CHARACTERISTICS OF PRAYER.
WHAT is prayer? A sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God hath promised.
The best prayers have often more groans than words.
Alas, how few there be in the world whose heart and mouth in prayer shall go together. Dost thou, when thou askest for the Spirit, or faith, or love to God, to holiness, to saints, to the word, and the like, ask for them with love to them, desire of them, hungering after them? Oh, this is a mighty thing; and yet prayer is no more before God than as it is seasoned with these blessed qualifications. Wherefore it is said, that while men are praying, God is searching the heart to see what is the meaning of the Spirit, or whether there be the Spirit and his meaning in all that the mouth hath uttered, either by words, sighs, or groans, because it is by him and through his help only that any make prayers according to the will of God. Rom.8:26,27.
PREPARATION FOR PRATER.
Before you enter into prayer, ask thy soul these questions: To what end, O my soul, art thou retired into this place? Art thou not come to discourse the Lord in prayer? Is he present, will he hear thee? Is he merciful, will he help thee? Is thy business slight, is it not concerning the welfare of thy soul? What words wilt thou use to move him to compassion?
THE THRONE OF GRACE.
We know the throne of grace from other thrones by the glory that it always appears in when revealed to us of God: its glory outshines all; there is no such glory to be seen anywhere else, either in heaven or earth. But I say, this comes by the sight that God gives, not by any excellency that there is in my natural understanding, as such: my understanding and apprehension, simply as natural, are blind and foolish; wherefore, when I set to work in mine own spirit and in the power of mine own abilities, to reach to this throne of grace and to perceive somewhat of the glory thereof, then am I dark, rude, foolish; I see nothing, and my heart grows flat, dull, savorless, lifeless, and has no warmth in the duty; but it mounts up with wings like an eagle when the throne is truly apprehended.
This throne is the seat of grace and mercy, and therefore it is called the mercy-seat and throne of grace. This throne turns all into grace, all into mercy; this throne makes all things work together for good. It is said of Saul's sons, 2 Sam.21:10-14, they were not buried after they were hanged until water dropped upon them out of heaven; and it may be said of us, there is nothing suffered to come near us until it is washed in that water that proceeds from the throne of grace. Hence afflictions flow from grace; persecutions flow from grace; poverty, sickness, yea, death itself is now made ours by the grace of God through Christ. Psa.119:67-71; 1 Cor.3:22; Rev.3:19; Heb.12:5-7. O grace, O happy church of God! all things that happen to thee are for Christ's sake turned into grace. They talk of the philosopher's stone, and how if one had it, it would turn all things into gold. Oh, but can it turn all things into grace -- can it make all things work together for good? No, no; this quality, virtue, excellency -- what shall I call it? -- nothing has in it but the grace that reigns on the throne of grace, the river that proceeds from the throne of God. This, this turns majesty, authority, the highest authority, glory, wisdom, faithfulness, justice, and all into grace. Here is a throne; may God let us see it. John had the honor to see it, and to see the streams proceeding from it. O sweet sight, O heart-cherishing sight! |He showed me a pure river of water of life proceeding out of the throne of God.|
Indeed, as was hinted before, in the days of the reign of antichrist there are not those visions of this throne, nor of the river that proceedeth therefrom: now he holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth a cloud upon it; but the preserving, saving benefits thereof we have, as also have all the saints in the most cloudy and dark day. And since we can see so little, we must believe the more; and by believing, give glory to God. We must also labor for more clear scripture knowledge of this throne, for the holy word of God is the perspective-glass by which we may, and the magnifying-glass that will cause us to behold with open face the glory of this Lord.2 Cor.3: 18.
|A throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne;| that is, God. And this intimates his desirable rest for ever; for to sit is to rest, and Christ is his rest for ever. Was it not therefore well worth the seeing-yea, if John had taken the pains to go up thither upon his hands and knees?
It is grace that chooses, it is grace that calleth; it is grace that preserveth, and it is grace that brings to glory, even the grace that, like a river of water of life, proceeds from this| throne of grace;| and hence it is, that from first to last, we must cry, Grace, grace, unto it.
