Consider first, that after seeking in the three first petitions the greater glory of the name of God, the propagation of his kingdom, and the execution of his will both in heaven and in earth, we are taught in the fourth petition to pray for all necessaries for ourselves, both for soul and body, under the name of our ‘daily bread,’ which we here beg for this short day of our mortal life, in order to support us in our pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world, till we come to our true country and to the happy day of everlasting light and life in the heavenly kingdom of our Father. As to the things of this world, we pray for them with more indifference, as for things of lesser consequence; and which, if we seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, our Father has promised to furnish us with, viz., as for as he shall see expedient for us; and we pray for them for to-day, being forbidden to be solicitous for them for to-morrow. But what we are here more earnestly to pray for is the bread which is to support the spiritual life of our souls, viz., the grace of God, the word of God, and the holy sacraments. And this we beg both for ourselves and for all the world from the great pastor of souls.
Consider 2ndly, that the holy fathers expound this petition as meaning in particular the ‘bread of life,’ which we receive in the blessed Eucharist for the food, nourishment, strength, and life of our souls. This bread is the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God, who calls himself the ‘living bread which came down from heaven,’ John vi. 51, and assures us that he 'that eateth of this bread shall live for ever,’ and that 'the bread which he will give is his flesh for the life of the world,’ v. 52. This is here styled 'our daily bread,' because given us for this our day of life, and given to be our daily support, by our partaking of it either really or spiritually every day. O my soul, ever aspire after this heavenly bread, the source of all grace and true life. Admire and adore the incomprehensible ways by which thy God seeks to communicate himself to thee; and see thou correspond with his goodness and love, by turning daily to him and giving thy whole self to him.
Consider 3rdly, that the best way to answer the principal intent of this petition is by making a spiritual communion (as often as we repeat these words, ‘give us this day our daily bread’) by a lively faith and hope in Jesus Christ, the true bread of life; by aspiring after him, by love and desire, and by inviting him to come and take full possession of our souls, and to unite them to himself for time and eternity. Happy those souls that frequently in the day communicate in this manner!
Conclude to pray for thy 'daily bread’ in such a manner as to have ever principally in view this 'bread of life,’ and to labour to partake of it daily at least by a spiritual communion.
Consider first, that in this fifth petition our Lord has furnished us with a daily remedy for those many evils into which we daily fall. 'We all offend in many things,’ James iii. 2, and not a day passes in which we are not contracting fresh debts to out great master, either by omission or commission, in thought, word, or deed. Therefore we ought daily to sue for a discharge, and to call for mercy and forgiveness, with a truly penitent heart; and this is the design of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which when recited with fervour, readily obtains the remission of those daily debts, and reinstates us in the good graces of our master. These lesser faults into which we daily fall, if neglected and suffered to grow and multiply upon us, are of worse consequence to our souls than we can well imagine; the water that comes into the ship by small chinks, if not daily pumped out, may in time increase in such manner as to sink the vessel. That the like may never happen to our souls we must be daily repenting for these daily sins, and offering up daily for them the sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart, as often as we repeat this petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
Consider 2ndly, that besides the obligation of daily labouring to procure the discharge of these daily debts, we must see if we have not reason to apprehend a more heavy load of debt lying upon our souls, on account of our past sins; more especially if, in any part of our life, we have lived in mortal sin. Alas! the weight of such debts as these is immense, a sum of ten thousand talents, which we are utterly unable to discharge of ourselves; and whether our repentance has been sufficient to apply to our souls the discharge purchased by the blood of Christ, we cannot tell. And therefore our best security is to be always repenting for our past sins, and to beg daily of God to forgive us all the sins of our youth and our ignorance, to cleanse us from our hidden sins, and to be merciful to us, with regard to the sins we may have any way occasioned in others. And with this penitential spirit, for all our past sins, known or unknown, we ought to recite this petition of the Lord’s Prayer and with it daily present ourselves, like Magdalene, at the feet of our redeemer, imploring his mercy both for ourselves and for all poor sinners.
