Our church is praying for Bro. Bob Ellis, missionary in Ireland, for the health issues he is facing. We would appreciate your prayers for him.
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Praying for Bro. Bob Ellis, missionary in Ireland
NEGLECT OF FERVENT PRAYER Complained of. John Gill
Preached November, 21, 1754, at a Monthly Exercise of
Prayer, in the Reverend Mr. Steven’s Meeting-
House near Devonshire-Square.
And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.
These words are an address of the church and people of God unto the Lord in a prayer, which begins in the latter part of the preceding chapter; in which they first expostulate with him, about his love, grace, and mercy, and the sounding of his bowels towards them, which they feared were restrained; and plead the relation he stood in to them as a father, of which they were assured, however others might; he ignorant of it; and put him in mind of being their redeemer, whose name, as such, was from everlasting; they desire to be returned to God and his worship; complain of the violation of the sanctuary by their adversaries, and observe the difference between them and themselves, with respect to their relation to God: which is mentioned as on argument to engage his regard unto them: and in the beginning of this chapter, they most earnestly entreat that God would rend the heavens, and come down, and give some manifest tokens of his presence; they urge, that he had been used to do so in times past, when he did terrible things, and unexpected; they take notice of unseen and unheard of things, that God had prepared for those that wait for him, which the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 2:9) applies to the doctrines of the gospel; and suggest that it had been his wonted manner to meet in a way of love, grace, and mercy, and indulge with communion with himself, at the throne of grace, and in his house and ordinances, such that rejoice, and work righteousness; that rejoice not in a carnal sinful, and hypocritical way, or in their own boastings, all such rejoicing being evil; but in the Lord, in the person of Christ, in his righteousness and salvation, in his grace, and in the hope of glory and that work righteousness; not a justifying one, no man can work such a righteousness, nor ought any man to work righteousness with such a view; the best way of working righteousness is to lay hold by faith on the righteousness of Christ, and to do works of righteousness in faith, without which it is impossible to please God: or perhaps such persons are designed and described, who rejoice to work righteousness, who do it in a cheerful and joyful manner, from right principles, and with right views; and such the Lord usually takes notice of, and manifests himself unto; even such that remember him in his ways; in his ways of providence, in his ways of love, grace, and mercy, and in his institutions, ordinances, and appointments; or in the ways of his word and worship; but as for them, the people of God now praying, they own indeed they had sinned, and were deserving of the divine displeasure; behold, thou art wroth, for we have sinned ; and yet they despaired not of salvation; for they add, in these continuance, and we shall be saved; either in these sins there is continuance, which are so displeasing to God; for the words may be rendered, in these we have been of old, or always; we have been old sinners, sinners in Adam, sinners from our first birth; and, more or less, have continued so ever since; and yet we hope for salvation from sin, through the promised Messiah: or in these works of righteousness there is continuance, and in a cheerful performance of then, under the influence of divine grace, saints persevere in faith and holiness, and so are saved: or rather, the meaning is, in these ways of love, grace and mercy of God, in which his people remember him, is continuance: God continues in his love; in that is permanency, perpetuity, and eternity, as the word used signifies: the love of God is from everlasting to everlasting, immutable and invariable, and therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed, but saved with an everlasting salvation; for that the church did not expect salvation from her own works of righteousness, but only from the free grace and love of God, is clear from what follows; but we are all as an unclean thing or person; like the leper, that was legally polluted, as well as covered with a loathsome disease, and therefore separated from the society of men: by this the church and people of God confess the impurity of their nature; and it may be, have respect to a general corruption in doctrine and manners, which prevailed in those times among the professors of religion: and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; which is to be understood not of the righteousness of hypocrites, which lay in external rites and ceremonies; or of legal and self-righteous persons, consisting of the outward observances of the law; but of works of righteousness done by the best of men, and in the best manner: these are rags, imperfect, and so insufficient to cover their persons, and hide their sins from the sight of God; they are filthy, being attended with sin and imperfection, and need washing in the blood of Christ, and so cannot render men acceptable before God: and we all do fade as a leaf, or fall like leaves in autumn: which might he true of the generality of the professors of that age; but not of such who have the root of the matter in them, who are rooted in the love of God, and engrafted into Christ; therefore their leaf shall not wither, but be ever green; or at least shall not finally and totally fade and fall, though they may have their decays; but this is true only of such who are carnal professors, destitute of the grace of God, who fade away and drop their profession, especially in a time of tribulation, just as trees drop their leaves in the fall of the year: hence it follows, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away; as a fading falling leaf is carried away by the wind, so formal professors are carried away by their sins into a total defection and apostasy; and this general declension the church goes on to acknowledge and lament in the words first read; and there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee; intimating, that there were but very few that prayed to the Lord, or were concerned about his continuance with them, or return unto them, In the words are acknowledged these two things:
I. That there were none, or but few praying souls among them.
II. That there were as few that observed this, and aroused and bestirred themselves to lay hold on and retain a departing God, or to solicit his return unto them.
1. That there were none, or but few praying souls among God’s professing people, in the times referred to: not that there were none at all, not one individual praying person; for this complaint itself is made in prayer to God; so that there were some praying persons, though their number were: but few, the instances scarce and rare; as when David says, Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from among the children of men: (Ps. 12:1) his meaning is, not that there was not a godly or faithful man living, but that there were but few of this character: likewise, when the apostle Paul observes, that all seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s; (Phil 2:21) his sense is, not that there were none that sought the things of Christ, for he himself was one that did, and Timothy was another, of whom he is speaking, and whom he is commending; but that they were but very few that sought the things of Christ, in comparison of others that sought their own things; and in like manner are we to understand the expressions here, not simply and absolutely, but comparatively: and when we consider what an incumbent duty on professors calling on the name of the Lord is; or rather, what a privilege it is to be allowed to do it, the neglect of it here complained of must be a very aggravated sin, as will appear by opening the nature of this duty or privilege; in order to which, it may be proper to consider the object to be called upon, the name of the Lord; what he is to he called upon for, and when; the manner of calling upon him; and the arguments in brief exciting and encouraging thereunto.
1st, The object of invocation or prayer, the name of the Lord; which includes the nature, being, and perfections of God, as well as his titles and character; also the divine persons in the Godhead ; and particularly points at the special name in which God is to be called upon.
