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The due manner of prayer, wherein it doth consist.
The Holy Spirit having given the mind a due apprehension of the things we ought to pray for, or furnished it with the matter of prayer, he moreover works a due sense and valuation of them, with desires after them, upon the will and affections; wherein the due manner of it doth consist. These things are separable. The mind may have light to discern the things that are to be prayed for, and yet the will and affections be dead unto them or unconcerned in them; and there may be a gift of prayer founded hereon, in whose exercise the soul doth not spiritually act towards God, for light is the matter of all common gifts. And by virtue of a perishing illumination, a man may attain a gift in prayer which may be of use unto the edification of others; for “the manifestation of the Spirit is given unto every man to profit withal.” In the meantime, it is with him that so prayeth not much otherwise than it was with him of old who prayed in an unknown tongue: “his spirit prayeth, but his understanding is unfruitful.” He prayeth by virtue of the light and gift that he hath received, but his own soul is not benefited nor improved thereby. Only sometimes God makes use of men’s own gifts to convey grace into their own souls; but prayer, properly so called, is the obediential acting of the whole soul towards God.
Wherefore, first, where the Holy Spirit completes his work in us as a Spirit of grace and supplication, he worketh on the will and affections to act obedientially towards God in and about the matter of our prayers. Thus when he is poured out as a Spirit of supplication, he fills them unto whom he is communicated with mourning and godly sorrow, to be exercised in their prayers as the matter doth require, Zech. xii. 10. He doth not only enable them to pray, but worketh affections in them suitable unto what they pray about. And in this 288work of the Spirit lies the fountain of that inexpressible fervency and delight, of those enlarged labourings of mind and desires, which are in the prayers of believers, especially when they are under the power of more than ordinary influences from him: for these things proceed from the work of the Spirit on their wills and affections, stirring them up and carrying them forth unto God, in and by the matter of their prayers, in such a manner as no vehement working of natural affections can reach unto; and therefore is the Spirit said to “make intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” Rom. viii. 26, 27, ὑπερεντυγχάνει. As he had before expressed his work in general by συναντιλαμβάνεται, which intendeth a help by working, carrying us on in our undertaking in this duty beyond our own strength (for he helpeth us on under our infirmities or weaknesses), so his especial acting is here declared by ὑπερεντυγχάνει, that is, an additional interposition, like that of an advocate for his client, pleading that in his case which he of himself is not able to do. Once this word is used in the service of a contrary design. Speaking of the prayer of Elijah, the apostle says, Ὡς ἐντυγχάνει τῷ Θεῷ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ· — “How he maketh intercession to God against Israel,” Rom. xi. 2; as בָּשַׂר, which is constantly used in the Old Testament for “to declare good tidings, tidings of peace,” is once applied in a contrary signification unto tidings of evil and destruction, 1 Sam. iv. 17. The man that brought the news of the destruction of the army of the Israelites and the taking of the ark by the Philistines is called הַמְבַשֵּׂר. But the proper use of this word is to intercede for grace and favour; and this he doth στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις. We ourselves are said στενάζειν, to “groan,” Rom. viii. 23; that is, humbly, mournfully, and earnestly to desire. And here the Spirit is said to “intercede for us with groanings;” which can be nothing but his working in us and acting by us that frame of heart and those fervent, labouring desires, which are so expressed, and these with such depth of intension and labouring of mind as cannot be uttered. And this he doth by the work now mentioned.
Secondly, Having truly affected the whole soul, enlightened the mind in the perception of the truth, beauty, and excellency of spiritual things, engaged the will in the choice of them and prevalent love unto them, excited the affections to delight in them and unto desires after them, there is in the actual discharge of this duty of prayer, wrought in the soul by the power and efficacy of his grace, such an inward labouring of heart and spirit, such a holy, supernatural desire and endeavour after a union with the things prayed for in the enjoyment of them, as no words can utter or expressly declare, — that is, fully and completely, — which is the sense of the place.
