers, in preaching; than we are of not approving ourselves to God, by the exercise of repentance and faith--of reverence and spirituality, in prayer. But, as an apostle says, on another occasion, These things ought not so to be.
To those who are silent worshippers. It is evident from the nature of things, that prayer, in the present state, is an indispensable duty, and essential to real godliness. Totally to neglect it, therefore, suits the character of none but an Atheist: because it is, a tacit denial of the Divine dominion, and the Divine existence.-Nor is prayer, whether social or secret; whether stated, occasional, or ejaculatory; a mere duty. It is also a privilege. Yes, on evangelical principles, it is a very important privilege. For it is a grand mean of spiritual edification; or of invigorating the graces of Christianity, when produced in our hearts. No ordinance of holy worship, nor any exercise of the human mind, being more adapted to cultivate the principles of real piety, in any person that is born again. It must, therefore, be considered, as an admirable mean of promoting holiness, and of increasing happiness, in this evil world.
Solemn and frequent prayer is adapted, for instance, To maintain on the mind a devout sense of our entire dependence on God; of his dominion over us; and of our accountableness to him, as the Moral Governor of the world-To excite reverence of his majesty, his justice, and his purity -To promote the exercise of self-abasement, of contrition, or of godly sorrow for sin, before him
To endear the atonement and intercession of
Jesus; being conscious that we are sinners, and knowing that he, to whom we pray, is a consuming fire-To increase our desire of sanctifying influence, and of conformity to the Redeemer's image-- To prepare our hearts for a thankful reception of the blessings that are necessary for us-To promote, by interceding for others, the exercise of brotherly love, to real Christians; and of the social, benevolent affections, toward all mankind-To habituate and familiarize ourselves in filial communion with God-To be a mean of enjoying those heavenly foretastes, those refined pleasures, which nothing but fellowship with the Father and the Son can possibly afford–To prepare us, as well for arduous duties, as for painful conflicts, here; and to mature us for a joyful de: parture hence, into the state of celestial blessed ness. For, as before observed, he who prays as he ought, will endeavour to live as he prays.'
Such being the happy tendencies of real prayer, to promote the vigour of true piety; were our hearts perfectly right with God, all our mental powers, and all the energies of our souls, would unite their exertions, from day to day, at the throne of grace. But though, at some bright intervals, in our devotions, we feel ourselves near to God, and our hearts enlarged with holy affections toward him, as revealed in Jesus; though, at such seasons, we behold his glory-- are delighted in his presence-and sink, as it were, into nothing before him; rejoicing that he reigns—that we are in his hands -- that he always executes his own pleasure--that our immortal happiness depends entirely on his favour-and that He is