William Gurnall: The Christian in Complete Armour

May 23

The Inward Principle of Prayer.


‘In the Spirit.


We are come to the third division in the apostle’s directory for prayer - the principle or spring from whence they are to flow - the Spirit, ‘praying...in the Spirit.’ In proceeding to the consideration of this topic, the first point is that which will be determined by the solution of the following question, viz:


Question. What is it to pray in the Spirit?


Answer. Interpreters generally comprehend in this phrase both the spirit of the person praying, and the Spirit of God, by which our spirits are fitted for and acted in prayer.


That is a prayer in the spirit, which, by the help of the Holy Spirit, is performed with our soul and spirit.


These two indeed go ever together. We cannot act our spirit without the Holy Spirit. Alas! this is like a lump of clay in our bosoms till he quickens it; and we cannot but with our heart and spirit, when the Holy Spirit moves upon it. The Spirit’s breath is vital. The Holy Ghost does not breathe in us as one through a trunk or trumpet, which is a mere passive instrument; but stirs up our hearts, and actuates our affections in the duty.


Prayer is called ‘a pouring out of the soul to God’. The soul is the well from which the water of prayer is poured; but the Spirit is the spring that feeds this well, and the hand that helps to pour it forth.


The well would have no water without the spring, neither could it deliver itself of it without one to draw it. Thus the Spirit of God must fill the heart with praying affections, and enable them also to pour themselves forth.


From these words, we shall dwell a while upon these two propositions.

1. He who will pray acceptably, must pray in his heart and spirit.

2. He that would pray in his own spirit, must pray in the Spirit of God.


1. [He who will pray acceptably, MUST PRAY IN HIS HEART AND SPIRIT.]


Praying in the spirit is opposed to lip-labour, ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their heart is removed far from me;’ like an adulteress, whose heart and spirit is as far from her husband as where her paramour is. It is no prayer in which the heart of the person bears no part.


Parisiensis, glossing upon the place of Hosea 14:2, ‘so will we render the calves of our lips,’ compares the duty of prayer to the calves in the legal sacrifices. The composure of the words, says he, in prayer, is as the skin or hide of the beast, the voice as the hair, the understanding as the flesh, the desires and affections of the heart as the fat of the inwards; this, and this alone, makes it a prayer in God's account. ‘My spirit prays,’ says the apostle, 1 Corinthians 14:14; and, ‘I will pray with the spirit,’ verse 15. So, ‘God, whom I serve with my spirit,’ Romans 1:9.


The melodious sound which comes from a musical instrument, such as viol or lute, is formed within the belly of the instrument, and the deeper the belly of the instrument the sweeter is its music; the same strings on a flat board, touched by the same hand, would make no music. The melodiousness of prayer comes from within the man, ‘We are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit,’ and the deeper the groans are that come from thence, still the sweeter the melody.



There may be outward worship and inward atheism; as Melancthon said, You Italians worship that God in bread, whom you do not believe to be in heaven. There may be much pomp in the outward ceremony of the performance, when the person neither loves nor believes that God whom he courts with an external devotion.


The blemishes which made the sacrifices in the law rejected, were not only in the outward limbs of the beast, the sick as well as the lame beast was refused, Malachi 1:8.


We read of loud praises when never a word was heard spoken. But God owns none for a prayer that has the vehemency of the voice but not inspirited with the affection of the heart. Separate the spirit from the body, and the man is dead; the heart from the lip, and there is a dissolution of prayer.


Now, in handling of this I must first show what it is to pray in our spirit when these three are found in the duty:—


1. When we pray with knowledge.

2. When we pray in fervency.

3. When we pray in sincerity.


These three exercise the three powers of the soul and spirit.


By knowledge the understanding is set on work;

by fervency the affections;

and by sincerity the will.


All these are required in conjunction to ‘praying in the spirit.’

There may be knowledge without fervency, and this, like the light of the moon, is cold, and quickens not; there may be heat without knowledge, and this is like mettle in a blind horse; there may be knowledge and fervency, and this like a chariot with swift horses, and a skilful driver in the box, but, being dishonest, carries it the wrong way. Neither of these, nor both these together, avail, because sincerity is wanting to touch these affections, and make them stand to the right point, which is the glory of God. He will have little thanks for his zeal that is fervent in spirit, but serving himself with it, not the Lord.