Thus you see what a throne the Christian is invited to: it is a throne of grace whereon doth sit the God of all grace; it is a throne of grace before which the Lord Jesus ministers continually for us; it is a throne of grace sprinkled with the blood, and in the midst of which is a Lamb as it had been slain; it is a throne with a rainbow round about it, which is the token of the everlasting covenant, and out of which proceeds a river, a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal.
Look then for these signs of the throne of grace, all you that would come to it, and rest not until by some of them you know that you are even come to it: they are all to be seen, have you but eyes; and the sight of them is very delectable, and has a natural tendency to revive and quicken the soul.
PRAYER IN THE NAME OF CHUIST.
He that thinks to find grace at God's hand, and yet enters not into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, will find himself mistaken, and will find a dead instead of a living way. For if not any thing below or besides blood can yield remission on God's part, how should remission be received by us without our acting faith therein? We are justified by his blood, through faith in his blood.
Wherefore look, when thou approachest the throne of grace, that thou give diligence to seek for the |Lamb as it had been slain,| that is in the midst of the throne of grace; and then thou wilt have not only a sign that thou presentest thy supplication to God where and as thou shouldst, but there also wilt thou meet with matter to break, to soften, to bend, to bow, and to make thy heart as thou wouldst have it. This sight shall dissolve and melt down the spirit of that man that is upon his knees before the throne of grace for mercy; especially when he shall see, that not his prayers, nor his tears, nor his wants, but the blood of the Lamb, has prevailed with a God of grace to give mercy and grace to an undeserving sinner.
God hath prepared a golden altar for thee to offer thy prayers and tears upon, coming sinner. A golden altar! It is called a golden altar, to show what worth it is of in God's account; for this golden altar is Jesus Christ -- this altar sanctifies thy gift, and makes thy sacrifice acceptable.
This altar then makes thy groans golden groans, thy tears golden tears, and thy prayers golden prayers, in the eye of that God thou comest to.
BENEFIT OF PRAYER.
Pray often; for prayer is a shield for the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.
Look yonder! Ah, methinks mine eyes do see Clouds edged with silver, as fine garments be; They look as if they saw the golden face That makes black clouds most beautiful with grace.
Unto the saints' sweet incense of their prayer, These smoky curled clouds I do compare; For as these clouds seem edged or laced with gold, Their prayers return with blessings manifold.
Prayer is as the pitcher that fetcheth water from the brook, therewith to water the herbs: break the pitcher and it will fetch no water, and for want of water the garden withers.
The godly have found all other places, the throne of grace excepted, empty, and places that hold no water. They have been at mount Sinai for help, but could find nothing there but fire and darkness, but thunder and lightning, but earthquakes and trembling, and a voice of killing words.
They have sought for grace by their own performances; but, alas, they have yielded them nothing but wind and confusion; not a performance, not a duty, not an act in any part of religious worship, but they, looking upon it in the glass of the Lord, do find it specked and defective.
They have sought for grace by their resolutions, their vows, their purposes, and the like; but alas, they all do as the other, discover that they have been very imperfectly managed, and so are such as can by no means help them to grace.
They have gone to their tears, their sorrow, and repentance, if perhaps they might find some help there; but all has fled away like the early dew.
They have gone to God as the great Creator, and have beheld how wonderful his works have been; they have looked to the heavens above, to the earth beneath, and to all their ornaments; but neither have these, nor what is of them, yielded grace to those that had sensible want thereof.
They have gone with these pitchers to their fountains, and have returned empty and ashamed; they found no water, no river of water of life.
Paul, not finding it in the law, despairs to find it in any thing else below, but presently betakes himself to look for it where he had not yet found it: he looked for it by Jesus Christ, who is the throne of grace, where he found it, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God.
O, when a God of grace is upon a throne of grace, and a poor sinner stands by and begs for grace, and that in the name of a gracious Christ, in and by the help of the Spirit of grace, can it be otherwise but such a sinner must obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need?
