Acacia John Bunyan - Online Library
I Will Pray with the Spirit
By J O H N.B U N Y A N.
WRITTEN IN PRISON, 1662.
Edited by George Offor.
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.
There is no subject of more solemn importance to human happiness than prayer. Itis the only medium of intercourse with heaven. "It is that language whereina creature holds correspondence with his Creator; and wherein the soul of a saintgets near to God, is entertained with great delight, and, as it were, dwells withhis heavenly Father." God, when manifest in the flesh, hath given us a solemn,sweeping declaration, embracing all prayer–private, social, and public–at all timesand seasons, from the creation to the final consummation of all things–"Godis a Spirit, and they that worship him MUST WORSHIP HIM IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH"(John 4:24).
The great enemy of souls, aided by the perverse state of the human mind, has exhaustedhis ingenuity and malice to prevent the exercise of this holy and delightful duty.His most successful effort has been to keep the soul in that fatal lethargy, or deathunto holiness, and consequently unto prayer, into which it is plunged by Adam's transgression.Bunyan has some striking illustrations of Satan's devices to stifle prayer, in hishistory of the Holy War. When the troops of Emmanuel besiege Mansoul, their greateffort was to gain "eargate" as a chief entrance to Mansoul, and at thatimportant gate there were placed, by order of Diabolous, "the Lord Will-be-will,who made one old Mr. Prejudice, an angry and ill-conditioned fellow, captain of thatward, and put under his power sixty men called Deafmen to keep it," and thesewere arrayed in the most excellent armour of Diabolous, "A DUMB AND PRAYERLESSSPIRIT."
Nothing but the irresistible power of Emmanuel could have overcome these obstacles.He conquers and reigns supreme, and Mansoul becomes happy; prayer without ceasingenables the new-born man to breathe the celestial atmosphere. At length Carnal Securityinterrupts and mars this happiness.
The Redeemer gradually withdraws.
Satan assaults the soul with armies of doubts, and, to prevent prayer, Diabolous"lands up Mouthgate with dirt." Various efforts are made to send petitions,but the messengers make no impression, until, in the extremity of the soul's distress,two acceptable messengers are found, not dwelling in palaces, but in "a verymean cottage," their names were "Desires Awake and Wet Eyes," illustratingthe inspired words, "Thus saith the High and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,whose name is holy: I dwell–with him–that is of a contrite and humble spirit"(Isa 57:15). By this we are taught the utter worthlessness of depending upon theprayers of saints on earth, or the glorified spirits of heaven. Our own prayers aloneare availing. Our own "Desires-awake" and "Wet-eyes," our ownaspirations after God, our own deep repentance and sense of utter helplessness drivesus to the Saviour, through whom ALONE we can find access and adoption into the familyof our Father who is in heaven.
The soul that communes with God attains an aptitude in prayer which no human learningcan give; devotional expressions become familiar; the Spirit of adoption leads themwith deep solemnity to approach the Infinite Eternal as a father. Private prayeris so essentially spiritual that it cannot be reduced to writing. "A man thattruly prays one prayer, shall after that never be able to express with his mouth,or pen the unutterable desires, sense, affection, and longing that went to God inthat prayer". Prayer leads to "pure religion and undefiled," "tovisit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," and to preserve us "unspottedfrom the world" (James 1:27). Blessed indeed are those who enjoy an abidingsense of the Divine presence; the Christian's divine life may be measured by hisbeing able to "pray without ceasing," to "seek God's face continually."Men ought always to pray," and to "continue in prayer." This doesnot consist in perpetually repeating any form of prayer, but in that devotional frameof mind which enables the soul to say, "For me to live is Christ." WhenDavid was compassed about with the sorrows of hell, he at once ejaculates, "OLord, I beseech thee deliver my soul." When the disciples were in danger theydid not recite the Lord's Prayer, or any other form, but at once cried, "Lord,save us, we perish." Bunyan, speaking of private prayer, keenly inquires, willGod not hear thee "except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration?""It is not, as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating, complimentaryexpressions, but a sensible feeling in the heart." Sincerity and a dependenceupon the mediatorial office of Christ is all that God requires. "The Lord isnigh unto all them that call upon him–IN TRUTH" (Psa 145:18). In all that relatedto the individual approach of the spirit to its heavenly Father, our pious authoroffended not; but having enjoyed communion with God, he was, as all Christians are,desirous of communion with the saints on earth, and in choosing the forms of publicworship, he gave great offence to many by rejecting the Book of Common Prayer.
To compel or to bribe persons to attend religious services is unjustifiable, andnaturally produces hypocrisy and persecution. So it was with the decree of King Darius,(Dan 6); and so it has ever been with any royal or parliamentary interference withChristian liberty. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to hisown master he standeth or falleth" (Rom 14:4). "EVERY ONE of us shall giveaccount of himself to God" (Rom 14:12). All the solemnities of the day of judgmentpoint not merely to the right, but to the necessity of private decision on all questionsof faith, worship, and conduct, guided solely by the volume of inspiration. Mansoul,in its regenerate state, is the temple which the Creator has chosen for his worship;and it is infinitely more glorious than earthly edifices, which crumble into dust,while God's temples will be ever glorious as eternity rolls on.
Bunyan, to the sixteenth year of his age, had, when he attended public worship, listenedto the Book of Common Prayer. At that time an Act of Parliament prohibited its useunder severe and unjust penalties, and ordered the services to be conducted by therules of a directory. In this an outline is given of public thanksgivings, confessions,and petitions; but no form of prayer. In the preface the Puritans record their opinion,that the Liturgy of the Church of England, notwithstanding all the pains and religiousintentions of its compilers, hath proved an offence; unprofitable ceremonies hathoccasioned much mischief; its estimation hath been raised by prelates, as if therewere no other way of worship; making it an idol to the ignorant and superstitious,a matter of endless strife, and of increasing an idle ministry. Bunyan had weighedthese observations, and recollected his former ignorance and superstition, when hecounted all things holy connected with the outward forms, and did "very devoutlysay and sing as others did."
But when he arose from the long and dread conflict with sin, and entered upon hisChristian life, he decidedly preferred emancipation from forms of prayer, and treatedthem with great severity. He considered that the most essential qualification forthe Christian ministry is the gift of prayer. Upon this subject learned and piousmen have differed; but the opinions of one so eminently pious, and so well-taughtin the Scriptures, are worthy of our careful investigation. Great allowances mustbe made for all that appears harsh in language, because urbanity was not the fashionof that day in religious controversy. He had been most cruelly imprisoned, with threatsof transportation, and even an ignominious death, for refusing conformity to theBook of Common Prayer. Being conscientiously and prayerfully decided in his judgment,he set all these threats at defiance, and boldly, at the risk of his life, publishedthis treatise, while yet a prisoner in Bedford jail; and it is a clear, concise,and scriptural discourse, setting forth his views upon this most important subject.
Any preconceived form would have fettered Bunyan's free spirit; he was a giant inprayer, and commanded the deepest reverence while leading the public devotions ofthe largest congregations. The great question as to public prayer is whether theminister should, relying upon Divine assistance, offer up prayer to God in the Saviour'sname, immediately conceived under a sense of His presence; or whether it is better,as it is certainly easier, to read a form of prayer, from time to time, skillfullyarranged, and with every regard to beauty of language? Which of these modes is mostin accordance with the directions of the Sacred Scriptures, and most likely to beattended with spiritual benefit to the assembled church? Surely this inquiry doesnot involve the charge of schism or heresy upon either party.
"Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Nor should such differenceslead us to despise each other. Let our first inquiry be, whether the Saviour intendeda fixed form of prayer? And if so, did he give His church any other than that mostbeautiful and comprehensive form called the Lord's Prayer? And did he license anyone, and if so, who, to alter, add to, or diminish from it? On the other hand, shouldwe conclude that "We know not what we should pray for as we ought, only as theSpirit helpeth our infirmities," then must we rely, as Bunyan did, upon thepromised aid of that gracious Spirit. Blessed, indeed, are those whose intercoursewith heaven sheds an influence on their whole conduct, gives them abundance of well-arrangedwords in praying with their families and with the sick or dejected, and–whose livesprove that they have been with Jesus, and are taught by him, or who, in Scripturelanguage, "pray with the spirit and with the understanding also." GEO.OFFOR.
ON PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT.
"I WILL PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, AND I WILL PRAY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING ALSO"–(ICor 14:15).
PRAYER is an ORDINANCE of God, and that to be used both in public and private; yea,such an ordinance as brings those that have the spirit of supplication into greatfamiliarity with God; and is also so prevalent in action, that it getteth of God,both for the person that prayeth, and for them that are prayed for, great things.It is the opener of the heart of God, and a means by which the soul, though empty,is filled. By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend, andobtain fresh testimony of God's friendship to him. I might spend many words in distinguishingbetween public and private prayer; as also between that in the heart, and that withthe vocal voice. Something also might be spoken to distinguish between the giftsand graces of prayer; but eschewing this method, my business shall be at this timeonly to show you the very heart of prayer, without which, all your lifting up, bothof hands, and eyes, and voices, will be to no purpose at all. "I will pray withthe Spirit."
The method that I shall go on in at this time shall be, FIRST. To show you what trueprayer is. SECOND. To show you what it is to pray with the Spirit. THIRD. What itis to pray with the Spirit and understanding also. And so, FOURTHLY. To make someshort use and application of what shall be spoken.
WHAT PRAYER IS.
FIRST, What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouringout of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance ofthe Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word,for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.
In this description are these seven things. First, It is a sincere; Second, A sensible;Third, An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; Fourth, Bythe strength or assistance of the Spirit; Fifth, For such things as God hath promised,or, according to his word; Sixth, For the good of the church; Seventh, With submissionin faith to the will of God.
First. For the first of these, it is a SINCERE pouring out of the soul to God. Sincerityis such a grace as runs through all the graces of God in us, and through all theactings of a Christian, and hath the sway in them too, or else their actings arenot any thing regarded of God, and so of and in prayer, of which particularly Davidspeaks, when he mentions prayer. "I cried unto him," the Lord "withmy mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, theLord will not hear" my prayer (Psa 66:17,18). Part of the exercise of prayeris sincerity, without which God looks not upon it as prayer in a good sense (Psa16:1-4). Then "ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me withall your heart" (Jer 29:12-13). The want of this made the Lord reject theirprayers in Hosea 7:14, where he saith, "They have not cried unto me with theirheart," that is, in sincerity, "when they howled upon their beds."But for a pretence, for a show in hypocrisy, to be seen of men, and applauded forthe same, they prayed. Sincerity was that which Christ commended in Nathaniel, whenhe was under the fig tree. "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile."Probably this good man was pouring out of his soul to God in prayer under the figtree, and that in a sincere and unfeigned spirit before the Lord. The prayer thathath this in it as one of the principal ingredients, is the prayer that God looksat. Thus, "The prayer of the upright is his delight" (Prov 15:8).
