Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
~ James 4:3
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
~ Romans 8:26
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
~ Psalm 10:17
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
~ Romans 8:15
For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.
~ Matthew 10:20
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
~ Galatians 4:6
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
~ Ephesians 6:18
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
~ 2 Corinthians 5:2
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer as the Spirit of Grace and Supplications, and the Duty of Believers Therein, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from Book VII, Chapters One through Six, his work, “Pneumatologia or, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit”.
The work of the Holy Spirit in prayer as the Spirit of grace and supplications, and the duty of believers therein; with a brief inquiry into the nature and use of mental prayer and forms.
The use of prayer, and the work of the Holy Spirit therein.
The works of the Spirit of God towards believers are either general, and not confined with a respect unto any one duty more than another, or particular, with respect unto some especial duty. Of the first sort are regeneration and sanctification, which, being common unto them all, are the general principles of all actings of grace or particular duties in them. But there are, moreover, sundry especial works or operations of this Holy Spirit in and towards the disciples of Christ, which, although they may be reduced unto the general head of sanctification, yet they fall under an especial consideration proper unto themselves. Of this sort is the aid or assistance which he gives unto us in our prayers and supplications.
I suppose it will be granted that prayer, in the whole compass and extent of it, as comprising meditation, supplication, praise, and thanksgiving, is one of the most signal duties of religion. The light of nature in its most pregnant notions, with its practical language in the consciences of mankind, concurs in its suffrage with the Scripture in this matter; for they both of them jointly witness that it is not only an important duty in religion, but also that without it there neither is nor can be the exercise of any religion in the world. Never any persons lived in the acknowledgment of a Deity, but under the conduct of the same apprehension they thought the duty of vows, prayers, and praises, incumbent on them, as they found occasion; yea, although they found out external, ceremonious ways of solemnizing their devotions, yet it was this duty of prayer alone which was their natural, necessary, fundamental acknowledgment of that Divine Being which they did own. Neither are there any considerable stories extant recording the monuments of the ancient heathen nations of the world, wherein (to the shame of degenerate Christianity it may be spoken) there are not more frequent accounts given of their sacred invocations and supplications unto their supposed gods than are to be found in any of the historical monuments and stories concerning the actions of Christian nations in these latter ages. This, therefore, is the most natural and most eminent way and means of our converse with God, without which converse we have no present advantage above the beasts that perish but such as will turn unto our eternal disadvantage in that misery whereof they are incapable. This is the way whereby we exercise towards him all that grace which we do receive from him, and render him an acceptable acknowledgment of that homage and revenue of glory which we are never able to exhibit in their due kind and measure. Of what use and advantage the due performance of this duty is unto ourselves no man is able fully to express; every one can add somewhat of his own experience. But we need not insist on the commendation of prayer, for it will be said, “By whom was it ever discommended?”
And I wish I saw reason to acquiesce in that reply; for not only the practice of the most, but the declared opinions of many, do evidence that neither the excellency of this duty nor its necessity doth find such acceptance and esteem in the minds of men as is pretended. But this being not my present design, I shall not farther insist upon it; for my purpose is not to treat of the nature, necessity, properties, uses, effects, and advantages, of this gracious duty, as it is the vital breath of our spiritual life unto God. Its original in the law of nature, as the first and principal means of the acknowledgment of a Divine Power, whereof the neglect is a sufficient evidence of practical atheism (for he that prayeth not says in his heart, “There is no God”); its direction in the Scripture, as to the rule, manner, and proper object of it; the necessity of its constant use and practice, both from especial commands and our state in this world, with the whole variety of inward and outward occasions that may befall us, or we may be exercised withal; arguments, motives, and encouragements unto constancy, fervency, and perseverance in the performance of the duty of it, with known examples of its mighty efficacy and marvellous success; the certain advantages which the souls of believers do receive thereby, in spiritual aids and supplies of strength, with peace and consolation; with sundry other of its concernments, although much treated of already by many, might yet be farther considered and improved. But none of these is my present design. The interest of the Holy Spirit of God by his gracious operations in it is that alone which I shall inquire into.
And it cannot be denied but that the work and actings of the Spirit of grace in and towards believers with respect unto the duty of prayer are more frequently and expressly asserted in the Scripture than his operations with respect unto any other particular grace or duty whatever. If this should be called into question, the ensuing discourse, I hope, will sufficiently vindicate and confirm its truth. But hereby believers are instructed, as in the importance of the duty itself, so in the use and necessity of the aid and assistance of the Spirit of God in and unto the right discharge or performance of it; for where frequent plain revelations concur, in multiplied commands and directions, with continual experience, as it is with them in this case, their instruction is firm, and in a way of being fixed on their minds. As this rendereth an inquiry hereinto both necessary and seasonable, (for what can be more so than that wherein the spiritual life and comfort of believers are so highly concerned, and which exhibiteth unto us so gracious a condescension of divine love and goodness?) so, moreover, the opposition that is made in the world against the work of the Spirit of God herein, above all other his operations, requires that something be spoken in the vindication of it.
But the enmity hereunto seems to be peculiar unto these latter ages, I mean among such as pretend unto any acquaintance with these things from the Scripture. It will be hard to find an instance in former ages of any unto whom the Spirit of God, as a Spirit of grace and supplication, was a reproach. But as now the contradiction herein is great and fierce, so is there not any difference concerning any practical duty of religion wherein parties at variance are more confident and satisfied in and about their own apprehensions than they are who dissent about the work of the Spirit of God in our prayers and supplications; for those who oppose what is ascribed by others unto him herein are not content to deny and reject it, and to refuse a communion in the faith and practice of the work so ascribed unto him, but, moreover, such is the confidence they have in their conceptions, that they revile and speak evil contemptuously and despitefully of what they do oppose. Hence ability to pray, as is pleaded, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost is so far from being allowed to be a gift, or a grace, or a duty, or any way useful among men, that it is derided and scorned as a paltry faculty, fit to be exploded from among Christians; and at length it is traduced as an invention and artifice of the Jesuits, to the surprisal and offence of many sober persons; the unadvisedness of which insinuation the ensuing discourse will manifest.
Others, again, profess that of all the privileges whereof they are made partakers in this world, of all the aids, assistances, or gifts which they receive from or by the Spirit of God, that which he communicates and helps them withal in their prayers and supplications is the most excellent and inestimable; and herein they have, living and dying, in all troubles, distresses, temptations, and persecutions, such assurance and satisfaction in their minds, as that they are not in the least moved with all the scorn and contempt that are cast upon their profession and practice in the exercise of the gift which they have received, but rather judge that they contract the guilt of great sin to themselves by whom this work of the Spirit is reproached. Hence I know not any difference about religious things that is managed with greater animosities in the minds of men and worse consequents than this which is about the work of the Spirit of God in prayer; which, indeed, is the hinge on which all other differences about divine worship do turn and depend. It may, therefore, be well worth our while, yea, it is our duty, sedately and diligently to inquire into what the Scripture teacheth us in this matter; wherein we must acquiesce, and whereby all experiences on the one side or the other must be tried and regulated. Two things, therefore, I do propose unto myself in the ensuing discourse, concerning both which I shall plainly and briefly endeavour the satisfaction of indifferent and unprejudiced readers; — and these are, first, To evince that there is promised and actually granted an especial work of the Spirit of God in the prayers or praises of believers under the New Testament; secondly, To declare the nature of that work, wherein it doth consist, or the manner of the operation of the Holy Spirit therein. And if in these things no impression can be made on the minds of men possessed with those mighty prejudices which reject their very proposal and all consideration of them with contempt, yet it may be of use unto them who, being not biassed with the undue love or hatred of parties of men, nor elated with high valuations of their own conceptions above those of others, whom they think they have reason if not to hate, yet to scorn, do sincerely desire to live unto God, and to prefer the performance of their duty unto all other considerations, endeavouring to subdue their inclinations and affections thereunto. Nor do I desire more of any reader but that he will grant that he is herein conversant about things which will have an influence into his everlasting account.
Zech. xii. 10 opened and vindicated.
The especial promise of the administration of the Spirit of God unto the end under consideration is that which I shall lay as the foundation of the ensuing discourse. Zech. xii. 10, “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications.” The Spirit here promised is the Spirit of God, “the Holy Spirit,” with respect unto the especial end for which he is promised. And the manner of his administration in the accomplishment of the promise is expressed by וְשָׁפַכְתִּי, “I will pour out.” The same word is used to the same purpose, Ezek. xxxix. 29, Joel ii. 28, as are also other words of the same importance, which we render by “pouring out,” as Prov. i. 23; Isa. xxxii. 15, xliv. 3, lii. 15.
1. Two things have been elsewhere declared concerning this expression, applied unto the communication of the Holy Ghost:— (1.) That a plentiful dispensation of him unto the end for which he is promised, with respect unto a singular and eminent degree in his operations, is intended therein. The apostle expresseth this word, or the accomplishment of what is promised in it, by ἐξέχεεν πλουσίως, Tit. iii. 6, “he hath richly,” or abundantly, “poured out his Spirit.” Not, therefore, a mere grant and communication of the Spirit, but a plentiful effusion of him, is intended; which must have some eminent effects as pledges and tokens thereof, for it is absurd to speak of a “plentiful, abundant effusion,” with degrees above what was before granted, and yet there be no certain ways or means whereby it may be evidenced and demonstrated. The Spirit, therefore, is so promised in this place as to produce some notable and peculiar effects of his communication. (2.) That this promise is peculiar unto the days of the gospel; I mean, every promise is so where mention is made of pouring out the Spirit on men; which may be evinced by the consideration of every place where this expression is used. But in this place it is most unquestionable, the immediate effect of it being a looking unto Christ as he was pierced. And it may be yet farther observed, that there is a tacit comparison in it with some other time or season, or some other act of God, wherein or whereby he gave his Spirit before, but not in that way, manner, or measure that he now promiseth to bestow him. Of the whole of these observations, Didymus gives us a brief account, De Spir. Sanc. i. 1: “Significat autem effusionis verbum, largam, et divitem muneris abundantiam; itaque cum unus quis alicubi, aut duo Spiritum Sanctum accipiunt, non dicitur, ‘Effundam de Spiritu meo,’ sed tunc, quando in universas gentes munus Spiritus Sancti redundaverit.”
2. Those unto whom he is thus promised are “the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” — that is, the whole church, expressed in a distribution into the ruling family and the body of the people under their rule. And the family of David, which was then in supreme power among the people in the person of Zerubbabel, is expressly mentioned for three reasons:— (1.) Because the faithfulness of God in his promises was concerned in the preservation of that family, whereof the Messiah was to spring, Christ himself being thereby, in the rule of the church, typed out in an especial manner. (2.) Because all the promises in a peculiar manner were first to be fulfilled in the person of Christ, so typed by David and his house. On him the Spirit, under the New Testament, was first to be poured out in all fullness; and from him to be communicated unto others. (3.) It may be to denote the especial gifts and graces that should be communicated unto them who were to be employed in the rule and conduct of the church under him, the king and head thereof. And “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” is a phrase expressive of the whole church, because that was the seat of all their public ordinances of worship. See Ps. cxxii. Wherefore, the whole spiritual church of God, all believers, are the object of this promise, as represented in the “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
וּחַ The especial qualifications of the promised Spirit are two; for, — (1.) He is to be .3 which the Greek constantly renders χάρις, and we from the חֵן ”.a “Spirit of grace ,חֵן Latin gratia, “grace,” is derived from חָנַן, as is also the following word, which signifies to “have mercy,” or “compassion,” to be “gracious;” as all the words whereby God’s gracious dealings with sinners (are expressed) in the Hebrew do include the signification of pity, compassion, free goodness, and bounty. And it is variously used in the Scripture: sometimes for the grace and favour of God, as it is the fountain of all gracious and merciful effects towards us, Rom. i. 7, iv. 16, v. 2, 15, 20, vi. 1, xi. 5; 1 Cor. i. 3; and in other places innumerable; — and sometimes for the principal effect thereof, or the gracious favour of God whereby he accepts us in Christ, Eph. ii. 5; 2 Thess. i. 12; which is the grace the apostle prays for in the behalf of the church, Rom. xvi. 20; 1 Cor. xvi. 23. And sometimes it is applied unto the favour of men, and acceptation with them, called the “finding grace” or “favour” in the sight of any, Gen. xxxix. 4, 21; 1 Sam. ii. 26; Prov. iii. 4; Esth. ii. 15, 17, v. 2; Luke ii. 52; Acts iv. 33; — and sometimes for the free effectual efficacy of grace in those in whom it is, Acts xiv. 26; 1 Cor. xv. 10; 2 Cor. xii. 9; — and sometimes for our justification and salvation by the free grace or favour of God in Christ, John i. 17; 1 Pet. i. 13; — for the gospel itself, as the instrument of the declaration and communication of the grace of God, 2 Cor. vi. 1; Eph. iii. 2; Col. i. 6; Tit. ii. 11; — for the free donation of the grace and gifts of the Spirit, John i. 16; Eph. iv. 7. And many other significations it hath, which belong not unto our purpose.
