Public Domain Material
The two first and essential means of grace are the Word of God and Prayer.
By these comes conversion; for we are born again by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever; and whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
By these also we grow; for we are exhorted to desire the sincere milk of the Word that we may grow thereby, and we cannot grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ except we also speak to Him in Prayer.
It is by the Word that the Father sanctifies us; but we are also bidden to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation.
These two means of grace must be used in their right proportion. If we read the Word and do not pray, we may become puffed up with knowledge, without the love that buildeth up. If we pray without reading the Word, we shall be ignorant of the mind and will of God, and become mystical and fanatical, and liable to be blown about by every wind of doctrine.
The following chapters relate especially to Prayer; but in order that our prayers may be for such things as are according to the will of God, they must be based upon the revelation of His own will to us; for of Him, and through Him, and to him are all things; and it is only by hearing His Word, in which we learn His purposes toward us and towards the world, that we can pray acceptably, praying in the Holy Ghost, asking those things which are pleasing in His sight.
These Addresses are not to be regarded as exhaustive, but suggestive. This great subject has been the theme of Prophets and Apostles, and of all good men in all ages of the world; and my desire in sending forth this little volume is to encourage God's children to seek by prayer "to move the Arm that moves the world." PRAYER Prayer was appointed to convey The blessings God designs to give; Long as they live should Christians pray, For only while they pray they live.
And shall we in dead silence lie, When Christ stands waiting for our prayer? My soul, thou hast a Friend on high; Arise and try thy interest there.
If pain afflict, or wrongs oppress; If cares distract, or fears dismay; If guilt deject, if sin distress; The remedy's before thee - Pray! Depend on Christ, thou canst not fail; Make all thy wants and wishes known.
Fear not; His merits must prevail; Ask what thou wilt; it shall be done! - Joseph Hart.
Those who have left the deepest impression on this sin cursed earth have been men and women of prayer. You will find that, PRAYER has been the mighty power that has moved not only God, but man. Abraham was a man of prayer, and angels came down from heaven to converse with him.
Jacob's prayer was answered in the wonderful interview at Peniel, that resulted in his having such a mighty blessing, and in softening the heart of his brother Esau; the child Samuel was given in answer to Hannah's prayer; Elijah's prayer closed up the heavens for three years and six months, and he prayed again and the heavens gave rain.
The Apostle James tells us that the prophet Elijah was a man "subject to like passions as we are." I am thankful that those men and women who were so mighty in prayer were just like ourselves. We are apt to think that those prophets and mighty men and women of old time were different from what we are. To be sure they lived in a much darker age, but they were of like passions with ourselves.
We read that on another occasion Elijah brought down fire on Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal cried long and loud, but no answer came. The God of Elijah heard and answered his prayer. Let us remember that the God of Elijah still lives. The prophet was translated and went up to heaven, but his God still lives, and we have the same access to Him that Elijah had.
We have the same warrant to go to God and ask the fire from heaven to come down and consume our lusts and passions - to burn up our dross, and let Christ shine through us.
Elisha prayed, and life came back to a dead child. Many of our children are dead in trespasses and sins. Let us do as Elisha did; let us entreat God to raise them up in answer to our prayers.
Manasseh, the king, was a wicked man, and had done everything he could against the God of his father; yet in Babylon, when he cried to God, his cry was heard, and he was taken out of prison and put on the throne at Jerusalem. Surely if God gave heed to the prayer of wicked Manasseh, He will hear ours in the time of our distress. Is not this a time of distress with a great number of our fellowmen? Are there not many among us whose hearts are burdened? As we go to the throne of grace, let us remember that GOD ANSWERS PRAYER.
Look, again, at Samson. He prayed; and his strength came back, so that he slew more at his death than during his life. He was a restored blackslider and he had power with God. If those who have been backsliders will but return to God, they will see how quickly God will answer prayer.
Job prayed, and his captivity was turned. Light came in the place of darkness, and God lifted him up above the height of his former prosperity - in answer to prayer.
Daniel prayed to God, and Gabriel came to tell him that he was a man greatly beloved of God. Three times that message came to him from heaven in answer to prayer. The secrets of heaven were imparted to him, and he was told that God's Son was going to be cut off for the sins of His people. We find also that Cornelius prayed; and Peter was sent to tell him words whereby he and his should be saved. In answer to prayer this great blessing came upon him and his household. Peter had gone up to the housetop to pray in the afternoon, when he had that wonderful vision of the sheet let down from heaven. It was when prayer was made without ceasing unto God for Peter, that the angel was sent to deliver him.
