J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 1.)
The more simply we act on divine precepts and exhortations, the better, for they are the fruit of absolute divine wisdom, which knows divine perfectness and human wants, met in Christ too; but I would say a few words on the real character of prayer.
The answer to prayer seems to me the going forth in divine actions in power - what has flowed forth from divine wisdom, forming desire and wants in the soul. This connects itself with love, dwelling in love, and hence connects itself with confidence which faith expresses. Hence, if it be a mere lust, or to consume it on lust, it is not answered (James 4:3), or is answered in chastisement - is a Kibroth hattaavah (graves of lust); if it be in the Spirit, and the prayer of faith, it is answered according to the request. Thus also it is connected with the moral state of the soul - the entering, first in the 3 nature of the thing desired, and then spiritual acquaintance with God's will, into the thoughts of God, and what His love would have and cause us, as moved by that love, to desire. Christ, perfect in this, could say, "I know that thou hearest me always," save in atonement, where yet, in result, He was yet more gloriously heard.
We are often mixed in our thoughts - there are things that press on us as human beings down here, and we cast ourselves on love, and are sure to be met in love, though the answer may be other than we might seek; but God meets the moral intent of the prayer - what His Spirit has produced - though the positive request, in which wisdom failed, may not be accomplished in itself. But what moves down to us is always what has moved up to God, as wrought in us by the wisdom of God, and the confidence wrought in us by dwelling in love; hence, our prayers should flow, and do where real, from what is immediately drawn from Christ being in the heart by faith - identity of interest with Him (through grace) in the secret of the Lord with us. But there may be the sense, thorough spiritual apprehension of the holy goodness of God, of need according to it, and desire of heart towards it, and yet not intelligence of the divine way of meeting the need; this is the case in Romans 8, but He who searches the heart knows the phronema of the Spirit, for He intercedes for the saints according to God.
186 Grace comes down, and works through the circumstances, though there may be even no remedy for the circumstances, but there is a want, a desire according to God - the Holy Ghost is there.
Then, too, all things work together for good to them who love Him; faith realises God's intention - hence, in the knowledge of His will, knows that it has the petitions - and this reliance on the ear and arm of God is ever met. Grace comes down, and takes up its place in Christ, and in faith through Him, in the wants of men and saints down here, and in Christ, according to the wisdom and mind of God, producing perfect confidence in His love, and in the activity of that love; and so in Christ too, as Lord in its place, He was perfection in this down here - we, according to the measure in which we enter into His mind.
But the great general principle is, that what came down into our wants in wisdom, goes up and is answered in power; but this coming down is in grace in Christ, so that it is immediately connected with divine love, and the confidence of faith expresses this. The great secret is to be with God. If God trusts His mind with one, and thus he is a prophet, then the action follows - God does not let His words fall to the ground; and to this there is analogy or approach, when we walk wholly with God, though there be no official function, and, in the case of the prophets, what was announced authoritatively was at any rate sometimes, always in spirit habitually, prayed for, as James teaches us in Elias for the famine, so authoritatively announced in history. And so the Lord Himself, in the case of Lazarus. But what a place this gives to prayer - dependent intercourse with God in grace, as admitted into His interests, though encouraged to bring every want in childlike, perfect confidence in Him, because He has taken up all our interests into His own love.
Divine wisdom, acting in the midst of this world, in love, looks for the exercise of divine power. It is not simply divine wisdom, but as Christ Himself, divine wisdom exercising itself in the midst of evil; then, as we have seen, dependence is wrought out in it, and confidence where the divine will is known with certainty of answer. Divine power at our disposal, and when not, when it is the expression of a want with submission to that will and confidence in divine love which gives peace; "If we ask anything according to his will," etc., and "make your requests known … and the peace of God shall keep your hearts."
187 As regards prophets, spoken of above, you have Abraham and Abimelech - "he is a prophet, and he shall pray for you"; it is nearness to God which gives power, i.e., enables to dispose of it - "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
I see no difficulty in God's answering prayer connected with general laws, if we allow God to be free to act in His own world, as free as I am. Do I change general physical laws, when I go on request to visit some sick person? My will - how, I know not - acts on and by those physical laws; gravity is in my feet, or in the earth, force in my muscle, electricity in the nerves which set it in motion, yet I, in my poor way, have answered a prayer. Now I fully recognise more power in God, because He can, I need not say, not only change His laws, but, without doing so, give force to agents in them - produce gastric juice more powerfully, or more electricity into the system at His will, without introducing a single new element, or law which governs it. Laws remain the same; His will interferes to produce agency by them. He may work a miracle - raise the dead - which is by no law - has done so. But I do not speak of miracles, which take place when He changes a law, as when He makes the hatchet swim, but of when He works by law - of particular effects of His will. This may be miraculous as when a strong east wind acted on the sea, and another took away locusts, or brought quails, but He may give special activity, or quantity to agents which act by laws regularly. I am sure, at any rate, He hears and answers prayer. The very action of mind on man's frame is so wonderful, that such results may be produced, and God's own mind, as to external circumstances, that I see no difficulty at all. Laws which bind nature I admit; laws which bind God I do not. Besides many or most prayers refer to spiritual things.
The difficulties, as to prayer changing God's mind, etc., which sometimes puzzles a sincere soul, and is common with infidels, are I think a mistake.
As to the bright effect of it on our souls, it is just the same principle as speaking to them, the moment I believe that God works the real work Himself. God not only gives us blessing with Himself, but He gives us a part in the other part of His blessedness, viz., blessing others. I preach - man gets eternal life - yet it is wholly God's work, not mine; yet God graciously gives me a part instrumentally, yet as owning entire dependence on Him in it. This dependence is more fully owned in prayer; God does the work, but not more than in preaching, but I am more directly intimate with Him - expose my desires - love to souls - their wants - or of His Church, and He acts as He did in preaching. And I have more in common with God than in the latter, I reach more difficult cases, where speech cannot be, and distant cases, the power of Satan, the world, and every hindrance to souls I cannot reach even. There is more intimacy, common interests with God, though in dependence on Him, and a wider sphere than in preaching.
188 It applies, too, to all action which we can seek from God, even our own wants; only that when love would not give what we ask, we may not receive that we ask for.