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have described this blessed privilege in the sublime glory and beauty of it, so as it has been often attained and enjoyed by persons eminent in grace and religion, and especially such as have had lively affections, and the powers of animal nature in a good degree sanctified, and subservient to the devotions of the soul. But where the natural spirits are low and sinking, and where temptations and darkness hang heavy upon the mind, the christian may truly draw near to God, so far as to find a gracious acceptance with him, and may fetch secret divine communications from the mercy-seat to maintain his spiritual life; though he feels but little of these sensations of heavenly pleasure, these more vigorous efforts of devotions and joy. 'Yet let him neither deny nor despise those more elevated enjoyments of soul, those near and blessed approaches to the seat of God, with which others have been favoured.
The second caution shall be addressed to those, who feel much of rapture and transport in their hours of secret piety. I entreat that they would not imagine themselves so often to enjoy this unspeakable privilege of holy nearness to God in worship, if they do not sensibly find such an increase of holiness, as may prove effectually that they have been with God. If they have been conversing with their Maker, like Moses in the mount, there will be a shine of holiness upon the face of their souls. To pretend therefore to have enjoyed much of God in the closet, and to come down amongst men peevish and fretful, or immediately to betray a carnal and covetous, or a haughty and untractable spirit; these are things of so inconsistent a nature, that the succeeding iniquity spoils the devotion, and almost destroys the pretence to any sublime degrees of it. Such persons had need look well to themselves and make a narrow search within, whether their hearts be sincere with God or no, lest they build all their hopes upon the flashy efforts of animal nature, coupled with the thoughts of some sacred objects, and tacked on to a divine meditation.
Reflection.- What a wretched hindrance is this world to our christian profit and pleasure! How often does it keep the soul at a sad distance from God! With what difficulty and uneasy reluctance, are we sometimes drawn, or rather dragged into retirement, that the soul may seek after God there? How many excuses doth the flesh borrow from the cares and necessities of this life, to delay, or to divert the duty of prayer? Our memory, our imagination, and our senses, are faithful purveyors and treasurers for the world; they are representing to us the things of this present state, the trifles or the businesses, the cares or amusements of it, the labours or delights which relate to this life;
and thereby we are diverted and separated from God, and called away from him often, as soon as we begin to approach his presence.
What a pernicious enemy is this flesh to the soul, both in the pleasures and the pains of it! and this world, both in the Alatteries and the frowns of it, and even in its necessary cares ! When we would give our God the upper-room in our hearts, how is this world ready to get the ascendant! How often does it break in upon our most sacred retirements, and thrust itself, with all its impertinencies, into our holy meditations? How often does it spread a carnal scene all over our thoughts at once, and spoil our devoutest hours?“. 1 cannot dwell so long in my closet as I would, says a christian, the world has such importunate demands upon me.” 'The world follows us, into our places of retirement; the exchange, or the shop, presses into the temple, and robs God even to his face.
Let us then have a care of the flesh : let us have a care of this world; we must be watchful over them as our most subtle and dangerous enmies, if we would keep our souls near to God, or often enjoy this divine privilege. Blessed Enoch! who could walk with God in the midst of all the busy and vicious scenes of the old world! and he was translated to heaven, without calling at the gates of death, that he might give a glorious testimony to men how well God was pleased with him. Happy soul! that could keep near to God, and maintain a holy and humble converse with him, when all flesh had corrupted its way and the earth was full of iniquity and violence! Blessed man, who knew not what it was to die, but he knew what it was to be near to God; and his faith and his devotion were changed the shortest way into sight and enjoyment! Happy spirit! who without being absent at all from the body, was brought near to the seat of divine Majesty, and in the fullest manner present with the Lord !
HYMN FOR SERMON V.
The Soul drawing near to God in prayer.
MY God, I bow before thy feet,
Creatures with all their charms should
My soul shall pour out all ber cares,
Sins and Sorrows spread before God.
JOB xxiii. 3, 4.-0 that I knew where I might find bim: that I might come
even to his seat; I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
THE SECOND PART. THERE is such a thing as converse with God in prayer, and it is the life and pleasure of a pious soul ; without it we are no christians : and he that practises it most, is the best follower of Christ: for our Lord spent much time in converse with his heavenly Father. This is balm that eases the most raging pains of the mind, when the wounded conscience comes to the mercy-seat, and finds pardon and peace there. This is the cordial that revives and exalts our natures, when the spirit, broken with sorrows, and almost fainting to death, draws near to the Almighty Physician, and is healed and refreshed. The mercy-seat in heaven is our surest and sweetest refuge in every hour of distress and darkness on earth : This is our daily support and relief, while we are passing through a world of temptations and hardships in the way to the promised land. It is good for us to draw near to God: Ps. lxxiii. 28. And yet so much is human nature sunk down and fallen from God, that even his own children are ready to indulge a neglect of converse with him, if their souls are not always upon the watch. But let it be remembered here, that so much as we abate of this divine entertainment among the vanities or amusements of the world, the business or burdens of life; so much we lose of the glory and joy of religion, and deprive our souls of the comfort that God invites us to receive. Job was encompassed with sorrows all around, and his friends had censured him as a vile hppocrite, and a great sinner, because he was so terribly afllicted by the hand of God; whither should he run now but to his heavenly Father, and tell him of all his sufferings.
