Subject: However hypocrites may continue for a season in the duty of prayer, yet
’tis their manner after a while in a great measure to leave it off.
CONCERNING these words, I would observe:
1. Who it is that is here spoken of, viz. the hypocrite; as you may see, if you take
the two preceding verses with the verse of the text. “For what is the hope of the
hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? Will God hear his
cry when trouble cometh upon him? Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he
always call up on God?” Job’s three friends, in their speeches to him, insisted much
upon it, that he was a hypocrite. But Job, in this chapter, asserts his sincerity
and integrity, and shows how different his own behavior had been from that of hypocrite.
Particularly he declares his steadfast and immovable resolution of persevering and
holding out in the ways of religion and righteousness to the end; as you may see
in the six first verses. In the text, he shows how contrary to this steadfastness
and perseverance the character of the hypocrite is, who is not wont thus to hold
out in religion.
2. We may observe what duty of religion it is, with respect to which the hypocrite
is deciphered in the text, and that is the duty of prayer or calling upon God.
3. Here is something supposed of the hypocrite relating to this duty, viz. That he
may continue in it for a while; he may call upon God for a season.
4. Something asserted, viz. That it is not the manner of hypocrites to continue always
in this duty. Will he always call upon God? It is in the form of an interrogation;
but the words have the force of a strong assertion, that however the hypocrite may
call upon God for a season, yet he will not always continue in it.
However hypocrites may continue for a season in the duty of prayer, yet it is their
manner, after a while, in a great measure, to leave it off.
In speaking upon this doctrine, I shall show:
I. How hypocrites often continue for a season to call upon God.
II. How it is their manner, after a while, in a great measure to leave off the practice
of this duty.
III. Give some reasons why this is the manner of hypocrites.
I. I would show how hypocrites often continue for a season in the duty of prayer.
First, they do so for a while after they have received common illuminations and affections.
While they are under awakenings, they may, through fear of hell, call upon God, and
attend very constantly upon the duty of secret prayer. And after they have had some
melting affections, having their hearts much moved with the goodness of God, or with
some affecting encouragements, and false joy and comfort; while these impressions
last they continue to call upon God in the duty of secret prayer.
Second, after they have obtained a hope, and have made profession of their good estate,
they often continue for a while in the duty of secret prayer. For a while they are
affected with their hope. They think that God hath delivered them out of a natural
condition, and given them an interest in Christ, thus introducing them into a state
of safety from that eternal misery which they lately feared. With this supposed kindness
of God to them, they are much affected, and often find in themselves for a while
a kind of love to God, excited by his supposed love to them. Now, while this affection
towards God continues, the duties of religion seem pleasant to them. It is even with
some delight that they approach to God in their closets. And for the present it may
be, they think of no other than continuing to call upon God as long as they live.
Yea, they may continue in the duty of secret prayer for a while after the liveliness
of their affections is past, through the influence of their former intentions. They
intended to continue seeking God always; and now suddenly to leave off, would therefore
be too shocking to their own minds. And the force of their own preconceived notions
viz. That godly persons continue in religion, may have some effect. Therefore, though
they have no love to the duty of prayer, and begin to grow weary of it, yet as they
love their own hope, they are somewhat backward to take a course, which will prove
it to be a false hope, and so deprive them of it.
If they should at once bear the sign of a false hope, they would scare themselves.
Their hope is dear to them, and it would fright them to see any plain evidence that
it is not true. Hence, for a considerable time after the force of their illuminations
and affections is over, and after they hate the duty of prayer — and would be glad
to have done with it, if they could, without showing themselves to be hypocrites
— they hold up a kind of attendance upon the duty of secret prayer. — This may keep
up the outside of religion in them for a good while, and occasion it to be somewhat
slowly that they are brought to neglect it. They must not leave off suddenly, because
that would be too great a shock to their false peace. — But they must come gradually
to it, as they find their consciences can bear it, and as they can find out devices
and salvos to cover over the matter, and make their so doing consistent, in their
own opinion, with the truth of their hope. — But,
II. It is the manner of hypocrites, after a while, in a great measure to leave off
the practice of this duty. We are often taught, that the seeming goodness and piety
of hypocrites is not of a lasting and persevering nature. It is so with respect to
their practice of the duty of prayer in particular, and especially of secret prayer.
They can omit this duty, and their omission of it not be taken notice of by others,
who know what profession they have made. So that a regard to their own reputation
doth not oblige them still to practice it. If others saw how they neglect it, it
would exceedingly shock their charity towards them. But their neglect doth not fall
under their observation; at least not under the observation of many. Therefore they
may omit this duty, and still have the credit of being converted persons.
