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(61 posts)

Revival and a “spirit of intercession”

The following quotation from Revival & Revivalism by Iain Murray continues in the same vein as the one posted earlier this week. . . . A Baptist author, . . . describing the revival at Hartford in 1798–1800 , wrote: ‘The Lord seems to have stepped out of the usual path of ordinances, to effect his work more immediately in the displays of his Almighty power, and outpouring of his Spirit; probably to show that the work is his own.’ Thus what characterizes a revival is not the employment of unusual or special means but rather the extraordinary means of blessing attending the normal means of grace. There were no unusual evangelistic meetings. No special arrangements, no announcements of pending revivals. Pastors were simply continuing in the services they had conducted for many years when the great change began. That is why so many of them could say, ‘The first appearance of the work was sudden and unexpected.’ Their theology taught them that there is no inherent power in the truth to convert sinners and they rejoiced in the knowledge that the size of the blessing which God is pleased to give through the use of means is entirely in his own hands. As William Rogers of Philadelphia wrote to Isaac Backus in 1799, ‘The revivals of religion which you speak of are peculiarly illustrative of the glorious doctrines of grace, —“the wind bloweth where it listeth”.’ On the subject of means, something needs to be said more particularly on prayer. As with the truth that is preached, prayer has no inherent power in itself. On the contrary, true prayer is bound up with a persuasion of our inability and our complete dependence of God. Prayer, considered as a human activity, whether offered by few or many, can guarantee no results. But prayer that throws believers in heartfelt need on God will not go unanswered. Prayer of this kind precedes blessing, not because of any necessary cause and effect, but because such prayer secures an acknowledgement of the true Author of the blessing. And where such a spirit of prayer exits it is a sign that God is already intervening to advance his cause. One thing that can be said with certainty about the 1790s, before any general indications of a new era were to be seen, is that there was a growing concern among Christians to pray. Later on, when the evidence of records from those years was compared, it was recognized that across the Union, from Connecticut to Kentucky, the 1790s were marked by a new spirit of intercession. —Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 128–129

“Earnestness in prayer requires a true view of oneself”

Tuesday··2007·05·15 · 4 Comments
Iain Murray writes of “Five Leaders in the Northeast” during the Second Great Awakening: The secret of the influence of these men was that in their being much with Christ they were indeed the reflectors of ‘his beams’. But if it be asked how they attained to being such close disciples the answer may be surprising. It was not that they had reached some higher ground in the way of holiness. On the contrary, what marked them most was their low views of themselves. ‘The leading element of Doctor Griffin’s Christian character’, remarked Sprague, ‘was a deep sense of his own corruptions and of his entire dependence on the sovereign grace of God.’ ‘I fear that I am little better than a cumberer of the ground,’ Spring recorded in his diary, and Payson, similarly, often noted the pain of his unworthiness and his failure as a Christian. On 18 December 1817 he recorded in his diary: ‘Began to think, last night, that I have been sleeping all my days; and this morning felt sure of it . . .  How astonishingly blind have I been and how imperceptible my religious progress.’ again, in 1821 he told a ministerial friend, ‘My parish, as well as my heart, very much resembles the garden of the sluggard; and what is worse, if find that most of my desires for the melioration of both proceed either from pride, or vanity of indolence.’ Statements such as these show us the nature of the relationship with God that these men had. Their felt need lay behind their frequent prayer and their dependence on Christ. Earnestness in prayer, says Payson, requires a true view of oneself: ‘You cannot make a rich man beg like a poor man; you cannot make a man that is full cry for food like one that is hungry: no more will a man who has a good opinion of himself cry for mercy like one who feels that he is poor and needy.’ —Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 218–219.

Bonar on Prayer

Saturday··2008·07·05 · 2 Comments
Be much alone with God. Do not put Him off with a quarter of an hour morning and evening. Take time to get thoroughly acquainted. Converse over everything with Him. Unbosom yourself wholly every thought, feeling, wish, plan, doubt to Him. He wants to converse with His creatures; shall His creatures not want to converse with Him? He wants, not merely to be on “good terms” with you, if one may use man’s phrase, but to be intimate; shall you decline the intimacy, and be satisfied with mere acquaintance? What! Intimate with the world, with friends, with neighbors, with politicians, with philosophers, with naturalists, or with poets, but not with God! That would look ill indeed. Folly, to prefer the clay to the potter, the marble to the sculptor, this little earth and its lesser creatures to the mighty Maker of the universe, the great “All and in all!” —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 62–63.

The Prayer of Faith

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. —James 5:14–18 Sinclair Ferguson on “the prayer of faith”: [I]n the past century and a half, much has been written and said particularly about “the prayer of faith.” The focus has been on mountain-moving prayer by which we simply “claim” things from God with confidence that we will receive them because we believe that He will give them. But what exactly is the prayer of faith? Association with the Dramatic Interestingly, it is in the letter of James (who has so much to say about works) that the term occurs. It climaxes the marvelous teaching on prayer that punctuates the entire letter (see 1:5–8; 4:2–3; 5:13–18). . . . Elijah’s praying is used as an example not because it produce miracle-like effects but because it gives us one of the clearest of all illustrations of what it means for anyone to pray with faith: it is believing God’s revealed Word, taking hold of His covenant commitment to it, and asking Him to keep it. The Prayer of a Righteous Person Shutting up the heavens was not, after all, a novel idea that originated in the fertile mind of Elijah. In fact, it was the fulfillment of the promised curse of the covenant Lord: “If you do not obey the Lord your God . . . these curses will come upon you. . . . The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder” (Deut. 28:15, 22–24, NIV). . . . This, then, is the prayer of faith: to ask God to accomplish what He has promised in His Word. That promise is the only ground for our confidence in asking. Such confidence in not “worked up” from within our emotional life; rather, it is given and supported by what God has said in Scripture. Truly “righteous” men and women of faith know the value of their heavenly Father’s promises. They go to Him, as children do to a loving human father. They know that if they can say to an earthly father, “But, father, you promised . . . ,” they can both persist in asking and be confident that he will keep his word. How much more our heavenly Father, who has given His Son for our salvation! We have no other grounds of confidence that He hears our prayers, we need none. Legitimate Prayer . . . Some Christians find this disappointing. It seems to remove the mystique from the prayer of faith. Are we not tying down our faith to ask only for what God already had promised? But such disappointment reveals a spiritual malaise: would we rather devise our own spirituality (preferably spectacular) than God’s (frequently modest)?The struggles we sometimes experience in prayer, then, are often part of the process by which God gradually brings us to ask for only what He has promised to give, the struggle is not our wrestling to bring him to give us what we desire, but our wrestling with His Word until we are illuminated and subdued by it, saying, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Then, as Calvin again says, we learn “not to ask for more that God allows.” This is why true prayer can never be divorced from real holiness. The prayer of faith can be made only by the “righteous” man whose life is being more and more aligned with the covenant grace and purposes of God. In the realm of prayer, too (since it is a microcosm of the whole of the Christian life), faith (prayer to the covenant Lord) without works (obedience to the covenant Lord) is dead. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 145–147.

Evidence of Knowing God (1)

Drawing from the book of Daniel, J. I. Packer lists four evidences of knowing God. 1. Those who know God have great energy for God. In one of the prophetic chapters of Daniel we read, “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (11:32 KJV). RSV renders thus: “the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” In the context, this statement is introduced by “but” and set in contrast to the activity of the “contemptible person” (v. 21) who sets up “the abomination that causes desolation” and corrupts by smooth and flattering talk those whose loyalties to God’s covenant has failed (vv. 31–32). This shows us that the action taken by those who know God is their reaction to the anti-God trends which they see operating around them. While their God is being defied or disregarded, they cannot rest; they feel they must do something; the dishonor done to God’s name goads them into action. This is exactly what we see happening in the narrative chapters of Daniel, where we are told of the “exploits” of Daniel and his three friends. . . . Daniel in particular appears as one who would not let a situation of that sort slide, but felt bound openly to challenge it. . . . When Darius suspended the practice of prayer for a month, on pain of death, Daniel not merely went on praying three times a day, but did so in front of an open window, so that everyone might see what he was doing (6:10). . . . Such gestures must not be misunderstood. It is not that Daniel . . . was an awkward, cross-grained fellow who luxuriated in rebellion and could only be happy when he was squarely “agin’” the government. It is simply that those who know their God are sensitive to situations in which God’s truth and honor are being directly or tacitly jeopardized, and rather than let the matter go by default will force the issue on men’s attention and seek thereby to compel a change of heart about it’even at personal risk. Yet the invariable fruit of true knowledge is energy to pray for God’s cause—energy, indeed, which can only find an outlet and relief of inner tension when channeled into such prayer—and the more knowledge, the more energy! By this we may test ourselves. Perhaps we are not in a position to make public gestures . . . But we can all pray about the ungodliness and apostasy which we see in everyday life around us. If, however, there is in us little energy for such prayer,and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 27–29.

What If This Post Was Unwritten?

Monday··2011·08·15 · 3 Comments
Do you think that, if no one prays for you, God will abandon you? I ask because of the large number of “unspoken” prayer requests I’ve heard over the years. I don’t really think that those requests usually indicate an affirmative answer to my question. I just think that those who make those requests haven’t thought through the implications of the unspoken request, and I’m writing to ask them to think about it and, having thought about it, to stop making unspoken prayer requests. If you want me to pray for you, tell me what you need. I don’t need the details. I understand that the details may be embarrassing and that public disclosure of everything might be inappropriate. (Tangential note to over-sharers: if you’re having surgery, I don’t need to know on what. This especially applies to anything reproductive or digestive. Unless you are a close friend, I don’t want to know. Tangent to the tangent, to recipients of prayer requests: don’t ask for details not offered unless you’re sure the petitioner will want to tell you. Your curiosity might be the reason some people don’t ask for prayer.) I will pray for a general need, just give me something general for which to pray. But surely there is someone whom you can trust with your personal requests. If not, you should consider 1) your own responsibility to build such relationships, and 2) whether or not your church is what it ought to be in terms of fellowship. Getting back to my opening question, I acknowledge that you might find yourself in the tragic situation in which you have no one to bear your burdens. If that is the case, why bother telling those whom you do not trust with your heart? Because what I hear in your unspoken request is, “I don’t trust you, but I want you to pray for me.” Or is it because you think your own prayers are inadequate? If so, you need to trust God to be true to his word. James tells us to “pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16). Will not the prayer of a righteous man [or woman, or child] for himself accomplish much, as well? And let us not forget the opening exhortation in that verse: “confess your sins to one another.” Could it be that your unspoken request comes from an unwillingness to confess your sin? Our Lord assures us that “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14), and “if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. . . . ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (16:23–4). Peter exhorts us to cast “all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He cares for you. If you have no one to trust, you have him. He does not ignore the lone petition. He will not abandon you. He will answer the prayer of one just as he would answer the prayers of many, because he cares for you.

How to Pray When You’re Angry with God

Last week, I came across a video of hipster pastor Doug Paggit interviewing an Episcopal pastor and author of a book Driscollesquely titled How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God. Disappointed that the video had no audio (a logical tactic of postmodernity?), and thinking, “Sounds good! I must look into this!”* I hurried off to to read the reviews. Not too surprisingly, the book is (if I may trust the reviewers) all about how it’s all okey-dokey to be angry† with God. This is no novel notion. People with cleaner mouths have been saying this for as long as I can remember—and they’re all wrong. That God could ever be a legitimate object of anger, and that anyone could ever be angry with him without sinning is absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Job, who famously remonstrated against God and received a four-chapter lecture on knowing his place saying, in short, “Who are you to cast aspersions on my sovereign acts?”—which moved Job to demonstrate how one is to pray when he is angry with God: Then Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” —Job 42:1–6 * No, not really. † Anger in general is an ugly thing, and is rarely excusable. I wrote on righteous anger here.

