The relationship with God, which by grace the believer is brought into, is necessarily connected both with child-like confidence and dependence. The knowledge of the Father, the liberty we have to enter into the holiest of all, by the blood of Jesus, at all times, the operations of the Holy Ghost dwelling in us, and the all-prevailing plea given to us in the name of Jesus, lead us to expect that the Christian while here would be peculiarly given to the exercise of prayer.
The cry which the Spirit produces, the Spirit of adoption, when sent forth into our hearts, being "Abba, Father," opens up to us at once His tender love, as well as His fatherly care and resources. It is this knowledge of the Father that gives such confidence and perseverance in prayer, as well as comfort in thanksgiving, and worship. "The Father Himself loveth you," said Jesus, "because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God." The Spirit thus reveals the Father, and makes us know that He delights to give His children good things. "If ye, being evil, know how to give good things unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him." The sense on our hearts of the reality of this relationship, which, according to the Father's eternal purpose and grace in Christ Jesus, we are now brought into, makes it natural, if I may so speak, for Christians to be emphatically men of prayer, both for themselves and others and especially when challenged with such a gracious declaration as "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
Nor can there be a doubt that it is the will of God that our souls should be going out to Him in much prayer for others. The apostle Paul, in writing to Timothy, makes this perfectly clear. He says, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; . . . for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." (1 Tim. 2:1-3.) Elsewhere we are enjoined to pray for "all saints;" but this circle includes the widest possible range — "all men." Nor is it well to overlook the quality of prayer here contemplated. It is not cold, dry formality, but as earnest and pointed as such a chain of words could well convey — "supplications, prayers, and intercessions."
We have in Scripture private prayer spoken of, and also united, and it is well to consider both. The habit of private prayer, or such a state of constantly felt dependence on God as shall lift the heart to Him on all occasions, is set before us in such words as "Pray without ceasing;" that is, wherever we are, whether in the house, or place of business, or walking the streets, to have the heart habitually going out to God about all our need. But there is another thing which nothing else will supply; it is going into a secret place to pray — to be alone with God, to pour out the heart to Him, and wait upon Him. We find the Lord going out into a solitary place "to pray, going up" into a mountain," and "into the wilderness," to pray. Our Lord expressed His mind for us on this point most touchingly when He said, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matt. 6:6.) Here we have, first, the believer going into a secret place, away from every human eye and ear, for the express purpose of praying to his Father. 2nd. The fact announced that our Father is in that secret place — "Thy Father which is in secret." 3rd. The encouragement that those who do thus seek the Father shall not fail to be openly rewarded." How blessed this is!
As to united prayer, we have precious examples in Scripture of the marvellous way in which God has honoured this. Our Lord too blessedly encourages our hearts on this point; and where are the Christians who cannot praise God for His mercy and faithfulness, in again and again giving most precious answers to their united supplications? Jesus said, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:19, 20.) But observe, there must be agreement. This is of the greatest importance. It is not one praying, and the others merely listening; but hearts united before God in presenting certain requests to Him. All going together into "the holiest of all" to present common supplication. At Pentecost, the disciples were not only "in one place," but "of one accord," before the mighty blessing came. Oh, if God's dear children would only take God at His word in this particular, and seek Him earnestly and together in supplications, prayers, and intercessions, what blessed results there would be! This would soon put to flight the deadness and formality which so largely prevail in prayer-meetings at the present time. Thus crying to God, reckoning upon Him, and expecting only from Him, what rich and abundant blessing would follow!
In prayer, however, we must remember that God expects us to come before Him in uprightness. "If I regard iniquity in my heart," says the psalmist, "the Lord will not hear my prayer." He must have integrity. Evil must not be cloaked. Sin must be judged, and honestly dealt with before Him. The upright soul abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good, and from such God will keep back nothing good. "No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly." This is most encouraging. David had lamentably failed, and circumstances, because of his failure, seemed all against him, but he hoped in God. "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God," and we know the blessed deliverance that followed. The upright soul can turn to God with confidence, and find encouragement in Him, when there in none elsewhere.
We find also in Scripture that success in prayer is connected with obedience, and especially love to the brethren. Our Lord connected the act of praying with forgiving, "if we have ought against any;" and so with fruit-bearing and obedience to the word of God: "I have ordained you," said Jesus, "that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you." (John 15:16.) And so the apostle John, after presenting to us God in His nature as Light and Love, the relationship we are called into by the Father, and the conduct suited to such relationship, exhorts that brotherly love may be real, that is, "not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth;" for in this way we shall assure our hearts before Him. If however, this brotherly kindness be wanting, our hearts will condemn us, and this God knows. But if we are walking in true brotherly love, then have we confidence toward God, and obtain answers to prayer. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment." (1 John 3:19-23.) Nothing, then, can be clearer, that if we would be successful in prayer we must be obedient children, and walk in true practical love with our brethren in the Lord. Perhaps the importance of this is too much overlooked in the present day. We must never forget that in prayer we are acting in the relationship of a child to a father; and we know that when we are truly loving our children, how hindered we feel in granting them their requests if they are acting disobediently, and not walking lovingly toward their brothers and sisters. Oh to be constantly, in felt helplessness, abiding in the Lord Jesus, finding all our resources in Him, drawing all we want by faith from Him; for He said, "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (John 15:7.)
