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but they do not pray. That which prayer cannot do, nothing can do ; and that which faith will not do, prayer cannot do. The prayer of faith shall heal the sick; and who knows but it may heal a poor sick nation also. And therefore, I say, pray and believe, and believe and pray.
Be sure of this, that in all your addresses unto God in prayer, you come to the bottom in the matter of your confession. If you have days of fasting, and prayer, and humiliation, be sure that you come to the bottom in the matter of your confession, to confess the original sin of all the displeasure that is come upon us.
Otherwise, though you fast, and pray, and confess, yet if you do not confess and bewail that sin which is the original of all our miseries, you do but cry lapwing cry, farthest off from the nest, and it will do us no good.
Be sure of this also, that you put away the evil of your doings, and do the contrary good; put away the evil of your doings, especially your Ashtaroth. Friends, though you fast and pray, and humble yourselves; if you do not reform, all your fasting and prayer will not bring God back again. All the days of fasting and prayer that you keep, will do nothing unless there be reformation. Yet I confess still, God must have a latitude, and he will sometimes save and deliver before we are prepared for it; but, I say, ordinarily, though you fast, and pray, and cry never so much, yet if you
, do not reform, all your prayers will not do. And though you do reform, yet if you do not reform and put away your
, Ashtaroth, that sin that hath brought this displeasure, your reformation will not do. And though you do thus also, yet if
you do not do the contrary good, it will not serve. Look to that therefore.
Be sure of this, that you go out of yourselves, and lay down all your worldly interests at the feet of the Lord, saying, Come Lord, return, O Lord: not, Return, O my trade return; not, Return, O our ships return; not, Return, O our peace return : but, Return, O Lord, return, O Lord. Friends, the more you go out of yourselves, the more fit you are for God to return unto you.
And to conclude it, If you desire that God should return unto you, and that you may return to God, go then to God,
and pray, and say, Turn us, O Lord, and we shall be turned. And thus I have spoken to this case.
Yet there is one thing more. It is a tedious thing to lie under God's departure. There may be hopes that God may return again; but what shall we do in the interim till God returns again?
I will briefly speak to it, and have done.
If your question do relate unto your particular souls, and you say, God is now gone from my soul, what shall I do in the interim till God return again?
Be sure that you carry it as the afflicted spouse of Christ in the absence of your husband; and for that you may read at large in the book of the Canticles.
Be sure of this, that you maintain your interest, and let not the sense of your interest in God and Christ be dissolved. Return, O Lord, how long! and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. Still they keep their interest, thy servants still. And so the spouse, “I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine."
Be sure of this, that you never come to say, God will never return again; though you say, Lord, how long? yet never say, God is gone, and will return no more. Poor, drooping, afflicted, and deserted soul, be sure of this, that you never say, God will never return; lo, he cometh leaping over the mountains, over difficulties to you; only be you willing to go leaping over the mountains of difficulties for to meet with him.
And if your question do concern the public or the nation, what shall we do till God do return again?
I answer, Then go and lament after God. Is God gone, and is God departed in a great measure from this nation? now go and lament after God. Twenty years, when the ark was taken, the children of Israel lamented after God in the ark. How long, how long God may stay at a distance from us, God only knows; in the interim let us all now go and lament after God. And
Be sure that you keep his ambassadors with you. When he calls home his ambassadors, he proclaims war against ą nation ; but so long as he hath any agents among you, he is not quite gone. And
If ever God begins to return to us again, be thankful for
the beginnings of his return. He that is thankful for little, shall have much; and he that is thankful for the beginnings of return, shall have a whole return. Thus do then, and who knows but that the Lord may yet return, and leave a blessing behind him? That he may do so, let us now pray, and say
, with the Psalmist, “ Return O Lord, how long, and let it repent thee concerning thy servants."
“ For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness.
“ Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips, Selah. For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness.”—Psalm xxi. 2, 3.