1. It takes in the nature, being, and perfections of God; the name of the Lord is the Lord himself: as when it is said, the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe; (Prov. 18:10) that is, the Lord himself is a strong tower of safety to the righteous, that betake themselves to him; and again, (Ps. 20:1) the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; that is, the God of Jacob himself, or he who is so named, protect and defend thee from all evils and enemies. Once more; (Ps. 8:1) O Lord our God, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! that is, what a glorious display is there of thy divine perfections, in the works of creation and providence, throughout the whole world, and especially in those of grace and redemption! and there is something in the name of God, in his nature, and in all his attributes and perfections, which is engaging and encouraging to saints to call upon him: he, whose name is to he called upon, has proclaimed his name, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; (Exod. 34:6) which is very inviting end engaging to souls to make their application to him for grace and mercy. Benhadad’s servants having heard that the kings of Israel were merciful kings, proposed to make their addresses in an humble manner to the king of Israel, in favour of the life of their prince; and a very similar argument Joel makes use of, to encourage the Jews in his time to humble themselves before the Lord, and turn to him, since he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; for who knows, says he, if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him. (Joel 2:13, 14) The Lord, whose name is to he called upon, is the Lord God omnipotent; he is able to fulfill all the requests, answer all the expectations, and supply all the wants of his people: the heathens pray to a God that cannot save; (Isai. 45:20) but we pray to one whose hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; (Isai. 59:1) and who indeed is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. (Ephes. 3:21) The Lord, on whose name we should call, is the Lord God omniscient; he with whom we have to do in prayer, to whom our speech is directed, (Heb. 4:13) and our addresses made, has all things naked and open to his eyes; he knows our persons, our cases, our wants, and all the desires and breathings of our souls; he knows the meaning of our sighs and groans, even those that are unutterable; whether we pray in public or private, in the house of God, or in our own houses, or in our closets, our Father seeth in secret, and will reward us openly. (Matt. 6:6) The God we are called upon to pray unto, is the Lord God omnipresent, who is every where, and fills heaven and earth with his presence; he is at hand to hear the petitions of his people, to assist, protect, and defend them; he is a present help in all their times of trouble; this is their great privilege, and in which they excel all other people, that they have God so nigh unto them, as the Lord their God is, in all things that they call upon him for. (Deut. 4:7) He is also El-shaddai, God all-sufficient, the God of all grace, the author and giver of it; who is able to cause all grace to abound, and whose grace is sufficient at all times, and in all cases. And to these perfections and attributes of God may be added, that the name and title he takes to himself for the encouragement of his people in prayer, is, that he is a God that hears prayer, (Ps. 65:2) and answers it too; he never said, no not at any time, to the seed of Jacob, seek ye my face in vain: (Isai. 65:19) every praying soul can set his seal to the truth of this testimony, that it is always good to draw near to God; (Ps. 73:26) for his eyes are always upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. (Ps. 34:15) To say no more, the Lord that is to be called upon, stands in the relation of a father to his people; and they are taught and instructed to address him in prayer under this character and relation, our Father which art in heaven: (Matt. 6:9) and the Lord loves to have his children come about him, and call him their Father, and not turn away from him; it is with pleasure he hears. them cry Abba, Father, in the strength of faith, and under the testimony of the spirit of adoption; and such may assure themselves, that he will graciously hear and answer their requests; for if earthly fathers know how to give good things to their children, how much more shall our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him, (Luke 11:13) and all other good things they stand in need of. And since then there is such great encouragement from the name, nature, and perfections of Cod; from the titles, characters, and relations he bears, how heinous must the sin be, to neglect calling upon his name!
2. The Name of the Lord takes in all the divine persons who are to be invoked: as baptism so be administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Ghost; so the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, is to be called upon in prayer, either separately or together. The name of the Father is to be invoked, and for the most part is called upon; if ye call upon the Father, or seeing ye call upon the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth; (1 Peter 1:17) the apostle Paul says, I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: (Ephes. 3:14) The scriptural instances of prayer are generally in this way; the address is commonly made to the first person, and we usually and for the most part, direct our petitions to him; and there is good reason why they should be directed to him; since the other two Persons sustain an office which he does not, an office with respect to prayer: The Son is the Mediator, by whom we draw nigh to God; and the Spirit, is the Spirit of grace and supplication, who helps and assists in approaches to him; though this is not to he done to the exclusion of either the Son or Spirit, who, in conjunction with the Father or apart, may he called upon or addressed in prayer: the same blessings of grace and peace (Rom. 1:7) are frequently wished from our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as from the Father. Ananias exhorted Saul, when converted, to arise and be baptized, calling on the name of the Lord, (Acts 22:17) that is, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and the apostle Paul directs one of his epistles to the Corinthians, and to all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord: (1 Cor. 1:2) special petitions are sometimes put up to him; particularly Stephen, in his last moments, called upon him, and said, Lord Jesus receive my spirit: (Acts 7:59) The holy Ghost is also prayed unto: sometimes along with the other two persons, as in Rev. 1:4, 5. and sometimes he is singly invoked, as when the apostle thus prays, the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ; (2 Thess. 3:5) where the Lord, the Spirit, seems to be designed as distinct from God and Christ.
3. This phrase of calling on, or in the name of the Lord, as it may be rendered, seems particularly to point at the invocation of God, in the name of Christ; and which perhaps is the true meaning of it here, and in that remark. able passage, then began men to call upon, or in the name of the Lord; (Gen. 4:26) not that men did not pray unto God, or call upon him before; but now another seed being raised in the room of Abel, whom Cain slew, and this increasing and multiplying, men either began to meet together in bodies, in communities, to carry on social worship, particularly to perform social prayer; or having now clearer discoveries, and better notions of the promised seed, the Messiah, they began to call upon God in his name; and this was practiced, more or less, by the saints in all succeeding ages; though it seems greatly to have got into disuse in the times of Christ, who exhorted his disciples to pray to the Father in his name; assuring them, that whatsoever they asked in this way, both he and his Father would do it for them; and complains of their neglect of it; hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive: (John 14:13, 14 and 14:23, 24) Christ is the only mediator between God and men; the days-man that lays his hands on both, the only way to the Father, the new and living way by which we have access to God with boldness and confidence; his name is to be used in prayer; our supplications are not to be presented to God for our righteousness-sake, but for his name-sake; we are to make mention of his righteousness, and of his only, and plead his precious blood and sacrifice, and desire the Lord would look upon the face of his anointed, and regard us for his sake; acceptance of our persons and services is only through him: our righteousness is as filthy rags, and cannot render us acceptable unto God; our acceptance is only in the beloved; our sacrifices of prayer and praise become only acceptable unto God, as they are offered up through Christ, and on him, that altar which sanctifies every gift: and all favours and blessings of grace are conveyed through him to his people; the first grace in conversion is shed in the hearts of men abundantly through Christ their Saviour, and all after-supplies of grace are out of his fulness; and therefore, seeing we have such a mediator, advocate, and interceding high priest, to introduce our persons, to present our petitions, and to obtain all grace for us, we have great encouragement to call upon the Lord in his name, and to neglect this, must be an aggravated evil. I proceed,
2dly, To consider for what, and when we are to call upon the name of the Lord, or in his name; and this we are to do for all things; for he is nigh to us in all things we call upon him for: (Deut. 4:7) we should pray unto him for all temporal mercies, for he is the father of them we are directed to pray to him for our daily bread, (Matt. 6:11) which takes in all the necessaries of life; and such who have the true grace of God, and the power of godliness in them, may expect to be heard and answered; for godliness has the promise of this life, (1 Tim. 4:8) as well as of that which is to come: and we are to call upon him for spiritual mercies, for all spiritual blessings in Christ; for though these things are in his heart, and in his hands, and which he has laid up in his Son, and in the covenant of his grace, for his people, yet he will be enquired of by them, to do them for them; (Ezek 36:37) even for the fresh discoveries and application of pardoning grace, for the light of his countenance, and communion with him, and for all supplies of grace and mercy, to help in time of need. And this is to he done at all times; our Lord spake a parable to encourage men to pray always, and not faint; (Luke 18:1) and the apostle Paul exhorts the saints to pray always, with all prayer and supplication, and to pray without ceasing, (Ephes. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:17) constantly, continually, and incessantly, and especially in times of trouble; Call upon me, says the Lord, in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me: (Ps. 50:15) all times and seasons are proper for prayer, but especially afflictive ones; a time of affliction is a peculiar time for prayer; Is any afflicted? let him pray; (James 5:13) yea sometimes, when the people of God are negligent of the work and business of prayer, he sends an affliction to them, to bring them to his throne of grace; in their affliction they will seek me early: (Hos. 5:15) and particularly in times of public calamity and distress, it is right and highly necessary to call upon God; and happy it is for a nation, when there are, at such seasons, many praying souls in it; it was well for Israel they had a Moses to stand in the breach, and deprecate the wrath and vengeance of God, that he might not destroy them; and that they had an Aaron, who put on incense, and made atonement., and then stood between the living and the dead, and so the plague was stayed : but sad is the case of a people, when there is not one to stand in the gap, and intercede for them, that they perish not. This is what is here complained of.
