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The duty of external prayer by virtue of a spiritual gift explained and vindicated.
What we have hitherto discoursed concerning the work of the Spirit of grace and supplication enabling believers to pray, or to cry “Abba, Father,” belongeth principally unto the internal, spiritual nature of the duty, and the exercise of grace therein, wherein we have occasionally only diverted unto the consideration of the interest of words, and the use of set forms, either freely or imposed. And, indeed, what hath been evinced from Scripture testimony herein doth upon the matter render all farther dispute about these things needless; for if the things mentioned be required unto all acceptable prayer, and if they are truly effected in the minds of all believers by the Holy Ghost, it is evident how little use there remains of such pretended aids.
But, moreover, prayer falleth under another consideration, namely, as to its external performance, and as the duty is discharged by any 302one in lesser or greater societies, wherein upon his words and expressions do depend their conjunction with him, their communion in the duty, and consequently their edification in the whole. This is the will of God, that in assemblies of his appointment, as churches and families, and occasional meetings of two or three or more in the name of Christ, one should pray in the name of himself and the rest that join with him. Thus are ministers enabled to pray in church-assemblies, as other Christians in occasional meetings of the disciples of Christ in his name, parents in their families, and, in secret, every believer for himself.
There is a spiritual ability given unto men by the Holy Ghost, whereby they are enabled to express the matter of prayer, as taught and revealed in the manner before described, in words fitted and suited to lead on their own minds and the minds of others unto a holy communion in the duty, to the honour of God and their own edification. I do not confine the use of this ability unto assemblies; every one may, and usually is to make use of it, according to the measure which he hath received, for himself also; for if a man have not an ability to pray for himself in private and alone, he can have none to pray in public and societies. Wherefore, take prayer as vocal, without which adjunct it is not complete, and this ability belongs to the nature and essence of it And this also is from the Spirit of God.
This is that which meets with such contradiction and opposition from many, and which hath other things set up in competition with it, yea, to the exclusion of it, even from families and closets also. What they are we shall afterward examine. And judged it is by some not only to be separable from the work of the Spirit of prayer, but no way to belong thereunto. “A fruit,” they say, “it is of wit, fancy, memory, elocution, volubility and readiness of speech,” — namely, in them in whom on other accounts they will acknowledge none of these things to be, at least in no considerable degree! Some while since, indeed, they defended themselves against any esteem of this ability, by crying out that “all those who thus prayed by the Spirit, as they call it, did but babble and talk nonsense.” But those who have any sobriety and modesty are convinced that the generality of those who do pray according to the ability received do use words of truth and soberness in the exercise thereof. And it is but a sorry relief that any can find in cavilling at some expressions, which, perhaps good and wholesome in themselves, yet suit not their palates; or if they are such as may seem to miss of due order and decency, yet is not their failure to be compared with the extravagances (considering the nature of the duty) of some in supposed quaint and elegant expressions used in this duty. But herein they betake 303themselves unto this countenance, that this ability is the effect of the natural endowments before mentioned only, which they think to be set off by a boldness and confidence but a little beneath an intolerable impudence. Thus, it seems, is it with all who desire to pray as God enables them, that is, according to his mind and will, if any thing in the light of nature, the common voice of mankind, examples of Scripture, express testimonies and commands, are able to declare what is so. I shall, therefore, make way unto the declaration and confirmation of the truth asserted by the ensuing observations.
1. Every man is to pray or call upon God, according as he is able, with respect unto his own condition, relations, occasions, and duties. Certainly there is not a man in the world who hath not forfeited all his reason and understanding unto atheism, or utterly buried all their operations under the fury of brutish affections, but he is convinced that it is his duty to pray to the deity he owns, in words of his own, as well as he is able; for this, and none other, is the genuine and natural notion of prayer. This is implanted in the heart of mankind, which they need not be taught nor directed unto. The artificial help of constant forms is an arbitrary invention. And I would hope that there are but few in the world, especially of those who are called Christians, but that at one time or other do so pray. And those who, for the most part, do betake themselves to other reliefs (as unto the reading of prayers, composed unto some good end and purpose, though not absolutely to their occasions, as to the present state of their minds and the things they would pray for, which is absolutely impossible), cannot, as I conceive, but sometimes be conscious to themselves not only of the weakness of what they do, but of their neglect of the duty which they profess to perform. And as for such who, by the prevalency of ignorance, the power of prejudice, and infatuation of superstition, are diverted from the dictates of nature and light of Scripture directions to say a “paternoster,” it may be an “ave,” or a “credo,” for their prayer, intending it for this or that end, the benefit, it may be, of this or that person, or the obtaining of what is no way mentioned or included in what they utter, there is nothing of prayer in it, but a mere taking the name of God in vain, with the horrible profanation of a holy ordinance.
