Wrestling Prayer

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

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;
~ Romans 15:30

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:8

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;
~ Colossians 2:1

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
~ Colossians 4:12

The Zealous Christian Holding Communion with God, in Wrestling and Importunate Prayer, by Christopher Love.

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 plea 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.

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 weought, 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…

The Answer returned to this request is double.

By way of negation, ver. 7. Trouble me not &c. Observe, that God’s 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 as 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, to 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 loaves, 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 service, 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 in the intercession, satisfaction and righteousnesse of Jesus Christ. And till we have a share in that, 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. 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 is 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 are 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? If we had no other reason against justification by works (saith Perkins) 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 enquire, 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.