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wardness, which most men have always, and all men have sometimes, to say their prayers: so weary of their length, so glad when they are done, so witty to excuse and frustrate an opportunity: and yet all is nothing but a desiring of God to give us the greatest and the best things we can need, and which can make us happy: it is a work so easy, so honourable, and to so great purpose, that in all the instances of religion and providence (except only the incarnation of his Son), God hath not given us a greater argument of his willingness to have us saved, and of our unwillingness to accept it, his goodness and our gracelessness, his infinite condescension and our carelessness and folly, than by rewarding so easy a duty with so great blessings.
Motives to Prayer.
I cannot say any thing beyond this very consideration and its appendages to invite Christian people to pray often. But we may consider that, 1. It is a duty commanded by God and his holy Son. 2. It is an act of grace and highest honour, that we, dust and ashes, are admitted to speak to the eternal God, to run to him as to a father, to lay open our wants, to complain of our burdens, to explicate our scruples, to beg remedy and ease, support and counsel, health and safety, deliverance and salvation. And, 3. God hath invited us to it by many gracious promises of hearing us. 4. He hath appointed his most glorious Son to be the precedent of prayer, and to make continual intercession for us to the throne of grace. 5. He hath appointed an angel to present the prayers of his servants. And, 6. Christ unites them to his own, and sanctifies them, and makes them effective and prevalent: and, 7. hath put it into the hands of men to rescind, or alter, all the decrees of God, which are of one kind (that is, conditional, and concerning ourselves and our final estate, and many instances of our intermedial or temporal), by the power of prayers. 8. And the prayers of men have saved cities and kingdoms from ruin: prayer hath raised dead men to life, hath stopped the violence of fire, shut the mouths of wild beasts, hath altered the course of nature, caused rain in Egypt, and drought in the sea; it made the sun to go from west to east, and the moon to stand still, and rocks and
mountains to walk; and it cures diseases without physic, and makes physic to do the work of nature, and nature to do the work of grace, and grace to do the work of God, and it does miracles of accident and event: and yet prayer, that does all this, is, of itself, nothing but an ascent of the mind to God, a desiring things fit to be desired, and an expression of this desire to God, as we can, and as becomes us. And our unwillingness to pray, is nothing else but a not desiring, what we ought passionately to long for; or, if we do desire it, it is a choosing rather to miss our satisfaction and felicity, than to ask for it.
There is no more to be said in this affair, but that we reduce it to practice, according to the following rules.
Rules for the practice of Prayer.
1. We must be careful, that we never ask any thing 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 favour 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 reservation 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, &c. 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 it 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". 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 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 ccntradicting some necessary ingredient in prayer (such as are
h1 John, iii. 22. John, ix. 31. Isa. i. 15. lviii. 5. Mal. iii. 10. 2 Tim. ii. 8. Psal. iv. 6. lxvi. 8.
mercy, humility, purity, and sincerity), do defile the prayer, and make it a direct sin, ia the circumstances or formality of the action.
5. All prayer must be made with faith and hope; that is, we must certainly believe 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 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. "Watching unto prayer:" so St. Peter': Praying earnestly:" so St. James". 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
Mark, xi. 24. Jam. i. 6, 7.
* Rom. xii. 12. xv. 30. Col. iv. 12. 1 Thes. iii. 10. Ephes. vi. 18.
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"." Always to pray signifies the frequent doing of the duty in general: but, because we cannot always ask several things, and we also have frequent need of the same 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," 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 in every prayer of his P." And thus we must 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 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
"Luke xviii. 1. xxi. 36.
1 Thess. v. 17.
P Phil. i. 4.