Sanctifying the Name of God in Prayer

by Jeremiah Burroughs

I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.- LEVITICUS. 10. 3.

We are first to sanctify God's Name in regard of the matter of our prayers. And secondly, in regard of the manner. For the first, we made an end of it the last day, and came unto the manner, and there were two things mentioned.

First, that we must pray with understanding. Secondly, we must give up ourselves to prayer. Now in the close of the exercise we had occasion to fall upon that argument about the wandering of our thoughts in prayer, and by that we come to take God's name in vain, in stead of sanctifying of his Name; God expects that we should have our thoughts, and wills, and affections, our whole souls acting upon him in the duty of prayer, or else we do not pray to God as unto a God; vain thoughts in prayer do pick up the sacrifice like the birds that Abraham drove away from the sacrifice, that they should not peck it. Wicked lusts in mens hearts are like swine to take the meat and all to hale it in the dirt, so their prayers are filthy and dirty with their lusts; but those that are otherwise godly, yet by their vain thoughts the beauty and excellency of their prayers is taken away; as wine and beer that have the spirits of them gone, so the life and spirit of our duties are gone by our vain thoughts, and therefore vain thoughts do dead the heart very much. So saith David in the 119. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in thy Law: while our eyes look upon vanity, there will be no quickness in our hearts in any service that we tender up to God; now many of God's people have experience of the evil of this, and they groan under the burden of this, and as I said the last time, if so be that the Lord should speak from heaven to them and ask them what they would have, they having already the assurance of his love in Christ, they would ask the deliverance from a vain spirit in the performance of holy duties, Bring no vain Oblations saith God in Isa. 1. 13. Oh what vain oblations do we bring by the vanity of our thoughts in prayer! tis true, the best of all will have vain thoughts sometimes; but yet, as one compares the vain thoughts of men in prayer, like unto a spaniel that goes out with a man, he walks perhaps but half a mile, but the spaniel will be running up and down, this way and that way, and if all the space of ground which the spaniel hath gone over should be measured, it may be while you are walking half a mile, the spaniel fetching compasses here and there would be half a dozen miles, so our fancies are like a spaniel which will have fetches about this way and that way, in a thousand vain thoughts; but thus now it is with a godly man; as a spaniel though running from his master, yet if he give him a call, he is able to call him to him presently; and it were well if it were so with us, though our fancies be wild yet if we were able to call in our fancies and to have them at command it were well with us: And I find it very much that those that are newcomers they complain much of the vanity of their thoughts, they were wont to pray before, and they never had such vain thoughts as now they have; the reason why there is so much vanity of thoughts, or at least so much taken notice of, It is first because there is but a little grace in the midst of a great deal of corruption in young converts, like a spark of fire in the midst of a great deal of ashes; now if there lies a heap of ashes and nothing else,you do not stir them; but if there be ashes and some fire, then you will stir them and be blowing those sparks to kindle another fire by. Now when you come to make any motion, then the ashes will fly about, whereas before they lay still; so it is here; before God wrought upon thy heart, there was nothing else but ashes upon thy soul, and then they lay still, but now God hath kindled some sparks of grace in thy heart, and God is blowing them up to a greater heat, and is bringing of them to a flame; upon this motion that is in thy heart, and the stirring to kindle those sparks further in thy heart, it is that the ashes of thy corruptions do as it were fly about thine ears, and that there is such stirrings of corruption more then there was before, 'tis not because there is more corruption then there was formerly, but before there being nothing else but corruption it lay still, and now because there is something else, therefore it is that corruption doth so stir; and besides you know a man that was wont to keep lewd company, if God turn him that he will keep that company no more, at first he shall be more troubled with them then he was before; and they will keep oftener knocking at his door, and labouring to get him to them again; so 'tis here, when the soul, vanity and lusts were as friends together there was no disturbance, and taking notice of anything then, but now when the soul is casting out those sinful distempers, and will have no more of them, they for the present will be more importunate, active and stirring then they were before. And besides, the Lord doth this to humble thy heart the more, that thereby thou mayest come to see the great corruption that was in thy soul before; the working of thy corruptions will discover much evil in thy heart, that thou didest not think was there before; when the corruptions of men and women lie still, they think there is no such thing in their souls, as your civil men, what's the reason that they bless themselves and think they are in a good condition, its because their corruptions lie still in them and do not stir, they cannot believe what abundance of wickedness there is in their hearts, if God should open the wickedness that there is in the hearts of men naturally, and so all unregenerate men they would think you speak strange riddles, whereas they bless themselves; they bless God; they know no such thing in their hearts; not yes there are such things, only they are not stirred, but they lie quiet as mud in the bottom of a pond, there it is, yet you cannot see it till it be stirred; at first conversion I say the Lord suffers thy corruption thus to stir, that he may discover to thee what an evil heart thou hast, what abundance of sin there is in thy heart, and therefore your young converts, they look upon themselves more loathsome and vile then ever they thought they had been.

