Old Wisdom

Praying with the Spirit – Application

Julie / August 31, 2014

by John Bunyan, modernized; scripture quotations from HCSB

1. What it is to pray.
2. What it is to pray with the Spirit.
3. What it is to pray with the Spirit and with the understanding.
4.  Use and application

Now, with a word or two of application, we will conclude with, first, a word of information; second, a word of encouragement; and third, a word of rebuke.

A word of information.

For the first to inform you; as prayer is the duty of every one of the children of God, and carried on by the Spirit of Christ in the soul; so every one who offers to take up the task of praying to the Lord must be very wary, and go about that work especially with the dread of God, as well as with hopes of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

Prayer is an ordinance of God, in which a man draws very near to God, and therefore it calls for so much more of the assistance of the grace of God to help a soul to pray as is needed for one that is in the presence of him. It is a shame for a man to behave himself irreverently before a king, but a sin to do so before God. And as a king, if wise, is not pleased with an oration made up with unseemly words and gestures, so God takes no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools (Eccl 5:1, 4). It is not long discourses, nor eloquent tongues which are the things that are pleasing in the ears of the Lord—but a humble, broken, and contrite heart is that which is sweet in the nostrils of the heavenly Majesty (Psa 51:17; Isa 57:15).

Therefore, for information, know that there are these five things that are obstructions to prayer, and even make void the requests of the creature:

1. When men regard sin in their hearts, at the time of their prayers before God. “If I had been aware of malice in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psa 66:18). When there is a secret love for a sin, though your misleading lips pray for strength against it, your heart may be tempted even in prayer.  For this is the wickedness of man’s heart, that it will even love, and hold fast, that which with the mouth it prays against—these are they that honour God with their mouth, but their heart is far from him (Isa 29:13; Eze 33:31). Oh, how ugly would it be in our eyes to see a beggar ask for money so that he could throw it to dogs!  Or that he should say with one breath, “give me this!” and with the next, “Please, don’t give it to me!”  Yet this is how it is with these kind of people; with their mouth they say, “Your will be done,” and with their hearts no thought is further.  With their mouth they say, “Holy be your name!” and with their hearts and lives they love to dishonor God all day long.  These are the prayers that become sin (Psa 109:7), and though they may be prayed often, the Lord will never answer them (II Sam 22:42).

2. When men pray for a show to be heard, to be thought to be somebody in religion, and the like; these prayers also fall far short of God’s approval, and are never likely to be answered, with regard to eternal life. There are two sorts of men that pray to this end:

(1.) Your greedy clergymen, who thrust themselves into wealthy families, pretending the worship of God, when in truth the great business is their own bellies; great examples of which were Ahab’s prophets, and also Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men, who, though they pretended great devotion, yet their lusts and their bellies were the great things aimed at by them in all their pieces of devotion.

(2.) Them also that seek fame and applause for their eloquent terms, and seek more to tickle the ears and heads of their hearers than anything else. These are those who pray to be heard of men, and have all their reward already (Matt 6:5).  They may be discovered by these things: (a.) They only take care to the sound of their expressions. (b.) They look for praise when they are finished. (c.) Their hearts either rise or fall according to their praise or promotion. (d.) The length of their prayer pleases them; and they repeat things over and over so that it will be long (Matt 6:7). They study for advancements, but don’t look at the heart from which they come; they look for returns, but all they have is the windy applause of men. And so, they do not love to be in private, but prefer to be among others: and if at any time conscience thrusts them into private, yet hypocrisy will cause them to be heard in the streets; and when their mouths have finished moving, their prayers are ended; for they wait not to listen what the Lord will say (Psa 85:8).

3. A third sort of prayer that will not be accepted of God, it is, when either they pray for wrong things, or if for right things, so that they may be spent upon their desires, and given for wrong purposes. Some have not, because they ask not, says James, and others ask and have not, because they ask amiss, that they may spend it on their passions (James 4: 2-4). Ends contrary to God’s will is a great argument with God to frustrate the requests presented before him. This is why so many people pray for this and that, and yet don’t receive it. God answers them only with silence; they have their words for their labor; and that is all.  You may object that God does hear some persons, although their hearts are not right with him, as he did Israel, in giving quails, though they spent them upon their desires (Psa 106:14).  Yet, even if God does, it is given in judgment, not in mercy. He indeed gave them their desire, it would have been better if they had been without it, for he “sent leanness into their soul” (Psa 106:15). Woe be to that man that God answers this way!

4. Another sort of prayers there are that are not answered; and those are such as are made by men who are not in the Lord Jesus, but who present to God in their own persons only. For though God has given prayer, and promised to hear the prayer of the creature, yet he has not promised to hear the prayer of any creature that approaches not in Christ. “If you shall ask anything in my name.” And whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 3:17). “If you ask anything in my name,” etc., (John 14:13, 14).  Even if you are never so devout, zealous, earnest and constant in prayer, it is still in Christ only that you must be heard and accepted. But, alas! The majority of people don’t know what it is to come to him in the name of the Lord Jesus—which is the reason they either live wicked, pray wicked, and also die wicked. Or else, that they reach nothing else but what a mere natural man may attain, to be exact in word and deed among men, and to appear before God with still only the righteousness of man.

5. The last thing that hinders prayer is, the form of it without the power. It is an easy thing for men to be very eager for such things as forms of prayer, as they are written in a book; but yet they are altogether forgetful to inquire with themselves, whether they have the spirit and power of prayer. These men are like a painted man, and their prayers like a false voice. They in person appear as hypocrites, and their prayers are an abomination (Prov 28:9). When they say they have been pouring out their souls to God, He says they have been howling like dogs (Hosea 7:14).

When, therefore, you wish, or have a mind to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth, consider these following particulars: Consider seriously what you want. Do not, as many who in their words only beat the air, and ask for such things as they don’t actually desire, or even see that they need.  Second, when you see what you want, keep to that, and be careful to pray sensibly.

Objection: But I have an awareness of nothing, so, by your argument, I must not pray at all.

Answer. 1. If you find yourself unaware in some sad measure, yet you cannot complain of that lack of awareness, but by being aware there is a lack. According to what awareness you have, then, that you have the need of anything, pray for that; (Luke 8:9)—so if you are aware of your lack of awareness, pray that the Lord would make you aware of whatever your heart is unaware of. This was the usual practice of the holy men of God. “Lord, reveal to me the end of my life,” said David (Psa 39:4). “What does this parable mean,” said the disciples (Luke 8:9). And to this is given the promise, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know,” that you are not aware of (Jer 33:3).

But, also—be careful that your heart goes to God as well as your mouth.
Don’t allow your mouth to go further than your heart will be drawn along with it.  David would lift his heart and soul to the Lord; and good reason; for so far as a man’s mouth goes along without his heart, it is but lip-service only; and though God calls for, and accepts, the calves of the lips, yet the lips without the heart argues, not only for unawareness, but for our being without a sense of our lack of awareness, and therefore if you have a mind to grow in prayer before God, see that you pray with your heart!

Lastly, be careful of emotional, highfalutin expressions, which please yourself with the use of them, lest you forget the life of prayer.

I shall conclude this section with a caution or two.  First, be careful that you don’t throw off prayer, through sudden convictions that you don’t have the Spirit, nor pray by the Spirit.  It is the great work of the Devil to do his best—or rather, worst—against the best prayers.  He will flatter your false pretentious hypocrites, and feed them with a thousand fancies of doing well, though even their duties of prayer, and everything else, stink in the nostrils of God.  But when he stands at a poor Joshua’s hand to resist him—that is, to persuade him!—that neither his person nor his actions are accepted of God (Isa 65:5; Zech 3:1). Be careful, then, of such false conclusions and groundless discouragements; and though such persuasions encroach upon your spirit, react by being so far from discouraged by them, that you instead use them to turn you to further sincerity and restlessness of spirit, as you approach God.

The second caution is this: as such sudden temptations should not stop you from prayer, and from pouring out your soul to God, neither should your own heart’s corruptions hinder you. (Let not your failures stop your prayers). It may be you will find in yourself all those things before mentioned, and that they will be attempting to bring themselves forth in your prayers to God. Your business is to judge them, to pray against them, and to lay yourself so much more at the foot of God, in a sense of your own vileness, and instead, make an argument from your vileness and corruption of heart, that you may plead with God for justifying and sanctifying grace, than that you will pray to God of discouragement and despair. David went this way. “Because of Your name, Yahweh,” he said, “forgive my sin, for it is great” (Psa 25:11).

A word of encouragement.

And therefore, secondly, to speak a word by way of encouragement, to the poor, tempted, and cast down soul, to pray to God through Christ. Though all prayer that is accepted of God in reference to eternal life must be in the Spirit–for that only makes intercession for us according to the will of God, (Rom 8:27)–yet because many poor souls may have the Holy Spirit working on them, and stirring of them to groan unto the Lord for mercy, although through unbelief they do not, indeed, cannot believe that they are the people of God, in whom He delights; yet forasmuch as the truth of grace may be in them, I have some more particulars to say, for their encouragement.

persistence is effective.

That scripture in Luke 11:8 is very encouraging to any poor soul that hungers after Christ Jesus. In verses 5-7, he tells a parable of a man that went to his friend to borrow three loaves, who, because he was in bed, denied him; yet when the man was persistent, the friend did arise and give him, clearly signifying that although poor souls, through the weakness of their faith, cannot see that they are the friends of God, yet they should never leave asking, seeking, and knocking at God’s door for mercy. Mark, says Christ, “I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” Poor heart! You cry out that God won’t regard you, you aren’t a friend to him, but rather an enemy in your heart by wicked works (Col 1:21). It is as if you heard the Lord saying to you, “Don’t trouble me, I can’t give you anything,” as the man in the parable—yet, I say, continue knocking, crying, moaning, and wailing! I tell you, “though he won’t get up and give you anything because you are his friend, yet because of your persistence, he will get up and give you as much as you need!” The same thing occurs in Luke 18, in the parable of the unjust judge and the poor widow; her persistence prevailed with him. Indeed, my own experience tells me, that there is nothing more effective with God than persistence. Isn’t this what happens when beggars come to your door? Though you have no heart to give them anything at first, yet if they follow you, bemoaning themselves, and refuse to take no for an answer, you will give them what they ask; for their continual begging overcomes you. Are there depths in you that are wicked, and will they be worked upon by a persistent beggar? Go and do likewise. It is an effective motive, and proven by good experience, that he will arise and give you as much as you need (Luke 11:8).

