Sixth. An understanding well enlightened is of admirable use also, both as to the matter and manner of prayer. He that hath his understanding well exercised, to discern between good and evil, and in it placed a sense either of the misery of man, or the mercy of God; that soul hath no need of the writings of other men to teach him by forms of prayer. For as he that feels the pain needs not to be taught to cry O! even so he that hath his understanding opened by the Spirit needs not so to be taught of other men's prayers, as that he cannot pray without them. The present sense, feeling, and pressure that lieth upon his spirit, provokes him to groan out his request unto the Lord. When David had the pains of hell catching hold on him, and the sorrows of hell compassing him about, he needs not a bishop in a surplice to teach him to say, "O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul" (Psa 116:3, 4). Or to look into a book, to teach him in a form to pour out his heart before God. It is the nature of the heart of sick men, in their pain and sickness, to vent itself for ease, by dolorous groans and complainings to them that stand by. Thus it was with David, in Psalm 38:1-12. And thus, blessed be the Lord, it is with them that are endued with the grace of God.
Seventh. It is necessary that there be an enlightened understanding, to the end that the soul be kept in a continuation of the duty of prayer.
The people of God are not ignorant how many wiles, tricks, and temptations the devil hath to make a poor soul, who is truly willing to have the Lord Jesus Christ, and that upon Christ's terms too; I say, to tempt that soul to be weary of seeking the face of God, and to think that God is not willing to have mercy on such a one as him. Ay, saith Satan, thou mayest pray indeed, but thou shalt not prevail. Thou seest thine heart is hard, cold, dull, and dread; thou dost not pray with the Spirit, thou dost not pray in good earnest, thy thoughts are running after other things, when thou pretendest to pray to God. Away hypocrite, go no further, it is but in vain to strive any longer! Here now, if the soul be not well informed in its understanding, it will presently cry out, "the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me" (Isa 49:14). Whereas the soul rightly informed and enlightened saith, Well, I will seek the Lord, and wait; I will not leave off, though the Lord keep silence, and speak not one word of comfort (Isa 40:27). He loved Jacob dearly, and yet he made him wrestle before he had the blessing (Gen 32:25-27). Seeming delays in God are no tokens of his displeasure; he may hide his face from his dearest saints (Isa 8:17). He loves to keep his people praying, and to find them ever knocking at the gate of heaven; it may be, says the soul, the Lord tries me, or he loves to hear me groan out my condition before him.
The woman of Canaan would not take seeming denials for real ones; she knew the Lord was gracious, and the Lord will avenge his people, though he bear long with them (Luke 18:1-6). The Lord hath waited longer upon me than I have waited upon him; and thus it was with David, "I waited patiently," saith he; that is, it was long before the Lord answered me, though at the last "he inclined" his ear "unto me, and heard my cry" (Psa 40:1). And the most excellent remedy for this is, an understanding well informed and enlightened. Alas, how many poor souls are there in the world, that truly fear the Lord, who, because they are not well informed in their understanding, are oft ready to give up all for lost, upon almost every trick and temptation of Satan! The Lord pity them, and help them to "pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also." Much of mine own experience could I here discover; when I have been in my fits of agony of spirit, I have been strongly persuaded to leave off, and to seek the Lord no longer;10 but being made to understand what great sinners the Lord hath had mercy upon, and how large his promises were still to sinners; and that it was not the whole, but the sick, not the righteous, but the sinner, not the full, but the empty, that he extended his grace and mercy unto. This made me, through the assistance of his Holy Spirit, to cleave to him, to hang upon him, and yet to cry, though for the present he made no answer; and the Lord help all his poor, tempted, and afflicted people to do the like, and to continue, though it be long, according to the saying of the prophet (Hab 2:3). And to help them (to that end) to pray, not by the inventions of men, and their stinted forms, but "with the Spirit, and with the understanding also."
[Queries and Objections answered.]
And now to answer a query or two, and so to pass on to the next thing.
Query First. But what would you have us poor creatures to do that cannot tell how to pray? The Lord knows I know not either how to pray, or what to pray for.
Answ. Poor heart! thou canst not, thou complainest, pray. Canst thou see thy misery? Hath God showed thee that thou art by nature under the curse of his law? If so, do not mistake, I know thou dost groan and that most bitterly. I am persuaded thou canst scarcely be found doing any thing in thy calling, but prayer breaketh from thy heart. Have not thy groans gone up to heaven from every corner of thy house? (Rom 8:26). I know it is thus; and so also doth thine own sorrowful heart witness thy tears, thy forgetfulness of thy calling, &c. Is not thy heart so full of desires after the things of another world, that many times thou dost even forget the things of this world? Prithee read this scripture, Job 23:12.
Query Second. Yea, but when I go into secret, and intend to pour out my soul before God, I can scarce say anything at all.
Answ. 1. Ah! Sweet soul! It is not thy words that God so much regards, as that he will not mind thee, except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration. His eye is on the brokenness of thine heart; and that it is that makes the very bowels of the Lord to run over. "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psa 51:17).
2. The stopping of thy words may arise from overmuch trouble in thy heart. David was so troubled sometimes, that he could not speak (Psa 77:3, 4). But this may comfort all such sorrowful hearts as thou art, that though thou canst not through the anguish of thy spirit speak much, yet the Holy Spirit stirs up in thine heart groans and sighs, so much the more vehement: when the mouth is hindered, yet the spirit is not. Moses, as aforesaid, made heaven ring again with his prayers, when (that we read of) not one word came out of his mouth (Exo 14:15). But,
3. If thou wouldst more fully express thyself before the Lord, study, first, Thy filthy estate; secondly, God's promises; thirdly, The heart of Christ. Which thou mayest know or discern, (1.) By his condescension and bloodshed. (2.) By the mercy he hath extended to great sinners formerly, and plead thine own vileness, by way of bemoaning; Christ's blood by way of expostulation; and in thy prayers, let the mercy that he hath extended to other great sinners, together with his rich promises of grace, be much upon thy heart. Yet let me counsel thee, (a.) Take heed that thou content not thyself with words. (b.) That thou do not think that God looks only at them neither. But, (c.) However, whether thy words be few or many, let thine heart go with them; and then shalt thou seek him, and find him, when thou shalt seek him with thy whole heart (Jer 29:13).
Objection. But though you have seemed to speak against any other way of praying but by the Spirit, yet here you yourself can give direction how to pray.
Answ. We ought to prompt one another forward to prayer, though we ought not to make for each other forms of prayer. To exhort to pray with Christian direction is one thing, and to make stinted forms for the tying up the Spirit of God to them is another thing. The apostle gives them no form to pray withal, yet directs to prayer (Eph 6:18; Rom 15:30-32). Let no man therefore conclude, that because we may with allowance give instructions and directions to pray, that therefore it is lawful to make for each other forms of prayer.
Object. But if we do not use forms of prayer, how shall we teach our children to pray?
Answ. My judgment is, that men go the wrong way to teach their children to pray, in going about so soon to teach them any set company of words, as is the common use of poor creatures to do.
For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God's wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run down your sweet babes' eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God's promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.
Ah! Poor sweet babes, the Lord open their eyes, and make them holy Christians. Saith David, "Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Psa 34:11). He doth not say, I will muzzle you up in a form of prayer; but "I will teach you the fear of the Lord"; which is, to see their sad states by nature, and to be instructed in the truth of the gospel, which doth through the Spirit beget prayer in every one that in truth learns it. And the more you teach them this, the more will their hearts run out to God in prayer. God never did account Paul a praying man, until he was a convinced and converted man; no more will it be with any else (Acts 9:11).
Object. But we find that the disciples desired that Christ would teach them to pray, as John also taught his disciples; and that thereupon he taught them that form called the LORD'S PRAYER.
Answ. 1. To be taught by Christ, is that which not only they, but we desire; and seeing he is not here in his person to teach us, the Lord teach us by his Word and Spirit; for the Spirit it is which he hath said he would send to supply in his room when he went away, as it is (John 14:16; 16:7).
2. As to that called a form, I cannot think that Christ intended it as a stinted form of prayer. (1.) Because he himself layeth it down diversely, as is to be seen, if you compare Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Whereas if he intended it as a set form, it must not have been so laid down, for a set form is so many words and no more. (2.) We do not find that the apostles did ever observe it as such; neither did they admonish others so to do. Search all their epistles, yet surely they, both for knowledge to discern and faithfulness to practice, were as eminent as any HE ever since in the world which would impose it.
