IT is answered prayer which brings praying out of the realm of dry, dead things, and makes praying a thing of life and power. It is the answer to prayer which brings things to pass, changes the natural trend of things, and orders all things according to the will of God. It is the answer to prayer which takes praying out of the regions of fanaticism, and saves it from being Utopian, or from being merely fanciful. It is the answer to prayer which makes praying a power for God and for man, and makes praying real and divine. Unanswered prayers are training schools for unbelief, an imposition and a nuisance, an impertinence to God and to man.
Answers to prayer are the only surety that we have prayed aright. What marvelous power there is in prayer! What untold miracles it works in this world! What untold benefits to men does it secure to those who pray! Why is it that the average prayer by the million goes a begging for an answer?
The millions of unanswered prayers are not to be solved by the mystery of God’s will. We are not the sport of his sovereign power. He is not playing at “make-believe” in his marvelous promises to answer prayer. The whole explanation is found in our wrong praying. “We ask and receive not because we ask amiss.” If all unanswered prayers were dumped into the ocean, they would come very near filling it. Child of God, can you pray? Are your prayers answered? If not, why not? Answered prayer is the proof of your real praying.
The efficacy of prayer from a Bible standpoint lies solely in the answer to prayer. The benefit of prayer has been well and popularly maximized by the saying, “It moves the arm which moves the universe.” To get unquestioned answers to prayer is not only important as to the satisfying of our desires, but is also the evidence of our abiding in Christ. It becomes more important still. The mere act of praying is no test of our relation to God. The act of praying may be a real dead performance. It may be the routine of habit. But to pray and receive clear answers, not once or twice, but daily, this is the sure test, and is the gracious point of our vital connection with Jesus Christ.
Read our Lord’s words in this connection:
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
To God and to man, the answer to prayer is the all-important part of our praying. The answer to prayer, direct and unmistakable, is the evidence of God’s being. It proves that God lives, that there is a God, an intelligent being, who is interested in his creatures, and who listens to them when they approach him in prayer. There is no proof so clear and demonstrative_ that God exists than prayer and its answer. This was Elijah’s plea: “Hear me, 0 Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God.”
The answer to prayer is the part of prayer which glorifies God. Unanswered prayers are dumb oracles which leave the praying ones in darkness, doubt, and bewilderment, and which carry no conviction to the unbeliever. It is not the act or the attitude of praying which gives efficacy to prayer. It is not abject prostration of the body before God, the vehement or quiet utterance to God, the exquisite beauty and poetry of the diction of our prayers, which do the deed. It is not the marvelous array of argument and eloquence in praying which makes prayer effectual. Not one or all of these are the things which glorify God. It is the answer which brings glory to his name.
Elijah might have prayed on Carmel’s heights till this good day with all the fire and energy of his soul, and if no answer had been given, no glory would have come to God. Peter might have shut himself up with Dorcas’ dead body till he himself died on his knees, and if no answer had come, no glory to God nor good to man would have followed, but only doubt, blight, and dismay.
Answered prayer is the convincing proof of our right relations to God. Jesus said at the grave of Lazarus:
Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always, but because of the people that stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
The answer of his prayer was the proof of his mission from God, as the answer to Elijah’s prayer was made to the woman whose son he raised to life. She said, “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God.” He is highest in the favor of God who has the readiest access and the greatest number of answers to prayer from Almighty God.
Prayer ascends to God by an invariable law, even by more than law, by the will, the promise, and the presence of a personal God. The answer comes back to earth by all the promise, the truth, the power, and the love of God.
Not to be concerned about the answer to prayer is not to pray. What a world of waste there is in praying. What myriads of prayers have been offered for which no answer is returned, no answer longed for, and no answer is expected! We have been nurturing a false faith and hiding the shame of our loss and inability to pray, by the false, comforting plea that God does not answer directly or objectively, but indirectly and subjectively. We have persuaded ourselves that by some kind of hocus pocus of which we are wholly unconscious in its process and its results, we have been made better. Conscious that God has not answered us directly, we have solaced ourselves with the delusive unction that God has in some impalpable way, and with unknown results, given us something better. Or we have comforted and nurtured our spiritual sloth by saying that it is not God’s will to give it to us. Faith teaches God’s praying ones that it is God’s will to answer prayer. God answers all prayers and every prayer of his true children who truly pray.
Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.
The emphasis in the Scriptures is always given to the answer to prayer. All things from God are given in answer to prayer. God himself, his presence, his gifts and his grace, one and all, are secured by prayer. The medium by which God communicates with men is prayer. The most real thing in prayer, its very essential end, is the answer it secures. The mere repetition of words in prayer, the counting of beads, the multiplying mere words of prayer, as works of supererogation, as if there was virtue in the number of prayers to avail, is a vain delusion, an empty thing, a useless service. Prayer looks directly to securing an answer. This is its design. It has no other end in view.
Communion with God of course is in prayer. There is sweet fellowship there with our God through his Holy Spirit. Enjoyment of God there is in praying, sweet, rich, and strong. The graces of the Spirit in the inner soul are nurtured by prayer, kept alive and promoted in their growth by this spiritual exercise. But not one nor all of these benefits of prayer have in them the essential end of prayer. The divinely appointed channel through which all good and all grace flows to our souls and bodies is prayer.
Prayer is appointed to convey
The blessings God designs to give.
Prayer is divinely ordained as the means by which all temporal and spiritual good are gained to us. Prayer is not an end in itself. It is not something done to be rested in, something we have done, about which we are to congratulate ourselves. It is a means to an end. It is something we do which brings us something in return, without which the praying is valueless. Prayer always aims at securing an answer.
We are rich, strong, good, and holy by answered prayer. It is not the mere performance, the attitude, nor the words of prayer, which bring benefit to us, but it is the answer sent direct from heaven. Conscious, real answers to prayer bring real good to us. This is not praying merely for self, or simply for selfish ends. The selfish character cannot exist when the prayer conditions are fulfilled.
It is by these answered prayers that human nature is enriched. The answered prayer brings us into constant and conscious communion with God, awakens and enlarges gratitude, and excites the melody and lofty inspiration of praise. Answered prayer is the mark of God in our praying. It is the exchange with heaven, and it establishes and realizes a relationship with the unseen. We give our prayers in exchange for the divine blessing. God accepts our prayers through the atoning blood and gives himself, his presence, and his grace in return.
All holy affections are affected by answered prayers. By the answers to prayer all holy principles are matured, and faith, love, and hope have their enrichment by answered prayer. The answer is found in all true praying. The answer is in prayer strongly as an aim, a desire expressed, and its expectation and realization give importunity and realization to prayer. It is the fact of the answer which makes the prayer, and which enters into its very being. To seek no answer to prayer takes the desire, the aim, and the heart out of prayer. It makes praying a dead thing, fit only for dumb idols. It is the answer which brings praying into Bible regions, and makes it a desire realized, a pursuit, an interest, that clothes it with flesh and blood, and makes it a prayer, throbbing with all the true life of prayer, affluent with all the paternal relations of giving and receiving, of asking and answering.
God holds all good in his own hands. That good comes to us through our Lord Jesus Christ because of his all atoning merits, by asking it in his name. The only and the sole command in which all the others of its class belong, is “Ask, seek, knock.” And the one and sole promise is its counterpart, its necessary equivalent and results: “It shall be given—ye shall find—it shall be opened unto you.”
