"Whereby we Cry, Abba, Father. "
Rom. viii. 15. -- "Whereby we cry, Abba, Father."

All that know any thing of religion, must needs know and confess that there is no exercise either more suitable to him that professeth it, or more needful for him, than to give himself to the exercise of prayer. But that which is confessed by all, and as to the outward performance gone about by many, I fear is yet a mystery sealed up from us, as the true and living nature of it. There is much of it expressed here in few words, "whereby we cry, Abba, Father." The divine constitution and qualifications of this divine work, are here made up of a temper of fervency, reverence, and confidence. The first I spoke of before; but I fear our hearts were not well heated then, or may be cooled since. It is not the loud noise of words that is best heard in heaven, or that is constructed to be crying to God. No, this is transacted in the heart more silently to men, but it striketh up into the ears of God. His ear is sharp, and that voice of the soul's desires is shrill, and though it were out of the depths, they will meet together. It is true, the vehemency of affection will sometimes cause the extension of the voice; but yet it may cry as loud to heaven when it is kept within. I do not press such extraordinary degrees of fervour as may affect the body, but I would rather wish we accustomed ourselves to a solid calm seriousness and earnestness of spirit, which might be more constant than such raptures can be, that we might always gather our spirits to what we are about, and avocate them from impertinent wanderings and fix them upon the present object of our worship. This is to worship him in spirit who is a Spirit.

The other thing that composes the sweet temper of prayer, is reverence. And what more suitable, whether you consider him or yourselves? "If I be your Father, where is my honour? and if I be your Master, where is my fear?" Mal. i.6. While we call him Father, or Lord, we proclaim this much, that we ought to know our distance from him, and his superiority to us. And if worship in prayer carry not this character, and express not this honourable and glorious Lord, whom we serve, it wants that congruity and suitableness to him that is the beauty of it. Is there any thing more uncomely, than for children to behave themselves irreverently and irrespectively towards their fathers, to whom they owe themselves? It is a monstrous thing even in nature, and to nature's light. O how much more abominable must it be, to draw near to the Father of spirits, who made us, and not we ourselves, in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways; in a word, to whom we owe not only this dust, but the living spirit that animates it, that was breathed from heaven, and finally, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," and well-being; to worship such an one, and yet to behave ourselves so unseemly and irreverently in his presence, our hearts not stricken with the apprehension of his glory, but lying flat and dead before him, having scarcely him in our thoughts whom we speak to. And finally, our deportments in his sight are such, as could not be admitted in the presence of any person a little above ourselves, -- to be about to speak to them, and yet to turn aside continually to every one that cometh by, and entertain communication with every base creature. This, I say, in the presence of a king, or nobleman, would be accounted such an absurd incivility, as could be committed. And yet we behave ourselves just so with the Father of spirits.

O the wanderings of the hearts of men in divine worship! While we are in communication with our Father and Lord in prayer, whose heart is fixed to a constant attendance and presence, by the impression of his glorious holiness? Whose Spirit doth not continually gad abroad, and take a word of every thing that occurs, and so mars that soul correspondence? O that this word (Psal. lxxxix.7.) were written with great letters on our hearts, "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him." That one word, God, speaketh all. Either we must convert him into an idol, which is nothing; or if we apprehend him to be GOD, we must apprehend our infinite distance from him, and his unspeakable, inaccessible glory above us. He is greatly feared and reverenced in the assemblies that are above, in the upper courts of angels. Those glorious spirits who must cover their feet from us, because we cannot see their glory; they must cover their faces from him, because they cannot behold his glory, Isa. vi. What a glorious train hath he, and yet how reverend are they? They wait round about the throne, above and about it, as courtiers upon their king, for they are all ministering spirits, and they rest not day and night to adore and admire that holy One, crying, "Holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of his glory." Now, how much more then should he be greatly feared and had in reverence in the assembly of his saints, of poor mortal men, whose foundation is in the dust, and in the clay, and besides drink in iniquity like water? There are two points of difference and distance from us. He is nearer angels, for angels are pure spirits, but we have flesh, which is furthest removed from his nature. And then angels are holy and clean; yet theirs is but spotted to(218) his unspotted holiness. But we are defiled with sin, which putteth us farthest off from him, and which his holiness hath greatest antipathy at. Let us consider this, my beloved, that we may carry the impression of the glorious holiness and majesty of God on our hearts, whenever we appear before him, that so we may serve and rejoice with trembling, and pray with reverence and godly fear. If we apprehend indeed our own quality and condition, how low, how base it is, how we cannot endure the very clear aspect of our own consciences, we cannot look on ourselves steadfastly without shame and confusion of face, at the deformed spectacle we behold. Much less would we endure to have our souls opened and presented to the view of other men, even the basest of men. We would be overwhelmed with shame if they could see into our hearts? Now then, apprehend seriously what he is, how glorious in holiness; how infinite in wisdom, how the secrets of your souls are plain and open in his sight, and I am persuaded you will be composed to a reverend, humble, and trembling behaviour in his sight.

