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This particular may be illustrated by several things in the Acts, and the Epistles.
Eph. iii. 14-16. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, -that he would grant you to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." That is, he worships God in the character of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So in the Old Testament the pious among the Jews often worshipped God in the character of the God of Abraham, and the other patriarchs. 1 Kings xviii. 36. "And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, let it be known this day, that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant." See also 1 Chron. xxix. 10, and 18.
Moreover it is a respect due to Jesus Christ, by whom we have been brought nigh unto God, and through whom God dispenseth blessings to us, not only that our prayers, but our praises also, and all our sacrifices and services should be presented to the Father, as by his means, and through his hands.
In Heb. iv. 14-16, before quoted, the apostle says, "Seeing then, we have a great High Priest, who is passed into the heavens,let us hold fast our profession: for we have not an High Priest, which cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities: but was in all points tempted like as we are. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Having such an High Priest, we have encouragement in all our pressures and difficulties, especially in the cause and service of true religion, to offer up prayers, through him, with hopes of obtaining all needful aid and succour.
In the same epistle the apostle gives a like direction concerning praise. And it may be applied to every part of worship, and to every kind of religious and spiritual service. Heb. xiii. 15, 16. “By him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not. For with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Agreeable hereto is what St. Peter says: "Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," 1 Pet. ii. 5. Which words, I apprehend, might be more properly rendered thus: a royal priesthood, to offer up through Jesus Christ spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God." Denoting, not that they are acceptable through Christ, but that those spiritual acceptable sacrifices, should be offered up to God through Christ. St. Peter exactly agrees with the apostle Paul, Rom. xii. 1. Spiritual sacrifices are such as God requires, and are in themselves acceptable to him. This interpretation is also confirmed by the text just quoted from the epistle to the Hebrews: "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually."
And it is frequent with the apostle Paul, to address praise or thanks to God in or through Jesus Christ. Rom. xvi. 27. "To God only wise be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen." And near the beginning of that epistle, i. 8. "First, I thank my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all: that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world."
And it is fit that our spiritual sacrifices should be offered to God through Christ, who has taught us to offer such sacrifices, and through whom God has bestowed upon us invaluable blessings and privileges. As it is said by the apostle, Rom. v. 1, 2. "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace." Acts x. 43. St. Peter preaching to Cornelius, and the gentiles, assembled at his house, says: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name," or through him, "whosoever believeth in him should receive remission of sins."
And Eph. i. 3-5. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world- -having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will." See likewise Eph. ii. 4—7, and iv. 32, and Rom. vi. 23, and 1 Pet. v. 10, and 2 Pet. i. 3.
It may then be thought fit and reasonable, that as all the distinguishing spiritual benefits and advantages, which we enjoy, have been conferred upon us through Christ; so our services and sacrifices, which we are enabled to perform and offer, should be presented to God the Father, in and through him.
Moreover Christ is spoken of as our intercessor and advocate, now he is in heaven..
Rom. viii. 34. "Who is he that condemneth? Christ that died? yea rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us?"
Heb. vii. 24, 25. "But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost, or for ever," that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them."
And St. John 1 Ep. ii. 1, speaks of Jesus Christ as our "advocate with the Father." St. Paul, 1 Tim. ii. 5, says, he is "the one mediator between God and men."
Some therefore have supposed, that this is the principal thing, or all that our Lord intends in those places of St. John's gospel, where he speaks to his disciples of "asking in his name:" that all their addresses should be presented to God through him, as high priest, mediator, and
intercessor or advocate.
And indeed, I think it appears, from the directions and examples, just alleged, to be very proper frequently to offer up our prayers to God through him, and in his name, expressly. And it is highly becoming us to worship God in the character of the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Moreover, for certain, Jesus Christ, now in heaven, intercedes for his people. Of which his prayers for the disciples, when with them, especially those recorded by St. John, ch. xvii. may help us to form some idea.