Men of this character can come to a neglect of secret prayer by degrees without shocking
their peace. For though indeed for a converted person to live in a great measure
without secret prayer, is very wide of the notion they once had of a true convert;
yet they find means by degrees to alter their notions, and to bring their principles
to suit with their inclinations. And at length they come to a notion, that a man
may be a convert, and yet live very much in neglect of this duty. In time, they can
bring all things to suit well together, as a hope of heaven, and an indulgence of
sloth, gratifying carnal appetites, and living in a great measure a prayerless life.
They cannot indeed suddenly make these things agree. It must be a work of time; and
length of time will effect it. By degrees they find out ways to guard and defend
their consciences against those powerful enemies; so that those enemies, and a quiet,
secure conscience, can at length dwell pretty well together.
Whereas it is asserted in the doctrine, that it is the manner of hypocrites, after
a while, in a great measure to leave off this duty; I would observe to you,
First, that it is not intended but that they may commonly continue to the end of
life in yielding an external attendance on open prayer, or prayer with others. They
may commonly be present at public prayers in the congregation, and also at family
prayer. This, in such places of light as this is, men commonly do before ever they
are so much as awakened. Many vicious persons, who make no pretense to serious religion,
commonly attend public prayers in the congregation; and also more private prayers,
in the families in which they live, unless it be when carnal designs interfere, or
when their youthful pleasures and diversions, and their vain company call them; and
then they make no conscience of attending family prayer. Otherwise they may continue
to attend upon prayer as long as they live, and yet may truly be said not to call
upon God. For such prayer, in the manner of it, is not their own. They are present
only for the sake of their credit, or in compliance with others. They may be present
at these prayers, and yet have no proper prayer of their own. Many of those concerning
whom it may be said, as in Job 15:4, that they cast off fear and restrain prayer
before God, are yet frequently present at family and public prayer.
Second, but they in a great measure leave off the practice of secret prayer. They
come to this pass by degrees. At first they begin to be careless about it, under
some particular temptations. Because they have been out in young company, or have
been taken up very much with worldly business, they omit it once. After that, they
more easily omit it again. Thus it presently becomes a frequent thing with them to
omit it and after a while, it comes to that pass, that they seldom attend it. Perhaps
they attend it on Sabbath days, and sometimes on other days. But they have ceased
to make it a constant practice daily to retire to worship God alone, and to seek
his face in secret places. They sometimes do a little to quiet conscience, and just
to keep alive their old hope; because it would be shocking to them, even after all
their subtle dealing with their consciences, to call themselves converts, and yet
totally to live without prayer. Yet the practice of secret prayer, they have in a
great measure left off. — I come now,
III. To the reasons why this is the manner of hypocrites.
First, hypocrites never had the spirit of prayer. They may have been stirred up to
the external performance of this duty, and that with a great deal of earnestness
and affection, and yet always have been destitute of the true spirit of prayer. The
spirit of prayer is a holy spirit, a gracious spirit. We read of the spirit of grace
and supplication, Zec. 12:10. “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants
of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplications.” — Wherever there is a true
spirit of supplication, there is the spirit of grace. The true spirit of prayer is
no other than God’s own Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the saints. And as this
spirit comes from God, so doth it naturally tend to God in holy breathings and pantings.
It naturally leads to God, to converse with him by prayer. Therefore the Spirit is
said to make intercession for the saints with groanings which cannot be uttered,
The Spirit of God makes intercession for them, as it is that the Spirit which in
some respect indites their prayers, and leads them to pour out their souls before
God. Therefore the saints are said to worship God in the spirit; Phil. 3:3. “We are
the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit;” and John 4:23. “The true worshippers
worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The truly godly have the spirit of adoption,
the spirit of a child, to which it is natural to go to God and call upon him, crying
to him as to a father.
But hypocrites have nothing of this spirit of adoption. They have not the spirit
of children, for this is a gracious and holy spirit, given only in a real work of
regeneration. Therefore it is often mentioned as a part of the distinguishing character
of the godly, that they call upon God. Psa. 145:18, 19. “The Lord is nigh to them
that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfill the desire
of them that fear him; he will also hear their cry, and will save them.” Joel 2:32.
“It shall come to pass, that whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
It is natural to one who is truly born from above to pray to God, and to pour out
his soul in holy supplications before his heavenly Father. This is as natural to
the new nature and life as breathing is to the nature and life of the body. But hypocrites
have not this new nature. Those illuminations and affections which they had, went
away, and left no change of nature. Therefore prayer naturally dies away in them,
having no foundation laid in the nature of the soul. It is maintained awhile only
by a certain force put upon nature. But force is not constant; and as that declines,
nature will take place again.
The spirit of a true convert is a spirit of true love to God, and that naturally
inclines the soul to those duties wherein it is conversant with God, and makes it
to delight in approaching him. But a hypocrite hath no such spirit. He is left under
the reigning power of enmity against God, which naturally inclines him to shun his
The spirit of a true convert is a spirit of faith and reliance on the power, wisdom,
and mercy of God, and such a spirit is naturally expressed in prayer. True prayer
is nothing else but faith expressed. Hence we read of the prayer of faith; Jam. 5:15.
