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give me all the blessings I stand in need of, and bring me into that state in which I shall be satisfied with thy goodness, and my imperfect prayers turned into endless praises.
QUEST. CLXXXVI. What rule hath God given for our direc tion in the duty of prayer?
ANSW. The whole word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of praying; but the special rule of direction, is that form of prayer, which our Saviour Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord's prayer.
QUEST. CLXXXVII. How is the Lord's prayer to be used? ANSW. The Lord's prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers, but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty.
S to what is said in the former of these answers, concerning the word of God, being a rule for our direction in prayer, it may be observed,
I. That we need some direction in order to our performing this duty; for man is naturally a stranger both to God and himself. He knows but little of the glorious perfections of the divine nature, and is not duly sensible of the guilt which he contracts, or of the mercies which he receives; and without the knowledge hereof, we shall be at a loss as to the matter of the duty which we are to engage in. It is certain, many have a general notion of religion, or of some moral duties, which they are sensible of their being obliged to perform: Nevertheless, they cannot address themselves to God in such a manner as he requires; so that it may truly be said of them, that they cannot order their speech by reason of darkness, Job Xxxvii. 19. We find that the disciples themselves, who were intimately conversant with Christ, and, as it must be supposed, often joined with him in prayer, were, notwithstanding, at a loss, as to this duty; and therefore they say, Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples, Luke xi. 1.
11. It is farther observed, that the word of God is to be made use of for our direction in prayer. This is evident, inasmuch as we are to ask for nothing but what is agreeable to hi, revealed will, which is contained therein; and no one, whe well acquainted with it, will have reason to say, that he sufficient matter for prayer. This is a very useful head,
and therefore we shall consider several things which occur to us in scripture; which ought to be improved, in order to our direction and assistance in the performance of this duty. And,
1. The historical parts of scripture, which contain an account of the providences of God in the world, and the church, may be of use for our direction in prayer, as we are to pray, not only for ourselves, but for others: Therefore his former dealings with his people, will furnish us with matter accommodated to our present observation of the necessities of the church of God in our day: Accordingly we find,
(1.) That the sins which a professing people have committed, have been followed with many terrible instances of the divine wrath and vengeance: Thus we have an account, of the universal apostacy of the world from God, which occasioned their being destroyed by a flood; and the unnatural lusts of the inhabitants of Sodom, for which they were consumed by fire from heaven; and of the idolatry and other abominations committed by the Israelites, for which it is said, that God was wroth, and greatly abhorred them; upon which they were exposed to many temporal and spiritual judgments, so that, as the Psalmist says, he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men; and delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemies hand, Psal. lxxviii. 5961. From hence we may take occasion to enquire, whether we have not been guilty of sins equally great, and, it may be, of the same kind, which are to be confessed, and the judgments which have ensued to be deprecated by us? And when we read in the New Testament, of some flourishing churches, planted by the apostles, in the beginning of the gospel dispensation, that have nothing left but a sad remembrance of the privileges which they once enjoyed; in whom, what Christ says, concerning his removing his candlestick out of its place, was soon fulfilled, Rev. iii. 15. This is of use for our direction in prayer, that he would keep his church and people from running into the same sins, and exposing themselves to the same judgments.
(2.) We have an account, in scripture, of the church's increase and preservation, notwithstanding the darkest dispensations of providence, and the most violent persecutions which it has met with from its enemies. When it was in hard bondage, and severely dealt with, in Egypt, it is observed, that the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew, Exod. i. 12. and when they have, in all appearance, been nearest to ruin, God has opened a door for their deliverance, and oftentimes done great things in their behalf, which they looked not for. We have also an historical
account, in scripture, of God's owning and encouraging his people, so long as they have kept close to him; and of his visiting their iniquities with a rod, when backsliding from him; and, indeed, whatever we read concerning the providences of God towards particular believers in the Old or New Testament, the same may be observed therein, which is of very great use for our direction in prayer; and accordingly their experiences are recorded for our instruction, and their necessities, that we may know what to pray for, as far as there is an agree ment between the account we have of them, and what we find in ourselves.
2. The word of God, as it is a rule of faith, contains those great doctrines, without the knowledge whereof, we cannot pray aright. Thus we have an account in scripture, not only of the Being and perfections of God, which may be known by the light of nature, but of those glorious truths which cannot be known but by divine revelation: And,
(1.) Of the personal glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; of the Father's giving all spiritual blessings to his people, in and through a Mediator; and the Son is considered as invested in this office and character, and, as God incarnate procuring for us, by his obedience and death, forgiveness of sins, and a right to eternal life. We have also an account of the Holy Ghost, as being a divine person, and therefore equal with the Father and Son; yet as subservient to them in his method of acting, as the application of redemption attains the end of the purchase thereof, in like manner as the purchase of it was a means to bring about that purpose and grace which was given us in Christ before the world began, 2 Tim. i. 9. These doctrines are necessary to direct us in those things which respect the distinct glory which we are to give to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the method in which we are to hope for the blessings which we ask for in prayer. Thus the apostle, speaking of this duty, supposes that we are acquainted with this doctrine, when he says, Through him, that is, Christ, we have an access by one Spirit unto the Father, Eph. ii. 18.