God is so much involved in prayer and its hearing and answering, that all of his attributes and his whole being are centered in that great fact. It distinguishes him as peculiarly beneficent, wonderfully good, and powerfully attractive in his nature. ” 0 thou that hearest prayer! To thee shall all flesh come.”
Faithful, 0 Lord, thy mercies are
A rock that cannot move;
A thousand promises declare
Thy constancy of love.
Not only does the Word of God stand surety for the answer to prayer, but all the attributes of God conspire to the same end. God’s veracity is at stake in the engagements to answer prayer. His wisdom, his truthfulness and his goodness are involved. God’s infinite and inflexible rectitude is pledged to the great end of answering the prayers of those who call upon him in time of need. Justice and mercy blend into oneness to secure the answer to prayer. It is significant that the very justice of God comes into play and stands hard by God’s faithfulness in the strong promise God makes of the pardon of sins and of cleansing from sin’s pollutions:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God’s kingly relation to man, with all of its authority, unites with the fatherly relation and with all of its tenderness to secure the answer to prayer.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is most fully committed to the answer of prayer. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” How well assured the answer to prayer is, when that answer is to glorify God the Father! And how eager Jesus Christ is to glorify his Father in heaven! So eager is he to answer prayer which always and everywhere brings glory to the Father, that no prayer offered in his name is denied or overlooked by him. Says our Lord Jesus Christ again, giving fresh assurance to our faith, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” So says he once more, “Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
1. The Sin and Cause of Prayerlessness 2. The Fight Against Prayerlessness 3. How To Be Delivered from Prayerlessness; How Deliverance May Continue 4. The Blessing of Victory; The More Abundant Life 5. The Example of Our Lord 6. The Holy Spirit and Prayer 7. Sin vs The Holiness of God 8. Obedience; The Victorious Life 9. Hints-for the Inner Chamber; Time 10. The Example of Paul 11. The Word and Prayer; Preaching and Prayer; Wholeheartedness 12. ‘Follow Me’; The Holy Trinity; Life and Prayer; Perseverance in Prayer;Carnal or Spiritual 13. George Mueller; Hudson Taylor; Light from the Inner Chamber 14. The Cross Spirit in Our Lord 15. Taking Up the Cross 16. The Holy Spirit and the Cross 17. A Testimony & An Epilogue
ANDREW MURRAY AS AN AUTHOR AND FOREWARD
Andrew Murray’s first published books dealt with the urgent question of the training of children. Nothing can have impressed this young minister on his journeys among the voortrekkers as deeply as the large numbers of infants presented for baptism. The Boers are a healthy and prolific race. Families of a dozen or more are common, and mothers are occasionally met with who have borne twenty or twenty-four children. The task of Christian mothers, upon whom devolves the duty of inculcating the first principles of morality and teaching the simplest truths of religion, is assuredly no easy one. Mr Murray’s first book was designed to assist the mothers of his flock in the performance of this duty by providing a Life of Christ in language adapted to the comprehension of the child. It appeared in 1858 as an illustrated quarto volume under the title Jezus de Kindervriend.
His methods of work during the latter years of his life are thus described by his daughter: ‘He sits up very straight in his study chair, and dictates in a loud, clear voice, as though he were actually addressing his audience. His hours of work are usually from 9 or 10 till 11 in the forenoon, during which time two or three chapters of a book are completed. He is very particular about punctuation, and always says: “New paragraph,” pointing with long, slender finger to the exact spot on the paper where the new line must commence, “fullstop,” “comma,” “colon,” “semi-colon,” as the sense may require. Should his secretary perpetrate some mistake or other in spelling, he would make some playful remark like: “You will have to go back to the kindergarten, you know.” At 11 o’clock he would say: “Now give me ten minutes’ rest; or no, let us write some letters for a change.”
Then half a dozen letters would be quickly dictated, in reply to requests for prayer for healing, for the conversion of unconverted relations, for the deliverance of friends addicted to drink, or, it might be, business letters.
He always dictated in a tone of great earnestness, and was specially anxious to get a great deal into a page. “Write closer, closer,” he often repeated. When near the end of the foolscap page, he said: “Now the last four lines for a prayer”; and then he would fold his hands, close his eyes, and actually pray the prayer which ended the written meditation.
To a greater extent than almost any other religious writer of our age Mr Murray possessed the insight and the authority of one of the prophets of olden time. At critical moments in the history of the church he never failed to raise his voice and to direct attention to the real issues. Those who are intimate with his career in South Africa will agree that there was no man who could rise to a great occasion like Andrew Murray. He possessed the gift of speaking, at the right season, the right and just word, of opening up the larger view and kindling the nobler emotions. This gift he exercised in his writings also.
Of the blessing which Mr Murray’s writings have brought to the thousands, the tens of thousands, and the hundreds of thousands who have purchased and presumably read them, it is impossible to speak. Scores of letters have been preserved, from correspondents all over the world, expressing the deep gratitude of the writers for spiritual benefit derived from the study of Mr Murray’s volumes. The author of these lines has personally examined some one hundred and fifty such letters, and their perusal has produced an overwhelming impression of the blessed ministry which Andrew Murray exercised by the use of his fertile and tireless pen. Unknown persons in every quarter of the globe hail him as their spiritual father, and ascribe whatever growth their Christian life has undergone to the influence of his priceless devotional works. ‘What I owe to you eternity alone will reveal,’ is the language of a lady in New South Wales; and her testimony can be paralleled by that of correspondents from the United States and Canada, Great Britain and the Continent, Holland and South Africa, India, China and Australasia.
[From The Life of Andrew Murray of South Africa by J. Du Plessis, Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1919, pp. 460ff.1
A few words with regard to the origin of this book and the object with which it was written will help to put the reader into the right position for understanding its teaching.
It was the outcome of a conference of ministers at Stellenbosch, South Africa, April 11-14,1912. The occasion of the conference was as follows: Professor de Vos, of our Theological Seminary, had written a letter to the ministers of our church (Dutch Reformed Church) concerning the low state of spiritual life which marked the Church (universal) generally, which, (he said), ought to lead to the inquiry as to how far that statement included our church too. What had been said in the book, The State of the Church, called for deep searching of heart. He thought there could be no doubt about the truth of the statement in regard to the lack of spiritual power. He asked whether it was not time for us to come together and in God’s presence to find out what might be the cause of the evil. He wrote: ‘If only we study the conditions in all sincerity, we shall have to acknowledge that our unbelief and sin are the cause of the lack of spiritual power; that this condition is one of sin and guilt before God, and nothing less than a direct grieving of God’s Holy Spirit.’
His invitation met with a hearty response. Our four theological professors, with more than two hundred ministers, missionaries, and theological students, came together with the above words as the keynote of our meeting. From the very first, in the addresses there was the tone of confession as the only way to repentance and restoration. At a subsequent meeting the opportunity was given for testimony as to what might be the sins which made the life of the Church so feeble. Some began to mention failings that they had seen in other ministers, either in conduct, or in doctrine, or in service. It was soon felt that this was not the right way; each must acknowledge that in which he himself was guilty.
The Lord graciously so ordered it that we were gradually led to the sin of prayerlessness as one of the deepest roots of the evil. No one could plead himself free from this. Nothing so reveals the defective spiritual life in minister and congregation as the lack of believing and unceasing prayer. Prayer is in very deed the pulse of the spiritual life. It is the great means of bringing to minister and people the blessing and power of heaven. Persevering and believing prayer means a strong and an abundant life.
