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nance was absolutely necessary to salvation; upon which account they thought that it ought to be extended to infants, as a means of their obtaining it. But it is certain this cannot be the meaning of that scripture, since the Lord's supper was not instituted, or known in the church, when our Saviour spake these words: Therefore, he intends nothing else thereby but. the fiducial application of Christ's death, as an expedient for our obtaining eternal life.
QUEST. CLXXVIII. Which is Prayer?
ANSW. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
that are to be
and done; what remains is, to enquire concerning those things that are to be prayed for, and how this great duty of prayer is to be performed. This is necessary to be insisted on, inasmuch as we are obliged to yield obedience to the revealed will of God; nevertheless, by reason of our depravity and weakness, we can do nothing that is good without his assistance, which is not to be expected, unless it be humbly desired of him; and this is what we generally call prayer; which being performed by creatures who are not only indigent, but unworthy, this is to be acknowledged, and accordingly we are, in prayer, to confess sin as the principal ground and reason of this unworthiness. And, inasmuch as God has been pleased to encourage us to hope, that we shall not seek his face in vain, who, in many instances is pleased to grant returns of prayer; this obliges us to draw nigh to him with thanksgiving. These things are particularly contained in the answer we are explaining; and the method in which we shall endeavour to speak to it, is to consider,
I. What, prayer supposes; and that is,
1. That we are dependent and indigent creatures, have many wants to be supplied, sins to be forgiven, miseries, under which we need pity and relief, and weaknesses, under which we want to be strengthened and assisted in the performance of the duties that are incumbent on us. From hence it may be inferred, that though our Lord Jesus Christ is often represented as praying to God, this is an action performed by him in his human nature; in which alone he could be said to be indigent, who, in his divine nature, is all-sufficient.
2. It supposes that God, who is the object of prayer, is regarded by us, not only as able, but willing to help us; and
that he has encouraged us to draw nigh to him for relief: And therefore it is a duty that more especially belongs to those who are favoured with the hope of the gospel.
II. We shall now shew how prayer is to be considered, as to the various kinds hereof; and accordingly we are represented as drawing nigh to God, with an humble sense of our secret sins and wants, which none but God and our own consciences are privy to. This kind of prayer our Saviour intends, when he says, Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly, Mat. vi. 6. and we have an instance hereof in himself; inasmuch, as it is said, that when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray, chap. xiv. 23. also, Peter went up upon the house-top to pray, Acts x. 9. in which, being retired from the world, he had a greater liberty to pour forth his soul unto God.
Moreover, we are to join with others in performing this duty, in which we confess those sins, and implore a supply of those wants that are common to all who are engaged therein : This our Saviour encourages us to do, when he says, If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, Mat. xviii. 19, 20. This is a branch of social worship, and is to be performed by every family apart, whereof we have an example in Cornelius, concerning whom it is said, that he was a devout man, and feared God with all his house, and prayed to him always; and that he did this, at certain times, in his house, Acts x. 2. compared with ver. 30. Moreover, this duty is to be performed publicly in the church, or any worshipping assembly met together for that purpose: Of this we have an instance in the apostle Paul, who, when he had called for the elders of the church at Ephesus, designing to take his leave of them, after an affectionate discourse, and suitable advice given to them, he kneeled down and prayed with them all, chap. xx. 36.
Again, prayer may be considered as that for which a stated time is set apart by us, either alone, or with others; or, that which is occasional, short, and ejaculatory, consisting in a secret lifting up of our hearts to God, and may be done when we are engaged in other business of a different nature, without being a let or hindrance to it: Thus it is said that Nehemiah prayed, when he has going to deliver the cup into the king's hand, between the king's asking him a question, and his returning him an answer to it; which seems to be the meaning of what is said in Neh. ii. 4, 5. Then the king said unto me; for
what dost thou make request? so I prayed to the God of heaven, and I said unto the king, &c. These ejaculatory prayers are either such as we put up to God while engaged in worldly business for direction, assistance, or success therein; or when attending on the word read or preached, or any other holy duties, in which we lift up our hearts to him for his presence
III. The next thing to be considered, is, the various parts of prayer; and these are three, viz. Confession of sin; petition for a supply of our wants; and thanksgiving for mercies received. Confession of sin supposes that we are guilty, and deserve punishment from God; petition supposes, that we are miserable and helpless; and thanksgiving implies, a disposition to own God, the author of all the good we enjoy or hope for, and includes in it a due sense of those undeserved favours we have received from him.
From this general account of the duty of prayer, and the parts thereof, we may infer,
1. That the two former of them, namely, confession of sin, and petition for relief, under the various miseries and distresses which we are liable to, is only applicable to those who are in a sinful and imperfect state, as believers are in this world. As for glorified saints in heaven, they have no sins to be confessed, nor any miseries under which they need help and pity. As for that part of prayer which consists of thanksgiving for mercies already received, that, indeed, is agreeable to a perfect state, and is represented as the constant work of glorified saints: Thus the Psalmist says, The heavens, that is, the inhabitants thereof, shall praise thy wonders, O Lord, thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints, Psal. lxxxix. 5.
