Judges: God uses broken people.

I just finished my study of the book of Judges, and, wow, so many thoughts.

The stories that have stuck out to me: Deborah and Barak.  Gideon.  Abimelech.  Jephthah.  Samson,  Micah, Gibeah.  With a few others stuck in.  Every single story is about the failure of people to do the right thing. 

First we have Barak (Judges 4), who ought to have obeyed God’s command to go to Mount Tabor… but doesn’t, until Deborah summons him and reminds him of what God already commanded.  Then he still refuses until Deborah agrees to go with him, at the cost of losing all honor for the victory, and Jael kills Sisera.

Then we have Gideon, who is a pretty decent if highly-doubtful guy, who actually meets YHWH (Judges 6) in the flesh, continues asking God for extra confirmation at every step, but basically, fears God and does well… until the end, when he collects booty from everyone and makes an idol which leads his household astray.  He also has tons of wives and children.

This doesn’t bode well for Gideon’s son Abimelech (Judges 9), who kills every last one of his brothers except the youngest, Jotham, who manages to escape.  Abimelech names himself king after this mass slaughter, and various other atrocities and mass-murders ensue, until God “turns back” the evil Abimelech had done on his head.

Then we come to Jephthah, who fears God and judges pretty well, but does this awful hideous thing of promising to human-sacrifice something (which turns out to be his beloved daughter), and then… he follows through on his oath (Judges 11).

Then Samson (Judges 13), whose parents have an encouraging and unblemished testimony of fearing God, and who is himself filled with the Spirit incredibly constantly, but Samson himself makes a ton of foolish decisions, is vain, is a womanizing partier, is prone to fits of incredible temper, revenge, and wiping people out, breaks his vows, lies, gives into nagging women repeatedly… and dies.

Then Micah (Judges 17), who steals from his mother, then creates a completely invalid little shrine in the name of YHWH but with false gods abounding, bribes a Levite priest into lending it some legitimacy.  But along comes the tribe of Dan, which steals his little shrine, his priest, and his false gods, and carries them off to set up in Dan, where it remained for “as long as the house of God was in Shiloh” (18:31, hcsb).

Lastly, there’s Gibeah, which is really just… unspeakable.  Atrocity compounding atrocity, one after the other.  I’m not sure there are more revolting chapters anywhere in Scripture than Judges 19-21.

And yet, through all of this, God is accomplishing His ends.  Israel  has no king.  Joshua, the faithful leader, has died, and the tribes have continually (chapter 1) failed to take control of the land from the Canaanites.  A lot more of that is accomplished through these stories.  And the Israelites are disciplined again and again, and forced to return to God and beg for mercy and assistance, again and again.  One time God denies them—I’ve rescued you before, and you went away again, “cry out to the gods you have chosen” (Judges 10:14, hcsb), but they persist in their repentance and God “became weary of Israel’s misery” (10:16, hcsb), which is one of the most startlingly beautiful phrases in Scripture.  Another time—after Gibeah—the Israelites consult Him for help, and He tells them what to do… only to have them be considerably wiped out, beginning with Judah (Judges 20).  It is only after they come to God again with fasting and sacrifices and weeping that He delivers the rebelling tribe Benjamin into their hands.

So we see here, first of all, how remarkably God works.  This is both justice and mercy tempered together, love and discipline.  But what I found incredibly encouraging—and surprising—was how very screwed up the “good guys” are, and yet they are included in Hebrews 11 among the faithful and righteous.  We point to David as an example of how fallen Christians can be, but here we have Barak, who ignores God’s explicit calling; Gideon, who doubts God repeatedly and falters at the end; Jephthah, who murders his own daughter in the name of God; and Samson, who seems in many ways to live a really, really depraved lifestyle filled with women and drinking and hedonism and lawbreaking.  And yet these are the people God called, used, and justified.

It’s also scary the reality of God’s judgment here.  Barak loses the honor of the victory.  God repays Jephthah’s rash vow with the loss of his daughter.  Gideon’s whole family is massacred by his own son.  Samson loses everything he seems to strive after, and then his own life.  The nation of Israel as a whole loses many of their men in the skirmish with Benjamin (not to mention nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin itself), then because of their own rash vow-making, they end up losing another entire town of people, and basically inviting the remaining Benjaminites to come along and kidnap and rape innocent women in Shiloh with no consequences.

Judges is a really easy book to read.  But a very hard one to process.

Jesus, Simon, and a Sinner.

Well, that took me long enough, huh?  I feel like Martha, distracted by many things.  But back to Luke 7:36-50 tonight, at least!

So after Jesus gets finished rebuking the Pharisees and experts in the law, one of them invites Him over for dinner.  The Pharisee’s name is Simon (v. 40), which oddly I’d never noticed, despite the fact that “the woman” in this passage is often named Mary Magdalene (with no textual warrant whatsoever).