And besides the Devil sees it a vain thing to tempt a young convert to any gross act of sin; when conscience hath life and power in it, he shall never prevail that way; but now he thinks he may prevail to disturb them with vain thoughts, and therefore he lays his strength most that way; therefore let not such be discouraged, that find their spirits annoyed and pestered with them, if they make them to be the burden of their souls; notwithstanding much vanity of thoughts, the Lord will accept of any desire that they have to sanctify his name in holy duties, and I shall give you these three or four rules to help you against these wandering and vain thoughts in holy duties, and especially in prayer.

First, when thou goest to prayer, account it to be a great work; set a high price upon thy prayer; not as having any excellency in it as it comes from thee; but set a high price upon it as a great ordinance of God, wherein there is communion with God to be enjoyed, and the influence of the grace of God to be conveyed through it; so set a high price upon prayer, at every time thou art going to prayer; Lord, I am now setting upon a work that is of very great consequence, and much lies upon it, and I would account it to be a sore and a great evil to me, if I should lose but this prayer: this would be a special means to compose thy spirit; and to keep thee from wandering, as Nehemiah, in Nehem. 6. 3. a place that I have sometimes quoted upon such an occasion, when the enemies of Nehemiah that would hinder the building of the temple, sent to him that they might talk together, no saith he; I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down; so when the Devil and the vanity of thine own heart, would send to thee to parley, and talk as it were with thee, give an answer, I cannot stand parlaying with these things; the work that I am about is a great work; there are very few people that do account the work of prayer a great work; if thou didst, it would help thee much against the vanity of thy thoughts.

Secondly, every time thou goest to prayer, thou that art most troubled with such vain thoughts, renew thy resolutions against them; I have been troubled with vain thoughts heretofore, and am afraid, if I look not to it, that I shall lose this prayer also; and therefore O Lord, here I renew my resolutions to set against them in this prayer with all my might; it is very much that may be done by strong resolutions, and especially if thy strong resolutions be renewed resolutions; for an old resolution begins to grow weak; a man that hath resolved upon a thing a great while ago, it hath little power ever him; but now when a man hath resolved upon a thing but this morning, and just at the time when he is going about it, now he doth resolve upon it, and set himself upon it, and doth resolve through the grace of God, that whatsoever difficulty he meets with all, whatsoever it cost him, that he will go through this work, I say that resolutions renewed have a great deal of power; and you cannot imagine what a great deal of power the renewing of resolution against vain thoughts will have, if they were renewed every time thou goest to prayer, until thou gettest power over thy thoughts, do but make trial of this; thou hast lost many a prayer by vain thoughts; and thou hast been troubled for them, and yet they come again; do but try for this week; as I remember I said in the point of passion and anger, that we should resolve with ourselves well, whatsoever falls out this morning, I am resolved I will bear it; so bethink thyself how many prayers thou hast lost by vain thoughts: and now renew thy resolutions, and covenant with God, that for this prayer, I will set my self against them, whatsoever pains I take, I will be sure yet withal to look up to God's grace to assist one, I will be sure this prayer to keep my heart close to what I am about; & perhaps that will help you a little; but yet some vain thoughts will come for all that; then the next night renew them again; and the next morning renew them again; and that till thou commest to a habit of keeping thy heart close to the duty, though now thou feelest thy heart so wild, that thou thinkest it is impossible to bring it into order, but certainly by such a means, thy heart will be brought into order.

