Love writes that to mortify sin one must “bend the strength of the heart in importunate prayer to God against the corruption that troubles you most.” This is an interesting proposition in that Love bends two separate ideas into a single movement. First, there is the concept of prayer as a means of soliciting grace from God. He gives the instance of Paul praying for relief from the thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:8). Prayer is a means of fetching strength from God. William Gurnall in his masterwork, The Christian in Complete Armor writes:
The second reason may be taken from the absolute necessity of this act of faith above others, to support the Christian in the hour of temptation. All the Christian’s strength and comfort is fetched without doors, and he hath none to send of his errand but faith; this goes to heaven and knocks God up, as he in the parable his neighbour at midnight for bread: therefore, when faith fails, and the soul hath none to go to market for supplies, there must needs be a poor house kept in the meantime. Now faith is never quite laid up till the soul denies, or at least questions, the power of God. Indeed, when the Christian disputes the will of God, whispering within its own bosom, will he pardon? will he save? this may make faith go haltingly to the throne of grace, but not knock the soul off from seeking the face of God. Even then faith on the power of God will bear it company thither: ‘If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean;’ if thou wilt, thou canst pardon, thou canst purge. But when the soul concludes he cannot pardon, cannot save, this shoots faith to the heart, so that the soul falls at the foot of Satan, not able more to resist; now it grows more listless to duty, indifferent whether it pray or not, as one that sees the well dry breaks or throws away his pitcher. (Doctrine First, Reason Second)
He writes of faith, but how does faith seek help except by prayer. Without the prayer of faith seeking help, the Christian cannot stand before temptation or sin.
The second idea embedded in Love’s sentence may be found in the word “bend”: Not only does prayer seek to fetch help from God, the very act of prayer bends the will in submission to God. Sin necessitates rebellion against God. By bending one’s heart in submission and need toward God, one must twist away from temptation and sin. The very act of prayer is an act of freedom from sin.
John Owen emphasized the importance of prayer as a means to keep from sin in his book Temptation:
To pray that we enter not into temptation is a means to preserve us from it. Glorious things are, by all men that know aught of those things, spoken of this duty; and yet the truth is, not one half of its excellency, power, and efficacy is known. It is not my business to speak of it in general; but this I say as to my present purpose,—he that would be little in temptation, let him be much in prayer. This calls in the suitable help and succour that is laid up in Christ for us, Heb. 4:16. This casteth our souls into a frame of opposition to every temptation. When Paul had given instruction for the taking to ourselves “the whole armour of God,” that we may resist and stand in the time of temptation, he adds this general close of the whole, Eph. 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.”
Without this all the rest will be of no efficacy for the end proposed. And therefore consider what weight he lays on it: “Praying always,”—that is, at all times and seasons, or be always ready and prepared for the discharge of that duty, Luke 18:1, Eph. 6:18; “with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,”—putting forth all kinds of desires unto God, that are suited to our condition, according to his will, and which we are assisted in by the Spirit; “and watching thereunto,” lest we be diverted by any thing whatever; and that not for a little while, but “with all perseverance,”—continuance lengthened out to the utmost: so shall we stand. The soul so framed is in a sure posture; and this is one of the means without which this work will not be done. If we do not abide in prayer, we shall abide in cursed temptations. Let this, then, be another direction:—Abide in prayer, and that expressly to this purpose, that we “enter not into temptation.” Let this be one part of our daily contending with God,—that he would preserve our souls, and keep our hearts and our ways, that we be not entangled; that his good and wise providence will order our ways and affairs, that no pressing temptation befall us; that he would give us diligence, carefulness, and watchfulness over our own ways. So shall we be delivered when others are held with the cords of their own folly.
John Owen, vol. 6, The Works of John Owen., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark), 126-27.
There is never a mortified man who has not been a praying man. Subduing lust can never be obtained without prayer, for prayer is the sword of the Spirit whereby we can conquer and overcome our corruptions.
A lesson on prayer as a means of sanctification: Prayer