SERMON VI."Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."Mark 11.24.HAVING formerly spoken unto divers things upon this subject of prayer, both as to its kinds and nature, and to the persons for whom we ought to make conscience of prayer to God, and likewise the persons against whom we may warrantably pray, I come, in the next place, to speak of those qualifications requisite in acceptable prayerthere being a vast difference between prayer and acceptable prayerbetween our uttering words to God and praying by a gift, and praying by the promised Spirit of grace and supplication, in such a way and manner as to be accepted of God in what we pray for. This is the thing that doth so much take up the thoughts of the tender and serious Christian: Am I accepted of God in what I do? The words of the mouth many times run this way; and if ye heard the language of their heart, ye would hear much unto this purpose.
Now, the first requisite qualification of acceptable prayer to God is true and saving faith. And it is so requisite in prayer, that no man or woman can put up a suitable desire without it. And the having of this grace makes anything that they do in this exercise of a sweet smelling savour unto God. Hence,
I shall observe, That in order to acceptance with God in all our addresses unto Him sound, saving, and justifying faith is very requisite and necessary. And the method is the following:
I. For the first of these, the Scripture makes this very clear and plain, in the words of the text: "Whatsoever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." As ever ye would be accepted of God, believe, and so, "Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive." "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." That is, let faith be acted and exercised in our prayers. "Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 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." So that the way to draw near to God acceptably is by faith. The apostle James allows any that lack wisdom, to ask it by faith. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." So if you would obtain anything from me, says God, seek it in faith. And says the same apostle, "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Now, that which gives being and life to prayer is faith. Thus, for the first head, these Scriptures hold out that, in acceptable prayer, faith is requisite and altogether necessary.
- I shall show you from Scripture that this is the thing that God requires in prayer to make it acceptable.
- Show you what it is to pray in faith.
- Show you what is faith's work in prayer.
- Show you what is the nature and properties of this grace, which is so necessary in prayer, that without it God will not accept of prayer.
- Show you how it is that this faith, which I shall describe as to its nature and properties, is so necessary in prayer.
- Show you in what respects this grace is requisite and necessary in prayer.
- Show you what are the helps to attain unto this grace of faith.
- Show you some of the noble effects that faith in prayer hath. And,
- Lastly, make application of the whole.
II. The second thing is: To show what it is to pray in faith.
I shall take it up in these five or six things, which ye may endeavour to keep in remembrance. And
1. To pray in faith is to be endued with saving grace from the Lord. This grace of faith must be infused into the person that approaches unto God. For it is impossible that the person that wants faith can be acceptable to GodI mean not faith of miracles, or an historical faith, but true and justifying faith. This shows that all that are destitute of this grace are in a bad case. "For without faith it is impossible to please God." And this is the woeful case they are in that want faith, that never anything they do is acceptable to God; and this, again, is the noble privilege of those that have it, that all they do in duty is accepted of Him.
2. To pray in faith is not only to have this grace infused into you, but it is to have that grace in exercise in and about the particular petition ye would put up to God. Whatsoever thing ye ask, ye must have faith exercised about that particular, whether it be for soul or body; for yourself or for the Church; for spiritual or for temporal things.
3. To pray in faith is to make use of the grounds of faith in our praying, viz., the word of promise; for the promises are the ground of our suit. So that in acceptable prayer faith makes use of this and that promise and turns the promise into a petition. This is faith's work. It is neither humility, nor self-denial that can do this. But faith takes this and the other promise, and holds it up to God, that He may make it out. "Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope."
4. To pray in faith is to make use of and to employ Christ the Mediator. So that the soul will never go to God but in the Mediator; and it looks for a return to its suits or petitions, only in and through the Mediator, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Says He Himself, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do." That is, "Expect access to the Father in and through my name; look for a return in and through my name." We pray in faith when in all our addresses we are actually endeavouring to improve the merit and mediation of Him who is at the right hand of God the Father.
5. To pray in faith is to pray over the belly of all opposition. When, in human appearance, there is nothing but anger and wrath from God, and when the soul is under the apprehensions of His wrath, yet faith will come over all these unto God. When He is inflicting some judgment upon the person, and seems to be angry with the person, then faith goes over all and presses in unto God; that is to pray in faith. For instance, "I cried by reason of my affliction; I said, I am cast out of thy presence." Yet what does faith when in sense he is cast out of God's presence? Faith puts him upon supplicating God again. "Yet will I look again to thy holy temple."
