To pray in faith is to ask of God, in the name of Christ, what he hath promised, relying on his power and truth for performance, without binding him up to time, manner, or means.
(1.) We must ask what God hath promised, or else we choose for ourselves and not beg; we subject God’s will to ours, and not ours to his; we forge a bond and then claim it as debt, which is a horrible presumption! He that is his own promiser must be his own paymaster.
(2.) To pray in faith is required that we pray in Christ’s name. As there can be no faith but on a promise, so no promise can be claimed but in his name, because they are all both made to him and performed for him. They are made to him, the covenant being struck with him: ‘In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began,’ Titus 1:2. And there was none then existing but Christ to whom the promise could be made. So that, as the child claims his estate in right of his father that purchased it; so we come to our right in the promise, as heirs of and co-heirs with Christ. And as the promise was made to him, so it is performed for him, because his blood shed was the condition of the obligation upon which God acknowledged the debt to Christ, and bound himself to perform all the articles of the covenant to his heirs’ orderly claiming them at his hands in his name. It is not therefore enough boldly to urge God with a promise: ‘Pardon, Lord, for thou hast promised it; grace and glory, for thou hast promised them;’ but we must, if we mean to lay our plea legally—I mean according to the law of faith—plead for these under the protection of his name. Thus Daniel, that holy man, laid the stress of his prayer on Christ: ‘Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake,’ Dan. 9:17.
(3.) To this praying in faith is required a relying on God, through Christ, for a gracious answer. Let the former be done, and the creature fail in this, he prays not in faith, but takes the name of God and Christ in vain. This act of relying is the taking hold on God in prayer, Isa. 64. When mariners in a storm cast out their anchor, and it comes home again without taking hold on the firm ground, so as to stay the ship and bear it up against the violence of the waves, it gives them no help. So neither doth a handless prayer that takes no hold on God. Therefore you shall find that when a Christian speeds well in prayer, his happy success is attributed, not to naked prayer, but as clothed and empowered with this act of recumbency upon God. ‘They cried unto the Lord,’ II Chr. 13:14. Now see, ‘The children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers,’ ver. 18. He doth but lie in prayer that doth not rely on God after praying. What he seems to give with one hand to God he takes from him with another, which is no better than a mocking of God. By praying we pretend to expect good from him; by not relying we blot this out and declare we look for no such matter.