Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XLVIII.: of prayer. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XLVIII.: of prayer. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 1 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
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No Christian exercise hath so many counterfeits as prayer; which, whilst all would seem to practise, few in truth, and experimentally know. We may say prayers, and sing prayers, and read prayers, and hear prayers, and yet not pray indeed. Yea, we may out of a kind of natural instinct, by reason of the indissoluble relation between the creature and Creator, be carried towards God, so far as to appeal unto him, or heartily wish good from him, wherein, as one saith, the soul gives testimony to God;* and yet be far from praying aright; that is, from making known our requests to God, according to his will, with faith in his love, and the feeling of our own wants, in our hearts. Phil. iv. 6; 1 John v. 14; 1 Kings viii. 47, 52. And the reason why this true prayer is not every man's work, is, because God must first work it in men's hearts, by “pouring upon them the Spirit of grace, and supplication,” Zech. xii. 10, thereby to teach them both “what to pray, as they ought,” Rom. viii. 26, for matter; and how, for manner: and without the hand-leading of which Spirit we dare not in truth approach unto God;† but do, by reason of the guilt of sin, fly from his presence, as Adam did, how nigh unto him soever we seem to draw.
Where, with the apostle, I gpeak of making our requests known to God; my meaning is not, that we pray to the intent to inform God, but ourselves, both what our wants are, which we desire supply of, and from whom also we expect it: nor yet to move God to do that which before he purposed not, as one man is moved by the importunity of another; but to move ourselves, and make our own hearts believe* the performance of that which God before both purposed, and promised: for therefore David found in his heart to pray unto God to establish his house, because God had revealed unto him, that he would build his house. 2 Sam. vii. 16, &c. And if we look for this honour at our children's hands, that they should ask of us such things as they want, and as we purpose to bestow upon them: how much more is it agreeable to our duty, and God's right, that we by prayer beg at his hands all good things both purposed, and promised by him aforehand.
By this all things are sanctified to our use, which are sanctified in themselves by the Word of God; by it we have spiritual right to our daily bread, 1 Tim. iv. 4, 5; in what abundance, and by what natural, or civil right soever we possess it before; by it we obtain many good things of all sorts, at God's hands, unto which we could attain by no art or industry or other help: as the favourites of kings get more by begging, than any other can do by any other faculty. Besides, as by conversing with men, we do by little and little, learn their manners, and have bred between them and us a certain mutual affection: so by our conversing with God in prayer, we learn the manners of heaven, and feel increase both of love in us to God, and of God to us.† Lastly, by prayer we obtain with the good things prayed for, the confirmation of our faith in God's goodness towards us, whereof he giveth us testimony in hearing and granting our requests, put up unto his Majesty. And in this respect, a good thing received by prayer hath a double good in it.
God is to be invocated not only with the heart, and with the tongue, but, as one speaks, with the hand also;‡ as “Asa and the men of Judah prayed to God, and fought with their enemies.” 2 Chron. xiii. 14. And for us to ask anything at the hands of the Lord, which withal we do not offer ourselves ready instruments to effect, and bring to pass; is to tempt God's power, and to abuse his goodness. To pray for that which we desire not, is to mock with his Majesty, as Austin confesseth of himself, that in his youth he begged of God chastity and continence, but was afraid, lest he should be heard too soon, of him.§ All things live by heat: and the life of prayer stands in the heat of earnest and fervent desire. And how should we make account, that God should hear us, if we hear not ourselves ? or look that God should be mindful of us, if we ourselves mind not, with intention of thought and desire what we ask of him ? “* I, saith the father, prayed, when I was little, with no little affection, that I might not be beaten in the school.† But how many grown men pray but with little, if any, affection, that they may not be beaten in hell! Our prayers must be earnest, as well for small things, as great; temporal, as eternal; but with difference of degrees of earnestness, according to the degrees of goodness, or the necessity of the thing prayed for. But as for faith, our very degree should be the same, whatsoever the thing be, which we pray for, according to God's will: seeing the truth of his promise, upon which our faith resteth, is the same in all things small and great and always infallible. We ought as well and as much to believe a small thing, as a great, if God have promised it, and as he hath promised, because his truth and power are as great in performing all things, though with different degrees of his love. He hath not absolutely promised temporal good things in the particulars, and so sometimes denies them in love to his children, as seeing them unfitting for them; and sometimes again he grants the desires of his enemies in wrath, and indignation; as he did of the rebellious Israelites desiring quails. Besides, if the Lord should not sometimes grant unto his that ask them, the good things of this life, even plenteously, men would think they belonged not to him. Psa. lxxviii. 24. If he should grant them to all, and always, it would be thought, that for them, and them alone, he were to be served; and so in serving him men should not be godly, but covetous.‡ But above all things, we must take heed we ask nothing evil of God; for that were to transform, and turn him, what in us lies, into Satan himself.
