I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; ~ Luke 11:8, Romans 15:30
And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. ~ Genesis 32:26
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. ~ James 1:5-7
The Zealous Christian Holding Communion with God, in Wrestling and Importunate Prayer, by Christopher Love (1618-1651).
Luke 11. 8.
I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will give unto him as many as he needeth.
My Text is the conclusion of a familiar Parable used by Christ, whereby he instructs his Disciples touching the Doctrine and use of prayer. The occasion offered to Christ-to fall upon this Subject, is intimated ver. 1. of this chapter, One of his Disciples said unto him, Lord teach us to pray as John also tought his disciples. Whether it was a one of the twelve Apostles, or one of the seventy Disciples that propounded the question is not easie to determine, nor is it materiall to know; Hereupon Christ gives them a … for me or directions for prayer, to direct them about the matter; and withall, gives them a parable to informe concerning the manner of praying. For the matter of it, you have it in these * words, when you pray, say Our father, &c. Not as though it were a command from Jesus Christ, that alwayes when we pray, we should use that forme of speech which is here set down. Jesus Christ indeed intended it for a platforme, or a patterne to direct us in the making of our prayers; for there is nothing we stand in need of, and goe to God for; but it is to be found in these words; but he never intended to tye up his people to this forme. And that I will prove by some reasons.
[Reas. 1] 1. Because though Luke here saith, when you pray, Say, Our &c. yet Matthew varies in his expression and saith, when you pray, say after this manner, Mat. 6. 9. to reach us that we are to stick to the matter contained in this prayer; but we are not confined every time we pray, to use the same expressions. By Luke we learne, that the using of this forme of words is lawfull, by Matthew, that it is not necessary.
[Reas. 2] 2. A second reason is this: Because in the recitall of the Lords prayer, by Matthew and Luke there is much difference; and though the difference be not materiall, yet it is verball, which is enough to prove what I intend, to wit, that we are not bound to the words. In the third Petition it is thus in Matthew, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven; In Luke it is thus, thy will be done as in heaven so in earth. In the fourth Petition, it is said in Matthew, Give us this day our daily bread. In Luke it is said, Give us daily day by day our daily bread. In the fifth Petition it is said in Matthew, and forgive us our debts. In Luke it is said, for we forgive every one that is indebted to us Lastly, it is said in Matthew, For thine is the Kingdome, the power and the glory for ever Amen. But these words are wholly left out in Luke. Which variance teacheth us thus much, that you must not recede from the matter, or purport of the words, yet we are not to be superstitious and sollicitous about the expressions, as Chemnitius observes —
[Reas. 3] 3. Another reason to prove that we are not limited to that forme, is this. Because Jesus Christ himselfe, and all his Apostles did never use this forme in all their prayers. And if there had been a necessity that we should have used it, Christ would (as he might easily) have left a command behinde him in the word, and also he would have practised it himselfe, that it might have been our example. This reason Chemnitius gives; There are many prayers in Davids Psalmes, many in the Prophets, many in the Acts of the Apostles, many in the Epistles of Paul, which are different in expression from this forme, and yet doubtlesse received acceptance from God b
Reas. Another argument is this. Because it is the worke, and office of the Spirit of God, not onely to help the people of God in the manner how, but also in the matter what to pray, to put even words into our mouthes. Rom. 8. 76. We know not what we should pray for as we*ought, but the Spirit helpes our infirmities. And upon these grounds it appeares that we are not bound to use that forme of words. Ministers doe sometimes use this forme of prayer, to justifie the lawfulnesse of it, and sometimes they doe not use it, lest people should dote too much upon set formes. And so much for the matter of prayer; I come now to the manner, and that is expressed in this Parable; which Parable is laid down in the 5, 6, 7, 8. verses. *And be said unto them, which of you shall have a friend, and shall goe unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves: For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him. And be from within shall answer and say, trouble me not, the doore is now shut, and my children are in bed with me; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity, he will arise and give him as many as he needeth: Which Parable consists of two parts.
1. A Prayer.
2. An answer to it.
In the prayer here are foure parts.
The relation of the person praying, to him, to whom he prayes, his friend vers. 4. Which of you shall have a friend, &c. Whence observe, God must be a friend to us, before any of our prayers can be accepted.
The time of his addresse, ver. 5. at midnight, in times of greatest need, of extreamest necessity, Isa. 26. 9. With my soule have I desired thee in the night.
From whence observe; That the chiefest time for Gods people to be earnest in prayer to God, is a time of trouble.
The matter of his request, Lend me three loaves. By which some Interpreters understand the three persons in the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost. Some refer them to the three cardinall graces, Faith, Hope, and Charity; but these are vaine interpretations. It is observable, that in Parables some things are used for ornament onely, not for the sense. The intent and designe of it is this, That we are to order our prayers according to our present necessities.
There is the occasion of this request, verse 6. A friend •f 〈◊〉 in come to 〈◊〉, and I have nothing &c.
The Answer returned to this request is double.
By way of negation, ver. 7. Trouble me not &c. Observe•, that God• people may have denialls to their prayer: The reason of this deniall is, the doore is now shut and my children are with me in bed. There are some times when Gods own people may pray to him, yet he shut his eates to their prayers, God will a• it were hide himselfe from the prayers of his own people, that they shall not come at him. Not onely the doores are shut, but his God 〈…〉 in bed with him. These children here spoken of are the creatures of: God; from whence observe. That there may be times, where God may take away all his creature comforts from his owne people, that they shall not any wayes he help full to them.
By way of concession, and that is in the words of the text; I say unto you, though he will not arise and give him, because he is his friends, yet because of his importunity, he will arise and give him — thy as he needs.
In which words you have first the relation * of him that prayes, •o him whom he prayes, a friend. Observe — there must be a state of friendship between God and a sinner before his prayers can be heard.
The condition upon which the prayer was heard, and than is set downe two wayes.
Negatively, he will hear him, not because he is his friend.
Positively, he will 〈…〉 him because of his importunity.
Obs. 1. That meerely a state of friendship and reconciliation with God is not a sufficient ground for us, to beleeve that our prayers shall be heard and accepted by God.
Obs. 2. There must be an holy importunity, even in Gods own friends, in their prayers, to which they expect a gracious returne.
Here is the amplification of the concession: There is more given in the concession then was desired in the supplication. He desired but three loave, and because of his holy importunity, he did rise and give him as many as he needed.
Whence observe; That where there is an holy importunity in our prayers, God doth, in his returnes to that soule, give more then was desired.
The first part of the text was the relation of the prayer, to him, to whom he makes his prayer. The observation is this.
[Doct. 1] A 〈…〉 be brought into a state of friendship, or reconciliation with God, before any prayer he makes can be accepted.
I will prove this doctrine by three reasons, and then apply it.
The reasons are three.
[Reas. 1] 1. God accepteth not the person for the prayers sake, but the prayer for the persons sake. We read Gen. 4. 4. God hath respect unto Abel and unto his offering; first to Abel, then to his sacrifice. God did accept of his serivce, because his person was in a state of favour with God; God is first pleased with the workes, before he can accept the works. This is also laid downe Heb. 11. 5. by faith Enoch was translated*that he should not see death,—for before his translation he had this testimony that he pleased God. Now without faith in Christ to justifie thy person, thou canst not * please God. Here lies the great difference between the Papists and us. The Papists say that works justifie the person, we say, the person justifies the worke; for make the tree good, and the fruit must needs be goodst.
Because, till we be brought into that state of reconciliation, we have no share •n the intercession, satisfaction and righteousnesse of Jesus Christ. And till we have a share in the•, our prayers can not be accepted. Jacob could not receive the blessing from his father, but in the garments of his elder brother; not can we receive any thing from the hands of God, but in the Robes of Christ. No prayer can be accepted by God, but in and through the intercession of Jesus Christ. If Christ be not an Intercesson in Heaven, no prayer will be heard 〈…〉 in the 8. Chapter of Rev. 1. v. 3. — it is written, there was an Angel*thus came and stood at the Altar, having a 〈…〉 and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer i• with the prayers of all Saints upon the golden Altar which was before the throne. The word in the Greek is to * this purpose, That he should add it to the prayers of the Saints: As if the prayer of Christ and a Believer were all one. In the 56. of Isal. 7. God promiseth, I will bring my people to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, &c. In the * Hebrew it is thus, I will make them joyful in the house of my prayer. Our prayers ar• but as so many cyphers, that signifie nothing, till the intercession of Christ is added to them; without that they cannot be accepted.
[Reas. 3] 3. Because till we are in a state of friendship and reconciliation, we have not the assistance of Gods Spirit to help us; and if we have not the assistance of the Spirit, wee shall never finde acceptance with him. All requests that are not dictated by the Spirit, are but the breathings of the flesh, which God regards not. Now till we are reconciled to God; we cannot have the Spirit, Gal. 4. 6. And because ye are sons,*God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father. So that till you be sons, you cannot have the Spirit.
And so much for the reasons: I come now to the application.
If this be so, that a man must be in a state of friendship before his prayers can be accepted; Hence learn, That all that ever thou dost before that estate, is odious to God. Not onely thy sinful actions, but even thy civil, thy natural, yea, thy religious actions. Not that they are so in themselves, or in regard of God, but in regard of the doer of it, Psal. 109. 7.—let his prayer be turned into sin. Thou makest a * prayer against sin, God will turn thy prayers into sin. Many prayers cannot then one sin into a grace, but one sin wilfully, and resolutely continued in, can turn all thy prayers into sin, Prov. 21. 27. *The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; how much more when he bringeth it with a wicked minde. A diseased body, turns that food into corrupt humors, which an healthful body doth into sound nourishment. I have read of a precious stone that had excellent vertue in it, but lost all its efficacy if it was put into a dead mans mouth. Prayer is an Ordinance of great excellency, of great efficacy; but if it be in a dead mans mouth, if it come out of the heart of one that is dead in trespasses and sins, it looseth all its virtue: water that in pure in the fountain, is corrupted in the channel.
[Use. 2] 2. This doctrine overthrowes one main pillar of the Romish religion, justification by works. If God accepteth of the person before he accepts the work, how can any person be justified by works? Unlesse thy person be justified, unlesse thou art reconciled, thy works are wicked works; and can wicked works justifie? Good works make not a man good, but a good man makes a work good; and shall a work that a man made good, return again and make the man good? I• we had no other reason against justification by works (saith •erkins) but this, it were sufficient.
[Use. 3] 3. For this teach you, not onely to look to the fitnesse and disposednesse of your hearts in prayer, but also to make inquiry what thou art that prayest. It is our duty, and it is very good to look to the qualification of the heart in prayer, to look to the qualification of the duty; but the main work is to look after the qualification of the person, and to see whether thou art in a state of favour and reconciliation, with God; for if the person be not in favour with God, you may be confident the petitions will not be heard nor accepted, but God looks upon it as the corrupt breathings of thy sinful and corrupt heart. You are to look therefore in the performance of duty, whether you can go to God, in prayer as a Father. There are many that look after the qualification of their duty; but few look after the qualification of the person, to see whether they be justified or no, whether God be their friend or not. But we should mainly look to this: for let the heart of a man be never so well disposed, (let us suppose it, for indeed no unreconciled men can be well disposed, to speak properly) yet if thy person be not justified, thy prayer cannot be accepted. God cares not for the Rhetorick of prayers, how eloquent they are; nor for the Arithmetick of prayers, how many they are; nor for the Logick of them, how rational and methodical they are; nor for the Musick of them, what an harmony and melody of words thou hast; but he looks at the divinity of prayers, which is from the qualification of a person, from a justified person, and in a sanctified manner. It is good to enquire, Is my heart right? Is my mind composed? Are my affections raised, kindled in prayer? But chiefly enqui•e, is my person accepted of God?
[Vse. 4] 4. Let me give a caution here, Take heed you do not mistake this Doctrine: Let no man think, that because God accepts no prayer, except the person be justified, therefore wicked men are excused from prayer; for though God doth not accept of every mans prayer, yet every man in the world ought to pray; For
They must pray as creatures, that stand in need of their Creator. The Ravens cry, and God giveth them meat.
The Lord blames wicked men for not praying to him, Jer. 10. 25. Pour out thy wrath upon the Heathen that know then not, and upon the families that call not upon thy Name. Rom. 3. 11. There is none that understandeth,*there is none that seeketh after God.
They are commanded to pray, Acts 8. 22, 23. Peter said to Simon Magus, Repent therefore of this thy wickednesse, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee; for I perceive thou art in the gall of bitterness, and bonds of iniquity.
Luke 11. 8.
—Though he will not—give him because he is his friend, &c.
*AND thus much for the first Doctrine, and first part of the Text, the relation between him that prayes, and him to whom prayers are made. I come now to the second part, which is the condition upon which the prayer was heard; and that I told you was set down two wayes.
3. Negatively, Not because he is his friend.
The observation thence is this,
[Doct. 2] That a state of friendship, or reconciliation with God, is not sufficient to assure a man that God will give returnes to his prayers. Although a man must be brought into a state of, friendship and favour with God, before his, prayers can be heard: yet it is not a sufficient ground for a man to believe, that God will give him an answer of all his prayers. He will give unto him, not because he is friend. So that a godly man may make many prayers, and yet God may not give any answer to his prayers.
In the handling of this Doctrine, I shall do three things.
Shew the reasons of the Doctrine.