So all through the Scriptures you will find that when believing prayer went up to God, the answer came down. I think it would be a very interesting study to go right through the Bible and see what has happened while God's people have been on their knees calling upon him. Certainly the study would greatly strengthen our faith - showing, as it would, how wonderfully God has heard and delivered, when the cry has gone up to Him for help.
Look at Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi. As they prayed and sang praises, the place was shaken, and the jailer was converted. Probably that one conversion has done more than any other recorded in the Bible to bring people into the kingdom of God. How many have been blessed in seeking to answer the question - "What must I do to be saved?" It was the prayer of those two godly men that brought the jailer to his knees, and that brought blessing to him and his family.
You remember how Stephen, as he prayed and looked up, saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man at the right hand of God; the light of heaven fell on his face so that it shone. Remember, too, how the face of Moses shone as he came down from the Mount; he had been in communion with God. So when we get really into communion with God, He lifts up His countenance upon us; and instead of our having gloomy looks, our faces will shine, because God has heard and answered our prayers.
I want to call special attention to Christ as an example for us in all things; in nothing more than in prayer. We read that Christ prayed to His Father for everything. Every great crisis in His life was preceded by prayer. Let me quote a few passages. I never noticed till a few years ago that Christ was praying at His baptism. As He prayed, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended on Him. Another great event in His life was His Transfiguration. "As He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering." We read again: "It came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." This is the only place where it is recorded that the Savior spent a whole night in prayer.
What was about to take place? When He came down from the mountain He gathered His disciples around Him, and preached that great discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount - the most wonderful sermon that has ever been preached to mortal men. Probably no sermon has done so much good, and it was preceded by a night of prayer. If our sermons are going to reach the hearts and consciences of the people, we must be much in prayer to God, that there may be power with the word.
In the Gospel of John we read that Jesus at the grave of Lazarus lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me; and I know that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me." Notice, that before He spoke the dead to life He spoke to His Father. If our spiritually dead ones are to be raised, we must first get power with God.
The reason we so often fail in moving our fellowmen is that we try to win them without first getting power with God. Jesus was in communion with His Father, and so He could be assured that His prayers were heard.
We read again, in the twelfth of John, that He prayed to the Father. I think this is one of the saddest chapters in the whole Bible. He was about to leave the Jewish nation and to make atonement for the sin of the world. Hear what He says: "Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour." He was almost under the shadow of the Cross; the iniquities of mankind were about to be laid upon Him; one of His twelve disciples was going to deny Him and swear he never knew Him; another was to sell Him for thirty pieces of silver; all were to forsake Him and flee. His soul was exceeding sorrowful, and He prays; when His soul was troubled, God spake to Him. Then in the Garden of Gethsemane, while He prayed, an angel appeared to strengthen him. In answer to His cry, "Father, glorify Thy Name," He hears a voice coming down from the glory - "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." Another memorable prayer of our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsemane: "He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down and prayed" I would draw your attention to the recorded fact that four times the answer came right down from heaven while the Savior prayed to God. The first time was at His baptism, when the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon Him in answer to His prayer. Again, on the Mount of Transfiguration, God appeared and spoke to Him. Then when the Greeks came desiring to see Him, the voice of God was heard responding to His call; and again, when He cried to the Father in the midst of His agony, a direct response was given. These things are recorded, I doubt not, that we may be encouraged to pray.
We read that His disciples came to Him, and said, "Lord, teach us to pray." It is not recorded that He taught them how to preach. I have often said that I would rather know how to pray like Daniel than to preach like Gabriel. If you get love into your soul, so that the grace of God may come down in answer to prayer, there will be no trouble about reaching the people. It is not by eloquent sermons that perishing souls are going to be reached; we need the power of God in order that the blessing may come down.
The prayer our Lord taught his disciples is commonly called the Lord's Prayer. I think that the Lord's prayer, more properly, is that in the seventeenth of John. That is the longest prayer on record that Jesus made.