Three things may be intended in this adjunct of grace.
(1.) A respect of the sovereign cause of his dispensation, which is no other but the mere grace of God. He may be called a “Spirit of grace,” because his donation is an effect of grace, without the least respect unto any desert in those unto whom he is given. This reason of the appellation is declared, Tit. iii. 4–7. The sole cause and reason, in opposition unto our own works or deservings, of the pouring out of the Spirit upon us, is the love and kindness of God in Jesus Christ; whence he may be justly called a “Spirit of grace.” (2.) Because he is the author of all grace in and unto them on whom he is poured out; so God is called the “God of all grace,” because he is the fountain and author of it. And that the Holy Spirit is the immediate efficient cause of all grace in us hath been elsewhere proved, both in general and in the principal instances of regeneration and sanctification; and it shall be yet farther confirmed in what doth ensue. (3.) חֵן is commonly used for that grace or favour which one hath with another: “Let me find grace in thy sight;” as in the instances before quoted. And so the Spirit also may be called a “Spirit of grace,” because those on whom he is poured out have grace and favour with God; they are gracious with him, as being “accepted in the Beloved,” Eph. i. 6. Whereas, therefore, all these concur wherever this Spirit is communicated, I know no reason why we may not judge them all here included, though that in the second place be especially intended. The Spirit is promised to work grace and holiness in all on whom he is bestowed.
(2.) He is, as thus poured out, a “Spirit תַחֲנוּנִים, of supplications;” that is, of prayer for grace and mercy. The word is formed from חָנַן, as the other, to be gracious or merciful, and, expressing our act towards God, it is prayer for grace, — supplication;’ and it is never used but to express vocal prayer, either in the assemblies of the people of God or by private persona “Hearken to the voice of my supplications,” is rendered by the apostle Paul ἱκετηρίας, Heb. v. 7; in which place alone in the Scripture that word is used. Originally it signifies a bough or olive-branch wrapped about with wool or bays, or something of the like nature, which those carried in their hands and lifted up who were suppliants unto others for the obtaining of peace or the averting of their displeasure. Hence came the phrase of velamenta prœferre, to hold out such covered branches. So Livy, De Bel. Punic., lib. 24 cap. 30, “Ramos oleæ, ac velamenta alia supplicantium porrigentes, orare, ut reciperent sese;” — “Holding forth olive-branches, and other covered tokens used by suppliants, they prayed that they might be received” into grace and favour. Which custom Virgil declares in his Æneas addressing himself to Evander:—
“Optime Grajugenûm, cui me fortuna precari Et vittâ comptos voluit prætendere ramos.” Virg. Æn. viii. 127. And they called them ἱκετηρίους θαλλούς, “branches of supplication,” or prayer. And they constantly called those prayers which they made solemnly unto their gods, supplicia 258 and supplicationes, Liv., lib. 10 cap. 23, “Eo anno prodigia multa fuerunt: quorum averruncandorum caussa supplicationes in biduum senatus decrevit;” a form of which kind of prayer we have in Cato, De Re Rustica, cap. 13, “Mars pater te precor quæsoque ut calamitates — —.”
Some render תַחֲנוּנִים by miserationes or lamentationes, and interpret it of men’s bemoaning themselves in their prayers for grace and mercy, — which in the issue varies not from the sense insisted on; but whereas it is derived from ָח ַנן which signifies to be merciful or gracious, and expresses an act of ours towards God, it can properly signify nothing but supplications for mercy and grace, nor is it otherwise used in the Scripture. See Job xli. 3; Prov. xviii. 23; Dan. ix. 3; Jer. xxxi. 9; 2 Chron. vi. 21; Jer. iii. 21; Ps. xxviii. 2, 6, xxxi. 22, cxvi. 1, cxxx. 2, cxl. 6, cxliii. 1; Dan. ix. 18, 23; Ps. lxxxvi. 6; which are all the places, besides this, where the word is used; in all which it denotes deprecation of evil and supplication for grace, constantly in the plural number, to denote the earnestness of men. therefore, are properly supplications for grace and mercy, for freedom and ,תַחֲנוּנִים deliverance from evil, put by a synecdoche for all sorts of prayer whatever. We may, therefore, inquire in what sense the Holy Spirit of God is called a “Spirit of supplications,” or what is the reason of this attribution unto him. And he must be so either formally or efficiently, either because he is so in himself or unto us. If in the former way, then he is a Spirit who himself prayeth, and, according to the import of those Hebraisms, aboundeth in that duty. As a “man of wickedness,” Isa. lv. 7, or a “man of blood,” is a man wholly given to wickedness and violence; so, on the other hand, a “Spirit of supplications” should be a Spirit abounding in prayer for mercy and the diverting of evil, as the word imports. Now, the Holy Ghost cannot be thus a Spirit of supplication, neither for himself nor us. No imagination of any such thing can be admitted with respect unto himself without the highest blasphemy. Nor can he in his own person make supplications for us; for besides that any such interposition in heaven on our behalf is in the Scripture wholly confined unto the priestly office of Christ and his intercession, all prayer, whether oral or interpretative only, is the act of a nature inferior unto that which is prayed unto. This the Spirit of God hath not; he hath no nature inferior unto that which is divine. We cannot, therefore, suppose him to be formally a Spirit of supplication, unless we deny his deity. He is so, therefore, efficiently with respect unto us, and as such he is promised unto us. Our inquiry, therefore, in general, is how or in what sense he is so. And there are but two ways conceivable whereby this may be affirmed of him:— (1.) By working gracious inclinations and dispositions in us unto this duty; (2.) By giving a gracious ability for the discharge of it in a due manner. These, therefore, must belong unto and do comprise his efficiency as a Spirit of supplication.
Both of them are included in that of the apostle, “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us,” Rom. viii. 26. Those who can put any other sense on this promise may do well to express it. Every one consistent with the analogy of faith shall be admitted, so that we do not judge the words to be void of sense and to have nothing in them. To deny the Spirit of God to be a Spirit of supplication in and unto believers is to reject the testimony of God himself.
By the ways mentioned we affirm that he is so, nor can any other way be assigned.
(1.) He is so by working gracious inclinations and dispositions in us unto this duty. It is he who prepareth, disposeth, and inclineth the hearts of believers unto the exercise thereof with delight and spiritual complacency. And where this is not, no prayer is acceptable unto God. He delights not in those cries which an unwilling mind is pressed or forced unto by earthly desires, distress, or misery, James iv. 3. Of ourselves, naturally, we are averse from any converse and intercourse with God, as being alienated from living unto him by the ignorance and vanity of our minds.
And there is a secret alienation still working in us from all duties of immediate communion with him It is he alone who worketh us unto that frame wherein we pray continually, as it is required of us; our hearts being kept ready and prepared for this duty on all occasions and opportunities, being in the meantime acted and steered under the conduct and influence of those graces which are to be exercised therein. This some call the “grace of prayer” that is given us by the Holy Ghost, as I suppose improperly, though I will not contend about it; for prayer absolutely and formally is not a peculiar grace distinct from all other graces that are exercised in it, but it is the way and manner whereby we are to exercise all other graces of faith, love, delight, fear, reverence, self-abasement, and the like, unto certain especial ends. And I know no grace of prayer distinct or different from the exercise of these graces. It is, therefore, a holy commanded way of the exercise of other graces, but not a peculiar grace itself. Only, where any person is singularly disposed and devoted unto this duty, we may, if we please, though improperly, say that he is eminent in the grace of prayer. And I do suppose that this part of his work will not be denied by any, no, not that it is intended in the promise. If any are minded to stand at such a distance from other things which are ascribed unto him, or have such an abhorrency of allowing him part or interest in our supplications as that we may in any sense be said to pray in the Holy Ghost, that they will not admit of so much as the work of his grace, and that wrought in believers by virtue of this promise, they will manage an opposition unto his other actings at too dear a rate to be gainers by it.
(2.) He is so by giving an ability for prayer, or communicating a gift unto the minds of men, enabling them profitably unto themselves and others to exercise all his graces in that especial way of prayer. It will be granted afterward that there may be a gift of prayer used where there is no grace in exercise, nor perhaps any to be exercised, — that is, as some improperly express it, “the gift of prayer, where the grace of prayer is not;” but in declaring how the Spirit is a Spirit of supplication, we must take in the consideration of both. He both disposeth us to pray, that is, to the exercise of grace in that especial way, and enableth us thereunto. And where this ability is wholly and absolutely wanting, or where it is rejected or despised, although he may act and exercise those very graces which are to be exercised in prayer, and whose exercise in that way is commonly called the “grace of prayer,” yet this work of his belongs unto the general head of sanctification, wherein he preserves, excites, and acts all our graces, and not unto this especial work of prayer, nor is he a Spirit of supplication therein. He is, therefore, only a Spirit of supplication, properly, as he communicates a gift or ability unto persons to exercise all his graces in the way and duty of prayer. This is that which he is here promised for, and promised to be poured out for; that is, to be given in an abundant and plentiful manner. Wherever he is bestowed in the accomplishment of this promise, he both disposeth the hearts of men to pray and enableth them so to do. This ability, indeed, he communicates in great variety, as to the degrees of it, and (as to its) usefulness unto others in its exercise, but he doth it unto every one so far as is necessary unto his own spiritual concernments, or the discharge of his duty towards God and all others. But whereas this assertion contains the substance of what we plead for, the farther confirmation of it must be the principal subject of the ensuing discourse.
That this is the sense of the place, and the mind of the Holy Ghost in the words, needs no other demonstration but that it is expressive of their proper signification, neither can any other sense tolerably be affixed on them. To deny the Holy Spirit to be denominated a Spirit of supplication, because he inclineth, disposeth, and enableth them to pray unto whom he is promised, and on whom he is bestowed as such, is to use a little too much liberty in sacred things.