All the sorrow that is mixed with our Christianity proceeds, as the procuring cause, from ourselves, not from the throne of grace; for that is the place where our tears are wiped away, and also where we hang up our crutches: the streams thereof are pure and clear, not muddy nor frozen, but warm and delightful, and they make glad the city of God.
DISCOURAGEMENTS IN PRAYER.
There is an aptness in those that come to the throne of grace, to cast every degree of faith away that carries not in it self-evidence of its own being and nature, thinking that if it be faith, it must be known to the soul; yea, if it be faith, it will do so and so -- even so as the highest degree of faith will do: when, alas, faith is sometimes in a calm, sometimes up, and sometimes down, and sometimes in conflict with sin, death, and the devil. Faith now has but little time to speak peace to the conscience; it is now struggling for life, it is now fighting with angels, with infernals; all it can do now, is to cry, groan, sweat, fear, fight, and gasp for life.
I know what it is to go to God for mercy, and stand all the while through fear afar off, being possessed with this, Will not God now smite me at once to the ground for my sins? David thought something so when he said as he prayed, |Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.|
None know, but those that have them, what turns and returns, what coming on and going off, there are in the spirit of a man that indeed is awakened, and that stands awakened before the glorious Majesty in prayer.
It is a great matter, in praying to God, not to go too far; nor come too short; and a man is very apt to do one or the other. The Pharisee went so far, he was too bold; he came into the temple making, such a ruffle with his own excellencies, there was in his thoughts no need of a Mediator.
It has been the custom of praying men to keep their distance, and not to be rudely bold in rushing into the presence of the holy and heavenly Majesty, especially if they have been sensible of their own vileness and sins, as the prodigal, the lepers, and the poor publican were. Yea, Peter himself, when upon a time he perceived more than commonly he did of the majesty of Jesus his Lord, what doth he do? |He fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.|
Oh, when men see God and themselves, it fills them with holy fear of the greatness of the majesty of God, as well as with love to, and desire after, his mercy.
What is poor sorry man, poor dust and ashes, that he should crowd up, and go jostlingly into the presence of the great God?
For my part, I find it one of the hardest things that I can put my soul upon, even to come to God, when warmly sensible that I am a sinner, for a share in grace, in mercy. Oh, methinks it seems to me as if the whole face of the heavens were set against me. Yea, the very thought of God, strikes me through; I cannot bear up, I cannot stand before him; I cannot but with a thousand tears say, |God be merciful to me a sinner.| Ezra 9: 15.
At another time, when my heart is more hard and stupid, and when his terror doth not make me afraid, then I can come before him and ask mercy at his hand, and scarce be sensible of sin or grace, or that indeed I am before God. But above all, they are the rare times, when I can go to God as the publican, sensible of his glorious majesty, sensible of my misery, and bear up, and affectionately cry, |God be merciful to me a sinner.|
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, that there can be no way 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; or when we are got into the sieve into which Satan did get Peter; 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. 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 David says, we must continually resort; and that is the way to ohtain relief and to find help in time of need.
DISCOURAGEMENTS TO PRAYER REMOVED.
QUERY. What would you have a poor creature do, that cannot tell how to pray?
ANSWER. 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 breaks from thy heart. Have not thy groans gone up to heaven from every corner of thy house? I know it is thus: and so also doth thine own sorrowful heart witness thy tears and thy forgetfulness of thy calling. 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. Yea, but when I go in secret, and intend to pour out my soul before God, I can scarce say any thing at all.
ANSWER. Ah, sweet soul, it is not thy words that God so much regards, that he will not mind thee except thou comest before him with some eloquent oration. His eye is on the brokenness of thy heart; and that it is which makes the compassions of the Lord run over: |A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.|
The stopping of thy words -- may arise from overmuch trouble in thy heart. David was so troubled sometimes that he could not speak. But this may comfort all such sorrowful hearts as thine, that though thou canst not through the anguish of thy spirit speak much, yet the Holy Spirit stirs up in thy heart groans and sighs so much the more vehement.
