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Of prayer; and whether Christ prescribed a form of prayer to be used by believers;
and of praying unto him and in his name under the old testament.
The first question is: -
If by "a Christian duty” a duty whereunto all Christians are obliged is understood, we grant it a Christian duty. The commands for it, encouragements to it, promises concerning it, are innumerable; and the use and benefit of it in our communion with God, considering the state and condition of sin, emptiness, want, temptation, [and] trials, that here we live in, inestimable. If by “a Christian duty” it be intended that it is required only of them who are Christians, and is instituted by something peculiar in Christian religion, it is denied. Prayer is a natural acknowledgment of God that every man is everlastingly and indispensably obliged unto by virtue of the law of his creation, though the matter of it be varied according to the several states and conditions whereinto we fall or are brought. Every one that lives in dependency on God and hath his supplies from him is, by virtue of that dependence, obliged to this duty, as much as he is to own God to be his God. He proceeds:
Q. How ought men to pray?
The inquiry being made of the manner of acceptable prayer, the answer given, respecting only one or two particulars, is narrow and scanty. The qualification of the person praying, the means of access to God, the cause of acceptation with him, the ground of our confidence in our supplications, the efficacy of the Spirit of grace as promised, are either all omitted or only tacitly intimated. But this and many of the following questions, with the answers, being in their connection capable of a good and fair interpretation, though all be not expressed that the Scripture gives in answer to such questions, and the most material requisite of prayer, “in the Holy Ghost,” be omitted, yet, drawing to a close, I shall not farther insist upon them, having yet that remaining which requires a more full animadversion.
Q. Did not Christ prescribe a form of prayer to his disciples, so that there remaineth no doubt touching the lawfulness of using a form A. Luke xi. 1-4.
Ans. If Christ prescribed a form of prayer to his disciples, to be used as a form, by the repetition of the same words, I confess it will, be out of question that it is lawful to use a form; but that it is lawful not to use a form, or that a man may use any prayer but, a form, on VOL. XIL
that supposition will not be so easily determined. The words of Christ are, “When ye pray, say, Our Father,” etc. If in this prescription, not the matter only but the words also are intended, and that form of them which follows is prescribed to be used by virtue of this command of Christ, it will be hard to discover on what ground we may any otherwise pray, seeing our Saviour's command is positive, “When ye pray, say, Our Father," etc.
That which Mr B. is to prove is, that our Saviour hath prescribed the repetition of the same words ensuing; and when he hath done so, if so he can do, his conclusion must be that that form ought to be úsed, not at all that any else may. If our Saviour have prescribed us a form, how shall any man dare to prescribe another? or can any man do it without casting on his form the reproach of imperfection and insufficiency? “Our Saviour hath prescribed us a form of prayer, to be used as a form, by the repetition of the same words, therefore we may use it, yea, we must," is an invincible argument, on supposition of the truth of the proposition. But, “Our Saviour hath prescribed us such a form, etc., therefore we may use another which he hath not prescribed,” hath neither show nor colour of reason in it.
But how will Mr B. prove that Christ doth not only here instruct his disciples in what they ought to pray, and for what they ought in prayer to address themselves to God, and under what considerations they are to look on God in their approaches to him, and the like, but also that he prescribes the words there mentioned by him to be repeated by them in their supplications? Luke xi. 2, he bids them say, “Our Father,” etc.; which at large, Matt. vi. 9, is, Pray after this manner,-otws, to this purpose. I do not think the prophet prescribes a form of words to be used by the church when he says, " Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity,” Hos. xiv. 2; but rather calls them to fervent supplication for the pardon of sin, as God should enable them to deal with him. And though the apostles never prayed for any thing but what they were for the substance directed to by this prayer of our Saviour, yet we do not find that ever they repeated the very words here mentioned, or once commanded or prescribed the use of them to any of the saints in their days, whom they exhorted to pray so fervently and earnestly: nor in any of the rules and directions that are given for our praying, either in reference to ourselves or him by whom we have access to God, is the use of these words at any time in the least recommended to us, or recalled to mind as a matter of duty.
Our Saviour says, “When ye pray, say, Our Father," etc. On supposition of the sense contended for, and that a form of words is prescribed, I ask whether we may at any time pray and not say so, seeing he says, “When ye pray, say,”—whether we may say any
thing else, or use any other words? whether the saying of these words be a part of the worship of God, or whether any promise of accep
a tation be annexed to the saying so? whether the Spirit of grace and supplications be not promised to all believers, and whether he be not given them to enable them to pray, both as to matter and manner? and if so, whether the repetition of the words mentioned by them who have not the Spirit given them for the ends before mentioned be available? and whether prayer by the Spirit, where these words are not repeated, as to the letters and syllables and order wherein they stand, be acceptable to God? whether the prescription of a form of words and the gift of a spirit of prayer be consistent ? whether the form be prescribed because believers are not able to pray without it, or because there is a peculiar holiness, force, and energy in the letters, words, and syllables, as they stand in that form? and whether to say the first of these be not derogatory to the glory of God and efficacy of the Spirit promised and given to believers; and the second to assert the using of a charm in the worship of God? whether, in that respect, "Pater noster” be not as good as “Our Father?” whether innumerable poor souls are not deluded and hardened by satisfying their consciences in and with the use of this form, never knowing what it is to pray in the Holy Ghost?. and whether the asserting this form of words to be used have not confirmed many in their atheistical blaspheming of the Holy Spirit of God and his grace in the prayers of his people? and whether the repetition of these words, after men have been long praying for the things contained in them, as the manner of some is, be not so remote from any pretence or colour of warrant in the Scripture as that it is, in plain terms, ridiculous? When Mr B., or any on his behalf, hath answered these questions, they may be supplied with more of the like nature and importance.