I shall shew, in what cases God may refuse to give his own people the things that they pray for.
I shall shew, how we may know, when God denies to hear our prayers, whether the denial be in mercie.
[Reas.] The first particular is the reason, why God may, and doth sometimes deny to hear the prayers of his friends: And that is this. Because, God hath tied returns of prayer, not onely to the qualification of the person, but also to the qualification of the dutie; that the dutie be performed, not onely by a fit person, but also in a right way, in a right manner, to a right end. God doth not say, Let a godly man pray how he will, I will hear his prayers; that were the way to make him to be carelesse and remiss in the performance of duties. Therefore the Lord expects qualification of the dutie, as well as of the person. God requires that duties be done with feeling, fervencie, faith, fear and reverence; they must be done in a right manner.
There is a fivefold qualification that God requires, even of his friends, as a condition of their acceptance.
The heart must be prepared, Psal. 10. 17. Lord thou hast heard the desire of the humble, thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear. So Job 11. 13, 14, 15. If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hand towards him. If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacle. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast and shalt not fear. That is the first particular.
Sin must be removed. So you finde in the place last quoted, iniquity must be put far away, &c. When Gods own people come to worship before God, they must not let any sinne lye upon their consciences, unrepented of and indulged.
The affections must be raised. David, when he set himself to prayer, he saith Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul, Psal. 25. 1. You read often in Scripture, of lifting up a prayer to God, Isai. 37. 4—It may be the Lord thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria hath sent,—wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left. Jer. 7. 16. Pray not thou for this*people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them. 1 Tim. 2. 8. I will that men pray every where,*lifting up holy hands, without warth and doubting.
The mind must be compased in prayer, 1 Cor. 7. 35 We are to attend upon the Lord without distraction. Daniel set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, Daniel 9. 3. In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, said David, Psal. 5. 3. As an Archer when he shoots an arrow, * takes care that his hand shake not; his heart was so fixed on God, that he could directly send his prayers unto him. Dost thou think, O man, that God will hear that prayer which thou dost not hear thy self? will God regard that prayer, that thou dost not regard? will God grant thy request, when thou dost not know what thou askest, because of that indisposednesse and distraction that lyes upon thy spirit? You must therefore take care, when you be take your selves to prayer, that the Divel do not distract and disturb you.
[ 5] 5. The desires must be enlarged after God in prayer, Jer. 29. 13. Then you shall seek me and finde me, when you search for me with all your heart. God bids us Open our mouthes wide, and I will fill them, Psal. 18. 10. God hath not promised to fill the heart, unlesse our mouth be opened.
Now put all these together: Our prayers will not be heard, except, 1. Our hearts be prepared. 2. Sin removed. 3. Our affections raised. 4. Our minds composed. 5. Our desires enlarged. And judge, whether this be not ground enough for the Doctrine, That a state of friendship, is not sufficient for the acceptance of our prayers.
I come now to the second thing, and that is, a case of conscience: it is this; In * what Cases may God refuse to give his people the things they pray for? I answer.
[ 1] 1. In case you indulge any sin in the heart, Psal. 66. 18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer. Sin which is in thine heart, by thine indulgence and approbation, doth provoke God, that he will not give an answer to thy prayers
[ 2] 2. In case thou dost seek for any mercy from God, to be fuel for thy sin and lust, James 4. 3. Ye aske and receive not, because ye aske amisse, that you may consume it upon your lusts. So the mother of Zebedees children, Matth. 20. 21. She said to Christ, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right*hand, the other on thy left in thy kingdom. Now this was an ambitious desire; for she shewed Christ would have reigned upon earth, as an earthly King, and she desired that they might be next him, as he sat upon the Throne. Therefore Christ said, You know not what you ask. Christ would not give any answer to her request; he would not gratifie her pride and ambition.
[ 3] 3. In case God sees we are not able to use the mercy well when we have it. If you would ask gifts from God, it may be God sees, that enlarged gifts would make thee proud, and that thou wouldest be puffed up with them, and exalt thy self above thy brethren, therefore God will deny thee. We read, Gen. 26. 1, 2. When there was a famine in the Land,—He went to enquire*of the Lord, whether he should go down into Aegypt, God answered, Go not down into Aegypt. God would not let him go; but in the dayes of Jacob there was a famine in the Land, Gen. 46. 3. and God said to Jacob, Go down into Aegypt. Now what might be the * reason, that God would have Jacob goe down into Aegypt, and not Isaac. The rason is this, Isaac was a man of weaker Graces then Jacob was; and God saw, that if Isaac had gone down into Aegypt for corne, he would have fallen into the sinnes of the Land. Now Jacob was a strong man in grace and in gifts; for as a Prince he wrastled with God, and prevailed, and was called, Israel. God saw that Jacob would resist their idolatrous wayes, and not be guilty of their sins. So you may ask mercies of God, and it may be you are not able to manage them well. And therefore God denies you; when as another askes the same mercy, and God gives it to him; because he sees he will use it well, and improve it to Gods glory. Therefore reflect upon thy self; and when God denies thee a mercy, which thou hast begged at his hands; Say to thy self, this denial is in mercy, for he did not think me fit for it. If men would take this way to consider of Gods dealing with them, it would silence all the murmurings and repinings of their hearts against God.
[ 4] 4. If you pray but cursorily and carelesly, then God may deny you. He that prayes coldly, doth, as it were, increat God to give him a denial. God promiseth to be found, if we seek him with our whole heart: But if we be careless and regardless our selves, how can we expect that God should regard us?
So much for answer to that question, In what cases God may deny his peoples prayers. This is the second thing.
[ 3] 3. The third particular, is another Case of conscience. And it is this.
Seeing God doth not hear the prayers of his people in some cases; How may we know, whether the denyal of our prayers be in mercy or no?
God doth not hear the prayers of wicked men, he denies them in wrath; but his peoples prayers he denies in mercy; and that is in these cases.
[Answ. 1] 1. This is a mercy, in case any of his people ask any thing that is sinful in it self. God denies that to his people in mercy, which he gives to others in wrath. God will not alwaies give to his people what they pray for, but what is best for them. If God should give his people all they ask, they would be undone. It is mercy to deny a mad man a sword, for he would cut his own throat with it: To deny a child a knife, for he would cut his fingers with it. You have an instance in Peter, Luke 5. 8. When Simon Peter saw him, he fell down at Jesus his knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. Had Jesus Christ granted Peter his request, he had been undone for ever: Therefore he would not depart from him. So that this denial was in mercy. As on the other side, it is a demonstration of Gods wrath, many times, when God doth grant mercies to wicked men. So it was to Pharaoh, he desired that God would remove the plagues from him; God granted it, thereby to harden Pharoahs heart, and make him ripe for destruction.
[ 2] 2. God denies in mercy, if that we ask would be an occasion of sinne. Suppose a man beg wealth; God sees the having of wealth would make him a proud man: Now the denial of that is a mercy to him. As in the forementioned instance. God would not let Isaac go down to Aegypt, because it would have been an occasion of sin to him. As he said very well, God denies that in love, which he grants in anger. God doth not hear many in their desires, that he may hear them for their good.
God denies a prayer in mercy, when he gives a better in lieu of it; It was the desire of Moses that he might goe into the land of Canaan, but it was better to him to goe to the heavenly Canaan, and therefore God translated him thither. So the Apostles desired Christ to tell them, when he would restore the Kingdome to Israel. He would not resolve them that, yet he gave them a greater mercy, for he gave them the holy Ghost. So David desired the life of that childe that was illegitimate; but God tooke away the bastard (which would have been a living monument of Davids folly) and gave him a Solomon. God will either give us what we aske (saith Bernard) or what he knowes to be better for us.
God may deny to returne this request in mercy, to quicken our cares and affections in prayer, and to make us more eager in the pursuit after mercy. God many times denies that mercy which thou beggest, not as though he would not heare thee, but to see how thy heart will be drawn out towards him in prayer, to make thee more vehement and importunate in thy desires. Thus God was angry with the prayers of his people, Psal. 80. 4. that they might be more fervent. God doth not delay to heare our prayers (saith Anselme) because he hath no minde to give, but that our desires may be kindled, and so he may take occasion to give more plentifully.
God may deny a thing in mercy, if thou didst too eagerly desire the mercy, and too affectionately set thine heart upon it; if thou lovest it too much in the expetition, thou wilt be excessive in the fruition: Rachell had better wanted Children, which she so impetuously desired; for she had a childe and died in childe-bed. God turnes mercies too passionately desired into curses, and snares to us, or else takes them away from us. And so I have answered this second Question. And that is the third and last particular; I come now to application.
[Use. 1] Use 1. Consider this, oh all you wicked and ungodly men; Consider how far you are from having your prayers heard; What? will not a father heare his childe, when he prayes to him coldly and remissely, and will he heare a slave? If God will 〈…〉are the remisse prayer of a god ly man〈…〉 dost thou thinke he will heart the prayers of a wicked man? If God will not heare his peoples prayers at all times, notwithstanding they are in a state of friendship, will God heare thy prayers, oh wicked man, that art in state of enmity against him? If God will not heare the prayers of his own people, which are sometimes his delight, dost thou thinke he will heare thy prayers, which are alwayes an abomination to him?
[ 2] 2. This should put an holy awe upon the hearts of all godly men; what though you are in a state of favour with God, though this will carrie your soules to heaven, yet this will not bring you a return of your prayers. You must have your hearts rightly qualifyed, before God will give a returne of thy prayers. And thus much for the second doctrine, and also for the negative condition.
I come now to the condition positive, to which, returnes of prayer are annexed; Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needs. From which part of the text you may observe this doctrine.
[Doct. 3] That the people of God must not content themselves with being in a state of favour, and friendship with God, but they must also labour after this holy importunity in prayer, before they can have their prayer accepted.
In the handling of this doctrine, I shall proceed in this method.
[ 1] 1. I shall answer an objection that stands in the way.
[ 2] 2. I shall shew what this importunity is.
[ 3] 3. At what times God works this in his people.
Wherein lies the difference between an holy importunity, and a naturall importunity.
What are the reasons, why the people of God must have this importunity in prayer.
How comes it to passe that so many want this holy importunity in their prayers?
What helps may be used to attaine this servencie and importunity of spirit. And then I shall apply it by way of Caution.
[Obje. 1] 1. I must answer an objection which is this, It may be some will say, what need is there that this condition should be so much pressed, what need is there of importunity in prayer? Hath not God decreed what mercy to bestow vpon me? if so, then I am sure I shall have those mercies, let me pray how I will; and on the contrary, if God hath not decreed to give me such a mercy, I shall not have them, let me pray never so well; for the decree of God is effectuall, irresistable, and cannot be altered; All mine importunity cannot alter the decree of God.
For answer to this, I shall propound three things to your consideration.
[ 1] 1. We have not to doe to search into the secret will of God, we are to minde the revealed will of God, and not the secret; It concernes not us to know what God will doe, but what God would have us to doe. Deut. 29. 29. Secret things belong*to God, but revealed things to us, and to our Children; we know not any thing of the decree and counsell of God, but onely as he is pleased to reveale it.
Though God can give a mercy without prayer, yet he hath not any where promised to give it without prayer. Prayer is the meanes that God hath appointed us to use for the obtaining of mercy.
The decree of God must not make us to be remisse in prayer; for God hath decreed not onely the end, but also the meanes; as God hath decreed to give thee mercy, so he hath also decreed that thou shouldest pray for it. And therefore wheresoever the decree or purpose of God is mentioned, it is used as an argument, to stirre up the people of God to prayer. For thou oh Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant saying, I will build thee an*house, therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee. And now oh Lord God, thou art God, that God and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodnesse unto thy servant. Therefore now let it please thee to blesse the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee: For thou oh Lord God hast spoken it, and with thy blessing let the house of thy servant be blessed for ever. You see here God had purposed, and promised to blesse the house of David, and to continue it for ever; doth this make David remisse in prayer? doth David argue, what need I pray for this mercy, seeing God is resolved to give it? No, David takes this hint, and useth it to good purpose in his prayer. Another instance you have in Isaac. God had decreed, and promised that the seed of Abraham should be multiplyed as the starres of the heaven, Gen. 15. 5. and that this promised should * be accomplished in Isaac. Did this make Isaac neglect prayer? No, for we read Gen. 25. 21. Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren, and the Lord was intreated of him, &c. Though God had promised, that in Isaac all the nations of the earth should be blessed, yet Isaac betakes himselfe to prayer to God, for the accomplishment of that mercy, that was decreed and promised.
[Object.] But you will say, suppose God hath decreed he will not give me the mercy I pray for, what benefit is it for me to pray for it?
I answer. 1. It is more then any man * doth know, that God hath decreed he will denie thee the mercy thou askest.
If it be so that God hath decreed not to give thee the mercy thou prayest for, yet God will give thee the returne of prayer into thy bosome; though it may be he will not give thee the particular thing thou desirest. And thus I have dispatcht the first thing, I have answered the objection.
*The second particular is this, What is this holy importunity?
