Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Isaac Penington's Works > Isaac Penington to Widow Hemmings (1670)
Well may there doubts and scruples arise in the minds of persons concerning prayer, as they come to any sense or touch of truth from God's Holy Spirit; that duty having been performed and practised so long from the fleshly mind and nature, and not in the leading, will and compass of God's Holy Spirit and power. And those who doubt therein cannot be satisfied, till the Lord open their spirits and make the thing manifest to them; yet this is most certain that all prayer, all true prayer to God, is in and from his Holy Spirit; and whatsoever is otherwise is not accepted of the Father. The promise, indeed, is to the prayer in faith, and to the Holy Spirit; but not to the prayer of the fleshly birth, will, or wisdom. Therefore the great care and concern in prayer is, that that which is of God pray unto the Father, in the <451> quickenings and motions of his own Spirit. For the dead cannot praise God, nor can the dead truly pray unto him. And truly, in the forbearing praying, there can be no peace, for we are to pray continually; nor in praying in a formal way without life, without God's Spirit -- who gives to pray, and who makes intercession -- can there be any peace within; -- rather accusation and anguish to that mind, which, desiring to pray aright, yet knows not how so to do. But it is manifest prayer is not in the time, will, or power of the creature, for it is a gift of God, and the ability lodges in his Spirit; it is not ours, but as given of his Spirit, which, therefore, is to be waited upon, when it will move and breathe in us, and so give us the ability of calling upon the Father, and the power of prevailing with the Father, in the name, and through the life of the Son.
Now as to thy queries, I shall answer in plainness, as the Lord shall please to open my heart.
As to the first: Whenever the creature finds breathings to the Father from a sense of its wants, these are not to be stopped, but to be offered up in that from which the breathings come. For there is no true sense of one's condition, or of one's wants, but from the Spirit of the Lord; and the Lord gives this sense, that the soul might feel its need of him, and cry to him; and every sigh and groan that is thus offered up to him is accepted of him, and prevails with him for good towards that soul, which it shall certainly receive, as it comes to know the Lamb of God, and follow him in the leadings of his good and holy Spirit. And in particular, it ought to pray for the appearance of God's Spirit and power; and if it do already taste somewhat of it, it ought to pray for more of the Spirit, and that it may distinguish the requests that rise up in the heart, whether they come from God's Holy Spirit and will, or from the fleshly nature and will. For the wrong birth also desires the kingdom, and would have the kingdom, and prays for the kingdom, and strives for the kingdom; but it prays amiss, and it strives amiss, even so as it never shall obtain, the kingdom being appointed for, and given to, another.
To the second: Those that do not know, nor are sensible partakers of the Spirit, yet feeling their want thereof, and true desires after it, ought to offer up those desires to God; and <452> keeping in that which begets those desires, they shall not long be ignorant of God's Spirit, but find that God is more willing to give it than a parent to give necessary things to his children. But those that have prayed long for the Spirit, yet have not hitherto received it, have just cause to question the nature and ground of their prayers; since God is so ready to give the Spirit to his children. For doth a child ask bread of his father for many years, and not receive it? Oh, consider this thing! If the child ask the Spirit aright, it is impossible but he should receive some proportion of it from the Father, so much as is necessary to his present state. God doth require his children to perform every thing to him in and with his Spirit, knowing they can do nothing right without it; and surely he will not require duties of them, and withhold that from them, without which, they cannot acceptably perform these duties to him.
To the third: A notion that all the soul's supplies are from the Father is not a sufficient ground of prayer; for the false birth may, and often doth, pray so; but a true feeling of the thing is a sufficient ground, if the heart and mind keep within the limits of the feeling, and offer up no more than what ariseth there; for truly, that is from the Spirit, of the Spirit, and in the Spirit, wherever it is found. And oh! that every one who hath any true sense of God might wait on him, to savor this little which ariseth from God, from [amidst] the multitude of his thoughts, words, and desires, which are from another root, even from the flesh, and are of a fleshly nature, neither are of value, nor avail with the Lord; but the birth of life, the sensible breathings of his own life, in the poorest and weakest babe, are always of esteem, and prevail with the Father.
To the fourth: The creature may misapprehend its duty, may have a wrong sense, apprehending that to be its duty which is not, and may not apprehend that to be its duty which is; and so, if the sense be wrong, then the act of obedience (according to this wrong sense) is wrong also, and is not accepted with the Father. It is true, prayer is of God, and is a duty; not all prayer, but prayer after that manner that the Lord requires, which is in the true sense, and within the limits of the true Spirit and power -- praying always in the Holy Ghost. The pure prayer, the <453> pure breathings of God's child, of the true birth, is always within the limit which God hath prescribed. Therefore watch unto prayer, watch unto God's preparing the heart by the motion and virtue of his good Spirit, and offer up the breathings that then arise; and wait to distinguish between the desires which arise from the fleshly part, and the desires which arise from the spiritual and heavenly part. For the first nature is earthly; but the second nature, the nature which is from the second Adam, the quickening Spirit, is pure and heavenly; and such are all the desires and breathings, that spring from that nature in the vessel. And as thou comest into that nature, and into that Spirit from which the nature proceeds, thou wilt truly distinguish concerning prayer, concerning faith, concerning love, and all other spiritual things; and wilt know Him who is truth and no lie, who deceives not, but preserves that mind which is given up to him, and abides in him, out of all error and deceit.
Thou seemest also to be disturbed about some other duties as well as prayer. If the Lord have begun to put a stop to the workings of flesh in thee, and thou be subject to him therein, and cease from thine own willings and workings, and wait on him to be taught to perform things aright, this is his love to thee; and if thou come to feel the leadings of his Spirit further, and follow him, thou wilt have cause to bless his name, as many others have, whom in this day he hath thus led. Indeed, flesh should be silent before him. Alas! what room is there for his Spirit and power, when there is such a multitude of thoughts, and workings, and reasonings, such a noise of flesh in many hearts and spirits? Happy is he who feels flesh silent, who comes to an end of his own willing and running, though that is a time of great distress, when the full mind is emptied and brought low; but then He that shows mercy is near, and the day of mercy is not far off to that soul.
The Lord raise up that in thee, which is of him; and so guide and order thy heart, that it may long and cry after him, and be heard and satisfied by him.
28th of Ninth Month, 1670