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[Here we continue a series on Prayer. This continues a study by the great intellect of Stephen Charnock. In the study, he digs deep into Phil. 4:6. In the previous study, he began enumerating how we are to pray. He continues that here, by pointing out we should pray spiritually.]—Ed.
Pray for Everything, pt. 3
by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)
But in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. (Phil. 4:6, AV).
4. Pray spiritually; with spiritual intentions, and by the Spirit’s assistance.
A. With spiritual intentions. Look that your aim and end be right, in all you seek. It cannot be right, unless it be spiritual. Even in our worldly business, end and design should be higher than the world. A Christian should not have such ends and designs as a natural and worldly man hath in his earthly affairs. How far should we be from such ends in holy and spiritual employments? Our prayers will be such as our ends are, carnal, and selfish, and earthly, if our intentions be such; for the form gives the denomination, and what the form is in natural things, that the end is in moral acts. If the end in praying be carnal or worldly, it is a carnal and worldly prayer, no more fit to be offered unto God, than an unclean beast was to be offered in sacrifice. “It is as the cutting off a dog’s neck, or the pouring out of swine’s blood, an abomination in the sight of God” (Isa. 66:3-4). When you pretend to be best employed, it is to be doing evil before His eyes, and to choose that in which He delights not. “You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3). They asked amiss, because they missed the right end. The ends we should aim at, are the honoring of God, pleasing Him, enjoying communion with Him. These we should principally aim at, in seeking either spiritual or temporal things. If we seek spiritual gifts, that we may be more eminent than others, and accordingly respected, applauded, admired; this is to be little better than Simon Magus (see Acts 8:9). Such prayers may be the issue of the gall of bitterness. Those that are in the bond of iniquity, may be enlarged in making such requests. If we seek more grace, higher degrees of holiness, out of respect to our reputation or merely for our own ease and comfort, instead of seeking and worshipping God in such prayers, we do but seek ourselves.
B. Pray by the Spirit’s assistance: seek it, wait for it, do nothing that may check or restrain it, and give any impediment to it. Rely not upon inward abilities or outward helps, real or pretended; so as to disengage that blessed Spirit, ready to help His people in praying, when they are sensible of their want of His assistance, and look up to Him for it. Be not like those who would shut their eyes because they have spectacles; or tie up their legs, if not cut them off, because they have gotten crutches. When you have a better help, do not disoblige it by preferring or confining yourselves to a worse. Depend upon Him alone, who can help you to make requests in everything. Do nothing which may provoke Him to withdraw or suspend His assistance. Look upon this alone as your sufficiency for this duty, which are not sufficient of ourselves to think a good thought, much less to offer up a good prayer, a Spiritual sacrifice. The Lord will not have it offered with common fire of your own or others kindling. You must fetch fire from heaven, if you would sanctify the Lord in your approaches.
Look to the promise: “I will pour upon the House of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced” etc. (Zech. 12:10). Prayer should not be the issue of models and exemplars only, no nor of habits and qualifications within; but should flow from the Spirit of grace and supplication. So, in the primitive times, they were required to pray accordingly, by the spirit, by its help and assistance, that the prayer may be said to proceed from Him.
Those who like not to hear the command to pray by the Spirit, confess from hence, that so they prayed in the Apostles’s time; but they would have us believe it was a miraculous and extraordinary gift, such as was not to continue, and is not now to be expected or pretended to: But I think they mistake. By praying in the Spirit, in these two texts, cannot be meant an extraordinary gift, such as those of healing, prophesying, tongues, etc. For not to take notice that such a gift of prayer is not mentioned amongst those that were miraculous and extraordinary, where we have a particular account of them. But this we may insist on as granted by them. Yet, as all extraordinary gifts were not confined upon any one person, except the Apostles, so no one extraordinary gift was bestowed upon all and every believer; and so that which all partook of, was no extraordinary grace or gift. But this gift for praying was bestowed upon all believers, as appears by the texts alleged: For all the believing Hebrews (all that were sanctified, to whom Jude wrote in Jude verse 1), are required thus to pray; and all the converted gentiles at Ephesus, to whom Paul wrote, are exhorted to exercise this gift (see Eph. 6:18). And all other believers in them, are called to do it, if the Epistles be of general concernment. Now, it could not be their duty to exercise it, if they had it not, or might not have had it. And if they all had it, it was an ordinary gift, and continued to the Church in all ages. These precepts oblige us as much as them; and it is as much our duty to pray in or by the Spirit, as it was theirs.
We are still to pray by the assistance of the Spirit; but how does the Spirit help us therein? What assistance are we to look for? We may learn that by the Apostle: “The Spirit 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” (Rom. 8:26). This assistance is expressed by this: He helps our “infirmities” or “weaknesses”. Weakness is from some want; we are in some want as to several things requisite to praying; some want of judgment to discern what we should pray for; what is best for us, we know not. The Spirit helps that. He reminds us of what is most needful, most seasonable, when otherwise we might pass it over. Also, want of affection, holy and lively motions, the languor and sickness of the soul, the dullness and deadness of it, that is many infirmities in one. Want of expression, too, which is more apparent by the word “intercession”, which signifies to act for one as an advocate for his client. The Spirit of God advises His people; intercedes for them; His petitions or motions, dictating what He shall move for, and how, and in what form and words. And this is it which the Apostle declares here. This is the way whereby the Holy Ghost helps our infirmities in prayer. Thus it is that He makes intercession for them, by dictating what, and how, in what manner, for what things, with what expressions, helping them both to matter, affections and words. And so, to pray in the Holy Spirit, is with Him to pray, the Spirit of God dictating, suggesting to us what and how to pray.
But of the Spirit’s assistance in prayer, more hereafter. Let us in the mean time be sensible, when we are going to pray, of our great need of it, our insufficiency without it. Let us labor to engage it for us by all means, especially by depending on Him for it. Let us hearken to His motions, and follow His dictates, and yield to what He suggests, and not grieve, not quench the Spirit of Grace, nor put restraints upon Him, nor any way provoke Him to withdraw, and leave us to ourselves, or to vices. When we come to the Throne of Grace, if the Spirit be not there as our advocate, our plea will avail nothing; but prayers cannot be spiritual without the assistance of the Spirit; and unless they be spiritual, they will not be fit to be offered unto that God, who is a spirit, and who is to be worshipped in spirit and truth.