AFFECTIONATE CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER.
God has given thee his Son's righteousness to justify thee; he has also, because thou art a son, sent forth the Spirit of his Son into thy heart to satisfy thee, and to help thee to cry unto him, Father, Father! Wilt thou not cry? wilt thou not desire? Thy God has |bidden thee open thy mouth; he has bid thee open it wide,| and promised, saying, |and I will fill it;| and wilt thou not desire?
Oh, thou hast a license, a leave, a grant to desire; wherefore, |be not afraid to desire great mercies of the God of heaven.|
OBJECTION. |But I am an unworthy creature.|
ANSWER. That is true; but God gives to no man for his worthiness, nor rejects any for their sinfulness, that come to him sensible of the want and worth of mercy for them. Besides, the desires of a righteous man, and the desires or his God, agree. God has a desire to thee, thou hast a desire to him. God desires truth in the inward parts and so dost thou with all thy heart. God desires mercy, and to show it to the needy; that is what thou also wantest, and what thy soul craves at his hand.
Seek, man; ask, knock, and do not be discouraged; the Lord will grant all thy desires. Thou sayest thou art unworthy to ask the greatest things, things spiritual and heavenly: well, will carnal things serve thee, and answer the desires of thy heart? Canst thou be content to be put off with a belly well filled and a back well clothed?
|Oh, better I never had been born.|
See! thou wilt not ask the best, and yet canst not make shift without them.
|Shift? no; no shift without them; I am undone without them, undone for ever and ever,| sayest thou.
Well then, desire.
|So I do,| sayest thou.
Ah, but desire with more strong desires; desire with more large desires; desire spiritual gifts, covet them earnestly; thou hast a license too to do so. God bids thee do so, for he hath said, |The desire of the righteous shall be granted.|
GOD'S METHOD OF ANSWERING PRAYER.
|The desire of the righteous shall be granted.| But I find it not so, says one; for though I have desired and desired a thousand times upon my knees, for something that I want, yet I have not my desire; and indeed, the consideration of this has made me question whether I am one of those to whom the promise of granting desires is made.
ANSWER. What are the things thou desirest; are they lawful or unlawful? for a Christian may desire unlawful things.
But we will suppose that the thing thou. desirest is good, and that thy heart may be right in asking, as, suppose thou desirest more grace; yet there are several things for thy instruction may be applied to thy objection: as,
1. Thou, though thou desirest more of this, mayest not yet be so sensible of the worth of what thou askest, as perhaps God will have thee be before he granteth thy desire.
2. Hast thou well improved what thou hast received already?
3. When God gives to his people the grant of their desires, he doth it so as may be best for our advantage: as,
(1.) Just before a temptation comes; then if it rains grace on thee from heaven, it may be most for thy advantage. This is like God's sending plenty in Egypt just before the years of famine came.
(2.) Christians, even righteous men, are apt to lean too much to their own doings; and God, to wean them from them, ofttimes defers to do, what they by doing expect, until in doing their spirits are spent, and they, as to doing, can do no longer. When they that cried for water, had cried till their spirits failed, and their tongue did cleave to the roof of their mouth for thirst, then the Lord did hear, and then the God of Israel did give them their desire. The righteous would be too light in asking, and would too much owrprize their works, if their God should not sometimes deal in this manner with them.
(3.) It is also to the advantage of the righteous, that they be kept and led in that way which will best improve grace already received, and that is, when they spin it out and use it to the utmost; when they do with it as the prophet did with that meal's meat that he ate under the juniper-tree, |go in the strength of it forty days and forty nights, even to the mount of God.| Or when they do as the widow did -- spend upon their handful of flour in the barrel, and upon that little oil in the cruse, till God shall send more plenty.
A little true grace will go a great way, yea, and do more wonders than we are aware of. If we have but grace enough to keep us groaning after God, it is not all the world that can destroy us.
