1Ki_8:28-30. Have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to-day: that thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place. And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place: and when thou hearest, forgive [Note: The Author being taken ill at Cheltenham at the time that this Discourse was to have been preached, it was not delivered according to his intention.].
THE consecration of buildings erected for public worship obtained very early in the Church of Christ. We have the most authentic testimony that it was practised, to a very great extent, in the days of Constantine [Note: Eusebius mentions it with peculiar satisfaction. See “Bingham’s Antiquities of the Church,” Book viii. ch. 9. sec. 2.]. Whether it existed in the first three centuries, we have no certain information: but when we consider for what a holy purpose they are set apart, we can have no doubt but that it is a service highly reasonable in itself, and truly acceptable unto God. We are not to suppose that the giving of the names of saints to churches was any mark of their being consecrated to them: it was to God alone that they were dedicated: and the names given to them were merely commemorative of their founder, or tokens of respect to the particular saint whose name they bore.
The idea of consecrating such edifices seems evidently to have been suggested by the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, which exhibited altogether as glorious a scene as ever was beheld on earth. On that occasion, the king himself, a paragon of wisdom, and the greatest monarch of his day, bowed his knees before God in the sight of all the congregation of Israel, and, with up-lifted eyes and out-stretched hands, implored the favour of his God. To this prayer was vouchsafed an answer which filled all the spectators with the deepest awe: for fire came down from heaven, in the sight of all, to consume the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord so filled the temple, that the priests could no longer continue their ministrations there [Note: 2Ch_7:1-2.].
But that to which I would more particularly call your attention at this time is, the prayer which Solomon offered, and which brought down so signal a blessing upon them all. It affords a noble specimen of man’s intercourse with his Maker; and shews us,
What we may hope for in God’s house of prayer; and,
How we may secure every blessing which our souls can desire.
Let me state what we may confidently hope for in God’s house of prayer—
Whatever there may be in this history that should be limited to that particular occasion, I think we may at least gather this instruction from it, that, whenever we draw nigh to God in the public services of his Church, we may expect these two things; namely, His gracious presence to receive our prayers, and His merciful acceptance to forgive our sins.
That there is great caution to be used in deducing general conclusions from particular premises, I readily acknowledge. But such conclusions are drawn by the inspired writers: for, from a particular promise made to Joshua, it is inferred, that all true believers, of whatever age or nation, may assure themselves of effectual aid from God; and, in the confident expectation of it, may hurl defiance at all the enemies of their salvation. The same general inference, I think, may well be drawn from God’s gracious answer to this prayer of Solomon. Doubtless, a suppliant, in his secret chamber, shall find favour with God: for “God never says to any, Seek ye my face in vain.” But, in public, when presenting his petitions in concert with others, the suppliant has a double assurance that he shall be heard: for God has especially promised, that “where two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be in the midst of them;” and that “whatever such persons, so associated, have agreed to ask, it shall be granted unto them.” I well know, that persons may very easily and very materially err in relation to the subject of answers to prayer; and that to expect fire to descend from heaven, as on that occasion, or a visible manifestation of God’s glory before our eyes, would be the height of enthusiasm. But still there are ways in which God may manifest his acceptance of our prayers, and in which he will manifest it: what else can be meant by that promise, “It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear [Note: Isa_65:24.]?” and again, “Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am [Note: Isa_58:9.]?” The whole Scriptures attest, that, “if we draw nigh to God, he will draw nigh to us;” and that “he will manifest himself unto us, as he does not unto the world;” yea, that “he will come unto us, and make his abode with us:” and, I think there is not in the universe a person who has sought after God with humble, fervent, and believing prayer, but will acknowledge, that God does fulfil his promises, “satisfying the hungry soul, and replenishing the sorrowful” with the richest consolations of his Spirit.
This, then, we may expect, and this we should expect, in God’s house of prayer: nor should we ever be satisfied, if we have not a sensible access to God in prayer, and a well-founded hope that he has heard the petitions which we have presented before him.
