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There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.' So that it is an unwarrantable petition, that God would have mercy on, and save all mankind, for the contrary of that is revealed. Yea, we should pray for all sorts of men who shall live hereafter, as our Lord did, John xvii. 20. 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.' But,
2. In particular, we are to pray, not only for ourselves, as Jacob did for deliverance from the hand of his brother Esau, Gen. xxxii. 11. but for,
(1.) The whole church of Christ upon earth. Hence says the text, Praying always with all prayer,—and supplication for all saints. To no party must we confine the communion of prayers, to whom God has not confined his grace. All the members of the mystical body must share particularly in our prayers, because they are the members of Christ, whatever difference be betwixt us and them in lesser things. The sympathy betwixt the members of the same body of our Lord requires this. And it is a sad sign not to be so affected, Amos vi. 6. They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.'
(2.) Magistrates: Kings, and all that are in authority,' 1 Tim. ii. 2. It was about 300 years after Christ ere the magistrates were Christians, nevertheless the apostle bids pray for them; because the quiet and peace of the commonwealth and kingdom depends much on their management; and infidelity, or indifference in religion, does not make void the magistrates just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him. Their hearts are in the Lord's hand, Prov. xxi. 1. Their influence is great, so is their work, and so are their temptations; and if they be evil men, there is the more need to be earnest with God on their behalf. Let us bless God that we have a Protestant King on the throne, remembering how seasonably the Lord sent him, and how much depends on his safety, and the safety of his royal family.
(2.) Ministers, Col. iv. 3. Psal. cxxxii. 9. There is a near relation betwixt the people of God and their mini'sters. They have a weighty work in their hands, which, if it misgive, will not only be their own loss, but the people's. People may have a minister so straitened, as to do
them no good, Col. iv. 3. Though he be not so, yet he may be useless to them; therefore, says the apostle, 1 Thess. v. 25. 'Brethren, pray for us.' I leave it with that, Rom. xv. 30. Now I beseech you, brethren for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.'
(4.) Our Christian acquaintance, Jam. v. 16. Pray one for another. Communion of prayers is a special benefit of Christian friendship and acquaintance. And it is no small mercy and encouragement to have interest in their prayers, who have interest at the throne of grace.
(5.) The place and congregation we live in, and are members of. The captives at Babylon were to pray for the place they lived in, Jer. xxix. 7. how much more should we pray for a Christian congregation whereof we are members? The better it be with them, it will be the better with you; and so contrariwise.
6. Our families and relations. The nearer any stand related to us, we have the more need to be concerned for them at the throne of grace. We find Job sacrificing for his family, Job i. 5. a master praying for his servant, 2 Kings vi. 17. and a servant for his master, Gen. xxiv. 12.
(7.) Lastly, We must pray for our enemies, Matth. v. 44. This is hardest to bring men to. But we have the express command of Christ for it, and his example, Luke xxiii. 34. followed by the martyr Stephen, Acts vii. 60. Nay, forgiving them is necessary to our forgiveness: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.' There may be much selfishness in praying for those that love us; but that kindly concern for our enemies makes us liker God, Matth. v. 45.
SIXTHLY, For what are we to pray?
We are to pray for things agreeable to God's revealed will, and for such things only, 1 John v. 14. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. We may not present unto God unlawful desires, nor petitions, in favour of our lust, Jam. iv. 3. These must needs be an abomina tion, and a daring affront to a holy God. And indeed wicked things are so much the more wicked, as they are brought into our addresses to a holy God.
The matter of our prayers must be regulated by the word of God, wherein he has shewn what is pleasing to him, and what is not so. The signification of God's will and good pleasure as to the good to be bestowed on men, and our prayers, are to be of equal extent. Wherefore, let us see that whatever we pray for be within the compass of the command or the promise.
Such are all things tending to the glory of God, Matth. vi. 9. or to the welfare of the church, Psal. cxxii. 6; to our own good, temporal, spiritual, or eternal, Matth. vii. 11; or that of others, Psal. cxxv. 4.
SEVENTHLY, How are we to pray, if we would pray rightly and acceptably?
1. Understandingly, understanding what we say, 1 Cor. xiv. 15. Therefore they must be in a known tongue. And to repeat words before God, while we know not what they mean, can never be prayer indeed.
2. Reverently, Eccl. v. 1. We must maintain an outward reverence in expression, voice, and gesture; since in prayer we are before the great God: an inward reverence especially, having an awful apprehension of the majesty of God before whom we appear, Psal. lxxxix. 7. Heb. xii. 28. Fear and trembling becomes a creature, much more a guilty creature, before a holy God. And fearless presumptuous addresses to God are the produce of a hard heart.