[3.] But, in a word, Christ by those words, "Our Father," &c., doth instruct his people what rules they should observe in their prayers to God. (1.) That they should pray in faith. (2.) To God in the heavens. (3.) For such things as are according to his will, &c. Pray thus, or after this manner.
Object. But Christ bids pray for the Spirit; this implieth that men without the Spirit may notwithstanding pray and be heard. (See Luke 11:9-13).
Answ. The speech of Christ there is directed to his own (verse 1). Christ's telling of them that God would give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him, is to be understood of giving more of the Holy Spirit; for still they are the disciples spoken to, which had a measure of the Spirit already; for he saith, "when ye pray, say, Our Father," (verse 2) I say unto you (verse 8). And I say unto you, (verse 9) "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him," (verse 13). Christians ought to pray for the Spirit, that is, for more of it, though God hath endued them with it already.
Quest. Then would you have none pray but those that know they are the disciples of Christ?
1. Let every soul that would be saved pour out itself to God, though it cannot through temptation conclude itself a child of God. And,
2. I know if the grace of God be in thee, it will be as natural to thee to groan out thy condition, as it is for a sucking child to cry for the breast. Prayer is one of the first things that discovers a man to be a Christian (Acts 9:12). But yet if it be right, it is such prayer as followeth. (1.) To desire God in Christ, for himself, for his holiness, love, wisdom, and glory. For right prayer, as it runs only to God through Christ, so it centers in him, and in him alone. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire," long for, or seek after, "beside thee" (Psa 73:25). (2.) That the soul might enjoy continually communion with him, both here and hereafter. "I shall be satisfied, when I awake with" thine image, or in "thy likeness," (Psa 17:15). "For in this we groan earnestly," &c., (II Cor 5:2). (3.) Right prayer is accompanied with a continual labour after that which is prayed for. "My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning" (Psa 130:6). "I will rise now, I will seek him whom my soul loveth" (Song 3:2). For mark, I beseech you, there are two things that provoke to prayer. The one is a detestation to sin, and the things of this life; the other is a longing desire after communion with God, in a holy and undefiled state and inheritance. Compare but this one thing with most of the prayers that are made by men, and you shall find them but mock prayers, and the breathings of an abominable spirit; for even the most of men either do pray at all, or else only endeavour to mock God and the world by so doing; for do but compare their prayer and the course of their lives together, and you may easily see that the thing included in their prayer is the least looked after by their lives. O sad hypocrites!
Thus have I briefly showed you, FIRST, What prayer is; SECOND, What it is to pray with the Spirit; THIRD, What it is to pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.
FOURTH. [USE AND APPLICATION.]
I shall now speak a word or two of application, and so conclude with, First, A word of information; Second, A word of encouragement; Third, A word of rebuke.
USE First, A word of information.
For the first to inform you; as prayer is the duty of every one of the children of God, and carried on by the Spirit of Christ in the soul; so every one that doth but offer to take upon him to pray to the Lord, had need be very wary, and go about that work especially with the dread of God, as well as with hopes of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.
Prayer is an ordinance of God, in which a man draws very near to God; and therefore it calleth for so much the more of the assistance of the grace of God to help a soul to pray as becomes one that is in the presence of him. It is a shame for a man to behave himself irreverently before a king, but a sin to do so before God. And as a king, if wise, is not pleased with an oration made up with unseemly words and gestures, so God takes no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools (Eccl 5:1, 4). It is not long discourses, nor eloquent tongues, that are the things which are pleasing in the ears of the Lord; but a humble, broken, and contrite heart, that is sweet in the nostrils of the heavenly Majesty (Psa 51:17; Isa 57:15). Therefore for information, know that there are these five things that are obstructions to prayer, and even make void the requests of the creature.
1. When men regard iniquity in their hearts, at the time of their prayers before God. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" my prayer (Psa 66:18). For the preventing of temptation, that by the misunderstanding of this may seize thy heart, when there is a secret love to that very thing which thou with thy dissembling lips dost ask for strength against. For this is the wickedness of man's heart, that it will even love, and hold fast, that which with the mouth it prays against: and of this sort are they that honour God with their mouth, but their heart is far from him (Isa 29:13; Eze 33:31). O! how ugly would it be in our eyes, if we should see a beggar ask an alms, with an intention to throw it to the dogs! Or that should say with one breath, Pray, you bestow this upon me; and with the next, I beseech you, give it me not! And yet thus it is with these kind of persons; with their mouth they say, "Thy will be done"; and with their hearts nothing less. With their mouth say, "Hallowed be thy name"; and with their hearts and lives thy delight to dishonour him all the day long. These be the prayers that become sin (Psa 109:7), and though they put them up often, yet the Lord will never answer them (II Sam 22:42).
2. When men pray for a show to be heard, and thought somebody in religion, and the like; these prayers also fall far short of God's approbation, and are never like to be answered, in reference to eternal life. There are two sorts of men that pray to this end.
(1.) Your trencher chaplains, that thrust themselves into great men's families, pretending the worship of God, when in truth the great business is their own bellies; and were notably painted out by Ahab's prophets, and also Nebuchadnezzar's wise men, who, though they pretended great devotion, yet their lusts and their bellies were the great things aimed at by them in all their pieces of devotion.
(2.) Them also that seek repute and applause for their eloquent terms, and seek more to tickle the ears and heads of their hearers than anything else. These be they that pray to be heard of men, and have all their reward already (Matt 6:5). These persons are discovered thus, (a.) They eye only their auditory in their expressions. (b.) They look for commendation when they have done. (c.) Their hearts either rise or fall according to their praise or enlargement. (d.) The length of their prayer pleaseth them; and that it might be long, they will vainly repeat things over and over (Matt 6:7). They study for enlargements, but look not from what heart they come; they look for returns, but it is the windy applause of men. And therefore they love not to be in their chamber, but among company: and if at any time conscience thrusts them into their closet, yet hypocrisy will cause them to be heard in the streets; and when their mouths have done going their prayers are ended; for they wait not to hearken what the Lord will say (Psa 85:8).
3. A third sort of prayer that will not be accepted of God, it is, when either they pray for wrong things, or if for right things, yet that the thing prayed for might be spent upon their lusts, and laid out to wrong ends. Some have not, because they ask not, saith James, and others ask and have not, because they ask amiss, that they may consume it on their lusts (James 4: 2-4). Ends contrary to God's will is a great argument with God to frustrate the petitions presented before him. Hence it is that so many pray for this and that, and yet receive it not. God answers them only with silence; they have their words for their labour; and that is all. Object. But God hears some persons, though their hearts be not right with him, as he did Israel, in giving quails, though they spent them upon their lusts (Psa 106:14). Answ. If he doth, it is in judgment, not in mercy. He gave them their desire indeed, but they had better have been without it, for he "sent leanness into their soul" (Psa 106:15). Woe be to that man that God answereth thus.
4. Another sort of prayers there are that are not answered; and those are such as are made by men, and presented to God in their own persons only, without their appearing in the Lord Jesus. For though God hath appointed prayer, and promised to hear the prayer of the creature, yet not the prayer of any creature that comes not in Christ. "If ye shall ask anything in my name." And whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 3:17). "If ye shall ask anything in my name," &c., (John 14:13, 14), though you be never so devout, zealous, earnest and constant in prayer, yet it is in Christ only that you must be heard and accepted. But, alas! the most of men know not what it is to come to him in the name of the Lord Jesus, which is the reason they either live wicked, pray wicked, and also die wicked. Or else, that they attain to nothing else but what a mere natural man may attain unto, as to be exact in word and deed betwixt man and man, and only with the righteousness of the law to appear before God.
5. The last thing that hindereth prayer is, the form of it without the power. It is an easy thing for men to be very hot for such things as forms of prayer, as they are written in a book; but yet they are altogether forgetful to inquire with themselves, whether they have the spirit and power of prayer. These men are like a painted man, and their prayers like a false voice. They in person appear as hypocrites, and their prayers are an abomination (Prov 28:9). When they say they have been pouring out their souls to God he saith they have been howling like dogs (Hosea 7:14).
