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[ As we continue our series on prayer, here we continue a study in which
Richard Baxter answers questions about prayer.]
Some Questions About Prayer Answered, pt. 2
by Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
Question 8.† Must we pray always when the Spirit moves us, and only then, or as reason guides us?
Answer.† There are two sorts of the Spiritís motions. One is by extraordinary inspiration or impulse, as He moved the prophets and apostles, to reveal new laws, or precepts, or events, or to do some actions without respect to any other command than the inspiration itself.† This Christians are not now to expect, because experience tells us that it is ceased; or if any should pretend to it as not yet ceased, in the prediction of events, and direction in some things otherwise indifferent, yet it is most certain that it is ceased as to legislation; for the Spirit itself has already given us those laws, which He hath declared to be perfect, and unchangeable till the end of the world.† The other sort of the Spiritís working, is not to make new laws or duties, but to guide and quicken us in the doing of that which is our duty before by the laws already made.† And these are the motions that all true Christians must now expect.† By which you may see, that the Spirit and reason are not to be here disjoined, much less opposed.† As reason suffices not without the Spirit, being dark and asleep; so the Spirit works not on the will but by the reason.† He moves not a man as a beast or stone, to do a thing he knows not why; but by illumination gives him the soundest reason for the doing of it:† and duty is first duty before we do it; and when by our own sin we forfeit the special motions or help of the Spirit, duty does not thereby cease to be duty, nor our omission to be sin.† If the Spirit of God teach you to discern the best season for prayer, by considering your affairs, and when you are most free, this is not to be denied to be the work of the Spirit, because it is rational (as fanatic enthusiasts imagine).† And if you are moved to pray in a crowd of business, or at any time when reason can prove that it is not your duty but your sin, the same reason proves that it was not the Spirit of God that moved you to it:† for the Spirit in the heart is not contrary to the Spirit in the Scripture.† Set upon the duty which the Spirit in the Scripture commands you, and then you may be sure that you obey the Spirit; otherwise you disobey it.† Yea, if your hearts be cold, prayer is a likelier means to warm them, than the omission of it.† To ask whether you may pray while your hearts are cold and backward, is as to ask whether you may labor or come to the fire before you are warm.† Godís Spirit is likelier to help you in duty, than in the neglect of it.
Question 9.† May a man pray that hath no desire at all of the grace which he prays for?
Answer.† No; because it is no prayer, but dissembling; and dissembling is no duty.† He that asks for that which he would not have, does lie to God in his hypocrisy.† But if a man have but cold and common desires (though they reach not to that which will prove them evidences of true grace), he may pray and express those desires which he hath.
Question 10.† May a man pray that doubts of his interest in God, and dare not call Him Father as His child?
Answer.† 1. There is a common interest in God, which all mankind have, as He is good to all:† and as His mercy through Christ is offered to all; and thus those that are not regenerate are His children by creation, and by participation of His mercy; and they may both call Him Father and pray to Him, though yet they are unregenerate.† 2. God hath an interest in you, when you have no special interest in Him:† therefore His command must be obeyed which bids you pray.† 3. Groundless doubts will not disoblige you from your duty; else men might free themselves from almost all their obedience.
Question 11.† May a wicked or unregenerate man pray, and is he accepted?† Or is not his prayer abominable to God?
Answer.† 1. A wicked man as a wicked man, can pray no how but wickedly, that is, he asks only for things unlawful to be asked, or for lawful things to unlawful ends; and this is still abominable to God.† 2. A wicked man may have in him some good that proceeds from common grace; and this he may be obliged to exercise, and so by prayer to express his desires so far as they are good.† 3. A wicked manís wicked prayers are never accepted, but a wicked manís prayers which are for good things, from common grace, are so far accepted as that they are some means conducing to his reformation; and though his person be still unjustified, and these prayers sinful, yet the total omission of them is a greater sin.† 4. A wicked man is bound at once to repent and pray (see Acts 8:22; Isa. 55:6,7).† And whenever God bids him ask for grace, he bids him desire grace; and to bid him pray, is to bid him repent and be of a better mind.† Therefore those that reprove ministers for persuading wicked men to pray, reprove them for persuading them to repentance and good desires.† But if they pray without that repentance which God and man exhort them to, the sin is theirs: but all their labor is not lost if their desires fall short of saving sincerity; they are under obligations to many duties, which tend to bring them nearer Christ, and which they may do without special, saving grace.
Question 12.† May a wicked man pray the Lordís prayer, or be exhorted to use it?
Answer. The Lordís prayer in its full and proper sense, must be spoken by a penitent, believing, justified person; for in the full sense no one else can call Him our Father (though in a limited sense the wicked may):† and they cannot desire the glory of God, and the coming of His kingdom, nor the doing of His will on earth as it is in heaven, and this sincerely, without true grace (especially those enemies of holiness, that think it too much strictness to do Godís will on earth, ten thousand degrees lower than it is done in heaven).† Nor can they put up one petition of that prayer sincerely according to the proper sense; no, not to pray for their daily bread, as a means of their support while they are doing the will of God, and seeking first His glory and His kingdom.† But yet it is possible for them to speak these words from such common desires as are not so bad as none at all.