Lord’s Day 44, 2013

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. —Psalm 4:4 Communing with Our Hearts Philip Doddridge (1702–1751) Return, my roving heart, return, And chase these shadowy forms no more; " />Seek out some solitude to mourn, And Thy forsaken God implore. Wisdom and pleasure dwell at home— Retired and silent seek them there; This is the way to overcome, The way to break the tempter’s snare. And Thou my God, whose piercing eye Distinct surveys each deep recess, In these abstracted hours draw nigh, And with Thy presence fill the place. Through the recesses of my heart My search let heavenly wisdom guide, And still its radiant beams impart, Till all be searched and purified. Then, with the visits of Thy love, Vouchsafe my inmost soul to cheer; Till every grace shall join to prove, That God hath fixed His dwelling there. —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

The Life of the Justified Is Prayer & Praise

The tenth of Horatius Bonar’s characteristics of “the life of the justified”: The life of the justified must be one of praise and prayer. His justification has drawn him near to God. It has opened his lips and enlarged his heart. He cannot but praise; he cannot but pray. He has ten thousand things to ask for; he has ten thousand things for which to give thanks. He knows what it is to speak in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in his heart to the Lord (Col. iii. 16). —Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness; or, How shall Man be Just with God? (London: James Nisbet and Co, 1873), 207.

Someone Is Wrong

Thursday··2013·11·21 · 2 Comments
It happens: Sometimes it’s just a difference of opinion, and everyone is politely respectful. Sometimes, in this postmodern age of undervalued truth, people are too willing to “agree to disagree.” But then there are the times when someone is just obtuse and really gets under your skin. What to do then? I want to suggest something you might not have considered. While you’re considering whether this is a Proverbs 26:4 or 5 situation, stop and pray for the other guy.* Pray that he will be softened, convicted, whatever you think he needs. Pray that your response, if you give one, will be truthful, wise, and loving. I can’t promise any change on his part; he will very likely go on being the jerk he is. But I can promise you that you will not be quite the jerk you were before. By the way, it works in the real world, too. * No, I’m not sexist. Everyone knows that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, so this doesn’t apply to them.

More about Him, Less about Us

My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. " />He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever. —Luke 1:46–55 Such is the extent of our natural self-centeredness that even our praise to God betrays a focus on self. In her Magnificat, Mary sets a better example. Mary had good reason to magnify the Lord. She had been promised a son—not just any son, but the Son of God, conceived by the spirit of the Most High God. Her Magnificat is a song of gospel joy. Yet in it Mary says nothing specific about her son. This is the reason for her praise, but she does not mention it explicitly. Why not? The answer is that Mary had the godliness to look beyond her gift and praise the God who gave it. To magnify means to enlarge, and what Mary wanted to enlarge was her vision of God. Her goal was to show his greatness. She wanted to magnify God, not her own position as the mother of the Son of God. She knew that she was blessed because of who God was, not because of who she was. Therefore, she wanted God to be seen to be great, not herself. The way to show this was not by thinking only about what God was doing in her life, but by enlarging her vision to see the majesty of God. . . . It is right for us to praise God for what he has done, as Mary did. But sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us. We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God. Then, when we speak about what God has done for us—as we should—it will be more about him and less about us. —Philip Ryken, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 74–75.

The Lord Hears

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; The Lord hears when I call to Him. —Psalm 4:3 “But know.’ Fools will not learn, and therefore they must again and again be told the same thing, especially when it is such a bitter truth which is to be taught them, viz.:—the fact that the godly are the chosen of God, and are, by distinguishing grace, set apart and separated from among men. Election is a doctrine which unrenewed men cannot endure, but nevertheless, it is a glorious and well-attested truth, and one which should comfort the tempted believer. Election is the guarantee of complete salvation, and an argument for success at the throne of grace. He who chose us for himself will surely hear our prayer. The Lord’s elect shall not be condemned, nor shall their cry be unheard. David was king by divine decree, and we are the Lord’s people in the same manner: let us tell our enemies to their faces, that they fight against God and destiny, when they strive to overthrow our souls. O beloved, when you are on your knees, the fact of your being set apart as God’s own peculiar treasure, should give you courage and inspire you with fervency and faith. “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him?” Since he chose to love us he cannot but choose to hear us. —Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Passmore and Alabaster, 1883) [read entire commentary on Psalm 4 at].

That God should heed thy prayers

I have a wandering mind. It's been a problem for as long as I can remember. Sitting in school as a child, there was almost always something more interesting to be thinking about than the lessons in the book or on the board. At work, the less demanding the job, the more poorly I tend to perform, because I am so easily distracted by something more interesting. If you're a long-winded talker, chances are my mind will wander, and when you ask me what I think of that, I won't know what “that” is. George Swinnock speaks to me this morning, because I have the same problem in prayer. What he asks me is, if I hold my prayers to be of so little importance that my own words can’t keep my full attention, why should God trouble himself to hear it? And what does it say of my attitude towards him that I approach him so absent-mindedly? Think of the disrespect you feel when you’re with someone who talks on their cell phone or sits texting. Now imagine this rude person came to you, asked for your attention, and then proceeded to behave that way. Swinnock writes, Those that perform their duties, as papists say their paternosters, and musicians play their lessons, with their fingers, when their minds are busied about other things, will make but harsh and displeasing music in God’s ears. ‘God,’ saith the psalmist, ‘thou art terrible out of thy holy places,’ Ps. lxviii. 35. The sanctuary or place of worship was divided into three parts, thence called ‘thy holy places;’ now out of them God was comfortable to his watchful and diligent servants, but terrible to the slothful and negligent. He is terrible not only in the high places of the field, but also in the holy places of the faithful. How canst thou expect that God should heed thy prayers, when thou dost not heed them thyself; wouldst thou give alms to a beggar that by his carriage and language should slight both thee and thy bounty? If a condemned malefactor were suing to a prince for his life, and in the midst of his entreaties should see a moth or a fly, and leave his suit and follow after that, would this wretch deserve a pardon? And is it not as unreasonable that God should grant thy requests, if thou wilfully follow those foolish objects which thy heart, or the devil offer to thee in the midst of thy prayers; monstrous compositions, wherein is the face and voice of a man, the heart and feet of a beast, must needs be odious to God; Oh bind thine heart to its good behaviour, when thou goest into God’s house. Men put locks and fetters on wild horses, whom no enclosure can keep in. This watching the heart in duties will fasten and tie it, as with cords, to the altar. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:93

Every Place an Altar

There is no duty in my observation which hath so many precepts for it, or promises to it, as prayer, and sure I am, there is no duty which giveth more honour to God, or receiveth more honour from God, than prayer. Prayer hath a twofold pre-eminence above all other duties whatsoever, in regard of the universality of its influence, and opportunity for its performance. The universality of its influence. As every sacrifice was to be seasoned with salt, so every undertaking, and every affliction of the creature, must be sanctified with prayer. Nay, as it sheweth the excellency of gold, that it is laid upon silver itself, so it speaketh the excellency of prayer, that not only natural and civil, but even religious and spiritual actions, are overlaid with prayer. We pray not only before we eat or drink our bodily nourishment, but also before we feed on the bread of the word, and the bread in the sacrament; prayer is requisite to make every providence and every ordinance blessed to us. Prayer is needful to make our particular callings successful; prayer is the guard to secure the fort-royal of the heart; prayer is the porter to keep the door of the lips; prayer is the strong hilt which defendeth the hands; prayer perfumes every relation; prayer helps us to profit by every condition; prayer is the chemist that turns all into gold; prayer is the master-workman; if that be out of the way, the whole trade stands still, or goeth backward. What the key is to the watch, that prayer is to religion; it winds it up and sets it a-going. It is before other duties in regard of opportunity for its performance. A Christian cannot always hear, or always read, or always communicate, but he may pray continually. No place, no company can deprive him of this privilege. If he be on the top of a house with Peter, he may pray; if he be in the bottom of the ocean with Jonah, he may pray; if he be walking in the field with Isaac, he may pray when no eye seeth him; if he be waiting at table with Nehemiah, he may pray when no ear heareth him; if he be in the mountains with our Saviour, he may pray; if he be in the prison with Paul, he may pray; wherever he is, prayer will help him to find God out. Every saint is God’s temple; and he that carrieth his temple about him, saith Austin, may go to prayer when he pleaseth. Indeed to a Christian, every house is an house of prayer; every closet a chamber of presence; and every place he comes to an altar, whereon he may offer the sacrifice of prayer. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:106–107

Meditate on thy sins

Confession of sin must be with shame and sorrow; petition for mercy must be with faith and fervency; thanksgiving must be with admiration of God, and delight in God. Now it is meditation of our sins, wants, and miseries, which provides fuel for the fire of these graces to work upon, by which they break out into a heavenly flame. Meditate on thy sins. Thy duty in prayer is to indict, arraign, and condemn and execute those malefactors and transgressors of the royal law, which can never he done till they are apprehended. If thou wilt kill those foxes that spoil the vine, those lusts which hinder thy regenerate part from thriving, thy care must be by meditation to hunt them out of their lurking holes and take them. Thy wounds, which stink and are so unsavoury to God, must by serious consideration be searched and felt before they can be healed. When thou art going to prayer, do as Jehu, when he went to sacrifice to Baal, send out and fetch in all thy false worshippers, those enemies of the true God, that deny his supremacy, and bow the knee to the world or the flesh, and then by a humble penitential confession, and self-judging, cut them off. Who ever bewailed his sins, that did not know their sinfulness? or who ever was ashamed, that did not see his own nakedness? When the Jews came to know that they were the betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus, then they were pricked to the heart. Oh do that for thyself which God will do for many others! set thy sins in order before thine eyes, thine original and thine actual, thine omissions and commissions, thy personal and relative, thy secret and public, thy sins about natural, civil, or spiritual actions, thy sins under mercies and against afflictions. Say to thy conscience, as Samuel to Jesse, ‘Are all thy sons here?’ are all thy sins here? If any be wanting to thy knowledge, cause it to be sent for and brought, and sit not down to sacrifice before it come; when this is done, put them all into their own colours, accent them with their several aggravations, consider what light, what love, what motions of God’s Spirit, what convictions of thy own spirit, they were committed against. Above all, meditate on the infinite majesty, purity, and mercy of that God against whom thou hast sinned. Those three attributes duly weighed would, like Moses’ strokes, fetch water out of a rock. Ah couldst thou, that hast heard of this God by the hearing of the ear, but see him with the seeing of the eye, thou wouldst quickly abhor thyself in dust and ashes! How ugly, how loathsome would sin be, couldst thou behold the glory, holiness, and grace of that God whom thereby thou hast offended! Ah, how great an evil must that be which is so opposite and offensive to the greatest good! Think also on the blood of the dearest Jesus, which was let out by thy lusts; and surely when thou beholdest those knives before thee which made those bloody mortal wounds in his blessed body, anger and grief will both strive within thee for the mastery. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:112–113

Lord’s Day 25, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Come and hear, all who fear God, And I will tell of what He has done for my soul. I cried to Him with my mouth, And He was extolled with my tongue. If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear; But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer Nor His lovingkindness from me. —Psalm 66:16–20 King of Glory Nathaniel Vincent (1639–1697) King of glory, King of peace, I will love Thee; And that love may never cease, I will move Thee. Thou hast granted my request, Thou hast heard me; Thou didst note my working breast, Thou hast spared me. Wherefore with my utmost art, I will sing Thee; And the cream of all my heart, I will bring Thee. Though my sins against me cried, Thou didst clear me; And alone, when they replied, Thou didst hear me. Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise Thee; In my heart, Though not in heaven, I can raise Thee. Small it is, in this poor sort To enroll Thee; Even eternity’s too short To extol Thee. —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

