A Companion for Prayer
OR, Directions for Improvement in Grace and Practical Godliness in times of extraordinary Danger.
By Richard Alleine, Author of Vinditiae Pietatis.
LONDON: • Printed for Thomas Cockerill at the Three Legs in the Poultry, 1680.
The proposal made in your letter concerning Prayer has deeply impacted me and has led to some reflections of my own. Despite acknowledging my own inadequacies, I found myself repeatedly returning to these thoughts. I now present the outcome of these reflections for your consideration.
We all understand and teach that it is only through sincere and reformed Prayers that we can find favour with God. It is concerning that in this stagnant and declining era, there might be numerous believers who engage in the act of Prayer, but for whom this merely substitutes genuine Reformation. It is especially to such individuals that the Directions in the enclosed Document are directed. I send them to you, requesting that you peruse them, and subsequently take whatever action you deem appropriate. I implore you, relying on your trustworthy and supportive nature, to exercise your complete freedom in either retaining them privately or alternatively sharing and publishing them. Any revisions, amendments, or additions that you consider necessary would be gratefully received. May the Lord forgive any shortcomings and accept the sincere intentions of my endeavours in this matter. I entrust you to His Grace and find my solace in Him.
Your unworthy Friend and Servant, RICHARD ALLEINE
A COMPANION FOR PRAYER:
OR, Directions for Improvement in Grace and Practical Godliness, &c.
To facilitate and encourage the diligent observance of the subsequent Directions, let the following points be stated beforehand.
The Power of Religion has considerably declined, or at least has come to a standstill, among numerous Professors in England. Undoubtedly, this requires no proof, considering the numerous and sorrowful displays of this fact before us.
This has led to a divine dispute with us in our present times. Revelation 2:4. Whatever dispute the Lord has with the wicked among us, whose extreme wickedness has brought them to the brink of vengeance, His particular quarrel appears to be with His own people. By observing at whom the arrows are primarily aimed, we can infer against whom His special anger is directed. Towards whom do our adversaries (the instruments of His anger) open their mouths wide, stick out their tongues, and raise their most vehement hands?
No Prayers will be effective, nor offer any assistance, except the Prayers of those who have resolved the Lord's dispute and settled it. Those who maintain a special connection with whom the Lord has a quarrel are unlikely to be successful mediators for others. We choose the favourites of rulers to intercede on our behalf with them.
The resolution of God's dispute cannot occur without the elimination of the issue through repentance and reformation. Revelation 2:5. Isaiah 1:15, 16, 18. When you pray at length, I will not listen; your hands are stained with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, etc. Come now, and let us discuss this. Joshua 7:10. Get up; why do you lie with your face to the ground? Israel has sinned – they have taken what was condemned; and verse 12. I will not be with you any longer unless you remove the condemned thing from among you. Is there no condemned thing among even the followers of Religion? Behold! The wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment – their pride and greed concealed in their hearts as in a tent. Search for these, and every other condemned thing within you; destroy them if you desire the Lord to be reconciled.
If we can arouse such a spirit of Prayer among us that leads to Holiness and a true correction of our wrongdoings, it would bring solace and offer great prospects even in the most challenging situations.
Therefore, when we entreat God for His assistance in times of public fears, dangers, or distresses, our primary focus should be on imploring the Lord for forgiveness, purification, and sanctification of our own hearts and lives. If we do not succeed in this, we will be as ineffective as a decayed tooth or a dislocated bone, no matter our efforts or actions. Unless we can pray for a spirit of Holiness within ourselves – a spirit of Love, Power, and Soundness of mind – our prayers are unlikely to yield meaningful results in obtaining Mercy for the people. The Devil permits us to approach the Throne of Grace as long as we carry our stubborn and unyielding hearts with us. If we fail to become holy individuals of the Lord, despite our numerous Prayers, He will not listen. The interest and prospects of God's people hinge on the outpouring of the sanctifying and invigorating spirit upon them. Therefore, our initial prayers should focus on this.
Mere prayer alone will not suffice. To advance our Reformation, there must be a consistent and diligent employment of all other means provided by God throughout our entire lives.
Some of these means are outlined in the subsequent Directions.