2. Sinners, who have lost their day of grace, against whom the door of hope and mercy is shut, who are enduring the punishment of sin in hell, these are not properly the subjects of prayer; concerning whom it may be said, not only that they cannot pray, being destitute of those graces that are necessary thereunto; but having no interest in a Mediator, or in the promises of the covenant of grace, which are a warrant and encouragement for the performance of this duty.
3. In this world, wherein we enjoy the means of grace, none are the subjects of prayer but man. The Psalmist, indeed, speaks of God's giving to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry, Psal. cxlvii. 9. and elsewhere it is said, He provideth for the raven his food, when his young ones cry unto God, Job. xxxviii. 41. The meaning of which is, not that brute creatures formally address themselves to God for a supply of their wants, having no idea of a divine being; but, that, when they complain for want of food, the providence of God
supplies them, though they know not the hand from whence it
4. Though it be the duty of all men in the world to pray : yet none can do this by faith, and, consequently, in an acceptable manner, but believers, concerning whom the apostle says, Te have received the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father, Rom. viii. 15.
As for the first part of prayer, viz. petition, or supplication. This will be particularly considered under several following answers, and especially those that contain an explication of the Lord's prayer; which is a directory for what we are to ask of God: Therefore we shall, at present, only consider the other two parts of prayer, viz. confession of sin, and thanksgiving for mercies.
(1.) Concerning confession of sin; and accordingly,
1. We shall prove, that it is an indispensable duty incumbent on all men; and that, not only on those who are in a state of unregeneracy, and consequently under the dominion of sin, but on believers themselves, who are in a justified state. This will appear, if we consider, that not to confess sin, is, in effect, to justify ourselves in the commission of it; and, as it were, to deny that which is so well known to the heart-searching God, as well as to our own consciences. It also contains in it a charging God with injustice, when he inflicts on us the punishment that is due to it; which is contrary to what Ezra says; Thou, our God, hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, Ezra ix. 13.
Moreover, none was ever truly humbled in the sight of God, or obtained mercy and forgiveness of sin, but he was first brought to confess it with suitable affection, and brokenness of heart; which are ingredients in true repentance: Thus it is said, He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light, Job xxxiii. 27, 28. It is also said elsewhere, He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy, Prov. xxviii. 13. This duty is so evident, that, one would think, no one, who duly considers what he is, or how contrary his actions are to the revealed will of God, should have the front to deny it: However, it is well known, that many seem designedly to wave all confession of sin in prayer; and, others argue against it, more especially, as to what concerns the case of believers: Accordingly,
Object. It is objected, that believers ought not to confess sin; since that is inconsistent with a justified state: It is, in effect, to plead guilty, though God has taken away the guilt of
sin, by forgiving it for the sake of the atonement which Christ has made: It is a laying open the wound that God hath healed and closed up, or bringing to remembrance that which he hath said, he will remember no more, Heb. x. 67. and it is contrary to the grace of God, who hath said, none shall lay any thing to the charge of his elect, since it is God that justifieth, Rom. viii. 33. for a believer to lay any thing to his own charge, which he does when he confesses sin.
Answ. To this it may be replied;
1st, That we must distinguish between a believer's desert of punishment or condemnation, and his being actually punished by God, as a sin-revenging judge, according as his iniquities deserve. That a believer shall not eventually fall under condemnation, is true, because his sins are forgiven; and with respect to such, the apostle says, There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, ver. 1. Nevertheless, though he be in a justified state, and, as the consequence hereof, shall be undoubtedly saved; yet, according to the tenor of his own actions, he being a sinner, contracts guilt in the sight of God; and, a desert of punishment is inseparably connected with every sin, though a person may be in a justified state who commits it. It is one thing to be liable to condemnation, and another thing to deserve to be condemned: The former of these is, indeed, inconsistent with a justified state; but the latter is not: And it is in this sense that we are to understand the Psalmist's words, If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand, Psal. cxxx. 3. And, accordingly, the best believer on earth, though he have a full assurance of his being forgiven by God; yet, inasmuch as he is a sinner, he is obliged to confess that he deserves to be cast off by him, or, if God should. deal with him according to what he finds in him, without looking upon him as he is in Christ, his head and surety, he would be undone and lost for ever.
2dly, Believers are daily sinning, and therefore contracting fresh guilt; as it is said, There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not, Eccl. vii. 20. and, indeed their sin is sometimes so great, that they grieve the Holy Spirit, wound their own consciences, and act very disagreeably to their character as believers. This therefore ought to be confessed with shame and self-abhorrence; as the prophet says, That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame; when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God, Ezek. xvi. 63. Moreover, it is certain that believers, when they have had a discovery that their sin was pardoned, have, at the same time, confessed it with great humility. Thus, immediately after Nathan had reproved David for his sin, and told him,