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As to particular temporal blessings, for which we pray, it is no argument that he is not a prayer-hearing God, because he bestows them not upon us for it may be that God sees the things for which we pray not to be best for us. If so, it would be no mercy in him to bestow them upon us, but a judgment. Such things, therefore, ought always to be asked with submission to the divine will. God can answer prayer, though he bestow not the very thing for which we pray. He can sometimes better answer the lawful desires and good end we have in prayer another way. If our end be our own good and happiness, God can, perhaps, better answer that end in bestowing something else than in the bestowment of that very thing which we ask. And if the main good we aim at in our prayer be attained, our prayer is answered, though not in the bestowment of the individual thing which we sought. And so that may still be true which was before asserted, that God always hears the prayer OF FAITH. God never once failed of hearing a sincere and believing prayer; and those promises for ever hold good, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you; for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."
Another use of this doctrine may be, of reproof to those that neglect the duty of prayer. If we enjoy so great a privilege as to have the prayer-hearing God revealed to us, how great will be our folly and inexcusableness, if we neglect the privilege, or make no use of it, and deprive ourselves of the advantage by not seeking this God by prayer. They are hereby reproved who neglect the great duty of secret prayer, which is more expressly required in the word of God than any other kind. What account can those persons give of themselves, who neglect so known a duty? It is impossible that any among us should be ignorant of this command of God. How daring, therefore, is their wickedness, who live in the neglect of this duty! and what can they answer to their judge, when he shall call them to an account for it?
Here I shall briefly say something to an EXCUSE which some may be ready to make for themselves. Some may be ready to say. If I do pray, my prayer will not be the prayer of faith, because I am in a natural condition, and have no faith.
This excuses not from obedience to a plain command of The command is to all to whom the command shall God not only directs godly persons to pray, but others also. In the beginning of the second chapter of Proverbs, God directs all persons to cry after wisdom, and to lift up their voices for understanding, in order to their obtaining the fear and knowledge of God; and in Jam. i. 5, the apostle says, "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God; and Peter directed
Simon Magus to repent, and pray to God, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him, Acts viii. 22. Therefore, when God says, do thus or thus, it is not for us to make excuses, but we must do the thing required. Besides,
God is pleased sometimes to answer the prayers of unbelievers. Indeed he hears not their prayers for their goodness or acceptableness, or because of any true respect to him manifested in them, for there is none; nor has he obliged himself to answer such prayers; yet he is pleased sometimes, of his sovereign mercy, to pity wicked men, and hear their cries. Thus he heard the cries of the Ninevites, Jonah iii. and the prayer of Ahab, 1 Kings xxi. 27, 28. Though there be no regard to God in their prayers, yet he, of his infinite grace, is pleased to have respect to their desires of their own happiness, and to grant their requests. He may, and sometimes does, hear the cries of wicked men, as he hears the hungry ravens, when they cry, Psal. cxlvii. 9, and as he opens his bountiful hand, and satisfies the desires of every living thing, Psal. cxlv. 16. Besides, the prayers of sinners, though they have no goodness in them, yet are made a means of a preparation for mercy.
Finally, seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereunto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.
CHRISTIAN CAUTIONS, OR THE NECESSITY OF
PSALM CXXXIx. 23, 24.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
THIS psalm is a meditation on the omniscience of God, or upon his perfect view and knowledge of every thing, which the Psalmist represents by that perfect knowledge which God had of all his actions, his downsitting and his uprising; and of his thoughts, so that he knew his thoughts afar off; and of his words, "There is not a word in my tongue," says the Psalmist, "but thou knowest it altogether." "Then he represents it by the impossibility of fleeing from the divine presence, or of hiding from him; so that if he should go into heaven, or hide himself in hell, or fly to the uttermost parts of the sea; yet he would not be hid from God: or if he should endeavour to hide himself in darkness, yet that would not cover him; but the darkness and light are both alike to him. Then he represents it by the knowledge which God had of him while in his mother's womb, ver. 15, 16. 'My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret; thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written."