Thirdly, be sure to set the presence of God before you in prayer, have a real light of the infinite greatness, majesty, and glory of that you present yourselves unto, when you are are calling upon him; if so be that thou canst have a real fight of God in his glory, it will keep thy heart close to the duty, as if a man be wandering with his eyes, and looking after every feather, if the king or some great person come into the room, all his thoughts would be about the king, or the great person that were coming in: so if you would present the Lord in his glory and greatness, excellency, majesty, and power, before you, and what a dreadful God he is in himself, and yet what a merciful God he is to us in his Son: this would mightily compose our hearts, certainly men and women that are so wandering in their prayers; it is because their eyes are not open to look upon God in his glory, they are as it were dreaming and do not apprehend that God stands and looks upon them, and observes them, and that God takes notice of every wandering thought that comes from them; they do not consider that God doth converse with the thoughts of men, as well as men do with the words of men; thats a third rule.

Fourthly, Take heed thou beest not deceived; because that those thoughts thou hast in prayer, do not appear to be very evil in themselves. This is a great deceit and hinders many in the sanctifying of God's Name in prayer; there is sometimes darted in some vain thoughts; now because the thought hath no great evil in it self, therefore they think they may play with it, and their hearts close with it, and so run along with it as the fish doth with the bait; if the Devil casts in a thought of blasphemy, that makes thee quake and shake; but if thy thoughts have no great evil in them, but they are slight things; matters of no moment one way or other, upon that thy heart begins to be dandling, and playing with them; therefore remember this rule, That in the time of prayer, whatsoever thoughts be in thy mind that do not concern the present duty, they are sinful before God, though the thoughts for the matter of them be never so good, yet thou art to abandon them as sinful at that time. Therefore never be deceived with this, that the thoughts are not very sinful: that's another rule.

In the last place observe this rule, if ever God hath helped thee at any time in prayer, that thy heart hath been kept close to a duty, and thou hast had communion with him, bless God for that, bless God for that help; tis a rule of very great use for us to get further assistance from God in anything, if so be our hearts be enlarged to bless God for any assistance we have had heretofore; and the reason why we gain and prosper so little in our Christian course, it is because we do not take notice of what God hath done for us, to give God glory for mercies formerly received, and therefore God takes little or no delight in coming in with further mercies to us; as if you had a young nursery of trees, and they began to thrive very well, but there comes a company of caterpillars and spoils almost all the young trees that are set, only two or three are kept from the caterpillars; a man goes into his orchard, and looks upon his trees, and this is spoiled, and that is spoiled; but he sees two or three and these flourish fairly, and these are full of buds, and are like to come to something, and he rejoices mightily in those, because they are saved when so many others are spoiled; and so do thou view thy prayers, and consider how many hath been spoiled as it were by these caterpillars; for I compare wandering vain thoughts in prayer unto Ccaterpillars that are upon the trees; and we see that if stormy rainy weather comes the caterpillars will fall; and one would think that these blustering storms and the hand of God that hath been out against us, should have cleansed our thoughts and souls from these caterpillars that have been upon our duties, but many duties have been spoiled; yet thou mayest say, that through God's mercy such a morning in my closet, the Lord hath preserved a prayer to himself, and I have gotten power over this vain heart of mine, bless God for this, and so the Spirit of God will be more ready to come in and help thee another time; but thus much shall suffice to speak to this, that's the second thing, we must give up ourselves wholly to this duty.

