CXLV expository sermons upon the whole 17th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, or, Christs prayer before his passion explicated, and both practically and polemically improved by Anthony Burgess ...
Burgess, Anthony, d. 1664.
Page  131

SERMON XXIV. Of vain Tautology in Prayer; And what Re∣petitions in Prayer are such, and what not; Shewing also what things are absolutely necessary to a good Praier.

JOH. 17.5.
And now O Father glorifie thou me with thy own self, with the glory I had before the world began.

IN these words have been considered the matter of the Petition, described by the nature and external adjunct thereof, as also the causal inference.

In the matter of the Petition we shall not take notice of the matter it self because handled before.

But 1. Whereas our Saviour within so little a space, doth repeat the same Petition twice, We observe,

That Repetition of the same matter in a Praier is not alwaies a sinful Tautology,*but is sometimes lawful, yea, useful and necessary: None can think that our Sa∣viour in whom is the Treasure of Wisedom, and who is the essentiall Word of God, who also giveth the gifts of praier to the Church, that he himself should be straitned either for matter or words, but this ingemination pro∣ceeds from some other excellent ground.

To open this Point Consider,

[ I] 1. That the same matter may be repeated either insence only but in different words, or else in the very same sence and words; When it's done the former way, we say a man doth 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, but not 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 In the latter way, unlesse there be some grave and serious cause, it's a vain Tautology, for the former kinde of repetition, the Psalms which are accounted like the Stars in the Scri∣pture Firmament, are very frequent in it; Many verses being the ingemination of the same sence, only in some different words, and this we do not so com∣monly call a repetition of the same thing, because every new word the holy Ghost hath doth represent some new notion to the understanding, so that it's like the same meat under several dishings, that affords a peculiar taste, or like the Philasophers matter, which they say is alwaies the same, though un∣der divers forms; Now our Saviour in this praier doth not only use the same matter but the same words, Father glorifie thou me.

[ II] 2. That in our prayers which are a communion with the great God, wo ought to have a diligent attention to severall things s Praier is not slightly, formally, and customarily to be hasted over, but being a divine worship of God, If ever a man would be in an heavenly, holy, fervent and indistracted disposition, it Page  132 ought to be when he sets himself to this duty, Praier is like that curious oyntment to be made by the High-Priest, which consisted of many choice in∣gredients, You may call most mens praiers no more praiers then an Ape a man, or a picture the person it represents.

* [ 1] For 1. We must have a diligent attention to the matter that we pray for, That it be lawful, good, and agreeable to Gods will; To ask of God any thing that is unlawful and sinful would be to make God a Patron of sinnes as he in the Poet, Da mihi fallere, da justum sanctumque videri Jupiter; So that this made Aquinas say, It was hard to know what we are to pray for, because it's hard to know what to desire; Hence Rom. 8. we need the Spirit of God to enable us to know what we pray for, Some Heathens have been admired for such a prai∣er as this, that they entreated the gods to give them, not what they would have, but what was good for them, whether they desired it or not, but we that are Christians are not in such darknesse, we have the Word of God to direct us, and his Spirit to incline us; Look then that the matter thou praiest for be such as is agreeable to Gods holy will.

[ 2] 2. We are to consider and attend to the order of our matter; That which is ab∣solutely necessary is to be preferred before what is convenient, only what re∣lates to Gods glory and our salvation is farre to be preferred before any tem∣porall good thing, as we see by the direction in our Lords Praier, and by Christs command, Seek ye first the Kingdom of heaven, Mat. 6.33. It's disputed whether temporall mercies may be praied for or no, it may seem a thing below the hea∣venly Spirit of a Christian, but if it be lawful then it's disputed how far whe∣ther absolutely or conditionally only, and it's resolved that because temporal mercies are not promised by God absolutely, nor are they absolutely necessary to our salvation; Therefore we may pray only with submission and subordina∣tion, if it be Gods will, and so farre as they may be a furtherance to our spiri∣tual good.