True Christian prayer is the faith and reliance of the soul breathed forth in words.
But a hypocrite is without the spirit of faith. He hath no true reliance or dependence
on God, but is really self-dependent.
As to those common convictions and affections which the hypocrite had, and which
made him keep up the duty of prayer for a while; they not reaching the bottom of
the heart, nor being accomplished with any change of nature, a little thing extinguishes
them. The cares of the world commonly choke and suffocate them, and often the pleasures
and vanities of youth totally put an end to them, and with them ends their constant
practice of the duty of prayer.
Second, when a hypocrite hath had his false conversion, his wants are in his sense
of things already supplied, his desires are already answered; and so he finds no
further business at the throne of grace. He never was sensible that he had any other
needs, but a need of being safe from hell. And now that he is converted, as he thinks,
that need is supplied. Why then should he still go on to resort to the throne of
grace with earnest requests? He is out of danger. All that he was afraid of is removed.
He hath got enough to carry him to heaven, and what more should he desire? — While
under awakenings, he had this to stir him up to go to God in prayer, that he was
in continual fear of hell. This put him upon crying to God for mercy. But since in
his own opinion he is converted, he hath no further business about which to go to
God. And although he may keep up the duty of prayer in the outward form a little
while, for fear of spoiling his hope, yet he will find it a dull business to continue
it without necessity, and so by degrees he will let drop the practice. The work of
the hypocrite is done when he is converted, and therefore he standeth in no further
need of help.
But it is far otherwise with the true convert. His work is not done; but he finds
still a great work to do, and great wants to be supplied. He sees himself still to
be a poor, empty, helpless creature, and that he still stands in great and continual
need of God’s help. He is sensible that without God he can do nothing. A false conversion
makes a man in his own eyes self-sufficient. He saith he is rich, and increased with
goods, and hath need of nothing; and knoweth not that be is wretched, and miserable,
and poor, and blind, and naked. But after a true conversion, the soul remains sensible
of its own impotence and emptiness, as it is in itself, and its sense of it is rather
increased than diminished. It is still sensible of its universal dependence on God
for everything. A true convert is sensible that his grace is very imperfect; and
he is very far from having all that he desires. Instead of that, by conversion are
begotten in him new desires which he never had before. He now finds in him holy appetites,
an hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a longing after more acquaintance
and communion with God. So that he hath business enough still at the throne of grace;
yea, his business there, instead of being diminished, is, since his conversion, rather
Third, the hope which the hypocrite hath of his good estate takes off the force that
the command of God before had upon his conscience; so that now he dares neglect so
plain a duty. The command which requires the practice of the duty of prayer is exceeding
plain; Mat. 26:41. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” Eph. 6:18.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto
with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints.” Mat. 6:6. “When thou prayest
enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which
is in secret.” As long as the hypocrite was in his own apprehension in continual
danger of hell, he durst not disobey these commands. But since he is, as he thinks,
safe from hell, he is grown bold, he dares to live in the neglect of the plainest
command in the Bible.
Fourth, it is the manner of hypocrites, after a while, to return to sinful practices,
which will tend to keep them from praying. While they were under convictions, they
reformed their lives, and walked very exactly. This reformation continues, after
their supposed conversion, while they are much affected with hope and false comfort.
But as these things die away, their old lusts revive, and they by degrees return
like the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
They return to their sensual, worldly, proud, and contentious practices, as before.
And no wonder this makes them forsake their closets. Sinning and praying agree not
well together. If a man be constant in the duty of secret prayer, it will tend to
restrain him from willful sinning. So, on the other hand, if he allow himself in
sinful practices, it will restrain him from praying. It will give quite another turn
to his mind, so that he will have no disposition to the practice of such a duty.
It will be contrary to him. A man who knows that he lives in sin against God, will
not be inclined to come daily into the presence of God; but will rather be inclined
to fly from his presence, as Adam, when he had eaten of the forbidden fruit, ran
away from God, and hid himself among the trees of the garden.
To keep up the duty of prayer after he hath given loose to his lusts, would tend
very much to disquiet a man’s conscience. It would give advantage to his conscience
to testify aloud against him. If he should come from his wickedness into the presence
of God, immediately to speak to him, his conscience would, as it were; fly in his
face. Therefore hypocrites, as they by degrees admit their wicked practices, exclude
Fifth, hypocrites never counted the cost of perseverance in seeking God, and of following
him to the end of life. To continue instant in prayer with all perseverance to the
end of life, requires much care, watchfulness, and labor. For much opposition is
made to it by the flesh, the world, and the devil and Christians meet with many temptations
to forsake this practice. He that would persevere in this duty must be laborious
in religion in general. But hypocrites never count the cost of such labor; i. e.
they never were prepared in the disposition of their minds to give their lives to
the service of God, and to the duties of religion. It is therefore no great wonder
if they are weary, and give up, after they have continued for a while, as their affections
are gone, and they find that prayer to them grows irksome and tedious.