And why must sincerity be one of the essentials of prayer which is accepted of God,but because sincerity carries the soul in all simplicity to open its heart to God,and to tell him the case plainly, without equivocation; to condemn itself plainly,without dissembling; to cry to God heartily, without complimenting. "I havesurely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou has chastised me, and I was chastised,as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke" (Jer 31:18). Sincerity is the same ina corner alone, as it is before the face of the world. It knows not how to wear twovizards, one for an appearance before men, and another for a short snatch in a corner;but it must have God, and be with him in the duty of prayer. It is not lip-labourthat it doth regard, for it is the heart that God looks at, and that which sinceritylooks at, and that which prayer comes from, if it be that prayer which is accompaniedwith sincerity.
Second. It is a sincere and SENSIBLE pouring out of the heart or soul. It is not,as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating, complimentary expressions, buta sensible feeling there is in the heart. Prayer hath in it a sensibleness of diversethings; sometimes sense of sin, sometimes of mercy received, sometimes of the readinessof God to give mercy, &c.
1. A sense of the want of mercy, by reason of the danger of sin. The soul, I say,feels, and from feeling sighs, groans, and breaks at the heart. For right prayerbubbleth out of the heart when it is overpressed with grief and bitterness, as bloodis forced out of the flesh by reason of some heavy burden that lieth upon it (I Sam1:10; Psa 69:3). David roars, cries, weeps, faints at heart, fails at the eyes, losethhis moisture, &c., (Psa 38:8-10). Hezekiah mourns like a dove (Isa 38:14). Ephraimbemoans himself (Jer 31:18). Peter weeps bitterly (Matt 26:75). Christ hath strongcryings and tears (Heb 5:7). And all this from a sense of the justice of God, theguilt of sin, the pains of hell and destruction. "The sorrows of death compassedme, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow." Thencried I unto the Lord (Psa 116:3,4). And in another place, "My sore ran in thenight" (Psa 77:2). Again, "I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all theday long" (Psa 38:6). In all these instances, and in hundreds more that mightbe named, you may see that prayer carrieth in it a sensible feeling disposition,and that first from a sense of sin.
2. Sometimes there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening,enlivening, enlightening mercy, &c. Thus David pours out his soul, to bless,and praise, and admire the great God for his loving- kindness to such poor vile wretches."Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name. Blessthe Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thineiniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction;who crowneth thee with loving- kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouthwith good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psa 103:1-5).And thus is the prayer of saints sometimes turned into praise and thanksgiving, andyet are prayers still. This is a mystery; God's people pray with their praises, asit is written, "Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer, and supplication,with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God" (Phil 4:6). A sensiblethanksgiving, for mercies received, is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it prevailswith him unspeakably.
3. In prayer there is sometimes in the soul a sense of mercy to be received. Thisagain sets the soul all on a flame. "Thou, O lord of hosts," saith David,"hast revealed to thy servant, saying I will build thee an house; thereforehath thy servant found in his heart to pray - unto thee" (II Sam 7:27). Thisprovoked Jacob, David, Daniel, with others–even a sense of mercies to be received–whichcaused them, not by fits and starts, nor yet in a foolish frothy way, to babble overa few words written in a paper; but mightily, fervently, and continually, to groanout their conditions before the Lord, as being sensible, sensible, I say, of theirwants, their misery, and the willingness of God to show mercy (Gen 32:10,11; Dan9:3,4).
A good sense of sin, and the wrath of God, with some encouragement from God to comeunto him, is a better Common-prayer-book than that which is taken out of the Papisticalmass-book, being the scraps and fragments of the devices of some popes, some friars,and I wot not what.
Third. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, and an AFFECTIONATE pouring out of the soulto God. O! the heat, strength, life, vigour, and affection, that is in right prayer!"As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee,O God" (Psa 42:1). "I have longed after thy precepts" (Psa 119:40)."I have longed for thy salvation" (ver 174). "My soul longeth, yea,even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for theliving God" (Psa 84:2). "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hathunto thy judgments at all times" (Psa 119:20). Mark ye here, "My soul longeth,"it longeth, it longeth, &c. O what affection is here discovered in prayer! Thelike you have in Daniel. "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken anddo; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God" (Dan 9:19). Every syllable carrietha mighty vehemency in it. This is called the fervent, or the working prayer, by James.And so again, "And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22:44).Or had his affections more and more drawn out after God for his helping hand. O!How wide are the most of men with their prayers from this prayer, that is, PRAYERin God's account! Alas! The greatest part of men make no conscience at all of theduty; and as for them that do, it is to be feared that many of them are very greatstrangers to a sincere, sensible, and affectionate pouring out their hearts or soulsto God; but even content themselves with a little lip-labour and bodily exercise,mumbling over a few imaginary prayers. When the affections are indeed engaged inprayer, then, then the whole man is engaged, and that in such sort, that the soulwill spend itself to nothing, as it were, rather than it will go without that gooddesired, even communion and solace with Christ. And hence it is that the saints havespent their strengths, and lost their lives, rather than go without the blessing(Psa 69:3; 38:9,10; Gen 32:24,26).
All this is too, too evident by the ignorance, profaneness, and spirit of envy, thatreign in the hearts of those men that are so hot for the forms, and not the powerof praying. Scarce one of forty among them know what it is to be born again, to havecommunion with the Father through the Son; to feel the power of grace sanctifyingtheir hearts: but for all their prayers, they still live cursed, drunken, whorish,and abominable lives, full of malice, envy, deceit, persecuting of the dear childrenof God. O what a dreadful after-clap is coming upon them! which all their hypocriticalassembling themselves together, with all their prayers, shall never be able to helpthem against, or shelter them from.
Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul. There is in prayer an unbosomingof a man's self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of thesoul in requests, sighs, and groans. "All my desire is before thee," saithDavid, "and my groaning is not hid from thee" (Psa 38:9). And again, "Mysoul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me" (Psa 42:2,4). Mark,"I pour out my soul." It is an expression signifying, that in prayer theregoeth the very life and whole strength to God. As in another place, "Trust inhim at all times; ye people, - pour out your heart before him" (Psa 62:8). Thisis the prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creatureout of captivity and thralldom. "If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thyGod, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul"(Deut 4:29).
Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul TO GOD. This showeth also the excellencyof the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it retires. "When shallI come and appear before God?" And it argueth, that the soul that thus prayethindeed, sees an emptiness in all things under heaven; that in God alone there isrest and satisfaction for the soul. "Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate,trusteth in God" (I Tim 5:5). So saith David, "In thee, O Lord, do I putmy trust; let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, andcause me to escape; incline thine ear to me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation,whereunto I may continually resort: - for thou art my rock and my fortress; deliverme, O my God, - out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art myhope, O Lord God, thou art my trust from my youth" (Psa 71:1-5). Many in a wordingway speak of God; but right prayer makes God his hope, stay, and all. Right prayersees nothing substantial, and worth the looking after, but God. And that, as I saidbefore, it doth in a sincere, sensible, and affectionate way.
Again, It is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul toGod, THROUGH CHRIST. This through Christ must needs be added, or else it is to bequestioned, whether it be prayer, though in appearance it be never so eminent oreloquent.
Christ is the way through whom the soul hath admittance to God, and without whomit is impossible that so much as one desire should come into the ears of the Lordof Sabaoth (John 14:6). "If ye shall ask anything in my name"; "whatsoeverye shall ask the Father in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13,14). This wasDaniel's way in praying for the people of God; he did it in the name of Christ. "Nowtherefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, andcause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake"(Dan 9:17). And so David, "For thy name's sake," that is, for thy Christ'ssake, "pardon mine iniquity, for it is great" (Psa 25:11). But now, itis not every one that maketh mention of Christ's name in prayer, that doth indeed,and in truth, effectually pray to God in the name of Christ, or through him. Thiscoming to God through Christ is the hardest part that is found in prayer. A man maymore easily be sensible of his works, ay, and sincerely too desire mercy, and yetnot be able to come to God by Christ. That man that comes to God by Christ, he mustfirst have the knowledge of him; "for he that cometh to God, must believe thathe is" (Heb 11:6). And so he that comes to God through Christ, must be enabledto know Christ. Lord, saith Moses, "show me now thy way, that I may know thee"(Exo 33:13).
This Christ, none but the Father can reveal (Matt 11:27). And to come through Christ,is for the soul to be enabled of God to shroud itself under the shadow of the LordJesus, as a man shroudeth himself under a thing for safeguard (Matt 16:16). Henceit is that David so often terms Christ his shield, buckler, tower, fortress, rockof defence, &c., (Psa 18:2; 27:1; 28:1). Not only because by him he overcamehis enemies, but because through him he found favour with God the Father. And sohe saith to Abraham, "Fear not, I am thy shield," &c., (Gen 15:1).The man then that comes to God through Christ, must have faith, by which he putson Christ, and in him appears before God. Now he that hath faith is born of God,born again, and so becomes one of the sons of God; by virtue of which he is joinedto Christ, and made a member of him (John 3:5,7; 1:12). And therefore, secondly he,as a member of Christ, comes to God; I say, as a member of him, so that God lookson that man as a part of Christ, part of his body, flesh, and bones, united to himby election, conversion, illumination, the Spirit being conveyed into the heart ofthat poor man by God (Eph 5:30). So that now he comes to God in Christ's merits,in his blood, righteousness, victory, intercession, and so stands before him, being"accepted in his Beloved" (Eph 1:6). And because this poor creature isthus a member of the Lord Jesus, and under this consideration hath admittance tocome to God; therefore, by virtue of this union also, is the Holy Spirit conveyedinto him, whereby he is able to pour out himself, to wit, his soul, before God, withhis audience. And this leads me to the next, or fourth particular.
Fourth. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate, pouring out of the heart orsoul to God through Christ, by the strength or ASSISTANCE OF THE SPIRIT. For thesethings do so depend one upon another, that it is impossible that it should be prayer,without there be a joint concurrence of them; for though it be never so famous, yetwithout these things, it is only such prayer as is rejected of God. For without asincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart to God, it is but lip-labour;and if it be not through Christ, it falleth far short of ever sounding well in theears of God. So also, if it be not in the strength and assistance of the Spirit,it is but like the sons of Aaron, offering with strange fire (Lev 10:1,2). But Ishall speak more to this under the second head; and therefore in the meantime, thatwhich is not petitioned through the teaching and assistance of the Spirit, it isnot possible that it should be "according to the will of God (Rom 8:26,27).