3. Humbly, Psal. x. 17. with a deep sense of our own unworthiness and sinfulness on our spirits. In prayer we come to beg, not to buy or demand our right, and therefore should be sensible of unworthiness, Gen. xxxii. 10: and the more grace, the more unworthy will we be in our own eyes, Gen. xviii. 27. And going to God, we must turn our eyes inward, with the Publican (Luke xviii. 14), on our own evils of heart and life.
4. Feelingly, being deeply affected with a sense of our needs, like the prodigal, Luke xv. 17, 18, 19. Alas! what does it avail to go to God with an insensible heart; to sit down at his table without spiritual hunger; to come to his door rich and increased with goods, in our own conceit ! Such are sent empty away. Therefore it is a piece of very necessary preparation for prayer, to look over our wants, ere we go to prayer. VOL. III.
5. Believingly, Matth. xxi. 22. All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.' He who prays acceptably must be endued with saving faith, Heb. xi. 6. An unbeliever cannot pray acceptably, Rom. x. 14. Hence the prayers of the unrenewed man are all lost in respect of gracious acceptance. Moreover, the believer must be in the exercise of faith in prayer, which must be mixed with faith.
One must have a faith of particular confidence in prayer, as to the things prayed for, Mark xi. 24, 'What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall receive them.' For where that is altogether wanting, the prayer can never be accepted, Jam. i. 6. Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. Since it must needs be highly dishonouring to God, to come to him to ask, without any expectation from, or trust in him, as to what is asked.
Quest. How may one have that faith? Ans. By applying the promises, and believing them. If the things be absolut ly necessary, the promise makes these very things sure to them who come to God through Christ for them, as peace, pardon, &c. If they be not, then the promise secures God's doing the best, that either he will give the very thing de sired, or what is as good. And we are to believe accord, ingly.
6. Sincerely, Psal. cxlv. 18. Hypocrisy and dissimulation in prayer, when the heart goes not along with the lips, mars the acceptance of prayers. There are feigned lips Psal. xvii. 1. when the affections do not keep pace with the words in prayer when sin is confessed, but the heart not humbled under it; petitions are put up, but no serious desire of the things asked. See Jer. xxix. 13.
7. Fervently, Jam. v. 16. Cold, lifeless, and formal prayers, are not of the right stamp. We should, as in a most weighty matter, be boiling hot, Rom. xii. 11. Importunity in prayer is most pleasing to God. It consists not in a multitude of words, Matth. vi. 7; but in a holy earnestness of heart to be heard, Psal. cxliii. 7; and pleading with the Lord, by allowable arguments, as one who is in deep earnest, Job xxiii. 4. A heart warmed by a live-coal from God's altar will produce this.
8. Watchfully, watching unto prayer, as in the text;
taking heed to our spirits, that they do not wander. Wandering thoughts in prayer mar many prayers. They come on like the fowls on the carcase, and will devour it, if not driven away. A carnal frame of heart is the mother of them, and rash indeliberate approaches to God help them forward.
In that case one should be like the builders of the wall, having the trowel in the one hand, and the sword in the other, resolutely to resist vain thoughts, and refuse to harbour them. Nay, turn the cannon on the enemy, consider them as affording new matter of humiliation, and a clamant occasion of plying the throne of grace more closely. If they be striven against, they will not mar your acceptance; but if not they will.
9. Perseveringly; watching thereunto with all perseverance, as in the text. When we have tabled our suit before the throne, we must not let it fall, but insist upon it, Luke xviii. 1. Hold on, with one petition, one prayer, on the back of another, till it be granted, Isa. Ixii. 1. In due time ye shall reap, if ye faint not.'
Lastly, Dependingly, waiting upon the Lord with humble submission to his holy will, and looking for an answer, Micah vii. 7. We must come away in a waiting depending frame. No wonder those prayers be not regarded which we never look after, and are not concerned for the answer of. EIGHTHLY, Are all such prayers accepted, heard, and answered?
1. An unrenewed man cannot thus pray, neither are such a one's prayers at any time accepted, Prov. xv. 8. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,' John ix. 31. God heareth not sinners.'
2. God's own people do not always thus pray, neither are all their prayers accepted. For, says the Psalmist, Psal. lxvi. 18. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord
will not hear me.'
3. But all such prayers, being the produce of God's Spirit in the saints, are presented by the Mediator; and are accepted, heard, and answered by the Father, though not presently answered, Psal. xxii. 2. yet they shall be answered in due time, either by granting the very thing desired, 1 John v. 15. or something as good, Gen. xvii. 18, 19. 2 Cor. xii. 8, 9.