God Will Not Hear

‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear my prayer,’ Ps. lxvi. 18. He that expecteth pardon must throw down his weapons of rebellion. The child that asketh forgiveness of his oaths, must not desire it of his father with curses in his mouth. When dust clogs the wheel of the watch or clock, they cannot strike true; when sin hampereth and clogs the wheels of the affections, the mouth will never speak true or right in its petitions. ‘He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination,’ Prov. xxviii. 9. It is high impudency for him that will not hear God, to look that God should hear him. When the sin of the petitioner is before God’s eyes, his petitions cannot enter into God’s ears; the wide mouth of sin outcrieth the voice of his prayers. . . . the smallest sin, loved and liked, will hinder the course of prayer, though it be never so instant and vehement. ‘The Lord’s ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, but your iniquities separate between you and your God,’ Isa. lix. 1, 2. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:118

The Rule of Our Prayers

George Swinnock reminds us to petition God for only that which he has promised. To the matter of our prayers: God’s word and will must be the rule of our prayers, what we must ask of him, as well as of our practice, what we must do for him. Subjects must set bounds to their desires, and take heed that their petitions do not encroach upon the prerogative royal. Divine precepts, what God commandeth us to act; divine promises, what God engageth himself to do for us; and divine prophecies, what God hath foretold shall come to pass, are to be the bounds of our prayers: he wandereth to his loss, that in his requests goeth beyond these limits. Balaam would needs ask leave of God, that he might be the devil’s chaplain to curse Israel; but mark the issue, he hath an ironical concession to go to his own destruction; the sharp razor indeed of his tongue would not pierce the Israelites, who had armour of proof ; but the sword of the Israelites soon entered his body, and sent his soul to receive its wages of that master that set him a-work. The Israelites on a sudden are all in a hurry for a king: ‘God gave them a king in his anger,’ for their punishment, rather than for their protection; and how soon were they sick, like children, of that which they cried so loud for—the king and people, at least many of them, perished together. Oh how much better is a favourable denial, than an angry grant of such prayers; but immodest desires never have profitable answers. . . . Take heed, reader, of exceeding the limits of prayer; those beasts which will not be kept within their bounds, are soonest caught and killed. Israel had their wish, to their woeful cost, when they cried out, ‘Would God we had died in the wilderness,’ Num. xiv. 2, 28, 29. ‘Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is,’ Eph. v. 17. Indeed, the Christian may have anything of God, if he do but in his prayer secure God’s honour; but he that exalteth his own will, not minding God’s, like a proud beggar, will be a chooser; and therefore he shall be sent away either without an alms, or else with the serpents which he desired, instead of the fish which he denied. The Christian’s charter is wide enough, he hath no cause to desire its enlargement: ‘And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us,’ 1 John v. 14. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:120–121

Is Thy Heart Right?

Our prayers may often be weak and imperfect, but this matters not at all to God. He cares only that we be fully dependent on him alone, that we come to him as a faithful bride, looking to no other. He will overlook our weakness, but he will never tolerate a divided mind. ‘The Lord is nigh to all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth,’ Ps. cxlv. 18. When the wife giveth the husband her heart, and defileth not the marriage bed, he will, if wise, bear with many infirmities in her. When the heart in prayer is devoted to God, he is pleased out of his grace and goodness to pardon and pass by many imperfections in the duty; but if that bed be prostituted to any other, he gives a divorce to the sacrifice, and putteth it away, for he is a jealous God. Jacob’s small present could not but be acceptable to Joseph, because it was ‘the best of the land.’ The heart of man is but little, yet it is the best of man, and therefore taken kindly by God. The main inquiry at prayer is concerning the heart: as Jonadab was asked by Jehu, so is the Christian by God, ‘Is thy heart right, as mine is? Then come up into my chariot.’ Then come to the throne of grace, and welcome. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:125–126

In a Praying Frame

Pray without ceasing; —1 Thessalonians 5:17 There is no duty enjoined a Christian for his constant trade so much as prayer: ‘Pray always,’ ‘pray continually,’ ‘pray without ceasing,’ ‘pray with perseverance,’ ‘pray evermore.’ But why is all this? would God have his people do nothing else but pray? must they cast by their callings, cast off all care of their children, and shut themselves up into some cell or cloister, and there be always upon their knees at prayer, as the Euchites fancied? No; I shall therefore give a brief description of this praying without ceasing. [1.] Thy soul must be ever in a praying frame. The soldier hath his weapons ready, though not always in fight with his enemy. Thy heart must be ever in tune, and ready upon the least touch to make heavenly music. The church’s lips are compared to a honeycomb, Cant. iv. 11. The honeycomb doth not always drop, but it is always ready to drop. The believer’s spirit is like fire upon the hearth; though it do not blaze, yet it is ready upon any opportunity to be blown up into a flame. [2.] No considerable business must be undertaken without prayer. Thou art God’s servant, and thy duty is to ask his leave in all thou dost: Eph. iv. 6, ‘In all things let your requests be made known to God.’ When thou risest up or liest down, when thou goest out or comest in, prayer must still be with thee. Prayer is the way to prevent evil. The world’s poison may be expelled with this antidote, John xvii. 11. He that converseth with God by prayer dwelleth in heaven, and to such a one the earth is but a small point. Prayer is both a charm to enchant, and a scourge to torment Satan. It engageth Christ in the combat with the devil, and so assureth the soul of conquest. When the saint is fighting, and like to be foiled, either by the world, the flesh, or the wicked one, prayer is the letter which he sendeth post to heaven for fresh supplies of the Spirit, whereby he becometh ‘more than a conqueror.’ Prayer is the way to procure good: he that will not speak must not expect to speed. It sanctifieth our food, raiment, sleep, callings, and all our enjoyments to us. The Christian, like the chemist, extracteth all good things out of this one body of prayer. [3.] He that prayeth constantly hath set times every day for prayer. The morning and evening sacrifice were called the ‘continual sacrifice,’ Num. xxviii. 4. The Christian hath his set meals for his soul every day as well as for his body. With the marigold, he opens himself in the morning for the sweet dews of heaven’s grace and blessing, and he doth at night, (though his occasions hinder him in the day,) like a lover, find some opportunity to converse with his beloved. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:130–131

I Wish That I

If you are like me, your prayers are often desultory exercises, casual, clichéd, presented with an unprepared mind and low expectations. It ought not to be so, but, I must confess, it often is. George Swinnock presents, for our encouragement in prayer, a lengthy list of wishes: I wish that the many and weighty mercies which I, unworthy wretch, enjoy, may be written so firmly in my mind, and presented to me before prayer, in the various and lively colours of their freeness, fulness, and seasonableness; that I may never steal the custom of thanks from my God, which is all he desires, for those rich and full vessels which he sendeth me in every day; but may pay him this impost of praise and glory with all uprightness and alacrity. I wish that . . . I might never leave confession without sorrow for sin; petition, without some sense of the worth of mercies; nor thanksgiving, without some solace and joy in God, the author and fountain of all my happiness. I wish that I may draw nigh to God with a pure conscience; and before I go to desire the lovely portion of his friends, give a bill of divorce to all my lusts, and, at least, banish from the bed of my heart those enemies of his which would not have him to reign over me. I wish that I may never desire mercy at his hands with the least degree of malice in my heart . . . I wish I may resolve beforehand to remember in particular my enemies, to beg of God that he would pardon, sanctity, and save them. . . . I wish that I may be specially careful to look up to the Master of requests, the Lord Jesus Christ: first, for the justification of my person, and then for the acceptation of my prayer; and that I may be so enabled, with the hand of faith, to put on the glorious robes of his perfect righteousness, that neither the nakedness of my person nor performance may appear to my shame. I wish that all the flowers which I present to my God, in the posy of prayer, may be gathered out of his own garden, the Scriptures; I mean, that I may never exceed those bounds which he hath set me for the matter of my prayer, but may use much caution that all those spices, which I make my incense of, may be of his own prescription: and oh that, to this end, his Holy Spirit, who knoweth his mind fully, might draw up all my petitions for me! I wish that my prayers may be ever presented upon the bended knees of my soul, and also, in regard of my body, in the lowest and most submissive posture; ah, how humble should dust and ashes be, when he takes upon him to speak to the most high God! I wish above all that I may never mock the most jealous God in this duty, by speaking parrot-like what I neither mind nor mean . . . I wish that I may so feel my spiritual wants, that . . . I may cry aloud for the bread of life . . . When I am petitioning for pardon and grace, I wish I might beg as earnestly, and beseech God as importunately, as if it were in the power of my prayer to change his mind and procure the blessing; but when I am asking temporals, I would . . . willingly be at my Father’s allowance, and desire no more than what his infinite wisdom seeth needful to bear my charges, till I come to my blessed and everlasting home. . . . I wish that every mercy may come flying to me upon the wings of prayer, and may fly back to God upon the wings of praise . . . that at night prayer may make my bed soft, and lay my pillow easy, that in the day-time prayer may perfume my clothes, sweeten my food, oil the wheels of my particular vocation, keep me company upon all occasions, and gild over all my natural, civil, and religious actions. I wish that, after I have poured out my prayer in the name of Christ, according to the will of God, having sowed my seed, I may expect a crop, looking earnestly for the springing of it up, and believing assuredly that I shall reap in time if I faint not; yea, that though the promise may stick long in the birth, yet it will at last bring forth, when God will give me large interest for my forbearance. Finally, I wish that, though before sorrowful, having opened my mind to God about any suffering, my countenance, like Hannah’s, may be no more sad; that I may never busy myself about God’s work, the success and event of things, nor like an idle, lazy beggar, be careless about my own work, but may in my place, and to my power, be industrious in the use of all those lawful means which his providence affords me for the enjoyment of my desires, that as I did lift up my heart in praying, so I may lift up my hands in working to God, who dwelleth in the heavens. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:138–140

Commend Thy Minister to God

Pastors are often subject to great scrutiny and criticism. This, in fact, is not altogether wrong. Christ makes great demands on his under-shepherds and they are to be held accountable for their care of the flock. Yet it is hardly reasonable to expect much of an elder whom we have not, in love, regularly taken before the throne of grace, praying on his behalf for the grace to perform his duty for our profit and God’s glory. Swinnock writes, [B]e sure thou forget not to commend thy minister to God. As thy duty is to beg a ‘door of entrance’ for thyself, so a ‘door of utterance’ for thy pastor. ‘Withal praying for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ,’ Col. iv. 3; Eph. vi. 19. Thy profit by him will be not a little furthered by thy prayer for him. He that loves his child, will often remember the nurse that feeds it; he that loves his precious soul, will often mind the preacher that prepareth and bringeth its spiritual portion. I have known some to praise their cooks highly, when they would prevail with them to dress a dish curiously for their palates. I am sure thy way is to pray for thy pastor fervently, if thou wouldest have him provide such food as may be for thy soul's pleasure and profit. Starve the mother, and you starve the child in her womb. If the heavens do not favour the hills with showers, they cannot fatten the valleys with their chalky streams. If the pipes be broke which convey water to our houses from the river, we can expect no supply. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:153

The Influence of Heaven

Swinnock has exhorted us to allow time for meditation on the Word. Our own meditations, however, will do little good without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We must also Petition for a blessing upon the word. After the seed is sown, the influence of heaven must cause it to spring up and ripen, or otherwise there will be no harvest. ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God must give the increase,’ 1 Cor. iii. 6. The minister preacheth, thou hearest, but it is the Lord who teacheth to profit. Thou mayest, like Mary, have Christ before thee in a sermon, and yet not know him till he discover himself to thee. The eunuch could read of Christ in the prophet, but could not reach Christ till God came to his chariot. There is a twofold light requisite to a bodily vision—light in the eye, and light in the air. The former cannot, as we experience in the night, do it without the latter. There is also a twofold light necessary to spiritual sight: beside the light of understanding which is in a man, there must be illumination from the Spirit of God, or there will be no beholding the Lord in the glass of the word. When the disciples had heard Christ’s doctrine, they were not able to understand or profit by his preaching, and therefore they cry to him, ‘Lord, open to us this parable.’ When thou hast read or heard the word, go to God, and say, ‘Teach me, Lord, the way of thy statutes; give me understanding and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness,’ Ps. cxix. 33–37. Entreat God to write his law on the fleshly tables of thine heart. Bernard observes, bodily bread in the cupboard may be eaten of mice, or moulder and waste; but when it is taken down into the body, it is free from such danger: if God enable thee to take thy soul-food down into thine heart, it is safe from all hazards. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:163

