The Christian in Complete Armour (351)

Why Christians are to pray for what God hath purposed and promised to give.

 

But why doth God impose this upon the saints, that they should pray for what he hath purposed and promised to give?

1) That they may be conformable to Christ. 

2) That he may give the good things of the promise with safety to his honour. 

3) To show the great delight he takes in his saints’ prayers.

The design of God is to make every saint like Christ.  This was resolved from eternity Rom. 8:29.  So the father aims to conform us to Christ in his suffering, in grace, and in glory: yet so that Christ hath the pre-eminence in all.  As the promises made to him were performed on his prayer to his Father, so promises made to his saints are given to them in the same way of prayer.  ‘Ask of me,’ saith God to his Son, ‘and I shall give thee,’ Ps. 2:8.  And the apostle tells us, ‘Ye have not because ye ask not.’  God had promised support to Christ in all his conflicts: ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold,’ Isaiah 42:1.  Yet he prays ‘with strong crying and tears,’ when his feet stood within the shadow of death.  A seed is promised to him, and victory over his enemies; yet, for both these, he is at prayer now in heaven.  Christ towards us acts as a king, but towards his Father as a priest.  All he speaks to God is on his knee by prayer and intercession.  In like manner the saints. The promise makes them kings over their lusts, conquerors over their enemies; but it makes them priests towards God, by prayer humbly to sue out those great things given in the promise.

That God may give the good things of the promise with safety to his honour. The very life of God is bound up in his glory.  Now, that this his glory may be seen and displayed, is the great end he propounds both in making and ordering of the world: ‘The Lord hath made all things for himself,’ Prov. 16:4.  If there were any one occur­rence in the world which could no way be reducible to the glory of God, it would make the being of a deity to be ques­tioned.  But the all‑wise God hath so made, and doth so order, all his creatures with their actions, that the manifestation of his glory is the result of all.  Indeed, he forceth it from some, and takes it by distress, as princes do their taxes from disobedient subjects. Thus the very wrath of his enemies shall praise him, Ps. 76:10.  But he expects the saints should be active in­struments to glorify him, and, like loyal loving subjects, pay him the tribute of his praise freely, with acclamations of joy and gratitude; which, that they may do, he issueth out his mercies in such a way as may best suit with this their duty.  And that is to give the good things he hath purposed and promised to them upon their humble address in prayer to him. Now two ways the glory of God is secured by this means.

Prayer highly glorifies God. Prayer, is a means of worship, whereby we are to do homage to God, and give him the glory of his deity.  By this we give him ‘the glory of his power.’  Prayer is a humble appeal from our impotency to God’s omnipotence.  None begs that at another’s door which he can pleasure himself with at home.  And if we thought not God able, we would go to another, not to him.  We give him the glory of his sovereignty and dominion and acknowledge that he is not only able to procure for us what we ask, but can give us a right to, and the blessing of, what he gives. Therefore Christ closeth his prayer with, ‘Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,’ &c., as a reason why we direct our prayers to God; because he alone is the sovereign Lord that can invest us in, and give us title to, any enjoyment.   By directing our prayers to God the Father, we honour him as the source and fountain of all grace and mercy.  We hon­our the Son in presenting our prayers in his name to the Father, thereby acknowledging him the purchaser of the mercies we beg.  And the Holy Ghost, he re­ceives the honour of that assistance which we ac­knowledge to receive from him for the duty of prayer. For as we pray to the Father through the Son, so by the help of the Spirit.

As God is honoured in the very act and exercise of his duty duly qualified, so by it the Chris­tian is deeply engaged, and also sweetly disposed, to praise God for, and glorify him with, the mercies he obtains by prayer.

Prayer engageth to praise God because of his mercies.  In prayer we do not only beg mercy of God, but vow praise to God for the mercies we beg.  Prayers are called ‘vows,’ ‘Thou, O God, hast heard my vows;’ Ps. 61:5; that is, my prayers, in which I solemnly vowed praise for the deliverance I begged.  It is no prayer where no vow is included.  We must not think to bind God and leave ourselves free.  God ties himself in the promise to help us; but the condition of the ob­ligation on our part, is, that we will glorify him.  And upon no other terms doth God give us leave to ask any mercy at his hands.  ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me,’ Ps. 50:15.  Now, what a strong tie doth this lay upon the praying Christian’s heart, to use the mercies he receives holily, and to wear with thankfulness what he wins by prayer!  The Christian who would be loath to be taken in a lie to man, will much more fear to be found a liar to God.  ‘Surely they are my people,’ saith God; ‘children that will not lie; so he was their Saviour,’ Isa. 63:8.

        Prayer is a means to dispose the heart to praise When David begins a psalm with prayer, he commonly ends it with praise.  From whence things have their original, thither they return.  From the sea the riverwater comes, and no mountains can hinder, but back again to the sea it will go.  That spirit which leads the soul out of itself to God for supply, will direct it to the same God with his praise.  By prayer the Christian’s enjoyments are sanctified, and the  mercies received by prayer, become nourishment to the saints’ graces, that corrupt and turn to noisome lusts in the prayerless sinner.