*I answer in generall, The word in the originall signifies impudence, or want of shame. It is a metaphor taken from beggars, who are impudently importunate, and take no denyall; if you deny them once, they will aske you again, and again, and never leave till they get what they desire. It is a gathering together of all the affections of the soule, a stirring them all up in prayer, whereby the soule is so earnestly desirous after the good it wants, that it will not rest, nor leave off the duty, untill he doe finde some returne. This is ment Rom. 12. 12. Continuing instant*in prayer. The Originall word is very emphaticall; It notes not oneiy to persevere *, but to persevere and continue with utmost strength, to ingage all a mans possibility in the worke. It notes instancy and importunity; It is a phrase borrowed from dogs, that when they are hunting, will not cease following the game till they have got it: So a godly man will pursue God in duty, and never leave till he finde the mercy he begs from him. * Thus did holy Jacob Gen. 32. 26. God said, 〈…〉 for the day breaketh: And be said, I will not let thee goe unlesse thou blesse me. So it is said of Elias, James 5. 17. He prayed*earnestly. In the Greeke, it is in praying, he prayed; to shew that a Christian, when he is praying should yet pray, should pray more earnestly, he should be as it were in agony in prayer; It was said of Austin in his preaching, that he never left preaching, till he found he had done some good upon the hearts of his hearers. So must you pray, and continue praying, and doe not give over, till you finde some good done upon your hearts, till you finde sin weakned, and graces strengthned; This is the holy importunitie that is here spoken of. And so much for the second particular.
The third particular is this. When doth*the Lord worke in the hearts of his people this holy importunity, what seasons are they wherein the people of God are most importunate?
[Answ. 1] I answer. 1. God workes this holy importunity in the hearts of his people at their first conversion, then is the time when they are most earnest after God in duties. Austin tells us it was so in his time. first, Converts were most fervent, and affectionate towards God in duty, when they were first brought from the state of nature into the state of grace. At the first taste of the excellency of grace they are much ravished with it, because of the newnesse of the conditions; New things doe most affect men.
[ 2] 2. There is the most holy importunity in a man, when he lives under the clearest apprehension, and assurance of Gods love * in Christ. Psal. 42. 4. When I remembred these things, I poure out my soule in me: when he remembered, and considered the marks and tokens of Gods grace in him, and love to hm, this made him importunate. A Christian may be compared to a Marigold, which while the Sun shines upon it, opens it selfe, but afterwards shuts. Christians, when the Sun of Gods favour shines upon them, their soules are inlarged, their affections inflamed towards God; but when God hides his face, they are troubled, their hearts are straitned, and they cannot pray as they used to doe. It is said of the Nightingale, that when she thinks any one is neere, she sings more sweetly then when she is alone in the wood. The soule, when it sees that God is neare it, and that his favour is towards it, then it sings most sweetly, then it prayes most fervently; but when the love of God is clouded, and the soule left as it were alone; then the affections flag, and grow remisse in prayer.
[ 3] 3. Another time when the people of God are importunate, is, when the time for the accomplishment of a promise growes neer. This we find in Daniel, When*he understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the Prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolation of Jerusalem. Then he set his face to seek the Lord by prayer and supplication. Daniel prayed at other times, but then he was most importunate, when the promise was neer the accomplishment, then he was most fervent. To the same purpose is that Jer. 29. 13. Then shall you call upon me, and ye shall seek for me and finde me, when ye*shall search for me with all your hearts. During the seventy years, the Jews did not expresse any holy importunity towards God, which is the reason of that expression you read, Dan. 9. 13. Though all this evil is come upon us, yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, &c. But when the seventy years were come neer to an end, the Jews prayed more the last year, then they did all the seventy years before. Therefore said God, I know my thoughts that I have towards*you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and shall go and pray unto me, and I will harken unto you. Therefore when you see mercies for a Family, or a Nation wanting, if thine heart be indifferent, that thou dost not care whether thou prayest or not, then you may conclude, that mercy will be long before it comes. But if you finde that God drawes out thine heart for mercy, if God stirre up thy desires, and work this holy importunity in thine heart, it is an argument that mercy is neer; for when prayer is in thine heart, mercy is at the door.
[ 4] 4. Another time when the people of God are most importunate in prayer, is, when they are most drawn off from the world, when they are most free from worldly distractions. The same word in the Hebrew, signifies both meditation and prayer; to shew, that when the heart hath been drawn off from the world by meditation, then it is in a fit posture for prayer.
[ 5] 5. Another time, is when they walk most closely with God. He that lives carelessly, will not pray importunately. Therefore Job saith, If iniquity be in thine hands, put it away, so shalt thou lift up thine heart, &c. to note, that iniquity entertained and countenanced in the soul, is the great hinderer of the lifting up of the heart; the great cooler of importunity.
[ 6] 6. Another time is, in deep and bitter afflictions, then the people of God are most importunate in their prayers, Psal. 130. 1, 2. Out of the deeps have I cryed unto thee, Lord hear the voice of my supplication. So Psal. 142. 1, 2. I cryed unto the Lord with my voice.—I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble. So it is said of the Jews, Psal. 107. 6. They cryed unto the Lord*in their trouble,—. And the same words are repeated, vers. 13, 19, 28. When trouble and great distress was upon the Jews, by Sennacherib, it is said, For this cause Hezekiah the King, and the Prophet Isaiah, the son of Amos, prayed, and cryed to heaven. So it is said of Manasseh, When he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly,—and prayed unto him, &c. So said that good woman, 1 Sam. 1. 15. I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit, and have poured out my soul before the Lord. Thus it was with the whole Church, Isai. 26. 9. With my soul have I desired thee in the night: yea, with my spirit*within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgements are abroad, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousnesse. And that is the last season, wherein the people of God use to be importunate with God in prayer.
And so much for the third thing.
Luke 11. 8.
Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend: yet because of his importunity, he will, &c.
*THE fourth particular is this; * wherein lyes the difference betwixt that holy importunity, in the hearts of Gods people, and the seeming importunity which flowes from the gifts of nature.
Answ. It lyes in these seven things.
[ 1] 1. An holy importunity, makes a man restlesse till his prayers be heard, Psal. 143. 6, 7.—I stretch forth m•ne hands unto*thee. My soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land; hear me speedily, my spirit failes; hide not thy face from me, lest I be like them that go down into the pit. As a thirsty land. A thirsty land is never satisfied, till it gets rain. So Psal. 119. 20. My soul breaks for*the longing it hath—Psal. 42. 1. As the Hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. The Hart never ests, never gives over running, till it come to the water. Such is the importunity of a godly man, he is never quiet, never satisfied till his prayers be returned into his bosom. But it is otherwise with an hypocrite, he prayes for mercy, for pardon of sinne, but he can rest contented, though God doth not hear him; he can beg grace, but he can be very well satisfied without grace, Prov. 13. 4. The soul of the sluggard desires and hath nothing, but the soul of the diligent*maketh fat.
[ 2] 2. An holy importunity is known by this, That it makes a man more earnest for spiritual, then temporal mercies. This hath been the temper of Gods people, Psal. 4. 6. There be many that say: Who will shew us*any good; but Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Observe the difference, between Davids and wicked mens tempers: Their great question and desire was, Who would shew them any good, any temporal good; Who would give them the increase of corne and wine: But Davids heart breathed after other things, after Gods favour, and the light of his countenance. So Psal. 143. 6, 7, 8. I stretch forth mine hands unto thee,—my soul thirsteth after thee— Psal. 63. 1. O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee; my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where*no water is. David was in a wildernesse, he wanted water: One would have thought he should have sought God for water; But you see Davids desires runne in another channel; he thirsted more for God then for water; he more desired spiritual advantages, then temporal enjoyments. This importunity, makes a man more to endeavour against sin then affliction; more to desire saving, grace, then common mercies. But now the heart of an hypocrite, is more desirous of temporal then spiritual mercies. You read in Hosea 7. 14. They have not*eryed unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds; they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. They howled, for what? Was it for grace and spiritual blessings? No, it was for corn, and wine and oyl; not for grace, not for acquaintance with God. Another instance you have, Acts 8. Simon Magus offered money to purchase the Holy Ghost. What * was his end in desiring the Holy Ghost? Was it to obtain a spiritual mercy? No, but it was that he might work miracles. And further, when Peter put him upon the begging of a spiritual mercy, vers. 22.—pray God, if perhaps the thoughts of thine heart may be forgiven thee. But Simon Magus followed not Peters rule, he had no great desire of the pardon of sin, or any spirituall mercy; but he prayes, That none of those things, which Peter had spoken might come upon him, vers. 24. That is, that his money might not perish, nor he perish with it, that his gifts might not perish; this was his great request and desire.
[ 3] 3. An holy importunity of Gods people, is more in sensibleness of the inward affections of the heart, then in the outward expressions of words, Psal. 38. 9. All my desire*is before thee, and my groanings are not hid from thee. Davids heart panted and failed him, vers. 10. but not a word of expressions, though his expressions were very good. Rom. 8. 26. The spirit helps our infirmities, with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered. It * is said, Revel. 5. 8. The four and twenty Elders had golden vials full of odours, which are the*prayers of the Saints. They are called odours for their sweetnesse, golden, for their excellency, and vials, which are vessels of large extent in the belly, but narrow mouthed. The hearts of Gods people are like vials, many times, inlarged within, when they are straitned in their words and expressions. There are many times, most dilated desires in the hearts of the Saints, and yet they are so narrow mouthed, that they are not able to utter. But now it is otherwise with hypocrites, they have more in the expression then in the action. It was Gods complaint against the Jews of old, They draw nigh to God with their lips, when their hearts were far from him. An hypocrite * indeed performes duty, but his duties never reach to his heart: They are like a pot, that is hot at the top, but cold at the bottom.
[ 4] 4. An holy importunity, makes a man more inlarged before God in secret, then before men in publike. O my Dove that art in the cliffs of the rock in the secret places of thy*stairs; let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voyce, and thy countenance is comely. The voice of Christs Church is sweet, even then when she is in secret, when none but God beholds her, Cant. 8. 13. Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions harken to thy voice; cause me to hear it. But now an hypocrite, doth never care to have any secret communion with God; he cares not to pray alone; and if hee bee brought to that, hee takes no care of his heart, he curbs not his thoughts; all his care is in company, popular applause, and vain-glory, is as the wind to the sails of a Ship, that makes their affections move the faster. An hypocrite, in this regard, may be resembled to a Nightingale, which sings sweetess when any man stands neer her. So carnal men when others are witnesses of their actions, then they put forth the utmost of their ability. They are of John’s temper, he was zealous onely upon that condition, that others would see it.
[ 5] 5. This holy importunity, makes a godly man the more humble, the more enlarged he is to prayer: The reason is, because he looks upon his enlargements, not as coming from the strength of his natural parts or abilities, but as the free-gift, and gracious dispensation of Gods Spirit: and so he sees he hath nothing whereof to boast; and so it makes him low in his own eyes. You know a violet, that is one of the sweetest flowers, growes lowest in the earth. The fullest ears of corn, do most hang down: The fullest barrels, make the least noise: So the most gracious heart, is the most low and vile in its own apprehensions, is the nearest earth, but dust and ashes. The fuller he is of divine discoveries, or enlargement, the less boasting doth he make in the world. A ship, the heavier it is laden, the lesse it is tost with winds and waves; the more empty it is, the more it is lifted up above the water. so a man, the more empty, the more tost too and fro with every wind of applause. Grace is, as it were, the balast of the soul, to keep down a mans spirits, and make him humble in the midst of wit and parts. Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. Be sober and not puffed up, do not boast of your enlargements. Though it is true, it doth refer to another thing, yet Byfield refers it to prayer; and he saith, That man that prayes to God, with most enlargednesse of affections towards God, that man cannot but he must watch and be sober. Sobriety is opposed to pride, for a man may be dumb with his own gifts and graces; and watchfulnesse is opposed to remisnesse, and deadnesse, and carelesnesse of spirit in the performance of duties. Thus it is with a sincere man, that hath this true importunity in him. But now wicked men, if ever they have enlargements in duty, it puffs them up. It is with them, as it was with, Uzziah 2 Chr. 26. 16. When God had helped him marvellously, til he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction. When God helps the soul of such a man in duty, it makes him to lift up himself against God, and be puffed up above his brethren.
[ 6] 6. He that hath this holy importunity in him, his desires are rather quickned, then abated by denials. You finde this in the woman of Canaan, Matt. 15. 22. She cryed unto Christ, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David, my daughter is grie vously vexed with a divel: Jesus Christ takes no notice of her; He answered her not a word, vers. 23. There is one discouragement. One would have thought she would have d••sted; but she prayed again, and the Disciples besought him to send her away, vers. 23. There was another discouragement, which would have knocked off the desires of many; but she continues her request still. Jesus Christ himself answers her, I am not sent, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, vers. 24. There is a third discouragement; and yet this doth not cool her affections, but she comes afresh upon Christ, she came and worshipped, saying, Lord, help me, vers. 25. Yet she found another repulse, and that worse then any of the former; It is not meet to take the childrens bread, and give it to doggs, vers. 26. Christ you see calls her a dog; and yet all this doth not cast her off, but she takes encouragement, even from this discouraging answer: And she said, Truth Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters table, vers. 27. She was resolved she would not give over, till she got what she came for, till Christ had said, O woman great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt, vers. 28. Denials are to the Saints, as water to the Smiths-forge, when it is sprinkled upon it, it is so far from cooling or quenching it, that it makes it burn with the greater heat: So the denials, and discouragements Gods people meet with, they serve for bellowes, to blow up those sparks that are in them into a flame, to make their desires stronger, their affections to burn the hotter. But now to an hypocrite, denials and discouragements, do take off the wheels of his affections, and make them to move slowly and heavily: Job 21. 15. What is the Almighty that we should serve him, and what profit should we have if we pray unto him? We get no good by it, the mercies we ask, are not yet in our hands. Now this argues a sinful impatiency, and a want of holy importunity.