Fifth. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart, or soul,to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, FOR SUCH THINGSAS GOD HATH PROMISED, &c., (Matt 6:6-8). Prayer it is, when it is within thecompass of God's Word; and it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petitionis beside the book. David therefore still in his prayer kept his eye on the Wordof God. "My soul," saith he, "cleaveth to the dust; quicken me accordingto thy word." And again, "My soul melteth for heaviness, strengthen thoume according unto thy word" (Psa 119:25-28; see also 41, 42, 58, 65, 74, 81,82, 107, 147, 154, 169, 170). And, "remember thy word unto thy servant, uponwhich thou hast caused me to hope" (ver 49). And indeed the Holy Ghost dothnot immediately quicken and stir up the heart of the Christian without, but by, with,and through the Word, by bringing that to the heart, and by opening of that, wherebythe man is provoked to go to the Lord, and to tell him how it is with him, and alsoto argue, and supplicate, according to the Word; thus it was with Daniel, that mightyprophet of the Lord. He understanding by books that the captivity of the childrenof Israel was hard at an end; then, according unto that word, he maketh his prayerto God. "I Daniel," saith he, "understood by books," viz., thewritings of Jeremiah, "the number of the years whereof the word of the Lordcame to Jeremiah, - that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations ofJerusalem. And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications,with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes" (Dan 9:2,3). So that I say, as the Spiritis the helper and the governor of the soul, when it prayeth according to the willof God; so it guideth by and according to, the Word of God and his promise. Henceit is that our Lord Jesus Christ himself did make a stop, although his life lay atstake for it. I could now pray to my Father, and he should give me more than twelvelegions of angels; but how then must the scripture be fulfilled that thus it mustbe? (Matt 26:53,54). As who should say, Were there but a word for it in the scripture,I should soon be out of the hands of mine enemies, I should be helped by angels;but the scripture will not warrant this kind of praying, for that saith otherwise.It is a praying then according to the Word and promise. The Spirit by the Word mustdirect, as well in the manner, as in the matter of prayer. "I will pray withthe Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also" (I Cor 14:15). Butthere is no understanding without the Word. For if they reject the word of the Lord,"what wisdom is in them?" (Jer 8:9).
Sixth. FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH. This clause reacheth in whatsoever tendeth eitherto the honour of God, Christ's advancement, or his people's benefit. For God, andChrist, and his people are so linked together that if the good of the one be prayedfor, to wit, the church, the glory of God, and advancement of Christ, must needsbe included. For as Christ is in the Father, so the saints are in Christ; and hethat toucheth the saints, toucheth the apple of God's eye; and therefore pray forthe peace of Jerusalem, and you pray for all that is required of you. For Jerusalemwill never be in perfect peace until she be in heaven; and there is nothing thatChrist doth more desire than to have her there. That also is the place that God throughChrist hath given to her. He then that prayeth for the peace and good of Zion, orthe church, doth ask that in prayer which Christ hath purchased with his blood; andalso that which the Father hath given to him as the price thereof. Now he that prayethfor this, must pray for abundance of grace for the church, for help against all itstemptations; that God would let nothing be too hard for it; and that all things mightwork together for its good, that God would keep them blameless and harmless, thesons of God, to his glory, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. And thisis the substance of Christ's own prayer in John 17. And all Paul's prayers did runthat way, as one of his prayers doth eminently show. "And this I pray, thatyour love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment; that yemay approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere, and without offence,till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which areby Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God" (Phil 1:9-11). But a shortprayer, you see, and yet full of good desires for the church, from the beginningto the end; that it may stand and go on, and that in the most excellent frame ofspirit, even without blame, sincere, and without offence, until the day of Christ,let its temptations or persecutions be what they will (Eph 1:16-21; 3:14-19; Col1:9- 13).
Seventh. And because, as I said, prayer doth SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD, and say,Thy will be done, as Christ hath taught us (Matt 6:10); therefore the people of theLord in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers, and all that they have,at the foot of their God, to be disposed of by him as he in his heavenly wisdom seethbest. Yet not doubting but God will answer the desire of his people that way thatshall be most for their advantage and his glory. When the saints therefore do praywith submission to the will of God, it doth not argue that they are to doubt or questionGod's love and kindness to them. But because they at all times are not so wise, butthat sometimes Satan may get that advantage of them, as to tempt them to pray forthat which, if they had it, would neither prove to God's glory nor his people's good."Yet this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything accordingto his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, weknow that we have the petitions that we desired of him," that is, we askingin the Spirit of grace and supplication (I John 5:14,15). For, as I said before,that petition that is not put up in and through the Spirit, it is not to be answered,because it is beside the will of God. For the Spirit only knoweth that, and so consequentlyknoweth how to pray according to that will of God. "For what man knoweth thethings of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of Godknoweth no man but the Spirit of God" (I Cor 2:11). But more of this hereafter.Thus you see, first, what prayer is. Now to proceed.
[WHAT IT IS TO PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT.]
SECOND. I will pray with the Spirit. Now to pray with the Spirit–for that is thepraying man, and none else, so as to be accepted of God–it is for a man, as aforesaid,sincerely and sensibly, with affection, to come to God through Christ, &c.; whichsincere, sensible, and affectionate coming must be by the working of God's Spirit.
There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by theassistance of the Holy Spirit. "For through Christ we all have access by oneSpirit unto the Father" (Eph 2:18). Wherefore Paul saith, "For we knownot what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercessionfor us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts,knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saintsaccording to the will of God" (Rom 8:26,27). And because there is in this scriptureso full a discovery of the spirit of prayer, and of man's inability to pray withoutit; therefore I shall in a few words comment upon it.
"For we." Consider first the person speaking, even Paul, and, in his person,all the apostles. We apostles, we extraordinary officers, the wise master-builders,that have some of us been caught up into paradise (Rom 15:16; I Cor 3:10; II Cor12:4). "We know not what we should pray for." Surely there is no man butwill confess, that Paul and his companions were as able to have done any work forGod, as any pope or proud prelate in the church of Rome, and could as well have madea Common Prayer Book as those who at first composed this; as being not a whit behindthem either in grace or gifts.
"For we know not what we should pray for." We know not the matter of thethings for which we should pray, neither the object to whom we pray, nor the mediumby or through whom we pray; none of these things know we, but by the help and assistanceof the Spirit. Should we pray for communion with God through Christ? should we prayfor faith, for justification by grace, and a truly sanctified heart? none of thesethings know we. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit ofman which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit ofGod" (I Cor 2:11). But here, alas! the apostles speak of inward and spiritualthings, which the world knows not (Isa 29:11).
Again, as they know not the matter, &c., of prayer, without the help of the Spirit;so neither know they the manner thereof without the same; and therefore he adds,"We know not what we should pray for as we ought"; but the Spirit helpethour infirmities, with sighs and groans which cannot be uttered. Mark here, they couldnot so well and so fully come off in the manner of performing this duty, as thesein our days think they can.
The apostles, when they were at the best, yea, when the Holy Ghost assisted them,yet then they were fain to come off with sighs and groans, falling short of expressingtheir mind, but with sighs and groans which cannot be uttered.
But here now, the wise men of our days are so well skilled as that they have boththe manner and matter of their prayers at their finger-ends; setting such a prayerfor such a day, and that twenty years before it comes. One for Christmas, anotherfor Easter, and six days after that. They have also bounded how many syllables mustbe said in every one of them at their public exercises. For each saint's day, also,they have them ready for the generations yet unborn to say. They can tell you, also,when you shall kneel, when you shall stand, when you should abide in your seats,when you should go up into the chancel, and what you should do when you come there.All which the apostles came short of, as not being able to compose so profound amanner; and that for this reason included in this scripture, because the fear ofGod tied them to pray as they ought.
"For we know not what we should pray for as we ought." Mark this, "aswe ought." For the not thinking of this word, or at least the not understandingit in the spirit and truth of it, hath occasioned these men to devise, as Jeroboamdid, another way of worship, both for matter and manner, than is revealed in theWord of God (I Kings 12:26-33). But, saith Paul, we must pray as we ought; and thisWE cannot do by all the art, skill, and cunning device of men or angels. " Forwe know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit"; nay, further,it must be "the Spirit ITSELF" that helpeth our infirmities; not the Spiritand man's lusts; what man of his own brain may imagine and devise, is one thing,and what they are commanded, and ought to do, is another. Many ask and have not,because they ask amiss; and so are never the nearer the enjoying of those thingsthey petition for (James 4:3). It is not to pray at random that will put off God,or cause him to answer. While prayer is making, God is searching the heart, to seefrom what root and spirit it doth arise (I John 5:14). "And he that searcheththe heart knoweth," that is, approveth only, the meaning "of the Spirit,because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."For in that which is according to his will only, he heareth us, and in nothing else.And it is the Spirit only that can teach us so to ask; it only being able to searchout all things, even the deep things of God. Without which Spirit, though we hada thousand Common Prayer Books, yet we know not what we should pray for as we ought,being accompanied with those infirmities that make us absolutely incapable of sucha work. Which infirmities, although it is a hard thing to name them all, yet someof them are these that follow.
First. Without the Spirit man is so infirm that he cannot, with all other means whatsoever,be enabled to think one right saving thought of God, of Christ, or of his blessedthings; and therefore he saith of the wicked, "God is not in all his thoughts,"(Psa 10:4); unless it be that they imagine him altogether such a one as themselves(Psa 50:21). For "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil,"and that "continually" (Gen 6:5; 8:21). They then not being able to conceivearight of God to whom they pray, of Christ through whom they pray, nor of the thingsfor which they pray, as is before showed, how shall they be able to address themselvesto God, without the Spirit help this infirmity? Peradventure you will say, By thehelp of the Common Prayer Book; but that cannot do it, unless it can open the eyes,and reveal to the soul all these things before touched. Which that it cannot, itis evident; because that is the work of the Spirit only. The Spirit itself is therevealer of these things to poor souls, and that which doth give us to understandthem; wherefore Christ tells his disciples, when he promised to send the Spirit,the Comforter, "He shall take of mine and show unto you"; as if he hadsaid, I know you are naturally dark and ignorant as to the understanding any of mythings; though ye try this course and the other, yet your ignorance will still remain,the veil is spread over your heart, and there is none can take away the same, norgive you spiritual understanding but the Spirit. The Common Prayer Book will notdo it, neither can any man expect that it should be instrumental that way, it beingnone of God's ordinances; but a thing since the Scriptures were written, patchedtogether one piece at one time, and another at another; a mere human invention andinstitution, which God is so far from owning of, that he expressly forbids it, withany other such like, and that by manifold sayings in his most holy and blessed Word.(See Mark 7:7,8, and Col 2:16-23; Deut 12:30- 32; Prov 30:6; Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18).For right prayer must, as well in the outward part of it, in the outward expression,as in the inward intention, come from what the soul doth apprehend in the light ofthe Spirit; otherwise it is condemned as vain and an abomination, because the heartand tongue do not go along jointly in the same, neither indeed can they, unless theSpirit help our infirmities (Mark 7; Prov 28:9; Isa 29:13). And this David knew fullwell, which did make him cry, "Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall showforth thy praise" (Psa 51:15). I suppose there is none can imagine but thatDavid could speak and express himself as well as others, nay, as any in our generation,as is clearly manifested by his word and his works. Nevertheless when this good man,this prophet, comes into God's worship, then the Lord must help, or he can do nothing."Lord, open thou my lips, and" then "my mouth shall show forth thypraise." He could not speak one right word, except the Spirit itself gave utterance."For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itselfhelpeth our infirmities." But,
Second. It must be a praying with the Spirit, that is, the effectual praying; becausewithout that, as men are senseless, so hypocritical, cold, and unseemly in theirprayers; and so they, with their prayers, are both rendered abominable to God (Matt23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 18:11, 12; Isa 58:2, 3). It is not the excellency of thevoice, nor the seeming affection, and earnestness of him that prayeth, that is anythingregarded of God without it. For man, as man, is so full of all manner of wickedness,that as he cannot keep a word, or thought, so much less a piece of prayer clean,and acceptable to God through Christ; and for this cause the Pharisees, with theirprayers, were rejected. No question but they were excellently able to express themselvesin words, and also for length of time, too, they were very notable; but they hadnot the Spirit of Jesus Christ to help them, and therefore they did what they didwith their infirmities or weaknesses only, and so fell short of a sincere, sensible,affectionate pouring out of their souls to God, through the strength of the Spirit.That is the prayer that goeth to heaven, that is sent thither in the strength ofthe Spirit. For,
Third. Nothing but the Spirit can show a man clearly his misery by nature, and soput a man into a posture of prayer. Talk is but talk, as we use to say, and so itis but mouth- worship, if there be not a sense of misery, and that effectually too.O the cursed hypocrisy that is in most hearts, and that accompanieth many thousandsof praying men that would be so looked upon in this day, and all for want of a senseof their misery! But now the Spirit, that will sweetly show the soul its misery,where it is, and what is like to become of it, also the intolerableness of that condition.For it is the Spirit that doth effectually convince of sin and misery, without theLord Jesus, and so puts the soul into a sweet, sensible, affectionate way of prayingto God according to his word (John 16:7-9).