3dly, The manner in which this duty of calling upon God should be performed; that is, in faith, with fervency, in sincerity of heart, and with great importunity. It cannot be done aright without faith; for how shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed ? (Rom, 10:14) Whoever comes to God, or draws near to him, in any part or branch of worship, and particularly in prayer, must believe that he is, (Heb. 11:6) not only that he exists, and is possessed of all divine perfections, but that he is the God of all grace, that keeps covenant, and is faithful to his promises: he must not only believe in the object of prayer, but with respect to the things prayed for; these must he asked in faith, for it is the prayer of faith that is prevalent with God; (James 1:6 and 5:15) this is the holy confidence that should he cherished, that. whatever we ask according to the revealed will of God, that will make for his glory, and our good, shall be given us: and then our petitions should not be put up in a cold, lukewarm, and indifferent manner, but it becomes us to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord (Rom. 12: 11) in every part of worship, and particularly in this of prayer; for it is the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man that availeth much: (James 5:16) and we should also draw nigh to God, in this duty, with true hearts, as well as with full assurance of faith, in the sincerity and uprightness of our souls; for if men draw near to God with their mouths, and honour him with their lips only, but remove their hearts far from him, and their fear towards him is taught by the precept of man, (Isai. 29:13) they cannot expect to be regarded by him; but he is nigh to all them that call upon him in truth; (Ps. 145:18) who are hearty and sincere in their requests unto him; and such may, and should, use an holy importunity with him. Our Lord has given us two instances of importunity, (Luke 11: 5-9 and 13:1-8) on purpose to encourage the same in prayer; the one is of a man that had a friend come to his house late at night, and he without provisions, upon which he calls up his neighbour at midnight, to lend him some bread, but he excuses rising on account of his door being shut, and his children in bed with him; nevertheless, continuing to solicit him, he rises, and gives him what he would have, not on the score of friendship, but because of his importunity the other instance is that of the unjust judge, who neither feared God, nor regarded man, yet being pressed by a poor widow, time after time, to take her case in hand, and do her justice; he at length did undertake it, not for the sake of doing justice, but lest he should be wearied by her continual coming; which our Lord applies thus, and shall not God avenge his own elect, that cry day and night unto him? such as, Jacob-like, lay hold on the Lord, and will not let him go without the blessing, always succeed; God cannot deny them any thing that ask in faith, fervently, sincerely, and importunately; and therefore a man that neglects this duty and privilege, must be greatly wanting to his own interest.
4thly, Many are the scripture arguments, exciting and encouraging the saints to call upon the Lord; I shall do little more than name the passages in which they are the Lord himself, whose name is to be called upon, bids, invites, and encourages men to call upon him; Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; (Ps. 50:15; Matt. 7:7) what more can be desired, than to ask and have? The Lord is nigh to all that upon him in truth; (Ps. 145:18) he draws near to them in a way of grace and mercy, that draw nigh to him in a way of duty: he is rich unto all that call upon him; (Rom. 10:12) that is, he liberally bestows on such the riches of his providential goodness, the riches of his grace here, and the riches of glory hereafter he is plenteous in mercy to all that call upon him; (Ps. 86:5) he largely and plentifully bestows his grace and mercy on such ; abundantly pardons their sins, which, as it is an encouraging argument with sensible sinners, to turn unto the Lord, so it is a no less powerful one, to engage saints to pray unto him for fresh discoveries of pardoning grace and mercy. To add no more, it is said, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved; (Rom. 10:13) saved from all afflictions and distresses; saved out of the hands of enemies; saved with a temporal, and with an everlasting salvation.
And now how great must the sin and folly be of such professors, that neglect to call upon the name of the Lord! not to call upon the name of the Lord is heathenish; and of heathens nothing else is to he expected; for how should they call on him, in whom they have not believed? (Ro. 10:14) they know not God, and have no faith in him, and therefore it is no wonder they do not call upon him; and yet the wrath and fury of God are imprecated on the heathen, that know him not, and on the families that call not on his name; (Jer. 10:25) and even these, in time of distress, will call upon those they take to be God, as did Jonah’s mariners. Not to call upon God, is to do as hypocrites do; who, though they may pray openly and publicly before men sometimes, that they may be seen of them, and seem outwardly to take delight in approaching to God; yet as Job says, (Job 27:10) will he, the hypocrite, delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God? No, he will not; he may for a time, but not always: nor does he ever take any real delight and pleasure in it. Now, for a professing people not to call upon God, is to do as heathens and hypocrites do: and such must be under great decays and declensions, if truly gracious persons, that restrain prayer before God; (Job 15:4) so to do is highly resented by the Lord; it is a charge he once brought against his church of old, she drew not near to her God: (Zeph. 3:2) such act very unbecoming the names of Jacob and Israel, by which they are called. Jacob had the name of Israel given him, because wrestling with God, he had power as a prince, and prevailed; but how unsuitable is this name to such who call not on the Lord? or how disagreeable to their name and character do they act? the Lord complains of it, Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel: (Isai. 43:22) and this is the first branch of the complaint here in our text. I proceed to consider the other part of it.
II. That there were none, or few, that bestirred and aroused themselves to lay bold of the Lord. Here I shall briefly shew what is to lay hold on the Lord; and then, what it is for a man to stir up himself to do this; the neglect of which is complained of.
1. It is to exercise faith upon him, as to lay hold on Christ is to believe in him; Wisdom, or Christ is a tree of life, the Author and Giver of Spiritual and eternal life to them that lay hold upon him, (Prov. 3:18) that is, that exercise faith on him; by faith men look to Christ, go to him, and lay hold upon him; the believer lays hold on Christ as his Saviour; and says, he also shall be my salvation, and none else; and, though he slay me; yet will I trust in him; (Job 13:15, 16) this is laying hold on Christ to a purpose: believers come to Christ as the mediator of the covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, and deal with it for pardon, peace, and cleansing; they lay hold on his righteousness, the skirt of him that is a Jew, as their justifying-righteousness; they lay hold on him as the strength of the Lord, and say, surely in the Lord have I righteousness and strength; (Isai. 45:24) this is laying hold on him for themselves, and exercising faith upon him; and so to lay hold on God, is to exercise faith on him, as a covenant-God and father; it is to avouch him to he our God. It was a noble act of faith in David, when he said, I trusted in thee, O Lord; 1 said, Thou art my God; (Ps. 31:14) Job wished to find him, that he might come even to his seat; (Job 23:2) and what would he have done there and then? why, lay hold on him as his own God. And such believers as these will lay hold on the covenant itself; for this is one of the characters of a good man, that he chooses the things that please God; and takes hold of his covenant; (Isa. 56:4) claims his interest in it, and which is his support in life and in death; as it was to David in his last moments, who could say, Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; (2 Sam. 23:5) this was taking fast hold of the covenant for himself: and such will claim all the blessings of it as theirs, even all spiritual blessings, which are in Christ; he being theirs; and also all the promises of it, of which they are heirs, and so have a right unto them; and who, when they find them; take them to themselves, and rejoice at them, and plead them with God; for there is not a promise in the covenant, but the meanest believer has a right unto: promises as well as blessings are common to all; as may he observed from that peculiar promise made to Joshua, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee; which every ‘believer may take hold on for himself, and take the comfort of, as appears from Heb. 13:5, 6.
2. To lay hold on God, is to exercise faith on him, particularly in prayer: prayer is a wrestling with God; and in wrestling, persons lay hold on one another; faith lays hold of God in prayer, as Jacob did on the angel he wrestled with, and will not let him go, without having the blessing he is earnest for: and when this is the case, whatever men ask in prayer, believing, they shall receive. (Matt. 21:22) The Lord sometimes seems to be departing from his church and people: As the glory of the Lord in Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezek. 10: 4, 18) went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and then departed from the threshold of the house, and stood ever the cherubim, threatening a removal from the temple; so the Lord sometimes seems to be taking his leave of his people; which, when observed by truly gracious souls, they hold upon him, and most earnestly solicit his continuance with them; as the two disciples that travelled with Christ to Emmaus, when he seemed as if he would go further, they constrained him; (Luke 24:28, 29) they most earnestly intreated him to stay with them; they held him from going further; and thus faith in prayer lays hold on a departing God to retain him. Sometimes the Lord does really depart from his people; their sins and iniquities separate between God and them, and cause him to hide his face from them; when they seek after him, and seeking find him, and having found him, they hold him fast, and will not let him go, until he returns to his church again; their importunate request to him is, Return we beseech thee, and behold and visit this vine, and the vineyard thy right hand hath planted. (Ps. 80:14) Sometimes the Lord, being offended with his dear children, lifts up his hand to correct and chastise; when faith in prayer steps in between, and lays hold on his hands, when he is just going to strike the blow; even as when a father displeased with his child, lifts up his hand to strike him; and a friend that is by him, lays hold on his hand, and will not suffer him to give the blow: this might be exemplified in the case of the Israelites, when they had made the golden calf, and worshipped it; the Lord was greatly provoked by them, and thought to destroy them, or signified his desire to do so; and therefore says to Moses, who he knew would intercede for them, Let me alone that my wroth may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation. (Exod. 32:10) But Moses would not let him alone, nor suffer him to do what he seemed desirous of doing; but interceded for the people, and, as it were, held the hands of the Lord from destroying them. What amazing condescension is this, that the infinite and tremendous Being, should suffer himself to be held by a creature from doing what he shewed an inclination to! See here the force of prayer, and the strength of faith! and what encouragement saints have to stir up themselves to lay hold on him; and what that is, I shall next consider.