But I have also observed, that we may hope for the actual forgiveness of our sins in answer to our prayer. And, in truth, if we obtain not this, we pray to little purpose. In drawing nigh to God, this must be chiefly kept in view. We go as sinners, to obtain mercy at the hands of God. And in this respect, the Liturgy of our Church is admirably fitted for our use. The extemporaneous effusions that are used in other places bear no comparison with the formularies of our Church. In truth, our churches themselves are, not houses for preaching only, but, in a pre-eminent degree, what our Reformers designed them to be, and what God ordained his Temple of old to be, “houses of prayer.” And those who make light of the Prayers, and regard them only as a kind of decent prelude to the Sermon, shew that “they know not what spirit they are of:” since all the preaching in the universe will be of no use without prayer; whereas the souls of men will prosper if they abound in prayer, though they are less favoured as to the ministrations of sinful men. Let any one consult our Liturgy in this particular view. The Introductory Sentences all bear on this point, to shew us what sinners we are, and how much we stand in need of mercy, and how ready God is to receive returning penitents. But, as I shall have occasion to enter somewhat more fully into this point under my next head, I will wave all further mention of it now; observing only, that a congregation uniting fervently in the prayers of our Liturgy would afford as complete a picture of heaven as ever yet was beheld on earth: in spirit, there would be the most perfect accordance that can be imagined: the only difference would be, that the one are uniting prayer with praise, because of their still-continued necessities; whereas the other engage in praise alone, having all their necessities for ever supplied. And here I would particularly call your attention to the prayer of Solomon, that you may see how much the subject of forgiveness is dwelt upon throughout the whole of it. He requests God’s attention to all who, under any calamity, shall, in future, direct their supplications towards that house: and, in every distinct case, he takes it for granted that sin has been the true and proper source of their calamity; and he implores in their behalf, not merely the removal of the judgment, but especially, and above all, the forgiveness of their sin [Note: See ver. 21, 22, 24, 26, 30, 36, 50.]. Nor must we overlook this, in God’s answer to his prayer: on the contrary, we must regard it as a pledge, that he will receive returning prodigals, and that all who approach him with deep contrition shall find that “there is mercy with him, yea, with him is plenteous redemption.” I say, then, that this is a blessing which we are to look for, whensoever we approach God in the house of prayer. Every promise in God’s blessed word authorizes this hope: and no one should be satisfied with having offered up his petitions, if he carry not away with him a comfortable hope, that “his iniquities are forgiven, and his sins are covered.”
If it be asked, How shall we secure these blessings? I answer, Use the means which Solomon employed: and by them we may,
Secure to ourselves every blessing that our souls can desire—
We have seen that Solomon diversified his petitions according to the supposed conditions to which, at any future period, the people might be reduced. Whatever, therefore, our condition be, we must apply to God in prayer, with humility of mind, with fervour of spirit, with confidence of heart, and with consistency of life and conversation.
We must apply with humility of mind. Solomon particularly prays for those who “know every man the plague of his own heart [Note: See ver. 38.].” Nor can we ever come before God with acceptance, unless we approach him weary and heavy laden with the burthen of our sins. To “draw nigh to him with our lips, whilst our heart is far from him, is vile hypocrisy: and “all such worship is vain,” yea, worse than vain, because it serves to lull our consciences asleep, and supersedes in our own minds the necessity of any better service. It is not possible for any man to have better direction, or more suitable help, than that provided for him in our Liturgy. The whole Service, from beginning to end, is the service of a sinner imploring mercy at the hands of God. What can express deeper humility than our General Confession? “Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep; we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts: we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.” He can know little of “the plague of his own heart,” who does not find those acknowledgments exactly suited to his state. At the beginning of the Litany, what can express the desires and feelings of a contrite spirit more justly than that reiterated cry to every person of the Holy Trinity to “have mercy upon us, as miserable sinners?” In the Communion Service, after the recital of every distinct command, we cry, “Lord, have mercy upon us for our past breaches of it, and incline our hearts to keep it in future.” Now this is the very frame in which we should draw nigh to God. There must be nothing in us of a self-righteous and self-applauding spirit. Blasphemy itself is not more hateful to God than that pride of heart, and formal self-complacency, wherewith the generality approach their God. The self-applauding Pharisee, with all his pretended thankfulness, was to God an object of abhorrence; whilst the poor self-condemning publican was liberated from the guilt of all his sins. And wherever there is a prayer like his, there shall also be the same success: for “the broken and contrite spirit, God never did, nor ever will, despise.”
