Page images
PDF
EPUB

where in my fields; dig, and you will be sure to find. They followed his directions, though they mistook his meaning. Treasure of gold or silver there was none; but, by means of this extraordinary culture, the land yielded in the time of harvest such an abundant crop, as both rewarded them for their obedience to their parent, and at the same time explained the nature of his command.”

Our Father, who is in heaven, hath commanded us in our wants to apply to him in prayer, with an assurance of success :—“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find.” Now, it is certain, that without his immediate interposition, were his ear “ heavy," as the Scripture phrase is, “ that he could not hear,” there is a natural efficacy in our prayers themselves to work in our minds those graces and good dispositions which we beg of the Almighty, and by consequence to make us fitter objects of his mercy. Thus it is that we ask, and receive; we seek, and, like the children of the sagacious old husbandman, find also the very thing which we were seeking, though in another form: our petitions produce in fact the good effect which we desired, though not in the manner which we ignorantly expected.

But yet, allowing this consideration its full force, there is no necessity of stopping here, and confining the power of prayer to this single method of operation. Does the clear assurance of its use in this way preclude the hopes of every other advantage ? Must we needs be made acquainted with all the efficacy of every thing that is our duty, and know the whole ground and reason of all the actions which Almighty God can possibly require of us?

When the Israelites under the conduct of Joshua were commanded, upon hearing the sound of the trumpet, to shout “with a great shout; and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city;" was the reason of this command, and the operation of the means to be made use of, understood by all that were concerned? Was it the undulation of the air, think you, the physical effect of many concurrent voices, that overthrew the walls of Jericho ? or, suppose the people were commanded to shout in token of their faith (for it was by faith, as the Apostle speaks, that the walls of Jericho fell down), which way is it that faith operates in the performance of such wonders ?

You will say, no doubt, that these were wonders, and the case miraculous; and that we are not from such extraordinary events to draw conclusions concerning the general duties of Christianity.

The drought that was in the land of Israel in the time of Elijah, I suppose no one will deny to have been miraculous. Yet we have the authority of an Apostle to conclude from it in general, that good men's petitions are efficacious and powerful. “ Elias 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 by the space of three years and six months." What is this brought to prove ? That “ the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And this is the Apostle's argument:—the prayer of the Prophet produced first a famine, and then plenty in all the land of Israel; and if you, Christians, exercise yourselves in confession and prayer, the disposition of your minds will be the better for your devotions.

But the prayer, concerning which St. James is speaking, may seem to you to belong to the same class with that of Elijah, and to be the prayer of men that could work miracles.

Hear another Apostle :-“ Be careful for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” The plainest places in the Scriptures will be mysteries, if the sense be this, that we can expect no help from God in our distresses; but may try, by acts of devotion, to bring our own minds to a state of resignation and contentment.

“ Give us this day our daily bread. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father. The hairs of your head are numbered.” Can the meaning of all this be, that God Almighty made the world; that it is not to be altered; and we must take the best care we can of ourselves while we live in it?

- King Agrippa, believest thou the Prophets?” said the great Apostle, arguing with equal solidity and eloquence in defence of that capital doctrine - the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. He desired no other concession than the belief of the Scripture; on this foundation he undertook to erect the whole fabric of Christianity.

Do you believe the Scriptures? If not, it is to no purpose to stand disputing concerning the duty of prayer, or any other duty commanded in the Gospel. We must rather return back to the first principles of

religion, and lay again, as the same Apostle speaks, the foundation of faith towards God.

But there is no occasion for this; you are desirous to go on to perfection ; admitting the truth of Christianity, and believing the Scriptures to be the word of God.

The Scriptures teach you, that our Lord Christ being crucified, dead, and buried, the third day he rose again from the dead. Now this is a great and astonishing miracle; it is a thing of which we have no experience; it is against all our rules and observations; and directly contrary to the established order of the world, and the course of nature: yet you believe this.

The Scriptures also tell you, that hereafter your own bodies, in like manner, shall be raised from the grave, and stand before the judgmentseat of Christ. This event, too, whenever it shall take place, will surely be another most amazing miracle, brought about by no rules or laws that are made known to us, or ever fell within the limits of our observation and experience. Yet we believe it; and live, or should do, under the influence of this persuasion.

