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most difficult duties, and to overcome all our spiritual enemies, who would be otherwise too strong for us: So that this attribute is so far from discouraging us from drawing nigh to God in prayer, that, by faith, we behold it as delighting to exert and glorify itself, in doing those great things for us which we have in view, when we engage in this duty.
[2.] Faith discovers itself in prayer, by enabling us to plead, and apply to ourselves, the great and precious promises which God has given to his people in the gospel. As prayer cannot subsist without a promise, so we are enabled, by faith, to apprehend and plead the promises, and to say, Remember the 'word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me
to hope,' Psal. cxix. 49. And hereby we look upon God as ready to bestow the blessings which he has promised, and his faithfulness as engaged to make them good. Accordingly the Psalmist says, Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications; in thy faithfulness answer me, and in 'thy righteousness,' Psal. cxliii. 1. There is nothing that we want, or ought to pray for, but there are some promises, contained in the word of God, which faith improves and takes encouragement from in this duty: And since what we pray for, respects either temporal, or spiritual, and eternal blessings, these are looked upon by faith as promised; as the apostle says, godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come, 1 Tim. iv. 18. This might be very largely insisted on, and many instances given hereof, which are contained in scripture; but I shall more especially consider those promises which respect God's enabling us to pray, and his hearing and answering our prayers, which faith lays hold on, and improves, in order to our performing this duty in a right manner.
1st, There are promises of the Spirit's assistance to enable us to pray. This the apostle calls his making intercession for us, according to the will of God, in Rom. viii. 27. And our Saviour says, in Luke xii. 13. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
2dly, There are other promises that respect God's hearing and answering prayer. Thus it is said, in Psal. lxxxvi. 7. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee; for thou wilt answer me: And elsewhere in Psal. cii. 17. God will regard the prayer of the destitute and not despise their prayer. This is considered as being of a very large extent: Thus our Saviour says, in John xvi. 23. Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name, he will give it you: And in chap. xv. 7. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you: Which universal expressions of
God's giving believers what they will, are to be understood of his granting their lawful and regular desires; and, indeed, faith will never ask any thing but what tends to the glory of God, and that with an entire submission to his will; though it is far otherwise with respect to those prayers that are not put up in faith.
Moreover God has promised to hear and answer all kinds of prayer, provided they proceed from this grace; particularly, united prayers in the assemblies of his saints, as he says to Solomon, after the dedication of the temple, in 2 Chron. vii. 15. Mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place; and those prayers that are put up to God in families, where a small number are joined together; though it be but two or three, Christ has promised to be in the midst of them, xviii. 20. not only to assist them in this duty, but to give them what they ask for. There are also promises made to secret prayer: Thus when our Saviour. encourages his people to pray to their Father, which is in secret, he tells them, My Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly, chap. vi. 6.
Here it will be enquired, whether it be necessary in order to our praying by faith, that we be assured, at all times, that our prayer shall be heard.
To this it may be answered,
1st, That it is not our duty to believe that every prayer shall be heard; for God heareth not sinners, that is, those who are under the reigning power of sin, and consequently are destitute of the grace of faith; nor will he hear those prayers that proceed from feigned lips: Thus it is said, If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me, Psal. Ixvi. 18.
2dly, It is not the duty of those who have the truth of grace, to believe that their prayer shall be heard, when, by reason of their infirmity, or the weakness of their faith, they ask for that which is unlawful, and not redounding to the glory of God and their real good.
3dly, If what we pray for may be for the glory of God, and redound to our advantage; yet it is not our duty to determine, with too great peremptoriness, that he will certainly grant what we ask for, immediately, or in that particular way which we desire; since he may answer prayer, and yet do it in his own time and way.
4thly, It is not our duty to believe assuredly, that God will give us all those temporal blessings that we ask for; especially if they be not absolutely necessary for us, since he may answer such-like prayers in value, though not in kind, and so give spiritual blessings, instead of those temporal ones, which we pray for; in which case none will say, that he is
unfaithful to his promise, though we have not those blessings in kind that we desire: Therefore it is our duty, and the great concern of faith in prayer, to be assured, that as God knows what is best for us, so he will make good his promises, in such a way, that we shall have no reason to conclude ourselves ta have been disappointed, or that we have asked in faith, but have not obtained.
I am sensible that there is a difficulty in the mode of expression used by the apostle James, in chap. i. 6, 7. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord: By which, the apostle does not intend, that he who doubts whether his prayer shall be answered, cannot be said, in any sense, to pray in faith; for, as assurance of our salvation is not of the essence of faith, so that faith cannot subsist without it; in like manner assurance, or a firm persuasion that the very thing we ask shall be given, is not such an essential ingredient in prayer, as that we should determine, that for want of it, we shall receive nothing that is good from the Lord. Therefore, I conceive, that the apostle, by wavering in this text, rather respects our being in doubt about the object of faith; or else our not being stedfast in the grace of faith, but praying with hypocrisy, as he illustrates it by the similitude taken from a wave driven with the wind; which sometimes moves one way, at other times the contrary; and he farther explains it, when he says, in ver. 8. a double-minded man, is unstable in all his ways; so that the person, whom he describes as wavering is the same with a double-minded man, or an hypocrite: Such an one cannot ask in faith; therefore the apostle does not hereby intend that no one can exercise this grace in prayer, but he that has a full assurance that his prayer shall be answered, in that particular way and manner as he expects.
