Prayer—“the hardest work of all”

Studying the subject of prayer has made me more aware of two basic truths: first, because of my indwelling sin, my soul acts unfriendly toward prayer; and second, because of my indwelling sin, I absolutely need the Holy Spirit’s assistance in order for me to pray.

Prayer is such a difficult work that it requires strong discipline. Martin Luther (1483-1546) is not exaggerating when he declares that prayer is “the hardest work of all.” I am not embarrassed to admit that sometimes I find it more enjoyable to play basketball than to pray to God. Sometimes prayer becomes more of a burden than a joy to me. Writing in his treatise I Will Pray with the Spirit (1662), John Bunyan (1628-1688) understands what I mean here when he says:

May I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you poor, blind, carnal men, to entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so loath [unwilling] to go to God, and when it is with him, so loath [unwilling] to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers; first to beg of God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there (Psalm 86:11). Nay, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only (blessed be grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities [Rom. 8:26].    

Michael Haykin, commenting on this quote, notes, “From personal experience, Bunyan well knew the allergic reaction of the old nature to the presence of God. So were it not for the Spirit, none would be able to persevere in prayer.” Since my indwelling sin makes me unfriendly and even ignorant towards the necessity of prayer, I desperately need the help of the Spirit. Why? Because in the words of Bunyan, a “man without the help of the Spirit cannot so much as pray once; much less, continue…in a sweet praying frame.”

O my blessed Holy Spirit give me more grace to pray!

 

 

 

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A Book Review of Octavius Winslow’s The Work of The Holy Spirit

Octavius Winslow (1808-1878) was one of the renowned and celebrated evangelical preachers of the 19th century. He was ordained as a pastor on July 21, 1833 in New York and later moved to England. His prolific experimental Calvinistic knowledge was a ground for earnestness of his profound preaching. He was a Baptist minister but in his last years of his time he seceded to the Anglican Church. “The Work of The Holy Spirit” is one of his inspirational writings.

 

The review is by Gerald Guduli, an ordained minister of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Nkhoma Synod. Born and reared in Malawi, Guduli is currently pursuing a Th.M. degree in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

To keep reading his review, click here.

Book Review Holy Spirit Octavius Winslow

An Interview with Albert N. Martin about his book Preaching in the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011, 67 pp., paperback.

Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed about your much needed book on preaching in the Holy Spirit. As a pastor, I found this volume a blessing to my soul.

Here are some of my questions for you about your work:

  1. In the preface of your book, you mention that you were only about 18 years old when you started preaching the gospel (vii). Obviously, at that time you were not yet an ordained preacher of the gospel. How would you then respond to people who say that the ministry of preaching is only for ordained ministers?

It is indeed true that I make reference in the preface of my book to my experience of street preaching when I was not quite yet 18 years of age. However, I did not engage in that act of witness bearing with any thought that I was a proven gift of the ascended Christ to serve within his church as a pastor and teacher. Rather, at the encouragement of some older mature Christian men, I and several others were simply doing what is recorded in Acts chapter 2.

According to Acts 1:12, 14, and Acts 2:1-4, when the Spirit of God came upon the 120 in the upper room, they were “all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak…” This description applies to all 120 – including the women who were in that company. Therefore, when Peter explains to the multitudes what has happened, he directs their attention to the promise in the book of Joel concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. In that passage we are told that as a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit both “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” That is, they would all speak forth the saving truth of God. There is no indication that one needs formal ecclesiastical ordination to engage in this witness bearing to God’s saving action in Christ. Prophesying (preaching) and teaching by women are clearly out of bounds in the context of the gathered church under its God appointed male leadership. However, the kind of witness bearing “to the mighty works of God” recorded in Acts 2, describes a totally different activity and setting. I placed my experience of street preaching at age 18 in the context of this biblical perspective.

Likewise, Acts 8:1 along with Acts 11:19-21 clearly indicates that the “non-ordained believers” who were scattered upon the persecution of Saul of Tarsus, spoke forth the truth of God’s word in all of the places to which they were scattered by God’s providence. It is clear that these “non-ordained preachers” were even instrumental in the establishment of the church in Antioch.

In the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, there is a very helpful statement in Chapter 26, paragraph 11 addressing this very concern. It reads as follows:

Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the Word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them, but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved then called by the church, may and ought to perform it (my emphasis).

Even though I was very deficient in my understanding of biblical ecclesiology at that age, we were not engaged in a “free lance” activity. In the Mission Hall which I and my friends attended, there were two old men who functioned as our de facto elders. They were the ones who both encouraged our street preaching, our preaching in the Mission Hall, and carefully monitored the content and the manner of our preaching and our Christian lives.

 

To keep reading my interview, click here.

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The Believers’ Need for the Church and the Communion of the Saints: A Modern Application of Octavius Winslow’s Work- Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul

Introduction

As it is natural for water to run down hill, so it is natural for a Christian to grow in Christlikeness through the institution of the church, and the habit of Christian fellowship.  However, the believer who fails to avail himself of the manifold benefits of the church, and the communion of saints will naturally begin to decline spiritually.  In Octavius Winslow’s book Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul,[1] Winslow repeatedly reminded his readers that failure to love, adhere, and participate in these benefits manifested an existing spiritual declension, and furthered spiritual declension.

My aim is first of all to examine Winslow’s warnings and  show that both the church and the communion of the saints are essential to Christian growth.  Secondly to give practical applications as to how a minster and session can help the soul struggling with this issue.  The format will follow the nine specific topics discussed in Winslow.

 

The article is by Rev. Henry Bartsch, minister of the Trinity Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Chatham Ontario, Canada.  He is currently pursuing an M.Th. degree at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is husband to Tammy and father of six children.

Click here to read the entire paper.


[1] Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul.  (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993).

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The Fourfold Context of John Owen’s The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer (1682)

John Owen (1616–1683) considered prayer the heart of all religion: “All men will readily acknowledge that as without it [prayer] there can be no religion at all, so the life and exercise of all religion doth principally consist therein.”[1] For Owen, prayer was an indispensable element of religion, as he again said: “without it there neither is nor can be the exercise of any religion in the world.”[2] Owen discussed the subject of prayer at length in his treatise, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer, written in 1682.[3] In this treatise Owen thought and wrote inseparably as a theologian of the Holy Spirit, a polemicist, a Puritan Renaissance man, and a pastor.[4] Thus, this article will examine Owen’s discourse in light of these four contexts: (1) pneumatological; (2) polemical; (3) the Puritans as a Renaissance movement; and (4) pastoral.

 

To read my entire article, click here.


        [1] John Owen, “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer,” in The Works of John Owen, vol. 4, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust), 237.

        [2] Ibid., 251.

        [3] This discourse is Owen’s seventh book on his whole work on pneumatology in the edition of William H. Goold, volumes 3 & 4, first published by Johnstone & Hunter, 1850-53, then reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust in 1967.

        [4] Owen’s style in writing can be generally categorized into four aspects: (1) exegesis; (2) systematic theology; (3) polemics; and (4) practical application. He would first exegete the text, then draw theology out of his exegesis, and once the doctrine had been drawn, he deduced some practical applications, and oftentimes dialogued polemically with others who had different views of the doctrine he was studying. Hence, he wrote as an exegete, systematic theologian, polemicist, and pastor. This style is also seen in other Puritans.


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