02. To the Reader - Gospel Incense: A Practical Treatise on Prayer by Thomas Cobbet
TO THE READER.
I have adventured twice already into the press, in matters controversial, and (through grace) what I have written has found good acceptance in the eyes of the godly wise; and now upon the earnest persuasion of godly and worthy friends here, unto the Lord, and unto me, I am sending forth this discourse, which respects a matter practical. It is not a little exercise unto godly minds, and much more grievous is it in the sight of the God of truth and peace, that there is so great and confused a noise of axes and hammers now-a-days in the Lord’s temple; and when will that blessed time come, when unto all the Lord’s people whatsoever, “there shall be but one Lord, and his name one.” Verily, it is strange to see, that in these days the Lord according to his promise, should so graciously afford to his people the means; even turn to the people a pure lip, a pure ministry; and yet the promised end thereof is not attained, namely, the serving of the Lord with one shoulder, or with one consent. I know there are many lets thereunto, but surely this is not the least, that the word held forth by the purer ministry thereof, has, not had such effectual force upon their hearts, who enjoy the same, as to bring them to be conscionable in calling upon the name of the Lord, which is the more immediate end of such a ministry. For so saith the Lord, I will turn to the people a pure lip or language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord; for then the next effect would follow, which there also is promised, they would come to serve the Lord with one consent. But the subtle enemy to all purity and power of godliness, bestirs himself what in him lies, to heighten and increase as many differences in judgment in Christians as may be, and that may breed and feed distances in affection, and so undermine any such unanimous. attending to serve the Lord. The heads and hearts both of preachers and professors shall be so busily and continually taken up with endless. disputes, that they shall have little leisure or list to attend the practicals of religion, wherein the life and power of pure religion does mainly consist. Disputing times about the speculatives of religion, are wont to be declining times in the practicals, and vitals thereof. Witness former ages, wherein the schoolmen and their notions flourished, but purity and power of religion withered. And, ah, that this present age, which yields so many skeptics in religion, had not withal increased decayed, unsound, spiritually sick, lame, blind, deaf, dumb, yea, dying, and twice dead Christians. Surely, if Christians had maintained acquaintance with God in prayer, they had never fallen in thus with so many delusive fancies, and so come to have fallen out with the weightier matters of God, so as to be at such distances from them in their spirits. If they had faithfully repaired to the Lord for his counsel, their ears and hearts had not been so open to satanical whisperings. How much was that man of God in prayer, to be kept sound in the faith? witness his frequent requests this way, mentioned: “0, let me not wander from thy commandments,” and “remove from me the way of lying, (doctrinally, as well as practically considered,) and grant me thy law graciously.” “Take not away utterly the word of truth out of my mouth, so shall I keep thy law continually.” “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I have believed thy commandments.” “Make my heart sound in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed.” The corrupt prophets and priests of old, who seduced the people from the truth, were persons that made no conscience of prayer. “The pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord.” Those apostatizing neuters in religion of old, were men that were careless of seeking of God, and counseling with him in their prayers. “And them that are turned back, and those that have not sought the Lord, nor inquired for him.” The like may be well feared in Christians in these apostatizing times from the truths and ways of God; that they do not talk much with God in prayer, and he as little delights to speak to their hearts. They grow loose-hearted, and strangers to God; and Satan espying this distance betwixt them and God, falls in with them, enters other delusive discourses with them; and at length withdraws them yet further from the Lord. But thou, Christian reader, ply it with the Lord in prayer, that he would draw thee after him, and he will bring thee into his chambers. He will bring thee into the secret of his counsels, presence, and protection, where thou shalt be kept safe in judgment, heart, and life, in the worst times. Fervent and faithful prayers would also help very much to cast the unclean spirit out of the land, and to dispossess the spirits of many Christians, who are even possessed by an erring spirit. If there were also but more men of God, who might Moses-like, continue, holding up their hands in prayer, no doubt but Amalekite spirited seducers would soon be put to the worst; yea, though Philistine-like, they had even routed the churches of Christ, yet a few such blessed worthies of God, who are mighty with God in prayer, would like so many Shammahs or Eleazers, soon prevail for a blessed day over them. If Jonathan had not wrought with God (in prayer), Israel had never had so glorious a day, as they had against those Philistines. If men had even given themselves to the Devil, as too many now have to spirits of error, yet if Luther-like, we were more in prayer, there might be help that way, and they rescued, and those spirits discarded. And what gracious heart can bear it, to see so many poor Christians even drawn to death, and forbear crying to the Lord for their deliverance! Mystical Babylon devoted to ruin, hastens to its downfall, and shall not we be up and doing iii prayer now to help dispatch her, as they of old did that other Babylon? “The violence done to me be upon Babylon, shall the inhabitants say. My blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say,” namely, in their earnest prayers. The time approaches, when the promised mercies to the poor blinded Jews shall be accomplished; and what more seasonable work of love can we do for the Lord, or them, than to be now much in praying? Oh, that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! In a word, let all the enemies of England, old or new, to commonwealth or church, know, that churches of praying believers, are terrible as so many armies with banners, as so many thundering Legions. Let them tremble to think, that whatever breaches they have occasioned amongst the Lord’s people, yet that there is a considerable stand of resolute ones left, right bred Israelites, notable good wrestlers, and as special prevailers with God, I believe that the church’s enemies have been forced to see or feel the force of saint’s prayers. We may set God to work, (pardon the expression,) in these dangerous times for church and commonwealth by our prayers; as he did of old in like case: “It is time for thee, Lord, to work, for they make void thy law.”
Wherefore, Christian reader, albeit others have written worthily about this subject of prayer in their times: yet let it not seem unseasonable to thee, or be unaccepted by thee, that I also, (though the most unfit and unworthy to attempt so great a work,) do at this time likewise, bring in evidence with other witnesses to the same truth, concerning the nature, necessity, excellency, and efficacy of holy and spiritual prayer; and that I also, according to that small measure of light and grace received of the Lord, do hereby endeavor to stir up thy pure mind, by way of remembrance, that thou mayest be mindful, not alone of their writings, but especially of the words before spoken, both by the propheta and apostles concerning this subject of prayer, that as in preaching upon it here, the Lord was pleased to bless that discourse of prayer to sundry souls, so (if it may be his gracious pleasure) it may be of lively and effectual use to thy soul’s welfare and peace; which shall be his prayer, who is
Thine in the Lord Jesus,
Lynn in New England,
the 24 of October, 1653.
Gospel Incense: A Practical Treatise on Prayer by Thomas Cobbet
Thomas Cobbet was a Puritan pastor in New England forced to flee England in 1637 for his Separatist beliefs.