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prayer: If this be not right with God, there is no glory that we can ascribe to him, that will be reckoned any better than flattering him with our mouth, and lying to him with our tongues, Psal. Ixxviii. 36, 37. as the Psalmist says: Therefore, the inward frame of our spirit, and the principle, or spring from whence all religious duties proceed, being only known to God, prayer is only to be directed to him.
3. He alone can hear our requests, pardon our sins, and fulfil our desires. Prayer, when addressed to God, is not like that in which we desire those favours from men, which are of a lower nature, whereby some particular wants are supplied, in those respects in which one creature may be of advantage to another; but when we pray to God, we seek those blessings which are the effects of infinite power and goodness, such as may make us completely happy, both in this and a better world. Morcover, we are to implore forgiveness of sin from him in prayer; which is a blessing none can bestow but God, Mark ii. 7. for as his law is the rule by which the goodness or badness of actions are determined; and the threatening which he has annexed to it, is that which renders us liable to that punishment sin deserves; so it is he alone that can remit the debt of punishment, which we are liable to, and give us a right and title to forfeited blessings; which being the principal thing that we are to seek for in prayer, this argues that none but God is the object thereof.
4. God alone is to be believed in: Accordingly prayer, if it be acceptable to him, must be performed by faith. Thus the apostle says, How shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Rom. x. 14. There must be a firm persuasion that he can grant us the blessings we ask for; herein faith addresses itself to him as God all-sufficient; and is persuaded that he will fulfil all his promises, as a God of infinite faithfulness; and accordingly we are to give up ourselves entirely to him as our proprietor and bountiful benefactor, the only fountain of blessedness, and object of religious worship: This is to be done by faith in prayer, and consequently it is to be directed to God only.
II. We are now to consider what it is to pray in the name of Christ: This doth not consist barely in a mentioning his name; which many do when they ask for favours for his sake, without a due regard to the method God has ordained; in which we are to draw nigh to him by Christ our great Mediator, who is to be glorified as the person by whom we are to have access to God the Father as the fountain of all the blessings, which are communicated to us in this method of divine grace. To come to God in Christ's name, includes in it the whole work of faith, as to what it has to plead with, or hope for, from him,
through a Mediator, in that way which he has prescribed to us in the gospel. And this more especially consists in our making a right use of what Christ has done and suffered for us, as the foundation of our hope, that God will be pleased to grant us what he has purchased thereby; which contains the sum of all that we can desire, when drawing nigh to him in prayer. Here let it be considered,
1. That the thoughts of having to do with an absolute God, cannot but fill us with the utmost distress and confusion, when we consider ourselves as guilty sinners, and God, out of Christ, as a sin-revenging Judge, a consuming fire, Heb. xii. 29. in which case we may well say, as our first parent did, immediately after his fall, I heard thy voice and I was afraid, Gen.
2. God is obliged, in honour, as a God of infinite holiness, to separate and banish sinners from his comfortable presence, they being liable to the curse and condemning sentence of the law; by reason whereof his terror makes them afraid, and his dread falls upon them; nevertheless,
3. They have, in the gospel, not only an invitation to come, but a discovery of that great Mediator, whom God has ordained to conduct his people into his presence, having procured liberty of access to him, or, as the apostle expresses it, boldness to enter into the holiest by his blood, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, his flesh, Heb. x. 19, 20. and he has, for this end, erected a throne of grace, and encouraged us to come to it, and given many great and precious promises, whereby we may hope for acceptance in his sight; these being all established in Christ, and the blessings contained therein procured by his blood, and having liberty, in coming, to plead what he has done and suffered, as what was designed to be the foundation of our hope of obtaining mercy, we are said to come and make our supplications to God in the name of Christ.
III. We are now to consider the reason why we are to pray in the name of Christ; and that we have in one of the answers we are explaining. In which it is observed; that man, by sin, is set at such a distance from God, that he cannot, by any means, come into his presence. God cannot look upon him with any delight or complacency; inasmuch as his guilt renders him the object of his abhorrence; and he cannot do any thing which has a tendency to reconcile God to him, and therefore he is speechless, and can ask for no blessing at his hand. And it is farther observed, that there is none in heaven or earth, that is, no mere creature, that is fit for that glorious work; none has a sufficiency of merit to present to God, whereby he may be said to make atonement for sin; or, as Job
expresses it, there is no days-man that might lay his hand on both parties, Job ix. 33. that is, able to deal with God in paying a ransom; which he may, in honour accept of; or with man, by encouraging him to hope that he shall obtain the blessings which he stands in need of; and bringing him into such a frame, that he may draw nigh to God in a right manner. This is only owing to our Lord Jesus Christ; and he does it as our great Mediator, who alone is fit to manage this important work; therefore we are to pray to God, only in his name, who is, by divine appointment, an advocate with the Father, pleading our cause before his throne, and thereby giving us ground of encouragement, that our persons shall be accepted, and our prayers answered upon his account, who is the only Mediator of redemption and intercession, in whom God is well pleased, and gives a believer ground to conclude that he shall not seek his face in vain.