God sits on a mercy-seat.

Another encouragement for a poor trembling convinced soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). “The mercy-seat” (Exo 25:22). Which is a sign that in the days of the gospel God has taken up his seat, his abiding-place, in mercy and forgiveness; and from there he does intend to hear the sinner, and to commune with him, as he says (Exo 25:22),–speaking before of the mercy-seat–”I will meet with you there,” mark, it is upon the mercy-seat: “There I will speak with you, and” there “I will meet with you, from above the mercy-seat.” Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and his attitude towards them: and suddenly to conclude that God will have no regard for them, when yet he is upon the mercy-seat, and has taken up his place on purpose there, to the end he may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures. If he had said, I will speak with you from my throne of judgment, then indeed you might have trembled and fled from the face of the great and glorious Majesty. But when he says he will hear and speak with souls upon the throne of grace, or from the mercy-seat, this should encourage you, and cause you to hope, no, to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” (Heb 4:16).

Beside the mercy seat is Christ.

There is yet another encouragement to continue in prayer with God: and that is this: as there is a mercy-seat, from which God is willing to speak with poor sinners; so there is also by his mercy-seat, Jesus Christ, who continually sprinkles it with his blood. Thus it is called “the blood of sprinkling” (Heb 12:24). When the high-priest under the law was to go into the holy of holies, where the mercy-seat was, he might not go in “without blood” (Heb 9:7).

Why so? Because, although God was upon the mercy-seat, yet he was perfectly just as well as merciful. Now the blood was to stop justice from running out upon the persons involved in the intercession of the high-priest, as in Leviticus 16:13-17, to signify that all your unworthiness that you fear should not hinder you from coming to God in Christ for mercy. You cry out that you are vile, and therefore God will not regard your prayers; it is true, if you delight in your vileness, and come to God out of a mere pretence. But if from a sense of your vileness you do pour out your heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt, and cleansed from the filth, with all your heart; don’t worry, your vilness will not cause the Lord to stop his ear from hearing you! The value of the blood of Christ which is sprinkled upon the mercy-seat stops the course of justice, and opens a floodgate for the mercy of the Lord to be extended unto you. You have, therefore, as we have said, “boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus,” which has made “a new and living way” for you, you shall not die (Heb 10:19, 20).

Besides, Jesus is there, not only to sprinkle the mercy-seat with his blood, but he speaks, and his blood speaks; he has God’s ear, and his blood has God’s ear; insomuch that God says, when he merely sees the blood, he “will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you,” (Exo 12:13).

I shall not detain you any longer. Be sober and humble; go to the Father in the name of the Son, and tell him your case, in the assistance of the Spirit, and you will then feel the benefit of praying with the Spirit and with the understanding also.

A word of reproof.

1. To those who never pray.

This speaks sadly to you who never pray at all. “I will pray,” says the apostle, and so says the heart of those who are Christians. Then you are not a Christian who are not a praying person. The promise is that every one who is righteous will pray (Psa 32:6). You, then, are a a wicked wretch that prays not. Jacob got the name of Israel by wrestling with God (Gen 32). And all his children bore that name with him (Gal 6:16). But the people that forget prayer, that do not call on the name of the Lord, they have prayers made for them, but it is prayers like this, “Pour out Your wrath on the nations,” O Lord, “and on the families that don’t call on Your name,” (Jer 10:25). How do you like this, oh you that are so far off from pouring out your heart before God, that you go to bed like a dog, and rise like a hog, or a sot, and forget to call upon God? What will you do when you are damned in hell, because you could not find in your heart to ask for heaven? Who will grieve for your sorrow, that did not count mercy worth asking for? I tell you, the ravens, the dogs, and all, shall rise up in judgment against you, for they will, according to their kind, make signs, and a noise for something to refresh them when they want it; but you have not the heart to ask for heaven, though you must eternally perish in hell, if you don’t have it!

2. To those who blaspheme the Spirit.

This rebukes you that make it your business to slight, mock at, and undervalue the Spirit, and praying in that way. What will you do, when God shall come to account for these things? You consider it high treason to speak but a single word against the king—no, you tremble at the thought of it—and yet, in the meantime, you will blaspheme the Spirit of the Lord!  Is God indeed to be dallied with, and will the end be pleasant for you? Did God send his Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people, to that end that you should taunt it? Is this to serve God? And does this demonstrate the reformation of your church? No, it is the mark of implacable reprobates. Oh fearful! Can you not be content to be damned for your sins against the law, but you must sin also against the Holy Spirit?

Must the holy, harmless, and undefiled Spirit of grace, the nature of God, the promise of Christ, the Comforter of his children, that without which no man can do any service acceptable to the Father—must this, I say, be the theme of your song, to taunt, deride, and mock? If God sent Korah and his company headlong to hell for speaking against Moses and Aaron, do you that mock the Spirit of Christ think to escape unpunished? (Num 16; Heb 10:29). Did you never read what God did to Ananias and Sapphira for telling but one lie against the Spirit? (Acts 5:1-8). Also to Simon Magus for merely undervaluing it? (Acts 8:18-22). And will your sin be a virtue, or go unrewarded with vengeance, that makes it your business to rage against, and oppose the Spirit’s office, service, and help, that it gives to the children of God? It is a fearful thing to spite the Spirit of grace (Compare Matt 12:31, with Mark 3:28-30).

3. To those who pray by man’s form.

As this is the doom of those who openly blaspheme the Holy Spirit, in a way of disdain and reproach to its office and service: so it is also sad for you, who resist the Spirit of prayer, by a form of man’s inventing. A very juggle of the devil—that the traditions of men should be of better esteem, and more to be owned than the Spirit of prayer!  How is this any less than that accursed abomination of Jeroboam, which kept many from going to Jerusalem, the place and way of God’s appointment to worship; and by that means brought such displeasure from God upon them, as to this day is not appeased? (I Kings 12:26-33). One would think that God’s judgments of old upon the hypocrites of that day should make them that have heard of such things take heed and fear to do so. Yet the theologians of our day are so distant from taking warning by the punishment of others that they desperately rush into the same transgression—that is, to set up an institution of man, neither commanded nor commended of God; and whoever will not obey it, they must be driven either out of the land or the world.

Has God required these things at your hands? If he has, show us where? If not, as I am sure he hasn’t, then what cursed presumption is it in any pope, bishop, or anyone else, to command that in the worship of God which he has not required? Further, it is not that part merely of the form itself, which is several texts of Scripture that we are commanded to say, but even all must be confessed as the divine worship of God, despite those absurdities contained in the forms, which because they have been well discussed by others, I won’t rehearse. Again, though a man be willing to live entirely peaceably—yet, because he cannot, for conscience sake, own forms to be one of the most eminent parts of God’s worship, although he never commanded them—therefore, that man must be looked upon as factious, seditious, erroneous, heretical; a disparagement to the church, a seducer of the people, and what not? Lord, what will be the fruit of these things, when for the doctrine of God there is imposed, i.e., more than merely taught, the traditions of men? Thus is the Spirit of prayer abandoned, and the form imposed; the Spirit humbled, and the form exalted; they that pray with the Spirit, though humble and holy, counted fanatics; and they that pray with the form, though with mere words, counted virtuous! And how will the favorers of such a practice answer that Scripture, which commands that the church should turn away from such as have “the form of godliness but denying its power”? (II Tim 3:5). And if I should say that men that do these things, do advance a form of prayer of other men’s making, above the spirit of prayer, it would not take long time to prove it. For he that puts the book of Common Prayer above the Spirit of prayer, advances a form of men’s making above the Spirit. But is what all those do who banish, or desire to banish, those that pray with the Spirit of prayer; while they hug and embrace those that pray by that form only, because they pray by that form. Therefore they love and advance the form of their own or others’ inventing, before the Spirit of prayer, which is God’s special and gracious appointment.

If you desire the clearing of the minor, look into the jails in England, and into the alehouses of the same; and you will find those that plead for the Spirit of prayer in the jail, and those that look after the form of men’s inventions only in the alehouse. It is evident by the silencing of God’s dear ministers, though never so powerfully enabled by the Spirit of prayer, if they in conscience cannot accept that form of Common Prayer. If this is not exalting the Common Prayer Book above either praying by the Spirit, or preaching the Word, I have missed my mark. It is not pleasant for me to dwell on this. The Lord in mercy turn the hearts of the people to seek more after the Spirit of prayer; and in the strength of that, to pour out their souls before the Lord. Only let me say it is a sad sign, that the thing which is one of the most eminent parts of the pretended worship of God is Antichristian, when it has nothing except the tradition of men, and the strength of persecution, to uphold and plead for it.


I shall conclude this discourse with this word of advice to all God’s people:

  1. Believe that, as surely as you are in God’s way, you will meet with temptations.
  2. The first day, therefore, that you enter into Christ’s congregation, look for temptations.
  3. When they do come, beg God to carry you through them.
  4. Be jealous of your own heart, that it doesn’t deceive you in your evidences for heaven, nor in your walking with god in this world.
  5. Be careful of the flattery of false brothers.
  6. Keep in the life and power of truth.
  7. Look most at the things which are unseen.
  8. Be careful of little sins.
  9. Keep the promise warm upon your heart.
  10. Renew your acts of faith in the blood of Christ.
  11. Consider the work of your generation.
  12. Aim to run with the forerunners of your generation.

Grace be with you.

Study Notes

The Tree and the Storeroom

Julie / August 29, 2014

Luke 6 concludes with Jesus reinforcing this idea of those whose blessings depend on heaven, and those whose blessings are built on earth.

He begins by talking about trees.  “Each tree is known by its own fruit,” Jesus says; good trees give good fruit, bad trees give bad fruit.  Fig trees grow figs.  Thornbushes grow thorns.  Grapevines grow grapes.  Everything produces according to its kind, just like God told them to in Genesis 1:24.

Then Jesus takes it up a notch: He’s not talking about trees, but about people.  “A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (v. 45, hcsb).  Solomon said this in Proverbs 4:23.  Jesus says it a few more times in Matthew—adding, in Matthew 12:34, “how can you who are evil say anything good?”  Here in Luke He asks “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?”  Our mouths can lie, but our actions—they’re the fruit of the tree.

It’s really quite sobering to think of our hearts as being a storeroom for evil or good.  In an ultimate sense, of course, our hearts are redeemed, and Jesus seems to be talking in that absolute sense here—yet, as Solomon tells us to watch over your heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23) and Deuteronomy 4:9 says “be careful and watch yourselves closely”, and Solom says again in Proverbs 23:19 to “set your heart on the right path”, and, many other verses—take heed, be vigilant, be careful, be watchful.  Preserve our hearts because out of them flow our actions.