Lord’s Day 35, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. —Hebrews 4:14–16 Hymn LX. Exhortation to Prayer. William Cowper (1731–1800) What various hind’rances we meet In coming to a mercy-seat? Yet who that knows the worth of pray’r, But wishes to be often there. Pray’r makes the dark’ned cloud withdraw, Pray’r climbs the ladder Jacob saw; Gives exercise to faith and love, Brings ev’ry blessing from above. Restraining pray’r, we cease to fight; Pray’r makes the christian’s armor bright; And Satan trembles, when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees. While Moses stood with arms spread wide, Success was found on Israel’s side; But when thro’ weariness they fail’d, That moment Amalek prevail’d. Have you no words? ah, think again, Words flow apace when you complain; And fill your fellow-creature’s ear With the sad tale of all your care. Were half the breath thus vainly spent, To heav’n in supplication sent; Your cheerful song would oft’ner be, “Hear what the Lord has done for me!” —Olney Hymns. Book II: On Occasional Subjects. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

The Grace of Adoption

Our Father who is in heaven . . . —Matthew 6:9 Thomas Manton (1620–1677), in An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, writes of the great blessing of adoption and the privilege we who are the adopted children of God enjoy of calling God our Father. [T]here is a particular sort of men to whom God is a father in Christ, and that is, to believers: John i. 12, ‘To as many as received him, to them gave he power to be called the sons of God.’ Those which in their natural state and condition were children of wrath, and slaves to sin and Satan, when they come, and are willing to welcome and receive Christ into their hearts, in a sense of their misery, are willing to make out after God and Christ; they have an allowance to call God Father, and may have child-like communion with him, and run to him in all straits, and lay open their necessities to him. 2 Kings iv. 19, When the child cried unto his father, he said, ‘Carry him to his mother:’ so when we are ill at ease and in any straits, this is the privilege of our adoption, that we have a God to go to; we may go to our Father and plead with him, as the church: Isa. lxiii. 16, ‘Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer.’ It is good to know God under this special relation of a father in Christ; and this is that which is the grace of adoption. Adoption is an act of free grace, by which we that were aliens and strangers, servants to sin and Satan, are, in and by Christ, made sons and daughters of God, and accordingly are so reckoned and treated with, to all intents and purposes. It is a great and special privilege, given to God’s own children, by virtue of their interest in Christ; find therefore it is said, 1 John iii. 1, ‘Behold, what love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!’ That is, behold it as a certain truth, and admire it as a great privilege. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:43–44.

What Manner of Love

Our Father who is in heaven . . . —Matthew 6:9 More from Thomas Manton on the privilege of calling God our Father. If we consider the greatness of the privilege itself: ‘Oh, behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called his children!’ 1 John iii. 1. We think it much when we can say, This field, this house is mine; but surely this is more, to say, This God is mine. Again, observe here that interest is a ground of audience. So Christ would have us begin our prayers, ‘Our Father.’ God’s interest in us, and our interest in God. God’s interest in us: when Christ mediates for his disciples, he saith, John xvii. 6, ‘Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.’ And David: Ps. cxix. 94, ‘I am thine, save me.’ That is his argument: the reason is, because God, by taking them for his own, binds himself to preserve and keep them. Everybody is bound to look to his own: ‘He that provides not for his own is worse than an infidel.’ Now what a sweet thing is it when we can go to God and say. We are thine! So it is the same, as to our interest in God. It is an excellent encouragement: Ps. xlii. 11, ‘Hope thou in God,’ saith David to his soul. Why? For he is my God. And elsewhere, reasoning with himself: Ps. xxiii. 1, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’ First, his covenant-interest is built, and then conclusions of hope. So 2 Sam. xxx. 6, ‘David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.’ It is sweet when we can go to God as our God. Luther was wont to say, God was known better by the predicament of relation than by his natural properties. Why is interest such a sweet thing? Because by this relation to God we have a claim to God, and to all that he can and will do. God hath made over himself, quantus quantus est, as great as great he is, for his use and comfort. Therefore the psalmist saith, Ps. xvi. 5, ‘The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.’ A believer hath as sure a right and title to God, as a man hath to his patrimony to which he is born, or as any Israelite had to that share which came to him by lot; so he may lay claim to God, and live upon his power and goodness, as a man doth upon his estate. Well, then, labour to see God is yours, if you would find acceptance with him. It is not enough to know the goodness and power of God in general, but we must discern our interest in him, that we may not only say Father, but Our Father. It is the nature of faith thus to appropriate and apply: John xx. 28, ‘My Lord and my God.’ How is God made ours? How shall we know it, that we may come and lay our claim to him? Behold, Christ teacheth us here to say, Our Father, by taking hold of his covenant; and this is God’s covenant notion, ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:54–55.
Our Father who is in heaven . . . —Matthew 6:9 The Scripture passage commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer”—which is not actually a prayer, but a pattern for prayer—begins with the salutation, “Our Father.” This form of words expresses the fact that our “personal” relationships with Christ are neither private nor exclusive. God is the father, and Christ is the savior, of all the elect, in all times and in all places. There are no lone Christians on their own personal islands. The church is a “communion of saints,” and Jesus placed that fact at the front of his model prayer so that we would not pray as representatives of our own interests alone. Thomas Manton expands this truth thus: Christ put this in this perfect pattern and form of prayer To quicken our love to the saints in prayer. In a fellow-feeling of their miseries, in being touched with their necessities, as we would be with our own. It must be expressed in wishing the same good to others as to ourselves. It checketh many carnal dispositions which we are guilty of . . . It checks strife and contention; we are brethren—have one common Father. [A]ll the saints have a common interest in the same God; therefore Christ taught us to say, ‘Our Father.’ They have one Father, as well as one Spirit—one Christ, one hope, and one heaven: Eph. iv. 6. Questionless, it is lawful to say, My Father. . . . But here Christ, when he giveth us this perfect form, teacheth us to say, ‘Our Father.’ As the sun in the firmament is every man’s, and all the world’s, so God is every single believer’s God—the God of all the elect. But why would Christ put this in this perfect pattern and form of prayer? [1.] To quicken our love to the saints in prayer. When we come to pray, there must be a brotherly love expressed; now that is a distinct thing from common love: ‘Add to brotherly kindness, charity,’ 2 Pet i. 7. When we are dealing with God in prayer, we must express somewhat of this brotherly love. How must we express it? In praying for others, as well as for ourselves. Necessity will put men upon praying for themselves, but brotherly love will put them upon praying for others. Wherein must brotherly kindness be expressed in prayer? In two things:— (1.) In a fellow-feeling of their miseries, in being touched with their necessities, as we would be with our own. To be senseless, it is a spiritual excommunication, a casting ourselves out of the body. Members must take care for one another. We must be grieved with their pains. ‘Who is offended,’ saith the apostle, ‘and I burn not?’ If there be any power in such a confession or title of a Father, we must be wrestling with God, how well soever it be with us, remembering we speak to him in whom others have a joint interest with ourselves. (2.) It must be expressed in wishing the same good to others as to ourselves. Many that pray in their own case, with what earnestness and importunity are they carried out! but how flat and cold in the case of others! Now, a good Christian must be as earnest with God for others as for himself Look, what earnestness and heedfulness of soul he showeth when he puts up prayers for himself; the same must he do ‘for all saints:’ Eph. vi. 18. . . . [2.] Again, as it showeth us what brotherly love we should express in prayer, so it checketh many carnal dispositions which we are guilty of, and Christ would mind us of them. It checks strife and contention; we are brethren—have one common Father. Everywhere meekness and love: it is a qualification for prayer. ‘Let the husband live with his wife according to knowledge, that their prayers be not hindered:’ 1 Pet. iii. 7. If there be such brawls in the family, how can the husband and wife call upon God with such a united heart as is requisite? So, 1 Tim. ii. 8, ‘I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.’ Not only lift up ‘pure’ hands to God, and that ‘without doubting;’ there must be confidence in our prayers. But that is not all: but ‘without wrath;’ there must be nothing of revenge and passion mingled with your supplication. And then it checketh pride and disdain. Christ teacheth all, in all conditions, whether masters or servants, fathers or children, kings or beggars, all to say ‘Our Father;’ for we have all one Father. Thou hast not a better Christ, nor a better Father in heaven, than they have. The rich and the poor were to give one ransom under the law, Exod. xxx., to show they have all the same Redeemer. The weak should not despise nor disdain the strong, nor the rich he ashamed to own the poor as hrethren. We should never be ashamed to own him as a brother whom God will own as a son. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:55–57.

It Concerns Us to Walk So

. . . Hallowed be your name. —Matthew 6:9 When we pray, “Hallowed be your name,” we are praying for our sanctification. We pray that God will conform us, as he has promised, “to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29), that he may be glorified in us. There is holiness required, that we may not be a disgrace to God and a dishonour to him. The Lord saith, Ezek. xx. 9, ‘That his name should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they (his people) were.’ The sin of God’s people doth stain the honour of God, and profane his name. When men profess much to be a people near God, and live carnally and loosely, they dishonour God exceedingly by their conversation. Men judge by what is visible and sensible, and so they think of God by his servants and worshippers; as the heathens did of Christ in Salvian’s time,—If he was a holy Christ, certainly Christians would live more temperately, justly, and soberly. They are apt to think of God by his worshippers, and by the people that profess themselves so near and dear to him; therefore it concerns us to walk so, that our lives may honour him: Mat. v. 16, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ As the loins of the poor (saith Job) blessed him, Job xxxi. 20, namely, as they were fed and clothed by his bounty; so our lives may glorify God. David saith, Ps. cxix. 7, ‘Then shall I praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I have learned thy righteous judgment.’ There is no way to praise God entirely and sincerely until we have learned both to know and do his will. Real praise is the praise God looks after. Otherwise we do but serve Christ as the devil served him, who would carry him upon the top of the mountain, but it was with an intent to bid him throw himself down again. So we seem to exalt God much in our talk and profession; yea, but we throw him down, when we pollute him and deny him in our conversation. Our lives are the scandal of religion, and a pollution and blot to the name of God. So that with respect to ourselves, you see what need we have to go to God, that he will give us grace that we may please him and glorify his name. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:78–79.

If You Abide

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7 The Lord promises that he will do whatever we ask, and there is no “except for this or that” added. ”Whatever” really means whatever. This does not, however, mean that there is no limit to God will do. Of course there is. But the limiting factor is not found in the promise, but in the recipients of the promise. The promise is given to a particular kind of people, who will have a particular kind of desire, stemming from a particular source. If you abide in me. Believers often feel that they are starved, and are very far from that rich fatness which is necessary for yielding abundant fruit. For this reason it is expressly added, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty, as soon as they ask it from God. This is a very useful admonition; for the Lord often suffers us to hunger, in order to train us to earnestness in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never want what we ask, but, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with every thing that we need, (1 Cor. i. 5.) If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honours, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, Which enables them to bear fruit. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:111.

