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with man, and it is not contrary to the nature of things; for the Spirit, being a divine Person, searches the heart, and can impress those ideas on the souls of his people, whereby they may be led into the knowledge of those things that they ought to ask in prayer, with as much facility as any one can convey his ideas to another by words. If it was impossible for God to do this, his providence could not be conversant about intelligent creatures, any otherwise than in an objective way, in which it would not differ from that which may be attributed to finite spirits. And it would have been impossible for God to have imparted his mind and will by extraordinary revelation,. (without which, it could not have been known) if he may not, though it be in an ordinary way, communicate those ideas to the souls of his people, whereby they may be furnished with matter for prayer.
I am not pleading for extraordinary revelation; for that is to expect a blessing that God does not now give to his people: But I only argue from the greater to the less; whereby it may appear, that it is not impossible, or absurd, from the nature of the thing, or contrary to the divine perfections, for God to impress the thoughts of men in an ordinary way; since he formerly did this in an extraordinary, as will be allowed by all, who are not disposed to deny and set aside revealed religion. Moreover, there was such a thing in the apostle's days, as being led by the Spirit, which was distinguished from his miraculous and extraordinary influences, as a Spirit of inspiration; otherwise, it is certain, he would not have assigned this as a character of the children of God, which he does, Rom. viii. 14. And when our Saviour promises his people the Spirit to guide them into all truth, John xvi. 13. I cannot think that this only respected the apostles, or their being led into the truths that they were to impart to the church by divine inspiration; but it seems to be a privilege that belongs to all believers: Therefore, we conclude, that it is no absurdity to suppose that he may assist his people, as to what concerns the matter of their prayers, or suggest to them those becoming thoughts which they have in prayer, when drawing nigh to God in a right manner.
Some have enquired, whether we may conclude that the Spirit of God furnishes his people with words in prayer, distinct from his impressing ideas on their minds? This I would be very cautious in determining, lest I should hereby not put a just difference between this assistance of the Spirit, that believers hope for, and that which the prophets of old received by inspiration. I dare not say, that the Spirit's work consists. in furnishing believers with proper expressions, with which their ideas are clothed, when they engage in this duty, but ૨૧
rather with those suitable arguments and apprehensions of divine things, which are more immediately subservient thereunto: Accordingly the apostle, speaking of the Spirit's assisting believers, when they know not what to pray for as they ought, says, that he does this with groanings that cannot be uttered: that is, he impresses on their souls those divine breathings after things spiritual and heavenly, which they sometimes, notwithstanding, want words to express; though, at the same time, the frame of their spirits may be under u divine influence, which God is said to know the meaning of when he graciously hears and answers their prayers, how imperfect soever they may be, as to the mode of expression.
(2.) The Spirit helps our infirmities by giving us a suitable frame of spirit, and exciting those graces which are to be exercised in this duty of prayer. This the Psalmist calls, preparing their hearts; which God does, and then causes his ear to hear, Psal. x. 17. which is a very desirable blessing; and, in order to our understanding it aright, let it be considered,
[1.] That we cannot, without the Spirit's assistance, bring our hearts into a right frame for prayer; and that is the reason why we engage in this duty, in such a manner as gives great uneasiness to us when we reflect upon it; so that when we pretend to draw nigh to God, we can hardly say that we worship him as God, but become vain in our imaginations; and the corruption of our nature discovers itself more at this time than it does on other occasions; and Satan uses his utmost endeavours to distract and disturb our thoughts, and take off the edge of our affections; whereby we seem not really to desire those things which, with our lips, we ask at the hand of God. As for an unregenerate man, he has not a principle of grace, and therefore cannot pray in faith, or with the exercise of those other graces which he is destitute of; and the believer is renewed but in part, and therefore, if the Spirit is not pleased to excite the principle of grace which he has implanted, he is very much indisposed for this duty, which cannot be performed aright without his assistance.
[2.] We are, nevertheless, to use our utmost endeavours, in order thereunto, hoping for a blessing from God to succeed them. Accordingly, we are to meditate on the divine perfections, and the evil of sin, which is contrary thereunto; whereby we are rendered guilty, defiled, and unworthy to come into the presence of God; yet we consider ourselves as invited to come to him in the gospel, and encouraged by his promise and grace, to cast ourselves before his footstool, in hope of obtaining mercy from him.
We are also to examine ourselves, that we may know what sins are to be confessed by us, and what are those necessities
which will afford matter for petition or supplication in prayer, together with the mercies we have received; which are to be thankfully acknowledged therein. We are also to consider the many encouragements which we have, to draw nigh to God in this duty, taken from his being ready to pardon our iniquities, heal our backslidings, help our infirmities, and grant us undeserved favours. We must also impress on our souls a due sense of the spirituality of the duty we are to engage in, and that we have to do with the heart-searching God, who will be worshipped with reverence and holy fear; and therefore we are to endeavour to excite all the powers and faculties of our souls, to engage in this duty in such a way that we may hereby glorify his name, and hope to receive a gracious answer from him.
[3.] When we have used our utmost endeavours to bring ourselves into a praying frame, yet we must depend on the Holy Spirit to give success thereunto, that we may be enabled to exercise those graces that are more especially his gift and work: And, in order thereunto,
1st, We must give glory to him as the author of regeneration, since no grace can be exercised in this duty but what proceeds from a right principle, or a nature renewed, and internally sanctified, and disposed for the performance hereof; which is his work, as the Spirit of grace and of supplication, Zech. xii. 10.
