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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

An Exposition of the Assembly's
Shorter Catechism

by John Flavel

Of Direction in Prayer.

Q. 99. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?
A. The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction, is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lordís prayer.

Q. 1. Do men need directions, rules, and helps in prayer?
A. They do greatly need them, for in, and of ourselves we know not what to pray for as we ought; Romans 8:26. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, &c. Nor how to pray in a right manner, and for right ends; and a mistake in either frustrates our prayers; James 4:3. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Q. 2. When do men mistake in the matter of their prayer?
A. They mistake in the matter of prayer, when they ask of God things that are not lawful, good and agreeable to his will. So the disciples were ready to do, in calling for fire from heaven on the Samaritans; Luke 9:54, 55. And when his disciples, James and John, saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.

Q. 3. When do men mistake in the manner of prayer?
A. They mistake in the manner, when they as mercies of God for carnal ends, to satisfy their lusts; James 4:3. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Or in a drowsy and careless manner; Isaiah 64:7. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee, &c.

Q. 4. What helps hath God afforded us to furnish us to prayer, both in respect of the matter and manner?
A. The scriptures abundantly furnish us with all sorts of help sand directions for the matter of prayer. It directs us, both in confession of sin, original and actual; Psalm 51:4-5. Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight, &c. Petition and thanksgiving; Philippians 4:6. Be careful for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.

Q. 5. Doth it afford us any help, or direction, as to the manner of prayer also?
A. Yes, it doth; and that both as to, (1.) Our sincerity in prayer; Hebrews 10:22. Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith; having our hears sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. , (2.) As to our humility in prayer; Psalm 10:17. Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble; thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear. (3.) As to our faith in prayer; James 1:6. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, &c. (4.) As to our fervency in prayer; James 5:6.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Q. 6. Are these external rules and directions sufficient in themselves to enable us to pray acceptably?
A. In respect of external direction they are sufficient, and we need no other outward rules than what the scriptures furnish; but besides that, the internal helps and assistances of the Spirit are necessary to the offering up acceptable prayer; Romans 8:26. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, &c.

Q. 7. But doth the scripture only furnish us with general rules of direction for prayer?
A. No, it furnishes us also with an excellent pattern and example of prayer, composed by Christ for our direction; Matthew 6:9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father, which art in heaven, &c.

Q. 8. Are Christians tied by a necessity to use that form of words? Or was it only intended for a directory to them?
A. That form of words may be lawfully used, but it is plain its intention was to regulate our petitions by it; and therefore they that use it in spells and charms, as the Papists; or those that think nothing is prayer, but that form of words; abuse Christís intention in it.

Q. 9. How doth it appear, it was not Christís intention strictly to bind us to that very form of words in our prayers?
A. Divines give us these reasons against it, (1.) Because this prayer is set down diversely by the evangelists; Matthew 6:10, 12. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And Luke 11:3-4. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (2.) Christ and his apostles did not always use this form of words afterwards, as appears by his prayer at Lazarusí grave, John 11. and that for his apostles, John 17. (3.) Because these words, Matthew 6:9. After this manner, &c. plainly shew, its use was intended for a directory to us.

Q. 10. What is the first inference from hence?
A. Hence we learn the fulness and completeness of the Scriptures, not only for the guiding and settling of our faith in things that are to be believed, but also of our whole practice, in every duty we are to perform.

Q. 11. What is the second inference hence?
A. Hence we are informed, how necessary it is to acquaint ourselves with the mind of God, revealed in his word, that we may guide ourselves in prayer, both for matter and manner thereby: and not utter to God words without knowledge.

Q. 12. What is the last inference from hence?
A. That those who neglect all prayer, and those that satisfy themselves with a form of prayer, which they utter without knowledge or affection, do greatly sin against God. And that it is the duty of all Christians, from a sense of their own sins, wants, and mercies, to be often with God in prayer, guiding themselves in that spiritual duty, by such inward, and outward helps, as his word and Spirit are able to furnish them with.

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