Consider 3rdly, that in this petition we beg of God to 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.’ Which words were added by our Lord, to put us in mind, that we must not look for forgiveness from God of the offences we commit against him, if we do not forgive from our hearts the offences which our neighbours commit against us. See, Christians, how much our Lord takes to heart our forgiving one another, and loving our enemies; since, not content with frequently inculcating this duty on all other occasions, he was pleased to insert it in the very prayer he would have us daily to say, to the end we might never forget it. Let us then examine well our dispositions in this regard, and lay aside all rancour and animosity against our neighbours when we go to sue for mercy from God; otherwise we shall never obtain the mercy we ask.
Conclude to take occasion, from this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, to practise daily these three lessons: first, of a hearty repentance for thy daily sins; 2ndly, of daily renewing thy sorrow and contrition for thy past offences; and lastly, of daily exercising charity and mercy, in forgiving from thy heart all that have offended thee.
Consider first, that after begging of our Lord, in the foregoing petition, the forgiveness of the sins we have already committed, we here beg of him to preserve us from relapsing into any of our former offences, or being ever any more guilty of wilful sin. The true penitent abhors the monster sin beyond all other evils whatsoever; and therefore he is not content with seeking the remission of all his offences, but is ever solicitous to avoid the like evils for the time to come; and therefore he flies the occasions of them, seeks to keep out of all dangerous temptations, and being sensible of his own weakness, he is earnest in prayer to beg of God to stand by him and to help him to overcome all the enemies of his soul, and rather to let him die a thousand deaths than to commit one wilful sin. And this is the principal meaning of this petition, 'Lead us not into temptation,’ which ought to be recited by all Christians, that they may have a great horror of sin, and an earnest desire to be ever preserved from it.
Consider 2ndly, in what sense we here beg of God 'Not to lead us into temptation' since, as St. James says, chap. i. 13, ‘God is not a tempter of evils and he tempteth no man,’ viz., so as to incite, allure, or provoke to sin. No certainly; such temptations as these cannot be from God, who is essentially good, and ever abhors sin; but they are from the world, the flesh, and the devil; yet as these never have power to tempt us, but with God’s permission, nor strength to overcome us, but when we neglect to apply in a proper manner to God for his grace; therefore we make use of this expression to signify our total dependence on God, and to beg that he would not give the enemy any power over us, nor suffer us to give ourselves up to him. Moreover, as those trials which God often sends for the exercise of our virtue, and for the proof of our fidelity, are also in Scripture called temptations, such as afflictions, crosses, pains, &c., of which God is certainly the author and distributor - we beg of him by these words, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ that with relation to all such trials as these, he would ever have regard to our weakness, and never lay upon us any load above our strength.
Consider 3rdly, with regard to temptations, that they are no sins to us if we give no way to them, nor bring them upon us by our own faults. So far from it, that they are often the occasions of very great good to our souls by obliging us to watch and to pray the more, from the sense of our dangers; by keeping us humble, and by affording us the opportunity of gaining many victories, and consequently as many glorious crowns for all eternity as we have had conflicts with the enemy by occasion of temptations. Wherefore it is not the meaning of this petition to pray that we may never have any temptation, (for this might not be expedient for us,) but that we may never yield to temptation. But as for the seeking or desiring temptations, it would be too great a rashness to weak souls; and more especially with regard to temptations against purity, it would be a crime to affect them, or, without necessity, to expose one’s self to them. Christians, let us learn to arm ourselves for this warfare with the armour of the fear of God and a lively faith; let us stand upon our guard by watching and praying; let us readily and heartily resist the first attacks of the enemy; let us bear with patience and humility the labour and trouble of the conflict, and ever reject with horror the criminal satisfaction proposed by the enemy.
