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object of prayer, keep themselves under a real or supposed disability in this matter. But whereas prayer in this sort of persons is an effect of common illumination and grace, which are also from the Spirit of God, if persons do really and sincerely endeavour a due sense of what they pray for and about, he will not be wanting to help them to express themselves so far as is necessary for them, either privately or in their families. But those who will never enter the water but with flags or bladders under them, will scarce ever learn to swim. And it cannot be denied, but that the constant and unvaried use of set forms of prayer may become a great occasion of quenching the Spirit, and hindering all progress or growth in gifts or graces. When every one hath done what he can, it is his best, and will be accepted of him, it being according unto what he hath, before that which is none of his.
The duty of external prayer, by virtue of a spiritual gift,
explained and vindicated. What we have hitherto discoursed concerning the work of the spirit of grace and supplication enabling believers to pray, or to cry, “ Abba Father,' belongeth principally unto the internal spiritual nature of the duty, and the exercise of grace therein, wherein we have occasionally only diverted unto the consideration of the interest of words; and the use of set forms, either freely or imposed. And, indeed, what hath been evinced from Scripture testimony herein, doth upon the matter render all farther dispute about these things needless. For if the things mentioned be required unto all'acceptable prayer, and if they are truly effected in the minds of all believers by the Holy Ghost, it is evident how little use there remains of such pretended aids.
But moreover, prayer falleth under another consideration, namely, as to its external performance, and as the duty is discharged by any one in lesser or greater societies, wherein upon his words and expressions do depend their conjunction with him, their communion in the duty, and consequently their edification in the whole. This is the
will of God, that in assemblies of his appointment, as churches and families, and occasional meetings of two or three or more in the name of Christ, one should pray,
in the name of himself and the rest that join with him. Thus are ministers enabled to pray in church-assemblies, as other Christians in occasional meetings of the disciples of Christ in his name ; parents in their families; and in secret, every believer for himself.
There is a spiritual ability given unto men by the Holy Ghost, whereby they are enabled to express the matter of prayer as taught and revealed in the manner before described, in words fitted and suited to lead on their own minds and the minds of others unto a holy communion in the duty, to the honour of God, and their own edification. I do not confine the use of this ability unto assemblies; every one may, and usually is to make use of it according to the measure which he hath received for himself also. For if a man have not an ability to pray for himself in private and alone, he can have none to pray in public and societies. Wherefore take prayer as vocal, without which adjunct it is not complete, and this. ability belongs to the nature and essence of it. And this also is from the Spirit of God.
This is that which meets with such contradiction and opposition from many, and which hath other things set up in competition with it, yea, to the exclusion of it, even from families and closets also. What they are, we shall afterward examine. And judged it is by some, not only to be separable from the work of the Spirit of prayer, but no way to belong thereunto. A fruit they say it is of wit, fancy, memory, elocution, volubility, and readiness of speech, namely, in them in whom on other accounts they will acknowledge none of these things to be, at least in no considerable degree. Some while since, indeed, they defended themselves against any esteem of this ability, by crying out, that all those who thus prayed by the Spirit, as they call it, did but babble and talk nonsense. But those who have
any sobriety and modesty, are convinced, that the generality of those who do pray according to the ability received, do use words of truth and soberness in the exercise thereof. And it is but a sorry relief that any can find in cavilling at some expressions, which perhaps good and wholesome in them
selves, yet suit not their palates ; or if they are such as may seem to miss of due order and decency, yet is not their failure to be compared with the extravagances (considering the nature of the duty) of some in supposed quaint and elegant expressions used in this duty, But herein they betake themselves unto this countenance, that this ability is the effect of the natural endowments before mentioned only, which they think to be set off by a boldness and confidence, but a little beneath an intolerable impudence. Thus it seems is it with all who desire to pray as God enables them, that is, according to his mind and will, if any thing in the light of nature, the common voice of mankind, examples of Scripture, express testimonies and commands, are able to declare what is so. I shall, therefore, make way unto the declaration and confirmation of the truth asserted, by the ensuing observations.
