Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category
Paul Helm offers some stimulating thoughts about prayer. While I am still thinking about some of his conclusions, or suggestions, I did appreciate some of his particular concerns, as set out in the paragraphps below. Too often our prayers turn into data recitals, as we parade – for whose benefit? God who knows all things? The people around us, who might be impressed with our demonstration that we might know all things? – the situation we are praying about before God. Says Helm:
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the provision of information. I have spent much of my adult life as a teacher and writer, engrossed in the world of ideas and arguments. I expect the students I teach to be able to absorb, understand, weigh and produce information. The more the merrier. But the point is that not all speech is primarily informative, and most certainly Christian petitionary and intercessory prayer is not primarily informative. Fellow-prayers in the prayer meeting may learn all sorts of things about Mr Smith when he prays publicly. But the living God is in a rather different position from our fellow worshippers in the pew. Does he need educating? Is he ignorant of any detail? Has he overlooked any of the needs of his people? . . .
So here is a paradox: we are not to pray to inform God because God already knows (as you might expect from what Scripture generally teaches about the knowledge and power of God), but we are nevertheless commanded to pray, and to pray without ceasing. But we are not heard for our much speaking. How is this paradox to be resolved? By noting and remembering that prayer is an expression of the desire by which we may receive what the Lord prepares to bestow, and continual prayer may therefore be evidence of a strong desire. So the paradox is solved once we realise that petitionary prayer has to do with desire, and such desire may be wordless, though not object-less.
I wonder if Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37 provides something of a paradigm for a holy assumption of what the Lord knows, a holy recital of what is grieving his own soul, and a holy petition that the Lord would act accordingly?
“Missed out her, and him, and them…”
“Yawn. Nothing new to say?”
“You call that a prayer?”
“Not enough faith…not enough passion…not enough anything.”
“You don’t actually believe that made a difference, do you?”
“You’ll probably not even think about prayer for the rest of the day.”
So whispers the Adversary when we have tried to pray. David Murray discusses how we might fight back with the truth.
Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God and our faith and confidence in the promises of God. There is nothing that a man ever does which so proclaims his faith as when he gets down on his knees and looks to God and talks to God. It is a tremendous confession of faith. I mean by this that he is not just running with his requests and petitions, but if he really waits upon God, if he really looks to God, he is there saying, ‘Yes, I believe it all, I believe that you are a rewarder of them that diligently seek you, I believe you are the Creator of all things and all things are in your hands. I know there is nothing outside of your control. I come to you because you are in all this and I find peace and rest and quiet in your holy presence and I am praying to you because you are what you are.’ That is the whole approach to prayer that you find in the teaching of Scripture.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Our Salvation (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books; 2000), 35.
Oh, for more faith, and more prayer!
HT The Old Guys.
To preach the word, therefore, and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random.
John Owen, Works, 16:78
Pray, preach, pray, ad infinitum.
Richard Crashaw’s poetic comment on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
Two went up into the Temple to pray.
Two went to pray? O rather say,
One went to brag, th’other to pray.
One stands up close, and treads on high,
Where th’other dares not send his eye.
One nearer to God’s altar trod,
The other to the altar’s God.
Quoted in Ryken, Luke (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 2:255.
When we go to pray, do we have the appearance of being near to God, or do we truly come into his holy presence?
Here is John Bunyan’s allegorical reckoning of prayer drawn from The Holy War. The town of Mansoul, backslidden and besieged and now indwelt by an army of Doubters under Diabolus, is in a terrible condition. Only the castle of the heart stands out, battered daily by the enemy. Petitions to the Prince Emmanuel have so far failed to obtain the needed relief, but now Mansoul is directed to the Lord Secretary (the Holy Spirit) to assist in their prayers:
After the town of Mansoul had been in this sad and lamentable condition for so long a time as I have told you, and no petitions that they presented their Prince with, all this while, could prevail, the inhabitants of the town, namely, the elders and chief of Mansoul, gathered together, and, after some time spent in condoling their miserable state and this miserable judgment coming upon them, they agreed together to draw up yet another petition, and to send it away to Emmanuel for relief. But Mr. Godly-Fear stood up and answered, that he knew that his Lord the Prince never did nor ever would receive a petition for these matters, from the hand of any whoever, unless the Lord Secretary’s hand was to it; ‘and this,’ quoth he, ‘is the reason that you prevailed not all this while.’ Then they said they would draw up one, and get the Lord Secretary’s hand unto it. But Mr. Godly-Fear answered again, that he knew also that the Lord Secretary would not set his hand to any petition that himself had not an hand in composing and drawing up. ‘And besides,’said he, ‘the Prince doth know my Lord Secretary’s hand from all the hands in the world; wherefore he cannot be deceived by any pretence whatever. Wherefore my advice is that you go to my Lord, and implore him to lend you his aid.’(Now he did yet abide in the castle, where all the captains and men-at-arms were.)
So they heartily thanked Mr. Godly-Fear, took his counsel, and did as he had bidden them. So they went and came to my Lord, and made known the cause of their coming to him; namely, that since Mansoul was in so deplorable a condition, his Highness would be pleased to undertake to draw up a petition for them to Emmanuel, the Son of the mighty Shaddai, and to their King and his Father by him.
Then said the Secretary to them, ‘What petition is it that you would have me draw up for you?’But they said, ‘Our Lord knows best the state and condition of the town of Mansoul; and how we are backslidden and degenerated from the Prince: thou also knowest who is come up to war against us, and how Mansoul is now the seat of war. My Lord knows, moreover, what barbarous usages our men, women, and children have suffered at their hands; and how our home-bred Diabolonians do walk now with more boldness than dare the townsmen in the streets of Mansoul. Let our Lord therefore, according to the wisdom of God that is in him, draw up a petition for his poor servants to our Prince Emmanuel.’ ‘Well,’ said the Lord Secretary, ‘I will draw up a petition for you, and will also set my hand thereto. ‘Then said they, ‘But when shall we call for it at the hands of our Lord?’ But he answered, ‘Yourselves must be present at the doing of it; yea, you must put your desires to it. True, the hand and pen shall be mine, but the ink and paper must be yours; else how can you say it is your petition? Nor have I need to petition for myself, because I have not offended.’ He also added as followeth: ‘No petition goes from me in my name to the Prince, and so to his Father by him, but when the people that are chiefly concerned therein do join in heart and soul in the matter, for that must be inserted therein.’
So they did heartily agree with the sentence of the Lord, and a petition was forthwith drawn up for them. But now, who should carry it? that was next. But the Secretary advised that Captain Credence should carry it; for he was a well-spoken man. They therefore called for him, and propounded to him the business. ‘Well,’ said the captain, ‘I gladly accept of the motion; and though I am lame, I will do this business for you with as much speed and as well as I can.’