Conclude to observe these rules with regard to temptations to join always an humble distrust in thyself, with a firm confidence in God; and ever to have recourse to him in all thy conflicts by humble and fervent prayer. Do this, and thou shalt always come off with victory.
Consider first, that this petition is near akin to the two foregoing petitions; inasmuch as the main drift of the former was to deliver us from the evil of our past sins, and the latter to keep us from the evil of sin for the time to come; and in this petition we beg to be delivered from all evil, past, present, or to come. Now, of all these evils sin is not only the greatest, but is, in some sense, the only thing that deserves to be called evil; because all other things that we call evils are either the consequence of sin, or cease to be real evils when not accompanied with sin. So that the main business of this petition is to beg of God that he would deliver us from all sin, past, present, or to come: from all the consequences of sin and the punishments which our sins have deserved; from the slavery of our passions and sinful habits, and from the tyranny and possession of the evil one, who has the dominion over all wilful sinners. Good God, for thy mercy’s sake, and through the precious blood of thy Son, our redeemer, deliver us from all these dreadful evils.
Consider 2ndly, by descending into particulars, all the scenes of numberless evils to which we are liable on account of sin in this miserable world, and from which we here pray to be delivered by the mercy of God - such as public calamities, wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes, tempests, inundations, &c., besides a multitude of private evils to which each particular person is so frequently exposed. Then all spiritual evils, which are much more deplorable, whether public or private - heresies, schisms, persecutions of the church, errors, abuses, oppressions of the poor, sacrileges, scandals, national vices, and the general reign of Satan and sin in the thoughts, words, and actions of the children of this world. And, with regard to the future, the dreadful evil of unprovided death and final impenitence; the dismal sufferings of another world; the judgment and sentence of eternal damnation; and the second death of a miserable eternity. And do not so many and such lamentable evils well deserve that we should continually pray that God in his mercy would deliver us all from having any share in them.
Consider 3rdly, as to thyself in particular, how many and how great evils thou hast reason to apprehend to be either actually upon thee or to threaten thee on every side. Reflect on the multitude of thy past and present sins, infinitely more numerous and more enormous than thou imaginest; the uncertainty, the weakness, and inconstancy of thy repentance; the dreadful debt of punishment due to thy sins, and how little thou hast done towards the discharge of it; the vices and passions thou art daily subject to; the many enemies that daily encompass thee, and are continually laying snares for thy soul; the corruption of thy own heart, the blindness of thy understanding, thy weakness in all that is good, and the violence of thy concupiscence and inclinations to evil. Then see what thou hast to apprehend of evil for the future from the judgments of God ever hanging over the head of impenitent sinners; from the malice and subtlety of thy enemies, ever intent upon thy ruin; and the hold thou givest them by thy passions, and that unhappy self-love which keeps a continual correspondence with them; lastly, from that miserable death, judgment, and hell, which are the portion of all who, by occasion of mortal sin unrepented of; fall into the hands of the living God, - and thou wilt be convinced of the necessity of thy continually crying out to thy holy redeemer: ‘Deliver us from all evil.’ Amen.
Conclude to embrace humble and fervent prayer, as the sovereign means by which thou canst be delivered from all evils, past, present, or to come and as these evils continually threaten thee, so let thy prayer also be in some measure continual.
Consider first, that every servant of God ought to begin the day with the worship of God, and to give him his heart, as the wise man says, Eccles. xxxix. 6, and to resort early to the Lord that made him, and pour forth his prayer in the sight of the Most High. The manna of heaven melted away and was lost, if the people of God did not get up before the sun to gather it: 'that it might be known to all men,’ says Solomon, Wisdom xvi. 28, 'that we must prevent the sun to bless God, and worship him at the dawning of the light.’ ‘O God, my God' says the royal prophet, Psal. lxii., 'to thee do I watch at the break of day.’ My soul, see thou never neglect this morning worship of thy God. Let not the devil run away with thy first thoughts, but give them to God, by a pure and perfect offering of thy whole self to his love and service for that day and for all eternity, and whilst thou art rising and dressing thyself, keep thyself in his company and speak to him.