From the practice of this holy man, I thought we might have sufficient warrant to draw this inference, viz. That when a saint gets near to God in prayer, he tells him all his circumstances, and pleads for help. And that is the doctrine which I am endeavouring now to improve.
66 0 if I could but come near him, even to his seat, I would order my cause before
him: I would spread all my concerns before lis eye, and I would plead with him for relief: I would fill my mouth with arguments.
Four things I proposed in the prosecution of this doctrine.I. To consider what it is for a soul to get near to God iv prayer. II. What particular subjects doth a soul, thus brought near to the mercy-seat, converse with God about.—III. Why he cluses to tell all his circumstances and his sorrows to God, when he is thus near him.-IV. How he pleads for relief.
I. We have already considered, what it is for a soul to get near to the seat of God, and what are the usual attendants of such a privilege. At such a season the holy soul will have an awful and adoring sense of the majesty of God, a becoming fear of his terrors, and some sweeter taste of his love. There will be a divine hatred of every sin, and a sensible virtue and influence proceeding from a present God, to resist every temptation ; there will be a spiritual and heavenly temper diffusing itself through the whole soul, and all the powers of it; a fixedness of heart without wandering, and a liveliness without tiring: no weariness is felt in the spirit at such a season, even though the flesh may be ready to faint under the overpowering sweetness : then the soul with freedom opens itself before the eye of God, and melts and flows in divine language, whether it complain or rejoice. But I have finished this head, and repeat no more.
II. What are some of the particular circumstances, or subjects of complaint, that a saint brings to God when he comes near him.
In general, a saint, when he is near to God, has all the fulness of his heart breaking out into holy language; he pour's out his whole self before his God and his father! All the insnite affairs that relate to the flesh and spirit, to this life, and that which is to come: all things in heaven, and all things in earth, created or uncreated, may, at one time or other, be the subjects of converse between God and a holy soul. When the question is asked by a carnal man, what can a christian talk with God so long and so often about? The christian in a divine frame, answers, “he hath matter enough for converse with God, to wear out time, and to fill up eternity.” It may be as well asked on the other side, what has he not to say? what is there that relates to God, or to himself, to the upper, or the lower world, that he may not at some time say to his God?
But I must confine myself from wandering in so large a field, that I may comport with the design of my text. Though a good man, in devout prayer, often spreads his hopes and his joys before the Lord, as well as his sorrows, fears, and distresses ; yet I shall at present endeavour to set forth only the mournful and
complaining representations of his circumstances that he makes before the throne of God.
1. If I could but come near the mercy-seat, I would confess how great my sins are, and I would pray for pardoning grace. I
“How vile I am by nature;" I would count my original descent from Adam the great transgressor, and humble myself at the foot of a holy God, because I am the descendant of such a sinner.-) would tell him how much viler I have made myself by practice; “ I have been an enemy in my mind by nature, and guilty of many wicked works, whereby I have farther estranged myself from him.” I would tell my God how multiplied my transgressions have been before I knew him, and how aggravated they have been since I have been acquainted with him. I would acquaint him with the frequency of my returning guilt, how I have sinned against mercies, against reproofs, against warnings received often from his word, and often from his providence.
I may appeal to the souls of many present, whether they have not had the greatest freedom of confession of their sins, when they have been nearest to God, even though he be a God of holiness. At other times, they have not only been averse to confess to any friend, but even unwilling to talk over to themselves the aggravation of their iniquities, or to mention them in prayer: but when they are brought thus near the throne of God, they unbosom themselves before him, they pour out their sins and their tears together, with a sweet and mournful satisfaction. “I behold," says the saint,“ the great atonement, the blood of Jesus, and therefore I may venture to confess my great iniquities, for the satisfaction is equal to them all. When I behold God upon his seat, I belold the Lumb in the midst of the throne as it had been slain, and he is my Peace-maker. I see his all-sufficient sacrifice, his atoning-blood, his perfect, his justifying righteousness.” The soul then answers the call of God with great readiness, when God says in Is. i. 18. Come let us reason together: though your sins have been as scarlet, they shall be as wool. “ I am ready,” says the soul, “ to enter into such reasonings; "I am ready to confess before thee, that my sins are all crimson and scarlet, but there is cleansing blood with thy Son : Blood that has washed the garments of a thousand sinners, and made them white as snow; and it has the same virtue still to wash mine too: I trust in it, and rejoice when I behold that blood sprinkled upon the mercyscat, and therefore I grow confident in hope, and draw yet nearer to God, a réconciled God, since his throne has the memorials of a bleeding sacrifice upon it.”
2. If I could get near the seat of God, I would tell him how many my enemies are, and how strong; how malicious, and how