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blessings we ask in prayer, we cannot but perceive that they well deserve, and strongly call for this importunity. Light, regeneration, pardon, peace, holiness, God's smile in life, his support in death, and his glorious and blissful presence for ever!-these, and such as these, which all come along with the gift of his Holy Spirit, are the good things, the blessings, which we ask of God in prayer. If important earthly advantages call forth earnestness and perseverance of pursuit, what earnestness and perseverance of pursuit should be called forth by such advantages as these! It is not a loaf, or three loaves of the bread that perisheth, that we ask; but it is the bread of life. It is not a draught of any earthly fountain, or stream, that we ask; but it is the parched soul's living water-that water, of which, if we drink, we shall never thirst again, but it shall be in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life. It is not bodily raiment, which waxeth old, that we ask; but it is the beautiful and lasting garments of salvation, it is the robe of righteousness, it is the wedding garment of the heavenly Bridegroom, it is the fine raiment that adorns the soul, it is the robe which is washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb, and in which, if it be put on us, we shall shine eternally in the company of the glorified. It is not human wisdom that we ask; but it is the wisdom which is from above, the being wise unto salvation. It is not bodily health we ask; but it is spiritual health from the leaves of the tree which are for the healing of the nations. It is not the honour which cometh from man that we ask; but it is the honour that cometh from God, and which will be ours before an assembled universe. It is not what men call riches, it is not the accumulated gains of trade, it is not the wealth of both the Indies, that we ask; but it is the unsearchable riches of Christ, it is that wealth which comes through the poverty of God's eternal Son, it is the treasures which are in heaven. It is not an earthly crown of gold and precious stones, which troubles him that wears it, and is often plucked from his head and put on another, or trampled in the dust, and which he must at all events lay aside when the king of terrors comes-it is not such a crown as this that we ask; but it is a crown of glory, that fadeth not away, it is the crown of righteousness, which is laid up for the saints, and which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall, at the great day, give to all who love his appearing. Nay, it is not the whole world that we ask; for, though the world,
with its possessions and pleasures were all our own, it were an unsatisfying and transitory portion, it were a paltry trifle, it were mere dust in the balance, when weighed against the noble prize on which the prayerful have set their hearts; it is not this whole world that we ask for our portion: but it is heaven with all its unspeakable and endless happiness, it is the ever-living and infinite Jehovah himself. Such, then, being the value of the blessings we ask, how importunate should we be in asking them! How should we ask, and seek, and knock for them! Not once, or twice, or any limited number of times; but perseveringly should we pray. We should resolve not to give over till the Lord bless us indeed; we should continue to pray, till our prayers are lost in praises.
I would next mention some encouragements to this importunity in prayer. For example, it tends to prepare the mind for the blessings asked, and even is often the actual enjoyment of them. Importunate prayer is not intended to change the purpose of God, or to work in him a willingness to help us, as if he were originally indisposed to do so; but, while it does honour to God, and manifests our sense of the importance of the blessings we ask, it evidently tends to quicken our desire after them, and to render us more prepared to relish them when they are granted. Nay, such prayer is often the very possession of the blessings; it is an exercise of faith, penitence, humility, holiness, and love, and that, too, at the very time when we may think that we are only praying for these graces. The Lord "prevents," that is, anticipates, "us with the blessings of goodness;" and while we are praying, as well as when we are musing, the fire of devotion burns.