2dly, As we are to draw nigh to God in this duty, as a reconciled God and Father, if we hope to be accepted by him; so we are to consider, that this is the peculiar work of the Spirit, whereby we are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, Rom. viii. 15. Gal. iv. 6. This will not only dispose us to perform this duty in a right manner, so as to enable us to pray in faith; but it will afford us ground of hope that our prayers will be heard and answered by him.
3dly, Inasmuch as we often are straitened in our spirits, which is a great hindrance to us in this duty, we must consider it as a peculiar blessing and gift of the Holy Ghost, to have our hearts enlarged; which the Psalmist intends, when he says, Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name, Psal. cxlii. 7. and it is a peculiar branch of that liberty which he is pleased to bestow on his people, under the gospel-dispensation; as the apostle says, Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, 2 Cor. iii. 17. And by this means our affections will be raised, and we enabled to pour out our souls before him.
This may give us occasion to enquire concerning the difference that there is between raised affections in prayer, which unregenerate persons sometimes have, from external motives; and those which the Spirit excites in us as a peculiar blessing,
whereby he assists us in the discharge of this duty. There are several things in which they differ; as,
1st, The former of these oftentimes proceeds from a slavish fear and dread of the wrath of God; the latter from a love to, and desire after him, which arises from the view we have of his glory, as our covenant God, in and through a Mediator.
2dly, Raised affections in unregenerate persons, are seldom found, but when they are under some pressing affliction, in which case, as the prophet says, They will seek God early, Hos. v. 15. but when this is removed, the affections grow stupid, cold, and indifferent, as they were before his afflicting hand was laid upon them: Whereas, on the other hand, a believer will find his heart drawn forth after God and divine things, when he is not sensible of any extraordinary affliction that gives vent to his passions; or he finds, that as afflictions tend to excite some graces in the exercise whereof his affections are moved, so when it pleases God to deliver him from them, his affections are still raised while other graces are exercised agreeably thereunto.
3dly, Raised affections, in unregenerate men, for the most part, carry them forth in the pursuit of those temporal blessings which they stand in need of: Thus when Esau sought the blessing carefully with tears, it was that outward prosperity which was contained therein, that he had principally in view, as disdaining that his brother Jacob should be preferred before him; or, as it is said, made his Lord, and his brethren given him for servants, Gen. xxvii. 37. but he had no regard to the spiritual or saving blessings contained therein: Whereas, a believer is most concerned for, and affeeted with those blessings that immediately accompany salvation, or contain in them the special love of God, or communion with him, which he prefers to all other things: Thus the Psalmist says, There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us, Psal. iv. 6. And to this we may add,
4thly, Whatever raised affections unregenerate persons may have, they want a broken heart, an humble sense of sin, and an earnest desire that it may be subdued and mortified; they are destitute of self-denial, and other graces of the like nature, which, in some degree, are found in a believer, when assisted by the Spirit, in performing the duty of prayer in a right
From what has been said concerning the Spirit's assistance in prayer, we may infer,
1st, That there is a great difference between the gift and the grace of prayer: The former may be attained by the improvement of our natural abilities, and is oftentimes of use to others
who join with us therein; whereas the latter is a peculiar blessing from the Spirit of God, and an evidence of the truth of grace.
2dly, They who deny that the Spirit has any hand in the work of grace, and consequently disown his assistance in prayer, cannot be said to give him that glory that is due to him, and therefore must be supposed to be destitute of his assistance, and very deficient as to this duty.
3dly, Let us not presume on the Spirit's assistance in prayer, while we continue in a course of grieving him, and quenching his holy motions.
4thly, Let us desire raised affections, as a great blessing from God, and yet not be discouraged from engaging in prayer, though we want them; since this grace, as well as all others, is dispensed in a way of sovereignty: And if he is pleased, for wise ends, to withhold his assistance; yet we must not say, why should I wait on the Lord any longer?
5thly, If we would pray in the Spirit, or experience his help, to perform this duty in a right manner, let us endeavour to walk in the Spirit, and to maintain a spiritual, holy, self-denying frame, at all times, if we would not be destitute of it, when we engage in this duty. This leads us to consider,
II. The persons for whom we are to pray; and on the other hand, who are not to be prayed for.
1. As to the former of those: It is observed,
(1.) That we are to pray for the whole church of Christ upon earth; by which we are to understand, all those that profess the faith of the gospel, especially such whose practice is agreeable to their profession; and in particular, all those religious societies who consent to walk in those ordinances whereby they testify their subjection to Christ, as king of saints. The particular members of which these societies consist, are, for the most part, unknown to us; so that we cannot pray for them by name, or as being acquainted with the condition and circumstances in which they are; yet they are not to be wholly disregarded, or excluded from the benefit of our prayers: Thus the apostle speaks of the great conflict he had, not only for them at Laodicea; but, for as many as had not seen his face in the flesh, Col. ii. 1. This is a peculiar branch of the communion of saints, and it is accompanied with those earnest desires which we have, that God may be glorified in them, and by them, as well as ourselves; particularly we are to pray,
[1.] That they may be united together in love to God and to one another, John xvii. 21. That this may be attended with all those other graces and comforts which are an evidence of their interest in Christ.