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2. It may be observed, that there is no more difficulty in this, than there is in reconciling God's decrees, or even his fore knowledge, of whatsoever comes to pass, with its being of the least avail to use any means for the preservation of our lives, for the recovery of bodily health, or for procuring our daily bread. But,
3. In every case, the true solution is, that God hath decreed the means, as well as the end: or that, though he hath determined whatever he will do, and never alters his mind, yet he hath determined to do things in a certain way, and in no other. Some things indeed, God determined from eternity, to bring to pass without means; and these he thus brings to pass. But concerning those events which he determined to effect by the use of means, it is not true that they would come to pass at all, if the appointed means were not used. What God hath thus joined together, cannot be put asunder. To suppose that things which he designed to do by certain means, he afterwards should accomplish without the use of those means, is to suppose him mutable. It is to suppose an alteration in the Divine Mind. If God be unchangeable, he will do every thing in the very way he hath purposed, and in no other way.
Respecting prayer, in particular, the subject now under consideration; some mercies, God, from eternity, determined to bestow without being sought unto for them : for instance, giving men capacities and a disposition to seek and serve him. In regard to these, he is found of them that sought him not; and hath mercy on whom he will have mercy.
But there are other blessings, which though he hath determined to grant, yet he hath as absolutely determined to be sought unto for them first ; and to bestow them only in answer to prayer. This is the case with respect to the pardon of transgressors, and giving
them a covenant title to eternal life. And this is the case respecting many temporal deliverances and salvations. When God hath determined to deliver a sinful people from threatened judgments, he will deliver them ; but he will yet, for all this, be inquired of to do it for them. He will first cause them to repent, and accept the punishment of their iniquities. He will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh--a feeling, sensible heart; a heart to mourn for their sins with godly sorrow, and to seek unto him, in a humble, penitent manner. And in this way only, will he restore them to his favor, plant them, and cause them to flourish. But when he hath determined to de. stroy a guilty nation, though Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, and interceded night and day for it, their intercessions could be of no avail. Some favors God will confer upon persons at the request of others merely ; other things he will not bestow on any until they seek to him themselves. Some blessings may always be obtained, if we ask aright for them ; as pardoning mercy, justifying grace, and progressive sanctification : in other cases God will sometimes grant the particular requests of his children ; and sometimes will refuse them in mercy. But all these diversities of operation, and the real efficacy of the prayer of faith, are fully reconcilable with the eternal unchangeableness of His purpose, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
I shall now conclude with a few reflections, arising from what has been said upon this subject.
1. We may hence see that the immutability of God is a glorious attribute. That His being so in one mind that none can turn him, instead of affording any cause of complaint or uneasiness, is matter of the highest joy and rejoicing. We have seen that this is necessarily the consequence of his infin
ite wisdom, power and goodness; and that it is not inconsistent with his hearing prayer, or being easy to be entreated : and it is evidently necessary to be believed, as the ground of trust and confidence in him. Could he be persuaded to alter his eternal plan, or any part of it, by our' arguments or entreaties, not his wisdom and power, but the weakness and folly of partial, ignorant creatures, would govern the world. In one whose understanding can never err, and who is always disposed to do what is best, immoveable fixedness in his own opinion and intention, is certainly to be rejoiced in and adored. Hence Moses says, “ Because I will publish the name of the Lord, ascribe ye greatness to our God: He is the Rock, his work is perfect-just and right is he.” David also says, “Who is a God, save the Lord ? or who is a rock save our God.” And again, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure ; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment ; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed, but thou art the same."
2. We may learn from this subject, the unreasonableness and danger of that power for which some contend, as essential to the freedom of a moral agent: -a power to will and act this way or that, in all cases ; contrary to one's own disposition, as well as according to it. The Almighty himself has not this power: if he had, what Rock-what immoveable basis-what firm foundation would there be in the universe, on which the mind of a good man could be stayed, and kept in perfect peace! The want of such a power as this, is implied in that immutability of the Supreme Being, which is essential to be believed, as the ground of all trust and confidence in him. Were it possible for God to lie, or to act unwisely, unjustly, or unmercifully ; or were it
possible for him to change his own nature; or to will and do, in all cases, contrary to his own mind, he could not be relied upon, any more than the changing wind, or the fluctuating ocean. And must man have more power than God Almighty, or else he cannot be a free agent ! Nothing can be more palpably absurd, than to think it a desirable power, and a great privilege, to be able to will and act without all motive or reason, and contrary to one's own inclination.
3. What has been said may be of service for the correction of some errors, which are probably common, respecting the design and usefulness of prayer.
The end of our being required to offer up supplications and intercessions to God, cannot be to inform him of our wants, or to move his pity, or to make any alteration in his purposes. We are not to conceive of Him, as being altogether like ourselves, or our fellow-men. In petitioning to earthly rulers for justice, or to the rich for mercy, and filling our mouth with arguments, we may hope to convince them of the equitableness of our cause, or to make them acquainted with our necessities, or to move their compassion : but none of these effects can reasonably be expected, from the most melting entreaties, or the most clear and ample representations, to the omniscient, immutable Jehovah—the God of all grace. “ He knows what things we have need of before we ask him; his mercy is self-moved, and he is ever in one mind."
But, though informing, moving, or turning Him, ought not to be thought of as the end of prayer to God ; yet there are purposes to be answered by it, which render it our reasonable service. It is designed to alter us; to make us more sensible of our dependance and so prepare us for mercies ; and also to give glory to the Father of lights, as the giver of every good and perfect gift. This last end, at least,
may be subserved by intercessions for others, as well as by supplications for ourselves. And for all these reasons, prayer is not a vain thing : it is our life ; and by this shall we escape eternal death.
" For,” says the apostle, “ the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.: for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
4. From this subject it may be seen, that it is our highest wisdom, as well as most indispensible duty, in our wills, desires and prayers, to be resigned to the unalterable will, and the unerring counsel of the only wise God. He certainly knows, and we know not, what is best. His designs are always right, and universally good : our wishes are often partial, selfish, and wrong. Had we our requests in all cases, leanness might be sent into our souls; it might be ruinous to ourselves, as well as hurtful to the uni. verse. Unreserved submission, certainly becomes all creatures, to infinite wisdom.
We should pray for what appears desirable to us, provided only it seem good in the sight of God. Indeed, in regard to things expressly revealed to be the Divine will, there is no room for such a proviso or submission. In our desires and prayers for saving grace--for personal holiness, and heavenly happiness, we need not express a willingness to be denied, if it be the will of God; because we know it is not. We know that they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, shall be filled : and that to the poor in spirit, it is the Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom of heaven. When, therefore, we have this spirit, and sincerely desire these blessings, we may ask for them without reserve.
But in regard to temporal comforts, or being saved from 'temporal evils—in regard to all things about which the purpose of God is not revealed, submission to his unknown will ever become us. This is what reason dictates; and this is what scripture