To avoid the force of this testimony, some (one at least) would 289have this intercession of the Spirit to be the intercession of the Spirit in Christ for us now at the right hand of God; so that no work of the Spirit itself in believers is intended. Such irrational evasions will men sometimes make use of to escape the convincing power of light and truth; for this is such a description of the intercession of Christ at the right hand of God as will scarcely be reconciled unto the analogy of faith. That it is not an humble, oral supplication, but a blessed representation of his oblation, whereby the efficacy of it is continued and applied unto all the particular occasions of the church or believers, I have elsewhere declared, and it is the common faith of Christians. But here it should be reported as the labouring of the Spirit in him with unutterable groans; the highest expression of an humble, burdened, solicitous endeavour. Nothing is more unsuited unto the present glorious condition of the Mediator. It is true that “in the days of his flesh” he prayed “with strong crying and tears,” in an humble deprecation of evil, Heb. v. 7; but an humble prostration and praying with unutterable groans is altogether inconsistent with his present state of glory, his fullness of power, and fight to dispense all the grace and mercy of the kingdom of God. Besides, this exposition is as adverse to the context as any thing that could be invented. Rom. viii. 15, it is said that we “receive the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father;” which Spirit “God sends forth into our hearts,” Gal. iv. 6. And the blessed work of this Spirit in us is farther described, Rom. viii. 16, 17. And thereon, verse 23, having received “the first-fruits of this Spirit,” we are said to “groan within ourselves;” to which it is added, that of ourselves not knowing what we ought to pray for, αὐτὸ τὸ Πνεῦμα, “that very Spirit,” so given unto us, so received by us, so working in us, “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Wherefore, without offering violence unto the context, there is no place for the introduction of the intercession of Christ in heaven, especially under such an expression as is contrary to the nature of it. It is mentioned afterward by the apostle, in its proper place, as a consequent and fruit of his death and resurrection, verse 34. And there he is said simply ἐντυγχάνειν· but the Spirit here is said ὑπερεντυγχάνειν, which implies an additional supply unto what is in ourselves.
Yet, to give countenance unto this uncouth exposition, a force is put upon the beginning of both the verses 26, 27: for whereas ἀσθένεια doth constantly in the Scripture denote any kind of infirmity or weakness, spiritual or corporeal, it is said here to be taken in the latter sense, for diseases with troubles and dangers, which latter it nowhere signifies; for so the meaning should be, that in such conditions we know not what to pray for, whether wealth, or health, or peace, or the like, but Christ intercedes for us. And this must be the sense 290of συναντιλαμβάνεται ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, which yet in the text doth plainly denote a help and assistance given unto our weaknesses, that is, unto us who are weak, in the discharge of the duty of prayer, as both the words themselves and the ensuing reasons of them do evince. Wherefore, neither the grammatical sense of the words, nor the context, nor the analogy of faith, will admit of this new and uncouth exposition.
In like manner, if it be inquired why it is said “that he who searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,” — which plainly refers to some great and secret work of the Spirit in the heart of man, — if the intercession of Christ be intended, nothing is offered but this paraphrase, “And then God, that, by being a searcher of hearts, knoweth our wants exactly, understands also the desire and intention of the Spirit of Christ.” But these things are ἀπροσδιόνυσα, and have no dependence the one on the other; nor was there any need of the mentioning the searching of our hearts, to introduce the approbation of the intercession of Christ. But to return.
That is wrought in the hearts of believers in their duty which is pervious to none but Him that searcheth the heart. This frame in all our supplications we ought to aim at, especially in time of distress, troubles, and temptations, such as was the season here especially intended, when commonly we are most sensible of our own infirmities: and wherein we come short hereof in some measure, it is from our unbelief, or carelessness and negligence; which God abhors. I do acknowledge that there may be, that there will be, more earnestness and intension of mind, and of our natural spirit therein, in this duty, at one time than another, according as outward occasions or other motives do excite them or stir them up. So our Saviour in his agony prayed more earnestly than usual; not with a higher exercise of grace, which always acted itself in him in perfection, but with a greater vehemency in the working of his natural faculties. So it may be with us at especial seasons; but yet we are always to endeavour after the same aids of the Spirit, the same actings of grace in every particular duty of this kind.
Thirdly, The Holy Spirit gives the soul of a believer a delight in God as the object of prayer. I shall not insist on his exciting, moving, and acting all other graces that are required in the exercise of this duty, as faith, love, reverence, fear, trust, submission, waiting, hope, and the like. I have proved elsewhere that the exercise of them all, in all duties, and of all other graces in like manner, is from him, and shall not therefore here again confirm the same truth. But this delight in God as the object of prayer hath a peculiar consideration in this matter; for without it ordinarily the duty is not accepted with God, and is a barren, burdensome task unto 291them by whom it is performed. Now, this delight in God as the object of prayer is, for the substance of it, included in that description of prayer given us by the apostle, — namely, that it is crying “Abba, Father.” Herein a filial, holy delight in God is included, such as children have in their parents in their most affectionate addresses unto them, as hath been declared. And we are to inquire wherein this delight in God as the object of prayer doth consist, or what is required thereunto. And there is in it, —
1. A sight or prospect of God as on a throne of grace. A prospect, I say, not by carnal imagination, but spiritual illumination. “By faith we see him who is invisible,” Heb. xi. 27; for it is the “evidence of things not seen” making its proper object evident and present unto them that do believe. Such a sight of God on a throne of grace is necessary unto this delight. Under this consideration he is the proper object of all our addresses unto him in our supplications: chap. iv. 16, “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” The duty of prayer is described by the subject-matter of it, namely, “mercy” and “grace,” and by the only object of it, “God on a throne of grace.”