When we pray, the hand and pen must be the Spirit’s, but the ink and paper must be ours, and faith – however lame – must carry the request to the throne of grace.
From Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 15:
And so our Christian orator, while he says what is just, and holy and good (and he ought never to say anything else), does all he can to be heard with intelligence, with pleasure and with obedience; and he need and so far as he succeeds, he will succeed more by piety in prayer than by gifts of oratory; and so he ought to pray for himself and for those he is about to address, before he attempts to speak. And when the hour is come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute. For, as in regard to every matter of faith and love there are many things that may be said, and many ways of saying them, who knows what it is expedient at a given moment for us to say, or to be heard saying, except God who knows the hearts of all? And who can make us say what we ought and in the way we ought except Him in whose hand both we and our speeches are? Accordingly, he who is anxious both to know and to teach should learn all that is to be taught, and acquire such a faculty of speech as is suitable for a divine. But when the hour for speech arrives, let him reflect upon that saying of our Lord’s as better suited to the wants of a pious mind “Take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” The Holy Spirit, then, speaks thus in those who for Christ’s sake are delivered to the persecutors; why not also in those who deliver Christ’s message to those who are willing to learn?
via Heavenly Worldliness.
From Octavius Winslow’s Morning Thoughts:
Do not stay away from the throne of grace because of an unfavorable frame of mind. If God is ready to receive you just as you are; if no questions are asked, and no examination is instituted, and no exceptions are made on account of the badness of the state; then count it your mercy to go to God with your worst feelings. To linger away from the throne of grace because of unfitness and unpreparedness to approach it, is to alter its character from a throne of grace to a throne of merit.
HT Main Things.
The greatest, the most successful servants that Christ ever had divided their functions into two departments – ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.’ What would be thought of dividing the twelve hours of our day by giving six hours to prayer for the Gospel and six to the ministry of the Word? Had all Christ’s servants acted thus, could anyone estimate how mighty the results on the world would be today?
The ministry of the Word tends to be a more public function, and the private labour of the study is therefore somewhat readily justified. But wrestling with God is almost entirely a private function, and it is easy to maintain the veneer of public usefulness while skimping on the private labours of intercession. I am not suggesting that giving oneself to prayer and to the ministry of the Word demands an absolutely equal division of labour, but what is the testimony of their relative importance of each one as judged by the proportion of time and energy given to the one compared to the other in the day of a gospel minister? And how much more effective might ministers be if we kept more closely to the apostolic model?
What follows is one of those statements both too neat and too sweeping to hold water without leaking, but there’s more than a grain of truth in Leonard Ravenhill’s conclusion especially:
Attendance at the morning worship service will give you an indication of how popular your church is. Attendance at the evening worship service will give you an indication of how popular your pastor is. Attendance at the prayer meetings will give you an indication of how popular God is.
God will have his people pray for what he hath purposed and promised, to show the great delight he takes in their prayers. As a father, though he can send to his son who lives abroad the money he hath promised for his maintenance, yet let him not have it except he comes over at set times for it. And why? Not to trouble his son, but delight himself in his son’s company. God takes such content in the company of his praying saints, that to prevent all strangeness on their part, he orders it so that they cannot neglect a duty but they shall lose something by it. ‘Ye have not, because ye ask not.’ And the more they abound in prayer the more they shall with blessings. The oftener Joash had ‘smote upon the ground,’ the fuller his victory over Syria had been. As the arrows of prayer are that we shoot to heaven, so will the returns of mercy from thence be. Yet must it not be imputed to any loathness in God to give, that he makes them pray often and long before the mercy comes, but rather to the content he takes in our prayers. He doth all this on a design to draw out the graces of his Spirit in his children, the voice and language of which in prayer makes most sweet melody in the ear of God. The truth is, we are in this too like musicians playing under our window; they play while the money is thrown out to them, and then their pipes are put up. And were our wants so supplied by the answer of one prayer, that we did not suddenly need a new recruit, we would be gone, and God should not hear of us in haste.
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 2:301
Ray Ortlund relies on Gardiner Spring to press home the pastor’s dependence on the prayers of his people, reminding us that the failures and victories of pastors are also the failures of those who fail to pray or the victories of those who plead for the blessing:
And who and what are ministers themselves? Frail men, fallible, sinning men, exposed to every snare, to temptation in every form; and from the very post of observation they occupy, the fairer mark for the fiery darts of the foe. They are no mean victims the great Adversary is seeking, when he would wound and cripple Christ’s ministers. One such victim is worth more to the kingdom of darkness than a score of common men; and on this very account, the temptations are probably more subtle and severe than those encountered by ordinary Christians. If this subtle Deceiver fails to destroy them, he artfully aims at neutralizing their influence by quenching the fervor of their piety, lulling them into negligence, and doing all in his power to render their work irksome. How perilous the condition of that minister then, whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people! It is not in his own closet and on his own knees alone that he finds security and comfort and ennobling, humbling and purifying thoughts and joys; but it is when his people also seek them in his behalf that he becomes a better and happier man and a more useful minister of the everlasting gospel.
Gardiner Spring, The Power of the Pulpit (Edinburgh, 1986), pages 223-224.
There is no secret behind powerful preaching – apart from secret prayer. The biggest mistake we can make as preachers is to think that we can learn to preach powerfully from books, from seminars, or from lectures on preaching. No, for preaching to be powerful it must be preceded by, accompanied with, and followed by prayer.
Read it all here.
From Ray Ortlund:
“They saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” Mark 5:15
There is no temperament Jesus cannot control. There is no madness he cannot soothe. There is no darkness he cannot illuminate. There is no chain he cannot break. There is no raving he cannot calm. There is no shame he cannot dignify. There is no nakedness he cannot clothe. There is no legion he cannot command.
And when he proved his power, restoring this dear man who had suffered so much for so long, sending the demons into the nearby herd of pigs, the people “began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17).
Jesus forced on them a choice — his transformation or their pigs? They preferred their pigs. Sure, their world was dysfunctional. But it was theirs. It was familiar. They preferred it undisturbed.
This passage in the Bible has nothing to say to us today.