Again, such prayer has the promise of being answered. The general command to pray implies a general promise of a favourable answer. But there are many particular and express promises of this kind, especially to those who pray with earnestness and perseverance. Of this the 9th verse of this chapter is a well-known and most encouraging specimen. It is true that there are many prayers which are not answered; but the apostle James informs us of the reason of this: "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss." If men address their prayers to a creature, and not to the Creator; if they apply in a spirit of self-righteousness, and not in the name of Jesus, and in a believing dependence on him for acceptance; if they pray as sufficient of them
selves, and not as looking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit; if they pray for what is not promised; if they even pray for what is promised, without using the other appointed means; if they pray with an unworthy end in view, such as, to consume what they ask on their lusts; and if they pray with indifference, and soon desist:-in all these cases they pray amiss, there is no promise that they shall be heard, and they cannot expect to be heard. But there is no possibility of any person praying to the true object of prayer, through the proper channel, for the promised gift of the Spirit, and with importunity, and yet not being heard at last. To every one who proceeds in this way, the promise of a gracious answer is unquestionably made, and will as unquestionably be fulfilled. "If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures: then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God."
Consider, too, for your further encouragement, some of the many scriptural examples of the success of importunate prayer. Think of Jacob wrestling with God, and prevailing. Think of Elias, who "was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth, for the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again; and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." And remember that though that was a miraculous case, it is introduced in proof of the general truth that "the effectual," or energetic, "fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Think of the woman of Canaan, who, after repeated failures, succeeded at last for her daughter. Think of Paul, who, after he had "besought the Lord thrice that a certain severe trial should depart from him, received what (though the trial was continued) was doubtless a most favourable answer, 66 My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness." And think, above all, of the example set by the Lord Jesus Christ himself of importunate prayer; and of its result in the happy success of his sufferings for the salvation of his people. Writing of him to the Hebrews, the apostle says,+" Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared: * Matt. xv. 22-28. + Heb. v. 7.
though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." Think of these examples, and rest assured that, if you follow them, your success will be the same.
Suffer me now, in conclusion, solemnly to ask, Are you given to such importunity in prayer? I do not ask whether you ever pray at all in any way, for, it is hardly to be supposed that any of you are altogether strangers to every mode of prayer. It is to be feared, however, that there are many of you who are, in various respects, strangers to a right spirit of prayer, and in particular, to that spirit of importunity which this passage enjoins. Do think how it is with you, in the closet, in the family, and in the house of God; and see whether you be not habitually and grossly deficient in this duty. If you are conscious that this is the case with you, apply to God for forgiveness, through faith in his Son's atonement, and seek the regenerating and converting grace of the Holy Spirit. Something more than a mere exhortation to this particular duty of prayer is necessary for you, even a total change of state and of heart. "Repent and believe the gospel." Then there will be reason to say of each of you, "Behold, he prayeth." And, though you may not exactly feel that you can pray aright, yet pray as you can, and you may expect that the Lord will teach you to pray: pray perseveringly in the appointed way, and a better spirit of prayer will come, the Lord himself will pour upon you the spirit of grace and of supplications.
Let all truly pious and praying persons, also, be admonished of their duty in this respect. I hope it is needless to enlarge in order to convince you of your imperfection here, or of the sinfulness of a careless spirit in prayer, and the great injury your souls sustain from it. I am persuaded some of you are ashamed and grieved, when you think how far you come short in this duty. Be watchful, then, lest you turn more and more remiss. Consider well what your duty, and interest, and happiness require; and stir yourselves up to call vigorously and unweariedly on the Lord. Be on your guard against worldliness, sloth, vacancy of mind, and all other hindrances to prayer; be frequent in your approaches to the throne of grace; and endeavour conscientiously to give yourselves to prayer, as often as you outwardly engage in it. Be circumspect and exemplary in your conduct, remembering that a consistent walk is neces
sary to a praying frame of mind, as well as very important in itself. Maintain an abiding and a deep sense of the necessity of the aid of the Holy Spirit to enable you to be importunate in prayer; and pray that he may help you to pray as you ought. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." And be not discouraged, nor induced to desist, though the answer should be delayed; but persevere, and all will be well. "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it shall surely come, it will not tarry." Carry away from this passage, this resolution, in God's strength, that you will yet be more importunate in prayer. Pray for yourselves, and pray for others. Ask, seek, and knock. "Pray without ceasing." "Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”