Directive 1. Take up a deep and serious determination to progress in genuine Religion. Do not settle for, do not be satisfied with what you have already achieved; instead, resolve to move forward and pursue what you have not yet attained. Do not content yourself with progressing as your flesh dictates, but rouse yourself to ardently follow the Lord. Make this a deliberate decision and intent of your hearts. Ask yourself, "How am I doing? Is my soul thriving? Are my actions pleasing to the Lord? What are my expectations and hopes? What is the purpose and focus of my life? Is it to magnify Christ through me, and to partake in His Holiness, displaying His Virtues in my generation? Can I echo the Apostle and say, 'For me, to live is Christ'?" Ah, what a wretched state – how profoundly has self and the world shared in my devotion to the Lord! Oh, how little of my time, talents, strength, and even my heart have been dedicated as Holiness to the Lord! How much of me has been left untouched for the world? However, what do you intend for the future? Will you change the intent and direction of your heart from now on? Come, my friend, will you establish a plan and firmly commit to a more vigilant, fruitful, and heavenly life? If you are not willing to decide and resolve upon a better life, you will certainly not be persuaded to actually live it. A good start is half the work done; a holy determination set deeply is a commendable beginning.
Directive 2. Let God's calls to extraordinary prayer and an awareness of the urgency for your revival and reformation in prayer inspire you to actively pursue your holy determination with vigor. Now is the time when your hearts are most receptive, armed with such compelling reasons before you and the opportunity to achieve two significant goals: saving yourselves and the people from both iniquity and calamity.
Directive 3. As you pursue this goal, carry out everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Do not be disheartened by the prospect of challenges; rely on Him for His assistance. Strengthen your resolve with the words of the Apostle in Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Directive 4. Keep your focus and your heart fixed on God and the eternal realm. Be able to declare along with the Apostle in Philippians 3:20: "Our citizenship is in heaven." In other words, your life's purpose lies there – not only concerning spiritual and heavenly matters, but also in communion with God Himself. Dwell at the source and origin; all your light, purity, holiness, and strength must flow from there. Frequently raise your gaze upwards; as you behold the glory of the Lord like in a mirror, you will be transformed from glory to glory, into the same Image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Look often and intensely at the unseen things, if you wish to be liberated from the influence of the visible things. Focus your eyes on the Sun, and you will perceive dimness and darkness on the earth; wrap yourself in the Sun's radiance, and the Moon will be beneath your feet.
Directive 5. Ensure that no tolerated sin resides in your heart or conduct (Psalm 66:18). If I cling to iniquity in my heart, God will not listen to my prayer or assist me. A tolerated sin is like dead flesh in a wound; regardless of the remedies applied, it will not heal until the dead flesh is removed. You can profess, pray, and listen throughout your life, yet you will not prosper as long as you harbor any indulged sin.
Directive 6. Maintain consistency and urgency in your daily, private, and family prayers. Do not let extraordinary prayer replace your regular prayer; and do not let neglecting regular prayer render you unfit for extraordinary prayer. Make sure the path to your private place of prayer is well-trodden. One who maintains a connection with Heaven through frequent communion with God is most likely to prevail with God in the most pressing and challenging situations. Those who are fervent in prayer are often the ones who become powerful in prayer.
Directive 7. In all your prayers, both regular and extraordinary, keep your focus (not only primarily, but) firstly on the condition of your own souls. The progress you make here will provide a dual benefit: 1. There will be greater hope for your petitions to be heard for the public good. 2. If the Lord does not grant mercy for public matters and deliverance, you will be better prepared for trials. Even if God were to show mercy to the public, disperse our clouds, calm our storms, and cause our light to break forth like the morning, along with our righteousness shining as the noonday sun – what would all this mean to you, who remains unrighteous? What value would it hold, if throughout the entire Land of Canaan there were light, yet you stood amidst it, shrouded in the darkness of Egypt? What if dew covered all the grass in the field, but only your piece remained dry? What if you were to witness your people becoming a favoured, holy, and fruitful nation, while you stood as a withered and parched tree amidst the flourishing Cedars? Put your own heart to the test, for no matter how much spiritual abundance you may perceive in Israel, you will not partake in it. Cease talking about the hope of seeing good days; what significance would that hold unless you acquire a transformed heart?
Directive 8. Let your prayers be followed by constant attention to your ways. Do not allow your prayers to stand in place of repentance and reform; instead, may they motivate you towards fulfilling your entire duty. Let entering your private place of prayer be like ascending heavenwards, and when you leave, do not let it be a descent from Heaven to Earth for your souls. Ensure that your actions and ways are consistent; live as devout Christians. Do not let the spirituality of your mornings and evenings condone or encourage your worldly attitudes throughout the day. Maintain reverence for the Lord all through the day, as stated in Proverbs 23:17.
