A DISCOURSE TOUCHING PRAYER
by John Bunyan..
Written In Prison, 1662. Published, 1663.
AFor we know not what we should pray for as we ought: C the Spirit C helpeth our infirmities@ (Rom. 8:26).
On Praying In The Spirit.
AI Will Pray With The Spirit, And I Will Pray With The Understanding Also@
C (1Co. 14:15).
PRAYER is an ORDINANCE of God, and that to be used both in public and private; yea, such an ordinance as brings those that have the spirit of supplication into great familiarity with God; and is also so prevalent in action, that it getteth of God, both for the person that prayeth, and for them that are prayed for, great things. It is the opener of the heart of God, and a means by which the soul, though empty, is filled. By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend, and obtain fresh testimony of God=s friendship to him.
The method that I shall go on in at this time shall be,
FIRST. To show you what true prayer is.
SECOND. To show you what it is to pray with the Spirit.
THIRD. What it is to pray with the Spirit and understanding also.
FOURTHLY. To make some short use and application of what shall be spoken.
I. What Prayer Is.
1. FIRST, What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.
2. In this description are these seven things. First, It is a sincere; Second, A sensible; Third, An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; Fourth, By the strength or assistance of the Spirit; Fifth, For such things as God hath promised, or, according to his word; Sixth, For the good of the church; Seventh, With submission in faith to the will of God.
1. Sincerity is such a grace as runs through all the graces of God in us, and through all the actings of a Christian, and hath the sway in them too, or else their actings are not any thing regarded of God,
a. Ps. 66:17-18; 16:1-4; Jer. 29:12-13.
b. The want of this made the Lord reject their prayers in Hosea 7:14.
2. Why? [B]ecause sincerity carries the soul in all simplicity toopen its heart to God, and to tell him the case plainly, without equivocation; to condemn itself plainly, without dissembling; to cry to God heartily, without complimenting.
3. It is not lip‑labour that it doth regard, for it is the heart that God looks at, and that which sincerity looks at, and that which prayer comes from, if it be that prayer which is accompanied with sincerity.
C. Sensible: It is not, as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating, complimentary expressions, but a sensible feeling there is in the heart.
1. A sense of the want of mercy, by reason of the danger of sin.
a. 1 Sam. 1:10; Ps. 69:3; Ps. 38:8-10; Is. 38:14; Jer. 31:18; Matt. 26:75; Heb. 5:7.
b. And all this from a sense of the justice of God, the guilt of sin, the pains of hell and destruction. Ps. 116:3-4; Ps. 77:2; Ps. 38:6.
2. Sometimes there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening, enlivening, enlightening mercy . . .Ps. 103: 1‑5; Phil. 4: 6. A sensible thanksgiving, for mercies received, is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it prevails with him unspeakably.
3. In prayer there is sometimes in the soul a sense of mercy to be received. This again sets the soul all on a flame. 2 Sam. 7:27; Gen. 32:10-11; Dan. 9:3-4.
D. Affectionate pouring out of the soul to God.
1. O! the heat, strength, life, vigour, and affection, that is in right prayer! Ps. 42:1; 119:20, 40, 174; 84: 2; Dan. 9:19; Lk. 22:44
2. When the affections are indeed engaged in prayer, then, then the whole man is engaged, and that in such sort, that the soul will spend itself to nothing, as it were, rather than it will go without that good desired, even communion and solace with Christ. And hence it isthat the saints have spent their strengths, and lost their lives, rather than gowithout the blessing (Psa. 69: 3; 38: 9, 10; Gen. 32:24, 26).
3. Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul. There is in prayer an unbosoming of a man=s self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. Ps. 38: 9; 42:2,4; 62:8; Dt. 4:29
4. Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul TO GOD. This showeth also the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it retires. 1 Tim. 55; Ps. 71:1-5
5. THROUGH CHRIST. This through Christ must needs be added, or else it is to be questioned, whether it be prayer, though in appearance it be never so eminent or eloquent.