Nevertheless I think that is not all that our Lord means by "praying," or " asking the Father in his name:" nor the principal intention of it. But he teaches his disciples to take care to pray, according to the directions, which at divers times and often, he had given them: and in a manner suited to the spiritual and heavenly doctrine, which they had received from him.
That asking through his intercession is not the only or principal thing intended by asking in his name, may be argued from this very context: ver. 25, 26, "At that day ye shall" or will "ask in my name. And I say unto you, that I will pray the Father for you. For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed, that I came out from God."
Therein he assures them, that soon, meaning after his resurrection, or rather, after his ascension, when the Spirit should be poured down upon them, they would be able, and actually would pray to the Father in his name: and when they did so, there would be no absolute necessity that he should pray the Father for them. For when they prayed in his name, as his disciples, God would hear them, though he did not intercede.
This plainly shews, that praying in his name does not necessarily imply, desiring to be heard and accepted through his intercession.
Moreover our Lord seems to attribute more virtue to praying in his name, than can be ascribed to praying to be heard through his intercession. For he says to the disciples: "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." Barely calling Christ Lord, and making use of his name in our prayers, will not secure a favourable answer. But if we pray to God, as disciples of Jesus, and according to the directions which he has given; then it may be very reasonable to hope, that whatever we ask, God will give it unto us.
Once more, it must be supposed, that after our Lord's ascension the apostles did pray in his name, and as his disciples. Nevertheless in their epistles are found prayers and praises, which are not offered up through Christ, or in his name expressly. Prayers without that expression may be seen in Acts i. 24, 25; Col. i. 9-11; 1 Thess. v. 23; and elsewhere.
We quoted some while ago two places of the epistle to the Romans, where St. Paul thanks God, and gives glory to God through Jesus Christ. So also Eph. iii. 20, 21. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think-unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” But in 1 Tim. i. 17, omitting by or through Christ, he says: "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen." And Philip. iv. 20. "Now unto God, even our Father, be glory for ever and ever. Amen." And St. Jude concludes his epistle with these words. "To the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory, and majesty, dominion and power, now and ever. Amen."
I beg leave to observe farther, that the apostles never pray to God to grant them any thing for the sake of Christ. Nor is God any where in the New Testament said to vouchsafe blessings to men for Christ's sake. We read in our version, Eph. iv. 32. "And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”
But a more exact translation would be, " as God in Christ," or through Christ, "has forgiven you." So the apostle says at the beginning of the same epistle to the Ephesians, ch. i. 3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Through Christ God dispenseth all blessings to men, and particularly forgiveness of sins. Through him forgiveness is vouchsafed to all who repent. And men are called and invited to repent, with the gracious promise and assurance of forgiveness of sins, without taking on them the burden of the law of Moses. Luke xxiv. 47. And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Acts x. 43. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." See likewise ch. ii. 19, and ch. xiii, 38.—" through his name is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." And see 2 Cor. v. 19; and Rom. vi. 23. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
APPLICATION. I now proceed to mention some remarks by way of application; which also may be of use for farther illustrating this point.
1. We hence perceive that prayers and praises ought generally, if not always, to be offered to God the Father.
Says our Lord: "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." In St. Stephen, Acts vii. 59, is an instance of a prayer addressed to Christ, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And St. Paul, 1 Thess. iii. 11. "Now God himself, even our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you." But usually in the Acts and in the Epistles, prayers are directed to God the Father, to whom our Lord himself prayed when on earth.
Doubtless our blessed Lord, in his state of exaltation in heaven, knows all things done on this earth. And if he be intercessor for us, as we are taught in the New Testament, it is requisite he should know all the prayers that are offered by his people for whom he intercedes. Before he left the disciples he assured them, John xiv. 13. "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, that will I do," I will take care it shall be done, "that the Father may be glorified in the Son." Jesus Christ, likewise, as constituted Lord and Judge of the world, must intimately know all things done therein. This knowledge of things he claims and manifests in his messages and warnings sent to the churches in the revelation. Rev. ii. 18, 19." And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira, write, These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and patience-ver. 23. And all the churches shall know, that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts. And I will give unto every one of you, according to his works." Nevertheless, as we have seen, prayers and praises are usually in the New Testament presented to God the Father. And so St. Paul directs. Eph. v. 20. " Giving thanks always for all things unto God, even the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." And Heb. xiii. 15. “ And Heb. xiii. 15. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually."