You can read it slowly and carefully in about four or five minutes. I think we may learn a lesson here. Our Master's prayers were short when offered in public; when He was alone with God that was a different thing, and He could spend the whole night in communion with His Father. My experience is that those who pray most in their closets generally make short prayers in public. Long prayers are too often not prayers at all, and they weary the people. How short the publican's prayer was: "God be merciful to me a sinner!" The Syrophenician woman's was shorter still: "Lord help me!" She went right to the mark, and she got what she wanted. The prayer of the thief on the cross was a short one: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!" Peter's prayer was, "Lord, save me, or I perish!" So, if you go through the Scriptures, you will find that the prayers that brought immediate answers were generally brief. Let our prayers be to the point, just telling God what we want.
In the prayer of our Lord, in John 17, we find that He made seven requests - one for Himself, four for His disciples around Him, and two for the disciples of succeeding ages. Six times in that one prayer He repeats that God had sent Him. The world looked upon Him as an impostor; and He wanted them to know that he was heaven-sent. He speaks of the world nine times, and makes mention of His disciples and those who believe on Him fifty times.
Christ's last prayer on the Cross was a short one: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." I believe that prayer was answered. We find that right there in front of the Cross, a Roman centurion was converted. It was probably in answer to the Savior's prayer. The conversion of the thief, I believe, was in answer to that prayer of our blessed Lord. Saul of Tarsus may have heard it, and the words may have followed him as he traveled to Damascus; so that when the Lord spoke to him on the way, he may have recognized the voice. One thing we do know; that on the day of Pentecost some of the enemies of the Lord were converted. Surely that was in answer to the prayer, "Father, forgive them!" Hence we see that prayer holds a high place among the exercises of a spiritual life. All God's people have been praying people. Look, for instance, at Baxter! He stained his study walls with praying breath; and after he was anointed with the unction of the Holy Ghost, sent a river of living water over Kidderminster, and converted hundreds. Luther and his companions were men of such mighty pleading with God, that they broke the spell of ages, and laid nations subdued at the foot of the Cross. John Knox grasped all Scotland in his strong arms of faith; his prayers terrified tyrants. Whitefield, after much holy, faithful closet pleading, went to the Devil's fair, and took more than a thousand souls out of the paw of the lion in one day. See a praying Wesley turn more than ten thousand souls to the Lord! Look at the praying Finney, whose prayers, faith, sermons and writings, have shaken this whole country, and sent a wave of blessing through the churches on both sides of the sea.
Dr. Guthrie thus speaks of prayer and its necessity: "The first true sign of spiritual life, prayer, is also the means of maintaining it. Man can as well live physically without breathing, as spiritually without praying. There is a class of animals - the cetaceous, neither fish nor seafowl - that inhabit the deep. It is their home, they never leave it for the shore; yet, though swimming beneath its waves, and sounding its darkest depths, they have ever and anon to rise to the surface that they may breathe the air. Without that, these monarchs of the deep could not exist in the dense element in which they live, and move, and have their being. And something like what is imposed on them by a physical necessity, the Christian has to do by a spiritual one. It is by ever and anon ascending up to God, by rising through prayer into a loftier, purer region for supplies of Divine grace, that he maintains his spiritual life. Prevent these animals from rising to the surface, and they die for want of breath; prevent the Christian from rising to God, and he dies for want; of prayer. 'Give me children,' cried Rachel, 'or else I die.' 'Let me breathe,' says a man gasping, 'or else I die.' 'Let me pray,' says the Christian, 'or else I die.' "Since I began," said Dr. Payson when a student. "to beg God's blessing on my studies, I have done more in one week than in the whole year before." Luther, when most pressed with work, said, "I have so much to do that I cannot get on without three hours a day praying." And not only do theologians think and speak highly of prayer; men of all ranks and positions in life have felt the same.
General Havelock rose at four o'clock, if the hour for marching was six, rather than lose the precious privilege of communion with God before setting out. Sir Matthew Hale says: "If I omit praying and reading God's Word in the morning, nothing goes well all day." "A great part of my time," said McCheyne, "is spent in getting my heart in tune for prayer. It is the link that connects earth with heaven." A comprehensive view of the subject will show that there are nine elements which are essential to true prayer. The first is Adoration; we cannot meet God on a level at the start. We must approach Him as One far beyond our reach or sight. The next is Confession; sin must be put out of the way. We cannot have any communion with God while there is any transgression between us. If there stands some wrong you have done a man, you cannot expect that man's favor until you go to him and confess the fault.
Restitution is another; we have to make good the wrong, wherever possible.
