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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
of the Westminster Assembly
Explained and Proved
from Scripture

by
Thomas Vincent


XCVIII. Quest. What is prayer?
Ans.
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

Q. 1. How many parts are there in prayer?
A. There are three parts in prayer— petition, confession, and thanksgiving; but most properly, prayer doth consist in petition.

Q. 2. What kind of petition is prayer unto God?
A. The petition of the lips, without the desire of the heart, may be accounted prayer by men, but it is not acceptable prayer unto God, which is an offering up of the desires unto him, and pouring forth of the heart before him. "Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your hearts before him."— Ps. 62:8.

Q. 3. Unto whom are we to direct our prayers?
A. We are to direct our prayers to God only. "Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God! for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up."— Ps. 5:2, 3.

Q. 4. Why are we to direct our prayers only unto God?
A. We are to direct our prayers only unto God— 1. Because prayer is a part of religious worship, and God is the only object of religious worship. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."— Matt. 4:10. 2. Because God only is everywhere present to see his people, and to hear their prayers. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry."— Ps. 34:15. 3. Because God only can answer our prayers by fulfilling our desires, and giving the things which we pray for and stand in need of. "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry and save them."— Ps. 145:18, 19.

Q. 5. For what things may we pray unto God?
A. 1. We may not pray for the fulfilling of any sinful desires. "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."— James 4:3. 2. We may and ought to pray unto God only for such things as are agreeable unto his will. "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."— 1 John 5:14, 15.

Q. 6. What are the things agreeable unto God's will which we may pray for?
A. The things which we may pray for, are not all things which are agreeable unto his secret will; for thus all things which come to pass, even the worst of sins which are committed, are agreeable unto God's secret counsel and eternal determination; but all things which are agreeable unto God's revealed will in his Word, we may pray for; such as the pardon of our sins, the supplies of .his grace, spiritual life and strength here, eternal life and glory hereafter, deliverance from spiritual and eternal evils; also whatever temporal good things we stand in need of' and all those things which either expressly or inclusively he hath promised in his covenant unto us.

Q. 7. In whose name ought we to pray unto God?
A. We ought to pray unto God only in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it."— John 14:13,14.

Q. 8. What is it to pray unto God in the name of Christ?
A. To pray unto God in the name of Christ, is not barely to mention the name of Christ with our lips in the conclusion, or any part of our prayers; but it is by faith to mention his name, depending upon Christ alone for admittance and access unto God in prayer, for acceptance, audience, and a gracious return un to our prayers. "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him."— Eph. 3:12.

Q. 9. Why must we pray unto God in the name of Christ?
A. We must pray unto God in the name of Christ, because God being so infinitely holy and jealous, so infinitely jost and nghteous, and we being so unholy and sinful, and our prayers at best so imperfect, and so mingled with defilement, that neither our persons would find acceptance, nor our prayers any audience with God, without the name and mediation of Christ, and the mixture of the sweet incense of his merits with our prayers, to take away the ill savour of them, and the using of his interest with the Father, upon his account alone, to give an answer unto them. "And another angel came and stood at the altar [that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Angel of the Covenant], having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascendod up before God, out of the angel's hand."— Rev. 8:3, 4.

Q. 10. May we not make use of the name of angels, and the Virgin Mary, and other saints, in prayer, directing our prayers unto them to help us, at least to improve their interest in heaven for us, as the Papists do teach and practise?
A. 1. It is idolatry to direct our prayers unto any creature, God being the alone object of this and all other religious worship; therefore we ought not to direct our prayers unto angels (who have refused worship), much less unto any saints. " Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels."— Col. 2:18. And I fell at his feet to worship him: and he said unto me, See thou do it not; I am thy fellow servant," &c.— Rev. 19:10. 2. There is but one Mediator and Intercessor in heaven for us, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is an affront to him to make use of any angels or saints as our intercessors. "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."— 1 Tim. 2:5. " If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."— 1 John 2:1. 3. We have neither precept nor example in Scripture for, nor any promise unto any prayers which we shall make either unto or by either angels or saints. 4. The chiefest saints in heaven are ignorant of our condition on earth; neither can they, where they are, hear, much less give answer unto our prayers, and therefore are unfit to be the object of our prayers, or to make particular intercession for us. "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not."— Isa. 63:16. Therefore the doctrine and practice of the Papists herein is both unallowable and abominable.

Q. 11. How must we pray unto God, that our prayers may be accept able unto him, and answered by him?
A. That our prayers may be acceptable unto God, and answered by him, we must pray— 1. With sincerity. "Let us draw near with a true heart." — Heb. 10:22. 2. With humility. "Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble."— Ps. 10:17. 3. With faith "Let him ask in faith."— James 1:6. 4. With fervency. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."— James 5:16. 5. With perseverance. "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint."— Luke 18:1. 6. We must look after our prayers, and wait for a return. "Therefore I will look unto the Lord: I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me."— Micah 7:7.

Q. 12. Can we ourselves pray thus acceptably unto God?
A. We cannot of ourselves pray thus acceptably unto God, without the Spirit of God to help our infirmities, and to teach us both for what and how to pray. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; bnt the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."— Rom. 7:26, 27.

Q. 13. Doth God accept and answer all the prayers that are offered unto him?
A. 1. God doth not accept and answer the prayers of the wicked. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; but the prayer of the upright is his delight."— Prov. 15:8. 2. God doth not accept the prayers of his own people when they regard iniquity in their hearts. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayers." — Ps. 66:18. 3. God doth accept the prayers of his people which are offered up unto him in the name of Christ, and by the help of the Spirit, and which are for things agreeable unto his will; so that he either giveth the things unto them which they pray for, or else something that is equivalent or better for them.

Q. 14. What is the second part of prayer?
A. The second part of prayer is confession of our sins, with which our petitions for pardon and supply of our wants should be introduced.

Q. 15. What sins should we make confession of in prayer?
A. In prayer, we should make confession of our original and actual sins against law and gospel; of omission and commission, in thought and heart, of lip and life, with aggravations of them; acknowledging withal our desert of temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments and punish men te for them. "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid."— Ps. 32:5. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."— Ps. 2:4, 5. " O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, because we have sinned against thee.— Dan. 9:8.

Q. 16. How ought we in prayer to confess our sins?
A. We ought in prayer to confess our sins humbly, fully, freely, with grief for them, and hatred of them, with full purpose and full resolution, in the strength of the Lord, not to return again to the practice of them.

Q. 17. What is the third part of prayer?
A. The third part of prayer is, thankful acknowledgment of God's mercies, temporal and spiritual, here, and the promises of life and happiness in the other world; which we ought to acknowledge with admiration, faith, love, joy, and all kind of suitable affections. "By prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God."— Phil. 4:6.

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