Jesus tells us this, as well.  Who is the man with the storeroom of good?  “I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them…” (v 47, hcsb).  So here we see the actions the fake followers Jesus addresses lack: this man 1) comes to Christ, 2) hears Christ, and 3) acts on what Christ says.

And why?  Because when he was building his house, he “dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.”  This is full-circle, back to the idea of treasures in heaven.  The man stands because he is built on something solid, not something shifty and insecure.  Just like the blessed in the beatitudes, his fulfillment is safe in eternity; his life is built on Christ, and Christ will not fall.

But for the one whose house is not built on Christ, “the destruction of that house is great!” (hcsb, v 49)  The world is passing, and the treasures of it will fade in but a moment, and destruction awaits.

So, we must build our houses, our heart-storerooms, our tree—on the Foundation that will not fail—taking care to rest each brick on it, before the river of God comes and washes away everything without such divine mooring.

Study Notes

The beatitudes: where are my blessings?

Julie / August 25, 2014

Ah, the beatitudes: I’ve heard so many completely different interpretations of these scant handfuls of words.  “Blessed are the poor.”  Does this mean 1) God saves the materially poor to make up for their poverty on earth; 2) Christians should strive to be poor; or 3) even the poor are blessed?

To begin, there’s a clear juxtaposition between the beatitudes and the woes—as you can see in table format, this is v 20-23 straight down in the left column, and v. 24-26 straight down in the right column (Luke 6:20-26, hcsb):

The eternally blessed (vv 20-23)

The temporally blessed (vv 24-26)

You who are poor are blessed, But woe to you who are rich,
because the kingdom of God is yours.   for you have received your comfort.
You who are now hungry are blessed, Woe to you who are now full,
because you will be filled. for you will be hungry.
You who now weep are blessed, Woe to you who are now laughing,
because you will laugh. for you will mourn and weep.
You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Woe to you when all people speak well of you,
 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven,  
for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets. for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets.

I never noticed the incredibly precise structure there—this is clearly not just a meandering off-the-cuff sermon Jesus rambled out one day.  Beyond the side-by-side parallel, there’s interwoven reversals – the hungry will be filled, but the filled will be hungry; the weepers will laugh, but the laughers will weep.

Since elsewhere in Scripture we see that it is not a sin to be rich, nor a surety to be poor (and also, hungry/full, weeping/laughing, etc.), and since Jesus explicitly connects each group of people to either true believers (the prophets) or the damned (the false prophets)—and further, since He is explicitly addressing the disciples, not the crowd at large (v. 20)—it seems to make the most sense to interpret the “blessed” as referring to believers in general, and the “woe’d” as referring to the lost.  And, at least as it’s arranged here in Luke, it seems to be primarily an encouraging message.  “If you are poor, hungry, sad, hated in this world, rejoice!”  “If you are rich, full, happy, and popular in this world, beware!” 

Particularly, Christ seems to really hit somewhat subtly on the idea that we are either dissatisfied with the world, and looking to heaven; or we are satisfied with the world, and that is where our satisfaction will remain.  Jesus is simultaneously belittling the world’s empty pleasures, while promising better ones in heaven, and warning against finding the unsatisfying (the world) satisfying.

So, it’s a nice little encouraging passage, except harder to live out!  Be happy with trouble.  Rejoice in the day men hate you!  You’re in good company with all the prophets.  And, on the other hand, beware of the treasures of the world!  Woes and bad company and damnation.

Last note, I think it’s worth noting God’s dissatisfaction, generally, with Israel in these verses about how Israel treated the prophets and the false prophets.  These verses are an inverse of how one might think they should have been—that Israel should have loved the true prophets of YHWH and persecuted the false ones, as He charged them to.  But they didn’t.

“Prone to wander,” we see in Israel, and everyone since Genesis 8:21—”man’s inclination is evil from his youth” (HCSB).  The world is broken, and we cannot conform to it—or woe!  Christ’s word is dire and serious.  Is my satisfaction the kingdom of heaven, or my comfort?

Old Wisdom

What it is to Pray with the understanding

Julie / August 23, 2014

by John Bunyan, modernized; scripture quotations from HCSB

1. What it is to pray.
2. What it is to pray with the Spirit.
3. What it is to pray with the Spirit and with the understanding.
4.  Use and application

And now to the next thing: what it is to pray with the Spirit and with the understanding also.

Paul puts a clear distinction between praying with the Spirit, and praying with the Spirit and understanding: therefore when he says, “he will pray with the Spirit,” he adds, “and I will pray with the understanding ALSO.”

This distinction was occasioned through the Corinthians not observing that it was their duty to do what they did to the edification of themselves and others too: instead, they did it for their own praise, or so I judge; for many of them having extraordinary gifts, such as speaking in diverse tongues and so on, were more concerned with those mighty gifts than they were with edifying their brothers.  This is why Paul wrote this chapter to them, to let them understand that, although extraordinary gifts were excellent, to do what they did to the edification of the church was more excellent. So Paul writes, “if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding,” and also the understanding of others, “is unfruitful” (I Cor 14:3, 4, 12, 19, 24, 25. Read the scope of the whole chapter). Therefore,  he says, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding.”

It is expedient then that the understanding should be occupied in prayer, as well as the heart and mouth: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding.” The things which are done with understanding are done more effectually, sensibly, and heartily, as I will show, than the things which are done without it.  Which is what made Paul pray for the Colossians, that God would fill them “with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” (Col 1:9).  And also for the Ephesians, that God would give unto them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph 1:17). And for the Philippians, that God would make them abound “in knowledge and every kind of discernment” (Phil 1:9). An appropriate understanding is useful in everything we attempt, whether civil or spiritual; and therefore it must be desired by all those who would be a praying people.  In my speaking to this, I shall show you what it is to pray with understanding.

“Understanding” refers both to speaking in our native language, and also to understanding experimentally. It is the latter that is addressed here: for the making of right prayers, there must be a good or spiritual understanding in all them who pray to God.

1. Understanding the want of the things which we are to pray for.

First, to pray with understanding, is to pray as being instructed by the Spirit in the understanding of the want of those things which the soul is to pray for. Although a man is never so much in need of pardon of sin and deliverance from wrath to come, yet if he doesn’t understand this, he will either not desire them at all, or else be so cold and lukewarm in his desires after them, that God will even loathe his frame of spirit in asking for such things. That it how it was with the church of the Laodiceans; they lacked knowledge or spiritual understanding—they didn’t know they were poor, wretched, blind, and naked. This is why they, and all their services, were so loathsome to Christ that he threatens to spew them out of his mouth (Rev 3:16, 17). Men without understanding may say the same words in prayer as others do, but if there is an understanding in the one, and no understanding in the other, there is—oh, there is a mighty difference in speaking the very same words! One is speaking from a spiritual understanding of those things that he desires in his words, and the other has only words, and that is all.

2. Understanding sees in God a readiness to give what we need.

Second. Spiritual understanding sees in the heart of God a readiness and willingness to give those things to the soul that it needs. David by this could guess at the very thoughts of God towards him (Psa 40:5). And also the woman of Canaan: despite the rough bearing of Christ, she did by faith and a right understanding discern tenderness and willingness in his heart to save, which caused her to be adamant and earnest, even restless, until she did laid hold of the mercy she needed (Matt 15:22-28).

And after understanding the willingness that is in the heart of God to save sinners, there is nothing that will press the soul more to seek after God, and to cry for pardon! If a man should see a pearl worth an hundred pounds lie in a ditch, but he didn’t understood not the value of it, he would lightly pass it by—but once he got knowledge about it, he would risk his very neck for it. So it is with souls regarding the things of God: if a man once gets an understanding of the worth of them, then his heart, even more, the very strength of his soul, runs after them, and he will never leave crying till he have them. The two blind men in the gospel, because they certainly knew that Jesus, who was going by, was both able and willing to heal their infirmities: therefore they cried, and the more they were rebuked, the more they cried (Matt 20:29- 31).

3. Understanding is how we discover how the soul comes to God.

Third. As the understanding is spiritually enlightened, this is how the way, as we have said, is discovered, by which the soul should come unto God—which gives great encouragement unto it.  It is different with a poor soul, as with one who has a work to do, and if it isn’t done, the danger is great.  If it is done, so is the advantage. But the poor soul knows not how to begin, nor how to proceed; and so, through discouragement, lets all alone, and runs the hazard.

4. Understanding knows what great promises we have.

Fourth. The enlightened understanding sees largeness enough in the promises to encourage it to pray; which still adds to it strength to strength.  As when men promise various things to all that will come for them, it is great encouragement to those that know what promises are made, to come and ask for them.

5. Understanding gives us appropriate arguments to use in prayer.

Fifth. Once the understanding is enlightened, the way is open for the soul to come to God with suitable arguments—sometimes in a way of expostulation, as Jacob (Gen 32:9), and sometimes in way of supplication.  Yet not in a merely verbal way, but even from the heart there is forced by the Spirit, through the understanding, the effectual arguments which move the heart of God. When Ephraim gets a right understanding of his own unseemly behavior towards the Lord, then he begins to moan of himself (Jer 31:18-20). And in his moaning, he uses such arguments with the Lord that it affects his heart, draws out forgiveness, and makes Ephraim pleasant in his eyes through Jesus Christ our Lord:

I have heard Ephraim moaning, “You disciplined me, and I have been disciplined like an untrained calf. Restore me, and I will return, for you, LORD, are my God.  After I returned, I repented; After I was instructed, I struck my thigh in grief. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.”

These are Ephraim’s complaints and bemoanings of himself; at which the Lord breaks forth into these heart-melting expressions, saying, “Isn’t Ephraim a precious son to Me, a delightful child? Whenever I speak against him, I certainly still think about him. Therefore, My inner being yearns for him; I will truly have compassion on him.” Thus, you see, that as it is required to pray with the Spirit, it is also required to pray with the understanding also.

And to illustrate what hath been spoken by a comparison: consider that there should come two beggars at your door. One is a poor, lame, wounded, and almost starved creature, the other is a healthful lusty person.  These two use the same words in their begging; the one says he is almost starved, so does the other: but yet the man that is indeed the poor, lame, or maimed person, he speaks with more sense, passion, and understanding of the misery that is mentioned in their begging than the other can do; and it is clear more by his affectionate speaking, his despairing of himself. His pain and poverty make him speak more in a spirit of lamentation than the other, and he will be pitied sooner than the other, by all those that have the least dram of natural affection or pity.