Fourth. If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they wouldnot pray. For they would run away from God, with Cain and Judas, and utterly despairof mercy, were it not for the Spirit. When a man is indeed sensible of his sin, andGod's curse, then it is a hard thing to persuade him to pray; for, saith his heart,"There is no hope," it is in vain to seek God (Jer 2:25; 18:12). I am sovile, so wretched, and so cursed a creature, that I shall never be regarded! Nowhere comes the Spirit, and stayeth the soul, helpeth it to hold up its face to God,by letting into the heart some small sense of mercy to encourage it to go to God,and hence it is called "the Comforter" (John 14:26).
Fifth. It must be in or with the Spirit; for without that no man can know how heshould come to God the right way. Men may easily say they come to God in his Son:but it is the hardest thing of a thousand to come to God aright and in his own way,without the Spirit. It is "the Spirit" that "searcheth all things,yea, the deep things of God" (I Cor 2:10). It is the Spirit that must show usthe way of coming to God, and also what there is in God that makes him desirable:"I pray thee," saith Moses, "show me now thy way, that I may knowthee" (Exo 33:13). And, He shall take of mine, and "show it unto you"(John 16:14).
Sixth. Because without the Spirit, though a man did see his misery, and also theway to come to God; yet he would never be able to claim a share in either God, Christ,or mercy, with God's approbation. O how great a task is it, for a poor soul thatbecomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith, but this one word,"Father!" I tell you, however hypocrites think, yet the Christian thatis so indeed finds all the difficulty in this very thing, it cannot say God is itsFather. O! saith he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spiritmust be sent into the hearts of God's people for this very thing, to cry Father:it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it(Gal 4:6). When I say knowingly, I mean, knowing what it is to be a child of God,and to be born again. And when I say believingly, I mean, for the soul to believe,and that from good experience, that the work of grace is wrought in him. This isthe right calling of God Father; and not as many do, to say in a babbling way, theLord's prayer (so called) by heart, as it lieth in the words of the book. No, hereis the life of prayer, when in or with the Spirit, a man being made sensible of sin,and how to come to the Lord for mercy; he comes, I say, in the strength of the Spirit,and crieth Father. That one word spoken in faith, is better than a thousand prayers,as men call them, written and read, in a formal, cold, lukewarm way. O how far shortare those people of being sensible of this, who count it enough to teach themselvesand children to say the Lord's prayer, the creed, with other sayings; when, as Godknows, they are senseless of themselves, their misery, or what it is to be broughtto God through Christ! Ah, poor soul! Study your misery, and cry to God to show youyour confused blindness and ignorance, before you be so rife in calling God yourFather, or teaching your children either so to say. And know, that to say God isyour Father, in a way of prayer or conference, without any experiment of the workof grace on your souls, it is to say you are Jews and are not, and so to lie. Yousay, Our Father; God saith, You blaspheme! You say you are Jew, that is, true Christians;God saith, You lie!
"Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews,and are not, but do lie" (Rev 3:9). "And I know the blasphemy of them thatsay they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9). Andso much the greater the sin is, by how much the more the sinner boasts it with apretended sanctity, as the Jews did to Christ, in the 8th of John, which made Christ,even in plain terms, to tell them their doom, for all their hypocritical pretences(John 8:41-45). And yet forsooth every cursed whoremaster, thief, and drunkard, swearer,and perjured person; they that have not only been such in times past, but are evenso still: these I say, by some must be counted the only honest men, and all becausewith their blasphemous throats, and hypocritical hearts, they will come to church,and say, "Our Father!" Nay further, these men, though every time they sayto God, Our Father, do most abominably blaspheme, yet they must be compelled thusto do. And because others that are of more sober principles, scruple the truth ofsuch vain traditions; therefore they must be looked upon to be the only enemies ofGod and the nation: when as it is their own cursed superstition that doth set thegreat God against them, and cause him to count them for his enemies (Isa 53:10).And yet just like to Bonner, that blood-red persecutor, they commend, I say, thesewretches, although never so vile, if they close in with their traditions, to be goodchurchmen, the honest subjects; while God's people are, as it hath always been, lookedupon to be a turbulent, seditious, and factious people (Ezra 4:12-16).
Therefore give me leave a little to reason with thee, thou poor, blind, ignorantsot.
(1.) It may be thy great prayer is to say, "Our Father which art in heaven,"&c. Dost thou know the meaning of the very first words of this prayer? Canstthou indeed, with the rest of the saints, cry, Our Father? Art thou truly born again?Hast thou received the spirit of adoption? Dost thou see thyself in Christ, and canstthou come to God as a member of him? Or art thou ignorant of these things, and yetdarest thou say, Our Father? Is not the devil thy father? (John 8:44). And dost thounot do the deeds of the flesh? And yet darest thou say to God, Our Father? Nay, artthou not a desperate persecutor of the children of God? Hast thou not cursed themin thine heart many a time? And yet dost thou out of thy blasphemous throat sufferthese words to come, even our Father? He is their Father whom thou hatest and persecutest.But as the devil presented himself amongst the sons of God, (Job 1), when they wereto present themselves before the Father, even our Father, so is it now; because thesaints were commanded to say, Our Father, therefore all the blind ignorant rabblein the world, they must also use the same words, Our Father.
(2.) And dost thou indeed say, "Hallowed be thy name" with thy heart? Dostthou study, by all honest and lawful ways, to advance the name, holiness, and majestyof God? Doth thy heart and conversation agree with this passage? Dost thou striveto imitate Christ in all the works of righteousness, which God doth command of thee,and prompt thee forward to? It is so, if thou be one that can truly with God's allowancecry, "Our Father." Or is it not the least of thy thoughts all the day?And dost thou not clearly make it appear, that thou art a cursed hypocrite, by condemningthat with thy daily practice, which thou pretendest in thy praying with thy dissemblingtongue?
(3.) Wouldst thou have the kingdom of God come indeed, and also his will to be donein earth as it is in heaven? Nay, notwithstanding, thou according to the form, sayest,Thy kingdom come, yet would it not make thee ready to run mad, to hear the trumpetsound, to see the dead arise, and thyself just now to go and appear before God, toreckon for all the deeds thou hast done in the body? Nay, are not the very thoughtsof it altogether displeasing to thee? And if God's will should be done on earth asit is in heaven, must it not be thy ruin? There is never a rebel in heaven againstGod, and if he should so deal on earth, must it not whirl thee down to hell? Andso of the rest of the petitions. Ah! How sadly would even those men look, and withwhat terror would they walk up and down the world, if they did but know the lyingand blaspheming that proceedeth out of their mouth, even in their most pretendedsanctity? The Lord awaken you, and teach you, poor souls, in all humility, to takeheed that you be not rash and unadvised with your heart, and much more with yourmouth! When you appear before God, as the wise man saith, "Be not rash withthy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing, (Eccl 5:2); especiallyto call God Father, without some blessed experience when thou comest before God.But I pass this.
Seventh. It must be a praying with the Spirit if it be accepted, because there isnothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer: "Thepreparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord"(Prov 16:1). That is, in every work for God, and especially in prayer, if the heartrun with the tongue, it must be prepared by the Spirit of God. Indeed the tongueis very apt, of itself, to run without either fear or wisdom: but when it is theanswer of the heart, and that such a heart as is prepared by the Spirit of God, thenit speaks so as God commands and doth desire.
They are mighty words of David, where he saith, that he lifteth his heart and hissoul to God (Psa 25:1). It is a great work for any man without the strength of theSpirit, and therefore I conceive that this is one of the great reasons why the Spiritof God is called a Spirit of supplications, (Zech 12:10), because it is that whichhelpeth the heart when it supplicates indeed to do it; and therefore saith Paul,"Praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph 6:18). Andso in my text, "I will pray with the Spirit." Prayer, without the heartbe in it, is like a sound without life; and a heart, without it be lifted up of theSpirit, will never pray to God.
Eighth. As the heart must be lifted up by the Spirit, if it pray aright, so alsoit must be held up by the Spirit when it is up, if it continue to pray aright. Ido not know what, or how it is with others' hearts, whether they be lifted up bythe Spirit of God, and so continued, or no: but this I am sure of, First, That itis impossible that all the prayer-books that men have made in the world, should liftup, or prepare the heart; that is the work of the great God himself. And, in thesecond place, I am sure that they are as far from keeping it up, when it is up. Andindeed here is the life of prayer, to have the heart kept with God in the duty. Itwas a great matter for Moses to keep his hands lifted up to God in prayer; but howmuch more then to keep the heart in it! (Exo 17:12).
The want of this is that which God complains of; that they draw nigh to him withtheir mouth, and honour him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (Isa29:13; Eze 33), but chiefly that they walk after the commandments and traditionsof men, as the scope of Matthew 15:8, 9 doth testify. And verily, may I but speakmy own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought,it is enough to make your poor, blind, carnal men to entertain strange thoughts ofme. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so loth to go to God, andwhen it is with him, so loth to stay with him, that many times I am forced in myprayers, first to beg of God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himselfin Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. Nay, many times I knownot what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only, blessedbe grace, the Spirit helps our infirmities (Psa 86:11).
O! the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how manybye-ways the heart hath, and back- lanes, to slip away from the presence of God.How much pride also, if enabled with expressions. How much hypocrisy, if before others.And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret,unless the Spirit of supplication be there to help? When the Spirit gets into theheart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.