          God will have his people pray for what he hath purposed and promised, to show the great delight he takes in their prayers As a father, though he can send to his son who lives abroad the money he hath promised for his maintenance, yet let him not have it except he comes over at set times for it.  And why?  Not to trouble his son, but delight him­self in his son’s company.  God takes such content in the company of his praying saints, that to prevent all strangeness on their part, he orders it so that they cannot neglect a duty but they shall lose something by it.  ‘Ye have not, because ye ask not.’  And the more they abound in prayer the more they shall with bless­ings.  The oftener Joash had ‘smote upon the ground,’ the fuller his victory over Syria had been.  As the ar­rows of prayer are that we shoot to heaven, so will the returns of mercy from thence be.  He doth all this on a design to draw out the graces of his Spirit in his children, the voice and language of which in prayer makes most sweet melody in the ear of God.

The Christian in Complete Armour (350)

Because prayer prevails with God and he commands it that makes it a necessary duty.

Never was faithful prayer lost at sea.  No merchant trades with such certainty as the praying saint.  Some prayers indeed have a longer voyage than others; but then they come with the richer lading at last into the port. In trading, he gets most by his commodity that can forbear his money longest.  So does the Christian that can with most patience stay for a return of his prayer. Such a soul shall never be ashamed of his waiting. ( I John 3:22) This little word Father, lisped forth in prayer by a child of God, has great effects.

We read of taking heaven ‘by force,’ Matt. 11:12.  If ever this may be said to be done it is in prayer.  This holy vio­lence we offer to God in prayer is very pleasing to him.  Surely, if it were not, he would neither help the Christian so in the work, nor reward him for it when it is done.  Whereas he doth both.  He helped Jacob to overcome: ‘By his strength he had power with God,’ Hosea 12:3.  That is, not by his own, but by the strength he had from God.  And then he puts honour upon him for the victory, ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed,’ Gen. 32:28.  It were easy here to expatiate into a large history of the great exploits which prayer is renowned for in holy writ.  James 5:17; Isa. 37; Dan 2:18; II Sam. 15:31; Acts 12:5; John 11:41; Jonah 2:2; Joshua 10:12, 14; II Kings 20:10; Ps. 106:23; Ezek. 22:30.  This is the key that hath opened and again shut heaven.  It hath van­quished mighty armies, and unlocked such secrets as passed the skill of the very devil himself to find out.  It hath strangled desperate plots in the very womb wherein they were conceived, and made those engines of cruelty prepared against the saints recoil upon the inventors of them; so that they have inherited the gallows which they did set up for others.  At the knock of prayer, prison doors have opened, the grave hath delivered up its dead; the sea’s monster hath been made to vomit up again what it swallowed.  It hath stopped he sun’s chariot in the heavens, yea made it go back.  And that which surpas­seth all, it hath taken hold of the Almighty, when on his full march against persons and people, and hath put him into a merciful retreat.  Indeed, by the power prayer hath with God, it comes to prevail over all the rest.

He that hath a key to God’s heart cannot be shut out, or stopped at the creature’s door.  Now prayer moves God and overcomes him, not by causing any change in the divine will, and making God to take up new thoughts of doing that for his people which he did not before intend.  No, God is immutable, and what good he doth in time for his people he purposed before any time was.  But prayer is said to more than overcome God; because he then gives, what from eter­nity he purposed to give upon their praying to him. For when God decreed what he would do for his saints, he also purposed that they should pray for the same.  ‘I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them,’ Ezek. 36:37.  Prayer’s mid­wifery shall be used to deliver the mercies God pur­poseth and promiseth.  Hezekiah understood this when he calls the prophet to the church’s labour, and bids because ‘the children’—that is, deliverance —stuck in her birth, that he should therefore ‘lift up a prayer,’ Isa. 37:3, 4.  And when Daniel had found the full reckoning of the promise—how long it had to go with the deliverance promised for their return from captivity—perceiving it hastened, he therefore falls hard to prayer, knowing God’s purpose to give doth not discharge us from our duty to ‘ask,’ Dan. 9:3.

The Christian in Complete Armour (349)

Prayer helps our graces, as it sets the soul nigh to God. In prayer we are said to ‘draw nigh to God,’ James 4:8—to ‘come before his presence,’ Ps. 95:2. In it we have ‘access by one spirit unto the Father,’ Eph. 2:18, as one that brings a petition to a prince is called into his presence‑chamber—one of the nearest approaches to God which the creature is capable of on this side heaven, which was signified by the in­cense altar, that stood so high even within the vail. Prayer, it is called, ‘The throne of grace.’ We come in prayer to the throne of God, and put our petition into the very hand of God, as he sits on his throne in all his royalty. Now, as prayer is so near an approach to God, it hath a double influence into the growth of the saint’s grace.

(1.) By this near access to God, the soul is put the more into a holy awe and fear of that pure and piercing eye of God which he sees looking on him. It is true, God is ever near us. Pray or not pray, we can­not rid ourselves of his presence. But never hath the soul such apprehensions of his presence as when it is set before God in prayer. Now the soul speaks to God as it were mouth to mouth; and considering how holy that majesty is with whom he hath to do in prayer, he must needs reverence and tremble before him. Now the natural issue of this holy fear, what can it be but a care to approve itself to God? And this care cherishes every grace. They are carried in its arms, as the child in its nurse’s. It keeps the girdle of truth buckled close about his loins. ‘O,’ saith the soul, ‘I must either leave praying, or leave doubling and juggling with God by hypocrisy!’ It will strength­en the breastplate of holiness. It is not possible that a Christian should walk loosely all day, and be free and familiar with God at night. He that waits on the person of a prince will be careful to carry nothing about him that should be offensive to his eye;

