Richard Sibbes - Assurance To Be Heard In Prayer

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Puritan Board Junior
Here is a reminder from Richard Sibbes on conditions on the Christian's part to obtain assurance in prayer. (Found in his sermon The Knot Of Prayer Loosed)

1. The first thing in the conditions on our part is concerning the party that must pray: he must be a free denizen in the state of faith and repentance. An outlawed man can put up no petitions with assurance to speed. St John saith, "This is the confidence we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us," 1 John 5:14. The will of God is, that he who prays be a man qualified; so all the promises of God are made, at least to such who hunger and thirst and desire to be in Christ. Faithless, godless, careless men are outlawed, as we see, Psalm 50:15,16, the promise is, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me;" and then presently he makes a stop. "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my word behind thee."

Obj. Here some may object, that even many heathens have been heard in their prayers who were not thus qualified.

Ans. To which I answer, It is not out of the privilege of this great charter here that such are heard; but out of his common goodness unto all, whereby he would draw even the most rebellious to admiration of his divine abundant mercies, yea, and even teach us, if such prevail thus, much more shall we, being within the covenant.

2. The second is, Our prayers must be made to God alone.

3. Thirdly, They must pass under the seal of the Mediator.

For though all Christians may claim a part in the charter, yet the title must be pleaded in the Mediator's name only; no Mediator to thee, no hearing.

4. Fourthly, Concerning the things prayed for, they must be lawful in kind also; not fore-excepted, nor under any general nor particular limitations forbidden. Not everything we desire is rightly asked, some of which may cross his nature and will; some things also are ill for us, by general and special decree forbidden, as exemption from afflictions and sufferings with him. If God hear us not in this, Christ forfeits not his word, but we our prayers.

5. Fifthly, That we have a right end in prayer; as James 4:3, the apostle speaks, "You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts." If the end be naught, the prayer is confiscate.

6. Sixthly, The time; there be certain seasons and times wherein the Lord will be found; as Dan. 9:2, when he knew the time of the captivity to be near expired, then he prays for the return of the people. If we wait and seek in season, we may obtain; but otherwise we may have a nap, and the door be knocked against our heads. Since then, "there is a time that the Lord will be found," as the prophet speaks, Isa. 55:6, I would not have us omit our time, but now when there is a stirring of the Spirit, let us take the opportunity, lest we miss it when we shall have most need of it.

7. Seventhly, There is the manner, under which I comprehend the order of the things asked and desired. If we would speed in temporal things, we must first seek spiritual, saith our Saviour; "But seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you," Mat. 6:33. If we miss of this, we may knock long ere we have entrance. To come to God and seek oil and wine, and the like things, and in the mean time to neglect the oil of grace, what a disorder is here. If in this case thou be crossed, it is not because he would put thee off without hearing, but because he would teach thee a better way to speed. For as when we eat our meat disorderly we want digestion, and for the most part buy experience at a dear rate, so many times God doth beat his dearest children, and put off their prayers for a long time, that he may teach them in due order what is first and principally to be desired; all these the party praying must carefully look unto for speeding in his suit.

Further, we have to observe in prayer,

1. The qualities. 2. The companions. 3. The attendants of prayer.

1. The qualities of prayer.

(1.) That it be the prayer of faith; not generally and confusedly of the Godhead only, but distinctly of the persons, and of the redemption purchased, and of the hearing of thy petitions, having interest in him, "Believe and it shall be given thee."

(2.) Humility; that a man go to God with a knowledge and a sense of his own insufficiency to succour himself. No man may come to God, but upon his knees. I speak not of the bowing of the knee, but of the heart; it is written, "God will hear the desires of the humble," Ps. 9:12. In misery, affliction, sense of our necessity, and the like, we should assure ourselves to be heard.

(3.) The heat and fervency of prayer. Our God, which is a "consuming fire," Heb. 12:29, doth not endure a cold prayer; the heart must be elevated, as Hannah, her heart spake unto the Lord, 1 Sam. 1:13; and Saint James saith, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," James 5:16. By the contrary, a cold prayer hath but a cold answer; that man is but a mocker of prayer, that would have God to hear him, when he hears not himself.

2. The companions of prayer.

(1.) First, Charity which extends itself toward all men, and a brotherly love toward the saints, joined with graciousness in ourselves; and it hath two things in it, giving and forgiving. He that would have mercy, must shew mercy; rich men may do the one, and all men may do the other, but the other is harder, to forgive. He that is able to give, and relieve others as their need shall require, and yet will not, let him not wonder if God deny his suit; and so he that will not forgive others, let him not look to be forgiven. "Blessed is he," saith the Scripture, "that judgeth wisely of the poor, the Lord shall deliver him in the day of trouble," Ps. 41:1. If thou ask, and speed not, in this case marvel not; thou hast denied him in his own members asking of thee, and therefore it is just with him to deny thee.

(2.) The second is, Thankfulness for benefits and blessings received and enjoyed, with forgiveness of the old debts; thanksgiving ere we beg more mercies. For this cause we speed not in our suits; because we forget him, he forgets us.

3. The attendants of prayer.

(1.) First, Perseverance, called "watching with prayer;" as we see our Lord teacheth us by the example of the importunate widow, and the unjust judge, thereby intimating for our comfort, how much more certainly, in the like case, we may assure ourselves to speed with him, who is the most just judge of the world, and goodness itself. So that he that will be sure to have this promise, "Ask and ye shall have, seek and ye shall find," made good unto him, he must make a trade of prayer, not for two or three times, and so have done, but he must still ask, and so obtain. As he desires constancy in holding out in our suits, so he would have us ask constantly without fainting; and as he will give conveniently in the best time, so he shews we shall still be set on work in begging, as his mercy shall be in giving.

(2.) The second is, diligence in the means; we tempt him, to ask for that we labour not for. As we pray, so our endeavours must second our devotion; for to ask maintenance, and not put our hands to the work, it is as to knock at the door, and yet to pull the door unto us that it open not. In this case, if we pray for grace, and neglect the spring from whence it comes, how can we then speed? It was a rule in the ancient time, "Lay, thy hand on the plough, and then pray;" no man in old time might pray without ploughing, nor plough without praying.

(3.) The third is, Expectation, waiting, perseverance in hope, until God hear us. The reason is, because the Lord, who hath promised the thing, hath not limited the time. In this we may see what patience brings forth, as the prophet's experience is, Ps. 40:1: "I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined to me, and heard my cry;" and in another place he saith, "It is good for man both to wait, and trust in the Lord," ver. 4; so, Rev. 3:10, he saith, "because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation," &c. This waiting doth interest us in him, when we are so earnest that we will not away till we speak with him; as, when a man knows a party he desires to speak with to be in such a house, and that he will come forth, he waits at the door, and will not away till he speak with him, so, if we were earnest, and had faith and assurance that God would come, we would stand still at the door till he came, and not be gone and faint upon every light occasion. All of us fail in this, that we wait not constantly at the door of grace till we obtain. Gross sins indeed, these cause a man to faint, that he dare not look God in the face but with much ado; but if we strive and labour to hold out, God accepts of the truth, though the measure be small, when we cannot do as we would. But if there be gross failings in this kind, that we fall into the old bias of our sins, and so leave knocking, or are quickly weary, we obtain not by and by, as though we might limit him the time. If, I say, in this case, like the raven sent out of the ark, our prayers return no more, and we faint and sink comfortless in desolation, anguish, and sorrow of mind, let us not blame our Saviour, whose promise is firm and inviolable without change. If we would learn to mend our prayers and wait, we should hear more from him. All these are limitations on our part.
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