Sixth, hypocrites have no interest in those gracious promises which God hath made
to his people, of those spiritual supplies which are needful in order to uphold them
in the way of their duty to the end. God hath promised to true saints that they shall
not forsake him; Jer. 32:40. “I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall
not depart from me.” He hath promised that he will keep them in the way of their
duty; 1 Thes. 5:23, 24. “And the God of peace sanctify you wholly. And I pray God
your spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” — But hypocrites have
no interest in these and such like promises, and therefore are liable to fall away.
If God does not uphold men, there is no dependence on their steadfastness. If the
Spirit of God depart from them, they will soon become careless and profane, and there
will be an end to their seeming devotion and piety.
The application may be in an use of exhortation, in two branches.
I. I would exhort those who have entertained a hope of their being true converts
— and who since their supposed conversion have left off the duty of secret prayer,
and ordinarily allow themselves in the omission of it — to throw away their hope.
If you have left off calling upon God, it is time for you to leave off hoping and
flattering yourselves with an imagination that you are the children of God. Probably
it will be a very difficult thing for you to do this. It is hard for a man to let
go a hope of heaven, on which he hath once allowed himself to lay hold, and which
he hath retained for a considerable time. True conversion is a rare thing. But that
men are brought off from a false hope of conversion — after they are once settled
and established in it, and have continued in it for some time, is much more rare.
Those things in men which, if known, would be sufficient to convince others that
they are hypocrites, will not convince themselves. And those things which would be
sufficient to convince them concerning others, will not be sufficient to convince
them concerning themselves. They can make larger allowances for themselves than they
can for others. They can find out ways to solve objections against their own hope,
when they can find none in the like case for their neighbor.
But if your case be such as is spoken of in the doctrine, it is surely time for you
to seek a better hope, and another work of God’s Spirit, than ever you have yet experienced;
something more thorough and effectual. When you find by experience, that the seed
which was sown in your hearts, though at first it sprang up and seemed flourishing,
is withering away, as by the heat of the sun, or is choked, as with thorns; this
shows in what sort of ground the seed was sown, that it is either stony or thorny
ground. And that therefore it is necessary you should pass through another change,
whereby your heart may become good ground, which shall bring forth fruit with patience.
Insist not on that as a reason why you should not throw away your hope, that you
had the judgment of others, that the change of which you were the subject was right.
It is a small matter to be judged of man’s judgment, whether you be approved or condemned,
and whether it be by minister or people, wise or unwise. 1 Cor. 4:3. “ It is a very
small thing that I should be judged of you or of man’s judgment.” If your goodness
have proved to be as the morning cloud and early dew; if you be one of those who
have forsaken God, and left off calling upon his name, you have the judgment and
the sentence of God in the Scriptures against you, which is a thousand times more
than to have the judgment of all the wise and godly men and ministers in the world
in your favor.
Others, from your account of things, may have been obliged to have charity for you,
and to think that — provided you were not mistaken, and in your account did not misrepresent
things, or express them by wrong terms — you were really converted. But what a miserable
foundation is this upon which to build a hope as to your eternal state!
Here I request your attention to a few things in particular, which I have to say
to you concerning your hope.
First, why will you retain that hope which by evident experience you find poisons
you? Is it reasonable to think, that a holy hope, a hope that is from heaven, would
have such an influence? No, surely nothing of such a malignant influence comes from
that world of purity and glory. No poison groweth in the paradise of God. The same
hope which leads men to sin in this world will lead to hell hereafter. Why therefore
will you retain such a hope, of which your own experience shows you the ill tendency,
in that it encourages you to lead a wicked life? For certainly that life is a wicked
life wherein you live in the neglect of so well-known a duty, as that of secret prayer,
and in the disobedience of so plain a command of God, as that by which this duty
is enjoined. And is not a way of disobedience to God a way to hell?
If your own experience of the nature and tendency of your hope will not convince
you of the falseness of it, what will? Are you resolved to retain your hope, let
it prove ever so unsound and hurtful? Will you hold it fast till you go to hell with
it? Many men cling to a false hope, and embrace it so closely, that they never let
it go till the flames of hell cause their arms to unclench and let go their hold.
— Consider how you will answer it at the day of judgment, when God shall call you
to an account for your folly in resting in such an hope. Will it be a sufficient
answer for you to say, that you had the charity of others, and that they thought
your conversion was right?
Certainly it is foolish for men to imagine, that God had no more wisdom, or could
contrive no other way of bestowing comfort and hope of eternal life, than one which
should encourage men to forsake him.
