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He taught us the same thing by his own example; we see him not only devoutly praying with his disciples, but also retiring, and spending whole nights in prayer to his heavenly Father: And just before he was offered up, in what a solemn, serious, fervent, and devout manner do we see the holy Jesus praying to the blessed God! In all this, he hath certainly set us an example, that we may follow his steps.
The great Apostle St. Paul was of the same mind with his Lord and Master : “ I will,” saith the Apostle, “that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting Again: “ I will that prayer and supplication, with giving of thanks be made for all men.” And yet again: “Pray without ceasing.' And to encourage us the more,
he us, that the Spirit of God will assist us in prayer, that we may perform this important duty in an acceptable manner.
In discoursing upon the words, it may, by the blessing of God, be profitable for us to consider,
First, The necessity of our being divinely assisted in prayer, in order to our praying acceptably. And,
Secondly, Shew how the Spirit of God, in the general, helpeth our infirmities in prayer.
And first, The necessity of our being divinely assisted in prayer, appears from the words of the text: “We know not,” saith the Apostle, “what we should pray for as we ought;" and for this very reason, the Spirit of God will assist us. do not know what to pray for, it is evident enough that we cannot pray acceptably : And we ought to observe, the Apostle speaks this of himself, as well as of the people, to whom he wrote this Epistle: And if so wise and holy a man as St. Paul, could not pray acceptably, unless he was divinely assisted, shall we think to do that of ourselves, which he could only do, by the help of the Holy Spirit?
The charge of presumption is generally brought against those, who are like minded with the Apostle. “ Shall we," şay they, “be so vain as to suppose, that such poor unworthy creatures shall be assisted by the Spirit of God, in prayer, now-a-days? All these extraordinary things are ceased long ago." But upon serious consideration we shall find, that the charge of presumption falls upon those very persons themselves, as little as they think of it, who bring it against us: For who is guilty of the greatest presumption; the man that sees his own ignorance and insufficiency in so clear a manner, that he is sensible he cannot pray acceptably, unless he is divinely assisted; or the man that supposes himself to be wise enough, yea, and good enough too, so that he thinks he can pray acceptably, without any such assistance from the Spirit
of God? A child may see, that the charge of presumption rests on the head of this person, and not upon the former.
But others still wiser will say, “We have many excellent forms of prayer, suited to all states and conditions; and these; no doubt, were composed by pious and holy men, who were assisted by the Divine Spirit in making them; therefore we ought to use these prayers; and for that reason, have no need to be assisted by the Holy Spirit, in that duty now.” This objection certainly deserves our serious consideration ; but it will be exceeding difficult, so to speak, as to give no offence, seeing that very many are ignorant of the nature of prayer.
At the time of the reformation, necessity obliged those excellent men, who afterwards sealed the truth with their blood, to compose a form of prayer; as there were very few ministers at that time, who were blest with either the gift of prayer or preaching; and not only so, but they had the deep-rooted prejudices of almost the whole nation to conquer; who had been so long accustomed to the Romish mass-book. No doubt but they were divinely assisted in drawing up those forms of prayer now in use, as they are in general truly scriptural. It is true very considerable improvements were made in them, (as Bishop Burnet informs us), by Archbishop Tillotson and others who assisted him; but these alterations, whether for the better or not, is not for me to say, were never allowed by authority of Parliament.
Considering the present state of the inhabitants of this nation, it surely is a particular blessing that we have the Common Prayer-book, seeing that this in the general, so exactly corresponds with the word of God; was it not for this, there is too much reason to fear that many would deny the essential truths of the gospel. The word of God would not satisfy them, they would say that we put a wrong interpretation upon it : But when it appears that the Prayer-book speaks the same thing, as they wish to be thought members of the established Church, they are at a full stand: And a faithful minister of Christ, may avail himself very much of the Common-prayer, by proving every leading truth of the gospel from particular passages which may be quoted from thence.
As to myself I trust I shall have everlasting cause to praise God for the Common Prayer-book, as I have good reason to believe, that I should not have been convinced of the truth, and of my fallen and guilty condition, so soon as I was, had it not been that the minister so clearly proved his doctrine from those prayers that I had the highest regard for, and that I had been accustomed to hear from a child. But as constantly as I had heard them, I never understood them, much less were they answered to the joy of miy soul. As I was thus kept in darkness myself, I could most devoutly wish to convince those who set so high a value upon the Prayer-book, of the real nature of prayer
Far be it from me to wish to lessen their esteem for those forms of prayer, but only if possible to teach them to profit by them, I am persuaded there never was a form of prayer composed by any mere man, that will suit all persons in all circumstances. And the reason of this is evident; as our prayers should always be according to the present state of our mind, as well as our outward circumstances. But it is well known that these are subject to continual changes, even in the same day. In the morning we may be blessed with the peculiar presence of God, and be filled with divine peace and heavenly consolation, but in the course of the day we may be exercised with distressing temptations, or very painful crosses: As then in the morning we should be naturally disposed to praise the Lord for his abundant goodness, so afterwards we should be as naturally led to breathe oụt our desires in earnest prayer ; so that it would be rather difficult to find a Prayer-book which would contain that variety we should want: Yet a private person at his first entrance upon religion may find prescribed forms of prayer exceeding useful, seeing that he is now acquainted with the state of his own mind, he may make choice of such prayers, as express the language of his heart : But at the same time I am inclined to think if he gives up himself to God as he ought, he will not need this help long:
I should exceedingly rejoice to hear that the Lord did frequently answer those prayers that are so constantly read in our churches, and more especially so, as they are frequently read by truly pious ministers; I should sincerely wish to hear of people being brought to enjoy a sense of the love of God while hearing theiri
. I doubt not but many pious people are edified and greatly comforted, especially when they are read by a lively spiritual minister, whose heart is engaged with the God he worships : But then both the minister and the people are looking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, without which they well know, all their labour would only be lip service.