Thanksgiving is the next; we must be thankful for what God has done for us already. Then comes Forgiveness, and then Unity; and then for prayer, such as these things produce, there must be Faith. Thus influenced, we shall be ready to offer direct Petition. We hear a good deal of praying that is just exhorting, and if you did not see the man's eyes closed, you would suppose he was preaching. Then, much that is called prayer is simply finding fault.
There needs to be more petition in our prayers. After all these, there must come Submission. While praying, we must be ready to accept the will of God. We shall consider these nine elements in detail, closing our inquiries by giving incidents illustrative of the certainty of our receiving, under such conditions, Answers to Prayer.
"Lord, what a change within us one short hour Spent in Thy presence will prevail to make! What heavy burdens from our bosoms take; What parched grounds refresh as with a shower.
"We kneel - and all around us seems to lower, We rise - and all, the distant and the near, Stands forth in sunny outline brave and clear; We kneel: how weak! - we rise: how full of power! "Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong, Or others - that we are not always strong? That we are ever overborne with care; That we should ever weak or heartless be, Anxious or troubled, while with us is prayer, And joy, and strength, and courage, are with Thee?" -Trench.
This has been defined as the act of rendering Divine honor, including in it reverence, esteem and love. It literally signifies to apply the hand to the mouth, "to kiss the hand;" in Eastern countries this is one of the great marks of respect and submission. The importance of coming before God in this spirit is great, therefore it is so often impressed upon us in the Word of God.
The Rev. Newman Hall, in his work on the Lord's Prayer, says "Man's worship, apart from revelation, has been uniformly characterized by selfishness. We come to God either to thank Him for benefits already received, or to implore still further benefits: food, raiment, health, safety, comfort. Like Jacob at Bethel, we are disposed to make the worship we render to God correlative with 'food to eat, and raiment to put on.' This style of petition, in which self generally precedes and predominates, if it does not altogether absorb, our supplications, is not only seen in the votaries of false systems, but in the majority of the prayers of professed Christians. Our prayers are like the Parthian horsemen, who ride one way while they look another; we seem to go toward God, but, indeed, reflect upon ourselves, And this may be the reason why many times our prayers are sent forth, like the raven out of Noah's ark, and never return. But when we make the glory of God the chief end of our devotion, they go forth like the dove, and return to us again with an olive branch." Let me refer you to a passage in the prophecies of Daniel. He was one of the men who knew how to pray; his prayer brought the blessing of heaven upon himself and upon his people. He says: "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes; and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments!" The thought I want to call special attention to is conveyed in the words, "O Lord, the great and dreadful God!" Daniel took his right place before God - in the dust; he put God in His right place. It was when Abraham was on his face, prostrate before God, that God spoke to him. Holiness belongs to God; sinfulness belongs to us. Brooks, that grand old Puritan writer, says: "A person of real holiness is much affected and taken up in the admiration of the holiness of God.
Unholy persons may be somewhat affected and taken with the other excellences of God; it is only holy souls that are taken and affected with His holiness. The more holy any are, the more deeply are they affected by this.
To the holy angels, the holiness of God is the sparkling diamond in the ring of glory. But unholy persons are affected and taken with anything rather than with this. Nothing strikes the sinner into such a damp as a discourse on the holiness of God; it is as the handwriting on the wall; nothing makes the head and heart of a sinner to ache like a sermon upon the Holy One; nothing galls and gripes, nothing stings and terrifies unsanctified ones, like a lively setting forth of the holiness of God. But to holy souls there are no discourses that do more suit and satisfy them, that do more delight and content them, that do more please and profit them, than those that do most fully and powerfully discover God to be glorious in holiness." So, in coming before God, we must adore and reverence His name.
The same thing is brought out in Isaiah: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." When we see the holiness of God, we shall adore and magnify Him.
Moses had to learn the same lesson. God told him to take his shoes from off his feet, for the place whereon he stood was holy ground. When we hear men trying to make out that they are holy, and speaking about their holiness, they make light of the holiness of God. It is His holiness that we need to think and speak about; when we do that, we shall be prostrate in the dust. You remember, also, how it was with Peter. When Christ made Himself known to him, he said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" A sight of God is enough to show us how holy He is, and how unholy we are.
