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considered, of our praying for our very enemies, and seeking their good.
(3.) We are not to ask for outward blessings without setting bounds to our desires thereof; nor are we to ask for them unseasonably, or for wrong ends. We are not to pray for them as though they were our chief good and happiness, or of equal importance with things that are more immediately conducive to our spiritual advantage; and therefore, whatever measure of importunity we express in praying for them, it is not to be inconsistent with an entire submission to the divine will, as being satisfied that God knows what is best for us; or, whether that which we desire, will, in the end, prove good or hurtful to us; much less ought we to ask for outward blessings, that we may abuse, and, as the apostle James speaks, Consume them upon our lusts, James iv. 3.
QUEST. CLXXXV. How are we to pray?
ANSW. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the Majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins, with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts, with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.
HIS answer respects the manner of performing this duty, and the frame of spirit with which we are to draw nigh to God. Accordingly,
1. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the Majesty of God; otherwise our behaviour would be highly resented by him, and reckoned no other than a thinking him altogether such an one as ourselves. Some of the divine perfections have a more immediate tendency to excite an holy reverence; accordingly we are to consider him as omnipresent, and omniscient, to whom our secret thoughts, and the principle from whence our actions proceed, are better known than they can be to themselves. We are to conceive of him as a God of infinite holiness; and therefore he cannot but be highly displeased with that worship that is opposite thereunto, as proceeding from a conscience defiled with sin, or performed in an unholy manner. Thus the prophet says, Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity, Hab. i. 13. that is, thou canst not behold it without the utmost detestation; and therefore, if we regard it in our heart, he will not hear our prayers, Psal. lxvi. 18. We are also to have a due sense of the spirituality of his nature, that we may worship
him in a spiritual manner; therefore we are not to entertain any carnal conceptions, or frame any ideas of him, like those we have of finite or corporeal beings; nor are we to think it sufficient, that our external mien and deportment have been grave, and carried in it a shew of reverence, when our hearts have not, at the same time, been engaged in this duty, or disposed to give him the glory that is due to his name. We are also to draw nigh to him with a due sense of those perfections that tend to encourage us to perform this duty, with hope of finding acceptance in his sight. Therefore we are to conceive of him, as a God of infinite goodness, mercy, and faithfulness, with whom is plenteous redemption, in and through a Mediator, which is suitable to our condition, as indigent, miserable, and guilty sinners; and a God of infinite power, who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we are able to ask or think, Eph. iii. 20.
2. We are to pray to God with an humble sense of our own unworthiness. This is the necessary result of those high conceptions we have of his divine excellency and greatness; whereby we are led to consider ourselves as infinitely below him; and, indeed, the best of creatures are induced hereby to worship him with the greatest humility: Thus the Seraphim are represented in that vision, which the prophet Isaiah had of them, as ministering to, and attending upon our Lord Jesus, when sitting on a throne on his temple; as covering their faces and their feet with their wings, denoting their unworthiness to behold his glory, or to be employed by him in his service, Isa. vi. 1-4. But when we take a view of his infinite holiness, and our own impurity, this should be an inducement to us to draw nigh to him, with the greatest humility: As dependent creatures, we have nothing but what we derive from him; as frail dying creatures, we wither away, and are brought to nothing, Job xiii. 25. Job compares this to a leaf that is easily broken, and driven to and fro, or to the dry stubble, that can make no resistance against the wind that pursues it; and the Psalmist, speaking of man in general, says, Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him; or the son of man, that thou makest account of him? Psal. civ. 3. And elsewhere it is said, What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him, and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? Job vii. 17. These are humbling considerations; but we shall be led into a farther sense of our own unworthiness, when we consider ourselves as sinful creatures, worthy to be abhorred by God; therefore he might justly reject us, and refuse to answer our prayers. But since this humble frame of spirit is so necessary for the right performance of this duty, let us farther observe, as an inducement hereunto.
(1.) That the greatest glory we can bring to God can make no addition to his infinite perfections: Thus it is said, Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure, that is, any advantage, to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect? Job xxiii. 2, 3. And elsewhere, If thou be righteous, what givest thou him, or what receiveth he of thy hand? ch. xxxv. 7. denoting that it is impossible for us, by any thing we can do or suffer for his sake, to make him more glorious than he would have been in himself, had we never had a being: Therefore, if there is nothing by which we can lay any obligations on God, we have reason to address ourselves to him with a sense of our own unworthiness.
(2.) We are so far from meriting any good thing from the hand of God, that by our repeated transgressions, notwithstanding the daily mercies we receive from him, we give farther proofs of our great unworthiness; and, indeed, if we are enabled to do any thing in obedience to his will, this is not from ourselves; yea, it is contrary to the dictates of corrupt nature, and must be ascribed to him as the author of it.
(3.) If we could do the greatest service to God by espousing his cause, and promoting his interest in the world; it is no more than what we are bound to do; and, at the same time we must consider, that it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure, Phil. ii. 13.
(4.) The best believers recorded in scripture, have entertained a constant, humble sense of their own unworthiness: Thus Abraham, when he stood before the Lord, making supplications in the behalf of Sodom, expresses himself thus, Behold, now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes. And Jacob says, I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant, Gen. xxxii. 10. And they who have been most zealous for, and made eminently useful in promoting Christ's interest in the world, have had an humble sense of their own unworthiness; as the apostle says concerning himself, I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, 1 Cor. xv. 9. And he immediately adds, By the grace of God I am what I am, ver. 10. And elsewhere he styles himself, less than the least of all saints, Eph. iii. 8.