Ninth. The soul that doth rightly pray, it must be in and with the help and strengthof the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayerwithout it. When I say, it is impossible for a man to express himself in prayer withoutit, I mean, that it is impossible that the heart, in a sincere and sensible affectionateway, should pour out itself before God, with those groans and sighs that come froma truly praying heart, without the assistance of the Spirit. It is not the mouththat is the main thing to be looked at in prayer, but whether the heart is so fullof affection and earnestness in prayer with God, that it is impossible to expresstheir sense and desire; for then a man desires indeed, when his desires are so strong,many, and mighty, that all the words, tears, and groans that can come from the heart,cannot utter them: "The Spirit — helpeth our infirmities, - and maketh intercessionfor us with [sighs and] groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom 8:26).
That is but poor prayer which is only discovered in so many words. A man that trulyprays one prayer, shall after that never be able to express with his mouth or penthe unutterable desires, sense, affection, and longing that went to God in that prayer.
The best prayers have often more groans than words: and those words that it hathare but a lean and shallow representation of the heart, life, and spirit of thatprayer. You do not find any words of prayer, that we read of, come out of the mouthof Moses, when he was going out of Egypt, and was followed by Pharaoh, and yet hemade heaven ring again with his cry (Exo 14:15). But it was inexpressible and unsearchablegroans and cryings of his soul in and with the Spirit. God is the God of spirits,and his eyes look further than at the outside of any duty whatsoever (Num 16:22).I doubt this is but little thought on by the most of them that would be looked uponas a praying people (I Sam 16:7).
The nearer a man comes in any work that God commands him to the doing of it accordingto his will, so much the more hard and difficult it is; and the reason is, becauseman, as man, is not able to do it. But prayer, as aforesaid, is not only a duty,but one of the most eminent duties, and therefore so much the more difficult: thereforePaul knew what he said, when he said, "I will pray with the Spirit." Heknew well it was not what others writ or said that could make him a praying person;nothing less than the Spirit could do it.
Tenth. It must be with the Spirit, or else as there will be a failing in the actitself, so there will be a failing, yea, a fainting, in the prosecution of the work.Prayer is an ordinance of God, that must continue with a soul so long as it is onthis side glory. But, as I said before, it is not possible for a man to get up hisheart to God in prayer; so it is as difficult to keep it there, without the assistanceof the Spirit. And if so, then for a man to continue from time to time in prayerwith God, it must of necessity be with the Spirit.
Christ tells us, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1). Andagain tells us, that this is one definition of a hypocrite, that either he will notcontinue in prayer, or else if he do it, it will not be in the power, that is, inthe spirit of prayer, but in the form, for a pretence only (Job 27:10; Matt 23:14).It is the easiest thing of a hundred to fall from the power to the form, but it isthe hardest thing of many to keep in the life, spirit, and power of any one duty,especially prayer; that is such a work, that a man without the help of the Spiritcannot so much as pray once, much less continue, without it, in a sweet praying frame,and in praying, so to pray as to have his prayers ascend into the ears of the LordGod of Sabaoth.
Jacob did not only begin, but held it: "I will not let thee go, unless thoubless me" (Gen 32). So did the rest of the godly (Hosea 12:4). But this couldnot be without the spirit of prayer. It is through the Spirit that we have accessto the Father (Eph 2:18).
The same is a remarkable place in Jude, when he stirreth up the saints by the judgmentof God upon the wicked to stand fast, and continue to hold out in the faith of thegospel, as one excellent means thereto, without which he knew they would never beable to do it. Saith he, "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith, prayingin the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). As if he had said, Brethren, as eternal life islaid up for the persons that hold out only, so you cannot hold out unless you continuepraying in the Spirit. The great cheat that the devil and antichrist delude the worldwithal, it is to make them continue in the form of any duty, the form of preaching,of hearing, or praying, &c. These are they that have "a form of godliness,but denying the power thereof; from such turn away" (II Tim 3:5).
Here followeth the third thing; to wit,
WHAT IT IS TO PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, AND WITH THE UNDERSTANDING.
THIRD. And now to the next thing, what it is to pray with the Spirit, and to praywith the understanding also. For the apostle puts a clear distinction between prayingwith the Spirit, and praying with the Spirit and understanding: therefore when hesaith, "he will pray with the Spirit," he adds, "and I will pray withthe understanding ALSO." This distinction was occasioned through the Corinthiansnot observing that it was their duty to do what they did to the edification of themselvesand others too: whereas they did it for their own commendations. So I judge: formany of them having extraordinary gifts, as to speak with divers tongues, &c.,therefore they were more for those mighty gifts than they were for the edifying oftheir brethren; which was the cause that Paul wrote this chapter to them, to letthem understand, that though extraordinary gifts were excellent, yet to do what theydid to the edification of the church was more excellent. For, saith the apostle,"if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding,"and also the understanding of others, "is unfruitful" (I Cor 14:3, 4, 12,19, 24, 25. Read the scope of the whole chapter). Therefore, "I will pray withthe Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also."
It is expedient then that the understanding should be occupied in prayer, as wellas the heart and mouth: "I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with theunderstanding also." That which is done with understanding, is done more effectually,sensibly, and heartily, as I shall show farther anon, than that which is done withoutit; which made the apostle pray for the Colossians, that God would fill them "withthe knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col 1:9).And for the Ephesians, that God would give unto them "the spirit of wisdom andrevelation, in the knowledge of him" (Eph 1:17). And so for the Philippians,that God would make them abound "in knowledge, and in all judgment" (Phil1:9). A suitable understanding is good in everything a man undertakes, either civilor spiritual; and therefore it must be desired by all them that would be a prayingpeople. In my speaking to this, I shall show you what it is to pray with understanding.
Understanding is to be taken both for speaking in our mother- tongue, and also experimentally.I pass the first, and treat only on the second.
For the making of right prayers, it is to be required that there should be a goodor spiritual understanding in all them who pray to God.
First. To pray with understanding, is to pray as being instructed by the Spirit inthe understanding of the want of those things which the soul is to pray for. Thougha man be in never so much need of pardon of sin, and deliverance from wrath to come,yet if he understand not this, he will either not desire them at all, or else beso cold and lukewarm in his desires after them, that God will even loathe his frameof spirit in asking for them. Thus it was with the church of the Laodiceans, theywanted knowledge or spiritual understanding; they knew not that they were poor, wretched,blind, and naked. The cause whereof made them, and all their services, so loathsometo Christ, that he threatens to spew them out of his mouth (Rev 3:16, 17). Men withoutunderstanding may say the same words in prayer as others do; but if there be an understandingin the one, and none in the other, there is, O there is a mighty difference in speakingthe very same words! The one speaking from a spiritual understanding of those thingsthat he in words desires, and the other words it only, and there is all.
Second. Spiritual understanding espieth in the heart of God a readiness and willingnessto give those things to the soul that it stands in need of. David by this could guessat the very thoughts of God towards him (Psa 40:5). And thus it was with the womanof Canaan; she did by faith and a right understanding discern, beyond all the roughcarriage of Christ, tenderness and willingness in his heart to save, which causedher to be vehement and earnest, yea, restless, until she did enjoy the mercy shestood in need of (Matt 15:22-28).
And understanding of the willingness that is in the heart of God to save sinners,there is nothing will press the soul more to seek after God, and to cry for pardon,than it. If a man should see a pearl worth an hundred pounds lie in a ditch, yetif he understood not the value of it, he would lightly pass it by: but if he onceget the knowledge of it, he would venture up to the neck for it. So it is with soulsconcerning the things of God: if a man once get an understanding of the worth ofthem, then his heart, nay, the very strength of his soul, runs after them, and hewill never leave crying till he have them. The two blind men in the gospel, becausethey did certainly know that Jesus, who was going by them, was both able and willingto heal such infirmities as they were afflicted with: therefore they cried, and themore they were rebuked, the more they cried (Matt 20:29- 31).
Third. The understanding being spiritually enlightened, hereby there is the way,as aforesaid, discovered, through which the soul should come unto God; which givesgreat encouragement unto it. It is else with a poor soul, as with one who hath awork to do, and if it be not done, the danger is great; if it be done, so is theadvantage. But he knows not how to begin, nor how to proceed; and so, through discouragement,lets all alone, and runs the hazard.
Fourth. The enlightened understanding sees largeness enough in the promises to encourageit to pray; which still adds to it strength to strength. As when men promise suchand such things to all that will come for them, it is great encouragement to thosethat know what promises are made, to come and ask for them.
Fifth. The understanding being enlightened, way is made for the soul to come to Godwith suitable arguments, sometimes in a way of expostulation, as Jacob (Gen 32:9).Sometimes in way of supplication, yet not in a verbal way only, but even from theheart there is forced by the Spirit, through the understanding, such effectual argumentsas moveth the heart of God. When Ephraim gets a right understanding of his own unseemlycarriages towards the Lord, then he begins to bemoan himself (Jer 31:18-20). Andin bemoaning of himself, he used such arguments with the Lord, that it affects hisheart, draws out forgiveness, and makes Ephraim pleasant in his eyes through JesusChrist our Lord: "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus,"saith God, "Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised; as a bullock unaccustomedto the yoke; turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surelyafter that I was turned, I repented, and after that I was instructed," or hada right understanding of myself, "I smote upon my thigh, I was ashamed; yea,even confounded; because I did bear the reproach of my youth." These be Ephraim'scomplaints and bemoanings of himself; at which the Lord breaks forth into these heart-meltingexpressions, saying, "Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For sinceI spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubledfor him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord." Thus, you see,that as it is required to pray with the Spirit, so it is to pray with the understandingalso. And to illustrate what hath been spoken by a similitude:–set the case, thereshould come two a-begging to your door; the one is a poor, lame, wounded, and almoststarved creature, the other is a healthful lusty person; these two use the same wordsin their begging; the one saith he is almost starved, so doth the other: but yetthe man that is indeed the poor, lame, or maimed person, he speaks with more sense,feeling, and understanding of the misery that is mentioned in their begging, thanthe other can do; and it is discovered more by his affectionate speaking, his bemoaninghimself. His pain and poverty make him speak more in a spirit of lamentation thanthe other, and he shall be pitied sooner than the other, by all those that have theleast dram of natural affection or pity. Just thus it is with God: there are somewho out of custom and formality go and pray; there are others who go in the bitternessof their spirits: the one he prays out of bare notion and naked knowledge; the otherhath his words forced from him by the anguish of his soul. Surely that is the manthat God will look at, "even to him that is poor," of an humble "andof a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa 66:2).
Sixth. An understanding well enlightened is of admirable use also, both as to thematter and manner of prayer. He that hath his understanding well exercised, to discernbetween good and evil, and in it placed a sense either of the misery of man, or themercy of God; that soul hath no need of the writings of other men to teach him byforms of prayer. For as he that feels the pain needs not to be taught to cry O! evenso he that hath his understanding opened by the Spirit needs not so to be taughtof other men's prayers, as that he cannot pray without them. The present sense, feeling,and pressure that lieth upon his spirit, provokes him to groan out his request untothe Lord. When David had the pains of hell catching hold on him, and the sorrowsof hell compassing him about, he needs not a bishop in a surplice to teach him tosay, "O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul" (Psa 116:3, 4). Or to lookinto a book, to teach him in a form to pour out his heart before God. It is the natureof the heart of sick men, in their pain and sickness, to vent itself for ease, bydolorous groans and complainings to them that stand by. Thus it was with David, inPsalm 38:1-12. And thus, blessed be the Lord, it is with them that are endued withthe grace of God.