Worldliness in the church is the number one enemy, and that comes in when we have unspiritual people, and we have unspiritual people too often because they are nominal Christians. They have the language, they have the outward, but they don’t have the power. So, Paul’s words: ‘The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.’ That whole school of Edwards and Alexander and so on — they believed in the power of religion. You know, men candidating for the ministry, and the minister saying, ‘Can he pray down the Holy Spirit?’ Imagine that question today. Can a man pray down the Holy Spirit? It’s not perhaps exactly the sentence we would say is completely correct, but you know what they meant. . . . When those men prayed, the Holy Spirit did come down. (Rev. Iain Murray, in a recent 9Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever)
Again the weather militates against a full prayer meeting during our week of prayer. A few of us were able to gather at a private home where we had some time to pray for the vitality of Christ’s church and the advance of Christ’s kingdom. With regard to the latter, for those who were present and for those who were not able to attend I circulated the twelfth (twelfth is a strange word to type, harder to type than to write) chapter from Edward Bickersteth’s Treatise on Prayer, entitled “The spirit of prayer for the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ.” It is, in some senses, a condensed version of Jonathan Edwards’ longer treatment of the topic, known in abbreviation as the ‘Humble Attempt’ – at least, it strikes many of the same notes.
You may have questions about the particular millennial perspective that underpins the piece, even while you accept the practical thrust of the conclusions; you may note that certain phrasing would no longer be considered politically correct or particularly helpful in today’s writing, however much truth lies behind the author’s choice of words; and, you may also observe that the distinctive Anglicanism of the writer rises to the surface at one or two points. May it help us to pray for the glory of God in salvation as we press on with a new year.
The spirit of prayer for the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ
Amid all that sin and sorrow which the Christian sees in the world, observes in his family, or feels in his own heart, there is one bright prospect on which his eye can dwell with unmingled satisfaction, and in the anticipation of which his heart can exult with unbounded joy – the promised time when truth and righteousness and peace shall universally prevail. That such a time will come, a simple-minded and humble reader of the Scriptures can have no doubt. Such passages as the following plainly point out an extension of the Gospel which has never yet taken place.
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee” (Ps 22.27). “All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him” (Ps 72.11). “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name” (Ps 86.9). “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11.9). “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom 11.25-26). “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11.15).
Observe the fulness of each of these expressions. Surely they foretell the universal spread of Christianity. To deny this, would, as President Edwards has observed, be in effect to say that it would have been impossible for God, if he had desired it, plainly to foretell any thing that should absolutely extend to all the nations of the earth. To suppose that these are merely high-wrought figures, and that events answerable to them are not likely to take place, is little short of supposing an intention to mislead others.
We may, then, rejoice in the delightful prospect which the Bible thus opens before us. But these promises involve a duty, as well as convey a cheering prospect – the duty of exerting ourselves to promote the coming of this kingdom. Among other means of doing so, the duty of prayer is of the first importance. This subject is so little noticed in general, and yet forms so large a part of that prayer which our Lord teaches his disciples daily to use, that though it has already been in some measure anticipated, when stating the subject of intercession in the chapter on private prayer, it justly calls for distinct consideration.
While it is clear from various promises that the kingdom of Christ shall universally prevail, it is no less manifest that there are difficulties which only a divine power can overcome.
There are many opposing powers of a nature that no arm of flesh can subdue. Man may contend with man, with some hope of success; but in contending “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” we want divine aid. We must pray with the prophet, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord.” How can Satan be dethroned from his palace, the heart of man, till “a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him?”
All men’s natural inclinations and corrupt opinions also oppose the reception of the gospel. Nothing is more absurd to him who knows not the Bible and the power of God, than to imagine that the blinded Hindoo, enchained to his caste, the acute and licentious Mahomedan, reverencing his false prophet, the savage and degraded African, and the barbarous New Zealander, should give up their various notions, and embrace the pure, holy, and humbling truths of the Gospel of Christ. The means, also, by which this change is to be effected, appears to man utterly inefficient. The preaching of the cross of Christ is still “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” No arm of flesh can help us here: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Many of the great promises of Scripture relative to that happy period of which we have been speaking, seem to call for the spirit of prayer.
Observe the determination of the Saviour and his church: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory” (Is 62.1-2); and then notice how this determined zeal in seeking to promote the light and glory of the Church is approved and required: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Is 62.6-7).
The intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven is much on this subject. It is one part of his prayer, “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17.21). And he so earnestly desires the salvation of man, that it is called “the travail of his soul.” In the second Psalm the Father is described as addressing the Son thus: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps 2.8). Doubtless the Son has fulfilled this, as he has fulfilled every other part of his blessed office as an Intercessor. Hence we have more encouragement from his intercession to pray for the conversion of the heathen than for almost any other object. We are sure that the Son of God intercedes for us in this particular thing, and offers up our prayers. And as our Lord thus intercedes himself for the enlargement of his kingdom, so his word is full of directions and examples to encourage us to do the same.
Observe the directions to pray. Our Lord seeing the harvest to be great, and the laborers few, instructed his disciples to use this means of obtaining them: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9.38). One half of the prayer which he has taught us daily to use relates to this: “Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Doubtless when “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him” (Ps 22.27), those petitions in the Lord’s prayer, with its simple but sublime and magnificent conclusion, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever,” will receive a more manifest accomplishment than ever they have yet done. We are told in Isaiah 45.11, “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” St. Paul thus earnestly presses this duty: “I exhort, therefore, that first of all” – as a matter of chief importance – “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;’ and he afterwards adds, “for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim 2.1-4); and again he says, “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, as it is with you.”
Observe the prophecies respecting this spirit of prayer: “It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go unto another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zec 8.20-22).
We have also examples to encourage us thus to pray. David prays, ‘Have respect unto the covenant; for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty” (Ps 74.20). “Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces” (Ps 122.7). Esther, when the peculiar people of God were on the point of destruction, sends to all the Jews to fast and pray with her and her maidens; and their united prayers are heard. Daniel’s prayer for the church when in captivity is well worthy of imitation (Dan 9.2, 16-17). It is probable that on the very evening of the day on which our Lord directed his disciples to pray for more laborers, he himself went into a mountain, and continued all night in prayer to God; and after thus praying all night, on the following morning he chose his twelve apostles (Mt 9.36-38; 10.1-5 compared with Lk 6.12-16). The apostles, after his ascension, all “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication;” and at length, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost was given: ‘The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those that published it” (Ps 68.11). The church of Antioch “fasted and prayed,” and then sent forth Barnabas and Saul on that great mission to the Gentiles, the benefits of which ultimately reached even to England (Acts 13.3).
And to come to more modern times: We find that holy men have ever, as they have more advanced in religion, felt more for the perishing state of mankind. Baxter thus expresses himself in some reflections at the close of his life: “My soul is much more afflicted with the thoughts of this miserable world, and more drawn out in a desire for its conversion than heretofore. I was wont to look little further than England in my prayers; but now I better understand the case of mankind, and the method of the Lord’s prayer. No part of my prayer is so deeply serious as that for the conversion of the infidel and ungodly world.” It is worth while reading the life of the missionary [David] Brainerd, and in our own days, the diaries of Henry Martyn, only to observe the constant ardor of their souls in praying for the coming of Christ’s kingdom.