When once the spirit of confession began to prevail, the question arose as to whether it would be indeed possible to expect to gain the victory over all that had in the past hindered our prayer life. In smaller conferences held previously, it had been found that many were most anxious to make a new beginning and yet had not the courage to expect that they would be able to maintain that prayer life which they saw to be in accordance with the Word of God. They had often made the attempt but had failed. They did not dare to make any promise to the Lord to live and pray as he would have them; they felt it impossible. Such confessions gradually led to the great truth, that the only power for a new prayer life is to be found in an entirely new relation to our blessed Saviour. It is as we see in him the Lord who saves us from sin – the sin of prayerlessness too – and our faith yields itself to a life of closer intercourse with him, that a life in his love and fellowship will make prayer to him the natural expression of our soul’s life. Before we parted, many were able to testify that they were returning with new light and new hope to find in Jesus Christ strength for a new prayer life.
If conscience is to do its work, and the contrite heart is to feel its misery, it is necessary that each individual should mention his sin by name. The confession must be severely personal. In a meeting of ministers there is probably no single sin which each one of us ought to acknowledge with deeper shame -‘Guilty, verily guilty’ – than the sin of prayerlessness.
What is it, then, that makes prayerlessness such a great sin? At first it is looked upon merely as a weakness. There is so much talk about lack of time and all sorts of distractions that the deep guilt of the situation is not recognised. Let it be our honest desire that, for the future, the sin of prayerlessness may be to us truly sinful. Consider
1. What a reproach it is to God
There is the holy and most glorious God who invites us to come to him, to hold converse with him, to ask from him such things as we need, and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with him. He has created him we might find our highest glory and salvation.
What use do we make of this heavenly privilege? How many there are who take only five minutes for prayer! They say that they have no time and that the heart desire for prayer is lacking; they do not know how to spend half an hour with God! It is not that they absolutely do not pray; they pray every day – but they have no joy in prayer, as a token of communion with God which shows that God is everything to them.
If a friend comes to visit them, they have time, they make time, even at the cost of sacrifice, for the sake of enjoying converse with him. Yes, they have time for everything that really interests them, but no time to practise fellowship with God and delight themselves in him! They find time for a creature who can be of service to them; but day after day, month after month passes, and there is no time to spend one hour with God.
Do not our hearts begin to acknowledge what a dishonour, what a despite of God this is, that I dare to say I cannot find time for fellowship with him? If this sin begins to appear plain to us, shall we not with deep shame cry out: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone, 0 God; be merciful to me, and forgive this awful sin of prayerlessness.’ Consider further
2. It is the cause of a deficient spiritual life
It is a proof that, for the most part, our life is still under the power of ‘the flesh’. Prayer is the pulse of life; by it the doctor can tell what is the condition of the heart. The sin of prayerlessness is a proof for the ordinary Christian or minister that the life of God in the soul is in deadly sickness and weakness.
Much is said and many complaints are made about the feebleness of the Church to fulfill her calling, to exercise an influence over her members, to deliver them from the power of the world, and to bring them to a life of holy consecration to God. Much is also spoken about her indifference to the millions of heathen whom Christ entrusted to her that she might make known to them his love and salvation. What is the reason that many thousands of Christian workers in the world have not a greater influence? Nothing save this – the prayerlessness of their service. In the midst of all their zeal in the study and in the work of the Church, of all their faithfulness in preaching and conversation with the people, they lack that ceaseless prayer which has attached to it the sure promise of the Spirit and the power from on high. It is nothing but the sin of prayerlessness which is the cause of the lack of a powerful spiritual life! Consider further
3. The dreadful loss which the Church suffers as a result of the prayerlessness of the minister
It is the business of a minister to train believers up to a life of prayer; but how can a leader do this if he himself understands little the art of conversing with God and of receiving from the Holy Spirit, every day, out of heaven, abundant grace for himself and for his work? A minister cannot lead a congregation higher than he is himself. He cannot with enthusiasm point out a way, or explain a work, in which he is not himself walking or living.
How many thousands of Christians there are who know next to nothing of the blessedness of prayer fellowship with God! How many there are who know something of it and long for a further increase of this knowledge, but in the preaching of the Word they are not persistently urged to keep on till they obtain the blessing! The reason is simply and only that the minister understands so little about the secret of powerful prayer and does not give prayer the place in his service which, in the nature of the case and in the will of God, is indispensably necessary. Oh, what a difference we should notice in our congregations if ministers could be brought to see in its right light the sin of prayerlessness and were delivered from it! Once more consider
4. The impossibility of preaching the gospel to all men-as we are commanded by Christ to do -so long as this sin is not overcome and cast out.
Many feel that the great need of missions is the obtaining of men and women who will give themselves to the Lord to strive in prayer for the salvation of souls. It has also been said that God is eager and able to deliver and bless the world he has redeemed, if his people were but willing, if they were but ready, to cry to him day and night But how can congregations be brought to that unless there comes first an entire change in ministers and that they begin to see that the indispensable thing is not preaching, not pastoral visitation, not church work, but fellowship with God in prayer till they are clothed with power from on high?
Oh, that all thought and work and expectation concerning the kingdom might drive us to the acknowledgement of the sin of prayerlessness! God help us to root it out! God deliver us from it through the blood and power of Christ Jesus! God teach every minister of the Word to see what a glorious place he may occupy if he first of all is delivered from this root of evils; so that with courage and joy, in faith and perseverance, he can go on with his God!
The sin of prayerlessness! The Lord lay the burden of it so heavy on our hearts that we may not rest till it is taken far from us through the name and power of Jesus He will make this possible for us.
A witness from America
In 1898, there were two members of the Presbytery in New York who attended the Northfield Conference for the deepening of the spiritual life. They returned to their work with the fire of a new enthusiasm. They endeavoured to bring about a revival in the entire Pres bytery. In a meeting which they held, the chairman was guided to ask the brethren a question concerning their prayer life: ‘Brethren,’ said he, ‘let us today make confession before God and each other. It will do us good. Will everyone who spends half an hour every day with God in connection with his work hold up a hand?’ One hand was held up. He made a further request: ‘All who thus spend fifteen minutes hold up a hand.’ Not half of the hands were held up. Then he said: ‘Prayer, the working power of the Church of Christ, and half of the workers make hardly any use of it! All who spend five minutes hold up hands.’ All hands went up. But one man came later with the confession that he was not quite sure if he spent five minutes in prayer every day. ‘It is,’ said he, ‘a terrible revelation of how little time I spend with God.’
The cause of prayerlessness.
In an elder’s prayer meeting, a brother put the question: ‘What, then, is the cause of so much prayerlessness? Is it not unbelief?’
The answer was: ‘Certainly; but then comes the question what is the cause of that unbelief?’ When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus: ‘Why could not we cast the devil out?’ His answer was: ‘Because of your unbelief.’ He went further and said: ‘Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting’ (Matt. 17.19-21). If the life is not one of self-denial – of fasting – that is, letting the world go; of prayer – that is, laying hold of heaven, faith cannot be exercised. A life lived according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit – it is in this that we find the origin of the prayerlessness of which we complain. As we came out of the meeting a brother said to me: ‘That is the whole difficulty; we wish to pray in the Spirit and at the same time walk after the flesh, and this is impossible.’
