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true, “ God hears not sinners," God does not work those miracles; but concerning sinning Christians, God, in this sense, and towards the purposes of miracles, does hear them, and hath wrought miracles by them, for they do them in the name of Christ," and therefore Christ said, “ cannot easily speak ill of him ;” and although they either prevaricate in their lives, or in superinduced doctrines, yet, because the miracles are a verification of the religion, not of the opinion, of the power of truth of Christ, not of the veracity of the man, God hath heard such persons many times, whom men have long since, and to this day, called heretics ; such were the Novatians and Arians; for, to the heathens they could only prove their religion, by which they stood distinguished from them, but we find not that they wrought miracles among the Christians, or to verify their superstructures and private opinions. But, besides this yet, we may also by such means arrest the forwardness of our judgments and condemnations of persons disagreeing in their opinions from us; for those persons, whose faith God confirmed by miracles, was an entire faith ; and although they might have false opinions, or mistaken explications of true opinions, either inartificial or misunderstood, yet we have reason to believe their faith to be entire; for that which God would have the heathen to believe, and to that purpose proved it by a miracle himself intended to accept, first to a holy life, and then to glory. The false opinion should burn, and themselves escape. One thing more is here very considerable, that in this very instance of working miracles, God was so very careful not to hear sinners or permit sinners, till he had prevented all dangers to good and innocent persons, that the case of Christ and his apostles working miracles, was so clearly separated and remarked by the finger of God, and distinguished from the impostures and pretences of all the many antichrists that appeared in Palestine, Cyprus, Crete, Syria, and the vicinage, that there were but very few Christians, that, with hearty persuasions, fell away from Christ, OãTTÓ TIS TOÙS ÅTÒ XprotoŬ Metaðiðážers, said Galen, “ It is not easy to teach anew him that hath been taught by Christ :" and St. Austin tells a story of an unbelieving man, that, being troubled that his wife was a Christian, went to the oracle to ask by what means he should alter her persuasion ;
but he was answered, “ it could never be done, he might as well imprint characters upon the face of a torrent, or a rapid river, or himself fly in the air, as alter the persuasion of a hearty and an honest Christian;" I would to God it were so now in all instances, and that it were so hard to draw men from the severities of a holy life, as of old they could be cozened, disputed, or forced out of their faith. Some men are vexed with hypocrisy, and then their hypocrisy was punished with infidelity and a wretchless spirit. Demas, and Simon Magus, and Ecebolius, and the lapsed confessors, are instances of human craft or human weakness : but they are scarce a number that are remarked, in ancient story, to have fallen from Christianity by direct persuasions, or the efficacy of abusing arguments and discourses. The reason of it is the truth in the text : God did so avoid hearing sinners in this affair, that he never permitted them to do any miracles, so as to do any mischief to the souls of good men ;, and therefore it is said, the enemies of Christ came “ in the power of signs and wonders, able to deceive (if it were possible) even the very elect ;" but that was not possible; without their faults it could not be; the elect were sufficiently strengthened, and the evidence of Christ's being heard of God, and that none of his enemies were heard of God to any dangerous effect, was so great, that if any Christian had apostatized or fallen away by direct persuasion, it was like the sin of a fallen angel, of so direct a malice, that he never could repent, and God never would pardon him, as St. Paul twice remarks in his Epistle to the Hebrews. The result of this discourse is the first sense and explication of the words “God heareth not sinners,” viz. in that in which they are sinners: a sinner in his manners may be heard in his prayer, in order to the confirmation of his faith ; but if he be a sinner in his faith, God hears him not at all in that wherein he sins; for God is truth, and cannot confirm a lie, and whenever he permitted the devil to do it, he secured the interest of his elect, that is, of all that believe in him and love him, “ lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.”
2. That which yet concerns us more nearly is, that “ God heareth not sinners ;” that is, if we be not good men, our prayers will do us no good: we shall be in the condition of them that never pray at all. The prayers of a wicked man
are like the breath of corrupted lungs; God turns away from such unwholesome breathings. But that I may reduce this necessary doctrine to a method, I shall consider that there are some persons whose prayers are sins, and some others whose prayers are ineffectual : : some are such who do not pray lawfully; they sin when they pray, while they remain in that state and evil condition; others are such who do not obtain what they pray for, and yet their prayer is not a direct sin: the prayer of the first is a direct abomination, the prayer of the second is hindered ; the first is corrupted by a direct state of sin, the latter by some intervening imperfection and unhandsome circumstance of action; and in proportion to these, it is required, 1. that he be in a state and possibility of acceptation; and, 2, that the prayer itself be in a proper disposition. 1. Therefore we shall consider, what are those conditions, which are required in every person that prays, the want of which makes the prayer to be a sin? 2. What are the conditions of a good man's prayer, the absence of which makes that even his prayer return empty? 3. What degrees and circumstances of piety are required to make a man fit to be an intercessor for others, both with holiness in himself and effect to them he prays for? And, 4. as an appendix to these considerations, I shall add the proper indices and signification, by which we may make a judgment whether God hath heard our prayers or no.