(2.) By the soul’s near access to God in prayer, it receives sweet influences of grace from him. All grace comes from the God of grace; not only the first seed of grace, but its growth and increment; and God usually sheds forth his grace in a way of communion with his people. Now, by prayer the Christian is led into most intimate communion with God. And from communion follows communication. As the warmth the chicken finds by sitting under the hen’s wings cherisheth it, so are the saints’ graces enlivened and strengthened by the sweet influences they receive from this close communion with God. The Christian is compared to a tree, Ps. 1. And those trees flourish most, and bear sweetest fruit, which stand most in the sun.  The praying Christian is, placed in the sun. He stands nigh to God, and hath, God nigh to him in all that he calls upon him for. And therefore you may expect his fruit to be sweet and ripe, when another stands as it were in the shade, and at a distance from God (through neglect of, or infrequency in, this duty), will have little fruit found on his branches, and that but green and sour. ‘Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing,’ Ps. 92:13, 14.

The Christian in Complete Armour (348)

The influence of prayer upon Christian graces makes it a necessary duty.

 

Prayer  help to evidence the truth of grace (give us assurance), and also advances  its growth.

Satan aims to make us doubt our salvation.  Now, in prayer, the Christian stands at great advantage to find out the truth of his state, and that upon a double account.

  1.  God communicates with us when we are lifting up his eyes in prayer to heaven.
  2. The duty of prayer proves we are recipients of true grace. The Spirit of God, when he testifies to the truth of a saint’s grace, useth to join issue with the saint’s own spirit, ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,’ Rom. 8:16.  Now the testimony which the Christian’s own spirit gives for him, is taken from those vital acts of the new creature that operate in him—such as sincerity, godly sorrow for sin, love of holiness, and good works. Prayer shows our sincerity  when we confess all our sins freely.

Thus we see spirit of prayer is both an argument of true grace, and a means to draw out that true grace into act, whereby its truth may be the better exposed to view. A ‘spirit of grace and of supplications’ are both joined together, Zech. 12:10.  The latter doth indi­cate the former. What is prayer but the breathing forth of that grace which is breathed into the soul by the Holy Spirit? When God breathed into man the breath of life, he became a living soul. So, when God breathes into the creature the breath of spiritual life, it becomes a praying soul. ‘Behold he prayeth,’ saith God of Paul to Ananias, Acts 9:11.  As if he had said, ‘Be not afraid of him; he is an honest soul; thou mayest trust him for he prays.’  Praying is the same to the new creature as crying is to the natural. The child is not learned by art or example to cry, but instructed by nature; it comes into the world crying. Praying is not a lesson got by forms and rules of art, but flowing from principles of new life itself.

The duty of prayer, as it is a means to evidence, so to increase, grace. The praying Christian is the thriving Christian; whereas he that is infrequent or slothful in praying, is a waster.  He is like one that lives at great expense, and drives little or no trade to bring wherewithal to maintain it. Now prayer helps toward the increase and growth of grace in these two ways:—1. As it draws the habits of grace into act, and exerciseth them. 2. As it sets the soul nigh to God.

  1. As it draws the habits of grace into act, and exerciseth them. Now as exercise brings a double benefit to the body, so this to the soul.

(1.) Exercise is good for the body. Prayer is the saint’s exercise‑field, where his graces are breathed; as bellows to the fire, which clears the coals of those ashes that smother them.

(2.) Exercise whets the appetite to that food which must be taken before strength can be got.  The hone that sets the edge on the husband­man’s scythe, helps him to mow the grass. None comes so sharp‑set to the word—which is the saint’s food to strengthen his grace—as the Christian that takes prayer in his way to the ordinance.  Now, as exer­cise stirs up the natural heat of the body, so prayer excites this spiritual heat of love in the saint’s bosom to the word. Cornelius is an excellent instance for it. We find him hard at prayer in his house, when be­hold a vision that bids him send for Peter, who should preach the gospel to him—a happy reward for his de­votion! Now, see what a sharp appetite this praying soul hath to the word. He upon this presently posts away messengers for Peter, and before he comes, gathers an assembly together—no doubt all of his friends that he could get.  There he sits with a longing heart waiting for the preacher. As soon as ever he sees his face, he falls down at his feet, receiving him with that reverence and respect as if he had been an angel dropped out of heaven. Presently he sets Peter to work, though some may think he passed good man­ners in putting him to labour after so long a journey, before he had refreshed him with some collation or other; but the good man was so hungry to hear the message he brought, that he could not well pacify his soul to stay any longer, and like a man truly hunger-bit, he is ready to catch at any truth—though never so bitter—which shall be set before him. ‘Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God,’ Acts 10:33. And when the sermon is done, so savoury and sweet was the meal, that he is loath to think of parting with Peter before he gets more from him; and therefore beseeches him to stay some days with him. One ser­mon did but make his teeth water for another.

 

The Christian in Complete Armour (346)

 

The necessary duty of the Christian, as clothed in the Whole Armour of God: or, how the Spiritual Panoply may alone be kept furbished.

 

‘Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints’ (Eph. 6:18).