Consider 2ndly, what are the particular acts of virtue and religion that ought to be the ingredients of thy morning prayer, viz.: 1. An act of adoration of the infinite majesty of God, and of homage to him, by bowing down both body and soul to worship him with all thy powers, as thy first beginning and thy last end, and to acknowledge his absolute sovereignty, and thy total dependence on him. 2. An act of thanksgiving for all his benefits in general, and in particular to thee and to all the world; for creation, preservation, redemption, vocation to the true faith, &c., as also for his eternal love, and, in consequence of this love, his bringing thee to the beginning of this new day, in order to bring thee forward to the happy day of eternity. 3. An act of contrition, for all thy past ingratitude, and for all thy sins, with a sincere resolution of renouncing them all for the future. 4. An offering of all thy thoughts, words, and actions of the day, to the honour and glory of God; and of thy whole soul, to be employed in loving and serving him. 5. An humble and fervent supplication, to beg the grace of God and his blessing for thyself and for the whole church, that he would keep all from sin, and teach all effectually to love him and serve him for ever. 6. Conclude always with acts of faith, hope, and charity, and recommend thyself to the prayers and protection of the blessed Virgin, of thy good angel, and of all the angels and glorified saints.
Consider 3rdly, that thou must also remember, in thy morning exercise, to declare war against thy customary failings and sins, but more especially against thy predominant passion, which is the most dangerous of all thy enemies. This is that daily warfare in which all of necessity must be engaged who have a mind to save their souls - we must all fight, and fight continually, against our vices and passions, or they will carry us to hell. Now, this it is that obliges us to renew every morning our good resolutions, yet without trusting at all in ourselves; and to arm and prepare ourselves beforehand for these conflicts, by forecasting the occasions and temptations we are likely to meet with in the day and by concluding upon the measures proper to be taken in order to overcome them, either by flight, or fight, but principally by fervent prayer to our Lord, to help us in the combat, and to grant us the victory.
Conclude to be ever diligent in this morning exercise. A good beginning of the day is a great matter. He will have the whole day to whom thou givest the beginning of it.
Consider first, that as God is our first beginning, forasmuch as we are made by him, so is he also our last end, because we are made for him, and, therefore, as we ought to begin the day with him, by morning prayer, so we ought to end the day in his company, by evening prayer. Morning and evening prayer are like the two daily meals of the soul, that ought not upon any account to be omitted, lest the soul should languish and grow sick for want of her daily food; and if upon any occasion we are hindered from taking these meals at their usual times, we ought to observe what we practise with regard to our bodily’ meals, that is, we must proceed to take them afterwards at the first opportunity. Moreover, as we make it our care that our families and such as are under our charge should not want their daily corporal sustenance, so we ought much more to make it our care that their souls may not starve for want of our assembling them to prayer, or seeing that they are regular in this daily exercise.
Consider 2ndly, that one of the principal businesses of the evening exercise is
the daily examination of conscience, which may be made in this manner:
1. Place thyself in the presence of God, bow thyself down and adore him, and give him thanks for all he has done that day for thee and for the whole world.
2.Earnestly beg his light and grace, that thou mayest discover all thy sins and be heartily sorry far them.
3. Endeavour to call to mind how thou hast spent the day from morning till night; what care thou hast taken to discharge thyself well both of the common duties of a Christian, and of the particular duties of thy station or calling; and especially how thou hast behaved thyself with regard to thy customary failings and thy predominant passions.
4. Endeavour to be heartily sorry for all the sins of the day, and for all the sins of thy whole life, known or unknown; go in spirit to the feet of Christ, to make an humble confession of them to him, and implore his mercy.