Obj. 1. It is objected by some, that they have no faith; therefore since this grace must be exercised in prayer, they are very often discouraged from performing the duty of
Answ. That though the want of a prepared frame of spirit, for any duty affords matter of humiliation, yet it is no excuse for the neglect thereof; and as for prayer in particular, we are to wait on God therein, for a prepared frame of spirit, that by this means, we may draw nigh to him in a right manner, as well as for a gracious answer from him.
[2.] If we cannot bring glory to God by a fiducial pleading of the promises, or applying them to ourselves; we must endeavour to glorify him by confessing our guilt and unworthiness, and acknowledging that all our help is in him.
[3.] It is possible for us to have some acts of faith in prayer,
when we are not sensible thereof, and at the same time, bewail our want of this grace.
[4.] If none were to pray but those who have faith, then it would follow that none must pray for the first grace, which supposes a person to be in an unregenerate state; nevertheless, such are obliged to perform this duty, as well as they can, and therein to hope for that grace which may enable them to do it as they ought. (a)
Obj. 2. It is objected by others, that though they dare not lay aside the duty of prayer, yet, inasmuch as they do not experience those graces, which are necessary for the right performance thereof, nor any returns of prayer, they have no satisfaction in their own spirits.
Answ. To this it may be replied;
1st, That there may be faith in prayer, and yet no immediate answer thereof. God herein acts in a way of sovereignty, whereby he will have his people know that if he grants their requests, it shall be in his own time and way. Therefore it is their duty to wait for him till he is pleased to manifest himself as a God hearing prayer, and thereby removing the discouragements that, at present, they labour under.
2dly, There are other ways by which the truth of grace is to be judged of, besides our having sensible answers of prayer. Sometimes, indeed, God may give many intimations of his acceptance of us, though, at present we know it not.
(3.) The next grace to be exercised in prayer, is, love to God: This implies in it an earnest desire of his presence, delight in him, or taking pleasure in contemplating his perfections as the most glorious and amiable object. Desire supposes him, in some measure, withdrawn from us; or that we are not possessed of that complete blessedness, which is to be enjoyed in him; and delight supposes him present, and, in some degree, manifesting himself unto us. Now love to God, in both these respects, is to be exercised in prayer. Is he in any measure withdrawn from us? we are, with the greatest earnestness to long for his return to us, whose loving-kindness is better than life. Is he graciously pleased, in any degree, to manifest himself to us as the fountain of all we enjoy or hope for? this will have a tendency to excite our delight in him, and induce us to conclude that our happiness consists in the enjoyment of him. These graces are to be exercised at all times, but more especially in prayer, which is an offering up of our desires to God; in which we first press after the enjoyment of himself, and then of his benefits. And, as
(a) What under one aspect is grace, under another is duty.
we are to bless and praise him for the discoveries we have of his glory, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to the securing our spiritual good and advantage; this is to express that delight in him, which is the highest instance of love.
(4.) Another grace to be exercised in prayer, is submission to the will of God; whereby we leave ourselves and our petitions in his hand, as being sensible that he knows what is best for us. This does not include in it a being indifferent whether our prayers are heard or no; for that is to contradict what we express with our lips, by the frame of our spirits. Whatever may be concluded to be lawful for us to ask, as redounding to our advantage, and is expressly promised by God, that we ought to request at his hand, in prayer; and if we pray for it, we cannot but desire that our prayer may be heard and answered; and this is not opposed to that submission to the divine will, which we are speaking of, provided we leave it to God to do what he thinks best for us, being content that the way and manner of his answering us, as well as the time of his bestowing those blessings which we want, together with the degree thereof; especially if they are such as are of a temporal nature, ought to be resolved into his sovereign will. Thus concerning the graces that we are to exercise in prayer.
There are other things mentioned in this answer, which are necessary to our exercising those graces, viz. our minds being enlightened, our hearts enlarged, and our having sincerity in the inward part.
[1.] There must be some degree of understanding, since ignorance is so far from being, as the Papists pretend, the mother of devotion, that it is inconsistent with the exercise of those graces, with which we ought to draw nigh to God in prayer. The affections, indeed, may be moved, where there is but a very little knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel; but they will, at the same time, be misled; and this can no more be called religious devotion than the words or actions of one that is in a phrenzy, can be called rational; therefore, as prayer is unacceptable without the exercise of grace, so grace cannot be exercised without the knowledge of the truth, as derived from the sacred treasury of scripture.
Here we might consider, that we must know something of God who is the object of prayer, as well as of all other acts of religious worship. We must also know something of Christ the Mediator, through whom we have access to, as well as acceptance with him; and something of the work and glory of the Holy Ghost, on whom we are to depend for his assistance in presenting our supplications to God. We must know our necessities, otherwise we cannot tell what to ask for; and