Persons tied up unto such rules and forms never pray in their lives, but in their occasional ejaculations, which break from them almost by surprisal. And there hath not been any one more effectual means of bringing unholiness, with an ungodly course of conversation, into the Christian world, than this one of teaching men to satisfy themselves in this duty by their saying, reading, or repetition of the words of other men, which, it may be, they understand 304not, and certainly are not in a due manner affected withal; for it is this duty whereby our whole course is principally influenced. And, let men say what they will, our conversation in walking before God, which principally regards the frame and disposition of our hearts, is influenced and regulated by our attendance unto and performance of this duty. He whose prayers are hypocritical is a hypocrite in his whole course; and he who is but negligent in them is equally negligent in all other duties. Now, whereas our whole obedience unto God ought to be our “reasonable service,” Rom. xii. 1, how can it be expected that it should be so when the foundation of it is laid in such an irrational supposition, that men should not pray themselves what they are able, but read the forms of others instead thereof, which they do not understand?
2. All the examples we have in the Scripture of the prayers of the holy men of old, either under the Old Testament or the New, were all of them the effects of their own ability in expressing the gracious conceptions of their minds, wrought in them by the Holy Ghost in the way and manner before described. I call it their own ability, in opposition to all outward aids and assistances from others, or an antecedaneous prescription of a form of words unto themselves. Not one instance can be given to the contrary. Sometimes it is said they “spread forth their hands,” sometimes that they “lifted up their voices,” sometimes that they “fell upon their knees and cried,” sometimes that they “poured out their hearts” when overwhelmed; all according unto present occasions and circumstances. The solemn benediction of the priests, instituted of God, like the present forms in the administration of the sacraments, were of another consideration, as shall be showed; and as for those who, by immediate inspiration, gave out and wrote discourses in the form of prayers, which were in part mystical and in part prophetical, we have before given an account concerning them. Some plead, indeed, that the church of the Jews, under the second temple, had sundry forms of prayers in use among them, even at the time when our Saviour was conversant in the temple and their synagogues; — but they pretend and plead what they cannot prove, and I challenge any learned man to give but a tolerable evidence unto the assertion; for what is found to that purpose among the Talmudists is mixed with such ridiculous fables (as the first, suiting the number of their prayers to the number of the bones in the back of a man!) as fully defeats its own evidence.
3. The commands which are given us to pray thus according unto our own abilities are no more nor less than all the commands we have in the Scripture to pray at all. Not one of them hath any regard or respect unto outward forms, aids, or helps of prayer. And 305the manner of prayer itself is so described, limited, and determined, as that no other kind of prayer can be intended: for whereas we are commanded to “pray in the Spirit;” to pray earnestly and fervently, with “the spirit and understanding;” continually, with all manner of “prayer and supplication,” to “make our requests known unto God,” so as not to take care ourselves about our present concerns; to “pour out our hearts unto God;” to cry, “Abba, Father,” by the Spirit, and the like, — I do not understand how these things are suited unto any kind of prayer but only that which is from the ability which men have received for the entire discharge of that duty; for there are evidently intimated in these precepts and directions such various occasional workings of our minds and spirits, such actings of gracious affections, as will not comply with a constant use of a prescribed form of words.
