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Thus also Jeremiah, or rather God by him, "I know "the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the "Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give "you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon "me, and shall go and pray unto me; and I will "hearken unto you; and ye shall seek me and find "me, when ye shall search for me with all your "heart."*
Accordingly, Daniel, (as did doubtless many others,) set himself to seek the Lord by fasting and prayer, just before the Jews were restored from captivity.
We have seen that the apostles and disciples continued instant in prayer, before the Holy Spirit was poured out at the day of Pentecost. The church of Antioch was fasting and praying, when Saul and Barnabas were called forth to go and preach to the Gentiles, eventually to Europeans; whence we Britons have received our marvellous light, and invaluable advantages.
Prayer especially honours God, and God honours prayer; it brings the soul into a humble, dependent, waiting, expecting frame, and prepares the way for thanksgiving: and therefore, it is proper, both in our private concern and in publick undertakings, that prayer, fervent persevering prayer, should precede every important success.
My brethren, allow me to make a remark thus publickly, which I have often made more privately; namely, that there is in general, too small a proportion by far, of supplication or intercession, in the devotions of christians of the present day. Selfishness seems even to infect our religion: we seek comfort, and perhaps sanctification, for ourselves, the company, and our particular circle: but, except on special occasions, we are not apt to enlarge, to multiply our petitions and fill our mouths with arguments, in pleading for our fellow christians and fellow sinners, throughout the world; or even for our own country, and the church of God that is amongst us.
* Jcr. xxix. 10, 13.
A number of christians sometimes agree on a particular emergency, to unite at certain times in some special requests; or meetings for prayer are appointed for such purposes: and doubtless this is highly proper, and conducive to much good. Yet prayer, thus called forth, seems to resemble the forced productions of the hot-bed, rather than the natural growth of the soil: they are raised indeed, as water from a deep well; but do not flow spontaneously, like streams from a fountain. A disposition, without any effort, to unite and enlarge, in our families, our social meetings, and, of course, in our closets, as well as in publick worship, or at particular seasons, for the purity, peace, and enlargement of the church; for the illumination and sanctification, and prosperity of all her ministers; for the conversion of Jews, Turks, infidels, and hereticks; for the sending forth of labourers into the harvest: I say, such a disposition for prayer in these and similar respects, does not seem so congenial to the minds of christians in general, as one would suppose it must be, from the principles on which they rest all their hope and confidence.
My sphere of observation is but contracted: and if any say, I have not found it so among my friends and brethren, I congratulate him; but this I confess, is the impression that I have received during the years of my acquaintance with evangelical persons.
Indeed it is my decided opinion, that nothing could so effectually promote the cause, not only of missions, but of Christianity in all respects, as a general concern among all christians; not only on some special days or hours, but constantly, whenever they prayed, to remember, either more generally, or fully, the case of unconverted sinners, of the heathen and the poor Jews, with that of missions and missionaries, and the sending forth of labourers; in particular, the raising up of missionaries and ministers among the natives of those countries which we attempt to evangelize; as this alone can give a prospect of enlarged and permanent success. This indeed, would be well calculated to excite a missionary spirit: but it is especially urged from a full conviction, that it will be the introduction, when God is about to "fill the earth with his "glory, as the waters cover the sea."
An early acquaintance with the writings of president Edwards, Brainerd, and the New England divines, gave my mind a peculiar turn to this subject. The nations unacquainted with Christ have ever since lain near my heart: and I never thought a prayer complete in which they were wholly forgotten. This was the case several years before societies for missions, (that is, new societies in England,) were established: but I could do no more than offer my feeble prayers.
Since Air time new and animating scenes have «BCHsi so cur view; and now, for beyond my expectation, I have lived, for the second time, to recommend from the pulpit the missionary cause, which I do with the most unreserved cordiality. It ought to be dearer to each of us than our lives: Oh, may we then, more than ever, pour out our daily and fervent prayers for its success, whenever attempted; and that the Lord of the harvest himself would send forth labourers into his harvest.
Let us, my Brethren, consider the Saviour himself as in the midst of us; as witnessing our consultations, plans, and difficulties; and especially bur earnest enquiries, ' What more can we do?' and let us suppose, that he, with his own gracious lips subjoined, in the language of authority and love, the injunction of the text; and then let us consider, what effect it would have on our subsequent conduct.
But Oh, how deplorable the case of Britons, of persons acquainted with the gospel, yet living without prayer, or resting only in lifeless form! who cannot pray for their country, or their nearest relatives, much less for the heathen, because they have not yet learned to pray for themselves! It ibiiot, however, yet too late: "Seek then the Lord while he may be found; call "upon him while he is near."
For, " When once the Master of the house is risen "up, and hath shut to the door; and ye begin to stand "without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, "Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say "unto you, I know you not, whence ye are. Then "shall yc begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in "**>>' presence, and thou hast taught in our streets, "But he shall, say, I tell you. I know not whence *' ye are-, depart from me all ye: workers of iniquity. "There shall he -weeping; and gnashing of teeth: "Wheaye shall see. Abraham, and Isaac,, and Jacob, "and all the prophets, in. the kingdom of God; and ** you yourselves theust out. And they shall come "from the east, and from the west, and from the "north, and from the south; and shall sit down in "the kingdom of God. And behold there are last "which shall be first, and there are first which shall "be last."*
A thought at this moment darts across my mind, "which gives me pain and discouragement. There are, I know, even religious persons, apparently so at least, who disapprove the design, and endeavour to damp the ardour of those engaged in it; or at least cannot concur in any plan, till a sort of Utopian perfection, according to their notions, can be discerned in the plans and in the managers of the business.
I shall only say, that had such notions generally prevailed in our Lord's days, and in subsequent ages, tve should now have been idolaters; if, in the times of Luther and his successors in reformation; we must also have continued papists. Join your efforts at least with some of our societies; and let us have your prayers for them all.
Let no christian make unworthiness, or discouragement, or want of liberty in prayer, an excuse or reason for neglecting this bounden duty. In general,
* Luke xiii, 24—30.
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