 

The Christian’s armour will rust except it be furbished and scoured with the oil of prayer. What the key is to the watch, that [is] prayer to our graces—it winds them up and sets them agoing. In the words observe,

FIRST. The duty commanded, ‘prayer;’ with the end for which it is appointed, viz. as a help to all his graces and means to carry on his war against sin and Satan: ‘praying.’

SECOND. A directory for prayer; wherein we are instructed how to perform this duty in six distinct divisions of the subject. First. The time for prayer—praying always.’ Second. The kinds and sorts of prayer—‘with all prayer and supplication.’ Third. The inward principle of prayer from which it must flow—in the Spirit.’  Fourth. The guard to be set about the duty of prayer—‘watching thereunto.’ Fifth. The unwearied constancy to be exercised in the duty—with all perseverance.’ Sixth. The comprehensiveness of the duty, or persons for whom we are to pray—‘for all saints.’

Praying’ (Eph. 6:18).

We begin with the first, the duty in general, together with the connection it hath with the whole preceding discourse of the armour, implied in the participle —‘praying.’ That is, furnish yourselves with the armour of God, and join prayer to all these graces for you defence against your spiritual enemies. Let us take the three following branches of the subject. First. Prayer as a necessary duty to the Christian. Second. Why it is so necessary a means, with our other armour, for our defence. Third. Satan’s designs against prayer.

Prayer a necessary duty to the Christian in his spiritual warfare.

We lay down as the point deducible from what we have said the following doctrine.  That prayer is a necessary duty to be performed by the Christian, and used with all other means in his spiritual warfare. This is the ‘silver trumpet,’ by the sound of which he is to alarm heaven, and call in God to his succour, Num. 10:9. The saints’ enemies fall when God riseth; and God is raised by their prayers. ‘Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered,’ Ps. 68:1. Prayer, it is a catholic (universal) duty, and means to be made use of in all our affairs and enterprises. Whatever our meal is, bread and salt are set on the board; and whatever our condition is, prayer must not be forgot.  (Or as others have said , “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath.” We can no more live but by breathing and maintain our spiritual life but by praying!-JK). As we dip all our morsels in salt, and eat them with bread; so we are to act every grace, season every enjoyment, mingle every duty, and oppose every temptation, with prayer. It hath been the constant practice of the saints in all their dangers and straits, whether from enemies with­in or without, from sin, devils, or men, to betake themselves to the throne of grace, and draw a line of prayer about them; accounting this the only safe pos­ture to stand in for their defence. When God called Abraham from Haran into a strange country, where he wandered from place to place amidst strangers, who could not but have him in some suspicion —considering the train and retinue he had—and this their suspicion create many dangers to this holy man from the kings round about, it is observable what course Abraham takes for his defence when he moves from place to place. The memorable thing recorded of him is, that ‘he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord,’ Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:3, 4. This was the breastwork he raised and entrenched himself in. When he had once by prayer cast himself into the arms of God for protection, then he made account that he was in his castle. But what need Abraham have put himself so often to this trouble? Had he not the security of God’s promise when he set forth, that God would bless them that blessed him, and curse them that cursed him? And had he not faith to believe God would be a God of his word to perform what he had promised? We confess both. But neither God’s promise, nor Abraham’s faith thereon,  negated his duty in prayer. The promise is given as a ground of faith, and faith as an encouraging help in prayer; but neither [are] intended to discharge us of our duty, and save us the labour of that work.

And what Abraham did, the same have all the saints ever done. The great spoils which they ever got from their enemies was in the field of prayer.  If Moses sent Joshua into the valley against Amalek, himself will be on the mount to storm heaven by his prayer, while he is engaged in fight with the enemy below; and the victory it is plain was not got by Joshua’s sword, so much as Moses’ prayer. Jehosha­phat, when he had near a million of men mustered for the field, besides his garrisons that were all well appointed, yet we find him as hard at prayer as if he had not had a man on his side: ‘We know not what to do, but our eyes upon thee,’ II Chr. 20:12. Now if these worthies when they had but flesh and blood—men like themselves—to contest with, did yet fetch in their help from heaven, and make such use of prayer’s auxiliary force—and that when other helps were not wanting—lest they should be found under the neglect of an indispensable duty and prevalent means in order to their defence, how much more doth it be­hove the Christian, both in point of duty and pru­dence, to take the same course in his spiritual war against principalities and powers! For the saint’s graces, when best trained and exercised, are, without prayer, far less able to stand against Satan than they, with their military preparation, were to repel the force of men like themselves. ‘Watch and pray,’ saith our Saviour, ‘that ye enter not into temptation,’ Matt. 26:41. The not keeping this pass gave the enemy Sa­tan a fair occasion to come in upon them.  For we see, not taking Christ’s counsel, they were all, though holy men, shamefully foiled. Most of them shifted for themselves by a cowardly flight, while they left their Lord in his enemy’s hands. And he that thought to show more courage than his fellows, at last came off with deeper guilt and shame than them all, by deny­ing his Master, who was even then owning him in the face of death, yea his Father’s wrath. And it is observable that, as they were led into temptation through their own neglect of prayer, so they were rescued and led out of it again by Christ’s prayer, which he mercifully laid in beforehand for them. ‘I have prayed…that thy faith fail not,’ Luke 22:32.