Second, how is conduct consistent with loving God above all? If you have not spirit
to love God above your dearest earthly friends, and your most pleasant earthly enjoyments;
the Scriptures are very plain and full in it, that you are not true Christians. But
if you had indeed such a spirit, would you thus grow weary of the practice of drawing
near to him, and become habitually so averse to it, as in a great measure to cast
off so plain a duty, which is so much the life of a child of God? It is the nature
of love to be averse to absence, and to love a near access to those whom we love.
We love to be with them; we delight to come often to them, and to have much conversation
with them. But when a person who hath heretofore been wont to converse freely with
another, by degrees forsakes him, grows strange, and converses with him but little,
and that although the other be importunate with him for the continuance of their
former intimacy; this plainly shows the coldness of his heart towards him.
The neglect of the duty of prayer seems to be inconsistent with supreme love to God
also upon another account, and that is, that it is against the will of God so plainly
revealed. — True love to God seeks to please God in everything, and universally to
conform to his will.
Third, your thus restraining prayer before God is not only inconsistent with the
love, but also with the fear of God. It is an argument that you cast off fear, as
is manifest by that text, Job 15:4. “Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest
prayer before God.” While you thus live in the transgression of so plain a command
of God, you evidently show, that there is no fear of God before your eyes. Psa. 36:1.
“The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of
God before his eyes.”
Fourth, consider how living in such a neglect is consistent with leading an holy
life. We are abundantly instructed in Scripture, that true Christians do lead an
holy life; that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, Heb. 12:14. And that
everyone that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure, 1
John 3:3. In Pro. 16:17, it is said, The highway of the upright is to depart from
evil, i.e. it is, as it were, the common beaten road in which all the godly travel.
To the like purpose is Isa. 35:8. “A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall
be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be
for those:” i. e. those redeemed persons spoken of in the foregoing verses. It is
spoken of in Rom. 8:1, as the character of all believers, that they walk not after
the flesh, but after the spirit.
But how is a life, in a great measure prayerless, consistent with an holy life? To
lead a holy life is to lead a life devoted to God; a life of worshipping and serving
God; a life consecrated to the service of God. But how doth he lead such a life who
doth not so much as maintain the duty of prayer? How can such a man be said to walk
by the Spirit and to be a servant of the Most High God? A holy life is a life of
faith. The life that true Christians live in the world, they live by the faith of
the Son of God. But who can believe that man lives by faith who lives without prayer,
which is the natural expression of faith? Prayer is as natural an expression of faith
as breathing is of life; and to say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a
prayerless life, is every whit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say, that a
man lives without breathing. A prayerless life is so far from being a holy life,
that it is a profane life. He that lives so, lives like an heathen, who calleth not
on God’s name. He that lives a prayerless life, lives without God in the world.
Fifth, If you live in the neglect of secret prayer, you show your good will to neglect
all the worship of God. He that prays only when he prays with others, would not pray
at all, were it not that the eyes of others are upon him. He that will not pray where
none but God seeth him, manifestly doth not pray at all out of respect to God, or
regard to his all-seeing eye, and therefore doth in effect cast off all prayer. And
he that casts off prayer, in effect, casts off all the worship of God, of which prayer
is the principal duty. Now, what a miserable saint is he who is no worshipper of
God! He that casts off the worship of God, in effect casts off God himself. He refuses
to own him, or to be conversant with him as his God. For the way in which men own
God, and are conversant with him as their God, is by worshipping him.
Sixth, How can you expect to dwell with God for ever, if you so neglect and forsake
him here? This your practice shows, that you place not your happiness in God, in
nearness to him, and communion with him. He who refuses to visit and converse with
a friend, and who in a great measure forsakes him, when he is abundantly invited
and importuned to come; plainly shows that he places not his happiness in the company
and conversation of that friend. Now, if this be the case with you respecting God,
then how can you expect to have it for your happiness to all eternity, to be with
God, and to enjoy holy communion with him?
Let those persons who hope they are converted, and yet have in a great measure left
off the duty of secret prayer, and whose manner it is ordinarily to neglect it, for
their own sake seriously consider these things. For what will it profit then to please
themselves with that, while they live, which will fail them at last, and leave them
in fearful and amazing disappointment?
It is probable, that some of you who have entertained a good opinion of your state,
and have looked upon yourselves as converts — but have of late in a great measure
left off the duty — will this evening attend secret prayer, and so continue to do
for a little while after your hearing this sermon, to the end that you may solve
the objection which is made against the truth of your hope. But this will not hold.
As it hath been in former instances of the like nature, so what you now hear will
have such effect upon you but a little while. — When the business and cares of the
world shall again begin to crowd a little upon you, or next time you shall go out
into young company, it is probable you will again neglect this duty. After the next
frolic to which you go, it is highly probable you will neglect not only secret, but
also family prayer. Or at least, after a while, you will come to the same pass as
before, in casting off fear, and restraining prayer before God.