6. To pray in faith is this: When the soul promises to itself on the ground of God's word an answer to the particular petition it is putting up to God. To pray in faith is not only to know well that the thing ye are seeking is warrantable and according to His will, but in some measure to have assurance (or endeavour after it) of an answer in absolute things, that is, if it be absolutely necessary they believe it shall be granted. As to conditional petitions, they believe that if it be good for them, they shall have what they ask. If they present a petition for those things that are absolutely necessary, whether in respect of themselves or His Church, it shall be sure unto them; and if their petition is for things conditional, either to themselves or the Church, if it be for their good it shall not be wanting. Ye see an instance to this purpose in Mic. 7.7. All was then going wrong, yet, says he, "I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me:" as if he had said, "What then? I answer myself that God will hear me." Remember these six things which show what it is to pray in faith.
III. The third thing is: What is faith's work in prayer, or what is the work of this grace in a believer in his suits and supplications?
1. It instructs the person of his own need of the unsearchable riches that are in Christ. It makes him cry out, "O sinful man that I am! I have destroyed and undone myself." And, on the other hand, it informs the soul of its relief and outgate from that misery, and of the soul's portion that is to be had in Christ, and of the fullness thereof; so that there is not the least want, but there is a perfect and complete fullness in Christ, as ye may see in the case of the publican. What was the thing he prayed for? Says he, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Faith instructs as to his sin, and then as to the way of his relief and help from sin, viz., in Christ; so that faith's first work in prayer is to instruct a sinner of its own condition, and then of its supply, and help. And poor, poor are they that want this grace of faith; and rich, rich are they that have it.
2. Faith's work in prayer is to be the hand by which the soul takes hold of the remedy and relief that is in Christ, and offered by Him to us in the gospel. It is the soul's hand to lay hold of Christ and His fullness, as He is offered and held forth to us. As a poor man puts forth his hand to take that which is offered unto him, so it is with faith in prayer. It is called a receiving, and it is the very hand whereby Christ, and all that is to be had in Him, is to be received or laid hold of. This is an excellent mark in prayer.
3. The work of faith in prayer is, to enable the soul to wait patiently on God for a return of the petition it hath put up. Faith says, "Ye have prayed, and that is your duty; but see, Sirs, that ye stay still at His door until ye get an answer. Be not like those who shoot blunt-shot, and never look where it goes. 'I will hear what God the Lord will speak.'" "I will stand on my watch, and set me on the tower to see what He will say to me," says faith to the soul. This is a good work of faith in prayer, to make our souls wait patiently on Him, while He is trying them with delays. It is faith that puts strength into our souls to make them patiently wait on, till God send an answer unto them.
4. It is true faith's work in prayer to make them judge aright of all the Lord's dispensations towards them, especially in or about the exercise of prayer. Faith says, "Look that ye construct aright of Him, and entertain not wrong thoughts of Him: although He gives you not His presence now, yet He will come." "He that will come, shall come, and shall not tarry." If He give you not in that measure that ye propose, see that ye fret not. If He seem to frown, you are then to abase yourselves as miserable wretches. What says David, "O my God, I cry in the day time, and thou hearest not. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." There is faith's work; he cried to God, and is not heard; but says he, "Thou art holy." As if he had said, "I aver that He is holy, if He should shut out my prayers, as it were, with hewn stone, and refuse to answer me till my dying day, yet Thou art holy." That is faith's work in prayer.
5. Faith's work in prayer is to take hold of the least meaning, may-be, or intimation from the Lord, and to lay hold of the least ground of hope of mercy; as a poor man takes hold of the least meaning of mercy from man. It was the exercise of the woman of Canaan in her prayer, when Christ upbraided her, saying, "What have I to do with thee? Should I give the children's bread to dogs?" "Truth, Lord," says she, "Thouhast given me some ground to expect help from Thee. Truth, Lord, I acknowledge that I am a dog; but it is as true that dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." Whereupon Christ says unto her, "O woman, great is thy faith. Thy faith hath taken hold of the least intimation, or may-be, as a ground of hope. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." And this reproves those who fret if they get not what dish of meat they please; or if it pleases them not, they cast it from them. But if thou knewest what thou art, and how little thou deservest, thou wouldst bless God, that thou art not in hell already.