5. Resolve upon a serious and thorough amendment for the future; determine to begin from that very hour a new life, and think upon the means of accomplishing it. O! how happy are those souls that labour in this manner every night to wash away their sins with penitential tears, and that never venture to lie down to rest under the guilt of sin! Unhappy they who, for want of this precaution, expose themselves every night to the evident danger of dying in their sins, and even finding themselves in hell before morning.
Consider 3rdly, that in order to end the day well, we ought every night to endeavour to put ourselves as much as possible in the condition in which we should be glad to be found at the hour of our death. And therefore, besides offering up to God every night the sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart, for all the sins of our life, the Christian should also think seriously of his last end, and dispose himself for it by acts of a lively faith, and of an entire confidence in his redeemer; by a perfect oblation and resignation of himself to the holy will of God, and by aspiring to an eternal union with him, and in the meantime hiding himself with great affection in the sacred wounds of Jesus Christ, and there composing himself to rest. See, my soul, thou never forget this practice.
Conclude never to neglect any part of this evening exercise, and to see that it be not neglected by any under thy care. A religious performance of this duty will be a great means to secure to thy soul a happy death.
Consider first, that we are not only to address ourselves to God by prayer, in the morning and in the evening, but we are also called upon, in the word of God, ‘to pray always,’ Luke xviii, i; to 'pray without ceasing,’ 1 Thess. v. 17; and to 'seek the face of the Lord evermore,’ Ps. civ. 4. The soul that truly loves her God, will never bear to stay all the day long, without often thinking of him and speaking to him, seeing he has both his eye and his heart always upon her. Love ever seeks the company and conversation of its beloved; now, it is by the means of prayer that we are introduced into the company and conversation of our great Lover, and we quickly lose both his love and him if we pass whole days in the forgetfulness of him. Besides, other dangers continually threaten us when we do not run under the wings of God, and keep close to him by continual prayer. So that if we love either God or ourselves, we must frequently in the day have recourse to prayer. ‘Tis the very breathing and life of the soul, and, therefore, to think to come it to the morning or evening only, is to expose the soul to the danger of perishing for want of breath.
Consider 2ndly, that the practice of this continual prayer does not require that we should be always upon our knees, nor yet that we should always have a prayer-book in our hands, or be always reciting a form of prayer; nor does it any ways break in upon our other employments, so as to be any hindrance to them - no not even to our common conversation, or recreations; but it only consists in a certain sense and conviction of the presence of God, and frequent conversions of the soul to him. Thus, for example, in the beginning of every action the soul should turn to her God, (who is always near her, and in the very midst of her,) by offering up to his honour and glory what she is going to do, and, at the same time, offering her whole self to him; thus, in the midst of all her actions and conversations, she should frequently tend to him by aspirations or breathings of love, and call him to her assistance by short ejaculatory prayers. This way of proceeding will sanctify all her common performances, and make them all partake both of the nature and of the benefit of prayer.
Consider 3rdly, how diligent the ancient patriarchs were in this exercise of praying always, since the Scriptures say, 'they walked with God, and in his sight:' which implies their ever thinking of him, and having a constant attention to please him. The like was the practice of the fathers of the desert, and of so many other saints, who, even whilst their hands were at work, took care to have their hearts centred in God. Christians, let us imitate these servants of God, and since no time, nor place, nor company, nor occupation can exclude the divine immensity, which fills heaven and earth, nor hinder God from being so near to us, that our very souls are not more present to our bodies which they animate, than God is to the very centre of our souls, let no time, nor place, nor company, nor occupation divert us from often thinking of him, and often speaking to him, in our hearts. No conversation can be so honourable, so profitable, or agreeable as this which we hold in the closet of our souls with our Sovereign God.
Conclude to aim, with all thy power, at this inward conversation with God, in the midst of all thy external occupations. In order to this keep thy mind pure from unprofitable amusements and roving imaginations, and thy heart from all disorderly ties and affections to creatures; and God will fill both thy mind and thy heart, and will effectually teach thee to pray always.
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