A learned man of late, out of hatred unto the Spirit of prayer, or prayer as his gift, hath endeavoured to deprive the church of God of the whole benefit and comfort of this promise 261 (Amyrald. Præfat. in Psal.); for he contends that it belong not unto the Christian church, but unto the Jews only. Had he said it belonged unto the Jews in the first place who should be converted unto Christ, he had not gone so wide from the truth nor from the sense of other expositors, though he had said more than he could prove. But to suppose that any grace, any mercy, any privilege by Jesus Christ, is promised unto the Jews, wherein Gentile believers shall be no sharers, that they should not partake of the same kind, whoever hath the prerogative as to degrees, is fond and impious; for if they also are children of Abraham, if the blessing of faithful Abraham do come upon them also, if it is through them that he is the heir of the world, his spiritual seed inhabiting it by right in all places, then unto them do all the promises belong that are made unto him and his seed. And whereas most of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of the Old Testament are made to Jacob and Israel, to Jerusalem and Zion, it is but saying that they are all confined unto the Jews, and so at once to despoil the church of God of all right and title to them; which impious folly and sacrilege hath been by some attempted. But whereas all the promises belong unto the same covenant, with all the grace contained in them and exhibited by them, whoever is interested by faith in that covenant is so in all the promises of God that belong thereunto, and hath an equal right unto them with those unto whom they were first given. To suppose, now that the Jews are rejected for their unbelief, that the promises of God made unto them whilst they stood by faith are ceased and of no use, is to overthrow the covenant of Abraham, and, indeed, the whole truth of the New Testament. But the apostle assures us that “all the promises of God in Christ are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us;” that is, in their accomplishment in us and towards us, 2 Cor. i. 20. So, also, he positively affirms that all believers have received those promises which originally were made unto Israel 2 Cor. vi. 16–18, vii. 1. And not only so, but he declareth also that the promises which were made of old unto particular persons on especial occasions, as to the grace, power, and love contained in them and intended by them, do yet belong unto all individual believers, and are applicable by them unto all their especial occasions, Heb. xiii. 5, 6. And their right unto or interest in all the promises of God is that which those who are concerned in the obedience of faith would not forego for all that this world can supply them withal. This, therefore, is only a particular instance of the work and effect of the Spirit, as he is in general promised in the covenant. And, as we have declared, the promises of him as a Spirit of grace and holiness in the covenant belong unto the believers of the Gentiles also. If they do not, they have neither share nor interest in Christ; which is a better plea for the Jew than this peculiar instance will afford. But this promise is only an especial declaration of what in one case this Spirit shall do, who is promised as a Spirit of grace and holiness in the covenant. And, therefore, the author of the evasion, suspecting that the fraud and sacrilege of it would be detected, betakes himself to other subterfuges, which we shall afterward meet with, so far as we are concerned.
It may be more soberly objected, “That the Spirit of grace and supplication was given unto believers under the Old Testament; and, therefore, if there be no more in it, if some extraordinary gift be not here intended, how comes it to be made an especial promise with respect unto the times of the New Testament? It may, therefore, be supposed that not the ordinary grace or gift of prayer, which believers, and especially the officers of the church, do receive, but some extraordinary gift bestowed on the apostles and first converts to the church, is here intended. So the prophecy concerning the effusion of the Spirit on all sorts of persons, Joel ii. 28–32, is interpreted by Peter, and applied unto the sending of the Holy Ghost in miraculous gifts on the day of Pentecost, Acts ii. 15–21.”
Ans. 1. I have elsewhere already, in general, obviated this objection by showing the prodigious folly of that imagination, that the dispensation of the Spirit is confined unto the first times of the gospel; whereof this objection is a branch, as enmity unto the matter treated of is the occasion of the whole. 2. We nowhere find grace and prayer, the things here promised, to be reckoned among the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit under the New Testament. Prayer, indeed, in an unknown tongue was so; but prayer itself was not so, no more than grace; which if it were, the whole present church is graceless. 3. The promise in Joel had express respect unto the extraordinary gifts of prophecy and visions, and therefore had its principal accomplishment on the day of Pentecost. This promise is quite of another nature. 4. That which is necessary for and the duty of all believers, and that always, is not an extraordinary gift, bestowed on a few for a season. Now, if there are any who think that grace and prayer are not necessary unto all believers, or that they may have abilities, and exercise them, without any aid of the Holy Spirit, I will not at present contend with them; for this is not a place to plead with those by whom the principles of the Christian faith are denied. Divine commands are the rule of our duty, not man’s imaginations. 5. If this be not an especial promise of the New Testament, because the matter of it, or grace promised, was in some degree and measure enjoyed under the Old, then is there no promise made with respect unto that scion; for the saints under the Old Testament were really made partakers of all the same graces with those under the New. Wherefore, 6. Two things are intended in the promise with respect unto the times of the gospel:— (1.) An application and enlargement of this grace or favour, as unto the subjects of it extensively. It was under the Old Testament confined unto a few, but now it shall be communicated unto many, and diffused all the world over. It shall be so poured out as to be shed abroad, and imparted thereby unto many. That which before was but as the watering of a garden by an especial hand is now as the clouds pouring themselves forth on the whole face of the earth. (2.) An increase of the degrees of spiritual abilities for the performance of it, Tit. iii. 5, 6. There is now a rich communication of the Spirit of grace and prayer granted unto believers in comparison of what was enjoyed under the Old Testament. This the very nature of the dispensation of the gospel, wherein we receive from Jesus Christ “grace for grace,” doth evince and confirm. I suppose it needless to prove that, as unto all spiritual supplies of grace, there is brought in an abundant administration of it by Jesus Christ, the whole Scripture testifying unto it.
There were, indeed, under the Old Testament, prayers to and praises of God dictated by a Spirit of prophecy, and received by immediate divine revelation, containing mysteries for the instruction of the church in all ages. These prayers were not suggested unto them by the aid of the Spirit as a Spirit of supplication, but dictated in and to them by the Spirit as a Spirit of prophecy. Nor did they themselves comprehend the mind of the Holy Spirit in them fully, but inquired diligently thereinto, as into other prophecies given out by the Spirit of Christ which was in them, 1 Pet. i. 10–12; — an instance whereof we may have in Ps. xxii.; a prayer it is with thanksgiving from first to last. Now, although David, unto whom it was given by inspiration, might find in his own condition things that had some low and mean resemblance of what was intended in the words suggested unto him by the Holy Spirit, as he was a type of Christ, yet the depth of the mysteries contained therein, the principal scope and design of the Holy Ghost, was in a great measure concealed from himself, and much more from others. Only it was given out unto the church by immediate inspiration, that believers might search and diligently inquire into what was signified and foretold therein; that so thereby they might be gradually led into the knowledge of the mysteries of God, according as he was pleased graciously to communicate of his saving light unto them. But withal it was revealed unto David and the other prophets, that in these things “they did not minister unto themselves, but unto us,” as having mysteries in them which they could not, which they were not to comprehend. But as this gift is ceased under the New Testament, after the finishing of the canon of the Scripture, nor is it by any pretended unto, so was it confined of old unto a very few inspired persons, and belongs not unto our present inquiry; for we speak only of those things which are common unto all believers, and herein a preference must in all things be given unto those under the New Testament.
If, therefore, it could be proved, which I know it cannot be, that the generality of the church under the Old Testament made use of any forms of prayers, as mere forms of prayer, without any other end, use, or mystical instruction (all which concurred in their prophetical composures), for the sole end of prayer, yet would it not, whatever any pretend or plead, thence follow that believers under the New Testament may do the same, much less that they may be obliged always so to do; for there is now a more plentiful and rich effusion of the Spirit of grace and supplication upon them than was upon those of old. And as our duty is to be regulated by God’s commands, so God’s commands are suited unto the dispensation of his grace. For persons under the New Testament, who are commanded to pray, not to make use constantly in their so doing of the gifts, aids, and assistances of the Spirit, which are peculiarly dispensed and communicated therein, on pretence of what was done under the Old, is to reject the grace of the gospel, and to make themselves guilty of the highest ingratitude. Wherefore, although we may and ought to bear with them who, having not received any thing of this promised grace and assistance, nor believing there is any such thing, do plead for the use of forms of prayer to be composed by some and read by others or themselves, and that only, in the discharge of this duty; yet such as have been made partakers of this grace, and who own it their duty constantly to use and improve the promised aids of the Spirit of God, will be careful not to admit of any such principles or practice as would plainly annihilate the promise.
Thus much, then, we may suppose ourselves to have obtained in the consideration of this testimony, That God hath promised under the New Testament to give unto believers, in a plentiful manner or measure, the Spirit of grace and of supplications, or his own Holy Spirit, enabling them to pray according to his mind and will. The way and manner of his work therein shall be afterward declared. And it may suffice to oppose, in general, this one promise unto the open reproaches and bold contempts that are by many cast on the Spirit of prayer; whose framers, unless they can blot this text out of the Scripture, will fail at last in their design. We shall not, therefore, need to plead any other testimony to the same purpose in the way of promises. Only we may observe, that this being expressly assigned as a part of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, as promised under the New Testament, there is no one promise to that purpose wherein this grace is not included; therefore, the known multiplication of them addeth strength unto our argument.
Gal. iv. 6 opened and vindicated.
The next general evidence given unto the truth under consideration is the account of the accomplishment of this promise under the New Testament, where also the nature of the operation of the Holy Spirit herein is in general expressed; and this is Gal. iv. 6, “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” An account, as was said, is here given of the accomplishment of the promise before explained; and sundry things may be considered in the words:—
First, The subjects on whom he is bestowed, and in whom he worketh, are believers, or those who by the Spirit of adoption are made the children of God. We receive the adoption of sons; and because we are sons, he sendeth his Spirit into our hearts. And this privilege of adoption we obtain by faith in Christ Jesus: John i. 12, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Secondly, there is an especial appellation or description of the Spirit as promised and given unto this purpose, — he is the “Spirit of the Son.” That the original ground and reason hereof is his eternal relation to the Son, as proceeding from him, hath been elsewhere evinced; but there is something more particular here intended. He is called the “Spirit of the Son” with respect unto his communication to believers. There is, therefore, included herein that especial regard unto Jesus Christ the Son of God which is in the work mentioned, as it is an evangelical mercy and privilege. He is, therefore, called the “Spirit of the Son,” not only because of his eternal procession from him, but, — 1. Because he was in the first place given unto him, as the head of the church, for the unction, consecration, and sanctification of his human nature. Here he laid the foundation, and gave an example of what he was to do in and towards all his members. 2. It is immediately from and by him that he is communicated unto us, and that two ways:— (1.) Authoritatively, by virtue of the covenant between the Father and him, whereon, upon his accomplishment of the work of the mediation in a state of humiliation, according to it, he “received the promise of the Holy Ghost;” that is, power and authority to bestow him on whom he would, for all the ends of that mediation, Acts ii. 33, v. 32. (2.) Formally, in that all the graces of the Spirit are derived unto us from him, as the head of the church, as the spring of all spiritual life, in whom they were all treasured and laid up unto that purpose, Col. i. 19, ii. 19; Eph. iv. 16; Col. iii. 1–4.
Secondly, The work of this Spirit in general, as bestowed on believers, is partly included, partly expressed, in these words. In general (which is included) he enables them to behave themselves suitably unto that state and condition whereinto they are taken upon their faith in Christ Jesus. They are made children of God by adoption, and it is meet they be taught to carry themselves as becomes that new relation. “Because ye are sons, he hath given you the Spirit of his Son;” without which they cannot walk before him as becometh sons. He teacheth them to bear and behave themselves no longer as foreigners and strangers, nor as servants only, but as “children” and “heirs of God,” Rom. viii. 15, 17. He endoweth them with a frame and disposition of heart unto holy, filial obedience; for as he takes away the distance, making them to be nigh who were aliens and far from God, so he removes that fear, dread, and bondage, which they are kept in who are under the power of the law: 2 Tim. i. 7, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind;” not “the spirit of fear,” or a “spirit of bondage unto fear,” as Rom. viii. 15, — that is, in and by the efficacy of the law, filling our minds with dread, and such considerations of God as will keep us at a distance from him. But he is in the sons, on whom he is bestowed, a Spirit of power, strengthening and enabling them unto all duties of obedience. This Πνεῦμα δυνάμεως is that whereby we are enabled to obedience, which the apostle gives thanks for, 1 Tim. i. 12, Χάριν ἔχω τῷ ἐνδυναμώσαντί με Χριστῷ, “To Christ that enableth me;” that is, by his Spirit of power: for without the Spirit of adoption we have not the least strength or power to behave ourselves as sons in the family of God. And he is also, as thus bestowed, a Spirit of love, who worketh in us that love unto God and that delight in him which becometh children towards their heavenly Father. This is the first genuine consequent of this relation. There may be many duties performed unto God where there is no true love to him, at least no love unto him as a Father in Christ, which alone is genuine and accepted. And, lastly, he is also a Spirit σωφρονισμοῦ, of a modest, grave, and sober mind. Even children are apt to wax wanton, and curious, and proud in their Father’s house; but the Spirit enables them to behave themselves with that sobriety, modesty, and humility, which becometh the family of God. And in these three things, spiritual power, love, and sobriety of mind, consists the whole deportment of the children of God in his family. This is the state and condition of those who, by the effectual working of the Spirit of adoption, are delivered from the “spirit of bondage unto fear,” which the apostle discourseth of, Rom. viii. 15.
