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MATTHEW vi. 7, 8.
And when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the
beathen do : for they think that they shall be beard for their much speaking. Be' not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye bave need of, before
ye ask him.
Before I offer you any reflections on our Lord's injunctions here concerning prayer, it may
be proper to prefix a few things concerning the reasonableness and benefit of prayer.
It was the observation of some wise and good men amongst the heathens, that the belief of a God, and the worship of him, made the true discrimination betwixt mankind and the animals around them. For that, in respect of the reasoning faculty, there were obvious traces of it discernible, in different gradations, in brute creatures, and also grateful and kind affections: but man alone was capable of recognising a first cause and invisible author of all things, wise and good ; and of rendering him the homage due to him.
And one of these, Plutarch, whose admirable writings are held in just esteem, asserts it to be wrong and improper, to own such to be human beings, who did not acknowledge and adore the deity ; maintaining that so irreligious a turn of mind must arise from some stupor which took away their senses and degraded them from their rank in the creation.
We read of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, that, for his pride and impiety, (Dan. iv.) “ he was driven from among men, and had his dwelling with the beasts of the field;" the proper meaning of which is, that he lost his reason, and took himself to be a beast, and acted as such, till it pleased God to restore him to his right mind, when he made a better and more pious use of it.
Where any are wretchedly ignorant of, or wilfully neglect or oppose, the knowledge and worship of God, the benevolent parent of his creatures, it is happy when by any way or means they are recovered from so depraved and horrid a state.
The reasonableness of our worship, and of prayer to God, is founded in our feeble dependent condition, oftentimes insufficient for our own happiness, which prompts us most naturally to look up to him that made us, in the fitness of acknowledging his continual favours, and the assurance we have that he is present with us, attends to us, and directs and
and directs and governs all things for the good of those that endeavour to recommend themselves to him in the best manner they are able.
The power, wisdom and goodness displayed in bringing us into being, and the various ways and methods to make it happy to us, are a just foundation for this our application to our Maker. He cannot be indifferent to his creatures, on whom (if we may so speak) he bestows so much labour and thought, or be regardless of their reasonable desires and requests.
Nor can he ever be absent from us, so as not to hear and attend to us. For the same divine energy by which he first made us and all nature is necessary to support us in being. We cannot divest ourselves of the idea of his continual presence with us and with all his works.
Nor need we to fear our being overlooked or disregarded by him. Our attention indeed can only be fixed on one object at once, and we are soon disturbed and perplexed with a multiplicity of affairs. But, as the sacred writer speaks, “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” He at one and the same time sees and provides for all. As easily as our mind directs the motion of our bodies, the divine mind governs the universe, and attends to the concerns of all his creatures. Nor is any thing too minute or inconsiderable in his sight, which relates to their happiness.
And although we perceive him not by our bodily senses, we may be as fully satisfied of his kind intentions for us, and care and goodness to supply what is needful for us, on our asking for it, as if we saw a hand from the clouds reaching out to us the things that we request of him. For all things are in his disposal, and come from him ; and he makes every thing what it is to us.
These natural grounds of the duty of prayer and thanksgiving to God appear plain and obvious, and afford much satisfaction to the pious mind. Nevertheless it is a great privilege,
that we have that express and immediate warrant and encouragement from God, to offer up our prayers to him, which he has given us by holy men, his prophets ; and last of all by our Saviour Christ.
For it is a fact of great notoriety, that a devout disposition, nourished and kept up by frequent acts of prayer to God, has been seldom found but among those who have had, or who acknowledge the benefit of, a divine revelation.
And in that part of our Lord's divine sermon which is before us, he is giving some cautions to his followers concerning this duty, and directing them how to perform it in the way most acceptable to God and useful to themselves.
After severely condemning many in those days, who, by their sanctified outward appearance of great devotion, sought to impose on the world that they were better and more to be trusted than others, to serve their private ends of gain and ambition; the words before us are a caution to those who imposed upon themselves, that they were religious, on account of the frequency and length of their
prayers, or who thought so meanly of their Maker,