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A DISCOURSE ON PRAYER

By John Gill

1 CORINTHIANS 14:15

What is it then ? I will pray the Spirit, and will pray with the understanding also.
 

The design of this epistle is chiefly to reprove the Church at Corinth for the divisions and contentions, which were there fomented and kept up on account of their ministers; some being for Paul, some for Apollo, and others for Cephas; and to remove some irregular practices from among them, which were either openly avowed, or connived at by them; such as continuing a wicked person in their communion, going to law with one another before heathen magistrates, and the disorderly attendance of many of them at the Lordís table. The apostle having finished this part of his design, does, in the twelfth chapter, largely insist on the subject of spiritual gifts; where he gives an account of the diversity of them, of their author, and of their various usefulness in the church of Christ; for which reason he exhorts the members of this church to covet them earnestly, though he would not have them depend on them, since they are not saving. In the thirteenth chapter, he prefers charity, or love, to them, and shews, that without this they are useless and unprofitable to those who have them.

 

In this fourteenth chapter, he presses them to follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather, says he, that ye may prophesy. He proves, by many arguments, and especially by that taken from edification, that prophesying in a known language, in the mother tongue, which is understood by the people, is preferable to the gift of speaking in an unknown language, not understood by the people, and so unedifying to them. It is evident, that by prophesying, he means not only preaching, but praying, since he instances in it, and argues, in the words preceding my text, thus: For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful; that is, when I pray in an unknown language, being under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, I make use of that extraordinary gift which he has bestowed upon me, and my own spirit is indeed refreshed by it: But what I myself conceive, understand, and express, is useless and unprofitable to others, who do not understand the language in which I pray; therefore, says he, in the words of my text, What is it then? What is to be done in this case?

 

What is most prudent and advisable? What is most eligible and desirable? Must I not pray with the Spirit at all? Shall I not make use of that extraordinary gift which the Spirit has bestowed upon me? Shall I entirely neglect it, and lay it aside? No, I will pray with the Spirit; I will make use of the gift I have; but then it shall be in such a way and manner, as that I shall be understood by others, I will pray with the understanding also. In these words may be considered,

I. The work and business of prayer, which the apostle resolved in the strength of Christ, and, by the assistance of his Spirit, to be found in the performance of; I will pray, &c.

II. The manner in which he is desirous of performing this duty; with the Spirit, and with the understanding also.

I. I shall consider the work and business of prayer, which the apostle resolved, in the strength of Christ, and by the assistance of his Spirit, to be found in the performance of. It will not be amiss, under this head to enquire into the object of prayer, the several parts of it, and its different kinds, I shall begin,

1. With the object of prayer, which is not any mere creature. Prayer is a part of religious worship, which is due to God only. To address a creature in such a solemn manner is idolatry. This is a sin the Gentiles have been notoriously guilty of, who have paid their devoirs this way, both to animate and inanimate creatures. The idolatrous Heathen is thus described by the prophet; (Isa. 45:17) He maketh a god his graven image; he falleth down unto it, and worshipped it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god. Such a practice as this, is an argument of great ignorance and stupidity; (Isa. 45:20) They have no knowledge, that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.

 

It is no wonder that their prayers should be in vain, since their idols are silver and gold, the work of menís hands: They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; they have ears, but they hear (Ps. 115:4-6) not, They are insensible of the wants of their votaries, and unable to help them; they are not in a capacity to give them the least relief, or bestow the least temporal mercy on them: Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Art not thou he, O Lord, our God? Therefore we will wait upon thee; for thou hast made all these things. (Jer. 14:22) The Papists have followed the Pagans in their idolatrous prayers to angels, the virgin Mary, and other saints departed, and even to many that were not saints; but it may be said to them, what Eliphaz said to Job, (Job 5:1) in another case; Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn?
 