[ 7] 7. Holy importunity is kindled in the heart, by the motions and operations of Gods blessed Spirit, Gal. 4. 6. Because you are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Sonne into your hearts, crying, Abba father. In the time of the law, those sacrifices that were accepted were burnt with fire from heaven, Levit. 9. 24. There came fire out from before*the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering—And so in Elijahs time, 1 King. 18. 38. When Elijah had laid his * sacrifice upon the altar of the Lord, Then the fire of the Lord, fell and consumed the burnt-sacrifice and the wood—So the Heathens vestal-flames were kindled with sun-beams. The true importunity is from above, it is a fire kindled, by God himself, in the hearts of his people. But there is another importunity, that comes from natural principles, from natural abilities, a strong memory, a profound judgement, a ready wit, a fluent tongue; and these are very advantagious to the duty. There is the gift of prayer, as well as the grace of prayer. Some are importunate in prayer, out of fl•thly respects. Now this is but a counterfeit importunity. And thus much for the fourth particular, the difference between holy and natural importunity.
Luke 11. 8.
—Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give—
The fifth particular is this. *What are the reasons why Gods people must labour for this holy importunity in their prayers?
[Reas 1] I answer. 1. Because God hath tied and promised returnes, not to the persons praying, but to the qualifications of their prayers. And when the Scripture makes mention of this duty of prayer, it doth also make mention of severall concomitants, that must goe along with it, to make it acceptable. To instance, there are diverse concomitants which the Scripture holds * forth to be necessary, for the acceptance of our prayers.
We must pray beleevingly, Heb. 11. 6. He that cometh to God must beleeve. Mar. 11. 24. Therefore I say unto you •aith Christ)*what things soever yee desire, when ye pray, beleeve that yee receive them and yee shall have them. He doth not say; pray how you will, you shall have them; but pray in such and such manner, pray beleevingly, and then you shall receive; very much to this purpose is 1 James 5. If any man want wisdome, let him ask it of God.—
Ver. 6. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the winde and tossed. So that you see God lookes to the manner, as well as to the matter of a performance.
You must pray regularly, according to the will of God.
Dependingly, resting upon Christs intercession.
Preparedly; but these I shall passe by, because they doe not so properly concerne the Point in hand.
We are commanded to pray earnestly, and fervently, and importunately; So David did, Psal. 55. 17. I will pray and cry aloud, and he shall heare my voyce. A full place to this purpose is Rom. 15. 30. Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus*Christs sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that yee st•ive together with me in your prayers to God for mee. The word in the Greek is very emphaticall, it is the same word that is applyed to Christ, when he was in an agony, when he sweat drops of blood. He beseecheth them to contend and strive in their prayers; we are to be as it were in an agony, when we are in prayer. Prayer is not a little booke labour, it is not a lip labour onely, but it is a raising up and putting forth the heart and affections in the worke. So Rom. 12. 12. Be continuing instant in prayer. It is a metaphor taken from dogs. A dog of all creatures is the best able to endure hunger, he will run from place to place, and never leave till he hath got his prey: so you are to hunger after God, and after mercy, and not to rest satisfied, till God doth grant the mercy you stand in need of, pray, and pray, and pray againe, and fight till you overcome, pray till you get an answer. Another place is, Jam. 5. 16. The effectuall fervent*prayer of a righteous man availeth much. The word in the originall is significant. Some expound it a working prayer; It may be interpreted a prayer well wrought in the heart, and so a prayer that comes from the heart,—A prayer wrought in us by the Spirit, and carried on by faith. Another place to the same purpose is, Acts 26. 7. Unto which promise our twelve Tribes instantly serving God—The word is rendered by some, continually, daily, constantly, but it signifies most properly a serving of God, with the utmost of ones strength, to be as a man upon a rack, to use the very all of their power; or it may be it is borrowed from one that runs a race, wherein men stretch out their limbs to the utmost. The word is the same here that is used Acts 12. 5. Prayer was made*without ceasing, or (as it is in the margin of your booke, and more agreeably to the Originall) instant and earnest prayer was made for Peter. The prayers of Gods people were so earnest, that they opened the prison doores for him. So Colos. 4. 12. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, alwayes labouring fervently for you in prayers.—So that you see it is not every prayer that God is satisfied with, no nor Gods people neither, it is not every prayer that shall prevaile with God. There must be importunity in it. So much for the first reason.
We must have this holy importunity in prayer, because there is much strength * and importunity against thee, when ever thou goest upon thy knees. There is strength against you both from without, and from within.
[ 1] 1. From without; There are the powers of darknesse that stand against you and resist you. As it was with Abraham Gen. 15 11. When Abraham was sacrificing, fowles came downe upon the sacrifice, but Abraham drove them away. Deodate saith, this is a signe that the Devills, those infernall spirits labour to disturbe us in holy duties; as the good Angels behold us in our assemblies, and rejoyce to see our order, so the wicked Angells labour to disturbe us and molest us.
[ 2] 2. There is strength against us from within. There is that in thy heart that will carry thee more violently from God, then the good motions in thee can bring thee to God, there is a forcible withdrawing of the heart from God. James 1. 14. Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. When you have no will to doe good, even then you have a will to doe evill; nay there are wills of the flesh, and lusts of the flesh, shall we not have halfe a will for God, when we have many wills for sin? You see therefore it is not without good reason that we should be thus importunate in prayer. And so much for the fifth particular.
The sixt particular is this. What are the reasons why so many people doe want this holy importunity, that so many pray, and so few pray with that earnestnesse and eagernesse of heart, and affection that is required?
I answer, that comes to passe for many reasons.
[Reas 1] 1. This comes to passe from the injections, and instigations of Satan. The Devill acts not onely powerfully, but also subtilly and craftily, he will endeavour to divert you from the performance of duty, he will perswade you to neglect it if he can; But it may be thou wilt say, thou wilt direct thy prayer unto God, and thou wilt have thine eye fixed upon God. Why now Sathan will fall in with you, he will jogge your arme, he will take off your eye from the marke, that you shall not be able to hit it. Thus he dealt with Abraham, as you heard before. Thus he dealt, Job 1. 6. Now there was a day when*the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Sathan came also among them. I am not ignorant that many Interpreters, by the sons of God, doe understand the Angells, because the Angells are called the sons of God, Job 38. 7. but it cannot be so taken here; I will give but one reason to prove it; because the place where the Angells are, is in heaven, and if so, then the Devill must be in heaven, which is by all denyed; he never was in heaven, since he was cast out of it. And therefore Bolducius saith, that this day was the Lords day, and by the Sons of God are meant, the godly men, that lived in the time, and place where Job•ived, the posterity of Seth. And you hall finde in Scripture this very appella tion given to them. Gen. 6. 2. The sons of God saw the daughters of men. These sons of God must needs be men, and not Angells; And so they are to be understood in this place in Job, the people of God met together, and came before the Lord, and Sathan came also among them, he came to hinder them and disturbe them. So it was Zach. 3. 1, 2. And be shewed me*Joshua the high Priest standing before the Angell of the Lord, and Sathan standing at his right hand to resist him; And the Lord said unto Sathan, The Lord rebuke thee O Sathan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a firebrand pluckd out of the fire? You see how Sathan laboured to divert the thoughts, and distract the heart of the high Priest in the performance of religious duties. That is the first reason.
This importunity is wanting in our prayers, when we know and allow our selves in any one sin, and let it lie upon our hearts unrepented of. Hildersham gathers from the 51st Psalme, that all the while that David did lie in that sin of adulterie, all the time that sin was unrepented of, the heart of David was shut up that he could not pray, as he was wont to doe before, and as he did after he had repented of that sin, at which time he writ that penitentiall Psalme. You had need looke to your hearts, that there doe not lie there any sin incouraged, and unrepented of; for be sure of this, if thy prayer doe not make thee leave sinning, thy sin will make thee leave praying. That is the second reason of the want of importunity.
[ 3] 3. Another reason is this, because many take unfit seasons for the performance of dutie. It is the judgement of that learned and reverend man of God, Mr Bolton, that the taking of unfit seasons for the performance of prayer, doth more obstruct, and hinder this holy importunity in prayer, then all the suggestions and instigations of Sathan.
Now there are three unfit seasons for the performance of this duty.
[ 1] 1. When the body is sleepy, and fit for nothing but to take its rest. A sleepy and sluggish temper, is a canker to eat out many sweet affections, Cant. 3. 1. By night upon*my bed I sought him, but I found him not. Some Inter preters take occasion hence, to speak against late prayers.
[ 2] 2. Another unfit season is, when the heart is filled with worldly care and distractions, and the incumbrances of this present life; many men are guilty of this, they will so •log themselves with the cares of this life, that they cannot have a praying time free from them. Some men will be down upon their knees, before the things of this world are out of their minds; and so they have no time to consider, or meditate, or to put the heart into a fit frame for that work. You know we are to attend upon the Lord without distraction, 1 Cor. 7. 35. It was the fault of those Jews in hearing, that when they came to hear * the word, their hearts did go out after their covetousnesse, Ezek. 33. 31. That is another season unfit for prayer.
[ 3] 3. Another season is, when we are under passionate distempers. When tumultuous passions are up, holy affections are down, 1 Tim. 2. 8. I will that men pray every*where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; to shew, that where there is wrath, the duty of prayer cannot be performed in an acceptable manner. And of the same mind was the Apostle Peter; who therefore gives this counsel, 1 Pet. 3. 7. Likewise, ye husbands, dwel with them according to knowledg, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered. The Apostle wisely fore-saw, that if man and wife lived in discontent and trouble, then their prayers would be hindred; and therefore he adviseth them, to prevent the hinderance of their prayers, by avoiding occasions of discontent. And that is the third season, wherein people are are unfit for prayer: so they are diverted from that servency, and importunity they might have in their prayers. We should therefore chuse the fittest seasons for prayer. It is said of Luther, by Vitus Theodorus, who was present with him at Coburge, and many times heard him at his private prayers, in a letter of his to Melanchthon, That there was no day passed over his head, wherein Luther did not spend three hours, at the least, in prayers; and those (not hours that he could best spare, unseasonable hours, but) such hours as were the fittest for his study. And that was a reason, that Luther was very importunate in his prayers, as the same Author informs us; Good God, with how much reverence did I hear him pray! With how much boldnesse and confidence, &c. And on the contrary, one reason why men have so little of this holy importunity, is for want of taking fit seasons for the work.
[ 4] 4. Another reason of the want of this holy importunity is, the diffuse and neglect of prayer in your Christian course. Many there are, that pray sometimes, and leave off praying again; now this doth very much dull mens affections in prayer. There is a Proverb, Use makes perfectness; I am sure it is so in the duty of prayer; let a Christian pray often, and he will come to pray well, and to pray with much enlargednesse of heart; and let him leave off prayer, and he will finde his heart exceedingly streightned. Take a Key, if you use it frequently, it will be bright, but if you lay it aside, it will soon grow rusty; thus will it be with a mans heart, use prayer much, keep it close to the performance of duty, it is the way to have thy heart bright. Let this Key of prayer, which doth open heaven, be used, it will be kept bright, and thy prayer will enter into heaven; but let this Key of prayer be laid aside, and do not thou often use it, and it will quickly grow rusty again; thy prayers and performances, will not be able to enter neaven, and thou wilt not be able to perform duty in that manner that God expecteth. If thou dost not watch unto prayer, with all carefulnesse, thou wilt loose thy zeal and servent affection, and thy holy desires after God in duty. As it is with a Pump, use it every day, and water will come, but if you forbear the use of it two or three dayes, water will neither come so easily, nor so plentifully. If you do not pump out your holy desires every day, they will quickly flag and grow remisse. Physitians observe, concerning the teeth, that that side of the teeth that is not used, is most subject to rheumes and distillations. That heart that is not inured to prayer and holy duties, is most subject to Satans instillations and suggestions. This is the fourth reason.
[Reas 5] The fifth reason why this importunity is wanting, is this, because men tie themselves to prescript forms of prayer. I do not say, that it is unlawful to use set forms of prayer; we finde that Jesus Christ himself used a form, Matt. 26. 39. Christ went * and said, Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Vers. 42. He went again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not passe from me, thy will be done. Vers. 44. He went away again, and prayed, saying the same words. To shew, that it is lawful 〈…〉 forms of prayer, but not alwaies. You are to strive for the spirit of prayer. A man that will use his crutches constantly, shall go •ame all the dayes of his life. 〈…〉 live in an age, wherein Religion is 〈◊〉 professed, and the Gospel is fully 〈◊〉 known. Do not content your selves 〈◊〉 forms, labour for the spirit of prayer, 〈…〉 you may go to God, and spread 〈…〉 him your wants and necessities, and 〈◊〉 those mercies, that are most sutable to 〈◊〉 wants and exigences. Forms indeed will teach you to beg pardon for sin, in general; but you must beg pardon for particular sins. You must not onely beg mercy in general, but you must also beg 〈◊〉 particular mercies, that are most 〈…〉 you. And this, set forms are 〈…〉 which yet is the main work in prayer. He that tyes himself alwaies to another mans form, will not be able to pray alone, but weakly, and coldly, and formally. This is the fifth reason.