But that which above all commends this duty to us, is Christ’s own practice; who, besides his constant exercise in it, did, upon any great undertaking where­in he was to meet opposition from Satan and his in­struments, much more abound in it. At his baptism, being now to enter the stage of his public ministry, and to make his way thereunto through the fierce and furious assaults of Satan—with whom he was to grapple as it were hand to hand after his forty days’ solitude—we find him at prayer, Luke 3:21. Which prayer had a present answer, heaven opening, and the Spirit descending on him, with this voice, saying, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased,’ ver. 22. And now Christ marcheth forth undauntedly to meet his enemy, who waited for him in the wilder­ness. Again, when he intended to commission his apostles, and send them forth to preach the gospel —which he knew would bring the lion fell and mad out of his den, as also derive the world’s wrath upon those his messengers—he first sets his disciples on praying, Matt. 9:38, and then spends the whole night himself in the same work before their mission, Luke 6:12. But above all, when he was to fight his last battle with the prince of this world, and also conflict with the wrath of his Father, now armed against him, and ready to be poured upon him for man’s sin—whose cause he had espoused—on the success of which great undertaking depended the saving or losing his media­tory kingdom, O how then did he bestir himself in prayer! It is said, ‘He prayed more earnestly.’ As a wrestler that strains every vein in his body, so he put forth his whole might, ‘with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard,’ Heb. 5:7, so that he won the field, though himself slain upon the place.  The spoils of this glor­ious victory believers do now divide, and shall enjoy it to all eternity.  And what is the upshot of all this, but to show us both the necessity and prevalency of prayer? Without this, no victory to be had, though we have our armour; but this, with that, will make us conquerors over all.

 

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Exhortation to ministers, to whom this sword is specially committed.

 

To the ministers—into your hand this sword of the word is given in an especial manner who will  publicly preach the gospel. He ‘hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation,’ II Cor. 5:19.‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust,’ I Tim. 6:20. You are ambassadors from the great God to treat  poor sinners concerning their eternal peace upon those articles which are contained in the gospel. You are his shepherds, to lead and feed his flock, and that in no other than these ‘green pastures.’  If the sheep wander, or die of the rot through thy neglect, who shall pay for the loss but the idle shepherd? Now, in order to the discharge of this your public trust, I shall only point at two duties incumbent on you both, with a reference to this word left in your hands—one to be performed in your study, the other in your pulpit.

First Duty. In your study acquaint yourselves with the word of God. That which may pass for dili­gence in a private Christian’s reading and search into the Scripture, may be charged as negligence upon the minister. The study of the Scriptures is not only a part of our general calling in common with him, but of our particular also, in which we are to be exercised from one end of the week to the other. The husband­man doth not more constantly go forth with his spade and mattock, to perform his day labour in the field, than the minister is to go and dig in this mine of the Scripture. It must be his standing exercise—his plodding work. Give up ourselves to the study of the word.  Paul’s charge to Timothy, ‘Give attendance to reading,’ I Tim. 4:13.  Follow thy book close, O Tim­othy, and ‘Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them,’ ver. 15.  ‘That thy profiting may appear to all;’ that is, that thou mayest appear to be a growing preacher to those that hear thee.  O how shall the people grow if the minister doth not? And how shall he grow, if he doth not daily drink in more than he pours out?  Study and pray: pray and study again. Think not your work is done for all the week when the Sabbath is past.  Take a little breath, and return to thy labour;  You faithful labourers in the congregation,. Help them in their study for you, by easing them of their worldly cares for themselves.

Second Duty. In the pulpit use no other sword but this, and handle it faithfully.  Deliver it, 1. Purely. 2. Freely.

  1. Use the sword of the word purely. And that in a threefold respect: (1.) Pure from error. (2.) Pure from passion. (3.) Pure from levity and vanity.

(1.) Pure from error. Think it not enough your text is Scripture, but let your whole sermon be also such—I mean agreeable to it. Thou art an ambas­sador, and as such bound up in thy instructions. Take heed of venting thy own dreams and fancies in God’s name. ‘He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully,’ Jer. 23:28—that is, purely, without  mingling it with his own dreams.  Better feed thy people with sound doctrine.

(2.) Pure from passion. The pulpit is an un­seemly place to vent our discontent and passions in. Beware of this strange fire. The man of God must be gentle and meek, and his words with meekness of wisdom.  Be as rough to thy people’s sins as thou canst, so thou art gentle to their souls. Dost thou take the rod of reproof into thine hand? Let them see that love, not wrath, give the blow.

(3.) Pure from levity and vanity. The word of God is too sacred a thing, and preaching too solemn a work, to be toyed and played with, as is the usage of some, who make a sermon nothing but a matter of wit, and to flaunt it forth in a garish discourse. The naked sharp sword is the only way to pierce your people’s consciences, and fetch blood of their sins. ‘Because the preacher was wise,…he sought to find out acceptable words,’ Eccl. 12:9.  As they were ‘acceptable words,’ so upright, ‘words of truth,’ ver. 10.

  1. Use the sword of the word, as purely, so freely. It is required that a steward be ‘faithful,’ I Cor. 4:2. Now the preacher’s faithfulness stands in relation to him that intrusts him. You are not to please men! A wise physician seeks to cure, not please, his patient. ‘With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you,’ ver. 3 of the fore-quoted place. As if he had said, ‘It shall be known at the great audit, when my Master comes to reckon with me, whether I have been faithful;  ‘Men shall not endure sound doctrine.’ Now therefore, to bear witness to the truth, and to make full proof of their ministry in such a perverse and froward generation, needs more greatness of spirit than flesh and blood can help them to. ‘I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way,’ Jer. 6:27. If a warrant lies but in a constable’s hand to search your house, you cannot be angry with him for doing his office, because you dare not stand betwixt him and the displeasure of his prince, should he neglect it.

