Divine contemplations, necessary for these times. By H.I.
PSAL. 60. Ver. 1, 2.
O Lord thou hast cast us off, thou hast broken us, thou
hast been displeased, O turn thy self to us again.
Thou hast made the land to tremble, thou hast broken
it: heal the breaches thereof for it shaketh.
PSAL. 60. Ver. 1, 2.
O Lord thou hast cast us off, thou hast broken us, thou
hast been displeased, O turn thy self to us again.
Thou hast made the land to tremble, thou hast broken
it: heal the breaches thereof for it shaketh.
Printed for RICHARD THRALE,
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IT is the generall complaint of this kingdom, that the land lyeth under many and grievous pressures. And certainly, they are so great, so heavy, that men complain not without cause. Look upon the kingdom already wasted and rent with civil warre, and at this time in a new combustion in diverse parts thereof; it will easily appear (that if God of his mercy prevent it not) totall and inevitable ruine and destruction must of necessity follow.
In the meane time we cannot but with grief of heart foresee, that which by wofull experience we have already seen, felt, and heard what sad effects an unnaturall warre will produce: as secking [Page 4] and plundring of cities and townes, firing of houses, profaning of sacred places and things, deflouring of virgins, defiling of wives, widows, and matrons; killing of people of all sorts, Nobility, Gentry and Commons, young and old, in a word, committing of all kinde of wickednes, inhumanity and cruelty. Insomuch as this land which formerly hath been accounted a Paradise, is now like to become a rufull spectacle to all other Nations.
And may we not justly take up a further complaint,Lev.26.19 when we see God threatneth us (as he did his own people of old) to break our staff of bread (under which is comprehended all necessary provisions for the sustentation of man) ‘and to make the heaven to be to us as iron,Ese.5.17and the earth as brasse: to send the evil arrows of famine for our destruction, and to encrease it upon us:Jer.126.96.36.199to consume us with famine and the sword ’(the Prophet joyneth them together twenty times at the least in severall places, as inseparable companions.) Terrible was that which the Prophet by Gods command denounced of old, and which we may truely say is fallen upon us,Cor.10 on whom the ends of the world [Page 5] are come. That God would call ‘for a sword, and every mans sword should be against his brother, and that he would rain (upon his enemies) an overflowing rain. Its to be feared, that our harvest (as the Prophet hath it) will be a heap in the day of grief and desperate sorrow:Isa.17.11and that they (a strange Nation) shall eat up our harvest, and our bread, which our sons and daughters should eat, and eat up our flocks and our herds,Jer.5.17our vines and our figtrees, and impoverish our fenced cities (wherein we trust) with the sword. That the field is wasted, the land mourneth, for the corn is wasted, the harvest of the field is perished.’ It were to be wished, that this may not be our case.
But many there are that mingle their complaints with admiration, they wonder why there should be such judgements upon us, why they should live in such unhappy times; and among these quaeres, they would seem toanswer themselves, and give reasons for these calamities. Some ascribe them to fortune, some to the ambition of great ones, others to other causes and men, none to themselves. But certainly all our miseries come from this spring, the [Page 4] neglect of Gods worship, nay the contempt of it, and the exorbitancies of men, which carry them headlong into all mischief, as presumptiously to sin against the glorious Majestie of God, desperately to offend his omnipotent power, and to deal most unthankefully with a most sovereigne bounty: offering unheard of indignitie to the law of his justice, the awe of hisMajestie, the reverend regard of his presence, the terror of his power, and the long-suffering of his love. Sin, and nothing but sin, is the true cause of all punishments, and miseries; and the judgments which have befallen in all former ages. This is plainly to be seen in the most sacred Scriptures.
Ezra Ezra 9.13in his time acknowledged so much. All this (saith he, meaning the punishments the people had suffered)‘is come upon us for our evil deeds, thou O Lord hast punished us lesse then our iniquities have deserved.Esay.17.9.10 Sosaith Esay. There shall be desolation, because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation,Jer.29.17.19and hast not been mindfull of the rock of thy strength. So Jeremiah. Behold I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence,’ &c. Because [Page 5] ‘they have not hearkned unto my words. SoEzekiel. When the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I strech my hand upon it,Esek.14.13and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beastHos.99from it, So Hosea. They have deeply corrupted themselves, therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sinnes.’ And (exhorting the people to repentance and prayer) he saith,‘O Israel return unto theHos.14.1Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’
We must therefore of necessity conclude, that nothing hath brought these heavy judgements of God upon us, but the crying sinnes of this Nation: for if ever, in any foregoing age Saint Johns words might justly be taken up.Totus mundus in maligno positus est (never so many malignants) the whole world lyeth in wickednesse; now is the time, and the Scene may most fitly be laid in this Land, where all sinnes are acted;Joh.5.19 and to us the words of the Prophet may fitly be applyed.By swearing, lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. And concerning the seamlesse coat of Christ, how is it rent in this [Page] Nation. What dangerous sects, errours and heresies are publiquely broached and professed, to the great dishonour of God, the disunion of affections, and breaking the bond of love and charity? So that it's no merveile, ifthe land mourn, and the earth yeeld not her encrease:Lam.3.22. Nay, we must needs confesse with the Prophet. It is of the Lords mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
The bowels of his compassions (if our hearts be not hardned) we may take notice of, not onely in his long patience to us, and forbearance of us, and the free use of his Word and Sacraments, but by his extraordinary admonitions and warnings even from heaven it self. How many portents and prodigies of his future anger have we of late seen? as Comets, apparitions in the air, raining of corn, monstrous births of mankinde, and other his creatures, which wise men in all ages have held as Messengers, and forerunners of misery, and Gods judgements, unlesse diverted by repentance and humiliation? Yet these predictions of his wrath, we have either neglected, or misinterpreted: not unlike the Jews, of whom Josephus relates; Who, when a starre orComet (in the [Page] shape of a sword) hung over the city of Jerusalem by the space of a yeer, before the destruction of it; and that when at the feast of Unleavened bread there shone a light at nine of the clock in the night as bright, as if it had bin the clearest day in the yeer; yetDe.Bel.Jude (saith he) some of the Jews interpreted them according to their severall fancies, others wholly contemned and sleighted them, till (at last) too late, they found their own folly, to their utter destruction.
But more observant of things of this nature was Lewis the gentle, son to Charlemain; for when some of hisCourtiers (perceiving he was troubled at the apparition of a Comet) shewed him that place in the prophet [Be not dismayed at the signes of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them] he answered:Jer.10.2 We ought not indeed to fear any thing but him,who is the Creator both of us and that Comet: yet we cannot but sufficiently admire, and acknowledge his goodnesse. that vouchsafeth to admonish us impenitent sinners,Aimon.de.geft.Fran and to stirre us up to repentance by such signes as these.