6. Faith's work in prayer is to enjoin every praying faculty, or all that is within the soul, before God. For faith sets its desires in order. Faith makes it desire nothing but what God hath allowed in His word, and it will be nothing short of this. Again, it orders our zeal, so that it is not blind and preposterous: where faith rules it orders humility, so that the soul does not say in a sullen fit, "Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man." It orders sorrow for sin neither to be too little nor too great. It is faith's work to make the soul sorrow heartily before God: on the other hand it makes us guard against anxious sorrow. Then it orders hope that the soul may wait patiently for the answer or accomplishment of prayer. Thus it is faith's work to order all things within the soul, and put all things in a composed temper. So commanding is the grace of faith in a soul where it is, that it will let nothing be out of order.
7. Faith's work in a soul in prayer is to make it importunate in pressing for that which it prays for. Having the word of God for its ground, and the name of Christ for its encouragement, it importunately presses for the thing desired, and when He seems to say, "Ye shall not have it;" it says, "I will not let Thee go." It was faith that made Jacob wrestle that night with God; says the angel, "Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." And, "Moses," says the Lord, "will ye let me alone, that I may destroy this people." But says Moses, "If thou wilt forgive their sins; and if not, blot me out of thy book, which thou hast written." And the woman of Samaria, say what He would, harped still upon this string, "Lord, have mercy upon me."
8. Faith's work in prayer is to undertake for the soul to God, and for God to the soul. This is the very kernel of prayer. Faith says to the soul, "I assure thee that whatsoever God hath promised in His word, that He will give and perform." Faith says to the soul, "There is not a promise made to the Church, but it shall be accomplished; nor to itself in particular, but it shall be performed." So that this is the work of faith in prayer, to engage for the Lord that all the promises that He hath given shall be made out and fulfilled unto them. On the other hand, faith engages the soul to wait patiently on for the accomplishment of all that the Lord hath promised. So that this is one of the mysteries of God; and it is lamentable that so many souls live strangers to God and to this work of faith, and do not consider the worth and excellency of this grace of faith. I dare say that we, His Church and people, would be as far above trouble this day as we are under it if we had faith and the lively exercise thereof. Those that have this are of all men the most happy, and those that want it are of all men the most miserable.
9. Faith's work is to make the soul to plead with God upon Scripture argument. Faith looks to what God hath promised, and makes use of all these promises in its approaches unto God in prayer. This ye may see in Moses' pleading for the people. He pleads upon all the promises the Lord had made unto them, when they had provoked His anger to burn against them. And so Jeremiah pleads upon scriptural arguments, not for himself only, but for the people of his time, that the Lord would do some great thing for them. So that this is faith's work, to gather all the arguments contained in Scripture, and to pray that the Lord would do this and that according to His promise.
10. The work of faith in prayer is, to turn over all the suits that the supplicant puts up into the hand of Christ the Mediator, that for His sake, intercession, and mediation they may be accepted of God, and answered in things according to His will; which implies a disclaiming of any works or merit in the person's self that is praying. Says Daniel: "Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake." Not for my sake, nor the people's sake, nor for anything that we can do, but for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake. He puts all the suits upon Christ's account, that in His name they may come before the Father and be accepted.
11. This is faith's work in prayer, to make the person praying keep at a due distance from God. Faith makes the person keep its own due room as unworthyas dust and ashes. It teaches persons to give God His due room, as He is the high and lofty one; to have low thoughts of themselves, and high thoughts of God. Faith says to the soul, "Carry in subordination unto God; let not your words be rash, nor your thoughts and conceptions of Him unsuitable." Faith made Abraham say, "I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." It is an excellent work of faith, to make us to ascribe to Him that which is due to Himglory, honour, and dominion for ever, and to take shame and confusion of face unto ourselves.
12. Faith's work in prayer is to furnish the supplicant with subject-matter of prayer, viz., to gather the promises that are here and there in the Bible. And then it not only furnishes matter, but it furnishes a mouth to speak unto God; it opens the mouth to speak unto God that which the soul hath gathered. Nay, it furnishes feet to go unto God with the matter gathered. Nor does faith only furnish matter, and a mouth to speak it, and feet to go to God with it, but it is as wings unto the soul, whereby it flies as it were with wings unto heaven with the petition that it hath to put up to Him for itself, or for His work, or for His Zion. Oh, but this is an excellent work of faith! It makes them that wait upon the Lord "mount up as on eagles' wings; and walk, and not be weary; and run, and not be faint."