And this “throne of grace” is farther represented unto us by the place where it is erected or set up, and that is in the holiest or most holy place; for in our coming unto God as on that throne, we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” Heb. x. 19. And hereby the apostle shows, that in the expression he has respect or alludes unto the mercy-seat upon the ark, covered with the cherubims, which had a representation of a throne; and because of God’s especial manifestation of himself thereon, it was called his throne; and it was a representation of Jesus Christ, as I have showed elsewhere.
God, therefore, on a throne of grace is God as in a readiness through Jesus Christ to dispense grace and mercy to suppliant sinners. When God comes to execute judgment, his throne is otherwise represented. See Dan. vii. 9, 10. And when sinners take a view in their minds of God as he is in himself, and as he will be unto all out of Christ, it ingenerates nothing but dread and terror in them, with foolish contrivances to avoid him or his displeasure, Isa. xxxiii. 14; Mic. vi. 6, 7; Rev. vi. 16, 17. All these places and others testify that when sinners do engage into serious thoughts and conceptions of the nature of God, and what entertainment they shall meet with from him, all their apprehensions issue in dread and terror. This is not a frame wherein they can cry, “Abba, Father.” If they are delivered from this fear and bondage, it is by that which is worse, namely, carnal boldness and presumption, whose rise lieth 292in the highest contempt of God and his holiness. When men give up themselves to the customary performance of this duty, or rather “saying of their prayers,’ I know not out of what conviction that so they must do, without a due consideration of God and the regard that he hath unto them, they do but provoke him to his face in taking his name in vain; nor, however they satisfy themselves in what they do, have they any delight in God in their approaches unto him.
Wherefore, there is required hereunto a prospect of God, by faith, as on a “throne of grace,” as exalted in Christ to show mercy unto sinners. So is he represented, Isa. xxx. 18, “Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy.” Without this we cannot draw nigh to him, or call upon him with delight, as becometh children, crying, “Abba, Father.” And by whom is this discovery made unto us? Is this a fruit of our own fancy and imagination? So it may be with some, to their ruin. But it is the work of the Spirit, who alone, in and through Christ, revealeth God unto us, and enableth us to discern him in a due manner. Hence our apostle prays for the Ephesians “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; that the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, they might know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” chap. i. 17, 18. All the acquaintance which we have with God, in a way of grace, is from the revelation made in us by his Spirit. See Col. ii. 1, 2. By him doth God say unto us that “fury is not in him,” and that if we lay hold on his arm, that we may have peace, we shall have peace, Isa. xxvii. 4, 5.
2. Unto this delight is required a sense of God’s relation unto us as a Father. By that name, and under that consideration, hath the Lord Christ taught us to address ourselves unto him in all our supplications. And although we may use other titles and appellations in our speaking to him, even such as he hath given himself in the Scripture, or those which are analogous thereunto, yet this consideration principally influenceth our souls and minds, that God is not ashamed to be called our Father, that “the Lord Almighty hath said that he will be a Father unto us, and that we shall be his sons and daughters,” 2 Cor. vi. 18. Wherefore, as a Father is he the ultimate object of all evangelical worship, of all our prayers. So is it expressed in that holy and divine description of it given by the apostle, Eph. ii. 18, “Through Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” No tongue can express, no mind can reach, the heavenly placidness and soul-satisfying delight which are intimated in these words. To come to God as a Father, through Christ, by the help 293and assistance of the Holy Spirit, revealing him as a Father unto us, and enabling us to go to him as a Father, how full of sweetness and satisfaction is it! Without a due apprehension of God in this relation no man can pray as he ought. And hereof we have no sense, herewith we have no acquaintance, but by the Holy Ghost; for we do not consider God in a general manner, as he may be said to be a Father unto the whole creation, but in an especial, distinguishing relation, — as he makes us his children by adoption. And as it is “the Spirit that beareth witness with our spirit that we are thus the children of God,” Rom. viii. 16, giving us the highest and utmost assurance of our estate of sonship in this world; so being the Spirit of adoption, it is by him alone that we have any acquaintance with our interest in that privilege.
