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Duties inferred from the preceding discourse.
The issue of all our inquiries is, how we may improve them unto obedience in the life of God; for “if we know them, happy are we if we do them,” and not otherwise. And our practice herein may be reduced unto these two heads:— 1. A due and constant returning of glory unto God on the account of his grace in that free gift of his whose nature we have inquired into. 2. A constant attendance unto the duty which we are graciously enabled unto thereby. And, —
1. (1.) We ought continually to bless God and give glory to him for this great privilege of the Spirit of grace and supplication granted unto the church.158158 Τίς οὐκ ἂν ἐκπλαγείη καὶ θαυμάσειε τὴν τοῦ Θεοῦ φιλανθρωπίαν, ἣν εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐπιδείκνυται, τοσαύτην τιμὴν ἀνθρώποις χαριζομενος, ὡς καὶ προσευχῆς ἀξιῶσαι καὶ ὁμιλίας τῆς νεοφύτου! Θεῷ γὰρ ἀληθῶς λαλοῦμεν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς προσευχῆς. — Chrys. Hom. lxvii. de Prec. 1. This is the principal means on their part of all holy intercourse with God, and of giving glory unto him. How doth the world, which is destitute of this fruit of divine bounty, grope in the dark and wander after vain imaginations, whilst it knows not how to manage its convictions, nor how at all to deal with God about its concerns! That world which cannot receive the Spirit of grace and truth can never have aught to do with God in a due manner. There are by whom this gift of God is despised, is reviled, is blasphemed; and under the shades of many pretences do they hide themselves from the light in their so doing. But they know not what they do, nor by what spirit they are acted. Our duty it is to pray that God would pour forth his Spirit even on them also, who will quickly cause them to “look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn.”
And it appears two ways how great a mercy it is to enjoy and improve this privilege:— [1.] In that both the psalmist and the prophet pray directly, in a spirit of prophecy, and without limitation, that God would “pour out his fury on the families that call not on his 316name,” Ps. lxxix. 6; Jer. x. 25. And, [2.] In that the whole work of faith in obedience is denominated from this duty of prayer, for so it is said that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Rom. x. 13; for invocation or prayer, in the power of the Spirit of grace and supplication, is an infallible evidence and fruit of saving faith and obedience, and therefore is the promise of salvation so eminently annexed unto it, or it is placed by a synecdoche for the whole worship of God and obedience of faith. And it were endless to declare the benefits that the church of God, and every one that belongeth thereunto, hath thereby. No heart can conceive that treasury of mercies which lies in this one privilege, in having liberty and ability to approach unto God at all times, according unto his mind and will. This is the relief, the refuge, the weapons, and assured refreshment, of the church in all conditions.
(2.) It is a matter of praise and glory to God, in an especial manner, that he hath granted an ampliation of this privilege under the gospel. The Spirit is now poured forth from above, and enlarged in his dispensation, both intensively and extensively. Those on whom he is bestowed do receive him in a larger measure than they did formerly under the Old Testament. Thence is that liberty and boldness in their access unto the throne of grace, and their crying “Abba, Father,” which the apostle reckons among the great privileges of the dispensation of the Spirit of Christ, which they of old were not partakers of. If the difference between the Old Testament state and the New lay only in the outward letter and the rule thereof, it would not be so easily discerned on which side the advantage lay; especially, methinks, it should not be so by them who seem really to prefer the pomp of legal worship before the plainness and simplicity of the gospel. But he who understands what it is not to “receive the spirit of bondage to fear,” but to “receive the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” and what it is to “serve God in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” understands their difference well enough. And I cannot but admire that some will make use of arguments, or a pretence of them, for such helps and forms of prayer as seem not compliant with the work of the Spirit of supplication before described, from the Old Testament, and the practice of the church of the Jews before the time of our Saviour, though indeed they can prove nothing from thence; for do they not acknowledge that there is a more plentiful effusion of the Spirit on the church under the New Testament than under the Old? To deny it is to take away the principal difference between the law and the gospel. And is not the performance of duties to be regulated according to the supplies of grace? If we should suppose that the people, being then carnal, and obliged to the observation 317of carnal ordinances, did in this particular stand in need of forms of prayer, — which indeed they did not, of those which were merely so and only so, nor had, that we know of, any use of them, — doth it follow that therefore believers under the New Testament, who have unquestionably a larger portion of the Spirit of grace and supplication poured on them, should either stand in need of them or be obliged unto them? And it is in vain to pretend a different dispensation of the Spirit unto them and us, where different fruits and effects are not acknowledged. He that hath been under the power of the law, and hath been set free by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, knows the difference, and will be thankful for the grace that is in it.