[ 6] 6. Another ground of this importunity, is a giving way to an accustomed continuance in a sleight and carelesse performance of duties; this enervates the affections, and emasculates the spirits; what men are accustomed to, that they get an habit of, so that they cannot do the contrary. As a Carriers horse, that is used to a dull and slow pace, cannot go out of it. The lessening of Acts, makes Habits more remisse. That is the last reason. And so much shall suffice for answer to the sixth Question.
Luke 11. 8.
Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will give unto him, &c.
*The fourth particular is this; By wat helps may a man attain to this holy importunity in prayer.
For answer, I shall lay down six or seven Theological helps, by which a man may come to attain this holy importunity.
[ 1] 1. Possesse thine heart with an lawful fear of the Almighty God. This was the ground of Davids importunity, as you may see, Psal. 5. vers. 3. he saith, My voice shalt thou hear in the morning—And in the 7 * verse, you will finde this holy fear did lye at the bottom; Lut as for me, I will come into thine house, in the multitude of thy mercy; and in thy fear, will I worship towards thine holy temple. David came to duty, with a strong 〈◊〉 of Gods greatness and dreadfulness. So it is the advice of the Apostle, that if we would serve God acceptably, we must do it with reverence and godly fear, Heb. 12. 28. That fore-cited Author, Vitus Theodorus writes, concerning Luther, That he prayed with so much confidence, as if he had been speaking with his friend and familiar; and yet with so much reverence, as one that considered the great distance between God and him. I may allude to that place, Isal. 60. 5. though the words are spoken to another purpose; Thy heart shall fear, and be enlarged. An holy fear, breeds an holy care. If a man once comes to this, that he is fearlesse of God, he will quickly be carelesse in prayer; Job 15. 4. Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God. A man that doth cast off the fear of God, doth soon cease to pray unto God: He that fears God most, that man will certainly pray to God best. That is the first help.
[Help. 2] 2 Another help or meanes to get this holy importunity is this. To recollect thy thoughts by holy meditation, before thou comest to this weighty duty of prayer to God; And upon this ground we finde meditation and prayer to be put together. Psal. 5. 1, 2. Give eare to my words O Lord, and consider my meditation, give eare unto my prayer oh God and my King; for unto thee will I pray. Davids prayer you see is usherd in with meditation. The same word in the Hebrew signifies both to meditate, and to pray. You finde concerniag Isaac, Gen. 24. 26. Isaac went out into the fields to meditate, some read it; to pray, others translate; It is likely he did both first meditate, and then pray: Be much imployed in the worke of meditation, if you would have your hearts much enlarged in prayer. Meditate in to whose presence you come, what a glorious God he is, before whom you are to appeare.
Meditate in whose name you are to come, and to pray, by whom you must have accesse to the throne of grace.
Meditate what chief mercies you want, and are to beg, what grace you would have strengthened, what lusts you would have quelled, what doubts you would have satisfied, what sins you would have pardoned, in a word, what blessings you would have God to bestow upon you. The meditation of these things must needs give a man more scope, and stirre up a mans affections in prayer.
[Help. 3] 3. If you would get this holy importunity, you must recall your thoughts from worldly and distracting cares, when you come to prayer. The Apostle therefore doth exhort the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 7. find themselves from, and rid their hands of the cares of the world, and he gives this as a reason, that they may attend upon the Lord without distraction. The cares of the world will eat out that good that is in the hearts of men, will rob a man of that freedome and enlargement, that otherwise he might have in prayer. Anselme, as he was walking in the fields, saw a shepheards boy tie a stone to a birds legg, and as the bird sought to flie up, ever and anon, the stone pulled it down again. The spirituall interpretation that he partly made, and that we may make, is this; when the soule would mount aloft in prayer, and grow fervent, the cares of the world pluck it down, and coole it. And therefore you must labour to free your selves from these incombrances. You must doe as Abraham did, when he went to sacrifice, he left his servants and cattell at the bottome of the hill: So when you goe to offer to God the sacrifices of prayer, you must get above the impediments and distractions of this present life. That is the third help.
[Help. 4] Another way to get this holy importunitie, is to watch the heart in prayer. Colos. 4. 2. Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving. There is a watching to prayer, and a watching in praying. A watching to prayer is, when a man watcheth his heart, and sees that he doth not omit duties, and there is a watching in prayer, of which I am now speaking. Now there are foure enemies, that a man must watch against in prayer.
Watch against drowsinesse of body. This is a great impediment of prayer, and we have great need to watch against it.
Watch against a deadnesse and dulnesse of spirit, against a flat and low temper, that is a great hinderance of importunitie.
Watch against Satanic all suggestions; Satan is alwayes ready to assault thee, he watcheth to disturbe and molest you in your prayers, you had need watch to counterworke him.
You must watch from secular distractions. All these adversaries you must watch against, and that is the way to get this holy importunitie into your hearts.
[Help. 5] 5. If you would get this holy importunity, you must labour to stirre up all your affections, when you come to pray. This you finde was the practise of holy David, Psal. 103. 1. Blesse the Lord O my soule, and all that is within mee praise his holy name. See how this good man doth muster together all the faculties of his soule, how he calls up al his strength, all that he is or can doe to set forth the name of God. So the Apostle Peter in his first epistle chap. 1. ver. 13. exhorts those to whom he writes, to gird up the loynes of their mindes. A Christian going towards heaven, is compared to a man that is going a journey; now a man that is going a journey, he girts up his cloathes together about his loynes, that nothing may hinder him in his journie. To this the Apostle alludes, when he bids them gird up their loines. So the like you have Luke 17. 8. Gird up thy selfe, and serve me. It is an expression of a master to his servant. God is our master, we are his servants, we are to doe his worke while we be in the world. To that end let us gird up our loines, let us gather our affections together, that we may be the more fit for, and the more vigorous in the worke. A discinct and ungirt minde is not fit for prayer; in ancient times at the first assemblings, and Church-meetings, the Deacons cryed, Let us pray, let us attend. There are many that pray, and doe not attend to prayer, many pray, as if they prayed not; if therefore we would pray, indeeed, we must attend to it, we must stirre up all that is within us, to call upon the name of the Lord.
[Help. 6] 6. If you would get this holy importunitie, then you must store your hearts with fulnesse of matter, when thou goest to prayer; It is emptinesse of Spirit that causeth deadnesse of heart.
[Help. 7] 7. If you would get this holy importunitie, bemoane the deadnesse and dulnesse of thy heart. This was the course that holy David tooke, Psal. 38. 9. My desires oh Lord are before thee, and my groaning is not hid from thee. So it was the practise of the Church, Isa. 63. 17. O Lord why hast thou made us to erre from thy wayes, and hardened our hearts from thy feare. So it was the way that Ephraim went in, Jer. 31. 18. I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himselfe. Thou hast chastised mee and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.—
Ver. 19. Surely after that I was turned, I repented, and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea even confounded, because I did heare the reproach of my youth. God doth love to heare his people mourning over, and bewailing their wants and weaknesses, and that is one necessary requisite in an acceptable prayer. Bewaile therefore thy dulnesse, consider that prayer without this holy importunity, is like a messenger without legs, as an arrow without feathers, an advocate without a tongue. St Jerome complained very much of his distractions and dulnesse in prayer, and chid himselfe thus: What doest thou thinke that Jonah prayed thus when he was in the whales belly, or Daniel when he was among the Lions, or the thiefe, when he was upon the crosse? Bemoane your want of importunity, if you would get this importunitie. And so much shall suffice for the helps or meanes to get importunitie. And so I have dispatcht all those particulars propounded in the beginning, I now come to the application of the point.
I shall apply it by way of Caution, to prevent severall mistakes in the world about this holy importunity. And there are two sorts of mistakes. There are some that thinke they have this importunitie when they have it not. And there are others that thinke they have not this importunitie, when indeed they have it. Both these mistakes I must labour to rectifie.
[Caution 1] 1. There are some that thinke they have this importunitie, when they have it not. Every man by nature is proud of his own parts and abilities, and apt to thinke that he hath more grace then indeed he hath. And here there are foure mistakes, or if you will, foure grounds of this great mistake. Many conceit they have importunitie, when indeed they have it not.
Because they are fluent in their expressions in prayer.
Because they have some stirring of the affections in prayer.
Because God gives them the mercy they aske.
Because they pray by heart and not by book. Now all these are false grounds, and therefore I shall endeavour to disprove them in order.
The first ground of this deceit is this. There are some that conceive they have * this importunitie, because they have multitude of words, and variety of expressions in prayer.
Now this is no just ground for a man to conclude, that he hath this holy importunitie, in foure cases.
[ 1] 1. In case expressions come from the strength of naturall gifts, and parts, and not from saving grace. A man may have a strong memory, and volubilitie of tongue, and good naturall abilities, and yet all this while fall far short of this gracious importunitie.
[ 2] 2. In case thou art full in expression, but emptie in affection. There are many men whose words doe outslip their hearts, and their expressions exceed their affections. So did they, Isa. 29. 13. For as much as this people draw neare mee with their mouth, and with their lips doe honour me; but have removed their heart far from mee. Some men are like boyling water, when it boiles fastest, and boiles out of the top, then there is nothing at the bottome; All their prayers are at the top, in their mouth, and not in their heart and affections. Their affections doe not carrie equipage with their words.
[ 3] 3. In case thy importunate expressions be more used in company, then in secret, it is a signe thou haft not this holy importunitie, but it comes from popular applause. It is not so with the people of God. Christ speaks to his people, Cant. 8. 13. Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice, cause mee to heare it; to shew, that they should not onely pray, and be importunate when the companions hearken to their voice, when they are in company, but even then when no eye sees them, when no eare heares them, when none is present, but God alone; God expects that we should pray in secret, as well as in company.
[ 4] 4. In case thy fluencie of expressions doe make thee conceited of thy selfe, and of thy gifts, and to sleight the gifts of other men, this is an argument thou hast not this holy importunitie; for that makes a man humble, and low in his own eyes. When a man comes to despise other men, and exalt himselfe above his brethren, this is a token thy importunitie comes not from a right principle. And so I have disproved the first false ground, upon which many conceit they have this importunity.
Another false ground upon which men conceive they have this importunitie, when they have not, is this; Because they finde in themselves some stirrings in their affections in prayer to God. But this is no just ground for that opinion in these cases.
[ 1] 1. In case thine affections are more stirred up, for the removall of affliction upon thee, then corruption within thee. As it was with the Mariners in Jonah, they cried mightily unto God, but what was it for? not that they might be delivered from their sins and corruptions, but that God would bring them safe out of that tempest wherein they were.
[ 2] 2. In case thine affections be kindled by a false Principle, as by popular applause, or vaine glory, and not by the Spirit of God.
[ 3] 3. In case thy affections are more drawn out after pardoning mercy, then subduing grace. A man whose conscience is awakened, may be so far rouzed with the feare of hell, that he may be very earnest to have sin pardoned, out of a meere principle of selfe-love.
[ 4] 4. If these stirrings be fading; There are many that have a flushing in their affections, that have no standing affections in their hearts. They are like a man in a fever, that when the distemper is on him, he may be stronger by farre, then he is in his ordinary course; now this is not the naturall strength of the man, but onely the violence of his distemper, and the decay of nature. Just so the violence that some men have, doth not argue a strength of grace, but a decrease of grace rather. And so much for the second ground of that mistake.
A third ground upon which many mistake, is this. Because God gives them the mercy they aske: Now they thinke God would not give them what they ask, if he did not hear and accept their prayers: But neither is this a good ground, and that for these reasons.
[ 1] 1. God may give you mercy, not as a returne of prayer, but as a fruit of his generall providence, whereby he doth take care for all his creatures; God giveh meat even to the Ravens that crie unto him. The Lord gives to every thing their meat in due season. God heares the cries of the meanest of all his creatures in the time of need.
[ 2] 2. God may hear thee, and grant thy request in wrath, and not in mercy; So it was with the Israelites; they were weary of that government that God had set over them, and they were very importunate to have a King; Nothing would satisfie them but a King. They refused to heare the voice of Samuel, and said, nay, but we will have a King. Well, God heares their request, and grants it, and gives them a King. Might they thence conclude, surely their prayers were accepted of God, because God did give them what they desired? No, God tells us the quite contrary, Hosea 13. 11. I gave thee a King in mine anger. So in the 78. Psal. The Israelites were very desirous of meat. God heard them; Verse 29. 30, 31. So they did eat and were filled, for he gave them their own desire. They were not estranged from their lust; but while the meat was in their mouthes, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel; So that Gods giving of a man the mercie he wants, is no argument to a man, to conclude that God accepts his prayers.
[ 3] 3. If God hath heard thee, it may be it is in temporall favours, but not in spirituall mercies. God gives thee a temporall mercie, but he denies thee spirituall mercies. It may be thou hast begged riches, and God hath granted thee this request, to make thee rich in the world; It may be thou hast desired honour, and thou art raised to places of honour; But remember thou doest beg Christ, thou dost beg grace and glory; if God doth not give thee these, thou shalt never see the face of God; and consider, what will all these doe thee good? They will but feed thee sat for the day of slaughter, and make thee a sweet morsell for wormes and Devills. Now consider, what benefit this will be to thee, to have riches, pleasures, and worldly contentments, and they prove a snare to thee. So then it is no just ground for a man to conclude, that he hath prayed aright, because God hath answered him. That is the third ground.