If one is sick and desires healing, it is of prime importance that the true cause of the sickness be discovered. This is always the first step toward recovery. If the particular cause is not recognised, and attention is directed to subordinate causes, or to supposed but not real causes, healing is out of the question. In like manner, it is of the utmost importance for us to obtain a correct insight into the cause of the sad condition of deadness and failure in prayer in the inner chamber, which should be such a blessed place for us. Let us seek to realise fully what is the root of this evil.
Scripture teaches us that there are but two conditions possible for the Christian. One is a walk according to the Spirit, the other a walk according to ‘the flesh’. These two powers are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. So it comes to pass, in the case of the majority of Christians, that, while we thank God that they are born again through the Spirit and have received the life of God – yet their ordinary daily life is not lived according to the Spirit but according to ‘the flesh’. Paul writes to the Galatians: ‘Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?’ (Gal. 3.3). Their service lay in fleshly outward performances. They did not understand that where ‘the flesh’ is permitted to influence their service of God, it soon results in open sin.
So he mentions not only grave sins as the work of ‘the flesh’, such as adultery, murder, drunkenness; but also the more ordinary sins of daily life – wrath, strife, variance; and he gives the exhortation: ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit’ (Gal. 5.16, 25). The Spirit must be honoured not only as the author of a new life but also as the leader and director of our entire walk. Otherwise we are what the apostle calls ‘carnal’.
The majority of Christians have little understanding of this matter. They have no real knowledge of the deep sinfulness and godlessness of that carnal nature which belongs to them and to which unconsciously they yield. ‘God… condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8.3) – in the cross of Christ. ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts’ (Gal. 5.24). ‘The flesh’ cannot be improved or sanctified. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Rom. 8.7). There is no means of dealing with ‘the flesh’ save as Christ dealt with it, bearing it to the cross. ‘Our old man is crucified with him’ (Rom. 6.6); so we by faith also crucify it, and regard and treat it daily as an accursed thing that finds its rightful place on the accursed cross.
It is saddening to consider how many Christians there are who seldom think or speak earnestly about the deep and immeasurable sinfulness of ‘the flesh’-‘In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing'(Rom. 7.18). The man who truly believes this may well cry out: ‘I see another law in my members … bringing me into captivity to the law of sin… 0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Rom. 7.23, 24). Happy is he who can go further and say: ‘I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord… For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom. 7.25; 8.2).
Would that we might understand God’s counsels of grace for us! ‘The flesh’ on the cross – the Spirit in the heart and controlling the life.
This spiritual life is too little understood or sought after; yet it is literally what God has promised and will accomplish in those who unconditionally surrender themselves to him for this purpose.
Here then we have the deep root of evil as the cause of a prayerless life. ‘The flesh’ can say prayers well enough, calling itself religious for so doing and thus satisfying conscience. But ‘the flesh’ has no desire or strength for the prayer that strives after an intimate knowledge of God; that rejoices in fellowship with him; and that continues to lay hold of his strength. So, finally, it comes to this, ‘the flesh’ must be denied and crucified.
The Christian who is still carnal has neither disposition nor strength to follow after God. He rests satisfied with the prayer of habit or custom; but the glory, the blessedness of secret prayer is a hidden thing to him, till some day his eyes are opened, and he begins to see that ‘the flesh’, in its disposition to turn away from God, is the archenemy which makes powerful prayer impossible for him.
I had once, at a conference, spoken on the subject of prayer and made use of strong expressions about the enmity of ‘the flesh’ as a cause of prayerlessness. After the address, the minister’s wife said that she thought 1 had spoken too strongly. She also had to mourn over too little desire for prayer, but she knew her heart was sincerely set on seeking God. 1 showed her what the word of God said about ‘the flesh’, and that everything which prevents the reception of the Spirit is nothing else than a secret work of ‘the flesh’. Adam was created to have fellowship with God and enjoyed it before his fall. After the fall, however, there came immediately, a deep- seated aversion to God, and he fled from him. This incurable aversion is the characteristic of the unregenerate nature and the chief cause of our unwillingness to surrender ourselves to fellowship with God in prayer. The following day she told me that God had opened her eyes; she confessed that the enmity and unwillingness of ‘the flesh’ was the hidden hindrance in her defective prayer life.
0 my brethren, do not seek to find in circumstances the explanation of this prayerlessness over which we mourn; seek it where God’s word declares it to be, in the hidden aversion of the heart to a holy God.
When a Christian does not yield entirely to the leading of the Spirit – and this is certainly the will of God and the work of his grace – he lives, without knowing it, under the power of ‘the flesh’. This life of ‘the flesh’ manifests itself in many different ways. It appears in the hastiness of spirit, or the anger which so unexpectedly arises in you, in the lack of love for which you have so often blamed yourself; in the pleasure found in eating and drinking, about which at times your conscience has chidden you; in that seeking for your own will and honour, that confidence in your own wisdom and power, that pleasure in the world, of which you are sometimes ashamed before God. All this is life ‘after the flesh’. ‘Ye are yet carnal’ (1 Con 3.3) that text, perhaps, disturbs you at times; you have not full peace and joy in God.
I pray you take time and give an answer to the question: Have 1 not found here the cause of my prayerlessness, of my powerlessness to effect any change in the matter? I live in the Spirit, 1 have been born again, but 1 do not walk after the Spirit -‘the flesh’ lords it over me. The carnal life cannot possibly pray in the spirit and power. God forgive me. The carnal life is evidently the cause of my sad and shameful prayerlessness.
The storm centre on the battlefield
Mention was made in conference of the expression ‘strategic position’ used so often in reference to the great strife between the kingdom of heaven and the powers of darkness.
When a general chooses the place from which he intends to strike the enemy, he pays most attention to those points which he thinks most important in the fight. Thus there was on the battlefield of Waterloo a farmhouse which Wellington immediately saw was the key to the situation. He did not spare his troops in his endeavours to hold that point: the victory depended on it. So it actually happened. It is the same in the conflict between the believer and the powers of darkness. The inner chamber is the place where the decisive victory is obtained.
The enemy uses all his power to lead the Christian and above all the minister, to neglect prayer. He knows that however admirable the sermon may be, however attractive the service, however faithful the pastoral visitation, none of these things can damage him or his kingdom if prayer is neglected. When the Church shuts herself up to the power of the inner chamber, and the soldiers of the Lord have received on their knees ‘power from on high’, then the powers of darkness will be shaken and souls will be delivered. In the Church, on the mission field, with the minister and his congregation, everything depends on the faithful exercise of the power of prayer.
In the week of conference I found the following in The Christian:
Two persons quarrel over a certain point. We call them Christian and Apollyon. Apollyon notices that Christian has a certain weapon which would give him a sure victory. They meet in deadly strife, and Apollyon resolves to take away the weapon from his opponent and destroy it. For the moment the main cause of the strife has become subordinate; the great point now is who shall get possession of the weapon on which everything depends? It is of vital importance to get hold of that.
So it is in the conflict between Satan and the believer. God’s child can conquer everything by prayer. Is it any wonder that Satan does his utmost to snatch that weapon from the Christian, or to hinder him in the use of it?
How now does Satan hinder prayer? By temptation to postpone or curtail it, by bringing in wandering thoughts and all sorts of distractions; through unbelief and hopelessness. Happy is the prayer hero who, through it all, takes care to hold fast and use his weapon. Like our Lord in Gethsemane, the more violently the enemy attacked the more earnestly he prayed and ceased not till he had obtained the victory. After all the other parts of the armour had been named, Paul adds: ‘with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit’ (Eph. 6.18). Without prayer, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s word, have no power. All depends on prayer. God teach us to believe and hold this fast!