Tuis psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving, wherein the psalmist doth profess, that he will joy in the Lord, verse 1., “ The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord, and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice.” Why so ? because that the Lord had heard and granted his petition, “ Thou hast not withholden the request of his lips," verse 2. Yea, more than so, “ Thou hast given him his heart's desire,” verse 2., yea, more than so, thou hast given him more than he asked, for “ he asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever,” verse 4. Yet more than so, thou hast not only given him his heart's desire, an answer to his prayer, and more than he prayed for, but “ thou hast prevented him with the blessings of goodness.” As if he should say, Lord, I never asked a kingdom, I never thought of a kingdom, but thou hast prevented me with the blessings of thy goodness, and thou hast set“ a crown of pure gold on my head ;” blessings of goodness, in the Hebrew, is put for good blessings, wherewith the Lord doth anticipate the psalmist; for thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness ; in the consideration of which preventing love and grace, his heart was much warmed, and affected.
From whence then I take up this note or doctrine.
That it is a sweet thing, and worthy of all our thankful acknowledgments to be prevented with the blessings of God's goodness, or God's good blessings.
Preventing mercy is sweet mercy, soul refreshing mercy, which a thankful gracious heart doth well observe, and in the observation thereof is much refreshed therewithal.
For the opening and prosecution of which argument,
First, I shall labour to shew that it is no new thing for God to walk in the way of preventing mercy with the children of men.
Secondly, How and in what respects God will prevent us with his mercies, or his blessings.
Thirdly, What those choice blessings are, wherewith God will prevent the children of men.
Fourthly, Why God will carry on the work of his mercy in a way of preventing love.
Fifthly, What there is in this preventing love, that should be so sweet and soul refreshing to a thankful gracious heart. And
Sixthly, In case that God hath prevented any of us with his love or mercy, what is our duty that doth flow from thence. First, It is no new thing for God to walk in a way of
preventing love and mercy with the children of men. Thus he hath always dealt, doth deal, and will deal so; thus he hath always dealt, so with the world, so with the nations of the world, so with great towns and places, so with families, and so with particular souls.
As for the world ; did not God first come with his mercy the world, before the world made after it? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” But how did he
. give this gift? Did we beg it first, did we seek it first, or did he first prevent us with it? When Adam, and all the world in Adam had sinned, fallen, did Adam and the world first go to God for Christ, or for the promise of Christ; or did God first give out the promise of Christ, before Adam or the world sought it? “ The seed of the woman shall break the serpent's head;" God first gave out this promise of Christ, before Adam or the world sought it. Thus in regard of the world.
And as he hath dealt thus with the world in regard of pre
venting mercy, so with the nations of the world: with the nation of the Jews; so in Ezek xvi., “ When thou layedst in thy blood, and no eye pitied thee, I passed by thee, and said unto thee, live.” So when the nation of the Jews shall yet be converted again : “ He is found of those that seek him not:" it is spoken of the calling of the Jews. And as for the nations of the gentiles, says our Saviour Christ to his disciples, “ Go, teach all nations." Did the nations of the gentiles come to Christ, and say, Lord, the nation of the Jews have rejected thee, now then let the gospel come to us, and we will receive it? No, but says the Saviour Christ, “ Go, teach all nations," whatever they be, rich or poor, high or low, whatever they be,“ Go, teach all nations, and I will be with you,” for their conversion, for their salvation, to the end of the world. Thus in regard of nations.
So, also, in regard of towns, great towns, places, corporations. What worse town than that of Capernaum which afterward was exalted to heaven? But did Capernaum first come to Christ, or did Christ first go to Capernaum ? Christ first went to them. Matt. iv. Ye read of several towns in the Acts of the Apostles that did receive the gospel by the hands of the apostles, Iconium, Derbe, Lystra; but did these towns first seek to the apostles, and say, Pray come and preach Christ to us; or did the apostles first go to them? The apostles first went with commission from God to them. Thus in regard of towns.
And as God dealt thus with towns, preventing towns and corporations with the means of grace, when they never thought on it, so in regard of families. Who doth not know how God by his mercy did prevent the family of the jailor, converting that family by his preventing love? Who doth not know how God dealt by Zaccheus and his family: Zaccheus got up the tree, may be in curiosity, among the multitude to see Christ go by; but Christ seeing him, invites himself to his house : “ Come down, Zaccheus, for to day I
, must abide at thy house.” Did Zaccheus first invite Christ, or did Christ first invite himself? Christ first invited himself. Thus in regard of families.
And as for particular souls, you know how it was with Matthew the publican, sitting at the receipt of custom ; Come and follow me, says Christ; preventing of him. And