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tional exercises in private, which you are to look to in the duty; and those are such as are required in every description of prayer : namely,
That it be performed with the heart—by the help of the Spirit_according to God's will—and in the name of Christ.
1. Secret prayer must be the prayer of the heart. A heartless duty is a worthless duty; yea, the whole heart must be engaged in it, Psal. cxix. 10, “With my whole heart have I sought thee.” It is the heart that God chiefly looks after, Prov. xxiii. 26, “My son, give me thy heart.” Nothing else can please God, if the heart be wanting; if the heart be engaged in the duty, he will rather dispense with other weaknesses, where there is not wilful negligence. Observe it, in that worship of God we perform with others, a man's gift may be of use, though his heart go not along with his voice; but in closet prayer it doth no good at all, except the heart be engaged ; therefore God principally requires the heart in other duties, in this he requires the heart only, for the voice is not necessary.
To love and serve the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, is a keeping of the law,* and more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. We should pray with every faculty of the soul, and with the utmost power of every faculty. God deserves and requires our strongest affections. That is but a vain worship which is performed without the heart; f right attendance on God is an engaging the heart to approach to him.f Christians, in all your addresses to God, mind the object of worship; let the subject worshipping, and object worshipped, be closely united ; look beyond the duty. It is one thing to have communion with an ordinance, and another thing to have communion with
• Mark xii. 30, 33. + Matt. xv. 8, 9. # Jer. xxx. 21.
God in an ordinance. God's dear children know what this means; for sometimes they are more taken up with expressions, affections, or some accidental things in the performance, than with the object of worship they should be intent upon; but this is very dangerous, for whatsoever interposeth betwixt the soul and God, to divert the thoughts from him, is an idol : Ezek. xiv. 3, “These men have set up their idols in their hearts.”
” The Septuagint reads it,* they have put their thoughts upon their hearts, that is, they have committed idolatry with their own imaginations, instead of worshipping God, their minds have fixed on something short of God, after which they have, as it were, been adulterous even in their duty. I shall not give that as the sense of the place, yet the observation may be useful. I fear many of us are guilty of a kind of spiritual fine-spun idolatry, by heterogeneous thoughts in holy duties, that draw us back from God, when we are approaching to him. The Lord humble us for this, and fix our thoughts upon God, that we may say as the church, Isa. xxvi. 8, “The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.” Cyprian saith,f Every secular thought must depart, and the mind must be taken up with nothing but what we are about ; he tells, the practice of the church in his time was, that the minister before prayer, prepares the people's minds, saying sursum corda, lift up your hearts, and they answer habemus ad Dominum, we have them up to the Lord; whereby,
* Ούτοι άνδρες έθεντο τα διανοήματα αυτών επί τας καρδίας avrov.-Sept.
+ Cogitatio omnis secularis et carnalis cedeat, nec quicquam tunc animus, quam id solum cogitet quod precatur: ideo et sacerdos, ante orationem prefatione præmissa, parat fratrum mentes, dicendo, Sursum corda, et respondet plebs, Habemus ad Dominum, ab hoc monetur nihil aliud nos, quam Dominum cogitare debere. Cyp. Serm. de Orat. Dom. 246.
saith he, we are admonished, that in prayer we must think of nothing but the Lord. What the minister said to the people, do you say to yourselves, sursum corda, lift up your hearts ; let every one say, I am now worshipping a heart-searching God, O that my heart were with God. The ancients (saith Luther, *) finely described prayer, to be an ascent of the mind to God : O that I did experimentally know what this means, by uniting my heart to God. Lord, gather in my roving and wandering thoughts. This is the first direction, mind the frame of your hearts. .