The Christian in Complete armour (344)

Our faith in the promises must lead to action ( good works).

When you have claimed the promise act out thy faith on the power and truth of God for the performance of it; and that against sense and reason, which rise up to discourage thee. For, as thy faith is feeble or strong on these, so wilt thou draw little or much sweetness from the promises. The saints’ safety lies in the strength and faithfulness of God who is the promiser; but the present comfort and repose of an afflicted soul is fetched in by faith relying on God as such. Hence it is, though all believers are out of danger when in the saddest condition that can befall them, yet too many, alas! of them are under fears and dejections of spirit, because their faith acts weakly on a mighty God, timorously and suspiciously on a faithful God. ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Matt. 8:26.  It is vital to have faith in the power and truth of the promises. And if thou meanest to do this, ban­ish sense and reason from being thy counsellors. How came Abraham not to stagger in his faith, though the promise was so strange? The apostle resolves us: ‘He considered not his own body now dead,’ Rom. 4:19. And what made Zacharias reel? He made sense his counsellor, and thought he was too old for such news to be true. This is the bane of faith, and consequently of comfort in affliction. We are too prone to carry our faith, with Thomas, at our fingers’ ends; and to trust God no further than our hand of sense can reach.

These three, sense, reason, and faith, are dis­tinct, and must not be confounded. Paul knew by faith, in that dismal sea-storm where all of being saved was taken away—that is, sense and reason being judges—not a man should lose his life. ‘Be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me,’ Acts 27:25. When the angel smote Peter on the side, and bade him ‘arise up quickly…and follow me,’ he did not allow sense and reason to reply and cavil at the impossibility of the thing. How can I walk that am in fetters? Or to what purpose when an iron gate withstands us? But he riseth, and his chains fall off —he follows, and the iron gate officiously opens itself to them.

Say not, poor Christian, ‘It is impossible to bear this affliction, or pass that temptation.’ Let faith follow the promise, and God will loose these knots that sense and reason tie. Luther bids, crucify that word, how? Obey the command, and ask not a reason why God enjoins it. It is necessary to bid the Christian, in great afflic­tions and temptations, to crush the question how shall I go through this trouble—hold out in that assault? Away with this ‘how shall I?’ Hath not the great God who is faithful given thee promises enough to ease thy heart of these needless fears and cares, in that he tells thee, ‘He will never leave thee or forsake thee, his grace shall be sufficient for thee?’ Nothing ‘shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’  And a hundred more comfortable assurances from the lip of truth to stand betwixt thee and all harm. Why then dost thou trouble thyself about this improbability and that mountainous difficulty that sense and carnal rea­son heave up and interpose to eclipse thy comfort from thy approaching deliverance?  Judge not by sense, but by faith on an omnipotent God; and these bugbears will not scare thee. It is the highest act of love, for Christ’s sake to take pleasure in those things that bring pain and shame with them. For as in mortifying the flesh  we deny ourselves the satisfaction of our carnal de­sires,  so, in the latter we deny our carnal reasonings, that would be disputing against God’s power and strength.

The Christian in Complete Armour (343)

We must plead the promises at the throne of grace.

Plead the promises at the throne of grace.  Meditation filleth the heart with heavenly matter, but prayer gives the discharge and pours it forth upon God, whereby he is implored to give the Christian his desired relief and succour. The promise is a bill or bond, wherein God makes himself a debtor to the creature. Now, though it is some comfort to a poor man that hath no money at present to buy bread with, when he reads his bills and bonds, to see that he hath a great sum owing him, yet this will not supply his present wants and buy him bread.  By meditating on the promise thou comest to see there is support in, and deliverance out of, affliction. But none will come till thou commencest thy suit, and by the prayer of faith callest in the debt. ‘Your heart shall live that seek God,’ Ps. 69:32. ‘They looked unto him, and were lightened,’ Ps. 34:5. God expects to hear from you, before you can expect to hear from him. If thou restrainest prayer, it is no wonder the mercy promised is retained. Meditation, it is like the lawyer’s studying the case in order to his pleading it at the bar. When, therefore, thou hast viewed the prom­ise, and affected thy heart with the riches of it, then ply thee to the throne of grace, and spread it before the Lord. Thus David, ‘Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope,’ Ps. 119:49.

 

 

The Christian in Complete Armour (342)

We must sort the promises under their proper heads.

 

Take some pains to sort the promises, as thou readest the Scriptures, and reduce them to their proper heads. There is great multiplicity of trials and temptations which God is pleased to exercise his saints with: ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous,’ Ps. 34:19. And there is va­riety of promises provided to administer suitable comfort to their several sorrows. The Scriptures are a spiritual physic-garden, where grows an herb for the cure of every malady. Now it were of admirable use to t he Christian if he would gather some of every sort, such especially as he hath found most to affect his heart, and say this portion of Scripture is mine, and then to write such down, as the physician doth his receipts for this and that disease, by themselves. believers ought to know where to find the promises needed. The wise Christian will store himself with promises in health for sickness, and in peace for future perils. It is too late for a man to think of running home for his cloak when on his way he is caught in a storm. ‘A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished,’ Prov. 22:3.