So it is with God: there are some who go out of custom and formality to pray; and there are others who go in the bitterness of their spirits. One who prays out of bare notion and naked knowledge; the other has his words ripped from him by the anguish of his soul. Surely that is the man that God will look at, “even to him that is poor,” “one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2).

6. Understanding teaches the matter and manner of prayer.

Sixth. An understanding well enlightened is of admirable use also, both as to the matter and manner of prayer. He that has his understanding well exercised, able to discern between good and evil, and in it placed a conviction either of the misery of man, or the mercy of God—that soul has no need of the writings of other men to teach him by forms of prayer. For as he that feels the pain needs not to be taught to cry out, even so he that has his understanding opened by the Spirit doesn’t need to be taught of other men’s prayers, as  if he cannot pray without them. The present sense, passion, and pressure that lies upon his spirit provokes him to groan out his request unto the Lord. When David had the pains of hell catching hold on him, and the sorrows of hell circling around him, he needs not a bishop in a robe to teach him to say, “Yahweh, save me!” (Psa 116:3, 4). And no need to look into a book, to teach him in a form to pour out his heart before God. It is the nature of the heart of sick men, in their pain and sickness, to vent itself for ease, by loud groans and complainings to all nearby. Thus it was with David, in Psalm 38:1-12. And thus, blessed be the Lord, it is with them that are endued with the grace of God.

7. Understanding teaches the duty of prayer.

Seventh. It is necessary that there be an enlightened understanding in order that the soul is kept in a continuation of the duty of prayer. The people of God are not ignorant how many wiles, tricks, and temptations the devil possesses to make a poor soul, who is truly willing to have the Lord Jesus Christ, upon Christ’s terms too—to tempt that soul to be tired of seeking the face of God, and to think that God is not willing to have mercy on such a one as him. “Yes,” Satan says, “you may pray indeed, but you will not prevail.  You see your heart is hard, cold, dull, and dread; you do not pray with the Spirit, you do not pray in earnest, your thoughts are running away after other things, while you pretend to pray to God.  Away, hypocrite, give up; it is pointless to even continue trying!”  Here, now—if the soul isn’t well informed in its understanding, it will presently cry out, “The LORD has abandoned me; The Lord has forgotten me!” (Isa 49:14). But the soul that is rightly informed and enlightened says, well, I will seek the Lord, and wait; I will not leave off, though the Lord keep silence, and speak not one word of comfort (Isa 40:27). He loved Jacob dearly, and yet he made him wrestle before he had the blessing (Gen 32:25-27). Seeming delays in God are no tokens of his displeasure; he may hide his face from his dearest saints (Isa 8:17). He loves to keep his people praying, and to find them ever knocking at the gate of heaven; it may be, says the soul, the Lord tries me, or he loves to hear me groan out my condition before him.

The woman of Canaan would not take Christ’s apparent denials for real ones; she knew the Lord was gracious, and the Lord will avenge his people, though he bear long with them (Luke 18:1- 6). The Lord has waited longer on me than I have waited upon him; and thus it was with David, “I waited patiently,” says he; that is, it was long before the Lord answered me, though at the last “he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psa 40:1). And the most excellent remedy for this is an understanding well-informed and enlightened. How unfortunate, how many poor souls are there in the world, who truly fear the Lord, yet, because they are not well informed in their understanding, are often ready to give up all for lost, almost every time they encounter a trick and temptation of Satan! The Lord pity them, and help them to “pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also!”

Much of my own experience I could add; when I have been in my fits of agony of spirit, I have been strongly persuaded to quit, and to seek the Lord no longer; but, being made to understand what great sinners the Lord has had mercy upon, and how large his promises were still to sinners; and that it was not the whole, but the sick; not the righteous, but the sinner; not the full, but the empty—that he extended his grace and mercy to! This made me, through the assistance of his Holy Spirit, to cleave to him, to hang upon him, and yet to cry, although for the present he made no answer. The Lord help all his poor, tempted, and afflicted people to do the same, and to continue, even though it be long, according to the saying of the prophet (Hab 2:3). And to help them—to that end—to pray, not by the inventions of men and their stinted forms, but “with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.”

Queries answered

And now to answer a query or two, and so to pass on to the next thing.

Q1. But what would you have us poor creatures to do that cannot tell how to pray? The Lord knows I know not either how to pray, or what to pray for.
A. Poor heart! You cannot, you complain, pray. Can you see your misery? Has God showed you that you are by nature under the curse of his law? If so, make no mistake, I know you do groan, most bitterly. I am persuaded you can scarcely be found doing anything in your calling, except prayer breaks from your heart.  Haven’t your groans gone up to heaven from every corner of your house? (Romans 8:26).  I know it is so, and so also your own sorrowful heart witnesses your tears, your forgetfullness of your calling, and everything else.  Isn’t your heart so full of desires of the things of another world, that many times you even forget the things of this world?  I beg you to read this scripture, Job 23:12:

I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily food.

Q2. Yea, but when I go into secret, and intend to pour out my soul before God, I can scarce say anything at all.
A. Ah! Sweet soul! It is not your words that God so much regards, as if he will not notice you unless you come before Him with some eloquent oration. His eye is on the brokenness of your heart; and that it is that makes the inmost being of the Lord to run over. “You will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psa 51:17).

The stopping of your words may arise from too much trouble in your heart. David was so troubled sometimes, that he could not even speak (Psa 77:3, 4). But this may comfort all such sorrowful hearts as yours, that though you cannot through the anguish of your spirit speak much, yet the Holy Spirit stirs up in your heart groans and sighs, so much the more passionate—when the mouth is hindered, yet the spirit is not. Moses made heaven ring again with his prayers, although (that we read of) not one word came out of his mouth (Exo 14:15). Neverthless…

If you would more fully express yourself before the Lord, study, 1) your filthy estate; 2) God’s promises; 3) the heart of Christ. This you may know and discern by 1) His condescension and bloodshed. 2) By the mercy He extended to great sinners before, and plead your own vileness, by way of moaning; Christ’s blood by way of expostulation; and in your prayers, let the mercy that he has extended to other great sinners, together with his rich promises of grace, be much upon your heart.

Yet let me counsel you, be careful that you do not content yourself with words, that you do not think that God looks only at them!  However, whether your words are few or many, let your heart go with them, and then you shall seek Him, and find Him, when you seek Him with your whole heart (Jer 29:13).

Objection. But though you have seemed to speak against any other way of praying but by the Spirit, yet here you yourself can give direction how to pray.
A. We ought to prompt one another forward to prayer, though we ought not to make for each other forms of prayer. To exhort to pray with Christian direction is one thing, and to make stinted forms for the tying up the Spirit of God to them is another thing. Paul gives them no form to pray, yet he directs them to pray (Eph 6:18; Rom 15:30-32). Therefore, no one can conclude that because we are permitted to give instructions and directions to pray, that therefore it is lawful to make for each other forms of prayer.

Object. But if we do not use forms of prayer, how shall we teach our children to pray?
A. I believe that men go the wrong way to teach their children to pray, by trying so soon to teach them a set form of words, as is the common use of poor creatures to do.

For to me it seems to be a better way for people often to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God’s wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, their children would learn to pray sooner than they do. The way that men learn to pray is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the alternative—to busily teach children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else—is the way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Therefore, teach your children to know their wretched state and condition.  Tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation: the way to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run down your sweet babes’ eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray; you may tell them also of God’s promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.

Ah! Poor sweet babes, may the Lord open their eyes, and make them holy Christians. David says, “Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. ” (Psa 34:11). He doesn’t say, I will muzzle you up in a form of prayer; but “I will teach you the fear of the Lord”; which is to see their sad states by nature, and to be instructed in the truth of the gospel, which, through the Spirit, begets prayer in every one that in truth learns it. And the more you teach them this, the more will their hearts run out to God in prayer. God never accounted Paul a praying man—until he was a convinced and converted man; no more will it be with any else (Acts 9:11).

Object. But we find that the disciples desired that Christ would teach them to pray, as John also taught his disciples; and that thereupon he taught them that form called the LORD’S PRAYER.
A. To be taught by Christ, is that which not only they, but we also desire; and seeing he is not here in his person to teach us, the Lord teaches us by his Word and Spirit; for the Spirit it is what he said he would send to supply in his room when he went away, as it is (John 14:16; 16:7).

As to that called a form, I cannot think that Christ intended it as a stinted form of prayer: 1) He himself recited it down in different ways, as you can see if you compare Matthew 6 and Luke 11. If he had intended it as a set form, it must not have been written down as such, for a set form is so many words and no more. 2) We do not find that the apostles ever observed it as such, nor did they admonish others so to do. Search all their epistles, yet surely they, both for knowledge to discern and faithfulness to practice, were as eminent as any man ever since in the world who might impose it.

But, in a word, Christ by those words, “Our Father…,” does give his people what rules they should observe in their prayers to God. 1) That they should pray in faith, 2) to God in the heavens, 3) for such things as are according to his will, and so on. “Pray like this,” or after this manner.

Object. But Christ bids pray for the Spirit; this implieth that men without the Spirit may notwithstanding pray and be heard. (See Luke 11:9-13).
A. The speech of Christ there is directed to his own (verse 1). Christ’s telling of them that God would give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him, should be understood of giving more of the Holy Spirit; for he is speaking to the disciples, who had a measure of the Spirit already; for he says, “when you pray, say, Our Father,” (verse 2) I say to you (verse 8). And I say to you, (verse 9) “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (verse 13). Christians ought to pray for the Spirit, that is, for more of it, though God has endued them with it already.

Quest. Then would you have none pray but those that know they are the disciples of Christ?
A. Yes.

Let every soul that would be saved pour out itself to God, though it cannot through temptation conclude itself a child of God.