a. Christ is the way through whom the soul hath admittance to God, and without whom it is impossible that so much as one desire should come into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Jn.14: 6, 13, 14; Dan. 9:17; Ps. 25:11;
b. This coming to God through Christ is the hardest part that is found in prayer. A man may more easily be sensible of his works, ay, and sincerely too desire mercy, and yet not be able to come to God by Christ. Heb. 11:6, Ex. 33:13;
c. This Christ, none but the Father can reveal. Matt. 11:27, 16:16. Ps. 18: 2; 27:1; 28:1; Gen. 15:1; Jn. 3:5,7; 1:12; Eph. 5:20, 1:6;
E. by the strength OR ASSISTANCE OF THE SPIRIT. . . if it be not in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, it is but like the sons of Aaron, offering with strange fire. Lev. 10:1-2; Rom. 8:26-27
F. FOR SUCH THINGS AS GOD HATH PROMISED, &c., (Mat. 6: 6‑8).
1. Prayer it is, when it is within the compass of God=s Word; and it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petition is beside the book. Ps. 119:25‑28, 41, 42, 49, 58, 65, 74, 81, 82, 107, 147, 154, 169,170)
2. And indeed the Holy Ghost doth not immediately quicken and stir up the heart of the Christian without, but by, with, and through the Word, by bringing that to the heart, and by opening of that, whereby the man is provoked to go to the Lord, and to tell him how it is with him, and also to argue, and supplicate, according to the Word; . . . .Dan. 9:2-3; Matt. 26:53-54.
3. It is a praying then according to the Word and promise. The Spirit by the Word must direct, as well in the manner, as in the matter of prayer. 1 Cor. 14:15; Jer. 8:9
G. FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH. This clause reacheth in whatsoever tendeth either to the honour of God, Christ=s advancement, or his people=s benefit. John 17; Phil. 1: 9‑11; Eph. 1:16‑21; 3:14‑19; Col. 1: 9‑13.
H. SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD, and say, Thy will be done, as Christ hath taught us (Mat. 6:10); therefore the people of the Lord in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers, and all that they have, at the foot of their God, to be disposed of by him as he in his heavenly wisdom seeth best. . . . 1 John. 5:14-15; 1 Cor. 2:11
II. What It Is To Pray With The Spirit.
A. SECOND. I will pray with the Spirit. Now to pray with the Spirit C for that is the praying man, and none else, so as to be accepted of God C it is for a man, as aforesaid, sincerely and sensibly, with affection, to come to God through Christ, &c.; which sincere, sensible, and affectionate coming must be by the working of God=s Spirit.
1. There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Eph. 2:18; Rom. 8:26-27.
2. Consider first the person speaking, even Paul, and, in his person, all the apostles. We apostles, we extraordinary officers, the wise master‑builders, that have some of us been caught up into paradise (Rom. 15:16; 1Co. 3:10; 2Co. 12: 4).
3. AFor we know not what we should pray for.@ We know not the matter of the things for which we should pray, neither the object to whom we pray, nor the medium by or through whom we pray; none of these things know we, but by the help and assistance of the Spirit. Should we pray for communion with God through Christ? should we pray for faith, for justification by grace, and a truly sanctified heart? none of these things know we. 1 Cor. 2:11; Is. 29:11.
4. AFor we know not what we should pray for as we ought.@ Mark this, Aas we ought.@ For the not thinking of this word, or at least the not understanding it in the spirit and truth of it, hath occasioned these men to devise, as Jeroboam did, another way of worship, both for matter and manner, than is revealed in the Word of God (1Ki. 12:26‑33). But, saith Paul, we must pray as we ought; and this WE cannot do by all the art, skill, and cunning device of men or angels. Jam. 4: 3;1Jo. 5:14.
B. The infirmities we suffer when pray:
1. First. Without the Spirit man is so infirm that he cannot, with all other means whatsoever, be enabled to think one right saving thought of God, of Christ, or of his blessed things; and therefore he saith of the wicked, AGod is not in all his thoughts,@ (Psa. 10: 4; 50:21; Gen. 6: 5; 8:21). They then not being able to conceive aright of God to whom they pray, of Christ through whom they pray, nor of the things for which they pray, as is before showed, how shall they be able to address themselves to God, without the Spirit help this infirmity? . . . Mar. 7: 7, 8; Col. 2:16‑23; Deu. 12:30‑32; Pro. 28:9; Deu. 4: 2; Rev. 22:18; Is. 29:13: Ps. 51:15.
