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You must distinguish between professed wicked men, and those that sin against the profession. 2. And between a family (or church) that is totally wicked, and that which is mixed of good and bad. 3. And between those wicked men whose presence is your sin, because you have power to remove them, and those whose presence is not your sin, nor the matter in your power. 4. And between one that may yet choose of what family he will be, and one that may not. And so I answer, (1.) If it be the fault of the master of the family (or the pastors of the church) that such wicked men are there, and not cast out, then it is their sin to join with them, because it is their duty to remove them; but that is not the case of the fellow-servants (or people), that have no power. (2.) If that wicked men profess their wickedness, after sufficient admonition, you must professedly disown communion with them; and then you are morally separated and discharged, when you have no power locally to separate. (3.) It is your sin to fly from your duty, because a wicked man is there, whom you have no power to remove. (4.) There are many prayers that a wicked man is bound to put up to God; and you must not omit your duty, because he performeth his, though faultily: methinks you should more scruple joining or conversing with one that forsaketh prayer (which is the greater sin) than with one that prayeth. (5.) But if you are free to choose, you are to be blamed if you will not choose a better family (or church) (other things being equal): especially if all the company be wicked.
Quest. XVIII. But what if the master of a family (or pastor) be a heretic or ungodly?'
Anws. You must distinguish between his personal faults, and the faults of his performance or worship. His personal faults (such as swearing or drunkenness, &c.) you must disown, and must not choose a master (or pastor) that is such, while you have your choice, and may have better: but otherwise it is lawful to join with him in doing good, though not in evil. But if the fault of his duty itself be intolerable you must not join with him: now it is intolerable in these cases. 1. In case he be utterly unable to express a prayer, and so make it no prayer. 2. In case he bend his prayers against godliness, and known truth, and charity, and peace,
and so make his prayers but the instruments of mischief, to vent heresy, or malice, and do more hurt than good to others. Quest. XIX. May we pray absolutely for outward mercies, or only conditionally?'
Anws. You must distinguish, 1. Between a condition spoken of the subject, when we are uncertain whether it be a mercy or not, and an extrinsic condition of the grant. 2. Between a condition of prayer, and a condition of expectation. 3. Between submission to God's will, and a conditional desire or prayer. And so I answer, (1.) It is neces
sary when we are uncertain whether the thing itself be good or not, that we pray with a subjective conditionality. Grant this if it be good:' or 'If it be not good I do not pray for it.' For it is presupposed in prayer that we know the thing prayed for to be good. (2.) But when we know the thing to be a mercy and good, we may pray for it absolutely. (3.) But we may not believe that we shall receive all with an absolute expectation, which we absolutely pray for. For prayer being the expression of desire, that which may be absolutely desired, though not absolutely promised, may be absolutely prayed for. (As our increase or strength of grace, or the conversion of our relations, &c.) (4.) But yet all such must be asked with a submission to the will of God: but that maketh it not properly a conditional form of praying; for when the nature of prayer is as it were to move the will of God, it is not so proper to say, 'Lord, do this if it be thy will already;' or 'Lord, be pleased to do this if it be thy pleasure,' as to say, 'Lord, grant this mercy; but if thou deny it, it is my duty to submit.' So Christ mentioneth both the subjective conditionality and the submission of his will. "If it be possible let this cup pass from me nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. As if he had said, Nature requireth me with a simple nolition to be unwilling of the suffering, and if it be consistent with the desired end of my mediatorship, to be desirous to avoid it: but seeing that cannot be, my comparing will commandeth this simple will of self-preservation to submit to thy most perfect will. But if any call this (submission) a condition, the matter is not great.
y Matt. xxvi. 39.
Quest. xx. May we pray for all that we may lawfully desire?'
Answ. No: for prayer is not only an expression of desire, but also a means to attain the thing desired. And some things may be lawfully desired (at least with a simple velleity), which may not be sought, because they must not be hoped for, where God hath said that he will not grant them. For it is vain to seek that which you have no hope to find: as to desire to see the conversion of the whole world, or to pass to heaven as Enoch without dying, are lawful (by a simple velleity): but all things compared, it is not lawful peremptorily to desire it, without submission; and therefore not to ask it. It is the expression of a comparate, determinate desire, which is properly called prayer, being the use of means for the obtaining of that desire; and whatsoever I may so desire, I may pray for; for if there be no hope of it, I may not so desire it. But the desire by way of simple velleity may not be put into a proper prayer, when there is no hope. I must have a simple desire (with submission) to attain a sinless perfection here, even this hour; but because there is no hope, I may not let it proceed to a determinate peremptory desire upon a comparing judgment, nor into a proper prayer. And yet these velleities may be expressed in prayer, though they have not the full nature of a prayer. Object. But was not Christ's a prayer?' Answ. Either Christ as a man was certain that the cup must not pass from him, or uncertain. If you could prove him uncertain, then it is a proper prayer (with submission to his Father's will;) but if he was certain that it was not to pass from him, then it was analogically only a prayer, it being but a representing of his velleity, to his Father, and not of his determinate will, nor was any means to attain that end: and indeed such it was, as if he had said, Father if it had stood with the ends of my office and thy will, I would have asked this of thee; but because it doth not, I submit. And this much we may do.