2dly, To stir up a man’s self to lay hold on God, is to be diligent in the use of means in seeking after him; as Job was, when being at a loss for him, he went backwards and forwards, on the right hand, and on the left, in order to find him; and as the church, who sought her beloved in the streets of the city, and broad-ways, and inquired here and there, of one, and of another, till she got tidings and sight of him, and then laid hold upon him: (Job 23:3, 8, 9; Song 3:1-4) it is to seek the Lord, where and when; and while he is to be found; and to call earnestly and importunately on him, where and when, and while he is near; (Isai. 55:6) and even when afar off, not to quit the pursuit of him, and inquiry about him, until he is pleased to appear and shew himself. This stirring up a man’s self, is no other than a frequent use of the gift of prayer: gifts, like some metals, if not used grow rusty, but the more they are used, the brighter they are; yea, gifts may be lost, though grace cannot; the gift of preaching, through disuse, may come to nothing, and therefore should be stirred up; that is, not neglected, but diligently cultivated, and frequently exercised: hence that advice of the apostle to Timothy, Stir up the gift of God which is in thee; just as one would stir up coals under ashes, and embers which seem to be dead, and would go out if not stirred; and is the same with, neglect not the gift that is in thee: (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:14) so to stir up the gift is not to neglect it, but frequently to use it; and in like manner the gift of prayer should not be neglected, but be often used; and so to do, is to stir it up: and this is not only to be stirred up, but a man should stir up himself to it; which he may be said to do, when he exerts himself, when he calls upon his soul and all within him as to bless and praise the Lord for favours bestowed on him, so to pray unto him in faith, for what he stands in need of; as the church resolved to do; With my Spirit within me will I seek thee early; (Isai. 26:9) that is, with my whole heart and soul, in the most earnest and pressing manner, will I pray unto thee, and seek thy face and favour. Stirring up a man’s self is opposed to slothfulness in business, and is expressive of that diligence which becomes the people of God: who should be diligent in the exercise of grace, and discharge of duty; and as they should be diligent to add one virtue to another, as to the exercise thereof, and to make their calling and election sure and manifest to others, and to be found of Christ in peace; so they should diligently seek the Lord, who is a rewarder of all such: the frame of spirit here complained of, is a backwardness to prayer; a remissness in the performance of that duty; a doing this part of the work of God negligently, or in a cold, lukewarm, sleepy, drowsy manner; being like the disciples of our Lord, who were sleeping whilst he was praying; whom he thus rebukes, Could ye not watch with me one hour? (Matt. 26:40) It becomes christians to bestir, awake, and arouse themselves, as the word here used (see Isai. 51:17) signifies, from their spiritual stupor and lethargy, at least, to implore the spirit and grace of God to enable them so to do.
The church of Christ and its members are sometimes as it were asleep; the wise as well as the foolish virgins all slumbered and slept; and this is the case with them, when grace lies dormant, or there is a non-exercise of it; an. indifference to the duties of religion, or at most a contentedness in the outward performance of them; an unconcernedness about sins of omission and commission; and little or no regard to the glory of God, and the interest of religion. Such a spirit arises from the prevalence of the flesh, or corrupt nature; from the heart being over charged and surfeited with worldly cares; from a weariness in spiritual exercises, and a cessation from religious ones; from keeping carnal company; and from its being a night-season: great and many are the dangers such are exposed unto, and the church of God by their means; which is liable to be filled with hypocrites, and over-run with errors and heresies ; for while men sleep, the enemy sows his tares; (Matt. 13:25) such are personally exposed to every sin, and snare, and temptation; liable to have spiritual poverty and leanness brought upon them; to lose their spiritual peace, joy, and comfort ; and to be surprised with the midnight-cry wherefore it is high time for them to bestir themselves, and awake out of sleep; (Rom. 13:11) Christ calls upon them to this purpose, and says, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead; shake off thy lethargy; throw off thy dead companions, and converse no more with them who have been the means of bringing on this sleepy, drowsy frame, and Christ shall give thee light; (Ephes. 5:14) pray, as well as thou canst, that the Lord would quicken thee, that thou mayest call upon his name. (Ps. 80:18)
To come to a close; we may see our own picture in the people here described, that called not on the name of the Lord, and stirred not up themselves to lay hold on him: this is exactly our case; there are none, or however very few, heartily engaged in such spiritual exercises, and which should be matter of lamentation and humiliation: what has been said, should serve to stir up our minds by way of remembrance of the state wherein we are, and from whence we are fallen; and to quicken us to every duty of religion, and particularly to this of prayer, and to the exercise of faith in it; and as we should stir up ourselves, so one another, to this, and every other good work; and which is a principal end of our meeting together at such times as these; and the Lord grant this end may be answered by this discourse and God be glorified.
A DISCOURSE ON PRAYER. John Gil
1 CORINTHIANS 14:15; former Part.
What is it then ? I will pray the Spirit, and will pray with the understanding also.
The design of this epistle is chiefly to reprove the Church at Corinth for the divisions and contentions, which were there fomented and kept up on account of their ministers; some being for Paul, some for Apollo, and others for Cephas; and to remove some irregular practices from among them, which were either openly avowed, or connived at by them; such as continuing a wicked person in their communion, going to law with one another before heathen magistrates, and the disorderly attendance of many of them at the Lord’s table. The apostle having finished this part of his design, does, in the twelfth chapter, largely insist on the subject of spiritual gifts; where he gives an account of the diversity of them, of their author, and of their various usefulness in the church of Christ; for which reason he exhorts the members of this church to covet them earnestly, though he would not have them depend on them, since they are not saving. In the thirteenth chapter, he prefers charity, or love, to them, and shews, that without this they are useless and unprofitable to those who have them. In this fourteenth chapter, he presses them to follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather, says he, that ye may prophesy. He proves, by many arguments, and especially by that taken from edification, that prophesying in a known language, in the mother tongue, which is understood by the people, is preferable to the gift of speaking in an unknown language, not understood by the people, and so unedifying to them. It is evident, that by prophesying, he means not only preaching, but praying, since he instances in it, and argues, in the words preceding my text, thus: For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful; that is, when I pray in an unknown language, being under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, I make use of that extraordinary gift which he has bestowed upon me, and my own spirit is indeed refreshed by it: But what I myself conceive, understand, and express, is useless and unprofitable to others, who do not understand the language in which I pray; therefore, says he, in the words of my text, What is it then? What is to be done in this case? What is most prudent and advisable? What is most eligible and desirable? Must I not pray with the Spirit at all? Shall I not make use of that extraordinary gift which the Spirit has bestowed upon me? Shall I entirely neglect it, and lay it aside? No, I will pray with the Spirit; I will make use of the gift I have; but then it shall be in such a way and manner, as that I shall be understood by others, I will pray with the understanding also. In these words may be considered,
I. The work and business of prayer, which the apostle resolved in the strength of Christ, and, by the assistance of his Spirit, to be found in the performance of; I will pray, &c.
II. The manner in which he is desirous of performing this duty; with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.