When therefore thou intendest, or art minded to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth, consider these following particulars. 1. Consider seriously what thou wantest. Do not, as many who in their words only beat the air, and ask for such things as indeed they do not desire, nor see that they stand in need thereof. 2. When thou seest what thou wantest, keep to that, and take heed thou pray sensibly.
Object. But I have a sense of nothing; then, by your argument, I must not pray at all.
Answ. 1. If thou findest thyself senseless in some sad measure, yet thou canst not complain of that senselessness, but by being sensible there is a sense of senselessness. According to thy sense, then, that thou hast of the need of anything, so pray; (Luke 8:9), and if thou art sensible of thy senselessness, pray the Lord to make thee sensible of whatever thou findest thine heart senseless of. This was the usual practice of the holy men of God. "Lord, make me to know mine end," saith David (Psa 39:4). "Lord, open to us this parable," said the disciples (Luke 8:9). And to this is annexed the promise, "Call unto me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not," that thou art not sensible of (Jer 33:3). But,
Answ. 2. Take heed that thy heart go to God as well as thy mouth. Let not thy mouth go any further than thou strivest to draw thine heart along with it. David would lift his heart and soul to the Lord; and good reason; for so far as a man's mouth goeth along without his heart, so far it is but lip-labour only; and though God calls for, and accepteth the calves of the lips, yet the lips without the heart argueth, not only senselessness, but our being without sense of our senselessness; and therefore if thou hast a mind to enlarge in prayer before God, see that it be with thy heart.
Answ. 3. Take heed of affecting expressions, and so to please thyself with the use of them, that thou forget not the life of prayer.
I shall conclude this use with a caution or two.
Caution 1. And the first is, take heed thou do not throw off prayer, through sudden persuasions that thou hast not the Spirit, neither prayest thereby. It is the great work of the devil to do his best, or rather worst, against the best prayers. He will flatter your false dissembling hypocrites, and feed them with a thousand fancies of well-doing, when their very duties of prayer, and all other, stink in the nostrils of God, when he stands at a poor Joshua's hand to resist him, that is, to persuade him, that neither his person nor performances are accepted of God (Isa 65:5; Zech 3:1). Take heed, therefore, of such false conclusions and groundless discouragements; and though such persuasions do come in upon thy spirit, be so far from being discouraged by them, that thou use them to put thee upon further sincerity and restlessness of spirit, in thy approaching to God.
Caution 2. As such sudden temptations should not stop thee from prayer, and pouring out thy soul to God; so neither should thine own heart's corruptions hinder thee. (Let not thy corruptions stop thy prayers). It may be thou mayest find in thee all those things before mentioned, and that they will be endeavouring to put forth themselves in thy praying to him. Thy business then is to judge them, to pray against them, and to lay thyself so much the more at the foot of God, in a sense of thy own vileness, and rather make an argument from thy vileness and corruption of heart, to plead with God for justifying and sanctifying grace, than an argument of discouragement and despair. David went this way. "O Lord," saith he, "pardon mine iniquity, for it is great" (Psa 25:11).
USE Second. A word of encouragement.
And therefore, secondly, to speak a word by way of encouragement, to the poor, tempted, and cast down soul, to pray to God through Christ. Though all prayer that is accepted of God in reference to eternal life must be in the Spirit—for that only maketh intercession for us according to the will of God, (Rom 8:27)—yet because many poor souls may have the Holy Spirit working on them, and stirring of them to groan unto the Lord for mercy, though through unbelief they do not, nor, for the present, cannot believe that they are the people of God, such as he delights in; yet forasmuch as the truth of grace may be in them, therefore I shall, to encourage them, lay down further these few particulars.
1. That scripture in Luke 11:8 is very encouraging to any poor soul that doth hunger after Christ Jesus. In verses 5-7, he speaketh a parable of a man that went to his friend to borrow three loaves, who, because he was in bed, denied him; yet for his importunity-sake, he did arise and give him, clearly signifying that though poor souls, through the weakness of their faith, cannot see that they are the friends of God, yet they should never leave asking, seeking, and knocking at God's door for mercy. Mark, saith Christ, "I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; yet because of his importunity," or restless desires, "he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." Poor heart! thou criest out that God will not regard thee, thou dost not find that thou art a friend to him, but rather an enemy in thine heart by wicked works (Col 1:21). And thou art as though thou didst hear the Lord saying to thee, Trouble me not, I cannot give unto thee, as he in the parable; yet I say, continue knocking, crying, moaning, and bewailing thyself. I tell thee, "though he will not rise and give thee, because thou art his friend; yet, because of thy importunity, he will arise and give thee as many as thou needest." The same in effect you have discovered, Luke 18, in the parable of the unjust judge and the poor widow; her importunity prevailed with him. And verily, mine own experience tells me, that there is nothing that doth more prevail with God than importunity. Is it not so with you in respect of your beggars that come to your door? Though you have no heart to give them anything at their first asking, yet if they follow you, bemoaning themselves, and will take no nay without an alms, you will give them; for their continual begging overcometh you. Are there bowels in you that are wicked, and will they be wrought upon by an importuning beggar? Go thou and do the like. It is a prevailing motive, and that by good experience, he will arise and give thee as many as thou needest (Luke 11:8).
2. Another encouragement for a poor trembling convinced soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God hath placed himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a "throne of grace" (Heb 4:16). "The mercy-seat" (Exo 25:22). Which signifieth that in the days of the gospel God hath taken up his seat, his abiding-place, in mercy and forgiveness; and from thence he doth intend to hear the sinner, and to commune with him, as he saith (Exo 25:22),—speaking before of the mercy-seat—"And there I will meet with thee," mark, it is upon the mercy-seat: "There I will meet with thee, and" there "I will commune with thee, from above the mercy-seat." Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and his carriage towards them: and suddenly to conclude that God will have no regard unto them, when yet he is upon the mercy-seat, and hath taken up his place on purpose there, to the end he may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures. If he had said, I will commune with thee from my throne of judgment, then indeed you might have trembled and fled from the face of the great and glorious Majesty. But when he saith he will hear and commune with souls upon the throne of grace, or from the mercy-seat, this should encourage thee, and cause thee to hope, nay, to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that thou mayest obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:16).
3. There is yet another encouragement to continue in prayer with God: and that is this:
As there is a mercy-seat, from whence God is willing to commune with poor sinners; so there is also by his mercy-seat, Jesus Christ, who continually besprinkleth it with his blood. Hence it is called "the blood of sprinkling" (Heb 12:24). When the high-priest under the law was to go into the holiest, where the mercy-seat was, he might not go in "without blood" (Heb 9:7).
Why so? Because, though God was upon the mercy-seat, yet he was perfectly just as well as merciful. Now the blood was to stop justice from running out upon the persons concerned in the intercession of the high-priest, as in Leviticus 16:13-17, to signify that all thine unworthiness that thou fearest should not hinder thee from coming to God in Christ for mercy. Thou criest out that thou art vile, and therefore God will not regard thy prayers; it is true, if thou delight in thy vileness, and come to God out of a mere pretence. But if from a sense of thy vileness thou do pour out thy heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt, and cleansed from the filth, with all thy heart; fear not, thy vileness will not cause the Lord to stop his ear from hearing of thee. The value of the blood of Christ which is sprinkled upon the mercy-seat stops the course of justice, and opens a floodgate for the mercy of the Lord to be extended unto thee. Thou hast therefore, as aforesaid, "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus," that hath made "a new and living way" for thee, thou shalt not die (Heb 10:19, 20).
Besides, Jesus is there, not only to sprinkle the mercy-seat with his blood, but he speaks, and his blood speaks; he hath audience, and his blood hath audience; insomuch that God saith, when he doth but see the blood, he "will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you," &c., (Exo 12:13).
I shall not detain you any longer. Be sober and humble; go to the Father in the name of the Son, and tell him your case, in the assistance of the Spirit, and you will then feel the benefit of praying with the Spirit and with the understanding also.
USE Third. A word of reproof.