I know if the grace of God be in you, it will be as natural to you to groan out your condition, as it is for a sucking child to cry for the breast. Prayer is one of the first things that reveals a man to be a Christian (Acts 9:12). But yet if it is right, it is such prayer as this: 1) to desire God in Christ, for himself, for his holiness, love, wisdom, and glory. For right prayer, as it runs only to God through Christ, so it centers in him, and in him alone. “Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth,” long for, or seek after, “but you” (Psa 73:25). 2) That the soul might enjoy continually communion with him, both here and hereafter. “But I will see Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with Your presence,” (Psa 17:15). “We groan in this body,”etc. (II Cor 5:2). 3) Right prayer is accompanied with a continual working toward the thing which is prayed for. “I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning” (Psa 130:6). “I will arise now and go about the city, through the streets and the plazas. I will seek the one I love.” (Song 3:2). Notice, I beg you: there are two things that provoke to prayer. The one is a detestation of sin, and the things of this life; the other is a longing desire after communion with God, in a holy and undefiled state and inheritance. Compare but this one thing with most of the prayers that are made by men, and you shall find them but mock prayers, and the breathings of an abominable spirit; for even the most of men either do pray at all, or else only endeavour to mock God and the world by praying; for do but compare their prayer and the course of their lives, and you may easily see that the thing which is included in their prayer is the thing least looked after by their lives. Oh, sad hypocrites!

Thus have I briefly showed you, FIRST, What prayer is; SECOND, What it is to pray with the Spirit; THIRD, What it is to pray with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.

Old Wisdom

What it is to pray with the Spirit (Part 2 of 4).

by John Bunyan, modernized with HCSB

SECOND. I will pray with the Spirit.

Now to pray with the Spirit—for that is the praying man, and none else, in order to be accepted of God—it is for a man, as we have said, sincerely and sensibly, with affection, to come to God through Christ, and so on.  That sincere, sensible, and affectionate coming must be by the working of God’s Spirit.

There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. “For through Christ we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18).  Therefore, Paul also writes, “In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:26-27). And because there is in this scripture so full a discovery of the spirit of prayer, and of man’s inability to pray without it; I shall in a few words comment upon it.

For we.” Consider first the person speaking—even Paul, and, in his person, all the apostles! We apostles, we extraordinary officers, the wise master-builders, that have some of us been caught up into paradise (Rom 15:16; I Cor 3:10; II Cor 12:4).  “We know not what we should pray for.” Surely every person must admit that Paul and his companions were as able to have done any work for God, as any pope or proud prelate in the church of Rome, and could as well have made a Common Prayer Book as those who at first composed the one in use—Paul and the Apostles being not a whit behind them either in grace or gifts.

For we know not what we should pray for.” We don’t know the matter of the things for which we should pray—neither object to whom we pray, nor the medium by or through whom we pray; we know none of these things except by the help and assistance of the Spirit. Should we pray for communion with God through Christ? Should we pray for faith, for justification by grace, and a truly sanctified heart? We don’t know! “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (I Cor 2:11). But here, alas! the apostles speak of inward and spiritual things, which the world knows not (Isa 29:11).

Again, as they don’t know the matter of prayer without the help of the Spirit; neither do they know the manner of prayer without the Spirit.  Therefore, Paul adds, “we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.” Notice—they could not so well and so fully accomplish this duty, as these in our days think they can!  The apostles, when they were at the best, yes, when the Holy Ghost assisted them, yet then they were glad to pray with sighs and groans, falling short of expressing their mind, but with sighs and groans which cannot be uttered.

But now, the wise men of our days are so well skilled that they have both the manner and matter of their prayers at their fingertips, setting such a prayer for such a day, and that twenty years before it comes! One for Christmas, another for Easter, and six days after that. They have also determined how many syllables must be said in every one of them at their public exercises. For each saint’s day, also, they have them ready for the generations yet unborn to say. They can tell you, when you shall kneel, when you shall stand, when you should stay in your seats, when you should go up into the chancel, and what you should do when you come there. All which the apostles came short of, as not being able to compose so profound a manner; and that for this reason included in this scripture, because the fear of God tied them to pray as they ought.

For we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Mark this, “as we ought.” For not considering this word, or at least not understanding it in the spirit and truth of it, has caused these men to devise, as Jeroboam did, another way of worship, both for matter and manner, than is revealed in the Word of God (I Kings 12:26-33). But, Paul says, we must pray as we ought; and this we cannot do by all the art, skill, and cunning device of men or angels.  “we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself” helps our weakness; not the Spirit plus man’s desires, what man of his own brain may imagine and devise—this is one thing, and what they are commanded and ought to do, is another thing. Many ask and have not, because they ask amiss; and so are never closer to enjoying those things they petition for (James 4:3). It is not to pray at random that will put off God, or cause him to answer. While prayer is making, God is searching the heart, to see from what root and spirit it arises (I John 5:14). “And he that searches the heart knows,” that is, approves only, the meaning “of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” For in that which is according to his will only, he hears us, and in nothing else. And it is the Spirit only that can teach us so to ask; it only being able to search out all things, even the deep things of God. Without which Spirit, though we had a thousand Common Prayer Books, yet we know not what we should pray for as we ought, being accompanied with those infirmities that make us absolutely incapable of such a work. Which infirmities—although it is a hard thing to name them all—yet following are some of them:

Without the Spirit, we cannot think right of God.

First. Without the Spirit man is so weak that—by any means—he cannot think one right saving thought of God, of Christ, or of his blessed things.  Therefore He says of the wicked, “God is not in all his thoughts,” (Psa 10:4); unless they imagine him to be one such as themselves (Psa 50:21). For “every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time,” and that “from his youth” (Gen 6:5; 8:21). If they couldn’t conceive properly of God to whom they pray, of Christ through whom they pray, nor of the things for which they pray, as we have showed—how then shall they be able to address themselves to God, and help this weakness without the Spirit? Maybe you will say, by the help of the Common Prayer Book, but that cannot do it, unless it can open the eyes, and reveal to the soul all these things before touched. And it is evident that it cannot, because that is the work of the Spirit only. The Spirit itself is the revealer of these things to poor souls, and that which enables us to understand them. Therefore Christ tells his disciples, when he promised to send the Spirit, the Comforter, “He shall take of mine and show unto you”; as if he had said, I know you are naturally dark and ignorant as to the understanding any of my things; though you try this course and that course, yet your ignorance will still remain; the veil is spread over your heart, and there is none can take it away, nor give you spiritual understanding—except the Spirit. The Common Prayer Book will not do it, neither can any man expect that it should be instrumental that way, because it is none of God’s ordinances; but was written after the Scriptures, patched together one piece at one time, and another at another; a mere human invention and institution, which God is so far from owning, that he expressly forbids it, with any other such invention, by manifold sayings in his most holy and blessed Word. (See Mark 7:7-8, and Col 2:16-23; Deut 12:30-32; Prov 30:6; Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18). For right prayer must, not only in the outward part of it, the outward expression, but also in the inward intention, it must come from what the soul understands in the light of the Spirit.  Otherwise, it is condemned as vain and an abomination, because the heart and tongue do not go along together; indeed they cannot, unless the Spirit help our infirmities (Mark 7; Prov 28:9; Isa 29:13). David knew this full well, which made him cry, “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” (Psa 51:15). It is obvious that David could speak and express himself as well as others, indeed, as well as anyone in our generation, as we see clearly in his words and his works. Nevertheless, when this good man—this prophet!—comes into God’s worship, still the Lord must help, or he can do nothing. “Lord, open thou my lips, and” then “my mouth will declare Your praise.” He could not speak one right word, except the Spirit itself gave utterance! “because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.”

Without the Spirit, we are cold and inappropriate in our prayers.

Second. It must be a praying with the Spirit, that is, the effectual praying; because without that, as men are senseless, so hypocritical, cold, and inappropriate in their prayers; and so they, with their prayers, are both rendered abominable to God (Matt 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 18:11, 12; Isa 58:2, 3). It is not the excellency of the voice, nor the appearance of affection, and earnestness of the one who prays, that is at all regarded of God without the Spirit. For man, as man, is so full of all manner of wickedness, that as he cannot keep a word, or thought—much less a piece of prayer—clean and acceptable to God through Christ, and for this cause the Pharisees and their prayers were rejected. No question but they were excellently able to express themselves in words, and also for length of time, too, they were very notable; but they had not the Spirit of Jesus Christ to help them, and therefore they did what they did with their infirmities or weaknesses only, and so fell short of a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of their souls to God, through the strength of the Spirit. That is the prayer that goes to heaven, which is sent in the strength of the Spirit.

Without the Spirit, we cannot see our own misery and need of prayer.

Third. Nothing but the Spirit can show a man clearly his misery by nature, and so put a man into a posture of prayer. Talk is but talk, as we use to say, and so it is but mouth-worship, if there is not a sense of misery, an effective sense of it. Oh, the cursed hypocrisy that is in most hearts, and that accompanies many thousands of praying men that would be so seen in this day, all for want of a sense of their misery! But now the Spirit will sweetly show the soul its misery, where it is, and what is likely to become of it, and the intolerableness of that condition. For it is the Spirit that effectually convinces of the sin and misery that is without the Lord Jesus, and so puts the soul into a sweet, sensible, affectionate way of praying to God according to his word (John 16:7-9).

Without the Spirit, we would not pray.

Fourth. If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray. For they would run away from God, with Cain and Judas, and utterly despair of mercy, were it not for the Spirit. When a man is indeed sensible of his sin, and God’s curse, then it is a hard thing to persuade him to pray; for his heart says, “There is no hope,” it is in vain to seek God (Jer 2:25; 18:12). I am so vile, so wretched, and so cursed a creature, that I shall never be heard! Now here comes the Spirit, and steadies the soul, helping it to hold up its face to God, by letting into the heart some small sense of mercy to encourage it to go to God, and therefore the Spirit is called “the Comforter” (John 14:26).

Without the Spirit, we wouldn’t know how to come to God.

Fifth. It must be in or with the Spirit; for without that no man can know how he should come to God the right way. Men may easily say they come to God in his Son: but it is the hardest thing of a thousand to come to God correctly and on his own, without the Spirit. It is “the Spirit” that “searches everything, even the depths of God” (I Cor 2:10). It is the Spirit that must show us the way of coming to God, and also what there is in God that makes him desirable: “I pray,” saith Moses, “please teach me Your ways, and I will know You and find favor in Your sight” (Exo 33:13). And, “He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14).

Without the Spirit, we couldn’t claim God’s mercy.

Sixth. Because without the Spirit, though a man did see his misery, and also the way to come to God; yet he would never be able to claim a share in either God, Christ, or mercy, with God’s approval. How great a task is it, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith, but this one word, “Father!” I tell you, no matter what hypocrites think, the Christian that is a Christian indeed finds all the difficulty in this very thing: it cannot say God is its Father. “Oh!” The Christian says, “I dare not call him Father,” and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God’s people for this very thing, to cry Father!  It is too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without the Spirit (Gal 4:6). When I say “knowingly,” I mean knowing what it is to be a child of God and to be born again. And when I say “believingly,” I mean for the soul to believe, from good experience, that the work of grace is worked in him. This is the right calling of God Father—not as many do, in a babbling way, say the so-called Lord’s prayer by heart, as it lies in the words of the book.