2. Second. It must be a praying with the Spirit, that is, the effectual praying; because without that, as men are senseless, so hypocritical, cold, and unseemly in their prayers; and so they, with their prayers, are both rendered abominable to God (Mat. 23:14; Mar. 12:40; Luk. 18:11, 12; Isa. 58: 2, 3). . . . That is the prayer that goeth to heaven, that is sent thither in the strength of the Spirit. For,
3. Third. Nothing but the Spirit can show a man clearly his misery by nature, and so put a man into a posture of prayer. Talk is but talk, as we use to say, and so it is but mouth‑worship, if there be not a sense of misery, and that effectually too. . . . For it is the Spirit that doth effectually convince of sin and misery, without the Lord Jesus, and so puts the soul into a sweet, sensible, affectionate way of praying to God according to his word (Joh. 16: 7‑9).
4. Fourth. If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray. For they would run away from God, with Cain and Judas, and utterly despair of mercy, were it not for the Spirit. When a man is indeed sensible of his sin, and God=s curse, then it is a hard thing to persuade him to pray; for, saith his heart, AThere is no hope,@ it is in vain to seek God. Jer. 2:25; 18:12 . . . Joh. 14:26.
5. Fifth. It must be in or with the Spirit; for without that no man can knowhow he should come to God the right way 1Co. 2:10; Exo. 33:13 Joh. 16:14.
6. Sixth. Because without the Spirit, though a man did see his misery, and also the way to come to God; yet he would never be able to claim a share in either God, Christ, or mercy, with God=s approbation. O how great a task is it, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith, but this one word, AFather!@ I tell you, however hypocrites think, yet the Christian that is so indeed finds all the difficulty in this very thing, it cannot say God is its Father. O! saith he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God=s people for this very thing, to cry Father: it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it (Gal. 4: 6). When I say knowingly, I mean, knowing what it is to be a child of God, and to be born again. And when I say believingly, I mean, for the soul to believe, and that from good experience, that the work of grace is wrought in him. This is the right calling of God Father; and not as many do, to say in a babbling way, the Lord=s prayer (so called) by heart, as it lieth in the words of the book. No, here is the life of prayer, when in or with the Spirit, a man being made sensible of sin, and how to come to the Lord for mercy; he comes, I say, in the strength of the Spirit, and crieth Father. That one word spoken in faith, is better than a thousand prayers, as men call them, written and read, in a formal, cold, lukewarm way. Rev. 3: 9; 2:9; John. 8:41‑45 Isa. 53:10; Ezr. 4:12‑16. Therefore give me leave a little to reason with thee, thou poor, blind, ignorant sot.
a. It may be thy great prayer is to say, AOur Father which art in heaven,@ &c. Dost thou know the meaning of the very first words of this prayer? Canst thou indeed, with the rest of the saints, cry, Our Father? Art thou truly born again? Hast thou received the spirit of adoption? Dost thou see thyself in Christ, and canst thou come to God as a member of him? Or art thou ignorant of these things, and yet darest thou say, Our Father? Is not the devil thy father? (Joh. 8:44).
b. And dost thou indeed say, AHallowed be thy name@ with thy heart? Dost thou study, by all honest and lawful ways, to advance the name, holiness, and majesty of God? Doth thy heart and conversation agree with this passage?
c. Wouldst thou have the kingdom of God come indeed, and also his will to be done in earth as it is in heaven? Nay, notwithstanding, thou according to the form, sayest, Thy kingdom come, yet would it not make thee ready to run mad, to hear the trumpet sound, to see the dead arise, and thyself just now to go and appear before God, to reckon for all the deeds thou hast done in the body? Nay, are not the very thoughts of it altogether displeasing to thee? And if God=s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, must it not be thy ruin? There is never a rebel in heaven against God, and if he should so deal on earth, must it not whirl thee down to hell? . . . Ecc. 5: 2.
7. Seventh. It must be a praying with the Spirit if it be accepted, because there is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer: AThe preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord@. Pro. 16: 1. Ps. 25:1; Zech. 12:10; Eph. 6:18.