13. It is faith's work in prayer to enable the soul to wait patiently till God give an answer to prayer. Faith is still petitioning and supplicating the Lord till He give a gracious return. To renew the self-same thing in prayer again and again, it being according to His will and warranted in His word, in the exercise of the self-same faith, is no tautology, though it were a hundred times to have the self-same suit. It was the way of the woman of Canaan. "I am not sent to thee," says Christ; yet she prays still, "Have mercy upon me, Lord." And it made Paul return his suit again and again. "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice." This is also an excellent work of faith. Nay, I may say, they never can do anything in the exercise of prayer that want this grace. Their prayers have no bones, strength, nor edge. They will never pierce heaven.
14. Faith's work in prayer is, to make the petitioner take up God aright as the object of prayer, and Christ Jesus as the only Mediator, and take up their own condition aright, that they may apply the promises accordingly. For faith's work is to apprehend aright our Lord Jesus Christ the Angel of the covenant, and to apprehend our own soul's case and condition aright; as in Isa. xli. it is called a looking; as it makes them take up Him whom they are seeking, and themselves aright. This is faith's work in prayer. And,
Lastly, I shall add this. It is faith's work in prayer to enable the soul to prevail over, and, as it were, to command the Lord. The prayer of faith has a prevailing and commanding over the great and dreadful Lord. Hence it is said by James, "The fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much." And it healeth the sick. It is said of Jacob, "He had power over the angel, and prevailed." Says the Lord, "Concerning my sons and my daughters, command ye me." Thus the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth is content to be commanded by His own creatures praying in faith, and in a manner prevailing over Him. This is only prayer animated by faith. Were it not so, your prayers would not go above the crown of your heads. It was faith that made Him yield to the woman of Canaan"Be it unto thee, even as thou wilt. For I cannot keep it from thee. Thy faith has prevailed over Me."
Now from all these, you may see the woeful case they are in, who want this grace; and the good and desirable case they are in, whom God hath endued with it.
IV. The fourth thing is, What is the nature of this faith, which is a necessary and requisite qualification in prayer? That we may show you the worth and excellency of this grace, and the need folk have of it, I shall in these particulars hold it out, that ye may know it, and how to come by it. And,
1. This grace of saving faith is one of the main, choice and principal graces peculiar to the elect, and is the very root of all other graces. It is in a manner, the kernel and life of all the rest, it being the only grace that closeth with Christ. "Add to your faith virtue; and to your virtue, knowledge." It is the first ground stone, and then add to it all the rest. All that folk go about, all the moral duties that some professed Christians perform, are but mere shadows for want of this.
2. This grace is one in all the elect, but not in a like measure in all. It is the self-same grace in all the elect. But you will say, How is that? For then one's faith would serve all. No, there are as many faiths, as particular persons of the elect; for it is not one in the elect as to the measure of it; for some may have a less, and some a greater degree of faith. But in this respect, it is one as to its closing with Christ, and embracing of Him as offered unto them in the gospel. It is the very self-same faith in all the elect. It was the self-same faith that was in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that is in all the believers after them. The poorest as well as the greatest hath the self-same faith in substance. If this were considered, it might be comfortable to us. You will say, "Theapostle Paul, and the rest of these worthy men, might plead confidently with God in their own behalf, and in the behalf of others." But, I say, if ye have fled to Christ, and closed with Him, ye may with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, to plead with God on your own, and on the behalf of others also.
3. This grace of faith may, yea, ought to increase in the saints of God. See Mark 9.2., 2 Cor. 10.15, where the increase of faith is mentioned. And, "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love." This grace is said to grow. "The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel from faith to faith." It is a sin and a shame for Christians to be and continue at the same degree that at the first they were at. Where it is sound and real, it grows. And oh, but the Lord's people should endeavour much for the increase of faith, that they be not as children, ever doubting and staggering, so that they cannot live without sensible manifestations of God's favourable presence unto them.