We find that Job too, had to be taught the same lesson. "Then Job answered the Lord, and said: Behold I am vile; what shall I answer Thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth." As you hear Job discussing with his friends you would think he was one of the holiest men who ever lived. He was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; he fed the hungry, and clothed the naked. What a wonderfully good man he was! It was all I, I, I. At last God said to him, "Gird up your loins like a man, and I will put a few questions to you." The moment that God revealed Himself, Job changed his language. He saw his own vileness, and God's purity. He said, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The same thing is seen in the cases of those who came to our Lord in the days of His flesh; those who came aright, seeking and obtaining the blessing, manifested a lively sense of His infinite superiority to themselves.
The centurion, of whom we read in the eighth of Matthew, said: "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof;" Jairus "worshipped Him," as he presented his request; the leper, in the Gospel of Mark, came "kneeling down to Him;" the Syrophenician woman "came and fell at His feet;" the man full of leprosy "seeing Jesus, fell on his face." So, too the beloved disciple, speaking of the feeling they had concerning Him when they were abiding with Him as their Lord, said: "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." However intimate their companionship, and tender their love, they reverenced as much as they communed, and adored as much as they loved.
We may say of every act of prayer as George Herbert says of public worship: "When once thy foot enters the church, be bare; God is more than thou; for thou art there Only by His permission. Then beware, And make thyself all reverence and fear.
Kneeling ne'er spoiled silk stocking; quit thy state.
All equal are within the Church's gate." The wise man says: "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth -therefore let thy words be few." If we are struggling to live a higher life, and to know something of God's holiness and purity, what we need is to be brought into contact with Him, that He may reveal Himself. Then we shall take our place before Him as those men of old were constrained to do. We shall hallow His Name - as the Master taught His disciples, when He said, "Hallowed be Thy Name." When I think of the irreverence of the present time, it seems to me that we have fallen on evil days. Let us, as Christians, when we draw near to God in prayer, give Him His right place. "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and Godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire."
"Thou dear and great mysterious Three, For ever be adored, For all the endless grace we see In our Redeemer stored.
"The Father's ancient grace we sing, That chose us in our head; Ordaining Christ, our God and King, To suffer in our stead.
"The sacred Son, in equal strains, With reverence we address For all His grace, and dying pains, And splendid righteousness.
"With tuneful tongue the Holy Ghost For His great work we praise, Whose power inspires the blood bought host Their grateful voice to raise.
"Thus the Eternal Three in One We join to praise, for grace And endless glory through the Son, As shining from His face."
Another element in true prayer is Confession. I do not want Christian friends to think that I am talking to the unsaved. I think we, as Christians, have a good many sins to confess.
If you go back to the Scripture records, you will find that the men who lived nearest to God, and had most power with Him, were those who confessed their sins and failures. Daniel, as we have seen, confessed his sins and those of his people. Yet there is nothing recorded against Daniel.
He was one of the best men then on the face of the earth, yet was his confession of sin one of the deepest and most humble on record. Brooks, referring to Daniel's confession, says: "In these words you have seven circumstances that Daniel useth in confessing of his and the people's sins; and all to heighten and aggravate them. First, 'We have sinned;' secondly, 'We have committed iniquity;' thirdly, 'We have done wickedly; fourthly, 'We have rebelled against thee;' fifthly, 'We have departed from Thy precepts;' sixthly, 'We have not hearkened unto Thy servants;' seventhly, 'Nor our princes, nor all the people of the land.' These seven aggravations which Daniel reckons up in his confession are worthy our most serious consideration." Job was no doubt a holy man, a mighty prince, yet he had to fall in the dust and confess his sins. So you will find it all through the Scriptures. When Isaiah saw the purity and holiness of God, he beheld himself in his true light, and he exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips!" I firmly believe that the Church of God will have to confess her own sins, before there can be any great work of grace.
There must be a deeper work among God's believing people. I sometimes think it is about time to give up preaching to the ungodly, and preach to those who profess to be Christians. If we had a higher standard of life in the Church of God, there would be thousands more flocking into the Kingdom. So it was in the past; when God's believing children turned away from their sins and their idols, the fear of God fell upon the people round about. Take up the history of Israel, and you will find that when they put away their strange gods, God visited the nation, and there came a mighty work of grace. What we want in these days is a true and deep revival in the Church of God. I have little sympathy with the idea that God is going to reach the masses by a cold and formal church. The judgment of God must begin with us. You notice that when Daniel got that wonderful answer to prayer recorded in the ninth chapter, he was confessing his sin. That is one of the best chapters on prayer in the whole Bible.
