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Light for Them that Sit in Darkness
by John Bunyan
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3. It also happeneth, sometimes, through the anger and judgment of God against sinners, that some of them truly gracious do fall, as David, Peter, &c., the which is a great trial to the godly, a wound to the persons fallen, and a judgment of God to the world. For since these last would not be converted, nor made turn to God by the convincing glory that has attended their faith in a holy and unblameable life annexed, God has suffered them to fall, that they also might stumble and fall, and be dashed in pieces by their vices. But thou, Christian man, be not thou offended at any of these things; do thou look unto Jesus, do thou look unto his Word, do thou live by faith, and think much of thy latter end; do thou be base in thine own eyes, be humble and tender, and pray to God always; do thou add to thy faith virtue, and to virtue what else is mentioned; and 'give diligence to make thy calling and election sure; for if thou doest these things thou shalt never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' (2 Peter 1:10,11).

Sixth. If it be so, that there is so much mercy in the heart of God for his people, and that Jesus his Son has by his blood made so living a way for us that we might enjoy it, and the benefit of it for ever, 'then let Israel hope': for to that end is this goodness revealed: 'Let Israel hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.' Hope! Who would not hope to enjoy life eternal, that has an inheritance in the God of Israel? 'Happy art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency?' (Deut 33:29). Did but the people of God see to what they are born, and how true the God of truth will be to what by his Word they look for at his hands, they would be above alway; they would be weary of life, of estates, of relations; they would groan earnestly under all their enjoyments to be with him, who is their life, their portion, and their glory for ever. But we profess, and yet care not for dying; we profess, and yet long not for the coming of the day of God; we profess the faith, and yet by our whole life show to them that can see how little a measure of it we have in our hearts. The Lord lead us more into the power of things; then shall the virtues of him that has saved us, and called us out of darkness into his marvellous light, and the savour of his good knowledge, be made known to others far otherwise than it is. Amen.

Seventh. And lastly, Sinner, doth not all this discourse make thy heart twitter after the mercy that is with God, and after the way that is made by this plenteous redemption thereto? Methinks it should; yea, thou couldst not do otherwise, didst thou but see thy condition: look behind thee, take a view of the path thou hast trodden these many years. Dost thou think that the way that thou art in will lead thee to the strait gate, sinner? Ponder the path of thy feet with the greatest seriousness, thy life lies upon it; what thinkest thou? But make no answer till in the night, till thou art in the night-watches. 'Commune with your own heart upon your bed' (Psa 4:4), and then say what thou thinkest of, whether thou art going?

O that thou wert serious! Is not it a thing to be lamented, that madness and folly should be in thy heart while thou livest, and after that to go to the dead, when so much life stands before thee, and light to see the way to it? (Eccl 9:3). Surely, men void of grace, and possessed of carnal minds, must either think that sin is nothing, that hell is easy, and that eternity is short; or else that whatever God has said about the punishing of sinners, he will never do as he has said; or that there is no sin, no God, no heaven, no hell, and so no good or bad hereafter; or else they could not live as they do. But perhaps thou presumest upon it, and sayest, I shall have peace, though I live so sinful a life. Sinner, if this wicked thought be in thy heart, tell me again, dost thou thus think in earnest? Canst thou imagine thou shalt at the day of account out-face God, or make him believe thou wast what thou wast not? or that when the gate of mercy is shut up in wrath, he will at thy pleasure, and to the reversing of his own counsel, open it again to thee? Why shall thy deceived heart turn thee aside, that thou canst not deliver thy soul, 'nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?' (Isa 44:20).

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The titles to the Psalms have puzzled all the commentators. Bunyan follows Luther; who adds, that the title to the Psalms of Degrees does not pertain to any doctrine, but only to the ceremony of the singers. Ainsworth applies it to the place or tone of voice of the singers, or to a special excellency of the Psalm. Calmet and Bishop Horsley consider that the title refers to the progress of the soul towards eternal felicity, ascending by degrees. Watford imagines that these Psalms were written or selected to be sung on the ascent of the Jews from the captivity in Babylon. Luther wisely concludes that the Christian has only to do with the brief and very notable doctrine contained in these fifteen steps or degrees.—Ed.

[2] 'The hither,' or nearest end; now obsolete.—Ed.

[3] When Diabolus, in the Holy War, marched against Mansoul, his infernal drum affrighted the backsliding Mansoul with its roaring. 'This, to speak truth, was amazingly hideous to hear; it frighted all men seven miles round.' This drum was beat every night, and 'when the drum did go, behold darkness and sorrow over Mansoul; the light was darkened in the heaven thereof, no noise was ever heard upon earth more terrible; Mansoul trembled, and looked to be swallowed up.' This awful alarm—this terrible drum—is a want of a good hope through faith, which purifieth the heart.—Ed.

[4] How comforting is that declaration of the Holy Spirit, 'For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face'! however we may have had a glimpse of glory to strengthen us in the way. This revelation was through one who had been 'caught up into paradise,' and who had 'abundance of revelations,' so great that it was needful for him to have 'a thorn in the flesh,' to keep him humble. Blessed is Israel's 'Hope' of happiness, inconceivable and eternal.—Ed.

[5] See the marginal reading to this text.—Ed.

[6] Ecclesiastical writers, previous to Bunyan's time, made an hierarchy of nine orders of celestial spirits, viz., seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels; agreeing with Bunyan as to the angels being the lowest order in these celestial hierarchies. The angels are ministering spirits. May not the glorified saints become angels? Who was that angel who said to John, 'I and thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets' (Rev 22:9).—Ed.

[7] This is a striking illustration. Fear 'makes us question our right to the world to come,' and nails us to the earth; but it is sin which clenches the nail, and makes us cry, O wretched man that I am! who can deliver me? Poor Bunyan, in his Grace Abounding, mournfully illustrates this fact.—Ed.

[8] In Bunyan's days, persecution for conscience sake was more extensive under the Protestant Church of England than it was even in the fiery days of Mary. Tens of thousands fled to seek an asylum among savages in America, who were not permitted to live among men worse than savages in England. Thousands were immured in prisons, where many hundreds perished, and with those who suffered a violent death received the crown of martyrdom. Even now they that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must submit to taunts, jeers, and reproaches. May we forget not the Saviour's comforting declaration, 'Blessed are you when persecuted, reviled, and spoken against falsely for my sake.'—Ed.

[9] This is the language of an eye-witness, and not a theory. Our author had associated with every man in jail, whose bitter suffering, and that of their families, tried the faith and patience of the saints, and winnowed the church of formal professors.—Ed.

[10] Often have God's saints rejoiced in tribulation, and, like Stephen, when put to death with excruciating torments, have prayed for their enemies. Bunyan's fear was, when threatened to be hung for preaching Christ, that he should make but 'a scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder.' He was, however, comforted with the hope that his dying speech might be blessed to some of the spectators.—Grace Abounding, Nos. 334, 335.—Ed.

[11] How forcibly does this remind us of the escape of the poor doubting pilgrims from the castle of Giant Despair. The outer gate, like that of the prison in which Peter was confined, was of iron (Acts 12:10). But Peter had a heavenly messenger as his guide, and faith was in lively exercise, so that 'the gate opened to them of his own accord.' 'God cut the gates of iron in sunder' (Psa 107:16). The pilgrims lay for four days under dreadful sufferings, bordering on black despair. He had overlooked or laid by the 'key that doth go too hard'; prayer brought it to his recollection, and he cried out, 'What a fool am I thus to be in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty.' He recollected the 'key called promise,' which will open ALL the gates in Doubting Castle; and although the lock of that iron gate went damnable hard, yet the key did open it, and the prisoners escaped; see Grace Abounding, Nos 261-263. Fellow-pilgrims 'look not over,' nor 'lay by,' those keys that 'go too hard,' the prayerful use of which may save us much bitter dejection and gloomy doubts.—Ed.