The confidence we should have as children of God is that our Father knows infinitely better than we do, and that He seeks our profit. To ask, therefore, "according to His will," and not according to our will, is the unselfish path in which the Spirit leads. We sometimes "ask amiss," because self, in some shape or other, is our object, and not the Lord's glory; and no marvel if such prayers are not answered. "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." (James 4:3.) Who would wish such prayers to be answered? and yet it is well to watch our hearts as to this. On the other hand, our relationship with God our Father forbids that anything should interfere with the freest actings of filial love. The Spirit, therefore, en- joins us to "be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to make our requests known unto God." (Phil. 4:6.) He does not here promise that all our requests shall be answered, but this Scripture does enjoin that outpouring of heart becoming a child to his Father.
After all, perhaps nothing so hinders answers to prayer as the condition of soul we may be in. Felt nearness to God must be connected with self-abasement. No flesh can glory in His presence. When Job was so unusually near to God that he said, "I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee," how did he feel? He added, "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." When Isaiah was consciously in the presence of the glory of the Lord, we find him saying, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Again, when the prophet Habakkuk, under divine teaching, contemplated more thoroughly the ways of God, he says, "When I heard, my belly trembled, my lips quivered at the voice, rottenness entered into my bones," etc. And so Daniel, the man greatly beloved, when he had a vision of the glory of the Lord, and heard His words, what was the effect? He says, "There remained no strength in me; for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of His words; and when I heard the voice of His words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground." But some of my Christian readers will say, "These were Old Testament saints who had not learned God, as we have, in the death and resurrection of His beloved Son, and had not the Spirit of adoption, and conscious knowledge of God as their Father." I know it. But I refer to these Scriptures to show what man, while in the body, is, when brought into felt nearness to the infinitely holy God. Surely, He is not less holy now than He ever was, though, in the brightness of that perfect holiness we know, for our joy and confidence, that Jesus has entered with His own blood; and that He is our life, righteousness, peace, and acceptance. We find the aged apostle John, when his eye for one moment rested upon the glorified Son of man in the midst of the seven candlesticks, saying, "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead." We know that the Lord soon lifted him up and comforted him; but I refer to it to show that in the presence of divine glory flesh must be abased, and God alone exalted.
To pursue a little further this part of the subject we are considering, let us look at Jacob. He was greatly troubled, full of fear, and rightly enough made the God of Abraham and of Isaac his refuge. His prayer, as recorded in Genesis 32, was humble, earnest, and supplicatory. But with this there was some reckoning upon his own policy. Faith in God he doubtless had, but he had confidence also that a present would appease Esau's wrath, and thus help to deliver him. It was therefore necessary that God should sharply exercise His servant before answering his prayer, so that he might give the glory to Him to whom alone it was due. Hence we read at the end of the chapter, that "Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled with him a man till the breaking of the day." Jacob needed his fancied strength and self-confidence to be broken down, so that he might feel his own weakness. Hence we see his thigh was put out of joint, and in this perfect helplessness he clung to the one who wrestled with him for blessing. He said, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Thus he was consciously helpless, and clinging to another for blessing. He was then asked his name, for God wanted him to feel his vileness as well as weakness. He therefore confesses that his name is Jacob supplanter. Thus he is vile in his own eyes as well as weak. He confesses that he is a supplanter, as well as helpless. And now God can abundantly honour him. "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
Now, what do we learn from all these instances, but that God's people, when in felt nearness to Him, will be consciously weak and unworthy, and that a sense of our helplessness and vileness real self-abasement before God become us, in order that He should bless and honour us in answering our prayers. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." How pride must hinder answers to prayer!
There is another reason why prayer is not more frequently answered. God has marked out the ground of approach worthy of Himself, and of the relationship His grace has formed; viz., the name of His beloved Son. Several times in our Lord's last address to His disciples, He especially taught them to ask the Father in His name. There is no limit to blessing to those who come in His name. "If ye shall ask anything in. My name, I will do it." (John 14:14.) The fact is that Jesus has so infinitely glorified God in His work on the cross, that He is righteously worthy of all blessing. There is nothing too much for God to do, or to give, because of the infinite worthiness of His beloved Son. How simple this is, and how encouraging! Vile and helpless in self, yet so pleading the all-worthy name of Jesus, as to have joyful answers to prayer. He said to His disciples, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24.) Saints of old were wont to approach God by a sacrifice; we bring the name of Him who offered Himself without spot to God — a sacrifice and an offering of such infinite and eternal efficacy, that it never needed to be repeated.
