Category Archives: Prayer

“Stop and listen” by Scott Swain

“Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what He says.”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 128.

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“The most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ” by Scott Swain

“It is striking how many times in Psalm 119—an extended meditation on God’s written Word, the Torah—the psalmist begs for divine assistance in order that he might understand and obey God’s word.

The following list is merely representative, not exhaustive:

  • Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes (Psalm 119:5).
  • Let me not wander from your commandments (Psalm 119:10).
  • Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes (Psalm 119:12).
  • Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word (Psalm 119:17).
  • Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18).
  • Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).
  • I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart (Psalm 119:32).
  • Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end (Psalm 119:33).

The psalmist prays for an obedience that is steadfast (Psalm 119:5) and consistent (Psalm 119:10), that excels (Psalm 119:32) and perseveres (Psalm 119:33).

He also acknowledges his dependence upon divine grace for spiritual perception (Psalm 119:18), receptivity (Psalm 119:32), and understanding (Psalm 119:12, 29, 33).

Prayer is the most rational possible course of action for the Christian reader of Holy Scripture. After all, in Holy Scripture we face a grand and glorious terrain of revealed truth, so wonderful that the possibility of taking it all in is immediately ruled out.

And yet, we are called to meditate on this Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2), to walk in it (Ps. 119:1), and to praise it (Ps. 56:4, 10). The sheer magnitude of scriptural teaching alone makes our calling impossible apart from divine assistance.

Add to this our innate blindness, our fallen will and passions, and our tendency toward sloth in this calling and the desperate nature of our situation as readers becomes quite clear.

If there is to be any possibility of success in reading Holy Scripture, the Spirit of truth and light must shine upon us: opening our eyes, renewing our wills, and awakening us to action.

The good news is that God has promised to bless our reading. Thus Paul encourages Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7).

This is perhaps the most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ. We may confidently apply ourselves to this otherwise impossible task because God has promised to grant us success—“the Lord will give you understanding.”

According to Whitaker:

“He that shall be content to make such a use of these means, and will lay aside his prejudices and party zeal, which many bring with them to every question, will be enabled to gain an understanding of the scriptures, if not in all places, yet in most; if not immediately, yet ultimately.”

In prayer, exegetical reason takes its proper place and, like Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 10:39). And because it is confident in God’s fatherly generosity, exegetical reason asks, seeks, knocks—and finds (Lk. 11:10–13).”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 125–127.

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“This happy victory” – The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

“O Almighty God,

The sovereign commander of all the world, in whose hand is power and might which none is able to withstand:

We bless and magnify Thy great and glorious name for this happy victory, the whole glory whereof we do ascribe to Thee, who art the only giver of victory.

And, we beseech Thee, give us grace to improve this great mercy to Thy glory, the advancement of Thy gospel, the honour of our nation, and, as much as in us lieth, to the good of all mankind.

And, we beseech Thee, give us such a sense of this great mercy, as may engage us to a true thankfulness, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before Thee all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Spirit, as for all Thy mercies, so in particular for this victory and deliverance, be all glory and honour, world without end.

Amen.”

–Samuel L. Bray and Drew Nathaniel Keane, eds., The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, International Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2021), 576.

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“The infinite love of the Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners” by J.C. Ryle

We see, fifthly, in this parable, the penitent man received readily, pardoned freely, and completely accepted with God.

Our Lord shows us this, in this part of the younger son’s history, in the most touching manner. We read:

“When he was yet a long way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.”

More deeply affecting words than these, perhaps, were never written. To comment on them seems almost needless.

It is like gilding refined gold, and painting the lily. They show us in great broad letters the infinite love of the Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners.

They teach how infinitely willing He is to receive all who come to Him, and how complete, and full, and immediate is the pardon which He is ready to bestow.

“By Him all that believe are justified from all things.”—“He is plenteous in mercy.” (Acts 13:39; Psalm 86:5)

Let this boundless mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ be graven deeply in our memories, and sink into our minds. Let us never forget that He is One “that receiveth sinners.”

With Him and His mercy sinners ought to begin, when they first begin to desire salvation. On Him and His mercy saints must live, when they have been taught to repent and believe.

‘The life which I live in the flesh,’ says St. Paul, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ (Gal. 2:20)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1879/2012), 2: 138. Ryle is commenting on Luke 15:11-24.