Now though we wave these things as not to be regarded, yet we should not be so sencelesse and stupid as to slight the judgements under which we lye: but be sollicitous to remove the cause of them, that the effects may be removed also. Sin and transgression we finde to be thecause, an humble confession, with contrite hearts for that which we have formerly committed, and amendment of life for the future, with earnest prayer to God to take off his heavy hand, must be the cure. We must say with them in the ‘Lamentations,Lam.3.40.Let us search and try our wayes, and turn again unto the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens, and say, we have transgressed and rebelled.’
But we are farre stom taking the right course to remove these judgments, onely we look back to former times, and comparing ours with those, we conclude them to behappy, and ours most miserable; we complain and murmure, thats all we do. It cannot be denied, but that ours at this present may paralel, (if not exceed) the worst of times, if we consider the dearth and scarcity of all manner of food, and necessaries: the unseasonablenesse of weather, destroying [Page 9] the fruits of the earth, a plain prognostique of famine to ensue: the land almost destroyed with distractions, and divisions, yea, with murders and rapine; trade utterly decayed, and many thousands of people undone, many poor widows and orphans succourlesse, and harbourlesse, ready to perish; all these being the sad effects of a civil (but a bloody) warre: yet these are not the worst of our miseries, our condition is yet more wretched: For all that have been yet enumerated, are without us, nor do they detract from our eternall happinesse, but rather adde to it. Afflictio dat intellectum, these temporall judgements do or should bring us to the consideration of the cause, (namely Sin) and consequently to a detestation of it: but the distractions which are within us, make us much more miserable, then these which are without us. Ourunderstanding is blinde, our will perverse, and prompt to all evil, the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and our affections are so inordinate, that no kingdom, no not our own, is at such discord, as we are within our selves: which is the chief cause that God is so offended with us: this, and onely [Page 12] this makes us miserable indeed.
It were therefore to be wished, that as we look back to the condition of ourpredecessors, so we would balance our lives with theirs: & then we should be forced to confesse, that they were not so great sinners as we are, and therefore their punishments ought to be lesse then ours, by the rule of proportion of Gods justice: and (considering this) we would soon lay down these complaints, & betake our selves to some expedient, to appease the wrath of God. Besides, if we would but take notice of the course they took, when either they felt, or feared the heavy hand ofGod; we should confesse, that they deserved more favour from God then we do: and we lessepity from him, then they.
To leave other things, and to passe by their sanctity and piety of life, (which the greater it was, the harder it is for our imitation) They had, and applyed not onely a cure for their afflictions when they befell them, but anAntidote too. And this was Prayer: In all their difficulties, they had recourse toprayer, as a speciall sanctuary to flee too, hoping (nay being assured) to obtain any thing at Gods hands by it. Were they at any time in danger of enemies, they had recourse to God by prayer. And how prevalent it was, ever with God, appeareth by that notable place in Exodus; when [Page 13] Joshua fought against the Amalekites, Moses lift up his hands to God, and Israel prevailed, and when he let down his hands,Exod.17.11 Amalek prevailed. So that it was not Joshuahs sword, but Moses prayer, that overcame the Amalekites.
The Children of Ruben and Gad fight against the Hagarites, & one hundred thousand of them were delivered into their hands; for they cryed to GodCha.20.21in the battell (saith the text) and he was entreated of them, because they put their trust in him. TheMoabites and Ammonites came in great multitudes to fight against Jehosaphat. He being in fear of them, made his addresse to God, by prayer, and said. O our God, we have no might against this great company that cometh against us, neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon thee. And the LordCh 5.20.22 turned the forces of his enemies one upon another, and they destroyed themselves.
Hezekiah prayed against Senacherib king ofAssyria, that invaded his kingdom with a mighty army, and the Lord sent an Angel by night into the camp,Kim.19.15 and destroyed 185000. of them.
Zera the Ethiopian came against king Asa with an hostChr.14.8. of a thousand thousand. Asa having 580000. to oppose him. [Page 12] ‘He cryed to the Lord and said, It is nothing with thee to help, whither with many, with them that have no power. Help us O Lord our God,Chr.14for we rest on thee,’ &c. and the Ethiopians were utterly routed and slain.
King David found the force ofprayer effectuall in this kinde, for he saith, When I cry to thee, then shall mine enemies turn back. There are diverse other Psa.56.9examples of this nature in holy writ.
In the case offamine, we may see what Saint James writes of Elias, that ‘he prayed earnestly,Jam.5.17.18that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three yeers and six moneths. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.’
Samuel havingKing.17.18 terrified the people for their ingratitude, by thunder and rain in harvest, was entreated by the people to pray to God on their behalf to withdraw thatSa.12.18judgement from them which he did.
Yet a little neerer to our selves.
The people in the absence of Moses, cause Aaron to make a golden Calf; God is highly displeased with them, and saith to Moses, Let me alone, that I may consume them. Moses besought the Lord [Page 13] for them, and he was appeased. In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen.19.19 and the countrey round about, Let by prayer preserved Zoar. Jonah (being sent by God) denounceth destruction to the great city Ninive. The king,Jon.3.4.10 and the people betake themselves toprayer and repentance, and God repented of the evil that he had said, that he would do unto them, and he did it not.
In particular cases we finde. Jacob prayed for deliveranceGen.32.9 from the wrath of his brother Esau, and had it. HannahSam1.11 from barrennesse of womb, and the Lord heard her. By prayer, Jeremiah Jer.40was comforted in the dungeon, and released. Daniel Dan.6.23.saved from the violence of the lyons. Job was preserved upon thedunghil. The Thief found Paradise upon the Crosse. And Peter was delivered from prison by the prayers of the Church.
If any wanted necessaries, they prayed to God for them. As Jacob for bread, and raiment. If for wisdom to manage their calling, as Solomon, he begged,Gen.28.20 and had it in large measure. If they lay sick and desired health, as Hezekiah: upon his prayer to God,Kin39. he had not onely the sentence of death revoked, but fifteen [Page 16] yeers added to hislife.
In the new Testament we finde th duty in great estimation. Our Saviour (to encourage us, not that he had need himself) oft times used to pray, and gave us a rule,Pray alwayes. So did the ApostlePaul, Pray without ceasing. And the Fathers and Doctours in the Primitive church gave prayer many encomioms, stiling it the key of heaven, and practised it oftner then any other religious duty. Nay in those times, (as the best things may in time be corrupted) some there were (the Psalliam or Euchite) that prayed so much, that they which should hear of it (saith Augustine) would think it incredible; and were therefore numbred among the Heretiques of that age.Thes.5.17 Their errour grew, upon the misunderstanding of those words of our Saviour, and of the Apostle, of praying alwayes, and without ceasing, which (as the Fathers expound them) was, that men should allot some time daily, for performing the duty of prayer.