No, here is the life of prayer, when in or with the Spirit, a man is made sensible of sin, and of how to come to the Lord for mercy—he comes, I say, in the strength of the Spirit, and cries Father! That one word spoken in faith is better than a thousand “prayers,” as men call them, written and read in a formal, cold, lukewarm way. Oh, how far short are those people of being aware of this, who count it enough to teach themselves and children to say the Lord’s prayer, the creed, along with other sayings, when—as God knows—they are senseless of themselves, their misery, or what it is to be brought to God through Christ! Ah, poor soul! Study your misery, and cry to God to show you your confused blindness and ignorance, before you be so hasty in calling God your Father, or teaching your children to do the same! And know, that to say God is your Father, in a way of prayer or conference, without any experiment of the work of grace on your souls, it is to say you are Jews and are not—it is to lie. You say, “Our Father;” God says, “You blaspheme!” You say you are Jew, that is, true Christians; God says, you lie!

“Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying” (Rev 3:9). And “I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9). And the sin is so much greater by how much the more the sinner boasts it with a pretended sanctity, as the Jews did to Christ, in the 8th chapter of John, which made Christ—in in plain terms—to tell them their doom, despite all their hypocritical pretences (John 8:41-45).

And yet indeed, every pimp, thief, and drunk, every swearer, and perjured person; not only those who have been so previously but even those who are still: these, I say, by some must be counted the only honest men, merely because with their blasphemous throats and hypocritical hearts, they will come to church, and say, “Our Father!” Further, these men, though every time they say to God, “Our Father,” most abominably blaspheme, yet they must be compelled to do so! And because others that are of more sober principles doubt the truth of such vain traditions, they must be looked upon to be the only enemies of God and the nation: when as it is their own cursed superstition that sets the great God against them and causes him to count them as his enemies (Isa 53:10). And yet just like Edmund Bonner, that blood-red persecutor, they praise, these wretches, although so vile, if they conform with their traditions, to be good churchmen, the honest subjects—while God’s people are, as it has always been, looked at as a turbulent, seditious, and factious people (Ezra 4:12-16).

Therefore, give me leave a little space to reason with you, you poor, blind, ignorant sot.

Cautions of “the Lord’s Prayer”

(1.) It may be your great prayer is to say, “Our Father which art in heaven,” etc. Do you know the meaning of the very first words of this prayer? Can you truly, with the rest of the saints, cry, Our Father? Are you truly born again? Have you received the spirit of adoption? Do you see yourself in Christ, and can you come to God as a member of him? Or are you ignorant of these things—and yet you dare to say, Our Father? Isn’t the devil your father? (John 8:44). And don’t you do the deeds of the flesh? And yet you dare say to God, Our Father? No, aren’t you a desperate persecutor of the children of God? Haven’t you cursed them in your heart many times? And yet out of our blasphemous throat you allow these words to come, even our Father? He is their Father whom you hate and persecute. But as the devil presented himself among the sons of God, (Job 1), when they were to present themselves before the Father, even our Father, so is it now: because the saints were commanded to say, “Our Father,” therefore all the blind ignorant rabble in the world must also use the same words, “Our Father.”

(2.) And do you also say, “Hallowed be thy name” with your heart? Do you study, by every honest and lawful way, to advance the name, holiness, and majesty of God? Does your heart and conversation agree with this passage? Do you strive to imitate Christ in all the works of righteousness, which God commands of you, and prompts you to do? It is so, if you are one who can truly with God’s permission cry, “Our Father.” Or is it not even the smallest of your thoughts all the day? And do you not clearly make it seem like you are a cursed hypocrite, by condemning with your daily practice what you pretend in your praying with your dishonest tongue?

(3.) Would you really have the kingdom of God come in fact, and also have his will to be done in earth as it is in heaven? No, not only if you say it according to the form, “Thy kingdom come,” yet wouldn’t it make you panic to hear the trumpet sound, to see the dead arise, and yourself to go this moment and appear before God, to account for all the deeds you have done in your body? Isn’t the very thought of it entirely displeasing to you? And if God’s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven—won’t it be your ruin? There is never permitted a rebel against God in heaven, and if he should act so on earth, won’t it whirl you down to hell?

And so with the rest of the petitions. Ah! How sadly would those men look, and with what terror would they walk up and down the world, if they realized the lying and blaspheming that came out of their mouths, even in their most pretended holiness? The Lord awaken you, and teach you, poor souls, in all humility, to be careful that you are not rash and unadvised with your heart, and much more with your mouth! When you appear before God, as the wise man says, “Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God,” (Eccl 5:2); especially take care not to call God Father, without having the blessed experience of when you have come before God!

Without the Spirit, our hearts cannot pray.

Seventh. It must be a praying with the Spirit if it be accepted, because there is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer: “The reflections of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” (Prov 16:1). That is, in every work for God, and especially in prayer, if the heart is to go along with the tongue, it must be prepared by the Spirit of God. The tongue is very apt, of itself, to run without either fear or wisdom: but when the tongue is the answer of the heart—such a heart as is prepared by the Spirit of God—then it speaks as God commands and desires.

They are mighty words of David where he says that he lifts his heart and his soul to God (Psa 25:1). It is a great work for any man, without the strength of the Spirit! I see that this is one of the great reasons why the Spirit of God is called a Spirit of supplications (Zech 12:10), because this Spirit is that which helps the heart when it supplicates indeed to do it; and therefore Paul writes, “pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request” (Eph 6:18). And so in my text, “I will pray with the Spirit.” Prayer, without the heart in it, is like a sound without life; and a heart, unless it is lifted up of the Spirit, will never pray to God.

Without the Spirit, our hearts could not continue to pray.

Eighth. As the heart must be lifted up by the Spirit, if it would pray, so also it must be held up by the Spirit when it is up, if in order to continue to pray. I do not know what, or how it is with others’ hearts, whether they be lifted up by the Spirit of God, and so continued, or not: but this I am sure of: first, it is impossible that all the prayer-books that men have made in the world can lift up, or even prepare the heart—that is the work of the great God himself. And, in the second place, I am sure that they are as far from keeping it up, when it is up. Here is the life of prayer: to have the heart kept with God in the duty. It was a great matter for Moses to keep his hands lifted up to God in prayer; but how much more then to keep his heart in it! (Exo 17:12).
The lack of this is what God complains about; that they draw near to him with their mouth, and honour him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (Isa 29:13; Eze 33)—chiefly, that they walk after the commandments and traditions of men, as the scope of Matthew 15:8-9 testifies.

And very truly, I may speak my own experience, and tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I should—it is enough to make your poor, blind, carnal men to think strange things about me!  For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers, to first to beg of God that he would take my heart and set it on himself in Christ, and, when it is there, that he would keep it there. No, many times I don’t even know what pray for, I am so blind—nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only: blessed be grace, the Spirit helps our infirmities (Psa 86:11)!

Oh! the starting-holes that the heart has in the time of prayer! No one knows how many roads the heart has, and how many back alleys, to slip away from the presence of God! How much pride also, if it is enabled with expressions. How much hypocrisy, if we are before others. And how little conscience is there made of prayer between God and the soul in secret, unless the Spirit of supplication be there to help? When the Spirit gets into the heart, then there is prayer indeed, and not till then.

Without the Spirit, we could not pour out ourselves before God sincerely.

Ninth. The soul that rightly prays must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it. When I say it is impossible for a man to express himself in prayer without it, I mean that it is impossible that the heart, in a sincere and sensible affectionate way, should pour out itself before God with those groans and sighs that come from a truly praying heart without the assistance of the Spirit. It is not the mouth that is the main thing to be looked at in prayer, but whether the heart is so full of affection and earnestness in prayer with God, so much that it is impossible to express their sense and desire—for then a man desires indeed, when his desires are so strong, many, and mighty, that all the words, tears, and groans that can come from the heart cannot utter them! “The Spirit — helps our infirmities, and makes intercession for us with [sighs and] groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26)!

That is but poor prayer which is only discovered in so many words. A man that truly prays one prayer, shall after that never be able to express with his mouth or pen the unutterable desires, sense, affection, and longing that went to God in that prayer.

The best prayers have often more groans than words: and those words that it has are but a lean and shallow representation of the heart, life, and spirit of that prayer. You do not find any words of prayer, that we read of, come out of the mouth of Moses, when he was going out of Egypt, and was followed by Pharaoh, and yet he made heaven ring again with his cry (Exo 14:15). But it was inexpressible and unsearchable groans and cryings of his soul in and with the Spirit. God is the God of spirits, and his eyes look further than merely at the outside of any duty whatsoever (Num 16:22). I doubt this is more than slightly thought on by the majority of those who would be viewed as a praying people (I Sam 16:7).

The closer a man comes in any work that God commands him to do according to his will, the harder and more difficult it becomes; and the reason is because man, as man, is not able to do it. But prayer, as we have said, is not only a duty, but one of the most eminent duties, and therefore so much the more difficult: therefore Paul knew what he said when he said, “I will pray with the Spirit.” He knew deeply it was not what others wrote or said that could make him a praying person; nothing less than the Spirit could do it.

Without the Spirit, we would fail to pray.

Tenth. It must be with the Spirit, or else as there will be a failing in the act itself, so there will be a failing, yes, a fainting, in the completion of the work. Prayer is an ordinance of God that must continue with a soul as long as it is on this side of glory. But, as I said before, it is not possible for a man to get up his heart to God in prayer; so it is as difficult to keep it there, without the assistance of the Spirit. And so, for a man to continue from time to time in prayer with God, it must of necessity be with the Spirit.

Christ tells us that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1). And again tells us, that this is one definition of a hypocrite, that either he will not continue in prayer, or that if he will pray, it will not be in the power, that is, in the spirit of prayer, but in the form, for a pretence only (Job 27:10; Matt 23:14). It is the easiest thing of a hundred to fall from the power to the form, but it is the hardest thing of many to keep in the life, spirit, and power of any one duty, especially prayer; that is such a work that a man without the help of the Spirit cannot so much as pray once, much less continue, without it, in a sweet praying disposition, and in praying,  so to pray as to have his prayers ascend into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth.

