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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 98. What is prayer?

A. 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.

1. Amyntor, at a memorable period of his life, was under great distress of conscience, and harrassed by violent temptations. He made his ease known to an experienced friend, who said, 'Amyntor, you do not pray.' Surprised at this, he replied, 'I pray, if such a thing be possible, too much. I can hardly tell how many times in the day I bow my knee to God, almost to the omission of my other duties, and the neglect of my necessary studies.' 'You mistake my meaning, dear Amyntor; I do not refer you to the ceremony of the knee, but to the devotion of the heart, which neglects not any business, but intermingles prayer with all: which in every place looks unto the Lord; and on every occasion lifts up an indigent longing soul, for the supply of His grace. This,' he added with peculiar force, 'this is prayer, which all the devils in hell cannot withstand.'

2. A poor old man, when a child of three years of age, had been taught by his mother to repeat a prayer every night, which he did till he was seventy-three years old; and not a little proud was he to say, that he had not omitted saying his prayers every night for seventy years! At this advanced age it pleased God to afflict him severely; he was led by the Holy Spirit to see that he was a poor sinner who had been living in a form of godliness, but had never felt its power. He was enabled to spend the last few years of his life in humble dependence on the grace of Christ; and when he referred to himself, he would often add, 'I am the old man who said his prayers for seventy years, and yet all that time never prayed at all.'

3. A poor man once went to a pious minister, and said, 'Mr Carter, what will become of me? I work hard, and fare hard, and yet I cannot thrive.' Mr Carter answered, 'Still you want one thing; I will tell you what you must do. Work hard, and fare hard, and pray hard; and I will warrant you shall thrive.'

4. Dr Johnson once reproved the Rev. Dr Maxwell for saying grace in his presence without mentioning the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and hoped he would be more mindful in future of the apostolical injunction.

5. A gentleman of very considerable fortune, but a stranger both to personal and family religion, one evening took a solitary walk through part of his grounds. He happened to come near a mean hut, where a poor man lived with a numerous family, who earned their bread by daily labour. He heard a continued and rather loud voice. Not knowing what it was, curiosity prompted him to listen. The man, who was piously disposed, happened to be at prayer with his family. So soon as he could distinguish the words, he heard him giving thanks, with great affection, to God for the goodness of His providence, in giving them food to eat and raiment to put on, and in supplying them with what was necessary and comfortable in the present life. He was immediately struck with astonishment and confusion, and said to himself, 'Does this poor man, who has nothing but the meanest fare, and that purchased by severe labour, give thanks to God for His goodness to himself and family; and I, who enjoy ease and honour, and every thing that is pleasant and desirable, have hardly ever bent my knee or made any acknowledgment to my Maker and Preserver?' It pleased God to make this providential occurrence the means of bringing him to a real and lasting sense of religion.

6. Over a century ago, on a winter night, when the snow was falling heavily, a poor woman, with five children, reached a village in Essex, just as a farmer's lad was shutting up a barn. She begged him to ask his master's leave for them to pass the night in the barn. The lad did so; and the master who was a kind, feeling man, ordered him to take a bundle of straw, and make them a comfortable bed. The poor woman felt grateful, and asked the lad if he would like to hear a song. He hoped that it would be something amusing, and replied 'Yes;' upon which she and her children sang one of Watts's hymns. The lad felt interested—she asked him if he had ever prayed to God, and thanked Him for the mercies he had enjoyed; and said that she was going to pray with her children, and he might stay if he pleased. The lad stayed while she offered up her thanks for the mercies she enjoyed; and begged for a blessing upon him. He then went away, but could not rest, and after passing a sleepless night, he resolved on going again to the barn to talk with the woman. She was gone—he saw her no more, but from that day he became a changed character.

7. It is good when rooms in our homes are definitely associated with prayer, but the people of God are sometimes obliged to seek a place of prayer out of doors, as did the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. A godly young man in the army, not finding a convenient place in the barracks where he was quartered, went one night, when dark, into an adjoining field for the purpose of prayer. Two men belonging to the same regiment, in whose hearts enmity had long subsisted against each other, were resolved to end it, as they said, by battle, being prevented from going during the day by the fear of punishment. They were providentially led to the very field where the young man was engaged in his secret spiritual exercise. Surprised to hear a voice in the field at that hour of night, and much more so when they drew nearer to it and heard a young man at prayer, they stopped and gave attention. Through the divine blessing the prayer had such an effect on both men that their enmity ended. They took each other by the hand, and cordially confessed that there existed no longer, in their hearts, hatred to each other. It is not recorded whether the young man at prayer learned of the use which the Lord had made of the exercise in which he had been so happily engaged.

8. The Roman Emperor, Antoninus, one of the persecutors of the Christians, was once surrounded by his enemies, and it seemed likely that he and his army would perish from lack of water. He commanded the Christians in his army to pray for rain. Immediate relief came to him, his army was preserved and his enemies defeated. He then wrote to the Roman senate in favour of the Christians and said, 'They are a people who are content with God whom they always carry about with them in their bosoms, and though we may think them wicked, they have God in their conscience for their bulwark.' 'When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him' (Prov. 16.7).

9. At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, a woman once came to C. H. Spurgeon at the end of a service. 'She was accompanied,' says Spurgeon, 'by two of her neighbours and entered my vestry in deep distress. Her husband had fled the country; and, in her sorrow, she had gone to the house of God, and something I said in the sermon made her think that I was personally familiar with her case. Of course, I had really known nothing about her; I had made use of a general illustration which just fitted her particular case. She told me her story, and a very sad one it was. I said, "There is nothing that we can do but kneel down, and cry to the Lord for the immediate conversion of your husband." We knelt down, and I prayed that the Lord would touch the heart of the deserter, convert his soul and bring him back to his home. When we rose from our knees, I said to the poor woman, "Do not fret about the matter. I feel sure your husband will come home; and that he will yet become connected with our church."

'She went away, and I forgot all about her. Some months afterwards, she reappeared, with her neighbours, and a man, whom she introduced to me as her husband. He had indeed come back, and he had returned a converted man. On making enquiry, and comparing notes, we found that, the very day on which we had prayed for his conversion, he, being at that time on board a ship far away on the sea, stumbled most unexpectedly upon a stray copy of one of my sermons. He read it; the truth went to his heart; he repented, and sought the Lord; and, as soon as possible, he came back to his wife and to his daily calling. He was admitted as a member at the Tabernacle, and his wife who up to that time had not joined the church, was also received into fellowship with us.

'That woman does not doubt the power of prayer. All the infidels in the world could not shake her conviction that there is a God that heareth and answereth the supplications of His people.'

This material is taken from THE SHORTER CATECHISM ILLUSTRATED by John Whitecross revised and republished by the Banner of Truth Trust edition 1968 and reproduced with their permission.

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