The Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson
4. THE WAY OF SALVATION
'But I give myself unto prayer.' Psa cix 4.
I shall not here expatiate upon prayer, as it will be
considered more fully in the Lord's prayer. It is one thing to pray,
and another thing to be given to prayer: he who prays frequently, is
said to be given to prayer; as he who often distributes alms, is
said to be given to charity. Prayer is a glorious ordinance, it is
the soul's trading with heaven. God comes down to us by his Spirit,
and we go up to him by prayer.
What is prayer?
It is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable
to his will, in the name of Christ.
'Prayer is offering up our desires;' and therefore called
making known our requests. Phil iv 6. In prayer we come as humble
petitioners, begging to have our suit granted. It is 'offering up
our desires to God.' Prayer is not to be made to any but God. The
Papists pray to saints and angels, who know not our grievances.
'Abraham be ignorant of us.' Isa lxiii 16. All angel-worship is
forbidden. Col ii 18, 19. We must not pray to any but whom we may
believe in. 'How shall they call on him in whom they have not
believed?' Rom x 14. We cannot believe in an angel, therefore we
must not pray to him.
Why must prayer be made to God only?
(1) Because he only hears prayer. 'Oh thou that hearest
prayer.' Psa lxv 2. Hereby God is known to be the true God, in that
he hears prayer. 'Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may
know that thou art the Lord God.' I Kings xviii 37.
(2) Because God only can help. We may look to second causes,
and cry, as the woman did, 'Help, my lord, O king.' And he said, 'If
the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee?' 2 Kings vi 26,
27. If we are in outward distress, God must send from heaven and
save; if we are in inward agonies, he only can pour in the oil of
joy; therefore prayer is to be made to him only.
We are to pray 'for things agreeable to his will.' When we pray
for outward things, for riches or children, perhaps God sees these
things not to be good for us; and our prayers should comport with
his will. We may pray absolutely for grace; 'For this is the will of
God, even your sanctification.' I Thess iv 3. There must be no
strange incense offered. Exod xxx 9. When we pray for things which
are not agreeable to God's will, it is offering strange incense.
We are to pray 'in the name of Christ.' To pray in the name of
Christ, is not only to mention Christ's name in prayer, but to pray
in the hope and confidence of his merits. 'Samuel took a sucking
lamb and offered it,' &c. I Sam vii 9. We must carry the lamb Christ
in the arms of our faith, and so shall we prevail in prayer. When
Uzziah would offer incense without a priest, God was angry, and
struck him with leprosy. 2 Chron xxvi 16. When we do not pray in
Christ's name, in the hope of his mediation, we offer up incense
without a priest; and what can we expect but to meet with rebukes,
and to have God answer us by terrible things?
What are the several parts of prayer?
(1) There is the confessors part, which is the acknowledgement
of sin. (2) The supplicatory part, when we either deprecate and pray
against some evil, or request the obtaining of some good. (3) The
congratulatory part, when we give thanks for mercies received, which
is the most excellent part of prayer. In petition, we act like men;
in giving thanks, we act like angels.
What are the several sorts of prayer?
(1) There is mental prayer, in the mind. I Sam i 13. (2)
Vocal. Psa lxxvii 1. (3) Ejaculatory, which is a sudden and short
elevation of the heart to God. 'So I prayed to the God of heaven.'
Neh ii 4. (4) Inspired prayer, when we pray for those things which
God puts into our heart. The Spirit helps us with sighs and groans.
Rom viii 26. Both the expressions of the tongue, and the impressions
of the heart, so far as they are right, are from the Spirit. (5)
Prescribed prayer. Our Saviour has set us a pattern of prayer. God
prescribed a set form of blessing for the priests. Numb vi 23. (6)
Public prayer, when we pray in the audience of others. Prayer is
more powerful when many join and unite their forces. Vis unita
fortior [A united force is stronger]. Matt xviii 19. (7) Private
prayer; when we pray by ourselves. 'Enter into thy closet.' Matt vi
That prayer is most likely to prevail with God which is rightly
qualified. That is a good medicine which has the right ingredients;
and that prayer is good, and most likely to prevail with God, which
has these seven ingredients in it: -
 It must be mixed with faith. 'But let him ask in faith.'
James i 6. Believe that God hears, and will in due time grant,
believe his love and truth; believe that he is love, and therefore
will not deny you; believe that he is truth, and therefore will not
deny himself. Faith sets prayer to work. Faith is to prayer what the
feather is to the arrow; it feathers the arrow of prayer, and makes
it fly swifter, and pierce the throne of grace. The prayer that is
faithless is fruitless.
 It must be a melting prayer. 'The sacrifices of God are a
broken spirit.' Psa li 17. The incense was to be beaten to typify
the breaking of the heart in prayer. Oh! says a Christian, I cannot
pray with such gifts and elocution as others; as Moses said, 'I am
not eloquent;' but can't thou weep? Does thy heart melt in prayer?