But we wretched creatures (a thing much to be lamented) in these very times of heavy and bitter afflictions, when heaven it self, the elements, and all creatures else seem to be sensible of [Page 17] them; we (I say) do not so much as think of amendment of life, nor seek we to God by prayer, but in these extremities have recourse to the arm of flesh, and rely upon our own strength and wisdoms, then which (God being neglected) nothing is more vain, and helplesse. Nay, being (already) ,‘stricken, we have not grieved, being (almost) consumed, we have refused to receive correction. We have made our faces harder then a rock, we have refused to return,’ And as it was in the prophet Esays time; In that day (a day like ours) ‘did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and mourning, and to baldnesse, and to girding with sackcloth. And behold joy and gladnesse, slaying oxen,Jer.5.3and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine. Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall die.’ Insomuch as God may again take up that complaint which he did long since;In vain have I smitten your children,Jer.2.30they received no correction. And it's no marveile (we coming so short in this duty of prayer,Isa.22.12 of those which have gone before us) that all the elements conspire against us; nor is it wonder, if we feel daily the revenging hand of God (which prayer only (as it were) tyes up) in greater measure, then they felt it.
Therefore are we much to be blamed, for though we conceive, that God judgements lye heavier upon us then upon any Nation of former ages, yet we procrastinate, and put off from us this wholsome remedy of prayer. Our necessities are present, why seek we not for present help?Isa.356 Do we know whither we shall have time to pray while too morrow? how dare we then promise so much to our selves? The Parable of the foolish Virgins should teach us to take the present time: for none ever escaped unpunished that neglected and let slip the time and opportunity of Gods mercy. The Prophets counsell was, Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is neer.
We are daily frighted with many fears, and those not causelesse; oneplague, one judgement suceeeds another, nor are we free either within or without us from divine vengeance. In these extremities what more present remedy or help can we finde, then by calling upon God, and casting our cares upon him?Is any afflicted (saith the Apostle) Let him pray. If crosses, dangers, sicknesse, warre, famine, pestilence, tempestuous weather, want, or other calamity [Page 16] hang over our heads or befall us, what is to be done? Let us pray. If the sence of our sinnes trouble us (as well they may) if the fear of eternall death, (the wages of sin) afflict us, Let us pray: for prayer is the life, and soul of the soul, and so profitable a duty, so necessary that the soul, health, life it self, and all we have depend upon it.
Then why do we so much neglect it, so little regard it? why have we not recourse to God by daily and fervent prayers? especially in these times, when we have more need of his help and succour then ever before. The Church is rent and torn, the Kingdom distracted, and even at the brink of ruine and destruction. Can we behold these desolations withdry eyes, without bleeding hearts? shall we not deprecate Gods anger, and imprecate his favour, and become humble suppliants to him, to pardon our great and manifold sins, and to avert these his heavy judgements from us? shall the heavens seem to mourn and shall not we, shall we not?
If a man have lost all that he possessed, and become blinde, lame, and infirme, this man must either beg or starve and perish. Certainly we have lost by [Page 20] our transgressions all the good we had and therewith all the gifts and graces of grace and nature; what then remains but that like beggers we cry at the gate of Gods mercy? when all other remedies fail us, prayer is onely left us. If then we neglect the lifting up of our eyes, our hearts, our hands toGod, no marveile if he let loose the reynes of all calamities, miseries, and afflictions to rush in upon us.
For the neglect of this duty of prayer, the kingdom mourns; for neglect of prayer the true worship of God is lost; for neglect of prayer we are become a scorn to our neighbours: for neglect of prayer the wisdom of our wisemen doth perish, and the understanding of prudent men is hid: for neglect of prayer all vertue and goodnes hath forsaken the land, and an inundation of wickednesseIsa.19.14 hath overflowen it, and brought these heavy judgements into it.
But some may say, what need these motives & exhortations to prayer? have we not prayed these seven yeers past? have we not spent whole dayes together in this duty, & yet we finde no ease of our troubles, no comfort in our afflictions, but rather daily additions to them [Page 21] 'Tis true, that in these great distractions ofChurch and common-wealth, God hath in pleased (as it were) to hide himself from us, and to neglect our prayers. But this hath oft times befaln other states and Churches before us. How often did David complain of this in his time, aswe may read in many of his Psalms?How long Lord wilt thou hide thy self for ever, shall thy wrath burn like fire? So Psalm 188.8.131.52 88.14. Isa.89.46and diverse other places God by the prophets and other his Saints used thismetaphore many times, in their own cases, asJob.Job.13.14Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy. So God by the ‘Prophet, as I hid meIsa.57.17and was wroth. AndIn a little wrath I hid my face from thee. Andin Jeremiah, I have hid my face from this city.’ And in the Prophet Ezekiel,Eze.39.23I hid my face from them. And lastly,Esay on the behalf of the people, Thou hast hid thy face from, us, and hast consumed us. For it is the nature and condition of affliction,Isa.64.7 to perswade those that are under it to think, that God is absent from them.
But the reasons why God seems to be so, and not to answer our prayers are these, among others.
- It is for sinne committed, and impenitency following that God seems to leave us.
- Because the prayers we make, in the time when Gods judgements are upon us, are not framed aright.
- Lastly, God seems to the absent, and not to hear and answer our prayers according to our expectation, for our own good, and for causes best known to himself.
The whole currant of Scriptures may informe us, that God never absents himself, or hides his face from any person, or nation, but for sinne, and impenitence. Moses in his song (setting forth the rebellions, idolatry, and other sinnes of the Jews) saith: ‘When the Lord saw this, he abhorred them, &c. And said, I will hide my face from them, &c. So the prophet Zechariah to king Jeash, and the people, Why transgresse ye the commandments of the Lord that ye cannot prosper: because ye have forsaken the Lord he hath also forsaken you. God (by the wise man) tells the wicked;Pro.I.14Because I have called and ye have refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded: But ye have set at nought all my counsells, and would none of my [Page 21] reproof, &c. When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwinde: when distresse and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I Pro.I.27will not answer: they shall seek me early. but they shall not finde me. And God (byEsay) complainingIsa.I.15of the the rebellion of Judah, saith, When you spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear, you hands are blood. So it is inJeremiah,Jer.14.12When they fast, I will not hear their cry, but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence. God hides not his face from his friends. It issin, andimpenitence that is the cause of hisabsence.Esa.64 .7 Thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities, saith Esay.Eze.39.23And your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you. And God(by the prophet Ezek) saith, They trespassed against me, therefore I hid my face from them.’
He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination. We may read, thatGod forbad Jeremiah Jer.7.16 to pray for the impenitent Jews, Pray not thou for this people (saith [Page 24] he)neither lift up cryes or prayer for them neither make intercession to me, for I wi[...] not hear thee. The man that was cured of his blindnesse, could thell the Jews.Joh.9.31 We know that God heareth not sinners, meaning the unrepentant.
