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On the Nature of Prayer.
We may hence be informed concerning the nature, usefulness, excellency, and efficacy of the duty of prayer; I speak not now of prayer in general, but in reference to closet prayer. And in this point of view, there are two conclusions which may be drawn concerning prayer.
1. It follows, that prayer is immediate worship of God : for what hath been said, shews that we have to do immediately with God, yea that a man alone singly hath to do with God: therein it is different from other parts of God's instituted worship, which do necessarily require company; as in preaching of the word, there must be hearers; in the seals of the covenant, as in baptism and the Lord's supper, there must be a society, such a number as may be styled a church : accordingly the latter is called a communion, hence saith the apostle, “We being many are one bread, and one body :"* but it is not absolutely or essentially requisite to prayer, that there be a society; one man or woman, by him or herself alone, may perform this duty of prayer as acceptably to God, as if in the company of a thousand saints : we object not to the public or private meetings of God's people for prayer; but withal affirm, that the nature of the duty is such, that it may be performed solitarily and alone. Hence school-men make a distinction relative to prayer, saying that it is either common or singular :f both have their place and use: though great stress is laid upon Christ's promise, Matt. xviii. 20, engaging to be where two or three are met in his
• 1 Cor. x. 16, 17.
name; which as we deny not, so we assert the obligation of a single person praying according to the text : we give both their due, without comparison.
2. Prayer cannot be prevented in its ascent to God : all the persecutors on earth, cannot hinder a soul's praying. This is demonstrated two ways:
(1.) A child of God banished out of all human society may pray still. Suppose a man were rejected by men, and cut off from all intercourse with men, and were shut up in the closest prison, or shut out in the remotest wilderness; suppose a man were to inhabit the caves and dens of the earth; yet still he might pray and be heard, according to Solomon's prayer, that if God's people were carried captive into the land of their enemies, far or near, yet if they repented and prayed unto God towards their land, and that house of God; then he begs that God would hear them; and God testifies that he did hear this prayer of Solomon, 1 Kings, viii. 46, 41, with chap. ix. 3. The passage to heaven is as near and open from one part of the earth as another; therefore David said he would "cry to God from the end of the earth,” Psalm lxi. 2. A notable instance of this we have in Jonah, he was at the bottom of the sea, (as far from heaven locally as one could imagine) in a great fish's belly, which he calls the very belly of hell; and as he was then far from men, so he looks upon himself as cast out of the sight of God, and he pathetically expresseth his misery and hopeless state. What doth he in this doleful plight? Why he will look towards God's holy temple; alas, poor Jonah knew not now which way the temple stood, he had but a sinall prospect in that dark and narrow prison; yet, faith can set Jonah upon one of the mountains of Israel, that from thence he may see as far as mount Zion, and reach as high as heaven ; he prays, yea cries ; God hears, and delivers : as low as he was, he knocks at heaven's gates, and his prayer doth pierce the clouds, it makes bold, and steps in, “My prayer,” saith he, “came in unto thee, into thine holy temple,” Jonah ii. 2, 7, O the wonderful and swift motion of believing prayer! Let the praying soul be where it will, prayer will come to God's ear, and get an answer.
(2.) A child of God that cannot speak a word, may put up an acceptable prayer. Suppose the tongue which is the organ of speech, were incapacitated or wanting, yet a saint cannot thereby be obstructed in his access to God by prayer. For, as Amesius saith, (Oratio formaliter est actus voluntatis) prayer is formally the act of the will; desire is the soul of prayer which God can hear, though it be not expressed, for he knows the heart, Psalm x. 17, “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” A saint's desire is a real prayer ;* if the desire be right, words are but the outward garb, habit, or clothes, as I may say, of prayer, the frame or shell of the duty; ardent desires are the life, kernel, or marrow of the performance: hence we find that Moses, Hannah, and Nehemiah, are said to pray, when scripture doth not express a word they spoke, nor is it probable they did make any articulate sound :* I speak not this to indulge carnal men in their lazy conceited ejaculations, as though they could pray well enough, aud never speak; or while they are working, walking, or talking. † Let me suggest a word, by the way, on these : consider, silly man, God has given thee a body, and thou must offer it to God as a reasonable sacrifice; thou art bound in conscience to pray
and praise God with thy tongue, which is thy glory; yea
• Deus exaudit non solum preces indicativas sed et optativas. -Luth.
+ Exod. xiv. 15. 1 Sam. i. 13. Neh. ii. 4.
let me tell thee, if thou hast those members of body, and an opportunity to pray thus solemnly with thy tongue upon thy knees, and dost never do it, I question whether thou ever prayest at all, since thou livest in the evident neglect of a known duty: what I have said respecting genuine, though sometimes not vocal prayer, is to commend the duty, and comfort those who
be in such exigencies, that though they cannot speak, yet they may pray, and be heard and answered.
On the Efficacy of Prayer.
I may also take occasion to discover the power and efficacy of prayer, considered as a closet exercise: though but a single person, in whatever humble circumstances, get upon his knees in secret, and have no creature to help him, yet he can undertake to plead with the omnipotent and eternal God, yea by his strength he may have power with God, as we read of Jacob; who by singly wrestling with him, hand to hand, as it were, wrestled a blessing from him. One individual, Elijah, unsupported, could stand alone against at least four hundred prophets of Baal,* and prevail, having recourse to the living God by prayer, yea the apostle tells us, that this Elijah though but a mortal man, shut up and opened heaven, that it rained, and rained not, according to his prayer; hence he infers as a universal maxim, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, James v. 16—18. But some may object, that Elijah was a great prophet, an extraordinary person; that he might prevail when we cannot: the apostle
• 1 Kings, xviii. 36.
answers, he was no more than a man, “a man subject to like passions as we are,” a sinful creature; he prevailed not for any merits of his own, but through faith in the mediator of the covenant, and so may we. There is not the meanest child of God but hath the same plea: God hath strength enough to give, saith one; but he hath no strength to deny.* Here the Almighty himself (with reverence be it spoken) is weak: even a child in grace, the weakest in his family, that can but say, Father, is able to overcome him, for prayer is in a sort omnipotent; it can conquer the invincible Jehovah, and bind the hands, as it were, of an omnipotent God,+ so that God cries out to wrestling Moses, “Let me alone.” It is said of Luther, that he could do with God even what he would. Prayer hath a kind of commanding compulsive power: that is a surprising text, Isa. xlv. 11, “ Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me:" thus some take it—ye shall find me as ready to do you service, as if
ye had me at command; yet this must be cautiously received, not as though God were forced to any thing against his will, but when God's people pray aright in the name of Christ according to his will, he heareth them; and this he attributes to prayer, for the credit of that duty and our encouragement to pray. The following text shews the readiness of God to answer prayer, John xvi. 26, 27_“I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you.” Christ in this place intends not to deny that he will intercede for them, but shews how ready God is of his own accord to grant the saints' petitions; they shall not be put to any great trouble about it, but shall be quickly dispatched when they have gone their errands
* Mr. Gurnal on Eph. vi. 10, 42. + Vincit invincibilem, ligat omnipotentem.
1 John, v. 14. VOL. 111.