Those who are under the power of that Spirit, or that efficacious working of the Spirit by the law, cannot, by virtue of any aids or assistance, make their addresses unto him by prayer in a due manner; for although the means whereby they are brought into this state be the Spirit of God acting upon their souls and consciences by the law, yet formally, as they are in the state of nature, the spirit whereby they are acted is the unclean “spirit of the world,” or the influence of him who “ruleth in the children of disobedience.” The law that they obey is the “law of the members” mentioned by the apostle, Rom. vii. 23. The works which they perform are the “unfruitful works of darkness;” and the fruits of these unfruitful works are “sin” and “death.” Being under this bondage, they have no power to approach unto God; and their bondage tending unto fear, they can have no delight in an access unto him. Whatever other provisions or preparations such persons may have for this duty, they can never perform it unto the glory of God, or so as to find acceptance with him. With those who are delivered from this state, all things are otherwise. The Spirit whereby they are acted is the Spirit of God, — the Spirit of adoption, of power, love, and a sound mind. The law which they are under obedience unto is the holy law of God, as written in the fleshy tables of their hearts. The effects of it are faith and love, with all other graces of the Spirit; whereof they receive the fruits in peace, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Thirdly, An instance is given of his effectually working these things in the adopted sons of God, in the duty of prayer crying, “Abba, Father.” The object of the especial duty intended is “God, even the Father,” Eph. ii. 18. “Abba, ὁ Πατήρ.” Abba is the Syriac or Chaldee name for Father, then in common use among the Jews, and Πατήρ was the same name amongst the Greeks or Gentiles; so that the common interest of Jews and Gentiles in this privilege may be intended, or rather, a holy boldness and intimate confidence of love is designed in the reduplication of the name. The Jews have a saying in the Babylonian Talmud, in the העבדים וחשפחות אין קורין אותם לא אבא פלוני ולא ,Treatise of Blessings Servants and handmaids” (that is, bond-servants) “do not call on such“ — ,אמא פלונית
a one Abba or Ymma.” Freedom of state, with a fight unto adoption, whereof they are incapרוּחַ able, is required unto this liberty and confidence. God gives unto his adopted sons a free Spirit,” Ps. li. 12, — a Spirit of gracious, filial ingenuity. This is that Spirit ,נְדִּיבָה which cries “Abba.” That is the word whereby those who were adopted did first salute their fathers, to testify their affection and obedience. For “abba” signifies not only “father,” but “my father;” for אָבִי, “my father,” in the Hebrew, is rendered by the Chaldee paraphrast only אַבָּא, “abba.” See Gen. xix. 34, and elsewhere constantly. To this purpose speaks Chrysostom: Βουλόμενος δεῖξαι γνησιότηατ, καὶ τῇ τῶν Ἑβραίων ἐχρήσατο γλώσσῃ· οὐ γὰρ εἶπε μόνον ὁ πατὴρ ἀλλ’ ἀββᾶ ὁ πατὴρ, ὅπερ τῶν παίδων μάλιστά ἐστι τῶν γνησίων πρὸς πατέρα ῥῆμα· — “Being willing to show the ingenuity” (that is in this duty), “he useth also the language of the Hebrews, and says not only ‘Father,’ but ‘Abba, Father;’ which is a word proper unto them who are highly ingenuous.”
And this he effecteth two ways:— 1. By the excitation of graces and gracious affections in their souls in this duty, especially those of faith, love, and delight. 2. By enabling them to exercise those graces and express those affections in vocal prayer; for χράζον denotes not only crying, but an earnestness of mind expressed in vocal prayer. It is praying φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, as it is said of our Saviour, Matt. xxvii. 50; for the whole of our duty in our supplications is expressed herein. Now, we are not concerned, or do not at present inquire, what course they take, what means they employ, or what helps they use in prayer, who are not as yet partakers of this privilege of adoption. It is only those who are so whom the Spirit of God assists in this duty; and the only question is, what such persons are to do in compliance with his assistance, or what it is that they obtain thereby.
And we may compare the different expressions used by the apostle in this matter, whereby the general nature of the work of the Spirit herein will farther appear. In this place he saith, “God hath sent forth into our hearts τὸ Πνεῦμα τοῦ υἱοῦ κράζον, — the Spirit of his Son, crying, Abba, Father.” Rom. viii. 15, he saith we have received τὸ Πνεῦρμα υἱοθεσίας, ἐν ᾧ κράζομεν, “the Spirit of adoption,” — the Spirit of the Son, given us because we are sons, — “whereby,” or in whom, “we cry, Abba, Father.” His acting in us, and our acting by him, are expressed by the same word; and the inquiry here is, how, in the same duty, he is said to “cry” in us, and we are said to “cry” in him. And there can be no reason hereof but only because the same work is both his and ours in diverse respects. As it is an act of grace and spiritual power it is his, or it is wrought in us by him alone. As it is a duty performed by us, by virtue of his assistance, it is ours, — by him we cry, “Abba, Father;” and to deny his actings in our duties is to overthrow the gospel. And it is prayer formally considered, and as comprising the gift of it, with its outward exercise, which is intended. The mere excitation of the graces of faith, love, trust, delight, desire, self-abasement, and the like animating principles of prayer, cannot be expressed by crying, though it be included in it. Their actual exercise in prayer, formally considered, is that which is ascribed unto the Spirit of God. And they seem to deal somewhat severely with the church of God and all believers who will not allow that the work here expressly assigned unto the Spirit of adoption, or of the Son, is sufficient for its end, or the discharge of this duty, either in private or in the assemblies of the church. There is no more required unto prayer either way but our crying, “Abba, Father,” — that is, the making our requests known unto him as our Father in Christ, — with supplications and thanksgivings, according as our state and occasions do require. And is not the aid of the Spirit of God sufficient to enable us hereunto? It was so of old, and that unto all believers, according as they were called unto this duty, with respect unto their persons, families, or the church of God. If it be not so now, it is either because God will not now communicate his Spirit unto his children or sons, according to the promise of the gospel; or because, indeed, this grace and gift of his is by men despised, neglected, and lost; — and the former cannot be asserted on any safe grounds whatever; the latter it is our interest to consider.
This twofold testimony, concerning the promise of the communication of the Holy Spirit or a Spirit of supplication unto believers under the New Testament, and the accomplishment of it, doth sufficiently evince our general assertion, that there is a peculiar work or special gracious operation of the Holy Ghost in the prayers of believers enabling them thereunto; for we intend no more hereby but that as they do receive him by virtue of that promise (which the world cannot do), in order unto his gracious efficiency in the duty of supplication, so he doth actually incline, dispose, and enable them to cry “Abba, Father,” or to call upon God in prayer as their Father by Jesus Christ. To deny this, therefore, is to rise up in contradiction unto the express testimony of God himself, and by our unbelief to make him a liar. And had we nothing farther to plead in this cause, this were abundantly sufficient to reprove the petulant folly of them by whom this work of the Holy Ghost, and the duty of believers thereon to “pray in the Spirit,” — if we may use the despised and blasphemed expressions of the Scripture, — is scorned and derided.
For as to the ability of prayer which is thus received, some there are who know no more of it, as exercised in a way of duty, but the outside, shell, and appearance of it; and that not from their own experience, but from what they (have) observed in others. Of these there are not a few who confidently affirm that it is wholly a work of fancy, invention, memory, and wit, accompanied with some boldness and elocution, unjustly fathered on the Spirit of God, who is no way concerned therein; and, it may be, they do persuade many, no better skilled in these things than themselves, that so it is indeed. Howbeit, those who have any experience of the real aids and assistances of the Spirit of God in this work and duty, any faith in the express testimonies given by God himself hereunto, cannot but despise such fabulous imaginations. You may as soon persuade them that the sun doth not give light, nor the fire heat, that they see not with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, as that the Spirit of God doth not enable them to pray, or assist them in their supplications. And there might some probability be given unto these pretences, and unto the total exclusion of the Holy Ghost from any concernment herein, if those concerning whom and their duties they thus judge were generally persons known to excel others in those natural endowments and acquired abilities whereunto this faculty of prayer is ascribed. But will this be allowed by them who make use of this pretence, — namely, that those who are thus able to pray, as they pretend, by virtue of a spiritual glib, are persons excelling in fancy, memory, wit, invention, and elocution? It is known that they will admit of no such thing; but in all other instances they must be represented as dull, stupid, ignorant, unlearned, and brutish: only in prayer they have the advantage of those natural endowments! These things are hardly consistent with common ingenuity; for is it not strange that those who are so contemptible with respect unto natural and acquired endowments in all other things, whether of science or of prudence, should yet in this one duty or work of prayer so improve them as to outgo the imitation of them (by those) by whom they are despised? for as they do not, as they will not, pray as they do, so their own hearts tell them they cannot; which is the true reason why they so despitefully oppose this praying in the Spirit, whatever pride or passion pretends to the contrary. But things of this nature will again occur unto us, and therefore shall not be here farther insisted on. Having, therefore, proved that God hath promised a plentiful dispensation of his Spirit unto believers under the New Testament, to enable them to pray according unto his mind, and that, in general, this promise is accomplished in and towards all the children of God, it remaineth, in the second place, as to what we have proposed, that we declare what is the work of the Holy Ghost in them unto this end and purpose, or how he is unto us a Spirit of prayer or supplication.
The nature of prayer — Rom. viii. 26 opened and vindicated.
Prayer at present I take to be a gift ability, or spiritual faculty of exercising faith, love, reverence, fear, delight, and other graces, in a way of vocal requests, supplications, and praises unto God: “In every thing … let your requests be made known unto God,” Phil. iv. 6.
This gift and ability I affirm to be bestowed, and this work by virtue thereof to be wrought in us, by the Holy Ghost, in the accomplishment of the promise insisted on, so crying “Abba, Father,” in them that do believe. And this is that which we are to give an account of; wherein we shall assert nothing but what the Scripture plainly goeth before us in, and what the experience of believers, duly exercised in duties of obedience, doth confirm. And in the issue of our endeavour we shall leave it unto the judgment of God and his church, whether they are “ecstatical, enthusiastical, unaccountable raptures” that we plead for, or a real gracious effect and work of the Holy Spirit of God.
The first thing we ascribe unto the Spirit herein is, that he supplieth and furnisheth the mind with a due comprehension of the matter of prayer, or what ought, both in general and as unto all our particular occasions, to be prayed for. Without this I suppose it will be granted that no man can pray as he ought; for how can any man pray that knows not what to pray for? Where there is not a comprehension hereof, the very nature and being of prayer is destroyed. And herein the testimony of the apostle is express: Rom. viii. 26, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
It is that expression only which at present I urge, “We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” This is generally supposed to be otherwise, — namely, that men know well enough what they ought to pray for; only they are wicked and careless, and will not pray for what they know they ought so to do. I shall make no excuse or apology for the wickedness and carelessness of men; which, without doubt, are abominable. But yet I must abide by the truth asserted by the apostle, which I shall farther evidence immediately, — namely, that without the especial aid and assistance of the Holy Spirit no man knoweth what to pray for as he ought.