Again; it is extensively enlarged, in that it is now communicated unto multitudes, whereas of old it was confined unto a few. Then the dews of it only watered the land of Canaan, and the posterity of Abraham according to the flesh; now the showers of it are poured down on all nations, even on “all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” In every assembly of mount Zion through the world, called according to the mind of Christ, prayers and supplications are offered unto God through the effectual working of the Spirit of grace and supplication, unless he be despised. And this is done in the accomplishment of that great promise, Mal. i. 11, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.” Prayer and praises in the assemblies of the saints is the pure offering and that sacrifice which God promiseth shall be offered unto him. And this oblation is not to be kindled without the eternal fire of the Spirit of grace. No sacrifice was to be offered of old but with fire taken from the altar. Be it what it would, if it were offered with strange fire, it was an abomination; hence they were all called אִשִּׁים, the “firings” of the Lord. And this was in a resemblance of the Holy Ghost; whence Christ is said to “offer himself to God through the eternal Spirit.” And so must we do our prayers. In the fruits and effects of his works lies all the glory and beauty of our assemblies and worship. Take them away, and they are contemptible, dead, and carnal. And he carrieth this work into the families of them that do believe. Every family apart is enabled to pray and serve God in the spirit; and such as are not do live in darkness all their days. He is the same to believers all the world over, in their closets or their prisons. They have all, wherever they are, an “access by one Spirit unto the Father,” Eph. ii. 18. And for this enlargement of grace God justly expects a revenue of glory from us.
3182. (1.) It is, assuredly, our duty to make use of the gift of the Spirit, as that which is purchased for us by Christ,159159 Ὥσπερ τῷ σώματι φῶς ἥλιος, οὕτω ψυχῇ προσευχή· εἰ οὖν τυφλῷ ζημία τὸ μὴ ὁρᾷν τὸν ἥλιον, ποία ζημία Χριστιανῷ τὸ μὴ προσεύχεσθαι συνεχῶς καὶ διὰ τῆς προσευχῆς τὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ φῶς εἰς τὴν ψυχὴν εἰσάγειν; — Chrys. Hom. lxvii. de Prec. 1. and is of inestimable advantage unto our souls. There are two ways whereby men may be guilty of the neglect of this heavenly favour:— [1.] They are so when the gift itself is not valued nor sought after, nor endeavoured to be attained. And this is done under various pretences. Some imagine that it is no gift of the Spirit, and so despise it; others think that either by them it is not attainable, or that if it be attained it will not answer the labour in it and diligence about it which it doth require, and therefore take up with another way and means, which they know to be more easy, and hope to be as useful; by many the whole duty is despised, and consequently all assistance in the performance of it is so also. None of these do I speak unto at present. But, [2.] We are guilty of this neglect when we do not constantly and diligently, on all occasions, make use of it for the end for which it is given us, yea, abound in the exercise of it. Have you an ability to pray always freely given you by the Holy Ghost? why do you not pray always, in private, in families, according to all occasions and opportunities administered? Of what concernment unto the glory of God, and in our living unto him, prayer is, will be owned by all. It is that only single duty wherein every grace is acted, every sin opposed, every good thing obtained, and the whole of our obedience in every instance of it is concerned. What difficulties lie in the way of its due performance, what discouragements rise up against it, how unable we are of ourselves in a due manner to discharge it, what aversation there is in corrupted nature unto it, what distractions and weariness are apt to befall us under it, are generally known also unto them who are any way exercised in these things. Yet doth the blessedness of our present and future condition much depend thereon. To relieve us against all these things, to “help our infirmities,” to give us freedom, liberty, and confidence in our approaches to the throne of grace, to enable us as children to cry, “Abba, Father,” with delight and complacency, is this gift of the Spirit of grace and supplication given unto us by Jesus Christ. Who can express how great a folly and sin it is not to be found in the constant exercise of it? Can we by any means more “grieve this Holy Spirit” and endamage our own souls? Hath God given unto us the Spirit of grace and supplication, and shall we be remiss, careless, and negligent in prayer? Is not this the worst way whereby we may “quench the Spirit,” which we are so cautioned against? Can we go from day to day in the neglect of opportunities, occasions, 319and just seasons of prayer? How shall we answer for the contempt of this gracious aid offered us by Jesus Christ? Do others go from day to day in a neglect of this duty in