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Rules for the Practice of Prayer.
1. We must be careful that we never ask anything of God that is sinful, or that directly ministers to sin; for that is to ask God to dishonour himself, and to undo us. We had need consider what we pray; for before it returns in blessing it must be joined with Christ’s intercession, and presented to God. Let us principally ask of God power and assistances to do our duty, to glorify God, to do good works, to live a good life, to die in the fear and favor of God and eternal life: these things God delights to give, and commands that we shall ask, and we may with confidence expect to be answered graciously; for these things are promised without any reservations of a secret condition: if we ask them, and do our duty towards the obtaining them, we are sure never to miss them
2. We may lawfully pray to God for the gifts of the Spirit that minister to holy ends; such as are the gift of preaching, the spirit of prayer, good expression, a ready and unloosed tongue, good understanding, learning, opportunities to publish them, etc., with these only restraints: 1. That we cannot be so confident of the event of those prayers as of the former. 2. That we must be curious to secure our intention in these desires, that we may not ask them to serve our own ends, but only for God’s glory; and then we shall have them, or a blessing for desiring them. In order to such purposes our intentions in the first desires cannot be amiss; because they are able to sanctify other things, and therefore cannot be unhallowed themselves. 3. We must submit to God’s will, desiring him to choose our employment, and to furnish our persons as he shall see expedient.
3. Whatsoever we may lawfully desire of temporal things, we may lawfully ask of God in prayer, and we may expect them, as they are promised. 1. Whatsoever is necessary to our life and being is promised to us; and therefore we may, with certainty, expect food and raiment, food to keep us alive, clothing to keep us from nakedness and shame; so long as our life is permitted to us, so long all things necessary to our life shall be ministered. We may be secure of maintenance, but not secure of our life — for that is promised, not this: only concerning food and raiment we are not to make accounts by the measure of our desires, but by the measure of our needs. 2. Whatsoever is convenient for us; pleasant, and modestly delectable, we may pray for, so we do it, 1. With submission to God’s will. 2. Without impatient desires. 3. That it be not a trifle and inconsiderable, but a matter so grave and concerning as to be a fit matter to be treated on between God and our souls. 4. That we ask not to spend upon our lusts, but for ends of justice, or charity, or religion, and that they be employed with sobriety.
4. He that would pray with effect must live with care and piety.2242241 John, iii. 22; John, ix. 31; Isa. iv. 15, lviii. 5; Mal. iii. 10; 2 Tim. ii. 8; Psalm iv. 6, lxvi. 8. For although God gives to sinners and evil persons the common blessings of life and chance, yet either they want the comfort and blessing of those blessings, or they become occasions of sadder accidents to them, or serve to upbraid them in their ingratitude or irreligion: and in all cases, they are not the effects of prayer, or the fruits of promise, or instances of a father’s love; for they cannot be expected with confidence, or received without danger, or used without without a curse and mischief in their company. But as all sin is an impediment to prayer, so some have a special indisposition towards acceptation; such are uncharitableness and wrath, hypocrisy in the present action, pride and lust; because these, by defiling the body or the spirit, or by contradicting some necessary ingredient in prayer, (such as are mercy, humility, purity, and sincerity,) do defile the prayer, and make it a direct sin, in the circumstances or formality of the action.
5. All prayer must be made with faith and hope, that is, we must certainly believe225225Mark, xi. 24; Jam. i. 6, 7. we shall receive the grace which God hath commanded us to ask; and we must hope for such things which he hath permitted us to ask, and our hope shall not be vain, though we miss what is not absolutely promised; because we shall at least have an equal blessing in the denial as in the grant. And, therefore, the former conditions must first be secured; that is, that we ask things necessary, or at least good and innocent and profitable, and that our persons be gracious in the eyes of God: or else, what God hath promised to our natural needs he may, in many degrees, deny to our personal incapacity; but the thing being secured, and the person disposed, there can be no fault at all; for whatsoever else remains is on God’s part, and that cannot possibly fail. But because the things which are not commanded cannot possibly be secured, (for we are not sure they are good in all circumstances,) we can but hope for such things, even after we have secured our good intentions. We are sure of a blessing, but in what instance we are not yet assured.