Question 13.† Is it idolatry to pray to saints or angels?† Or is it always sinful?
Answer.† I love not to be too quarrelsome with other menís devotions; but, 1. I see not how praying to an angel or a departed saint can be excused from sin.† Because it supposes them to be everywhere present, or to be omniscient, and to know the heart, yea, to know at once the hearts of all men; or else the speaker pretends to know then the saint or angel is present and hears him, and when not:† and because the Scripture does nowhere signify that God would have us pray to any such saints or angels; but signifies enough to satisfy us of the contrary.† 2. But all prayer to them is not idolatry, but some is, and therefore we must distinguish, if we will judge righteously. (1.) To pray to saints or angels as supposed omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent, is flat idolatry.† (2.) To pray to them to forgive us our sins against God, or to justify, or sanctify, or redeem, or save us from hell, or anything which belongs to God only to do, is no better than idolatry.† (3.) But to pray to them only to do that which belongs to the guardian, or charitable office that is committed to them, and to think that though they are not omnipresent nor omniscient, nor you know not whether they hear you at this time or not, yet you will venture your prayers at uncertainty, it being but so much labor lost; this I take to be sinfully superstitious, but not idolatry (see Rev. 22:8,9; Col 2:18).
Question 14. Is a man bound to pray ordinarily in his family?
Answer. I have answered this affirmatively before, and proved it; one grain of grace would answer it better than arguments can do.
Question 15.† Must the same man pray secretly that hath prayed in his family or with others?
Answer.† 1. Distinguish between those that were the speakers, and those that were not; and 2. Between those that have leisure from greater or more urgent duties, and those that have not.† And so, (1.) Those that are free from the urgency of all other duties, which at that time are greater, should pray both in the family and in secret; especially if they were not themselves the speakers, usually they will have the more need of secret prayer; because their hearts in public may more easily flag, and much of their case may be omitted.† (2.) But those that have more urgent, greater duties, may take up at that time with family prayer alone; having there put up the same requests as they would do in secret.
Question 16. Is it best to keep set hours for prayer, or to take the time which is fittest at present?
Answer.† Ordinarily set times will prove the fittest times; and to leave the time undetermined and uncertain, will put all out of order, and multiply impediments, and hinder duty.† But yet when extraordinary cases make the ordinary time unfit, a fitter time must be taken.
Question 17.† Is it lawful to join in family (or church) prayers with ungodly men?
Answer. I join both together, because the cases little differ; for the pastor hath the government of the people in church worship, as the master of the family has in family worship.† You may choose at first whether you will be a member of the church or family (if you were not born to it as your privilege); but when you are a member of either, you must be governed as members.† And to the case, 1. You must distinguish between professed wicked men, and those that sin against their profession. 2. And between a family (or church) that is totally wicked and that which is mixed of good and bad.† 3. And between those wicked men whose presence is your sin, because you have power to remove them, and those whose presence is not your sin, nor the matter in your power.† 4. And between one that may yet choose of what family he will be, and one that may not.† And so I answer, (1.) If it be the fault of the master of the family (or the pastors of the church) that such wicked men are there, and not cast out, then it is their sin to join with them, because it is their duty to remove them; but that is not the case of the fellow-servants, (or people), that have no power.† (2.) If that wicked men profess their wickedness, after sufficient admonition, you must professedly disown communion with them; and then you are morally separated and discharged, when you have no power locally to separate.† (3.) It is your sin to fly from your duty, because a wicked man is there, whom you have no power to remove.† (4.) There are many prayers that a wicked man is bound to put up to God; and you must not omit your duty, because he performs his, though faultily; methinks you should have more scruples joining or conversing with one that forsakes prayer (which is the greater sin) than with one that prays.† (5.) But if you are free to choose, you are to be blamed if you will not choose a better family (or church) (other things being equal):† especially if all the company be wicked.
Question 18. But what if the master of a family (or pastor) be a heretic or ungodly?
Answer.† You must distinguish between his personal faults, and the faults of his performance or worship.† His personal faults (such as swearing or drunkenness, etc.) you must disown, and must not choose a master (or pastor) that is such, while you have your choice, and may have better; but otherwise it is lawful to join with him in doing good, though not in evil.† But if the fault of his duty itself be intolerable you must not join with him.† Now it is intolerable in these cases:† 1. In case he be utterly unable to express a prayer, and so make it no prayer.† 2. In case he bend his prayers against godliness, and known truth, and charity, and peace, and so make his prayers but the instruments of mischief, to vent heresy, or malice, and do more hurt than good to others.