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[Here we continue a series on Prayer. This is the last section of a study that is self-described as, “A declaration what true prayer is, how we should pray, and for what we should pray, set forth by John Knox, Preacher of God’s Holy Word.”]—Ed.
The True Nature of Prayer, pt. 5, by John Knox
Where, for whom, and at what time we ought to pray, is not to be passed over with silence:
Private Prayer. - Private prayer such as men secretly offer unto God by themselves, requires no special place; although Jesus Christ commands that when we pray, to enter into our chamber and to close the door, and so to pray secretly unto our Father. Whereby He urges that we should choose to pray in such places as might offer least occasion to call us back from prayer; and also, that we should expel forth of our minds in time of our prayer, all vain cogitations. For otherwise Jesus Himself does observe no special place of prayer; for we find Him sometime praying in Mount Olive, sometime in the desert, sometime in the temple, and in the garden. And Peter coveted to pray on top of the house. Paul prayed in prison, and was heard of God. Paul also commands men to pray in all places, lifting up to God pure and clean hands, as we find that the prophets and most Holy men did, whensoever danger or necessity requires.
Appointed places to pray in, may not be neglected. – But public and common prayers should be used in place appointed for the Assembly, from whence whosoever negligently extracts themselves is in no ways excusable. I mean not that to absent from that place is sin, because that is more holy than another; for the whole earth created by God is equally holy. But the promise made, that “Wheresoever two or three gather in my name, there shall I be in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20), chastises all such as show contempt for the congregation gathered in His name. Mark well the word “gathered”
What it is to be gathered in the name of Christ. – This congregation which I mean, should be gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, that is to laud and magnify God the Father, for the infinite benefits they had received by His only Son our Lord. In this congregation should be distributed the mystical and last supper of Jesus Christ without superstition, or any more ceremonies than He Himself used, and His Apostles after Him. And in distribution thereof, in this congregation should inquisition be made of the poor among them, and support provided, while the time of their next convention and it should be distributed among them. Also, in this congregation should be made common prayers, such as all hearing might understand; that the hearts of all, subscribing to the voice of one, might with unseen and fervent mind say, Amen.
For who and at what time we should pray. – Now there remains, for whom, and at what time, we should pray. For all men, and at all times, does Paul command that we should pray. And principally for such of the household of faith as suffer persecution; and for commonwealths tyrannously oppressed, incessantly should we call, that God, of His mercy and power will withstand the violence of such tyrants.
God’s sentence may be changed. – And when we see the plague of God, as hunger or pestilence, then should we, with lamentable voices and repenting hearts, call unto God, that it would please His infinite mercy to withdraw His hand; which thing, if we do unfeignedly, He will without doubt revoke His wrath, and in the midst of His fury think upon mercy; as we are taught in the Scripture by His infallible and eternal truths. As in Exodus 32, God says, “I shall destroy this nation from the face of the Earth”, and when Moses addressed himself to pray for them the Lord proceeded saying, “Suffer me that I may utterly destroy them.” And then Moses fell down upon his face, and forty days continued in prayer for the safety of the people; for whom at the last he obtained forgiveness. David, in the vehement plague, lamentably calls unto God. And the King of Ninevah says, “Who can tell? God may turn and repent, and cease from His fierce wrath, that we perish not” (Jonah 3:9). These examples in scriptures are not written in vain, but to certify to us, that God of His own native goodness will mitigate His plagues, by our prayers offered by Jesus Christ, although He hath threatened to punish, or presently does punish: which He does testify by His own words saying, “If I have prophesized against any nation or people, that they shall be destroyed, if they repent of their iniquity, it shall repent me of the evil which I have spoken against them” (Jer. 18:7-8).
This I write, lamenting the great coldness of men, which under so long scourges of God, is nothing kindled to pray by repentance, but carelessly sleeps in a wicked life; even as though the continual wars, urgent famine, and plagues of pestilence, and other contagious and strange maladies, were not the present signs of God’s wrath, provoked be our iniquities. O Lord! Infinite in mercy, if you shall punish, make not consummation, but cut away the proud and luxuriant branches which bear no fruit: and preserve the commonwealth of such as give succor and harbor to thy messengers which long have suffered exile in the desert. And let they kingdom come that sin may be ended, death devoured, thy enemies confounded; that we thy people be thy majesty delivered, may obtain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom be all honor, praise, and glory forever Amen.