Three signs of Spirit-given prayer
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
11 Jul, 2024

Prayer is the Christian’s heartbeat, pulsing continually. What keeps it going so constantly is the Holy Spirit, or as Paul calls Him, the Spirit of adoption, who has taken up residence in the believer. Life itself and all the signs of life come from the Spirit. In a sermon on Romans 8:15, “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” the gifted young preacher Hugh Binning identifies three characteristics of Spirit-given prayer.

The chief principle and origin of prayer is the Spirit of adoption received into the heart. Many of you cannot be induced to pray in your family (or, even more seriously, on your own personally), because you say you aren’t accustomed to it, or haven’t been taught, or something like that. But, beloved! Prayer doesn’t come through education or learning — it comes from the Spirit of adoption. If you say you can’t pray, then it means you do not have the Spirit — and if you do not have the Spirit, you are not the sons of God. Please be aware of the logical conclusions of what you say.

But I hasten on to the characteristics of this divine work: fervency, reverence, and confidence, in crying, ‘Abba, Father.’

Spirit-given prayer is fervent

Unfortunately, fervency is usually spent on other things of less importance than prayer. Truly, what people are spirited and passionate about is all in the way of contention and strife, or high temper and misnamed zeal. Yet because the things that we are so earnestly contending about have some connection with religion, we not only excuse our vehemence but approve it!

Other people’s spirits are burned up on the pursuit of the things of the world. The sharp edge of their desires turns that way, with the inevitable consequence that it is blunted and dulled in spiritual things, so that it cannot pierce into heaven and prevail effectually.

Fervent like burning incense

As there were no sacrifices in the temple without fire, kept going perpetually, so there is no prayer now without some inward fire in the desires, kept blazing up and growing into a flame as those desires are presented to God.

As the incense that was to be offered on the altar of perfume (Exodus 30) had to be beaten and prepared, so, truly, prayer would do well to be made out of a beaten and bruised heart and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:17) — a spirit truly conscious of its own unworthiness and needs. That pounding of the heart will yield a good, fragrant smell, as some spices only do when beaten.

The incense was made of various spices, suggesting to us that true prayer is not one grace alone, but a compound of graces. It is the joint exercise of all a Christian’s graces, seasoned with all. Every one of them, whether humility, or faith, or repentance, or love, etc., contributes some distinctive fragrance. The acting of the heart in supplication is a kind of compendium and result of all these, just as perfume is made up of many ingredients.

But above all, as the incense was, our prayers must be kindled by fire on the altar. There must be some heat and fervour, some warmth, conceived by the Holy Spirit in our hearts, which will make our spices send forth a pleasant smell, as spices do when they are heated.

Fervent and unspoken and discerned by God

Let us commit ourselves to be more serious in our approaches to God, the Father of spirits. Certainly, frequency in prayer will greatly help us towards fervency, and help us to keep it when we have it.

Crying in the heart may be silent to others, but it strikes the ears of God. His ear is sharp, and the voice of the soul’s desire is shrill, and even if it cries in the depths, they will meet together. It is true that vehemence of affection will sometimes cause the voice to be lifted up, but yet that fervency will cry just as loud to heaven when it is kept internal. I am not insisting on such extraordinary degrees of vehemence that they affect the body — I would rather wish that we would accustom ourselves to a solid, calm seriousness and earnestness of spirit, which would be more constant than such raptures can be.

Spirit-given prayer is reverent

Another thing that prayer is composed of is reverence. And what is more suitable than reverence, whether you think of Him or of yourselves? “If I be a father, where is my honour? If I be your master, where is my fear?” (Mal. 1:6). When we call Him Father, or Lord, we proclaim this much — that we ought to know our distance from Him, and His superiority to us.

Reverent because God is our Father

And if worship in prayer does not have this characteristic, it lacks that congruity and suitableness to Him which is its beauty. Is anything more uncomely than for children to behave irreverently and disrespectfully towards their fathers, to whom they owe their beings? It is a monstrous thing even in nature, and to the light of nature. How much more abominable must it be, to draw near disrespectfully to the Father of spirits, in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways, to whom we owe not only this dust, but the living spirit that animates it, and “in whom we live, and move, and have our being (and wellbeing)”! — to draw near to worship this one, and yet to behave ourselves so unseemly and irreverently in His presence, that our hearts are not stricken with a sense of His glory, but lie flat and dead before Him! We scarcely have it in our thoughts, who we are speaking to.