Directive 9. Whatever spiritual insights you receive from God within your own soul, be generous in sharing with others. I mean this in terms of holy conversations and discussions. Sharing and communicating is the best way to thrive, as Proverbs 11:24 suggests: "There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more; and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want." This applies to spiritual matters just as much as it does to material possessions. Those who grow richer in their relationship with God are often the ones who, by sharing what they have received, strive to enrich others as well. Give the inner fire of holiness within you an outlet, and it will burn more brightly. Do not keep your faith to yourselves; let your overflowing cup spill over, let your words flow like honey, let your speech be a source of life, and let your lips feed many, as Proverbs 10:11 suggests. Build each other up in the most Holy Faith, encourage one another to love and good deeds. Let your families, your spouses, your children, your neighbours, and acquaintances receive light from your lamp, and warmth from your fire. There's no doubt that one aspect of God's contention with Christians is that many of them engage in worldly and unwholesome conversations. Is this true for you? Can you acknowledge this within yourself? Oh, improve, improve, and ensure that you do not remain such an unproductive soul. Even if your level of grace is low, do not expect to rise higher unless you make better use of what you already have.
Directive 1. Reflect on your current level of attainment and be thankful; draw encouragement from it to continue striving and hoping for more. Have you received God's Grace, and has His Grace abundantly flowed towards you and within you? Do you possess a testimony within that affirms you have not received the Grace of God in vain? But are you striving to live in a manner worthy of the Grace in which you stand? Rejoice in the Lord, let all that is within you bless His Holy Name, and consider what you have received as a pledge of greater things to come. Step firmly on the neck of every subdued lust, be even more resolute in your spiritual battle, and find joy in the expectation of a complete and ultimate victory. Just as a soldier's courage is emboldened when a wing of the enemy's army is routed or begins to retreat, follow the same principle. Emulate this approach, and let the beginning of your journey, much more your growth in Grace, and your personal encounters with it, fuel your determination to pursue an even greater advancement.
Directive 2. Reflect on your distinctive corruptions, weaknesses, needs, omissions, temptations, or your most common failures. 1. Identify your particular corruptions, assess how far you've managed to overcome them, and identify the areas where you are struggling. For certain individuals, Pride may be predominant, while for others, it could be Covetousness, Sensuality, Slothfulness, Peevishness, or other similar traits. In some cases, these vices might have become so entrenched that they overshadow and stifle the growth of positive qualities. 2. Examine your specific deficiencies or weaknesses in terms of Grace. Identify the virtues where you are most lacking or vulnerable – whether it's Faith, Love, Peacefulness, Meekness, Humility, Patience, and so on. 3. Recognize which Duties, such as Prayer, Meditation, Self-reflection, etc., you tend to overlook or struggle to engage in comfortably. 4. Identify the Temptations that most frequently assail you or lead to your defeat. 5. Analyze your most common moral failings. At this point, let it be a reminder to those who profess Religion to reflect if they have fallen into these three pitfalls, among many others. 1. An excessive and eager pursuit of worldly gain: The zeal for material riches has overshadowed their devotion to God for some individuals. Oh, how your soul has been impoverished while you have been engrossed in worldly matters, and have been showered with its successes! Some prosperous believers might look back to the days of their youth and feel troubled. The thought, "When I was younger in this world, I was better off than I am now," could pierce their hearts, shattering their joy and draining the sweetness from their abundance. "I remember the love of my youth, the time of my engagement to God; but where am I now? My rise has led to my fall." 2. An indulgence in frivolous merriment and a carefree lifestyle; some have abandoned their solemn walk before the Lord of Hosts and indulged in merry living with the world. They have ceased mourning with those who mourn and instead joined in laughter with those who laugh. They jest, play, and engage in frivolities with the worldly individuals, perhaps even drinking and associating with drinkers. Frequenting drinking establishments has now become socially acceptable: Tradespeople who are believers, especially in cities or large towns, often spend hours over coffee, ale, or wine under the pretense of business efficiency. They carry themselves in such a way that they are scarcely distinguishable from the world's convivial crowd, perhaps only by the fact that they do not become excessively intoxicated. While the liberty to participate in such gatherings or locations may sometimes be necessary (as it could be argued), do not use this liberty as an opportunity to indulge the flesh. 3. An excessive focus on flamboyant or excessively expensive attire, wherein some believers shine and outdo even the most dashing individuals of the earth. Amongst some believers, there is not just a tendency to neglect but also to scorn and dismiss the old standard that was previously observed among Christians in these and similar matters. It's as though they have been liberated by the Gospel not only from the Law of Moses but also from the moral guidelines of Christ. To these three, let me add another evil: 4. Neglecting their families – failing to instruct, educate, and properly discipline them. The consequences of this neglect are evident in the ignorance, errors, rudeness, and disorderliness that prevail among many of them. Not a few individuals take care of themselves but leave their children unattended, allowing them considerable latitude that results in painful outcomes – the fruits of their own negligence. Let Joshua's resolution become your own: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).