[ 3] 3. There must be an attention to the words we use in our prayer as well as to the matter; That they be grave, decent and comely; That there be nothing of va∣nity, affectation, or irreverence; Praier is a worship of God; When Abraham was admitted to a discourse with God, how greatly did he debase himself, he was but dust and ashes, Gen. 18.27. and who was he that he should speak to God, Eccl. 5.2. There is a notable advice to look to our words when we have to do with God, He is in heaven and thou on earth: That is a vast distance and great disproportion, Therefore let thy words be few: The wiseman doth not there for∣bid a long praier, for he himself made a very long one at the Dedication of the Temple, and repeated this Petition very often, Then hear thou in heaven and for∣give, and heal this people, 1 Kin. 8. But that we should look to our words that they be not idle, superfluous and vain; a long praier in this sence may be said to have few words, when the matter is pithy, and the words pertinent, as he said of a Book, Non sunt longa, &c. That is not a long Book from which you cannot well take away any thing, so that the length and shortnesse of a praier lieth not so much in the quantity of time as in the matter; a praier held out for an hour without any savory matter or comely words is a long praier: Look we then to the matter in the first place, and then to words, but if we look to∣wards more then matter, and make an eloquent oration to God, rather then an humble supplication, this is ridiculous and sinfull.

[ 4] 4. We are to have our attention upon the obiect to whom we do pray, and that to God himself: What preparations and perfumings were there to come into Abashu∣erus his presence; If the Majesty of an earthly King strike such terrour, then what ought not the presence of so great a God? so that a diligent attention to his greatness must greatly elevate and raise up the Spirit, must unite and streng∣then it to one object, how can distraction, and divisions enter into thy heart Page  133 when it's applying it self to such infinite greatnesse?

[ 5] 5. We are to be attentive to all those concomitant graces, without which Praier is like a Bird without wings, or a rusty Key; Zeal and fervency, and faith in the promise and power of God are necessarily required, for Without faith it's impossi∣ble to please God; Heb. 11. This is the life and soul of all, There must be also heavenly mindednesse, and a hatred of all sin, otherwise we are not fit to have any communion with God.

[ 6] Lastly, We are to attend to the end we have in our Praier for lawful temporal things, Jam. 4.7. You ask and have not because you ask amisse; You ask to spend on your lusts, and this is very difficult, to ask health, life, and strength for no o∣ther end, but thereby to glorifie God and promote his Kingdom; Thus brie∣fly because not principally intended, to declare how great a matter it is to pray.

[ III] 3. Vocal praier or the use of the tongue in praier is not for information of God, as if thereby we would discover to him that which he did not know before; Nor if we use repetition in praier, is it to move God,* as importunity may a Judge; If it were so then no wonder if we did double and treble the same thing over and over again, but partly because we consisting of a soul and body are thereby to glorifie God and honour him with both; Hence not only the heart but the tongue is called upon to glorifie God, and that is called the glory of a man, Though some expound it of the soul, and partly because the voice and exercise thereof doth stir up and move the affections, there being a reciprocal efficacy one upon another, and a circular causality: Even as vapors make the clouds which distilling in rain do make vapors again, so out of the heart come affectionate expressions in praier, and these again do encrease heat in the heart.

These things premised let us consider,*When Repetitions or ingeminations of the same matter in Praier may be useful and necessary, and we shall speak of such a vocal Praier as is publique, wherein not only the Petitions but the edificati∣on of others is greatly to be respected, for this you must know, and it may serve for a fourth particular to preface this matter, That in publique praier wherein many joyn together, he that praieth is not only to attend to all the foremen∣tioned particulars, but to them that are assembled also, to consider what Pe∣titions, what confessions are fit for them to be stirred up unto, and that is 1 Cor. 14. The reason why the Apostle so much pleadeth against praier among other duties in an unknown tongue, because it will not edifie those that are con∣ioyned with us, and so some expound that, I will pray in the Spirit, that is for his own particular, and I will pray in the understanding also, that is in respect of others to advantage and benefit them, so that in our publique, whether as a Minister, as a Master of a Family, or otherwise; We must consider the persons with us what they need what things most concern them, and this is a particular way to affect them, it being here as with a Sermon, the closer it comes to the heart, the more good it doth, so with a praier the more any Petition closeth with another mans heart, the more it doth affect him and enlarge him, and therefore fit words and fit matter are especially to be attended unto in such publique praier, where not only supplication but edification is intended.

Let us then consider when the ground of repetition and ingemination is good.