As soon as the Christian becomes convinced of his sin in this matter, his first thought is that he must begin to strive, with God’s help, to gain the victory over it. But alas, he soon experiences that his striving is worth little, and the discouraging thought comes over him, like a wave, that such a life is not for him – he cannot continue faithful! At conferences on the subject of prayer, held during the past years, many a minister has openly said that it seemed impossible for him to attain such a strict life.
Recently I received a letter from a minister, well known for his ability and devotion, in which he writes, ‘As far as I am concerned, it does not seem to help me to hear too much about the life of prayer, about the strenuous exertion for which we must prepare ourselves, and about all the time and trouble and endless effort it will cost us. These things discourage me – I have so often heard them. I have time after time put them to the test, and the result has always been sadly disappointing. It does not help me to be told: “You must pray more, and hold a closer watch over yourself, and become altogether a more earnest Christian.
My reply to him was as follows: ‘I think in all I spoke at the conference or elsewhere, 1 have never mentioned exertion or struggle, because I am so entirely convinced that our efforts are futile unless we first learn how to abide in Christ by a simple faith.’
My correspondent said further: ‘The message I need is this: “See that your relationship to your living Saviour is what it ought to be. Live in his presence, rejoice in his love, rest in him.—A better message could not be given, if it is only rightly understood. ‘See that your relationship to the living Saviour is what it ought to be.’ But this is just what will certainly make it possible for one to live the life of prayer.
We must not comfort ourselves with the thought of standing in a right relationship to the Lord Jesus while the sin of prayerlessness has power over us, and while we, along with the whole Church, have to complain about our feeble life which makes us unfit to pray for ourselves, for the Church, or for missions, as we ought. But if we recognise, in the first place, that a right relationship to the Lord Jesus, above all else, includes prayer, with both the desire and power to pray according to God’s will, then we have something which gives us the right to rejoice in him and to rest in him.
I have related this incident to point out how naturally discouragement will be the result of self-effort and will so shut out all hope of improvement or victory. And this indeed is the condition of many Christians when called on to persevere in prayer as intercessors. They feel it is certainly something entirely beyond their reach – they have not the power for the self-sacrifice and consecration necessary for such prayer; they shrink from the effort and struggle which will, as they suppose, make them unhappy. They have tried in the power of the flesh to conquer the flesh – a wholly impossible thing. They have endeavoured by BeeIzebub to cast out BeeIzebub and this can never happen. It is Jesus alone who can subdue the flesh and the devil.
We have spoken of a struggle which will certainly result in disappointment and discouragement. This is the effort made in our own strength. But there is another struggle which will certainly lead to victory. The Scripture speaks of ‘the good fight of faith’, that is to say, a fight which springs from and is carried on by faith. We must get right conceptions about faith and stand fast in our faith. Jesus Christ is ever the author and finisher of faith. It is when we come into right relationship with him that we can be sure of the help and power he bestows. Just, then, as earnestly as we must, in the first place. say: ‘Do not strive in your own strength; cast yourself at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and wait upon him in the sure confidence that he is with you, and works in you’; so do we, in the second place, say: ‘Strive in prayer; let faith fill your heart – so will you be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’
An illustration will help us to understand this. A devoted Christian woman who conducted a large Bible class with zeal and success once came in trouble to her minister. In her earlier years she had enjoyed much blessing in the inner chamber, in fellowship with the Lord and his word. But this had gradually been lost and, do what she would, she could not get right. The Lord had blessed her work, but the joy had gone out of her life. The minister asked what she had done to regain the lost blessedness. ‘I have done everything,’ said she, ‘that 1 can think of, but all in vain.’
He then questioned her about her experience in connection with her conversion. She gave an immediate and clear answer: ‘At first I spared no pains in my attempt to become better, and to free myself from sin, but it was all useless. At last 1 began to understand that I must lay aside all my efforts, and simply trust the Lord Jesus to bestow on me his life and peace, and he did it.’
‘Why then,’ said the minister, ‘do you not try this again? As you go to your inner chamber, however cold and dark your heart may be, do not try in your own might to force yourself into the right attitude. Bow before him, and tell him that he sees in what a sad state you are that your only hope is in him. Trust him with a childlike trust to have mercy upon you, and wait upon him. In such a trust you are in a right relationship to him. You have nothing he has everything.’ Some time later she told the minister that his advice had helped her; she had learned that faith in the love of the Lord Jesus is the only method of getting into fellowship with God in prayer.
Do you not begin to see, my reader, that there are two kinds of warfare – the first when we seek to conquer prayerlessness in our own strength. In that case, my advice to you is: ‘Give over your restlessness and effort; fall helpless at the feet of the Lord Jesus; he will speak the word, and your soul will live.’ If you have done this, then, second, comes the message: ‘This is but the beginning of everything. It will require deep earnestness, and the exercise of all your power, and a watchfulness of the entire heart – eager to detect the least backsliding. Above all, it will require a surrender to a life of selfsacrifice that God really desires to see in us and which he will work out for us.’
The greatest stumbling-block in the way of victory over prayerlessness is the secret feeling that we shall never obtain the blessing of being delivered from it. Often have we put forth effort in this direction, but in vain. Old habit and the power of the flesh, our surroundings with their attractions, have been too strong for us. What good is it to attempt that which our heart assures us is out of our reach? The change needed in the entire life is too great and too difficult. If the question is put: ‘Is a change possible?’ our sighing heart says: ‘Alas, for me it is entirely impossible!’ Do you know why that reply comes? It is simply because you have received the call to prayer as the voice of Moses and as a command of the law. Moses and his law have never yet given anyone the power to obey.
Do you really long for the courage to believe that deliverance from a prayerless life is possible for you and may become a reality? Then you must learn the great lesson that such a deliverance is included in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, that it is one of the blessings of the New Covenant which God himself will impart to you through Christ Jesus. As you begin to understand this you will find that the exhortation, ‘Pray without ceasing’, conveys a new meaning. Hope begins to spring up in your heart that the Spirit – who has been bestowed on you to cry constantly, ‘Abba, Father’- will make a true life of prayer possible for you. Then you will hearken, not in the spirit of discouragement, but in the gladness of hope, to the voice that calls you to repentance.
Many a one has turned to his inner chamber, under bitter selfaccusation that he has prayed so little, and has resolved for the future to live in a different manner. Yet no blessing has come – there was not the strength to continue faithful, and the call to repentance had no power, because his eyes had not been fixed on the Lord Jesus, If he had only understood, he would have said: ‘Lord, thou seest how cold and dark my heart is: 1 know that 1 must pray, but I feel 1 cannot do so; 1 lack the urgency and desire to pray.’
He did not know that at that moment the Lord Jesus in his tender love was looking down upon him and saying: ‘You cannot pray; you feel that all is cold and dark: why not give yourself over into my hands? Only believe that I am ready to help you in prayer; I long greatly to shed abroad my love in your heart, so that you, in the consciousness of weakness, may confidently rely on me to bestow the grace of prayer. Just as 1 will cleanse you from all other sins, so also will 1 deliver from the sin o prayerlessness – only do not seek the victory in your own strength. Bow before me as one who expects everythin from his Saviour. Let your soul keep silence before me however sad you feel your state to be. Be assured of thi – I will teach you how to pray.’