We must observe the comprehensiveness of the promises.

 

Observe the full latitude of the promises. The covenant of grace comprehends the weak Christian as well as the strong, ‘if children, then heirs,’ Rom. 8:17. Not if children grown to this age, or that stature, but ‘if children.’ Christ hath in his family children of all sizes, some little, and others tall Christians. If thou art a child, though in the cradle, the promise is thy portion. ‘All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen,’ II Cor. 1:20. ‘There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,’ Rom. 8:1. See here, it is the state and relation the creature stands in, that gives him his title to the promise. Some saints have more grace from Christ than others, and so have more skill to improve these promises than their weaker brethren, whereby their present profits and incomes from the promise are greater. But they have no more interest in Christ than the other, and consequently the title of the weak Christian is as true to the promise as [that] of the strong. Shall the foot say, ‘Because I am the lowest member of the body, therefore the tongue will not speak for me, or the head take care of me?’ We will grant thee to be of the least and lowest rank of Christians; yet thou art in Christ, as the foot is in the body. And Christ hath made provision in the prom­ise for all that are in him, they belong to all: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,’ John 3:36.

 Meditate  on the promises.

 

Be much in meditation of the promises. Whence is it that the poor Christian is so distressed with the present affliction that lies upon him, but because he museth more on his trouble than on the promise? There is that in the promise which would recreate his spirit, if he could but fix his thoughts upon it. When the crying child once fastens on the teat, and begins to draw down the milk, then it leaves wrangling, and falls asleep at the breast. Thus the Christian ceaseth complaining of his afflic­tion when he gets hold on the promise, and hath the relish of its sweetness upon his heart. ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts de­light my soul,’ Ps. 94:19. The Christian in  the apprehension of the present affliction or temptation that lies upon him need to settle his heart again upon the promise, and then he recovers his former peace and composure. Hence the Spirit of God sounds a retreat to the troubled thoughts of afflicted saints, and calls them off from poring on that which roils them, into God, where alone they can be quiet and at ease.  ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him,’ Ps. 37:7. And David, finding his soul, like the dove while flying over the waters, without all repose, calls it back into the meditation of God and his prom­ise, as the only ark where it could find rest. ‘Return unto thy rest, O my soul,’ Ps. 116:7. Such there are, God knows, whom Satan and their own pensive hearts keep such close prisoners, that no comfortable meditation is suffered to speak or stay with them.

And again, on the other hand then the promise works effectually, when it is bound upon the Chris­tian’s heart, when he wakes with it and walks with it. No pain he feels, no danger he fears, can pluck him from his breast; but, as Samson went on his way eat­ing of the honeycomb, so he feeding on the sweetness of the promise. Here is a Christian that will sing when another sighs, will be able to spend that time of his affliction in praising God, which others—whose thoughts are scattered and split upon what they suffer —too commonly bestow on fruitless complaints of their misery, and discontented speeches which reflect dishonourably upon God himself. Let it be thy care therefore, Christian, to practice this duty of medita­tion.  Invite the promise, as Abraham did the angels, Gen. 18, not to pass away till thou hast more fully enjoyed it.  Yea, constrain it as the disciples did Christ, to stay with thee all the night of thy affliction. This is to ‘acquaint’ ourselves indeed with God, the ready way to be at peace. This is the way the saints have taken to raise their faith to such a pitch, as to triumph over the most formidable calamities. ‘My beloved,’ saith the spouse, ‘shall lie all night between my breasts.’ That is, when benighted with any sorrowful afflicting providence, she shall pass away the night comfortably in the meditation of his love and loveliness, his beauty and sweetness.

When the soul stands upon this Pisgah of meditation, looking by an eye of faith through the perspective of the promise upon all the great and precious things laid up by a faithful God for him, it is easy to despise the world’s love and wrath.  O let us all cry out, as once David, ‘Lead me to the rock that is higher than I!’ And with him in another place, ‘Who will bring me into the strong city?…wilt no thou, O God?’  Spread thou thy sails and the Spirit will fill them with his heavenly breath. Be but thou the priest to lay the wood and sacrifice in order, and fire from heaven will come down upon it. Be thou but careful to provide fuel—gather from the promises matter for meditation, and set thy thoughts awork upon it—and the Spirit of God will kindle thy affections. ‘While I was musing,’ saith David, ‘the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,’ Ps. 39:3. Isaac met his bride in the fields; and the gracious soul her beloved, when she steps aside, to walk with the promise in her solitary thoughts.

 

 

The Christian in Complete Armour (341)

Promises and the Christian.

 

First: Be sure you have a right to depend on the promises.  He that hath his title to the promise proved from the word to his own conscience, will not be wrangled easily out of his comfort. But how do we know we have a right to the promises?

 First. Inquire whether thou art united to Christ by faith or no. The promises are not a com­mon for swine to root in; but Christ’s sheep-walk, for his flock to feed in. ‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,’ Gal. 3:29. The promise  cannot be had but by taking the person of Christ in marriage. And faith is the grace by which the soul closes with Christ as he is proclaimed in the gospel.  faith is called, therefore, a receiving of Christ, John 1:12. There is no doubt but thou hast often been wooed in the ministry of the word by Christ’s spokesmen, and that question hath been put to thee for Christ, which was once to Rebekah, concerning her taking Isaac to husband, ‘Wilt thou go with this man?’ They have from the word set him forth in his glories before thee, who he is, and what he brings. Thou hast heard the articles upon which he is most willing to proceed to marriage, and take thee as his beloved into his bed and bosom.