1. Whosoever prays to God while he is in a state or in the affection to sin, his prayer is an abomination to God. This was a truth so believed by all nations of the world, that in all religions, they ever appointed baptisms and ceremonial expiations, to cleanse the persons, before they presented themselves in their holy offices.
“ Deorum templa cum adire disponitis, ab omni vos labe puros, lautos, castissimosque præstatis," said Arnobius to the gentiles : “ When you address yourselves to the temples of your God, you keep yourselves chaste, and clean, and spotless.” They washed their hands and wore white garments, they refused to touch a dead body, they avoided a spot upon their clothes as they avoided a wound upon their head, μη καθαρώ γάρ καθαρού εφάπτεσθαι μή ου θεμιτόν ή. That was the religious ground they went upon; “ an impure thing ought not to touch that
which is holy,” much less to approach the prince of purities ; and this was the sense of the old world in their lustrations, and of the Jews in their preparatory baptisms; they washed their hands to signify, that they should cleanse them from all iniquity, and keep them pure from blood and rapine ; they washed their garments; but that intended, they should not be spotted with the flesh; and their follies consisted in this, that they did not look to the bottom of their lava. tories; they did not see through the veil of their ceremonies. Flagitiis omnibus inquinati veniunt ad precandum, et se pie sacrificasse opinantur, si cutem laverint, tanquam libidines intra pectus inclusas ulla amnis abluat, aut ulla maria purificent,” said Lactantius ; “ They come to their prayers dressed round about with wickedness, ut quercus hederá ; and think, God will accept their offering, if their skin be washed; as if a river could purify their lustful souls, or a sea take off their guilt.” But David reconciles the ceremony with the mystery, “I will wash my hands, I will wash them in innocency, and so will I go to thine altar.” “Hæ sunt veræ munditiæ (saith Tertullian) non quas plerique superstitione curant ad omnem orationem, etiam cum lavacro totius corporis aquam sumentes. This is the true purification, not that which most men do, superstitiously cleansing their hands and washing when they go to prayers, but cleansing the soul from all impiety, and leaving every affection to sin; then they come pure to God :” and this is it which the apostle also signifies, having translated the gentile and Jewish ceremony into the spirituality of the gospel, “I will therefore, that men pray every where, levantes puras manus, lifting up clean hands,” so it is in the vulgar Latin ; osious geïgas, so it is in the Greek, holy hands; that is the purity, that God looks for upon them, that lift up their hands to him in prayer : and this very thing is founded upon the natural constitution of things, and their essential proportion to each other.
1. It is an act of profanation for any unholy person to handle holy things, and holy offices. For if God was ever careful to put all holy things into cancels, and immure them with acts and laws and cautions of separation; and the very sanctification of them was nothing else but the solemn separating them from common usages, that himself might be distinguished from men by actions of propriety; it is na
turally certain, he that would be differenced from common things, would be infinitely divided from things that are wicked. If things that are lawful may yet be unholy in this sense, much more are unlawful things most unholy in all
If God will not admit of that which is beside religion, he will less endure that which is against religion. And therefore if a common man must not serve at the altar, how shall he abide a wicked man to stand there ? No: he will not endure him, but he will cast him and his prayer into the separation of an infinite and eternal distance. profanatis sacris peritura Troja perdidit primum Deos;—So Troy entered into ruin when their prayers became unholy, and they profaned the rites of their religion.”
2. A wicked person, while he remains in that condition, is not the natural object of pity: "Ελεός έστι λύπη ως επί αναξίως xaxoTabovri, said Zeno; “Mercy is a sorrow or a trouble at that misery, which falls upon a person which deserved it not.” And so Aristotle defines it, it is aúnn eis ŠaÌ TỚỐ Tomoção του αναξίου τυγχάνειν, « when we see the person deserves a better fortune," or is disposed to a fairer entreaty, then we naturally pity him : and Simon pleaded for pity to the Trojans, saying,
-Miserere animi non digna ferentis.
For who pitieth the fears of a base man, who hath treacherously murdered his friend? or who will lend a friendly sigh, when he sees a traitor to his country pass forth through the execrable gates of cities ? and when any circumstance of baseness, that is, any thing that takes off the excuse of infirmity, does accompany a sin (such as are ingratitude, perjury, perseverance, delight, malice, treachery), then every man scorns the criminal, and God delights and rejoices in, and laughs at the calamity of such a person. When Vitellius with his hands bound behind him, his imperial robe rent, and with a dejected countenance and an ill name, was led to execution, every man cursed him, but no man wept. « Deformitas exitus misericordiam abstulerat,” saith Tacitus, “The filthiness of his life and death took away pity.” So it is with us in our prayers ; while we love our sin, we must nurse all its children; and when we roar in our lustful beds,