[ 1] And 1. When the matter is so exceeding necessary that our hearts are deeply sensi∣ble of it; As when a burthened soul lieth under the guilt of sinne, sinne is like a Mountain upon him, it gnaweth and devoureth within, then to beg for par∣don over and over again, the soul cannot but do it; The necessity of it is so great, that be cannot let it go, as Psa. 51. a Praier made by David when over∣whelmed in his Spirit by the guilt of sinne; How often doth he repeat though Page  134 in different words a Petition for pardon, That God would have mercy on him; That he would wash him, purge him, and blot out his sinnes: This he nameth twice, for till he had obtained this pardon, there was no living for him; He could take no pleasure in houses, friends, yea; in his kingdom and all outward prosperity, so that the necessity of it makes him again and again repeat his praier for it, and thus our Saviour when he was upon those agonies and extremities, he prai∣eth, Father, if it be possible let this cup passe away, and the Text saith, he went thrice and said the same words, Mat. 26.44. Here the necessity of that Praier he praied for made him say the same words, for as the same earth or the same Sun we are not weary of, because of the necessity of it; Thus neither is it to be accounted a vain tautology when again and again we pray for that without which we cannot be.

[ 2] 2. When the matter is excellent then it may be repeated again, because by often striking the same stroak at last the Instrument enters, sometimes a sudden tran∣sient passage doth not touch the heart, and so the excellency of it is not dis∣cerned, but when once or twice it is spoken, then it may affect: It's a Rule, Pulchrasunt his dicenda, we cannot see the worth of a Jewell at the first sight; and hence it is that there are some sentences of choice and excellent vertue, that our Saviour himself would use more then once, Such as that, Many are called but few are chosen, and some Parables also are twice spoken to by our Sa∣viour, yea, that Psalm which describeth the grievous pollution of every man by nature; The Apostle Rom. 3. doth repeat at large, it being such an excel∣lent choice Truth that every one is to be affected with, and till that founda∣tion be laid there cannot be any esteem or prizing of Christ.

[ 3] 3. When the affections are very fervent and zealous, then it cannot but they will expresse the same thing again: It's not want of matter but height of affection and zeal that makes the tongue utter the same thing twice, as Gal. 4.6. it's said The Spirit of God is sent into our hearts whereby we cry Abba Father; Here is an Ingemination, we cry Father, Father, and why so? the Spirit of God doth so kindle and inflame the heart, that it's so sweetly and passionately affected, that as he said pro dulcedine vix labris expedire possit, he is unwilling to let this hony out of his mouth: As Peter when he was in the Transfiguration said, It's good to be here; So the heart of a godly man thus filialized by the holy Ghost, can∣not but utter the same dear relation over and over; It's usuall with the He∣brews when they would expresse their earnest affection and desire to a thing, to double it, and when Esau was in that great extremity, and desired Jacobs pot∣tage, he crieth out, Give me of thy red pottage, as it's in the Original; The heart that is strongly affected and zealously drawn out is not contented with once naming of that, which he so much desireth, so that commonly cold and custo∣mary praiers have no ingeminations.

[ 4] 4. Repetition of the same matter may be when he would by faith perswade our heart of the certainty of the thing we pray for; Thus that crying Abba Father, did not only argue zeal but assurance and certainty: They were so fully per∣swaded that they were bold to speak it again and again, and so also it's a Rule among the Hebrews, to expresse the certainty of a thing by the ingemination of it: Thus dying thou shalt die, So when it's said Amen and Amen, that repetiti∣on is to shew their affection, that they would have it so, or that it is so, and thus indeed those Petitions which God sets home with certainty upon the heart they are again and again mentioned, The Lord will do them yea, he hath done them.

[ 5] Lastly, There may be a repetition of some Petitions especially in publique Praier, when the matter doth greatly concern us; and so it's such as we ought to be deep∣ly affected with, for as it is with Preaching, that matter which doth greatly concern the hearer, it's lawful to mention it over and over again, as the A∣postle Page  135Peter did think fit to write the very same things which he had formerly delivered, as also the Apostle Jude in his Epistle did; So it is in publique prai∣er, such sinnes as we would have the Congregation sensible of in their confes∣sions, such duties as we would have them diligently perform, it's useful in praier to mention these more then once, for how dull and distracted are our thoughts, how hard and sencelesse are they? So that like Moses his rock, till we be stricken over and over again, water cannot come forth, like the Shuna∣mites dead childe; Till we be often rubbed over there cannot come any spi∣ritual heat into us; Do not then alwaies look for new matter, but rather de∣sire thy heart may be affected with that which is old sometimes; It's a great sinne in all, that they endeavour not to have their hearts affected in publique praier, in our Congregations, we should all be like so many Jacobs wrastling with God, We should be like so many Hezekiahs or Jonahs crying out of the Whales belly, but oh how few when God takes notice doth he finde that have spiritual mourning hearts, some sleeping, some roving, some weary and wish∣ing it over.