But if any man be so plunged in the security of sinne, that he feel in himself no provocations to truerepentance, his best way to cure this evil is, to consider and weigh with himself, that he (miserable creature) hath to do with an eternall and immortall God, that sees, and hears all things, before whom, the Angels nor the heavens are clean: and that there's no way to avoid his judgement, unlesse he seriously repent: and enquire carefully into his forepassed life: and if he finde himself polluted with many sinnes, he may conclude, that there are infinite more in him which he cannot see, but Gods alsearching eye doth discover, and detest. And therefore, may reason thus with himself.Job.4.18 If the whole world should applaud my actions, and veile my sinnes with the name of vertue, yet can I not escape the just censure, and judgement of God. I must sooner or latter, appear before that alseeing, and hearing judge, [Page 25] and render an accompt of all my evilwords and works; Why then blush I not? why abstain I not from sinne? why do I not endeavour with all care, and diligence, to amend my life? Certainly, if thus we would do, unfeignedy, without hypocrisie, and call upon theholy Spirit to put us upon and assist us, in that good work; we should not fear, but that our prayers would be heard, so that we should never have cause torepent us of this repentance.
Another cause that God answers not our prayers, is; We pray not aright. Saint James is plain for this, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amisse. And we may erre, and ask amisse, both in the matter, and the manner.
For the matter, we may ask things not onely unprofitable, and hurtfull to us, but such as neither stand with the glory of God, nor the good of our own souls. And in these cases, no marvaile if God answer not our petitions. We ought therefore to beg such things, as are fit for God to give, and for us to receive: and these are, first, Spirituall, and heavenly. And secondly,Corporall, and temporall.
- The best of Spirituall good [Page 26] things, is the Summum bonum, the chief good: Eternall blessednesse, which indeed is the Epitomee of all good things; and consists in the fruition of the beatificall vision of God, in his glory and kingdom, There are other spiritualls too, Joh.17.3that we may lawfully pray for; as the ‘knowledge of God, of which our Saviour said, This is life eternall, that they may know thee, the onely true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. As also Faith, Hope, Charity, ’and all other graces of the Holy Spirit. These good things we may, nay we ought to pray earnestly for.
- Corporall and temporall blessings are health of body, deliverance from dangers; for food, and sustenance, peaceable times, and many other of this nature. and these may be lawfully prayed for, yet not without condition. For, whereas many times they do more harm (being obtained) then good, they must therefore be prayed for with this limitation, as farre as they shall conduce to Gods glory, and our own salvation. But surely, we many times ask those things, which stand in opposition [Page 27] to both these, whereby it falls out, that God will not hear us according to our will, though he hear us for our good. We are like little children many times, that will even with tears beg of their fathers, things which may do them harm, as knives, and the like; yet their fathers in discretion will not grant them. SoGod (who loves us with greater affection then any father loves his children, nay more then we love our selves) in his divine wisdom consults, what is best for our good, and denies us those things, which we foolishly ask, to our own detriment, and in his fatherly affection, and mercy, grants those things, which he knows needfull, and profitable for us.
See what Saint Bernard excellently said upon this subject. I beleeve (saith he) that the Petitions of the heart, consists in three things, nor do I see, what a child of God ought to pray for besides. Two of them are temporall; the good things of body and soul: the third, is the blessednesse of life eternall. Marveile not neither, that I said, corporall good things are to be prayed for of God, because all corporall are his, aswell as spirituall. [Page 28] Therefore they are to be expected from him by prayer, whereby we may be strengthned in his service. Yet we are to pray oftner, and more fervently for the wants of the soul: that is, to obtain Gods grace, and the vertues of the soul: no lesse are we to do for eternall life, where both soul and body will be in perfect blisse. Therefore in these three, as they are petitions of the heart, we are to beware of these things. Superfluity in the first: Impurity in the second, andPride in the third. For many times Temporall things are desired for pleasure: vertues and graces for ostentation: and some (perhaps) seek not Eternall life in humility, but in confidence of their merits. Nor do I speak this, but that when a man hath received grace, it gives him confidence to pray: but yet it becomes him not to place confidence in or by that grace, to obtain that he prayes for. These graces are so given, onely to conferre this upon him, to hope for greater things from that hand, that bestowed the other. Let therefore our prayer for Temporalls, be restrained to necessaries: Let that prayer which is made for the good of the soul, be free from all inpurity, and intent [Page 29] onely to the good pleasure of God: and let that prayer which is made for Eternall life, be in all humility, presuming (as is said) onely upon Gods mercy.
We may erre also, in the manner of Praying, many wayes, which cause our prayers to become fruitlesse.
- Wepray many times coldly, and perfunctorily, without attending to what wepray for. Surely considering that all our safety, happinesse, and good depends only upon God, and that we are to seek for it no where else; and that were it not for Gods mercy and goodnesse, we should perish for ever. We should therefore as (as often as we make our addresse to him by prayer) cast our selves (as it were) out of our selves, and lay aside all terrene cares, and encumbrances, which otherwise may hinder, and trouble us, in performance of that duty. But, if when we set our selves to Prayer, or other Spirituall exercises, we become Carnall, and suffer evil and foolish thoughts to possesse our mindes, suffering our selves to be carried away, and our thoughts to wander up and down; these prayers are in the sight of [Page 30] God, but hypocrisie, and abomintion, nor can they receive any gracious answer from him, for how can we conceive, that God will hear us, when we hear not our selves? Would we have God mindefull of us, when we are not mindefull of our selves, nor minde that we Pray for? And if we Pray thus carelessely, is it not expedient, that God should shake of this frigidity and extravancie from us, by withholding his assistance? Qui timide rogat, docet senegari. A cold and perfunctory Prayer, deserves a negative answer.
- What if we Pray without Faith, and confidence to be heard, doubting of the divine promises so frequently made in Scripture? ‘as Call upon me inPsal.50.15the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, AndThou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer, thou shalt cry, and he shall say, here I am.Mar.11.14And What things soever you desire,Isa.58.9when ye pray, beleeve that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.’ When our Saviour was importuned by the father of the deaf and dumb childe, whom the disciples could not cure; Christ told him (hearing him say, If thou canst do any thing) If thou canst beleeve all things are possible to him that beleeveth. [Page 31] That is, there's nothing, butChrist can, and will do for them that beleeve. If (I say) we doubt of these and the like promises, we deprive him of his glory, and do (what in us lies) to detract from his mercy and truth, and make God our enemy, instead of hearing and granting our petitions. Certainly, if webeleeve men, so often falsifying their words, why beleeve we not, but distrust God, that cannot lie? whose promises in Christ are Yea and Amen; especially considering, that his incomprehensible Power andmercy are joyned with his truth. It's the custom among men, to confide in those, that are willing, and able to help us; with what face then can we distrust God, so true in his promises, soindulgent in his favours, of whose mercy and loving kindenesse we have had so oft experience, and of whose omnipotence it were blasphemy to doubt? Again, we are to know, that Prayers are a testimony of our faith: If then wee in our Prayers doubt of the truth of Gods promises, and question whither he hear them or not, what mark or print of Faith appears in us? [Page 32] who can perswade himself that such prayers are heard?
