A Treatise on Prayer, or, a Confession, and Declaration of Prayers
A declaration what true prayer is, how we should pray, and for what we should pray; set forth by John Knox, preacher of God’s holy word.
Unto the small and dispersed flock of Jesus Christ.
How necessary is the right invocation of God’s name, otherwise called perfect prayer, [it] becomes no Christian to misknow; seeing it is the very branch which springs forth of true faith (Rom. 10:10-13); whereof if any man is destitute, notwithstanding he is endued with whatsoever other virtues, yet, in the presence of God, is he reputed for no Christian at all. Therefore it is a manifest sign, that such as are always negligent in prayer do understand nothing of perfect faith; for if the fire be without heat, or the burning lamp without light, then true faith may be without fervent prayer. But because, in times past, that was (and yet, alas, with no small number is) reckoned to be prayer, which in the sight of God was and is nothing less, I intend shortly to touch the circumstances thereof.
WHAT PRAYER IS. Who will pray must know and understand that prayer is an earnest and familiar talking with God, to whom we declare our miseries, whose support and help we implore and desire in our adversities, and whom we laud and praise for our benefits received. So that prayer contains the exposition of our dolours [sorrows], the desire of God’s defence, and the praising of his magnificent name, as the psalms of David clearly do teach.
WHAT IS TO BE OBSERVED IN PRAYER. The consideration in whose presence we stand, to whom we speak, and what we desire, should provoke us that this be most reverently done; standing in the presence of the omnipotent Creator of heaven and earth, and of all the contents thereof; whom a thousand thousand angels assist and serve, giving obedience to his eternal majesty; and speaking unto him who knows the secrets of our hearts, before whom dissimulation and lies are always odious and hateful; and asking that thing which may be most to his glory, and to the comfort of our conscience (Dan. 3:25, 28). But we should attend diligently, that such things as may offend his godly presence may be removed to the uttermost of our power. And first, that worldly cares and fleshly cogitations (such as draw us from contemplation of our God) be expelled from us, that we may freely, without interruption, call upon God. But how difficult and hard this one thing is to perform in prayer, none knows better than such as in their prayers are not content to remain within the bands of their own vanity, but, as it were, ravished, do intend [strive] to a purity allowed of God; asking not such things as the foolish reason of man desires, but [that] which may be pleasant and acceptable in God’s presence. Our adversary, Satan, at all times compassing us about (1 Pet. 5:8), is never more busy than when we address and bend ourselves to prayer. O! how secretly and subtly he creeps into our breasts and, calling us back from God, causes us to forget what we have to do; so that frequently when we (with all reverence) should speak to God, we find our hearts talking with the vanities of the world, or with the foolish imaginations of our own conceit.
HOW THE SPIRIT MAKES INTERCESSION FOR US. So that without the Spirit of God supporting our infirmities (mightily making intercession for us with unceasing groans, which cannot be expressed with tongue, Rom. 8:26), there is no hope that we can desire anything according to God’s will. I mean not that the Holy Ghost does mourn or pray, but that he stirs up our minds, giving unto us a desire or boldness to pray, and causes us to mourn when we are extracted or pulled therefrom. Which things to conceive, no strength of man suffices, neither is able of itself;  but hereof it is plain, that such as understand not what they pray, or expound not or declare not the desire of their hearts clearly in God’s presence, and in time of prayer, to their possibility [as far as they are able], and do not expel vain cogitations from their minds, profit nothing in prayer.