[12] The murder of Sir E. Godfrey, and the fears of a Popish plot, greatly alarmed the country at this time. The recollection of the frightful atrocities committed by the Papists upon the unoffending and unarmed Protestants in Ireland, led to the fears which are here so forcibly, but naturally, expressed. Although we re here directed to the sole ground of hope in the spiritual warfare, yet doubtless, in temporal things, Bunyan felt the necessity of human agency. Had he lived to witness the punishment inflicted on these murderers by William III, he would have owned with gratitude the services rendered to the nation by that warlike king and his brave parliament.—Ed.

[13] How infinite is the condescension of Jehovah to enter into such a relationship with every member of his mystical body, the church. 'Thy Maker is thy husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name' (Isa 14:5). Surely it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive the riches of that endowment, the magnificence of that estate.—Ed.

[14] Beware lest an evil heart, and Satan's devices, lead us to idolatry. All our ideas of God must be formed and governed by his revelation of himself in his Word.—Ed.

[15] Gospellers was the nick-name for those who loved the gospel at the Reformation, as Puritan or Methodist in a later age.—Ed.

[16] These are solemn and bitter truths. While the public assembly is at times the gate of heaven to the soul, sincerity is better evidenced by heart-wrestling with God in private. No duty draws down such blessings from heaven, nor has greater opposition from Satan, than earnest closet prayer. While it humbles the soul before God, it excites our zeal in good works and a heavenly conduct towards man.—Ed.

[17] 'For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth' (Heb 12:6,7).—Ed.

[18] In Popish times, the poor wretchedly and lazily depended upon the alms of the rich, which were especially bestowed at a funeral, to buy their prayers for the repose of the soul; and at wedding, for a blessing on the newly-married couple. Happily for them they are now taught, by gospel light, to depend, under God, upon their honest exertions to produce the means of existence and enjoyment, as the most valuable class of society.—Ed.

[19] Bunyan had felt all this. 'Alas!' says he, 'I could neither hear Christ, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savour any of his things; I was driven with a tempest, my heart would be unclean, the Canaanites would come into the land.'—Grace Abounding, No. 78.—Ed.

[20] See 2 Samuel 2:23, 3:27. To smite under the fifth rib is to give a mortal blow.—Ed.

[21] Human laws we must obey, unless they infringe upon the prerogative of God and upon conscience; to such we must refuse obedience, and count it an honour to suffer as Daniel and the Hebrew youths. These laws we may strive to get repealed or amended; but the laws of God are immutable and eternal—they must be obeyed, or we perish.—Ed.

[22] How striking an exemplification is this of our utter helplessness and the unbounded love of God. O my soul, it is impossible to number or recollect all his mercies, but take heed lest thou forget them all.—Ed.

[23] The reader will easily understand this passage if he considers 'these folks' to mean those who were deterred from making a public profession of faith, by the fear of 'the enemies,' or persecutors, properly called the devil's scarecrows. 'Today,' refers to the time in which this encouraging treatise was written. Then persecutors and informers were let loose upon the churches, like a swarm of locusts. Many folks were terrified, and much defection prevailed. But for such a time God prepared Bunyan, Baxter, Owen, Howe, and many others of equal piety. Thus, when the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.—Ed.

[24] The word 'virtuous' is now very rarely used in this sense; it means, 'efficacious by inherent qualities,' or having great or powerful properties, as, 'By virtue of our Lord's intercession'; see Imperial Dictionary.—Ed.

[25] 'Tang'; a strong sense, flavour, or relish.—Ed.

[26] 'O the unthought of imaginations, frights, fears, and terrors that are affected by a thorough application of guilt, yielded to desperation! This is the man that hath his dwelling among the tombs.'—Bunyan's experience in Grace Abounding, No. 185.—Ed.

[27] This is not merely an exhortation to diligence in the Christian calling, but it is meant to convey to all the certain fact, that the prayer of faith in the merits of the Redeemer will and must be followed by renewed speed in running the race that is set before us.—Ed.

[28] There is something about the word blood at which the mind recoils, as if intended to impress upon us the evils of sin and its awful punishment—the death, spiritual and eternal, of the sinner. 'Without shedding of blood is no remission.' Blessed are those who were in Christ when his precious blood was shed as an atoning sacrifice.—Ed.

[29] See the character of Ignorance in the Pilgrim's Progress.—Ed.

[30] The words are, 'In the name of God, gracious and merciful,' before each of the 114 chapters of which Alcoran consists.—Ed.

[31] No service on the part of those who are out of Christ, can be accepted (Prov 15:8). We are accepted IN the Beloved (Eph 1:6).—Ed.

[32] One who justifies himself; the self-righteous. The word is only used by religious writers, and never now.—Ed.

[33] What is this to me, O law, that thou accusest me, and sayest that I have committed many sins? Indeed, I grant that I have committed many sins, yea, and still do commit sins daily without number. This toucheth me nothing. Thou talkest to me in vain. I am dead unto thee.—Luther. In the person of his Surety, the believer has died, and paid the penalty of the law. It can have no claim on him.—Ed.

[34] A proverbial saying, which means that all are alike, 'there is no one barrel better than another, the whole cargo is bad.'—Ed.

***

I WILL PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT AND WITH THE UNDERSTANDING ALSO-

OR,

A DISCOURSE TOUCHING PRAYER;

WHEREIN IS BRIEFLY DISCOVERED,

1. WHAT PRAYER IS. 2. WHAT IT IS TO PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT. 3. WHAT IT IS TO PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT AND WITH THE UNDERSTANDING ALSO.

WRITTEN IN PRISON, 1662. PUBLISHED, 1663.

"For we know not what we should pray for as we ought:—the Spirit—helpeth our infirmities" (Rom 8:26).

ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.

There is no subject of more solemn importance to human happiness than prayer. It is the only medium of intercourse with heaven. "It is that language wherein a creature holds correspondence with his Creator; and wherein the soul of a saint gets near to God, is entertained with great delight, and, as it were, dwells with his heavenly Father."1 God, when manifest in the flesh, hath given us a solemn, sweeping declaration, embracing all prayer—private, social, and public—at all times and seasons, from the creation to the final consummation of all things—"God is a Spirit, and they that worship him MUST WORSHIP HIM IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH" (John 4:24).

The great enemy of souls, aided by the perverse state of the human mind, has exhausted his ingenuity and malice to prevent the exercise of this holy and delightful duty. His most successful effort has been to keep the soul in that fatal lethargy, or death unto holiness, and consequently unto prayer, into which it is plunged by Adam's transgression. Bunyan has some striking illustrations of Satan's devices to stifle prayer, in his history of the Holy War. When the troops of Emmanuel besiege Mansoul, their great effort was to gain "eargate" as a chief entrance to Mansoul, and at that important gate there were placed, by order of Diabolous, "the Lord Will-be-will, who made one old Mr. Prejudice, an angry and ill-conditioned fellow, captain of that ward, and put under his power sixty men called Deafmen to keep it," and these were arrayed in the most excellent armour of Diabolous, "A DUMB AND PRAYERLESS SPIRIT." Nothing but the irresistible power of Emmanuel could have overcome these obstacles. He conquers and reigns supreme, and Mansoul becomes happy; prayer without ceasing enables the new-born man to breathe the celestial atmosphere. At length Carnal Security interrupts and mars this happiness. The Redeemer gradually withdraws. Satan assaults the soul with armies of doubts, and, to prevent prayer, Diabolous "lands up Mouthgate with dirt."2 Various efforts are made to send petitions, but the messengers make no impression, until, in the extremity of the soul's distress, two acceptable messengers are found, not dwelling in palaces, but in "a very mean cottage,"3 their names were "Desires Awake and Wet Eyes," illustrating the inspired words, "Thus saith the High and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy: I dwell—with him—that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isa 57:15). By this we are taught the utter worthlessness of depending upon the prayers of saints on earth, or the glorified spirits of heaven. Our own prayers alone are availing. Our own "Desires-awake" and "Wet-eyes," our own aspirations after God, our own deep repentance and sense of utter helplessness drives us to the Saviour, through whom ALONE we can find access and adoption into the family of our Father who is in heaven.