1. This speaks sadly to you who never pray at all. "I will pray," saith the apostle, and so saith the heart of them that are Christians. Thou then art not a Christian that art not a praying person. The promise is that every one that is righteous shall pray (Psa 32:6). Thou then art a wicked wretch that prayest not. Jacob got the name of Israel by wrestling with God (Gen 32). And all his children bare that name with him (Gal 6:16). But the people that forget prayer, that call not on the name of the Lord, they have prayer made for them, but it is such as this, "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen," O Lord, "and upon the families that call not on thy name" (Jer 10:25). How likest thou this, O thou that art so far off from pouring out thine heart before God, that thou goest to bed like a dog, and risest like a hog, or a sot, and forgettest to call upon God? What wilt thou do when thou shalt be damned in hell, because thou couldst not find in thine heart to ask for heaven? Who will grieve for thy sorrow, that didst not count mercy worth asking for? I tell thee, the ravens, the dogs, &c., shall rise up in judgment against thee, for they will, according to their kind, make signs, and a noise for something to refresh them when they want it; but thou hast not the heart to ask for heaven, though thou must eternally perish in hell, if thou hast it not.
2. This rebukes you that make it your business to slight, mock at, and undervalue the Spirit, and praying by that. What will you do, when God shall come to reckon for these things? You count it high treason to speak but a word against the king, nay, you tremble at the thought of it; and yet in the meantime you will blaspheme the Spirit of the Lord. Is God indeed to be dallied with, and will the end be pleasant unto you? Did God send his Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people, to that end that you should taunt at it? Is this to serve God? And doth this demonstrate the reformation of your church? Nay, is it not the mark of implacable reprobates? O fearful! Can you not be content to be damned for your sins against the law, but you must sin against the Holy Ghost?
Must the holy, harmless, and undefiled Spirit of grace, the nature of God, the promise of Christ, the Comforter of his children, that without which no man can do any service acceptable to the Father—must this, I say, be the burthen of your song, to taunt, deride, and mock at? If God sent Korah and his company headlong to hell for speaking against Moses and Aaron, do you that mock at the Spirit of Christ think to escape unpunished? (Num 16; Heb 10:29). Did you never read what God did to Ananias and Sapphira for telling but one lie against it? (Acts 5:1-8). Also to Simon Magus for but undervaluing of it? (Acts 8:18-22). And will thy sin be a virtue, or go unrewarded with vengeance, that makest it thy business to rage against, and oppose its office, service, and help, that it giveth unto the children of God? It is a fearful thing to do despite unto the Spirit of grace (Compare Matt 12:31, with Mark 3:28-30).
3. As this is the doom of those who do openly blaspheme the Holy Ghost, in a way of disdain and reproach to its office and service: so also it is sad for you, who resist the Spirit of prayer, by a form of man's inventing. A very juggle of the devil, that the traditions of men should be of better esteem, and more to be owned than the Spirit of prayer. What is this less than that accursed abomination of Jeroboam, which kept many from going to Jerusalem, the place and way of God's appointment to worship; and by that means brought such displeasure from God upon them, as to this day is not appeased? (I Kings 12:26-33). One would think that God's judgments of old upon the hypocrites of that day should make them that have heard of such things take heed and fear to do so. Yet the doctors of our day are so far from taking of warning by the punishment of others, that they do most desperately rush into the same transgression, viz., to set up an institution of man, neither commanded nor commended of God; and whosoever will not obey herein, they must be driven either out of the land or the world.
Hath God required these things at your hands? If he hath, show us where? If not, as I am sure he hath not, then what cursed presumption is it in any pope, bishop, or other, to command that in the worship of God which he hath not required? Nay further, it is not that part only of the form, which is several texts of Scripture that we are commanded to say, but even all must be confessed as the divine worship of God, notwithstanding those absurdities contained therein, which because they are at large discovered by others, I omit the rehearsal of them. Again, though a man be willing to live never so peaceably, yet because he cannot, for conscience sake, own that for one of the most eminent parts of God's worship, which he never commanded, therefore must that man be looked upon as factious, seditious, erroneous, heretical—a disparagement to the church, a seducer of the people, and what not? Lord, what will be the fruit of these things, when for the doctrine of God there is imposed, that is, more than taught, the traditions of men? Thus is the Spirit of prayer disowned, and the form imposed; the Spirit debased, and the form extolled; they that pray with the Spirit, though never so humble and holy, counted fanatics; and they that pray with the form, though with that only, counted the virtuous! And how will the favorers of such a practice answer that Scripture, which commandeth that the church should turn away from such as have "a form of godliness, and deny the power thereof"? (II Tim 3:5). And if I should say that men that do these things aforesaid, do advance a form of prayer of other men's making, above the spirit of prayer, it would not take long time to prove it. For he that advanceth the book of Common Prayer above the Spirit of prayer, he doth advance a form of men's making above it. But this do all those who banish, or desire to banish, them that pray with the Spirit of prayer; while they hug and embrace them that pray by that form only, and that because they do it. Therefore they love and advance the form of their own or others' inventing, before the Spirit of prayer, which is God's special and gracious appointment.
If you desire the clearing of the minor, look into the jails in England, and into the alehouses of the same; and I trow you will find those that plead for the Spirit of prayer in the jail, and them that look after the form of men's inventions only in the alehouse. It is evident also by the silencing of God's dear ministers, though never so powerfully enabled by the Spirit of prayer, if they in conscience cannot admit of that form of Common Prayer. If this be not an exalting the Common Prayer Book above either praying by the Spirit, or preaching the Word, I have taken my mark amiss. It is not pleasant for me to dwell on this. The Lord in mercy turn the hearts of the people to seek more after the Spirit of prayer; and in the strength of that, to pour out their souls before the Lord. Only let me say it is a sad sign, that that which is one of the most eminent parts of the pretended worship of God is Antichristian, when it hath nothing but the tradition of men, and the strength of persecution, to uphold or plead for it.
I shall conclude this discourse with this word of advice to all God's people. 1. Believe that as sure as you are in the way of God you must meet with temptations. 2. The first day therefore that thou dost enter into Christ's congregation, look for them. 3. When they do come, beg of God to carry thee through them. 4. Be jealous of thine own heart, that it deceive thee not in thy evidences for heaven, nor in thy walking with God in this world. 5. Take heed of the flatteries of false brethren. 6. Keep in the life and power of truth. 7. Look most at the things which are not seen. 8. Take heed of little sins. 9. Keep the promise warm upon thy heart. 10. Renew thy acts of faith in the blood of Christ. 11. Consider the work of thy generation. 12. Count to run with the foremost therein.
Grace be with thee.
1 Dr. Watt's Guide to Prayer.
2 Vol iii., p. 346.
3 Vol iii., p. 298.
4Pilgrimage of Perfection, 4to, 1526, vol. iii., p. 9.
5 Effectual fervent prayer is wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, and those objects for which HE inclines the soul to pray are bestowed by God. Thus great things were obtained by Jacob, (Gen 32:24-28); by Moses, (Exo 30:11-14; Num 14:13-21); by Joshua, (10:12-14); by Hezekiah, (II Kings 19:14-37); by the woman of Canaan, (Matt 15:21-28). The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, (James 5:16).—ED.
6 How easy to forget all God's benefits, and how impossible it is to remember them all!—ED.
7 See Mr. Fox's citation of the mass, in the last volume of the Book of Martyrs.
8 Jesus Christ has opened the way to God the Father, by the sacrifice He made for us upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, only let them plead the atoning blood of Jesus, and they shall find God upon a throne of grace, willing and ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport to our prayers. In that name a man may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. God has engaged to hear him. Reader, think of this; is not this encouragement?—J. C. Ryle—ED.
9 See Mr. Fox's Acts and Monuments, v.2.
10 "In these days, I should find my heart to shut itself up against the Lord, and against his holy Word: I have found my unbelief to set, as it were, the shoulder to the door to keep him out."—Grace Abounding, No. 81.—ED.
THE SAINTS' PRIVILEGE AND PROFIT;
THE THRONE OF GRACE
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.
