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FAITH, my Brethren, on which such stress is here laid, is to be considered as something much more than a mere Belief, reception and profession of the Truths of the Gospel, which are only called a girdle round our loins, for the support of other ArmourBut the Faith here recommended by the Apostle, is called a “ Shield, that will quench or repel, all the fiery Darts of Wickedness,”—and a very proper name it is for Faith, in the sense our Apostle uses it-namely, a Confidence in the Promises of God; an expectation of the things hoped for—a full Reliance that God is able to support and deliver us, and to fulfil all his gracious promises; so that in the midst of dangers, these Promises are brought visibly before us! We lay hold on them, through FaithWe are assured that God will not forsake us; and this is what gives us “ the victory over the world, even this our Faith.”
It was by the dexterous use of this impregnable Shield of Faith, that St. Paul was enabled in the midst of the Jewish Sanhedrim, before Rulers and People, to assert the great doctrine of the Resurrection; to tell them that Jesus, whom they had crucified and buried, was risen again from the dead, and had ascended up into the glory which he had with the Father, before the foundations of the world were laid. And when this Apostle came to suffer at last, under the Roman government and laws, he boldly defended the Doc. trine of the Cross, and the Truths of the Gospel, undaunted at death, and all the rage of his persecutors.
So likewise that great Proto-Martyr, St. Scphen, the Glory of the Church, the Leader up of the Champions and Sufferers in the Cause of Christianity, in his last moments, amidst all the Tortures and Cruelties inflicted on him by the enraged multitude, for preaching that the Jewish economy should be abrogated and their Temple destroyed, at the same time vindicating his doctrine from their own prophets and several passages
of the Old Testament—was supported by a firm Faith in the promises of God; and when, for the strengthening this Faith, he was permitted, in a divine Trance or Vision, to look up to Heaven, and to behold, or enjoy, a Glimpse of the SHECHINAH, or Divine Presence, as it is represented in the ancient Prophets, with our Saviour himself standing at the Right Hand of God, as the principal place of honour; and, being rapt into an ecstacy, too strong to be suppressed, he cried out with a loud voice, “ Behold! I see the Heavens opened,” &c.—The Jews then made a vehement exclamation, stopping their ears with their hands, as it were out of horror at his supposed blasphemy; and, running upon him in a furious manner, they hurried him out of the city, into the adjacent field, as the law of Moses directed in the case of blasphemers!
But, behold still the Triumph of Faith! While they were discharging showers of stones upon his Body, his Soul was taken up with Devout Prayer to God, beging the Lord Jesus to receive his Spirit, (as soon as it should be departed,) into his glory; and, kneeling down in the most intense degree of Devotion, as well as charity to his Enemies, he cried, with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! And when he had said this, he fell asleep!"
Having so far explained, more fully, and in detail, the apostle's divine catalogue of the armour with which we are to contend against the Devil, the World, the Flesh, and all the Powers that would oppose our passage towards Heaven and Glory; we must now follow Him to learn our discipline, and the right use of our armour in this Spiritual warfare. The best armour alone, the greatest achievements of righteousness, performed'in a confidence of our own strength, will not be sufficient, to ensure us the victory. We must still look up to our eternal leader—“ Praying al
ways with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, " and watching thereunto with all perseverance, and “ supplication (or intercessions) for all saints; and “ for me, says the Apostle, that utterance may be
given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, “ to make known the mystery of the Gospel.”
Fervent Prayer, or praying always with all prayer, is, as it were, the Heavenly Manna on which the Soul is to feed, in its way to the Celestial Canaan; and with which it is to be supported and strengthened in every trial, through this Wilderness of Sin. It is not on Account of God, but for improving, and exalting our own souls, and Spiritualizing our whole Frame, that we are to approach his throne in fervent Supplication and Prayer.
As the Waters of the Sea, when exhaled towards Heaven, by the Heat of the Sun, lose their native Bitterness, and return down again, sweetened and improved in refreshing Showers, for the nourishment of the Earth; so the thoughts of Man, when they are drawn up to God in Prayer, are refined and
sweetened from Earthly and impure Mixtures, and return down again into the World, in all the amiable Dispositions of Love and good-will!
In all conditions of Life, this heavenly Exercise is a divine Medicine to the Soul. For grant that no Trials or Temptations should assail us, and that every Thing we did prospered round us–Ourselves, our Families, and all our Connections happy and blessed; yet then-even then-it must be a most delightful Exercise to lift up our Souls, in holy and devout Praise and Thanksgivings, to Him who is cloathed with Majesty and honour; “ Praying to him with all Prayer” that these mercies may be continued to us; that we may preserve a due and just sense of them; and never be lifted up in Pride or Forgetfulness of the God of all Goodness.
As Prayer, in the hours of our Prosperity, brings our Souls to a proper state of Humility; so likewise in the hours of affliction, to raise all our mental facul. ties to the Almighty Helper of the Helpless, brightens them into sweet Affiance and Tranquillity. And, in every Condition, the best way to counterwork all the evil Passions, that croud upon our Hearts, and to leave us no time to listen, or hold dalliance with the Devil and his agents, is to keep our Hearts busily employed about Good; and especially to be always laying them open to the Impressions of those heavenly and eternal objects, which, by their immense Dignity and Importance, will soon raise us above the entangling Mass of earthly Pursuits, and all the “ lying Vanities of Life!"
It is strange, then, that so exalted and divine an Exercise as Prayer, should not always be thought one of the most important parts of Christian Worship, and Christian Duty; especially under the Gospel, in which the holy Jesus has commanded us to Pray, taught us the Manner how, and hath set an example of frequent fervent Prayer, in his own life!
It is a high privilege, that we Men are so transcendently raised above the Brute Creation, as to have a Voice and Tongue to lead the chorus of this lower world, in the praises of our Maker: and surely, it is a still higher privilege, that we are not only thus raised above the Brutes—but that we are made almost Equal to the Angels—nay wholly Equal in this, that we are permitted to approach the Father of all things; to have Access to the throne of His supreme glory; and to join the choirs of celestial Inhabitants, in Hymns of Praise to Him that “ loved us, and hath redeemed and washed us in His Blood; that He might present us to himself a glorious Church, not having Spot or Wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."*
In a word, the effectual fervent Prayer of the Righteous availeth much, even in the Closet, or in Private; but Public Prayer, in the Congregation of the Church, where Heart and Voice truly unite, is a resemblance of the blest Society in Heaven! It is Piety exemplified in outward Actions. It is the very Beauty of Holiness made visible in its brightest
• Ephesians, Ch. V. v. 27.