their closets and families? Blame them not, or at least they are not worthy of so much blame as we; they know not how to pray, they have no ability for it. But for those to walk in a neglect hereof who have received this gift of the Holy Ghost enabling them thereunto, making it easy unto them and pleasant unto the inner man, how great an aggravation is it of their sin! Shall others at the tinkling of a bell rise and run unto prayers to be said or sung, wherein they can have no spiritual interest, only to pacify their consciences, and comply with the prejudices of their education, and shall we be found in the neglect of that spiritual aid which is graciously afforded unto us? How will the blind devotion and superstition of multitudes, with their diligence and pains therein, rise up in judgment against such negligent persons? We may see in the Papacy how, upon the ringing of a bell, or the lifting up of any ensign of superstition, they will some of them rise at midnight; others in their houses, yea, in the streets, fall on their knees unto their devotions. Having lost the conduct of the Spirit of God, and his gracious guidance unto the performance of duty in its proper seasons, they have invented ways of their own to keep up a frequency in this duty after their manner; which they are true and punctual unto. And shall they who have received that Spirit which the world cannot receive be treacherous and disobedient unto his motions, or what he constantly inclines and enables them unto? Besides all other disadvantages which will accrue hereby unto our souls, who can express the horrible ingratitude of such a sin? I press it the more, and that unto all sorts of prayer, in private, in families, in assemblies for that end, because the temptations and dangers of the days wherein we live do particularly and eminently call for it. If we would talk less and pray more about them, things would be better than they are in the world; at least, we should be better enabled to bear them, and undergo our portion in them with the more satisfaction. To be negligent herein at such a season is a sad token of such a security as foreruns destruction.
(2.) Have any received this gift of the Holy Ghost? — let them know that it is their duty to cherish it, to stir it up and improve it. It is freely bestowed, but it is carefully to be preserved. It is a gospel talent given to be traded withal, and thereby to be increased. There are various degrees and measures of this gift in those that do receive it; but whatever measure any one hath, from the greatest to the least, he is obliged to cherish, preserve, and improve. We do not assert such a gift of prayer as should render our diligence therein unnecessary, or the exercise of our natural abilities useless; yea, the 320end of this gift is to enable us to the diligent exercise of the faculties of our souls in prayer in a due manner. And, therefore, as it is our duty to use it, so it is to improve it. And it is one reason against the restraint of forms, because there is in them too little exercise of the faculties of our minds in the worship of God. Therefore, this being our duty, it may be inquired by what way or means we may stir up this grace and gift of God, so at least as that if, through any weakness or infirmity of mind, we thrive not much in the outward part of it, yet that we decay not nor lose what we have received. The gifts of the Holy Ghost are the fire that kindleth all our sacrifices to God. Now, although that fire of old on the altar first came down from heaven, or “forth from the Lord,” Lev. ix. 24, yet after it was once there placed it was always to be kept alive with care and diligence; for otherwise it would have been extinguished as any other fire, chap. vi. 12, 13. Hence the apostle warns Timothy, ἀναζωπυρεῖν τὸ χάρισμα, 2 Tim. i. 6, to excite and “quicken the fire of his gift,” by blowing off the ashes and adding fuel unto it. Now, there are many things that are useful and helpful unto this end; as, —
[1.] A constant consideration and observation of ourselves, our own hearts, with our spiritual state and condition. Thence are the matters of our requests or petitions in prayer to be taken, Ps. xvi. 7. And as our state in general, by reason of the depths and deceitfulness of our hearts, with our darkness in spiritual things, is such as will find us matter of continual search and examination all the days of our lives, as is expressed in those prayers, Ps. xix. 12, cxxxix. 23, 24, so we are subject unto various changes and alterations in our spiritual frames and actings every day, as also unto temptations of all sorts. About these things, according as our occasions and necessities do require, are we to deal with God in our supplications, Phil. iv. 6. How shall we be in a readiness hereunto, prepared with the proper matter of prayer, if we neglect a constant and diligent observation of ourselves herein, or the state of our own souls? This being the food of the gift, where it is neglected the gift itself will decay. If men consider only a form of things in a course, they will quickly come to a form of words.
