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(For Mr. Samuel Porter of Hadley
The POWER and EFFICACY of the Prayers of
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The Power and Efficacy of the Prayers of the People of GOD.
ISAIAH XLV. II.
IT is a strange, unusual Occasion and Event of divine Providence, which has brought such a numerous Audience together at this Time : And the Words I have now read for my Text, are perhaps as strange a Passage as almost any can be met with in the Word of God. As they lie in the Expression they seem to be so surprizing that had they been spoken by Man without the express Warrant and Direction of God himself, they would have appeared such a bold and shocking Freedom and Familiarity as might justly have been termed an Insult of the great and ever blessed God, and a sort of Blasphemy. But since God is pleased to
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to speak them, let us with holy Triumph and Thankfulness receive, and rejoyce in them.
The Time and Occasion of their Introduction seem to make them the more strange & surprizing : God had nominated Cyrus in the foregoing Chapter to be his Shepherd, to be instrumental in releasing the Jews out of their Captivity in Babylon, and to be a Type of the great Redeemer ; as that Release was typical of the wonderful Redemption from Sin and Death. God here takes Notice of the great Things he would do for him, that he might be in a Capacity to discharge his People ; and of the Proof he would give both in this Prediction, and its Accomplishment, of his eternal Power and Godhead ; and of his universal, incontestible Sovereignty.----A Check is given to the unbelieving Jews, who quarrelled with God for lengthning out their Captivity. See the 9th & 10th Verses. Shall the Clay pretend to be wiser than the Potter, and therefore advise him ; or stronger than he, and therefore controul him ? * He that gave us Being, gave us this Being that we have, and ’tis impudent Presumption for us to prescribe to him, to impeach his Wisdom, or question his Power and Justice in disposing of us.Well, after all this came in the strange Words in my Text, Thus faith the holy One of Israel and his Maker. The great God who by
* Henry in loc.
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this Title is distinguished from all false Gods and Idols ; who is not only the Creator of Israel as Men ; but as a Covenant People. Tho’ he will by no Means, at any Time allow them to strive with him : yet see here with what astonishing Condescention he encourageth them to ask him of Things to come, concerning his Works, and Designs ; his Sons, and redeemed Ones ; or the Captives he will redeem, and those he will make his Sons or Children : Command ye me. This is so great, so bold, and big an Expression, especially as it follows the sharp Reproof in the two foregoing Verses, That some have chosen to interpret the Words as an Interrogation ; carrying on the Reproof in the 9th & 10th Verses. As if he had said, Do ye Question me concerning Things to come ? And am I bound to give you an Account of them ? And concerning my Children, and the Work of my Hands will you undertake to command me ? Or prescribe to me what I shall do ? Shall any teach God Knowledge, or give Law to him ? Those that complain of God, do in effect assume an Authority over him. But there seems no need of this Way of interpreting the Words, if you consider what follows ; which is to encourage the People of God to depend on his Power and Grace, and Faithfulness, when they were brought very low, and utterly uncapable of helping themselves. If you be humbly submissive to the Will of God, and conform your selves
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selves to the Designs and Teachings of his Providence, you shall have no need to strive with him : He will allow you such a Freedom in your Inquiries about his Will, and search after his Designs, as will be as well ; and better for you, than if you could command him. You must submit to his Will as your Maker, and your Father, and then you may humbly ask him about the most dark, and difficult Events, and Passages of his Providence towards you, and his Designs therein, and this even with such a Freedom, and holy Boldness, as if you might command him. Command ye me ; not by Way of Prescription, but by Way of Petition. Be earnest in your Requests, and confident in your Expectations, so far as they are guided by and grounded on his Word and Promise. Tho’ you may not strive by passionate Complaints, yet you may wrestle by fervent Prayer. Such is the Power and Prevalency of fervent Prayer, that thou shalt cry, and he will say, here I am ! What would ye that I should do unto you ? So that the plain meaning of the Words may be express’d in this Observation.
DOCT. The Prayers of God’s People when they are rightly offered up to him, are always prevalent and efficacious.
In discoursing on this Subject, I shall consider,
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2. I shall show, that they are then prevalent and efficacious.
3. Why they are so, or the Reasons for it.
I. Consider, What are the Qualifications of the Prayers of God’s People to make them right, or rightly offered up to him.
I. This means, that they be according to his Word ; Or ’tis necessary that they be according to his word. Ask me of Things to come, concerning my Sons, and concerning the Work of my Hands &c. q. d. ‘Have recourse to the Prophets, and the Prophecies, and see what they ‘say concerning these Things. Ask the Watchman, What of the Night ? Ask them, how Long ! Things to come as far as they are revealed belong to us, and to our Children ; and we ought not to be Strangers to them. When Daniel had understood by the Books of Jeremiah’s Prophecy, that the Lord would accomplish seventy Years in Jerusalem’s Captivity, and found that the Time was drawing to a close, he set himself to seek a Release by Prayer and Supplications, with Fasting and Sackcloth, and Ashes. See Dan. 9. begin. He knew it vain to expect it before ; or against the Counsel, and revealed Will of God. We are to ask God of his Purposes, and concerning the Work of his Hands, by consulting his Word, and searching what is the Mind of his Spirit there, and must ground our Prayers to him upon his Promise. The
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wait for it ; because it will surely come, it will not tarry, Hab. 2. 3.
You may well think I have all along had some special Eye to the uncommon Occasion of Prayer at this Time ; that Person here present with us who has been for a long time in a miserable Captivity with a barbarous, and heathen People ; now for more than thirty eight Years, yet among that People bred up in Popish Superstition, Blindness and Bigotry, who by the Providence of God came last Year, and now again with her Husband, and two of her Children on a Visit to her Friends in New England. Some of you know well, and I am sure I do, how long she has been the Subject of Prayer ; what numberless Prayers have been put up to God for her by many holy Souls now in Heaven ? as well as many who yet remain on Earth ? How many Groans and fervent Prayers can these Ears witness to have been uttered, and breathed forth with a fort of burning and unquenchable Ardor from the pious and holy Soul of her dear Father now with God ? I know not that ever I heard him pray after his own return from Captivity, without a Remembrance of her ; that God would return her to his Sanctuary, and the Enjoyment of the Gospel Light and Grace in that Purity and Simplicity in which it shines in our Land. But in this he seem’d as if he could never be denied : That God would not let her perish
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perish in popish Superstition and Ignorance ; but let her Place be where it would, that he would (as he easily could) find some Way for her Deliverance from those Snares, and thick laid Stratagems of the Devil to beguile and ruin poor Souls ; and make her a Monument of his glorious & almighty Grace. And this he was won’t to do with such Expressions of Faith in God, and holy Fervours of his Soul, as seemed to breath himself and her into the Arms of the Covenant of Grace. God did not give him Leave to see the Performance of his Wishes & Desires for her, but took them to satisfy him in God himself, and make him perfectly know that not a Tittle of the Covenant should ever fail ; and left her in the same State to try the Faith, and call forth the Prayers of his People still. We now see some Dawnings towards this Deliverance, & living Hopes of it : Tho’ all Endeavours of Men to perswade her here have been heretofore tried in vain ; it has pleased God to incline her the last Summer, and now again of her own Accord, to make a Visit to her Friends ; and seems to encourage us to hope that he designs to answer the many Prayers which have been put up for her, and by the mighty Power of his Providence and Grace to give us one extraordinary Conviction more, that he is a God hearing Prayer. Let us on this Account carry on, and continue the holy Fervours of those pious Souls who are now gone to