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}ielp our infirmities in prayer, we shall not pray acceptably^ and there is but too much truth in what an eminently pious man once said: "He who never yet prayed but in the words of another person, it is to be feared never yet prayed acceptably in all his life." And indeed we never shall pray as we ought till our own heart becomes our Prayer-book. I mean till we understand the state of our own soul, and see what our necessities are, and pray accordingly, with earnest desire to be answered.
The necessity of our being divinely assisted in prayer will also appear, if we consider that our hearts are naturally averse to the performance of this duty. "The carnal mind is enmity against God;" yea, and against praying to him: It is very Far from being a pleasant task, or a delightful employment tq us, to draw near tp the blessed God notwithstanding alf the precious promises which he hath made to his praying people. The Spirit of God, then, must remove this indisposition for prayer from our minds, that we may not only engage in this blessed business, from a sense of its being our duty; but that we may also delight in drawing near to God in prayer.
Secondly. How does the Spirit of God, in the general, help our infirmities in prayer? He does this first, by enlightening our minds, and giving us to see the real state in which we are, shewing us what our spiritual wants and necessities are, that we may lay them before the Lord in prayer. Thus it is that, as I faid before, our own heart becomes our prayerbook, and the Spirit of God enables us to read and understand it: So that let our state of mind be what it may, we always pray agreeably thereto, throughout every state and stage of the christian life, from the beginning to the end. In the beginning, the Spirit of God will shew us pur guilty, helpless, and ruined state, and consequently our want of pardoning mercy, of an interest in Christ, and of the riches of his grace; and afterwards, he will shew us our many and various weaknesses and infirmities, our want of continual supplies of strength from the Lord; and in a particular manner, he will shew us all the remaining depravity of our hearts and the necessity we are under, of earnestly praying for that degree of grace, which may purify, and make us inwardly, as well as outwardly holy.
2. The Spirit of God will help our infirmities in prayer, by
fivihg us to feel, as well as see our wants; giving us such an eart-afFecting' view of them, that we cannot rest, till the Lord mercifully fulfils the desire he hath wrought in us, awakening our consciences, as well as enlightening our understanding. There certainly is a very wide difference between feeling and only seeing our wants. Many there are, who see clearly enough the state which they are in; but for want of being properly affected with the sight, they remain just as they were: They are not in earnest, and they gain no ground in religion. But when the Divine Spirit impresses our minds with the greatness and importance of spiritual and everlasting things, and gives us sensibly to feel our want of them; Then "need makes the naked man run," then we hunger and thirst after the blessings we feel the want of; and we cannot, and dare not rest, till we are brought to enjoy them. This will hold good during the whole of our christian course, and we shall always find, that the more lively sense we have of our present wants, and the more earnestly we shall plead with God, in prayer. It is therefore a very great blessing, when the Spirit of God so works upon our minds, that we have such a keen sense of want, that we cannot rest as we are; but are constrained to cry mightily to God in continued prayer, till he graciously grants us the desire of our hearts. This may he painful, but will always be found exceedingly profitable, at the same time.
3. The Holy Spirit will breathe earnest desire into our minds, after the blessings which we see and feel we stand in need of. Holy desire is the very life and soul of prayer; there is no prayer at all without it; if a person was to see, yea, feel his wants ever so sensibly, unless he is truly desirous of having them supplied, he will be very little the better: But holy, earnest desire will put the soul upon using its utmost endeavours, in order to attain that which appears so desirable. It is said of natural hunger, that "it will break through a stone wall;" and the same thing may be said of spiritual hunger, as it certainly will lead us to wait upon God, in all his appointed ways; and above all, it will lead us to the throne of grace, so that we shall wrestle with God, in continued prayer, till he graciously grants us what we so eagerly desire.
4. The Holy Spirit will shew us the willingness of God to supply our wants; bringing those very promises to our minds, which contain the blessings which we desire: And we shall find, that let our state and condition be what it may, let our spiritual necessities be ever so many or great, the promises of the gospel will afford us a rich supply, and give us all the encouragement our hearts can desire. From the time fhe Spirit of God shews us our want of pardon, till we are brought into the immediate presence of God, in his kingdom of immortal glory, throughout every stage of our journey through life, the promises of God, as a sacred store-house, have treasured up in them every blessing we need, and the Spirit of God will open this divine treasury, so that we may come and receive from thence every blessing necessary for us. The promises of God must always be the measure and rule of our prayers; and while we pray for promised mercies, we may expect to receive all that we pray for the enjoyment of.
5. The Spirit of God will teach us to come to the throne of grace in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and shew us, that he hath purchased all these blessings for us. and that we must receive them as the free gift of God for his sake alone. He will enable us to pray in faith, nothing doubting, and will give us power to lay hold upon, and embrace the promises, that we may experience the truth of them in our own minds.