4. When we speak of men’s own ability in this matter, we do include therein the conscientious, diligent use of all means which God hath appointed for the communication of this ability unto them, or to help them in the due use, exercise, and improvement of it. Such means there are, and such are they to attend unto; as, —
(1.) The diligent searching of our own hearts, in their frames, dispositions, inclinations, and actings, that we may be in some measure acquainted with their state and condition towards God. Indeed, the heart of man is absolutely unsearchable unto any but God himself, — that is, as unto a complete and perfect knowledge of it (hence David prays that God would “search and try him,” and lead and conduct him by his grace according unto what he found in him, and not leave him wholly to act or be acted according unto his own apprehensions of himself, Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24); but yet where we do in sincerity inquire into them, by the help of that spiritual light which we have received, we may discern so much of them as to guide us aright in this and all other duties. If this be neglected, if men live in the dark unto themselves, or satisfy themselves only with an acquaintance with those things which an accusing conscience will not suffer them to be utterly ignorant of, they will never know either how to pray or what to pray for in a due manner. And the want of a due discharge of this duty, which we ought continually to be exercised in, especially on the account of that unspeakable variety of spiritual changes which we are subject unto, is a cause of that barrenness in prayer which is found among the most, as we have observed. He that would abound in all manner of supplication, which is enjoined us, who would have his prayers to be proper, useful, fervent, must be diligent in the search and consideration of his own heart, with all its dispositions and inclinations, and the secret guilt which it doth variously contract.
306(2.) Constant, diligent reading of the Scriptures is another duty that this ability greatly depends upon. From the precepts of God therein may we learn our own wants, and from his promises the relief which he hath provided for them; and these things, as hath been showed, supply us with the matter of prayer. Moreover, we thence learn what words and expressions are meet and proper to be used in our accesses unto God. No words nor expressions in themselves or their signification are meet or acceptable herein, but from their analogy unto those in the Scripture, which are of God’s own teaching and direction. And where men are much conversant in the word, they will be ready for and furnished with meet expressions of their desires to God always. This is one means whereby they may come so to be; and other helps of the like nature might be insisted on.
5. There is a use herein of the natural abilities of invention, memory, and elocution. Why should not men use in the service and worship of God what God hath given them that they may be able to serve and worship him? Yea, it setteth off the use and excellency of this spiritual gift, that in the exercise of it we use and act our natural endowments and abilities, as spiritualized by grace; which, in the way set up in competition with it, cannot be done. The more the soul is engaged in its faculties and powers, the more intent it is in and unto the duty.
Nor do I deny but that this gift may be varied in degrees and divers circumstances according unto these abilities, though it have a being of its own distinct from them. Even in extraordinary gifts, as in the receiving and giving out of immediate revelations from God, there was a variety in outward modes and circumstances which followed the diversity and variety of the natural abilities and qualifications of them who were employed in that work. Much more may this difference both be and appear in the exercise of ordinary gifts, which do not so absolutely influence and regulate the faculties of the mind as the other.
And this difference we find by experience among them who are endowed with this spiritual ability. All men who have the gift of prayer do not pray alike, as to the matter of their prayers, or the manner of their praying; but some do greatly excel others, some in one thing, some in another. And this doth in part proceed from that difference that is between them in the natural abilities of invention, judgment, memory, elocution, especially as they are improved by exercise in this duty. But yet neither is this absolutely so, nor doth the difference in this matter which we observe in constant experience depend solely hereon; for if it did, then those who, having received this spiritual ability, do excel others in these natural endowments, 307would also constantly excel them in the exercise of the gift itself, which is not so, as is known to all who have observed any thing in this matter. But the exercise of these abilities in prayer depends on the especial assistance of the Spirit of God. And, for the most part, the gift, as the scion ingrafted or inoculated, turns the nature of those abilities into itself, and modifieth them according unto its own efficacy and virtue, and is not itself changed by them. Evidently, that which makes any such difference in the discharge of this duty as wherein the edification of others is concerned, is the frequent conscientious exercise of the gift received; without which, into whatever stock of natural abilities it may be planted, it will neither thrive nor flourish.