We read: "While I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, while I was speaking in my prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding." So also when Job was confessing his sin, God turned his captivity and heard his prayer. God will hear our prayer and turn our captivity when we take our true place before Him, and confess and forsake our transgressions.
It was when Isaiah cried out before the Lord, "I am undone," that the blessing came; the live coal was taken from the altar and put upon his lips; and he went out to write one of the most wonderful books the world has ever seen. What a blessing it has been to the church! It was when David said, "I have sinned!" that God dealt in mercy with him. "I acknowledge my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Notice how David made a very similar confession to that of the prodigal in the fifteenth of Luke: "I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight!" There is no difference between the king and the beggar when the Spirit of God comes into the heart and convicts of sin.
Richard Sibbes quaintly says of confession: "This is the way to give glory to God: when we have laid open our souls to God, and laid as much against ourselves as the devil could do that way, for let us think what the devil would lay to our charge at the hour of death and the day of judgment. He would lay hard to our charge this and that - let us accuse ourselves as he would, and as he will ere long. The more we accuse and judge ourselves, and set up a tribunal in our hearts, certainly there will follow an incredible ease. Jonah was cast into the sea, and there was an ease in the ship; Achan was stoned, and the plague was stayed. Out with Jonah, out with Achan; and there will follow ease and quiet in the soul presently. Conscience will receive wonderful ease. "It must needs be so; for when God is honored, conscience is purified. God is honored by confession of sin every way. It honors His omniscience, that He is all seeing; that He sees our sins and searches our hearts - our secrets are not hid from Him. It honors His power. What makes us confess our sins, but that we are afraid of His power, lest He should execute it? And what makes us confess our sins, but that we know there is mercy with Him that He may be feared, and that there is pardon for sin? We would not confess our sins else. With men it is, Confess, and have execution; but with God, Confess, and have mercy. It is His own protestation.
We should never lay open our sins but for mercy. So it honors God; and when He is honored, He honors the soul with inward peace and tranquillity." Old Thomas Fuller says: "Man's owning his weakness is the only stock for God thereon to graft the grace of His assistance." Confession implies humility, and this, in God's sight, is of great price.
A farmer went with his son into a wheat field, to see if it was ready for the harvest. "See, father," exclaimed the boy, "how straight these stems hold up their heads! They must be the best ones. Those that hang their heads down, I am sure cannot be good for much." The farmer plucked a stalk of each kind and said: "See here, foolish child! This stalk that stood so straight is light-headed, and almost good for nothing; while this that hung its head, so modestly is full of the most beautiful grain." Outspokenness is needful and powerful, both with God and man. We need to be honest and frank with ourselves. A soldier said in a revival meeting: "My fellow soldiers, I am not excited; I am convinced - that is all. I feel that I ought to be a Christian; that I ought to say so, to tell you so, and to ask you to come with me; and now if there is a call for sinners seeking Christ to come forward, I for one shall go - not to make a show, for I have nothing but sin to show. I do not go because I want to - I would rather keep my seat; but going will be telling the truth. I ought to be a Christian, I want to be a Christian; and going forward for prayers is just telling the truth about it." More than a score went with him.
Speaking of Pharaoh's words, "Entreat the Lord that He may take away the frogs from me," Mr. Spurgeon says: "A fatal flaw is manifest in that prayer. It contains no confession of sin. He says not, 'I have rebelled against the Lord; entreat that I may find forgiveness!' Nothing of the kind; he loves sin as much as ever. A prayer without penitence is a prayer without acceptance. If no tear has fallen upon it, it is withered. Thou must come to God as a sinner through a Savior, but by no other way. He who comes to God like the Pharisee, with, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,' never draws near to God at all; but he who cries, 'God be merciful to me a sinner,' has come to God by the way which God has Himself appointed. There must be confession of sin before God, or our prayer is faulty." If this confession of sin is deep among believers, it will be so among the ungodly also. I never knew it to fail. I am now anxious that God should revive His work in the hearts of His children, so that we may see the exceeding sinfulness of sin. There are a great many fathers and mothers who are anxious for the conversion of their children. I have had as many as fifty messages from parents come to me within a single week, wondering why their children are not saved, and asking prayer for them. I venture to say that, as a rule, the fault lies at our own door. There may be something in our life that stands in the way. It may be there is some secret sin that keeps back the blessing. David lived in the awful sin into which he fell for many months before Nathan made his appearance. Let us pray God to come into our hearts, and make His power felt. If it is a right eye, let us pluck it out; if it is a right hand, let us cut it off; that we may have power with God and with man.