Seventh. It is necessary that there be an enlightened understanding, to the end thatthe soul be kept in a continuation of the duty of prayer.
The people of God are not ignorant how many wiles, tricks, and temptations the devilhath to make a poor soul, who is truly willing to have the Lord Jesus Christ, andthat upon Christ's terms too; I say, to tempt that soul to be weary of seeking theface of God, and to think that God is not willing to have mercy on such a one ashim. Ay, saith Satan, thou mayest pray indeed, but thou shalt not prevail. Thou seestthine heart is hard, cold, dull, and dread; thou dost not pray with the Spirit, thoudost not pray in good earnest, thy thoughts are running after other things, whenthou pretendest to pray to God. Away hypocrite, go no further, it is but in vainto strive any longer! Here now, if the soul be not well informed in its understanding,it will presently cry out, "the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgottenme" (Isa 49:14). Whereas the soul rightly informed and enlightened saith, Well,I will seek the Lord, and wait; I will not leave off, though the Lord keep silence,and speak not one word of comfort (Isa 40:27). He loved Jacob dearly, and yet hemade him wrestle before he had the blessing (Gen 32:25-27). Seeming delays in Godare no tokens of his displeasure; he may hide his face from his dearest saints (Isa8:17). He loves to keep his people praying, and to find them ever knocking at thegate of heaven; it may be, says the soul, the Lord tries me, or he loves to hearme groan out my condition before him.
The woman of Canaan would not take seeming denials for real ones; she knew the Lordwas gracious, and the Lord will avenge his people, though he bear long with them(Luke 18:1- 6). The Lord hath waited longer upon me than I have waited upon him;and thus it was with David, "I waited patiently," saith he; that is, itwas long before the Lord answered me, though at the last "he inclined"his ear "unto me, and heard my cry" (Psa 40:1). And the most excellentremedy for this is, an understanding well informed and enlightened. Alas, how manypoor souls are there in the world, that truly fear the Lord, who, because they arenot well informed in their understanding, are oft ready to give up all for lost,upon almost every trick and temptation of Satan! The Lord pity them, and help themto "pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also." Much of mineown experience could I here discover; when I have been in my fits of agony of spirit,I have been strongly persuaded to leave off, and to seek the Lord no longer;but being made to understand what great sinners the Lord hath had mercy upon, andhow large his promises were still to sinners; and that it was not the whole, butthe sick, not the righteous, but the sinner, not the full, but the empty, that heextended his grace and mercy unto. This made me, through the assistance of his HolySpirit, to cleave to him, to hang upon him, and yet to cry, though for the presenthe made no answer; and the Lord help all his poor, tempted, and afflicted peopleto do the like, and to continue, though it be long, according to the saying of theprophet (Hab 2:3). And to help them (to that end) to pray, not by the inventionsof men, and their stinted forms, but "with the Spirit, and with the understandingalso."
[Queries and Objections answered.]
And now to answer a query or two, and so to pass on to the next thing.
Query First. But what would you have us poor creatures to do that cannot tell howto pray? The Lord knows I know not either how to pray, or what to pray for.
Answ. Poor heart! thou canst not, thou complainest, pray. Canst thou see thy misery?Hath God showed thee that thou art by nature under the curse of his law? If so, donot mistake, I know thou dost groan and that most bitterly. I am persuaded thou canstscarcely be found doing any thing in thy calling, but prayer breaketh from thy heart.Have not thy groans gone up to heaven from every corner of thy house? (Rom 8:26).I know it is thus; and so also doth thine own sorrowful heart witness thy tears,thy forgetfulness of thy calling, &c. Is not thy heart so full of desires afterthe things of another world, that many times thou dost even forget the things ofthis world? Prithee read this scripture, Job 23:12.
Query Second. Yea, but when I go into secret, and intend to pour out my soul beforeGod, I can scarce say anything at all.
Answ. 1. Ah! Sweet soul! It is not thy words that God so much regards, as that hewill not mind thee, except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration. Hiseye is on the brokenness of thine heart; and that it is that makes the very bowelsof the Lord to run over. "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt notdespise" (Psa 51:17).
2. The stopping of thy words may arise from overmuch trouble in thy heart. Davidwas so troubled sometimes, that he could not speak (Psa 77:3, 4). But this may comfortall such sorrowful hearts as thou art, that though thou canst not through the anguishof thy spirit speak much, yet the Holy Spirit stirs up in thine heart groans andsighs, so much the more vehement: when the mouth is hindered, yet the spirit is not.Moses, as aforesaid, made heaven ring again with his prayers, when (that we readof) not one word came out of his mouth (Exo 14:15). But,
3. If thou wouldst more fully express thyself before the Lord, study, first, Thyfilthy estate; secondly, God's promises; thirdly, The heart of Christ. Which thoumayest know or discern, (1.) By his condescension and bloodshed. (2.) By the mercyhe hath extended to great sinners formerly, and plead thine own vileness, by wayof bemoaning; Christ's blood by way of expostulation; and in thy prayers, let themercy that he hath extended to other great sinners, together with his rich promisesof grace, be much upon thy heart. Yet let me counsel thee, (a.) Take heed that thoucontent not thyself with words. (b.) That thou do not think that God looks only atthem neither. But, (c.) However, whether thy words be few or many, let thine heartgo with them; and then shalt thou seek him, and find him, when thou shalt seek himwith thy whole heart (Jer 29:13).
Objection. But though you have seemed to speak against any other way of praying butby the Spirit, yet here you yourself can give direction how to pray.
Answ. We ought to prompt one another forward to prayer, though we ought not to makefor each other forms of prayer. To exhort to pray with Christian direction is onething, and to make stinted forms for the tying up the Spirit of God to them is anotherthing. The apostle gives them no form to pray withal, yet directs to prayer (Eph6:18; Rom 15:30-32). Let no man therefore conclude, that because we may with allowancegive instructions and directions to pray, that therefore it is lawful to make foreach other forms of prayer.
Object. But if we do not use forms of prayer, how shall we teach our children topray?
Answ. My judgment is, that men go the wrong way to teach their children to pray,in going about so soon to teach them any set company of words, as is the common useof poor creatures to do.
For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children whatcursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of originaland actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God's wrath, and the duration ofthe misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their childrento pray than they do. The way that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin;and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely,to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else,it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride.Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell themof hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape the one,and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run downyour sweet babes' eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also youmay tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you maytell them also of God's promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, accordingto the word.
Ah! Poor sweet babes, the Lord open their eyes, and make them holy Christians. SaithDavid, "Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of theLord" (Psa 34:11). He doth not say, I will muzzle you up in a form of prayer;but "I will teach you the fear of the Lord"; which is, to see their sadstates by nature, and to be instructed in the truth of the gospel, which doth throughthe Spirit beget prayer in every one that in truth learns it. And the more you teachthem this, the more will their hearts run out to God in prayer. God never did accountPaul a praying man, until he was a convinced and converted man; no more will it bewith any else (Acts 9:11).
Object. But we find that the disciples desired that Christ would teach them to pray,as John also taught his disciples; and that thereupon he taught them that form calledthe LORD'S PRAYER.
Answ. 1. To be taught by Christ, is that which not only they, but we desire; andseeing he is not here in his person to teach us, the Lord teach us by his Word andSpirit; for the Spirit it is which he hath said he would send to supply in his roomwhen he went away, as it is (John 14:16; 16:7).
2. As to that called a form, I cannot think that Christ intended it as a stintedform of prayer. (1.) Because he himself layeth it down diversely, as is to be seen,if you compare Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Whereas if he intended it as a set form, itmust not have been so laid down, for a set form is so many words and no more. (2.)We do not find that the apostles did ever observe it as such; neither did they admonishothers so to do. Search all their epistles, yet surely they, both for knowledge todiscern and faithfulness to practice, were as eminent as any HE ever since in theworld which would impose it.
[3.] But, in a word, Christ by those words, "Our Father," &c., dothinstruct his people what rules they should observe in their prayers to God. (1.)That they should pray in faith. (2.) To God in the heavens. (3.) For such thingsas are according to his will, &c. Pray thus, or after this manner.
Object. But Christ bids pray for the Spirit; this implieth that men without the Spiritmay notwithstanding pray and be heard. (See Luke 11:9-13).
Answ. The speech of Christ there is directed to his own (verse 1). Christ's tellingof them that God would give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him, is to be understoodof giving more of the Holy Spirit; for still they are the disciples spoken to, whichhad a measure of the Spirit already; for he saith, "when ye pray, say, Our Father,"(verse 2) I say unto you (verse 8). And I say unto you, (verse 9) "If ye then,being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall yourheavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him," (verse 13). Christiansought to pray for the Spirit, that is, for more of it, though God hath endued themwith it already.
Quest. Then would you have none pray but those that know they are the disciples ofChrist?
1. Let every soul that would be saved pour out itself to God, though it cannot throughtemptation conclude itself a child of God. And,
2. I know if the grace of God be in thee, it will be as natural to thee to groanout thy condition, as it is for a sucking child to cry for the breast. Prayer isone of the first things that discovers a man to be a Christian (Acts 9:12). But yetif it be right, it is such prayer as followeth. (1.) To desire God in Christ, forhimself, for his holiness, love, wisdom, and glory. For right prayer, as it runsonly to God through Christ, so it centers in him, and in him alone. "Whom haveI in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire," long for,or seek after, "beside thee" (Psa 73:25). (2.) That the soul might enjoycontinually communion with him, both here and hereafter. "I shall be satisfied,when I awake with" thine image, or in "thy likeness," (Psa 17:15)."For in this we groan earnestly," &c., (II Cor 5:2). (3.) Right prayeris accompanied with a continual labour after that which is prayed for. "My soulwaiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning" (Psa 130:6)."I will rise now, I will seek him whom my soul loveth" (Song 3:2). Formark, I beseech you, there are two things that provoke to prayer. The one is a detestationto sin, and the things of this life; the other is a longing desire after communionwith God, in a holy and undefiled state and inheritance. Compare but this one thingwith most of the prayers that are made by men, and you shall find them but mock prayers,and the breathings of an abominable spirit; for even the most of men either do prayat all, or else only endeavour to mock God and the world by so doing; for do butcompare their prayer and the course of their lives together, and you may easily seethat the thing included in their prayer is the least looked after by their lives.O sad hypocrites!
Thus have I briefly showed you, FIRST, What prayer is; SECOND, What it is to praywith the Spirit; THIRD, What it is to pray with the Spirit, and with the understandingalso.
FOURTH. [USE AND APPLICATION.]
I shall now speak a word or two of application, and so conclude with, First, A wordof information; Second, A word of encouragement; Third, A word of rebuke.
