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jealousy and Christian prudence which prequire them to take care that they be not deceived or deluded, do not only warrant them to abide on that guard, but make it their necessary duty also. For it is no new thing that pretences of raptures, ecstasies, revelations, and unaccountable extraordinary enjoyments of God, should be made use of unto corrupt ends, yea abused to the worst imaginable. The experience of the church both under the Old Testament and the New, witnesseth hereunto as the apostle Peter declares; 2 Pet. ii. 1. For among them of old, there were multitudes of false pretenders unto visions, dreams, revelations, and such spiritual ecstasies, some of whom wore a ‘rough garment to deceive,' which went not alone but accompanied with all such appearing austerities, as might beget an opinion of sanctity and integrity in them. And when the body of the people were grown corrupt and superstitious, this sort of men had credit with them above the true prophets of God; yet did they for the most part shew themselves to be hypocritical liars. And we are abundantly. warned of such spirits under the New Testament, as we are foretold that such there would be, by whom many should be deluded. And all such pretenders unto extraordinary intercourse with God, we are commanded to try by the unerring rule of the word, and desire only liberty so to do.
But suppose that those who assert these devotions and enjoyments of God in their own experience, are not false pretenders unto what they profess, nor design to deceive; but are persuaded in their own minds of the reality of what they endeavour to declare, yet neither will this give us the least security of their truth. For it is known that there are so many ways, partly natural, partly diabolical, whereby the fancies and imaginations of persons may be so possessed with false images and apprehensions of things, and that with so vehement an efficacy as to give them a confidence of their truth and reality, that no assurance of them can be given by a persuasion of the sincerity of them by whom they are pretended. And there are so many ways whereby men are disposed unto such a frame and actings, or are disposed to be imposed on by such delusions, especially where they are prompted by superstition, and are encouraged doctrinally.to an expectation of such imaginations, that it is a far greater
wonder that more have not fallen into the same extravagancies, than that any have so done. We find by experience that some have had their imaginations so fixed on things evil and noxious by satanical delusions, that they have confessed against themselves, things and crimes that have rendered them obnoxious unto capital punishments; whereof they were never really and actually guilty. Wherefore, seeing these acts or duties of devotion, are pretended to be such as wherein there is no sensible actuation of the mind or understanding, and so cannot rationally be accounted for, nor rendered perceptible unto the understanding of others, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they are only fond imaginations of deluded fancies, which superstitious, credulous persons have gradually raised themselves unto, or such as they have exposed themselves to be imposed on withal by Satan, through a groundless, unwarrantable desire after them, or expectation of them.
But whatever there may be in the height of this contemplative prayer as it is called, it neither is prayer, nor can on any account be so esteemed. That we allow of mental prayer and all actings of the mind in holy meditation, was before declared. Nor do. we'deny the usefulness or necessity of those other things, of mortifying the affections and passions, of an entire resignation of the whole soul unto God with complacency in him, so far as our nature is capable of them in this world. But it is that incomparable excellency of it in the silence of the soul, and the pure adhesion of the will without any actings of the understanding that we inquire into. And I say, whatever else there may be herein, yet it hath not the nature of prayer, nor is to be so esteemed, though under that name and notion it be recommended unto us. Prayer is a natural duty, the notion and understanding whereof is common unto all mankind. And the concurrent voice of nature deceiveth not. Whatever, therefore, is not compliant therewith, at least what is contradictory unto it, or inconsistent with it, is not to be esteemed prayer. Now in the common sense of mankind, this duty is that acting of the mind and soul, wherein, from an acknowledgment of the sovereign being, self-sufficiency, rule, and dominion of God, with his infinite goodness, wisdom, power, righteousness, and omniscience, and omnipresence, with a sense of their own
universal dependance on him, his will and pleasure, as to their beings, lives, happiness, and all their concernments, they address their desires with faith and trust unto him, according as their state and condition doth require; or ascribe praise and glory unto him for what he is in himself, and what he is to them. This is the general notion of prayer, which the reason of mankind centres in; neither can any man conceive of it under any other notion whatever. The gospel directs the performance of this duty in an acceptable manner with respect unto the mediation of Christ, the aids of the Holy Ghost, and the revelation of the spiritual mercies we all do desire; but it changeth nothing in the general nature of it. It doth not introduce a duty of another kind, and call it by the name of that which was known in the light of nature, but is quite another thing. But this general nature of prayer all men universally understand well enough, in whom the first innate principles of natural light are not extinguished or wofully depraved. This may be done among some by a long traditional course of an atheistical and brutish conversation. But as large and extensive as are the convictions of men concerning the being and existence of God, so are their apprehensions of the nature of this duty. For the first actings of nature towards a Divine Being, are in invocation. Jonah's mariners knew how, every one to call on his God, when they were in a storm. And where there is not trust or affiance in God acted, whereby men glorify him as God, and where desires or praises are not offered unto him, neither of which can be without express acts of the mind or understanding, there is no prayer, whatever else there may be. Wherefore, this contemplative devotion, wherein, as it is pretended, the soul is ecstasied into an advance of the will and affections above all the actings of the mind or understanding, hath no one property of prayer, as the nature of it is manifest in the light of nature and common agreement of mankind. Prayer without an actual acknowledgment of God in all his holy excellencies, and the actings of faith in fear, love, confidence, and gratitude, is a monster in nature, or a by-blow of imagination, which hath no existence in rerum natura. These persons, therefore, had best find out some other name wherewith to impose this kind of devotion upon our admiration ; for from the whole precincts of prayer or invocation on the name of God, it is utterly excluded : and what place it may have in any other part of the worship of God, we shall immediately inquire.
