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requisite, that the church should first be in travail, crying, and pained to be delivered ; Rev. xii. 1, 2, 5. And one thing that we have good reason to understand by it, is her exercising strong desires, and wrestling and agonizing with God in prayer, for this event ; because we find such figures of speech used in this sense elsewhere ; so, Gal. iv. 19. “ My little children of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you." Isa. xxvi. 16, 17. “ Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them. Like a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs, so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.” And certainly it is fit, that the church of God should be in travail for that, which (as I before observed) the whole creation travails in pain for.
The scriptures do not only abundantly manifest it to be the duty of God's people to be much in prayer for this great mer.' cy, but it also abounds with manifold considerations to encourage them in it, and animate them with hopes of success. There is perhaps no one thing that so much of the Bible is taken up in the promises of, in order to encourage the faith, hope and prayers of the saints, as this ; which at once affords to God's people the clearest evidences that it is their duty to be much in prayer for this mercy (for undoubtedly that which God does abundantly make the subject of his promises, God's people should abundantly make the subject of their prayers) and also affords them the strongest assurances that their prayers shall be successful. With what confidence may we go before God, and pray for that, of which we have so many exceeding precious and glorious promises to plead! The very first promise of God to fallen man, even that in Gen. iii. 15. It shall bruise thy head, is a promise that is to have chief fulfilment at that day. , And the whole Bible concludes with a promise of the glory of that day, and a prayer for its fulfilment. Rev. xxii. 20. “ He that testifieth these things, saith, surely I come quickly : Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,"
The scriptures give us great reason to think, that where önce there comes to appear much of a spirit of prayer in the church of God for this mercy, then it will soon be accomplished. It is evidently with reference to this mercy, that God makes that promise, Isa. xli. 17, 18, 19. “ When the poor and necdy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them ; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them ; I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys ; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water ; I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the inyrtle and the oil tree, I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together." Spiritual waters and rivers are explained by the Apostle John, to be the Holy Spirit, John vii. 37, 38, 39. It is now a time of scarcity of these spiritual waters ; there are as it were none : If God's people, in this time of great drought, were but made duly sensible of this calamity, and their own emptiness and necessity, and brought earnestly to thirst and cry for needed supplies, God would doubtless soon fulfil this blessed promise. We have another promise much like this, in Psal. cii. 16, 17. « When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory; he will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer." And remarkable are the words that follow in the next verse, “ This shall be written for the generation to come ; and the people which shall be created, shall praise the Lord.” Which seems to signify, that this promise should be left on record to encourage some future generation of God's people to pray and cry earnestly for this mercy, to whom he would fulfil the promise, and thereby give them, and great multitudes of others, that should be converted through their prayers, occasion to praise his name. Who knows but that the generation here spoken of may be this present generation ? One thing mentioned in the character of that future generation, is certainly true concerning the presó ent, viz. that it is destitue ; the church of God is in very low, sorrowful and needy circumstances : And if the next thing there supposed, were also verified in us, viz. that ws
trere made sensible of our great calamity, and brought to cry earnestly to God for help, I am persuaded the third would be also verified, viz. That our prayers would be turned into joyful praises, for God's gracious answers of our prayers. It is spoken of as a sign and evidence, that the time to favor Zion is come, when God's servants are brought by their prayerfulness for her restoration, in an eminent manner, to shew that they favor her stones and dust ; in the 13th and 14th verses of this Psalm, " Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favor her, yea, the set time is come ; for thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust ihereof.
God has respect to the prayers of his saints in all his gove ernment of the world ; as we may observe by the representation made, Rev. viii. at the beginning. There we read of seven angels standing before the throne of God, and receiving of him seven trumpets, at the sounding of which, great and mighty changes were to be brought to pass in the world, through many successive ages. But when these angels had received their trumpets, they must stand still, and all must be in silence, not one of them must be allowed to sound, until the prayers of the saints are attended to. The angel of the covenant, as a glorious High Priest, comes and stands at the altar, with much incense, to offer with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, before the throne ; and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascends up with acceptance before God, out of the angel's hand : And then the angels prepare themselves to sound. And God, in the events of every trumpet, remembers those prayers : As appears at last, by the great and glorious things he accomplishes for his church, in the issue of all, in answer to these prayers, in the event of the last trumpet, which brings on the glory of the latter days, when these prayers shall be turned into joyful praises. Rev. xi. 15, 16, 17.“ And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty Elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell
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upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art and wast and art to come, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned." Since it is thus, that it is the pleasure of God so to honor his people, as to carry on all the designs of his kingdom in this way, viz. by the prayers of his saints, this gives us great reason to think, that whenever the time comes that God gives an extraordinary spirit of prayer for the promised advancement of his kingdom on earth, (which is God's great aim in all preceding providences, and which is the main thing that the spirit of prayer in the saints aims at) then the fulfilling this event is nigh.
God, in wonderful grace, is pleased to represent himself as it were at the command of his people, with regard to mercies of this nature, so as to be ready to bestow them wheneyer they shall earnestly pray for them ; Isa. xlv. 11. « Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, ask of me concerning things to come, concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me.” What God is speaking of in this context, is the restoration of his church ; not only a restoration from temporal calamity and an outward captivity, by Cyrus ; but also a spiritual restoration and advancement, by God's commanding the heavens to drop down from above, and the skies to pour down righteousness, and causing the earth to open and bring forth salvation, and righteousness to spring up together, Ver. 8. God would have his people ask of him, or inquire of him by earnest prayer, to do this for them ; and manifests himself as being at the command of earnest prayers for such a mercy : And a reason why God is so ready to hear such prayers is couched in the words, viz. Because it is prayer for his own church, his chosen and beloved people, his sons and daughters, and the work of his hands ; and he cannot deny any thing that is asked for their comfort and prosperity.
God speaks of himself as standing ready to be gracious to his church, and to appear for its restoration, and only waiting for such an opportunity to bestow this mercy, when he shall hear the cries of his people for it, that he may bestow it ir answer to their prayers. Isa. xxx. 18, 19. “ Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious to thee ; and therefore will he' be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you : For the Lord is a God of judgment: Blessed are all they that wait for him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem. Thou shalt weep no more ; he will be very gracious unto thee, at the voice of thy cry : When he shall hear it, he will answer thee.” The words imply as much as that when God once sees his people much engaged in praying for this mercy, it shall be no longer delayed. Christ desires to hear the voice of his spouse, that is in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs ; in a low and obscure state, driven into secret corners : He only waits for this, in order to put an end to her state of affliction, and cause the day to break, and the shadows to flee away. If he once heard her voice in earnest prayer, he would come swiftly over the mountains of separation between him and her, as a roe, or young hart ; Sol. Song ii. 14, to the end. When his church is in a low state, and oppressed by her enemies, and cries to him, he will swiftly fly to her relief, as birds fly at the cry of their young ; Isa. xxxi. 5. Yea, when that glorious day comes, that I am speaking of, before they call, he will answer them, and while they are yet speaking, he will hear ; and in answer to their
prayers, he will make the wolf and the lamb feed together, &c. Isa. Ixv. 24, 25. When the spouse prays for the effusion of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of Christ, by granting the tokens of his spiritual presence in his church, saying, Cant. iv. 16. Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may jlow out ; let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits ; there seems to be an immediate answer to her prayer, in the next words, in abundant communications of the Spirit, and bestowe ment of spiritual blessings ; I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse ; I have gathered my myrrh with my sfrice ; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey ; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, o friends ; drink, yea, drink abundently, o beloved.