The churches of Christ are very much indebted to the Rev. Charles Doe, for the preservation and publishing of this treatise. It formed one of the ten excellent manuscripts left by Bunyan at his decease, prepared for the press. Having treated on the nature of prayer in his searching work on 'praying with the spirit and with the understanding also,' in which he proves from the sacred scriptures that prayer cannot be merely read or said, but must be the spontaneous effusions of the heart principally in private, or at the domestic altar upon set times in the morning and evening, or more publicly in social meetings for praise and prayer, or in the public assembly of the church—all being acceptable, only as it is offered up in spirit and in truth—he now directs us to the proper medium which our mental powers should use in drawing near to the Divine Being. We have to approach the universal spirit, the creator, the preserver, the bountiful benefactor of our race; and, at the same time, the infinitely holy one, the supreme judge and just rewarder or punisher of all creatures. How shall we, who are impure and unclean by nature and by practice, draw near unto him who is so infinitely holy? Others of our race who were equally guilty have held acceptable converse with God, and received special marks of his favour. We all know that a talented man, high in office, retired at certain times for prayer; this gave offence, and a law was made, by which prayer to God was interdicted for thirty days. He refused obedience to a human law which interfered with the divine authority, and for this he was cast into the den of lions; but they hurt him not, although they devoured his persecutors. When a beloved minister was seized and imprisoned for his love to Christ, the church held a prayer meeting on his account, and while they were praying God sent his angel to the prison. In vain four quaternions of soldiers kept guard, two of them in the prisoner's cell, while the servant of Christ, who was loaded with chains and doomed to an ignominious death, slept sweetly between the armed men. The angel awakes him, his chains fall off, no noise can awake his guard, the prison doors open, and he was restored to his beloved charge. They were yet imploring his deliverance, when he stood in their midst to tell the wondrous miracle, wrought in answer to their prayer. Again, two of their much-loved ministers were seized and beaten, and cast into jail, their feet being made fast in the stocks. In the dark hour of midnight they prayed and praised God, when an earthquake was sent, which shook the prison and threw open its doors, and the jailor, with his house, became converts to the faith. Millions of instances might have been recorded of prayer heard and answered. The child Samuel, and also Ishmael. The Magdalene. The thief on the cross. Ananias, who was directed to relieve the stricken persecutor Saul, for 'behold he prayeth.' But innumerable prayers have been read and offered up which have not been answered. What then is the acceptable form, and what the appointed medium consecrated for our access to God, by which prayer is sanctified and accepted? If ye love me, saith the Saviour, keep my commandments, and whatsoever ye shall ask IN MY NAME that will I do. A sense of our want and unworthiness leads us to God in that new and living way consecrated by Christ though the veil, that is to say, his flesh (Heb 10:20). By that way we can 'come boldly,' because it is 'a throne of grace,' and there and there only we can 'obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.' Wondrous throne! Blessed encouragement to the poor pilgrim, traversing the desert surrounded by enemies, his own heart by nature being one of the most formidable of them!
It is of great importance to all, and especially to the young, to attain correct definite ideas of religious truths. Bunyan had remarkably clear views, arising from his strong feelings and the rugged path by which he was led to Christ. His definition of the difference between grace and mercy is very striking: 'Mercy signifies pitifulness to objects in a miserable condition. Grace acts as a free agent, not wrought upon by our misery but of God's own princely mind.' Christ is the throne of grace—in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead, and yet he was found in fashion as a man, he took on him the seed of Abraham, and was made like unto his brethren, and offered himself up as the sacrifice for sin. Thus he is the throne of grace on the mercy-seat covering the law. Here he is an object of worship to the angels on the right hand of God. In him the uncreated glory, the dazzling effulgence of God, is so veiled in his glorified body, that man, poor sinful man, can lift up his eyes to behold the place where God's honour most richly dwelleth, and find acceptance and grace to help in every time of need.
Take heed, sinner, this is your only access to heaven. The mercy-seat and throne of grace is God's resting-place; the throne which governs his church, and which eventually will govern all nations. This throne, invisible to mortal eyes, is present at all times and in all places. After the saints have been supplied with all needful grace in this world, their glorified spirits will see the great white throne, and hear the voice proceeding from it, saying, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you; while from that throne the direful thunderbolts will be hurled upon the despisers of divine grace, and they will hurry into irretrievable misery. The safety of the Christian entirely depends upon his being found 'looking unto Jesus': his glorified human body is the throne of grace—the source of all blessedness to his worshippers—the gate of heaven—the way, the truth and the life. Yes, proud nature, HE who was the babe at Bethlehem, the poor carpenter's son, who, notwithstanding his miracles of wisdom, power, and mercy, was despised and rejected of men, HIM hath God exalted to be a prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and the remission of sins, the only medium of access to heaven. Before him every knee shall bow. Wonders of grace to God belong. 'Busy thyself, fellow christian, about this blessed office of Christ. It is full of good, it is full of sweet, it is full of heaven, it is full of relief and succour for the tempted and dejected; wherefore, I say again, study these things, give thyself wholly to them.' Reader, listen to these words of Bunyan, and may the Divine blessing attend the reading of his works.
THE SAINTS' PRIVILEGE AND PROFIT
'LET US THEREFORE COME BOLDLY UNTO THE THRONE OF GRACE, THAT WE MAY OBTAIN MERCY, AND FIND GRACE TO HELP IN TIME OF NEED.'—HEBREWS 4:16
This epistle is indited and left to the church by the Holy Ghost, to show particularly, and more distinctly, the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the excellent benefits that his people have thereby. In which both the excellency of his person, and transcendent glory of his office, beyond either priest or priesthood of the law, is largely set forth before us, in chapter 1:2, &c.
Wherefore, in order to our beneficial reading of this epistle, the Spirit of God calls upon us, first, most seriously to consider what an one this excellent person is: 'Wherefore, holy brethren,' saith he, you that are 'partakers of the heavenly calling,' consequently you that are related to and that are concerned in the undertaking of this holy one, 'consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus' (Heb 3:1). Consider how great and how fit this man is for so holy and glorious a calling. He being so high, as to be far above all heavens; so great, as to be the Son of, and God equal with the Father. Consider him also as to his humanity, how that he is really flesh of our flesh; sinlessly so, sympathisingly so, so in all the compassions of a man; he is touched with, compassioneth, pitieth, loveth, succoureth us, and feeleth our infirmities, and maketh our case his own. Nay, he again, from the consideration of his greatness and love, puts us upon a confident reliance on his undertaking, and also presseth us to a bold approach of that throne of grace where he continually abideth in the execution of his office: 'Seeing then,' saith he, 'that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities: but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace' (Heb 3:14-16).
In the words we have, First, An exhortation; [and] Second, An implication that we shall reap a worthy benefit, if we truly put the exhortation into practice. The exhortation is that we shall come boldly to the throne of grace: 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.' In all we have an intimation of five things.
FIRST, That God hath more thrones than one; else the throne of grace need not to be specified by name. 'Let us come unto the throne of grace.' SECOND, That the godly can distinguish one throne from another. For the throne here is not set forth by where or what signs it should be known; it is only propounded to us by its name, and so left for saints to make their approach unto it: 'Let us come unto the throne of grace.' THIRD, The third thing is, the persons intended by this exhortation, 'Let us therefore come.' Us: What us? or who are they that by this exhortation are called upon to come? 'Let us.' FOURTH, The manner of the coming of these persons to this throne of grace; and that is through the veil, boldly, confidently: 'Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace.' FIFTH, the motive to this exhortation; and that is twofold, First, Because we have so great an high priest, one that cannot but be touched with the feeling of our infirmities: 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.' And, second, because we are sure to speed: 'That we may obtain mercy, and find grace,' &c. I shall, as God shall help me, handle these things in order.
[THAT GOD HATH MORE THRONES THAN ONE.]
FIRST. For the first, That God hath more thrones than one. He hath a throne in heaven, and a throne on earth: 'The Lord's throne is in heaven,' and 'they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord' (Psa 11:4; Jer 3:17). He ruleth over the angels; he ruleth in his church. 'He ruleth in Jacob, unto the ends of the earth' (Psa 59:13). Yea, he has a throne and seat of majesty among the princes and great ones of the world. He ruleth or 'judgeth among the gods' (Psa 82:1). There is a throne for him as a Father, and a throne for Christ as a giver of reward to all faithful and overcoming Christians: 'To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne' (Rev 3:21).
There is also to be a throne of judgment, on which God by Christ, at the great and notable day, shall sit to give to the whole world, their last or final sentence; from which, no, not, not by any means, they shall never be released. This throne is made mention of in the New Testament, and is called by Christ 'the throne of his glory,' and 'a great white throne' (Matt 25:31; Rev 20:11). And his presence, when he sits upon this throne, will be so terrible, that nothing shall be able to abide it that is not reconciled to God by him before.