USE First, A word of information.
For the first to inform you; as prayer is the duty of every one of the children ofGod, and carried on by the Spirit of Christ in the soul; so every one that doth butoffer to take upon him to pray to the Lord, had need be very wary, and go about thatwork especially with the dread of God, as well as with hopes of the mercy of Godthrough Jesus Christ.
Prayer is an ordinance of God, in which a man draws very near to God; and thereforeit calleth for so much the more of the assistance of the grace of God to help a soulto pray as becomes one that is in the presence of him. It is a shame for a man tobehave himself irreverently before a king, but a sin to do so before God. And asa king, if wise, is not pleased with an oration made up with unseemly words and gestures,so God takes no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools (Eccl 5:1, 4). It is not longdiscourses, nor eloquent tongues, that are the things which are pleasing in the earsof the Lord; but a humble, broken, and contrite heart, that is sweet in the nostrilsof the heavenly Majesty (Psa 51:17; Isa 57:15). Therefore for information, know thatthere are these five things that are obstructions to prayer, and even make void therequests of the creature.
1. When men regard iniquity in their hearts, at the time of their prayers beforeGod. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" my prayer(Psa 66:18). For the preventing of temptation, that by the misunderstanding of thismay seize thy heart, when there is a secret love to that very thing which thou withthy dissembling lips dost ask for strength against. For this is the wickedness ofman's heart, that it will even love, and hold fast, that which with the mouth itprays against: and of this sort are they that honour God with their mouth, but theirheart is far from him (Isa 29:13; Eze 33:31). O! how ugly would it be in our eyes,if we should see a beggar ask an alms, with an intention to throw it to the dogs!Or that should say with one breath, Pray, you bestow this upon me; and with the next,I beseech you, give it me not! And yet thus it is with these kind of persons; withtheir mouth they say, "Thy will be done"; and with their hearts nothingless. With their mouth say, "Hallowed be thy name"; and with their heartsand lives thy delight to dishonour him all the day long. These be the prayers thatbecome sin (Psa 109:7), and though they put them up often, yet the Lord will neveranswer them (II Sam 22:42).
2. When men pray for a show to be heard, and thought somebody in religion, and thelike; these prayers also fall far short of God's approbation, and are never liketo be answered, in reference to eternal life. There are two sorts of men that prayto this end.
(1.) Your trencher chaplains, that thrust themselves into great men's families, pretendingthe worship of God, when in truth the great business is their own bellies; and werenotably painted out by Ahab's prophets, and also Nebuchadnezzar's wise men, who,though they pretended great devotion, yet their lusts and their bellies were thegreat things aimed at by them in all their pieces of devotion.
(2.) Them also that seek repute and applause for their eloquent terms, and seek moreto tickle the ears and heads of their hearers than anything else. These be they thatpray to be heard of men, and have all their reward already (Matt 6:5). These personsare discovered thus, (a.) They eye only their auditory in their expressions. (b.)They look for commendation when they have done. (c.) Their hearts either rise orfall according to their praise or enlargement. (d.) The length of their prayer pleaseththem; and that it might be long, they will vainly repeat things over and over (Matt6:7). They study for enlargements, but look not from what heart they come; they lookfor returns, but it is the windy applause of men. And therefore they love not tobe in their chamber, but among company: and if at any time conscience thrusts theminto their closet, yet hypocrisy will cause them to be heard in the streets; andwhen their mouths have done going their prayers are ended; for they wait not to hearkenwhat the Lord will say (Psa 85:8).
3. A third sort of prayer that will not be accepted of God, it is, when either theypray for wrong things, or if for right things, yet that the thing prayed for mightbe spent upon their lusts, and laid out to wrong ends. Some have not, because theyask not, saith James, and others ask and have not, because they ask amiss, that theymay consume it on their lusts (James 4: 2-4). Ends contrary to God's will is a greatargument with God to frustrate the petitions presented before him. Hence it is thatso many pray for this and that, and yet receive it not. God answers them only withsilence; they have their words for their labour; and that is all. Object. But Godhears some persons, though their hearts be not right with him, as he did Israel,in giving quails, though they spent them upon their lusts (Psa 106:14). Answ. Ifhe doth, it is in judgment, not in mercy. He gave them their desire indeed, but theyhad better have been without it, for he "sent leanness into their soul"(Psa 106:15). Woe be to that man that God answereth thus.
4. Another sort of prayers there are that are not answered; and those are such asare made by men, and presented to God in their own persons only, without their appearingin the Lord Jesus. For though God hath appointed prayer, and promised to hear theprayer of the creature, yet not the prayer of any creature that comes not in Christ."If ye shall ask anything in my name." And whether ye eat or drink, orwhatsoever ye do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 3:17). "Ifye shall ask anything in my name," &c., (John 14:13, 14), though you benever so devout, zealous, earnest and constant in prayer, yet it is in Christ onlythat you must be heard and accepted. But, alas! the most of men know not what itis to come to him in the name of the Lord Jesus, which is the reason they eitherlive wicked, pray wicked, and also die wicked. Or else, that they attain to nothingelse but what a mere natural man may attain unto, as to be exact in word and deedbetwixt man and man, and only with the righteousness of the law to appear beforeGod.
5. The last thing that hindereth prayer is, the form of it without the power. Itis an easy thing for men to be very hot for such things as forms of prayer, as theyare written in a book; but yet they are altogether forgetful to inquire with themselves,whether they have the spirit and power of prayer. These men are like a painted man,and their prayers like a false voice. They in person appear as hypocrites, and theirprayers are an abomination (Prov 28:9). When they say they have been pouring outtheir souls to God he saith they have been howling like dogs (Hosea 7:14).
When therefore thou intendest, or art minded to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth,consider these following particulars. 1. Consider seriously what thou wantest. Donot, as many who in their words only beat the air, and ask for such things as indeedthey do not desire, nor see that they stand in need thereof. 2. When thou seest whatthou wantest, keep to that, and take heed thou pray sensibly.
Object. But I have a sense of nothing; then, by your argument, I must not pray atall.
Answ. 1. If thou findest thyself senseless in some sad measure, yet thou canst notcomplain of that senselessness, but by being sensible there is a sense of senselessness.According to thy sense, then, that thou hast of the need of anything, so pray; (Luke8:9), and if thou art sensible of thy senselessness, pray the Lord to make thee sensibleof whatever thou findest thine heart senseless of. This was the usual practice ofthe holy men of God. "Lord, make me to know mine end," saith David (Psa39:4). "Lord, open to us this parable," said the disciples (Luke 8:9).And to this is annexed the promise, "Call unto me and I will answer thee, andshow thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not," that thou art notsensible of (Jer 33:3). But,
Answ. 2. Take heed that thy heart go to God as well as thy mouth. Let not thy mouthgo any further than thou strivest to draw thine heart along with it. David wouldlift his heart and soul to the Lord; and good reason; for so far as a man's mouthgoeth along without his heart, so far it is but lip-labour only; and though God callsfor, and accepteth the calves of the lips, yet the lips without the heart argueth,not only senselessness, but our being without sense of our senselessness; and thereforeif thou hast a mind to enlarge in prayer before God, see that it be with thy heart.
Answ. 3. Take heed of affecting expressions, and so to please thyself with the useof them, that thou forget not the life of prayer.
I shall conclude this use with a caution or two.
Caution 1. And the first is, take heed thou do not throw off prayer, through suddenpersuasions that thou hast not the Spirit, neither prayest thereby. It is the greatwork of the devil to do his best, or rather worst, against the best prayers. He willflatter your false dissembling hypocrites, and feed them with a thousand fanciesof well-doing, when their very duties of prayer, and all other, stink in the nostrilsof God, when he stands at a poor Joshua's hand to resist him, that is, to persuadehim, that neither his person nor performances are accepted of God (Isa 65:5; Zech3:1). Take heed, therefore, of such false conclusions and groundless discouragements;and though such persuasions do come in upon thy spirit, be so far from being discouragedby them, that thou use them to put thee upon further sincerity and restlessness ofspirit, in thy approaching to God.
Caution 2. As such sudden temptations should not stop thee from prayer, and pouringout thy soul to God; so neither should thine own heart's corruptions hinder thee.(Let not thy corruptions stop thy prayers). It may be thou mayest find in thee allthose things before mentioned, and that they will be endeavouring to put forth themselvesin thy praying to him. Thy business then is to judge them, to pray against them,and to lay thyself so much the more at the foot of God, in a sense of thy own vileness,and rather make an argument from thy vileness and corruption of heart, to plead withGod for justifying and sanctifying grace, than an argument of discouragement anddespair. David went this way. "O Lord," saith he, "pardon mine iniquity,for it is great" (Psa 25:11).
USE Second. A word of encouragement.
And therefore, secondly, to speak a word by way of encouragement, to the poor, tempted,and cast down soul, to pray to God through Christ. Though all prayer that is acceptedof God in reference to eternal life must be in the Spirit–for that only maketh intercessionfor us according to the will of God, (Rom 8:27)–yet because many poor souls may havethe Holy Spirit working on them, and stirring of them to groan unto the Lord formercy, though through unbelief they do not, nor, for the present, cannot believethat they are the people of God, such as he delights in; yet forasmuch as the truthof grace may be in them, therefore I shall, to encourage them, lay down further thesefew particulars.
1. That scripture in Luke 11:8 is very encouraging to any poor soul that doth hungerafter Christ Jesus. In verses 5-7, he speaketh a parable of a man that went to hisfriend to borrow three loaves, who, because he was in bed, denied him; yet for hisimportunity-sake, he did arise and give him, clearly signifying that though poorsouls, through the weakness of their faith, cannot see that they are the friendsof God, yet they should never leave asking, seeking, and knocking at God's door formercy. Mark, saith Christ, "I say unto you, though he will not rise and givehim, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity," or restlessdesires, "he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." Poor heart!thou criest out that God will not regard thee, thou dost not find that thou art afriend to him, but rather an enemy in thine heart by wicked works (Col 1:21). Andthou art as though thou didst hear the Lord saying to thee, Trouble me not, I cannotgive unto thee, as he in the parable; yet I say, continue knocking, crying, moaning,and bewailing thyself. I tell thee, "though he will not rise and give thee,because thou art his friend; yet, because of thy importunity, he will arise and givethee as many as thou needest." The same in effect you have discovered, Luke18, in the parable of the unjust judge and the poor widow; her importunity prevailedwith him. And verily, mine own experience tells me, that there is nothing that dothmore prevail with God than importunity. Is it not so with you in respect of yourbeggars that come to your door? Though you have no heart to give them anything attheir first asking, yet if they follow you, bemoaning themselves, and will take nonay without an alms, you will give them; for their continual begging overcometh you.Are there bowels in you that are wicked, and will they be wrought upon by an importuningbeggar? Go thou and do the like. It is a prevailing motive, and that by good experience,he will arise and give thee as many as thou needest (Luke 11:8).