2. Implore and expect the Spirit's assistance.Prayer must be by the Spirit's enlarging influence ; hence it is called “the spirit of grace and supplication:"it helps our infirmities by making our souls cry out, Abba, Father, † with unutterable groans. A Christian should spread the sails of his soul for the gales of God's grace, which would carry him apace towards God, yea and make his prayers reach the ear of God, for he knoweth the mind of the spirit. This is that which is called, a worshipping God in the spirit, a praying in the Holy Ghost ; || that is, either as to the matter of the prayer dictated by the Spirit, or as to the manner of praying, the soul being actuated by the Holy Ghost : for I conceive it may import the former as well as the latter, as other scriptures compared fully imply. Alas, flesh and blood will put up such petitions as God will not accept, or in such a manner as is no way suitable to his spiritual nature. The truth is, Christians, you will but bungle at the work without this help of God's Spirit, and God will take no notice of you except he hear his own language. Do not think you can wrestle out the business yourselves; you must be indebted to God for help in prayer, as well as for hearing your prayers. Your own spirits will not carry you to heaven : that which is from the earth is earthly, and riseth no higher than earth; but the Holy Ghost will elevate your souls to God. Therefore, I beseech you, sirs, supplicate the Spirit, yield to its influence, improve its operations; say when you are going to duty, Lord, now stir up thyself, and stir up thy grace in my heart: “Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south ; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out,” Cant. iv. 16; that graces may be exercised and exerted. Lord, I am low, flat, unfeeling; send the powerful arm of thy blessed Spirit to work all gracious dispositions in me, and raise up my affections to thee. I see I am below the duty, and infinitely below thee in the duty; but thou, and thou alone canst raise me up, quicken, soften my dead and rocky heart. Come, Lord, and show thy powerful arm; let it appear what God can do for a poor worm. 0 lift me up to thee, that my soul may enjoy some sweet communion with thee. Send thy Spirit to fetch in my roaming wandering heart. O for some fire from heaven to burn up my sacrifice, or else it will lie as a piece of flesh, and be no true holocaust, or pure incense before thee. Let thy Spirit scatter these mists of ignorance, and drive away these flies of distracting thoughts, that my heart may be with thee, and my performance may be a sweet savour unto God.
* Ascensus mentis ad Deum.-Luth. Colloq. Myst. fol. 239. + Zech. xii. 10. * Rom. viii. 26. || Phil. iii. 3. Jude 20. $ See Mark xii. 36. and xiii. 11.
3. It is also an important quality of prayer, that it be according to God's will. It must have a warrant from the Word; a word of precept, or promise, or example, must be the ground of our petitions : a command is our warrant, a promise our encouragement, an example is our track, and the footsteps of the flock
wherein we must walk. He that asks amiss shall not speed, but if we ask any thing according to God's will he heareth us, and then we know we have the petitions that we desired of him, 1 John v. 14, 15. Now, we ask according to his will, when both the matter of our petition is right, and our end in asking is God's glory, and our own or others' spiritual good : otherwise, if we ask of God what we conceit to be a mercy, and have not asked counsel at God's mouth; or ask so as to consume it on our lusts, we may well meet with a denial. My friends, you may not say what you please in the presence of God.
“ Consider, God is in heaven, you are on earth, therefore be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God, let your words be few," and well weighed.Eccles. v. 2. The work you are about is a solemn business; do not ramble in extravagant desires after unlawful things; think not that God will patronize your lusts : and when you have asked that which you conceive is according to his will, refer it wholly to his will, say, the will of the Lord be done: submit yourselves to his disposal, for time, manner, means, and all circumstances in giving it: ask temporal mercies conditionally, and spiritual comforts with submission to God's will : learn that petition, “ Thy will be done,” to pray it as well as say it. Indeed Luther could say, “Let my will be done ;” but he came off with this
My will, Lord, because my will is melted into thine, there is but one will betwixt us." Let God's will be your will; it is fit it should be so, our heavenly Father is wiser than we. Consider, a man cannot pray in faith, for that which he hath no warrant to ask. Besides, Amesius saith, “ If a man come not with an humble submission to God's will, it were not a religious prayer directed to the supreme Creator, but a kind of