But yet there is another relief in this matter, and so no need of any work of the Holy Ghost therein. And we shall be accounted impudent if we ascribe any thing unto him whereof there is the least colourable pretence that it may be otherwise effected or provided for. So great an unwillingness is there to allow him either place, work, or office in the Christian religion or the practice of it! Wherefore, it is pretended that although men do not of themselves know what to pray for, yet this defect may be supplied in a prescript form of words, prepared on purpose to teach and confine men unto what they are to pray for.
We may, therefore, dismiss the Holy Spirit and his assistance as unto this concernment of prayer; for the due matter of it may be so set down and fixed on ink and paper that the meanest capacity cannot miss of his duty therein! This, therefore, is that which is to be tried in our ensuing discourse, — namely, that whereas it is plainly affirmed that “we know not” of ourselves “what we should pray for as we ought” (which I judge to be universally true as unto all persons, as well those who prescribe prayers as those unto whom they are prescribed), and that the Holy Spirit helps and relieveth us herein, whether we may or ought to relinquish and neglect his assistance, and so to rely only on such supplies as are invented or used unto that end for which he is promised; that is, plainly, whether the word of God be to be trusted unto in this matter or not.
It is true, that whatever we ought to pray for is declared in the Scripture, yea, and summarily comprised in the Lord’s Prayer; but it is one thing to have what we ought to pray for in the book, another thing to have it in our minds and hearts, — without which it will never be unto us the due matter of prayer. It is out of the “abundance of the heart” that the mouth must speak in this matter, Matt. xii. 34. There is, therefore, in us a threefold defect with respect unto the matter of prayer, which is supplied by the Holy Spirit, and can be so no other way nor by any other means; and therein is he unto us a Spirit of supplication according to the promise.
For, — 1. We know not our own wants; 2. We know not the plies of them that are expressed in the promises of God; and, 3. We know not the end whereunto what we pray for is to be directed, which I add unto the former. Without the knowledge and understanding of all these, no man can pray as he ought; and we can no way know them but by the aid and assistance of the Spirit of grace. And if these things be manifest, it will be evident how in this first instance we are enabled to pray by the Holy Ghost.
First, Our wants, as they are to be the matter of prayer, may be referred unto three heads, and none of them of ourselves do we know aright, so as to make them the due subject of our supplications, and of some of them we know nothing at all:—
1. This first consists in our outward straits, pressures, and difficulties, which we desire to be delivered from, with all other temporal things wherein we are concerned. In those things it should seem wondrously clear that of ourselves we know what to pray for. But the truth is, whatever our sense may be of them and our natural desires about them, yet how and when, under what conditions and limitations, with what frame of heart and spirit, (with) what submission unto the pleasure of God, they are to be made the matter of our prayers, we know not. Therefore doth God call the prayers of most about them “howling,” and not a crying unto him with the heart, Hos. vii. 14. There is, indeed, a voice of nature crying in its distress unto the God of nature, but that is not the duty of evangelical prayer which we inquire after; and men ofttimes most miss it when they think themselves most ready and prepared. To know our temporal wants so as to make them the matter of prayer according to the mind of God requires more wisdom than of ourselves we are furnished withal; for “who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow?” Eccles. vi. 12; and ofttimes believers are never more at a loss than how to pray aright about temporal things. No man is in pain or distress, or under any wants, whose continuance would be destructive to his being, but he may, yea, he ought to make deliverance from them the matter of his prayer. So in that case he knows in some measure, or in general, what he ought to pray for, without any peculiar spiritual illumination. But yet the circumstances of those things, and wherein their respect unto the glory of God and the supreme end or chiefest good of the persons concerned doth stand (with regard whereunto they can alone be made the matter of prayer acceptable unto God in Christ), are that which of themselves they cannot understand, but have need of an interest in that promise made to the church, that “they shall be all taught of God;” and this is so much more in such things as belong only unto the conveniences of this life, whereof no man of himself knows what is good for him or useful unto him.
2. We have internal wants that are discerned in the light of a natural conscience: such is the guilt of sin, whereof that accuseth, — sins against natural light and the plain outward letter of the law. These things we know somewhat of without any especial aid of the Holy Spirit, Rom. ii. 14, 15, and desires of deliverance are inseparable from them. But we may observe here two things:—
(1.) That the knowledge which we have hereof of ourselves is so dark and confused as that we are no ways able thereby to manage our wants in prayer aright unto God. A natural conscience, awakened and excited by afflictions or other providential visitations, will discover itself in unfeigned and severe reflections of guilt upon the soul; but until the Spirit doth convince of sin, all things are in such disorder and confusion in the mind that no man knows how to make his address unto God about it in a due manner. And there is more required, to treat aright with God about the guilt of sin, than a mere sense of it. So far as men can proceed under that sole conduct and guidance, the heathens went in dealing with their supposed gods, without a due respect unto the propitiation made by the blood of Christ. Yea, prayer about the guilt of sin, discerned in the light of a natural conscience, is but an “abomination.” Besides,
(2.) We all know how small a portion of the concernment of believers doth lie in those things which fall under the light and determination of a natural conscience; for, —
3. The things about which believers do and ought to treat principally and deal with God, in their supplications, are the inward spiritual frames and dispositions of their souls, with the actings of grace and sun in them. Hereon David was not satisfied with the confession of his original and all known actual sins, Ps. li. 1–5; nor yet with an acknowledgment that” none knoweth his own wanderings,” whence he desireth cleansing from “unknown sins,” Ps. xix. 12; but, moreover, he begs of God to undertake the inward search of his heart, to find out what was amiss or (not) right in him, Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24, as knowing that God principally required “truth in the inward parts,” Ps. li. 6. Such is the carrying on of the work of sanctification in the whole spirit and soul, 1 Thess. v. 23.
The inward sanctification of all our faculties is what we want and pray for. Supplies of grace from God unto this purpose, with a sense of the power, guilt, violence, and deceit of sin, in its inward actings in the mind and affections, with other things innumerable thereunto belonging, make up the principal matter of prayer as formally supplication.
Add hereunto that unto the matter of prayer, taken largely for the whole duty so called, every thing wherein we have intercourse with God in faith and love doth belong. The acknowledgment of the whole mystery of his wisdom, grace, and love in Christ Jesus, with all the fruits, effects, and benefits which thence we do receive; all the workings and actings of our souls towards him, with their faculties and affections; in brief, every thing and every conception of our minds wherein our spiritual access unto the throne of grace doth consist, or which doth belong thereunto, with all occasions and emergencies of spiritual life, are in like manner comprised herein. And that we can have such an acquaintance with these things as to manage them acceptably in our supplications, without the grace of spiritual illumination from the Holy Ghost, few are so ignorant or profane as to assert. Some, I confess, seem to be strangers unto these things, which yet renders them not of the less weight or moment.
But hence it comes to pass that the prayers of believers about them, especially their confessions of what sense they have of the power and guilt of the inward actings of sin, have been by some exceedingly traduced and reproached; for whereas they cannot out of their ignorance understand such things, out of their pride, heightened by sensuality of life, they despise and contemn them.
Secondly, The matter of prayer may be considered with respect unto the promises of God. These are the measure of prayer, and contain the matter of it. What God hath promised, all that he hath promised, and nothing else, are we to pray for; for “secret things belong unto the Lord our God” alone, but the declaration of his will and grace belongs unto us, and is our rule. Wherefore, there is nothing that we really do or may stand in need of but God hath promised the supply of it, in such a way and under such limitations as may make it good and useful unto us; and there is nothing that God hath promised but we stand in need of it, or are some way or other concerned in it as members of the mystical body of Christ. Wherefore, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” unless we know or understand the goodness, grace, kindness, and mercy, that is prepared and proposed in the promises of God; for how should we, seeing we are to pray for all that God hath promised, and for nothing but what God hath promised, and as he hath promised it? The inquiry, therefore, that remains is, whether we of ourselves, without the especial assistance of the Holy Spirit, do understand these things or no. The apostle tells us that the “things of God,” spiritual things, “knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God;” and that we must receive the Spirit which is of God to know the things that are freely given to us of God,” 1 Cor. ii. 11, 12; which are the grace, mercy, love, and kindness of the promises, 2 Cor. vii. 1. To say that of ourselves we can perceive, understand, and comprehend these things, without the especial assistance of the Holy Ghost, is to overthrow the whole gospel and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as hath been elsewhere demonstrated.
But it may be it will be said, “There is more stir than needs made in this matter. God help poor sinners, if all this be required unto their prayers! Certainly men may pray at a cheaper rate, and with much less trouble, or very few will continue long in that duty.” For some can see no necessity of thus understanding the grace and mercy that is in the promises unto prayer, and suppose that men know well enough what to pray for without it.
But those who so speak neither know what it is to pray, nor, it seems, are willing to learn; for we are to pray in faith, Rom. x. 14, and faith respects God’s promises, Heb. iv. 1, Rom. iv. If, therefore, we understand not what God hath promised, we cannot pray at all. It is marvellous what thoughts such persons have of God and themselves, who without a due comprehension of their own wants, and without an understanding of God’s promises, wherein all their supplies are laid up, do “say their prayers,” as they call it, continually. And indeed in the poverty, or rather misery, of devised aids of prayer, this is not the least pernicious effect or consequent, that they keep men off from searching the promises of God, whereby they might know what to pray for. Let the matter of prayer be so prescribed unto men as that they shall never need either to search their own hearts or God’s promises about it, and this whole work is despatched out of the way. But then is the soul prepared aright for this duty, and then only, when it understands its own condition, the supplies of grace provided in the promises, the suitableness of those supplies unto its wants, and the means of its conveyance unto us by Jesus Christ. That all this we have by the Spirit, and not otherwise, shall be immediately declared.
Thirdly, Unto the matter of prayer, I join the end we aim at in the things we pray for, and which we direct them unto. And herein, also, are we in ourselves at a loss; and men may lose all the benefit of their prayers by proposing undue ends unto themselves in the things they pray for. Our Saviour saith, “Ask, and ye shall receive;” but the apostle James affirms of some, chap. iv. 3, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it on your pleasures.” To pray for any thing, and not expressly unto the end whereunto of God it is designed, is to ask amiss, and to no purpose; and yet, whatever confidence we may have of our own wisdom and integrity, if we are left unto ourselves, without the especial guidance of the Spirit of God, our aims will never be suited unto the will of God. The ways and means whereby we may fail, and do so in this kind, when not under the actual conduct of the Spirit of God, — that is, when our own natural and distempered affections do immix themselves in our supplications, — are, innumerable. And there is nothing so excellent in itself, so useful unto us, so acceptable unto God, in the matter of prayer, but it may be vitiated, corrupted, and prayer itself rendered vain, by an application of it unto false or mistaken ends. And what is the work of the Spirit to guide us herein we shall see in its proper place.
The work of the Holy Spirit as to the matter of prayer.
These things are considerable as to the matter of prayer; and with respect unto them, of ourselves we know not what we should pray for, nor how, nor when. And the first work of the Spirit of God, as a Spirit of supplication in believers, is to give them an understanding of all their wants, and of the supplies of grace and mercy in the promises, causing (such) a sense of them to dwell and abide on their minds as that, according unto their measure, they are continually furnished with the matter of prayer, without which men never pray, and by which, in some sense, they pray always; for, —
First, He alone doth, and he alone is able to give us such an understanding of our own wants as that we may be able to make our thoughts about them known unto God in prayer and supplication. And what is said concerning our wants is so likewise with respect unto the whole matter of prayer, whereby we give glory to God, either in requests or prayers. And this I shall manifest in some instances, whereunto others may be reduced.