In reading the Holy Scriptures we frequently meet with particular persons making their requests known to God in prayer, but we do not find one of them praying by a prescribed form, drawn up by some other person ; but out of the fulness of his own heart: We read of a publican who went up to the Temple to pray ; but we do not find that he took any
other Prayer-book with him than that of his own heart : And his prayer was,
“ God be merciful to me a sinner!” A very weighty, a very expressive prayer indeed! Expressive of the present state of his soul, of his wants and necessities. This prayer was of no great length, nor did it require any extraor-, dinary depth of understanding, nor any uncommon degree of piety to compose it. But the Spirit of God had convinced . him that he was a guilty sinner, and stood in need of pardon, he therefore wisely prayed for that one thing, and his request was granted. We read of another who came to our Lord and fell down at his feet and cried out, “Lord help me.” This was the whole of her prayer, remarkably short, yet very full, and it found acceptance; Our Lord granted her the desire of her heart. We meet with a third person, who from the fulness of his heart cried out, “ Lord save or I perish,” His prayer was nearly of the same length with the former, and our Lord also granted his desire. Thus then let private persons pray to the God of love, and he will doubtless deal with them in the same gracious manner. But he who is called of God to pray in the public congregation may expect to be divinely assisted in that holy exercise, so that he may pray agreeably to the state and condition of all who are present.
In answer to what has been said, some will say, John the Baptist, nay did not our Lord himself teach his disciples to pray ; They certainly did. The disciples came to our Lord, and said, Lord teach us to pray. He condescendingly granted their request, and gave them that excellent form of prayer, which short as it is, yet is so comprehen-, sive, that it contains every thing that we stand in need of, and therefore may be constantly used : only we should consider that it was made before life and immortality were fully brought to light by the gospel, and therefore we need not wonder that no notice is taken of our drawing near to God in the name of Christ the one Mediator between God and man, for whose sake alone we can hope that our prayers will be answered. This ought therefore always to be remembered when , we offer up this prayer to God. I would say to all those who: inake the above objection: Go you and do likewise. Pray as the disciples did. Lord teach us to pray; and he will grant: your request also.
There was a time when many people were deeply prejuidiced ag-iinst the Common Prayer, but that is not so much the case now, very far from it. Some even of the Dissenters mrahe no scruple to read the Prayers in the public congrega
tion. And only let ministers read them with that seriousness and solemnity which they deserve, with that spirit of devotion, which evidently breathes in them, and with which those blessed men were inspired who composed them: Let them offer them up to God in faith, and let them teach the people to expect an immediate answer from God, and then no one need to object to attend upon public worship where those prayers are read. But for want of this, how many of those who all their life long have heard those prayers, it is to be feared have only been drawing near to God with their lips while their hearts were far from him, nay, may we not say with the deepest sorrow, they have been solemnly mocking God to his face, in that they have been praying for these things which they not only absolutely deny, but O tell it not in Gath ! actually ridicule and despise ! I need only to instance in one particular : " Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name.' How many of those who join in this truly scriptural prayer, do not believe one word of it, Here then we may justly take up a lamentation for them and say, Alas! “For the blindness of their minds, for the hardness of their hearts ! Blind they must surely be, when they can see no harm in offering to God the sacrifice of fools !"
How many likewise who attend upon public worship constantly, are so far from feeling those holy desires in their hearts which correspond with the words of their lips, that they never so much as understood the meaning of the prayers they have been so long accustomed to hear. This is a very awful, and a deeply affecting consideration; but it is certainly true. Only ask such persons the meaning of that one petition,
Thy kingdom come.” Can they tell much doubt it. Tell them that the meaning is, Let thy kingdom of grace come into my heart, O Lord. How will they resent this? Perhaps call you a wild enthusiast, and tell you it ineans no such thing. But to be more fully convinced of the ignorance of such people, ask them what they think of the following excellent prayer : “ O God, the King of Glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph into thy kingdom in heaven; we beseech thee leave us not comfortless, but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and to exalt us to the same place, whither our Saviour is gone before us, &c." I fear you will find that they have never had a serious thought about it : So far have they been from expecting that God would answer this prayer to the joy of their own souls. So true it is that except the Spirit of God