God only is, and ought to be the object of prayer. My prayer, says David, shall be unto the God of my life. (Ps. 42:8) God has a right to this part of worship from us, as he is the God of our lives, in whom we live, move, and have our being; who grants us life and favour, and whose visitation preserves our spirits; who daily follows us with his goodness, and loads us with his benefits; to whom we are obliged for every mercy, and on whom the whole support and continuance of our beings depend: and we are under greater obligation still, as well as have greater encouragement, to address the throne of his grace, as he is the God of all grace, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus; all which may assure us, that his eyes are upon us, his ears are open to our cries, that he has both a heart and a hand to help and relieve us; he is a God that hears and answers prayer, to whom all flesh shall come, who are sensible of their need of him, and dependence upon him; his arm is not shortened, that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that he cannot hear; nor did he ever say to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.
 


Though the Lord our God is but one Lord; there is but one God, which, with the Scriptures, we assert, in opposition to the polytheism of the Gentiles, who had gods many, and lords many; yet there is a plurality of persons in the Deity, which are neither more nor fewer than Three, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, which Three are One; the Father is God, the Word is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God. Though the Persons in the Godhead are more than One, yet the Godhead itself is single and undivided. Now God in either and each of the Three divine Persons, may be prayed unto. It is lawful for us to address in prayer either God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost distinctly, though not any of them to the exclusion of the others, This I mention, to disentangle the minds of some, who may have some scruples and hesitations about praying to the distinct Persons in the Deity. Now it is easy to observe, that there are petitions directed to each of the three Persons distinctly; of which I shall give some few instances from the Scriptures.



God the Father is sometimes singly and distinctly prayed unto, though not to the exclusion of the Son or Spirit. It would be too tedious to reckon up all the instances of this kind: The epistle to the Ephesians will furnish us with a sufficient number to our purpose. In one place the apostle says to them, (Eph. 1:16, 17) I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; where God the Father is prayed unto, as distinct from the Lord Jesus Christ, whose God and Father he is, and distinct from the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, who as such is prayed for. And in another place, he says, (Eph. 3:14, 16, 17) For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; in which passage God the Father is addressed, as the object of prayer, distinct from Christ and the Spirit; the former of which he desires might dwell in their hearts by faith, and that they might he strengthened by the latter in their inner man. If these instances were not sufficient, others might be produced; but about God the Fatherís being the object of prayer, there is no question nor hesitation.
 


God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, may be distinctly prayed unto, of which are many instances in Scripture. Sometimes he is prayed unto in conjunction with his Father, as appears from all those passages (Rom, 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3; 2 John 3; Rev. 1:4, 5) in the epistles, where grace and peace are desired from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; and from many others such as these: (1 Thess. 3:11, 12) Now God himself, and our Father, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you; and the Lord, that is, the Lord Jesus, make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you; and in another place, (2 Thess. 2:16, 17) Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope, through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work.

 

Sometimes Christ is prayed unto singly and alone; as by Stephen at the time of his death, when he prayed, saying, (Acts 7:59) Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. By the apostle Paul, (2 Cor. 12:8, 9) when he had a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him; for this, says he, I besought the Lord thrice, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, as appears from the context, that it might depart from me: And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. By the apostle John, when Christ said to him, (Rev. 22:20) Surely I come quickly, he replies, Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus. And by many others; such as those mentioned by Ananias to Christ, when he bid him arise, and go to Saul; (Acts 9:14) Lord, says he, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

God the Holy Ghost may be also prayed unto, as he is sometimes and singly alone, and as distinct from the Father and the Son; (2 Thess. 3:5) The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. By the Lord, I understand the Lord the Spirit, whose work it is to direct the hearts of believers into the love of God, and to shed it abroad in their hearts; who is manifestly distinguished in this petition from God the Father, into whose love, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, into a patient waiting for of whom, the hearts of the saints are desired to be directed by him.

 

Sometimes he is prayed unto distinctly, in conjunction with the other two Persons, as by the apostle Paul; The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (2 Cor. 13:14) And by the apostle John, (Rev. 1:4,5) Grace be unto you, and peace, from him, which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is a faithful witness. By the seven spirits cannot be meant angels; for it cannot be thought that they being creatures, should be put upon a level with the divine Being, and be with him addressed in such a solemn manner; but by them we are to understand the Holy Spirit of God, who is so called either in allusion to Isaiah 11:2, or on account of the seven churches of Asia, to whom John wrote by his dictates, or to denote the perfection and fulness of his gifts and graces.
 