1. The principal matter of our prayers concerneth faith and unbelief. So the apostles prayed in a particular manner, “Lord, increase our faith;” and so the poor man prayed in his distress, “Lord, help thou mine unbelief.” I cannot think that they ever pray aright who never pray for the pardon of unbelief, for the removal of it, and for the increase of faith. If unbelief be the greatest of sins, and if faith be the greatest of the gifts of God, we are not Christians if these things are not one principal part of the matter of our prayers. Unto this end we must be convinced of the nature and guilt of unbelief, as also of the nature and use of faith; nor without that conviction do we either know our own chiefest wants, or what to pray for as we ought. And that this is the especial work of the Holy Ghost our Saviour expressly declares, John xvi. 8, 9, “He will convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me.” I do and must deny that any one is or can be convinced of the nature and guilt of that unbelief, either in the whole or in the remainders of it, which the gospel condemneth, and which is the great condemning sin under the gospel, without an especial work of the Holy Ghost on his mind and soul; for unbelief, as it respecteth Jesus Christ, — not believing in him, or not believing in him as we ought, — is a sin against the gospel, and it is by the gospel alone that we may be convinced of it, and that as it is the ministration of the Spirit. Wherefore, neither the light of a natural conscience nor the law will convince any one of the guilt of unbelief with respect unto Jesus Christ, nor instruct them in the nature of faith in him. No innate notions of our minds, no doctrines of the law, will reach hereunto. And to think to teach men to pray, or to help them out in praying, without a sense of unbelief, or the remainders of it, in its guilt and power, the nature of faith, with its necessity, use, and efficacy, is to say unto the naked and the hungry, “Be ye warmed and filled,” and not give them those things that are needful to the body. This, therefore, belongs unto the work of the Spirit as a Spirit of supplication. And let men tear and tire themselves night and day with a multitude of prayers, if a work of the Spirit of God in teaching the nature and guilt of unbelief, and the nature, efficacy, and use of faith in Christ Jesus, go not with it, all will be lost and perish. And yet it is marvellous to consider how little mention of these things occurreth in most of those compositions which have been published to be used as forms of prayer. They are generally omitted in such endeavours, as if they were things wherein Christians were very little concerned. The gospel positively and frequently determines the present acceptation of men with God or their disobedience, with their future salvation and condemnation, according unto their faith or unbelief; for their obedience or disobedience are infallible consequents thereon. Now, if things that are of the greatest importance unto us, and whereon all other things wherein our spiritual estate is concerned do depend, be not a part of the subject-matter of our daily prayer, I know not what deserveth so to be.
2. The matter of our prayer respects the depravation of our nature, and our wants on that account. The darkness and ignorance that is in our understandings; our unacquaintedness with heavenly things, and alienation from the life of God thereby; the secret workings of the lusts of the mind under the shade and covert of this darkness; the stubbornness, obstinacy, and perverseness of our wills by nature, with their reluctancies unto and dislike of things spiritual, with innumerable latent guiles thence arising, — all keeping the soul from a due conformity unto the holiness of God, — are things which believers have an especial regard unto in their confessions and supplications. They know this to be their duty, and find by experience that the greatest concernment between God and their souls, as to sin and holiness, doth lie in these things; and they are never more jealous over themselves than when they find their hearts least affected with them. And to give over treating with God about them, — for mercy in their pardon, for grace in their removal, and the daily renovation of the image of God in them thereby, — is to renounce all religion and all designs of living unto God. Wherefore, without a knowledge, a sense, a due comprehension of these things, no man can pray as he ought, because he is unacquainted with the matter of prayer, and knows not what to pray for. But this knowledge we cannot attain of ourselves. Nature is so corrupted as not to understand its own depravation. Hence some absolutely deny this corruption of it, so taking away all necessity of labouring after its cure and the renovation of the image of God in us; and hereby they overthrow the prayers of all believers, which the ancient church continually pressed the Pelagians withal. Without a sense of these things, I must profess I understand not how any man can pray. And this knowledge, as was said, we have not of ourselves. Nature is blind, and cannot see them; it is proud, and will not own them; stupid, and is senseless of them. It is the work of the Spirit of God alone to give us a due conviction of, a spiritual insight into, and a sense of the concernment of, these things. This I have elsewhere so fully proved as not here again to insist on it.
It is not easy to conjecture how men pray, or what they pray about, who know not the plague of their own hearts; yea, this ignorance, want of light into, or conviction of, the depravation of their nature, and the remainders thereof even in those that are renewed, with the fruits, consequents, and effects thereof, are the principal cause of men’s barrenness in this duty, so that they can seldom go beyond what is prescribed unto them. And they can thence also satisfy themselves with a set or frame of well-composed words; wherein they might easily discern that their own condition and concernment are not at all expressed if they were acquainted with them. I do not fix measures unto other men, nor give bounds unto their understandings; only I shall take leave to profess, for my own part, that I cannot conceive or apprehend how any man doth or can know what to pray for as he ought, in the whole compass and course of that duty, who hath no spiritual illumination, enabling him to discern in some measure the corruption of his nature and the internal evils of his heart. If men judge the faculties of their souls to be undepraved, their minds free from vanity, their hearts from guile and deceit, their wills from perverseness and carnality, I wonder not on what grounds they despise the prayers of others, but should do so to find real humiliation and fervency in their own.
Hereunto I may add the irregularity and disorder of our affections. These, I confess, are discernible in the light of nature, and the rectifying of them, or an attempt for it, was the principal end of the old philosophy; but the chief respect that on this principle it had unto them is as they disquiet the mind, or break forth into outward expressions, whereby men are defiled, or dishonoured, or distressed. So far natural light will go; and thereby, in the working of their consciences, as far as I know, men may be put to pray about them: but the chief depravation of the affections lies in their aversation unto things spiritual and heavenly.
They are, indeed, sometimes ready of themselves to like things spiritual under false notions of them, and divine worship under superstitious ornaments and meretricious dresses; in which respect they are the spring and life of all that devotion which is in the church of Rome: but take heavenly and spiritual things in themselves, with respect unto their proper ends, and there is in all our affections, as corrupted, a dislike of them and aversation unto them, which variously act themselves, and influence our souls unto vanities and disorders in all holy duties. And no man knows what it is to pray who is not exercised in supplications for mortifying, changing, and renewing of these affections as spiritually irregular; and yet is it the Spirit of God alone which discovereth these things unto us, and gives us a sense of our concernment in them. I say, the spiritual irregularity of our affections, and their aversation from spiritual things, is discernible in no light but that of supernatural illumination; for if without that spiritual things themselves cannot be discerned, as the apostle assures us they cannot, 1 Cor. ii. 14, it is impossible that the disorder of our affections with respect unto them should be so. If we know not an object in the true nature of it, we cannot know the actings of our minds towards it. Wherefore, although there be in our affections an innate, universal aversation from spiritual things, seeing by nature we are wholly alienated from the life of God, yet can it not be discerned by us in any light but that which discovers these spiritual things themselves unto us; nor can any man be made sensible of the evil and guilt of that disorder who hath not a love also implanted in his heart unto those things which it finds obstructed thereby. Wherefore, the mortification of these affections, and their renovation with respect unto things spiritual and heavenly, being no small part of the matter of the prayers of believers, as being an especial part of their duty, they have no otherwise an acquaintance with them or sense of them but as they receive them by light and conviction from the Spirit of God; and those who are destitute hereof must needs be strangers unto the fife and power of the duty of prayer itself.
As it is with respect unto sin, so it is with respect unto God and Christ, and the covenant, grace, holiness, and privileges. We have no spiritual conceptions about them, no right understanding of them, no insight into them, but what is given us by the Spirit of God; and without an acquaintance with these things, what are our prayers, or what do they signify? Men without them may say on to the world’s end without giving any thing of glory unto God, or obtaining of any advantage unto their own souls.
And this I place as the first part of the work of the Spirit of supplication in believers, enabling them to pray according to the mind of God, which of themselves they know not 281 how to do, as is afterward in the place of the apostle insisted on. When this is done, when a right apprehension of sin and grace, and of our concernment in them, is fixed on our minds, then have we in some measure the matter of prayer always in readiness; which words and expressions will easily follow, though the aid of the Holy Spirit be necessary thereunto also, as we shall afterward declare.
And hence it is that the duty performed with respect unto this part of the aid and assistance of the Spirit of God is of late by some (as was said) vilified and reproached. Formerly their exceptions lay all of them against some expressions or weakness of some persons in conceived prayer, which they liked not; but now scorn is poured out upon the matter of prayer itself, especially the humble and deep confessions of sin, which, on the discoveries before mentioned, are made in the supplications of ministers and others. The things themselves are traduced as absurd, foolish, and irrational, as all spiritual things are unto some sorts of men. Neither do I see how this disagreement is capable of any reconciliation; for they who have no light to discern those respects of sin and grace which we have mentioned cannot but think it uncouth to have them continually made the matter of men’s prayers. And those, on the other hand, who have received a light into them and acquaintance with them by the Spirit of God are troubled at nothing more than that they cannot sufficiently3
3 “Omnino oportet nos orationis tempore curiam intrare cœlestem, illam utique curiam, in qua rex regum stellato sedet solio, circumdante innumerabili et ineffabili beatorum spirituum exercitu … Quanta ergo cum reverentia, quanto timore, quanta illuc humilitate accedere debet, à palude sua procedens et repens ranuncula
abase themselves under a sense of them, nor in any words fully express that impression on their minds which is put on them by the Holy Ghost, nor clothe their desires after grace and mercy with words sufficiently significant and emphatical. And therefore this difference is irreconcilable by any but the Spirit of God himself. Whilst it doth abide, those who have respect only unto what is discernible in the light of nature, or of a natural conscience, in their prayers will keep themselves unto general expressions and outward things, in words prepared unto that purpose by themselves or others, do we what we can to the contrary; for men will not be led beyond their own light, neither is it meet they should. And those who do receive the supplies of the Spirit in this matter will in their prayers be principally conversant about the spiritual, internal concernments of their souls in sin and grace, let others despise them and reproach them whilst they please. And it is in vain much to contend about these things, which are regulated not by arguments but by principles. Men will invincibly adhere unto the capacity of their light. Nothing can put an end to this difference but a more plentiful effusion of the Spirit from above; which, according unto the promise, we wait for.
Secondly, We know not what to pray for as we ought, but the Holy Ghost acquaints us with the grace and mercy which are prepared in the promises of God for our relief. That the knowledge hereof is necessary, to enable us to direct our prayers unto God in a due manner, I declared before, and I suppose it will not be denied; for, what do we pray for? what do we take a prospect and design of in our supplications? what is it we desire to be made partakers of? Praying only by saying or repeating so many words of prayer, whose sense and meaning those who make use of them perhaps understand not, as in the Papacy, or so as to rest in the saying or repetition of them without an especial design of obtaining some thing or things which we make known in our supplications, is unworthy the disciples of Christ, indeed of rational creatures. “Deal thus with thy governor, will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?” as Mal. i. 8. Neither ruler, nor friend, nor neighbour, would accept it at our hands, if we should constantly make solemn addresses unto them without any especial design. We must “pray with our understanding;” that is, understand what we pray for. And these things are no other but what God hath promised; which if we are not regulated by in our supplications, we “ask amiss.” It is, therefore, indispensably necessary unto prayer that we should know what God hath promised, or that we should have an understanding of the grace and mercy of the promises. God knoweth our wants, what is good for us, what is useful to us, what is necessary to bring us unto the enjoyment of himself, infinitely better than we do ourselves; yea, we know nothing of these things but what he is pleased to teach us. These are the things which he hath “prepared” for us, as the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. ii. 9; and what
vilis? Quam tremebundus, quam supplex, quam denique humilis et sollicitus, et toto intentus animo majestati gloriæ, in præsentia angelorum, in concilio justorum et congregatione assistere poterit miser homuncio?” — Bernard. Serm. de quatuor orandi modis.
he hath so prepared he declareth in the promises of the covenant, for they are the declaration of the grace and good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself. And hence believers may learn what is good for them, and what is wanting unto them in the promises, more clearly and certainly than by any other means whatever. From them, therefore, do we learn what to pray for as we ought. And this is another reason why men are so barren in their supplications, they know not what to pray for, but are forced to betake themselves unto a confused repetition of the same requests, — namely, their ignorance of the promises of God, and the grace exhibited in them. Our inquiry, therefore, is, by what way or means we come to an acquaintance with these promises, which all believers have in some measure, some more full and distinct than others, but all in a useful sufficiency. And this, we say, is by the Spirit of God, without whose aid and assistance we can neither understand them nor what is contained in them.