6. Spiritual gifts are of two sorts:— (1.) Such as are distinct from all other abilities, having their whole foundation, nature, and power in themselves. Such were the extraordinary gifts of miracles, healing, tongues, and the like. These were entire in themselves, not built upon or adjoined unto any other gifts or graces whatever. (2.) Such as were adjuncts of, or annexed unto, any other gifts or graces, without which they could have neither place nor use, as the gift of utterance depends on wisdom and knowledge; for utterance without knowledge, or that which is any thing but the way of expressing sound knowledge unto the benefit of others, is folly and babbling. And of this latter sort is the gift of prayer, as under our present consideration, with respect unto the interest of words in that duty. And this we affirm to be a peculiar gift of the Holy Ghost, and shall now farther prove it so to be; for, —
(1.) It is an inseparable adjunct of that work of the Spirit which we have described, and is therefore from him who is the author of it; for he who is the author of any thing as to its being is the author of all its inseparable adjuncts. That the work of enabling us to pray is the work of the Spirit hath been proved; and it is an immeasurable boldness for any to deny it, and yet pretend themselves to be Christian. And he is not the author of any one part of this work, but of the whole, all that whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.” Hereunto the expression of the desires of our souls, in words suited unto the acting of our own graces and the edification of others, doth inseparably belong. When we are commanded to pray, if our necessity, condition, edification, with the advantage and benefit of others, do require the use of words in prayer, then are we so to pray. For instance, when a minister is commanded to pray in the church or congregation, so as to go before the flock in the discharge of that duty, he is to use words in prayer. Yet are we not in such cases required to pray any otherwise than as the Spirit is promised to enable us to pray, and so as that we may still be said to pray in the Holy Ghost. So, therefore, 308to pray falls under the command and promise, and is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And the nature of the thing itself, — that is, the duty of prayer, — doth manifest it; for all that the Spirit of God works in our hearts with respect unto this duty is in order unto the expression of it, for what he doth is to enable us to pray. And if he give not that expression, all that he doth besides may be lost as to its principal end and use: and, indeed, all that he doth in us where this is wanting, or that in fixed meditation, which in some particular cases is equivalent thereunto, riseth not beyond that frame which David expresseth by his keeping silence; whereby he declares an estate of trouble, wherein yet he was not freely brought over to deal with God about it, as he did afterward by prayer, and found relief therein.
That which with any pretence of reason can be objected hereunto, — namely, that not any part only, but the whole duty of prayer as we are commanded to pray, is an effect in us of the Holy Spirit as a Spirit of grace and supplication, or that the grace of prayer and the gift of prayer, as some distinguish, are inseparable, — consists in two unsound consequents, which, as is supposed, will thence ensue; as, — (1.) “That every one who hath the grace of prayer, as it is called, or in whom the Holy Spirit worketh the gracious disposition before described, hath also the gift of prayer, seeing these things are inseparable.” And, (2.) “That every one who hath the gift of prayer, or who hath an ability to pray with utterance unto the edification of others, hath also the grace of prayer, or the actings of saving grace in prayer,” which is the thing intended. But these things, it will be said, are manifestly otherwise, and contrary to all experience.
Ans. [1.] For the first of these inferences, I grant it follows from the premises, and therefore affirm that it is most true, under the ensuing limitations:—
1st. We do not speak of what is called the grace of prayer in its habit or principle, but in its actual exercise. In the first respect it is in all that are sanctified, even in those infants that are so from the womb. It doth not hence follow that they must also have the gift of prayer, which respects only grace in its exercise. And thus our meaning is, that all those in whom the Spirit of God doth graciously act faith, love, delight, desire, in a way of prayer unto God, have an ability from him to express themselves in vocal prayer.
2dly. It is required hereunto that such persons be found in a way of duty, and so meet to receive the influential assistance of the Holy Spirit. Whoever will use or have the benefit of any spiritual gift must himself, in a way of duty, stir up, by constant and frequent exercise, the ability wherein it doth consist: “Stir up the gift of God 309which is in thee,” 2 Tim. i. 6. And where this duty is neglected, — which neglect must be accounted for, wit is no wonder if any persons who may have, as they speak, the “grace of prayer,” should not yet have the gift or faculty to express their minds and desires in prayer by words of their own. Some think there is no such ability in any, and therefore never look after it in themselves, but despise whatever they hear spoken unto that purpose. What assistance such persons may have in their prayers from the Spirit of grace I know not, but it is not likely they should have much of his aid or help in that wherein they despise him. And some are so accustomed unto and so deceived by pretended helps in prayer, as making use of or reading prayers by others composed for them that they never attempt to pray for themselves, but always think they cannot do that which, indeed, they will not; as if a child being bred up among none but such impotent persons as go on crutches, as he groweth up should refuse to try his own strength, and resolve himself to make use of crutches also. Good instruction, or some sudden surprisal with fear, removing his prejudice, he will cast away this needless help, and make use of his strength. Some gracious persons brought up where forms of prayer are in general use may have a spiritual ability of their own to pray, but neither know it nor ever try it, through a compliance with the principles of their education, yea, so as to think it impossible for them to pray any otherwise. But when instruction frees them from this prejudice, or some sudden surprisal with fear or affliction casts them into an entrance of the exercise of their own ability in this kind, their former aids and helps quickly grow into disuse with them.
