Why are some of our prayers not answered? Perhaps we do not ask rightly and we bring too much pride to the altar of prayer. John Knox writes:
[L]et us not think that we should be heard [by God] for anything proceeding of ourselves; for such as advance, boast, or depend anything upon their own justice, [God] repels from the presence of his mercy. . . And, therefore, we find the most holy men most dejected and humbled in prayer.
David says, “O Lord, our Savior, help us, be merciful unto our sins for thy own sake. Remember not our old iniquities. But haste thee, O Lord, and let thy mercy prevent us” (Ps. 79:8-9). Jeremiah says, “If our iniquities bear testimony against us, do thou according to thy own name” (Jer. 14:7). And behold Isaiah: “Thou art angry, O Lord, because we have sinned, and are replenished with all wickedness; and our justice is like a defiled cloth. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are clay, thou art the workman, and we the workmanship of thy hands. Be not angry, O Lord, remember not our iniquities for ever” (Isa. 64:5-6, 8-9). And Daniel, greatly commended of God, in his prayer, makes most humble confession in these words: “We are sinners, and have offended; we have done ungodly, and fallen from thy commandment. Therefore, not in our own righteousness make we our prayers before thee, but thy most rich and great mercies bring we forth for us. O Lord, hear! O Lord, be merciful and spare us! O Lord, attend, help, and cease not; my God, even for thy own name’s sake do it; for thy city and thy people are called after thy own name” (Dan. 9:5, 18-19). Behold, that in these prayers is no mention of their own justice, their own satisfaction, or their own merits; but most humble confession, proceeding from a sorrowful and penitent heart; having nothing whereupon it might depend, but the free mercy of God alone, who had promised to be their God (that is, their help, comfort, defender, and deliverer); as he has also done to us by Jesus Christ, in time of tribulation; and that they despair not, but after the acknowledging of their sins, called for mercy, and obtained the same. Wherefore it is plain, that such men as, in their prayers, have respect to any virtue proceeding of themselves, thinking thereby their prayers are accepted, never prayed aright.
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