2. We are now able to solve that question, concerning the prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, and is recorded in Matt. vi. and Luke xi. whether it be proper to be used, since Christ's ascension.
For some have argued in this manner. Jesus Christ, say they, in St. John's gospel, a little before he left his disciples, directed them "to pray in his name." But his name is not mentioned in the Lord's prayer. Therefore it was designed for the use of the disciples only, till he was risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven.
But that argument is of no force, according to the interpretation now given of asking the Father in Christ's name, that is, according to his directions, as his disciples, in a way suited to the sublimity of his institution. Such certainly is this prayer. It is truly evangelical, according to the utmost perfection of the rules delivered by Christ concerning prayer. For here spiritual blessings are asked in the first place, temporal good things with moderation, " daily bread," a sufficiency only. And when we offer up this prayer, we pray with a benevolent, forgiving temper of mind. Finally, the overruling Providence of God in all things is acknowledged, and we pray to be preserved from evil, or to be supported and strengthened under it, so as that we may not fall, and sin against God. All the petitions of this prayer therefore are evangelical. And if offered with a suitable temper, the prayer will be accepted.
There is another objection against the use of this prayer, which also will appear to be of no
Here we pray, that the "kingdom of God may come:" whereas, say they, the kingdom of God is already come. The kingdom of God, or the gospel-dispensation, was set up, and made known upon Christ's ascension. And his apostles soon preached the gospel every where, and Jews and Gentiles were received into the church of God.
But in answer to this, it is obvious to say, that "God's name may [yet] be hallowed," and "his kingdom may come" more universally. And we may therefore reasonably pray, that it may be upheld and advanced.
This prayer then, in every part of it, is still very proper to be used, and without inserting Christ's name. For if the petitions be offered with a suitable temper, the petitioner prays "in the name of Christ, as a disciple of his."
This prayer therefore may be still very fitly used. But I do not say, that it ought to be always used, or that we ought never to address ourselves to God, without saying this prayer. 3. We can now understand those words of Christ to the disciples: "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name."
The meaning is not, as some have supposed, hitherto you have not made use of my name in your prayers: but hitherto you have not prayed, as my disciples ought to do. Hitherto your prayers have wanted somewhat of that spirituality, and heavenly-mindedness, which becomes my doctrine.
It is well known to all, that for a good while Christ's disciples had ambitious and worldly views, and desires of pre-eminence: which produced jealousies and emulations, inconsistent with the perfection of mutual love. But our Lord's death, and resurrection, and ascension to heaven, together with illuminations received from above, would enable them fully to understand the tenour of his doctrine, and raise their minds to things above. The glory of God, the interests of religion, and the real welfare of mankind, would then be their prevailing concerns, and they would be able to pray in Christ's name, as his disciples, and according to the rules, which he had given concerning prayer.
We are led to this interpretation by the words, immediately following those of the text. "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs," or parables. "The time cometh, when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs. But I shall shew you plainly of the Father."