Weeping prayer prevails. Tears drop as pearls from the eye. Jacob
wept and made supplication; and 'had power over the angel.' Hosea
 Prayer must be fired with zeal and fervency. 'Effectual
fervent prayer availeth much.' James v 16. Cold prayer, like cold
suitors, never speed. Prayer without fervency, is like a sacrifice
without a fire. Prayer is called a 'pouring out of the soul,' to
signify vehemence. I Sam i 15. Formality starves prayer. Prayer is
compared to incense. 'Let my prayer be set forth as incense.' Psa
cxli 2. Hot coals were to be put to the incense, to make it
odoriferous and fragrant; so fervency of affection is like coals to
the incense; it makes prayer ascend as a sweet perfume. Christ
prayed with strong cries. Heb v 7. Clamor iste penetrat nubes [Such
a cry pierces the clouds]. Luther. Fervent prayer, like a powder
engine set against heaven's gates, makes them fly open. To cause
holy fervour and ardour of soul in prayer, consider, (1) Prayer
without fervency is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying. Lifeless
prayer is no more prayer than the picture of a man is a man. One may
say as Pharaoh, 'I have dreamed a dream.' Gen xli 15. It is
dreaming, not praying. Life and fervency baptise a duty, and give it
a name. (2) Consider in what need we stand of those things which we
ask in prayer. We come to ask the favour of God; and if we have not
his love all we enjoy is cursed to us. We pray that our souls may be
washed in Christ's blood; if he wash us not we have no part in him.
John xiii 8. When will we be in earnest, if not when we are praying
for the life of our souls? (3) It is only fervent prayer that has
the promise of mercy affixed to it. 'Ye shall find me, when ye shall
search for me with all your heart.' Jer xxix 13. It is dead praying
without a promise; and the promise is made only to ardency. The a
tiles among the Romans, had their doors always standing open, that
all who had petitions might have free access to them; so God's heart
is ever open to fervent prayer.
 Prayer must be sincere. Sincerity is the silver thread
which must run through the whole duties of religion. Sincerity in
prayer is when we have gracious holy ends; when our prayer is not so
much for temporal mercies as for spiritual. We send out prayer as
our merchant ship, that we may have large returns of spiritual
blessings. Our aim in it is, that our hearts may be more holy, that
we may have more communion with God and that we may increase our
stock of grace. The prayer which wants a good aim, wants a good
 The prayer that will prevail with God must have a fixedness
of mind. 'My heart is fixed, O God.' Psa lvii 7. Since the fall the
mind is like quicksilver, which will not fix; it has principium
motus, but non quietus [a principle of restlessness, not of peace].
The thoughts will be roving and dancing up and down in prayer, just
as if a man who is travelling to a certain place should run out of
the road, and wander he knows not whither. In prayer we are
travelling to the throne of grace, but how often do we, by vain
cogitations, turn out of the road! This is rather wandering than
How shall we cure these vain impertinent thoughts, which
distract us in prayer, and, we fear, hinder its acceptance?
(1) Be very apprehensive in prayer of the infiniteness of God's
majesty and purity. His eye is upon us in prayer, and we may say as
David, 'Thou tellest my wanderings.' Psa lvi 8. The thoughts of this
would make us hoc agere, mind the duty we are about. If a man were
to deliver a petition to an earthly prince, would he at the same
time be playing with a feather? Set yourselves, when you pray, as in
God's presence. Could you but look through the keyhole of heaven,
and see how devout and intent the angels are in their worshipping
God, surely you would be ready to blush at your vain thoughts and
vile impertinences in prayer.
(2) If you would keep your mind fixed in prayer, keep your eye
fixed. 'Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the
heavens.' Psa cxxiii 1. Much vanity comes in at the eye. When the eye
wanders in prayer, the heart wanders. To think to keep the heart
fixed in prayer, and yet let the eye gaze, is as if one should think
to keep his house safe, and yet let the windows be open.
(3) If you would have your thoughts fixed in prayer, get more
love to God. Love is a great fixer of the thoughts. He who is in
love cannot keep his thoughts off the object. He who loves the world
has his thoughts upon the world. Did we love God more, our minds
would be more intent upon him in prayer. Were there more delight in
duty, there would be less distraction.
(4) Implore the help of God's Spirit to fix your minds, and
make them intent and serious in prayer. The ship without a pilot
rather floats than sails. That our thoughts do not float up and down
in prayer, we need the blessed Spirit to be our pilot to steer us.
Only God's Spirit can bound the thoughts. A shaking hand may as well
write a line steadily, as we can keep our hearts fixed in prayer
without the Spirit of God.
(5) Make holy thoughts familiar to you in your ordinary course
of life. David was often musing on God. 'When I am awake, I am still
with thee.' Psa cxxxix 18. He who gives himself liberty to have vain
thoughts out of prayer, will scarcely have other thoughts in prayer.
