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case, the father would undoubtedly refuse; and no one would imagine that he was breaking his promise. The boy, if he had done right, would not have made this request.
2. He may ask something, which, if granted, would interfere with the rights or happiness of others.-There was a watch, we will imagine, hanging up in his father's house, used by all the family-the only time-piece accessible to them. Now, suppose the boy, growing selfish and vain, and thinking that his importance among his comrades would be a little increased by a watch, should write to his father to send that to him. Who would think that his father would be obliged to comply, on account of his parting promise to his son to supply all his wants? Christians very often make such selfish requests, and wonder why their prayers are not heard. A farmer, who has one field which needs watering, will pray
for rain, with great earnestness; forgetting that God has to take care of the ten thousand fields all around his own, and that perhaps they need the sun. A mother, who has a son at sea, will pray for prosperous winds for him; forgetting that the ocean is whitened with sails, all under God's care, and that the breeze which bears one onward must retard another. But more on this subject presently.
may ask in an improper manner.—Suppose the father should take from the Post-office a letter in his son's handwriting, and, on breaking the seal, should read as follows:
"You must let me come home next week, to Christmas. I wanted to come last year, but you would not let me; and now I must come. I want you to write me immediately, and send it back by the driver, telling me I may
"I am your dutiful son,
Who would think that a father ought to grant a request made in such a way as this? It is feared that Christians sometimes bring demands, instead of requests, to God.
I have mentioned now three cases, in which the father might, without breaking his promise, refuse the requests of his boy-where it would be injurious to him; unjust to others; or where the request is made in an improper manner. All promises of such a sort are universally considered as liable to these exceptions.
Our Saviour tells us, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will do it." This is common language, such as men address to men; and is to be understood exactly in the same way-in just such a sense, and with just such exceptions. The language
means, if it is honestly used, that our requests will, in ordinary cases, have a real influence with the Creator, in regard to things entirely beyond our controul. It must mean, that, generally, all our proper requests will be granted. At the same time, it must be liable to the exceptions above stated, which apply in all similar cases. God must reserve the right to deny our requests, when they are made in an improper spirit, and when they ask what would injure us, or interfere with the general good. If any of you have, in accordance with the views I presented in the two preceding chapters, under the teaching of God, confessed your past sins, and chosen Jesus Christ for your Friend, you will take great pleasure in bringing your requests to God. And you may, in doing this, sometimes pray for success in some enterprise, when God sees that it is, on the whole, best that you should fail. A man may ask that God will place him in some important station of influence or usefulness, when the eye that can see the whole discovers that the general good will be promoted by another arrangement. Thus, in
many ways, your prayers may come within the excepted cases; and then God will not grant them. These cases, however, you may be led to avoid; and then your prayers will be heard.
There is, even among Christians, a great deal of distrust of the power of prayer. Some, who believe that it exerts a good influence upon their own hearts to pray, continue the practice, without having any cordial belief that they are really listened to, and granted as requests, by the Great Jehovah. A mán, for example, asks God to protect and bless him in his business. By offering the prayer every day, he is reminded of his dependence; he thinks of the necessity of his own industry and patient effort and thus, through the influence of his prayer, the causes of prosperity are brought to operate more fully in his case, and prosperity comes. And in this, he thinks,
consists the main value of prayer.
But this is not granting a request. This natural and almost inevitable consequence of the petition, as an exercise of the man's mind, is not, and cannot honestly be considered as God's granting the request. Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father, He shall do it." The Father shall do it. This is a promise that God shall do something which we ask Him to do-not that the natural effect of our asking will be favourable in its influence upon us.
There is another way in which, it seems to me, there is a great want of faith in God, as to the efficacy of prayer. It is often said, that though requests may not be granted in the precise form in which they were offered, they are always answered in some way or other. A mother, for instance, who has a son at sea, prays morning and evening for his safe return. Letter after letter comes, assuring her of his continued safety; until at last the sad news arrives that his ship has been dashed upon a rock or sunk in the waves. Now, can it be said that the
mother's prayer was granted? Suppose that she was, by this afflicting providence, weaned from the world and prepared for Heaven, and thus inconceivably benefited by the event. Was this, in any common or correct use of language, granting the request in another form? or was it denying it, because it was inconsistent with her greatest good? Suppose a child ask his father to let him keep a knife he has found; and the father takes it away, knowing that he will probably injure himself with it. Is this granting his request in another form? No. We ought, whenever the particular request we make is not granted, to consider it a denial; and to suppose that it comes under one of the cases of exceptions I have already specified.
There is, indeed, such a thing as granting a request in another form from that in which it was made. A family,. one of whose members is in feeble health, prays for that member, that God would restore him. They come sincerely and earnestly to the Throne of Grace, and ask God to spare his life and make him well. Instead, however, of growing better, he grows suddenly worse. He is attacked with violent sickness; and his friends think that their prayer cannot be heard, and suppose that they must follow him to the grave. The sickness, however, soon passes away; and, by means of some mysterious influence which is in such cases often exerted upon the constitution, instead of carrying him to the tomb, he rises from his sick-bed with renewed bodily powers; and as his strength gradually returns, he finds that his constitution is renewed, and health entirely restored. Now this is granting the request, because the thing requested, that is, the restoration to health, is obtained; but the manner was unexpected. If the man should die-no matter what great benefits to all resulted from his death-it is certainly not right to say that the request was granted in any way. It was denied, because God saw it was best that it should be denied.
Let us then keep constantly in view the fact, that our petitions are, and must be, often denied-positively and absolutely refused. The language which our Saviour uses, though without any specified exceptions, contains the exceptions that in all human language are, in all such cases, implied. The feelings, however, which, in this view of the subject, we ought to cherish, may properly be presented under the following head:
II. A submissive spirit in prayer. - We ought unquestionably to bring a great many requests to God, relating to our daily pursuits. We ought to express to Him our common desires, and ask success in our common enterprises and plans. Young persons, it seems to me, ought to do this far more than they do. They ought to bring all their little interests and concerns, morning and evening, to their Friend above. Whatever interests you, as I have already once or twice remarked, will interest Him Bring to Him freely your little troubles and cares, and express your wants. If the young cannot come to God with their own appropriate and peculiar concerns, they are in reality without a protector. If, however, we are in the habit of bringing all our wants to God, we shall often ask for something which it is far better for us not to have. We cannot always judge correctly: but unless we know that what we ask is dangerous, or that it will be injurious, it is proper to ask for it. If we do or might know; to request it, would be obviously wrong. David prayed very earnestly that his child might live; but God thought it not best to grant the petition. David did right to pray; for he probably did not know but that the request might be safely granted. Let us feel, therefore, when we come with our petitions, that perhaps God will think it best for us that they should be denied.
This is peculiarly the case in praying for deliverance from danger. Our hearts may be relieved and lightened