I do confess that some, by frequent reading of the Scripture, by only the help of a faithful memory, may be able to express in their prayers the promises of God, without any spiritual acquaintance with the grace of them; whereby they administer unto others, and not unto themselves: but this remembrance of words or expressions belongs not unto the especial work of the Holy Ghost in supplying the hearts and minds of believers with the matter of prayer. But this is that which he doth herein:— he openeth their eyes, he giveth an understanding, he enlighteneth their minds, so that they shall perceive the things that are of God prepared for them, and that are contained in the promises of the gospel; and represents them therein in their beauty, glory, suitableness, and desirableness unto their souls: he maketh them to see Christ in them and all the fruits of his mediation in them, all the effect of the grace and love of God in them; the excellency of mercy and pardon, of grace and holiness, of a new heart, with principles, dispositions, inclinations, and actings, all as they are proposed in the truth and faithfulness of God. Now, when the mind and heart is continually filled with an understanding and due apprehension of these things, it is always furnished with the matter of prayer and praise unto God; which persons make use of according as they have actual assistance and utterance given unto them. And whereas this Holy Spirit together with the knowledge of them doth also implant a love unto them upon the minds of believers, they are not only hereby directed what to pray for, but are excited and stirred up to seek after the enjoyment of them with ardent affections and earnest endeavours; which is to pray. And although, among those on whose hearts these things are not implanted, some may, as was before observed, make an appearance of it, by expressing in prayer the words of the promises of God retained in their memories, yet for the most part they are not able themselves to pray in any tolerable useful manner, and do either wonder at or despise those that are so enabled.
But it may be said, “That where there is any defect herein, it may be easily supplied; for if men are not acquainted with the promises of God themselves in the manner before described, and so know not what they ought to pray for, others, who have the understanding of them, may compose prayers for their use, according to their apprehensions of the mind of God in them, which they may read, and so have the matter of prayer always in a readiness.”
I answer, —
1. I do not know that any one hath a command or promise of assistance to make or compose prayers to be said or read by others as their prayers; and therefore I expect 284 no great matter from what any one shall do in that kind.
The Spirit of grace and supplication is promised, as I have proved, to enable us to pray, not to enable us to make or compose prayers for others.
2. It savours of some unacquaintance with the promises of God and the duty of prayer, to imagine that the matter of them, so as to suit the various conditions of believers, can be pent up in any one form of man’s devising. Much of what we are to pray about may be in general and doctrinally comprised in a form of words, as they are in the Lord’s Prayer, which gives directions in and a boundary unto our requests; but that the things themselves should be prepared and suited unto the condition and wants of them that are to pray is a fond imagination.
3. There is a vast difference between an objective proposal of good things to be prayed for unto the consideration of them that are to pray, which men may do, and the implanting an acquaintance with them and love unto them upon the mind and heart, which is the work of the Holy Ghost.
4. When things are so prepared and cast into a form of prayer, those by whom such forms are used do no more understand them than if they had never been cast into any such form, unless the Spirit of God give them an understanding of them, which the form itself is no sanctified means unto; and where that is done, there is no need of it.
5. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to give unto believers such a comprehension of promised grace and mercy as that they may constantly apply their minds unto that or those things in an especial manner which are suited unto their present daily wants and occasions, with the frame and dispositions of their souls and spirit. This is that which gives spiritual beauty and order unto the duty of prayer, — namely, the suiting of wants and supplies, of a thankful disposition and praises, of love and admiration, unto the excellencies of God in Christ, all by the wisdom of the Holy Ghost. But when a person is made to pray by his directory for things, though good in themselves, yet not suited unto his present state, frame, inclination, wants, and desires, there is a spiritual confusion and disorder, and nothing else.
Again; what we have spoken concerning the promises must also be applied unto all the precepts or commands of God. These in like manner are the matter of our prayers, both as to confession and supplication; and without a right understanding of them, we can perform no part of this duty as we ought. This is evident in their apprehension who, repeating the words of the decalogue, do subjoin their acknowledgments of a want of mercy, with respect unto the transgression of them I suppose, and their desires to have their hearts inclined to keep the law. But the law with all the commands of God are spiritual and inward, with whose true sense and importance, in their extent and latitude, we cannot have a useful acquaintance but by the enlightening, instructing efficacy of the grace of the Spirit. And where this is, the mind is greatly supplied with the true matter of prayer; for when the soul hath learned the spirituality and holiness of the law, its extent unto the inward frame and disposition of our hearts, as well as unto outward actions, and its requiring absolute holiness, rectitude, and conformity unto God, at all times and in all things, then doth it see and learn its own discrepancy from it and coming short of it, even then when as to outward acts and duties it is unblamable. And hence do proceed those confessions of sin, in the best and most holy believers, which they who understand not these things do deride and scorn. By this means, therefore, doth the Holy Spirit help us to pray, by supplying us with the due and proper matter of supplications, even by acquainting us and affecting our hearts with the spirituality of the command, and our coming short thereof in our dispositions and frequent inordinate actings of our minds and affections. He who is instructed herein will on all occasions be prepared with a fullness of matter for confession and humiliation, as also with a sense of that grace and mercy which we stand in need of with respect unto the obedience required of us.
Thirdly, He alone guides and directs believers to pray or ask for any thing in order unto right and proper ends: for there is nothing so excellent in itself, so useful unto us, so acceptable unto God, as the matter of prayer; but it may be vitiated, corrupted, and prayer itself be rendered vain, by an application of it unto false or mistaken ends. And that in this case we are relieved by the Holy Ghost, is plain in the text under consideration; for helping our infirmities, and teaching us what to pray for as we ought, he “maketh intercession for us according to God,” — that is, his mind or his will, Rom. viii. 27. This is well explained by Origen on the place: “Velut si magister suscipiens ad rudimenta discipulum, et ignorantem penitus literas, ut eum docere possit et instituere, necesse habet inclinare se ad discipuli rudimenta, et ipse prius dicere nomen literæ, ut respondendo discipulus discat, et sit quodammodo magister incipienti discipulo similis, ea loquens et ea meditans, quæ incipiens loqui debeat ac meditari; ita et Sanctus Spiritus, ubi oppugnationibus carnis perturbari nostrum spiritum viderit, et nescientem quid orare debeat secundum quod oportet, ipse velut magister orationem præmittit, quam noster spiritus (si tamen discipulus esse Sancti Spiritus desiderat) prosequatur, ipse gemitus offert quibus noster spiritus discat ingemiscere, ut repropitiet sibi Deum.” To the same purpose speaks Damascen, lib. iv. chap. 3; and Austin in sundry places, collected by Beda, in his comment on this. He doth it in us and by us, or enableth us so to do; for the Spirit himself without us hath no office to be performed immediately towards God, nor any nature inferior unto the divine wherein he might intercede. The whole of any such work with respect unto us is incumbent on Christ; he alone in his own person performeth what is to be done with God for us. What the Spirit doth, he doth in and by us. He therefore directs and enableth us to make supplications “according to the mind of God.” And herein God is said to “know the mind of the Spirit;” that is, his end and design in the matter of his requests. This God knows; that is, approves of and accepts. So it is the Spirit of God who directs us as to the design and end of our prayers, that they may find acceptance with God.
But yet there may be, and I believe there is, more in that expression, “God knoweth the mind of the Spirit;” for he worketh such high, holy, spiritual desires and designs in the minds of believers in their supplications as God alone knoweth and understandeth in their full extent and latitude. That of ourselves we are apt to fail and mistake hath been declared from James iv. 3.
I shall not here insist on particulars, but only mention two general ends of prayer which the Holy Spirit keeps the minds of believers unto in all their requests, where he hath furnished them with the matter of them according to the mind of God; for he doth not only make intercession in them, according unto the mind of God, with respect unto the matter of their requests, but also with respect unto the end which they aim at, that it may be accepted with him. He guides them, therefore, to design, —
1. That all the success of their petitions and prayers may have an immediate tendency unto the glory of God. It is he alone who enables them to subordinate all their desires unto God’s glory. Without his especial aid and assistance we should aim at self only and ultimately in all we do. Our own profit, ease, satisfaction, mercies, peace, and deliverance, would be the end whereunto we should direct all our supplications; whereby they would be all vitiated and become abominable.
2. He keeps them unto this also, that the issue of their supplications may be the improvement of holiness in them, and thereby their conformity unto God, with their nearer access unto him. Where these ends are not, the matter of prayer may be good and according to the word of God, and yet our prayers an abomination. We may pray for mercy and grace, and the best promised fruits of the love of God, and yet for want of these ends find no acceptance in our supplications. To keep us unto them is his work, because it consists in casting out all self ends and aims, bringing all natural desires unto a subordination unto God, which he worketh in us if he worketh in us any thing at all.
And this is the first part of the work of the Spirit towards believers as a Spirit of grace and supplication, — he furnisheth and filleth their minds with the matter of prayer, teaching them thereby what to pray for as they ought; and where this is not wrought in some measure and degree, there is no praying according to the mind of God.
The due manner of prayer, wherein it doth consist.
The Holy Spirit having given the mind a due apprehension of the things we ought to pray for, or furnished it with the matter of prayer, he moreover works a due sense and valuation of them, with desires after them, upon the will and affections; wherein the due manner of it doth consist. These things are separable. The mind may have light to discern the things that are to be prayed for, and yet the will and affections be dead unto them or unconcerned in them; and there may be a gift of prayer founded hereon, in whose exercise the soul doth not spiritually act towards God, for light is the matter of all common gifts. And by virtue of a perishing illumination, a man may attain a gift in prayer which may be of use unto the edification of others; for “the manifestation of the Spirit is given unto every man to profit withal.” In the meantime, it is with him that so prayeth not much otherwise than it was with him of old who prayed in an unknown tongue: “his spirit prayeth, but his understanding is unfruitful.” He prayeth by virtue of the light and gift that he hath received, but his own soul is not benefited nor improved thereby. Only sometimes God makes use of men’s own gifts to convey grace into their own souls; but prayer, properly so called, is the obediential acting of the whole soul towards God.
Wherefore, first, where the Holy Spirit completes his work in us as a Spirit of grace and supplication, he worketh on the will and affections to act obedientially towards God in and about the matter of our prayers. Thus when he is poured out as a Spirit of supplication, he fills them unto whom he is communicated with mourning and godly sorrow, to be exercised in their prayers as the matter doth require, Zech. xii. 10. He doth not only enable them to pray, but worketh affections in them suitable unto what they pray about. And in this work of the Spirit lies the fountain of that inexpressible fervency and delight, of those enlarged labourings of mind and desires, which are in the prayers of believers, especially when they are under the power of more than ordinary influences from him: for these things proceed from the work of the Spirit on their wills and affections, stirring them up and carrying them forth unto God, in and by the matter of their prayers, in such a manner as no vehement working of natural affections can reach unto; and therefore is the Spirit said to “make intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” Rom. viii. 26, 27, ὑπερεντυγχάνει. As he had before expressed his work in general by συναντιλαμβάνεται, which intendeth a help by working, carrying us on in our undertaking in this duty beyond our own strength (for he helpeth us on under our infirmities or weaknesses), so his especial acting is here declared by ὑπερεντυγχάνει, that is, an additional interposition, like that of an advocate for his client, pleading that in his case which he of himself is not able to do. Once this word is used in the service of a contrary design. Speaking of the prayer of Elijah, the apostle says, Ὡς ἐντυγχάνει τῷ Θεῷ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ· — “How he maketh intercession to God against Israel,” Rom. xi. 2; as בָּשַׂר, which is constantly used in the Old Testament for “to declare good tidings, tidings of peace,” is once applied in a contrary signification unto tidings of evil and destruction, 1 Sam. iv. 17. The man that brought the news of the destruction of the army of the Israelites and the taking of the ark by the Philistines is called הַמְבַשֵּׂר. But the proper use of this word is to intercede for grace and favour; and this he doth στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις. We ourselves are said στενάζειν, to “groan,” Rom. viii. 23; that is, humbly, mournfully, and earnestly to desire. And here the Spirit is said to “intercede for us with groanings;” which can be nothing but his working in us and acting by us that frame of heart and those fervent, labouring desires, which are so expressed, and these with such depth of intension and labouring of mind as cannot be uttered. And this he doth by the work now mentioned.