QUEST. CLXXXII. How doth the Spirit help us to pray?
ANSW. We not knowing what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, by enabling us to understand both for whom, and what, and how prayer is to be made, and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, not at all times in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces, which are requisite for the right performance of that duty.
QUEST. CLXXXIII. For whom are we to pray?
ANSW. We are to pray for the whole church of Christ, upon earth, for magistrates and ministers, for ourselves, our brethren, yea, our enemies, and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter, but not for the dead, nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death.
QUEST. CLXXXIV. For what things are we to pray?
ANSW. We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God, the welfare of the church, our own, or other's good, but not for any thing that is unlawful.
S there is no duty that we can perform in a right manner,
the same may said, in particular, concerning that of prayer: Accordingly we are led,
I. To speak of the help that the Spirit of God is pleased to
afford believers, in order to their engaging aright in this duty. Here we may observe,
1. That it is supposed that we know not what to pray for as we ought, or how to bring our souls into a prepared frame for this duty, without the Spirit's assistance.
(1.) We are oftentimes at a loss with respect to the matter of prayer; and this may be said to proceed from our being unacquainted with ourselves, and not duly sensible of our wants, weaknesses, or secret faults: Sometimes we cannot determine whether we are in a state of grace or no ; or, if we are, whether it is increasing or declining; or, if we have ground to complain by reason of the hidings of God's face, and our want of communion with him, we are oftentimes hard put to it to find out what is that secret sin which is the occasion of it; nor are we sufficiently apprized of the wiles of Satan, or the danger we are in of being ensnared or overcome thereby. Moreover, we are oftentimes not able to know how to direct our prayers to God aright, as we know not what is most conducive to his glory, or what it is that he requires of us, either in obedience to his commanding will, or in submission to his providential will. Hence it arises, that many good men, in scripture, have asked for some things which have been in themselves unlawful, through the weakness of their faith, and the prevalency of their corruption: Thus some have desired, that God would call them out of this world by death, being impatient under the many troubles they met with therein; accordingly we read concerning Elijah, that he requested for himself that he might
die, and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers,' 1 Kings xix. 4. and Job says, O that I might have my request! and that God 'would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would 'please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, ' and cut me off,' Job vi. 8, 9. And Jonah says, O Lord, I 'beseech thee, take my life from me; for it is better for me to 'die than to live,' Jonah iv. 3. And Moses, though he had the character of the meekest man upon earth, and doubtless excelled all others in his day, in those graces which he had received from God, as well as in the great honours conferred on him; yet he puts up a most unbecoming prayer, both as to the matter and manner thereof; as it is observed, that he said unto the Lord, 'Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant?
and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou 'layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I con'ceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou should
est say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom (as a nursing'father beareth the sucking child) unto the land which thou < swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to
'give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying. Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this 'people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have 'found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretched'ness,' Numb. xi. 11-15. And, in another instance, he asks for a thing which he knew before hand, that God would not grant him, when he says, I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon:' Upon which God says, Let it suffice thee, 'speak no more unto me of this matter,' Deut. iii. 25, 26.— Many instances of the like nature are mentioned in scripture; and, indeed, nothing is more obvious from daily experience, that what the apostle James observes, that persons ask and ' receive not, because they ask amiss,' James iv. 3. or what the apostle Paul says, We know not what we should pray for as we ought, Rom. viii. 26.
(2.) We are, at other times, straitened in our affections, and so know not how to ask any thing with a suitable frame of spirit: It is certain we cannot excite our affections, or especially put forth those graces which are to be exercised in prayer, when we please. Our hearts are sometimes dead, cold, and inclined to wander from God in this duty; and, at other times, we pray with a kind of indifferency, as though it was of no great importance whether our prayer were answered or no. How seldom do we express that importunity in this duty which Jacob did, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me? Gen. xxxii. 26. And as for those graces that are to be exercised in prayer, we often want that reverence, and those high and awful thoughts of the divine Majesty, which we ought to have, who draw nigh to a God of infinite perfection; nor, on the other hand, do we express those low and humble thoughts of ourselves, as our own meanness, the imperfection of our best performances, and the infinite distance which we stand at from God, ought to suggest; and to this we may add, that we are often destitute of that love to Christ, and trust in him, which are necessary to the right performance of this duty, as also of that hope of being heard, which is a very great encouragement to it.
2. We are now to enquire wherein the Spirit is said to help our infirmities; and this may be considered as adapted to that two-fold necessity which we are often under, respecting the matter or frame of spirit with which this duty is to be performed.
(1.) The Spirit helps our infirmities, with respect to the matter of prayer. This is not in the least derogatory to his divine glory, if he is pleased to condescend thus to converse