Prayer is the atmosphere the Christian breathes; no more can he do without it, and retain his spiritual life, than the body can exist without the common air. He has many, very many, inducements to this holy exercise. He has many wants to be supplied, many enemies to overcome, many duties to perform; and strength for these is only obtained by offering believing prayer to God, who is the only source of our help, and the Father of all our mercies.
The Christian, therefore, feels the importance of prayer, and prays for himself; but he likewise prays for others. He necessarily feels interested in the happiness and salvation of his kindred and friends: he will feel concerned that these should partake of one love of God in Christ, and be joint-heirs with himself of the grace of life. He not only prays for himself and his friends according to the flesh, but he likewise feels deeply concerned in the affairs of Zion, and for her welfare and prosperity he presents his supplication to God. Sooner would he that his right hand should forget its cunning, than he should forget Jerusalem, or that she should ever cease to be his chief joy. The breathings of his soul are, "Build up the walls of Jerusalem." "Save now, I beseech thee send now prosperity!" "Arise, O God plead thine own cause."
Let us consider, I. The Cause specified—"Thine own cause." And, II. The Prayer presented—"Arise, O God, plead thine own cause."
I. The Cause specified.
The cause specified is the cause of God's holy church; the cause identified with the interests of redeeming love; the cause which is significantly set forth in the New Testament under the appellations—kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, kingdom of righteousness. It is that spiritual dispensation, of which Jesus is the head, of which believers are the subjects, and which is destined to overthrow the works of darkness in the earth, and to fill the whole world with the knowledge and glory of God. This cause is distinguished,
1. For its divinity; it is God's own cause.
The result of his infinite skill, the production of his almighty power, and the effect of his unsearchable grace. It is the cause of his eternal counsels and purposes it is the cause of his right arm; it is the cause of his unbounded mercy and love. Viewed as a kingdom, he is its legitimate sovereign; as a nation, he is its only ruler; as a family, he is its father and head.
2. It is a cause of righteousness Its founder is the righteous Jehovah. I originated in righteousness. It was effected by the righteousness of Messiah, and by his bearing in himself the just demerit of unrighteousness, that, by suffering the just for the unjust, he might bring us to God. Its principles and doctrines are all righteous; and it impresses the righteous image of God on the heart of man, and makes the life holy and unblameable in his sight.
3. It is a benevolent cause.
Its designs are truly philanthropic. It presents a true and full remedy for all the ills of humanity; it elevates the soul from the deepest debasement to celestial dignity; it delivers the mind from the thraldom and slavery of vice, into the liberty of the children of God; it takes away from the lip the cup of divine displeasure, and presents the cup of blessing, of happiness, and of salvation; it promotes the real benefit of man, both in this world and in that which is to come; it is not only a blessing to mankind, but it makes man a blessing to his fellow; it is, in short, the light, the life, and the happiness of the world; it breathes out. "glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men."
4. It is distinguished for its unity.
It is emphatically one. It has been presented to the world in various dispensations: there have been the patriarchal, the Mosaic, the prophetical, and the gospel; but all have been based on one central foundation, the whole of these dispensations have formed but one day.
It has been distinguished by divers names, and has been presented to our view under various forms; but still there is only one Lord, one faith, one church, one baptism. Christ has but one flock, and one fold, one spiritual kingdom, one army; and all his people are journeying one way to the only true rest "which remaineth for the people of God."
Having noticed the cause specified, we proceed to consider,
II. The Prayer presented.
1. This prayer implies that God's cause is opposed.
And facts fully bear out this truth. It Has been opposed in every age of the world; Cain opposed it in the days of Abel; the antediluvians opposed it in the days of Noah; the wicked inhabitants of the cities opposed it in the days of Lot; the idolatrous nations opposed it in the days of the prophets; the Jews opposed it in the days of Christ; the philosophizing Greeks and barbarous pagans opposed it in the days of the apostles. Mohammedans, infidels, and false-hearted friends, and the men of this world, have opposed and do oppose it, even until now. It is opposed, too, by the "prince of the power of the air," and by those numerous legions of spirits of crime
"Who throng the air, and darken heaven,
And crowd this lower world."