Again, we erre in the manner of our prayers, if we do not so temper and conform our owne will, that it may become wholly subject to the will of God: observing what is agreeable to his will, in what we ought to pray for, and in what not, in what he hath promised to hear us, & in what he hath not promised: not murmuring at any crosse is laid upon us by him, but bearing it with thanksgiving, and blessing his holy Name for it. And God will have us (and of right he may exact it from us) so obsequious and observant to him, as that we make enquiry in his Word, with all modesty, and reverence, concerning those things which he hath promised, and to wait with patience, and assured hope for his performance, in his own time; leaving to him aswell what, as when seems him good, not prescribing to his wisdom and omnipotency either time or, manner. For it were an intollerable arrogancy, if wretched and mortall men, should assume such power over their Creator, as to subject him to their appetite, and not to submit wholly to hisgood will and pleasure; [Page 33] who knoweth what is better for them, then they themselves. This Saint John knew well, when he said, This is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And God himself (by the Prophet) intimates as much. In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; that is, at that time, which I have determined in my wisdom, and providence. Therefore in praying for terrene, and temporary things, (such as we beg under the title of daily bread,) we are to subject our selves to Gods fatherly will; and to desire them if it stand with his good pleasure: if not, we must yeeld to him in a filial obedience, and patiently endure what he shall lay upon us, as long as he pleaseth. King David (in his exile,) did so: as appears by his speech toZadok the Priest; ‘Carry back the Ark of the Lord (saith he) into the city. If I shall finde favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation: But if he thus say, I have no delight in him, behold, here am I, let him do to me, as it seemeth good to him.’ So theLeper in his petition for his cure, Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me [Page 34] clean. The like request did our Saviour make before his death. ‘Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: neverthelesse,Mat.22.42not my will, but thine be done.’
Another errour in our Prayers, and which may obstruct the passage of them, is an overweening of our own worth, if we ascribe any thing to our own merits, and expect to be heard the rather for them. Therefore it were better for us, to follow Bernards rule, rather to hide, then to brag of our good works, if we have any: as poor people when they begge an alms, put not on fine clothes, but ragges, and discover their sores, and nakednesse, to make men inclineable to pity. And indeed, what have we to boast of?Ber.Ferm.4 Whatsoever good we do, is meerly of the grace of God, not of the merit of the doer, but of the good pleasure of his will, to the glory of his grace. So that he that glorieth, is is not to glory in himself, but in the Lord who giveth, to whom he pleaseth. Meritum meum Cor.I.31miseratio domini, saith Aust. My merit, is the mercy and goodnesse of the Lord. The same Aust. upon the words [forsake not the woek of [Page 35] thy hands] saith, I commend not the work of my hands, for I fear, if thou look upon that, thou shalt finde more sinnes, then merits. This I onelypray, speak, and desire:Forsake not the work of thy hands. Look upon thy work in me, not my work: for if thou look upon mine, thou wilt condemn it, if upon thine own, thou wilt crown it. If then we acknowledge not our own misery, and our manifold frailties and imperfections, with all submission, and reverence, and that we are nothing, or lesse then nothing: or if we be any thing, that we are but dust, and corruption, and a masse, infected with the poyson of sinne, and (for that) liable and subject every moment to death here, and eternall condemnationPro.I.28 hereafter. If (I say) we acknowledge not this, but Pharisaically presume upon our own righteousnes, and good works, and think that God is bound to hear us for them; we may seek him early, but we shall not finde him. But, if (with the Publican) we shall Gen.32.1confesse our unworthines, and say with Jacob, Lord I am not worthy, (or I am lesse then) the least of all thy mercies, &c. and withEsay,Isa.57.15I am a man of unclean lips. [Page 36] To this man will God look, even to him, that is poor and of a contrite spirit: for the more we humble our selves, the fitter we are to seek and finde God, and to receive a gracious answer from him.
As the conceit (for it's but a meerconceit) of themerits of our good works; so the opinion of the merit of our own prayers, makes an obstruction, that God hears them not. It's true, that they are our defensive armes against Satans designes, and the means by which God hath appointed us to have recourse to him, in any difficulty or danger: yet they must not be offered to God as though they were able of themselves (without a further supply) tomerit accesse, and acceptation with him. For this were to make a man lay his foundation upon himself (which indeed he is apt enough to do) but our prayers deserve not any honour of themselves, but as God honoureth them, by commanding us to use them, as the means to obtain his promises by them. If therefore we shall offer up our prayers for theirs, and not our Saviours merits, and in his Name, or that we shall decline Christ, and betake us to Saints orAngels,they cannot but procure an ill savour in the nostrils of God.
We must direct them then to God, by his son Jesus Christ onely, by whom we have accesse to the throne of grace with boldnesse. He is our High Priest, and cannot but be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sinne. And in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. And therefore having Christ to be our Advocate, and that he tells us, that he prayeth for his, why should we decline so easie a way, and take a harder and more deceitfull tract, either by the merits of our own prayers, or themediation of Saints or Angels.Saints or Angels, they cannot but procure [Page 37] an ill savour in the nostrils of God. We must direct them then to God, by his son ‘Jesus Christ onely, by whom we have accesse to the throne of grace with boldnesse.Heb.4.16He is our High Priest, and cannot but be touchedHeb.2.18with the feeling of our infirmities, and was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sinne. And in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.’ And therefore having Christ to be our Advocate,Jo.2.18 and that he tells us, that he prayeth for his, why should we decline so easie a way, and take a harder and more deceitfull tract,Tim.2.15 either by the merits of our own prayers, or the mediation ofSaints orAngels.
If there be occasion to pray for the members ofChrist, labouring under difficulties on earth, let the prayers ascend to the Head (saith Aug.) who is gone before into heaven, by whom there is propitiation for our sinnes. For if Paul be a Mediator, the other Apostles should be so too: and if there be many Mediators, there's no reason why Saint Paul should say, There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. In [Page 38] whom we are one, if we keep th unity of the spirit, in the bond of peace. Therefore if we desire that our prayers should be as incense, or a morning sacrifice to God, and receive a gracious answer from him; we must tender them to him onely, in the Name, and for the merits of Jesus Christ, In whom alone he is well pleased.
Lastly, our prayers receive not thataudience, or acceptance that we expect, because we offer them not with that due respect we ought:Ephe.4.3 ouroutward behaviour is not suitable with that of Petitioners. If a man petition for any thing, it's fit he should compose himself, as becomes a Petitioner: thatPsal.141.2 is, by uncovering his head,bending himself, and the like. We usually call him that begs an alms with his hat on, a sturdy begger, and give him relief accordingly. Ask and enquire of the old pathes, and see,Mat.3.17 whither in former ages, there were ever such bold unreverendPetitioners as now: God may well take up to us the speech which he used in the Prophet,Jer.6.16 to the uncivill Jews; If I be a Father, where is mine honour, if I be a Master, where is my fear? Search the Scriptures, and you shall finde, [Page 39] how reverently the Saints of God made their addresses to him.Gen.17.3 Abraham in his conference with God,fell on his face.Jo.11.32 So did Mary, the sister of Lazarus, to our SaviourChrist. And the Samaritan Leper (one of the ten Lepers which were cured) Fell down on his faceLu.17.16at Christs feet, giving him thanks, for the great benefit he had received from him: a gesture certainly of much submission.