3dly. The ability which we ascribe unto all who have the gracious assistance of the Spirit in prayer is not absolute, but suited unto their occasions, conditions, duties, callings, and the like. We do not say that every one who hath received the Spirit of grace and supplication must necessarily have a gift enabling him to pray as becomes a minister in the congregation, or any person on the like solemn occasion, — no, nor yet it may be to pray in a family, or in the company of many, if he be not in his condition of life called thereunto; but every one hath this ability according to his necessity, condition of life, and calling. He that is only a private person hath so, and he who is the ruler of the family hath so, and he that is a minister of the congregation hath so also. And as God enlargeth men’s occasions and calls, so he will enlarge their abilities, provided they do what is their duty to that end and purpose; for the slothful, the negligent, the fearful, those that are under the power of prejudices, will have no share in this mercy. This, therefore, is the sum of what we affirm in this particular:— Every adult person who hath received, 310and is able to exercise, grace in prayer, any saving grace, without which prayer itself is an abomination, if he neglect not the improvement of the spiritual aids communicated unto him, doth so far partake of this gift of the Holy Spirit as to enable him to pray according as his own occasions and duty do require. He who wants mercy for the pardon of sin, or supplies of grace for the sanctification of his person, and the like, if he be sensible of his wants, and have gracious desires after their supply wrought in his heart, will be enabled to ask them of God in an acceptable manner, if he be not woefully and sinfully wanting unto himself and his own duty.
[2.] As to the second inference, namely, that if this ability be inseparable from the gracious assistance of the Spirit of prayer, then whosoever hath this gift and ability, he hath in the exercise of it that gracious assistance, or he hath received the Spirit of grace, and hath saving graces acted in him, I answer, — 1st. It doth not follow on what we have asserted: for although wherever is the grace of prayer there is the gift also in its measure, yet it follows not that where the gift is there must be the grace also; for the gift is for the grace’s sake, and not on the contrary. Grace cannot be acted without the gift, but the gift may without the grace. 2dly. We shall assent that this gift doth grow in another soil, and hath not its root in itself. It followeth on and ariseth from one distinct part of the work of the Holy Spirit as a Spirit of supplication, from which it is inseparable; and this is his work on the mind, in acquainting it with the things that are to be prayed for, which he doth both in the inward convictions of men’s own souls, and in the declaration made thereof in the Scripture. Now, this may in some be only a common work of illumination, which the gift of vocal prayer may flow from and accompany, when the Spirit of grace and supplication works no farther in them. Wherefore, it is acknowledged that men in whom the Spirit of grace did never reside nor savingly operate may have the gift of utterance in prayer unto their own and others’ edification; for they have the gift of illumination, which is its foundation, and from which it is inseparable. Where this spiritual illumination is not granted in some measure, no abilities, no industry, can attain the gift of utterance in prayer unto edification; for spiritual light is the matter of all spiritual gifts, which in all their variety are but the various exercise of it. And to suppose a man to have a gift of prayer without it, is to suppose him to have a gift to pray for he knows not what; which real or pretended enthusiasm we abhor. Wherefore, wherever is this gift of illumination and conviction, there is such a foundation of the gift of prayer as that it is not ordinarily absent in some measure, where due use and exercise are observed.
Add unto what hath been spoken that the duty of prayer ordinarily 311is not complete unless it be expressed in words. It is called “pleading with God,” “filling our mouths with arguments,” “crying unto him,” and “causing him to hear our voice;” which things are so expressed, not that they are any way needful unto God, but unto us. And whereas it may be said that all this may be done in prayer by internal meditation, where no use is made of the voice or of words, as it is said of Hannah that “she spake in her heart, but her voice was not heard,” 1 Sam. i. 13, I grant in some cases it may be so, where the circumstances of the duty do not require it should be otherwise, or where the vehemency of affections, which causes men to cry out and roar, will permit it so to be. But withal I say, that in this prayer by meditation, the things and matter of prayer are to be formed in the mind into that sense and those sentences which may be expressed; and the mind can conceive no more in this way of prayer than it can express. So of Hannah it is said, when she prayed in her heart, and, as she said herself, “out of the abundance of her meditation,” verse 16, that “her lips moved,” though “her voice was not heard;” she not only framed the sense of her supplications into petitions, but tacitly expressed them to herself. And the obligation of any person unto prescribed forms is as destructive of prayer by inward meditation as it is of prayer conceived and expressed; for it takes away the liberty and prevents the ability of framing petitions, or any other parts of prayer, in the mind according to the sense which the party praying hath of them. Wherefore, if this expression of prayer in words do necessarily belong unto the duty itself, it is an effect of the Holy Spirit, or he is not the Spirit of supplication unto us.