Many a one will acknowledge: ‘I see my mistake; I had not thought that the Lord Jesus must deliver and cleans me from this sin also. I had not understood that he wa with me every day in the inner chamber, in his great lov ready to keep and bless me, however sinful and guilty felt myself to be. 1 had not supposed that just as he will give all other grace in answer to prayer, so, above all and before all, he will bestow the grace of a praying heart. What folly to think that all other blessings must come from him, but that prayer, whereon everything else depends, must be obtained by personal effort! Thank God I begin to comprehend – the Lord Jesus is himself in the inner chamber watching over me, and holding himself responsible to teach me how to approach the Father. This only he demands – that I, with childlike confidence, wait upon him and glorify him.’
Brethren, have we not seriously forgotten this truth? From a defective spiritual life nothing better can be expected than a defective prayer life. It is vain for us, with our defective spiritual life, to endeavour to pray more or better. It is an impossibility. Nothing less is necessary than that we should experience that he who’is in Christ Jesus is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ This is literally true for the man who understands and experiences what it is to be in Jesus Christ.
Our whole relationship to the Lord Jesus must be a new thing. I must believe in his infinite love, which really longs to have communion with me every moment and to keep me in the enjoyment of his fellowship. I must believe in his divine power, which has conquered sin and will truly keep me from it. I must believe in him who, as the great intercessor, through the Spirit, will inspire each member of his body with joy and power for communion with God in prayer. My prayer life must be brought entirely under the control of Christ and his love. Then, for the first time, will prayer become what it really is, the natural and joyous breathing of the spiritual life, by which the heavenly atmosphere is inhaled and then exhaled in prayer.
Do you not see that, just as this faith possesses us, the call to a life of prayer which pleases God will be a welcome call? The cry, ‘Repent of the sin of prayerlessness’, will not be responded to by a sigh of helplessness, or by the unwillingness of the flesh. The voice of the Father will be heard as he sets before us a widely opened door and receives us into blessed fellowship with himself. Prayer for the help of the Spirit to pray will no longer be in fear of an effort too great for our power; it will be but falling down in utter weakness at the feet of the Lord Jesus, to find there that victory comes through the might and love which stream from his countenance.
If the question arises in our mind: ‘will this continue?’ and the fear comes: `You know how often you have tried and been disappointed’, faith will find its strength, not in the thought of what you will, or do, but in the changeless faithfulness and love of Christ, who afresh has succoured you and assured you that those who wait on him shall not be ashamed.
If fear and hesitation still remain, I pray you by the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, and by the unspeakable faithfulness of his tender love, dare to cast yourselves at his feet. Only believe with your whole heart that there is deliverance from the sin of prayerlessness. `If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1.9). In his blood and grace there is complete deliverance from all unrighteousness and from all prayerlessness, Praised be his name for ever!
How deliverance from prayerlessness may continue
What we have said about deliverance from the sin of prayerlessness has also application as answer to the question: `How may the experience of deliverance be maintained?’ Redemption is not granted to us piecemeal, or as something of which we may make use from time to time. It is bestowed as a fullness of grace stored up in the Lord Jesus, which may be enjoyed in a new fellowship with him every day. It is so necessary that this great truth should be driven home and fastened in our minds that I will once more mention it. Nothing can preserve you from carelessness, or make it possible for you to persevere in living, powerful prayer, but a daily close fellowship with Jesus our Lord.
He said to his disciples: ‘Ye believe in God, believe also in me… Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me …He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do’ (John 14.1, 11, 12).
The Lord wished to teach his disciples that all they had learned from the Old Testament concerning the power and holiness and love of God must now be transferred to him. They must not believe merely in certain written documents but in him personally. They must believe that he was in the Father, and the Father in him, in such a sense that they had one life, one glory. All that they knew about Christ they would find in God. He laid much emphasis on this because it was only through such a faith in him and his divine glory that they could do the works which he did, or even greater works. This faith would lead them to know that just as Christ and the Father are one, so also they were in Christ and Christ was in them.
It is this intimate, spiritual, personal, uninterrupted relationship to the Lord Jesus which manifests itself powerfully in our lives, and especially in our prayer lives. Let us consider this and see what it means: that all the glorious attributes of God are in our Lord Jesus Christ. Think of-
1. God’s omnipresence
God fills the world and every moment is present in everything. Just as it is with the Father, so now our Lord Jesus is everywhere present, above all with each of his redeemed ones. This is one of the greatest and most important lessons which our faith must learn. We can clearly understand this from the example of our Lord’s disciples. What was the peculiar privilege of the disciples, who were always in fellowship with him? It was uninterrupted enjoyment of the presence of the Lord Jesus. It was because of this they were so sorrowful at the thought of his death. They would be deprived of that presence. He would be no longer with them. How, under these circumstances, did the Lord Jesus comfort them? He promised that the Holy Spirit from heaven should so work in them a sense of the fullness of his life and of his personal presence that he would be even more intimately near and have more unbroken fellowship with them than ever they experienced while he was upon earth.
This great promise is now the inheritance of every believer, although so many of them know little about it. Jesus Christ, in his divine personality, in that eternal love which led him to the cross, longs to have fellowship with us every moment of the day and to keep us in the enjoyment of that fellowship. This ought to be explained to every new convert: ‘The Lord loves you so that he would have you near him without a break, that you may have experience of his love.’ This is what every believer must learn who has felt his powerlessness for a life of prayer, of obedience, and of holiness. This alone will give us power as intercessors to conquer the world and to win souls out of it for our Lord.
2. The omnipotence of God
How wonderful is God’s power! We see it in creation; we see it in the wonders of redemption recorded in the Old Testament. We see it in the wonderful works of Christ which the Father wrought in him, and above all in his resurrection from the dead. We are called on to believe in the Son, just as we believe in the Father. Yes, the Lord Jesus who, in his love, is so unspeakably near us, is the almighty one with whom nothing is impossible. Whatever may be in our hearts or flesh, which will not submit to us, he can and will conquer. Everything that is promised in God’s word, all that is our inheritance as children of the New Covenant, the almighty Jesus can bestow upon us. If I bow before him in my inner chamber, then I am in contact with the eternal, unchanging power of God. If 1 commit myself for the day to the Lord Jesus, then I may rest assured that it is his eternal almighty power which has taken me under its protection and which will accomplish everything for me.
Oh, if we would only take time for the inner chamber so that we might experience in full reality the presence of this almighty Jesus! What a blessedness would be ours through faith! An unbroken fellowship with an omnipresent and almighty Lord.
3. The holy love of God
This means that he, with his whole heart, offers all his divine attributes for our service and is prepared to impart himself to us. Christ is the revelation of his love. He is the Son of his love – the gift of his love – the power of his love; and this Jesus, who has sought on the cross to give an overwhelming proof of his love in his death and blood-shedding, so as to make it impossible for us not to believe in that love – this Jesus is he who comes to meet us in the inner chamber, and gives the positive assurance that unbroken fellowship with him is our inheritance, and will, through him, become our experience. The holy love of God which sacrificed everything to conquer sin and bring it to naught, comes to us in Christ to save us from every sin.
Brethren, take time to think over that word of our Lord: ‘Ye believe in God, believe also in me’…Believe me that I am in the Father … and ye in me, and I in you’ (John 14. 1, 11, 20). That is the secret of the life of prayer. Take time inthe inner chamber to bow down and worship; and wait on him till he unveils himself, and takes possession of you, and goes out with you to show how a man may live and walk in abiding fellowship with an unseen Lord.