The third thing for the sanctifying of God's name in prayer is this, there must be the breathings of the Spirit of God, otherwise God's name is not sanctified; that in Rom. 8. 26. is clear for this, likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; if any of you should say how can we sanctify God's name, we are poor and weak, we can do little? Mark, it is said here, that the Spirit helpeth our infirmities to pray, and the word is exceeding emphatic in the original; in your books tis but merely helping our infirmities, but the meaning of the word is, in these two things, the Spirit helps; that is, look how a man that is taking up a heavy piece of timber at one end, he alone cannot get it up, but there comes another and takes it up at the other end and so helps him; The word signifies such a kind of helping, as when a man takes a thing at the other end, or on the other side, one standing the one way, and the other standing the other way, or one taking up one end, and the other the other end, that is the meaning of it; he helps our infirmities, the poor soul is pulling and tugging with its own heart, and finds his heart heavy and dull, like a log in a ditch, and have not many of you found your hearts so? but now then when you are tugging with your hearts, and would fain lift up your hearts to God in prayer, there comes the Spirit of God at the other end, and takes the heaviest end of the burden and helps you to lift it up; if a child were at one end of the log, and that were but light, and the other end very heavy, if one come and take up the heaviest end, a little strength will serve for the lighter end; so the Spirit comes and takes up the heavier end in duty, and so helps our infirmities; helps together, and then the other word is the Spirit; that is together with the acting of the graces of the Spirit in our hearts, you must not say so; Alas!, what can I do? it must be the Spirit of God that must do all; it is true, he doth all.

First, he gives converting and habitual grace, and assisting and actuating grace; but now when the Spirit hath wrought grace so as to convert the heart, and hath given habitual grace in thy heart, why then when the Spirit comes to assist it, doth expect that thou shouldest stir up all the gifts and graces of the Spirit, and the very strength of thy body; the Spirit of God expects that thou shouldest act to the uttermost thou art able, what power hath been given thee by God, and when thou art in acting, then the Spirit comes and helps together with us; noting that we are to put forth what strength we have, and thus God's name will be sanctified, when as we putting forth the graces of the Spirit in us, then the Spirit comes and helps; and what comes from us now, comes from the breathings of the Holy-Spirit in us, and then God who knows the meaning of the Spirit, will know now the meaning of our sighs and groans; therefore when thou art going to prayer, thou art to eye the Spirit of God; thou art by the eye of faith to look upon the Spirit of God, and to cast thy soul upon the assistance of the Spirit of God, thou art to look upon the Holy-Ghost, as appointed by the Father and the Son to that office, to be a helper to his poor servants in the duties of worship, and especially in that great duty of prayer; now upon the reading of this text, and having it thus opened, this is one good help for thee in prayer; read this text, and then exercise thy faith upon it; Lord hast thou not said that thy Spirit helps our infirmities, when we know not what to pray for, nor how to pray for any thing as we ought? but the Spirit will come, now Lord make good this word of thine to my soul at this time, and let me have the breathings of the Spirit of God in me; alas the breaths of men, if it come from gifts and parts, I know thou wilt never regard it, except there be the breathings of the Holy-Ghost in me in prayer; now, if you would know whether the Spirit of God doth come in or no, you may know it by this; the Spirit of God carries unto God, and it makes the prayer sweet and delightful, so much of the Spirit of God as is there, it comes to the soul in the duty, and it leaves a savor behind it; a gracious savoir is always left behind, when the Spirit of God comes to breath; O the breath of the Spirit of God is a sweet breath, and it makes prayers sweet; it never comes into the soul but after it hath done any work it came for, it leaves a sweet scent, after that, the soul finds a sweetness in that prayer; now many of you have been in the morning at prayer, but I appeal to you; what sweet savor of the Spirit of God is left behind? Certainly if the Spirit hath been there it is like civil that is put into a little box, though you should take out the civit, yet there will be a sweet savor left behind; so though the Spirit of God, in respect of the present assistance, withdraws Himself, yet it leaves a sweet savor behind.

The fourth thing is, purity of heart; pure heart and hands, in Heb. 10. 22. Rev. 5. 8. having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors which are the prayers of saints; mark, the prayers of the saints are odors in golden vials, the golden vials I may compare to the heart; the hearts of the saints must be as golden vials, and then their prayers will be as odors; in 1 Tim. 2. 8. the Holy-Ghost giving directions how we should pray, it is with this qualification, I will therefore that men pray every where lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting; the outward conversation must be pure, and the heart pure; in Job 22. 26. mark whats said concerning that holy man; there's a promise made to him for the lifting up of his face to God, putting away iniquity from his tabernacle, that by putting away evil from our tabernacles, and so from our hearts, we may be able to lift up our hearts with joy to go; and thats the fifth thing, purity of heart and hands.