4. Ye should know that as it ought to grow, so sometimes it may come under decay, as to the exercise of it; though there cannot be a decay of it as to its foundation. But I say, it may come under a decay as to its exercise; which proceeds either from security, or from Christians being too much elated in duty. When these give a stroke to faith, it may come under a decay. Christians, beware of security, for it is the bane of faith. Beware of uplifting in duties, for it likewise is the bane of faith. And in your afflictions pray to God for the increase of your faith, for trials and rods of affliction are for trials to faith, therefore ye ought to pray for faith that are bearing the burden in the heat of the day.
5. The grace of faith is that which renders all that ye do acceptable unto God, "For without faith it is impossible to please God."
6. This grace of faith hath always with it obedience, and the bringing forth of good fruit to the glory of God and the edification of others, which fruit is called "the obedience of faith." Wherever it is, it leads still to sincere endeavours to keep up all the commandments of God. By this, folk may know whether they have this grace or not."
7. This grace of faith apprehends things altogether beyond the reach of human reason, and brings these things home unto the man's own bosom. It makes things that are absent as if they were present; it brings that into the man's heart that he shall have to all eternity; it brings in God to the man; it brings in Christ to his bosom; it brings in the joys of heaven to his soulhence it is said to be "the substance of things not seen." It was this that made Moses see Him that is invisible, and the eternal glory and happiness of the saints in heaven, whereupon he refused to be preferred in Pharaoh's court; and this is the nature of this grace which is so necessary and requisite a qualification in the duty of prayer. And,
8. This grace of faith is a most sincere cordial grace. It is called "faith unfeigned." It knows not what it is to have the winding by-gates that carnal reason and hellish policy find out. This grace of faith is downright and without guile.
9. The nature of this grace is, that it is firm, stable, and steadfast, and renders the person steadfast in whom it is: "Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith." They are like growing trees that cannot be shaken; they are like mount Zion, that cannot be removed. When they are in a right frame, let the world turn upside down, they will not be afraid. But folk destitute of this grace, like weather-cocks, will never hold out in the storm. They may bear it a little, but will not endure unto the end. But they that trust in the Lord shall be stable as mount Zion; rooted and built up in Him, they can never be removed.
10. This grace of faith is altogether supernatural. It is wholly of God, and hath nothing of our own power in it. "Faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God." It descends from the Father of lights, and by this ye may know where to find it; and if it be once infused into you, it can never be plucked out of your hearts again. They are fools that think to believe, without knowing God the Author of faith.
11. This grace hath the Word of God for its ground. It is not this or that minister said it; not this great man, nor that great man that said it; no, nothing will serve the believer until he gets this, "Thus saith the Lord."
12. This grace of faith is a knowing and intelligent grace, so that they in whom it is know somewhat of God, and of Jesus Christ, who is the immediate object of faith, and of the promises of the Gospel, and of their own case and condition. Says Christ, "And have known surely that I came out from thee, and have believed that thou didst send me,"hence sometimes it is called knowledge.
13. This grace is a lively, operative, and working grace. It makes the soul in which it is lively, diligent, and active in working the work of God. It is called "the work of faith." It puts folk upon working. Ye shall never see one who hath true faith, though he discerns it not, but he is busy; even though believers were not biddenyea, though they were forbiddenthey would read the Scripture, pray unto God, speak and confer with the Lord's people when under trouble or disquiet of mind, if they knew them to be such as they might safely communicate their mind unto.
14. This grace is a most precious grace in respect of God, the author of it; in respect of Christ, the object of it; and in respect of the Gospel, the means of attaining to it; and in respect of salvation, the end of it. Oh, but it is precious, and makes those that have it precious unto God.
15. It is a most conquering and overcoming grace; "It over-cometh the world and the devil;" it is the shield that quenches all his fiery darts.
16. I shall add that it is a purifying and cleansing grace, for it gives the person no rest until he has recourse unto the fountain of His blood. Says John, "He that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure." Not only to be reformed outwardly, but inwardly. By these things ye may see what this grace of faith is; and by some of them ye may know if ye have it, and how ye may get it. Withal ye may see the need ye have of it.
If ye would go to God acceptablyif ye would bear a stormif ye would have life then study faith. If ye get it not, ye shall never see life, and nothing that ye do shall be acceptable to God. Remember these things, lay them to heart, and do not think that it will be enough to hear them; for how will ye look death in the face who never studied this grace? How will ye wade the fords of Jordan to eternity? And how shall ye be able to answer God in the great day of accounts? If ye would get safe through all these, labour to obtain this grace of faith. The Lord help you so to do.