I. I shall consider the work and business of prayer, which the apostle resolved, in the strength of Christ, and by the assistance of his Spirit, to be found in the performance of. It will not be amiss, under this head to enquire into the object of prayer, the several parts of it, and its different kinds, I shall begin,
1. With the object of prayer, which is not any mere creature. Prayer is a part of religious worship, which is due to God only. To address a creature in such a solemn manner is idolatry. This is a sin the Gentiles have been notoriously guilty of, who have paid their devoirs this way, both to animate and inanimate creatures. The idolatrous Heathen is thus described by the prophet; (Isa. 45:17) He maketh a god his graven image; he falleth down unto it, and worshipped it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god. Such a practice as this, is an argument of great ignorance and stupidity; (Isa. 45:20) They have no knowledge, that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. It is no wonder that their prayers should be in vain, since their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands: They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear (Ps. 115:4-6) not, They are insensible of the wants of their votaries, and unable to help them; they are not in a capacity to give them the least relief, or bestow the least temporal mercy on them: Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Art not thou he, O Lord, our God? Therefore we will wait upon thee; for thou hast made all these things. (Jer. 14:22) The Papists have followed the Pagans in their idolatrous prayers to angels, the virgin Mary, and other saints departed, and even to many that were not saints; but it may be said to them, what Eliphaz said to Job, (Job 5:1) in another case; Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn?
God only is, and ought to be the object of prayer. My prayer, says David, shall be unto the God of my life. (Ps. 42:8) God has a right to this part of worship from us, as he is the God of our lives, in whom we live, move, and have our being; who grants us life and favour, and whose visitation preserves our spirits; who daily follows us with his goodness, and loads us with his benefits; to whom we are obliged for every mercy, and on whom the whole support and continuance of our beings depend: and we are under greater obligation still, as well as have greater encouragement, to address the throne of his grace, as he is the God of all grace, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus; all which may assure us, that his eyes are upon us, his ears are open to our cries, that he has both a heart and a hand to help and relieve us; he is a God that hears and answers prayer, to whom all flesh shall come, who are sensible of their need of him, and dependence upon him; his arm is not shortened, that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that he cannot hear; nor did he ever say to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.
Though the Lord our God is but one Lord; there is but one God, which, with the Scriptures, we assert, in opposition to the polytheism of the Gentiles, who had gods many, and lords many; yet there is a plurality of persons in the Deity, which are neither more nor fewer than Three, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, which Three are One; the Father is God, the Word is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God. Though the Persons in the Godhead are more than One, yet the Godhead itself is single and undivided. Now God in either and each of the Three divine Persons, may be prayed unto. It is lawful for us to address in prayer either God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost distinctly, though not any of them to the exclusion of the others, This I mention, to disentangle the minds of some, who may have some scruples and hesitations about praying to the distinct Persons in the Deity. Now it is easy to observe, that there are petitions directed to each of the three Persons distinctly; of which I shall give some few instances from the Scriptures.
God the Father is sometimes singly and distinctly prayed unto, though not to the exclusion of the Son or Spirit. It would be too tedious to reckon up all the instances of this kind: The epistle to the Ephesians will furnish us with a sufficient number to our purpose. In one place the apostle says to them, (Eph. 1:16, 17) I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; where God the Father is prayed unto, as distinct from the Lord Jesus Christ, whose God and Father he is, and distinct from the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, who as such is prayed for. And in another place, he says, (Eph. 3:14, 16, 17) For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; in which passage God the Father is addressed, as the object of prayer, distinct from Christ and the Spirit; the former of which he desires might dwell in their hearts by faith, and that they might he strengthened by the latter in their inner man. If these instances were not sufficient, others might be produced; but about God the Father’s being the object of prayer, there is no question nor hesitation.
God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, may be distinctly prayed unto, of which are many instances in Scripture. Sometimes he is prayed unto in conjunction with his Father, as appears from all those passages (Rom, 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3; 2 John 3; Rev. 1:4, 5) in the epistles, where grace and peace are desired from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; and from many others such as these: (1 Thess. 3:11, 12) Now God himself, and our Father, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you; and the Lord, that is, the Lord Jesus, make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you; and in another place, (2 Thess. 2:16, 17) Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope, through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work. Sometimes Christ is prayed unto singly and alone; as by Stephen at the time of his death, when he prayed, saying, (Acts 7:59) Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. By the apostle Paul, (2 Cor. 12:8, 9) when he had a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him; for this, says he, I besought the Lord thrice, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, as appears from the context, that it might depart from me: And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. By the apostle John, when Christ said to him, (Rev. 22:20) Surely I come quickly, he replies, Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus. And by many others; such as those mentioned by Ananias to Christ, when he bid him arise, and go to Saul; (Acts 9:14) Lord, says he, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
God the Holy Ghost may be also prayed unto, as he is sometimes and singly alone, and as distinct from the Father and the Son; (2 Thess. 3:5) The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. By the Lord, I understand the Lord the Spirit, whose work it is to direct the hearts of believers into the love of God, and to shed it abroad in their hearts; who is manifestly distinguished in this petition from God the Father, into whose love, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, into a patient waiting for of whom, the hearts of the saints are desired to be directed by him. Sometimes he is prayed unto distinctly, in conjunction with the other two Persons, as by the apostle Paul; The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (2 Cor. 13:14) And by the apostle John, (Rev. 1:4,5) Grace be unto you, and peace, from him, which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is a faithful witness. By the seven spirits cannot be meant angels; for it cannot be thought that they being creatures, should be put upon a level with the divine Being, and be with him addressed in such a solemn manner; but by them we are to understand the Holy Spirit of God, who is so called either in allusion to Isaiah 11:2, or on account of the seven churches of Asia, to whom John wrote by his dictates, or to denote the perfection and fulness of his gifts and graces.
Now though each divine Person may be singly and distinctly addressed in prayer, and all Three together, being the one God, be considered as the object of it; yet, according to the order of persons in the Deity, and suitably to their several and distinct parts, which they, by agreement, take in the affair of man’s salvation, God the Father, the first Person, is generally addressed as the object of prayer, though not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit: Christ is the Mediator, by whom we draw nigh to God; and the Holy Ghost is the inditer of our prayers, and who assists in the putting of them up unto him.