The soul that communes with God attains an aptitude in prayer which no human learning can give; devotional expressions become familiar; the Spirit of adoption leads them with deep solemnity to approach the Infinite Eternal as a father. Private prayer is so essentially spiritual that it cannot be reduced to writing. "A man that truly prays one prayer, shall after that never be able to express with his mouth, or pen the unutterable desires, sense, affection, and longing that went to God in that prayer". Prayer leads to "pure religion and undefiled," "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," and to preserve us "unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Blessed indeed are those who enjoy an abiding sense of the Divine presence; the Christian's divine life may be measured by his being able to "pray without ceasing," to "seek God's face continually." Men ought "always to pray," and to "continue in prayer." This does not consist in perpetually repeating any form of prayer, but in that devotional frame of mind which enables the soul to say, "For me to live is Christ." When David was compassed about with the sorrows of hell, he at once ejaculates, "O Lord, I beseech thee deliver my soul." When the disciples were in danger they did not recite the Lord's Prayer, or any other form, but at once cried, "Lord, save us, we perish." Bunyan, speaking of private prayer, keenly inquires, will God not hear thee "except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration?" "It is not, as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating, complimentary expressions, but a sensible feeling in the heart." Sincerity and a dependence upon the mediatorial office of Christ is all that God requires. "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him—IN TRUTH" (Psa 145:18). In all that related to the individual approach of the spirit to its heavenly Father, our pious author offended not; but having enjoyed communion with God, he was, as all Christians are, desirous of communion with the saints on earth, and in choosing the forms of public worship, he gave great offence to many by rejecting the Book of Common Prayer.

To compel or to bribe persons to attend religious services is unjustifiable, and naturally produces hypocrisy and persecution. So it was with the decree of King Darius, (Dan 6); and so it has ever been with any royal or parliamentary interference with Christian liberty. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth" (Rom 14:4). "EVERY ONE of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom 14:12). All the solemnities of the day of judgment point not merely to the right, but to the necessity of private decision on all questions of faith, worship, and conduct, guided solely by the volume of inspiration. Mansoul, in its regenerate state, is the temple which the Creator has chosen for his worship; and it is infinitely more glorious than earthly edifices, which crumble into dust, while God's temples will be ever glorious as eternity rolls on.

Bunyan, to the sixteenth year of his age, had, when he attended public worship, listened to the Book of Common Prayer. At that time an Act of Parliament prohibited its use under severe and unjust penalties, and ordered the services to be conducted by the rules of a directory. In this an outline is given of public thanksgivings, confessions, and petitions; but no form of prayer. In the preface the Puritans record their opinion, that the Liturgy of the Church of England, notwithstanding all the pains and religious intentions of its compilers, hath proved an offence; unprofitable ceremonies hath occasioned much mischief; its estimation hath been raised by prelates, as if there were no other way of worship; making it an idol to the ignorant and superstitious, a matter of endless strife, and of increasing an idle ministry. Bunyan had weighed these observations, and recollected his former ignorance and superstition, when he counted all things holy connected with the outward forms, and did "very devoutly say and sing as others did."4 But when he arose from the long and dread conflict with sin, and entered upon his Christian life, he decidedly preferred emancipation from forms of prayer, and treated them with great severity. He considered that the most essential qualification for the Christian ministry is the gift of prayer. Upon this subject learned and pious men have differed; but the opinions of one so eminently pious, and so well-taught in the Scriptures, are worthy of our careful investigation. Great allowances must be made for all that appears harsh in language, because urbanity was not the fashion of that day in religious controversy. He had been most cruelly imprisoned, with threats of transportation, and even an ignominious death, for refusing conformity to the Book of Common Prayer. Being conscientiously and prayerfully decided in his judgment, he set all these threats at defiance, and boldly, at the risk of his life, published this treatise, while yet a prisoner in Bedford jail; and it is a clear, concise, and scriptural discourse, setting forth his views upon this most important subject.

Any preconceived form would have fettered Bunyan's free spirit; he was a giant in prayer, and commanded the deepest reverence while leading the public devotions of the largest congregations. The great question as to public prayer is whether the minister should, relying upon Divine assistance, offer up prayer to God in the Saviour's name, immediately conceived under a sense of His presence; or whether it is better, as it is certainly easier, to read a form of prayer, from time to time, skillfully arranged, and with every regard to beauty of language? Which of these modes is most in accordance with the directions of the Sacred Scriptures, and most likely to be attended with spiritual benefit to the assembled church? Surely this inquiry does not involve the charge of schism or heresy upon either party. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Nor should such differences lead us to despise each other. Let our first inquiry be, whether the Saviour intended a fixed form of prayer? And if so, did he give His church any other than that most beautiful and comprehensive form called the Lord's Prayer? And did he license any one, and if so, who, to alter, add to, or diminish from it? On the other hand, should we conclude that "We know not what we should pray for as we ought, only as the Spirit helpeth our infirmities," then must we rely, as Bunyan did, upon the promised aid of that gracious Spirit. Blessed, indeed, are those whose intercourse with heaven sheds an influence on their whole conduct, gives them abundance of well-arranged words in praying with their families and with the sick or dejected, and—whose lives prove that they have been with Jesus, and are taught by him, or who, in Scripture language, "pray with the spirit and with the understanding also."

GEO. OFFOR.

ON PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT.

"I WILL PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, AND I WILL PRAY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING ALSO"—(I Cor 14:15).

PRAYER is an ORDINANCE of God, and that to be used both in public and private; yea, such an ordinance as brings those that have the spirit of supplication into great familiarity with God; and is also so prevalent in action, that it getteth of God, both for the person that prayeth, and for them that are prayed for, great things.5 It is the opener of the heart of God, and a means by which the soul, though empty, is filled. By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend, and obtain fresh testimony of God's friendship to him. I might spend many words in distinguishing between public and private prayer; as also between that in the heart, and that with the vocal voice. Something also might be spoken to distinguish between the gifts and graces of prayer; but eschewing this method, my business shall be at this time only to show you the very heart of prayer, without which, all your lifting up, both of hands, and eyes, and voices, will be to no purpose at all. "I will pray with the Spirit."

The method that I shall go on in at this time shall be, FIRST. To show you what true prayer is. SECOND. To show you what it is to pray with the Spirit. THIRD. What it is to pray with the Spirit and understanding also. And so, FOURTHLY. To make some short use and application of what shall be spoken.

WHAT PRAYER IS.

FIRST, What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.

In this description are these seven things. First, It is a sincere; Second, A sensible; Third, An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; Fourth, By the strength or assistance of the Spirit; Fifth, For such things as God hath promised, or, according to his word; Sixth, For the good of the church; Seventh, With submission in faith to the will of God.

First. For the first of these, it is a SINCERE pouring out of the soul to God. Sincerity is such a grace as runs through all the graces of God in us, and through all the actings of a Christian, and hath the sway in them too, or else their actings are not any thing regarded of God, and so of and in prayer, of which particularly David speaks, when he mentions prayer. "I cried unto him," the Lord "with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" my prayer (Psa 66:17,18). Part of the exercise of prayer is sincerity, without which God looks not upon it as prayer in a good sense (Psa 16:1-4). Then "ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer 29:12-13). The want of this made the Lord reject their prayers in Hosea 7:14, where he saith, "They have not cried unto me with their heart," that is, in sincerity, "when they howled upon their beds." But for a pretence, for a show in hypocrisy, to be seen of men, and applauded for the same, they prayed. Sincerity was that which Christ commended in Nathaniel, when he was under the fig tree. "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." Probably this good man was pouring out of his soul to God in prayer under the fig tree, and that in a sincere and unfeigned spirit before the Lord. The prayer that hath this in it as one of the principal ingredients, is the prayer that God looks at. Thus, "The prayer of the upright is his delight" (Prov 15:8).

And why must sincerity be one of the essentials of prayer which is accepted of God, but because sincerity carries the soul in all simplicity to open its heart to God, and to tell him the case plainly, without equivocation; to condemn itself plainly, without dissembling; to cry to God heartily, without complimenting. "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou has chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke" (Jer 31:18). Sincerity is the same in a corner alone, as it is before the face of the world. It knows not how to wear two vizards, one for an appearance before men, and another for a short snatch in a corner; but it must have God, and be with him in the duty of prayer. It is not lip-labour that it doth regard, for it is the heart that God looks at, and that which sincerity looks at, and that which prayer comes from, if it be that prayer which is accompanied with sincerity.

