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2. That they must be for such things only as God has promised to give.
3. That they must be fervent and persevering.I now add,
4. That, in order to the acceptance of our prayers, they must be offered up in faith; that is, we must believe that God is able and willing to grant our requests.
He that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. But let not that man who doubteth-that is, of the power and faithfulness of God to accomplish his promises_let not that man think that he shall obtain any thing of the Lord. And, therefore, in all our approaches to the throne of grace, it behoves us to exercise a firm trust in the promises of God. Lord, may we say, 'this is thy word, by which thou hast caused me to hope. I would plead it with thee. Is it not thine own promise, and wilt thou not fulfil it? Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
The instance of the woman of Canaan affords à striking illustration of this branch of our subject. The request which she made was not indeed for herself, but for her child ; but she pleads it as if it were her own: Lord help me: Have mercy
Her reception, on her first application, seemed rather discouraging--He answered not a word. A second application was made on her behalf by his disciples, who received an answer which was apparently an absolute refusal of her request: I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And when at last our Lord said to her, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs ; who but must admire the ingenuity of her reply? Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table. The compassionate Saviour, whose apparent severity, like that of Joseph to his brethren, 'was assumed for the purpose of trying and exercising her faith, like Joseph, can refrain himself no longer : O woman! exclaimed he, great is thy faith : be it unto thee, even as thou wilt. -- What imperfect judges are we of the design of the seemingly adverse dispensations of divine
providence, and of the times and seasons of deliverance which God has reserved in his own hands! We feel disappointed, and grow impatient when we are not heard at our own-time. And what is the language of such impatience ? Is it not virtually saying, there is no God to hear; or that he is unfaithful to his promises ? Was it thus that the woman of Canaan acted ? No: she waited patiently for the Lord, and renewed her supplications for mercy to her afflicted daughter. Had she been a woman of a proud and unsubdued spirit, what a crowd of resentful and disdainful thoughts would have rushed into her mind, when the disciples said, Send her away, for she crieth after us! And above all, when He whom she worshipped, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David, said to her, It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs ! And is this,' might she say, 'the Messiah, of whom it is written; He shall
save the needy: the poor also, and him that hath no helper? No mercy, no help for a stranger, even though prostrate at his feet. I shall trouble his disciples no more ; nor will I implore any more that mercy of their Master, which he is either unable or unwilling to give. Whatever be my lot, I will bear it.' 1. Such might have been her conduct, and such her reflections, if she had not been what she really was -a true believer. Faith views the divine conduct through a different medium than what it appears in to the eye of sense. And to convince us of its great importance, and indispensable necessity in order to render our prayers acceptable in the sight of God, our Lord does not commend the Canaanitish woman for what we should be most apt to admire in her-her meekness, gentleness, patience, and humility. "These he passes over, and takes notice only of her faith ; and wherefore ? Because faith was the root or principle from whence the others sprang, and by which they were kept alive. It is this which enables us to possess our souls in patience under the pressure of affliction, and to say with Job, Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. When this happy temper is attained, the conflict is at an end the victory is gained. This is the victory that overcometh the world, and all its tumultuous and rebellious passions, even our faith. Hence it is said of Abraham, the father and the pattern of believers, He staggered not at the promise through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.
Such is the faith which we are to exercise, when we draw nigh to God in the duty of prayer. But as faith itself is the gift of God wrought in the soul by his Holy Spirit, it behoves us,
5. To implore, and exercise a constant dependence upon the Spirit of God, to implant and cherish those desires in our hearts, which will render our prayers fervent and effectual.
The great Author and Finisher of our faith hath taught us, that as God is a Spirit, so they who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth. He searches the heart, and the only religious homage he approves of is that which proceeds from the heart. But our hearts are deceitful, prone to wander from God, and to enter upon this most important of all duties, this greatest of all privileges, without previous thought or preparation, with an irreverent mind, and a careless indifference. While such is the state of our hearts, it is vain-to think that God will listen to our requests, to which we ourselves pay not the smallest attention. Hence the Spirit is promised to create in us a new heart, and to renew a right spirit within us. It is his office, as a Spirit of grace and supplication, to help our infirmities, who know not what things to pray for as we ought, and to make intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered.
The expressions, praying in the Holy Ghost, and praying in or by the Spirit, frequently occur in scripture, and are used in two different senses.
1. They are used to signify an extraordinary or miraculous gift of the Spirit in prayer, bestowed upon the apostles, and some other Christians in the first ages of the church. And this gift was of a twofold nature: that of praying in an unknown tongue for the conviction of unbelievers, in whose language the prayer was offered up; and that of praying for the recovery of the sick, with the certain assurance that their prayers would be heard, when they felt themselves at liberty to present them.
Of the former kind we read in 1 Corinthians, xiv. 14, 15. If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. From this passage, taken in connexion with the context, it appears that the Christians at Corinth had formed an erroneous opinion of the comparative excellence of spiritual gifts, and preferred in general the gift of speaking foreign languages, which some of them were miraculously endowed with, for the conversion of unbelievers. They imagined, that if this gift, which was confined to a few, were common to all, it would make them appear more respectable in the eyes of foreigners. The apostle rectifies this mistake, and shews the superiority of other gifts to that of speaking and praying in an unknown tongue.
The other miraculous gift of the Spirit in prayer, is that which is referred to in the following pas