After this the Psalmist observes what must be inferred as a necessary consequence of this omniscience of God, viz. that he will slay the wicked, since he seeth all their wickedness, and nothing of it is hid from him. And last of all, the Psalmist improves this meditation upon God's all-seeing eye, in begging
This Tract contains the substance of four posthumous discourses, on the text Prefixed, first printed at Edinb. 1788.
of God that he would search and try him, to see if there were any wicked way in him, and lead him in the way everlasting. Three things may be noted in the words.
1. The act of mercy which the Psalmist implores of God towards himself, that God would search him. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts." 2. In what respect he desires to be searched, viz. "to see if there were any wicked way in him." We are not to understand by it, that the Psalmist means that God should search him for his own information. What he had said before, of God's knowing all things, implies that he hath no need of that. The Psalmist had said, in the second verse, that God understood his thought afar off; i. e. it was all plain before him, he saw it without difficulty, or without being forced to come nigh, and diligently to observe. That which is plain to be seen, may be seen at a distance.
Therefore, when the Psalmist prays that God would search him, to see if there were any wicked way in him, he cannot mean that he should search that he himself might see or be informed, but that the Psalmist might see and be informed. He prays that God would search him by his discovering light; that he would lead him thoroughly to discern himself, and see whether there were any wicked way in him. Such figurative expressions are often used in scripture. The word of God is said to be a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Not that the word itself discerns, but it searches and opens our hearts to view; so that it enables us to discern the temper and desires of our hearts. So God is often said to try men. He doth not try them for his own information, but for the discovery and manifestation of them to themselves or others.
3. Observe to what end he thus desires God to search him, viz. “That he might be led in the way everlasting:" i. e. not only in a way which may have a specious show, and appear right to him for a while, and in which he may have peace and quietness for the present; but in the way which will hold, which will stand the test, which he may confidently abide by for ever, and always approve of as good and right, and in which he may always have peace and joy. It is said, that "the way of the ungodly shall perish," Psal. i. 6. In opposition to this, the way of the righteous is in the text said to last for ever.
All men should be much concerned to know whether they do not live in some way of sin.
DAVID was much concerned to know this concerning himself; he searched himself, he examined his own heart and ways;
but he did not trust to that; he was still afraid lest there might be some wicked way in him, which had escaped his notice: therefore he cries to God to search him. And his earnestness appears in the frequent repetition of the same request in different words: Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. He was very earnest to know whether there were not some evil way or other in him, in which he went on, and did not take notice of.
1. We ought to be much concerned to know whether we do not live in a state of sin. All unregenerate men live in sin. We are born under the power and dominion of sin, are sold under sin; every unconverted sinner is a devoted servant to sin and Satan. We should look upon it as of the greatest importance to us, to know in what state we are, whether we ever had any change made in our hearts from sin to holiness, or whether we be not still in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity; whether ever sin were truly mortified in us; whether we do not live in the sin of unbelief, and in the rejection of the Saviour. This is what the apostle insists upon with the Corinthians, 2 Cor. xiii. 5. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates ?" Those who entertain the opinion and hope of themselves, that they are godly, should take great care to see that their foundation be right. Those that are in doubt should not give themselves rest till the matter be resolved.
Every unconverted person lives in a sinful way. He not only lives in a particular evil practice, but the whole course of his life is sinful. The imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually. He not only doth evil, but he doth no good, Psal. xiv. 3. They are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one. Sin is an unconverted man's trade; it is the work and business of his life; for he is the servant of sin. And ordinarily hypocrites, or those who are wicked men, and yet think themselves godly, and make a profession accordingly, are especially odious and abominable to God.
2. We ought to be much concerned to know whether we do not live in some particular way which is offensive and displeasing to God: this is what I principally intend. We ought to be much concerned to know whether we do not live in the gratification of some lust, either in practice or in our thoughts: whether we do not live in the omission of some duty, some thing which God expects we should do; whether we do not go into some practice or manner of behaviour, which is not warrantable. We should inquire whether we do not live in some practice which is against our light, and whether we do not allow ourselves in known sins.