Free version of the 1710 edition of the celebrated prayer book 'A Method for Prayer' written by Matthew Henry. This digital version is newly typeset with the poetic formatting of the classics.
Religion is so much the business of our lives, and the worship of God so much the business of our religion, that what hath a sincere intention, and probable tendency, to promote and assist the acts of religious worship (I think) cannot be unacceptable to any that heartily wish well to the interests of God’s kingdom among men: For if we have spiritual senses exercised, true devotion, that aspiring flame of pious affections to God, as far as in a judgment of charity we discern it in others (though in different shapes and dresses, which may seem uncouth to one another) cannot but appear beautiful and amiable, and as far as we feel it in our own breasts, cannot but be found very pleasant and comfortable.
Prayer is a principal branch of religious worship, which we are moved to by the very light of nature, and obliged to by some of its fundamental laws. Pythagoras’s golden verses begin with this precept; Whatever men made a god of they prayed to, Deliver me, for thou art my god, Isaiah 44:17. Nay, whatever they prayed to, they made a god of—Deos qui rogat ille facit. It is a piece of respect and homage so exactly consonant to the natural ideas which all men have of God, that it is certain those that live without prayer live without God in the world.
Prayer is the solemn and religious offering up of devout acknowledgments and desires to God, or a sincere representation of holy affections, with a design to give unto God the glory due unto His name thereby, and to obtain from Him promised favours, and both through the mediator. Our English word prayer is too strait, for that properly signifies petition, or request; whereas humble adorations of God, and thanksgivings to Him, are as necessary in prayer, as any other part of it. The Greek word Proseuche from Euche is a vow directed to God. The Latin word Votum is used for prayer: Jonah’s mariners with their sacrifices made vows; for prayer is to move and oblige ourselves, not to move or oblige God. Clemens Alexandrinus, Strom 7. p. 722. Edit. Colon. calls prayer (with an excuse for the boldness of the expression) Homilia pros ton Theon, it is conversing with God: And it is the scope of a long discourse of his there to shew that his ho gosnoticos, i.e. his believer (for faith is called knowledge, and p. 719. he makes his companions to be hoi homoioos pepis teucotes, those that have in like manner believed) lives a life of communion with God, and so is praying always; that he studies by his prayers continually to converse with God. Some (saith he) have their stated hours of prayer, but he para holon euchatai ton bion, prays all his life long. The scripture describes prayer to be our drawing near to God, lifting up our souls to Him, pouring out our hearts before Him.
This is the life and soul of prayer; but this soul in the present state must have a body, and that body must be such as becomes the soul, and is suited and adapted to it. Some words there must be, of the mind at least, in which, as in the smoke, this incense must ascend; not that God may understand us, for our thoughts afar off are known to Him, but that we may the better understand ourselves.
A golden thread of heart-prayer must run through the web of the whole Christian life; we must be frequently addressing ourselves to God in short and sudden ejaculations, by which we must keep up our communion with God in providences and common actions, as well as in ordinances and religious services. Thus prayer must be sparsim (a sprinkling of it) in every duty, and our eyes must be ever towards the Lord.
In mental prayer thoughts are words, and they are the first-born of the soul, which are to be consecrated to God. But if when we pray alone we see cause for the better fixing of our minds, and exciting of our devotions, to clothe our conceptions with words; if the conceptions be the genuine products of the new nature, one would think words should not be far to seek: Verbaque proevisam rem non invita sequuntur. Nay if the groanings be such as cannot be uttered, He that searcheth the heart knows them to be the mind of the Spirit, and will accept of them, Romans 8:26, 27. and answer the voice of our breathing, Lamentations 3:56. Yet through the infirmity of the flesh, and the aptness of our hearts to wander and trifle, it is often necessary that words should go first, and be kept in mind for the directing and exciting of devout affections, and in order thereunto the assistance here offered I hope will be of some use.