1. Every man is to pray or call upon God according as he is able, with respect unto his own condition, relations, occasions, and duties. Certainly there is not a man in the world who hath not forfeited all his reason and understanding unto Atheism, or utterly buried all their operations under the fury of brutish affections, but he is convinced that it is his duty to pray to the deity he owns, in words of his own, as well as he is able. For this, and none other, is the genuine and natural notion of prayer. This is implanted in the heart of mankind, which they need not be taught, nor directed unto. The artificial help of constant forms is an arbitrary invention. And I would hope that there are but few in the world, especially of those who are called Christians, but that at one time or other they do so pray. And those who for the most part do betake themselves to other reliefs (as unto the reading of prayers composed unto some good end and purpose, though not absolutely to their occasions, as to the present state of their minds, and the things they would pray for, which is absolutely impossible), cannot, as I conceive, but sometimes be conscious to themselves, not only of the weakness of what they do, but of their neg. lect of the duty which they profess to perform. And as for such who, by the prevalency of ignorance, the power of prejudice, and infatuation of superstition, are diverted from the dictates of nature and light of Scripture directions to say a
pater-noster,' it may be an'ave' or a.credo' for their prayer, intending it for this or that end, the benefit it may be of this or that person, or the obtaining of what is no way mentioned or included in what they utter; there is nothing of prayer in it, but a mere taking the name of God in vain, with the horrible profanation of a holy ordinance.
Persons tied up unto such rules and forms never pray in their lives, but in their occasional ejaculations, which break from them almost by surprisal. And there hath not been any one more effectual means of bringing unholiness with an ungodly course of conversation into the Christian world, than this one of teaching men to satisfy themselves in this duty by their saying, reading, or repetition of the words of other men, which it may be they understand not, and certainly are not in a due manner affected withal. For it is this duty, whereby our whole course is principally influenced. And let men say what they will, our conversation in walking before God, which principally regards the frame and disposition of our hearts, is influenced and regulated by our attendance unto, and performance of, this duty. He whose prayers are hypocritical is an hypocrite in his whole course; and he who is but negligent in them, is equally negligent in all other duties. Now whereas our whole obedience unto God ought to be our reasonable service, Rom, xii. 1. how can it be expected that it should be so, when the foundation of it is laid in such an irrational supposition, that men should not pray themselves what they are able, but read the forms of others instead thereof, which they do not understand ?
2. All the examples we have in the Scripture of the prayers of the holy men of old, either under the Old Testament or the New, were all of them the effects of their own ability in expressing the gracious conceptions of their minds, wrought in them by the Holy Ghost in the way and manner before described.. I call it their own ability, in opposition to all outward aids and assistances from others, or an antecedaneous prescription of a form of words unto themselves. Not one instance can be given to the contrary. Sometimes, it is said, they'spread forth their hands, sometimes that they'lifted up their voices,' sometimes that they fell upon their knees and cried,' sometimes that they poured out their hearts’when
overwhelmed; all according unto present occasions and circumstances. The solemn benediction of the priests instituted of God, like the present forms in the administration of the sacraments, were of another consideration, as shall be shewed. And as for those who by immediate inspiration gave out and wrote discourses in the form of prayers, which were in part mystical, and in part prophetical, we have before given an account concerning them. Some plead, indeed, that the church of the Jews under the second temple had sundry forms of
prayers in use among them, even at the time when our Saviour was conversant in the temple and their synagogues. But they pretend and plead what they cannot prove ; and I challenge any learned man to give but a tolerable evidence unto the assertion. For what is found to that purpose among the Talmudists, is mixed with such ridiculous fables (as the first, suiting the number of their prayers to the number of the bones in the back of a man), as fully defeats its own evidence.
3. The commands which are given us to pray thus according unto our own abilities, are no more nor less than all the commands we have in the Scripture to pray at all. Not one of them hath any regard or respect unto outward forms, aids, or helps of prayer. And the manner of prayer itself is so described, limited, and determined, as that no other kind of prayer can be intended. For whereas we are commanded to pray in the Spirit,' to pray earnestly and fervently, with “the mind and understanding, continually with all manner of prayer and supplication,' to 'make our requests known unto God,' so as not to take care ourselves about our present concerns, toʻpour out our hearts unto God,'to cry, 'Abba, Father, by the Spirit, and the like; I do not understand how those things are suited unto any kind of prayer, but only that which is from the ability which men have received for the entire discharge of that duty. For there are evidently intimated in these precepts and directions, such various occasional workings of our minds and spirits, such actings of gracious affections, as will not comply with a constant use of a prescribed form of words.
4. When we speak of men's own ability in this matter, we include therein the conscientious, diligent use of all means which God hath appointed for the communication of this