A fourth ground of mens presumption, of the goodnesse and acceptablenesse of their prayers is this; they pray by heart, and not by booke, they use not set formes, they pray ex tempore. But this also is but a false ground, as appeares by these considerations.
It is possible, and usuall too for men to pray without booke, and yet without heart too. A man may pray a third way, he may pray, and yet neither pray with books, nor with heart, he may pray by the strength of naturall parts, as I told you even now.
A man may pray without a forme, and yet make but a formall prayer. A formall prayer is not to use a forme of words; for that Jesus Christ did; he prayed three times, saying the same words. A man may possibly use a forme of words, and yet not be formall. And on the other, a man may be formall, and yet not use a forme of words; that is, he may pray, and yet not have his heart and affections wrought upon in that prayer.
[ 3] 3. Prayer is not a worke of the memory, invention or expression, but a worke of the heart. Prayer doth not consist in varietie of phrases, or change of the method, and expression used in prayer, but a worke on the affections. God doth not account that to be a prayer that doth not come from the heart, and is not accompanied with the heart; And therefore you finde this expression concerning the Saints prayers formerly; Hannah poured out her soule before the Lord; and so the Psalmist, he is said to poure out his heart; and the Israelites are said to poure out their hearts like water before the Lord. So that this proves to be a false bottome. And so much for the first use of Caution.
Luke 11. 8.
I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
2. This may be for caution to * the godly, to prevent the mistakes of those, that have this importunitie, and thinke they have not; Yet here also they have some seeming reasons. I shall name them, and withall answer them.
Their first reason is this. Others pray better then I, saith a godly man. Others performe duties with more enlargednesse; Now this reasoning is not good.
[ 1] For 1. It may be those that thou apprehendest to pray better then thou, are of longer standing, and larger experience in the wayes of God then thou art. God doth not expect any more from a man, but according to that measure of grace, that he gives the man, and according to his growth and standing in grace. Paul was not at all discouraged, because Epinetus was the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ, Rom. 16. 5. nor at Andronicus and Junia, that were of note among the Apostles, and in Christ before him, verse 7. And if Paul was not discouraged, why shouldest * thou be discouraged to see other Christians outstrip thee, it may be they are of longer standing then thou.
[ 2] 2. It may be thou doest judge and compare they selfe with others, at a great disadvantage. As first, it may be thou dost compare thy selfe, and thy praying in secret, with the praying of others in publick; Now this is very disadvantageous; for in publick men have not onely inward, but also outward incouragements, and so thorough the corruption that is in all our hearts, they are more drawne forth at that time then in secret.
It may be thou dost compare their expression with thine affection, it may be there is more in thy affections, then in all the multitude of their expressions. Thou are not to compare thy affections with the multitude of other mens words.
I• may be thou dost compare thyself with others, when they are at the best and highest, and thou at the worst and lowest. There is a great difference betwixt a man and himselfe, at severall times, now you judge unequally, if you compare your selfe in that manner.
In some cases this may be no discouragement to thee; as 1. If thou art weaker in naturall gifts. Though good affections flow from grace, yet good expressions proceed from the goodnesse of naturall abilities.
In case thou art not of as long standing in religion.
[ 3] 3. It thou hast lesser time and opportunities for prayer, by reason of necessary cares and encumbring employments. When Jonah was entered into the ship there was a great storme, in so much that the ship was ready to sinke: now all the Mariners were at prayer, every man cryed to his God, but Jonah was fast asleep, now one would have thought, that Jonah had been a most stupid man; but the reason was the greatnesse of his journey, a little before, which caused him to be so heavie to sleep. It may be a man that hath lesse grace then thou may pray better then thou, because he is not troubled with these worldly incumbrances, that thou art necessarily ingaged in.
[ 4] 4. God doth not distribute gifts and graces to all alike, God hath not appointed that all men should grow in grace alike. To this purpose I may apply, Nehem. 11. 17. Mattaniah the son of Micha, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph was the principall to begin the thanksgiving in prayer, and Bakbukiah the second among his brethren, and Abda the son of Shammuz—the third. God doth not intend that all should be alike in grace, or gifts; God hath his first, second, and third; one may fall short of another, and yet all have truth of grace, yea, all have some growth in grace. Another may pray better, and yet thou pray well; Another may pray more affectionately, and yet thou pray as acceptably in the sight of God: so much for Answer to the first reason.
Many a poore soule may say, I can remember since I could pray better, and more largely. Now if I could pray better formerly then now, I am now grown remisse, and want this holy importunity. But this is no sound reason; for
[ 1] 1. It may be thou hadst formerly more affection, but lesse judgement, lesse experience, lesse spiritualnesse in thy prayers. It may be now thou art more sound in knowledge, thou makest a more inward progresse in holinesse; thou canst now make a more inward prayer to God, thou hast now more inward communion with God. Now if this be so, thou hast no cause to be discouraged. God loves a judicious prayer, as well as a large and affectionate prayer; you see what you want one way, you make up another way. A young carpenter gives more blowes, and makes more chips, but an old and experienced workman doth the most and the best worke. A young Musitian can play more quickly and nimbly upon an instrument, but an old Musitian hath more skill.
[ 2] 2. It may be when thou hadst more affections in prayer, thou hadst more sin in prayer, more pride in thy gifts, more dependance upon thy duties, more sensoriousness of others, and many other corruptions that did accompany thy prayers, and thy affectionatenesse in them. Now though thou hast lesse affections, yet those other corruptions are in great part eaten out.
[ 3] 3. It may be thou hast not now so many helps and opportunities to keep up thine heart, to stirre up thine affections in prayer, as thou hadst formerly. It may be thou didst formerly live under the teachings of an able godly minister. Now thou hast lost that opportunity. And so there are severall other helps, that peradventure are now taken away from thee,
[ 4] 4. Though it is true thou art abated, and thou didst pray better formerly then now, yet ought not this to be matter of discouragement to thee.
If it doth not proceed from a voluntary carelessenesse.
If it be not accompanied with hardnesse and insensiblenesse.
If it be not continued in with lazinesse and contentednesse. And so much for answer to the second reason.
Another ground of doubting to the people of God is this. They complaine they have not those inlarged expressions in prayer, which Gods people use to have. For answer consider these things.
[ 1] 1. This hath many times been the case of Gods own people, that they have wanted expressions, they could not finde a vent for their affections. Thus it was with Hannah, she spake in her heart, but she was not able to expresse her selfe. So it was with holy David, Psal. 77. 4. I am so troubled that I cannot speak, and yet in the first verse of that Psalme, he tells us he cried unto the Lord with his voice. Here was an heart full of prayer, though he wanted utterance.
[ 2] 2. It is better to have affections without expressions, then expressions without affections. God lookes more to the desires of the heart then the words of the mouth. It may be what thou wantest of expression, is made up in affection.
[ 3] 3. It may be what is wanting in words, is made up in life; as thou art defective in expression, so thou makest a recompence in conversation; and that is the best expression that can be. It is much better to live a prayer then to expresse a prayer. It is good to pray for grace, but it is better to live a life of grace. It is good to pray against sin, but it is better to live against sin.
And so much for answer to the third doubt.
A fourth ground of doubting is this: * Many a disconsolate Christian is apt to say, I am troubled with wandring thoughts; with deadnesse and dulnesse of heart in prayer.
I confess thy case is sad, and to be lamented for, and it is just matter of humiliation: Yet even here is matter of comfort.
[ 1] 1. If thou dost what thou canst, to free thy self from wandrings before thou comest to pray.
If thou dost what thou canst to resist these wandrings when you are come before God in prayer.
If you be sensible of these wandrings afterward. If you can say, you do these three things, your wandrings shall never be laid to your charge.
And thus I have done with both these Uses of Caution. And so I have done with the principal Doctrine, which was this, That on holy importunity, and earnestness of spirit, is a condition required in the prayers of Gods people, if they expect returns thereunto.
There is another considerable Doctrine yet behinde, taken from the amplification of the concession: He asked but three loaves; but because of his importunity, he gave him as many as he needed.
The observation thence is this; That when the heart is importunate in begging mercy, God usually gives us more than we pray for.
In the handling of this Doctrine, I shall
1. prove it by Scripture-instances.
2. I shall lay down the reasons of it.
3. I shall answer some objections, and cases of conscience; and so I shall come to application.
I shall prove it by Scripture instances.
You have the instance of Hannah, 1 Sam. 1. She beg’d a son with much importunity, being a woman of a sorrowful spirit for want of a son; Well, God returns her an answer. Chemnitius observes, * that Hanna asked a son, and God gave her a Prophet. She begged a son, God gave her a gracious son; a son greatly beloved of God. She asked a single mercy, and God gave her a double blessing.
Another instance you have in Abraham, Gen. 17. Abraham prayed, O that Ishmael might live in thy sight. Well, what answer doth God return? That you have vers. 19. *Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed, and thou shalt call his name Isaac, and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. It was Abrahams desire that Ishmael might live. Now God, not onely grants that, but hee grants him a better mercy.
Another instance you have in the Canaanitish woman, Matth. 15. who did importunately beg of Christ, the life and health of her daughter. Christ answered her thus, Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.
Now if you ask what is the reason, why God deals thus with his people? I answer.
[Reas. 1] 1. This proceeds from the largenesse and greatnesse of Gods power, and the riches and freenesse of his grace towards us; Ephes. 3. 20. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we are able*to ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. A man may ask of another man, and it may be receive; but then hee must not aske again: but herein appears the power and ability, the goodness and bounty of God; if we ask of him once or twice, he is a God that is able to give, not according to our asking onely, but above what we ask; and not onely above what we can ask, but above what we can ask or think. The words are so full, that they cannot well be expressed, God doth more then*excessively. God hath not onely a fulnesse of abundance, but of redundancy; not onely of plenty, but bounty; he is better then our prayers.
[Reas. 2] 2. God will do this, to relieve his people, and to supply their spiritual wants. Among the wants of Gods people, this is one, that we do not know what we need, nor what we should pray for as we ought, Rom. 8. 26. * Therefore God supplies our wants, not onely in what we ask, but in what we want, though we do not ask it, nor pray for it.
So much for the Reasons; I come now to answer some objections.
[Object. 1] But some may say, What priviledge hath a godly man more then a wicked man, to have more to be given him then he doth ask, seeing we read of wicked men that they do prosper in the world, and have more then heart can wish? Psal. 73. I answer.
[Answ. 1] 1. It is true in temporal mercies: God may give wicked men more then the godly, and more then their heart can wish; but God doth not give them spiritual mercies: As we may see in Balaam: God gave Balaam honours and riches, but Balaam cried our, O that I might dye the death of the righteous, This God did not grant him. So, many wicked men do say in a general way, Lord pardon my sins; God doth not hear them. It may be a child of God, may ask of God temporal mercies, and God will give him spiritual mercies; this is more then he did ask, and that much better then he gives to wicked men.
[ 2] 2. Though God doth give unto wicked men more then their hearts can wish, yet God doth not give it as any return of prayer, but onely as fruits of general and common providence, as they are his creatures, whom he will preserve.
[ 3] 3. God may give wicked men more then their hearts can wish, and this is not in mercy, but in wrath. They may receive mercies, but not as mercies, not in mercy. And there are four demonstrations when God hears a man in wrath.
[ 1] 1. When he asks any thing of God that is sinful in its own nature; as the denial of it is an act of mercy, so the grant of it is a fruit of Gods anger. God doth many times give those things in his anger, which he denies when he is well pleased. God will not hear his own people according to their wills, but according to his own will. It is in this case, as it is with a father, when his child, for want of knowledg, asks a knife of him, by which he may cut his fingers; the father will not give him the knife, except it be in wrath. So a man may ask mercies at the hand of God, and it may be God will give them in wrath to cut themselves with them.
[ 2] 2. If you ask those things of God, which though they are not sinful in their own nature; yet if thy asking of these lawful things be to an unlawful end, God will deny these in mercy; and when he gives them it is in wrath. As if thou desirest temporal mercies to abuse them to drunkenesse, or to live in any other sin and wickednesse; if God give thee those mercies, tis as a testimony of his wrath to thee. So it was in the 78. Psalm v. 18. They tempted God in their hearts,*and asked meat for their lust. There was the end of their desires. They desired a lawful thing for unlawful ends; But what followed? The wrath of God: For while the meat was in their mouthes, the wrath of God came upon them, vers. 30, 31.
If you ask any thing of God, and he gives it in wrath, you may know by this; if it be an occasion of sin to thee, it is given thee in wrath. So it was with the Israelites, even now mentioned, the meat that God gave them proved an occasion of sin, vers. 32.—they sinned still, and believed not his wondrous works. When the mercies you enjoy becomes fuel to your lusts, those mercies are accompanied with the curse and wrath of God; and this using of mercies will turn to the aggravation of wrath.
[ 4] 4. Mercies are given thee in wrath, when the enjoyment of them hinders thee from the receit of greater mercies from God. Thus it was with the Devils, Matth. 8. 31, 32. They besought Christ that they might go into the Herd of Swine: Christ granted them that, he let them enter into swine, that they might not enter into men. When the giving of temporal mercies, hinders thee from the receit of spiritual mercies, they are given in wrath. There are many men to whom God gives temporal mercies, they have riches in abundance, pleasure at will, every thing they can desire; but these mercies take off their thoughts and affections from better things; by getting these they loose Christ, and grace, immortality, and eternal happinesse. Now in these cases, though God doth give mercies, yet they are given in wrath; and so notwithstanding this objection, the priviledg of Gods people, is much greater then the priviledg of wicked men.