King Solomon, Kin.8.15 assoon as he had built theTemple, powred out his Prayers to God for a blessing; Nor is that set down, that he prayed, onely, but (for our instruction) with what gesture he did it. He arose from the Altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees, with his hands spread up to heaven. Ezra.9.5Ezra in his Prayer for the people, that had sinned grievously, Fell upon his knees, and spread out his hands to the Lord his God. Saint Pauls precept is, I will that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting.[Page 40]
Our Saviour himself kneeled whe [...] he prayed. Saint Peter (praying for Tabithas restoring from death to life) kneeled down and prayed. The like di [...] Saint Paul, upon the shore atEphesus, with all that were with him.
We may read also in sacred Scripture, that many Penitents joyned with their prarers smiting their brests, and casting ashes upon their heads, renting their garments, and putting on of sackcloath; these, and the other before mentioned, being tokens that their prayers were fervent, and their confession of sinnes, and their repentance for them, serious and humble. For while we cast up our eyes, and stretch our hands to heaven, we declare and signifie our ardent expectation of all aid and good from God alone, and from none other:Lu.22.41 When I kneel, I expresse my humility, when I smite my brest, I shew mine indignation against my self, for offending so gracious a God, and the like.
I deny not, but that the true worship of God consists chiefly in inward not outward behaviour: yet outward gestures are not only (as I said) signes of the sincerity of our prayers, but prevalent [Page 41] also, to stirre up our attentions, and to cast off all dulnesse, and frigidity in praying. Besides, these humble gestures are (as it were) a means to incite others (that are spectators of our devotion) to the like reverentiall performance. And indeed, since God is the Creator, not onely of the soul, but of the body also, which is (as it were) the temple of the Soul; and that the Body one day must receive good, or ill with the Soul, why should not God be honoured by both? I confesse (as I said before) that the inward affections of the Soul, justly chalength the first place in our Prayers: nor is it to be thought, that God despiseth the prayers of him that sitteth, standeth, or lyeth, if his affections go along with them, yet since God hath given man a Body with a Soul,Cor.6.20 for his own glory, Therefore (as theApostle directs) glorifie God in your body, and in your spirit, which are Gods.
In all these forenamed gestures, it's certain, that theEph.3.14 heart must be lift up before the hands, the heart mustkneel before the body, (for the heart hath knees as well as the body, witnesse Saint Paul) the heart must weep before theeyes: [Page 42] and the heart must speak, before the tongue: for it's not thevoice, or bare sound of words which God gives ear to, but the affection of the heart. (Though true vocal prayer is necessary to stirre up our fainting spirits, and to incite others to the like duty)Isa.29.13 for God (by the Prophet) complained of such as were onely wording petitioners, and our Saviour quotes the same text, against the Scribes and Pharisees, This people draw neer me with their mouths, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me.
Therefore (as Augustine doth) we may conclude, that Oratio non est in multiloquio. True prayer consists not in many words. And (with him) Differunt multum loqui, & multum precari. Hoc negotium plus gemitibus, quam sermonibus agitur, plus fletu quam affatu. There's great difference between muchMat.15.8speaking, and muchpraying: this work is better effected bygroanes, then words, by weeping, then by speaking.
There are divers presidents in Gods word, to inform us, that God hears mental prayers, aswell as vocal. Wherefore cryest thou unto me (saith God [Page 43] to Moses) when we read not of a word that he spake. So, when God was offended at the Israelites for making a golden calf, Moses stood sad, and silent, yet as it seems he prayed secretly, and his prayer ascended up to God; for God said, ‘Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. Hannah likewise, prayed to the Lord in heart, onely her lippes moved, but her voice was not heard;’ that is, by those that were neere, but by God it was. And the woman in the Gospel, spake not to our Saviour to cure her, but onely said within her self, If ‘I may but touch his garment,Sam.1.13I shall be whole: yet she was heard, and cured. Therefore it was, that Saint Paul said, I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with understanding. Prayer’ if it be true and fervent, and proceed from faith, Mat.9.11 if it be uttered by inward groanes, and sighes from the heart, prevaile asmuch with God, as that which comes with the greatest expressions by and from the lips:Cor.14.15 For God needs no information from us concerning our wants and necessities. [Page 44] He knowethMat.6.9 what things we have need of before we ask: and our infirmities and pressures are better known to him then toIsal.38.9 our selves. The Prophet knew this when he said, Lord all my desire is before thee, and my groanings are not hid from thee.
If God know what we pray for, may some say, and know what we need, and what dangers hang over our heads, before we petition to him; to what purpose is it, or wherefore do wepray, do we not pray in vain? and may not our prayers be spared? No, we must pray to him though.InMat.6. Saint Jerome satisfies all men in this point. ‘We are not Informers, but Petitioners (saith he) and it's one thing to tell and instruct a man that is ignorant, and another, to make a request to him that knoweth what we want.’ It is not therefore in respect of God, that needs noinformation, but in regard of our selves that want his protection, that we pray unto him.
- The best of Spirituall good [Page 26] things, is the Summum bonum, the chief good: Eternall blessednesse, which indeed is the Epitomee of all good things; and consists in the fruition of the beatificall vision of God, in his glory and kingdom, There are other spiritualls too,
In the last place, the reasons why God seems to absent himself from us, and not to grant our requests, are many.
1. It may be the fit time, best [Page 45] known to God to answer our desires is not yet come; for as there is a time when God may more especially be found; so there is a time, which God hath reserved to himself, and seems to hide his face from us. If he come not at our time to us, what are we to do? The Prophet David tells us,Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart, wait I say on the Lord. Observe how slowly a tree yeelds it's fruit: First it's planted,Psal.32.6 then it takes root, afterward it shoots forth, and bears leaves, and dilates it self into arms and boughs: then it blowes, and buds, the fruit knots and ripens, they are gathered, and served at the table, lastly eaten and digested. The like time doth God take ofttimes, andIsa.49.8 deals with his petitioners by degrees, yet saith at last, ‘In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee.Pro.20.22Wait on the Lord (saith Solomon) and he will save thee. And the Prophet,Lam.3.25The Lord is good untoIsa.30.18them that wait for him. Though it tarry’
God prolongs the time, and deferres [Page 46] to grant our requests for diverse causes.
To kindle our zeal and constancy in prayer, and to exercise our faith, and patience: and when things seem to be in the most deplorable condition, then to deliver us out of all our trouble.
The Israelites being under the pressure of a hard servitude, pray for deliverance, God protracts it for many yeers, to try and exercise their faith and patience,Ex.2.23 in the mean time their slavery encreaseth: they sigh and are grieved, perhaps they conceived their complaints to be spent in vain, but the event in their deliverance, at last answered them fully.
So Christ delayed the woman of Canaan, first, by making as though he had not heard her, then by giving her a hard repulse, even as if she had been a dog,Mat15.22 yet upon her faith and constancy, which appeared so great, he granted her desire.