Of our address with all our religious worship to the Father by Jesus Christ, the mediator, how and in what manner we do so, and in what sense he is himself the ultimate object of divine worship, I have spoken before, and therefore I shall not need to insist on his next question, which makes some inquiry thereabout. That which follows is all that in this chapter needs any animadversion. The words are these:
Q. Was it the custom during the time that Christ conversed on the earth (much less before he came into the world) to pray unto God in the name of Christ or through Christ? or did it begin to be used after the resurrection and exaltation of Christ? What saith Christ himself concerning this A. John xvi. 24–26.
The times of the saints in this world are here distinguished into different seasons,—that before Christ's coming in the flesh, the time of his conversation on earth, and the time following his resurrection
and exaltation. What was the custom in these several seasons of praying to God in the name of Christ or through him is inquired after; and as to the first and second it is denied, but granted as to the last, which is farther confirmed, in the answer to the last question, from Heb. xiii. 20, 21. Some brief observations will disentangle Mr B.'s catechumens, if they shall be pleased to attend unto them.
1. It is not what was the custom of men to do, but what was the mind of God that they should do, that we inquire after. 2. That Jesus Christ, in respect of his divine nature, wherein he is one with: his Father, was always worshipped and invocated ever since God made any creatures to worship him, hath been formerly declared. 3. That there is a twofold knowledge of Christ the mediator,-(1.) In general, in thesi, of a mediator, the Messiah promised; which was the knowledge of the saints under the old testament. (2.) Particular, in hypothesi, that Jesus of Nazareth was that Messiah; which also was and is known to the saints under the new testament. 4. That as to an explicit knowledge of the way and manner of salvation, which was to be wrought, accomplished, and brought about, by the Messiah, the promised seed, Jesus Christ, and the address of men unto God by him, it was much more evidently and clearly given after the resurrection and the ascension of Christ than before, the Spirit of revelation being then poured out in a more abundant manner than before. 5. There is a twofold praying unto God in the name of Christ,—one in express words, clear and distinct intention of mind, insisting on his mediation and our acceptance with God on his account; the other implied in all acts of faith and dependence on God, wherein we rely on him as the means of our access to God.
I say, these things being premised,-1. That before Christ's coming into the world, the saints of the old testament did pray, and were appointed of God to pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, inasmuch as, in all their addresses unto God, they leaned on him, as promised to them, through whom they were to receive the blessing and to be blessed, believing that they should be accepted on his account. This was virtually prayer to God in the name of Christ, or through him. This is evident from the tenor of the covenant wherein they walked with God, in which they were called to look to the Seed of the woman, to expect the blessing in the Seed of Abraham, speaking of the Seed as of one and not of many; as also by all their types and sacrifices, wherein they had, by God's institution, respect to him, with Abraham, by faith, even as we: so that whether we consider the promise on the account whereof they came to God, which was of Christ and of blessing in him; or the means whereby they came, which were sacrifices and types of him; or the confidence wherein they came, which was of atonement and forgiveness of sin by him,-it is evident that all their prayers were made to God in the name of Christ, and not
any upon any other account. And one of them is express in terms to this purpose, Dan. ix. 17. If they had any promise of him, if any covenant in him, if any types representing him, if any light of him, if any longing after him, if any benefit by him or fruit of his mediation, all their worship of God was in him and through him.
2. For them who lived with him in the days of his flesh, their faith and worship were of the same size and measure with theirs that went before, so was their address to God in the same manner and on the same account: only in this was their knowledge enlarged, that they believed that that individual person was he who was promised and on whom their fathers believed; and therefore they prayed to him for all mercies, spiritual and temporal, whereof they stood in need, as to be saved in a storm, to have their faith increased, and the like, though they had not expressly and clearly made mention of his name in their supplications. And that is the sense of our Saviour in the place of John insisted on, "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name,”-that is, expressly and in direct application of the promises made in the Messiah unto him,-though they had their access to God really and virtually by and through him, in all the ways before expressed. And indeed, to evidence the glory of the presence of the Spirit when poured forth upon them with a fulness of gifts and graces, such things are recorded of their ignorance and darkness in the mysteries of the worship of God, that it is no great wonder if they, who were then also to be detained under the judaical pedagogue for a season, had not received as yet such an improvement of faith as to ask and pray in the name of Jesus Christ as exhibited, which was one of the great privileges reserved for the days of the gospel.
And this is all that Mr B. gives occasion unto in this chapter.
Of the resurrection of the dead and the state of the wicked at the last day.
In his last chapter Mr Biddle strives to make his friends amends for all the wrong he had done them in those foregoing. Having attempted to overthrow their faith and to turn them aside from the simplicity of the gospel, he now informs them that the worst that can happen to them if they follow his counsel is but to be annihilated, or utterly deprived of their being, body and soul, in the day of judgment! For that everlasting fire, those endless torments, wherewith they have been so scared and terrified formerly by the catechisms and preachings of men that left and forsook the Scripture, it is all but a fable, invented to affright fools and children! On this account he lets his followers know that if, rejecting the eternal Son