6. Our prayers must be fervent, intense, earnest, and importunate, when we pray for things of high concernment and necessity. ‘Continuing instant in prayer; striving in prayer; labouring fervently in prayer; night and day, praying exceedingly; praying always with all prayer:’ so St. Paul calls it.226226Rom. xii. 12, xv. 30; Col. iv. 12; 1 Thess. iii. 10; Eph. vi. 18. ‘Watching unto prayer:’ so St. Peter.2272271 Pet. iv. 7. ‘Praying earnestly:’ so St. James.2282281 James, v. 16. And this is not at all to be abated in matters spiritual and of duty: for, according as our desires are, so are our prayers; and as our prayers are, so shall be the grace; and as that is, so shall be the measure of glory. But this admits of degrees according to the perfection or imperfection of our state of life; but it hath no other measures, but ought to be as great as it can, the bigger the better: we must make no positive restraints upon ourselves. In other things they are to use a bridle; and as we must limit our desires with submission to God’s will, so also we must limit the importunity of our prayers by the moderation and term of our desires. Pray for it as earnestly as you may desire it.
7. Our desires must be lasting, and our prayers frequent, assiduous, and continual; not asking for a blessing once, and then leaving it, but daily renewing our suits, and exercising our hope, and faith, and patience, and long-suffering, and religion, and resignation, and self-denial, in all the degrees we shall be put to. This circumstance of duty our blessed Saviour taught, saying, that ‘men ought always to pray, and not to faint.’229229Luke, xviii. 1; xxi. 36. Always to pray, signifies the frequent doing of the duty in general; but because we cannot always ask several things, and those are such as concern our great interest, the precept comes home to this very circumstance; and St. Paul calls it ‘praying without ceasing;’2302301 Thess. v. 17. and himself in his own case gave a precedent—‘For this cause I besought the Lord thrice.’ And so did our blessed Lord; he went thrice to God on the same errand, with the same words, in a short space-about half a night; for his time to solicit his suit was but short. And the Philippians were remembered by the apostle, their spiritual father, ‘always pray for the pardon of our sins, for the assistance of God’s grace, for charity, for life eternal, never giving over till we die; and thus also we pray for supply of great temporal needs in their several proportions; in all cases being curious we do not give over out of weariness or impatience; for God God oftentimes defers to grant our suit, because he loves to hear us beg it, and hath a design to give us more than we ask, even a satisfaction of our desires, and a blessing for the very importunity.
8. Let the words of our prayers be pertinent, grave, material, not studiously many, but according to our need, sufficient to express our wants, and to signify our importunity. God hears us not the sooner for our many words, but much the sooner for an earnest desire; to which let apt and sufficient words minister, be they few or many, according as it happens. A long prayer and a short differ not in their capacities of being accepted, for both of them take their value according to the fervency of spirit, and the charity of the prayer. That prayer, which is short by reason of an impatient spirit, or dulness, or despite of holy things, or indifferency of desires, is very often criminal, always imperfect; and that prayer which is long out of ostentation, or superstition, or a trifling spirit, is as criminal and imperfect as the other in their several instances. This rule relates to private prayer. In public, our devotion is to be measured by the appointed office, and we are to support our spirit with spiritual arts, that our private spirit may be a part of the public spirit, and be adopted into the society and blessings of the communion of saints.
9. In all forms of prayer mingle petition with thanksgiving, that you may endear the present prayer and the future blessing, by returning praise and thanks for what we have already received. This is St. Paul’s advice — ‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.231231Phil. iv. 6.