We talk a lot about how Jesus “hung out with sinners” but this passage is spectacular: Jesus is having dinner with an unregenerate sinner (who is a Pharisee) and visited by a saint (who is a prostitute).  God’s sovereign grace is on broad display here as the categories are all topsy-turvey.  We would expect the Bible teacher to be the regenerate one and the prostitute to be the lost one!

But we see the woman’s faith from the very beginning: she was weeping, enough to wash his feet.  That’s some serious crying.  Her whole soul is obviously very invested in this meeting.  Moreover, unlike Simon, who confidently (and deceitfully) invites Christ boldly to his house (in stark contrast to the humility of the centurion, for example), the woman won’t even stand in front of Jesus, but just at His feet.  This is all very self-abasing.

Simon, though, is worried about the Law (v 39, HCSB):

This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him–she’s a sinner!

The Pharisees forbade themselves from touching even the garments of the common people, and here this woman—this vile sinner!—is not only touching Jesus’s garments but His actual feet!  Simon doesn’t speak to Jesus about it, but Jesus knows Simon’s heart and answers him with a parable: who will love more, the debtor who is forgiven much, or the debtor who is forgiven only a little?

Jesus then explains: Simon didn’t even wash Jesus’s feet, but the woman washed them—with tears!  Simon didn’t give Him a kiss, but the woman kissed—His feet!  Simon didn’t give Him the usual respect at feasts of anointing His head with common oil, but the woman anointed His feet—with very costly oil!

The woman had many sins, the woman knew she was forgiven, hence she loved much (Luke 7:46).  Simon doesn’t appear to have been very worried about his sins, or have loved at all.  The woman was forgiven; Simon was trying to cause trouble (v 49) for the Man he should have fallen down and worshipped.  The woman exhibited a plain saving faith, despite her sinfulness; Simon exhibited straightforward animosity toward God, despite his religious status.

I don’t think I’ve found any of Jesus’s teachings thus far as terrifying as this one.  It is far too easy to be Simon, proud and secure in my own works and my own understanding of Scripture.  Far too hard to be the woman, with sin on full display and humble enough to come to the house of a respected member of the community—who wants nothing to do with me—just to do the right thing and honor a Savior.  And then to be so aware of my own sin to not even speak or have any boldness at all, but just to humbly serve, and give all I have, to face criticism and hatred, not to gain anything at all, but just to worship at His feet.

That’s what saving faith looks like.

God has visited His people.

The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited His people.”
[Luke 7:15-16, hcsb]

I’m not sure I’ve ever properly heard the story of Luke 7:11-17, despite it being the story that spread through Judea and brought Jesus’s fame to John the Baptist.  But the story itself is maybe less famous.

Jesus is on his way to Nain, and meets up with the funeral of a man who had been his widowed mother’s only son.  The mother and a large crowd is trailing along.  They don’t ask Jesus for anything.  This is really quite extraordinary.  These people didn’t come to Christ; He came to them.

Then, the text says, He looked at the widow and “had compassion on her and said, ‘Don’t cry.’”

Still no request for intervention from the widow or her friends.  Did they not know Who spoke to them?  They kept moving, in fact!  It wasn’t until Jesus came up and touched the coffin that they stopped carrying the man onward.

Then the simple words, “Young man, I tell you, get up!”  And the dead began to speak.

And once again, we see the right reaction to God’s presence in verse 16—“fear came over everyone.”  It is amazing to me how deliberately and consistently all of Jesus’s miracles led straight to the glorification of God.  It was apparently really recognizable to even the common people, and even the people knew how to respond—with fear, with trembling, with “I’m a sinner” and “I’m not worthy!”  Even in this case, where the people don’t seem to have known who Jesus was, and still seem a little confused, with some of them calling Him a “great prophet” (although Gill points out that the Messiah is called a “great prophet” in Deuteronomy 18:15, which may have been their reference); at any rate, recognizing this really incredible truth that after centuries of prophetless silence, God has visited His people.

And: fear.  And: the word would not be suppressed.  Jesus performs a miracle to strangers—out of compassion alone—and suddenly not just Capernaum but “all the vicinity” knew Him, with word reaching the disciples of John the Baptist.

(On a sidenote, I can’t help but notice how perfect a microcosm this is for salvation: the dead man going to his funeral, unable to ask for Christ’s help; his friends equally unable, by ignorance and distraction, to ask for Christ’s help; Christ looks at them, has compassion, interrupts their plans very abruptly, touches the man; and brings him to life; all for the glory of God the Father.)

Praying with the Spirit – Application

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.

THE CONCLUSION.

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.

The Tree and the Storeroom

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.

The beatitudes: where are my blessings?

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?

What it is to Pray with the understanding

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.