But you will say,* though this indeed prove that sometimes a doubling of the same Petition may be usefull, yet may there not be idle bablings and sinfull repetitions in the same Praier? May there not be such Tautologies as may be offen∣sive and distastful to a godly heart?

Yes certainly, And this is expresly forbidden, Mat. 6.7. a notable place,*Ʋse not vain repetitious,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉; Some derive it from that foolish man the Poet speaks of, a Shepherd called Battus, sub illis montibus inquit, erant, & erant sub montibus illis, Others more probably from the Hebrew word baetta, that signi∣fies to pour out froth, a blatero, and so Hesychius expounds it 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, empty words of any sence or matter, when there are many words and no true grave matter; Therefore our Saviour cals it 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 much speaking, not that he condemneth long praiers, but to make many words without sence or the affe∣ction of the heart; Hesychius expounds it also 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 unseasonable and un∣beseeming; So that then are Repetitions forbidden by our Saviour,

[ 1] 1. When they arise either from want of judgement to prepare good matter,*or a dry sencelesse heart; For Praier is a stream, and if there be not fulnesse in these two Fountains that must needs be dried up; If repetitions then come for want of judgement, they have not a good understanding to digest and order their mat∣ter, this is not a seemly Sacrifice to offer to God; It's a strange position of some devout Papists, that this is the best Praier, When a man is so ravished that he knoweth not what he saith, So when Repetition comes for want of an affecti∣onate heart, this is blameworthy, affections make eloquent and copious, and heavenly affections do wonderfully enlarge the heart in Praier; This is the fire that makes the heart boil over, Praier without the heart in it, is like the bo∣dy without the soul,

[ 2] 2. When repetitions are out of affectation and ostentation, thereby to lengthen and protract their praiers, this is also vanity; For although there is a necessity as occasion may serve of long praiers, especially when we intend solemnly to hum∣ble our selves, and we have examples of such in Scripture, yet out of ostenta∣tion to affect length, and thereby to come over with the same things in a tedious and empty manner; This is not to perform the duty aright.

[ 3] 3. When Repetitions are so often iterated thereby thinking for the work-sake to please God: To think God esteemeth of the length and so much said, rather then the affections and heart therein; and this seemed to be the Heathens sinne, our Saviour said, they thought by their 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 their many words, in that so much was said, to have a good answer; And thus it is in Popery, The saying of so many Paternosters, The mumbling over so many Ave-Maries, this is e∣nough to expiate sinne; They regard the number, and when the number is done Page  136 all is well, and thus most people amongst us put their confidence in a praier said, and never at all consider with what heavenly affections and a spirituall heart they approach unto God; Thus you have heard when a repetition in praier is lawful and when unlawful.

Ʋse of Instruction, That to pray is such a solemn worship of God, that it re∣quireth the whole man, the intellectual part, all our judgement, invention, and memory is to be imploied therein, as also the whole heart, the will and affecti∣ons, yea, and body also; and besides this there is also required the Spirit of God to enlighten the minde, and to sanctifie the heart for meer judgement, and invention, without Gods Spirit enlivening of them, is like a Sacrifice without fire; Oh then if all these things go together, may we not cry out, Who is suf∣ficient to pray? It's a great work to be a Minister, and it's a great work to be a private Christian, for every one is bound to be much in Praier, and yet how many requisites go to this? Oh therefore that we could awaken three sorts of men by this: 1. The ignorant man that hath his praiers but without any under∣standing, any affection, and therefore praieth while he is doing other work, or sluggishly in his bed, yea, he knoweth not whether it be a praier or not, only he is told so, and therefore they think the Creed and the Commandements a Praier; Miserable blinde people, what will become of them! 2. Superstitious persons, who lay their whole ground of acceptation upon such▪ and such prai∣ers, or upon such a number, but as for the spirituall discharge of the duty that they do not understand. 3. All formall and customary people who dare not but pray publikely, and sometimes privately, yea, and in Families also, but no stone is colder then their hearts; Oh what dead empty things are their duties, with what anger doth God look upon them when all is done: They rise up and say, Now is all well; Oh but God is provoked by such for∣mall lukewarm duties; You have a better heart and more lively affections, and why then put you God off with the worst? Doth not the Prophet say, He is cursed that hath a Male in his Flock, and yet offers the maimed; Thou hast more masculine affections to other things though they be not seen in Praier.