4. Perhaps thou mayest be mistaken. The grace thou prayest for may in a great measure be come unto thee.
Thou hast been desiring of God, thou sayest, more grace, but hast it not.
But how, if while thou lookest for it to come to thee at one door, it come to thee at another? And that we may a little inquire into the truth of this, let us a little, consider what are the effects of grace in its coming to the soul, and then see if it has not been coming unto thee almost ever since thou hast set upon this fresh desire after it.
(1.) Grace, in the general effect of it, is to mend the soul, and to make it better disposed. Hence, when it comes, it brings convincing light along with it, by which a man sees more of his baseness than at other times. If, then, thou seest thyself more vile than formerly, grace by its coming to thee has done this for thee.
(2.) Grace, when it comes, breaks and crumbles the heart in the sense and sight of its own vileness. A man stands amazed and confounded in himself; breaks and falls down on his face before God; is ashamed to lift up so much as his face to God, at the sight and apprehension of how wicked he is.
(3.) Grace, when it comes, shows to a man more of the holiness and patience of God; his holiness to make us wonder at his patience, and his patience to make us wonder at his mercy, that yet, even yet, such a vile one as I am should be admitted to breathe in the land of the living, yea more, suffered to come to the throne of grace.
(4.) Grace is of a heart-humbling nature; it will make a man account himself the most unworthy of any thing, of all saints. It will make a man put all others before him, and be glad too if he may be one beloved, though least beloved because most unworthy. It will make him with gladness accept of the lowest room, as counting all saints more worthy of exaltation than himself.
(5.) Grace will make a man prize other men's graces and gracious actions above his own; as he thinks every man's candle burns brighter than his, every man improves grace better than he, every good man does more sincerely his duty than he. And if these be not some of the effects of the renewings of grace, I will confess I have taken my mark amiss.
(6.) Renewings of grace beget renewed self-bemoanings, self-condemnations, self-abhorrences.
And say thou prayest for communion with, and the presence of God. God can have communion with thee and grant thee his presence, and all this shall, instead of comforting thee at present, more confound thee and make thee see thy wickedness.
Some people think they never have the presence and renewings of God's grace upon them, but when they are comforted and when they are cheered up -- when, alas, God may be richly with them, while they cry out by these visions, My sorrows are multiplied; or, Because I have seen God, I shall die.
And tell me now, all these things considered, has not grace, even the grace of God which thou hast so much desired, been coming to thee and working in thee in all these hidden methods? Thus therefore thy desire is accomplishing, and when it is accomplished will be sweet to thy soul.
5. But we will follow thee a little in the way of thy heart. Thou sayest thou desirest, and desirest grace, yea, hast been a thousand times upon thy knees before God for more grace, and yet thou canst not attain.
I answer, (1.) It maybe, the grace which thou prayest for is worth thy being upon thy knees yet a thousand times more. |We find that usually they that go to king's courts for preferment, are there at great expenses, yea, and wait a great while, even until they have spent their whole estates, and worn out their patience too.|
Yet they at last prevail, and the thing desired comes; yea, and when it is come, it sets them up anew and makes them better men, though they did spend all they had to obtain it, than ever they were before. Wait, therefore, wait, I say, on the Lord; bid thy soul cheer up and wait. |Blessed are all they that wait for him.|
(2.) Thou must consider that great grace is reserved for great service. Thou desirest abundance of grace; thon doest well, and thou shalt have what shall qualify thee for the service that God has for thee to do for him, and for his name in the world. The apostles themselves were to stay for great grace until the time their work was come. I will not allot thy service, but assure thyself, when thy desire cometh, thou wilt have occasion for it -- new work, new trials, new sufferings, or something that will call for the power and virtue of all the grace thou shalt have to keep thy spirit even, and thy feet from slipping, while thou art exercised in new engagements.
Assure thyself thy God will not give thee straw, but he will expect brick. |For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.| Wherefore, as thou art busy in desiring more grace, be also desirous that wisdom to manage it with faithfulness may also be granted unto thee.
Thou wilt say, Grace, if I had it, will do all this for me.