(2.) In the word of God, we have not only an account of the works of nature and providence, or God's being the Creator and Governor of the world, which we have some knowledge of, in a method of reasoning from the divine perfections; but we have an account therein of those works which have an immediate reference to our salvation, and that special providence in which God expresses a greater regard to the heirs of salvation than to all the world besides: When we draw nigh to God in prayer, we are not barely to consider him as the God to whom we owe our being, as men, but our well-being as christians,
delivered from that ruin which we brought on ourselves, by our apostacy from him; and also, what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, chap. i. 18, 19. as the apostle expresses it in that affectionate prayer put up for the church at Ephesus. And when we survey the works of providence, we are not barely to think of God as the Governor of the world in general, but to consider what have been those special acts of providence, by which he has governed man before and since the fall, and to consider the first covenant as made with him in innocency; and the covenant of grace, as being a dispensation of grace, established in and with Christ, as the Head of the elect, in order to their being delivered from that state of sin and misery into which they had brought themselves. These doctrines will be of use for our direction in prayer, as hereby we are led to acknowledge our fallen state, what we were by nature, and what we should have been, had we been left in that state; and hereby we are also led to adore the riches of God's grace, as he brings the greatest good to his saints out of the greatest evil.
(3.) The word of God gives us a distinct account of the offices in which Christ is invested, as they are suited to the necessities of his people, which is a means for our direction concerning what we are to ask for, with a particular relation to each of them, and the hope we have that he will grant our request. As he is appointed by the Father, to be our High Priest, to make atonement for sin; our Advocate, to plead our cause; our Prophet, to lead us in the way of salvation; and our King, to subdue us to himself, and defend us from the assaults of our spiritual enemies. So we are, in our prayers, to improve these discoveries which we have thereof, as a means to direct us in those things which are the subject-matter both of prayer and praise.
4. The word of God is of use for our direction in prayer, as we have an account therein of those duties which are to be performed by us as men, or christians, in every condition of life, and in all those relations which we stand in to one another. As for that which is matter of duty in general, or that obedience which we owe to God, this cannot be performed but by his assistance; which is humbly to be asked in prayer: And accordingly we are to say as one does, Lord, work in me that which thou requirest, and then require what thou pleasest. Here we might shew how all the duties which God has com manded, may be of use to direct us in prayer: that hereby we may be led to apply ourselves to him, that he would enable us to perform them; and all the sins forbidden in scripture, may
be of use to instruct us what to deprecate, when we pray that God would keep us from our own iniquities, and what we are to confess before him, and implore the forgiveness of; and all those commands which respect instituted worship, viz. our attendance on the ordinances, or the exercise of various graces therein, in the whole course of our conversation: These are of use for our direction in prayer, as hereby we know what to ask for, with relation thereunto; and particularly as to what concerns the advantage we hope to receive, under the means of grace, whenever we draw nigh to God in the way which he has appointed.
5. As the word of God contains many promises and predictions, together with their accomplishment, for the encouragement of our faith and hope in prayer, it is of use to direct us in the performance of this duty. As for the predictions that are fulfilled, so far as they respect the blessings which God designed to bestow on his church, they are equivalent to promises, and we are to take occasion from thence, to adore and magnify his faithfulness; and hope that whatever remains to be done for us, or his people in general, shall, in like manner, have its accomplishment, which will afford matter of encouragement to us in addressing ourselves to him for it.
The promises which are contained in scripture, are also a motive and inducement to prayer. These are a declaration of God's will to give the blessings, which he sees necessary for us, and therefore are of great use in order to our performing this duty aright. Thus God gives an intimation of the great things that he will do for, or bestow upon his people, when he says, in Jer xxxi. 33. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people and there are many expressions of the like nature, which contain the form of a promise. But besides these, there are others which are equivalent to, and may be applied by us in like manner as though they were laid down in the same form, as the promises generally are; as,
(1.) When God is said, in his word, to be able to do his people good, or bestow some particular blessings upon them, this gives them ground to conclude, that he will do it, or that his power shall be engaged in their behalf: Thus God is said, in Jude, ver. 24. to be able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. And elsewhere it is said, 2 Cor. ix. 8. that God is able to make all grace abound towards his people, that they always having all-sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: This is the same as though it had been said, that he would do this for them.
(2.) When God is said to glorify any of his perfections in giv