To assist us in this search and examination of ourselves, to give light into our state and wants, to make us sensible thereof, is part of the work of the Spirit as a Spirit of grace and supplication; and if we neglect our duty towards him herein how can we expect that he should continue his aid unto us, as to the outward part of the duty? Wherefore, let a man speak in prayer with the tongues of men and angels, to the highest satisfaction, and, it may be, good edification of others, yet if he be negligent, if he be not wise and watchful, in this 321duty of considering the state, actings, and temptations of his own soul, he hath but a perishing, decaying outside and shell of this gift of the Spirit. And those by whom this self-search and judgment is attended unto shall ordinarily thrive in the power and life of this duty. By this means may we know the beginnings and entrances of temptation; the deceitful actings of indwelling sin; the risings of particular corruptions, with the occasions yielding them advantages and power; the supplies of grace which we daily receive, and ways of deliverance. And as he who prayeth without a due consideration of these things prayeth at random, “fighting uncertainly as one beating the air,” so he whose heart is filled with a sense of them will have always in a readiness the due matter of prayer, and will be able to fill his mouth with pleas and arguments whereby the gift itself will be cherished and strengthened.
[2.] Constant searching of the Scripture unto the same purpose is another subservient duty unto this of prayer itself. That is the glass wherein we may take the best view of ourselves, because it at once represents both what we are and what we ought to be; what we are in ourselves, and what we are by the grace of God; what are our frames, actions, and ways, and what is their defect in the sight of God. And a higher instruction what to pray for, or how to pray, cannot be given us, Ps. xix. 7–9. Some imagine that to “search the Scriptures,” thence to take forms of speech or expressions accommodated unto all the parts of prayer, and to set them in order, or retain them in memory, is a great help to prayer. Whatever it be, it is not that which I intend at present. It is most true, if a man be “mighty in the Scriptures,” singularly conversant and exercised in them, abounding in their senses and expressions, and have the help of a faithful memory withal, it may exceedingly further and assist him in the exercise of this gift unto the edification of others. But this collection of phrases, speeches, and expressions, where perhaps the mind is barren in the sense of the Scripture, I know not of what use it is. That which I press for is, a diligent search into the Scriptures as to the things revealed in them: for therein are our wants in all their circumstances and consequents discovered and represented unto us; and so are the supplies of grace and mercy which God hath provided for us; — the former with authority, to make us sensible of them; and the latter with that evidence of grace and faithfulness as to encourage us to make our requests for them. The word is the instrument whereby the Holy Spirit reveals unto us our wants, when we know not what to ask, and so enables us to make intercessions according to the mind of God, Rom. viii. 26, 27; yea, who is it who almost at any time reading the Scripture, with a due reverence of God, and subjection of conscience unto him, hath not some particular matter of 322prayer or praise effectually suggested unto him? And Christians would find no small advantage, on many accounts not here to be insisted upon, if they would frequently, if not constantly, turn what they read into prayer or praise unto God, whereby the instructions unto faith and obedience would be more confirmed in their minds, and their hearts be more engaged into their practice. An example hereof we have, Ps. cxix., wherein all considerations of God’s will and our duty are turned into petitions.