8. Eighth. As the heart must be lifted up by the Spirit, if it pray aright, so also it must be held up by the Spirit when it is up, if it continue to pray aright. I do not know what, or how it is with others= hearts, whether they be lifted up by the Spirit of God, and so continued, or no: but this I am sure of, First, That it is impossible that all the prayer‑books that men have made in the world, should lift up, or prepare the heart; that is the work of the great God himself. And, in the second place, I am sure that they are as far from keeping it up, when it is up. And indeed here is the life of prayer, to have the heart kept with God in the duty. Ex. 17:12 Isa. 29:13; Ezekiel 33 Mat. 15: 8, 9; Ps. 86:11 . . . . When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.
9. Ninth. The soul that doth rightly pray, it must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it. When I say, it is impossible for a man to express himself in prayer without it, I mean, that it is impossible that the heart, in a sincere and sensible affectionate way, should pour out itself before God, with those groans and sighs that come from a truly praying heart, without the assistance of the Spirit. It is not the mouth that is the main thing to be looked at in prayer, but whether the heart is so full of affection and earnestness in prayer with God, . . .Rom. 8:26; Ex. 14:15; Num. 16:22; 1 Sam. 16:7. . . .The best prayers have often more groans than words: and those words that . . . The nearer a man comes in any work that God commands him to the doingof it according to his will, so much the more hard and difficult it is; and the reason is, because man, as man, is not able to do it.
10. Tenth. It must be with the Spirit, or else as there will be a failing in the act itself, so there will be a failing, yea, a fainting, in the prosecution of the work. Prayer is an ordinance of God, that must continue with a soul so long as it is on this side glory. But, as I said before, it is not possible for a man to get up his heart to God in prayer; so it is as difficult to keep it there, without the assistance of the Spirit. And if so, then for a man to continue from time to time in prayer with God, it must of necessity be with the Spirit. Christ tells us, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luk. 18: 1; Job. 27:10; Mat. 23:14 Genesis 32; Hos. 12: 4; Eph. 2:18; Jude 1:20). As if he had said, Brethren, as eternal life is laid up for the persons that hold out only, so you cannot hold out unless you continue praying in the Spirit. The great cheat that the devil and antichrist delude the world withal, it is to make them continue in the form of any duty, the form of preaching, of hearing, or praying, &c. These are they that have Aa form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away@ (2Ti. 3: 5).
Here followeth the third thing; to wit,
III. What It Is To Pray With The Spirit And With The Understanding.
A. THIRD. And now to the next thing, what it is to pray with the Spirit, and to pray with the understanding also. 1 Cor. 14: 3, 4, 12, 19, 24, 25. It is expedient then that the understanding should be occupied in prayer, as well as the heart and mouth: AI will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.@ That which is done with understanding, is done more effectually, sensibly, and heartily, as I shall show farther anon, than that which is done without it; which made the apostle pray for the Colossians, that God would fill them Awith the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding@ (Col. 1: 9). And for the Ephesians, that God would give unto them Athe spirit of wisdom and revelation, in the knowledge of him@ (Eph. 1:17). And so for the Philippians, that God would make them abound Ain knowledge, and in all judgment@ (Php. 1: 9). A suitable understanding is good in everything a man undertakes, either civil or spiritual; and therefore it must be desired by all them that would be a praying people. In my speaking to this, I shall show you what it is to pray with understanding.
B. Understanding is to be taken both for speaking in our mother‑tongue, and also experimentally. I pass the first, and treat only on the second.
1. First. To pray with understanding, is to pray as being instructed by the Spirit in the understanding of the want of those things which the soul is to pray for . . . . (Rev. 3:16, 17). Men without understanding may say the same words in prayer as others do; but if there be an understanding in the one, and none in the other, there is, O there is a mighty difference in speaking the very same words! The one speaking from a spiritual understanding of those things that he in words desires, and the other words it only, and there is all.
2. Second. Spiritual understanding espieth in the heart of God a readiness and willingness to give those things to the soul that it stands in need of. David by this could guess at the very thoughts of God towards him. Ps. 40: 5; Mat. 15:22‑28).
a. And understanding of the willingness that is in the heart of God to save sinners, there is nothing will press the soul more to seek after God, and to cry for pardon, than it.
b. If a man should see a pearl worth an hundred pounds lie in a ditch, yet if he understood not the value of it, he would lightly pass it by: but if he once get the knowledge of it, he would venture up to the neck for it. So it is with souls concerning the things of God: if a man once get an understanding of the worth of them, then his heart, nay, the very strength of his soul, runs after them, and he will never leave crying till he have them. . . . Mat. 20:29‑31.