It is not very likely that you will ever be constant and persevering in this duty,
until you shall have obtained a better principle in your hearts. The streams which
have no springs to feed them will dry up. The drought and heat consume the snow waters.
Although they run plentifully in the spring, yet when the sun ascends higher with
a burning heat, they are gone. The seed that is sown in stony places, though it seem
to flourish at present; yet as the sun shall rise with a burning heat, will wither
away. None will bring forth fruit with patience, but those whose hearts are become
Without any heavenly seed remaining in them, men may, whenever they fall in among
the godly, continue all their lives to talk like saints. They may, for their credit’s
sake, tell of what they have experienced. But their deeds will not hold. — They may
continue to tell of their inward experiences, and yet live in the neglect of secret
prayer, and of other duties.
II. I would take occasion from this doctrine to exhort all to persevere in the duty
of prayer. This exhortation is much insisted on in the Word of God. It is insisted
on in the Old Testament; 1 Chr. 16:11, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his
face continually.” Isa. 62:6, 7, “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence;”
i. e. be not silent as to the voice of prayer, as is manifest by the following words,
“and give him no rest till he establish and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the
earth,” Israel of old is reproved for growing weary of the duty of prayer. Isa. 43:22,
“But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.”
Perseverance in the duty of prayer is very much insisted on in the New Testament;
as Luke 18 at the beginning, “A man ought always to pray, and not to faint;” i. e.
not to be discouraged or weary of the duty; but should always continue in it. Again,
Luke 21:36, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always.” We have the example of Anna the
prophetess set before us, Luke 2:36, etc. who, though she had lived to be more than
a hundred years old, yet was not weary of this duty. It is said, “She departed not
from the temple, but served God, with fastings and prayers, night and day.” Cornelius
also is commended for his constancy in this duty. It is said, that he prayed to God
always; Acts 10:2. The apostle Paul, in his epistles, insists very much on constancy
in this duty; Rom. 12:12, “Continuing instant in prayer.” Eph. 6:18, 19, “Praying
always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with
all perseverance.” Col. 4:2. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same.” 1 Thes.
5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” To the same effect the apostle Peter, 1 Pet. 4:7, “Watch
unto prayer.” — Thus abundantly the Scriptures insists upon it, that we should persevere
in the duty of prayer; which shows that, it is of very great importance that we should
persevere. If the contrary be the manner of hypocrites, as hath been shown in the
doctrine, then surely we ought to beware of this leaven.
But here let the following things be particularly considered as motives to perseverance
in this duty:
First, that perseverance in the way of duty is necessary to salvation, and is abundantly
declared so to be in the Holy Scriptures; as Isa. 64:5, “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth
and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art
wroth, for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.” Heb.
10:38, 39, “Now the just shall live by faith: But if any man draw back, my soul hath
no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them
that believe to the saving of the soul.” Rom. 11:22, “Behold therefore the goodness
and severity of God: On them which fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if
thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” — So [it is]
in many other places.
Many, when they think they are converted, seem to imagine that their work is done,
and that there is nothing else needful in order to their going to heaven. Indeed
perseverance in holiness of life is not necessary to salvation, as the righteousness
by which a right to salvation is obtained. Nor is actual perseverance necessary in
order to our becoming interested in that righteousness by which we are justified.
For as soon as ever a soul hath believed in Christ, or hath put forth one act of
faith in him, it becomes interested in his righteousness, and in all the promises
purchased by it.
But persevering in the way of duty is necessary to salvation, as a concomitant and
evidence of a title to salvation. There is never a title to salvation without it,
though it be not the righteousness by which a title to salvation is obtained. It
is necessary to salvation, as it is the necessary consequence of true faith. It is
an evidence which universally attends uprightness, and the defect of it is an infallible
evidence of the want of uprightness. Psa. 125:4, 5. There such as are good and upright
in heart, are distinguished from such as fall away or turn aside: “Do good, O Lord,
to those that are good, and to them that are upright in their hearts. As for such
as turn aside to their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers
of iniquity. But peace shall be upon Israel.” — It is mentioned as an evidence that
the hearts of the children of Israel were not right with God, that they did not persevere
in the ways of holiness. Psa. 78:8, “A generation that set not their hearts aright,
and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.”
