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also the promises of the gospel, otherwise we cannot be encouraged to hope for an answer.
[2.] In order to our exercising grace in prayer, we must have some degree of enlargedness of heart; that is, when every thing that tends to contract our affections, abate the ferfency of our spirits, or hinder that importunity which we ought to express for the best of blessings, is removed. Now our hearts may be said to be enlarged in prayer.
1st, When we draw nigh to God in this duty with delight and earnest longing after his presence, and an interest in his love, which we reckon preferable to all other blessings.
2dly, When we are affected with a becoming sense of his glorious perfections, and our own nothingness, in order to our adoring him, and coming before him with the greatest humility.
3dly, When we have suitable promises given in, and are enabled to plead them with a degree of hope, arising from the goodness and faithfulness of God, that he will fulfil them; and that more especially as we draw nigh to him as to a covenantGod.
4thly, When our thoughts and affections are engaged without wandering, weariness, or lukewarmness, and filled with importunity, agreeable to the importance of the duty, and our absolute need of the blessings we pray for.
[3.] In order to our exercising those graces, which are necessary for our drawing nigh to God aright in prayer, we must have sincerity of heart: This includes in it much more than what is generally so called, as opposed to dissimulation, in those who perform some good actions merely to be seen of men, or who take up religion to answer some base and vile end, which they have in view; in which respect a sincere person is one that is no dissembler: But that sincerity, which we are speaking of, consists in a person's acting from a principle of grace implanted in regeneration; or when a person can appeal to God, as Job does, Thou knowest that I am not wicked, Job x. 7. that is, that there is no reigning sin, whereby my heart is alienated from, or set against thee. A sincere person is such an one as our Saviour describes, when he speaks of Nathaniel, and gives him this character, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile, John i. 48. In this case a person's heart and actions go together; and he may truly say, as David does, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips, Psal. xvii. 1. Thus concerning the graces that are to be exercised in prayer, and what is necessary in order thereunto.
What is farther observed concerning this duty, is, that we are to persevere in prayer; resolving not to desist from wait
ing on God therein, whatever seeming discouragements may, at present, lie in our way. Prayer is not a duty to be per formed only at some certain times, as the prophet speaks of those who, in their affliction will seek God early, Hos. v. 15. or, as the mariners in Jonah, who cried, every man unto his god, in a storm; though it is probable, they seldom prayed at other times, Jon. i. 5. But we are to pray always with all prayer and supplication, and to watch thereunto with all perseverance, Eph. vi. 18. that is, we ought always to endeavour to be in a praying frame, and, on all occasions, to lift up our hearts to God for direction, assistance, and success in every thing we do, agreeable to his will, and for a supply of those wants which daily recur upon us.
1st, By reason of the deadness and stupidity of our spirits, which we cannot bring into a suitable frame for the discharge of this duty; and therefore we are ready to conclude, that while we draw nigh to God with our lips, our hearts are far from him. This is, indeed, a very afflictive case; but we ought not from hence, to take occasion to lay aside the duty but rather depend on the assistance of the Spirit, to enable us to perform it in a right manner.
2dly, Another discouraging circumstance is, God's denying us sensible returns of prayer, which he may do for various reasons. Sometimes he sees those defects that we are guilty of in prayer, which he is obliged to testify his displeasure against; and this he sometimes does by hiding himself, or, as it were, withdrawing from us, and, in all appearance, shutting out our prayers, that we may take occasion to search out the secret sin that lies at the root thereof; which we must confess and be humbled for. Thus when Joshua, after a small defeat, which Israel had received by the men of Ai, fell upon his face, and spread the matter before the Lord in prayer, God condescends to tell him the reason of it; 'Get thee up, wherefore liest 'thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have ' also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them; for 7 they have even taken of the accursed thing; therefore could 'they not stand before their enemies,' Josh. vii. 10-12. And when the sin was discovered, and Achan, who troubled them punished, what he asked for was granted. Again, God may deny an immediate answer to prayer, out of his mere sovereignty, that hereby we may know, that it is not for us to prescribe to him the time or way in which he shall dispense those benefits, which are not owing to our merit, but his free grace.
3dly, Sometimes we pray, but do not use other means, which God has appointed for the obtaining the blessing! Thus, when Israel was disheartened, being pursued by Pharaoh and his host, and did not care to move out of their places, Moses ad
dresses himself to God in prayer, and the Lord said unto him, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward; and then he ordered him to lift up his rod, and stretch it over the sea, and divide it, that they might go through the midst thereof on dry ground, Exod. xiv. 15, 16. We are not only to pray, but to use other means that God has appointed; without which, we cannot expect that prayer should be answered. Thus Hezekiah, when sick, prayed to God, who assured him, that he had heard his prayers, and would heal him; nevertheless, he was to use the means which God had ordered, by taking a lump of figs and laying it on the boil; which he did accordingly, and was restored to health, Isa. xxxviii. 21. Do we pray for a comfortable subsistence in the world? we must, if we expect that God should answer us, use industry in our callings, as well as own him by prayer and supplications. Do we pray for any of the graces of the Spirit in order to the beginning or carrying on the work of sanctification? we must, at the same time, attend on the means of grace, which God has ordained for that purpose: Or, do we pray for assurance of the love of God, and that spiritual comfort which is the result thereof? we must be diligent in the performance of the work of self-examination; or else we are not to expect that God will answer our prayers.
4thly, Sometimes God delays to answer our prayers, because we have not given him the glory of former mercies; or else he designs hereby to try our patience, whether we are not only inclined to wait upon him, but to wait for him; as the prophet says, I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved, Hab. ii. 1. So the Psalmist says, As the eye of servants look unto the hands of their masters, and the eyes of a maiden unto the hands of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us, Psal. cxxiii. 2. And elsewhere the Psalmist, though he was in great depths, and stood in need of an immediate answer, when he cried unto the Lord; yet he determines to wait for him, and hope in his word; that is, while he is expecting a mercy, he does not despair of having it in the end, because he depends on God's word of promise; but yet he resolves to wait as those that watch for the morning, Psal. cxxx. 1, 5, 6, which contains a mixture of two graces, namely, patiently waiting, and yet earnestly desiring the blessing expected. This is our indispensable duty, whereby we glorify God, as being sensible that it is not for us to prescribe to him, when he should fulfil our desires: Whereas we should say, with Jacob, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me, Gen. xxxii. 26. I will persevere in prayer till thou art pleased to U u
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 ta pray, as John also taught his disciples, Luke xi. 1.
II. 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 his revealed will, which is contained therein; and no one, who is well acquainted with it, will have reason to say, that he wants 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. Ixxviii. 59— 61. 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 mul tiplied 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