Wherefore it is not amiss that I give you this hint, because it may tend to inform unwary Christians, when they go to God, that they address not themselves to him at rovers, or at random; but that when they come to him for benefits, they direct their prayer to the throne of grace, or to God as considered on a throne of grace. For he is not to be found a God merciful and gracious, but as he is on the throne of grace. This is his holy place, out of which he is terrible to the sons of men, and cannot be gracious unto them. For as when he shall sit at the last day upon his throne of judgment, he will neither be moved with the tears of misery of the world to do any thing for them, that in the least will have a tendency to a relaxation of the least part of their sorrow; so now let men take him where they will, or consider him as they list, he gives no grace, no special grace, but as considered on the throne of grace: wherefore they that will pray, and speed, they must come to a throne of grace: to a God that sitteth on a throne of grace: 'Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain,' &c.
The unbeliever, the erroneous and superstitious, consider not this: wherefore they speak to God as their fancies lead them, not as the word directs them, and therefore obtain nothing. Ask the carnal man to whom he prays? he will say to God. Ask him where this God is? he will say in heaven. But ask him how, or under what notion he is to be considered there? and he will give a few generals, but cannot direct his soul unto him as he is upon a throne of grace, as the apostle here biddeth, saying, 'Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace.' Wherefore they come and go, or rather go and come to no advantage at all: they find nothing but their labour or words for their pains. For the right considering of God when I go unto him, and how or where I may find him gracious and merciful, is all in all; and mercy and grace is then obtained when we come to him as sitting upon a throne of grace.
[THE GODLY CAN DISTINGUISH ONE THRONE FROM ANOTHER.]
SECOND. We will therefore come to the second thing, to wit, that the godly can distinguish one thing from another. And the reason why I so conclude, is, as I said, because the throne here is not set forth unto us here, by where or what signs it should be known; it is only propounded to us by its name, a throne of grace, and so left for saints to make their approach thereto: 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.' We will therefore take this conclusion into two parts, and consider it under this double position. FIRST, That there is a throne of grace. SECOND, That it is the privilege of the godly to distinguish from all other thrones whatever this throne of grace.
FIRST, There is a throne of grace. This must be true, because the text saith it; also it is that of which the mercy-seat, so often made mention of in the Old Testament, was a type, shadow, or figure; nor is the terms of seat and throne of any strength to make this supposition void. For it is common for the antitype to be put forth in words unto us more glorious than is the figure or shadow of that thing. And the reason is, for that the heavenly things themselves are far more excellent than the shadow by which they are represented. What is a sheep, a bull, an ox, or calf, to Christ, or their blood to the blood of Christ? What is Jerusalem that stood in Canaan, to that new Jerusalem that shall come down from heaven? or the tabernacle made with corruptible things, to the body of Christ, or heaven itself? No marvel then, if they be set forth unto us by words of an inferior rank; the most full and aptest being reserved to set out the highest things withal.
Before I proceed to give you a more particular description of this throne of grace, as also how it may be know, I will a little touch upon the terms themselves, and show briefly what must be implied by them.
[Import of the term grace.]
First, By this word grace, we are to understand God's free, sovereign, good pleasure, whereby he acteth in Christ towards his people. Grace and mercy therefore are terms that have their distinct significations; mercy signifies pitifulness, or a running over of infinite bowels to objects in a miserable and helpless condition. But grace signifies that God still acts in this as a free agent, not being wrought upon by the misery of the creature, as a procuring cause; but of his own princely mind.
Were there no objects of pity among those that in the old world perished by the flood, or that in Sodom were burned with fire from heaven? doubtless, according to our apprehension, there were many: but Noah, and he only, found grace in God's eyes; not because that of himself he was better than the rest, but God acted as a gracious prince towards him, and let him share in mercy of his own sovereign will and pleasure. But this at first was not so fully made manifest as it was afterwards. Wherefore the propitiatory was not called, as here, a throne of grace, but a mercy-seat, albeit there was great glory in these terms also; for, by mercy-seat was showed, not only that God had compassion for men, but that also to be good was as his continual resting-place, whither he would at length retire, and where he would sit down and abide, whatever terrible or troublesome work for his church was on the wheel at present. For a seat is a place of rest, yea, is prepared for that end; and in that here mercy is called that seat, it is to show, as I said, that whatever work is on the wheel in the world, let it be never so dreadful and amazing, yet to God's church it shall end in mercy, for that is God's resting-place. Wherefore after God had so severely threatened and punished his church under the name of a whorish woman, as you may read in the prophet Ezekiel, he saith, 'So will I make my fury toward thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee; and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry.' And again, speaking of the same people and of the same punishments, he saith, 'Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.' And again, 'I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God' (Eze 16:42,60-63). These, with many more places, show that mercy is God's place of rest, and thither he will retire at last, and from thence will bless his church, his people.
But yet these terms, a throne, the throne of grace, doth more exceed in glory: not only because the word grace shows that God, by all that he doth towards us in saving and forgiving, acts freely as the highest Lord, and of his own good-will and pleasure, but also for that he now saith, that his grace is become a king, a throne of grace. A throne is not only a seat for rest, but a place of dignity and authority. This is known to all. Wherefore by this word, a throne, or the throne of grace, is intimated, that God ruleth and governeth by his grace. And this he can justly do: 'Grace reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ out Lord' (Rom 5:21). So then, in that here is mention made of a throne of grace, it showeth that sin, and Satan, and death, and hell, must needs be subdued. For these last mentioned are but weakness and destruction; but grace is life, and the absolute sovereign over all these to the ruling of them utterly down. A throne of grace!
But this then God plainly declareth, that he is resolved this way to rule, and that he pointeth at sin as his deadly foe: and if so, then, 'where sin aboundeth, grace must much more abound' (Rom 5:20). For it is the wisdom and discretion of all that rule, to fortify themselves against them that rebel against them what they can. Wherefore he saith again, 'Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace' (Rom 6:14). Sin seeks for the dominion, and grace seeks for the dominion; but sin shall not rule, because it has no throne in the church among the godly. Grace is king. Grace has the throne, and the people of God are not under the dominion of sin, but of the grace of God, the which they are here implicitly bid to acknowledge, in that they are bid to come boldly to it for help: 'That we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help; to help in time of need.' For as from the hand and power of the king comes help and succour to the subject, when assaulted by an enemy; so from the throne of grace, or from grace as it reigns, comes the help and health of God's people. Hence it is said again, 'A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary' (Jer 17:12). Here then the saints take shelter from the roaring of the devil, from the raging of their lusts, and from the fury of the wicked. That also is a very notable place, 'He will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea' (Micah 7:19). He speaks here of God as solacing himself in mercy, and as delighting of himself in the salvation of his people, and that without comparison: 'Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy' (Micah 7:18). Thus is mercy and grace got into the throne, reigns, and will assuredly conquer all; yea, will conquer, and that with a shout. 'Mercy rejoiceth against judgment' (James 2:13). Yea, glorieth when it getteth the victory of sin, and subdueth the sinner unto God and to his own salvation, as is yet more fully showed in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). But this, briefly to show you something of the nature of the terms, and what must necessarily be implied thereby.
[What is to be inferred from the term 'throne of grace.']
Second. We will in the next place show what is to be inferred from hence. And,
1. To be sure this is inferred, that converted men are not every way, or in every sense, free from the being of sin. For, were they, they need not betake themselves to a throne of grace for help; when it saith there is grace in God, it inferreth, that there is sin in the godly; and when it saith, grace reigns, as upon a throne, it implies, that sin would ascend the throne, would reign, and would have the dominion over the children of God. This also is manifest, when he saith, 'Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof' (Rom 7:12). And the only way to prevent it is to apply ourselves, as by the text we are directed, to the throne of grace for help against it.
2. The text implies, that at certain times the most godly man in the world may be hard put to it by the sin that dwelleth in him; yea, so hard put to it, as that there can be no ways to save himself from a fall, but by imploring heaven and the throne of grace for help. This is called the needy time, the time when the wayfaring man that knocked at David's door shall knock at ours (2 Sam 12); or when we are got into the sieve into which Satan did get Peter (Luke 22:31); or when those fists are about our ears that were about Paul's; and when that thorn pricks us that Paul said was in his flesh (2 Cor 12:7,8). But why, or how comes it to pass, that the godly are so hard put to it at these times, but because there is in them, that is, in their flesh, no good thing, but consequently all aptness to close in with the devil and his suggestions, to the overthrow of the soul? But now here we are presented with a throne of grace, unto which, as presented with a throne of grace, unto which, as David says, we must 'continually resort'; and that is the way to obtain relief, and to find help in time of need (Psa 71:3).