Now diligently search and consider yourself in all these things; and when you have faithfully examined yourself and your ways, and have discovered where you are most faulty or lacking, and where you are prejudiced and hindered, then conclude: "Here lies my great difficulty, and therefore here lies my great work, if I ever want to progress. If I desire to mortify this particular corruption or strengthen that specific grace, avoid or guard against these particular temptations, and correct these specific faults, I must deal with what hinders me and remove it."
Directive 3. Direct the majority of your spiritual effort towards the areas where you are most deficient or struggling. The Devil will gladly let us engage in other aspects of Religion, as long as he can keep us away from those areas where we are most challenged. Our deceitful hearts will settle for what is easier and more pleasant, using it as a way to avoid dealing with what is more difficult and requires more effort. We will not effectively cleanse or progress until we identify the right remedy and strike at the right target.
This is a rational and judicious approach: focus your main strength where you face the greatest difficulty or weakness. Once you've identified your primary stumbling blocks, make it your first priority in every prayer, whether regular or special, to seek help in those specific cases. Request assistance for your weakness in particular graces or duties, the power of specific lusts, corruptions, or temptations, and your frequent failures in everyday interactions. Be watchful over these areas and actively work against them in your life. Concentrate your prayers and vigilance on combating the strength of sin. Direct your main efforts against the strongholds, and guard the weakened walls with strong defenses and watchfulness.
Directive 4. Measure your progress in Religion by the improvement you achieve in those areas where you have been most deficient or fallen short. Do not evaluate yourself based on the aspects of Religion that are easiest, but rather by how well you manage in your most challenging circumstances.
Some professing individuals might appear to be overflowing with positive emotions and have an elevated and expanded experience during their prayers. They might even enjoy a profound peace, feeling as if they have achieved the full assurance of faith. However, despite all of this, they might be poor Christians throughout this time. Ask them, "How is your Soul?" They may reply, "Oh, I am comforted by the Lord. I experience sweet communion with God in prayer, and I live in the refreshing light of His countenance. He blesses my steps with abundance, and His Sun shines upon my path. I am thankful to the Lord; I walk comfortably." But hold on for a moment, ask yourself, "How is it with your old corruptions? You were once intolerably proud, or stubborn, or attached to earthly matters, or a joyful and frivolously merry person. How have you progressed with those very corruptions that caused you so much anguish? What about your response to temptation? Do you fear and avoid it, making an effort to stay out of harm's way? And when you are actually tempted with Pride or Covetousness, when provoked to anger or impatience, how do you fare? How do you cope with your habitual failings in your interactions? Have you stepped back from the pursuit of worldly grandeur? Were you once a zealous seeker of material wealth, but now demonstrate more moderation? Were you previously a slothful, apathetic soul in matters concerning God, and are you now more diligent and industrious? Do you serve the Lord in spirit?" If you once led a jovial and carefree life, do you now demonstrate more seriousness? Have you left behind your deceitful ways? Were you once driven by self-interest and a desire to please the flesh? But can you now say, through God's Grace, you are living a self-denying life? And are you truly denying yourself in those very areas where you used to seek personal gratification?" Subject yourself to a rigorous and exacting assessment here. Recognize that if you have not managed to break down the stronghold, if your prevailing lusts still exert their power over you, if the old sore continues to fester, if the old stream persists in its course – even if you appear to be brimming with positive emotions, even if you have great confidence in your spiritual state – it is a clear indication that your condition is not as favorable as you think. Assess the level of success you have achieved in those areas where your primary difficulties lie; your degree of spiritual prosperity is commensurate with your progress in these areas, and no more.
Direct 5. Gauge your expectations of the answers to your prayers for the public by your experience of their effectiveness in your own specific cases. If your sin remains unaddressed despite your prayers, your enemies, fears, and dangers are unlikely to dissipate sooner due to such praying. You may not know what God can do through the prayers of others, but your situation is unlikely to improve. If you struggle against the footmen within you and they prove too formidable, how will you manage against those who ride upon horses? If you cannot halt the murky streams of your own reservoir, how will you stand firm against the rising waters of the Jordan? If your prayers have little impact on setting your own heart or household in order, how can you expect them to achieve anything against the forces of the ungodly? Remember the Scripture mentioned earlier, Psalm 66:18, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear my prayer."