An Immortal Name

. . . Hallowed be your name. —Matthew 6:9 When we pray, “Hallowed be your name,” we put ourselves and our own conceits in their place, and God in his. ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ not ours. There seems to be a secret opposition between our name and the name of God. When we come to pray, we should distinctly remember whose name is to be glorified, that God may be at the end of every request. We beg of God many times, but we think of ourselves; our hearts run upon our own name, and upon our own esteem. How often do we come to him with a selfish aim, as if we would draw God into our own designs and purposes! None are so unfit to glorify God, and so unwelcome to him, as those that are so wedded and vehemently addicted to their own honour and esteem in the world. Therefore Christ, by way of distinction, by way of opposition to this innate disposition that is in us, he would have us to say, ’Hallowed be thy name.’ That which gives most honour to God is believing: Rom. iv. 19, 20, Abraham was ‘strong in faith, giving glory to God.’ Now, none so unfit for the work as they that seek glory for themselves: John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? ‘Affectation of vainglory, or splendour of our own name, is a temper inconsistent with faith, which is the grace that gives honour to God. I say, when we hunt after respect from men, and make that the chiefest scope of our actions, God’s glory will certainly lie in the dust; when we are to suffer ignominy and abasement for his sake, the care of God’s glory will be laid aside. The great sin of the old world was this: Gen. xi. 4, ‘Let us make us a name.’ There are many conceits about that enterprise, what that people should aim at there in building so great and so vast a tower, before God confounded their tongues. . . . Moses gives the main reason there, that they might have an immortal name among posterity. But now see how ill they reckon that do reckon without God. Those that are so busy about their own name, how soon will God blast them! When in any action we do not seek glory to God, but ourselves, it is the ready way to be destroyed. This was the means to bury them in perpetual oblivion. Nebuchadnezzar, when he re-edified the city, Dan. iv. 30: ‘Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? ‘How doth God disappoint him, and turn him out among the beasts! Thus are we sure to be disappointed and blasted, when our hearts run altogether upon our own name. But now Christ saith thy name; when we are careful of that, this is the way to prosper. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:85.

The Means to the End

Your kingdom come . . . —Matthew 6:10 The second petition marks a division in the Lord’s prayer between our ultimate purpose, and the means by which it will be accomplished. The first petition concerneth the end, the rest the means. Now, among all the means, none hath such a near and immediate respect to the glory of God as Christ’s kingdom; for here there is more of God discovered, more of his infinite grace, justice, wisdom, and power than possibly can be elsewhere. All other things are for the church, and the church for Christ as head and king, and Christ for God, 1 Cor. iii. 22, 23. So that Christ’s kingdom is the primary means of advancing God’s glory; and therefore among all the means it must be sought in the first place. Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God.’ First, not above the glory of God, it doth not come in competition with that, but above all other things whatsoever, before pardon and grace. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:90.

The Kingdom of Grace

Your kingdom come . . . —Matthew 6:10 God’s kingdom is twofold: there is a universal kingdom, in which God rules over all of creation, and a more particular kingdom, in which he rules as the sovereign of his elect. It is this second kingdom for which we pray, and especially, one particular aspect of it. God hath a kingdom over a certain order and estate of men. Of this especial kingdom there are two notable branches and considerations. One is that administration which belongeth to the present life, and is called ‘the kingdom of grace;’ and the other belongeth to the life to come, and is called ‘the kingdom of glory.’ 1. The kingdom of grace is spoken of in many places, specially that: Luke xvii. 20, 21, ‘When he was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you,’ or ‘among you.’ He speaks of a kingdom of God that was already come among them in the dispensation of his grace by Christ. And, then, the other belongeth to the life to come, called the kingdom of glory: Mat. xxv. 34, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for yon from the foundation of the world;’ 1 Cor. xv. 50, ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ Now, the kingdom of grace may be considered two ways,—as externally administered, and as internally received. [1.] As externally administered in the ordinances and means of grace, as the word and seals, and censures, and the like. In this sense it is said: Mat. xxi. 43, ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.’ The gospel or means of grace administered in the visible face of the church, they are called God’s kingdom upon earth, and a very great privilege they are when they are bestowed upon any people. Surely, when Christ saith, ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken from you,’ he doth not mean it of the inward kingdom,—that they had not, that cannot be lost,—but of the outward and external means. [2.] As internally received; and then by it is meant the grace of God, which rules in the hearts of the elect, and causeth their souls to submit and subject themselves unto the obedience of Christ, and unto his sceptre, and to his word and Spirit, that this is that kingdom properly which is within us. This is ‘the kingdom of God which consisteth in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,’ Rom. xiv. 17. And this differeth from the kingdom of glory, not so much in nature as in degree. Well, then, that by the kingdom of God is here meant, not his general empire over all the world, and all the things of the world, though that be not wholly excluded, but his special kingdom, which he doth administer by Christ: and that either as externally managed by ordinances and visible means of grace, or as internally received and administered in the hearts of the elect. This is that kingdom we beg that it may flourish and get ground more and more. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:90–91.

Thy Kingdom Come

Your kingdom come . . . —Matthew 6:10 What do we mean when we pray, “Thy kingdom come”? Here is the supplication or the request which we make to God about this kingdom . . . let it come. What do we mean by that? This word must be applied to the several acceptations of Christ's kingdom. 1. If you apply it to the external kingdom of grace, then when we Say, Thy kingdom come, the meaning is, let the gospel be published, let churches be set up everywhere, let them be continued and maintained against all the malignity of the world, and opposition of the devil: and in the publication of the gospel, where the sound of it hath not been heard, that God would come there in the power of his Spirit, and draw people into communion with himself: Mat. xii. 28, ‘If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you,’—meaning in the public tenders thereof. Saith he, if this miracle doth clearly, as it doth in your consciences, evidence my mission, then you may know the kingdom of God is come—that is, that there is a publication of the gospel of grace. Then we pray for the continuance of this privilege, notwithstanding opposition, that Christ may stand his ground. This is that we seek of God, that he may maintain his interest among the nations of the world, that the gates of hell may not prevail against his kingdom. 2. If you refer to the internal part of this kingdom, then we beg the beginning, the progress, and the final consummation of it. First, The beginning or the erection of a throne for Christ in our hearts, and the hearts of others, that he may fully exercise regal power. Secondly, The increase of this kingdom by holiness and obedience, and sincere subjection to him; for the kingdom of grace is so come already, that it will still be coming yet more and more. So long as we need to pray, so long shall we have cause to say, ‘Thy kingdom come.’ Thirdly, The consummation of it, when the fulness of glory in the second coming of Christ shall be revealed; when our head shall be glorious, and his day shall come . . . For the present it is man’s day, so the scripture seems to call it; but then it is the day of the Lord, when all the devils shall stoop, and enemies receive their final doom, and the saints shall have the crown of glory put upon their heads in the sight of all the world. Well, the sum of all is this, that though this petition do mainly concern the special kingdom, which God administereth by Christ, yet God’s universal kingdom, the kingdom of his power and providence, is a mighty support and prop to our faith in making this request to God. When we consider what an unlimited power God hath over all creatures, even devils themselves, to dispose of them for his own glory, and his church’s good; we need not be discouraged though Christ’s kingdom be opposed in the world, but should with the more confidence deal with God about it. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:92–93.

Your Will Be Done

Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. —Matthew 6:10 God’s will, it signifieth two things, either his decree concerning future events, or else that which God hath revealed concerning our duty—his intended or commanded will. The first is spoken of, Rom. ix. 19, ‘Who hath resisted his will?’ that is, his decree and his purpose; and the second, his revealed pleasure concerning our duty, is spoken of, 1 Thes. iv. 3, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’ The will not of his purpose, but it is his law, his revealed pleasure. Now it is not meant here of God’s decree or secret will. Why? God’s secret will, that is not known, therefore how can it be done upon earth? To that all are subject,—reprobates, devils. But here this petition speaks of a will which is to be done in conformity to the good angels. Again, we may, without sin, will that which God wills not by his secret will, as the life of a sick parent, which God purposeth to take away. Nay, a man may fulfil this secret will and yet perish for ever, as Judas, and many which break his commandments and yet fulfil his decrees, that do that which God had determined before to be done in his secret purpose; as it is said, Acts iv. 28, ‘To do that which his hand and counsel had determined before to be done.’ Therefore his secret will is not here meant, but the will of God revealed. Therefore let me here distinguish again: The will of God is revealed two ways, in his word and in his works; the one to be done by us, the other to be done upon us: . . . the one maketh way for our active, the other for our passive obedience. Our active obedience hath respect to his laws and commands, but our passive to his providence. We show as much obedience in the one as in the other, in patience as in holiness: for as in holiness we own God as the supreme lawgiver, so in patience we own him as the supreme Lord, that hath a dominion over all events and all things which fall out in the world. In the one, we pray . . . that nothing which comes from God may provoke us to unseemly passion; in the other, we pray . . . that nothing which comes from us may provoke God by unseemly and undutiful carriage. We principally pray for the latter here, that we may fulfil his will revealed in the word, and yet the other cannot be excluded. Take but this reason, because the saints in scripture express their subjection to God’s providence in words very agreeable to this request, to the form of this petition; as those believers, when they saw God had determined Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, when he went bound in the Spirit, notwithstanding the dangers of it, and their loss by his departure, they said, ‘The will of the Lord be done,’ Acts xxi. 14. And Christ himself, speaking of his passion, Mat. xxvi. 39, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt: ‘and ‘not my will, but thine, be done,’ Luke xxii. 42. So that we pray both for the one and the other, though with a plain difference. Why? For our active obedience must be even without a conditional desire that the commands of God should be repealed; we cannot so much as desire God should disannul his law, and repeal those statutes he hath enacted. Yet we may desire conditionally, if God see fit, the removal of our affliction, and that condition of life to which we are determined by his providence: ‘The commandment is not grievous’ in itself, 1 John v. 3, yet the affliction in its own nature is grievous, Heb. xii. 11. We may desire more knowledge of God’s law, yet we may not desire more experience of affliction; the one is more absolutely necessary than the other. We are not only to obey actively, but to love the commandments of God, and to have our hearts carried out in a greater esteem, and to prefer them before liberty itself; but I doubt whether we are so concerning our afflictions, to prefer them before freedom and exemption, and the welfare of our nature. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:121–122.

Lord’s Day 5, 2016

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. —Matthew 6:25–33 Desires O Thou That Hearest Prayer,Teach me to pray. I confess that in religious exercises the language of my lips and the feelings of my heart have not always agreed, that I have frequently taken carelessly upon my tongue a name never pronounced above without reverence and humility, that I have often desired things which would have injured me, that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies, that I have erred both on the side of my hopes and also of my fears, that I am unfit to choose for myself, for it is not in me to direct my steps. Let thy Spirit help my infirmities, for I know not what to pray for as I ought. Let him produce in me wise desires by which I may ask right things, then I shall know thou hearest me. May I never be importunate for temporal blessings, but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness, for thou knowest what I need before I ask; May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers, or that I am rich unless rich toward thee, or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation. May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness. May I value things in relation to eternity. May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude. May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have thy blessing, rather than be successful in enterprise, or have more than my heart can wish, or be admired by my fellow-men, if thereby these things make me forget thee. May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities, vexation of spirit, and desire to depart from it. And may I seek my happiness in thy favour, image, presence, service. —The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

No Heavenly Bellhop

For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. —1 Peter 3:12 (cf. Psalm 34:15–16) What kind of prayers does God answer? This couplet . . . says, in the first place, that the eyes of the Lord are watching His people. His eye is upon us—not a jaundiced eye but a tender one. This is not the stare that destroys but the gaze that lifts up. He keeps an eye on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers. When children do not want to hear what someone is telling them, they put their hands over their ears. We have almost the same image here. God puts His fingers in His ears when the wicked speak, but He gives an attentive ear to the prayers of His people. James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). It avails much because God turns His ear to the prayers of His people. It is fitting that this particular section of the text ends with a politically incorrect statement. Some years ago in the course of a debate at the Southern Baptist Convention, the head of the convention was asked if God hears the prayers of unbelievers. He said no—a volatile response indeed. It is radical to say that we ought not to encourage godless people to pray because the prayers of the godless are an insult to God. Such prayers do not come from contrite hearts but from those that have a vested self-interest. They make their appeal to a heavenly bellhop, putting in their order. God shuts His ears to that kind of prayer, and He turns His face away from the unrighteous. When Israel fell into apostasy, God said, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings” (Amos 5:21–22). God is not mocked, and He is not interested in listening to the petitions of those who are insincere when they address Him. However, if you pray to Him with a penitent heart in a spirit of worship, He cannot wait to hear everything that you say, because the prayers of His people are a sheer delight, and their offerings are to Him a sweet aroma and a fragrance of beauty. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 111–112.