It will, and will not. It will, if thou watch and be sober; it will not, if thou be foolish and remiss. Men of great grace may grow consumptive in grace, and idleness may turn him that wears a plush jacket into rags. David was once a man of great grace, but his sin made the grace which he had so to shrink up and dwindle away as to make him cry out, O take not thy Spirit utterly from me!
(3.) Or, perhaps God withholds what thou wouldst have, that it may be the more prized by thee when it comes. |Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.|
(4.) Lastly. But dost thou think that thy more grace will exempt thee from temptations? Alas, the more grace, the greater trials. Thou must be, for all that, like the ship of which thou readest: sometimes high, sometimes low; sometimes steady, sometimes staggering; and sometimes even at the end of thy very wits: |For so he brings us to our desired haven.|
Yet grace is the gold and preciousness of the righteous man: yea, and herein appears the uprightness of his soul, in that, though all these things attend the grace of God in him, yet he chooseth grace here above all, for that it makes him the more like God and his Christ, and for that it seasons his heart best to his own content; and also for that it capacitates him to glorify God in the world.
RELIEF IN PRAYER.
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 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.
FAITH IN PRAYER.
Of old, beggars did use to carry their bowls in their laps when they went to a door for alms; consequently, if their bowls were but little, they ofttimes came off with a loss, though the charity of the giver was large. Art thou a beggar, a beggar at God's door? be sure thou gettest a great bowl, for as thy bowl is, so will be thy mess. |According to thy faith be it unto thee.|
A wrestling spirit of prayer is a demonstration of an Israel of God; this Jacob had, this he made use of, and by this he obtained the name of Israel. A wrestling spirit of prayer in straits, difficulties, and distresses -- a wrestling spirit of prayer when alone, in private, in the night, when no eye seeth but God's, then to be at it, then to lay hold of God, then to wrestle, to hold fast, and not to give over until the blessing is obtained, is a sign of one that is an Israel of God.
As this word, |LET Israel hope in the Lord,| is sometimes equivalent to a command, so it is expressed sometimes also to show a grant, leave, or license to do a thing, such are these that follow: |Let us come boldly to the throne of grace; let us draw near with a true heart; let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.| Understand the word thus, and it shows you how muddy how dark those of Israel are, and how little they are acquainted with the goodness of their God who stand shrinking at his door like beggars, and dare not in a godly sort be bold with his mercy. Wherefore standest thou thus with thy ifs and thy O-buts, O thou poor benighted Israelite? Wherefore puttest thou thy hand in thy bosom, as being afraid to touch the hem of the garment of thy Lord?
THE PUBLICAN'S PRAYER.
|God be merciful to me a sinner.| Herein the publican showeth wonderful wisdom. For,
1. By this he thrusts himself under the shelter and blessing of the promise; and I am sure it is better and safer to do so than to rely upon the best excellencies that this world can afford. Hosea 14: 1-4.
2. He takes the ready way to please God; for God takes more delight in showing mercy than in any thing that we can do. Hosea 6:6; Matt.9:13; 12:7. Yea, and that also is the man that pleaseth him, even he that hopes in his mercy. Psalm 147: 1. The publican, therefore, whatever the Pharisee might think, stood all this while upon sure ground, and had by far the start of him for heaven. Alas, his dull head could look no further than to the conceit of the pitiful beauty and splendor of his own righteousness; nor durst he leave that to trust wholly to the mercy of God. But the publican comes out, though in his sins, yet like an awakened, enlightened, resolved man; and first abases himself, then gives God the glory of his justice, and after that the glory of his mercy, by saying, |God be merciful to me a sinner.| And thus in the ears of the angels he did ring the changes of heaven. And,
3. The publican, in his thus putting himself upon mercy, showeth that in his opinion there is more virtue in mercy to save, than there is in the law and sin to condemn. And although this is not counted a great matter to do, while men are far from the law and while their conscience is asleep within them, yet when the law comes near and conscience is awake, whoso tries it will find it a laborious work. Cain could not do thus for his heart, no, nor soul; nor Judas neither. This is another kind of thing than most men think it to be, or shall find it whenever they shall behold God's angry face, and when they shall hear the words of his law.