(2.) Utterance is a peculiar gift of the Holy Ghost: so it is mentioned, 1 Cor. i. 5; 2 Cor. viii. 7; Eph. vi. 19; Col. iv. 3. And hereof there are two parts, or there are two duties to be discharged by virtue of it:— [1.] An ability to speak unto men in the name of God in the preaching of the word; [2.] An ability to speak unto God for ourselves, or in the name and on the behalf of others. And there is the same reason of utterance in both these duties; and in each of them it is equally a peculiar gift of the Spirit of God. See 1 Cor. i. 5; 2 Cor. viii. 7; Eph. vi. 19; Col. iv. 3. The word used in these places is λόγος, “speech,” which is well rendered “utterance,” — that is, παῤῥησία ἐν τῷ ἀποφθέγγεσθαι, “facultas et libertas dicendi,” an ability and liberty to speak out the things we have conceived: Λόγος ἐν ἀνοίξει τοῦ στόματος ἐν παῤῥησίᾳ, Eph. vi. 19, — “Utterance in the opening of the mouth with boldness,” or rather freedom of speech. This in sacred things, in praying and preaching, is the gift of the Holy Spirit; and as such are we enjoined to pray for it that it may be given unto us or others, as the edification of 312the church doth require. And although this gift may by some be despised, yet the whole edification of the church depends upon it; yea, the foundation of the church was laid in it, as it was an extraordinary gift, Acts ii. 4; and its superstructure is carried on by it, for it is the sole means of public or solemn intercourse between God and the church. It is so if there be such a thing as the Holy Ghost, if there be such things as spiritual gifts. The matter of them is spiritual light, and the manner of their exercise is utterance.
This gift or ability, as all others of the like nature, may be considered either as to the habit or as to the external exercise of it. And those who have received it in the habit have yet experience of great variety in the exercise, which in natural and moral habits, where the same preparations precede, doth not usually appear; for as the Spirit of grace is free, and acts arbitrarily with respect unto the persons unto whom he communicates the gift himself, for “he divideth to every man as he will,” so he acteth also as he pleases in the exercise of those gifts and graces which he doth bestow. Hence believers do sometimes find a greater evidence of his gracious working in them in prayer, or of his assistance to pray, as also enlargement in utterance, than at other times; for in both he breatheth and acteth as he pleaseth. These things are not their own, nor absolutely in their own power; nor will either the habitual grace they have received enable them to pray graciously, nor their gift of utterance unto edification, without his actual excitation of that grace and his assistance in the exercise of that gift. Both the conceiving and utterance of our desires in an acceptable manner are from him; and so are all spiritual enlargements in this duty. Vocal prayer, whether private or public, whereof we speak, is the uttering of our desires and requests unto God, called “the making of our requests known unto him,” Phil. iv. 6. This utterance is a gift of the Holy Ghost; so also is prayer as to the manner of the performance of it, by words in supplication. And if any one say he cannot so pray suitably unto his own occasions, he doth only say that he is a stranger to this gift of the Holy Ghost; and if any one will not, by him it is despised. And if these things are denied by any because they understand them not, we cannot help it.
(3.) It is the Holy Spirit that enables men to discharge and perform every duty that is required of them in a due manner, so that without his enabling of us we can do nothing as we should. As this hath been sufficiently confirmed in other discourses on this subject, so we will not always contend with them by whom such fundamental principles of Christianity are denied or called into question. And he doth so with respect unto all sorts of duties, whether such as are required of us by virtue of especial office and calling, or on 313the more general account of a holy conversation according to the will of God. And vocal prayer is a duty under both these considerations; for, —
[1.] It is the duty of the ministers of the gospel by virtue of especial office. “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks,” are to be made in the assemblies of the church, 1 Tim. ii. 1. Herein it is the office and duty of ministers to go before the congregation, and to be as the mouth of the church unto God. The nature of the office and the due discharge of it, with what is necessary unto the religious worship of public assemblies, manifest it so to be. The apostles, as their example, “gave themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word,” Acts vi. 4. It is therefore the gift of the Holy Ghost whereby these are enabled so to do; for of themselves they are not able to do any thing. This is one of those “good gifts” which are “from above, and come down from the Father of lights,” James i. 17. And these gifts do they receive “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Eph. iv. 12. Utterance, therefore, in praying and preaching, is in them the gift of the Holy Ghost with respect unto their office; and that such a gift as those who are utterly destitute of it cannot discharge their office unto the edification of the church.