A blessing has ever attended this mode of seeking the welfare of the church. The cry of Israel in Egypt “came up unto God by reason of the bondage; and God heard their groaning,” and he sent them a deliverer. Daniel’s prayer was attended with an immediate answer (Dan 9). Who would have supposed, in the state in which Judea and the world were when our Lord was crucified, that in so short a time such preachers should be raised up from the self-righteous or worldly Jews, or the benighted Gentiles, as should carry the gospel into all the known nations of the earth, and almost convert the world? They prayed, and great was found to be the efficacy of prayer. In fact, every period of the revival of religion has been distinguished by the previous spirit of prayer. All the great societies that have been raised in present times, and that fill and adorn our country, have been raised in prayer; and the way to obtain for them that full benefit to mankind of which, under the blessing of God, they seem capable, is for those who support them to give them also their continual prayers. St. Paul urges a striking reason why Christians should thus pray: “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf,” (2Cor 1.11); that thus, as he expresses it elsewhere, “the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God” (2Cor 4.15).
The importance of this will be more seen, when it is remembered, that the enlargement and building up of the spiritual church is entirely the work of God. Who can accomplish all the promises on this subject? Who can influence the minds of Christians in general to promote their fulfilment? Who can raise up, and prepare, and duly qualify the laborers? Who can open their way before them, and prosper their undertakings? Who can give the heathen eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel? And when the seed is sown in their hearts, who must give the increase? In short, through whose power and mercy must all flesh see the salvation of God? We need not answer the question. It must be evident how greatly, in any design to promote the kingdom of Christ, the fervent, general, continued, united, and persevering prayers of all the church of God are needed in every step of our way. The effect to be produced manifests the necessity of a divine power. It is not a mere instruction in a particular system; it is not a mere change of sentiment; but an entire change of heart and life – the fulfilling of that promise, “I will create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you.” Like the work of creation, it requires the hand of God. As it is only his power that makes the seed sown in the earth to shoot and spring up; so here, “neither is he that planteth any thing, neither is he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” And the fervency and ardor of prayer is here specially called for. Is it not a proof that the prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” has been coldly uttered, when we look abroad and see the present state of the kingdom of Christ? May we not well suppose that it would have been very different had every Christian that used the prayer fervently offered up therewith the desire of his heart unto God?
It pleases the Almighty generally to work through prayer, as it is prayer that gives God, who is jealous of his honor, all the glory. When blessings come in answer to prayer, the praise is more generally ascribed to him to whom alone all praise belongs. The time is hastening on, when one vast song shall fill the earth “from sea to sea, and from the rivers unto the ends of the earth;” when shall be heard “as it were the voice of mighty thundering, saying, Allelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth; let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him.” And doubtless, when, through the prayers of many, this happy period arrives, the burden of the song will be, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things; and blessed be his glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.”
May the reader lay these things to heart, and remember how small a sacrifice the thing desired calls for. You are not here asked to give your silver and gold, or your life, though these all belong to your Saviour; but the duty now pointed out is simply that of remembering a perishing world in your prayers; and in constantly and faithfully discharging it, you are obeying the two great commands of love to God, and love to man. Never, then, think a prayer to be at all complete which does not include the heathen world. Never be satisfied with a prayer, either in your closet, in your family, in your walks with your relatives and friends, or in the house of God, in which you have not asked of God something relating to his ways being “made known on earth, his saving health among all nations.”
Pray for all the societies engaged in this work, either at home or abroad – for all the missionaries sent forth among the heathen, and all preparing to go, and for all who conduct or support missionary efforts. As a real Christian, you will be an immense gainer by the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ, and the increase of the communion of saints.
And as this is the duty of individuals, so there seems a special efficacy in united prayer. Much that has been said on social, family, and public worship, applies here. Let Christian assemblies in every part of our land come frequently together to pray for the coming of Christ’s kingdom; and it should be one of the happiest signs of its approach.
Let love to your Saviour, benevolence towards man, your own interest in this promised and happy era, the remarkable signs of the times, and your plain and positive duty, all combine and influence and excite you really often to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Thou Maker and Sustainer of all things,
Day and night are thine,
heaven and earth declare thy glory;
but I, a creature of thy power and bounty,
have sinned against thee by resisting
the dictates of conscience,
the demands of thy law,
the calls of thy gospel;
yet I live under the dispensation of a given hope.
Deliver me from worldly dispositions,
for I am born from above and bound for glory.
May I view and long after holiness
as the beauty and dignity of the soul.
Let me never slumber, never lose my assurance,
never fail to wear armour when passing through enemy land.
Fit me for every scene and circumstance;
Stay my mind upon thee and turn my trials to blessings,
that they may draw out my gratitude and praise
as I see their design and effects.
Render my obedience to thy will
holy, natural, and delightful.
Rectify all my principles
by clear, consistent, and influential views of divine truth.
Let me never undervalue or neglect any part of thy revealed will.
May I duly regard the doctrine and practice of the gospel,
prizing its commands as well as its promises.
Sanctify me in every relation, office, transaction and condition of life,
that if I prosper I may not be unduly exalted,
if I suffer I may not be over-sorrowful.
Balance my mind in all varying circumstances
and help me to cultivate a disposition
that renders every duty a spiritual privilege.
Thus may I be content,
be a glory to thee
and an example to others.
Thou great I AM,
I acknowledge and confess that all things come of thee –
life, breath, happiness, advancement,
sight, touch, hearing,
goodness, truth, beauty –
all that makes existence amiable.
In the spiritual world also I am dependent
entirely upon thee.
Give me grace to know more of my need of grace;
Show me my sinfulness
that I may willingly confess it;
Reveal to me my weakness
that I may know my strength in thee.
I thank thee for any sign of penitence;
give me more of it;
My sins are black and deep,
and rise from a stony, proud,
Help me to confess them with mourning, regret, self-loathing,
with no pretence to merit or excuse;
I need healing,
Good Physician, here is scope for thee,
come and manifest thy power;
I need faith;
Thou who hast given it to me,
maintain, strengthen, increase it,
Centre it upon the Saviour’s work,
upon the majesty of the Father,
upon the operations of the Spirit;
Work it in me now that I may never doubt thee
as the truthful, mighty, faithful God.
Then I can bring my heart to thee full of love, gratitude, hope, joy.
May I lay at thy feet these fruits grown in thy garden,
love thee with a passion that can never cool,
believe in thee with a confidence that never staggers,
hope in thee with an expectation that can never be dim,
delight in thee with a rejoicing that cannot be stifled,
glorify thee with the highest of my powers,
burning, blazing, glowing, radiating,
as from thy own glory.