Second. It is a sincere and SENSIBLE pouring out of the heart or soul. It is not, as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating, complimentary expressions, but a sensible feeling there is in the heart. Prayer hath in it a sensibleness of diverse things; sometimes sense of sin, sometimes of mercy received, sometimes of the readiness of God to give mercy, &c.

1. A sense of the want of mercy, by reason of the danger of sin. The soul, I say, feels, and from feeling sighs, groans, and breaks at the heart. For right prayer bubbleth out of the heart when it is overpressed with grief and bitterness, as blood is forced out of the flesh by reason of some heavy burden that lieth upon it (I Sam 1:10; Psa 69:3). David roars, cries, weeps, faints at heart, fails at the eyes, loseth his moisture, &c., (Psa 38:8-10). Hezekiah mourns like a dove (Isa 38:14). Ephraim bemoans himself (Jer 31:18). Peter weeps bitterly (Matt 26:75). Christ hath strong cryings and tears (Heb 5:7). And all this from a sense of the justice of God, the guilt of sin, the pains of hell and destruction. "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow." Then cried I unto the Lord (Psa 116:3,4). And in another place, "My sore ran in the night" (Psa 77:2). Again, "I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long" (Psa 38:6). In all these instances, and in hundreds more that might be named, you may see that prayer carrieth in it a sensible feeling disposition, and that first from a sense of sin.

2. Sometimes there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening, enlivening, enlightening mercy, &c. Thus David pours out his soul, to bless, and praise, and admire the great God for his loving-kindness to such poor vile wretches. "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.6 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psa 103:1-5). And thus is the prayer of saints sometimes turned into praise and thanksgiving, and yet are prayers still. This is a mystery; God's people pray with their praises, as it is written, "Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer, and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God" (Phil 4:6). A sensible thanksgiving, for mercies received, is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it prevails with him unspeakably.

3. In prayer there is sometimes in the soul a sense of mercy to be received. This again sets the soul all on a flame. "Thou, O lord of hosts," saith David, "hast revealed to thy servant, saying I will build thee an house; therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray—unto thee" (II Sam 7:27). This provoked Jacob, David, Daniel, with others—even a sense of mercies to be received—which caused them, not by fits and starts, nor yet in a foolish frothy way, to babble over a few words written in a paper; but mightily, fervently, and continually, to groan out their conditions before the Lord, as being sensible, sensible, I say, of their wants, their misery, and the willingness of God to show mercy (Gen 32:10,11; Dan 9:3,4).

A good sense of sin, and the wrath of God, with some encouragement from God to come unto him, is a better Common-prayer-book than that which is taken out of the Papistical mass-book,7 being the scraps and fragments of the devices of some popes, some friars, and I wot not what.

Third. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, and an AFFECTIONATE pouring out of the soul to God. O! the heat, strength, life, vigour, and affection, that is in right prayer! "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God" (Psa 42:1). "I have longed after thy precepts" (Psa 119:40). "I have longed for thy salvation" (ver 174). "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God" (Psa 84:2). "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times" (Psa 119:20). Mark ye here, "My soul longeth," it longeth, it longeth, &c. O what affection is here discovered in prayer! The like you have in Daniel. "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God" (Dan 9:19). Every syllable carrieth a mighty vehemency in it. This is called the fervent, or the working prayer, by James. And so again, "And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22:44). Or had his affections more and more drawn out after God for his helping hand. O! How wide are the most of men with their prayers from this prayer, that is, PRAYER in God's account! Alas! The greatest part of men make no conscience at all of the duty; and as for them that do, it is to be feared that many of them are very great strangers to a sincere, sensible, and affectionate pouring out their hearts or souls to God; but even content themselves with a little lip-labour and bodily exercise, mumbling over a few imaginary prayers. When the affections are indeed engaged in prayer, then, then the whole man is engaged, and that in such sort, that the soul will spend itself to nothing, as it were, rather than it will go without that good desired, even communion and solace with Christ. And hence it is that the saints have spent their strengths, and lost their lives, rather than go without the blessing (Psa 69:3; 38:9,10; Gen 32:24,26).

All this is too, too evident by the ignorance, profaneness, and spirit of envy, that reign in the hearts of those men that are so hot for the forms, and not the power of praying. Scarce one of forty among them know what it is to be born again, to have communion with the Father through the Son; to feel the power of grace sanctifying their hearts: but for all their prayers, they still live cursed, drunken, whorish, and abominable lives, full of malice, envy, deceit, persecuting of the dear children of God. O what a dreadful after-clap is coming upon them! which all their hypocritical assembling themselves together, with all their prayers, shall never be able to help them against, or shelter them from.

Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul. There is in prayer an unbosoming of a man's self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. "All my desire is before thee," saith David, "and my groaning is not hid from thee" (Psa 38:9). And again, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me" (Psa 42:2,4). Mark, "I pour out my soul." It is an expression signifying, that in prayer there goeth the very life and whole strength to God. As in another place, "Trust in him at all times; ye people,—pour out your heart before him" (Psa 62:8). This is the prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creature out of captivity and thralldom. "If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deut 4:29).

Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul TO GOD. This showeth also the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it retires. "When shall I come and appear before God?" And it argueth, that the soul that thus prayeth indeed, sees an emptiness in all things under heaven; that in God alone there is rest and satisfaction for the soul. "Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God" (I Tim 5:5). So saith David, "In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape; incline thine ear to me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort:—for thou art my rock and my fortress; deliver me, O my God,—out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord God, thou art my trust from my youth" (Psa 71:1-5). Many in a wording way speak of God; but right prayer makes God his hope, stay, and all. Right prayer sees nothing substantial, and worth the looking after, but God. And that, as I said before, it doth in a sincere, sensible, and affectionate way.

Again, It is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, THROUGH CHRIST. This through Christ must needs be added, or else it is to be questioned, whether it be prayer, though in appearance it be never so eminent or eloquent.

Christ is the way through whom the soul hath admittance to God, and without whom it is impossible that so much as one desire should come into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (John 14:6). "If ye shall ask anything in my name"; "whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13,14). This was Daniel's way in praying for the people of God; he did it in the name of Christ. "Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake" (Dan 9:17). And so David, "For thy name's sake," that is, for thy Christ's sake, "pardon mine iniquity, for it is great" (Psa 25:11). But now, it is not every one that maketh mention of Christ's name in prayer, that doth indeed, and in truth, effectually pray to God in the name of Christ, or through him. This coming to God through Christ is the hardest part that is found in prayer. A man may more easily be sensible of his works, ay, and sincerely too desire mercy, and yet not be able to come to God by Christ. That man that comes to God by Christ, he must first have the knowledge of him; "for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is" (Heb 11:6). And so he that comes to God through Christ, must be enabled to know Christ. Lord, saith Moses, "show me now thy way, that I may know thee" (Exo 33:13).

This Christ, none but the Father can reveal (Matt 11:27). And to come through Christ, is for the soul to be enabled of God to shroud itself under the shadow of the Lord Jesus, as a man shroudeth himself under a thing for safeguard (Matt 16:16).8 Hence it is that David so often terms Christ his shield, buckler, tower, fortress, rock of defence, &c., (Psa 18:2; 27:1; 28:1). Not only because by him he overcame his enemies, but because through him he found favour with God the Father. And so he saith to Abraham, "Fear not, I am thy shield," &c., (Gen 15:1). The man then that comes to God through Christ, must have faith, by which he puts on Christ, and in him appears before God. Now he that hath faith is born of God, born again, and so becomes one of the sons of God; by virtue of which he is joined to Christ, and made a member of him (John 3:5,7; 1:12). And therefore, secondly he, as a member of Christ, comes to God; I say, as a member of him, so that God looks on that man as a part of Christ, part of his body, flesh, and bones, united to him by election, conversion, illumination, the Spirit being conveyed into the heart of that poor man by God (Eph 5:30). So that now he comes to God in Christ's merits, in his blood, righteousness, victory, intercession, and so stands before him, being "accepted in his Beloved" (Eph 1:6). And because this poor creature is thus a member of the Lord Jesus, and under this consideration hath admittance to come to God; therefore, by virtue of this union also, is the Holy Spirit conveyed into him, whereby he is able to pour out himself, to wit, his soul, before God, with his audience. And this leads me to the next, or fourth particular.