Some may apprehend that these things belong but little, and that very remotely, unto the duty of prayer, and the assistance we receive by the Spirit therein; but the truth is, those who are so minded, on consideration, know neither what it is to pray nor what doth belong thereunto. There is nothing more essential unto this duty than that, in the performance of it, we address ourselves unto God under the notion of a Father; that is, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in him our Father also. Without this we cannot have that holy delight in this duty which is required in us, and the want whereof ordinarily ruins our design in it. And this we can have no spiritual, satisfactory sense of but what we receive by and from the Spirit of God.
3. There belongeth thereunto that boldness which we have in our access into the holy piece, or unto the throne of grace: “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” Heb. x. 19, 22. Where there is on men a “spirit of fear unto bondage,” they can never have any delight in their approaches unto God. And this is removed by the Spirit of grace and supplication: Rom. viii. 15, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” These things are opposed, and the one is only removed and taken away by the other. And where the “spirit of bondage unto fear” abides, there we cannot cry, “Abba, Father,” or pray in a due manner; but “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Cor. iii. 17. And this, as we render the word, consists in two things:— (1.) In orandi libertate; (2.) In exauditionis fiducia.
(1.) There is in it an enlarged liberty and freedom of speech in prayer unto God; so the word signifies. Παῤῥησία is as much as πανρησία, a freedom to speak all that is to be spoken, a confidence that countenanceth men in the freedom of speech, according to the 294exigency of their state, condition, and cause. So the word is commonly used, Eph. vi. 19. Where there is servile fear and dread, the heart is straitened, bound up, knows not what it may, what it may not utter, and is pained about the issue of all it thinks or speaks; or it cannot pray at all beyond what is prescribed unto it to say, as it were, whether it will or no. But where this Spirit of liberty and boldness is, the heart is enlarged with a true, genuine openness and readiness to express all its concerns unto God as a child unto its father. I do not say that those who have this aid of the Spirit have always this liberty in exercise, or equally so. The exercise of it may be variously impeded, by temptations, spiritual indispositions, desertions, and by our own negligence in stirring up the grace of God. But believers have it always in the root and principle, even all that have received the Spirit of adoption, and are ordinarily assisted in the use of it. Hereby are they enabled to comply with the blessed advice of the apostle, Phil. iv. 6, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” The whole of our concerns in this world is to be committed unto God in prayer, so that we should not retain any dividing cares in our own minds about them. And herein the apostle would have us to use a holy freedom and boldness in speaking unto God on all occasions, as one who concerns himself in them; to hide nothing from God, — which we do what lieth in us when we present it not unto him in our prayers, — but use a full, plain-hearted, open liberty with him: “In every thing let your requests be made known unto God.” He is ready to hear all that you have to offer unto him or plead before him. And in so doing, the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ,” verse 7; which is ordinarily the condition of those who are found in diligent obedience unto this command.
(2.) There is also in it a confidence of acceptance, or being heard in prayer; that is, that God is well pleased with their duties, accepting both them and their persons in Jesus Christ. Without this we can have no delight in prayer, or in God as the object of it; which vitiates the whole duty. When Adam thought there was no acceptance with God for him, he had no confidence of access unto him, but, as the first effect of folly that ensued on the entrance of sin, went to hide himself. And all those who have no ground of spiritual confidence for acceptance with Christ do in their prayers but endeavour to hide themselves from God by the duty which they perform. They cast a mist about them, to obscure themselves from the sight of their own convictions, wherein alone they suppose that God sees them also. But in such a frame there is neither delight, nor enlargement, nor liberty, nor indeed prayer itself.
295Now, this confidence or boldness, which is given unto believers in their prayers by the Holy Ghost, respects not the answer of every particular request, especially in their own understanding of it, but it consists in a holy persuasion that God is well pleased with their duties, accepts their persons, and delights in their approaches unto his throne. Such persons are not terrified with apprehensions that God will say unto them, “What have ye to do to take my name into your mouths, or to what purpose are the multitude of your supplications? When ye make many prayers, I will not hear.” “Will he,” saith Job, “plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me,” chap. xxiii. 6. Yea, they are assured that the more they are with God, the more constantly they abide with him, the better is their acceptance; for as they are commanded to pray always and not to faint, so they have a sufficient warranty from the encouragement and call of Christ to be frequent in their spiritual addresses to him. So he speaks to his church, Cant. ii. 14, “O my dove, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.” And herein also is comprised a due apprehension of the goodness and power of God, whereby he is, in all conditions, ready to receive them and able to relieve them. The voice of sinners by nature, let presumption and superstition pretend what they please to the contrary, is, that God is austere, and not capable of condescension or compassion. And the proper acting of unbelief lies in limiting the Most Holy, saying, “Can God do this or that thing, which the supplies of our necessities do call fort are they possible with God?” So long as either of these worketh in us with any kind of prevalency, it is impossible we should have any delight in calling upon God. But we are freed from them by the Holy Ghost, in the representation he makes of the engaged goodness and power of God in the promises of the covenant; which gives us boldness in his presence.
