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SERMON XVII.

RESTRAINING PRAYER.

JOB XV. 4. And restrainest prayer before God.

THE duties of religion are made up of those we owe to God and our fellow-men. Among those we owe to God, prayer holds a place of high and acknowledged importance. God is the hearer of prayer. No man can be a Christian, or can ever become one, who does not seek to become so by prayer. No man who is a Christian already can grow in grace, be encouraged in his duty, strengthened in his hopes, or comforted in his trials, who cannot often say with the Psalmist, "Blessed be God who hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me."

Yet what multitudes are there who "restrain prayer before God!" Some pray very irregularly; some seldom pray; some never pray at all.

If we search for the secret cause of restraining prayer, we shall find it in a prayerless heart; if the heart were right, men could no more live without prayer than without their daily bread. They would be irresistibly drawn to the mercy-seat by cords of love; they could not be happy without habitual fellowship with their Father who is in heaven. But there are causes for restraining prayer which are more definite than this general one, and which we shall employ a few moments in specifying.

1. In the first place, there are those who feel that they do not know how to pray. They sometimes try, but are discouraged; they have neither the grace of prayer, nor the gift. They cannot give utterance to their requests, and know not indeed what requests to utter. They can speak to their fellow-men, but cannot address the great and holy God. They are shut up whenever they attempt to do so. They are not in the habit of it; it is altogether out of their line of business; and were they to attempt it, it would be such a novelty, that they would be startled at the sound of their own voice. They often take the name of God in vain, but it is very difficult for them to speak of him, or to him, in earnest. They are often heard profanely to call upon God to damn them; but know not how to lift their eyes to heaven, and like the publican in the parable, smite upon their heart and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"

2. There are others who restrain prayer, because they are not satisfied with their prayers. They cannot make a good prayer, nor pray as well as others. They have not found in their prayers that aliment to a proud and self-righteous heart, which they looked for. Good men also there are, who restrain prayer because they have little or no comfort in the exercise. The spirit of adoption does not always rest upon them, whereby they say, Abba, Father! They cannot always fix their minds upon the duty in which they are employed; nor upon God their portion. Their hearts are sluggish and cold, nor are their desires and affections moved, as they hoped they would be, in fellowship with their Maker. They do not enjoy these strong inducements to prayer, and the devil tempts them, and

they are tempted by their own hearts, to restrain this exercise. The seasons of prayer become insipid and dull; they have no elevating, or even composing and tranquillizing views of the things that are not seen and eternal, no spiritual joys, and no light in the dark night of their affliction. And they restrain prayer before God, and say in their hearts, "What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?"

3. Some restrain prayer, because their prayers are not answered. This appointed means of blessing does not seem to obtain the blessing they seek. The answer fails, or is long delayed, and they have no courage to urge their requests, and "quietly hope, and wait for the salvation of God."

4. Others restrain prayer, because they are so sensıble of their vileness that they are persuaded God will not regard them. Their sins drive them from God, rather than to God. They are greatly distressed on account of them, and are afraid to pray. How can such a sinner as I am lift up my face before him? What hope can there be for me? It is mockery, it is

The great Adver

insult for such a wretch to pray! sary often employs the sins of men, and their own painful sense of sin, thus to keep them away from God.

5. There is also a large class of persons who restrain prayer, because they are resolved on continuing in sin. There is great weight in the maxim, “ Praying makes men leave off sinning, and sinning makes them leave off praying." The man who is in the habit of prayer cannot pray, even if he deliberately purposes to commit any particular sin. If he attempts to go to the throne of grace, and bow his knees before God; he cannot speak, he dare not pray; there is a struggle in

his heart, and he must give up his premeditated sin, or give up prayer. "If I regard iniquity in my heart," says the Psalmist, "the Lord will not hear me." The commission, and much more the practice, of the most secret sin, will prove an insurmountable barrier to free access to God. Any idol sin, or cherished lust, which the sinner feels he cannot relinquish, seals the lips of prayer. It is like a corroding, wasting worm, that preys upon the heart, and eats out the desire of prayer. “He is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with him." I add,

6. Some there are who restrain prayer, because they are not willing to follow out the spirit of their prayers in those correlative duties which their prayers suggest. There are duties suggested by their prayers, and obligations implied in them, the neglect of which is flagrantly inconsistent with their prayers. The conscience of a man who prays in his closet, is rarely so torpid, but he is sensible he ought to act up to his prayers, and to live as a man of prayer ought to live. If he does not mean to maintain a reproachless deportment before his fellow-men, he will be embarrassed in his prayers, and will probably restrain them before God. Those who are not willing and desirous to perform every Christian duty, and do not earnestly implore grace to enable them so to do, are rarely brought to their knees. Their prayers would condemn them; they are ashamed to pray. A prayerful spirit will not allow a man to remain quiet under any known sin, or the omission of any known duty. He must give no quarter to his negligence, because his negligence will give him no rest till it is either abandoned and reformed, or roots out all the spirit of prayer.

Such are some of the considerations which lead men to restrain prayer before God.

II. Let us now, in the second place, direct our thoughts to the duty of resisting this unhallowed influence, and of guarding our minds against these, and all other restraints to prayer.

The nature of prayer itself shows that it is a duty, and one which nothing may restrain. It is the dictate of nature, of reason, of conscience, and of piety; and by restraining it, we violate the strongest obligations. But to spread out this thought over a somewhat wider surface, I remark,

1. In the first place, prayer is a duty commanded by God. With all the authority with which he ever addresses men in his word, he says, "I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." Elsewhere he says, "Pray without ceasing ;"-"pray with all prayer and supplication in the spirit:"continue instant in prayer." There is no more weighty, or powerful reason for prayer, than this command of Almighty God. There is, there can be no excuse for neglect of so plain a duty, and violating so plain a command; and those who violate it must be self-condemned and speechless.

2. Prayer is necessary in order to preserve a right state of moral feeling in our own hearts. Men have no sense of God's being and government; nor of their own obligations, dependence, and sins; nor of the divine goodness and mercy, if they never pray. They can never become Christians without prayer. They live without the fear of God, and without his favor. What must be the state of that man's mind who never asks God for anything, and never thanks him for any

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