But this examination of it by the light of nature will be looked on as most absurd and impertinent, For if we must try all matters of spiritual communion with God, and that in those things which wholly depend on divine supernatural revelation by this rule and standard, our measures of them will be false and perverse. And, I say, no doubt they would. Wherefore, we call only that concern of it unto a trial hereby, whose true notion is confessedly fixed in the light of nature. Without extending that line beyond its due bounds, we may by it, take a just measure of what is prayer, and what is not; for therein it cannot deceive nor be deceived: and this is all which at present we engage about. And in the pursuit of the same inquiry we may bring it also unto the Scripture, from which we shall find it as foreign as from the light of nature. For as it is described, so far as any thing intelligible may be from thence collected, it exceeds or deviates from whatever is said in the Scripture concerning prayer, even in those places where the grace and privileges of it are most emphatically expressed; and as it is exemplified in the prayers of the Lord Christ himself, and all the saints recorded therein. Wherefore, the light of nature and the Scripture, do, by common consent, exclude it from being prayer in any kind. Prayer, in the Seripture representation of it, is the soul's access and approach unto God by Jesus Christ through the aids of his Holy Spirit, to make known its requests unto him with supplication and thanksgiving. And that whereon it is recommended unto us are its external adjuncts, and its internal grace and efficacy. Of the first sort, earnestness, fervency, importunity, constancy, and perseverance, are the principal. No man can attend unto these or any of them in a way of duty, but in the exercise of his mind and understanding. Without this, whatever looks like any of them, is brutish fury or obstinacy.
And as unto the internal form of it, in that description which is given us of its nature in the Scripture, it consists in the especial exercise of faith, love, delight, fear, all the graces of the Spirit as occasion doth require. And in that exercise of these graces wherein the life and being of prayer
doth consist, a continual regard is to be had unto the mediation of Christ, and the free promises of God, through which means he exhibits himself unto us as a God hearing prayer. These things are both plainly and frequently mentioned in the Scripture, as they are all of them exemplified in the prayers of those holy persons which are recorded therein. But for this contemplative prayer, as it is described by our author and others, there is neither precept for it, nor direction about it, nor motive unto it, nor example of it, in the whole Scripture. And it cannot but seem marvellous, to some at least, that whereas this duty and all its concernments are more insisted on therein, than any other Christian duty or privilege whatever, that the height and excellency of it, and that in comparison whereof all other kinds of prayer, all the actings of the mind and soul in them are decried, should not obtain the least intimation therein.
For if we should take a view of all the particular places wherein the nature and excellency of this duty are described, with the grace and privilege wherewith it is accompanied, such as for instance, Eph. vi. 18. Phil. iv. 6. Heb. iv. 16. x. 19–22. there is nothing that is consistent with this contemplative prayer. Neither is there in the prayers of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of his apostles, nor of any holy men from the beginning of the world, either for themselves or the whole church, any thing that gives the least countenance unto it. Nor can any 'man declare, what is, or can be, the work of the Holy Spirit therein, as he is a Spirit of grace and supplication; nor is any gift of his mentioned in the Scripture, capable of the least exercise therein; so that in no sense it can be that 'praying in the Holy Ghost which is rescribed unto us. There is, therefore, no example proosed unto our imitation, no mark set before us, nor any irection given for the attaining of this pretended excellency nd perfection. Whatever is fancied or spoken concerning it, it is utterly foreign to the Scripture, and must owe itself unto the deluded imagination of some few persons. Resides, the Scripture doth not propose unto us any
kind of access unto. God under the New Testament, ay nearer approaches unto him, than what we have in irough the mediation of Christ and by faith in him : n this pretence there seems to be such an immediate