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per. Those six sermons of prayer, published since this was written, are the useful labours of some of my valuable friends, and have many divine thoughts in them; but they take in the whole compass of this subject, in all the inward as well as outward parts of the worship; and therefore could not allow sufficient room to enlarge upon that which is my great design.
It is not necessary to inform the world, that Bishop Wilkins, in his discourse of the gift of prayer, has been my chief assistant toward the second chapter of this book; nor need I tell my reader what writings I have consulted of the learned and pious Dr. Owen, and others that have written for or against the work of the Spirit in prayer, in order to gain a clearer light, nor what hints have borrowed from the treatise of a very judicious author, with a fanciful title imposed upon it by an unknown hand, and called the Generation of Seekers, wherein several practical cases about the aids of the Spirit are largely and well handled; though I had the opportunity of knowing and consulting it only since this was in the press.
But if there are any advances made here beyond the labours of great men in the last age, I hope the world will excuse this attempt; and if younger christians by perusal of these papers shall find themselves improved in the holy skill of prayer, when they get nearest to the throne of grace, I entreat If ever them to put in one petition for the author, who has languished under grea weakness for some years past, and is cut off from all public service. he be restored again, he shall rejoice in farther labours for their good, he shall share in the pleasure of their improvements, and assist them in the work of praise.
A GUIDE TO PRAYER.
PRAYER is a word of an extensive sense in scripture, and includes not only a request or petition for mercies, but it is taken for the address of a creature on earth to God in heaven, about every thing that concerns his God, his neighbour or himself, in this world, or the world to come. It is that converse, which God hath allowed us to maintain with himself above, while we are here below. It is that language, wherein a creature holds correspondence with his Creator: and wherein the soul of a saint often gets near to God, is entertained with great delight, and, as it were, dwells with his heavenly Father for a short season before he comes to heaven. It is a glorious privilege that our Maker hath indulged to us and a necessary part of that obedience which he hath required of us, at all times and seasons, and in every circumstance of life; according to those scriptures, 1 Thess. v. 17. Pray without ceasing. Phil. iv. 6.-In every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. Ephes. vi. 18. Praying always, with all prayer and supplication.
Prayer is a part of divine worship that is required of all men, and is to be performed either with the voice, or only in the heart, and is called vocal or mental prayer. It is commanded to single persons in their private retirements, in a more solemn and continued method or manner; and in the midst of the businesses of life, by secret and sudden liftings up of the soul to God. It belongs also to the communities of men, whether they be natural, as families; or civil, as corporations, parliaments, courts, or societies for trade and business; and to religious communities, as when persons meet together on any pious design, they should seek their God: it is required of the churches of christians in an especial manner, for the house of God is the house of prayer. Since therefore it is a duty of such absolute necessity for all men, and of such universal use, it is fit we should all know how to perform it aright, that it may obtain acceptance of the great God, and become a delightful and profitable exercise to our own souls, and to those that join with us.
To this end I shall deliver my thoughts on this subject in the following order: I. I shall speak of the nature of prayer as a duty of worship. II. As it is to be performed by the gifts or
abilities God has bestowed upon us. III. As it must be attended with the exercise of our graces. IV. As we are assisted in it by the Spirit of God: and, V. Conclude all with an earnest address to christians to seek after this holy skill of converse with God.
CHAPTER I.-The Nature of Prayer.
In the discourse of prayer considered as a duty of worship required of us, that we may understand the whole nature of it better, let it be divided into its several parts; and I think they may be all included in these following, namely, Invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, profession or self-dedication, thanksgiving, and blessing; of each of which I shall speak particularly.
SECTION I-Of Invocation.
The first part of prayer is invocation, or calling upon God, and it may include in it these three things:
1. A making mention of one or more of the names or titles of God; and thus we do as it were bespeak the person to whom we pray as you have abundant instances in the prayers that are delivered down to us in holy scripture, O Lord my God, most high and most holy God and Father. O God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims. Almighty God and everlasting King. Our Father which art in heaven. O God, that keepest covenant; and several others.
2. A declaration of our desire and design to worship him. Unto thee do we lift up our souls. We draw near unto thee as our God. We come into thy presence. We that are but dust and ashes take upon us to speak to thy Majesty. We bow ourselves before thee in humble addresses, or such like. And here it may not be amiss to mention briefly one or two general expressions of our own unworthiness.