Now though each divine Person may be singly and distinctly addressed in prayer, and all Three together, being the one God, be considered as the object of it; yet, according to the order of persons in the Deity, and suitably to their several and distinct parts, which they, by agreement, take in the affair of manís salvation, God the Father, the first Person, is generally addressed as the object of prayer, though not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit: Christ is the Mediator, by whom we draw nigh to God; and the Holy Ghost is the inditer of our prayers, and who assists in the putting of them up unto him.



The first Person is usually addressed in prayer under the character of a Father, and as our Father; so Christ taught his disciples to pray, (Matthew 6:9) Our Father which art in heaven, &c. and he is to be considered in this relation to us, either as the Father of our spirits, the Author of our beings, by whom we are provided for, supplied, and supported in them. In this manner the church in Isaiahís time applied to him, (Isa. 64:8, 9) saying, But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we are all the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: Behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.

 

Or he may be considered as the Father or Author of our mercies, temporal and spiritual, which he, in a kind and gracious manner, bestows on us, through Christ, and that as the Father of Christ, and as our God and Father in Christ. In this view the apostle addresses him, when he says, (2 Cor. 1:3) Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort. And, in another place, (Eph. 1:3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Now these several considerations furnish out so many reasons and arguments to induce and encourage us to apply to him who is the God of all grace, and is both able and willing to supply our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.



The second Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, is the Mediator between God and man. God absolutely considered, is a consuming fire; there is no approaching to him as creatures, and especially as sinful creatures. Job was sensible of this, when he said, (Job 9:32, 33) He is not a man as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment; neither is there any days-man betwixt us, that might lay his hands upon us both. Now Christ is the days-man, the Mediator, the middle Person, who has opened a way for us to God, even a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh. (Heb. 10:20; John 14:6; Eph. 2:18 and 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5) He himself is the way, the truth and the life; he is the way of access to God; through him, both Jews and Gentiles, have an access, by one Spirit, unto the Father; he is the way of acceptance with God; our persons are accepted in the Beloved, and our spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ: The prayers of the saints are called odours; (Rev. 5:8 and 8:3, 4) they are of a sweet smelling savour to God; which is owing to the mediation of Christ, the Angel of Godís presence, who stands continually at the golden altar before the throne, with a golden censer in his hand, to whom is given much incense, with which he offers the prayers of all saints, and which makes them a sweet odour to God.

 

Our encouragements to prayer, and to the exercise of grace in that duty, are chiefly taken from, and our pleas for the blessings of grace, are founded on the person, blood, righteousness, sacrifice, and intercession of Christ. Seeing then, says the apostle, (Heb. 4:14-16) that we have a High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession: For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. And in another place, (Heb. 10:22) he exhorts and encourages to this work in much the same manner; Having, says he, an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
 


The third Person, the Holy Spirit, takes his part, and has a peculiar place in this work; he is the author of prayer, the inditer of it, who forms it in our hearts, creates breathings, and desires after spiritual things, stirs us up to prayer, and assists in it. Hence he is called, (Zech. 12:10) The Spirit of grace and supplications; both the gift and grace of prayer come from him; he informs us of our wants, acquaints us with our necessities, teaches us both, in what manner, and for what we should pray; what is most suitable for us, and agreeable to the will of God to bestow on us, and helps us under all our infirmities in prayer; which is observed by the apostle, for the use, instruction, and comfort of believers, when he says, (Rom. 8:26, 27).

 

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the heart, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God. As Christ is our Advocate with the Father, pleads our cause, and makes intercession at the right hand of God for the acceptation of our persons and prayers, so the Holy Spirit is our Advocate within us; he makes intercession for us in our own hearts; he puts strength into us; he fills our mouths with arguments and enables us to plead with God. Christ is Mediator, through whom, and the Spirit, the assister, by whom we have access to the Father. God, as the God of all grace, kindly invites us to himself; Christ, the Mediator, gives us boldness; and the Spirit of grace, freedom and liberty in our access unto him; and this is what the scriptures call Praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and praying in the Holy Ghost. But of this more hereafter. I proceed...
 

A DISCOURSE ON PRAYER
Continued on Next Page 

 

 

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