To declare and manifest his omnipotency, and to gain the greater glory to himself. When God had freed theIsraelites out of the Egyptian bondage, hee [Page 47] brought them again into great fears, for Pharaoh pursued them with a dreadfull army, and the sea was before them, so that they were encompassed, and no hope appeared to them to avoid destruction: insomuch as they began to murmure, and say to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wildernesse?’They thought themselves all lost men. Then (contrary to all outward appearance of help) the seaEx.14.11 by Gods command, divided it self, and the waters were wall unto them on the right hand, and on the left: and they passed through the midst of the sea upon the drie ground; and this deliverance returned to the honour of God.
Many the like deliverances wee may finde in Scriptures, as of Asa. Jehosaphat. Hezekiah, and others, whom when God had suffered to be brought even to the pits brink of destruction, he by his omnipotent power, upon their humble petitions (when the help of man was but vaine) delivered them by the overthrow of their enemies.
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To make us the more truly humble and penitent. Isa.5.25 For seeing we are not drawn to him by threats, no allured by benefits, nor invited by promises, he will keep us under miseries and pressures; and untill we draw neer to him by an unfeigned repentance, he will give us no gracious answer. His anger will not be turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. He deals with us as Absalom did withJoab: I sent to thee to come to me, and because thou camest not, I set thyfield of corn on fire, I see that hath brought thee to me. I drew thee (O England) saith God with cords of silk, prayed and invited thee to come to me, but thou hast broken those bonds, and wouldst not come: I have therefore stronger bands, the sword, and famine, which thou shalt lye under a while, to bring thee to me. When we once loosen the bands of wickednesse, and repent us of the evil wee have committed; Then shall wee call, and the Lord shall answer.
Many times God deferres the granting of our petitions in distresse and want, to make the deliverance and his gift the more welcome to us by [Page 49] how much the longer they have been deferred: which (if they had been sooner granted,) would have either bin lesse esteemed, or that perhaps accounted as a due, which comes from God as a meer gift. Diu desiderata dulcius obtinentur, citius data vilescunt. Things long desired, are most acceptable being obtained, whereas things soon granted, grow contemptible and little worth. Grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora. A thing so long looked for, as that we were out of hope of obtaining it, is most welcome, though it come late. We see that Abraham prayed long to God for a son, and so long, that he even dispaired of obtaining one, desiring onely of God,O that Ishmael (his son byHagar the bondwoman) might live before him. No doubt but when God had performed his promise to him in Isaac, it was farre more acceptable to him, then if he had received him sooner.Hannah (having her womb shut up by the Lord) went up yeer by yeer to the house of the Lord, and prayed for a childe; God granted her requests at last, which she received so joyfully, and esteemed so highly of that blessing, [Page 50] that she dedicated that son SamuelKin.94 to the Lord, and framed a song of thanksgiving for it.Vult crebrius rogari Dominus, ut tanto gratius sit concedentis Donum. God will be often prayed to, before he hears, that his gift may be received the more thankfully.
God denyes us that we pray for many times, because he intends to give us better things then those we ask. Bernard saith, It comes to passe oft times, that God hears not when we would have him, according to our will; yet soon after, hears us in those things which are for our good and salvation. That is, though he gives us not the things we ask, yet things farre better for us. We have an example in the ProphetElias, who (to rid himself of Jezabells tyranny) prayed God to take him out of this life by death: God heard him not presently, in that he prayed for, but soon after he translated him alive into his celestiall glory. Saint Paul besought the Lord thrice that the thorn in his flesh might depart from him. Gods answer to him was, My grace is sufficient for thee. A better thing God could [Page 51] not give him. One prayes for plenty of food and sustenance, God gives him a little competency and health with it: Another craveswealth, God denies that, but gives him wisdom and learning. What cause hath any man then to quarrell with God? but rather to give him humble and hearty thanks, for such his affection and love to him. Inasmuch as he hath so much care of him, that he hears him not in those unprofitable things he asketh out of ignorance, but changeth them into better gifts. Multos non audit, (saith Aug) ad voluntatem, ut exaudiat ad solutem, God hears not many according to their desires, but hears them in that which doth them good. And therefore concludes, Non habeatis pro magno, &c. Account it not a great matter if thou bee'st not heard according to thine own will: but esteem it as a great favour from God, if he hear thee for thy benefit. The same father gives the reason fully, why God grants not some things we pray for; Quando non dat, ideo non dat, ne obsint quae dat. when he gives us not the things we ask, it's because if he should grant [Page 52] them they would be prejudiciall to us. And in this case,Exorari in perniciem rogantis, bonitas est; It's his goodnesse not to hear us, when we petition for those things that would be our destruction. And frustrari in noxijs, exaudire est. To fail of our expectation for hurtfull things, is better for us, then if we were heard.
Again, as some men pray, and are not heard, because is is for their good and salvation. So others pray and are heard, even to their hurt and damnation. Aust. saith, Apostolus rogat, &c. The Apostle prayed and received not: The Devil prayed and had his request granted. The Apostle received not, but it was for his perfection; the devil received to his damnation. God heard him whom he intended to damne, and heard not him whom he meant to save. Job prayed in his afflictions, God put him off to prove him: he sate long in the dust, and God answered him not: but he heard the devil and gave him leave to tempt him: yet the one was but to be proved, the other to be tormented. Therefore (saith he) Let no man be discouraged or dejected, or faint, when [Page 53] he makes any just request to God, and thinks he is not heard, but let his eyes wait upon God, who giveth meat in due season: When he gives not,Psa.145.15 it's because it should not hurt him. And he that prayeth for any unjust thing, and is heard, he is heard to his own punishment and detriment. It's fabled of the Bull and the Camel, that they petitioned Jupiter for hornes. The Camel obtained not his request but instead of hornes, Jupiter caused his ears to be cut off. The Bull had hornes given him, but he repented soon after that he had made that petition: for whereas (being without hornes) he was at liberty, and could not easily be taken, by having them he was soon caught, and put to the cart, and the plough, and at last brought to the shambles. I leave the application.
Sometimes we pray for that which God hears, yet will not grant, because he hath otherwise decreed, for his decrees and judgements are not onely past finding out, Pro.19.21 but irrevocable. There are many devices in mans heart (saith the wise man) but the Lords counsel shall stand. So saith God by the Prophet, My counsel shall stand, and I will [Page 54] will do all my pleasure. Therefore the Apostle calls it the immutability of his counsell, it cannot be changed. Wee may see this in the destruction ofSodom. Abraham earnestly prayed to God to spare it, he was heard, yet his suit was not granted.Heb.6.16David prayed for the life of the young childe, which he begot of Bathsheba in adultery, hee was heard, but his request was not granted, for the childe died. Our Saviour prayed to remove the cap, God heard him, but he drunk of the bitter cup of death. Saint Peter gives the reason; It was the determinate counsell and foreknowledge of God, that hee should suffer d a h for the redemption of mankinde. The Jews (in Jeremies time) had grievously and impenitently sinned against God, he decreed utterly to cast them o t of his favour, and said, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my minde could not bee towards this people.