But we must seek God, also, with fervour of spirit. Prayer is not a service merely of the lip and knee, but of the heart; and the whole heart should go forth to God in the performance of it. This was well understood by the compilers of our Liturgy; and ought to be understood, and felt, by every worshipper in the Established Church. The whole of the Liturgy breathes an ardour suited to the feelings and necessities of a contrite soul: “Lord, have mercy upon us: Christ, have mercy upon us: Lord, have mercy upon us.” Oh! what would not be obtained by a congregation pouring out those prayers with corresponding emotions? I will not say, that the house would be shaken, as it was when the Apostles prayed [Note: Act_4:31.]; but I will say, that the worshippers would all “be filled with the Holy Ghost,” not indeed in his miraculous powers, but in his enlivening, comforting, and transforming energies. We may form some idea of the frame which is proper for us, from the very attitude in which Solomon addressed his prayer to God: “He fell down on his knees, and spread forth his hands to heaven.” How different this from the irreverent and careless attitude of many amongst us, who, instead of prostrating themselves before God with becoming reverence, sit during the prayers; shewing, thereby, how little they feel the elevation of a devout worshipper, or the humiliation of a contrite one! Be it known unto you, that God must be importuned in prayer, and that “the kingdom of heaven must be taken by violence,” if ever it be taken at all: and, if you find that common efforts will not suffice to bring you to your Saviour’s presence, you must resemble those who went up to the top of the house and let down the paralytic through the roof: you must “cry unto God,” and “give him no rest,” and not cease from your importunity, till you have obtained an answer to your prayer. It was in this way that the widow in the parable prevailed over the unjust judge; and in this way shall every child of man prevail, if only he will “pray, and not faint.”
The confidence of the heart is yet further necessary: for our hands must be lifted up “without doubting;” “nor can we hope to receive any thing from God, if we supplicate him with a wavering mind.” It must be remembered, that the Temple was called, “A house of sacrifice [Note: 2Ch_7:12.].” On this occasion sacrifices were offered without number; and on every morning and evening throughout the year they were regularly presented to the Lord. Now this shewed, that every prayer which was there offered was to find acceptance by virtue of those sacrifices; and that no blessing whatever could be obtained from God, but through faith in the atonement which those sacrifices prefigured. The same is strikingly illustrated in the Liturgy of the Church of England; not a prayer of which is offered, but in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ. To him must we look in all our addresses at the throne of grace, and to the Father through him. Indeed, this is very particularly marked in the whole of Solomon’s prayer. In the greater part of that prayer he intercedes in behalf of those who should direct their supplications “toward that house.” Now the Temple itself was a very eminent type of Christ, “in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The body of the Lord Jesus is, on this very account, represented as “a tabernacle, not made with hands:” and towards him, as our incarnate God, must we direct our supplications, if we would obtain answers of peace unto our souls. If we come to God in this way, we then have an express assurance from God himself, that “we shall in no wise be cast out;” but that, on the contrary, “the Lord Jesus Christ himself will confer upon us whatsoever we ask, that the Father may be glorified in the Son:” so indispensable is it that we look towards that Temple; and so certain is the success of prayers when so directed.
One thing more is necessary, and that is, consistency of life and conversation. “The prayer of the wicked,” so far from finding acceptance with the Lord, is altogether “an abomination to him.” How can it be expected, that persons coming to the house of God with all the professions of real piety, and going from thence into all the dissipation and vanity of the world, shall obtain mercy of the Lord? Behold them on their knees, crying, “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us;” and then, perhaps, spending the remainder of the day, not in reading the Bible, not in instructing their families, not in fervent prayer to God, but in any light conversation and specious amusement, that may enable them to relieve the weariness of a Sabbath evening. Say, Is this consistent? Nay, would these people themselves, if they saw persons who were truly religious, and who had entered fully into the spirit of the prayers, so spending the Sabbath, account them upright and consistent characters? No: they would see at once the glaring inconsistency between such professions and such practice. But, perhaps, they will say, “We do not make any such profession of religion.” Then, I answer, you have gone to God with a lie in your mouths. What mean you when you pray, “that you may lead a righteous, sober, and a godly life, to the glory of God’s holy name?” Is dissipation, or carelessness to his praise and glory? Has he not required that “you should refrain from doing your own pleasure on his holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and should honour him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words; but should throughout that day delight yourselves in the Lord [Note: Isa_58:13-14.]?” Yes, this is what you will do, if you are consistent Christians; nor can you in any other way expect to obtain any blessing from the Lord. This, also, is very particularly noticed by Solomon in his prayer: he does not venture to hope for mercy on behalf of any, unless “they return unto God with all their heart and with all their soul [Note: ver. 47, 48.].” He prays, “The Lord our God be with us, that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers [Note: ver. 57, 58.].” And then, to impress this the more deeply on the people’s minds, he addresses them also, saying, “Let your heart be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day [Note: ver. 61.].” Solomon would have the solemnities of that day carried, as it were, into their daily converse; and the engagements then entered into, remembered throughout their whole lives. Thus it should be with us: and thus it must be with us, if we would prosper in our souls. Our prayers are to be the pattern of our whole lives. What we have sought for, and obtained in the house of God, must be exhibited and exemplified in our daily walk: and, if there be not a correspondence between the two, what do we but proclaim ourselves hypocrites before the whole world? We “cannot serve God and Mammon too;” nor must we pretend to “fear the Lord, whilst we are serving other gods.” But, if we will indeed devote ourselves to the Lord, then shall our prayers descend in blessings on our souls, and the services of time be a prelude to the enjoyments of eternity. Hear the answer which God made to Solomon on this very occasion: “Now, mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place: for now have I chosen and sanctified this house: and my name shall be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there continually. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land [Note: 2Ch_7:14-16.].”