[3.] A due meditation on God’s glorious excellencies tends greatly to the cherishing of this gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no example that we have of prayer in the Scripture but the entrance into it consists in expressions of the name, and most commonly of some of the glorious titles of God, whereunto the remembrance of some mighty acts of his power is usually added. And the nature of the thing requires it should be so; for besides that God hath revealed his name unto us for this very purpose, that we might call upon him by the name which he owns and takes to himself, it is necessary we should by some external description determine our minds unto him to whom we make our addresses, seeing we cannot conceive any image or idea of him therein. Now, the end hereof is twofold:— 1st. To ingenerate in us that reverence and godly fear which is required of all that draw nigh to this infinitely holy God, Lev. x. 3; Heb. xii. 28. The most signal encouragement unto boldness in prayer, and an access to God thereby, is in Heb. x. 19–22, with chap. iv. 16. Into the holy place we may go with boldness, and unto the throne of grace. And it is a throne of grace that God in Christ is represented unto us upon; but yet it is a throne still whereon majesty and glory do reside, and God is always to be considered by us as on a throne. 2dly. Faith and confidence are excited and acted unto a due frame thereby; for prayer is our betaking ourselves unto God as our shield, our rock, and our reward, Prov. xviii. 10. Wherefore, a due previous consideration of those holy properties of his nature which may encourage us so to do, and assure us in our so doing, is necessary. And this being so great a part of prayer, the great foundation of supplication and praise, frequent meditation on these holy excellencies of the divine nature must needs be an excellent preparation for the whole duty, by filling the heart with a sense of those things which the mouth is to express, and making ready those graces for their exercise which is required therein.
[4.] Meditation on the mediation and intercession of Christ, for our encouragement, is of the same importance and tendency. To this end spiritually is he proposed unto us as abiding in the discharge of his priestly office, Heb. iv. 15, 16, x. 19–22. And this is not only an encouragement unto and in our supplications, but a means to increase 323and strengthen the grace and gift of prayer itself; for the mind is thereby made ready to exercise itself about the effectual interposition of the Lord Christ at the throne of grace in our behalf, which hath a principal place and consideration in the prayers of all believers. And hereby, principally, may we try our faith of what race and kind it is, whether truly evangelical or no. Some relate or talk that the eagle tries the eyes of her young ones by turning them to the sun; which if they cannot look steadily on, she rejects them as spurious. We may truly try our faith by immediate intuitions of the Sun of Righteousness. Direct faith to act itself immediately and directly on the incarnation of Christ and his mediation; and if it be not of the right kind and race it will turn its eye aside unto any thing else. God’s essential properties, his precepts and promises, it can bear a fixed consideration of; but it cannot fix itself on the person and mediation of Christ with steadiness and satisfaction. There is, indeed, much profession of Christ in the world, but little faith in him.
[5.] Frequency in exercise is the immediate way and means of the increase of this gift and its improvement. All spiritual gifts are bestowed on men to be employed and exercised; for “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every one to profit withal,” 1 Cor. xii. 7. God both requireth that his talents be traded withal, that his gifts be employed and exercised, and will also call us to an account of the discharge of the trust committed unto us in them. See 1 Pet. iv. 10, 11. Wherefore, the exercise of this and of the like gifts tends unto their improvement on a double account; for, 1st. Whereas they reside in the mind after the manner and nature of a habit or a faculty, it is natural that they should be increased and strengthened by exercise, as all habits are by a multiplication of acts proceeding from them. So also by desuetude they will weaken, decay, and in the issue be utterly lost and perish. So is it with many as to the gift of prayer. They were known to have received it in some good measure of usefulness unto their own edification and that of others; but upon a neglect of the use and exercise of it in public and private, — which seldom goes alone without some secret or open enormities, — they have lost all their ability, and cannot open their mouths on any occasion in prayer beyond what is prescribed unto them or composed for them. But the just hand of God is also in this matter, depriving them of what they had, for their abominable neglect of his grace and bounty therein. 2dly. The increase will be added unto, by virtue of God’s blessing on his own appointment; for having bestowed these gifts for that end, where persons are faithful in the discharge of the trust committed unto them, he will graciously add unto them in what they have. This is the eternal law concerning 324the dispensation of evangelical gifts, “Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath,” Matt. xxv. 29. It is not the mere having or not having of them that is intended, but the using or not using of what we have received, as is plain in the context. Now, I do not say that a man may or ought to exercise himself in prayer merely with this design, that he may preserve and improve his gift. It may, indeed, in some cases be lawful for a man to have respect hereunto, but not [to this] only; as where a master of a family hath any one in his family who is able to discharge that duty and can attend unto it, yet he will find it his wisdom not to omit his own performance of it, unless he be contented that his gift, as to the use of his family, should wither and decay. But all that I plead is, that he who conscientiously, with respect unto all the ends of prayer, doth abound in the exercise of this gift, shall assuredly thrive and grow in it, or at least preserve it in answer unto the measure of the gift of Christ: for I do not propose these things as though every man in the diligent use of them may constantly grow and thrive in that part of the gift which consists in utterance and expression; for there is a “measure of the gift of Christ” assigned unto every one, whose bounds he shall not pass, Eph. iv. 7. But in these paths and ways the gift which they have received will be preserved, kept thrifty and flourishing; and from the least beginnings of a participation of it, they will be carried on unto their own proper measure, which is sufficient for them.