Our Lord had told the disciples "all things," John xv. 15, the whole scheme of the gospel: as we may clearly discern from the accounts of his ministry, which have been left us by the evangelists. But their prejudices, strengthened too by carnal affections, made them slow of understanding. Our Lord therefore now says to them: My discourses oftentimes have appeared to you obscure, and you have not fully perceived my intention. Nor could I speak so plainly, as was to be desired. Because of the danger of offending you, some truths have been repre⚫sented in ambiguous expressions. But now the time is coming, when all your prejudices will ⚫ be removed, and you will clearly understand how God is to be worshipped, and you will comprehend and observe the directions which I have given you, as my disciples. Then you will be able to pray in a spiritual and acceptable manner. Ver. 26. "In that day ye shall" or will “ask in my name. And I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you. For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed, that I came out from • God." Your requests will then be so reasonable and acceptable, that I need not intercede for 'you, though I certainly shall do so. For your praying, and acting in other respects, as my disciples, the Father himself will love you, and manifest himself to you, and grant whatsoever 'you ask.'
In that day, and thenceforward, you will not ask to sit, one of you on my right hand, and another on the left, in my kingdom: whilst the rest are offended, and jealous of partial respects for such petitioners: apprehensive, lest they should obtain a pre-eminence, to which they are
not entitled, and prejudicial to others. But you will all desire the best things, in the first place. Such things you will desire for yourselves, and for each other, and for all men. Your
'most earnest desires will be, that you may be faithful to God, and that others may be so
⚫ likewise, and so act in all things as to obtain eternal life.'
4. It is reasonable to infer, that all Christians should be desirous to pray in the name of Christ, or, as his disciples, agreeably to the nature of his doctrine, and according to the rules which he has given concerning prayer.
So we ought to endeavour to pray, both in private and in public, particularly in public. There, especially, we ought to be careful to pray, as disciples of Jesus. Some will bring into their prayers their own particular notions about the fall of Adam, and its consequences, original sin, the corruption of the human nature, the incomprehensible order of divine decrees, election, grace, and other points. Others, and possibly the same persons, at other times, will introduce their particuler system of the Trinity, or the person of Christ, and his transactions. But public prayer should be such as all Christians can join in. We are not in our prayers to strive to impose our own notions upon others, or to exclude any Christians from joining in the addresses we present to God. A minister, in his public prayers, is to offer up common requests and praises, the unfeigned devotions of the assembly. Public prayers are not to be Lutheran, nor Calvinistical, nor Arminian, but Christian, and scriptural. There should be in them neither Arianism, nor Nicenism. How contrary to the Christian and apostolical rule, to offer petitions, or make declarations in prayer, to which a sincere Christian cannot assent, or about which he has doubts and scruples! For according to St. Paul's argument in Rom. xiv. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink," or doubtful, contested intricate systems and speculations: " but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. And he that in these things serveth Christ, is acceptable to God, and approved of [wise] men. Let us therefore follow after the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another."
A preacher may in his discourses propose to the people his own senses and interpretations of scripture, and offer his reasons for them. But in public addresses to God he should offer common requests and thanksgivings, in which all sincere Christians can unite. In a word, public prayers ought to be agreeable to the "common faith of God's elect," Tit. i. 4: and the doctrine of the "common salvation," Jude 3, preached by Christ and his apostles, to Jews and Gentiles, and all men under heaven.
5. We hence learn how to pray to God so as to be heard.
So is the text. "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name. Ask," that is, in my name, "and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
To the like purpose in other places, already cited. John xv. 7. " If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you; ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." 1 John iii. 22. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." And ch. v. 14, 15. " And this is the confidence that we have in him that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know, that he hear us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.'
It is therefore a great happiness to have our desires regulated by the reason of things, and the will of God. To desire nothing but what is reasonable: to desire the best things, and to have them. This is great happiness. To have no desires, but what will be gratified. If we desire perishing riches, and do not obtain them, we are ruined. If we take care to lay up to ourselves treasures in heaven, and seek the kingdom of God, and its righteousness, in the first place; we shall have what we most desire, and a competency of other things therewith. The best things cannot be taken from us. If some other things are lost, those which are most valuable, and remain, will satisfy and support us. Let us then do all things in the name of Jesus Christ, ever acting as his disciples. And let us ask in his name, according to his directions, that we may receive the things which we ask, and "our joy may be full," or we may have abundant satisfaction and joy.