This week the church here has been having a week of prayer, seeking the blessing of God in the coming year. Our rough outline of concern was the glory of God in all things, the health of the church, and the spread of the gospel. Unfortunately, the weather has been a touch awkward, and so many people were unable to attempt the journey to the church building yesterday that we had to cancel the prayer meeting. Instead, I culled three offerings from from The Valley of Vision (Banner of Truth) and circulated them to the church here.
While my Old World Dissenting sensitivities rub up a little at the prospect of written prayers, these are not intended for rote repetition. Puritan authors often wrote prayers into their books and published sermons, expressing reactions to truth and desires for God. I chose three that I hoped would, in the absence of our corporate meeting, prime the pump for individual and family prayer. They give us an insight into the hearts of godly men and women profoundly conscious both of their need of grace and of the fullness of grace held out by God in Christ. I thought such excellent examples of close dealing with God might be more widely helpful, so I will post them over the next few days, beginning below.
I feel it is heaven to please thee,
and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
pure as Christ is pure,
perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!
These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
and shall I break them? must I break them?
am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?
Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
that I grieve this blessed God,
who is infinite in goodness and grace!
O, if he would punish me for my sins,
it would not would my heart so deep to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
he continually repeats his kindness to me.
At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
but how can I dishonour this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship
this best of beings?
O that I could consecrate my soul and body
to his service,
without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
so as never more to attempt to be my own!
or have any will or affections
that are not perfectly conformed to his will
and his love!
But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
before the blessed King of heaven!
I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
but when I have done all I can to eternity
I shall not be able to offer more than
a small fraction of the homage
that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.
My father sends me a little packet of gold dust gathered from Thomas Cobbet, Gospel Incense (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993). This is Cobbet’s fourth reason to enforce the duty of public prayer.
How many of us who act as the mouthpiece of the congregation, or how many of the congregation themselves, entering into the praises and petitions being uttered, appreciate either the great task being undertaken, the immense privileges God extends to us, or the unity of mind and heart, and oneness of spirit that ought to be expressed in public praying? If these things were better understood it would be very difficult to suppress the heartfelt ‘Amen’ that rightly belongs to such public prayers.
Cobbet says that
public prayer is a public profession and confession of God, of the only true God and that one mediator, Jesus Christ; yea, of the oneness of the saints with each other in the same Father and Saviour.
Nor is the least honour to the Lord, as a great King, to have so many several companies of subjects waiting on him with petition for his royal favour; it is a holy joint homage and service for many to join as one man in prayer. Calling upon the name of the Lord, and serving him with one shoulder, are joined. Public prayer is a public profession and expression of one and the same faith, of many in one and the same Father, in one and the same Mediator of the covenant, and in one and the same covenant of grace; it is a joint cry of one and the same spirit, in and from many children’s hearts, calling one Abba Father; it is a common meeting of the several desires of several good hearts in this one common centre. It is a holy burning-glass, wherein the several bright and warm rays of the faith of many suppliants being in an holy wise contracted in one point, breaks forth into a holy fire of love expressions to the Lord, and their own and others souls’ welfare; it is a joint outcry, by reason of a serious sense of the same grievances of many; if others’ sorrows, sufferings, wants, burdens, be not the same with thine or mine, yet in praying this, we make each others’ ails ours, as they do makes ours theirs. We come to pray in public with variety of cases differing from each other in sundry respects; but in public prayer each one’s soul is put, as it were, in another’s stead. Public prayer is a common cry made out by the joint consent of this or that embodied people against some common enemies to their blessed King, his crown, and his dignity. Public prayer is a public condemnation, therefore, voiced by our own mouths against any private discords and divisions, if any such should be amongst us. (59-60)
Thomas Manton can deliver a stinging spiritual slap: “Prayer doth not consist in a multitude or clatter of words, but in the getting up of the heart to God, that we may behave ourselves as if we were alone with God, in the midst of glorious saints and angels” (Works, 1.60). Truly, how often do you pray like that?
Here he is applying lessons drawn from his exposition of the Lord’s prayer, here focusing on the petition, “Hallowed by thy name.”
He begins by explaining why this is the first petition, telling us – among many other wonderful things – that
man was made for two ends—to glorify God, and to enjoy him. Now our crown of glory must be laid at God’s feet; as the elders, Rev. iv. 10, ‘Saying, Thou art worthy, Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power.’ All our desires must give place to this, that he may be glorified in our eternal happiness; and we are to beg it no further than as it may stand with his honour. Man’s chief end, and so his chief request, in respect of himself, is, to enjoy God; but with respect to God, so it is the highest only of subordinate ends; for the highest, chiefly and absolutely, is the glorifying of God. (Works, 1.69)
Then he provides reasons why it is right that this be the first petition, before moving on to the ways in which we can use this truth: His first use is “of reproof”, and it cuts deeply:
Use 1. To reprove us, that we are no more affected with God’s glory. Oh, how little do we aim at and regard it in our prayers! We should seek it, not only above the profits and pleasures of this life, but even above life itself; yea, above life present and to come. But alas! since the fall, we are corrupt, and wholly poisoned with self-love; we prefer every base interest and trifle before God; nay, we prefer carnal self before God. Some are wholly brutish; and so they may wallow in ease and pleasure, and eat the fat and drink the sweet, never think of God, care not how God is dishonoured, both by themselves and others. And then some, oh, how tender are they in matters of their own concernment, and affected with it, more than for the glory of God!—John xii. 43. They are more affected with their own honour, and their own loss and reproach, than with God’s dishonour or God’s glory. If their own reputation be but hazarded a little, oh, how it stings them to the heart! But if they be faulty towards God, they can pass it over without trouble. A word of disgrace, a little contempt cast upon our persons, kindles the coals and fills us with rage; but we can hear God’s name dishonoured, and not be moved with it. When they pray, if they beg outward blessings, if they ask anything, it is for their lusts, not for God; it is but to feed their pomp and excess, and that they may shine in the pomp and splendour of external accommodations. If they beg quickening and enlargement, it is for their own honour, that their lusts may be fed by the contributions of heaven; so, by a wicked design, they would even make God to serve the devil. The best of us, when we come to pray, what a deep sense have we of our own wants, and no desire of the glory of God! If we beg daily bread, maintenance, and protection, we do not beg it as a talent to be improved for our master’s use, but as fuel for our lusts. If we beg deliverance, it is because we are in pain, and ill at ease; not that we may honour and glorify God, that mercy and truth may shine forth. If we beg pardon, it is only to get rid of the smart, and be enlarged out of the stocks of conscience. If they beg grace, it is but a lazy wish after sanctification, because they are convinced there is no other way to be happy. If they beg eternal glory, they do not beg it for God, it appears plainly, because they can be content to dishonour God long, provided they at length may be saved. Most of us pray without a heart set to glorify God, and to bring honour unto his great name. Though a man hath never so much sense and feeling in his prayer, yet if his heart be not duly set as to the glory of God, his prayer is turned into sin. It is not the manner or the vehemency only, for a carnal spring may send forth high tides of affection, and motions that come from lust may be earnest and very rapid; therefore it is not enough to have fervour and vehemency, but when our aim is to honour and glorify God: Zech. vii. 5, 6, ‘When ye fasted, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did you not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?’ (Works, 1.71-72)
May we learn to pray for God’s glory indeed, and not merely for our own ease, comfort, security and exaltation.