The sixth thing is, in truth, when we come to call upon God, we must call upon him in truth, Psal. 145. 18. the Lord is nigh unto all, to all that call upon him in truth; you will say what is the meaning of that? to that I answer;

First, there must be inward dispositions answerable to the expressions; as for instance, when I come to express the greatness of the majesty of God, then I must have an inward disposition suitable to this expression, I must have a fear and reverence of the infinite majesty of God.

Secondly, when I come to confess my sin, to judge myself for my sin, there must be an inward disposition suitable to such a confession; O how many men and women will come and speak great things against themselves for their sins, and judge themselves for their sins, and yet there is no such disposition in their hearts suitable to their words; you shall have some in praying with others, they will be a means to break the hearts of others, they will so follow their sin; and take such shame and confusion upon themselves for their sin, and yet God knows their hearts not stirred all this while; and then they will call upon God for pardon of sin, and for power against their sin, and yet God knows that their hearts do close with their sin, and are loath to part with their sin in the mean time, this is falseness of heart; when the inward disposition is not answerable to outward expressions; I beseech you my brethren consider of the prayers you have made, and especially you that pray much with others, look what expressions you have made, and see whether there be answerable dispositions to the expressions you have made, and how that the Lord doth remember every expression that you have made.

Thirdly, we must call upon God in truth; that is, conscionably to perform the engagements of prayer, prayer puts an engagement upon the heart; now those that call upon him in truth are conscionable to perform the engagements; as now, do I pray for any good thing, I am engaged to endeavour in the use of all means for the attaining of the good thing? when you confess a sin, why, you are engaged by that means to endeavour all your might against that sin; and when you pray for my grace, you are engaged to make use of all means you can for the attaining of that grace; and then besides, in prayer there is much profession unto God of our sincerity and uprightness, and of our willingness to be at his dispose, perform these engagements that thou makest to God in prayer; if God should present to us all our professions that we have made to him in prayer, and tell us how we have come short of them, it would make us be in shame and confusion in our own thoughts.

Another thing in prayer must be faith; pray without doubting as in the former Scripture, the prayer of faith prevails much; James 1. 6, 7. a man that wavereth and doubteth must not think to obtain anything of God. But I should have opened what that faith is that we should have in prayer, we must have faith to believe that the thing that we do pleaseth God, and faith in God's promises, and faith in God's providence, this should be exercised in the time of our prayers; And therefore after we have done, to go away believing, as Hannah in 1 Sam. 1. 18. we read of her, that after she had been praying she went away, and looked no more sad; the text faith, noting that after we have been pouring forth our souls to God, we should believe and exercise faith and not go in as drooping a way as ever we did.

Object. You will say, yea, if we knew certainly that God will hear us.

Answ. The way to be assured that God will hear you, is by casting yourselves upon God, how can you know that he will hear, but by resting upon him? I have been with God, and I have been doing the duty of a poor creature, and for the success I leave it to God, and therefore it must bee with faith.

But I have so many sins mixed with my prayers, how can I believe?

You have an excellent Scripture for that to help a soul, to exercise faith in prayer, notwithstanding there hath been many infirmities; in Psal. 65. 2, 3. O thou that hearest prayers, unto thee all flesh shall come; Thou hearest prayers, but I have a great many sins that hinders; no, mark, what though iniquity prevails against me, as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away? O make use of this Scripture, though you remember not other things; yet you that have dejected hearts and are afraid that God will not hear your prayers, see what the text saith, Thou hearest prayer Lord, but will not my sins hinder? no saith David, iniquity prevails against me, as for our transgressions thou shalt purge them away; exercise faith in this; and know that God doth not hear prayer because thou art not sinful, because of thy worthiness, but merely for his free grace.

