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us in happiness and comfort as long as we are here. I do not say that it is wrong to pray for bodily health, and for a continuance of those blessings which God so bountifully bestows upon us even in this world; but certainly these things are not what we should chiefly pray for. In truth we are such poor ignorant beings, we know so little what is best for us in this our life of trial, that it certainly is wisest, as well as most becoming in us, to leave these things to that great and good God who knoweth and doeth whatever is best. We may perhaps pray for worldly blessings, when He sees that it would be far better for us not to have them: we may ask Him for bodily health when He may know that sickness would do us far greater good: we may desire of Him earthly possessions and enjoyments, when He may see that the very loss of these things may be of the greatest use to us; therefore, with respect to the things of this world, and what concerns our perishable bodies, it is better to follow the example of our Blessed Saviour, and to make use of His humble prayer, Father,
not my will, but Thine be done : to submit ourselves wholly to His good providence : thankfully to receive and rightly to use the blessings which He gives, and to bear with meekness and patience the sufferings and trials which He may be pleased to lay upon
But with regard to the things which concern our souls, and that better world to which, through the death of Jesus Christ, we are freely called, we can be at no loss how or for what to pray.
If we do but consider how vast is the happiness in store for us, how great and numberless are the risks and dangers which we run from the world, the flesh, and the devil: how helpless we are of ourselves, and what sinners we are both by nature and by habit, we shall feel how necessary it is for us earnestly and regularly to pray for protection and support to Him who only is able to afford them. What we should chiefly pray for, then, is to be pardoned, for Jesus Christ's sake, for every sin that we have ever been guilty of, in thought, word, or deed : both those which we have heartily repented of with shame and sorrow, and those also
which we have forgotten: we should pray to be kept out of evil, and to be delivered from temptation : we should pray that our affections may be weaned from this world, and set on things above : and, above all, we should pray that the grace of God's Holy Spirit may be given to us to keep evil thoughts and desires from our hearts, and to prevent us from falling again into any wickedness, especially any that we know ourselves most inclined to, most likely to commit.
But then we must remember, that our prayers never can be blessed, for they never will be heard, unless we attend to the third thing which I mentioned, namely, that they come from a pure and clean heart. For what says my text? If I incline to wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. Here is the sad reason why many find their prayers to fail : because they secretly incline to wickedness in their hearts. And how can it be otherwise? if we pray to be delivered from temptations, and yet put ourselves into such company, or such places, or such
situations, that temptations to evil are sure to come upon us, is not this a mockery of God ? if we pray to be set free from evil thoughts, and yet give way to them when they arise, is not this a mockery of God? if we beg Him to strengthen us that we may conquer our corrupt affections and sinful lusts, and yet indulge the very lusts which we pray against, is not this a mockery, a dreadful mockery of God? And will God bestow his grace, will He give His blessing to those who mock Him? will he favourably receive their prayers, the prayers of hypocrites and deceivers ? No, He is not deceived: if we still love our sins, though it be secretly, shall not God search it out, for he knoweth the very secrets of the heart? If we incline to wickedness in our hearts the Lord will not hear us : for He has declared that the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to Him. He has said, When they call upon me, I will not answer; when they seek me, they shall not find me ; when they spread forth their hands I will hide mine eyes from them, when they make many prayers I will not hear. Dreadful
is the state of that man whose very prayers awaken the displeasure of God, and thus become a curse to him, instead of bringing down blessings upon his soul.
My brethren, let us not give the Almighty cause to say of us, as of the Jews in old time, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. If this be our case, we offer up our prayers in vain. In vain we seek to be delivered from our sins : in vain we ask for pardon for the past, and grace for the time to come, if we dare to let the Almighty see that we still hold to wickedness in our hearts, or do it secretly when we have the opportunity. God will not do every thing for us, we must do something for ourselves. We must watch as well as pray against our own wickedness : we must offer ourselves, without hypocrisy, and without deceit, before our Maker, and shew by our own endeavours that we do heartily desire to be delivered from the sins against which we pray. Then will our prayers indeed be acceptable to God: they will rise up to