Charles Spurgeon on the battle fought by Joshua against Amalek as Moses prayed on the mountain:
Unfortunately, in our work for God, we generally fall into one of two blunders. Either we get a lot of machinery and think that we shall accomplish everything by that, or else we are like some whom I have known, who have confided so much in prayer that they have done nothing but pray. Prayer is a downright mockery if it does not lead us into the practical use of means likely to promote the ends for which we pray. I have known friends take medicine when they have been ill and never pray about their sickness. There are some others who pray about their sickness, but never take the proper medicine. They are both wrong. You must have Joshua and you must have Moses, too, in the time of trial. Go before God with your sickness, but if there is an appointed means that has been made useful to others, use it, for God will bless you by the use of means. Try to see two sides of a thing. Do not trust exclusively to either one or the other. It is a very heinous fault to trust the means without God, but, though it is a much smaller fault to trust in God and not use the means, yet still it is a fault. Practical prudence will lead you to do both. It gives to Joshua his sword, that he may make it red with the blood of the enemy and it gives to Moses his rod, that he may go with it up to the top of the hill and hold it up there in the sight of the people – that all may know that the battle is the Lord’s – and that he will deliver the enemy into their hands. God make you wise in these things and enable you to use both the rod of God and the sword of man!
From “Both Sides of the Shield”, MTP 37, 622.
Justin Taylor brings us good news.
Many readers here will know Matthew Henry’s Commentary, one of the richest, most devotional and most practical commentaries to sit on many a shelf. You may also know of Matthew Henry’s book, A Method for Prayer. It is, in essence, an encouragement to pray God’s Word back to him, and is a compendium of Scripture concepts and phrases designed to assist the believer in doing just that. Ligon Duncan and others have taken Matthew Henry’s classic Method for Prayer, updated the language (including the ESV instead of KJV) and put the whole thing online.
There is a danger: these are not rote phrases to be mindlessly rehearsed, but eternal truths to be ingested, digested, and – if I can put it this way – regurgitated in prayer, becoming our own words, thoughts and desires in the process. Another concern is that – given the richness of Henry’s work – our public prayers might wander toward performance rather than petition. Better to have a deep thought stumblingly expressed than a shallow notion that froths out. Few words, long on meaning, suit the saints well.
Disappointingly, Henry’s helps to beginning, spending and closing the day with God, which form an excellent supplement to this work, are not yet available on the same page. Perhaps someone with clout can suggest that as a useful addition?
Update: O me of little faith! See the first comment below. The excellent Mr McMillan informs us that the Register for More Resources button is the free gateway (if you consider giving away your name and email address as free) to these quite brief and excellent sermons. For those who are happy registering for anything and everything, these would be well worth your time.
There are various ways to use the volume available:
You will by no means suffer from a wise and discerning reading and imbibing of this exceedingly helpful volume. I hope you enjoy it.
There are few more important questions for a Christian to answer than this: “How may we grieve the Spirit?” Charles Spurgeon answers the question with his usual penetrating insight into the mind of God and his regular piercing application to the heart of man.
I come now to the third part of my discourse, namely, THE GRIEVING OF THE SPIRIT, How may we grieve him, – what will be the sad result of grieving him – if we have grieved him, how may we bring him back again? How may we grieve the Spirit? I am now, mark you, speaking of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God is in your heart, and it is very, very easy indeed to grieve him. Sin is as easy as it is wicked. You may grieve him by impure thoughts. He cannot bear sin. If you indulge in lascivious expressions, or if even you allow imagination to doat upon any lascivious act, or if your heart goes after covetousness, if you set your heart upon anything that is evil, the Spirit of God will be grieved, for thus I hear him speaking of himself. “I love this man, I want to have his heart, and yet he is entertaining these filthy lusts. His thoughts, instead of running after me, and after Christ, and after the Father, are running after the temptations that are in the world through lust.” And then his Spirit is grieved. He sorrows in his soul because he knows what sorrow these things must bring to our souls. We grieve him yet more if we indulge in outward acts of sin. Then is he sometimes so grieved that he takes his flight for a season, for the dove will not dwell in our hearts if we take loathsome carrion in there. A cleanly being is the dove, and we must not strew the place which the dove frequents with filth and mire, if we do he will fly elsewhere. If we commit sin, if we openly bring disgrace upon our religion, if we tempt others to go into iniquity by our evil example, it is not long before the Holy Spirit will begin to grieve. Again, if we neglect prayer, if our closet door is cob-webbed, if we forget to read the Scriptures, if the leaves of our Bible are almost stuck together by neglect, if we never seek to do any good in the world, if we live merely for ourselves and not to Christ, then the Holy Spirit will be grieved, for thus he saith, “They have forsaken me, they have left the fountain of waters, they have hewn unto themselves broken cisterns.” I think I now see the Spirit of God grieving, when you are sitting down to read a novel and there is your Bible unread. Perhaps you take down some book of travels, and you forget that you have got a more precious book of travels in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the story of your blessed Lord and Master. You have no time for prayer, but the Spirit sees you very active about worldly things, and having many hours to spare for relaxation and amusement. And then he is grieved because he sees that you love worldly things better than you love him. His spirit is grieved within him; take care that he does not go away from you, for it will be a pitiful thing for you if he leaves you to yourself. Again, ingratitude tends to grieve him. Nothing cuts a man to the heart more, than after having done his utmost for another, he turns round and repays him with ingratitude or insult. If we do not want to be thanked, at least we do love to know that there is thankfulness in the heart upon which we have conferred a boon, and when the Holy Spirit looks into our soul and sees little love to Christ, no gratitude to him for all he has done for us, then is he grieved.