The first Person is usually addressed in prayer under the character of a Father, and as our Father; so Christ taught his disciples to pray, (Matthew 6:9) Our Father which art in heaven, &c. and he is to be considered in this relation to us, either as the Father of our spirits, the Author of our beings, by whom we are provided for, supplied, and supported in them. In this manner the church in Isaiah’s time applied to him, (Isa. 64:8, 9) saying, But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we are all the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: Behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Or he may be considered as the Father or Author of our mercies, temporal and spiritual, which he, in a kind and gracious manner, bestows on us, through Christ, and that as the Father of Christ, and as our God and Father in Christ. In this view the apostle addresses him, when he says, (2 Cor. 1:3) Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort. And, in another place, (Eph. 1:3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Now these several considerations furnish out so many reasons and arguments to induce and encourage us to apply to him who is the God of all grace, and is both able and willing to supply our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
The second Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, is the Mediator between God and man. God absolutely considered, is a consuming fire; there is no approaching to him as creatures, and especially as sinful creatures. Job was sensible of this, when he said, (Job 9:32, 33) He is not a man as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment; neither is there any days-man betwixt us, that might lay his hands upon us both. Now Christ is the days-man, the Mediator, the middle Person, who has opened a way for us to God, even a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh. (Heb. 10:20; John 14:6; Eph. 2:18 and 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5) He himself is the way, the truth and the life; he is the way of access to God; through him, both Jews and Gentiles, have an access, by one Spirit, unto the Father; he is the way of acceptance with God; our persons are accepted in the Beloved, and our spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ: The prayers of the saints are called odours; (Rev. 5:8 and 8:3, 4) they are of a sweet smelling savour to God; which is owing to the mediation of Christ, the Angel of God’s presence, who stands continually at the golden altar before the throne, with a golden censer in his hand, to whom is given much incense, with which he offers the prayers of all saints, and which makes them a sweet odour to God. Our encouragements to prayer, and to the exercise of grace in that duty, are chiefly taken from, and our pleas for the blessings of grace, are founded on the person, blood, righteousness, sacrifice, and intercession of Christ. Seeing then, says the apostle, (Heb. 4:14-16) that we have a High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession: For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. And in another place, (Heb. 10:22) he exhorts and encourages to this work in much the same manner; Having, says he, an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
The third Person, the Holy Spirit, takes his part, and has a peculiar place in this work; he is the author of prayer, the inditer of it, who forms it in our hearts, creates breathings, and desires after spiritual things, stirs us up to prayer, and assists in it. Hence he is called, (Zech. 12:10) The Spirit of grace and supplications; both the gift and grace of prayer come from him; he informs us of our wants, acquaints us with our necessities, teaches us both, in what manner, and for what we should pray; what is most suitable for us, and agreeable to the will of God to bestow on us, and helps us under all our infirmities in prayer; which is observed by the apostle, for the use, instruction, and comfort of believers, when he says, (Rom. 8:26, 27) Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God. As Christ is our Advocate with the Father, pleads our cause, and makes intercession at the right hand of God for the acceptation of our persons and prayers, so the Holy Spirit is our Advocate within us; he makes intercession for us in our own hearts; he puts strength into us; he fills our mouths with arguments and enables us to plead with God. Christ is Mediator, through whom, and the Spirit, the assister, by whom we have access to the Father. God, as the God of all grace, kindly invites us to himself; Christ, the Mediator, gives us boldness; and the Spirit of grace, freedom and liberty in our access unto him; and this is what the scriptures call Praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and praying in the Holy Ghost. But of this more hereafter. I proceed,
2. To consider the several parts of prayer; in which I do not design to prescribe any precise form of praying, but to observe to you the method and matter of it, which may serve to direct and assist you in it. It is proper to begin this work with a celebration and adoration of some one or more of the divine perfections; which will at once have a tendency to strike our minds with a proper sense of the divine Majesty, glorify him and encourage us in our supplications to him; all which is highly necessary in our entrance on it. All the perfections of God are instructive to us in this work, and serve to influence our minds and affections towards him, command our fear and reverence of him, engage our faith in him, strengthen our dependence on him, and raise in us expectations of receiving good things from him. The greatness, glory, power, and majesty of God, the holiness, purity, and righteousness of his nature, oblige us to an humble submission to him, and reverential awe of him. The consideration of his love, grace, mercy, and goodness, will not suffer his dread to make us afraid. We learn from his omniscience, that he knows not only our persons, but our wants, and what is most suitable for us, when the most convenient season, and which the best way and manner to bestow it on us. It can be no small satisfaction to us, that all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do; the thoughts of our hearts are not hid from him; the secret ejaculations of our minds are known to him; the breathings and desires of our souls are before him; he understands the language of a sigh and groan; and when we chatter like a crane or a swallow, it does not pass unobserved by him. His omnipotence assures us that nothing is too hard for him, or impossible to him; that he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think; that we cannot be in such a low estate or distressed condition, or attended with such straits and difficulties, but he is able to relieve, deliver and save us. We conclude from his omnipresence, that he fills the heavens and the earth; that he is in all places, at all times; that he is a God at hand, and a God afar off; that he is near unto us, wherever we are, ready to assist us, and will be a very present help in trouble. His immutability in his counsel, and faithfulness in his covenant, yield the heirs of promise, strong consolation. These give us reason to believe that not one of the good things which the Lord has promised shall ever fail; that what he has said, he will do: and what he has either purposed or promised, he will bring to pass: He will not suffer his faithfulness to fail; his covenant he will not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of his lips. You see that the notice of these things is necessary, both for the glory of God and our own comfort. It is also very proper when we begin our addresses to God, to make mention of some one or more of his names and titles, as Jehovah, Lord God, &c, and of the relations he stands in to us; not only as the God of nature, the author of our beings, the Donor of our mercies, and the Preserver of our lives, but as the God of grace, the Father of Christ, and our Covenant God, and Father in Christ. After this manner our Lord directed his disciples to pray, saving, Our Father which art in heaven, &c.
In the next place, it highly becomes us to acknowledge our meanness and unworthiness, to make confession of our sins and transgressions, and pray for the fresh discoveries and manifestations of pardoning love and grace. When we enter into the divine presence, and take upon us to speak unto the Lord, we should own with Abraham, (Gen. 18:27) that we are but dust and ashes; and with Jacob, (Gen. 32:10) that we are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which God has shewed unto us. Confession of sin, both of our nature and of our lives, is a very proper and necessary part of this work. This has been the practice of the saints in all ages; as of David, which appears from his own words; (Ps. 32:5) I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquities have 1 not hid: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. So Daniel, when he set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, made confession both of his own and of the sins of others; I prayed unto the Lord my God, says he, (Dan. 9:4-6) and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant, and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments. We have sinned and committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts, and from thy judgments; neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. And the apostle John, for the encouragement of believers in this part of the duty of player, says, (1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, he, that is, God, is just and faithful to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness: Not that confession of sin is either the procuring cause, or means, or condition of pardon and cleansing, which are both owing to the blood of Christ; in justice and faithfulness to which, and him that shed it, God forgives the sins of his people, and cleanses them from them; but the design of the apostle is to shew that sin is in the saints, and is committed by them, and that confession of sin is right and acceptable in the sight of God; and, to animate and encourage them to it, he takes notice of the justice and faithfulness of God in pardoning and cleansing his people, through the blood of Christ, which, as he had a little before observed, cleanseth from all sin. Nay, we are not only to make confession of sin in prayer, but to pray for the pardon and forgiveness of it. Christ directed his disciples to this part of their duty, when he bid them pray after this manner; (Matthew 6:12) Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. This has been the constant practice of the saints, as of Moses; (Ex. 34:9) O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go amongst us, and pardon our iniquities and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance. Of David; (Ps. 25:11) For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. Yea, he says to the Lord, (Ps. 32:6) For this, shall every one that is godly pray unto thee, in a time when thou mayest be found. And of Daniel, (Dan. 9:19) O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do, defer not, for thine own sake, O my God; for thy city and thy people are called by thy name. Now it ought to be observed, that very frequently when the saints pray, either for the forgiveness of their own, or others sins, their meaning is, that God would, in a providential way, deliver them out of present distress, remove his afflicting hand, which lies heavy on them, or avert such judgments which seem to hang over their heads, and very much threaten them which, when he does, is an indication of his having pardoned them. We are to understand many petitions of Moses, (Ex. 32:32; Num. 14:19, 20) Job, (Job 7:21) Solomon, (1 Kings 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50) and others, in this sense: Besides, when believers now pray for the pardon of sin, their meaning is not that the blood of Christ should be shed again for the remission of their sins; or that any new act of pardon should arise in God’s mind, and be passed by him; but that they might have the sense, the manifestation, and application of pardoning grace to their souls. We are not to imagine, that as often as the saints sin, repent, confess their sins, and pray for the forgiveness of them, that God makes and passes new acts of pardon; for he has, by one eternal and complete act of grace, in the view of his Son’s blood and sacrifice, freely and fully forgiven all the trespasses of his chosen ones, all their sins, past, present, and to come: but whereas they daily sin against God, grieve his Spirit, and wound their own consciences, they have need of the fresh sprinklings of the blood of Jesus, and of renewed manifestations of pardon to their souls; and it is both their duty and interest to attend the throne of grace on this account.
Another part and branch of prayer lies in putting up petitions to God for good things, temporal and spiritual mercies, the blessings of nature and of grace. As we ought to live in a dependence on divine providence, so we should daily pray for the common sustenance of our bodies, the comfort, support, and preservation of our lives; as our Lord has taught us, saying, Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11) Our requests in this way ought, indeed, to be frequent, but not large: we should not seek great things for ourselves. Agur’s prayer (Prov. 30:7-9) is a proper copy for us to follow: Two things, says he to the Lord, have I required of thee, deny me them not before I die; Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. The spiritual blessings we should ask for, are such as God has laid up in the covenant of grace, which is ordered in all things, and sure, Christ has procured by his blood, the gospel is a revelation of, and the Spirit of God makes intercession for in our own hearts, according to the will of God; for these things we should pray in faith, nothing wavering; (James 1:6; 1 John 5:14, 15) for this is the confidence that we have in him, that is, God, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. When we pray for special mercies, spiritual blessings, such as converting glace for unconverted friends and relations, we ought to pray in submission to the secret will of God.