Do you long to know how you may always experience deliverance from the sin of prayerlessness? Here you have the secret. Believe in the Son of God, give him time in the inner chamber to reveal himself in his ever present nearness, as the eternal and almighty one, the eternal love who watches over you. You will experience what, up till now, you have perhaps not known – that it has not entered into the heart of man what God can do for those who love him.
If now we are delivered from the sin of prayerlessness, and understand how this deliverance may continue to be experienced, what will be the fruit of our liberty? He who sees this aright will, with renewed earnestness and perseverance, seek after this liberty. His life and experience will indeed be an evidence that he has obtained something of unspeakable worth. He will be a living witness of the blessing which victory has brought.
1. The blessedness of unbroken fellowship with God
Think of the confidence in the Father which will take the place of the reproach and self-condemnation which was the earlier characteristic of our lives. Think of the deep consciousness that God’s almighty grace has effected something in us, to prove that we really bear his image and are fitted for a life of communion with him and prepared to glorify him. Think how we, notwithstanding our conviction of our nothingness, may live as true children of a King, in communion with their Father, and may manifest something of the character of our Lord Jesus in the holy fellowship with his Father which he had when on earth. Think how in the inner chamber the hour of prayer may become the happiest time in the whole do for us, and how God may use us to take a share in the carrying out of his plans, and make us fountains of blessing for the world around us.
2. The power which we may have for the work to which we are called
The preacher will learn to receive his message really from God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and t deliver it in that power to the congregation. He will know where he can be filled with the love and zeal which will enable him, in his rounds of pastoral visiting, t meet and help each individual in a spirit of tender com passion. He will be able to say with Paul: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Ph 4.13). ‘We are more than conquerors through him th loved us’ (Rom. 8.37). ‘We are ambassadors for Christ … we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconcil to God’ (2 Cor. 5.20). These are no vain dreams or p tures of a foolish imagination. God has given us Paul an illustration, so that, however we may differ from him in gifts or calling, yet in inner experience we may know the all-sufficiency of grace which can do all things for as it did for him.
3. The prospect which opens before us for the future
This is to be consecrated to take part as intercessors in great work of bearing on our hearts the need of the en Church and world. Paul sought to arouse men to pray all saints, and he tells us what a conflict he had for th who had not yet seen his face. In his personal prese he was subject to conditions of time and place, but in Spirit he had power in the name of Christ to pray blessing on those who had not yet heard of the Saviour.
In addition to his life in connection with men here on earth, far or near, he lived another, a heavenly life – one of love and of a wonderful power in prayer which he continually exercised. We can hardly form a conception of the power God will bestow, if only we get freed from the sin of prayerlessness and pray with the daring which reaches heaven and brings down blessing in the almighty name of Christ.
What a prospect! Minister and missionaries brought by God’s grace to pray, let us say twice as much as formerly, with twofold faith and joy! What a difference it would make in the preaching, in the prayer meeting, in the fellowship with others! What a gentle power would come down in an inner chamber, sanctified by communion with God and his love in Christ! What an influence would be exercised on believers, in urging them forward to the work of intercession! How greatly would this influence be felt in the Church and among the heathen! What power might be exercised over ministers of other churches, and who knows how God might use us for his Church through the whole world! Is it not worth while to sacrifice everything, and to beseech God without ceasing to give us real and full victory over the prayerlessness which has covered us with such shame?
Why do I now write these things and extol so highly the blessedness of victory over’the sin which doth so easily beset us’ and which has so terribly robbed us of the power which God has intended for us? I can give an answer. I know all too well what low thoughts we have concerning the promises and the power of God and how prone we are always to backslide, to limit God’s power, and to deem it impossible for him to do greater things than we have seen. It is a glorious thing to get to know God in a new way in the inner chamber. That, however, is but the beginning. It is something still greater and more glorious to know God as the allsufficient One and to wait on his Spirit to open our hearts and minds wide to receive the great things, the new things which he really longs to bestow on those who wait for him.
God’s object is to encourage faith and to make his children and servants see that they must take trouble to understand and rely upon the unspeakable greatness and omnipotence of God, so that they may take literally and in a childlike spirit this word: ‘Unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think … be glory … throughout all ages’ (Eph. 3.20, 21). Oh, that we knew what a great and glorious God we have!
Someone may ask: ‘May not this note of certain victory become a snare and lead to levity and pride?’ Undoubtedly. That which is the highest and best on earth is always liable to abuse. How, then, can we be saved from this? Through nothing so surely as through true prayer, which brings us really into contact with God. The holiness of God, sought for in persistent prayer, will cover our sinfulness. The omnipotence an greatness of God will make us feel our nothingness. Fellowship with God in Jesus Christ will lead us to the experience that there is in us no good thing, and that we can have fellowship with God only as our faith become a humbling of ourselves as Christ humbled himself, an we truly live in him as he is in the Father.
Prayer is not merely coming to God to ask something from him. It is above all fellowship with God and being brought under the power of his holiness and love, till he takes possession of us and stamps our entire nature with the lowliness of Christ, which is the secret of all true worship.
Yes, it is in Christ Jesus that we draw near to the Father, as those who have died with Christ and have entirely done with their own life, as those in whom lives and whom he enables to say: ‘Christ liveth in m What we have said about the work that the Lord Jesus does in us to deliver us from prayerlessness is true not only of the beginning of the life of prayer, and of the joy which a new experience of power to pray causes us, it true for the whole life of prayer all the day lot ‘Through him’ we have access to the Father. In this always, as in the whole spiritual life, ‘Christ is all. ”They saw no man save Jesus only’ (Matt. 17.8).
May God strengthen us to a belief that there is certain victory prepared for us, and that the blessing will be what the heart of man has not conceived! God will do this for those who love him.
This does not come to us all at once. God has great patience with his children. He bears with us in our slow progress with fatherly patience. Let each child of God rejoice in all that God’s word promises. The stronger our faith, the more earnestly will we persevere to the end.
The more abundant life
Our Lord spoke this word concerning the more abundant life when he said that he had come to give his life for his sheep: ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10. 10). A man may have life, and yet, through lack of nourishment, or through illness, there may be no abundance of life or power. This was the distinction between the Old Testament and the New. In the former there was indeed life, under the law, but not the abundance of grace of the New Testament. Christ had given life to his disciples, but they could receive the abundant life only through his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
All true Christians have received life from Christ. The greater portion of them, however, know nothing about the more abundant life which he is willing to bestow. Paul speaks constantly of this. He says about himself that the grace of God was ‘exceeding abundant’ (1 Tim. 1.14). ‘1 can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil. 4.13). ‘Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ’ (2. Cor. 2.14). ‘We are more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Rom. 8.37).
We have spoken of the sin of prayerlessness, and the means of deliverance, and how to be kept free from that sin. What has been said on these points is all included in that expression of Christ: ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ It is of the utmost importance for us so to understand this more abundant life, that we may clearly see that for a true life of prayer nothing less is necessary than that we should walk in an ever increasing experience of that overflowing life.
It is possible for us to commence this conflict against prayerlessness in dependence on Christ, and looking to him to be assisted and kept in it, and yet to be disappointed. This is the case when prayerlessness is looked upon as the one sin against which we must strive. It must be recognised as part of the whole life of the flesh and as closely connected with other sins which spring from the same source. We forget that the entire flesh with all its affections, whether manifested in the body or soul, must be regarded as crucified, and be handed over to death. We must not be satisfied with a feeble life, but must seek for an abundant life. We must surrender ourselves entirely, that the Spirit may take full possession of us, so manifesting that life in us that there may come an entire transformation in our spiritual being, by which the cornplete mastery of Christ and the Spirit is recognised.