Whosoever, saith one, will bring his enterprises to good effect, must begin with prayer to God, and end with praising him.§ And he that begins not his work in that manner, specially being of any difficulty or weight, is in danger, if it succeed, rather to end in his own praises, than in God's: and if it succeed not, he may thank his own profaneness in passing by God. And as we are to pray upon all occasions, so specially in the time of trouble; as children are always running to their fathers, but chiefly, when they get hurt or fear danger. Then even hypocrites are forced to God; and this, partly, out of a natural desire of relief, and partly, by natural persuasion of the power, and goodness of the Creator, by which he is able, and willing to help his distressed creature: and so Jonah's mariners in the extremity of the storm, “went every one to his god.” Jonah i. 5. But as God is a sanctuary to fly unto for his faithful servants, in the time of need, whither he leads them by his Holy Spirit given them: so it is not faith, but impudence, for hypocrites, and such as in their quiet and prosperous estate, have not hearkened to God, speaking to them in his Word, and works, to press upon him in their affliction, for help, and succour, without true, and unfeigned repentance, and sorrow, as well, yea more, for sin than punishment, accompanying it. And “though they call upon him, he will not answer: though they seek him early, they shall not find him.” Prov. i. 28. And if “he that stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, shall cry himself, and not be heard,” Prov. xxi. 27, how much more he that stops his ears against the Lord calling and crying unto him in his Word! The prayers of such are abominable, and sin. Prov. xxviii. 9; Psa. cix. 7. And how miserable must his state needs be, unto whom that becomes sin, by which the godly obtain remedy against sin, and all other miseries!
A readiness to pray earnestly to God for good things, and the same improved accordingly, is a kind of pawn from heaven to him that hath it, that he shall receive the good things prayed for: both because all true prayer is by “the teaching of the Spirit of God, which searcheth the mind of God,” Horn. viii. 26; 1 Cor. ii. 10, 11, and so acquaints him therewith, in whom it dwells: and also because such a disposition hath faith not only joined with it as a companion, but as the very parent of it; which faith on man's part, ever presupposeth a promise on God's.
From the use, and fruit of this heavenly grace of prayer nothing can keep him, that keeps himself in the favour of God; though many things can from other exercises of religion. Not want of fellowship of men, nor solitariness of place, nor depth of dungeon, nor darkness of the night, nor thickness of walls neither: but his devout prayers will find way of ascending unto God.* Blessed be his name who hath provided for his poor servants in their most doleful, and desolate estate, this ready means of Divine comfort, whereof they, in whom his Spirit dwells, cannot possibly be deprived!
Prayer in secret, and by him that is alone with God, hath these advantages above that which is public, and in the church: first, that it is less in danger of the taint of hypocrisy. The proud Pharisee, as well as the humble Publican goes to the temple to pay: and “the hypocrites love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men,” Luke xviii. 10; Matt. vi. 5. He that pays in secret, doth it to be seen of God. Secondly, in private, a Christian may de scend to such particulars, as in public, or before others, he will not, nor ought to mention. Thirdly, he may in private, use such expressions, and outward manifestations, for the better passage of his heart's affection, specially being perplexed with sorrow or fear, as before others were unseemly, and immodest. “In that day of the great mourning in Jerusalem, when they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for him in bitterness; every house and family shall mourn apart, and their wives apart.” Zech. xii. 11, &c. On the other side, public prayer wants not its prerogatives: as first, that it is performed in the order, and ordinance of the Church, which the other is not. Secondly, that in the church and congregation, many agreeing touching a thing to be asked, have a special promise, that it shall be done for them of their Father in heaven. Matt, xviii. 19; upon whom they set, by their prayers, as it were, in a troop.† Lastly, in our public prayers, and praises of God, we do give testimony of his providence in governing the world, and all our affairs; and that he is present with his Church, and hears their requests; for the convincing of atheists, and epicures; and confirmation of others in believing undoubtedly his care over his people and servants.