Thanksgiving for mercies received, is another thing which we should not be forgetful of at the throne of grace; In every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, says the apostle, (Phil. 4:6) let your requests be made known to God. As we have always mercies to pray for, so likewise to return thanks for; it becomes us to continue in prayer, (Col. 4:2) for constant supplies from heaven, and to watch in the same with thanksgiving, that is, to wait for the blessings we have been praying for; and when we have received them, to watch for a proper opportunity, and make use of it, to offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. When this part is neglected, it is highly resented by the Lord; as appears from the case of the ten lepers, (Luke 17:15-18) when one of them saw that he was healed, turned buck, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan; upon which our Lord says, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God save this stranger.
Before we conclude the exercise of this duty, it is proper to deprecate such evils from us, which are either upon us, or we know we are liable to, or may befall us; such as temptations of Satan, the snares of the world, the distresses of life, public calamities, &c. This was in part practiced by Daniel: O Lord, says he, (Dan. 9:16) according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain; because for our sins, and the iniquities of our Fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. And this is intimated by Christ to his disciples, in that excellent directory of prayer he gave them, part of which was this; Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:13)
At the close of this work of prayer, it is necessary to make use of doxologies, or ascriptions of glory to God; as we begin with God, we should end with him; as in the entrance on this duty, we ascribe greatness to him, so at the conclusion of it we should ascribe glory to him. Such an ascription of glory to God, we find, was used by Christ at the end of the prayer he taught his disciples, in this manner: (Matthew 6:13) Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. By the apostle Paul in this form; (Eph. 3:21) Unto him, that is, God, be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. And in another place thus; (1 Tim. 1:17) Now unto the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory, for ever and ever. By the apostle Jude in these words; Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy; to the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. (Jude 24, 25) And by the apostle John after this manner; (Rev. 1:5, 6) Unto him that hath, loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. These, and such like ascriptions of glory to God, Father, Son, and Spirit, are necessary at the finishing of our supplications, since the mercies and blessings we have been either petitioning, or returning thanks for, come from him; besides, they serve to shew forth the praises of God, and to express our sense of gratitude to him, our dependence upon him, and our expectation of receiving good things from him.
The whole of this exercise of prayer should be concluded with pronouncing the word Amen; as a testification of our hearty assent to what we have expressed, and of our sincere desires and wishes, that what we have been praying for might be accomplished, and of our full and firm persuasion and assured belief that God is able, willing, and faithful to perform all that he has promised, and give whatsoever we have been asking of him, according to his will. But I proceed,
3. To consider the several sorts and kinds of prayer, or the various distributions into which it may be made, or the different views in which it may be considered.
Prayer may he considered either as mental or vocal. Mental prayer is what is only conceived in the mind; it consists of secret ejaculations in the heart, which are not expressed with an audible and articulate voice. Such was the prayer of Hannah, of whom it is said; (1 Sam. 1:12, 13) that as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah she spake in her heart, only her lips moved; but her voice was not heard, therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. Vocal prayer is that which, being conceived and formed in the heart, is expressed by the tongue, in words, with an audible and articulate voice, so as to be heard and understood. This the prophet intends, when he says, (Hosea 14:2) Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord, say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips.
Again, Prayer may be considered either as private or public. Private prayer is that which is either performed in the family, by the head or master of it, the rest joining with him in it, or by a society of Christians in a private house, or by a single person in secret and alone; concerning which Christ gives these directions and instructions: (Matthew 6:5, 6) When thou prayest, says he, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men: verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Public Prayer is what is used in the house of God, which is therefore called, (Isa. 56:7) an house of prayer; where the people of God meet together, and, with the other parts of divine, public, and social worship, perform this. The first Christians, in the early days of the gospel, are commended, among other things, for their continuing stedfastly in prayers, that is, in public prayers, (Acts 2:42) they constantly met where prayer was wont to be made; and God was pleased to give a signal testimony of his approbation of this their practice; for, at a certain time, they had prayed, the place was shaken, where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
Once more: Prayer may be considered either as extraordinary or ordinary. Extraordinary prayer is that which is made use of on particular and special occasions; as that exercise of prayer, which was kept by the church on account of Peter’s being in prison. The divine historian says, (Acts 7:5) that Peter was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him; which instance of extraordinary prayer was followed with an extraordinary event; for whilst they were praying, an angel was dispatched from heaven, and loosed Peter from his bonds, who came to the place where the church was assembled, before they had broke up their exercise. Such also were the prayers of the elders of the church in those times for the sick, which the apostle James speaks of; (James 5:14, 15) is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. Ordinary prayer is what is used in common in the church of God, in a religious family, or by a single person, at stated times; which, with David and Daniel under the Old Testament, were three times a day, (Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10) evening, morning, and at noon; which practice is laudable enough to follow, provided no stress is laid on the punctual performance of this duty at these precise times, and is not made the term and condition of our acceptance with God, and of our standing in his favour, which would be to reduce us to the covenant of works, ensnare our souls, and bring us into a state of bondage.
II. I come now to consider the manner in which the apostle was desirous of performing this duty.
1. With the Spirit. By the Spirit, some understand no more than the human breath, or voice; and suppose, that the apostle’s meaning is, that he would pray vocally, with an articulate voice, with distinct sounds, so as to be understood: perhaps some passages in this chapter, which may seem to favour this sense, might incline them to it; as when the apostle observes, (1 Cor. 14:7-11) that things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise you, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them are without signification; therefore, if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a Barbarian; and he that speaketh, a Barbarian unto me. But the apostle here, by voice and distinction in sounds, does not intend a clear, distinct, articulate voice, but the mother-tongue, a known language, in opposition to an unknown tongue and foreign language, not understood by the people. This sense of the words is mean, low, and trifling, as well as forced and strained.