2. Another encouragement for a poor trembling convinced soul is to consider the place,throne, or seat, on which the great God hath placed himself to hear the petitionsand prayers of poor creatures; and that is a "throne of grace" (Heb 4:16)."The mercy-seat" (Exo 25:22). Which signifieth that in the days of thegospel God hath taken up his seat, his abiding-place, in mercy and forgiveness; andfrom thence he doth intend to hear the sinner, and to commune with him, as he saith(Exo 25:22),–speaking before of the mercy-seat–"And there I will meet with thee,"mark, it is upon the mercy-seat: "There I will meet with thee, and" there"I will commune with thee, from above the mercy-seat." Poor souls! Theyare very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and his carriage towards them:and suddenly to conclude that God will have no regard unto them, when yet he is uponthe mercy-seat, and hath taken up his place on purpose there, to the end he may hearand regard the prayers of poor creatures. If he had said, I will commune with theefrom my throne of judgment, then indeed you might have trembled and fled from theface of the great and glorious Majesty. But when he saith he will hear and communewith souls upon the throne of grace, or from the mercy-seat, this should encouragethee, and cause thee to hope, nay, to "come boldly unto the throne of grace,that thou mayest obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb4:16).
3. There is yet another encouragement to continue in prayer with God: and that isthis:
As there is a mercy-seat, from whence God is willing to commune with poor sinners;so there is also by his mercy-seat, Jesus Christ, who continually besprinkleth itwith his blood. Hence it is called "the blood of sprinkling" (Heb 12:24).When the high-priest under the law was to go into the holiest, where the mercy-seatwas, he might not go in "without blood" (Heb 9:7).
Why so? Because, though God was upon the mercy-seat, yet he was perfectly just aswell as merciful. Now the blood was to stop justice from running out upon the personsconcerned in the intercession of the high-priest, as in Leviticus 16:13-17, to signifythat all thine unworthiness that thou fearest should not hinder thee from comingto God in Christ for mercy. Thou criest out that thou art vile, and therefore Godwill not regard thy prayers; it is true, if thou delight in thy vileness, and cometo God out of a mere pretence. But if from a sense of thy vileness thou do pour outthy heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt, and cleansed from the filth,with all thy heart; fear not, thy vileness will not cause the Lord to stop his earfrom hearing of thee. The value of the blood of Christ which is sprinkled upon themercy-seat stops the course of justice, and opens a floodgate for the mercy of theLord to be extended unto thee. Thou hast therefore, as aforesaid, "boldnessto enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus," that hath made "a newand living way" for thee, thou shalt not die (Heb 10:19, 20).
Besides, Jesus is there, not only to sprinkle the mercy-seat with his blood, buthe speaks, and his blood speaks; he hath audience, and his blood hath audience; insomuchthat God saith, when he doth but see the blood, he "will pass over you, andthe plague shall not be upon you," &c., (Exo 12:13).
I shall not detain you any longer. Be sober and humble; go to the Father in the nameof the Son, and tell him your case, in the assistance of the Spirit, and you willthen feel the benefit of praying with the Spirit and with the understanding also.
USE Third. A word of reproof.
1. This speaks sadly to you who never pray at all. "I will pray," saiththe apostle, and so saith the heart of them that are Christians. Thou then art nota Christian that art not a praying person. The promise is that every one that isrighteous shall pray (Psa 32:6). Thou then art a wicked wretch that prayest not.Jacob got the name of Israel by wrestling with God (Gen 32). And all his childrenbare that name with him (Gal 6:16). But the people that forget prayer, that callnot on the name of the Lord, they have prayer made for them, but it is such as this,"Pour out thy fury upon the heathen," O Lord, "and upon the familiesthat call not on thy name" (Jer 10:25). How likest thou this, O thou that artso far off from pouring out thine heart before God, that thou goest to bed like adog, and risest like a hog, or a sot, and forgettest to call upon God? What wiltthou do when thou shalt be damned in hell, because thou couldst not find in thineheart to ask for heaven? Who will grieve for thy sorrow, that didst not count mercyworth asking for? I tell thee, the ravens, the dogs, &c., shall rise up in judgmentagainst thee, for they will, according to their kind, make signs, and a noise forsomething to refresh them when they want it; but thou hast not the heart to ask forheaven, though thou must eternally perish in hell, if thou hast it not.
2. This rebukes you that make it your business to slight, mock at, and undervaluethe Spirit, and praying by that. What will you do, when God shall come to reckonfor these things? You count it high treason to speak but a word against the king,nay, you tremble at the thought of it; and yet in the meantime you will blasphemethe Spirit of the Lord. Is God indeed to be dallied with, and will the end be pleasantunto you? Did God send his Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people, to that endthat you should taunt at it? Is this to serve God? And doth this demonstrate thereformation of your church? Nay, is it not the mark of implacable reprobates? O fearful!Can you not be content to be damned for your sins against the law, but you must sinagainst the Holy Ghost?
Must the holy, harmless, and undefiled Spirit of grace, the nature of God, the promiseof Christ, the Comforter of his children, that without which no man can do any serviceacceptable to the Father–must this, I say, be the burthen of your song, to taunt,deride, and mock at? If God sent Korah and his company headlong to hell for speakingagainst Moses and Aaron, do you that mock at the Spirit of Christ think to escapeunpunished? (Num 16; Heb 10:29). Did you never read what God did to Ananias and Sapphirafor telling but one lie against it? (Acts 5:1-8). Also to Simon Magus for but undervaluingof it? (Acts 8:18-22). And will thy sin be a virtue, or go unrewarded with vengeance,that makest it thy business to rage against, and oppose its office, service, andhelp, that it giveth unto the children of God? It is a fearful thing to do despiteunto the Spirit of grace (Compare Matt 12:31, with Mark 3:28-30).
3. As this is the doom of those who do openly blaspheme the Holy Ghost, in a wayof disdain and reproach to its office and service: so also it is sad for you, whoresist the Spirit of prayer, by a form of man's inventing. A very juggle of the devil,that the traditions of men should be of better esteem, and more to be owned thanthe Spirit of prayer. What is this less than that accursed abomination of Jeroboam,which kept many from going to Jerusalem, the place and way of God's appointment toworship; and by that means brought such displeasure from God upon them, as to thisday is not appeased? (I Kings 12:26-33). One would think that God's judgments ofold upon the hypocrites of that day should make them that have heard of such thingstake heed and fear to do so. Yet the doctors of our day are so far from taking ofwarning by the punishment of others, that they do most desperately rush into thesame transgression, viz., to set up an institution of man, neither commanded norcommended of God; and whosoever will not obey herein, they must be driven eitherout of the land or the world.
Hath God required these things at your hands? If he hath, show us where? If not,as I am sure he hath not, then what cursed presumption is it in any pope, bishop,or other, to command that in the worship of God which he hath not required? Nay further,it is not that part only of the form, which is several texts of Scripture that weare commanded to say, but even all must be confessed as the divine worship of God,notwithstanding those absurdities contained therein, which because they are at largediscovered by others, I omit the rehearsal of them. Again, though a man be willingto live never so peaceably, yet because he cannot, for conscience sake, own thatfor one of the most eminent parts of God's worship, which he never commanded, thereforemust that man be looked upon as factious, seditious, erroneous, heretical–a disparagementto the church, a seducer of the people, and what not? Lord, what will be the fruitof these things, when for the doctrine of God there is imposed, that is, more thantaught, the traditions of men? Thus is the Spirit of prayer disowned, and the formimposed; the Spirit debased, and the form extolled; they that pray with the Spirit,though never so humble and holy, counted fanatics; and they that pray with the form,though with that only, counted the virtuous! And how will the favorers of such apractice answer that Scripture, which commandeth that the church should turn awayfrom such as have "a form of godliness, and deny the power thereof"? (IITim 3:5). And if I should say that men that do these things aforesaid, do advancea form of prayer of other men's making, above the spirit of prayer, it would nottake long time to prove it. For he that advanceth the book of Common Prayer abovethe Spirit of prayer, he doth advance a form of men's making above it. But this doall those who banish, or desire to banish, them that pray with the Spirit of prayer;while they hug and embrace them that pray by that form only, and that because theydo it. Therefore they love and advance the form of their own or others' inventing,before the Spirit of prayer, which is God's special and gracious appointment.
If you desire the clearing of the minor, look into the jails in England, and intothe alehouses of the same; and I trow you will find those that plead for the Spiritof prayer in the jail, and them that look after the form of men's inventions onlyin the alehouse. It is evident also by the silencing of God's dear ministers, thoughnever so powerfully enabled by the Spirit of prayer, if they in conscience cannotadmit of that form of Common Prayer. If this be not an exalting the Common PrayerBook above either praying by the Spirit, or preaching the Word, I have taken my markamiss. It is not pleasant for me to dwell on this. The Lord in mercy turn the heartsof the people to seek more after the Spirit of prayer; and in the strength of that,to pour out their souls before the Lord. Only let me say it is a sad sign, that thatwhich is one of the most eminent parts of the pretended worship of God is Antichristian,when it hath nothing but the tradition of men, and the strength of persecution, touphold or plead for it.
I shall conclude this discourse with this word of advice to all God's people. 1.Believe that as sure as you are in the way of God you must meet with temptations.2. The first day therefore that thou dost enter into Christ's congregation, lookfor them. 3. When they do come, beg of God to carry thee through them. 4. Be jealousof thine own heart, that it deceive thee not in thy evidences for heaven, nor inthy walking with God in this world. 5. Take heed of the flatteries of false brethren.6. Keep in the life and power of truth. 7. Look most at the things which are notseen. 8. Take heed of little sins. 9. Keep the promise warm upon thy heart. 10. Renewthy acts of faith in the blood of Christ. 11. Consider the work of thy generation.12. Count to run with the foremost therein.
Grace be with thee.
 Dr. Watt's Guide to Prayer.
 Vol iii., p. 346.
 Vol iii., p. 298.
??? Pilgrimage of Perfection, 4to, 1526, vol. iii., p. 9.
 Effectual fervent prayer is wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, and thoseobjects for which HE inclines the soul to pray are bestowed by God. Thus great thingswere obtained by Jacob, (Gen 32:24-28); by Moses, (Exo 30:11-14; Num 14:13- 21);by Joshua, (10:12-14); by Hezekiah, (II Kings 19:14-37); by the woman of Canaan,(Matt 15:21-28). The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, (James5:16).–ED.
 How easy to forget all God's benefits, and how impossible it is to remember themall!–ED.
 See Mr. Fox's citation of the mass, in the last volume of the Book of Martyrs.
 Jesus Christ has opened the way to God the Father, by the sacrifice He made forus upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners andkeep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, only let them pleadthe atoning blood of Jesus, and they shall find God upon a throne of grace, willingand ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport to our prayers.In that name a man may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. Godhas engaged to hear him. Reader, think of this; is not this encouragement?–J. C.Ryle–ED.
 See Mr. Fox's Acts and Monuments, v.2.
 "In these days, I should find my heart to shut itself up against the Lord,and against his holy Word: I have found my unbelief to set, as it were, the shoulderto the door to keep him out."– Grace Abounding, No. 81.–ED.