Fourth. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate, pouring out of the heart or soul to God through Christ, by the strength or ASSISTANCE OF THE SPIRIT. For these things do so depend one upon another, that it is impossible that it should be prayer, without there be a joint concurrence of them; for though it be never so famous, yet without these things, it is only such prayer as is rejected of God. For without a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart to God, it is but lip-labour; and if it be not through Christ, it falleth far short of ever sounding well in the ears of God. So also, if it be not in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, it is but like the sons of Aaron, offering with strange fire (Lev 10:1,2). But I shall speak more to this under the second head; and therefore in the meantime, that which is not petitioned through the teaching and assistance of the Spirit, it is not possible that it should be "according to the will of God" (Rom 8:26,27).

Fifth. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart, or soul, to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, FOR SUCH THINGS AS GOD HATH PROMISED, &c., (Matt 6:6-8). Prayer it is, when it is within the compass of God's Word; and it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petition is beside the book. David therefore still in his prayer kept his eye on the Word of God. "My soul," saith he, "cleaveth to the dust; quicken me according to thy word." And again, "My soul melteth for heaviness, strengthen thou me according unto thy word" (Psa 119:25-28; see also 41, 42, 58, 65, 74, 81, 82, 107, 147, 154, 169, 170). And, "remember thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope" (ver 49). And indeed the Holy Ghost doth not immediately quicken and stir up the heart of the Christian without, but by, with, and through the Word, by bringing that to the heart, and by opening of that, whereby the man is provoked to go to the Lord, and to tell him how it is with him, and also to argue, and supplicate, according to the Word; thus it was with Daniel, that mighty prophet of the Lord. He understanding by books that the captivity of the children of Israel was hard at an end; then, according unto that word, he maketh his prayer to God. "I Daniel," saith he, "understood by books," viz., the writings of Jeremiah, "the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah,—that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes" (Dan 9:2,3). So that I say, as the Spirit is the helper and the governor of the soul, when it prayeth according to the will of God; so it guideth by and according to, the Word of God and his promise. Hence it is that our Lord Jesus Christ himself did make a stop, although his life lay at stake for it. I could now pray to my Father, and he should give me more than twelve legions of angels; but how then must the scripture be fulfilled that thus it must be? (Matt 26:53,54). As who should say, Were there but a word for it in the scripture, I should soon be out of the hands of mine enemies, I should be helped by angels; but the scripture will not warrant this kind of praying, for that saith otherwise. It is a praying then according to the Word and promise. The Spirit by the Word must direct, as well in the manner, as in the matter of prayer. "I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also" (I Cor 14:15). But there is no understanding without the Word. For if they reject the word of the Lord, "what wisdom is in them?" (Jer 8:9).

Sixth. FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH. This clause reacheth in whatsoever tendeth either to the honour of God, Christ's advancement, or his people's benefit. For God, and Christ, and his people are so linked together that if the good of the one be prayed for, to wit, the church, the glory of God, and advancement of Christ, must needs be included. For as Christ is in the Father, so the saints are in Christ; and he that toucheth the saints, toucheth the apple of God's eye; and therefore pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and you pray for all that is required of you. For Jerusalem will never be in perfect peace until she be in heaven; and there is nothing that Christ doth more desire than to have her there. That also is the place that God through Christ hath given to her. He then that prayeth for the peace and good of Zion, or the church, doth ask that in prayer which Christ hath purchased with his blood; and also that which the Father hath given to him as the price thereof. Now he that prayeth for this, must pray for abundance of grace for the church, for help against all its temptations; that God would let nothing be too hard for it; and that all things might work together for its good, that God would keep them blameless and harmless, the sons of God, to his glory, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. And this is the substance of Christ's own prayer in John 17. And all Paul's prayers did run that way, as one of his prayers doth eminently show. "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere, and without offence, till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God" (Phil 1:9-11). But a short prayer, you see, and yet full of good desires for the church, from the beginning to the end; that it may stand and go on, and that in the most excellent frame of spirit, even without blame, sincere, and without offence, until the day of Christ, let its temptations or persecutions be what they will (Eph 1:16-21; 3:14-19; Col 1:9-13).

Seventh. And because, as I said, prayer doth SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD, and say, Thy will be done, as Christ hath taught us (Matt 6:10); therefore the people of the Lord in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers, and all that they have, at the foot of their God, to be disposed of by him as he in his heavenly wisdom seeth best. Yet not doubting but God will answer the desire of his people that way that shall be most for their advantage and his glory. When the saints therefore do pray with submission to the will of God, it doth not argue that they are to doubt or question God's love and kindness to them. But because they at all times are not so wise, but that sometimes Satan may get that advantage of them, as to tempt them to pray for that which, if they had it, would neither prove to God's glory nor his people's good. "Yet this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him," that is, we asking in the Spirit of grace and supplication (I John 5:14,15). For, as I said before, that petition that is not put up in and through the Spirit, it is not to be answered, because it is beside the will of God. For the Spirit only knoweth that, and so consequently knoweth how to pray according to that will of God. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God" (I Cor 2:11). But more of this hereafter. Thus you see, first, what prayer is. Now to proceed.

[WHAT IT IS TO PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT.]

SECOND. I will pray with the Spirit. Now to pray with the Spirit—for that is the praying man, and none else, so as to be accepted of God—it is for a man, as aforesaid, sincerely and sensibly, with affection, to come to God through Christ, &c.; which sincere, sensible, and affectionate coming must be by the working of God's Spirit.

There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. "For through Christ we all have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph 2:18). Wherefore Paul saith, "For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:26,27). And because there is in this scripture so full a discovery of the spirit of prayer, and of man's inability to pray without it; therefore I shall in a few words comment upon it.

"For we." Consider first the person speaking, even Paul, and, in his person, all the apostles. We apostles, we extraordinary officers, the wise master-builders, that have some of us been caught up into paradise (Rom 15:16; I Cor 3:10; II Cor 12:4). "We know not what we should pray for." Surely there is no man but will confess, that Paul and his companions were as able to have done any work for God, as any pope or proud prelate in the church of Rome, and could as well have made a Common Prayer Book as those who at first composed this; as being not a whit behind them either in grace or gifts.9

"For we know not what we should pray for." We know not the matter of the things for which we should pray, neither the object to whom we pray, nor the medium by or through whom we pray; none of these things know we, but by the help and assistance of the Spirit. Should we pray for communion with God through Christ? should we pray for faith, for justification by grace, and a truly sanctified heart? none of these things know we. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (I Cor 2:11). But here, alas! the apostles speak of inward and spiritual things, which the world knows not (Isa 29:11).

Again, as they know not the matter, &c., of prayer, without the help of the Spirit; so neither know they the manner thereof without the same; and therefore he adds, "We know not what we should pray for as we ought"; but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, with sighs and groans which cannot be uttered. Mark here, they could not so well and so fully come off in the manner of performing this duty, as these in our days think they can.

The apostles, when they were at the best, yea, when the Holy Ghost assisted them, yet then they were fain to come off with sighs and groans, falling short of expressing their mind, but with sighs and groans which cannot be uttered.

But here now, the wise men of our days are so well skilled as that they have both the manner and matter of their prayers at their finger-ends; setting such a prayer for such a day, and that twenty years before it comes. One for Christmas, another for Easter, and six days after that. They have also bounded how many syllables must be said in every one of them at their public exercises. For each saint's day, also, they have them ready for the generations yet unborn to say. They can tell you, also, when you shall kneel, when you shall stand, when you should abide in your seats, when you should go up into the chancel, and what you should do when you come there. All which the apostles came short of, as not being able to compose so profound a manner; and that for this reason included in this scripture, because the fear of God tied them to pray as they ought.