[6.] Constant fervency and intension of mind and spirit in this duty works directly towards the same end. Men may multiply prayers as to the outward work in them, and yet not have the least spiritual advantage by them. If they are dull, dead, and slothful in them, if under the power of customariness and formality, what issue can they expect? Fervency and intension of mind quickeneth and enlargeth the faculties, and leaveth vigorous impressions upon them of the things treated about in our supplications. The whole soul is cast into the mould of the matter of our prayers, and is thereby prepared and made ready for continual fresh spiritual engagements about them. And this fervency we intend consists not in the vehemency or loudness of words, but in the intension of the mind; for the earnestness or vehemency of the voice is allowable only in two cases: 1st. When the edification of the congregation doth require it, which being numerous cannot hear what is spoken unless a man lift up his voice; 2dly. When the vehemency of affections will bear no restraint, Ps. xxii. 1, Heb. v. 7.
Now, as all these are means whereby the gift of prayer may be cherished, preserved, and improved, so are they all of them the ways 325whereby grace acts itself in prayer, and have, therefore, an equal respect unto the whole work of the Spirit of supplication in us.
(3.) Our duty it is to use this gift of prayer unto the ends for which it is freely bestowed on us. And it is given, — [1.] With respect unto themselves who do receive it; and, [2.] With respect unto the benefit and advantage of others, And, [1.] With respect unto them that receive it, its end is, and it is a blessed means and help, to stir up, excite, quicken, and act all those graces of the Spirit whereby they have communion with God in this duty. Such are faith, love, delight, joy, and the like; for, 1st. Under the conduct of this gift, the mind and soul are led unto the consideration of, and are fixed on, the proper objects of those graces, with the due occasions of their exercise. When men are bound unto a form, they can act grace only by the things that are expressed therein; which, whatever any apprehend, is strait and narrow, compared with the extent of that divine intercourse with God which is needful unto believers in this duty. But in the exercise of this gift there is no concernment of faith, or love, or delight, but it is presented unto them, and they are excited unto a due exercise about them. Unto this end, therefore, is it to be used, — namely, as a means to stir up and act those graces and holy affections in whose working and exercise the life and efficacy of prayer doth consist. 2dly. Although the exercise of the gift itself ought to be nothing but the way of those graces acting themselves towards God in this duty (for words are supplied only to clothe and express gracious desires, and when they wholly exceed them they are of no advantage), yet as by virtue of the gift the mind is able to comprehend and manage the things about which those graces and gracious desires are to be exercised, so in the use of expressions they are quickened and engaged therein. For as when a man hath heard of a miserable object, he is moved with compassion towards it, but when he cometh to behold it “his own eye affecteth his heart,” as the prophet speaks, Lam. iii. 51, whereby his compassion is actually moved and increased; so, although a man hath a comprehension in his mind of the things of prayer, and is affected with them, yet his own words also will affect his heart, and by reflection stir up and inflame spiritual affections. So do many, even in private, find advantage in the use of their own gift, beyond what they can attain in mere mental prayer; which must be spoken unto afterward.