Fourthly, It is the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer to keep the souls of believers intent upon Jesus Christ, as the only way and means of acceptance with God. This is the fundamental direction for prayer now under the gospel. We are now to ask in his name; which was not done expressly under the Old Testament. Through him we act faith on God in all our supplications; by him we have an access unto the Father. We enter into the holiest through the new and living way that he hath consecrated for us. The various respect which faith hath unto Jesus Christ as mediator in all our prayers is a matter worthy a particular inquiry, but is not of our present consideration, wherein we declare the work of the Spirit alone; and this is a part of it, that he keeps our souls intent upon Christ, according unto what is required of us, as he is the way of our 296approach unto God, the means of our admittance, and the cause of our acceptance with him. And where faith is not actually exercised unto this purpose, all prayer is vain and unprofitable. And whether our duty herein be answered with a few words, wherein his name is expressed with little spiritual regard unto him, is worth our inquiry.
To enable us hereunto is the work of the Holy Ghost. He it is that glorifies Jesus Christ in the hearts of believers, John xvi. 14; and this he doth when he enableth them to act faith on him in a due manner. So speaks the apostle expressly, Eph. ii. 18, “Through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” It is through Jesus alone that we have our access unto God, and that by faith in him. So we have our access unto him for our persons in justification: Rom. v. 2, “By whom we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” And by him we have our actual access unto him in our supplications when we draw nigh to the throne of grace; but this is by the Spirit. It is he who enables us hereunto, by keeping our minds spiritually intent on him in all our addresses unto God. This is a genuine effect of the Spirit as he is the “Spirit of the Son;” under which consideration in an especial manner he is bestowed on us to enable us to pray, Gal. iv. 6. And hereof believers have a refreshing experience in themselves; nor doth any thing leave a better savour or relish on their souls than when they have had their hearts and minds kept close, in the exercise of faith, on Christ the mediator in their prayers.
I might yet insist on more instances in the declaration of the work of the Holy Ghost in believers, as he is a Spirit of grace and supplication; but my design is not to declare what may be spoken, but to speak what ought not to be omitted. Many other things, therefore, might be added, but these will suffice to give an express understanding of this work unto them who have any spiritual experience of it, and those who have not will not be satisfied with volumes to the same purpose.
Yet something may be here added to free our passage from any just exceptions; for, it may be, some will think that these things are not pertinent unto our present purpose, which is to discover the nature of the duty of prayer, and the assistance which we receive by the Spirit of God therein. “Now, this is only in the words that we use unto God in our prayers, and not in that spiritual delight and confidence which have been spoken unto, which, with other graces, if they may be so esteemed, are of another consideration.” Ans. 1. It may be that some think so; and also, it may be, and is very likely, that some who will be talking about these things are utterly ignorant what it is to pray in the Spirit, and the whole nature of this duty. Not knowing, therefore, the thing, they hate the very name of it; as 297indeed it cannot but be uncouth unto all who are no way interested in the grace and privilege intended by it. The objections of such persons are but as the strokes of blind men; whatever strength and violence be in them, they always miss the mark. Such are the fierce arguings of the most against this duty; they are full of fury and violence, but never touch the matter intended. 2. My design is so to discover the nature of praying in the Spirit in general as that therewith I may declare what is a furtherance thereunto and what is a hinderance thereof; for if there be any such ways of praying, which men use or oblige themselves unto, which do not comply with, or are not suited to promote, or are unconcerned in, or do not express, those workings of the Holy Ghost which are so directly assigned unto him in the prayers of believers, they are all nothing but means of quenching the Spirit, of disappointing the work of his grace, and rendering the prayers themselves so used, and as such, unacceptable with God. And apparent it is, at least, that most of the ways and modes of prayer used in the Papacy are inconsistent with, and exclusive of, the whole work of the Spirit of supplication.
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