Quest, XXI. 'How then can we pray for the salvation of all the world? must it be for all men collectively? or only for some, excluding no numerical denominate person?'
Answ. Just as Christ prayed here in this text, we must express our simple velleity of it to God, as a thing that in
itself is most desirable (as the passing of the cup was unto Christ) but we cannot express a determinate volition, by a full prayer, such as has any tendency as a means to attain that end; because we are certain that God's will is against it, or that it will not be.
Quest. XXII. May we pray for the conversion of all the nations of the world to Christianity, with a hopeful prayer?'
Answ. Yes: For we are not certain that every nation shall not be so converted, though it be improbable.
Quest. XXIII. May we pray in hope of a proper prayer (as a means to obtain it) that a whole kingdom may be all truly converted and saved?'
Answ. Yes: for God hath no way told us that it shall not be; though it be a thing improbable, it is not impossible; and therefore being greatly desirable may be prayed for. Though Christ has told us that his flock is little, and few find the way of life, yet that may stand with the salvation of a kingdom.
Quest. XXIV. May we pray for the destruction of the enemies of Christ, or of the Gospel, or of the king?'
Answ. Not with respect to that which is called God's antecedent will, for so we ought first to pray for their conversion (and restraint till then); but with respect to that called his consequent will we may; that is, we must first pray that they may be restrained and converted, and secondly, that if not, they may be destroyed.
Quest. xxv. 'What is to be thought of that which some call a particular faith in prayer? If I can firmly believe that a lawful prayer shall be granted in kind, may I not be sure by a divine faith that it shall be so?'
Answ. Belief hath relation to a testimony or revelation. Prayer may be warranted as lawful, if the thing be desirable, and there be any possibility of obtaining it, though there be no certainty, or flat promise; but faith or expectation must be warranted by the promise. If God have promised you the thing prayed for, you may believe that you shall receive it: otherwise your particular faith is a fancy, or a believing of yourselves, and not a believing God that never promised you the thing. Object. Matt. xxi. 22. "And all things whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
Answ. There are two sorts of faith: the one a belief that is ordinary, having respect to ordinary promises and mercies : the text can be understood of this in no other sense than this: All things which I have promised you, you shall receive, if you ask them believingly.' But this is nothing to that which is not promised. The other faith was extraordinary, in order to the working of miracles: and this faith was a potent inward confidence, which was not in the power of the person when he pleased, but was given like an inspiration by the Spirit of God, when a miracle was to be wrought; and this seemeth to be it that is spoken of in the text. And this was built on this extraordinary promise, which was made not to all men in all ages, but to those times when the Gospel was to be sealed and delivered by miracles; and especially to the apostles. So that in these times, there is neither such a promise of our working miracles as they had to believe, nor yet a power to exercise that sort of extraordinary faith. Therefore a strong conceit (though it come in a fervent prayer) that any thing shall come to pass, which we cannot prove by any promise or prophecy, is not to be called any act of divine faith at all, nor to be trusted to.
Quest. xxvI. 'But must we not believe that every lawful prayer is accepted and heard of God?'
Answ. Yes: but not that it should be granted in the very thing, unless so promised: but you may believe that your prayer is not lost, and that it shall be a means of that which tendeth to your good".
Quest. XXVII. ' With what faith must I pray for the souls or bodies of other men; for their conversion or their lives?'
Answ. A godly man may pray for wicked relations or others, with more hope than they can pray for themselves, while they remain ungodly: but yet not with any certainty of prevailing for the thing he asketh; for it is not peremptorily promised him. Otherwise Samuel had prevailed for Saul, and Isaac for Esau, and David for Absalom, and the good people for all the wicked; and then no godly parents would have their children lost; no nor any in the world would perish, for godly persons pray for them all. But those prayers are not lost to him that puts them up.
Rom. viii. 28. Isa. xlv. 19.