The fourth necessary preparative for the obtainment of the Holy Ghost is the outward and inward collectedness of the mind for prayer. “They —the Lord’s disciples—were continually together, with one accord, in prayer and supplications.” The important and golden words of our Saviour, which we read in Matthew vii. and Luke xi. ought reasonably to incite us to earnest prayer and supplication, in a special manner, for the impartation of the promised power from on high. In the 13th verse of the last mentioned Gospel, our dear Saviour says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to him that asks him!” Now observe here, that not one individual is excluded. All that shall ask their heavenly Father, for his Holy Spirit, in true heartfelt devotion, shall also obtain him. Ought we not, therefore, the more ardently to beseech our heavenly Father for the impartation of him, the more indispensably we require him? We must not here sophisticate and say, “God already knows that I need the Holy Spirit; why is it necessary to make so many words, to remind him of it?” These are subtle suggestions of the enemy, who seeks to restrain us from prayer. God certainly knows our wants; but he also requires that we should know them, and, at the same time, acknowledge, that he alone is able to give and bestow what we need upon us; and therefore will be enquired of for that purpose.
Further, we must likewise not think, that as God has promised his Holy Spirit, he will send him at the proper time; that grace must do all things; and that when the Spirit shall once come, we shall be pious and virtuous, as a matter of course. This is a shameful deceit of the flesh. The Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples by the mouth of Christ himself: yet still, they did not think in the manner above mentioned. By no means! the promise of Christ caused them to stay together, with one accord, and to continue, so much the more earnestly in prayer and supplication. Hence the promises of God ought not to restrain us from praying; but rather incite us to it. When Christ says, that our heavenly Father will give his Spirit to all that ask him, he unites prayer with the promise, and teaches, that the promise would only be fulfilled to those who should ask for him. Therefore, if God is to bestow any thing, he will be entreated for it, that we may learn, that he is alone the giver of every good and perfect gift, and that, consequently, the honour and thanks belong to him alone.
But how shall we pray? It does not depend upon words and outward forms; or upon our making fine speeches to the Lord our God. O no! prayer consists in a sincere hunger and thirst, and in an ardent desire, united with filial confidence, for divine grace, and for the gracious fulfillment of his promises; it is a praying and supplicating in the Spirit. I have however said, that an outward and inward collectedness is requisite in order to pray. Outward collectedness consists in divesting ourselves of worldly business, and intercourse with the world, and in retiring to quiet and solitary places, in order that we may be able to elevate the mind the more freely to God, and avoid more entirely all distraction. Thus the disciples and first believers acted. After Christ was separated from them, and had ascended to heaven, they returned to Jerusalem, went up into an upper room, and there remained from Ascension day till the day of Pentecost. Now some one might think, why is it needful for me to go into an upper room? What has this to do with the matter? The upper room does not constitute the thing, nor solitude neither. But, my dear friends! do we wish to be wiser than the Saviour himself? Does he not expressly say, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet,” &c. Does he not command us, in order to be able to pray the better, to avoid the noise of the world, and seek solitude?
Outward collectedness is, therefore, an useful, yea, needful, and very estimable work; which, in the degree we can have it, we ought not to despise, nor neglect, under the pretence that it is a legal work, and that we must pray without ceasing. We ought, certainly, to pray without ceasing; but this does not do away with outward collectedness. We ought to do the one, and not omit the other. We ought to seek to elevate our minds to God, even in the midst of worldly occupations; this is incontestable; but then, alas! it is not so easily performed; especially, when a person has a family, and must burden and give himself up to a multitude and variety of outward occupations. Ah! we are then really not always able to pray! We must therefore regard it as a great favour of God, when he sometimes grants us an hour, in which we can go into an upper room, enter into our closet, or retire to some other quiet and private place, that we may be able to lay our cause before the Lord our God, without distraction of mind. Many souls trifle away the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, by making themselves as wise, or even wiser, than God himself, under the specious pretext that it is something legal and unnecessary, or that they are too much occupied to be able to collect themselves in this manner, they neglect each and every opportunity, which God, notwithstanding, frequently offers them. Now it is true, that one person has a much better and more convenient opportunity than another, and that with many, it cannot always be done, on account of their excessive occupations. But, my friends! only reflect properly on the subject. You sit down, regularly, three times a day, to your meals, to give nourishment to your bodies. But ought we to care more for the corruptible body, than for the immortal soul? If we can appropriate so much time for the sake of the body, why not also a few moments for the good of the soul? Further, we often lie seven or eight hours in bed, and give the body its rest; ought we not also to grant the soul a little repose, in order that it may recover itself from its various distractions, and meditate upon the chief object of its existence in the world; even supposing that we were obliged to abstract it from the times of eating and sleeping, and the attention which is due to the body? Ought we not rather entirely to part with all that has reference to the mortal body, than suffer ourselves by caring for it, to be drawn away from the principal business of our lives? What would it avail us, were we to gain the whole world, and lose our own souls? We must therefore engage in the business of the world, in such a manner, as to have still sufficient time to ascend, now and then, into the upper room. For, in such sacred serenity and solitude, removed from all the toilsome vanity of this transitory and momentary life, the Holy Spirit, who is a tranquil Spirit, can best and most effectually speak with us, and we are then better fitted to listen to him; we can then exclaim with the child Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. iii. 9.).
We must not, however, stop short at this outward collectedness. The chief point to be observed is, the inward collectedness. That which is outward, cannot be had at all times, but, through the grace and Spirit of God, we may always attain to that which is inward, which is the most requisite. But wherein does this inward collectedness for prayer consist? I answer, we must not pray merely, in order to pray; but we must pray to have and obtain something; that all our inclinations and desires be directed to the object for which we pray, in such a manner, that we fervently wish and desire it; and that we seek it with the same ardent desires, with which the lovers of the world seek and gather together earthly treasures. In one word, it consists in this, that the heart be entirely drawn away from the earth unto God.