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“We have more mercies than we deserve” by J.C. Ryle

“Cultivate a thankful spirit.

It has ever been a mark of God’s most distinguished saints in every age (David, in the Old Testament, and St. Paul, in the New), are remarkable for their thankfulness.

We seldom read much of their writings without finding them blessing and praising God.

Let us rise from our beds every morning with a deep conviction that we are debtors, and that every day we have more mercies than we deserve.

Let us look around us every week, as we travel through the world, and see whether we have not much to thank God for.

If our hearts are in the right place, we shall never find any difficulty in building an Ebenezer.

Well would it be if our prayers and supplications were more mingled with thanksgiving. (1 Sam. 7:12. Phil. 4:6.)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 1 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 36-37. Ryle is commenting on Luke 1:46-56.

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“The chains of His loving promises” by Richard Sibbes

“It must be matter of instruction for us all, that when we come unto God we must promise ourselves to have good speed, since God is most true of his promises, and we must labour by all means to remember and apply them, and so to turn them into prayers.

Thus reasoning the matter, What! I am in this and this necessity, God he hath promised to help; since He is true, it must needs be that He will have a care to fulfill His truth.

O beloved, it is easy for us to speak, but in the evil day to put on our armour, to fly unto prayer, to hang upon God, to fight against temptations, to give unto God the praise of His attributes, that as He is true, loving, just, merciful, all-sufficiency, infinite, omnipotent, so to expect infinite love, infinite truth, infinite mercy from Him,—this is no small matter, yea, it is true Christian fortitude, in temptation and affliction thus to reason the matter, to rely upon God, and as it were to bind His help near unto us with the chains of His loving promises.

If a promise bind us, much more it bindeth God; for all our truth is but a small spark of that ocean of truth in Him.

And therefore to conclude all with this promise, worthy to be engraven in everlasting remembrance upon the palms of our hands, God hath promised that all the afflictions of His children they shall work for the best (Rom. 8:28).

This is as true as God’s truth, I shall one day see and confess so much if I wait in patience; why, therefore, I will wait.

God is infinite in wisdom and power, to bring light out of darkness; so also He is true, and He will do it.

Therefore because I believe ‘I will not make haste;’ I will walk in the perfect way until he show deliverance.

This must be our resolution, and then it shall be unto us according to our faith; which God, for His Christ’s sake, grant unto us all!”

–Richard Sibbes, “The Matchless Mercy,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 7 (ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1639/2001), 1: 164.

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“The wonderful love and power of our great Shepherd” by John Newton

“How little does the world know of that intercourse which is carried on between heaven and earth; what petitions are daily presented, and what answers are received at a throne of grace!

O the blessed privilege of prayer! O the wonderful love, care, attention, and power of our great Shepherd! His eye is always upon us.

When our spirits are almost overwhelmed within us, He knoweth our path.

His ear is always open to us: let who will overlook and disappoint us, He will not.

When means and hope fail, when every thing looks dark upon us, when we seem shut up on every side, when we are brought to the lowest ebb, still our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

To Him all things are possible; and before the exertion of His power, when He is pleased to arise and work, all hindrances give way and vanish, like a mist before the sun.

And He can so manifest Himself to the soul, and cause His goodness to pass before it, that the hour of affliction shall be the golden hour of the greatest consolation.

He is the fountain of life, strength, grace and comfort, and of His fulness His children receive according to their occasions: but this is all hidden from the world.

They have no guide in prosperity, but hurry on as they are instigated by their blinded passions, and are perpetually multiplying mischiefs and miseries to themselves.

And in adversity they have no resource, but must feel all the evil of affliction, without inward support, and without deriving any advantage from it.

We have therefore cause for continual praise. The Lord has given us to know His name as a resting-place and a hiding-place, a sun and a shield.

Circumstances and creatures may change; but He will be an unchangeable friend. The way is rough, but He trod it before us, and is now with us in every step we take; and every step brings us nearer to our heavenly home.

Our inheritance is surely reserved for us, and we shall be kept for it by His power through faith.

Our present strength is small, and without a fresh supply would be quickly exhausted; but He has engaged to renew it from day to day.

And He will soon appear to wipe all tears from our eyes; and then we shall appear with Him in glory.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 2: 182-183.