"For we know not what we should pray for as we ought." Mark this, "as we ought." For the not thinking of this word, or at least the not understanding it in the spirit and truth of it, hath occasioned these men to devise, as Jeroboam did, another way of worship, both for matter and manner, than is revealed in the Word of God (I Kings 12:26-33). But, saith Paul, we must pray as we ought; and this WE cannot do by all the art, skill, and cunning device of men or angels. "For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit"; nay, further, it must be "the Spirit ITSELF" that helpeth our infirmities; not the Spirit and man's lusts; what man of his own brain may imagine and devise, is one thing, and what they are commanded, and ought to do, is another. Many ask and have not, because they ask amiss; and so are never the nearer the enjoying of those things they petition for (James 4:3). It is not to pray at random that will put off God, or cause him to answer. While prayer is making, God is searching the heart, to see from what root and spirit it doth arise (I John 5:14). "And he that searcheth the heart knoweth," that is, approveth only, the meaning "of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." For in that which is according to his will only, he heareth us, and in nothing else. And it is the Spirit only that can teach us so to ask; it only being able to search out all things, even the deep things of God. Without which Spirit, though we had a thousand Common Prayer Books, yet we know not what we should pray for as we ought, being accompanied with those infirmities that make us absolutely incapable of such a work. Which infirmities, although it is a hard thing to name them all, yet some of them are these that follow.

First. Without the Spirit man is so infirm that he cannot, with all other means whatsoever, be enabled to think one right saving thought of God, of Christ, or of his blessed things; and therefore he saith of the wicked, "God is not in all his thoughts," (Psa 10:4); unless it be that they imagine him altogether such a one as themselves (Psa 50:21). For "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil," and that "continually" (Gen 6:5; 8:21). They then not being able to conceive aright of God to whom they pray, of Christ through whom they pray, nor of the things for which they pray, as is before showed, how shall they be able to address themselves to God, without the Spirit help this infirmity? Peradventure you will say, By the help of the Common Prayer Book; but that cannot do it, unless it can open the eyes, and reveal to the soul all these things before touched. Which that it cannot, it is evident; because that is the work of the Spirit only. The Spirit itself is the revealer of these things to poor souls, and that which doth give us to understand them; wherefore Christ tells his disciples, when he promised to send the Spirit, the Comforter, "He shall take of mine and show unto you"; as if he had said, I know you are naturally dark and ignorant as to the understanding any of my things; though ye try this course and the other, yet your ignorance will still remain, the veil is spread over your heart, and there is none can take away the same, nor give you spiritual understanding but the Spirit. The Common Prayer Book will not do it, neither can any man expect that it should be instrumental that way, it being none of God's ordinances; but a thing since the Scriptures were written, patched together one piece at one time, and another at another; a mere human invention and institution, which God is so far from owning of, that he expressly forbids it, with any other such like, and that by manifold sayings in his most holy and blessed Word. (See Mark 7:7,8, and Col 2:16-23; Deut 12:30-32; Prov 30:6; Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18). For right prayer must, as well in the outward part of it, in the outward expression, as in the inward intention, come from what the soul doth apprehend in the light of the Spirit; otherwise it is condemned as vain and an abomination, because the heart and tongue do not go along jointly in the same, neither indeed can they, unless the Spirit help our infirmities (Mark 7; Prov 28:9; Isa 29:13). And this David knew full well, which did make him cry, "Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise" (Psa 51:15). I suppose there is none can imagine but that David could speak and express himself as well as others, nay, as any in our generation, as is clearly manifested by his word and his works. Nevertheless when this good man, this prophet, comes into God's worship, then the Lord must help, or he can do nothing. "Lord, open thou my lips, and" then "my mouth shall show forth thy praise." He could not speak one right word, except the Spirit itself gave utterance. "For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself helpeth our infirmities." But,

Second. It must be a praying with the Spirit, that is, the effectual praying; because without that, as men are senseless, so hypocritical, cold, and unseemly in their prayers; and so they, with their prayers, are both rendered abominable to God (Matt 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 18:11, 12; Isa 58:2, 3). It is not the excellency of the voice, nor the seeming affection, and earnestness of him that prayeth, that is anything regarded of God without it. For man, as man, is so full of all manner of wickedness, that as he cannot keep a word, or thought, so much less a piece of prayer clean, and acceptable to God through Christ; and for this cause the Pharisees, with their prayers, were rejected. No question but they were excellently able to express themselves in words, and also for length of time, too, they were very notable; but they had not the Spirit of Jesus Christ to help them, and therefore they did what they did with their infirmities or weaknesses only, and so fell short of a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of their souls to God, through the strength of the Spirit. That is the prayer that goeth to heaven, that is sent thither in the strength of the Spirit. For,

Third. Nothing but the Spirit can show a man clearly his misery by nature, and so put a man into a posture of prayer. Talk is but talk, as we use to say, and so it is but mouth-worship, if there be not a sense of misery, and that effectually too. O the cursed hypocrisy that is in most hearts, and that accompanieth many thousands of praying men that would be so looked upon in this day, and all for want of a sense of their misery! But now the Spirit, that will sweetly show the soul its misery, where it is, and what is like to become of it, also the intolerableness of that condition. For it is the Spirit that doth effectually convince of sin and misery, without the Lord Jesus, and so puts the soul into a sweet, sensible, affectionate way of praying to God according to his word (John 16:7-9).

Fourth. If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray. For they would run away from God, with Cain and Judas, and utterly despair of mercy, were it not for the Spirit. When a man is indeed sensible of his sin, and God's curse, then it is a hard thing to persuade him to pray; for, saith his heart, "There is no hope," it is in vain to seek God (Jer 2:25; 18:12). I am so vile, so wretched, and so cursed a creature, that I shall never be regarded! Now here comes the Spirit, and stayeth the soul, helpeth it to hold up its face to God, by letting into the heart some small sense of mercy to encourage it to go to God, and hence it is called "the Comforter" (John 14:26).

Fifth. It must be in or with the Spirit; for without that no man can know how he should come to God the right way. Men may easily say they come to God in his Son: but it is the hardest thing of a thousand to come to God aright and in his own way, without the Spirit. It is "the Spirit" that "searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (I Cor 2:10). It is the Spirit that must show us the way of coming to God, and also what there is in God that makes him desirable: "I pray thee," saith Moses, "show me now thy way, that I may know thee" (Exo 33:13). And, He shall take of mine, and "show it unto you" (John 16:14).

Sixth. Because without the Spirit, though a man did see his misery, and also the way to come to God; yet he would never be able to claim a share in either God, Christ, or mercy, with God's approbation. O how great a task is it, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith, but this one word, "Father!" I tell you, however hypocrites think, yet the Christian that is so indeed finds all the difficulty in this very thing, it cannot say God is its Father. O! saith he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God's people for this very thing, to cry Father: it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it (Gal 4:6). When I say knowingly, I mean, knowing what it is to be a child of God, and to be born again. And when I say believingly, I mean, for the soul to believe, and that from good experience, that the work of grace is wrought in him. This is the right calling of God Father; and not as many do, to say in a babbling way, the Lord's prayer (so called) by heart, as it lieth in the words of the book. No, here is the life of prayer, when in or with the Spirit, a man being made sensible of sin, and how to come to the Lord for mercy; he comes, I say, in the strength of the Spirit, and crieth Father. That one word spoken in faith, is better than a thousand prayers, as men call them, written and read, in a formal, cold, lukewarm way. O how far short are those people of being sensible of this, who count it enough to teach themselves and children to say the Lord's prayer, the creed, with other sayings; when, as God knows, they are senseless of themselves, their misery, or what it is to be brought to God through Christ! Ah, poor soul! Study your misery, and cry to God to show you your confused blindness and ignorance, before you be so rife in calling God your Father, or teaching your children either so to say. And know, that to say God is your Father, in a way of prayer or conference, without any experiment of the work of grace on your souls, it is to say you are Jews and are not, and so to lie. You say, Our Father; God saith, You blaspheme! You say you are Jew, that is, true Christians; God saith, You lie! "Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie" (Rev 3:9). "And I know the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9). And so much the greater the sin is, by how much the more the sinner boasts it with a pretended sanctity, as the Jews did to Christ, in the 8th of John, which made Christ, even in plain terms, to tell them their doom, for all their hypocritical pretences (John 8:41-45). And yet forsooth every cursed whoremaster, thief, and drunkard, swearer, and perjured person; they that have not only been such in times past, but are even so still: these I say, by some must be counted the only honest men, and all because with their blasphemous throats, and hypocritical hearts, they will come to church, and say, "Our Father!" Nay further, these men, though every time they say to God, Our Father, do most abominably blaspheme, yet they must be compelled thus to do. And because others that are of more sober principles, scruple the truth of such vain traditions; therefore they must be looked upon to be the only enemies of God and the nation: when as it is their own cursed superstition that doth set the great God against them, and cause him to count them for his enemies (Isa 53:10). And yet just like to Bonner, that blood-red persecutor, they commend, I say, these wretches, although never so vile, if they close in with their traditions, to be good churchmen, the honest subjects; while God's people are, as it hath always been, looked upon to be a turbulent, seditious, and factious people (Ezra 4:12-16).