But it may be further objected and enquired; If this be so, that mercies are given to wicked men in wrath, and by a common providence,*How may I know when mercies come to me as returns of prayers?
Now I shall answer that in these particulars.
[Answ. 1] 1. Mercies are returns of prayer, when the receiving of mercy is a means to quicken the heart to beg for other mercies at the hands of God: when the mercy shall make thee more to love prayer, more to use prayer. This you finde proved by Davids experience, Psal. 116. 2. Because he hath heard my voice, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. You see here, because God had heard Davids prayer, and given him the mercy he begged, he makes an argument, and an engagement to himself to pray as long as hee lived. So that to continue prayer, is a means to get more mercy; and the leaving off of prayer when you have a mercy, is a means to loose that which you have obtained at the hands of God. But as for the wicked it is not so with them. Mercies received onely from a common, or general providence, have no such efficacy, as you may see, Job 21. 7, 8, &c. there Job tells you,—the wicked live, become old, yea, mighty in power: Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their off-spring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull gendereth, and faileth not, their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf. And so he goes on, describing that happy condition that wicked men were in, and how God followed them with mercy after mercy. Well, what was the effect of this? Did this engage them to call upon God? Did this make them in love with prayer? No, it had a quite contrary effect, vers. 14. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledg of thy waies. And vers. 15. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him?
[ 2] 2. Mercies that are given as returns of prayer, do not onely make a man consider that they are from God, but drawes the heart to God, and put a man upon imploying them in the service, and to the honour of God. This we finde to be the temper of Hannah, 1 Sam. 1. 27, 28. Hannah had prayed for a child, God gave her a son. Now what doth she with this mercy? Observe, For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath granted my petition,—Therefore have I lent him to the Lord; as long as hee liveth. Seeing God hath heard my prayer and granted my request, therefore will I give this mercy to God, to be imployed in this service. So 1 Joh. 3. 22. And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandements, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. You see it is made an evidence, that what we receive is received as an answer to our askings; because we make those mercies helps to obedience to keep Gods commandements. But now mercies that come from a common providence, do not draw out the heart towards God; they rather draw them out towards sin; as it was in the forementioned Israelites, Psalm 78. though God did give them their hearts desire, yet were they not estranged from their lust.
[ 3] 3. Mercies come from God as returns of prayer, when they make you more to rejoyce in the God that hears your prayers, and gives you the mercy, then in the mercy you receive from God. Thus you finde it was in Hannah, she asked a son, and God gave her a son, yet she saith, 1 Sam. 2. 1. *My heart rejoyceth in the Lord. God gave her a son, she rejoyced in that mercy, but she rejoyced more in the God that gave it. So it was with David, Psal. 85. 6. Wilt thou not*revive us again, that thy people may rejoyce in thee? We will not rejoyce chiefly in the mercy, but in thee. But on the contrary, those that receive mercies out of the basket of common providence, they rejoyce more in the mercy then in the God of mercy; they rejoyce in their wealth and glory, in the multitude of their riches; but as for God they bid him depart from them; they cannot rejoyce in God.
Luke 11. 8.
Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend: yet because of his importunity, he will, &c.
* [ 4] 4. Mercies that are the fruits of prayer, are known by this, He that hath them, ascribes them not to his own industry, but to the grace and mercy of God. Thus it was with Sampson, Judg. 15. when hee was ready to dye for thirst, he prayed unto the Lord, and God clave an hollow place in the jaw-bone, and gave him water. Now Sampson calls the name of the place Enhakkore, the well of him that prayed: he ascribes it to the return of his prayers; to that assistance that God gave him to pray. So Hannah ascribed her mercy to God, not to her self. But now a wicked man that receives mercies from Gods general providence, his language is, This I have laboured for; this I have ventured my life for; this my friends left me; this I got by my forecast, providence, & industry: thus they sacrifice to their own nets; but seldom say, This is the return of prayers, this is the gift of God.
[ 5] 5. That mercy that is given as a return of prayer, is enjoyed with more inward quiet, and contentment of minde, then when it is given in by general providence. When Eli told Hannah that she should have a son, and that her prayer was heard, she had so much inward joy and contentment of minde, that is said, Hannah went away rejoycing; and her countenance was no more sad: The consideration of that made her very much to rejoyce. The reason is, because mercies that are given in as returns of prayer, they are given in with a blessing, and inward quiteness and contentment of minde. The mercies that God gives his own people, he gives them with joy and comfort, Prov 10. 22. The blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow to it. You read, 1 Chron. 4. 10. And Jabez called on the God of Israel,*saying, O that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coasts, and that thy hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil that it may not grieve me. Jabez knew that it was the manner of God, when he gave blessings as returns of prayer, not to add grief to it. Isaac he prayed for his wife, and God gave her to him to be a great comfort to him. It may be wicked men have wives and no content with them, but sorrow added to them, because they did not pray for them as Isaac did; they have children, but sorrow with them; and abundance of riches, and sorrow added to that; and all because they have not the mercies as returns of prayer. The mercies that are given in a way of general providence, usually are accompanied with vexatiousnesse and discontent, snares and sorrowes mingled with the mercies. So it was, Psal. 106. 15. He gave them their requests, but he sent leanness into their souls. God gives wicked men indeed their requests; but how is it, with a blessing and with content? No, no such matter, they have a curse with it. You know Saul gave Michal to David to be a snare to him, a crosse and discontentment. So doth God many times, in just judgement, give his blessings to wicked men, to be snares, and curses and crosses to them.
[ 6] 6. Mercies that come as returns of prayer, may be known by this, If they are given in the time, when God doth draw out thine heart to seek him in holy duties. An instance of this you have, Act. 12. While the Church was met to pray for Peters enlargement, * the prison-doors were opened; and he came and knocked at the door of the house, where they were assembled. This was an evident signe, that God gave in Peter to them as a return of prayer. So Acts 4. 31. When they had prayed, the place was*shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,—You read, Joh. 4. 52, 53. That the Noble man * enquired diligently, concerning the time wherein the child began to recover; and when he understood that, he knew it was a return of his prayer, and a fruit of Christs love. God tells his people, Isa. 65. 24. Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear. Thus we read in the Book of Martyrs, That the people of God did make it a signe of Gods answering our prayers, when God was pleased to give in mercies to them, at the time wherein they prayed. Thus we read of Luther; That there was a young man that had made a Covenant, and sealed a Bond with his own blood, to give himself, soul and body to the Devil; onely to live in pleasure, and to do and have whatsoever he did desire. And when the time of the Bond was almost out, he being much troubled in his minde, came to Luther and told him what he had done, and what was like to befal him upon it. Whereupon, Luther called the Church together, and kept a solemn Fast in the behalf of the young man: And whilest that Luther was in prayer, being earnest with God, there was a great noise heard amongst them, and the Bond was cast into the lap of Luther, in the midst of the Congregation. And so for time to come, the young man did lead an holy and godly life.
[ 7] 7. And lastly, Mercies are given as answers of prayers, in case you make care and conscience, to perform to God those vowes which you made to God before you did enjoy the mercy. But when we promise God largely before we have the mercy, and when we have them, do not perform our vowes, it is an argument we have the mercies by general and common providence: Job 22. 27, 28. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto him, and he shall hear thee; and thou shalt pay thy vowes: thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee; and the light shall shine upon thy wayes. When thou begest a mercy, and saiest, Lord give me such a mercy, and I will do thus and thus; I will walk so and so before thee, I will improve them to thy glory. Now when thou shalt thus ask for mercy, and make vowes to God, he will hear; but then thou must be sure to perform thy vowes. This frame of heart we finde to be in David, Psal. 66. 13, 14. I will go into thine house with burnt offerings, I will pay thee my vowes which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken when I was in trouble. You see David was in trouble, and he prayed to God, and made some promises and vowes, in case God would deliver him. Now God did deliver him out of trouble, and hee did make good his vowes. Now here was a return of prayer. David you see did not grow secure and carelesse, but he made conscience to pay what he had promised to God. And so you see how you may discover, whether the mercies you receive from God be returns of prayer, or onely fruits of common and general providence. And so much for Answer to that Question.
Another Objection, or case of conscience is this; How can this be true, that God gives his people more then they need, seeing it is the complaint of Gods people many times, that they have been a long time begging mercy, and God doth not give them so much as they desire. Many say, I pray for pardon of sin, and I cannot get it pardoned, and the pardon sealed: I pray daily for power against my corruptions, and yet I cannot get my lusts subdued? What then shall I think of my prayers, may some poor soul say?
Now to this I shall lay down several things, by way of answer.
[Answ. 1] 1. It must be considered, that God many times gets glory by the denials of his people; yea, he gets more glory by denying, then by the granting of a mercy. And if the denying of a mercy to thee, be the way to advice. Gods glory; it is better that God should have his glory, and thou be without the mercy, then that thou shouldst have the mercy, and God want his glory. An eminent instance of this you have, Joh. II. There was a prayer made by Mary and Martha for their brother Lazarus; And they came unto Jesus and said, he whom thou lovest is sick: But Jesus said, This sicknesse is not unto death, but for the glory of God. When Jesus Christ heard that he was sick, yet he staied two dayes in the place where he was, though he loved Martha, and he loved Lazarus, yet he stayed two dayes and would not go to him: but in the 14. verse, Christ said plainly, Lazarus is dead: And I am glad for your sakes, that I was not there, to the intent that you might believe. But they said unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, he had not dyed. Christ came and commanded them to role the stone away, Martha answered, He hath been four dayes in the grave, and by this time be stinketh. This was that that Christ aimed at: Christ knew that it was greater glory to him, to raise the dead out of the grave, then to raise him out of the bed of sicknesse: The power of his Godhead did more appear in the former then in the latter. And when Martha told him, He stinketh; Jesus answered, Said I not unto thee, if thou didst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God? that is, thou shouldst see the power of my Godhead. This was the end of Christs denying of mercy, though it was earnestly desired.
[ 2] 2. I answer, It may be thou dost not hear God in his commands, and then it is no wonder God doth not hear thee in thy prayers. If thou dost not hearken to the call of God, it may be expected that God should not hearken to thy call. See Prov. 1. 24. Because I have called, and ye refused, I have*stretched out my hand, and no man regarded. Compared with verse 28. Then shall they call*upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not finde me. Mic. 3. 4. Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them; he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. Zach. 7. 13. Therefore it is come to passe, that as he cryed and they would not hear, so they cryed, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of Hosts. It may be God hath been calling upon thee this many years to believe and to repent; to be reformed, to forsake the evil of your doings; and thou hast not heatd his calling; his mercies have not drawn thee; his judgements have not affrighted thee: and is it not just with God to let thee call, and he not hear thee?
[ 3] 3. It may be thou dost ask but sleightly, and therefore thy prayers are not successful: As it is with a man, that asketh any thing of another man sleightly and coldly, he doth, as it were, desire him to say him nay. So when man askes mercies of God, carelessly and indifferently, this provokes God to give no answer. It may be thou prayest sleepily and drouzily, and with a wandring heart: And dost thou think God will hear that prayer, that thou dost not hear thy self? Dost thou think that God will accept of that prayer, when thou knowest not what thou sayest?
[ 4] 4. God may give thee a mercy, and thou through thy incredulity, impatiency, and inobservancie, not minde the returns that God gives. God may hear thy prayers, and yet thou not take any notice of it. This you may see in Job, Job 9. 16, 17. If I have called and God answered, yet I will not believe that God hath heard me, because thou breakest me with thy tempest—Job was in a fit of impatiency and unbelief. And though God did give him returns of prayer, yet hee would not, did not observe them.
[ 5] 5. God may deny thee the mercy, not that he is unable, or unwilling to hear thee or relieve thee; but to make thee the more desirous of, and so the more fit for mercy. It may be yet thou art not fit for an answer. The Philosopher beg’d some mony of Antigonus, he gave him a Drachme: He said, It is not for a King to give so little, a Talent had been a more sutable gift. The King replied, Though a Talent is fit for me to give, yet thou art not fit to receive. So though God is alwaies fit and ready to give an answer to our prayers, yet we are not alwaies fit and ready to receive it. God bids us open our mouths wide, and I will fill it. God denies us, that we may open our mouths the wider, and enlarge our desires the more after mercy. The Lord doth by his people, as a father by his child; a father may seem to withdraw and hide himself from his child, to try its love to him; and the child begins to mourn and cry, yet the father comes not to the child; but when he hears the child cry aloud, then he comes to it and takes it up in his arms. So the Lord many times, sees his people pray, but he seems to withdraw from them, to hide himself from the prayers of his people; and goes as it were out of their sight, until they begin to cry aloug, to be very earnest and importunate in their prayers, till their desires be enlarged towards God; and then God graciously returns their prayers into their bosom. Now this is a very good reason, why God denies the prayers of his people. Desires defer’d, grow the stronger; but if the mercies be soon given, the desires grow cold, and the mercy growes contemptible. Mannah lightly come, is lightly set by. God doth by us as a Fisher-man doth, he drawes back the bait, that so the Fish may come after it the more eagerly, and bite the harder. God seemes to draw back a mercy, that wee may more earnestly pursue it.
