Epistles of Faith
William Huntington (1745-1813)TO MB. A. B. SEN.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace, be with thee, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
MY answer, like Sisera's chariot, has long been in coming, but I am neither master of my time, nor of my talent. I often find a spring for an epistle, when I have no time for it; and frequently time upon my hands, but no spring for an epistle; when both meet together, it is delightful.
I am persuaded that all believers in Christ under heaven, who are of the household of faith, and citizens of Zion, are happy partakers of the spirit of grace and supplication; for this is promised to them all, and they are all fellow-heirs of this promise. The Spirit by which they are regenerated, renewed, or born again, is a spirit of supplication; and is to help their infirmities, and to make intercession for them, that they may pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also; and worship God in Spirit and in truth, for God seeketh such to worship him. But then the preparation of man's heart is one thing, and the answer of the tongue is another. With the heart man believes, with the tongue confession is made. God circumcises the heart, and he creates the fruit of the lip. The spirit of prayer may be where a gift of utterance is not; and a gift of prayer may be where the spirit of prayer never was. The fruits of the Spirit and the fruits of the lip am two things. There are supplications in the Spirit as well as drawing near to God with the mouth. There is mental, as well as vocal prayer, and the former discovers itself by a hunger and thirst after righteousness; by panting after the living God; by s holy longing; by earnest desires; by deep sighs for deliverance; by bitter weeping; by sorrowing after a godly sort; by looking &t him whom we have pierced, and mourning for him. Thus the Spirit makes intercession for us, with groanings that cannot be uttered: and these prayers Shall prevail with God sooner than all the pompous eloquence, empty oratory, and human compositions, in the world. The heart shall prevail without the mouth, but the mouth shall never prevail without the heart. If the Spirit of grace and supplication comes upon a man, and gives him a gift of utterance at the same time, it is a great blessing, because it is a great easement, to a burdened mind. Such an one speaks that be may be eased, for he cannot pour out his soul before the Lord but by weepings or by expressions: and, where such a gift of utterance is given, it should be used, in order to brighten it. Timothy must stir up the gift that is in him; for, if this gift be not stirred up, and constantly used, it will, in time, dwindle. David's tongue was his glory, and he bids his glory awake to praise his God. God calls for the fruit of the lip, as well as the bent of the heart. With the tongue we are to bless God. Ephraim promised, when his backsliding were healed, to render the calves of his lips, Hos. xiv. 2. Our mouth is to show forth his praise. Hannah spake in her heart; David spake with his mouth; and both, as well as the apostles, spake as the Spirit gave them utterance. This gift of utterance is often buried by a fondness of, or an habitual custom to, a human form; and sometimes it is damped by not relying on the Holy Ghost for assistance in prayer. Fervour, earnestness, a sense of want, a knowledge of what is 6'eely given us of God, an understanding of the mind and will of God, as well as faith, and the exercise of it, are wholly the Spirit's gigs, and he distributes them as he will. If this wind blow not on the garden, the spices flow not out; therefore the Spirit's aid and assistance should be sought, and relied on: "Awake, O north wind! and come, thou South; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my Beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits," namely, the fruit of the lip, as well as the fruits of the Spirit, for both are his own. That it is the will of God that we should speak to him as the Spirit gives us utterance, is clear from the scriptures: "Let me hear thy voice, let me see thy countenance: for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely." It is not only clear from scripture, but likewise from experience: because the new-born soul can find no human composition that will exactly suit its sensations. His form and his feelings never keep pace together. His tongue goes one way and his heart another: while the tongue runs away with the form, the mind is unemployed, the understanding is unfruitful, and the thoughts of the heart refuse to engage in the work. Nor is the Spirit's assistance called in, nor expected, nor relied on; and yet it requires spiritual power to bring the thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Most forms of prayer ire compiled by prayerless men. Those in the scripture that made many long prayers never prayed at all. Paul knew not how to pray as he ought without the Spirit's help and intercession; therefore he neither composed himself, nor enjoined any set forms for others; that is left to the Spirit. He tells us, indeed, that in the last clays, when men should depart from the firth, they would have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof; and from such he bids us withdraw.
Peter, and the other disciples, desired the Saviour to teach them how to pray; and the Lord. laid down a wonderful platform, con twining the substance of all real prayer. But, when he intended to teach Simon to pray extempore, he let him sink in the sea; and then he prayed like a suppliant that would take heaven by storm, "Lord! save, or I perish!"