3. Third. The understanding being spiritually enlightened, hereby there is the way, as aforesaid, discovered, through which the soul should come unto God; which gives great encouragement unto it.
4. Fourth. The enlightened understanding sees largeness enough in the promises to encourage it to pray; which still adds to it strength to strength.
5. Fifth. The understanding being enlightened, way is made for the soul to come to God with suitable arguments, sometimes in a way of expostulation, as Jacob (Gen. 32: 9). Sometimes in way of supplication, yet not in a verbal way only, but even from the heart there is forced by the Spirit, through the understanding, such effectual arguments as moveth the heart of God. . . .Jer. 31:18‑20. Isa. 66: 2.
6. Sixth. An understanding well enlightened is of admirable use also, both as to the matter and manner of prayer. He that hath his understanding well exercised, to discern between good and evil, and in it placed a sense either of the misery of man, or the mercy of God; that soul hath no need of the writings of other men to teach him by forms of prayer. For as he that feels the pain needs not to be taught to cry O! even so he that hath his understanding opened by the Spirit needs not so to be taught of other men=s prayers, as that he cannot pray without them. Psa. 116: 3, 4; 38: 1‑ 12.
7. Seventh. It is necessary that there be an enlightened understanding, to the end that the soul be kept in a continuation of the duty of prayer.
a. The people of God are not ignorant how many wiles, tricks, and temptations the devil hath to make a poor soul, who is truly willing to have the Lord Jesus Christ, and that upon Christ=s terms too; I say, to tempt that soul to be weary of seeking the face of God, and to think that God is not willing to have mercy on such a one as him. Isa. 49:14; 40:27; 8:17; 40:1; Gen. 32:25‑27; Luk. 18: 1‑6.
b. Alas, how many poor souls are there in the world, that truly fear the Lord, who, because they are not well informed in their understanding, are oft ready to give up all for lost, upon almost every trick and temptation of Satan! Hab. 2: 3.
Queries and Objections answered.
Query First. But what would you have us poor creatures to do that cannot tell how to pray? The Lord knows I know not either how to pray, or what to pray for.
Answer. Poor heart! thou canst not, thou complainest, pray. Canst thou see thy misery? Hath God showed thee that thou art by nature under the curse of his law? If so, do not mistake, I know thou dost groan and that most bitterly. I am persuaded thou canst scarcely be found doing any thing in thy calling, but prayer breaketh from thy heart. Have not thy groans gone up to heaven from every corner of thy house? (Rom. 8:26; Job 23:12.
Query Second. Yea, but when I go into secret, and intend to pour out my soul before God, I can scarce say anything at all.
1. Ah! Sweet soul! It is not thy words that God so much regards, as that he will not mind thee, except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration. His eye is on the brokenness of thine heart; and that it is that makes the very bowels of the Lord to run over. AA broken and a
contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise@ (Psa. 51:17).
2. The stopping of thy words may arise from overmuch trouble in thy heart. David was so troubled sometimes, that he could not speak. Psa. 77: 3, 4. But this may comfort all such sorrowful hearts as thou art, that though thou canst not through the anguish of thy spirit speak much, yet the Holy Spirit stirs up in thine heart groans and sighs, so much the more vehement: . . . Ex. 14:15.
3. If thou wouldst more fully express thyself before the Lord, study, first, Thy filthy estate; secondly, God=s promises; thirdly, The heart of Christ. Which thou mayest know or discern, (1.) By his condescension and bloodshed. (2.) By the mercy he hath extended to great sinners formerly, and plead thine own vileness, by way of bemoaning; Christ=s blood by way of expostulation; . . . Jer. 29:13.
Objection. But though you have seemed to speak against any other way of praying but by the Spirit, yet here you yourself can give direction how to pray.
Object. But if we do not use forms of prayer, how shall we teach our children to pray?
Answer. For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God=s wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way
that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with
pride. . . .Psa. 34:11; Act. 9:11.
Object. But we find that the disciples desired that Christ would teach them to pray, as John also taught his disciples; and that thereupon he taught them that form called the LORD=S PRAYER.
Object. But Christ bids pray for the Spirit; this implieth that men without the Spirit may notwithstanding pray and be heard. (See Luk. 11: 9‑13).