6. The Spirit of God will assist us in prayer, by opening the intercourse between heaven and our souls; granting us free access to the throne of grace, and giving us freedom, liberty, and enlargement of heart, in prayer: so that we shall experience something of the same kind which Moses did, of whom it is said, that " he talked face to face with God, as a man talks with his friend." We shall feel power to open our whole heart to the Lord, and speak to him, in prayer, more freely and fully than we could to the dearest friend that we have upon earth; We can tell him of all our sins and sorTows, of all our griefs and fears, of all our weaknesses and -wants; and we shall be made sensible that he heareth us: We shall be satisfied that God is graciously present, and that he attends to the voice of our cry. At these times prayer is attended with inexpressible satisfaction, as well as real profit ; yea, with sacred pleasure and holy delight. But sometimes the mind may be so deeply affected with a sight and sense of its wants, and with the presence of God, that we may not be able to speak many words before him; but can only sigh, and groan, and weep, at his feet. "' The heart,'? as one says, "is big with unutterable prayer!" These are truly blessed seasons, and that gracious God, unto whom we pray, understands the language of our sighs and tears perfectly well, and will grant us the desire of our hearts. Some may be at a loss to guess what is meant by freedom of mind, and enlargement of heart, in prayer: But every experienced Christian can tell you, that there is an astonishing difference in the state of his mind in this respect. At one time he feels Himself at' a distance from God, his mind is strangely shut tip, and he cannot pray with any degree of satisfaction; at another time, his views of the mercy and love of God, in Christ Jesus, are exceeding clear; his mind is filled \vith lively desire; his soul, as it were, mounts up to the throne of GodT and he pleads with hirp there, in mighty prayer, in such a manner as words cannot express and which no one can conceive, but those who have been thus favoured of God. '..'•
7. The Spirit of God will enable us to turn our desires into suitable expressions, that we may pray in such wise, that all' who are present may heartily join with us, in that solemn exercise; and as the Apostle says, may say amen, at our' giving of thanks. Thus he will doubtless assist all his ministers, and those who are called to pray in public: For surely the Lord will give to every one gifts, suitable to the work which he calls him to perform. In speaking to the people, the minister may be properly considered as the mouth of God, speaking the word of truth to them; but in prayer, he may" be considered as the mouth of the people speaking to God for them; and he is supposed to pray agreeable to the state of. the whole congregation, and to lay all their spiritual wants-and weaknesses before the Lord -t that every one present mayi see his own state, in some measure, described and his wants^ and necessities spread before a gracious God: And the same; Spirit will lead the people heartily to join with the minister/ and inwardly to follow him ail the way .through.
It will now be necessary to- answer some objections, which: not a little discourage some truly upright souls. These will s:iy, u But if I must never pray, but when I feel those good' impressions and lively desires in my heart, which you speak of; then.i I fear, I must seldom or never pray at all." In answer to this, observe, it is our indispensable diuy to pray, and therefore, notwithstanding any reluctance, which we may at anytime feel, we must break through ail, and inalce our requests known to God in prayer. Many experienced christians can testify, that when they have felt the greatest backwardness, yet when they have gone to the Lord: in prayer, they' have found an abundant blessing in so -doing.; so that those: persons are certainly mistaken} who tell us, that we ought never to pray, but when we are under an immediate impression fiom the Spirit of God. "Pray without ceasing," is the word of the Lord.
But another will say, "I have not the gift of prayer ^ if I could only pray like many of my brethren, I should account iiiysdfbighly favoured, but it is not so with mei And I fear 1 am not a child of God, for if I was, surely he wotild givt me' the gift of prayer, as well as others." If you have not the gift of prayer, then you are not called to pray with other people, but you are called to pray for yourself, and gifts are nothing with God; he does not so much regard a well-ordered form of words, he looks at the heart; he can under(tand your broken and disjointed sentences, and your irregular petitions, perfectly well: Besides, gifts and graces are two very different things; there may be, and often are, great gifts where there is little grace; and there frequently is much grace where the gifts are very small: Therefore be not discouraged, but pray as well as you can, and the Lord will assist you, and your gift will improve by exercise.
But how many there are every where, who live in the continual neglect of this important duty! Who do not spend one single half hour, in serious, solemn prayer, from the beginning of the week to the end of it: who never once think of prayer, except when they happen to go to the church on a Sunday. Many there are who would be greatly ashamed to be seen upon their knees, calling upon the Name of the Lord and I fear we may go farther still, and not exceed the bounds of truth, to such a prodigious height of impiety have many arrived^ that they would be far more ashamed to be heard, by their neighbours, solemnly praying to God, than they would be to be heard blaspheming his sacred Name, or cursing their fellow-creatures; yea, cursing is become far more" familiar to them than praying. Others may perhaps »ay tbslr prayers, to use their own mode of expression, when they have laid themselves down upon their bed at night, and too often are fast asleep before half their formal task is performed. A Now it may be said, with the highest degree of certainty, of all these, that as they are living without prayer, so they are living without God in the world, and doubtless are in the high road to everlasting perdition: Tor a prayerless soul is a graceless, christless soul, beyond all doubt.
But may we not find whole families, who" seldom or never call upon the Name of the Lord? How awful are the Prophet's words, "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen, who* have not known thee, and upon their families who call not upon thy Name:" But many, who are heads of families, regardless of this, never once think of calling those who are? under their care, to unite with them in serious, solemn prayer; therefore we may write over the door of such houses, Ichalmd, for surely the glory of God is departed from such heachenisk families. "The curse of God is in the house of