When business requires haste, and when life is in danger, or the soul at stake, people are apt to forget their forms and ceremonies. Fire and water are terrible things; and, when poor sinners get into them, they are sure to let God know where they are, whether they happen to have their prayer-books with them or not: and God often puts them into the fire, that they may either forget their forms, or be purged from their formality: " I will bring the third part through the fire; and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on my name, and I will hear them. I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God," Zech. xiii. 9. This will teach a man to pray better than Dr Watts's Art of Peayer, or any other art whatsoever; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh. A heart overwhelmed with trouble will set the lips to work: "The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips." The thief upon the cross, and the publican in the temple, were driven to complain by the bitterness of their souls; and both sped better than the Pharisee, though they did not use so many words. Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness made noise enough to reach the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth: God heard the voice of the lad where lie was, and showed them a well, which was what they wanted.
The rigour of the Egyptian task-masters made Israel cry to God, till he came down to deliver them, Exod. iii. 7, 3.
A sense of an absent God, bodily afflictions, and Isaiah's denunciation of death, made Hezekiah mourn like a dove, chatter like a crane, and pray like an evangelist; "I am oppressed, undertake for me," Isaiah xxxviii. 14.
And it was the sorrows of death and the pains of hell that drove the Psalmist to it: " Then called I on the name of the Lord, O Lord, I beseech thee deliver my soul!" And from that time he continued as he begun; "Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live," Psalm cxvi. 2-4.
The self-sufficient are satisfied with what themselves say; but the poor in spirit cannot be satisfied but with what the Lord does. The former is pleased with his own words, the latter with the Lord's works. Nothing makes an undissembled beggar at mercy's door an excellent petitioner, an eloquent pleader, and an importunate suitor, but a hungry mind, or a starving soul, which will not be satisfied either with pleas or compliments, nor with any thing short of the bread of eternal life.
Prayer, my brother, is the pouring out one's soul before the Lord, and showing him one's trouble. It is unburdening the mind of its grief, and casting our cares upon the Lord, who careth for us. It is a drawing near in the faith of an all-sufficient Mediator, and that with boldness; lifting up holy hands, without either wrath or doubting. It is letting one's requests be made known unto God with holy familiarity and freedom; being encouraged thereto by a throne of grace, a living way of access, a Mediator, the Spirit's assistance, and the unconditional promise of audience and relief; and that by a reconciled God, who is our Father of mercies, and God of all comfort.
Prayer should be accompanied with humble concessions of what is wrong, thankful acknowledgments of past favours received, and earnest petitions for what is wanted, as far as God's promise in Christ, which is the warrant of faith, will tolerate us to go.
Prayer should be attended with pleading our base original; our utter unworthiness; the invaluable merits of Christ; the covenant, promise, mercy, and faithfullness, of God.
It should be attended with craving those things that will tend to God's honour and our soul's good; with an acknowledgment of his justice, should lie be extreme to mark what is done amiss; with an acknowledgment of his grace, mercy, and truth; and of his divine sovereignty, who makes us at all to differ from the worst of men.
Prayer should be performed with fervour, earnestness, and importunity. It is called wrestling, striving, supplicating, entreating, and crying day and night; and should be concluded with reference, resignation, and submission, to the will of God in Christ Jesus, as the most competent judge of what is best for us.
Prayer should be followed with watchfullness, confidence through Christ, hope and expectation of being heard, regarded, and answered, and that for Christ's sake, who alone is worthy, and in whose name all prayers should be put up, and for whose sake alone answers should be expected. And, in our approaches and addresses, the new covenant characters of God in Christ should be considered, that of a God in covenant; a friend; a present help; a portion; and a Father, who is rich in mercy, plenteous in redemption, abundant in goodness and truth; who pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin; who will not keep his anger for ever, because lie delighteth in mercy.
Daily observations of the judgments of God abroad in the earth; of his daily care of his children; of the kind providence of God displayed; of various crosses and trials, and of hourly deliverances from them; and of the various frames and changes that pass on the heaven-born soul, serve to furnish the heart with matter for confession, prayer, and praise. So that, if we will observe these things, we shall not only understand the loving-kindness of the Lord, but we shall find observations enough to furnish our heart with thoughts, and fill our mouth with arguments.
Your second Letter arriving before I could finish this, obliged me to make the insolvent debtor's request, "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." In the mean while, the Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; and the Lord give thee peace! So prays,
Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,