3. As Christians are sometimes in imminent dangers of falling, so sometimes it is so, that they are fallen, are down, down dreadfully, and can by no means lift up themselves. And this happeneth unto them because they have been remiss as to the conscionable performance of what by this exhortation they are enjoined to. They have not been constant supplicants at this throne for preserving grace; for had they, they should, as the text suggests, most certainly have kept from such a fall; help should have been granted them in their needful time. But that is it, of which such are guilty, which is written in the prophet Isaiah, 'But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel' (Isa 43:22). Therefore thou art profaned, therefore thou art given to reproaches (Isa 43:28). Now, as they which are falling are kept from coming down by coming to this throne of grace, so those that are fallen must rise by the sceptre of love extended to them from thence. Men may fall by sin, but cannot raise up themselves without the help of grace. Wherefore, it is worthy of our inquiry after a more thorough knowledge of this throne of grace, whence, as we may well perceive, our help comes, and by what comes from thence we are made to stand. I therefore come now to a more particular description of this throne of grace; and to show how the godly know, or may know it, from other thrones of God.
[What this throne of grace is.]
First, then, this throne of grace is the humanity, or heart and soul of Jesus Christ, in which God sits and resteth for ever in love towards them that believe in him. Forasmuch as Christ did, by the body of his flesh, when here, reconcile them unto the Father. 'The key of the house of David,' saith God, 'will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his Father's house' (Isa 22:22,23). For a glorious throne to his Father's house, that is, for his Father's house, to come to their Father by; for that they shall always find him thereon; or, as another scripture saith, in Christ reconciling them unto him, not imputing to them their trespasses and sins (2 Cor 5:19). Nor is it possible, that we lay aside the human nature of Christ, for us to find any such thing as a throne of grace, either in earth or heaven; for that then nothing can be found to be the rest of God. 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,' is God's own language; but there is none other of whom he hath so said (Matt 3:17). Wherefore he resteth in him towards us, and in him only. Besides, grace cannot be extended towards us but in a way of justice; for that the law and our sin obstructeth another way (Gen 3:24). But, lay the human nature of Christ aside, and where will you find, THAT that shall become such a sacrifice to justice for the sin of men, as that God, for the sake of that, shall both forgive, and cause that grace for ever should reign towards us in such a way? It reigns through righteousness, or justice, by Jesus Christ, and no way else. Christ Jesus, therefore, is this throne of grace; or him, or that, by which grace reigns towards the children of God (Rom 5:21).
That scripture also gives us a little light herein, 'And I beheld, and lo! in the midst of the throne,' &c., 'stood a Lamb, as it had been slain' (Rev 5:6). This is to show the cause why grace is so freely let out to us, even for that there stands there, in the midst of the throne, and in the midst of the elders, a lamb as it had been slain, or, as it was made a sacrifice for our sin; for, as a slain lamb, he now lives in the midst of the throne, and is the meritorious cause of all the grace that we enjoy. And though it seems by this text that the throne is one thing and the Lamb another, yet the Lamb of God is the throne, though not as a lamb or sacrifice, but as one that by his sacrifice has made way for grace to run like a river into the world. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is ALL; he is the throne, the altar, the priest, the sacrifice, and all: but he is the throne, the priest, the altar, and the sacrifice, under divers considerations. He is not the throne as he is the priest; he is not the priest as he is the sacrifice; he is not the sacrifice as he is the altar; yet is truly all these. Yea, there is no throne of grace, no high priest, no propitiatory sacrifice, &c., but he. Of all which we may yet speak further before we conclude this treatise. I conclude, then, that Christ Jesus, in his human nature, is this throne of grace. In his human nature, I say, he has by that completely accomplished all things necessary for the making way for grace to be extended to men; and that that is not only God's place of rest, but that by and from which, as upon a glorious throne, his grace shall reign over devil, death, sin, hell, and the grave, for ever. This human nature of Christ is also called the tabernacle of God; for the fullness of the Godhead dwells in it bodily. It is God's habitation, his dwelling-place, his chair and throne of state. He doth all in and by it, and without it he doth not any thing. But to pass this, let us come to the next thing.
[Where the throne of grace is erected.]
Second. We will now come to discourse of the placing of this throne of grace, or to discover where it is erected. And for this we must repair to the type, which, as was said before, is called the mercy-seat; the which we find, not in the outward court, nor yet within the first veil (Heb 9:3-5); which signifies, not in the world, nor in the church on earth, but in the holy of the holies, or after the second veil, the flesh of Christ (Heb 10:20). There then is this throne of God, this throne of grace, and no where here below. And for as much as it is called the throne of God, of grace, and is there, it signifieth that it is the highest and most honourable. Hence he is said to be far above all heavens, and to have a name above every name. Wherefore he that will come to this throne of grace, must know what manner of coming it is by which he must approach it; and that is, not personally, but by runnings out of heart; not by himself, but by his Priest, his High Priest; for so it was in the type (Heb 9:7). Into the second, where the mercy-seat was, went the high priest alone, that is, personally, and the people by him, as he made intercession for them. This then must be done by those that will approach this throne of grace. They must go to God, as he is enthroned IN Christ; BY Christ, as he is the High Priest of his church; and they must go to him in the holiest, by him.
But again, as this throne of grace is in the Holiest, not in the world, not in the church on earth, so it is in this Holiest set up above the ark of the testimony; for so was the mercy-seat, it was set up in the most holy place, above the ark of the testimony (Deut 10:1-5; 1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chron 5:10). The ark of the testimony. What was that? Why it was the place of the law, the ark in which it was kept: the testimony was the law, the ark was prepared to put that in. This ark in which was put this law was set up in the holiest, and the mercy-seat was set above it, for so was Moses commanded to place them. Thou shalt make an ark, saith God, 'and thou shalt make a mercy-seat': the ark shall be called the ark of the testimony, and there 'thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee,' that is, the law, 'and thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark, and there I will meet with thee, from above the mercy-seat between the two cherubims, which are upon,' that is, above, 'the ark of the testimony,' 'shadowing the mercy-seat' (Exo 25:16-22; Heb 9:5).
Thus, then, were things of old ordained in the type, by which we gather what is now to be minded in our worshipping of God. There was an ark made, and the two tables of stone, in which the law was writ, was put therein (Deut 10:2-5). This ark, with these two tables, were put into the holiest, and this mercy-seat was set above it. The Holy Ghost, in my mind, thus signifying that grace sits upon a throne that is higher than the law, above the law; and that grace, therefore, is to rule before the law, and notwithstanding all the sentence of the law; for it sitteth, I say, upon a throne, but the law sits on none; a throne, I say, which the law, instead of accusing, justifieth and approveth. For although it condemneth all men, yet it excepteth Christ, who, in his manhood, is this throne of grace. Him, I say, it condemneth not, but approveth, and liketh well of all his doings; yea, it granteth him, as here we see, as a throne of grace, to be exalted above itself: yea, it cannot but so do, because by wisdom and holiness itself, which is also the Lord of the law, it is appointed so to do. Here, then, is the throne of God, the throne of grace, namely, above the ark of the testimony; on this God and his grace sits, reigns, and gives leave to sinners to approach his presence for grace and mercy. He gives, I say for those sinners so to do, that have washed before in the brazen laver that is prepared to wash in first, of which we may speak more anon. Now, behold the wisdom of God in his thus ordaining of things; in his placing, in the first place, the law, and Christ the ark of the testimony, and the mercy-seat, or throne of grace, so nigh together; for doubtless it was wisdom that thus ordained them, and it might so ordain for these reasons—
[Why the law and the mercy-seat are so near together.]
1. That we that approach the throne of grace might, when we come there, be made still to remember that we are sinners—'for by the law is the knowledge of sin' (Rom 3:20)—and behold just before us is this ark in which are the two tables that condemn all flesh: yea, we must look that way, if we look at all; for just above it is the mercy-seat or throne of grace. So then here is a memento for them that come to God, and to his throne of grace, for mercy, to wit, the law, by which they are afresh put in remembrance of themselves, their sins, and what need they have of fresh supplies of grace. I read that the laver of brass and the foot of it was made of the looking-glasses of the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle (Exo 38:8), methinks to signify, that men might see their smyrches when they came to wash; so here you see the law is placed even with the mercy-seat, only that stood above, whereby those that come to the throne of grace for mercy might also yet more be put in mind that they are sinners.