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“Having this gift we have God the Father’s boundless love” by J.C. Ryle

If ye being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” (Luke 11:13)

There are few promises in the Bible so broad and unqualified as those contained in this wonderful passage. The last in particular deserves especial notice.

The Holy Spirit is beyond doubt the greatest gift which God can bestow upon man.

Having this gift, we have all things, life, light, hope and heaven.

Having this gift we have God the Father’s boundless love, God the Son’s atoning blood, and full communion with all three Persons of the blessed Trinity.

Having this gift, we have grace and peace in the world that now is, glory and honor in the world to come.

And yet this mighty gift is held out by our Lord Jesus Christ as a gift to be obtained by prayer!

“Your heavenly Father shall give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.”

There are few passages in the Bible which so completely strip the unconverted man of his common excuses as this passage.

He says he is “weak and helpless.” But does he ask to be made strong?

—He says he is “wicked and corrupt.” But does he seek to be made better?

—He says he “can do nothing of himself.” But does he knock at the door of mercy, and pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit?

—These are questions to which many, it may be feared, can make no answer. They are what they are, because they have no real desire to be changed.

They have not, because they ask not. They will not come to Christ, that they may have life; and therefore they remain dead in trespasses and sins.

And now, as we leave the passage, let us ask ourselves whether we know anything of real prayer?

Do we pray at all?

—Do we pray in the name of Jesus, and as needy sinners?

—Do we know what it is to “ask,” and “seek,” and “knock,” and wrestle in prayer, like men who feel that it is a matter of life or death, and that they must have an answer?

—Or are we content with saying over some old form of words, while our thoughts are wandering, and our hearts far away?

Truly we have learned a great lesson when we have learned that “saying prayers” is not praying!

If we do pray, let it be a settled rule with us, never to leave off the habit of praying, and never to shorten our prayers. A man’s state before God may always be measured by his prayers.

Whenever we begin to feel careless about our private prayers, we may depend upon it, there is something very wrong in the condition of our souls.

There are breakers ahead. We are in imminent danger of a shipwreck.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 2: 9-10. Ryle is commenting on Luke 11:5-13.

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“Lord God of ineffable goodness” by John Chrysostom

“Lord God,

of might inconceivable,

of glory incomprehensible,

of mercy immeasurable,

of goodness ineffable;

O Master, look down upon us

in Your tender love,

and show forth towards us

Your rich mercies and compassions.

In Christ’s name, Amen.”

—John Chrysostom, as quoted in Jonathan Gibson, Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 112.

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“Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the extraordinary conduct of two of the apostles, James and John.

We are told that a certain Samaritan village refused to show hospitality to our Lord. ‘They did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:53)

And then we read of a strange proposal which James and John made. ‘They said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?’ (Luke 9:54)

Here was zeal indeed, and zeal of a most plausible kind,—zeal for the honor of Christ! Here was zeal, justified and supported by a scriptural example, and that the example of no less a prophet than Elijah!

But it was not a zeal according to knowledge. The two disciples, in their heat, forgot that circumstances alter cases, and that the same action which may be right and justifiable at one time, may be wrong and unjustifiable at another.

They forgot that punishments should always be proportioned to offences, and that to destroy a whole village of ignorant people for a single act of discourtesy, would have been both unjust and cruel.

In short, the proposal of James and John was a wrong and inconsiderate one. They meant well, but they greatly erred.

Facts like this in the Gospels are carefully recorded for our learning. Let us see to it that we mark them well, and treasure them up in our minds.

It is possible to have much zeal for Christ, and yet to exhibit it in most unholy and unchristian ways.

It is possible to mean well and have good intentions, and yet to make most grievous mistakes in our actions.

It is possible to fancy that we have Scripture on our side, and to support our conduct by scriptural quotations, and yet to commit serious errors.

It is as clear as daylight, from this and other cases related in the Bible, that it is not enough to be zealous and well-meaning.

Very grave faults are frequently committed with good intentions. From no quarter perhaps has the Church received so much injury as from ignorant but well-meaning men.

We must seek to have knowledge as well as zeal. Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general, and a ship without a rudder.

We must pray that we may understand how to make a right application of Scripture. The Word is no doubt ‘a light to our feet, and a lantern to our path.’

But it must be the Word rightly handled, and properly applied.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 254-255. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:51-56.

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