Let men pretend what they please, if a spiritual ability in praying and preaching belong not necessarily unto the office of the ministry, no man can tell what doth so, or what the office signifies in the church; for no other ordinance can be administered without the word and prayer, nor any part of rule itself in a due manner. And to deny these to be gifts of the Holy Ghost is to deny the continuance of his dispensation unto and in the church; which at once overthrows the whole truth of the gospel and the sole foundation that the ministry of it is built upon.
[2.] The like may be spoken with respect unto duties to be performed by virtue of our general vocation. Such are the duties of parents and masters of families. I know not how far any are gone in ways of profaneness, but hope none are carried unto such a length as to deny it to be the duty of such persons to pray with their families as well as for them. The families that call not on the name of the Lord are under his curse. And if this be their duty, the performance of it must be by the aid of the Spirit of God, by virtue of the general rule we proceed upon.
(4.) The benefit, profit, advantage, and edification of particular persons, o f families, but especially of the church in its assemblies, in and by the use and exercise of this gift, are such and so great as that it is impious not to ascribe it to the operation of the Holy 314Spirit. Men are not of themselves, without his especial aid, authors or causers of the principal spiritual benefit and advantage which the church receiveth in the world. If they are so, or may be so, what need is there of him or his work for the preservation and edification of the church? But that it hath this blessed effect and fruit, we plead the experience of all who desire to walk before God in sincerity, and leave the determination of the question unto the judgment of God himself. Nor will we at present refuse in our plea a consideration of the different conditions, as to a holy conversation, between them who constantly, in their life and at their death, give this testimony, and theirs by whom it is opposed and denied. We are none of us to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, nor of any effect of his grace. It must therefore be said, that the experience which believers of all sorts have of the spiritual benefit and advantage of this ability, both in themselves and others, is not to be moved or shaken by the cavils or reproaches of such as dare profess themselves to be strangers thereunto.
(5.) The event of things may be pleaded in evidence of the same truth: for were not the ability of praying a gift of Him who divideth to every one according unto his own will, there would not be that difference, as to the participation of it among those who all pretend unto the faith of the same truth, as there is openly and visibly in the world; and if it were a matter purely of men’s natural abilities, it were impossible that so many, whose concern it is in the highest degree to be interested in it, should be such strangers to it, so unacquainted with it, and so unable for it. They say, indeed, “It is but the mere improvement of natural abilities, with confidence and exercise.” Let it be supposed for once that some of them at least have confidence competent unto such a work, and let them try what success mere exercise will furnish them withal. In the meantime I deny that, without that illumination of the mind which is a peculiar gift of the Holy Ghost, the ability of prayer treated of is attainable by any. And it will be a hard thing to persuade persons of any ordinary consideration that the difference which they do or may discover between men as to this gift and ability proceeds merely from the difference of their natural and acquired abilities; wherein, as it is strenuously pretended, the advantage is commonly on that side which is most defective herein.
Some, perhaps, may say that they know there is nothing in this faculty but the exercise of natural endowments, with boldness and elocution, and that because they themselves were expert in it, and found nothing else therein; on which ground they have left it for that which is better. But, for evident reasons, we will not be bound to stand unto the testimony of those men, although they shall not 315here be pleaded. In the meantime, we know that “from him which hath not is taken away that which he had.” And it is no wonder if persons endowed sometimes with a gift of prayer proportionable unto their light and illumination, improving neither the one nor the other as they ought, have lost both their light and gift also.
And thus, suitably unto my design and purpose, I have given a delineation of the work of the Holy Ghost as a Spirit of grace and supplication, promised unto and bestowed on all believers, enabling them to cry, “Abba, Father.”
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