However, our publican did it, and ventured his body, soul, and future condition for ever in this bottom, with other the saints and servants of God; leaving the world to swim over the sea of God's wrath, if they, will, in their weak and simple vessels of bulrushes, or to lean upon their cobweb-hold, when he shall arise to the judgment that he hath appointed.
|He would not lift up his eyes to heaven.| Why? Surely because shame had covered his face. Shame will make a man blush and hang his head like a bulrush. Shame for sin is a virtue, a comely thing, yea, a beauty-spot in the face of a sinner that cometh to God for mercy.
Oh, to stand, or sit, or lie, or kneel, or walk before God in prayer, with blushing cheeks for sin, is one of the excellent sights that can be seen in the world.
POSTURE IN PRAYER.
There is no stinted order presented for our behaving ourselves in prayer, whether kneeling, or standing, or walking, or lying, or sitting; for all these postures have been used by the godly. Paul kneeled down and prayed; Abraham and the publican stood and prayed; David prayed as he walked; Abraham prayed lying upon his face; Moses prayed sitting. And indeed prayer, effectual fervent prayer, may be and often is made unto God under all these circumstances. For God has not tied us up to any of them; and he that shall tie himself or his people to any of these, doeth more than he hath warrant for from God. And let such take care of innovating; it is the next way to make men hypocrites and dissemblers in those duties in which they should be sincere. Acts 20:36; 2 Sam.15:30, 31; Gen.17:17, 18; Exod.17:12.
Let those that name the name of Christ depart from the iniquity of their closet -- when men have a closet to talk of, not to pray in; a closet to look upon, not to bow before God in, a closet to lay up gold in, but not to mourn in for the sins of the life; a closet that, could it speak, would say, My owner is seldom here upon his knees before the God of heaven, seldom here humbling himself for the iniquity of his heart, or to thank God for the mercies of his life.
Then also a man is guilty of closet-iniquity when, though he doth not utterly live in the neglect of duty, he formally, carnally, and without reverence and godly fear, performs it. Also when he asketh God for that which he cannot abide should be given him; or when he prayeth for that in his closet, that he cannot abide in his house nor his life.
It is a great thing to be a closet-Christian, and to hold it; he must be a close-Christian that will be a closet-Christian. When I say a close-Christian, I mean one that is so in the hidden part, and that also walks with God. Many there be that profess Christ, who do oftener frequent the coffee-house than their closet; and that sooner in a morning run to make bargains, than to pray unto God and begin the day with him. But for thee, who professest the name of Christ, do thou depart from all these things; do thou make conscience of reading and practising; do thou follow after righteousness; do thou make conscience of beginning the day with God. For he that begins it not with him, will hardly end it with him; he that runs from God in the morning, will hardly find him at the close of the day; nor will he that begins with the world and the vanities thereof in the first place, be very capable of walking with God all the day after. It is he that finds God in his closet, that will carry the savor of him into his house, his shop, and his more open conversation. When Moses had been with God in the mount his face shone, he brought of that glory into the camp. Exod.34.
|Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.| Wouldst thou have the kingdom of God come indeed, and also his will to be done in earth as it is in heaven? Nay, notwithstanding thou sayest, |Thy kingdom come,| yet would it not make thee ready to run mad, to hear the trumpet sound, to see the dead arise, and thyself just now to go and appeal before God, to reckon for all the deeds thou hast done in the body? Nay, are not the very thoughts of it altogether displeasing to thee?
And if God's will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, must it not be thy ruin? There is never a rebel against God in heaven; and if he should so deal on earth, must he not whirl thee down to hell? And so of the rest of the petitions.
Ah, how sadly would even these men look, and with what terror would they walk up and down the world, if they did but know the lying and blaspheming that proceedeth out of their mouth, even in their most pretended sanctity!
I tell thee who never prayest, the ravens 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.