Remember he will endure no competitor or partner with him in thy affections. That thou like his law as well as his love. Christ will not be husband where he may not be master also. That thou take him for better and for worse, with his cross as well as with his crown—to suffer for him as well as to reign with him.  Canst thou freely pack away thy once darling lusts to gain him? and leap out of the arms of all thy carnal delights and sinful pleasures, to be taken into his embraces? Art thou as willing he should be thy Lord, as thy love? and as content to bow to his sceptre as lie in his bosom? In a word, art thou so enamoured with him, that thou now canst not live without him, nor enjoy thyself except thou mayest enjoy him? Thy heart is wounded with the darts which his love and loveliness have shot into it, and he himself carries the balm about him which alone can heal it. Let him now require what he will at thy hands, nothing he com­mands shall be denied. If he bids thee leave father and father’s house, thou wilt go after him, though it be to the other end of the world. If he tells thee though must be base and poor in the world for his sake, thou art resolved to beg with him rather than reign without him, yea die for him than live without him. Come forth, thou blessed of the Lord, and put on the bracelets of the promises; they are the love-tokens which  Christ’s hand  deliver..

 Second. Inquire what effect the prom­ises have on thy soul. All who have right to the prom­ises are trans­formed by the promise. As Satan shed his venomous seed into the heart of Eve by a promise, ‘Ye shall not surely die,’ Gen. 3:4—whereupon she presently conceived with sin, and was assimilated into the likeness of his diabolical nature, wicked as was the devil himself—so God useth the promises of the gospel—called therefore the ‘incorruptible seed’—to beget his own image and likeness in the hearts of his elect. ‘Exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,’ II Peter 1:4, that is, be partakers of such heavenly holy qualities and dispositions as will make you like God himself. The promises of the gospel have in them a fitness, and, when by the Spirit of God applied, a virtue to purify the heart, as well as to pacify the conscience. ‘Now ye are clean,’ saith Christ to his disciples, ‘through the word which I have spoken unto you,’ John 15:3.  Have the promises had a sanctifying transforming virtue upon thee? If the seal of the promise leaves not the impress of God’s image on thee, it ratifies no good to thee. If it produceth no holiness in thee, it brings no joy to thee. In a word, if the promise be not to thee a seed of grace, it is no evidence for glory. But if thou canst find it leaves the superscription of God upon thee, then it assures the love and favour of God to thee.

 Third. Inquire in what posture thy heart stands to the word of command.   Thou smilest on the promise, but when put in mind of thy duty to the command, then haply thy countenance is changed, and a frown sits on thy brow, as if God were some austere master that breaks his servants’ backs with heavy burdens.  We have a comfortable promise, Ps. 50:15 but a guard is set about it, that no disobedient wretch should gather its sweet fruit: ‘But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do,…that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth, seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee,’ ver. 16, 17. On the other hand, if thou canst in truth say that it is not the holy command thou art offended with, but with thyself, because thou canst obey it no more perfectly—that it is not grievous to thee to keep, but break the laws of God; and, though thy foot too often slips, yet thy heart cleaves to them, and will not let thee lie where thou fallest, but up thou gettest to mend thy pace, and mind thy steps better—for thy comfort know, poor soul, this sincere respect thou hast to the commandment is a most comfortable evidence for thy true title to the promise. When David was able to vouch his love to the command he did not question his title to the promise; Ps. 119:113, there he asserts his sincere affection to the precepts: ‘I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.’ Mark, he doth not say he is free from vain thoughts, but he hates them. He likes their company no better than one would a pack of thieves that break into his house. Neither saith he that he fully kept the law; but he loved the law, even when he failed exact obedience to it. Now from this testimony his conscience brought in for his love to the law, his faith acts clearly and strongly on the promise in the next words, ‘thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word,’ Ps. 119:114.

FourthConcerning the promises, he that is heir to one hath right to all. May be, when thou readest that promise, ‘Bles­sed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God,’ Matt. 5:8, the remainders of corruption, not yet fully morti­fied in thy heart, scare thee from applying it to thyself as thy portion.   Hence it is we are called ‘heirs of promise,’ Heb. 6:17.  Not heirs of this promise or that, but ‘of promise’—that is, of the covenant, which comprehends all the promises of the gospel. So that, as he hath hold of the man’s whole body that hath fast hold of his hand—though it be but one member of it—because it is knit to the rest, and by it he may draw the rest to him; so, if thou hast hold of any one promise thou hast hold of all other, and may­est infer thy right from this to them.  And as one may draw out the wine of a whole hogshead at one tap, so may a poor soul derive the comfort of the whole cov­enant to himself through one promise which he is able to own and apply. ‘We know,’ saith Saint John, ‘that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,’ I John 3:14. Eternal life is the cream and top of all covenant‑blessings. Now, a poor Christian may, upon the inward feeling of this one grace of love in his heart—being the condition annexed to this promise—know that he is in a state of life and happiness. And why? Because wherever this grace is in truth there are all other saving graces. Christ is not divided in these, and consequently he that can apply this promise hath a right to all.