Secondly, Having truly affected the whole soul, enlightened the mind in the perception of the truth, beauty, and excellency of spiritual things, engaged the will in the choice of them and prevalent love unto them, excited the affections to delight in them and unto desires after them, there is in the actual discharge of this duty of prayer, wrought in the soul by the power and efficacy of his grace, such an inward labouring of heart and spirit, such a holy, supernatural desire and endeavour after a union with the things prayed for in the enjoyment of them, as no words can utter or expressly declare, — that is, fully and completely, — which is the sense of the place.
To avoid the force of this testimony, some (one at least) would have this intercession of the Spirit to be the intercession of the Spirit in Christ for us now at the right hand of God; so that no work of the Spirit itself in believers is intended. Such irrational evasions will men sometimes make use of to escape the convincing power of light and truth; for this is such a description of the intercession of Christ at the right hand of God as will scarcely be reconciled unto the analogy of faith. That it is not an humble, oral supplication, but a blessed representation of his oblation, whereby the efficacy of it is continued and applied unto all the particular occasions of the church or believers, I have elsewhere declared, and it is the common faith of Christians. But here it should be reported as the labouring of the Spirit in him with unutterable groans; the highest expression of an humble, burdened, solicitous endeavour. Nothing is more unsuited unto the present glorious condition of the Mediator. It is true that “in the days of his flesh” he prayed “with strong crying and tears,” in an humble deprecation of evil, Heb. v. 7; but an humble prostration and praying with unutterable groans is altogether inconsistent with his present state of glory, his fullness of power, and fight to dispense all the grace and mercy of the kingdom of God. Besides, this exposition is as adverse to the context as any thing that could be invented. Rom. viii. 15, it is said that we “receive the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father;” which Spirit “God sends forth into our hearts,” Gal. iv. 6. And the blessed work of this Spirit in us is farther described, Rom. viii. 16, 17. And thereon, verse 23, having received “the first-fruits of this Spirit,” we are said to “groan within ourselves;” to which it is added, that of ourselves not knowing what we ought to pray for, αὐτὸ τὸ Πνεῦμα, “that very Spirit,” so given unto us, so received by us, so working in us, “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Wherefore, without offering violence unto the context, there is no place for the introduction of the intercession of Christ in heaven, especially under such an expression as is contrary to the nature of it. It is mentioned afterward by the apostle, in its proper place, as a consequent and fruit of his death and resurrection, verse 34. And there he is said simply ἐντυγχάνειν· but the Spirit here is said ὑπερεντυγχάνειν, which implies an additional supply unto what is in ourselves.
Yet, to give countenance unto this uncouth exposition, a force is put upon the beginning of both the verses 26, 27: for whereas ἀσθένεια doth constantly in the Scripture denote any kind of infirmity or weakness, spiritual or corporeal, it is said here to be taken in the latter sense, for diseases with troubles and dangers, which latter it nowhere signifies; for so the meaning should be, that in such conditions we know not what to pray for, whether wealth, or health, or peace, or the like, but Christ intercedes for us. And this must be the sense of συναντιλαμβάνεται ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, which yet in the text doth plainly denote a help and assistance given unto our weaknesses, that is, unto us who are weak, in the discharge of the duty of prayer, as both the words themselves and the ensuing reasons of them do evince. Wherefore, neither the grammatical sense of the words, nor the context, nor the analogy of faith, will admit of this new and uncouth exposition.
In like manner, if it be inquired why it is said “that he who searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,” — which plainly refers to some great and secret work of the Spirit in the heart of man, — if the intercession of Christ be intended, nothing is offered but this paraphrase, “And then God, that, by being a searcher of hearts, knoweth our wants exactly, understands also the desire and intention of the Spirit of Christ.” But these things are ἀπροσδιόνυσα, and have no dependence the one on the other; nor was there any need of the mentioning the searching of our hearts, to introduce the approbation of the intercession of Christ. But to return.
That is wrought in the hearts of believers in their duty which is pervious to none but Him that searcheth the heart. This frame in all our supplications we ought to aim at, especially in time of distress, troubles, and temptations, such as was the season here especially intended, when commonly we are most sensible of our own infirmities: and wherein we come short hereof in some measure, it is from our unbelief, or carelessness and negligence; which God abhors. I do acknowledge that there may be, that there will be, more earnestness and intension of mind, and of our natural spirit therein, in this duty, at one time than another, according as outward occasions or other motives do excite them or stir them up. So our Saviour in his agony prayed more earnestly than usual; not with a higher exercise of grace, which always acted itself in him in perfection, but with a greater vehemency in the working of his natural faculties. So it may be with us at especial seasons; but yet we are always to endeavour after the same aids of the Spirit, the same actings of grace in every particular duty of this kind.
Thirdly, The Holy Spirit gives the soul of a believer a delight in God as the object of prayer. I shall not insist on his exciting, moving, and acting all other graces that are required in the exercise of this duty, as faith, love, reverence, fear, trust, submission, waiting, hope, and the like. I have proved elsewhere that the exercise of them all, in all duties, and of all other graces in like manner, is from him, and shall not therefore here again confirm the same truth. But this delight in God as the object of prayer hath a peculiar consideration in this matter; for without it ordinarily the duty is not accepted with God, and is a barren, burdensome task unto them by whom it is performed. Now, this delight in God as the object of prayer is, for the substance of it, included in that description of prayer given us by the apostle, — namely, that it is crying “Abba, Father.” Herein a filial, holy delight in God is included, such as children have in their parents in their most affectionate addresses unto them, as hath been declared. And we are to inquire wherein this delight in God as the object of prayer doth consist, or what is required thereunto. And there is in it, —
1. A sight or prospect of God as on a throne of grace. A prospect, I say, not by carnal imagination, but spiritual illumination. “By faith we see him who is invisible,” Heb. xi. 27; for it is the “evidence of things not seen” making its proper object evident and present unto them that do believe. Such a sight of God on a throne of grace is necessary unto this delight. Under this consideration he is the proper object of all our addresses unto him in our supplications: chap. iv. 16, “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” The duty of prayer is described by the subjectmatter of it, namely, “mercy” and “grace,” and by the only object of it, “God on a throne of grace.”
And this “throne of grace” is farther represented unto us by the place where it is erected or set up, and that is in the holiest or most holy place; for in our coming unto God as on that throne, we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” Heb. x. 19. And hereby the apostle shows, that in the expression he has respect or alludes unto the mercy-seat upon the ark, covered with the cherubims, which had a representation of a throne; and because of God’s especial manifestation of himself thereon, it was called his throne; and it was a representation of Jesus Christ, as I have showed elsewhere.
God, therefore, on a throne of grace is God as in a readiness through Jesus Christ to dispense grace and mercy to suppliant sinners. When God comes to execute judgment, his throne is otherwise represented. See Dan. vii. 9, 10. And when sinners take a view in their minds of God as he is in himself, and as he will be unto all out of Christ, it ingenerates nothing but dread and terror in them, with foolish contrivances to avoid him or his displeasure, Isa. xxxiii. 14; Mic. vi. 6, 7; Rev. vi. 16, 17. All these places and others testify that when sinners do engage into serious thoughts and conceptions of the nature of God, and what entertainment they shall meet with from him, all their apprehensions issue in dread and terror. This is not a frame wherein they can cry, “Abba, Father.” If they are delivered from this fear and bondage, it is by that which is worse, namely, carnal boldness and presumption, whose rise lieth in the highest contempt of God and his holiness. When men give up themselves to the customary performance of this duty, or rather “saying of their prayers,’ I know not out of what conviction that so they must do, without a due consideration of God and the regard that he hath unto them, they do but provoke him to his face in taking his name in vain; nor, however they satisfy themselves in what they do, have they any delight in God in their approaches unto him.
Wherefore, there is required hereunto a prospect of God, by faith, as on a “throne of grace,” as exalted in Christ to show mercy unto sinners. So is he represented, Isa. xxx. 18, “Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy.” Without this we cannot draw nigh to him, or call upon him with delight, as becometh children, crying, “Abba, Father.” And by whom is this discovery made unto us? Is this a fruit of our own fancy and imagination? So it may be with some, to their ruin. But it is the work of the Spirit, who alone, in and through Christ, revealeth God unto us, and enableth us to discern him in a due manner. Hence our apostle prays for the Ephesians “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; that the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, they might know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” chap. i. 17, 18. All the acquaintance which we have with God, in a way of grace, is from the revelation made in us by his Spirit. See Col. ii. 1, 2. By him doth God say unto us that “fury is not in him,” and that if we lay hold on his arm, that we may have peace, we shall have peace, Isa. xxvii. 4, 5.
2. Unto this delight is required a sense of God’s relation unto us as a Father. By that name, and under that consideration, hath the Lord Christ taught us to address ourselves unto him in all our supplications. And although we may use other titles and appellations in our speaking to him, even such as he hath given himself in the Scripture, or those which are analogous thereunto, yet this consideration principally influenceth our souls and minds, that God is not ashamed to be called our Father, that “the Lord Almighty hath said that he will be a Father unto us, and that we shall be his sons and daughters,” 2 Cor. vi. 18. Wherefore, as a Father is he the ultimate object of all evangelical worship, of all our prayers. So is it expressed in that holy and divine description of it given by the apostle, Eph. ii. 18, “Through Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” No tongue can express, no mind can reach, the heavenly placidness and soul-satisfying delight which are intimated in these words.
To come to God as a Father, through Christ, by the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit, revealing him as a Father unto us, and enabling us to go to him as a Father, how full of sweetness and satisfaction is it! Without a due apprehension of God in this relation no man can pray as he ought. And hereof we have no sense, herewith we have no acquaintance, but by the Holy Ghost; for we do not consider God in a general manner, as he may be said to be a Father unto the whole creation, but in an especial, distinguishing relation, — as he makes us his children by adoption. And as it is “the Spirit that beareth witness with our spirit that we are thus the children of God,” Rom. viii. 16, giving us the highest and utmost assurance of our estate of sonship in this world; so being the Spirit of adoption, it is by him alone that we have any acquaintance with our interest in that privilege.
Some may apprehend that these things belong but little, and that very remotely, unto the duty of prayer, and the assistance we receive by the Spirit therein; but the truth is, those who are so minded, on consideration, know neither what it is to pray nor what doth belong thereunto. There is nothing more essential unto this duty than that, in the performance of it, we address ourselves unto God under the notion of a Father; that is, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in him our Father also. Without this we cannot have that holy delight in this duty which is required in us, and the want whereof ordinarily ruins our design in it. And this we can have no spiritual, satisfactory sense of but what we receive by and from the Spirit of God.
3. There belongeth thereunto that boldness which we have in our access into the holy piece, or unto the throne of grace: “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” Heb. x. 19, 22. Where there is on men a “spirit of fear unto bondage,” they can never have any delight in their approaches unto God. And this is removed by the Spirit of grace and supplication: Rom. viii. 15, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” These things are opposed, and the one is only removed and taken away by the other. And where the “spirit of bondage unto fear” abides, there we cannot cry, “Abba, Father,” or pray in a due manner; but “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Cor. iii. 17.