Jacob did not only begin, but held it: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (Gen 32). So did the rest of the godly (Hosea 12:4). But this could not be without the Spirit of prayer. It is through the Spirit that we have access to the Father (Eph 2:18).

The same is a remarkable place in Jude, when he exhorts the saints by the judgment of God upon the wicked to stand fast, and continue to hold out in the faith of the gospel, as one excellent means to do so, and without which he knew they could never stand. He says, “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit,” (Jude 20). As if he had said, brothers, as eternal life is laid up for only the persons who hold out, so you cannot hold out unless you continue praying in the Spirit.

The great cheat that the devil and antichrist use to delude the world it is to make them continue in the form of any duty, the form of preaching, of hearing, or praying, and so on.

These are they that have “the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!” (II Tim 3:5).

Study Notes

Go away, I’m a sinner!

Luke 5:1-11 is a tremendously powerful little story.  Jesus sees two boats, and the fishermen washing their nets—after a long night of catching nothing.  The fishermen are Peter, James, and John, partners in a fishing enterprise (v. 10).

Jesus gets in the boat, and He tells Peter to go out deep and put out the nets.  The nets they just finished washing after a fruitless night.  Peter tells Jesus they just caught nothing, but unhesitatingly adds, “But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.

Right away, we see Peter is one of the believing people.  He’s not quite sure about the idea but he’s willing to go along in faith.  Jesus is already catching Peter.

Of course, they go out, and they catch so many fish that their nets tear from the weight, so they signal to James and John in the other boat to come, and they fill both boats so full that they start to sink!  This is an obvious supernatural event, not just good timing—Jesus didn’t just see some fish swimming around in the water and decide to take advantage of the situation to make a point.  No, this is a ridiculous amount of fish.

And Peter seems to know right away that Jesus isn’t just Master (v 5), he’s Lord (v 8).  And his reaction reminds me of Samson’s parents (Judges 13):

And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife.Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord.  And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Peter sees Jesus as Messiah and he’s—amazed? ashamed? afraid?  Maybe all three.  I love that what comes to his mouth is I’m a sinner!  Everybody else is amazed at all the fish, and Peter’s not even thinking about the fish, he’s thinking, wow, this is God, and I’m a wretch!  Just like Manoah, who realizes the angel was in fact God and—we’re going to die!

And what does Jesus say? Don’t be afraid!  Crazy incredible words.  Face to face with God in flesh and He says—don’t be afraid?  He sees right at Peter’s heart and… is kind.  This is a gloriously kind response!  He could have left Peter hanging in his terror, but He reassures him instead!  And then this tremendous sentence—from now on, you will be catching people!  What a small sentence, a small illustration, of a huge thing that was going to change Peter’s life forever, to the very very end.  Peter, who is going to go around with Jesus now, and preach His message, who is going to be His follower through His death, who is going to wait for the resurrection, who is going to play a huge role in establishing the church, who is going to write epistles that Christians through all the millennia thereafter are going to read and be drawn by—Peter is in the people-catching business for good.

And, again, what do they do? They take their boats to the shore and walk away from their lives and livelihood—to follow Him.

Old Wisdom

What is Prayer (Part 1 of 4)

John Bunyan ~ modernized, with Scripture quotes from the HCSB.

I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. – 1 Corinthians 14:15

PRAYER is an ORDINANCE [law] of God, to be used both in public and private.  It is such an ordinance that it brings those with the spirit of supplication into great familiarity with God; and is also so powerful in action, that it gets great things of God, both for the person that prays, and for those who are prayed for.  Prayer is the opener of the heart of God, and a means by which the soul, although empty, is filled. By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend, and obtain fresh testimony of God’s friendship to him.

I might spend many words in distinguishing between public and private prayer; as also between that in the heart, and that with the vocal voice. Something also might be spoken to distinguish between the gifts and graces of prayer; but eschewing this method, my business shall be at this time only to show you the very heart of prayer, without which, all your lifting up, both of hands, and eyes, and voices, will be to no purpose at all. “I will pray with the Spirit.”
The method I will use is this: 1) To show you what true prayer is. 2) To show you what it is to pray with the Spirit. 3) What it is to pray with the Spirit and understanding also. And, 4) To make some short use and application of what shall be spoken.


First, what true prayer is.  Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.

In this description are these seven things: 1) It is a sincere; 2) A sensible; 3) An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; 4)  By the strength or assistance of the Spirit; 5) For such things as God hath promised, or, according to his word; 6) For the good of the church; 7) With submission in faith to the will of God.

Prayer is sincere.

For the first of these, it is a SINCERE pouring out of the soul to God. Sincerity is such a grace as runs through all the graces of God in us, and through all the actions of a Christian, and is the motivation of them, too, or else their actions  are not any thing regarded of God.  And so also in prayer, of which particularly David speaks, when he mentions prayer:

I cried out to Him with my mouth,
and praise was on my tongue.
If I had been aware of malice in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
Ps. 66:17-18

Part of the exercise of prayer is sincerity, without which God doesn’t consider it prayer in a good sense (Ps. 16:1-4). Then “you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:12-13). The lack of sincerity made the Lord reject their prayers in Hosea 7:14, where he says, “They do not cry to Me from their hearts,” that is, in sincerity, “rather, they wail on their beds.” They prayed only for a pretence, for a show in hypocrisy, to be seen of men, and applauded by men.  Sincerity was that which Christ commended in Nathaniel, when he was under the fig tree. “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.” Probably this good man was pouring out of his soul to God in prayer under the fig tree, and in a sincere and honest spirit before the Lord. The prayer that hath sincerity as one of its principal ingredients is the prayer that God looks at. Thus, “The prayer of the upright is his delight” (Prov 15:8).
And why is sincerity essential to prayers that are accepted of God?  Because sincerity carries the soul in all simplicity to open its heart to God, and to tell him the case plainly, without equivocation; to condemn itself plainly, without dissembling; to cry to God heartily, without complimenting.

I have heard Ephraim moaning,
“You disciplined me, and I have been disciplined
like an untrained calf.
Restore me, and I will return,
for you, Lord, are my God.
(Jeremiah 31:18)

Sincerity is the same in a corner alone as it is before the face of the world. It knows not how to wear two faces, one for an appearance before men, and another for a short snatch in a corner; but it must have God, and be with him in the duty of prayer. It is not referring to lip-labour, for it is the heart that God looks at, and that which sincerity looks at, and that which prayer comes from, if it be that prayer which is accompanied with sincerity.

Prayer is sensible.

Secondly, prayer is a sincere and SENSIBLE pouring out of the heart or soul. It is not, as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating, complimentary expressions, but a sensible feeling there is in the heart. Prayer has in it a sensibleness of diverse things; sometimes sense of sin, sometimes of mercy received, sometimes of the readiness of God to give mercy, and so on.

A sense of the want of mercy, by reason of the danger of sin. The soul feels, and from feeling sighs, groans, and breaks at the heart. For right prayer bubbles out of the heart when it is overpressed with grief and bitterness, as blood is forced out of the flesh by reason of some heavy burden that lies upon it (I Sam 1:10; Psa 69:3). David roars, cries, weeps, faints at heart, fails at the eyes, loses his moisture, etc. (Psa 38:8-10). Hezekiah mourns like a dove (Isa 38:14). Ephraim bemoans himself (Jer 31:18). Peter weeps bitterly (Matt 26:75). Christ has strong cryings and tears (Heb 5:7). And all this from a sense of the justice of God, the guilt of sin, the pains of hell and destruction.

The ropes of death were wrapped around me,
and the torments of Sheol overcame me;
I encountered trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of Yahweh:
“Yahweh, save me!”
(Psalm 116:3-4)

And in another place, “My hands were continually lifted up
all night long” (Psa 77:2). Again, “I am bent over and brought low; all day long I go around in mourning.” (Psa 38:6). In all these instances, and in hundreds more, you see that prayer carries in it a sensible feeling disposition, firstly from a sense of sin.

Sometimes there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening, enlivening, enlightening mercy, etc. Thus David pours out his soul, to bless, and praise, and admire the great God for his loving- kindness to such poor vile wretches. ”

My soul, praise Yahweh,
and all that is within me, praise His holy name.
My soul, praise the Lord,
and do not forget all His benefits.
He forgives all your sin;
He heals all your diseases.
He redeems your life from the Pit;
He crowns you with faithful love and compassion.
He satisfies you with goodness;
your youth is renewed like the eagle.
(Psa 103:1-5)

And thus is the prayer of saints sometimes turned into praise and thanksgiving, and yet are still prayers. This is a mystery; God’s people pray with their praises, as it is written, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).  A sensible thanksgiving, for mercies received, is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it is unspeakably effective with Him.

In prayer there is sometimes in the soul a sense of mercy to be received. This again sets the soul all on a flame. “You, Lord of Hosts,” says David, “have revealed this to Your servant when You said, “I will build a house for you.” Therefore, Your servant has found the courage to pray this prayer to You” (2 Sam 7:27). This provoked Jacob, David, Daniel, with others–a sense of mercies to be received–which caused them, not by fits and starts, nor yet in a foolish frothy way, to babble over a few words written in a paper; but mightily, fervently, and continually, to groan out their conditions before the Lord, as being sensible—sensible, I say, of their wants, their misery, and the willingness of God to show mercy (Gen 32:10,11; Dan 9:3,4).

A good sense of sin, and the wrath of God, with some encouragement from God to come to Him, is a better Common-prayer-book than that which is taken out of the Papistical mass-book, being the scraps and fragments of the devices of some popes, some friars, and I know not what.

Prayer is affectionate.

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, and an AFFECTIONATE pouring out of the soul to God. Oh, the heat, strength, life, vigour, and affection, that is in right prayer!

As a deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for You, God.
(Psa 42:1)
How I long for Your precepts!
(Psa 119:40)
“I long for Your salvation!
(Psa 119:174)
I long and yearn
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh cry out for the living God.
(Psa 84:2)
I am continually overcome
with longing for Your judgments.
(Psa 119:20)

Notice this, “My soul longeth,” it longeth, it longeth, and so on! Oh, what affection is here discovered in prayer! The same thing you have in Daniel. “Lord, hear! Lord, forgive! Lord, listen and act! My God, for Your own sake, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” (Dan 9:19). Every syllable carries a mighty vehemence in it. This is called the fervent, or the working prayer, by James. And again, “Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently” (Luke 22:44). Or had his affections more and more drawn out after God for his helping hand.