Therefore give me leave a little to reason with thee, thou poor, blind, ignorant sot.

(1.) It may be thy great prayer is to say, "Our Father which art in heaven," &c. Dost thou know the meaning of the very first words of this prayer? Canst thou indeed, with the rest of the saints, cry, Our Father? Art thou truly born again? Hast thou received the spirit of adoption? Dost thou see thyself in Christ, and canst thou come to God as a member of him? Or art thou ignorant of these things, and yet darest thou say, Our Father? Is not the devil thy father? (John 8:44). And dost thou not do the deeds of the flesh? And yet darest thou say to God, Our Father? Nay, art thou not a desperate persecutor of the children of God? Hast thou not cursed them in thine heart many a time? And yet dost thou out of thy blasphemous throat suffer these words to come, even our Father? He is their Father whom thou hatest and persecutest. But as the devil presented himself amongst the sons of God, (Job 1), when they were to present themselves before the Father, even our Father, so is it now; because the saints were commanded to say, Our Father, therefore all the blind ignorant rabble in the world, they must also use the same words, Our Father.

(2.) And dost thou indeed say, "Hallowed be thy name" with thy heart? Dost thou study, by all honest and lawful ways, to advance the name, holiness, and majesty of God? Doth thy heart and conversation agree with this passage? Dost thou strive to imitate Christ in all the works of righteousness, which God doth command of thee, and prompt thee forward to? It is so, if thou be one that can truly with God's allowance cry, "Our Father." Or is it not the least of thy thoughts all the day? And dost thou not clearly make it appear, that thou art a cursed hypocrite, by condemning that with thy daily practice, which thou pretendest in thy praying with thy dissembling tongue?

(3.) Wouldst thou have the kingdom of God come indeed, and also his will to be done in earth as it is in heaven? Nay, notwithstanding, thou according to the form, sayest, Thy kingdom come, yet would it not make thee ready to run mad, to hear the trumpet sound, to see the dead arise, and thyself just now to go and appear before God, to reckon for all the deeds thou hast done in the body? Nay, are not the very thoughts of it altogether displeasing to thee? And if God's will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, must it not be thy ruin? There is never a rebel in heaven against God, and if he should so deal on earth, must it not whirl thee down to hell? And so of the rest of the petitions. Ah! How sadly would even those men look, and with what terror would they walk up and down the world, if they did but know the lying and blaspheming that proceedeth out of their mouth, even in their most pretended sanctity? The Lord awaken you, and teach you, poor souls, in all humility, to take heed that you be not rash and unadvised with your heart, and much more with your mouth! When you appear before God, as the wise man saith, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing," (Eccl 5:2); especially to call God Father, without some blessed experience when thou comest before God. But I pass this.

Seventh. It must be a praying with the Spirit if it be accepted, because there is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer: "The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord" (Prov 16:1). That is, in every work for God, and especially in prayer, if the heart run with the tongue, it must be prepared by the Spirit of God. Indeed the tongue is very apt, of itself, to run without either fear or wisdom: but when it is the answer of the heart, and that such a heart as is prepared by the Spirit of God, then it speaks so as God commands and doth desire.

They are mighty words of David, where he saith, that he lifteth his heart and his soul to God (Psa 25:1). It is a great work for any man without the strength of the Spirit, and therefore I conceive that this is one of the great reasons why the Spirit of God is called a Spirit of supplications, (Zech 12:10), because it is that which helpeth the heart when it supplicates indeed to do it; and therefore saith Paul, "Praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph 6:18). And so in my text, "I will pray with the Spirit." Prayer, without the heart be in it, is like a sound without life; and a heart, without it be lifted up of the Spirit, will never pray to God.

Eighth. As the heart must be lifted up by the Spirit, if it pray aright, so also it must be held up by the Spirit when it is up, if it continue to pray aright. I do not know what, or how it is with others' hearts, whether they be lifted up by the Spirit of God, and so continued, or no: but this I am sure of, First, That it is impossible that all the prayer-books that men have made in the world, should lift up, or prepare the heart; that is the work of the great God himself. And, in the second place, I am sure that they are as far from keeping it up, when it is up. And indeed here is the life of prayer, to have the heart kept with God in the duty. It was a great matter for Moses to keep his hands lifted up to God in prayer; but how much more then to keep the heart in it! (Exo 17:12).

The want of this is that which God complains of; that they draw nigh to him with their mouth, and honour him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (Isa 29:13; Eze 33), but chiefly that they walk after the commandments and traditions of men, as the scope of Matthew 15:8, 9 doth testify. And verily, may I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought, it is enough to make your poor, blind, carnal men to entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so loth to go to God, and when it is with him, so loth to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers, first to beg of God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. Nay, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only, blessed be grace, the Spirit helps our infirmities (Psa 86:11).

O! the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath, and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God. How much pride also, if enabled with expressions. How much hypocrisy, if before others. And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret, unless the Spirit of supplication be there to help? When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.

Ninth. The soul that doth rightly pray, it must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it. When I say, it is impossible for a man to express himself in prayer without it, I mean, that it is impossible that the heart, in a sincere and sensible affectionate way, should pour out itself before God, with those groans and sighs that come from a truly praying heart, without the assistance of the Spirit. It is not the mouth that is the main thing to be looked at in prayer, but whether the heart is so full of affection and earnestness in prayer with God, that it is impossible to express their sense and desire; for then a man desires indeed, when his desires are so strong, many, and mighty, that all the words, tears, and groans that can come from the heart, cannot utter them: "The Spirit—helpeth our infirmities,—and maketh intercession for us with [sighs and] groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom 8:26).

That is but poor prayer which is only discovered in so many words. A man that truly prays one prayer, shall after that never be able to express with his mouth or pen the unutterable desires, sense, affection, and longing that went to God in that prayer.

The best prayers have often more groans than words: and those words that it hath are but a lean and shallow representation of the heart, life, and spirit of that prayer. You do not find any words of prayer, that we read of, come out of the mouth of Moses, when he was going out of Egypt, and was followed by Pharaoh, and yet he made heaven ring again with his cry (Exo 14:15). But it was inexpressible and unsearchable groans and cryings of his soul in and with the Spirit. God is the God of spirits, and his eyes look further than at the outside of any duty whatsoever (Num 16:22). I doubt this is but little thought on by the most of them that would be looked upon as a praying people (I Sam 16:7).

The nearer a man comes in any work that God commands him to the doing of it according to his will, so much the more hard and difficult it is; and the reason is, because man, as man, is not able to do it. But prayer, as aforesaid, is not only a duty, but one of the most eminent duties, and therefore so much the more difficult: therefore Paul knew what he said, when he said, "I will pray with the Spirit." He knew well it was not what others writ or said that could make him a praying person; nothing less than the Spirit could do it.