Question. Then would you have none pray but those that know they are the disciples of Christ?
IV. Use And Application.
A. USE First, A word of information.
1. Prayer is an ordinance of God, in which a man draws very near to God; and therefore it calleth for so much the more of the assistance of the grace of God to help a soul to pray as becomes one that is in the presence of him.
2. It is a shame for a man to behave himself irreverently before a king, but a sin to do so before God. And as a king, if wise, is not pleased with an oration made up with unseemly words and gestures, so God takes no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools. Ecc. 5: 1, 4; Psa. 51:17; Isa. 57:15.
3. Therefore for information, know that there are these five things that are obstructions to prayer, and even make void the requests of the creature.
a. When men regard iniquity in their hearts, at the time of their prayers before God. Ps. 66:18 Isa. 29:13; Eze. 33:31 Ps. 109: 7; 2Sa. 22:42.
b. When men pray for a show to be heard, and thought somebody in religion, and the like; these prayers also fall far short of God=s approbation, and are never like to be answered, in reference to eternal life.
i. There are two sorts of men that pray to this end.
I. Your trencher chaplains, that thrust themselves into great men=s families, pretending the worship of God, when in truth the great business is their own bellies;
II. Them also that seek repute and applause for their eloquent terms, and seek more to tickle the ears and heads of their hearers than anything else.
ii. These persons are discovered thus,
I. They eye only their auditory in their expressions.
II. They look for commendation when they have done.
III. Their hearts either rise or fall according to their praise or enlargement.
IV. The length of their prayer pleaseth them; and that it might be long, they will vainly repeat things over and over (Mat. 6: 7; Psa. 85: 8.
c. A third sort of prayer that will not be accepted of God, it is, when either they pray for wrong things, or if for right things, yet that the thing prayed for might be spent upon their lusts, and laid out to wrong ends. Jam. 4: 2‑ 4.
Object. But God hears some persons, though their hearts be not right with him, as he did Israel, in giving quails, though they spent them upon their lusts (Psa. 106:14).
Answer If he doth, it is in judgment, not in mercy. He gave them their desire indeed, but they had better have been without it, for he Asent leanness into their soul@ (Psa. 106:15). Woe be to that man that God answereth thus.
d. Another sort of prayers there are that are not answered; and those aresuch as are made by men, and presented to God in their own persons only, without their appearing in the Lord Jesus. Col. 3:17; John 14:13-14.
e. The last thing that hindereth prayer is, the form of it without the power. Pro. 28: 9; Hos. 7:14.
4. When therefore thou intendest, or art minded to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth, consider these following particulars.
a. Consider seriously what thou wantest. Do not, as many who in their words only beat the air, and ask for such things as indeed they do not desire, nor see that they stand in need thereof.
b. When thou seest what thou wantest, keep to that, and take heed thou pray sensibly.
Object. But I have a sense of nothing; then, by your argument, I must not pray at all.
1. If thou findest thyself senseless in some sad measure, yet thou canst not complain of that senselessness, but by being sensible there is a sense of senselessness. According to thy sense, then, that thou hast of the need of anything, so pray; (Luk. 8: 9; Psa. 39: 4Jer. 33: 3. But,
2. Take heed that thy heart go to God as well as thy mouth.
3. Take heed of affecting expressions, and so to please thyself with the use of them, that thou forget not the life of prayer.
1. And the first is, take heed thou do not throw off prayer, through sudden persuasions that thou hast not the Spirit, neither prayest thereby. It is the great work of the devil to do his best, or rather worst, against the best prayers. Isa. 65: 5; Zec. 3: 1.
2. As such sudden temptations should not stop thee from prayer, and pouring out thy soul to God; so neither should thine own heart=s corruptions hinder thee. (Let not thy corruptions stop thy prayers).Psa. 25:11.
B. USE Second. A word of encouragement. And therefore, secondly, to speak a word by way of encouragement, to the poor, tempted, and cast down soul, to pray to God through Christ. Though all prayer that is accepted of God in reference to eternal life must be in the Spirit C for that only maketh intercession for us according to the will of God, (Rom. 8:27) C yet because many poor souls may have the Holy Spirit working on them, and stirring of them to groan unto the Lord for mercy, though through unbelief they do not, nor, for the present, cannot believe that they are the people of God, such as he delights in; yet forasmuch as the truth of grace may be in them, therefore I shall, to encourage them, lay down further these few particulars.