Oh! How far are the majority of men with their prayers from this prayer, that is, PRAYER in God’s account! Alas! The greatest part of men make no notice at all of the duty; and as for them that do, it is to be feared that many of them are very great strangers to a sincere, sensible, and affectionate pouring out their hearts or souls to God; but even content themselves with a little lip-labour and bodily exercise, mumbling over a few imaginary prayers. When the affections are indeed engaged in prayer, then, then the whole man is engaged, and in such a way that the soul will spend itself to nothing, as it were, rather than go without that good it desires—even communion and solace with Christ. And so it is that the saints have spent their strengths, and lost their lives, rather than go without the blessing (Psa 69:3; 38:9,10; Gen 32:24,26).

All this is far too evident by the ignorance, profaneness, and spirit of envy, that reign in the hearts of those men that are so hot for the forms and not the power of praying.  Scarce one of forty among them know what it is to be born again, to have communion with the Father through the Son; to feel the power of grace sanctifying their hearts: but for all their prayers, they still live cursed, drunken, whorish, and abominable lives, full of malice, envy, deceit, persecuting of the dear children of God. Oh what a dreadful thunder is coming upon them! Such that all their hypocritical assembling themselves together, with all their prayers, shall never be able to help them against, or shelter them from.

Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul. There is in prayer an unbosoming of a man’s self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. “My every desire is known to You,” says David, “and my sighing is not hidden from You” (Psa 38:9). And again, “I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?  I remember this as I pour out my heart” (Psa 42:2,4). Mark, “I pour out my soul.” It is an expression signifying that in prayer the very life and whole strength goes to God. As in another place, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him” (Psa 62:8). This is the prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creature out of captivity and thralldom. “But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deut 4:29).

Prayer is to God.

It is a pouring out of the heart or soul TO GOD. This shows also the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it retires. “When shall I come and appear before God?” And it argues that the soul that truly prays to God sees an emptiness in all things under heaven; it sees that in God alone there is rest and satisfaction for the soul. “The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God” (I Tim 5:5). So saith David,

Lord, I seek refuge in You;
let me never be disgraced.
In Your justice, rescue and deliver me;
listen closely to me and save me.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
where I can always go.
Give the command to save me,
for You are my rock and fortress.
Deliver me, my God, from the power of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and oppressive.
For You are my hope, Lord God,
my confidence from my youth.
(Psa 71:1-5)

Many speak of God with their words, but right prayer makes God his hope, stay, and all. Right prayer sees nothing substantial, and nothing worth looking after, except God. And that, as I said before, it does in a sincere, sensible, and affectionate way.

Prayer is through Christ.

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, THROUGH CHRIST. This “through Christ” must needs be added, or else it is to be questioned, whether it be prayer, though in appearance it be never so eminent or eloquent.

Christ is the way through whom the soul hath admittance to God, and without Him it is impossible that so much as a single desire should come into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (John 14:6). “Whatever you ask in My name”; “if you ask Me anything in My Name, I will do it” (John 14:13,14). This was Daniel’s way in praying for the people of God; he did it in the name of Christ. “Therefore, our God, hear the prayer and the petitions of Your servant. Show Your favor to Your desolate sanctuary for the Lord’s sake.” (Dan 9:17). And so David, “Because of Your name, Yahweh,” that is, for Your Christ’s sake, “forgive my sin, for it is great” (Psa 25:11).

However, it is not every one that mentions Christ’s name in prayer, that does indeed and in truth effectually pray to God in the name of Christ, or through him. This coming to God through Christ is the hardest part that is found in prayer. A man may more easily be sensible of his works, indeed, and sincerely too desire mercy, and yet not be able to come to God by Christ. That man that comes to God by Christ, he must first have the knowledge of him; “for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists” (Heb 11:6). And so he who comes to God through Christ must be enabled to know Christ. Lord, says Moses, “please teach me Your ways, and I will know You” (Exo 33:13).

This Christ can be revealed by no one except the Father (Matt 11:27). And to come through Christ is for the soul to be enabled of God to shroud itself under the shadow of the Lord Jesus, as a man shrouds himself under a thing for safety (Matt 16:16).  Thus it is that David so often terms Christ his shield, buckler, tower, fortress, rock of defence, etc., (Psa 18:2; 27:1; 28:1). Not only because by him he overcame his enemies, but because through him he found favour with God the Father. And so he saith to Abraham, “Fear not, I am your shield,” etc., (Gen 15:1).

The man then that comes to God through Christ, must have faith, by which he puts on Christ, and in him appears before God. Now he that has faith is born of God, born again, and so becomes one of the sons of God; by virtue of which he is joined to Christ, and made a member of him (John 3:5,7; 1:12). And therefore, secondly, he, as a member of Christ, comes to God, as a member of him, so that God looks on that man as a part of Christ, part of his body, flesh, and bones, united to him by election, conversion, illumination, the Spirit being conveyed into the heart of that poor man by God (Eph 5:30). So that now he comes to God in Christ’s merits, in his blood, righteousness, victory, intercession, and so stands before him, being “accepted in his Beloved” (Eph 1:6). And because this poor creature is thus a member of the Lord Jesus, and under this consideration has admittance to come to God; therefore, also by virtue of this union, is the Holy Spirit conveyed into him, whereby he is able to pour out himself, to wit, his soul, before God, with his audience. And this leads me to the next, or fourth particular.

Prayer is by assistance of the Spirit.

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate, pouring out of the heart or soul to God through Christ, by the strength or ASSISTANCE OF THE SPIRIT. These things are so dependent upon one another that it is impossible that it should be prayer, without a joint concurrence of them.  For though it is never so famous, but without these things, it is only such prayer as is rejected of God.

For without a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart to God, it is but lip-labour; and if it be not through Christ, it falls far short of ever sounding well in the ears of God. So also, if it be not in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, it is but like the sons of Aaron, offering with strange fire (Lev 10:1,2). But I shall speak more to this under the second head; and therefore in the meantime, that which is not petitioned through the teaching and assistance of the Spirit, cannot be “according to the will of God (Rom 8:26,27).

Prayer is for the things God has promised.

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart, or soul, to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, FOR SUCH THINGS AS GOD HATH PROMISED, &c., (Matt 6:6-8).

It is “prayer” when it is within the compass of God’s Word, and it is blasphemy—or at best vain babbling—when the petition is beside the book. David therefore in his prayer kept his eye on the Word of God. “My life,” he says, “is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.” And again, “I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word” (Psa 119:25-28; see also 41, 42, 58, 65, 74, 81, 82, 107, 147, 154, 169, 170).  And, “remember Your word to Your servant;
You have given me hope through it” (ver 49). And indeed the Holy Spirit doesn’t immediately quicken and stir up the heart of the Christian without the Word, but by, with, and through the it, by bringing the Word to the heart, and by opening of it, whereby the man is provoked to go to the Lord, and to tell him how it is with him, and also to argue, and supplicate, according to the Word.

This is how it was with Daniel, that mighty prophet of the Lord. He, understanding by books that the captivity of the children of Israel was hard at an end, according to that word made his prayer to God. “I Daniel,” he said, “understood from the books,” that is, the writings of Jeremiah, “according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be 70. So I turned my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and petitions, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Dan 9:2,3). So that I say, as the Spirit is the helper and the governor of the soul, when it prays according to the will of God; so it guides by and according to, the Word of God and his promise. Hence it is that our Lord Jesus Christ himself did make a stop, although his life lay at stake for it: “Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” (Matt 26:53,54). As who should say, Were there but a word for it in the scripture, I should soon be out of the hands of mine enemies, I should be helped by angels; but the scripture will not warrant this kind of praying, for it says otherwise. It is a praying then according to the Word and promise. The Spirit by the Word must direct, as well in the manner, as in the matter of prayer. “I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also” (I Cor 14:15). But there is no understanding without the Word. For if they reject the word of the Lord, “what wisdom is in them?” (Jer 8:9).

Prayer is for the good of the church.

This clause reaches in whatsoever tends either to the honour of God, Christ’s advancement, or his people’s benefit. For God, and Christ, and his people are so linked together that if the good of the one be prayed for, to wit, the church, the glory of God, and advancement of Christ, must be included. For as Christ is in the Father, so the saints are in Christ; and he that touches the saints touches the apple of God’s eye; and therefore pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and you pray for all that is required of you. For Jerusalem will never be in perfect peace until she is in heaven; and there is nothing that Christ desires more than to have her there. That also is the place that God through Christ has given to her. He then that prays for the peace and good of Zion, or the church, asks in prayer that which Christ has purchased with his blood, and also that which the Father has given to him as the price of it.

Now he that prays for this, must pray for abundance of grace for the church, for help against all its temptations; that God would let nothing be too hard for it; and that all things might work together for its good, that God would keep them blameless and harmless, the sons of God, to his glory, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation—this is the substance of Christ’s own prayer in John 17. And all Paul’s prayers also ran that way, as one of his prayers eminently shows:

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
(Phil 1:9-11)

This is but a short prayer, you see, and yet full of good desires for the church, from the beginning to the end; that it may stand and go on, and that in the most excellent frame of spirit, even without blame, sincere, and without offence, until the day of Christ, let its temptations or persecutions be what they will (Eph 1:16-21; 3:14-19; Col 1:9- 13).

Prayer submits to the will of God.

Because, as I said, prayer doth SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD, and say, Thy will be done, as Christ has taught us (Matt 6:10); therefore, the people of the Lord in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers—and all that they have—at the foot of their God, to be disposed of by him as he in his heavenly wisdom sees best. And yet, not doubting that God will answer the desire of his people in a way that shall be most for their advantage and his glory. When the saints pray with submission to the will of God, it doesn’t mean that they doubt or question God’s love and kindness to them. But because they at all times are not so wise, and that sometimes Satan may get that advantage of them, and tempt them to pray for that which, if they had it, would neither prove to God’s glory nor his people’s good. ”

Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.
(1 John 5:14-15)

That is, what we ask in the Spirit of grace and supplication, for, as I said before, that petition which is not put up in and through the Spirit it is not to be answered, because it is beside the will of God. For the Spirit alone knows that, and so consequently knows how to pray according to that will of God. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (I Cor 2:11). But more of this hereafter.

Thus you see, first, what prayer is.

[Here ends the first quarter of Bunyan’s “Discourse on Prayer.”  By “modernizing” I mean occasionally replacing archaic words, often replacing archaic typographical conventions (paragraph breaks, formatting), and very rarely rearranging sentences.  Time permitting, I hope to get to the rest of the discourse.]