When Samuel prayed for God's people Israel, we are told that he took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering; and no sooner had the savour of the offering gone up, than God thundered upon their enemies and delivered His people. Daniel was successful in prayer at the time of the evening oblation. Zechariah prayed to God, and was heard, while incense was being offered up. Elijah offered a bullock on the altar, when he presented prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, which God immediately answered by fire from heaven. We cannot be too simple and earnest in pleading the name of the Lord Jesus in prayer.
"O plead His name, His precious name,
With boldness at the throne;
For all He is, and all He has,
Will surely be our own."
Not that the Father does not love us. Far from that. The Lord does not intercede to cause the Father to love us. Hence Jesus said, "I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God." (John 16:26, 27.)
It is very interesting to notice the prominence given to prayer by the Holy Ghost in the epistles. The immense importance of prayer, its simple, definite, and direct character, and the blessed results to be expected, are alike strikingly set forth.
In the first chapter of Romans, Paul not only speaks of mentioning them always in his prayers, but that he definitely made this request, that he might by the will of God be made a blessing and a comfort to them, and be comforted also by their faith. (vv. 10-12.) In the fifteenth chapter he beseeches them, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, to pray also that he might come unto them by the will of God, and may with them be refreshed; and he also desires that they may be so earnest, as to strive together with him in prayer for two other things, which are most distinctly and definitely named; viz., that he might be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that his service which he had for Jerusalem might be accepted by the saints. (vv. 30-32.)
In the first epistle to the Corinthians, we have little said as to prayer, further than it should be in the Spirit and intelligent — "I will pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also;" the main object of the epistle being to correct the disorders of the assembly, and to give fresh instructions on the subject. It is true that saints giving themselves to prayer and fasting is enjoined to guard from the temptation of Satan — a most important principle.
In the second epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle again shows how much he valued the help of saints in prayer: "Ye also helping together by prayer for us." (1:11.) He prayed for them, "that they might do no evil." (13:7.)
In Galatians we have nothing about prayer, the object of the Holy Ghost being to rebuke in the sternest way the attempts to undermine the gospel of the grace of God by adding something to it, thus giving the flesh importance, instead of holding to its entire judgment unto death in the cross of Christ — the crucifixion of the old man. It was not the place, therefore, to expect the subject of prayer to be introduced.
Very different indeed is the epistle to the Ephesians, for the apostle is there contemplating God in His grace, eternal counsels, and ways towards us, when dead in sins, in and through Christ Jesus. The sense of this upon his heart necessarily bowed him before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in prayer and thanksgiving for them. His prayer in the first chapter is that they might have the knowledge of God's grace and power toward them, in Christ risen and ascended, as well as the hope of His calling.
In the third chapter, the contemplation of the unsearchable riches of Christ brought out in the mystery now made known, of the body the Church, so bowed him again before the Father, that he prays that, not according to His rich mercy, but according to the riches of His glory, they may be strengthened by the Spirit so as to enjoy Christ, that He may dwell in their hearts by faith, etc. At the close of the epistle, when he thinks how Satan opposes the saints, and tries to hinder their standing in the new place God has brought them into in heavenly places in Christ, the apostle most earnestly urges the saints to habitual and continual dealing with God in prayer, and that not for themselves only, but for every member of the body, and for the gospel too. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, etc. (6:18, 19.)
In Philippians, where the prominent subject is devotedness, we might expect something about prayer, and so there is. In chapter 1:4, Paul assures their hearts that he makes request for them with joy always, and in every prayer; and in the 19th verse he counts also upon their prayers. He told them that he prayed definitely for two things; 1st, "That their love may abound more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;" 2nd, "That they may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." (vv. 9-11.) In the fourth chapter, the saints are enjoined to pray about everything, as one of the necessary ways of enjoying the peace of God. So free is the child of God to feel, that he is to keep back nothing, but make known his requests to God. God does not say He will answer every request, but it is clearly His will that we should tell them out before God. "In everything (great matters, or very small, as we call them) by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." (4:6, 7.)
In the epistle to the Colossian saints, the apostle assures them that he was praying always for them (chap. 1:3), and details some of the points he brought before God on their behalf. As usual, they are most definite, pointed, and brief. (1.) For knowledge of God's will being wisely and spiritually entered into, in order (2) to walk worthy of the Lord; (3) to be strengthened with all might according to the power of the glory; (4) that they might be giving thanks to the Father for having made them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. (Chap. 1:9-12.) He exhorts them also to continue in prayer, to watch in the same with thanksgiving, and to pray also for him and others, particularly as regards the ministry of the word. Moreover, before concluding this short epistle, he refers to one who laboured fervently in prayer for them. "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." (Chap. 4:12.)