Again, the Holy Spirit is exceedingly grieved by our unbelief. When we distrust the promise he bath given and applied, when we doubt the power or the affection of our blessed Lord. then the Spirit saith within himself – “They doubt my fidelity, they distrust my power, they say Jesus is not able to save unto the uttermost;” thus again is the Spirit grieved. Oh, I wish the Spirit had an advocate here this morning, that could speak in better terms than I can. I have a theme that overmasters me, I seem to grieve for him; but I cannot make you grieve, nor tell out the grief I feel. In my own soul I keep saying, “Oh, this is just what you have done – you have grieved him.” Let me make a full and frank confession even before you all. I know that too often, I as well as you have grieved the Holy Spirit. Much within us has made that sacred dove to mourn, and my marvel is, that he has not taken his flight from us and left us utterly to ourselves.
Now suppose the Holy Spirit is grieved, what is the effect produced upon us? When the Spirit is grieved first, he bears with us. He is grieved again and again, and again and again, and still he bears with it all. But at last, his grief becomes so excessive, that he says, “I will suspend my operations; I will begone; I will leave life behind me, but my own actual presence I will take away.” And when the Spirit of God goes away from the soul and suspends all his operations what a miserable state we are in. He suspends his instructions; we read the word, we cannot understand it; we go to our commentaries, they cannot tell us the meaning; we fall on our knees and ask to be taught, but we get no answer, we learn nothing. He suspends his comfort; we used to dance, like David before the ark, and now we sit like Job in the ash-pit, and scrape our ulcers with a potsherd. There was a time when his candle shone round about us, but now he is gone; he has left us in the blackness of darkness. Now, he takes from us all spiritual power. Once we could do all things; now we can do nothing. We could slay the Philistines, and lay them heaps upon heaps, but now Delilah can deceive us, and our eyes are put out and we are made to grind in the mill. We go preaching, and there is no pleasure in preaching, and no good follows it. We go to our tract distributing, and our Sunday-school, we might almost as well be at home. There is the machinery there, but there is no love. There is the intention to do good, or perhaps not even that, but alas! there is no power to accomplish the intention. The Lord has withdrawn himself, his light, his joy, his comfort, his spiritual power, all are gone. And then all our graces flag. Our graces are much like the flower called the Hydrangia, when it has plenty of water it blooms, but as soon as moisture fails, the leaves drop down at once. And so when the Spirit goes away, faith shuts up its flowers; no perfume is exhaled. Then the fruit of our love begins to rot and drops from the tree; then the sweet buds of our hope become frostbitten, and they die. Oh, what a sad thing it is to lose the Spirit. Have you never, my brethren, been on your knees and have been conscious that the Spirit of God was not with you, and what awful work it has been to groan, and cry, and sigh, and yet go away again, and no light to shine upon the promises, not so much as a ray of light through the chink of the dungeon. All forsaken, forgotten, and forlorn, you are almost driven to despair. You sing with Cowper:-
“What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.
Return, thou sacred dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest,
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee.”
Ah! sad enough it is to have the Spirit drawn from us. But, my brethren, I am about to say something with the utmost charity, which, perhaps, may look severe, but, nevertheless, I must say it. The churches of the present day are very much in the position of those who have grieved the Spirit of God; for the Spirit deals with churches just as it does with individuals. Of these late years how little has God wrought in the midst of his churches. Throughout England, at least some four or five years ago, an almost universal torpor had fallen upon the visible body of Christ. There was a little action, but it was spasmodic; there was no real vitality. Oh! how few sinners were brought to Christ, how empty had our places of worship become; our prayer-meetings were dwindling away to nothing, and our church meetings were mere matters of farce. You know right well that this is the case with many London churches to this day; and there be some that do not mourn about it. They go up to their accustomed place, and the minister prays, and the people either sleep with their eyes or else with their hearts, and they go out, and there is never a soul saved. The pool of baptism is seldom stirred; but the saddest part of all is this, the churches are willing to have it so. They are not earnest to get a revival of religion. We have been doing something, the church at large has been doing something. I will not just now put my finger upon what the sin is, but there has been something done which has driven the Spirit of God from us. He is grieved, and he is gone. He is present with us here, I thank his name, he is still visible in our midst. He has not left us. Though we have been as unworthy as others, yet has he given us a long outpouring of his presence. These five years or more, we have had a revival which is not to be exceeded by any revival upon the face of the earth. Without cries or shoutings, without fallings down or swooning, steadily God adds to this church numbers upon numbers, so that your minister’s heart is ready to break with very joy when he thinks how manifestly the Spirit of God is with us. But brethren, we must not be content with this, we want to see the Spirit poured out on all churches. Look at the great gatherings that there were in St. Paul’s, and Westminster Abbey, and Exeter Hall, and other places, how was it that no good was done, or so very little? I have watched with anxious eye, and I have never from that day forth heard but of one conversion, and that in St. James’ Hall, from all these cervices. Strange it seems. The blessing may have come in larger measure than we know, but not in so large a measure as we might have expected, if the Spirit of God had been present with all the ministers. Oh would that we may live to see greater things than we have ever seen yet. Go home to your houses, humble yourselves before God, ye members of Christ’s church, and cry aloud that he will visit his church, and that he would open the windows of heaven and pour out his grace upon his thirsty hill of Zion, that nations may be born in a day, that sinners may be saved by thousands – that Zion may travail and may bring forth children. Oh! there are signs and tokens of a coming revival. We have heard but lately of a good work among the Ragged School boys of St. Giles’s, and our soul has been glad on account of that; and the news from Ireland comes to us like good tidings, not from a far country, but from a sister province of the kingdom. Let us cry aloud to the Holy Spirit, who is certainly grieved with his church, and let us purge our churches of everything that is contrary to his Word and to sound doctrine, and then the Spirit will return, and his power shall be manifest.
And now, in conclusion, there may be some of you here who have lost the visible presence of Christ with you; who have in fact so grieved the Spirit that he has gone. It is a mercy for you to know that the Spirit of God never leaves his people finally; he leaves them for chastisement, but not for damnation. He sometimes leaves them that they may get good by knowing their own weakness, but he will not leave them finally to perish. Are you in a state of backsliding, declension, and coldness? Hearken to me for a moment, and God bless the words. Brother, stay not a moment in a condition so perilous; be not easy for a single second in the absence of the Holy Ghost. I beseech you use every means by which that Spirit may be brought back to you. Once more, let me tell you distinctly what the means are. Search out for the sin that has grieved the Spirit, give it up, slay that sin upon the spot; repent with tears and sighs; continue in prayer, and never rest satisfied until the Holy Ghost comes back to you. Frequent an earnest ministry, get much with earnest saints, but above all, be much in prayer to God, and let your daily cry be, “Return, return, O Holy Spirit return, and dwell in my soul.” Oh, I beseech you be not content till that prayer is heard, for you have become weak as water, and faint and empty while the Spirit has been away from you. Oh! it may be there are same here this morning with whom the Spirit has been striving during the past week. Oh yield to him, resist him not; grieve him not, but yield to him. Is he saying to you now “Turn to Christ?” Listen to him, obey him, he moves you. Oh I beseech you do not despise him. Have you resisted him many a time, then take care you do not again, for there may come a last time when the Spirit may say, “I will go unto my rest, I will not return unto him, the ground is accursed, it shall be given up to barrenness.” Oh! hear the word of the gospel, ere ye separate, for the Spirit speaketh effectually to you now in this short sentence – “Repent and be converted everyone of you, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord,’’ and hear this solemn sentence, “He that believeth in the Lord Jesus and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” May the Lord grant that we may not grieve the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Timmy Brister has been reading about David Brainerd in relation to prayer, and looking over Brainerd’s journal. He gives us some excerpts in which Brainerd expresses his passion for God and the “conversion of the heathen” as a result of God enlarging and warming his heart through earnest, pleading prayer. May God give me more of this spirit – this Spirit! – as I prepare and preach. We cannot oblige God to bless us, but such prayers as these may reveal why we so rarely obtain the blessings that Brainerd enjoyed in serving his God and ours.