2. This prayer implies that this cause depends upon God, and not upon man, for success. "Arise, O God," &c.
A moment's reflection upon its enemies is sufficient to establish this sentiment. All merely human resources must of necessity fail: human knowledge, learning, riches, eloquence, and genius would be alike unavailing: it requires almighty power to shield it; an all-wise Deity to direct it; an omniscient eye to watch it; and an ever-flowing fountain to supply its wants. "It is not by might or power, but by my Spirit," saith the Lord of hosts.
3. It implies that, notwithstanding its dependence upon God, he expects his people would intercede in its behalf.
He expects this from his people on account of their great obligations to it, on account of their professed attachment to it, and on account of the inseparable connection between Zion's prosperity and their own happiness; and the people of God have ever displayed their love to God's cause by offering up prayers in its behalf. What striking examples are before us in Moses, Abraham, David, Jeremiah, and in the blessed Redeemer and his apostles! And God has laid this upon the hearts of his people, and has enforced it by royal authority, and sanctioned it by divine promise—"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for they that love her shall prosper."
And in what way does God regard the prayers of his servants on behalf of his cause? How does he answer their requests?
(1) Sometimes he does this by striking interpositions of his providence. See how he interposed on behalf of Israel of old, in Egypt—at the Red Sea—in then conflicts with the nations. See how he did this in the days of Haman, of Nehemiah, of Daniel; how he did this in the case of Peter when delivered from prison and death; how he did this in the days of the reformation; how often, when floods have surrounded her, and storms beat upon her, and threatened her entire destruction, he has arisen, and said to the unruly elements, "Be still!"—and immediately there has been a great calm.
(2) He answers this prayer by raising up useful instruments for his work. In this way he raised up Moses, and brought him from tending his flocks, to be the deliverer of Israel. In this way he raised up Joshua, Gideon, Jephtha, David, and Cyrus. For this was Jeremiah sanctified in the womb, and for this was Paul elected to be an apostle, that he might make known among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
(3) He pleads his own cause by pouring out his Spirit upon the means his servants employ. It was in this way that the first preachers of the cross were qualified for going forth to proclaim with success the gospel of the grace of God. And it was this that caused the planting of Paul and the watering of Apollos to succeed—for he that planteth is nothing, nor he that watereth, but God who giveth the increase. The weapons of our warfare are only effectual through God, to the pulling down of strong holds. The gospel is the power of God, not the power of eloquence or human influence, to every one that believeth. It is his heavenly rain that mollifies the earth, and prepares it for vegetating, and bringing forth fruit, thirty, sixty, and an hundred fold.
There are three classes of characters, and each are differently affected in respect of God's own cause. We address a word to each.
1. Some hate it. If possible they would annihilate it; all their powers are directed against it; they libel it, they sneer at it, they profess to disbelieve it. How wicked and reckless is such a state! What folly to persist in such a course? Who hath hardened himself against Jehovah and prospered? Can they hope to succeed? As goon might they quench the orb of day, or drive back the chariot wheels of the queen of night! To such we say: Awake, awake to your true state, and immediately escape with all earnestness to that mercy which, in spite of all your infidelity and blasphemy, has provided salvation for you 2. Some care nothing about it They care how they shall eat, and drink, and be clothed; they care for their health, and character, and business, and families; but they are careless about God's holy and blessed cause. How thoughtless! how ungrateful! how infatuated! To undervalue the precious blood of Christ! to despise the richest boon of heaven! to trifle with all that is sacred in time, and solemn in eternity! To such we say: "Consider your ways, and be wise." "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
3. Some love the cause of God, and they manifest it in various ways. They are found in its ordinances; they rally round its standard; they speak of it and for it; they give it all their influence; and their joys or sorrows abound as it is in circumstances of prosperity or adversity. To such we give words of consolation. God will not forget their work of faith, their patience of hope, and their labor of love. On such we press our text and would exhort them, on every time of trouble or calamity, to employ the prayer of the text: "Arise O God. and plead thine own cause."
To the King immortal and invisible, the only-wise God, whose throne is everlasting, and whose kingdom ruleth over all, be glory in the church, through Jesus Christ. Amen.