On the other hand, if you do experience success and prevail in your personal situation, there is hope in this. It's an indication that your prayers are received by God. If the Lord accepts your prayers for yourself or your household, it provides greater hope that He will also accept your prayers for His own house and people. If He accepts you in their regard, He will either deliver them from distress, and you will have the honor of being among those for whose sake deliverance comes, or if He does not grant your request regarding the public matter, He will not fail to give you your own soul as a reward, even if He does not grant you the lives of those who sail with you on the ship.
And now, you comprehend the most effective approach available to help at a critical juncture, to aid the poor distressed Churches of God during this time of their need. Such prayers that bear the fruit of personal sanctification can significantly contribute to the holiness and happiness of the people. If anything can achieve this, it's through this means.
Therefore, prepare yourself and engage earnestly in this timely and potent duty. Enter your private chambers, lift your hearts, release your souls, pour out your tears, weep in your prayers, grieve over your own sins and the fears of the people, and humble yourselves fervently before the Lord. Make a sincere attempt, discover the strength of your prayers. Pray genuinely from within yourself and at home. Seek and implore, wrestle and rely, and await the Salvation of God, which will eventually manifest in due time for His people.
Finally, let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter, and consider what will be the outcome of all this. What will you do now? If I were to simply inquire, who among you will participate and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the Church of the living God? Everyone would likely respond, "I will, and I will also." No one would want to remain silent, saying, "God forbid that I should keep quiet. I will pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Let those who love you prosper. May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces. For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will pray. May there be peace within you, because of the House of the Lord our God. I will seek your good."
If further questioned, "Who will pray for the downfall of Babylon?" The answer would still come from every one of us who desire the peace of Jerusalem. "Bring it down to the ground, to the very foundations. Remember, O Lord, the Children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem, who said, 'Tear it down, tear it down, even to its foundation.' O Daughter of Babylon, who will be destroyed, happy shall he be who rewards you as you have served us."
But if you wish your prayers to be heard, then rise from where you are and each individual should commit to personal reform. Abandon your sins and detach from the world. Elevate Christ within your hearts if you desire the downfall of Antichrist on Earth. Let Christ have a preeminent place within you, above every other name. Let everyone who invokes the name of Christ depart from iniquity, their own iniquity. Do not seek for material provisions, such as grain, wine, or personal security, where each person can sit beneath their own Vine and Fig Tree without fear. Instead, seek the Lord. Seek that the Lord God may dwell among you, take pleasure in you, and be glorified through you. Then, you will truly become a people of His holiness and a people of His prayer. Strive to share in His holiness, pursue holiness, and strive in such a way that you may attain it. Cultivate a heart earnestly dedicated to this holy purpose, and zealously pursue it. The Lord will certainly accept you and answer your prayers. Your profane adversaries will learn to be cautious of mocking or boasting against the prayers of the Saints. It was said of a prominent Church leader that when several Ministers were dismissed from their positions due to non-conformity, he disdainfully remarked, "We'll expel them and see if they can pray their way back in." Raise [holy] hands to the Lord just once, and God will respond in such a way that they will be wary of boasting against prayer again. And even if they dare to question, "Where is your God?" Do not doubt that in a short time, this song will be on your lips: "Look, this is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation."
However, if you are content to merely pray while continuing your old ways, allowing your sins and worldly matters to take precedence, such individuals should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Therefore, once again, you are encouraged to reach a conclusion on this matter and decide what you will do. If you are still unwilling to wholeheartedly engage in this necessary pursuit of advancing in holiness, then you might as well step aside and abstain from the aspect of Prayer, as we cannot anticipate any significant contribution from you. However, if you are resolved to embrace the former option with the utmost seriousness, you will find greater success in the latter endeavor. Let both aspects progress together, and from that point onward, anticipate positive outcomes in both.
So, shall this resolution be put into immediate effect? Utter the word once, but let it be spoken with an unwavering determination. Alternatively, consider this advice (which I implore you not to overlook): starting from the day of your next solemn engagement before God in the duty of praying for the public, let your resolution be established. If necessary, document the exact day, and then proceed with careful dedication. With each subsequent return to this solemn commitment, renew it explicitly and sincerely. O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, imprint this steadfastly in the thoughts and intentions of your people's hearts, and prepare their hearts for your divine presence.