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.