In the Thessalonian epistles, the apostle says that he made mention of them in his prayers, and that he continually and definitely asked, first, that God would count them worthy of this calling, and secondly, that He would fulfil all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified, etc. (1 Thess. 1:3, and 2 Thess. 1:11.) He enjoins them also so to cultivate the habit of prayer, as to "pray without ceasing," and in both epistles asks their prayers for himself and fellow-servants, especially that "the word of the Lord might have free course, and be glorified."
In Paul's first epistle to Timothy, so important is the subject of prayer to his own soul, that he exhorts, first of all, that prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all in authority, etc., because it is good and acceptable in the sight of God and our Saviour. He adds, "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." (Chap. 2:1-8.) He mentions also as one mark of a "widow indeed," that she "continueth in supplications and prayers night and day." He declares that food is "sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
In the second epistle to Timothy, we find Paul assuring him that he remembered him in his prayers without ceasing night and day. Let us think of this — continually mentioning in prayer by name persons night and day. He prays also most definitely for the house of Onesiphorus, and that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.
In Titus there is no direct reference to prayer, though it is a most practical epistle; not only does it correct various disorders then manifest, but most urgently enjoins godliness.
In the brief letter to Philemon, prayer is twice brought before us — first, in the apostle's assurance to Philemon that he always made mention of him in prayer; and secondly, that he counted that through his prayers he would be sent to tarry with him. (vv. 4, 22.)
In Hebrews, we have the strong crying, supplications, and tears of our Lord, referred to in the fifth chapter; and in the last chapter the apostle so values prayer, that he hopes he may, through their prayers, be restored the sooner. (v. 8). This Scripture shows how graciously God owns the prayers of those whom He has put into the place of intercession for others, both by relationship and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
James, in his last chapter, gives us quite a treatise on prayer. He insists on the prevalent power of the prayer of one fervent soul, and names Elijah as an example, who was a man of like passions with ourselves. He enjoins us to pray for one another touching our faults; that the afflicted should give themselves to prayer; that in bodily sickness the elders should be sent for to pray over such, because the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and even if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him. The statements in the fourth chapter, "Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts," are very striking and solemn.
In Peter's first epistle, saints are enjoined to "watch unto prayer." They are reminded that God's "ears are open to their prayers," and husbands and wives are exhorted to so dwell together "as heirs together of the grace of life, that their prayers be not hindered." In the second epistle, the exhortations are more to pursue practical godliness in general with "all diligence."
John's epistles rather suppose those he addresses to be praying people than give much instruction on the subject. In chap. 5 of first epistle, speaking of "a sin unto death" (as for instance in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, when discipline unto death should take its course), he says, "There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it."
In the third epistle he says, "I will (or I pray) that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth."
Jude introduces the subject of prayer most pointedly. Looking as he does at the failure and ruin of the church, and its going on to apostacy and judgment, he contemplates some faithful ones standing outside, and characterized not only as being praying people, but as "praying in the Holy Ghost."
In the Revelation, we read of the prayers of saints in the fifth chapter, and of incense offered with the prayers of saints in the eighth chapter. The book concludes with the Spirit and the bride crying, Come, Lord Jesus.
This brief glance at the apostolic writings furnishes us with abundant evidence of the high and important place that prayer and supplication held in former times. No doubt that intellectualism prefers theological research; but a heart taught of God not only feels its own need and poverty, but instinctively cries to God for itself, as well as cheerfully makes intercession for others. When this is lacking there must be serious soul-defect. We are all, no doubt, too much in the company of others, and too little alone with God. It is easy for most Christians to talk in the social circle; but often with what result? When we are really enjoying the Lord's presence, loving His truth, taken up therefore with His counsels, joys, and interests, we are not only drawn out in worship, but have a full tide of prayer for others; for the same blessed Spirit, who takes of the things of Christ and shows unto us, also gives us access, by Christ, unto the Father, and teaches us how to pray and what to pray for. Let the Christian reader ponder these things, and be assured that if secret prayer for himself and others be not the daily habit of his life, it is time to search and consider before the Lord why it is not.
"There is an eye that never sleeps
Beneath the wing of night;
There is an ear that never shuts,
When sink the beams of light.
"There is an arm that never tires,
When human strength gives way;
There is a love that never fails,
When earthly loves decay.
"That eye is fixed on seraph throngs,
That arm upholds the sky;
That ear is filled with heavenly songs,
That love is throned on high.
"But there's a POWER which faith can wield,
When mortal aid is vain;
That eye, that arm, that love to reach,
That listening ear to gain.
"That power is prayer, which soars on high,
Through Jesus, to the throne,
And moves the hand, which moves the world,
To bring deliverance down."