3. A desire of his assistance and acceptance, under a sense of our own insufficiency and unworthiness, in such language as this is; Lord, quicken us to call upon thy name. Assist us by thy Spirit in our access to thy mercy seat. Raise our hearts towards thyself. Teach us to approach thee as becomes creatures, and do thou draw near to us as a God of grace. Hearken to the voice of my cry, my King and my God, for unto thee will I pray; Ps. v. 2. in which words you have all these three parts of invocation expressed.
SECT. II.--Of Adoration.
The second part of prayer is adoration, or honour paid to God by the creature; and it contains these four things:
1. A mention of his nature as God, with the highest admiration and reverence: and this includes his most original properties and perfections, viz. his self-sufficient existence; that he is God of and from himself. His unity of essence, that there is no other God besides himself. His inconceivable subsistence in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; which mystery of the trinity is a most proper object of our adoration and wonder, since it so much surpasses our understanding. His incomprehensible distance from all creatures, and his infinite superiority of nature above them, seems also to claim a place here. The language of this part of prayer runs thus :— "Thou art God, and there is none else, thy name alone is Jehovah the Most High. Who in the heavens can be compared to the Lord, or who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to our God? All nations before thee are as nothing, and they are counted in thy sight less than nothing and vanity, Thou art the first and the last, the only true and living God; thy glorious name is exalted above all blessing and praise.'
2. The mention of his several attributes with due expressions of praise, and with the exercise of suitable grace and affec tion as his power, his justice, his wisdom, his sovereignty, his holiness, his goodness and mercy. Abundance of which sort of expressions you find in scripture in those addresses that the saints have made to God in all ages. "Thou art very great, O Lord, thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Thou art the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords. All things are naked and open before thine eyes. Thou searchest the heart of man, but how unsearchable is thine understanding? and thy power is unknown. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Thy mercy endureth for ever. Thou art slow to anger, abundant in goodness, and thy truth reaches to all generations." These meditations are of great use in the beginning of our prayers, to abase us before the throne of God, to awaken our reverence, our dependence, our faith and hope, our humility and our joy,
3. The mention of his several works of creation, of provividence, and of grace, with proper praises. For as God is glorious in himself, in his nature and attributes, so by the works of his hands hath he manifested that glory to us, and it becomes us to ascribe the same glory to him, that is, to tell him humbly what a sense we have of the several perfections, he hath revealed in these works of his; in such language as this, Thou, Lord, hast made the heavens and the earth. The whole creation is the work of thine hands. Thou rulest among the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth thou doest what pleasest thee. Thou hast revealed thy goodness towards mankind, and hast magnified thy mercy above all thy name. Thy works of na
ture and of grace are full of wonder, and sought out by all those that have pleasure in them.
4. The mention of his relation to us as a Creator, as a Father, as a Redeemer, as a King, as an almighty Friend, and our everlasting Portion. And here it will not be improper to make mention of the name of Christ, in and through whom alone we are brought nigh to God, and made his children; by whose incarnation and atonement he becomes a God and Father to sinful men, and appears their reconciled Friend. And by this means we draw still nearer to God, in every part of this work of adoration. When we consider his nature, we stand afar off from him as creatures from a God; for he is infinitely superior to us when we speak of his attributes there seems to grow a greater acquaintance between God and us, while we tell him that we have learned something of his power, his wisdom, his justice and his mercy. But when we proceed to make mention of the several works of his hand, wherein he hath sensibly discovered himself to our understandings, we seem yet to approach nigher to God, and when at last we can arise to call him our God, from a sense of his special relation to us in Christ, then we gain the nearest access; and are better prepared for the following parts of this worship.
SECT. III.-Of Confession.
The third part of prayer consists in confession, which may also be divided into these four heads :
1. An humble confession of the meanness of our nature in its original: our distance from God, as we are creatures our subjection to him, and our constant dependence on him. Thou, O Lord, art in heaven, but we on earth; our being is but of yesterday, and our foundation is in the dust. What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou shouldest visit him? Man, that is a worm, and the son of man that is but a worm! It is in thee that we live, move and have our being: thou withholdest thy breath and we die.
2. A confession of our sins, both original, which belong to our nature; and actual, that have been found in the course of our lives. We should confess our sins under the sense of the guilt of them, as well as under the deep and mournful impressions of the power of sin in our hearts. We should confess the sins that we have been guilty of in thought, as well as the iniquities of our lips and of our lives. Our sins of omission and sins of commission; the sins of our childhood and of our riper years; sins against the law of God, and sins more particularly committed against the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes it is convenient and necessary to enter into a more particular detail of our various faults and follies. We should