(6) If you would keep your mind fixed on God, watch your
hearts, not only after prayer, but in prayer. The heart will be apt
to give you the slip, and have a thousand vagaries in prayer. We
read of angels ascending and descending on Jacob's ladder; so in
prayer you shall find your hearts ascending to heaven, and in a
moment descending upon earthly objects. O Christians, watch your
hearts in prayer. What a shame is it to think, that when we are
speaking to God our hearts should be in the fields, or in our
counting-houses, or one way or other, running upon the devil's
(7) Labour for larger degrees of grace. The more ballast the
ship has the better it sails; so the more the heart is ballasted
with grace, the steadier it will sail to heaven in prayer.
 Prayer that is likely to prevail with God must be
argumentative. God loves to have us plead with him, and use
arguments in prayer. See how many arguments Jacob used in prayer.
'Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother.' Gen xxxii 11.
The arguments he used are from God's command 'Thou saidst to me,
Return to thy country;' ver 9; as if he had said, I did not take
this journey of my own head, but by thy direction; therefore thou
canst not but in honour protect me. And he uses another argument.
'Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good;' ver 12. Lord, wilt thou
go back from thy own promise? Thus he was argumentative in prayer;
and he got not only a new blessing, but a new name. 'Thy name shall
be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power
with God, and hast prevailed;' ver 28. God loves to be overcome with
strength of argument. Thus, when we come to God in prayer for grace,
let us be argumentative. Lord, thou callest thyself the God of all
grace; and whither should we go with our vessel, but to the
fountain? Lord, thy grace may be imparted, yet not impaired. Has not
Christ purchased grace for poor indigent creatures? Every drachm of
grace costs a drop of blood. Shall Christ die to purchase grace for
us, and shall not we have the fruit of his purchase? Lord, it is thy
delight to milk out the breast of mercy and grace, and wilt thou
abridge thyself of thy own delight? Thou hast promised to give thy
Spirit to implant grace; can truth lie? can faithfulness deceive?
God loves thus to be overcome with arguments in prayer.
 Prayer that would prevail with God, must be joined with
reformation. 'If thou stretch out thy hands toward him; if iniquity
be in thy hand, put it far away.' Job xi 13, 14. Sin, lived in,
makes the heart hard, and God's ear deaf. It is foolish to pray
against sin, and then sin against prayer. 'If I regard iniquity in
my heart, the Lord will not hear me.' Psa lxvi 18. The loadstone
loses its virtue when bespread with garlic; so does prayer when
polluted with sin. The incense of prayer must be offered upon the
altar of a holy heart.
Thus you see what is the prayer which is most likely to prevail
It reproves (1) Such as pray not at all. It is made
the note of a reprobate, that he calls not upon God. Psa xiv 4. Does
he think to have an alms who never asks it? Do they think to have
mercy from Cod who never seek it? Then God would befriend them more
than he did his own Son. Christ offered up prayers with strong
cries. Heb v 7. None of God's children are born dumb. Gal iv 6.
(2) It reproves such as have left off prayer, which is a sign
that they never felt the fruit and comfort of it. He that leaves off
prayer leaves off to fear God. 'Thou castest off fear, and
restrainest prayer before God.' Job xv 4. A man that has left off
prayer, is fit for any wickedness. When Saul had given over
inquiring after God he went to the witch of Endor.
Be persons given to prayer. 'I give myself,' says
David, 'to prayer.' Pray for pardon and purity. Prayer is the golden
key that opens heaven. The tree of the promise will not drop its
fruit unless shaken by the hand of prayer. All the benefits of
Christ's redemption are handed over to us by prayer.
I have prayed a long time for mercy, and have no answer. 'I am
weary of crying.' Ps lxix 3.
(1) God may hear us when we do not hear from him; as soon as
prayer is made, God hears it, though he does not presently answer. A
friend may receive our letter, though he does not presently send us
an answer. (2) God may delay prayer, yet he will not deny it.
Why does God delay an answer to prayer?
(1) Because he loves to hear the voice of prayer. 'The prayer
of the upright is his delight.' Prov xv 8. You let the musician
play a great while ere you throw him down money, because you love to
hear his music. Cant ii 14.
(2) God may delay prayer when he will not deny it, that he may
humble us. He has spoken to us long in his word to leave our sins,
but we would not hear him; therefore he lets us speak to him in
prayer and seems not to hear us.
(3) He may delay to answer prayer when he will not deny it,
because he sees we are not yet fit for the mercy we ask. Perhaps we
pray for deliverance when we are not fit for it; our scum is not yet
boiled away. We would have God swift to deliver, and we are slow to
(4) God may delay to answer prayer, that the mercy we pray for
may be more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes. The longer the
merchant's ships stay abroad, the more he rejoices when they come
home laden with spices and jewels; therefore be not discouraged, but
follow God with prayer. Though God delays, he will not deny. Prayer
vincit invincibilem [conquers the invincible], it overcomes the
Omnipotent. Hos xii 4. The Syrians tied their god Hercules fast with
a golden chain, that he should not remove. The Lord was held by
Moses' prayer as with a golden chain. 'Let me alone;' why, what did
Moses? he only prayed. Exod xxxii 10. Prayer ushers in mercy. Be thy
case never so sad, if thou canst but pray thou needest not fear. Psa
x 17. Therefore give thyself to prayer.