Why is it that so many of our children are wandering into the drinking saloons, and drifting away into infidelity - going down to a dishonored grave? There seems to be very little power in the Christianity of the present time. Many Godly parents find that their children are going astray. Does it arise from some secret sin clinging around the heart? There is a passage of God's Word that is often quoted, but in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred those who quote it stop at the wrong place. In the fifty-ninth of Isaiah we read: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear." There they stop. Of course God's hand is not shortened, and His ear is not heavy; but we ought to read the next verse: "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness." As Matthew Henry says, "It was owing to themselves - they stood in their own light, they shut their own door. God was coming toward them in the way of mercy, and they hindered Him. 'Your iniquities have kept good things from you.'" Bear in mind that if we are regarding iniquity in our hearts, or living on a mere empty profession, we have no claim to expect that our prayers will be answered. There is not one solitary promise for us. I sometimes tremble when I hear people quote promises, and say that God is bound to fulfill those promises to them, when all the time there is something in their own lives which they are not willing to give up. It is well for us to search our hearts, and find out why it is that our prayers are not answered.
That is a very solemn passage in Isaiah: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to speak before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and Sabbaths the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with - it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." "Even the solemn meeting!" - think of that. If God does not get our heart services, He will have none of it; it is an abomination to Him.
"Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth; they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Again we read in Proverbs: "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." Think of that! It may shock some of us to think that our prayers are an abomination to God, yet if any are living in known sin, this is what God's Word says about them. If we are not willing to turn from sin and obey God's law, we have no right to expect that He will answer our prayers. Unconfessed sin is unforgiven sin, and unforgiveng sin is the darkest, foulest thing on this sin-cursed earth.
You cannot find a case in the Bible where a man has been honest in dealing with sin, but God has been honest with him and blessed him. The prayer of the humble and the contrite heart is a delight to God. There is no sound that goes up from this sin cursed earth so sweet to His ear as the prayer of the man who is walking uprightly.
Let me call attention to that prayer of David, in which he says: "Search me, O, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" I wish all my readers would commit these verses to memory. If we should all honestly make this prayer once every day there would be a good deal of change in our lives. "Search ME:" - not my neighbor. It is so easy to pray for other people, but so hard to get home to ourselves. I am afraid that we who are busy in the Lord's work, are very often in danger of neglecting our vineyard. In this Psalm, David got home to himself. There is a difference between God searching me and my searching myself. I may search my heart, and pronounce it all right, but when God searches me as with a lighted candle, a good many things will come to light that perhaps I knew nothing about.
"Try me." David was tried when he fell by taking his eye off from the God of his father Abraham. "Know my thoughts." God looks at the thoughts.
Are our thoughts pure? Have we in our hearts thoughts against God or against His people - against any one in the world? If we have, we are not right in the sight of God. Oh, may God search us, every one! I do not know any better prayer that we can make than this prayer of David. One of the most solemn things in the Scripture history is that when holy men -better men than we are - were tested and tried, they were found to be as weak as water away from God. Let us be sure that we are right. Isaac Ambrose, in his work on "Self Trial," has the following pithy words: "Now and then propose we to our hearts these two questions: 1. 'Heart, how dost thou?' - a few words, but a very serious question.
You know this is the first question and the first salute that we use to one another - How do you do? I would to God we sometimes thus spoke to our hearts: 'Heart, how dost thou? How is it with thee for thy spiritual state?' 2. 'Heart, what wilt thou do?' or, 'Heart, what dost thou think will become of thee and me?' - as that dying Roman once said: 'Poor, wretched, miserable soul, whither art thou and I going - and what will become of thee, when thou and I shall part?' "This very thing does Moses propose to Israel, though in other terms, 'Oh that they would consider their latter end!' - and oh that we would put this question constantly to our hearts, to consider and debate upon! 'Commune with your own hearts,' said David; that is debate the matter betwixt you and your hearts to the very utmost.
Let your hearts be so put to it in communing with them, as that they may speak their very bottom. Commune - or hold a serious communication and clear intelligence and acquaintance - with your own hearts. "It was the confession of a divine, sensible of his neglect, and especially of the difficulty of this duty: "I have lived," said he, "forty years and somewhat more, and carried my heart in my bosom all this while, and yet my heart and I are as great strangers, and as utterly unacquainted, as if we had never come near one another. Nay, I know not my heart; I have forgotten my heart. Alas! alas! that I could be grieved at the very heart, that my poor heart and I have been so unacquainted! We are fallen into an Athenian age, spending our time in nothing more than in telling or hearing news.