After this, in the vacancy, before I went to tarry at the college, it pleased God to visit my soul with clearer manifestations of Himself and His grace. I was spending some time in prayer and self-examination, when the Lord by His grace so shined into my heart that I enjoyed full assurance of His favor, for that time; and my soul was unspeakably refreshed with divine and heavenly enjoyments. (71)
One day I remember in particular, I walked to a considerable distance from the college, in the fields alone at noon, and in prayer found such unspeakable sweetness and delight in God that I thought, if I must continue still in this evil world, I wanted always to be there, to behold God’s glory. My soul dearly loved all mankind, and longed exceedingly that they should enjoy what I enjoyed. It seemed to be a little resemblance of heaven. (72)
Then God gave me to wrestle earnestly for others, for the kingdom of Christ in the world, and for dear Christian friends. I felt weaned from the world and from my own reputation amongst men, willing to be despised and to be a gazing stock for the world to behold. It is impossible for me to express how I then felt. I had not much joy, but some sense of the majesty of God, which made me as it were tremble. I saw myself mean and vile, which made me more willing that God should do what He would with me; it was all infinitely reasonable. (77)
I retired early this morning into the woods for prayer; had the assistance of God’s Spirit and faith in exercise. Was enabled to plead with fervency for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world and to intercede for dear absent friends. At noon, God enabled me to wrestle with Him and to feel, as I trust, the power of divine love in prayer. (80)
I set this day for fasting and prayer to God for His grace; especially to prepare me for the work of the ministry, to give me divine aid and direction in my preparations for that great work, and in His own time to send me into His harvest. Accordingly, in the morning, I endeavored to plead for the divine presence for the day, and not without some life. In the forenoon, I felt the power of intercession for precious, immortal souls; for the advancement of the kingdom of my dear Lord and Savior in the world; and withal, a most sweet resignation and even consolation and joy in the thoughts of suffering hardships, distresses, and even death itself, in the promotion of it. Had special enlargement in the pleading for the enlightening and conversion of the poor heathen. (80)
Oh, it was blessed company indeed! God enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with perspiration, though in the shade and the cool wind. My soul was drawn out very much for the world, for multitude of souls. I think I had more enlargement for sinners than for the children of God, though I felt as if I could spend my life in cries for both. I enjoyed great sweetness in communion with my dear Savior. I think I never in my life felt such an entire weanedness from this world and so much resigned to God in everything. Oh, that I may always live to and upon my blessed God! Amen, amen. (80-81)
This morning I spent about two hours in secret duties and was enabled more than ordinarily to agonize for mortal souls. Though it was early in the morning and the sun scarcely shined at all, yet my body was quite wet with sweat. (81)
Felt something of the sweetness of communion with God and the constraining force of His love. How admirably it captivates the soul and makes all the desires and affections to center in God! I set apart this day for secret fasting and prayer, to entreat God to direct and bless me with regard to the great work I have in view, of preaching the gospel; and that the Lord would return to me, and show me the light of His countenance. (88)
While I was pleading for more compassion for immortal souls, my hearted seemed to be opened at once and I was enabled to cry with great ardency for a few minutes. Oh, I was distressed to think that I should offer such dead, cold services to the living God! My soul seemed to breathe after holiness, a life of constant devotedness to God. (89)
Felt some compassion for souls and mourned I had no more. I feel much more kindness, meekness, gentleness, and love towards all mankind, than ever. I long to be at the feet of my enemies and persecutors; enjoyed some sweetness in feeling my soul conformed to Christ Jesus, and given away to Him forever. (99)
I am, of late, most of all concerned for ministerial qualifications and the conversion of the heathen. Last year, I longed to be prepared for a world of glory and speedily to depart out of this world; but of late all my concern almost is for the conversion of the heathen, and for that end I long to live. (170)
In prayer I was exceedingly enlarged and my soul was much drawn out as ever I remember it to have been in my life, or near. I was in such anguish and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity that when I rose from my knees, I felt extremely weak and overcome-I could scarcely walk straight. My joints were loosed, the sweat ran down my face and body, and nature seemed as if it would dissolve. So far as I could judge, I was wholly free from selfish ends in my fervent supplications for the poor Indians. I knew they were met together to worship devils and not God. This made me cry earnestly that God would now appear and help me in my attempts to break up this idolatrous meeting. My soul pleaded long; and I thought God would hear and would go with me to vindicate His own cause. I seemed to confide in God for His presence and assistance. (173)
In the first discourse I had scarce any warmth or affectionate longing for souls. In the intermediate season I got alone among the bushes and cried to God for pardon of my deadness, and was in anguish and bitterness that I could not address souls with more compassion and tender affection. I judged and condemned myself for want of this divine temper, though I saw I could not get it as of myself any more than I could make a world. (183-84)
A humbling reminder from Paul Wallace, quoting the Puritan John Preston, who exhorts to focused and zealous prayer before anticipating an objection:
You may object, “Aye, but it will cost us much time to do this.” Indeed one common cause among the rest, that keeps us from the thorough performance of this duty is this: Remember that the time spent in calling upon God does not hinder you, and that though it takes so much from the heap yet indeed it increases the heap. It is said of tithes and offerings, “Bring them in,” and do not think that, because you lessen the heap, that you are poorer men. No says the Lord, it will increase your store. “I will open the windows of heaven.” and you shall have so much the more of it. So it is true in this case.
In other things you see it well enough. You know, the baiting of the horse does not hinder the journey, nor does the oiling of the wheel. The sharpening of the scythe is no hinder to the work, even though there is a stop in the work to do it. As our common saying is “A whet is no let,” and the doing of this is no impediment.
A good principle to carry into another Lord’s day . . .