Lord’s Day 10, 2017

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. —Matthew 6:9–13 Paraphrases on Select Parts of Holy Writ Para. XIII. Matthew vi. 9–13. Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) Our holy Father, all thy will We fain would perfectly fulfil; But each has left thy law undone, Unworthy to be call’d thy Son. Who art in heaven, enthron’d on high Diffusing glory through the sky; Reigning above, on earth rever’d, By saints belov’d, by sinners fear’d. or ever hallow’d be thy name, The Triune God, the bright I Am; At which seraphic choirs and all The hosts of heaven adoring fall. Thy kingdom come; e’en now we wait Thy glory to participate: Rule in our hearts, unrivall’d reign, Nor e’er withdraw thyself again. Thy will, thy law, thy precept giv’n, Be done on earth, as ’tis in heaven: Faithful as Angels, fain would we With cover’d faces wait on thee. Great God, on whom the ravens cry For sustenance, our wants supply: Give us this day, and evermore, Our daily bread from hour to hour. Forgive whate’er we do amiss, Our wilful sins and trespasses, As we forgive (reward us thus) All them that trespass against us. And lead us not by bounty’s tide, Into temptation, lust or pride: But what by mercy we obtain. Let pow’r omnipotent restrain. And O! deliver us thine own From evil and the evil one, Who fain his darts in us would sheath, And bind us with the chains of death. Thou, Lord, can’st vanquish his design. Thine is the kingdom, only thine; The pow’r, th’ eternal majesty, And glory, appertain to thee! —The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

When Prayer Is Sin

Years ago, I recorded my objection to the “unspoken” prayer request, but I neglected one very important reason I won’t pray for your unspoken request. As David Clarkson writes, The thing asked for must be an object of faith; such things as you may upon good grounds believe that God will grant. There must be a belief, a persuasion, that the things desired are lawful according to his will: 1 John v. 14, ‘And this is the assurance that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.’ No assurance he will hear, without assurance that what we ask is according to his will; now that is according to his will for which we have command or promise . . . If there be no persuasion, or none upon these grounds, the prayer is not of faith, and so it is sin; for whatever is not of faith is sin, and sin can expect no comfortable return from God. He that cannot behold it will not hear it, or hear it so as to reward it but with punishment. A fervent prayer for a thing unlawful is a crying sin. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:198. In short, if your request is kept secret, how can I know if it’s biblical? I really do need to know.

Believers Can Pray Believing

One of the many great promises given to God’s children is that of answered prayer. If we know we are his, we know he will hear. Get assurance of your interest in the covenant; that Christ has loved you, and washed you from your sins in his blood; that he has given you his Spirit; that you are reconciled and in favour. If you be sure you are his favourites, you may be sure to have his ear. As acceptance of persons goes before acceptance of services, so assurance of that is the ground of confidence in this: 1 John v. 13–15, ‘These things have I written, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.’ First, assurance that ye have eternal life, and then confidence that he will hear. If ye know that ye have right to eternal life by faith, the first fruits of it, then ye may be sure he will hear and grant; not hear in vain, but make sweet returns to the petitions he hears, ver. 15.: John xv. 7, ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.’ First assure your union, and then doubt not of your audience. Union goes before audience, so assurance of one goes before assurance of the other. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:202.

Willing to Hear

He was willing, resolved, determined to hear, before you were willing to ask. He decreed it from eternity; he was willing before you had a will, a being. Nay, he was not only willing before, but he was the cause why you are willing. You must not think that your prayers move God to be willing; his will is the same for ever, not subject to the least motion or alteration. Prayers are rather a sign than a cause that God is willing. He is not made willing because we pray, but because he is willing he stirs up our hearts to pray: Ps. x. 17, ‘Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.’ He is first desirous to do us good, and then makes us desire it, and pray for it, that we may have them in his own way,—a clear evidence he is more desirous than we, because he makes us, so our desires spring from this. . . . He that prescribes the only course whereby prayer may get audience without fail, and commands us to follow that course, is more willing prayer shall be heard than those that are negligent in observing that only fallible way. But so it is, the Lord has commanded and prescribed such a course, which punctually followed, prayer can never return without the answer desired. But the best of men are more or less negligent in observing this prescript; therefore he is more willing our prayers should be heard than we ourselves. Now, since the Lord is willing, and so willing, to hear, why should we not believe that he will hear? What strong encouragement is here to pray in faith! There is as much reason to believe that God will hear as there is to believe that you are willing to be heard. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:203–204.

Prayer Conditioning

God wills that we pray believing, but we do not always know how we should pray. We do not know what is best. Therefore, while we should pray believing that he will answer, we must not necessarily expect the exact object of our request. He might have something different in store for us. Believe not precisely that you shall receive this you pray for; but either this, or some other; something as good or better in reference to God’s glory and your happiness; this is sufficient when you are not certain whether that you pray for be best for you; I say not, whether it seem, but whether it be. In this case, it is not required you should believe determinately that you shall receive what you pray for, but disjunctively, either this, or some other. In such a condition was Paul: Philip. i. 23, 24, ‘I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.’ When you are in such a strait you may pray for what you apprehend to be best, but not believe you shall be heard in that precisely; but either in that, or some other thing better or equivalent; so in praying for riches, posterity, deliverance, and indeed all things that are in their own nature, or to you, indifferent; you may desire riches, &c., but it is not necessary you should be confident that God will make you rich; but either do this or something as good. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:217. Furthermore, God’s answers to our prayers are conditioned on the righteousness of our requests, and our preparedness to receive them. It may be that the change we need is in ourselves. We are to pray for nothing but what is commanded or promised; and the things we are to pray for are held forth in the word with two sorts of conditions, some annexed to the promise, some to the thing promised. Spiritual blessings are conditional, because sometimes conditions are annexed to the promises, whereby God engages himself to give them. Now when he has already wrought the conditions, we may pray in faith for them absolutely, as before. When the conditions are not wrought, then we should [pray] for the conditions themselves, not for the blessings conditionally: as Mat. v. 6, that we may hunger and thirst after righteousness; and Rev. ii. 10, that we may be faithful unto death. Temporal blessings are conditional, because conditions are annexed to the things themselves, and they are such as these: if it seem good, if it be thy will, if it be for thy glory, if it be for my soul’s good. Temporal favours are to be asked in faith, but faith must act conditionally. The like is to be observed about the removal of afflictions, and vouchsafing of spiritual favours that tend to our well-being: faith in asking these must be acted, but acted conditionally, and with submission. An example we have in David, a man strong in faith and much in prayer: 2 Sam. xv. 25, 26, ‘If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it and his habitation. But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here I am, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.’ And in Christ himself, his faith acted conditionally: Mat. xxvi. 39, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ —Ibid., 217–218.

Prayer Is Its Own Reward

The primary purpose of prayer is not to get from God, but to glorify him and bring us into communion with him. Prayer is answered when it is accepted, though there be no other effect of it visible. Prayer is not in vain, if the person be accepted, and the service approved. Do you think it is nothing to please God, to do that wherein his soul delights, to offer that which ascends to him as the odour of a sweet smell? Is it nothing to obey God, to honour him, to give a testimony to his glorious perfections? Is it nothing, to be admitted to such sweet intimate communion with God in such a familiar way, to speak to him as a man to his friend, as a child to his father? Suppose you should reap no other benefit by prayer, is not here as much as will amount to an answer? If you will not measure the return of your prayers by lower inferior advantages, these are the most blessed returns. It should be more desirable in your account to please him, than to be happy yourselves. His glory should be more valuable than your salvation, or all the means that tend to it. And such society with him should be esteemed the first-fruits of heaven. Yet these are the privileges of every accepted prayer; and therefore, if it be accepted, though it obtain nothing more, it is abundantly answered. He sometimes makes prayer an answer to itself, answers when you are praying: Isa. lxv. 24, ‘While they are yet speaking, I will hear;’ not only hears, but answers, answers the prayer by enabling us to pray, Dan. ix. 20, 21. While Daniel was speaking in prayer, an angel was sent in answer to his desires. You will judge this is a sweet return. But how much more is it for the Holy Ghost to be sent into the heart, and thereby to have powerful assistance, comfortable enlargements, heavenly affections, and vigorous exercise of graces; to have the soul winged with holy affections, to fly into the bosom of Christ; to have heaven as it were opened, and the veil withdrawn, that the light of God’s countenance may break out and shine upon the soul! These are the greatest, the sweetest of spiritual blessings, and infinitely transcend all outward enjoyments, Ps. iv. 6–8. Well then may they be accounted most blessed answers. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:218–219.

The Grace of “No”

Whether God grants our petitions or denies them, he is gracious. It is a gracious answer sometimes to be denied. You account it a good answer to a petition when you have that which is better than the things desired; but when you desire that which is not good, the denial is better than the grant. The denial is a mercy, the grant would be a judgment. So it was with David: he was importunate for the life of his child; but was it not better for him that the Lord granted not its life, since it would have been a living monument of his ignominy, wherein every beholder might have read both his shame and heinous sin? The Lord is merciful oftentimes in denying outward blessings, worldly enjoyments, to his children; denies them plenty of temporals, lest it should bring leanness into their souls; denies them health, that their souls may prosper; denies comfort in dearest relations, by making them cross and uncomfortable, lest they should steal away the heart from himself. These denials are great mercies, and therefore sweet returns of prayer. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:219.

The Unworthy Are Accepted

Do you feel unworthy to present your prayers to God? Then you, of all people, may expect to be heard. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The Lord never heard any that either were really worthy, or did account themselves so. All that ever had access to, and audience with God, have been really, and in their own esteem, unworthy. The Lord requires not that his people should bring any worth with them to commend their prayers to him. The want of personal worth did never hinder the Lord from answering prayer. Therefore no reason to be discouraged for want of that which is neither necessary nor ever was present. No flesh is justified in his sight. The more unworthy, and withal the more sensible of it, the more hopes of answer and acceptance. This is so far from being any just impediment to faith, as it should rather encourage it; for Scripture and experience tell us it is both the Lord’s gracious disposition and practice to do most for them who are, or seem to themselves to be, most unworthy: ‘He fills the hungry,’ Luke i. 53, 48, ‘but casts down the mighty,’ ver. 52. He pronounces them blessed who are poor, Mat. v.; calls not many wise and noble, 1 Cor. i. 26–28; seeks that which is lost, Luke vi. 19, 20; saves sinners, the chief of them, 1 Tim. i. 15; invites beggars, sends out his servants to fetch them, Luke xiv. 21, 23; those who have no money, no worth, worth nothing, Isa. lv.; pities those whom no eye pities, Ezek. xvi. 6; condescends lowest to those who are lowest. He takes pleasure in it, he gets honour by it. Hereby is the freeness, the riches of grace made more conspicuous, infinite mercy appears more merciful. Consider but the different demeanour and success of the Pharisee and publican as to this duty, and it will put it past doubt. Consider what self-confidence and conceitedness in the one, what humility and sense of unworthiness in the other: Luke xviii. 10 to the 15th, ‘This man went away justified, rather than the other.’ Justified, i. e., pardoned, accepted, answered. Rather, i.e., exclusively; he was justified, and not the other. The reason is observable: ver. 14, ‘For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ Sense of unworthiness should rather strengthen than discourage. Prayer and praying in faith is not only a privilege, but a duty; and is any one unworthy to do his duty? If it was only a privilege, unworthiness might be some plea to keep off sinners from meddling with prayer or acting faith, but since it is a duty, you cannot with any reason, cannot without absurdity make use of it to discourage you. What, are you unworthy to obey God, to do what he commands, to do as he requires? The very conceit of this is absurd; men would laugh at such a plea; God will be far from accepting it. Would you take it well from your servant, if he should neglect to do what you command under pretence that he is unworthy to obey you? Yes, you would count it a jeer, you will think him idle, and foolish too in finding no better excuse for his idleness. The case is alike in reference to God; we are unworthy to receive, but not to obey. There is no show of reason why this should be a discouragement. Though you be unworthy to be heard, yet Christ is worthy; it is he that undertakes to present your petition, and procure an answer. Believers, when they are found praying, they are found as Paul, Philip. iii. 9, ‘not having their own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, that which is of God by faith.’ Faith makes Christ yours, and so his righteousness yours. It unites to Christ as to your head . . . When the Lord looks on you he finds you having Christ’s righteousness, and that is enough to make both persons and prayers righteous, to cover all unworthiness in either that might hinder acceptance. Though Christ communicates not his merits, so as we can deserve anything, yet he communicates the efficacy and benefits of interest in his merits, so as if they be not ours they are for us; he deserves, he is worthy that we should be heard. —David Clarkson, Faith in Prayer, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:221–222.