2. This also tendeth to set an edge upon prayer, and to make us the more fervent in spirit when we come to the throne of grace. Should a king ordain that the axe and halter should be before all those that supplicate him for mercy, it would put yet an edge upon all their petitions for his grace, and make them yet the more humbly and fervently implore his majesty for favour. But, behold, the mercy-seat stands above, is set up above the ark and testimony that is in it. Here, therefore, we have encouragement to look for good. For observe, though here is the law, and that too in the holiest of all, whither we go; yet above it is the mercy-seat and throne of grace triumphant, unto which we should look, and to which we should direct our prayers. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, notwithstanding the ark and testimony is by; for the law cannot hurt us when grace is so nigh; besides, God is now not in the law, but upon the throne of grace that is above it, to gave forth pardons, and grace, and helps at a time of need.
This, then, may serve to inform some whereabout they are, when they are in their closets, and at prayer. Art thou most dejected when thou art at prayer? Hear me, thou art not far from the throne of grace; for thy dejection proceedeth from thy looking into the ark, into which God hath ordained that whosoever looks shall die (1 Sam 6:19). Now if thou art indeed so near as to see thy sins, by thy reading of thyself by the tables in the ark, cast but up thine eyes a little higher, and behold, there is the mercy-seat and throne of grace to which thou wouldest come, and by which thou must be saved. When David came to pray to God, he said he would direct his prayer to God, and would look up (Psa 5:3). As who should say, When I pray, I will say to my prayers, O my prayers, mount up, stay not at the ark of the testimony, for there is the law and condemnation; but soar aloft to the throne that stands above, for there is God, and there is grace displayed, and there thou mayest obtain what is necessary to help in time of need. Some, indeed, there be that know not what these things mean; they never read their sin nor condemnation for it; when they are upon their knees at their devotion, and so are neither dejected at the sight of what they are, nor driven with sense of things to look higher for help at need; for need, indeed, they see none. Of such I shall say, they are not concerned in our text, nor can they come hither before they have been prepared so to do, as may appear before we come to an end.
[How the godly distinguish the throne of grace.]
SECOND. And thus have I showed you what this throne of grace is, and where it stands. And now I shall come to show you how you shall find it, and know when you are come to it, by several other things.
First, then, about the throne of grace there is 'a rainbow—in sight like unto an emerald' (Rev 4:1-3). This was the first sight that John saw after he had received his epistles for the seven churches. Before he received them, he had the great vision of his Lord, and heard him say to him, I am he that was dead and am alive, or 'that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, amen; and have the keys of hell and of death' (Rev 1:18). And a good preparation it was for a work of that nature that now he was called unto; to wit, that he might the more warmly, and affectionately, and confidently attest the truth which his Lord had now for him to testify to them. So here, before he entereth upon his prophecy of things to come, he hears a first voice, and sees a first sight. The first voice that he heard was, 'Come up hither,' and the first sight that he saw was a throne with a rainbow round about it. 'And immediately,' saith he, 'I was in the Spirit; and behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper, and a sardine stone, and there was a rainbow round about the throne' (Rev 4:1-3).
The firs time that we find in God's Word mention made of a rainbow, we read also of its spiritual signification, to wit, that it was a token of the firmness of the covenant that God made with Noah, as touching his not drowning the earth any more with the waters of a flood. 'I do set,' saith he, 'my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud. And I will remember my covenant which is between me and you, and every living creature of all flesh: and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh' (Gen 9:13-15). The first use, therefore, of the rainbow, it was to be a token of a covenant of mercy and kindness to the world; but that was not the utmost end thereof. For that covenant was but a shadow of the covenant of grace which God hath made with his elect in Christ, and that bow but a shadow of the token of the permanency and lastingness of that covenant. Wherefore the next time we read of the rainbow is in the first of Ezekiel, and there we read of it only with reference to the excellencies of its colour; for that it is there said to be exactly like the colour of the glory of the man that the prophet there saw as sitting upon a throne (v 28). The glory, that is, the priestly robes; for he is a priest upon the throne, and his robes become his glory and beauty (Zech 6:13). His robes—what are they but his blessed righteousness, with the skirts of which he covereth the sinful nakedness of his people, and with the perfection of which he decketh and adorneth them, 'as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels' (Exo 28:2; Eze 16:8; Isa 61:10).
Now here again, in the third place, we find a rainbow, a rainbow round about the throne; round about the throne of grace. A rainbow—that is, a token of the covenant, a token of the covenant of grace in its lastingness; and that token is the appearance of the man Christ. The appearance—that is, his robes, his righteousness, 'from the appearance of his loins even upward,' and 'from the appearance of his loins even downward' (Eze 1:27); even down to the foot, as you have it in the book of the Revelation (1:13). 'As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord' (Eze 1:28). The sum then is, that by the rainbow round about the throne of grace upon which God sitteth to hear and answer the petitions of his people, we are to understand the obedential righteousness of Jesus Christ, which in the days of his flesh he wrought out and accomplished for his people; by which God's justice is satisfied, and their person justified, and they so made acceptable to him. This righteousness, that shines in God's eyes more glorious than the rainbow in the cloud doth in ours, saith John, is round about the throne. But for what purpose? Why, to be looked upon. But who must look upon it? Why, God and his people; the people when they come to pray, and God when he is about to hear and give. 'And the bow shall be in the cloud'; says God, 'and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth' (Gen 9:16). And, I say, as the bow is for God to look on, so it is also for our sight to behold. A rainbow round about the throne, in sight; in whose sight? in John's and his companions, like unto an emerald.
We read of Solomon's great throne of ivory, that though there was not its like in any kingdom, yet he was not willing that the bow of it should stand before him. It was round behind (1 Kings 10:18-20). O! but God's throne has the bow before, even round about to view, to look upon in sight. Solomon's was but a shadow, and therefore fit to be put behind; but this is the sum and substance, and therefore fit to be before, in view, in sight, for God and his people to behold. Thus you see that a rainbow is round about the throne of grace, and what this rainbow is. Look then, when thou goest to prayer, for the throne; and that thou mayest not be deceived with a fancy, look for the rainbow too. The rainbow, that is, as I have said, the personal performances of Christ thy Saviour for thee. Look, I say, for that, it is his righteousness; the token of the everlastingness of the covenant of grace; the object of God's delight, and must be the matter of the justification of thy person and performances before God. God looks at it, look thou at it, and at it only (Psa 71:16). For in heaven or earth, if that be cast away, there is nothing to be found that can please God, or justify thee. If it be said faith pleases God; I answer, faith is a relative grace; take then the relative away, which, as to justification, is this spangling robe, this rainbow, this righteousness of Christ, and faith dies, and becomes, as to what we now treat of, extinct and quenched as tow.
And a very fit emblem the rainbow is of the righteousness of Christ; and that in these particulars. 1. The rainbow is an effect of the sun that shines in the firmament; and the righteousness by which this throne of grace is encompassed, is the work of the Son of God. 2. The rainbow was a token that the wrath of God in sending the flood was appeased; this righteousness of Christ is that for the sake of which God forgiveth us all trespasses. 3. The rainbow was set in the cloud, that the sinful man might look thereon, and wax confident in common mercy; this righteousness is showed us in the word, that we may by it believe unto special mercy. 4. The bow is seen but now and then in the cloud; Christ's righteousness is but here and there revealed in the Word. 5. The bow is seen commonly upon, or after rain; Christ's righteousness is apprehended by faith upon, or soon after the apprehensions of wrath. 6. The bow is seen sometimes more, sometimes less; and so is this righteousness, even according to the degree or clearness of the sight of faith. 7. The bow is of that nature, as to make whatever you shall look upon through it, to be of the same colour of itself, whether that thing be bush, or man, or beast; and the righteousness of Christ is that that makes sinners, when God looks upon them through it, to look beautiful, and acceptable in his sight, for we are made comely through his comeliness, and made accepted in the Beloved (Eze 16:14; Eph 1:6).