Christ gives this as a distinguishing character of those that are his disciples indeed,
and of a true and saving faith, that it is accompanied with perseverance in the obedience
of Christ’s word. John 8:31, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him,
if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” This is mentioned as
a necessary evidence of an interest in Christ, Heb. 3:14, “We are made partakers
of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”
Perseverance is not only a necessary concomitant and evidence of a title to salvation;
but also a necessary prerequisite to the actual possession of eternal life. It is
the only way to heaven, the narrow way that leadeth to life. Hence Christ exhorts
the church of Philadelphia to persevere in holiness from this consideration, that
it was necessary in order to her obtaining the crown. Rev. 3:11, “Hold fast that
which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” It is necessary, not only that persons
should once have been walking in the way of duty, but that they should be found so
doing when Christ cometh. Luke 12:43, “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when
he cometh, shall find so doing.” — Holding out to the end is often made the condition
of actual salvation. Mat. 10:22, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be
saved:” And Rev. 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown
Second, in order to your own perseverance in the way of duty, your own care and watchfulness
is necessary. For though it be promised that true saints shall persevere, yet that
is no argument that their care and watchfulness is not necessary in order to it;
because their care to keep the commands of God is the thing promised. If the saints
should fail of care, watchfulness, and diligence to persevere in holiness, that failure
of their care and diligence would itself be a failure of holiness. They who persevere
not in watchfulness and diligence, persevere not in holiness of life, for holiness
of life very much consists in watchfulness and diligence to keep the commands of
God. It is one promise of the covenant of grace, that the saints shall keep God’s
commandments. Eze. 11:19, 20. — Yet that is no argument that they have no need to
take care to keep these commandments, or to do their duty. So the promise of God,
that the saints shall persevere in holiness, is no argument that it is not necessary
that they should take heed lest they fall away.
Therefore the Scriptures abundantly warn men to watch over themselves diligently,
and to give earnest heed lest they fall away. 1 Cor. 16:13, “Watch ye, stand fast
in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” 1 Cor. 10:12, “Let him that thinketh
he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” Heb. 3:12, 13, 14, “Take heed, brethren, lest
there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;
but exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened
through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold
the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” Heb. 4:1, “Let us therefore
fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem
to come short of it.” 2 Pet. 3:17, “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things
before, beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from
your own steadfastness.” 2 John 1:8, “Look to yourselves that we lose not those things
which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” — Thus you see how earnestly
the scriptures press on Christians exhortations to take diligent heed to themselves
that they fall not away. And certainly these cautions are not without reason.
The Scriptures particularly insist upon watchfulness in order to perseverance in
the duty of prayer. Watch and pray, saith Christ; which implies that we should watch
unto prayer, as the apostle Peter says, 1 Pet. 4:7. It implies, that we should watch
against a neglect of prayer, as well as against other sins. The apostle, in places
which have been already mentioned, directs us to pray with all prayer, watching thereunto
with all perseverance, and to continue in prayer, and watch in the same. — Nor is
it any wonder that the apostles so much insisted on watching, in order to a continuance
in prayer with all perseverance. For there are many temptations to neglect this duty:
first to be inconstant in it, and from time to time to omit it; then in a great measure
to neglect it. The devil watches by temptation to draw us away from God, and to hinder
us from going to him in prayer. We are surrounded with one and another tempting object,
business, and diversion: particularly we meet with many things which are great temptations
to a neglect of this duty.
Third, to move you to persevere in the duty of prayer, consider how much you always
stand in need of the help of God. If persons who have formerly attended this duty,
leave it off, the language of it is, that now they stand in no further need of God’s
help, that they have no further occasion to go to God with requests and supplications;
when indeed it is in God we live, and move, and have our being. We cannot draw a
breath without his help. You need his help every day, for the supply of your outward
wants; and especially you stand in continual need of him to help your souls. Without
his protection, they would immediately fall into the hands of the devil, who always
stands as a roaring lion, ready, whenever he is permitted, to fall upon the souls
of men and devour them. — If God should indeed preserve your lives, but should otherwise
forsake and leave you to yourselves, you would be most miserable. Your lives would
be a curse to you.
Those that are converted, if God should forsake them, would soon fall away totally
from a state of grace into a state far more miserable than ever they were in before
their conversion. They have no strength of their own to resist those powerful enemies
who surround them. Sin and Satan would immediately carry them away, as a mighty flood,
if God should forsake them. — You stand in need of daily supplies from God. Without
God you can receive no spiritual light nor comfort, can exercise no grace, can bring
forth no fruit. Without God your souls will wither and pine away, and sink into a
most wretched state. You continually need the instructions and directions of God.
What can a little child do, in a vast howling wilderness, without some one to guide
it, and to lead it in the right way? Without God you will soon fall into snares,
and pits, and many fatal calamities.
Seeing therefore you stand in such continual need of the help of God, how reasonable
is it that you should continually seek it of him, and perseveringly acknowledge your
dependence upon him, by resorting to him, to spread your needs before him, and to
offer up your requests to him in prayer. — Let us consider how miserable we should
be, if we should leave off prayer. And God at the same time should leave off to take
care of us, or to afford us any more supplies of his grace. By our constancy in prayer,
we cannot be profitable to God; and if we leave it off, God will sustain no damage.