God’s Glory, Our Benefit

Augustine said that nothing happens in this universe apart from the will of God and that, in a certain sense, God ordains everything that happens. Augustine was not attempting to absolve men of responsibility for their actions, but his teaching raises a question: If God is sovereign over the actions and intents of men, why pray at all? A secondary concern revolves around the question, “Does prayer really change anything?” Let me answer the first question by stating that the sovereign God commands by His holy Word that we pray. Prayer is not optional for the Christian; it is required. We might ask, “What if it doesn’t do anything?” That is not the issue. Regardless of whether prayer does any good, if God commands us to pray, we must pray. It is reason enough that the Lord God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, commands it. Yet He not only commands us to pray, but also invites us to make our requests known. James says that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). He also tells us that the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16). Time and again the Bible says that prayer is an effective tool. It is useful; it works. John Calvin, in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, makes some profound observations regarding prayer: But, someone will say, does God not know, even without being reminded, both in what respect we are troubled and what is expedient for us, so that it may seem in a sense superfluous that he should be stirred up by our prayers—as if he were drowsily blinking or even sleeping until he is aroused by our voice? But they who thus reason do not observe to what end the Lord instructed his people to pray, for he ordained it not so much for his own sake as for ours. Now he wills—as is right—that his due be rendered to him, in the recognition that everything men desire and account conducive to their own profit comes from him, and in the attestation of this by prayers. But the profit of this sacrifice also, by which he is worshiped, returns to us. Accordingly, the holy fathers, the more confidently they extolled God’s benefits among themselves and others, were the more keenly aroused to pray . . . Still it is very important for us to call upon him: First, that our hearts may be fired with a zealous and burning desire ever to seek, love, and serve him, while we become accustomed in every need to flee to him as to a sacred anchor. Secondly, that there may enter our hearts no desire and no wish at all of which we should be ashamed to make him a witness, while we learn to set all our wishes before his eyes, and even to pour out our whole hearts. Thirdly, that we be prepared to receive his benefits with true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving, benefits that our prayer reminds us come from his hand. (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960], Book 3, chapter 20, section 3.) Prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, is for God’s glory and for our benefit, in that order. Everything that God does, everything that God allows and ordains, is in the supreme sense for His glory. It is also true that while God seeks His own glory supremely, man benefits when God is glorified. We pray to glorify God, but we also pray in order to receive the benefits of prayer from His hand. Prayer is for our benefit, even in light of the fact that God knows the end from the beginning. It is our privilege to bring the whole of our finite existence into the glory of His infinite presence. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 7–9.

If God Knows Everything

There is something erroneous in the question, “If God knows everything, why pray?” The question assumes that prayer is one-dimensional and is defined simply as supplication or intercession. On the contrary, prayer is multidimensional. God’s sovereignty casts no shadow over the prayer of adoration. God’s foreknowledge or determinate counsel does not negate the prayer of praise. The only thing it should do is give us greater reason for expressing our adoration for who God is. If God knows what I’m going to say before I say it, His knowledge, rather than limiting my prayer, enhances the beauty of my praise. . . . In what way could God’s sovereignty negatively affect the prayer of contrition, of confession? Perhaps we could draw the conclusion that our sin is ultimately God’s responsibility and that our confession is an accusation of guilt against God Himself. Every true Christian knows that he cannot blame God for his sin. I may not understand the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but I do realize that what stems from the wickedness of my own heart may not be assigned to the will of God. So we must pray because we are guilty, pleading the pardon of the Holy One whom we have offended. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 9,&nnbsp;10.

When God Repents

You might ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say from time to time that God repents?” Yes, the Old Testament certainly says so. The book of Jonah tells us that God “repented of” the judgment He had planned for the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10, KJV). In using the concept of repentance here, the Bible is describing God, who is Spirit, in what theologians call “anthropomorphic” language. Obviously the Bible does not mean that God repented in the way we would repent; otherwise, we could rightly assume that God had sinned and therefore would need a savior Himself. What it clearly means is that God removed the threat of judgment from the people. The Hebrew word nacham, translated “repent” in the King James Version, means “comforted” or “eased” in this case. God was comforted and felt at ease that the people had turned from their sin, and therefore He revoked the sentence of judgment He had imposed. When God hangs His sword of judgment over people’s heads, and they repent and He then withholds His judgment, has He really changed His mind? —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 11.
Is God your father? [T]oday we live in a world that assumes God is the Father of everyone, that all men are brothers. We hear this in the cliches “the fatherhood of God” and “the brotherhood of man.” But nowhere does Scripture say that all men are our brothers. It does say, however, that all men are our neighbors. There is a restricted sense in which God is the Father of all men as the Giver and Sustainer of life, the progenitor par excellence of the human race. But nothing in the Bible indicates that an individual may approach God in a familiar sense. The only exception is when that person has been adopted into God’s family, having expressed saving faith in the atonement of Christ and having submitted to His lordship. Then and only then is one afforded the privilege of calling God his Father. To those who received Him, God “gave the right [authority, privilege] to become children of God” (John 1:12). Only then does God call men “sons.” The Greek word exousia, translated “right to become,” denotes the freedom to act and the authority for that action. Calling God “Father” without the proper credential of sonship is an act of extreme presumption and arrogance. . . . If we go through the New Testament, making inquiry as to who are the sons of God, the answer is clear. The New Testament is neither vague nor enigmatic on this point. Romans 8:14–17a says this: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father.” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. In verse 14 of this passage, the word all (autoi in the Greek) is in what is called the emphatic form to indicate an exclusiveness. The verse is best translated, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these alone are the sons of God” or “these only are the sons of God.” Paul teaches that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can call God our Father. The significance of this in the New Testament is that we are sons, not illegitimate children, because we are in union with Christ. Our sonship is not automatic; it is not inherited and it is not a genetic necessity, but rather it is derived. The New Testament word for this transaction is adoption. Because of our adoptive relationship with God through Christ, we become joint heirs with Christ. It is only because we are in Christ and Christ is in us that we have the privilege of addressing God as our Father and of approaching Him in a filial relationship. Martin Luther once said that if he could just understand the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer, he would never be the same again. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 15, 16–17.
God is not the father of all, but everyone has a father. We don’t find the idea of universal fatherhood and brotherhood in the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. This cultural tacit assumption causes us to miss what Jesus is saying. In the first place, the fatherhood of God cannot be taken for granted by anyone in the world. Jesus is the one person with the ultimate right to address God in this way, for Jesus alone is the monogenes, “the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14, KJV), having existed from all eternity in a unique filial relationship with the Father. If there is a universal fatherhood and brotherhood in any sense whatsoever, it would have to be in the context of Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees in John 8. The Pharisees were claiming to be children of Abraham, offspring of God by ancestral association. Jesus challenged them on this point, saying, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:39–40, 44). There is a clear distinction between the children of God and the children of the Devil. God’s children hear His voice and obey Him. The children of the Devil do not listen to God’s voice; they disobey Him by doing the will of their father, Satan. There are only two families, and everyone belongs to one or the other. Both groups have one thing in common, however. The members of each family do the will of their respective fathers, whether God or Satan. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 15–16.

“I will be treated as holy.”

The first petition of the “Lord’s Prayer” says, “hallowed be your name.” God is holy, and though we are invited to come to him boldly (Hebrews 4:16) and intimately (Romans 8:15; cf. Galatians 4:6), [T]his filial relationship does not allow us to have the type of familiarity that breeds contempt. We are to come with boldness, yes, but never with arrogance or presumption. “Our Father” speaks of the nearness of God, but “in heaven” points to His otherness, His being set apart. The point is this: When we pray, we must remember who we are and whom we are addressing. Hallowed Be Your Name No matter how close God invites us to come, there is still an infinite gulf between our sinfulness and His majesty. He is the heavenly one; we are of the earth. He is perfect; we are imperfect. He is infinite; we are finite. He is holy; we are unholy. We must never forget that God is wholly “other” than we. The sacred “otherness” of God is a fact the sons of Aaron forgot, but they forgot it only once. In Leviticus 10:1–3 we read: Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” God demands to be treated as holy, for He is holy. He is jealous for His honor. He does not plead for respect in this passage. Rather, it is a statement of fact: “I will be treated as holy.” We must never make the fatal mistake of Nadab and Abihu and approach the sovereign God in a flippantly casual attitude. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 26–28.

A Holy Monarchy

The second petition of the “Lord’s Prayer” says “Your kingdom come,” reminding us that the kingdom of God is not a democracy. The kingdom concept is difficult for American Christians to understand. Ours is a democracy, where the mere idea of a monarchy is repugnant. We are heirs of the revolutionaries who proclaimed, “We will serve no sovereign here!” Our nation is built on a resistance to sovereignty. Americans have fought battles and entire wars to be delivered from monarchy. How are we to understand the minds of New Testament people who were praying for the Son of David to restore a monarchy and the throne of Israel? . . . Rebellion against God’s authority is nothing new or unique to our day or to Western culture. In Psalm 2:2–3, we read: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” What is God’s response to this uprising? “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Ps. 2:4). But God is not amused for long, for we read in verses 5–6, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” The Lord speaks to those who have rebelled against Him—those involved in this cosmic Declaration of Independence—and declares, “I have installed my King, I have anointed my Christ, and you had better submit to Him.” Reading further in verse 10, we learn something else: Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, . . . lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Christians are to pray for the manifestation of the reign of Christ and the emergence of His kingdom. If that is our prayer, it is our responsibility to show our allegiance to the King. People won’t have to guess about whom we are exalting. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 30–32.

As We Forgive

In the “Lord’s Prayer,” we read, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In Matthew 18:23–35, Jesus describes two men who each owed a debt. One owed a small sum to the other who, in turn, owed an enormous sum to his master that he could never hope to repay. The master forgave the huge debt of the one, who then refused to remit the small debt of the other. R. C. Sproul values the two debts at roughly $10 million and $18. Interestingly enough, both men asked for the same thing—more time, not a total release from the debt. It was comical for the man with the exorbitantly large debt to ask for more time, since even by today’s wage standards the amount owed was an astronomical figure. The daily wage at that time was approximately eighteen cents. The man with the small debt could have paid his debt in three months. His request for more time was not unreasonable, but his creditor, rather than expressing the forgiveness he had received, began to harass him. The point should be clear. Our offenses to each other and the offenses people do to us are like an $18 debt, while the innumerable offenses we have committed against the Lord God are like the $10 million debt. Jonathan Edwards, in his famous sermon “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” said that any sin is more or less heinous, depending on the honor and majesty of the one whom we have offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. Such seemingly trivial sins are nothing less than “cosmic treason” when viewed in light of the great King against whom we have sinned. We are debtors who cannot pay, yet we have been released from the threat of debtors’ prison. It is an insult to God for us to withhold forgiveness and grace from those who ask us, while claiming to be forgiven and saved by grace ourselves. There is another important point to consider here. Even in our act of forgiveness there is no merit. We cannot commend ourselves to God and claim forgiveness merely because we have shown forgiveness to someone else. Our forgiveness in no way obligates God toward us. Luke 17:10 clearly points out that there is no merit even in the best of our good works: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We deserve nothing for our obedience, because obedience—even to the point of perfection—is the minimal requirement of a citizen of God’s kingdom. Having done that duty, the only thing we could claim would be a lack of punishment, but certainly no reward, because we would have done only what was expected. Obedience never qualifies as service “above and beyond the call of duty.” However, we have not obeyed; we have sinned grievously. Therefore, we are merely in a position to prostrate ourselves before God and beg for His forgiveness. But if we do, we must be prepared to show that forgiveness ourselves; otherwise our position in Christ dangles precariously. The bottom line of what Jesus is saying is this: “Forgiven people forgive other people.” We dare not claim to be possessors of His life and nature and at the same time fail to exhibit that life and nature. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 36–38.