Permit me now, in conclusion, to take yet further the example of Solomon for my guide; and, as he in his prayer addressed himself to God in behalf of his own people, and of the strangers who sojourned amongst them, so now to address myself, first, to the stated inhabitants of this place, and then to those, who, as strangers, are sojourning here only for a season.
The stated inhabitants I would congratulate on the further accommodation which they will now receive for the worship of Almighty God. For though the provision now made is very inadequate to the wants of this daily augmenting population, it will doubtless be of important service, and serve as a prelude, I trust, to somewhat which shall be still more effectual.
The necessity of waiting upon God in public is here obviously proclaimed. But there is an improvement of the occasion, which, though less obvious, is not a whit less necessary, and which I would take the liberty earnestly to recommend; and that is, the establishment of prayer in your own families. Who that sees the zeal of Solomon on this occasion, does not perceive the duty of every head of a family? We cannot all raise public edifices to the Lord; but we may all set up altars in our own houses, and promote the worship of God amongst those who are within the sphere of our own influence. God has said, that “where two or three are met together in his name, there will he be in the midst of them;” and that, “when two or three agree respecting what they shall ask,” he will confer it upon them. If any say, that they feel unequal to the task of conducting family worship, they need not be discouraged on that account, because there are abundant aids afforded them, both in the formularies of our. Church, and in other books that are written for that express purpose.
And let me not omit this occasion of inculcating the duty of private prayer. This is absolutely indispensable to every child of man. Without this, no soul can prosper: without this, no sinner in the universe can find acceptance with God. In the public Services of the Church, your petitions must be, for the most part, general, and such as all the congregation can join in: but in your private chambers you may, every one of you, spread before the Lord your own personal transgressions, and implore at his hands those blessings which you more especially stand in need of. Remember, I pray you, that on your own personal application to God in prayer is suspended all your hope of mercy and forgiveness. “God will be inquired of by us” for those gifts which he has most freely promised and covenanted to bestow. “Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” These are the terms with which we must comply: and, if we will not ask, it is in vain to hope that we shall obtain any thing of the Lord.
Let the duty of prayer generally, of public, social, and private prayer, be this day impressed upon your minds; and you will have reason to bless God to all eternity for the occasion that has suggested to you so important and necessary a reflection.
To the occasional visitors who are here present, I would beg leave, also, to offer a seasonable suggestion. You will observe that Solomon, in the benevolence of his heart, was especially mindful of strangers. “Concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake, when he shall come and pray toward this house, hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for [Note: ver. 41, 43.].” So would I now be mindful of you, and affectionately entreat you to improve the occasion which may have brought you hither. The improvement of your bodily health may be supposed to have had some influence in directing you to this place: in truth, many are brought hither, even from a great distance, for the promoting of this end. And shall not the soul, also, have a just measure of your regard? Shall nothing be deemed too expensive or self-denying for the obtaining of bodily health, and no attention whatever be paid to the soul? Consider, I pray you, of what infinitely greater importance the interests of eternity are than the concerns of time; and how far more certain in its efficacy the fountain of salvation is, which is opened for us in the Gospel, than any which this place, or any other in the universe, can boast. And I thank God that this fountain of salvation is here opened to you, and is accessible to all. Here you may be cleansed from sin and uncleanness, so as to be made altogether pure, without spot or blemish. And O! how rich a mercy will it be, if, when coming hither only for the restoration of your bodily health, you should find health also to your souls! Then, when you have left this place, you will look towards it with affectionate remembrance, from the very ends of the earth: and, above all, you will look to Him whom the Temple of old typified, the Lord Jesus Christ, and bless him for the dispensation which led you to the knowledge of him, and to the acquisition of his favour.