He doth not need our prayers; Job 35:6, 7. — But if God cease to care for us and
to help us, we immediately sink. We can do nothing. We can receive nothing without
Fourth, consider the great benefit of a constant, diligent, and persevering attendance
on this duty. It is one of the greatest and most excellent means of nourishing the
new nature, and of causing the soul to flourish and prosper. It is an excellent means
of keeping up an acquaintance with, and of growing in the knowledge of God. It is
the way to a life of communion with God. It is an excellent means of taking off the
heart from the vanities of the world, and of causing the mind to be conversant in
heaven. It is an excellent preservative from sin and the wiles of the devil, and
a powerful antidote against the poison of the old serpent. It is a duty whereby strength
is derived from God against the lusts and corruptions of the heart, and the snares
of the world.
It hath a great tendency to keep the soul in a wakeful frame, and to lead us to a
strict walk with God, and to a life that shall be fruitful in such good works, as
tend to adorn the doctrine of Christ, and to cause our light so to shine before others,
that they, seeing our good works, shall glorify our Father who is in heaven And if
the duty be constantly and diligently attended, it will be a very pleasant duty.
Slack and slothful attendance upon it, and unsteadiness in it, are the causes which
make it so great a burden as it is to some persons. Their slothfulness in it hath
naturally the effect to beget a dislike of the duty and a great indisposition to
it. But if it be constantly and diligently attended, it is one of the best means
of leading not only a Christian and amiable, but also a pleasant life; a life of
much sweet fellowship with Christ, and of the abundant enjoyment of the light of
Besides, the great power which prayer, when duly attended, hath with God, is worthy
of your notice. By it men become like Jacob, who as a prince had power with God,
and prevailed, when he wrestled with God for the blessing. See the power of prayer
represented in Jam. 5:16, 17, 18. By these things you may be sensible how much you
will lose, if you shall be negligent of this great duty of calling upon God; and
how ill you will consult your own interest by such a neglect.
I conclude my discourse with two directions in order to constancy and perseverance
in this duty.
1. Watch against the beginnings of a neglect of this duty. Persons who have for a
time practiced this duty, and afterwards neglect it, commonly leave it off by degrees.
While their convictions and religious affections last, they are very constant in
their closets, and no worldly business, or company, or diversion hinders them. But
as their convictions and affections begin to die away, they begin to find excuses
to neglect it sometimes. They are now so hurried. They have now such and such things
to attend to; or there are now such inconveniences in the way that they persuade
themselves they may very excusably omit it for this time. Afterwards it pretty frequently
so happens, that they have something to hinder, something which they call a just
excuse. After a while, a less thing becomes a sufficient excuse than was allowed
to be such at first. Thus the person by degrees contracts more and more of an habit
of neglecting prayer, and becomes more and more indisposed to it. And even when he
doth perform it, it is in such a poor, dull, heartless, miserable manner, that he
says to himself, he might as well not do it at all, as do it thus. Thus he makes
his own dullness and indisposition an excuse for wholly neglecting it, or at least
for living in a great measure in the neglect. — After this manner do Satan and men’s
own corruptions inveigle them to their ruin.
Therefore beware of the first beginnings of a neglect. Watch against temptations
to it. Take heed how you begin to allow excuses. Be watchful to keep up the duty
in the height of it; let it not so much as begin to sink. For when you give way,
though it be but little, it is like giving way to an enemy in the field of battle.
The first beginning of a retreat greatly encourages the enemy, and weakens the retreating
2. Let me direct you to forsake all such practices [that], as you find by experience,
do indispose you to the duty of secret prayer. Examine the things in which you have
allowed yourselves, and inquire whether they have had this effect. You are able to
look over your past behavior, and may doubtless, on an impartial consideration, make
a judgment of the practices and courses in which you have allowed yourselves.
Particularly let young people examine their manner of company keeping, and the round
of diversions in which, with their companions, they have allowed themselves. I only
desire that you would ask at the mouth of your own consciences what has been the
effect of these things with respect to your attendance on the duty of secret prayer.
Have you not found that such practices have tended to the neglect of this duty? Have
you not found that after them you have been more indisposed to it, and less conscientious
and careful to attend it? Yea, have they not, from time to time, actually been the
means of your neglecting it?
If you cannot deny that this is really the case, then, if you seek the good of your
souls, forsake these practices. Whatever you may plead for them, as that there is
no harm in them, or that there is a time for all things, and the like; yet if you
find this harm in the consequence, it is time for you to forsake them. And if you
value heaven more than a little worldly diversion, if you set an higher price on
eternal glory than on a dance or a song, you will forsake them.
If these things be lawful in themselves, yet if your experience show, that they are
attended with such a consequence as I have now mentioned, that is enough. It is lawful
in itself for you to enjoy your right hand and your right eye. But if by experience
you find they cause you to offend, it is time for you to cut off the one, and pluck
out the other, as you would rather go to heaven without them than go to hell with
them, into that place of torment where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.