By the Spirit, rather is meant the extraordinary gift of the Spirit bestowed on the apostle and others, by which they spoke with divers tongues, and which he determined to make use of, though in such a manner, as to be understood: He would not use it without an interpretation. This is the sense I have given of it already, and is the most generally received sense of interpreters, and which may be confirmed by the use of the word in the context; as in verse 2. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue, speaketh not unto men, but unto God, for no man understandeth him; howbeit, in the Spirit, that is, by exercising the extraordinary gift of the Spirit, he speaketh mysteries; and in verse 14, If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, that is, I pray by virtue of the extraordinary gift of the Spirit, bestowed on me; but my understanding is unfruitful; I am of no use and service to those that hear me. So likewise in verse 16. Else when thou shalt bless with the Spirit, that is, when thou givest thanks in an unknown tongue, through the gift of the Spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned, say, Amen, at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
There is another sense of the phrase, which I am unwilling to omit, and that is this: By praying with the Spirit, some understand the apostle’s own spirit, or his praying in a spiritual way, with a spirit of devotion and fervency; and indeed, in such a manner he performed every part of religious worship and service, whether preaching or praying, or any thing else: God is my witness, says he, (Rom. 1:9) whom I serve with my spirit, in the gospel of his Son; which kind of service is most agreeable to the nature of God: (John 4:23) He is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth. And it becomes us to be fervent in spirit, whilst we are serving the Lord. Such a frame of soul particularly in prayer, is most suitable to the work, most desirable to the saints, acceptable to God, and powerful with him; the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16)
We may be said to pray with our spirits, or in a spiritual way, when we draw nigh to God with a true heart; or when we are enabled to lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens; people may draw near to him, as the Jews of old did, (Isa. 29:13) with their mouth, and with their lips honour him, and yet, at the same time, their heart may be removed far from him, and their fear towards him, be taught by the precept of men. It is one thing to have the gift of prayer, and another to have the grace of prayer, and that in exercise: it is one thing to pray with the mouth, and another to pray with the heart. Praying in a formal, graceless manner, is mere outside worship, lip-labour, bodily exercise, that profiteth nothing; it is useless to men, and unacceptable to God, who accounts of it, and calls it no other than howling. Hence he says of some, (Hosea 7:14) They have not cried unto me with their hearts, when they howled upon their beds. Spiritual fervent prayer is, more or less, performed in the exercise of the grace of faith; such who draw nigh to God with a true heart, should also in full assurance of faith. The apostle James directs to prayer in this way; (James 1:5-7) If any of you, says he, lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him: But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed: for let not that man think, that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. We should not only have an assurance of faith, with respect to the object whom we address, which is absolutely necessary; (Heb. 11:6) For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him; but also with respect to the things we pray for, when they are such which God has promised, which he has laid up in his covenant, put into the hands of his Son, and, we know, are according to his revealed mind and will to give; all which is consistent with that reverence and godly fear, by which we serve God acceptably; with that humility which becomes supplicants, and is grateful to God, who resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble: and with that submission and resignation of our wills to his will, in which Christ is a glorious pattern to us, when he in prayer said, (Luke 22:42) Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done. In a word, when we pray with our spirits, or in a spiritual way, we not only lift up our hearts to God, and what we ask for, ask in faith, with a reverential, filial fear of the divine Majesty, in deep humility of soul, and with an entire submission to God’s will; but also in the name and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; we do not present our supplications to God for our righteousness’s, but for the Lord’s sake, and for his great mercies; we come not in our own name, but in Christ’s; we go forth not in our own strength, but in his; we make mention of his righteousness, and of his only; we plead the merits and efficacy of his blood; we bring his sacrifice in the arms of our faith; we expect audience and acceptance upon his account alone, and that our petitions and requests will be heard and answered for his sake and we leave them with him, who is our Advocate with the Father. This may he called true, spiritual, fervent, and effectual prayer.
Prayer cannot he performed in such a manner, without the grace, influence, and assistance of the Spirit of God. Some therefore think, that by the Spirit, in my text is, meant the Holy Spirit of God; and that praying with the Spirit, is the same which the apostle Jude calls, praying in the Holy Ghost. If we take the words in this sense, we are not to suppose that when the apostle says, I will pray with the Spirit, that he imagined he could pray with the Holy Spirit, and under its influences when he pleased; his words must be considered only as expressive of the sense he had of the need of the Spirit of God in prayer, and of his earnest desires, after his gracious assistance in the performance of it. I have already observed what place the Holy Ghost has in the work of prayer; he is the Author of it; he is the Spirit of grace and supplications; the inditer of it, he forms it in the heart; (James 5:16) the effectual fervent, ενεργδμενη, the inspired, the in-wrought prayer of a righteous man availeth much; that is, such a prayer as is formed in the soul by a powerful energy of the Spirit of God, who puts things into the heart and words into the mouth: Take (Hosea 14:2) with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: He directs in the matter of prayer; (Rom. 8:26, 27) for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; he maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God. And, indeed, who so proper as he, who searches the deep things of God, and perfectly knows his mind? he helps the saints under all their infirmities; when they are shut up in their souls, and cannot come forth in prayer with liberty, he enlarges their hearts, and gives them freedom of soul, and liberty of speech, so as they can pour out their souls before God, and tell him all their mind: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Cor. 3:17) Without him we cannot pray, either with faith or fervency; nor can we call God our Father without him, the Spirit of adoption, or use that freedom with him, as children with a Father; but because ye are sons, says the apostle, (Gal. 4:6) God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Perhaps it may be objected, that if the Spirit of God is so absolutely necessary in prayer, then men ought not to pray, unless they have the Spirit, or are under the immediate influences of his grace. To which I answer, That prayer may be considered as a natural duty: and as such is binding on all men, even on a natural man, destitute of the Spirit, and ought to be, and may be, performed by him in a natural way; to which there is something analogous in the brute creatures, whose eyes wait upon the Lord; And he giveth to the beast his food, and unto the young ravens which cry. (Ps. 145:15 and 147:9) And we may observe, that the apostle Peter put Simon Magus upon prayer, though he was in a state of unregeneracy; Repent, says he, (Acts 8:22) of this thy wickedness; and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. It is true, none but a spiritual man can pray in a spiritual manner; but then the spiritual man is not always under the gracious and Powerful influences of the Spirit of God; he is sometimes destitute of them, which seems to be David’s case when he said, (Ps. 51:11, 12) Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me; restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit; and yet we are to pray without ceasing, to pray always, and not faint. (1 Thess. 5:17) And one thing we are to pray for is the Spirit, to influence and assist us in prayer, and to work in us whatever is well pleasing in the sight of God; And we have reason to believe that such a petition will be heard and answered; for if earthly fathers know how to give good gifts unto their children, how much more shall our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 18:1) And, indeed, when we are in darkness and distress, without the light of God’s countenance, the influences of his Spirit, and the communications of his grace, we have need of prayer most, and ought to be most constant at the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need. This was David’s practice; (Ps. 130:1) Out of the depths, says he, have I cried unto thee, O Lord; and so it was Jonah’s, when he was in the belly of hell, and said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet, says he, I will look again towards thy holy temple: (Jonah 2:2, 4, 7) And he adds, When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. And so it was the practice of the church in Asaph’s time; who, under darkness and distress, said, (Ps. 130:3, 4, 19) Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? But I proceed,
2. To observe that the apostle is desirous of performing this duty of prayer, with the understanding also, that is, in a language that may be understood by others; for, as he observes in verse 9, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? And for his own part, he declares, in verse 19, he had rather speak five words in the church with his understanding, that by his voice he might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. This condemns the practice of the Papists, who pray in a language not understood by the people.
Or to pray with the understanding, is to pray with the understanding illuminated by the Spirit of God, or to pray with an experimental spiritual understanding of things. A man may use many words in prayer, and put up a great many petitions, and yet have no savoury experience, or spiritual understanding of the things he prays for. The understanding of man is naturally dark, as to divine and spiritual things. The Holy Ghost is the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, who enlightens the eyes of our understanding, to see our lost state and condition by nature, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the impurity of our hearts, the imperfection of our obedience, the insufficiency of our righteousness, the need of Christ, and salvation by him, and the aboundings of God’s grace and mercy, streaming through the Mediator’s person. Such who are thus enlightened, are able to pray with the understanding also: they know who they pray unto, whilst others worship they know not what; they can come to God as their God and Father, as the God of all grace and mercy: they know the way of access to him, and are sensible of their need of the Spirit to influence and assist them, by whom they know what to pray for, as they ought, and are well assured of the readiness of God to hear and answer them for Christ’s sake: And, says the apostle, (1 John 5:15) If we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. These are the persons who pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also; these find their account in this work, and it is a delight to them.
I shall conclude this discourse with a few words, by way of encouragement to this part of divine worship. It is good for the saints to draw near to God; it is not only good because it is their duty, but because it yields their souls a spiritual pleasure; and it is also of great profit and advantage to them: It is often an ordinance of God, and which he owns for the quickening the graces of his spirit, for the restraining and subduing the corruptions of our hearts, and for the bringing of our souls into nearer communion and fellowship with himself. Satan has often felt the force and power of this piece of our spiritual armour; and it is, indeed, the last which the believer is directed to make use of. Praying souls are profitable in families, neighbourhoods, churches, and common-wealths, when prayerless ones are in a great measure useless. The believer has the utmost encouragement to this work he can desire; he may come to God, not as on a seat of justice, but as on a throne of grace. Christ is the Mediator between God and him, his way of access to God, and his Advocate with the Father; the Spirit is his Guide, Director, and Assister; he has many exceeding great and precious promises to plead with God; nor need he doubt of a kind reception, a gracious audience, and a proper answer, though never so mean and unworthy in himself; since the Lord will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise his prayer.