How go things here? How there? How in one place? How in another? But who is there that is inquisitive? How are things with my poor heart? Weigh but in the balance of a serious consideration, what time we have spent in this duty, and what time otherwise; and for many scores and hundreds of hours or days that we owe to our hearts in this duty, can we write fifty? Or where there should have been fifty vessels full of this duty, can we find twenty, or ten? Oh, the days, months, years, we bestow upon sin, vanity, the affairs of this world, while we afford not a minute in converse with our own hearts concerning their case!" If there is anything in our lives that is wrong, let us ask God to show it to us. Have we been selfish? Have we been more jealous of our own reputation than of the honor of God? Elijah thought he was very jealous for the honor of God; but it turned out that it was his own honor after all -self was really at the bottom of it. One of the saddest things, I think, that Christ had to meet with in His disciples was this very thing; there was a constant struggle between them as to who should be the greatest, instead of each one taking the humblest place and being least in his own estimation.
We are told in proof of this, that "He came to Capernaum; and being in the house He asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace, for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And He sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be the last of all, and servant of all. And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them; and when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me; and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me." Soon after "James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto Him, saying, Master, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And He said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask; can ye drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptize with? And they said unto Him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Him, - and saith unto them: Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." The latter words were spoken in the third year of His ministry. Three years the disciples had been with Him; they had listened to the words that fell from His lips; yet they had failed to learn this lesson of humility. The most humiliating thing that happened among the chosen twelve occurred on the night of our Lord's betrayal, when Judas sold Him, and Peter denied Him.
If there was any place where there should have been an absence of these thoughts, it was at the Supper table. Yet we find that when Christ instituted that blessed memorial there was a debate going on among His disciples who should be the greatest. Think of that - right under the Cross, when the Master was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" was already tasting the bitterness of Calvary, and the horrors of that dark hour were gathering upon His soul.
I think if God searches us, we will find a good many things in our lives for us to confess. If we are tried and tested by God's law, there will be many, many things that will have to be changed. I ask again: Are we selfish or jealous? Are we willing to hear of others being used of God more than we are? Are our Methodist friends willing to hear of a great revival of God's work among the Baptists? Would it rejoice their souls to hear of such efforts being blessed? Are Baptists willing to hear of a reviving of God's work in the Methodist, Congregational, or other churches? If we are full of narrow, party and sectarian feelings, there will be many things to be laid aside. Let us pray to God to search us, and try us, and see if there be any evil way in us. If these holy and good men felt that they were faulty, should we not tremble, and endeavor to find out if there is anything in our lives that God would have us get rid of? Once again, let me call your attention to the prayer of David contained in the fifty-first Psalm. A friend of mine told me some years ago that he repeated this prayer as his own every week. I think it would be a good thing if we offered up these petitions frequently; let them go right up from our hearts.
If we have been proud, or irritable, or lacking in patience, shall we not at once confess it? Is it not time that we began at home, and got our lives straightened out? See how quickly the ungodly will then begin to inquire the way of life! Let those of us who are parents set our own houses in order, and be filled with Christ's Spirit; then it will not be long before our children will be inquiring what they must do to get the same Spirit. I believe that today, by its lukewarmness and formality, the Christian Church is making more infidels than all the books that infidels ever wrote. I do not fear infidel lectures half so much as the cold and dead formalism in the professing church at the present time. One prayer meeting like that the disciples had on the day of Pentecost, would shake the whole infidel fraternity.
What we want is to get hold of God in prayer. You are not going to reach the masses by great sermons. We want to "move the Arm that moves the world." To do that, we must be clear and right before God." For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things, Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of Him because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
"No, not despairingly Come I to Thee; No, not distrustingly Bend I the knee; Sin hath gone over me, Yet is this still my plea, Jesus hath died.
"Ah, mine iniquity Crimson has been; Infinite, infinite, Sin upon sin; Sin of not loving Thee, Sin of not trusting Thee.
"Lord, I confess to Thee Sadly my sin; All I am, tell I Thee, All I have been.
Purge Thou my sin away, Wash Thou my soul this day; Lord, make me clean!" - Dr. H. Bonar.