Therefore it is not sufficient for the individual to separate and remove himself, with respect to the body, from other men, and the affairs of the world; he must also entirely separate and abstract himself from them, as it regards the mind and spirit; he must forget them in such a manner, as if they did not exist; as if there were nothing in existence but God and himself. All imagery and attachments must here vanish entirely, and the majestic glory of God and his kingdom must alone be present to our eyes, occupy and take possession of our hearts; and thus the whole man must be engaged in prayer. That, which is expressed in words, must really be the feeling of the heart. As a hen collects her chickens under her wings, so must we let ourselves be brought, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, from the world and the distractions of the mind, again to our hearts, be led back into our interior, and place ourselves in the presence of God, in order to be able to worship him, in spirit and in truth, and pour out our hearts in filial reverence and confidence before him. O what blessings, what abundance of grace may thus be obtained! I could wish that every one knew how to speak of it from vital experience, since it cannot be sufficiently expressed in words! The Holy Spirit is not something tangible by the outward senses, that can be heard, seen, and handled: it is an inward, spirituous, and secret power, which manifests itself only in the heart, and hence is only felt by the heart. If, therefore, we are always occupied with the temporal things of this world, and never at home—if we never come to ourselves, but continually flutter about, from one outward thing to another—how can the Holy Spirit take up his residence with us? How can he carry on his work in our hearts, thus entirely directed to outward things, and burdened with so many earthly cares? From hence, my dear friends! you may perceive how necessary this inward collectedness of the heart is, connected with that which is outward, and that the neglect of it is the sole cause why the most noble graces are frequently trifled away, and the most powerful attractions and influences of the Holy Spirit rendered void and powerless. It appears to me, just as if some one, who had a dear friend with him, who was come to visit him, instead of endeavouring to make his time pass agreeably, should be continually at the window, in order to see what the children were doing in the street. How culpable would such behaviour be; supposing, at the same time, that the good friend was some special high personage, a prince, a king, or an emperor! Would not such a friend, such a royal personage say, with great propriety, ‘I see clearly, thou dost not regard me, and that my visit is not agreeable to thee!’ Now, the Holy Spirit, who is much more than a prince or a king, yea, who is the King of all kings, and who is able and willing to impart to us substantial and ever-during blessings, comes to visit us; he desires to be admitted into the closet of our hearts; it is his will, that for his sake, we divest ourselves a little of temporal affairs, in order to listen to him, and converse with him. Ought we not therefore to sit down a little? Ought we not to recollect ourselves? Ought not our whole devotion to be engaged, and all our thoughts be directed to this object? We should then, in such a serenity, and in such a reverence in the presence of God, experience much of the powers of the world to come; yea, often experience, in a quarter of an hour, in a single moment, more blessing, life, power, and salvation, than we could obtain during our whole lives by our own acting and doing.
But we refuse him this, under the pretence, that worldly occupations leave us no time for it. Now are we not acting just like the very unfriendly host above mentioned, whom child’s-play delighted more than the presence of his best friend? What are our worldly engagements and occupations, compared with heavenly blessings and a blissful eternity, other than childish efforts and past-lime? What are they, compared with our immortal spirit, which does not participate in them, in the least, which are not of the smallest benefit to it, but may do it much injury; I say, what are they, but tedious idleness, and serious childishness? But is it possible, that for the sake of these trifles, yea, these worthless things, we can turn our backs upon our best friend, our dearest heavenly Father, Redeemer, and Saviour, nay, the King of all kings? that we are unwilling to break off, even a few hours, in order to hear what our best friend, what the Lord speaks? Has he not therefore also the greatest right to reproach us in the same manner, and to say, ‘I see clearly, that you do not regard me, that my gracious visit is not agreeable to you!’ O my beloved friends! such like coldness, such like ill-treatment evidently proves, that the case is the same with us, as is written concerning the boy Samuel:—” Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” (1 Sam. iii. 7.) If we had only the smallest idea of the value of this friend; if we had tasted, even in the smallest degree, the blessedness which flows from intercourse with him; could we act so coldly towards him, and prefer the society of the world, to fellowship with him? Could we sacrifice it even for the veriest trifles, and give it up, like Esau, for a miserable mess of pottage?:
Seeing therefore, my beloved friends! that we do not yet sufficiently know the Lord, and that the fault is simply and solely this, that we have withdrawn ourselves far too much from our hearts, and the chief object of our existence here below, have entered too deeply into the things of this world, and have never sufficiently torn ourselves away from these distractions—let us therefore, while it is called to-day, at length seriously begin to collect our thoughts, withdraw them from the minor objects of this life, and direct them to the principal object! Let us forget what is behind, and reach forth to that which is before; and then will the loving kindness of God our Saviour appear to us; we shall taste the heavenly gift, the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; we shall become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and, as already mentioned, experience often, in a quarter of an hour—nay, in one moment, more life, blessing, power, and salvation, than we could obtain, during our intercourse with the world, with our own acting and doing, in our whole lives. Thus it is, that the Holy Spirit will come to us. But if the world has become master of our hearts, and taken possession of them, he cannot enter into them, nor take up his abode within them. Therefore, in order that he may abide in us, it is indispensably requisite, that our hearts be completely divested of every thing that is not God, and that does not lead to him, be totally emptied and given up to the Holy Spirit alone, for an habitation. For when we let ourselves be inwardly collected by the Holy Spirit, we shall soon celebrate a day of Pentecost; and soon be filled with the Holy Ghost.