The same Scripture to which we give credit, while it records past miracles, is equally entitled to our assent, when it predicts, as in this instance, miracles to come.

Suppose, then, the Scriptures were to acquaint us that there are miracles performed at this present time, but either at such a distance from us, or else in such a latent manner, that we could not know by experience whether they were wrought or no; still there could be no room to doubt; a ready assent must be yielded to such a revelation by all who believe the Scripture.

Now, if the Gospel teach no doctrines from which the existence of these miracles may be inferred, or if it command duties in which these interpositions of Providence are supposed or implied, it does enough to prove the reality of them though we see them not, any more than we see yet the resurrection of the dead; or, than we did ever behold any of those miracles which were performed by our Lord when he was here on earth.

There appears to be no difficulty in this matter to those who believe that any miracles were ever wrought, that is, who believe the Scriptures to be true; nor any inducement or occasion to put ourselves to trouble in giving hard interpretations of texts, or forced and unnatural explicar

VOL. III.

tions of any part of our duty, in order to avoid what can be no impediment in the way of a Christian, the acknowledgment of God's govern. ment and providence, his particular interposition, and continual operation; as it is written, “ My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."

How magnificent is this idea of God's government! That he inspects the whole and every part of his universe every moment, and orders it according to the counsels of his infinite wisdom and goodness, by his omnipotent will ; whose thought is power; and his acts ten thousand times quicker than the light; unconfused in a multiplicity exceeding number, and unwearied through eternity!

How much comfort and encouragement to all good and devout persons are contained in this thought! That Almighty God, as he hath his eye continually upon them, so he is employed in directing, or doing what is best for them. Thus may they be sure, indeed, that “all things work together for their good." They may have the comfort of understanding all the promises of God's protection, in their natural, full, and perfect sense, not spoiled by that philosophy which is vain deceit. The Lord is truly their shepherd; not leaving them to chance or fate, but watching over them himself, and therefore can they lack nothing.

What a fund of encouragement is here, as for all manner of virtue and piety, that we may be fit objects of God's gracious care and providence, so particularly for devotion; when we can reflect that every petition of a good man is heard and regarded by him who holds the reins of nature in his hand. When God, from his throne of celestial glory, issues out that uncontrollable command to which all events are subject, even your desires, humble pious Christians, are not overlooked or forgotten by him. The good man's prayer is among the reasons by which the Omnipotent is moved in the administration of the universe.

How little is all earthly greatness! how low and impotent the proudest monarchs, if compared with the poorest person in the world who leads but a good life! for their influence, even in their highest prosperity, is only among weak men like themselves, and not seldom' their designs are blasted from Heaven for the insolence of those that formed them. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty ?” While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from Heaven, saying,

" The kingdom is departed from thee.” But the poor man's prayer pierceth the clouds; and, weak and contemptible as be seems, he can draw down the host of Heaven, and arm the Almighty in his defence, so long as he is able only to utter his wants, or can but turn the thought of his heart to God.

191.–COWPER'S TAME HARES. The following account of the treatment of his hares was inserted by the poet Cowper in the Gentleman's Magazine.']

In the year 1774, being much indisposed both in mind and body, incapable of diverting myself either with company or books, and yet in a condition that made some diversion necessary, I was glad of any thing that would engage my attention, without fatiguing it. The children of a neighbour of mine had a leveret given them for a plaything; it was at that time about three months old. Understanding better how to tease the poor creature than to feed it, and soon becoming weary of their charge, they readily consented that their father, who saw it pining and growing leaner every day, should offer it to my acceptance. I was willing enough to take the prisoner under my protection, perceiving that, in the management of such an animal, and in the attempt to tame it, I should find just that sort of employment which my case required. It was soon known among the neighbours that I was pleased with the present, and the consequence was that in a short time I had as many leverets offered to me as would have stocked a paddock. I undertook the care of three, which it is necessary that I should here distinguish by the names I gave them -Puss, Tiney, and Bess. Notwithstanding the two feminine appellatives I must inform you, that they were all males. Immediately commencing carpenter, I built them houses to sleep in; each had a separate apartment, so contrived that their ordure should pass through the bottom of it; an earthen pan placed under each received whatsoever fell, which being duly emptied and washed, they were thus kept perfectly sweet and clean. In the daytime they had the range of a hall, and at night retired each to his own bed, never intruding into that of another.

« PreviousContinue »