10. Whatever we beg of God, let us also work for it, if the thing be matter of duty, or a consequent to industry; for God loves to bless labour and to reward it, but not to support idleness.232232Ελτα λεαγομεν Κυρτε σ ζεος, πως μλαγωνω; μωοε, Χειρας ουκ εχεις: ουκ εποιμσε σοι αυτας σ χεος; ευχου νυν καζμμενος οπως αι μυεατ σου μη ρεωσιν απομνεαι μαλλον. Arrian, 1.c.16. And therefore our blessed Saviour in his sermons joins watchfulness with prayer, for God’s graces are but assistances, not new creations of the whole habit, in every instant or period of our life. Read Scriptures, and then pray to God for understanding. Pray against temptation; but you must also resist the devil, and then he will flee from you. Ask of God competency of living; but you must also work with your hands the things that are honest, that ye may have to supply in time of need. We can but do our endeavor, and pray for blessing, and then leave the success with God; and beyond this we cannot deliberate, we cannot take care — but, so far, we must.
11. To this purpose let every man study his prayers and read his duty in his petitions. For the body of our prayer is the sum of our duty; and as we must ask of God whatsoever we need, so we must labour for all that we ask. Because it is our duty, therefore we must pray for God’s grace; but because God’s grace is necessary, and without it we can do nothing, we are sufficiently taught, that in the proper matter or our religious prayers is the just matter of our duty; and if we shall turn our prayers into precepts, we shall the easier turn our hearty desires into effective practices.
12. In all our prayers we must be careful to attend our present work,233233Inter sacra et vota, verbis etiam profanis abstinere.—Tacit. having a present mind, not wandering upon impertinent things, not distant from our words, much less contrary to them; and if our thoughts do at any time wander, and divert upon other objects, bring them back again with prudent and severe arts — by all means striving to obtain a diligent, a sober, an untroubled, and a composed spirit.
13. Let your posture and gesture of body in prayers be reverend, grave, and humble — according to public order, or the best examples, if it be in public — if it be in private, either stand or kneel, or lie flat upon the ground on your face, in your ordinary and more solemn prayers, but in extraordinary, casual, and ejaculatory prayers, the reverence and devotion of the soul, and the lifting up the eyes and hands to God with any other posture not indecent, is usual and commendable; for we may pray in bed, on horseback, ‘everywhere,’2342341 Tim. ii. 8. and at all times, and in all circumstances; and it is well if we do so; and some servants have not opportunity to pray so often as they would, unless they supply the appetites of religion by such accidental devotions.
14. ‘Let prayers and supplications and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings, and all that are in authority; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.’2352351 Tim. ii. 2. We, who must love our neighbours as ourselves, must also pray for them as for ourselves, with this only difference, that we may enlarge in our temporal desires for kings, and pray for secular prosperity to them with more importunity than for ourselves; because they need more to enable their duty and government, and for the interests of religion and justice. This part of prayer is by the apostle called intercession; in which, with special care, we are to remember our relatives, our family, our charge, our benefactors, our creditors, not forgetting to beg pardon and charity for our enemies, and protection against them.
15. Rely not on a single prayer in matters of great concernment; but make it as public as you can, by obtaining of others to pray for you — this being the great blessing of the communion of saints, that a prayer united is strong, like a well-ordered army; and God loves to be tied fast with such cords of love, and constrained by a holy violence.
16. Every time that is not seized upon by some other duty is seasonable enough for prayer; but let it be performed as a solemn duty morning and evening, that God may begin and end all our business; that the outgoing of the morning and evening may praise him; for so we bless God, and God blesses us. And yet fail not to find or make opportunities to worship God at some other times of the day, at least by ejaculations and short addresses, more or less, longer or shorter, solemnly or without solemnity, privately or publicly, as you can, or are permitted, always remembering, that as every sin is a degree of danger and unsafety, so every pious prayer and well-employed opportunity is a degree of return to hope and pardon.
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