[ 6] 6. Consider this that Gods people have prayed and waited a long time, before God hath given them the mercy they have asked, before God hath given them an answer of their prayers. God promised Abraham a son, that from him should proceed such an one, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, that his seed should be multiplyed as the starres in the firmament; and yet it was fifteene yeares betweene the time of Gods making him that promise, and the accomplishment of it. So likewise you finde it in Zacbariab and Elizabeth, they prayed for a Childe at the first beginning of their marriage, now God did heare their cryes and prayers; yet he did not give them a returne till they were old and stricken in yeares. So likewise it was with the Church, Lament. 3. vers. 8. Also when I cry and shout be shutteth out my prayer. And ver. 44. Thou hast*covered thy selfe with a cloud, that our prayers*should not passe through. So also it was, Hab. 1. 2. O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not heare? It was also the complaint of holy David, Psal. 22. 1, 2. My God, my God, why*hast thou for saken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God I cry in the day time and thou hearest not, and in the night season, and am not silent.
[ 7] 7. God may not onely deferre or deny to heare his peoples prayers, but in some times and cases be angry with the prayers of his people. Psal. 80. 4. O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayers of thy people. So Job 30. 20, 21. I cry unto thee, and thou doest not heare me. I stand up and thou regardest me not; thou art become cruell to me with thy strong hand, thou opposest thy selfe against me.
[ 8] 8. Consider this for thy comfort, that thy person may be accepted and thy prayers heard, and yet the thing thou prayest for not granted to thee. An instance of this you have in Christ himselfe, he prayed, Father if it be possible let this cup passe from me, Mat. 26. yet this cup did not passe from him, but he did drink of it, and yet it is said that Christ was heard in all that he prayed for, Heb. 5. 7. *Deut. 3. ver. 23. I be sought the Lord at that time (saith Moses) and ver. 26. But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not heare me: and the Lord said unto me, let it suffice thee, speake no more to me of this matter. Moses did importunately desire that hee might see the Land, and goe over Jordan to possesse it. Moses was a godly man, and here he prayes for this mercy, but yet God was angry with him, & bad him pray no more. God bad him goe up into the Mount and see the Land, but told him he should not goe over. So when thou askest a particular mercy at the hand of God, God may deny them that mercy, and yet heare their prayers and accept their persons.
[ 9] 9. God may deny thee the mercy thou askest, and give thee a better in the roome of it, he makes you to open your mouthes the wider, that he may give you the greater mercies. Abraham prayed that Ishmael might live. Now God did not heare his prayer in that as Abraham did desire it, but he gave him Isaac, and with him he established the Covenant, which was a better mercy. Moses was denied in his request to go into Canaan, but he was translated into a better place, into the true Canaan, the Kingdome of heaven.
[ 10] 10. God may denie what we pray for in mercy, which should he grant it would be a token of his wrath; as if a man should aske that which was sinfull, or that which would be an unavoydable occasion of sin, or if he should aske it for sinfull ends, or in case a man ask that that would be a monument of his shame; all which cases I have spoken to before, and therefore shall now say no more.
[ 11] 11. God may heare another mans prayers for thee, though he will not heare thine owne. This is a great comfort to every poore weake Christian in the world, they have a stock of prayers going for them to the throne of grace. You reade in Job, chap. 42. that God forbad his three friends to pray, but bad Job pray for them, and told him, that he would heare him for them, ver. 8, 9.—goe to my 〈…〉, and offer*up for your selves a burnt offering, and my servant Job shall pray for you, for him will I accept, least I deale with you after your folly, in that you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, like my servant Job. And they did as God commanded them, and the Lord accepted Job. It may be there be times when you can not pray, or when God will not heare your prayers, but remember you have a stock of prayers going for you. And thus much shall suffice by way of answer to this objection; I now come to make application.
Luke 11. 8.
Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him, &c.
*IN the first place, let me draw some Inferences or Corollaries from what hath been insisted upon.
[Corollary 1] 1. Returnes to prayer are not given for the works sake, but for the persons sake. Though the matter of thy prayer may be good, yet if thou art not a good man, thou shalt not be accepted. God had respect first to Abel, & then to his offering. Psal. 34. 17. The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth— The person must be in a state of favour, before the dutie can be accepted.
[Corol. 2] 2. Though prayers are not returned for the work, yet they are not returned without the work. God expects the worke, and the worke you must doe, though God will not have you to look for acceptance for the workes sake.
[Corol. 3] 3. Nor are returnes of prayer made to a person singly considered, but a member of Christ, as one that hath a share in his intercession. Joh. 15. 7. If yee abide in mee—ye shall aske what you will, and it shall be given you. So Joh. 16. 23. Whatsoever ye aske the Father in my Name, that he will give to you. All our prayers are but Cyphers, till Christs intercession be added. Cyphers in Arithmetick stand for nothing till a figure be added.
[Coroll. 4] 4. The longer and the more thou hast prayed, the more affectionate shouldest thou be in prayer. Mat. 6. 7. Aske and yee shall*have, seeke and yee shall finde, knock and it shall be opened unto you. Observe the gradation in these words; Aske, but you must not stay there, you must seeke, nor yet must you rest satisfied there, you must knock. Your affections should be every day more eager and earnest, you should pray more fervently; * as it is said of Christ, Luk. 22. 44.
[Corol. 5] 5. He can never pray importunately, that doth not pray daily; Intermission of dutie will quickly cause an interruption in thine affections, you must therefore pray in secret, pray fervently, pray morning and evening. And to stirre you up to and incourage you in this worke;
[ 1] Consider 1. The example of those holy men of God who have done thus. Nehemiah 1 6. Let thine eare now be attentive, and thine yet open, that thou maiest heare the prayer of thy servant which I pray before thee day and night. So you have the example of Daniel, Dan. 6. 10.—hee kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thankes before his God, as he did before time. It was a custome that he had observed of former time. Though he was a great Courtier, and a man full of great imployment, yet he would not neglect prayer. Nor was this an extraordinary fit but his ordinary course. So in David, Psal. 5. 3. My voyce shall thou heare in the morning, and in the evening will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will looke up. So Psal. 88. 13. But unto thee have I cryed, O Lord, and in the morning shall my*prayer prevent thee. So Psal. 119. 147. I prevented*the dawning of the morning, and cryed unto the Lord. Psal. 55. 17. Evening and morning*and at noone will I pray and cry aloud.
You have the example of Jesus Christ * himselfe, Mark. 1. 35. In the morning rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed, and so at evening. Mat. 14. * 23. He went unto a mountaine to pray, and when the evening was come he was there also. And least you should thinke this was onely upon extraordinary occasion, it is said, Luk. 22. 3. He came to the*mount of Olives as he was went. Joh. 18. 2. Jesus, resorted thither with his Disciples.
[ 3] 3. Consider you have the very examples of of Heathens in this. The Heathens sacrificed to Heroules morning and evening upon the great Altar at Rome.
[ 4] 4. Consider that in the Lords Prayer, we are taught to pray every day. Christ did not bid us pray for bread or things necessary for a moneth or a yeare, but day by day.
[ 5] 5. This was prefigured in the Law, there was a daily offering to be given to God, a lambe at morning and a lambe at night, as you may see Exod. 29. 38, 39. Yea extraordinary * sacrifices did not abolish this number, there was a burnt, offering for the Sabbath, besides the continuall burnt offering, and the burnt offering at the beginning of the moneth, and the Passe over, and yet though these extraordinary workes were to be done; yet the ordinary were not to be left undone. 80 that you see here is good ground and encouragement for then to be-frequent in these religious duties. And somuch for the 〈…〉.
[Use. 2] [Caution.] •. This may be usefull for the instruction of those to whom God hath given returnes of prayers, to whom God hath out of his bounty given more then they did…. To such I must give, first, S••ne negative cautions; secondly, Some positive cautions.
[Negative 1] •. Some 〈…〉 cautions, and that in foure regards.
Let not Gods returnes to thy prayers make thee remisse and carelesse in the performance of duty. Beware of an empty heart when God brings in thy mercies with a full hand. Merchant adventurers, ifthey have good returnes, are incouraged to adventure their Ships to Sea againe: Our hearts are so base and disingenuous, that wee are apt, when we have what we seeke for, to seeke no more. O take heed of this let not Gods goodnesse make you worse.
[ 2] 2. Another caution is this. Let not returnes to prayer make you conceited and proud of your gifts; or of your graces. Wee are too apt to reflect upon our selves, our parts, our graces, our abilities, and therefore we have more need to 〈…〉 of it. Beware that thine heart be not lifted up in pride against God, least God be pro¦voked to lift up his hand against thee in judgement.
[ 3] 3. Take heed that you doe not ascribe the returnes of prayer do your owne importunitie, but 〈◊〉 to the freenesse of Gods grace. Men are 〈◊〉 apt to 〈◊〉 to their owne 〈◊〉, and 〈◊〉 because to their owne drags. Take heed of〈◊〉; God cannot endure to have his glory givs and another. Say rather, I have received mercy, but alas there is nothing in mee that could deserve it, all comes solely from the free grace of God.
[ 4] 4. Take heed of returning againe to sin after God hath returned thy prayers into thy bosome. Psal. 85. 8. I will heare what the Lord God will speake, for he will speake peace to his people, but let them not turne againe to folly. It would be both sin and folly in thee to returne to sin after God hath given thee an answer of peace. This was Davids resolution for his owne particular. Psal. 6. 8. Depart from mee all you workers of iniquitie: Why, what is the reason? The Lord hath heard the voyce of my supplication. As if David had said, O ye wicked men, you have been occasions of sin to me, and companions in sin with me, but how that God hath been thus gracious to mee, now that God hath graciously returned my prayers, I will haue no more to doe with you; Depart from mee; yea workers of iniquitie. And so much for the negative Cautions.
I shall now lay down a few positive cautions.
[ 1] 1. If God hath returned thy prayers, see that thou beest more frequent in prayer then thou wast formerly. This was the purpose of holy. David, Psal. 116. Because the Lord hath heard my prayer, therefore I will call upon him as long as I live. So let it be your care, to set your self more solemnly, and seriously to seek God then ever you have doue.
[ 2] 2. See that you be more in praises to God then you have been. Those mercies that thou hast won by prayer, are to be worn by thankfulness, Psal. 145. 10. All thy works praise thee, O Lord, and thy Saints do bless thee. All Gods works do praise him; The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work. That is, they are all the passive monuments of Gods power in creating them: But the Saints they are agents in praising God. Blessing is more then praising: A picture praiseth him that made it; but it doth not bless him. The Saints, they bless God in a peculiar manner; their mouthes are full of the praises of God: They have a principle within them of praising God; they are agents in setting forth his praise. And therefore it is very fit that you should bless God.
[ 3] 3. See that you be much in obedience: If God doth much for thee, see that thou do much for God. If God hath an hearing ear, thou must have a doing hand. And so much for the use of caution.
[Use. 3] 3. I shall speak something by way of comfort.
[ 1] 1. To such as have not this importunity, nor this return of prayers.
[ 2] 2. To such as have returns to prayer.
[ 1] 1. Here is a word of consolation to those that want this holy importunity; and that in three respects.
[ 1] 1. Thou maiest pray with sincerity, when thou dost not pray with importunity. The Lord, saith David, is nigh to all that call upon him; but how? Not onely to them that call on him importunately and powerfully, but to all that call upon him in truth; if thou canst say thou dost call upon God in truth, and with a sincere heart, God will be high unto thee.
[ 2] 2. It is the office of Christ to pray for thee in heaven, when thou dost not pray upon earth. It is the work of Jesus Christ to make intercession for thee to his Father. Although thou hast not importunity in thy self, yet consider, O believing soul, that Christ is in heaven importuning the Father for thee.
[ 3] 3. A sense and complaining of the want of this holy importunity, is accounted by God a degree of it. If you did never complain of the want of the Spirit, it was a signe you never had the Spirit: and now that you be wall the want of it, it is a signe you have it.
[Branch 2] 2. Here is also a word of consolation, to those that have returns of prayer; and that in four respects.
[ 1] 1. Thy mercies are double mercies: It is a mercy to have mercy, but to have it in such a way, is a double mercy, Psal. 91. They shall call upon me, and I will answer them; and I will be with him in trouble, &c. It is a mercy to have deliverance out of trouble; but to have it through prayer, a deliverance that comes in by prayer, is a double, mercy.
[ 2] 2. These mercies are sanctified mercies. Mercies as you are creatures are good, but as returns of prayer they are sanctified: And blest mercies, are much better to the soul that enjoyeth them.
[ 3] 3. The mercies which thou hast, as returns of prayer, are costly mercies. Mercies that come in by providence, are easie and cheap, but mercies that come in by prayer are costly; they cost the price of Christs blood to purchase them; and they cost thee many a prayer and tear to obtain them.
[ 4] 4. These mercies are sealing mercies, and that in three particulars,
[ 1] 1. They are seals to you that you have the Spirit of God; for Christ hears no prayers, and no spirit, but his own. God is as well pleased with the barking of a dog, as with the prayers of a Christless man.
[ 2] 2. It is a seal to thee of an interest in Christs intercession. If thy prayers are returned, it is a signe they are accepted. Now no prayers are accepted, but by vertue of the intercession of Jesus Christ.
[ 3] 3. These returns are a seal of more mercies; a signe that thou shalt have more mercies from God. One mercie that is given in by prayer, is a pledg of another mercie; and thy mercie in this life, is a pledg to thee, that thou shalt have eternal happiness in heaven to all eternity.