Another holy disposition in prayer should be this; the soul should come with a holy freedom, with the Spirit of adoption to God, crying Abba Father; if thou comest to God merely as to a judge, though its true, those that do not know that God loves them, yet are bound as creatures to pray, but thou canst never sanctify the name of God, till thou hast a child-like spirit, the Spirit of adoption; the Lord loves to have his children come with freedom of spirit to himself in prayer, to come as children, and not to come with dejected countenances, and discouraged hearts; but come freely to open thy heart to God, as any child would open his heart to a gracious and loving Father.

Another disposition is fervency in prayer; the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and that will be a means to help against vain thoughts too, as when the honey is scalding hot then the flies will not come to it; if thy heart were as it were scalding hot in prayer thou wouldest not have such vain thoughts.

Next there must be constancy in prayer; in 1 Thess. 5. 17. by that I mean this never to give over until we have that we pray for, or something else in lieu of it; it may be thou hast prayed and nothing is come of it; be not discouraged, thou hast to deal with a great God, and therefore pray again and again, and again, and pray with this resolution, well, let God do with me what he will, I will as long as I live call upon him, and if God shall cast me away yet he shall cast me away calling upon him, as the poor woman of Canaan when Christ called her dog, and discouraged her, yet still she would pray; I but dogs may have crumbs, that heart is in an ill condition that is discouraged in prayer, because it doth not get what it would, and therefore to think with themselves I had as good not pray at all, take heed of any such thoughts.

Again, if you would pray to God indeed, so as to sanctify his name in prayer, there should be humility in your hearts so as to be sensible of your own unworthiness; I spoke somewhat about being sensible of the distance between God and us, when I spoke about sanctifying of God's name in general. The last that I shall speak of is this, when you have done all, this all, these qualifications will not sanctify God's name, except all be tendered up in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of his merits; let a man or woman pray with as much fervency, zeal, constancy, purity, in truth and sincerity; yet except he puts up all in the name of Christ, I say he cannot be accepted; our spiritual offerings must be tendered up in his name; but I have preached much about that, but now put all that hath been said together, and this it is to pray.

That is, when as I pray understandingly: when I give myself to prayer: when there are the breathings of the Holy Ghost in my prayer: when there is purity of heart like a golden vial: together with sincerity, when it is in truth of heart, when it is in faith, when it comes from a spiritual adoption, when its in fervency, when in constancy, reverence, humility, and all put up in the name of Jesus Christ; now a man prays, as it is said of Saul, behold he prayeth; so I may say of those that are instructed in this art, behold they pray; you see now that prayer is more then to read in a book, more then to say a few words; ye see it is a very hard thing to pray, a work of great difficulty, and no marvel though we have lost so many of our prayers as we have done; we must not charge prayer and God with it, but look to ourselves (I mean not charge the ordinance of prayer) but the vileness of our carriage in our prayers; and let us for time to come know what a Christian life meanness, it is said of Christ in Luke 9. 29. that as he was praying the fashion of his countenance was changed. Oh that's an excellent thing, that when we have been in our closets at prayer, to come away with our faces shining; my brethren could we but pray in such a manner as this is, the very fashion of our countenances would be changed, as Moses when he came from the presence of God upon the Mount, or as Christ that had the fashion of his countenance changed. Prayer, it is the sweet ease of ones spirit, its the help at a dead lift, its the great ordinance of our communion with God in this world; and therefore let us learn this art of sanctifying God's name in prayer.

I shall conclude all in this, you have heard the mystery of the sanctifying the name of God in worshipping God; now I beseech you, you that have been a long time in the school of Christ, as it were apprentices to Christ to learn Christianity; be ashamed that you have understood so little of this art in sanctifying the name of God in prayer; It is an art and a mystery that you must be instructed in, and you are not Christians till you are instructed in this, as in an art and mystery: And that man and woman that shall be instructed truly in this art and mystery in sanctifying God's name now in the worshiping of him, such a man and woman shall be to all eternity sanctifying the name of God in praying of him. There is a time coming when all the saints must be in the presence of God, and be always praising of him, and they shall then sanctify God's name for ever; let us now learn this art of sanctifying God's name in praying, that we may eternally sanctify his name in praising of him.


Source: Gospel Worship by Jeremiah Burroughs


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