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That love of society which the God of nature, for the best purposes, has implanted in the breast of man, prompts him continually to render himself agreeable to those with whom he converses, by adopting their notions, and suiting himself to their inclinations. Hence arises our danger: for as vice is so prevalent in others, and our own appetites so strong; through a desire to please and imitate them, we ruin ourselves. When the torrent of sinful example pours impetuously along, instead of opposing its violence, we are too apt to yield to the stream, and go wherever it may chance to convey us. On these considerations, we cannot too frequently inculcate the admonition of the text"Watch unto prayer.”
Without prayer, every attempt to surmount the difficulties which impede our Christian progress, will prove ineffectual. Though God is always ready to give us more abundantly than we either desire or deserve; yet "he has commanded us to seek, that we
may find; to knock, that it may be opened unto us." He only requires a heart properly affected, and with this right disposition of soul, in every attitude, in every place, we may call upon the Lord our God in an acceptable manner. Though the hands may be employed on earth, the soul, in many a fervent ejaculation, may soar to heaven. It is proper, indeed, when we address the awful Majesty of heaven and earth, to signify our inward reverence, by a reverential posture of the body. But this is no farther acceptable, than as it is an indication of sincere humility.
Prayer is the Christian's great security and support, during his progress through life. It naturally leads us to purify ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit,
and to walk circumspectly and humbly before God. For we must be ashamed and confounded whenever we appear in his presence, to thank him for his mercies, or to request a relief of our wants, while we are conscious, that we wilfully indulge ourselves in the transgression of his commands. For which reason, as we advance in virtue and holiness, the pleasure of this divine intercourse increases; and on the contrary, gratification of our vicious appetites so alienates the affections from God, that only to think of him is frequently painful and terrifying.
Viewing ourselves in a public capacity, as members of a religious society, we stand in need of many blessings, which are most properly requested, only in a public manner-where the united voice of a multitude fixes the mind more attentively upon its proper object; and the flame of devotion, catching from one bosom to another, burns with greater strength and brightness. Whatever some may say of inward piety, of praying to our Father in secret only, without making any open professions of respect and reverence; it is very evident, that religion would presently desert us, were there not seasons and places appointed, where with one heart and one voice, we may acknowledge God as our common Father. Those, therefore, who are sincerely interested in the cause of piety, will never forget to assemble themselves together, as the manner of some is. And if public worship, in all religious societies, be proper and expedient, nothing, my brethren, can be better calculated to invite your constant attendance, than the established liturgy of the Church to which you belong. If a vast extent of thought; if the greatest energy, and, at the same time, simplicity of language;
if a strain of the warmest and most humble piety, may claim any regard, the Book of Common Prayer most justly deserves it. Let the excellency of it command your veneration, and induce you, at all times, to address God with becoming seriousness and devotion. For if an air of levity, indolence, and inattention, be highly indecent in the presence of an earthly superior, how much more culpable is such deportment in one who comes to prostrate himself before the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
From what has been now said of the uncertainty of all things which we now enjoy, may God so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. May we be convinced that the end of all earthly things with us is at hand; and may that conviction teach us to be sober, and watch unto prayer. May all the means of improvement in knowledge and virtue be attended to with becoming regard; and may they be blessed to the endless comfort of our souls, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.
On the Duty and Advantages of Prayer.
PSALM cxli. 2.
Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as the incense; and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.
THE holy apostle has asserted, and every pious scrvant of God can bear testimony to the truth of his assertion, that "Godliness is profitable for all things,
having the promise of the life that now is, and of that "which is to come." And, among the other benefits to be derived from a spirit of godliness or pure religion, this is not to be deemed the least, that the pious man, in the most calamitous circumstances of human life, can approach the throne of grace with humble confidence, and, in an acceptable manner, present his fervent petitions to the merciful Parent and Lord of the universe. Hence, he obtains consolation and strength: hence, when his footsteps begin to slip, he acquires a rod and a staff to support him: hence, when he begins to faint in the dreary wilderness, he draws forth refreshing waters; from the great fountain of all comfort and joy, streams flow abundantly, to revive his spirits sink
ing under the gloomy scenes that surround him. Of this important truth, the holy Psalmist was duly sensible. In all his distresses, (and his afflictions were frequent and grievous,) prayer was the great instrument by which comfort was procured: God was his hope and strength, a very present help in time of trouble: his prayer was set forth as the incense; and the lifting up of his hands was acceptable as the evening sacrifice: his habitual language was-" Why art thou cast down, "O my soul; and why art thou disquieted within me? "Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him."
It is the commonly received opinion, that this psalm, whence the text is taken, was composed by David, when he was driven from one asylum to another by the persecutions of Saul; when he had twice spared his persecutor's life; and still, not daring to trust his justice or generosity, had forsaken his own country entirely, and taken refuge in the land of the Philistines, with Achish, king of Gath. At this time; in such a situation of accumulated distress; at a distance from the tabernacle, where all the solemn prayers of the Israelites, together with the daily sacrifice, were offered up to God; with his face, in all probability, turned towards that stated place of divine worship, he be seeches the great Lord of the universe, from whose Spirit he could not go, nor be concealed from his presence, to accept all that was in his power to give, the devotions of his heart, and the elevating of his hands in prayer; that these, although he was at a distance from the sanctuary, might ascend to heaven, fragrant and well-pleasing as the clouds of incense rising from the holy altar, and prevail as effectually for his relief as the evening oblation.