On July 1, 1643, the Westminster Assembly convened for the first time. The purpose of the assembly was to reorganize the English church after the English Civil War had begun between Charles I and Parliament. In many ways, the Westminster divines saw themselves as completing the reformation of the English church, which they thought had been only partially accomplished by the Anglican church.
To guide their reforming efforts, the Westminster Assembly produced a number of important works, including the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Westminster Larger Catechism. In the latter document, the Westminster divines answered a number of questions about prayer. So, to commemorate the anniversary of Westminster, this morning’s “prayer” is actually a reflection on 8 questions about prayer.
Question 178: What is prayer?
Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Question 179: Are we to pray unto God only?
Answer: God only being able to search the hearts, hear the requests, pardon the sins, and fulfil the desires of all; and only to be believed in, and worshiped with religious worship; prayer, which is a special part thereof, is to be made by all to him alone, and to none other.
Question 180: What is it to pray in the name of Christ?
Answer: To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.
Question 181: Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?
Answer: The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only.
Question 182: How does the Spirit help us to pray?
Answer: We not knowing: What to pray for as we ought, the Spirit helps our infirmities, by enabling us to understand both for whom, and: What, and: How prayer is to be made; and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, nor at all times, in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces which are requisite for the right performance of that duty.
Question 183: For whom are we to pray?
Answer: We are to pray for the whole church of Christ upon earth; for magistrates, and ministers; for ourselves, our brethren, yea, our enemies; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but not for the dead, nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death.
Question 184: For what things are we to pray?
Answer: We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God, the welfare of the church, our own or others good; but not for anything that is unlawful.
Question 185: How are we to pray.?
Answer: We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.