We have another instance of humility in prayer, in the Psalmist's words, I am a worm, and no man, Psal. xxii. 6. which, so far as they have any reference to his own case, may give us occasion to infer, that the most advanced circumstances, in which any are in the world, are not inconsistent with humility, when drawing nigh to God in prayer; but if we consider him speaking in the person of Christ, as several expres
sions of this Psalm argue him to do, and cannot well be taken in any other sense *; then we have herein the most remark. able instance of the humble address that was used by Christ in his human nature, when drawing nigh to God in prayer; which is certainly a great motive to induce us to engage in this duty with the utmost humility.
3. We are to draw nigh to God in prayer, with a sense of our necessities, and the sins that we have committed against him. Accordingly, we are to consider ourselves as indigent creatures, who are stripped and deprived of that glory, and those bright ornaments which were put on man at first in his state of innocency; destitute of the divine image, and all those things that are necessary to our happiness, unless he is pleased to supply these wants, forgive our iniquities, and grant us communion with himself; which things we are to draw nigh to him in prayer for. We are also, in this duty, to have a sense of sin, viz. the guilt that we contract thereby, and the punishment we have exposed ourselves to, that we may see our need of drawing nigh to God in Christ's righteousness; and also of the stain and pollution thereof, which may induce us to fall down before the footstool of the throne of grace, with the greatest degree of self-abhorrence. We are also to consider how we are enslaved to sin, how much we have been, and how prone we are at all times, to serve divers lusts and pleasures, Tit. iii. 3. and to walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, Eph. ii. 2.
Moreover, we are to consider sin as deeply rooted in our
Many suppose that all those Psalms, in which some particular expressions are referred to in the New Testament, as having their accomplishment in Christ, are to be understood as containing a double reference, namely, to David, as denoting his particular case, and to Christ, of whom he was an eminent type. But as for Psalm xxii. there are several expressions in it, not only applied to Christ in the New Testament; but they cannot well be understood of any other but him. In the first verse he uses the same words that were uttered by Christ on the cross, Matt. xxvii. 46. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? and in ver. 8. he trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him: This was an expression used by those who mocked and derided him, Matt. xxvii. 41, 45. And what is said in verses 14, 17. All my bones are out of joint; I may tell them, they look and stare upon me; does not seem to be applicable to David, from any thing said concerning him elsewhere; but they are a lively representation of the torment a person endures, when hanging on a cross, as our Saviour did; which has a tendency to disjoint the bones, and cause them to stick out. And when it is said, ver. 16, 18. they pierced my hands and my feet; and they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture; the former was fulfilled in Christ's being nailed to the cross, and his side pierced with a spear; and the latter is expressly referred to as fulfilled in the parting of Christ's garments, and casting lots upon his vesture, Matt. xxvii. 35. as an accomplishment of what was foretold, by the royal prophet in this Psalm. These expressions cannot, in the least, be applied to David, but are to be understood of our Saviour; therefore, we may conclude that those words in ver. 6. I am a worm, &c. are particularly applied to bim.
hearts, debasing our affections, and captivating our wills. If we are in an unconverted state, we are to look upon it as growing and encreasing in us, rendering us more and more indisposed for what is good, by which means we are set at a farther distance from God and holiness: On the other hand, if we have ground to hope we are made partakers of converting grace, then we have acted contrary to the highest obligations, and been guilty of the greatest ingratitude. These things we are to endeavour to be affected with, when drawing nigh to God in prayer, in order to our performing this duty aright.
4. There are several graces that are to be exercised in prayer;
(1.) Repentance: This is necessary, because we are sinners; and as such, are to come into the presence of God with confession, joined with supplication which must be made with a penitent frame of spirit; the contrary to which, is a tacit approbation of sin, and a kind of resolution to adhere to it, which is very unbecoming those who are pleading for forgiveness: Accordingly, when God promised that he would pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, he adds, that they shall look upon him, whom they have pierced, and mourn for him, or for it, as one mourneth for his only son; and shall be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born: And that this shall be done by every family apart, and their wives apart, Zech. xii. 10. & seq. So when the priests, the ministers of the Lord, are commanded to pray, that he would spare his people; they, are, at the same time, to weep between the porch and the altar, to rent their hearts, and turn unto the Lord their God, Joel ii. 13. 17. And when Israel is advised to take with them words, and instructed how they should pray, they are exhorted to turn unto the Lord; to repent of their seeking help from Assyria and Egypt, and of that abominable idolatry which they had been guilty of, Hos. xiv. 1, 2, 3, 8.
Now there are several subjects very proper for our meditation; which may, through the divine blessing accompanying it, excite this grace, when we are engaged in the duty of prayer; particularly the multitude of transgressions which are charged on the consciences of men by the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God, Rom. iii. 19. and especially the ingratitude which we have reason to accuse ourselves of, and our contempt of Christ, and the way of salvation by him, which is discovered in the gospel; and our having done many things in the course of our lives, which fill us with shame and sorrow, whenever we come