What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray to him?
These words are an objection of bold, ungodly, and profane men against the duty of prayer. The stress of the argument is taken from its unprofitableness; it is said that it does not procure us the advantages which might be expected from it. But because God is pleased to incite us to the observance of His commands by the promise of a reward, and because there are peculiar blessings annexed to this duty of prayer, I shall not insist on the absolute right of God to require it. That prayer is unprofitable, the objectors must show, either from reason or from experience. They must either prove that God cannot hear prayers, or that He doth not; that it is inconsistent with the notion of God that He should be prevailed on by the prayers of men; or that by trial it has been found that He has never been prevailed on. But if men can prove from the nature or the attributes of God, that He cannot be prevailed on by the prayers of men, they need not trouble themselves to prove that He is not. But if we can prove that God is sometimes wrought on by the prayers of men, we need not trouble to prove against them, that He can be wrought upon. The blessings we receive, do, the objectors own, follow our prayers; but they will not own that they are the consequences of our prayers. The objections we now deal with are offered by those who own the being of God, and acknowledge His providence, His power, and His goodness, but raise difficulties concerning the profitableness of prayer. They say God is an unchangeable Being, not only in His nature and essence, but also in His counsels and purposes; and therefore He is not to be moved by prayers to send down gifts upon clamorous and importunate petitioners for them. All change, they say, among men argues weakness and infirmity of mind. Shall we then charge this weakness upon God? He cannot change His purposes for the better, because they are always perfectly good and wise. Whatever difficulties there may be in this objection, they are not so great as to shake our assurance, that God hears the prayers of men. For the unchangeableness of God cannot be better proved from reason or from Scriptures than His readiness to supply the wants of those who call upon Him. It is not more inconsistent with the perfections of God to be wavering and changeable than it is to be deaf to the prayers of His servants, and unable or unwilling to grant their requests. I will try to show that God may be unchangeable, and yet that He may be wrought upon by the prayers of men; or, which is all one, that He may grant those things to men upon their requests, which, without such requests, He would not grant. God's purposes are not so absolute as to exclude all conditions. He determines to bestow His favours upon men, not indiscriminately, but upon men so and so qualified. God determines to give grace to the humble, and pardon of sins to the penitent. Humility and repentance are therefore the conditions on man's part. God, by His infinite wisdom, foresees the wants and dispositions of all men. One of His required dispositions is prayer. The objectors may however doubt whether the dependence which God requires must necessarily be expressed and evidenced by prayer. For, they say we may trust in God, and yet not call upon Him. Nay, it may even be a sign of our entire trust and confidence, that we submit ourselves implicitly to His will, and do not trouble Him with our requests. To this false reasoning it may be answered, that if this dependence on God means anything, it must be, to all intents and purposes, the same thing as a mental prayer. For prayer consists in the elevation of the soul to God. As to the objection, that if we are worthy of God's favours, He will grant them unasked; this is frivolous, since in God's esteem they only are worthy who do ask. Asking is one thing requisite to make us so far worthy; and what for our own unworthiness we cannot hope, we may expect from the goodness of God, through the merits of Christ The more nicely or scrupulously we examine the grounds of this or any other religious duty, the more fully shall we be convinced of the reasonableness of it. Weak and infirm minds, who use to take up duties upon trust, and without trial, are too apt, when they hear anything that looks plausible, urged against the necessity of such duties, to be easily led away. It remains only, that being upon the mature deliberation, and impartial examining the merits of the cause, fully convinced of the reasonableness of the duty, we apply ourselves to a conscientious and faithful discharge of it; that being thoroughly persuaded of the profitableness of prayer, we do not so far overlook our own interest, as by neglect of prayer to lose those many and unspeakable advantages which we may expect from it; but that, by praying to God frequently, humbly, and fervently, we should be able to give the best, the shortest and fullest proof of the usefulness of prayer from our own experience. As we plead experience for the usefulness of prayer, so the objectors plead experience against its being profitable. They say the blessings we pray for are not granted; the evils we pray against are not removed. To make this a convincing argument against prayer, it must be supposed —
1. That because God has not yet regarded our prayers, therefore for the future He will not.
2. That because God has not regarded some prayers, therefore He will regard none.
3. That because God does not answer the particular requests of such as pray to Him, therefore He does not regard their prayers. As the contrary of all these is true, the argument of the objector is a bad one. Prayer is so weighty, so necessary, and so advantageous a duty, that we cannot take too much pains to establish it upon the firmest grounds, and to settle it upon its true foundations. Note the chief of those qualities which are most essential to a valid and effectual prayer.
1. Trust in Him to whom we pray.
2. Attention of mind whilst we pray.
3. A fervent desire of that for which we pray.
4. The deepest humility of soul and body in the act of praying.Argue the following points —
(1) The same prayers repeated may be of some force; so that God's disregard of our first prayers is no good reason why we should desist from renewing our petitions.
(2) Other prayers substituted in the room of those which have not been heard, may be answered; so that God's disregard of some sort of prayers is no reason for our intermission of all.
(3) Though God does not grant the particular requests of such as pray unto Him, He may yet regard their prayers; so that God's absolute and peremptory denial of our requests is no good argument against praying unto Him.
Parallel VersesKJV: What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?