But withal I must add this, that because he is your Father, you may intermingle confidence; nay, you are commanded so to do, and this honours him as much as reverence. For confidence in God, as our Father, is the best acknowledgment of the greatness and goodness of God. It declareth how able he is to save us, and how willing, and so ratifieth all the promises of God made to us, and setteth to a seal to his faithfulness. There is nothing he accounts himself more honoured by, than a soul's full resigning itself to him, and relying on his power and good-will in all necessities, casting its care upon him, as a loving Father, who careth for us. And truly, there is much beauty and harmony in the juncture of these two, rejoicing with trembling, confidence with reverence, to ask nothing doubting, and yet sensible of our infinite distance from him, and the disproportion of our requests to his highness. A child-like disposition is composed thus, as also the temper and carriage of a courtier hath these ingredients in it. The love of his Father, and the favour of his Prince, maketh him take liberty, and assume boldness; and withal he is not unmindful of his own distance, from his Father or master. "Let us draw near with full assurance of faith," Heb. x.22. There is much in the scripture, both exhorted, commanded, and commended, of that {GREEK SMALL LETTER PI}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER RHO}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}, that liberty and boldness of pouring out our requests to God, as one that certainly will hear us, and grant that which is good. Unbelief spoileth all. It is a wretched and base spirited thing, that can conceive no honourable thoughts of God, but only like itself. But faith is the well-pleasing ingredient of prayer. The lower thoughts a man has of himself, it maketh him conceive the higher and more honourable of God. "My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts as your thoughts, but as far above as the heavens above the earth," Isa. lv.8. This is the rule of a believing soul's conceiving of God, and expecting from him; and when a soul is thus placed on God, by trusting and believing in him, it is fixed; "His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord," Psal. cxii.7. O how wavering and inconstant is a soul, till it fix at this anchor, upon the ground of his immutable promises! It is tossed up and down with every wind, it is double-minded; now one way, then another, now in one mind, and shortly changed; and indeed the soul is like the sea, capable of the least or greatest commotion, James i.6-8. I know not any thing that will either fix your hearts from wandering in prayer, or establish your hearts from trouble and disquiet after it, nothing that will so exoner(219) and ease your spirits of care as this, to lay hold on God as all-sufficient, and lay that constraint on your hearts, to wait on him and his pleasure, to cast your souls on his promises, that are so full and so free, and abide there, as at your anchor-hold, in all the vicissitudes and changes of outward or inward things. In spiritual things that concern your salvation, that which is absolutely necessary, you may take the boldness to be absolute in it, and as Job, "though he should slay me, yet will I trust in him;" and as Jacob, "I will not let thee go till thou bless me." But either in outward things, that have some usefulness in them, but are not always fittest for our chiefest good; or in the degrees of spiritual gifts, and measures of graces, the Lord calls us without anxiety to pour out our hearts in them unto him. But withal we would do it with submission to his pleasure, because he knows best what is best for us. In these, we are not bound to be confident to receive the particular we ask, but rather our confidence should pitch upon his good-will and favour, that he will certainly deny nothing that himself knows is good for us. And so in these we should absolutely cast ourselves without carefulness upon his loving and fatherly providence, and resign ourselves to him to be disposed of in them as he sees convenient. There is sometimes too much limitation of God, and peremptoriness used with him in such things, in which his wisdom craves a latitude both in public and private matters, even as men's affections and interests are engaged. But ordinarily it is attended and followed with shame and disappointment in the end. And there is, on the other hand, intolerable remissness and slackness in many, in pressing even the weightiest petitions of salvation, mortification, &c. which certainly ariseth from the diffidence and unbelief of the heart, and the want of that rooted persuasion, both of the incomparable necessity and worth of the things themselves, and of his willingness and engagement to bestow them.

The word is doubled here, "Abba, Father," the Syriac and Greek word signifying one thing, expressing the tender affection and love of God towards them that come to him. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him diligently." So he that cometh to God must believe that he hath the bowels and compassion of a Father, and will be more easily inclined with our importunate cries, than the fathers of our flesh. He may suffer his children to cry long, but it is not because he will not hear, but because he would hear them longer, and delights to hear their cry oftener. If he delay, it is his wisdom to appreciate and endear his mercies to us, and to teach us to press our petitions and sue for an answer.

Besides, this is much for our comfort, that from whomsoever, and whatsoever corner in the world, prayers come up to him, they cannot want acceptance. All languages, all countries, all places are sanctified by Jesus Christ, that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord, from the ends of the earth, shall be saved. And truly it is a sweet meditation to think, that from the ends of the earth, the cries of souls are heard; and that the end is as near heaven as the middle; and a wilderness as near as a paradise; that though we understand not one another, yet we have one loving and living Father that understands all our meanings. And so the different languages and dialects of the members of this body make no confusion in heaven, but meet together in his heart and affection, and are one perfume, one incense, sent up from the whole catholic church, which here is scattered on the earth. O that the Lord would persuade us to cry this way to our Father in all our necessities!

sermon xxxix whereby we cry
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