Again, [2.] This gift respecteth others, and is to be used unto that end: for as it is appointed of God to be exercised in societies, families, church assemblies, and occasionally for the good of any, so it is designed for their edification and profit; for there is in it an ability of expressing the wants, desires, and prayers of others also. And as this discharge of the duty is in a peculiar manner incumbent 326on ministers of the gospel, as also on masters of families and others, as they are occasionally called thereunto, so they are to attend unto a fourfold direction therein:—
1st. Unto their own experience. If such persons are believers themselves, they have experience in their own souls of all the general concernments of those in the same condition. As sin worketh in one, so it doth in another; as grace is effectual in one, so it is in another; as he that prayeth longeth for mercy and grace, so do they that join with him. Of the same kind with his hatred of sin, his love to Christ, his labouring after holiness and conformity to the will of God, are also those in other believers. And hence it is that persons “praying in the Spirit” according to their own experience are oftentimes supposed by every one in the congregation rather to pray over their condition than their own. And so it will be whilst the same corruption in kind, and the same grace in kind, with the same kind of operations, are in them all. But this extends not itself unto particular sins and temptations, which are left unto every one to deal about between God and their own souls.
2dly. Unto Scripture light. This is that which lively expresseth the spiritual state and condition of all sorts of persons, — namely, both of those that are unregenerate, and of those which are converted unto God. Whatever that expresseth concerning either sort may safely be pleaded with God in their behalf; and hence may abundant matter of prayer be taken for all occasions. Especially may it be so in a peculiar manner from that holy summary of the church’s desires to God given us in the Lord’s Prayer. All we can duly apprehend, spiritually understand, and draw out of that mine and heavenly treasury of prayer, may be safely used in the name and behalf of the whole church of God; but without understanding of the things intended, the use of the words profiteth not.
3dly. Unto an observation of their ways and walking, with whatever overt discovery they make of their condition and temptations. He who is constantly to be the mouth of others to God is not to pray at random, as though all persons and conditions were alike unto him. None prayeth for others constantly, by virtue of especial duty, but he is called also to watch over them and observe their ways. In so doing he may know that of their state which may be a great direction unto his supplications with them and for them. Yea, without this no man can ever discharge this duty aright in the behalf of others, so as they may find their particular concernments therein. And if a minister be obliged to consider the ways, light, knowledge, and walking of his flock, in his preaching unto them, that what he teacheth may be suited unto their edification, he is no less bound unto the same consideration in his prayers 327also with them and for them, if he intend to pray unto their use and profit. The like may be said of others in their capacity. The wisdom and caution which are to be used herein I may not here insist upon.
4thly. Unto the account which they receive from themselves concerning their wants, their state and condition. This, in some cases, persons are obliged to give unto those whose duty it is to help them by their prayers, James v. 16. And if this duty were more attended unto, the minds of many might receive inconceivable relief thereby.
(4.) Let us take heed, — [1.] That this gift be not solitary or alone; and, [2.] That it be not solitarily acted at any time. [1.] When it is solitary, — that is, where the gift of prayer is in the mind, but no grace to exercise in prayer in the heart, — it is at best but a part of that form of godliness which men may have, and deny the power thereof; and is, therefore, consistent with all sorts of secret lusts and abominations. And it were easy to demonstrate that whatever advantage others may have by this gift in them who are destitute of saving grace, yet themselves are many ways worsted by it; for hence are they lifted up with spiritual pride, which is the ordinary consequent of all unsanctified light, and hereby do they countenance themselves against the reflections of their consciences on the guilt of other sins, resting and pleasing themselves in their own performances. But, to the best observation that I have been able to make, of all spiritual gifts which may be communicated for a time unto unsanctified minds, this doth soonest decay and wither. Whether it be that God takes it away judicially from them, or that themselves are not able to bear the exercise of it, because it is diametrically opposite unto the lusts wherein they indulge themselves, for the most part it quickly and visibly decays, especially in such as with whom the continuance of it, by reason of open sins and apostasy, might be a matter of danger or scandal unto others. [2.] Let it not be acted solitarily. Persons in whom is a principle of spiritual life and grace, who are endowed with those graces of the Spirit which ought to be acted in all our supplications, may yet, even in the use and exercise of this gift, neglect to stir them up and act them. And there is no greater evidence of a weak, sickly, spiritual constitution, than often to be surprised into this miscarriage. Now, this is so when men in their prayers engage only their light, invention, memory, and elocution, without especial actings of faith and delight in God. And he who watcheth his soul and its actings may easily discern when he is sinfully negligent in this matter, or when outward circumstances and occasions have made him more to attend unto the gift than unto the grace in prayer; for which he will be humbled.
And these few things I thought meet to add concerning the due use and improvement of this gift of the Spirit of God.
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