Why Seek Forgiveness?

Christians sometimes ask, “If God has already forgiven us, why should we ask for forgiveness? Isn’t it wrong to ask for something he has already given us?” R. C. Sproul replies, The ultimate answer to questions like this is always the same. We do it because God commands it. First John 1:9 points out that one mark of a Christian is his continual asking for forgiveness. The verb tense in the Greek indicates an ongoing process. The desire for forgiveness sets the Christian apart. The unbeliever rationalizes his sinfulness, but the Christian is sensitive to his unworthiness. Confession takes up a significant portion of his prayer time. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 38–39.

Word-Centered Prayer

Many people in the charismatic movement have declared that one of the chief reasons for their pursuit of the gift of tongues is a keen desire to overcome or bypass the deficiency of an impoverished vocabulary by way of a special prayer language. People often feel their own language is inadequate to express adoration. This sense of inadequacy from having to use the same tired, haggard words yields frustration. A similar view is expressed by Charles Wesley in his hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The hymn complains that the restriction to one tongue is a lamentable hindrance to praise, to be relieved only by the addition of nine hundred and ninety-nine other tongues. The Psalms were written in simple but powerful vocabulary through which the hearts of several writers expressed reverence for God without bypassing the mind. Opening their mouths, the psalmists uttered praise. That praise was given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be sure, but by men whose minds were steeped in the things of God. . . . How does one pen love letters to an unknown God? How do the lips form words of praise to a nebulous, unnamed Supreme Being? God is a person, with an unending personal history. He has revealed Himself to us not only in the glorious theater of nature, but also in the pages of sacred Scripture. If we fill our minds with His Word, our inarticulate stammers will change to accomplished patterns of meaningful praise. By immersing ourselves in the Psalms, we will not only gain insight into the how of praise, but also enlarge our understanding of the One whom we are praising. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 47–49.

Going to Confession

Confession is not a frivolous matter to be engaged in only at appointed times and dates throughout the year. Confession should be a daily activity for the Christian, whose entire pilgrimage is characterized by the spirit of repentance. The principal reason why confession must be on a daily basis is because our sins against divine law are committed on a daily basis. We do things we ought not to do and leave undone those things God commands us to do. We run up a daily indebtedness before God. Consequently, our daily prayers must include genuine acts of confession. It is no accident that the Roman Catholic Church elevated the rite of penance to the level of a sacrament. Because the sacrament of penance was at the eye of the tornado of the Protestant Reformation, a backlash of negativism toward penitence set in among Protestants. It was a classic case of overreaction . . . The Reformers sought not the elimination of repentance and confession, but the reformation of the church’s practice of these things. . . . In the controversy over penance, the Protestant Reformers did not repudiate the importance of confession, and they acknowledged that confessing one’s sins to another human being is biblical. However, they did challenge the requirement of confession to a priest. . . . The apostle John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, KJV). Here we find the promise of God to forgive our confessed sins. To ignore or to neglect this promise is to steer a perilous course. God commands us to confess our sins and promises to forgive our sins. That we should confess our sins daily is clear. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 52–53, 54–55.

A Contrite Heart

True repentance reflects contrition, a godly remorse for offending God. Here the sinner mourns his sin, not for the loss of reward or for the threat of judgment, but because he has done injury to the honor of God. . . . Contrition has lost much of its meaning in our culture. It is not difficult to convince people that they are sinners, for not one in a thousand is going to say that he is perfect. The common response is: “Sure, I’m a sinner. Isn’t everyone? Nobody’s perfect.” There are few, if any, who claim they are blameless, that they have lived lives of ethical consistency, keeping the Golden Rule in every situation. The rub is in acknowledging the intensity of our sin, the extreme godlessness of our actions. Because we are all sinners and know that we share a common guilt, our confession tends to be superficial, often not characterized by earnestness or a sense of moral urgency. Psalm 51, a contrite sinner’s prayer for pardon, was composed by King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. David did not approach God with excuses. He did not ask God to consider the circumstances that produced his sin or the loneliness of his government position. David did not seek to minimize the gravity of his sin in God’s presence. There were no rationalizations and no attempts at self-justification, which are so characteristic of guilty people. David said, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me . . . you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (vv. 3–4). In other words, David believed that God was absolutely justified if He gave him nothing but absolute punishment. David exhibited what God has said He will not despise: a broken and contrite heart. David then pleaded for restoration to God’s favor: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (vv. 10–12). He understood the most crucial element of confession: total dependence on God’s mercy. David could not atone for his sins. There was nothing he could do and nothing he could say to undo what he had done. There was no way for him to “make it up to God.” David understood what Jesus later made clear—that we are debtors who cannot pay our debts. Confession is like a declaration of bankruptcy. God requires perfection. The slightest sin blemishes a perfect record. All the “good deeds” in the world cannot erase the blemish and move us from imperfection to perfection. Once the sin has been committed, we are morally bankrupt. Our only hope is to have that sin forgiven and covered through the atonement of the One who is altogether perfect. When we sin, our only option is repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. We must come before God in contrition. David put it this way: “You will not delight in sacrifice . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17). Here, David’s profound thoughts reveal his understanding of what many Old Testament figures failed to grasp—that the offering of sacrifices in the temple did not gain merit for the sinner. Sacrifices pointed beyond themselves to the perfect Sacrifice. The perfect atonement was offered by the perfect Lamb without blemish. The blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin. The blood of Jesus does. To avail ourselves of the atonement of Christ, to gain that covering, requires that we come before God in brokenness and contrition. The true sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 55, 56–59.

We Must Give Thanks

Ingratitude is a serious matter. The Scriptures have much to say about it. The failure to be grateful is the mark both of the pagan and the apostate. In Romans 1:21, Paul calls attention to two primary sins of the pagan. He says, “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” Honor and thanksgiving may be distinguished, but not separated. God is honored by thanksgiving and dishonored by the lack of it. All that we have and all that we are we owe ultimately to the benevolence of our Creator. To slight Him by withholding appropriate gratitude is to exalt ourselves and debase Him. . . . Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers illustrates the importance of thanksgiving. Countless sermons have been preached about the healing of the ten lepers, focusing attention on the theme of gratitude. The thrust of many of these sermons has been that Jesus healed ten lepers, but that only one of them was grateful. The only polite response to such preaching is to call it what it is—nonsense. It is inconceivable that a leper enduring the abject misery he faced daily in the ancient world would not be grateful for receiving instant healing from the dreadful disease. . . . The issue in the story is not one of gratitude but of thanksgiving. It is one thing to feel grateful; it is another thing to express it. Lepers were cut off from family and friends. Instant cleansing meant release from exile. We can imagine them deliriously happy, rushing home to embrace their wives and children, to announce their healing. Who would not be grateful? But only one of them postponed his return home and took time to give thanks. The account in Luke 17 reads: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” (vv. 15–16, emphasis added). All of our prayers are to include thanksgiving. Like the leper, we must pause, turn back, and give thanks. We are so indebted to God that we can never exhaust our opportunities for expressing gratitude. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 60–62.

Payers God Will Not Hear

Very few prohibitions regarding prayer are found in the Scriptures. In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist David penned these divinely inspired words: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” The Hebrew verse could also be translated, “If I had iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have heard.” In either case, David is laying down a condition under which his prayer not only would be ineffective but unheard. The Hebrew word translated “cherished” is raah, meaning merely “to see.” In other words, if I look at my life and see sin and nurture it, my prayers are an exercise in futility. Does this mean that if sin is present in our lives, God refuses to hear our prayers? No. If this were so, all prayer would be futile. However, if our hearts are hardened in a spirit of impenitence, our prayers are not only futile but a mockery of God. In Psalm 66, David reminds himself that there is a time when prayer is a presumptuous, arrogant, detestable, and obnoxious deed perpetrated upon the Almighty. This psalm opens with seventeen verses of joy and praise to God for His mighty deeds. Then, suddenly, there appears in verse 18 the grim reminder of how the entire story could have been drastically different. We are alerted to the importance of properly approaching God in prayer. If there is anything worse than not praying, it is praying in an unworthy manner. Other Scripture references reflect this attitude. Psalm 109:7 suggests that the prayers of wicked men should be counted as sin. John 9:31 specifically states that the Lord does not hear sinners. Proverbs 15:29 says, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” Proverbs 28:9 says that the prayer of the disobedient or rebellious is an “abomination” to the Lord. It is disgusting or loathsome to Him. James, however, tells us that the prayers of righteous men accomplish much (5:16). But we are not righteous in our daily lives. Yes, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, so that as far as our position before God is concerned, we are righteous. But the practical manifestation of what we are in Christ is sadly inconsistent and woefully inadequate. Theologians sometimes define a concept by saying what something does not say as well as by what it does say. What the psalmist is not saying is that if he had been guilty of sin, the Lord would not have heard him. The psalmist is not saying that if he had sin in his heart, God would not have heard him. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 67–69.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Lord, Teach Us How to Pray Aright

Lord, Teach Us How to Pray Aright ST. AGNES Lord, teach us how to pray aright with rev’rence and with fear. though dust and ashes in your sight, we may, we must draw near. We perish if we cease from pray’r; Oh, grant us pow’r to pray. and when to meet thee we prepare, Lord, meet us on our way. Give deep humility; the sense of godly sorrow give; a strong desire with confidence, to hear your voice and live; Faith in the only sacrifice that can for sin atone; to cast our hopes, to fix our eyes on Christ, on Christ alone. Give these, and then your will be done; thus strengthened with all might, we, through your Spirit and your Son, shall pray, and pray aright. —Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). Right tune, wrong hymn: The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: What Various Hindrances We Meet

What Various Hindrances We Meet CONTRITION What various hindrances we meet in coming to the mercy seat! Yet who that knows the worth of pray’r but wishes to be often there! Pray’r makes the darkened clouds withdraw; pray’r climbs the ladder Jacob saw; gives exercise to faith and love; brings ev’ry blessing from above. Restraining pray’r, we cease to fight; pray’r makes the Christian’s armor bright; and Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees. Have you no words? Ah, think again: words flow apace when you complain, and fill a fellow-creature’s ear with the sad tale of all your care. Were half the breath thus vainly spent to heav’n in supplication sent, our cheerful song would oft’ner be, “Hear what the Lord hath done for me!” —Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). Tune: CONTRITION The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Come, My Soul

Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare VIENNA Come, my soul, thy suit prepare, Jesus loves to answer pray’r. He Himself has bid thee pray, rise and ask without delay. Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring, for his grace and pow’r are such, none can ever ask too much. With my burden I begin, Lord, remove this load of sin! Let Thy blood, for sinners spilt, set my conscience free from guilt. Lord! I come to Thee for rest, take possession of my breast; there Thy blood-bought right maintain, and without a rival reign. While I am a pilgrim here, let Thy love my spirit cheer; as my Guide, my Guard, my Friend, lead me to my journey’s end. Show me what I have to do; ev’ry hour my strength renew; let me live a life of faith; let me die Thy people’s death. —Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.


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