Tenth. It must be with the Spirit, or else as there will be a failing in the act itself, so there will be a failing, yea, a fainting, in the prosecution of the work. Prayer is an ordinance of God, that must continue with a soul so long as it is on this side glory. But, as I said before, it is not possible for a man to get up his heart to God in prayer; so it is as difficult to keep it there, without the assistance of the Spirit. And if so, then for a man to continue from time to time in prayer with God, it must of necessity be with the Spirit.

Christ tells us, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1). And again tells us, that this is one definition of a hypocrite, that either he will not continue in prayer, or else if he do it, it will not be in the power, that is, in the spirit of prayer, but in the form, for a pretence only (Job 27:10; Matt 23:14). It is the easiest thing of a hundred to fall from the power to the form, but it is the hardest thing of many to keep in the life, spirit, and power of any one duty, especially prayer; that is such a work, that a man without the help of the Spirit cannot so much as pray once, much less continue, without it, in a sweet praying frame, and in praying, so to pray as to have his prayers ascend into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth.

Jacob did not only begin, but held it: "I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me" (Gen 32). So did the rest of the godly (Hosea 12:4). But this could not be without the spirit of prayer. It is through the Spirit that we have access to the Father (Eph 2:18).

The same is a remarkable place in Jude, when he stirreth up the saints by the judgment of God upon the wicked to stand fast, and continue to hold out in the faith of the gospel, as one excellent means thereto, without which he knew they would never be able to do it. Saith he, "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). As if he had said, Brethren, as eternal life is laid up for the persons that hold out only, so you cannot hold out unless you continue praying in the Spirit. The great cheat that the devil and antichrist delude the world withal, it is to make them continue in the form of any duty, the form of preaching, of hearing, or praying, &c. These are they that have "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away" (II Tim 3:5).

Here followeth the third thing; to wit,

WHAT IT IS TO PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, AND WITH THE UNDERSTANDING.

THIRD. And now to the next thing, what it is to pray with the Spirit, and to pray with the understanding also. For the apostle puts a clear distinction between praying with the Spirit, and praying with the Spirit and understanding: therefore when he saith, "he will pray with the Spirit," he adds, "and I will pray with the understanding ALSO." This distinction was occasioned through the Corinthians not observing that it was their duty to do what they did to the edification of themselves and others too: whereas they did it for their own commendations. So I judge: for many of them having extraordinary gifts, as to speak with divers tongues, &c., therefore they were more for those mighty gifts than they were for the edifying of their brethren; which was the cause that Paul wrote this chapter to them, to let them understand, that though extraordinary gifts were excellent, yet to do what they did to the edification of the church was more excellent. For, saith the apostle, "if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding," and also the understanding of others, "is unfruitful" (I Cor 14:3, 4, 12, 19, 24, 25. Read the scope of the whole chapter). Therefore, "I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also."

It is expedient then that the understanding should be occupied in prayer, as well as the heart and mouth: "I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also." That which is done with understanding, is done more effectually, sensibly, and heartily, as I shall show farther anon, than that which is done without it; which made the apostle pray for the Colossians, that God would fill them "with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col 1:9). And for the Ephesians, that God would give unto them "the spirit of wisdom and revelation, in the knowledge of him" (Eph 1:17). And so for the Philippians, that God would make them abound "in knowledge, and in all judgment" (Phil 1:9). A suitable understanding is good in everything a man undertakes, either civil or spiritual; and therefore it must be desired by all them that would be a praying people. In my speaking to this, I shall show you what it is to pray with understanding.

Understanding is to be taken both for speaking in our mother-tongue, and also experimentally. I pass the first, and treat only on the second.

For the making of right prayers, it is to be required that there should be a good or spiritual understanding in all them who pray to God.

First. To pray with understanding, is to pray as being instructed by the Spirit in the understanding of the want of those things which the soul is to pray for. Though a man be in never so much need of pardon of sin, and deliverance from wrath to come, yet if he understand not this, he will either not desire them at all, or else be so cold and lukewarm in his desires after them, that God will even loathe his frame of spirit in asking for them. Thus it was with the church of the Laodiceans, they wanted knowledge or spiritual understanding; they knew not that they were poor, wretched, blind, and naked. The cause whereof made them, and all their services, so loathsome to Christ, that he threatens to spew them out of his mouth (Rev 3:16, 17). Men without understanding may say the same words in prayer as others do; but if there be an understanding in the one, and none in the other, there is, O there is a mighty difference in speaking the very same words! The one speaking from a spiritual understanding of those things that he in words desires, and the other words it only, and there is all.

Second. Spiritual understanding espieth in the heart of God a readiness and willingness to give those things to the soul that it stands in need of. David by this could guess at the very thoughts of God towards him (Psa 40:5). And thus it was with the woman of Canaan; she did by faith and a right understanding discern, beyond all the rough carriage of Christ, tenderness and willingness in his heart to save, which caused her to be vehement and earnest, yea, restless, until she did enjoy the mercy she stood in need of (Matt 15:22-28).

And understanding of the willingness that is in the heart of God to save sinners, there is nothing will press the soul more to seek after God, and to cry for pardon, than it. If a man should see a pearl worth an hundred pounds lie in a ditch, yet if he understood not the value of it, he would lightly pass it by: but if he once get the knowledge of it, he would venture up to the neck for it. So it is with souls concerning the things of God: if a man once get an understanding of the worth of them, then his heart, nay, the very strength of his soul, runs after them, and he will never leave crying till he have them. The two blind men in the gospel, because they did certainly know that Jesus, who was going by them, was both able and willing to heal such infirmities as they were afflicted with: therefore they cried, and the more they were rebuked, the more they cried (Matt 20:29-31).

Third. The understanding being spiritually enlightened, hereby there is the way, as aforesaid, discovered, through which the soul should come unto God; which gives great encouragement unto it. It is else with a poor soul, as with one who hath a work to do, and if it be not done, the danger is great; if it be done, so is the advantage. But he knows not how to begin, nor how to proceed; and so, through discouragement, lets all alone, and runs the hazard.

Fourth. The enlightened understanding sees largeness enough in the promises to encourage it to pray; which still adds to it strength to strength. As when men promise such and such things to all that will come for them, it is great encouragement to those that know what promises are made, to come and ask for them.

Fifth. The understanding being enlightened, way is made for the soul to come to God with suitable arguments, sometimes in a way of expostulation, as Jacob (Gen 32:9). Sometimes in way of supplication, yet not in a verbal way only, but even from the heart there is forced by the Spirit, through the understanding, such effectual arguments as moveth the heart of God. When Ephraim gets a right understanding of his own unseemly carriages towards the Lord, then he begins to bemoan himself (Jer 31:18-20). And in bemoaning of himself, he used such arguments with the Lord, that it affects his heart, draws out forgiveness, and makes Ephraim pleasant in his eyes through Jesus Christ our Lord: "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus," saith God, "Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised; as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented, and after that I was instructed," or had a right understanding of myself, "I smote upon my thigh, I was ashamed; yea, even confounded; because I did bear the reproach of my youth." These be Ephraim's complaints and bemoanings of himself; at which the Lord breaks forth into these heart-melting expressions, saying, "Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord." Thus, you see, that as it is required to pray with the Spirit, so it is to pray with the understanding also. And to illustrate what hath been spoken by a similitude:—set the case, there should come two a-begging to your door; the one is a poor, lame, wounded, and almost starved creature, the other is a healthful lusty person; these two use the same words in their begging; the one saith he is almost starved, so doth the other: but yet the man that is indeed the poor, lame, or maimed person, he speaks with more sense, feeling, and understanding of the misery that is mentioned in their begging, than the other can do; and it is discovered more by his affectionate speaking, his bemoaning himself. His pain and poverty make him speak more in a spirit of lamentation than the other, and he shall be pitied sooner than the other, by all those that have the least dram of natural affection or pity. Just thus it is with God: there are some who out of custom and formality go and pray; there are others who go in the bitterness of their spirits: the one he prays out of bare notion and naked knowledge; the other hath his words forced from him by the anguish of his soul. Surely that is the man that God will look at, "even to him that is poor," of an humble "and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa 66:2).

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