Reverent because God is holy

O the wanderings of heart we have in the worship of God! While we are in communication with our Father and Lord, whose heart is fixed to a constant attendance and presence by the impression of His glorious holiness? Whose spirit does not continually gad about, and get distracted by every thing that occurs, and so mar that soul correspondence? O that this word was written in capital letters on our hearts, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalm 86:7).

That one fact — God — affects everything. Either we must change Him into an idol, which is nothing, or, if we grasp that He is God, we must realise our infinite distance from Him, and His unspeakable, inaccessible glory above us. He is greatly feared and reverenced in the assemblies above, in the upper courts of angels. How much more then should He be greatly feared and had in reverence in the assemblies of His saints, poor mortals, whose foundation is in the dust and in the clay (Job 4:19), and who drink in iniquity like water (Job 5:16)? There are two points of difference and distance from us. Angels are pure spirits, but we have bodies, which is further removed from His nature. And then, angels are holy and clean, but we are defiled with sin, which His holiness has the greatest antipathy against.

Let us consider this, my beloved, so that we may carry the impression of the glorious holiness and majesty of God on our hearts whenever we appear before Him, so that we may serve and rejoice with trembling, and pray with reverence and godly fear. If we realise, indeed, our own condition — how low it is, how base it is, how we cannot endure the clear sight of our own consciences — we cannot look on ourselves steadfastly without shame and confusion of face at the deformed spectacle we present. Much less could we endure to have our souls opened up to the view of other people. We would be overwhelmed with shame if they could see into our hearts! Now then, realise seriously what God is, how glorious in holiness, how infinite in wisdom — and I am sure you will be brought to a reverent, humble, and trembling behaviour in His sight.

Spirit-given prayer is confident

Confident because God is our Father

At the same time, I must add this — that because He is your Father, you may intermingle confidence with your reverence. Indeed, you are commanded to do so, and this honours Him as much as reverence. For confidence in God, as our Father, is the best acknowledgement of His greatness and goodness. It declares how able He is to save us, and how willing, and so ratifies all His promises, and sets to our seal to His faithfulness.

There is nothing He regards Himself so honoured by, than a soul fully resigning itself to Him, and relying on His power and goodwill in all its necessities, casting its care on Him, as a loving Father, who cares for us.

Truly, there is much beauty and harmony in the conjoining of these two — rejoicing with trembling, confidence with reverence, asking nothing doubting, and yet conscious of our infinite distance from Him, and the disproportion between our requests and His highness. “Let us draw near with full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). There is much in Scripture, both exhorted and commanded and commended, about that liberty and boldness of pouring out our requests to God as one who will certainly hear us, and grant what is good.

Confidence is the opposite of unbelief

Unbelief spoils everything. It is a wretched and base-spirited thing, that can think no honourable thoughts of God, but only like itself. But faith is the well-pleasing ingredient of prayer. The lower thoughts you have of yourself, the higher and more honourable thoughts it will make you have of God. “My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts as your thoughts, but as far above you as the heavens above the earth” (Isa. 55:8). This is the rule of a believing soul’s thoughts of God and expectations from Him.

Confident because of God’s faithfulness

In spiritual things which concern your salvation, which are absolutely necessary, you may take the boldness to be absolute in it, and say, like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” and like Jacob, “I will not let thee go till thou bless me.” But in outward things (which have some usefulness in them, but are not always fittest for our chiefest good), or in the degrees of spiritual gifts, and measures of graces, the Lord calls us to pour out our hearts to Him — without anxiety, yet with submission to His pleasure, because He knows what is best for us. In these, we are not bound to be confident that we shall receive the particular thing we ask, but rather our confidence should fix on His goodwill and favour, that He will certainly deny us nothing that He knows is good for us. So, in these things we should cast ourselves absolutely and without anxiousness on His loving and fatherly providence, and give ourselves up to Him to do with us as He sees convenient.

There is sometimes too much limiting of God. This is ordinarily attended and followed with shame and disappointment in the end. On the other hand, there is intolerable remissness and slackness in many, in their laxness in asking for even the weightiest petitions of salvation, mortification of sin, etc. This certainly arises from the diffidence and unbelief of the heart, and the absence of the deeply rooted conviction both of the incomparable necessity and worth of the things themselves, and of His willingness and commitment to bestow them.




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