And have not wee in this land committed as great sinnes as they? Let us examine our selves impartially, and there's no question but we shall [Page 55] finde our selves as guilty of offending the Majestie of God, as rebellious to his commands, as unthankfull for his mercies, as impenitent for all our offences as the Jews, or any Nation under heaven: and therefore are deservedly, under as great judgements as they were.
What course is then to be taken by us, to appease the wrath of an angry God justly conceived against us? Certainly none other but the means which hath been ever applied in the like case, which is Prayer. We being in the same condition, why should we not apply the same remedy. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that wee perish not? God is the same that he ever was and proclaimed himself. The Lord, The Lord God, mercifull and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodnesse and truth. If wee turn to him by serious repentance and byPrayer, qualified with zeal, faith, confidence and perseverance, conforming our wills unto his onely, [Page 56] waving all worth and merits in our selves, and our prayers, and acknowledging our own unworthynesse, and trusting in the merits of our blessed Saviour Christ Jesus onely, with full resolution to amend our lives for the future, he will say to us, as he hath done before, ‘At what instant I shall speak concerning a Nation, and concerning a Kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that Nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.’
Let us therefore humble our selves, and that speedily. (It was the Prophets counsel to Judah) Gather your selves together, yea ‘gather together O nation not desired. Before the decree bring forth, before the day passe as the chaffe, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you’, before the day of the Lords anger come upon you. Pacifie the Lords wrath before it break out. It's kindled already, we know; but if it once break out into flame, and that a fierce one, who can quench it? ‘The Lord (saith the Prophet) hath powred out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations [Page 57]’ thereof. If the foundations be destroyed, thesuperstructure must needs fail, that is an universall destruction must needs follow.
That we may in time prevent this, let us pray to God in the first place to give us grace to pray aright, and then to give a blessing even that wee pray for; his favour and the light of his countenance: and then wee shall enjoy our hearts desire: Let us pray and say, Da pacem domine in diebus nostris, peace here, and hereafter: peace of conscience, peace with God and man: let the judgement of warre cease in this land, and Da nobis domine panem quotidianum our daily bread, food and sustenance; remove the judgements of famine and pestilence Lord from us: and continue us in health; give such things as will stand with thy good pleasure to give us. Give us the Bread of life, even Christ Jesus, that so we may serve thee joyfully here in the Kingdome of grace, and raigne with thee eternally in the Kingdome of glory.[Page 58]
‘Ne deficias in oratione, Deus quod concessurus est, si differt, uon aufert: Nemo gratis orat. Omnis oratio modo seria sit, semper fructuosa erit.’ Faint not in Prayer. God doth onely deferre, not deprive us of that he intends to give us. No man prayeth in vain. Every Prayer alwayes returns with fruit. so it be serious.
1.2. In this time of unseasonable weather, dearth and scarcity.
ALmighty Lord God, which givest food to every living thing, that coverest the heaven with clouds, and preparest rain for the earth, that commandest the clouds to send forth rain, and again doest stop the floodgates of heaven: who at the prayer of thy Prophet Elias, didst shut the cataracts thereof, so that it rained not in three yeers space. and didst again open them, and the clouds did yeeld plentifull showers, one for [Page 66] the peoples good, the other for their punishment. Wee confidently beleeve, that thou doest what thou pleasest in heaven, in earth, in the sea, and all places.
Wee thy poor distressed and miserable Creatures humbly acknowledge and confesse, that wee have departed from thee, and have not hearkned to thy word, to walk in thy commandments. Wee have spent the dayes appointed for thy service in idlenesse and excesse, and neglected thy worship, letting loose the reynes of the flesh to all uncleannesse. Therefore that curse denounced in thy law for such rebellion hath befalne us. ‘That wee should bee cursed in the city, and cursed on the field, in our store, in the fruit of our body, and of our land, in the encrease of our kine, and the fl [...]cks of our sheep. And that the heaven over our head should bee br sse, and the earth under us ir n. And that the rain should come down till we be destroyed.’
O Lord we have seen with joy and comfort that in the former parts & seaons of the year the earth was plentifully [Page 67] cloathed with fruits in abundance, which filled us with hopes and expectation of a plentifull harvest, and a numerous encrease of all things for the sustentation of man and beast. But O Lord (thankful hearts not accompaneing our joyful minds) thou hast broken up the springs of the earth, thou hast opened the windows of heaven, and immoderate rains have fallen, whereby the land hath been overmoistned, the corn hath been depressed and laid flat to the ground, and for want of the comfort and heat of the Sunne, hath not attained to its due ripening; and the waters have overflowed the earth so much, that our cattell are like to want necessary food and sustentation; so that all our former hopes seem to be frustrate: and unlesse thou of thy speciall providence be mercifull to us, the labours of our hands will prove altogether vain, ‘and our hopes will be as thistle-down, which is carried away with the winde, and as the froth, which is driven away with a storm, and as the smoak, which is dispersed here and there with a temptest,’ and wee may justly fear a famine to ensue.
When O Lord we see, and feel these extraordinary tempests and rains, wee cannot but acknowledge thy just hand upon us for our ingratitude, in not giving thee due praise for former plentifull yeers, and seasonable times, and for our sleighting and undervaluing so great blessings: as also, that thou art enforced to draw us to thee by more severe means: and to learn by those thy plagues, that mans labour avails nothing without thy blessing, and that if thou withdraw thy hand of providence, all our endeavours prove invalid and uneffectuall, and therefore we should not undertake any thing, without addresse to thee by prayer; and when thy heavy hand is upon us, in this, or any other kinde, to betake our selves to no other means, then calling upon thy holy Name to releeve us.
At this time therefore, lying under this scourge of thine, we flee unto thee O mercifull Father, wee tender our humble supplications to thee: and earnestly in thy Sonnes Name, and for his Merits, beseech thee, (if it stand with thy blessed [Page 69] will) to keep back the bitter judgement of dearth and famine, which wee have just cause to fear. O deal not with us in thy fury, but bee pleased, that we may enjoy those fruits of the earth, which thou didst put us in hope to receive. Supply O Lord what wee shall want, by some way or means, which thou in thy providence doest better know to give, then wee to expect. Thy hand is not shortned, that it cannot help. And it is all one to thee, to releeve us, either with, or without means.
Lord abate in us all immoderate desires to the creatures, which (with other our transgressions) hath caused this judgement of famine to beginne to take hold upon us. Divert these intemperate showers into our eyes, and extract showers of tears from them, which may testifie, that wee unfeignedly bewaile our sinnes, and deplore our manifold offences. These showers will prove farre better, and more wholsome and profitable for us, and be a meanes (by the intercession of our Saviour) to stay and cease those stormes which seem to foretell our destruction and ruine. [Page 70] Lord hear us, and answer us, for thy son Christ Jesus sake, in whom thou are alone well pleased. Amen.