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the good of any; so it is designed for their edification and profit. For there is in it an ability of expressing the wants, desires, and prayers, of others also. And as this discharge of the duty is in a peculiar manner incumbent on ministers of the gospel, as also on masters of families and others, as they are occasionally called thereunto; so they are to attend unto a fourfold direction therein: [1.] Unto their own experience. If such persons are believers themselves they have experience in their own souls of all the general concernments of those in the same condition. · As sin worketh in one, so it doth in another; as grace is effectual in one, so it is in another; as he that prayeth longeth for mercy and grace, so do they that join with him. Of the same kind with his hatred of sin, his love to Christ, his labouring after holiness, and conformity to the will of God, are also those in other believers. And hence it is that persons ' praying in the Spirit according to their own experience, are oftentimes supposed by every one in the congregation rather to pray over their condition than their own. And so it will be whilst the same corruption in kind, and the same grace in kind, with the same kind of operations, are in them all. But this extends not itself unto particular sins and temptations, which are left unto every one to deal about between God and their own souls.
[2.] Unto Scripture light. This is that which lively expresseth the spiritual state and condition of all sorts of persons, namely, both of those that are unregenerate, and of those which are converted unto God. Whatever that expresseth concerning either sort, may safely be pleaded with God in their behalf. And hence may abundant matter of prayer be taken for all occasions. Especially may it be so in a peculiar manner from that holy summary of the church's desires to God, given us in the Lord's Prayer. All we can duly apprehend, spiritually understand, and draw out of that mine and heavenly treasury of prayer, may be safely used in the name and behalf of the whole church of God. But without
erstanding of the things intended, the use of the words
to God, is not to pray at random, as though all persons
and conditions were alike unto him. None prayeth for others constantly by virtue of especial duty, but he is called also to watch over them and observe their ways. In so doing he may know that of thcir state, which may be a great direction unto his supplications with them and for them. Yea, without this no man can ever discharge this duty aright in the behalf of others, so as they may find their particular concernments therein. And if a minister be obliged to consider the ways, light, knowledge, and walking of his flock in his preaching unto them, that what he teacheth may be suited unto their edification; he is no less bound unto the same consideration in his prayers also with them and for them, if he intends to pray unto their use and profit. The like may be said of others in their capacity. The wisdom and caution which are to be used herein, I may not here
[4.] Unto the account which they receive from themselves concerning their wants, their state, and condition. This, in some cases, persons are obliged to give unto those whose duty it is to help them by their prayers; James v. 16. And if this duty were more attended unto, the minds of many might receive inconceivable relief thereby.
6. Let us take heed, (1.) That this gift be not solitary, or alone; and, (2.) That it be not solitarily acted at any time. When it is solitary, that is, where the gift of prayer is in the mind, but no grace to exercise in prayer in the heart, it is at best but a part of that form of godliness which men may have, and deny the power thereof, and is therefore consistent with all sorts of secret lusts and abominations. And it were easy to demonstrate, that whatever advantage others may have by this gift in them who are destitute of saving grace, yet themselves are many ways worsted by it. For hence are they lifted up with spiritual pride, which is the ordinary consequent of all unsanctified light; and hereby do they .countenance themselves against the reflections of their consciences on the guilt of other sins, resting and pleasing themselves in their own performances. But to the best observation that I have been able to make, of all spiritual gifts which may be communicated for a time unto unsanctified minds, this doth soonest decay and wither. Whether it be that God takes it away judicially from them, or that themselves are not able to bear the exercise of it, because it is diametrically opposite unto the lusts wherein they indulge themselves; for the most part it quickly and visibly decays, especially in such as with whom the continuance of it, by reason of open sins and apostacy, might be a matter of danger or scandal unto others. (2.) Let it not be acted solitarily. Persons in whom is a principle of spiritual life and grace, who are endowed with those graces of the Spirit which ought to be acted in all our supplications, may yet even in the use and exercise of this gift neglect to stir them up and act them. And there is no greater evidence of a weak, sićkly, spiritual constitution, than often to be surprised into · this miscarriage. Now this is so, when men in their prayers engage only their light, invention, memory, and elocation, without especial actings of faith and delight in God. And he who watcheth his soul and its actings, may easily discern when he is sinfully negligent in this matter, or when outward circumstances and occasions have made him more to attend unto the gift, than unto grace in prayer; for which he will be humbled. And these few things I thought meet to add concerning the due use and improvement of this gift of the Spirit of God.
Of mental prayer as pretended unto by some in the church of Rome. Having described or given an account of the gift of prayer, and the use of it in the church of God, and the nature of the work of the Spirit therein; it will be necessary to consider briefly what is by some set up in competition with it, as a more excellent way in this part of divine worship. And, in the first place, mental prayer, as described by some devout persons of the church of Rome, is preferred above it. They call it' pure spiritual prayer, or a quiet repose of contemplation; that which excludes all images of the fancy, and in time all perceptible actuations of the understanding, and is exercised in single elevations of the will, without any force at all, yet with admirable efficacy;' and to dispose a soul for such prayer, there is previously required an entire calmness and even death of the passions, a perfect purity in the spitual affections of the will, and an entire abstraction from all creatures.' Cressy, Church Hist. Pref. parag. 42, 43.
1. The truth is, I am so fixed in a dislike of that mere outside formal course of reading or singing prayers, which is in use in the Roman church (which though in Mr. Cressy's esteem, it have a show of a very civil conversation with God, yet is it indeed accompanied with the highest contempt of his infinite purity, and all divine excellencies), and do so much more abhor that magical incantation which many among them use in the repetition of words which they understand not, or of applying what they repeat to another end than what the words signify, as saying so many prayers for such an end or purpose, whereof it may be there is not one word of mention in the prayers themselves; that I must approve of any search after a real internal intercourse of soul with God in this duty. But herein men must be careful of two things: (1.) That they assert not what they can fancy, but what indeed in some measure they have an experience of. For men to conjecture what others do experience (for they can do no more), and thence to form rules or examples of duty, is dangerous always, and may be pernicious unto those who shall follow such instructions. And herein this author fails,
and gives nothing but his own fancies of others pretended experience. (2.) That what they pretend unto an experience of, be confirmable by Scripture rule or example. For if it be not so, we are directed unto the conduct of all extravagant imaginations in every one who will pretend unto spiritual experience. Attend unto these rules, and I will grant in prayer all the ways whereby the soul, or the faculties of it, can rationally act itself towards God in a holy and spiritual manner. But if you extend it unto such kind of actings as our nature is not capable of, at least in this world, it is the open fruit of a deceived fancy, and makes all that is tendered from the same hand to be justly suspected. And such is that instance of this prayer, that it is in the will and its affections without any actings of the mind or understanding. For, although I grant that the adhesion of the will and affections unto God by love, delight, complacency, rest and satisfaction in prayer, belongs to the improvement of this duty; yet to imagine that they are not guided, directed, acted by the understanding in the contemplation of God's goodness, beauty, grace, and other divine excellencies, is to render our worship and devotion brutish or irrational; whereas it is and ought to be our reasonable service.
And that this very description here given us of prayer is, a mere effect of fancy and imagination, and not that which the author of it was led unto by the conduct of spiritual light and experience, is evident from hence, that it is borrowed from those contemplative philosophers, who after preaching of the gospel in the world, endeavoured to refine and advance Heathenism into a compliance with it; at least is fancied in imitation of what they ascribe unto a perfect mind. One of them, and his expressions in one place may
for an instance. Plotinus Ennead. 6. lib. 9. cap. 10. For
A mind thus risen up is no way moved, no ansire of any thing is in it (a perfect rest of the af