1. [T]here is nothing that doth more prevail with God than importunity. Luk. 11: 8.
2. Another encouragement for a poor trembling convinced soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God hath placed himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a Athrone of grace@ (Heb. 4:16). AThe mercy‑seat@ (Exo. 25:22).
3. As there is a mercy‑seat, from whence God is willing to commune with poor sinners; so there is also by his mercy‑seat, Jesus Christ, who continually besprinkleth it with his blood. Hence it is called Athe blood of sprinkling@ (Heb. 12:24). When the high‑priest under the law was to go into the holiest, where the mercy‑seat was, he might not go in Awithout blood@. Heb. 9: 7 . . Lev. 16:13‑17. But if from a sense of thy vileness thou do pour out thy heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt, and cleansed from the filth, with all thy heart; fear not, thy vileness will not cause the Lord to stop his ear from hearing of thee. Heb. 10:19, 20; Exo. 12:13.
C. USE Third. A word of reproof.
1. This speaks sadly to you who never pray at all. AI will pray,@ saith the apostle, and so saith the heart of them that are Christians. Thou then art not a Christian that art not a praying person. The promise is that every one that is righteous shall pray (Psa. 32: 6). Thou then art a wicked wretch that prayest not. Jacob got the name of Israel by wrestling with God (Genesis 32). Gal. 6:16; Jer. 10:25 . . . What wilt thou do when thou shalt be damned in hell, because thou couldst not find in thine heart to ask for heaven? Who will grieve for thy sorrow, that didst not count mercy worth asking for? I tell thee, the ravens, the dogs, &c., shall rise up in judgment against thee, for they will, according to their kind, make signs, and a noise for something to refresh them when they want it; but thou hast not the heart to ask for heaven, though thou must eternally perish in hell, if thou hast it not.
2. This rebukes you that make it your business to slight, mock at, and undervalue the Spirit, and praying by that. What will you do, when God shall come to reckon for these things? You count it high treason to speak but a word against the king, nay, you tremble at the thought of it; and yet in the meantime you will blaspheme the Spirit of the Lord. Is God indeed to be dallied with, and will the end be pleasant unto you? Did God send his Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people, to that end that you should taunt at it? Is this to serve God? And doth this demonstrate the reformation of your church? Nay, is it not the mark of implacable reprobates? O fearful! Can you not be content to be damned for your sins against the law, but you must sin against the Holy Ghost? Must the holy, harmless, and undefiled Spirit of grace, the nature of God, the promise of Christ, the Comforter of his children, that without which no man can do any service acceptable to the Father C must this, I say, be the burthen of your song, to taunt, deride, and mock at? If God sent Korah and his company headlong to hell for speaking against Moses and Aaron, do you that mock at the Spirit of Christ think to escape unpunished? Numbers 16; Heb. 10:29; Act. 5: 1‑8; 8:18-22; Mat. 12:31, with Mar. 3:28‑30.
3. As this is the doom of those who do openly blaspheme the Holy Ghost, in a way of disdain and reproach to its office and service: so also it is sad for you, who resist the Spirit of prayer, by a form of man=s inventing. A very juggle of the devil, that the traditions of men should be of better esteem, and more to be owned than the Spirit of prayer. What is this less than that accursed abomination of Jeroboam, which kept many from going to Jerusalem, the place and way of God=s appointment to worship; and by that means brought such displeasure from God upon them, as to this day is not appeased? (1Ki. 12:26‑33).
V. The Conclusion.
A. Believe that as sure as you are in the way of God you must meet with temptations.
B. The first day therefore that thou dost enter into Christ=s congregation, look for them.
C. When they do come, beg of God to carry thee through them.
D. Be jealous of thine own heart, that it deceive thee not in thy evidences for heaven, nor in thy walking with God in this world.
E. Take heed of the flatteries of false brethren.
F. Keep in the life and power of truth.
G. Look most at the things which are not seen.
H. Take heed of little sins.
I. Keep the promise warm upon thy heart.
J. Renew thy acts of faith in the blood of Christ.
K. Consider the work of thy generation.
L. Count to run with the foremost therein.
Grace be with thee.