What is it, then, which peculiarly constitutes this abundant life? We cannot too often repeat, or in different ways too often set it forth – the abundant life is nothing less than the full Jesus having the full mastery over our entire being, through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit makes known in us the fullness of Christ, and the abundant life which he gives, it will be chiefly in three aspects:
1. As the crucified one
Not merely as the one who died for us, to atone for our sins; but as he who has taken us up with himself on the cross to die with him, and who now works out in us the power of his cross and death. You have the true fellowship with Christ when you can say: ‘I have been crucified with Christ – he, the crucified one, lives in me.’ The feelings and the disposition which were in him, his lowliness and obedience even to the death of the cross – these were what he referred to when he said of the Holy Spirit: ‘He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you’ (John 16.15) – not as an instruction, but as childlike participation of the same life which was in him.
Do you desire that the Holy Spirit should take full possession of you, so as to cause the crucified Christ to dwell in you? Understand then, that this is just the end for which he has been given, and this he will surely accomplish in all who yield themselves to him.
2. As the risen one
The Scripture frequently mentions the resurrection in connection with the wonder-working power of God, by which Christ was raised from the dead; and from which comes the assurance of ‘the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead’ (Eph. 1.19, 20). Do not pass hastily from these words. Turn back and read them once more, and learn the great lesson that, however powerless and weak you feel, the omnipotence of God is working in you; and, if you only believe, will give you in daily life a share in the resurrection of his Son.
Yes, the Holy Spirit can fill you with the joy and victory of the resurrection of Christ, as the power of your daily life, here in the midst of the trials and temptations of this world. Let the cross humble you to death. God will work out the heavenly life in you through his Spirit. Ah, how little have we understood that it is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit to make us partakers of the crucified and risen Christ, and to conform us to his life and death!
3. As the glorified one
The glorified Christ is he who baptises with the Holy Spirit. When the Lord Jesus himself was baptised with the Spirit, it was because he had humbled himself and offered himself to take part in John’s baptism of repentance – a baptism for sinners – in Jordan. Even so, when he took upon himself the work of redemption, he received the Holy Spirit to fit him for his work from that hour till on the cross he ‘offered himself without spot to God’ (Heb. 9.14). Do you desire that this glorified Christ should baptise you with the Holy Spirit? Offer yourself then to him for his service, to further his great work of making known to sinners the love of the Father.
God help us to understand what a great thing it is to receive the Holy Spirit with power from the glorified Jesus! It means a willingness – a longing of the soul – to work for him, and, if need be, to suffer for him. You have known and loved your Lord, and have worked for him, and have had blessing in that work; but the Lord has more than that to bestow. He can so work in us, and in our brethren around us, and in the ministers of the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as to fill our hearts with adoring wonder.
Have you laid hold of it, my reader? The abundant life is neither more nor less than the full life of Christ as the crucified, the risen, the glorified one, who baptises with the Holy Ghost and reveals himself in our hearts and lives as Lord of all within us.
I read not long since an expression – ‘Live in what must be. ‘Do not live in your human imagination of what is possible. Live in the word – in the love and infinite faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. Even though it is slow, and with many a stumble, the faith that always thanks him not for experiences, but for the promises on which it can rely – goes on from strength to strength, still increasing in the blessed assurance that God himself will perfect his work in us.
The connection between the prayer life and the Spirit life is close and indissoluble. It is not merely that we receive the Spirit through prayer, but the Spirit life requires, as an indispensable thing, a continuous prayer life. I can be led continually by the Spirit only as I continually give myself to prayer.
This was very evident in the life of our Lord. A study of his life will give us a wonderful view of the power and holiness of prayer. Consider his baptism. It was when he was baptised and prayed that heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him. God desired to crown Christ’s surrender of himself to the sinner’s baptism in Jordan (which was also a surrender of himself to the sinner’s death), with the gift of the Spirit for the work that he must accomplish. But this could not have taken place had he not prayed. In the fellowship of worship the Spirit was bestowed on him to lead him out into the desert to spend forty days there in prayer and fasting. Turn to Mark 1.32-35: ‘And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door… And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.’
The work of the day and evening had exhausted him. In his healing of the sick and casting out devils, power had gone out of him. While others still slept, he went away to pray and to renew his strength in communion with his Father, He had need of this, otherwise he would not have been ready for the new day. The holy work of delivering souls demands constant renewal through fellowship with God.
Think again of the calling of the apostles as given in Luke 6.12,13-. ‘And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.’ Is it not clear that if anyone wishes to do God’s work, he must take time for fellowship with him, to receive his wisdom and power? The dependence and helplessness of which this is an evidence, open the way and give God the opportunity of revealing his power. How great was the importance of the choosing of the apostles for Christ’s own work, for the early Church, and for all time! It had God’s blessing and seal; the stamp of prayer was on it.
Read Luke 9.18, 20: ‘And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them saying, Whom say the people that I am? … Peter answering said, The Christ of God.’ The Lord had prayed that the Father might reveal to them who he was. It was in answer to prayer that ‘he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles’. And when Peter said: ‘The Christ of God’ the Lord said to him, ‘Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’ (Matt. 16.17). This great confession was the fruit of prayer.
Read further Luke 9.28-35: ‘He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered … And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.’ Christ had desired that, for the strengthening of their faith, God might give them an assurance from heaven that he was the Son of God. Prayer obtained for our Lord Jesus himself, as well as for his disciples, what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Does it not become still more clear that what God wills to accomplish on earth needs prayer as its indispensable condition? And there is but one way for Christ and believers. A heart and mouth open toward heaven in believing prayer will certainly not be put to shame.
Read Luke 11. 1-13: ‘As he was praying in a certain plain, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray…’ And then he gave them that inexhaustible prayer: ‘Our Father who art in heaven’. In this he showed what was going on in his heart, when he prayed that God’s name might be hallowed, and his kingdom come, and his will be done, and all of this ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. How will this ever come to pass? Through prayer. This prayer has been uttered through the ages by countless millions, to their unspeakable comfort. But forget not this – it was born out of the prayer of our Lord Jesus. He had been praying, and therefore was able to give that glorious answer.
Read John 14.16: ‘1 will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter. ‘The entire dispensation of the New Testament, with the wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is the outcome of the prayer of the Lord Jesus. It is as though God had impressed on the gift of the Holy Spirit this seal – in answer to the prayer of the Lord Jesus, and later of his disciples, the Holy Spirit will surely come. But it will be in answer to prayer like that of our Lord, in which he took time to be alone with God and in that prayer offered himself wholly to God.
Read John 17, the high priestly, most holy prayer! Here the Son prays first for himself, that the Father will glorify him by giving him power for the cross, by raising him from the dead, by setting him at his right hand. These great things could not take place save through prayer. Prayer had power to obtain them.
Afterward he prayed for his disciples, that the Father might preserve them from the evil one, might keep them from the world, and might sanctify them. And then, further, he prayed for all those who through their word might believe on him, that all might be one in love, even as the Father and the Son were one. This prayer gives us a glimpse into the wonderful relationship between the Father and the Son, and teaches us, that all the blessings of heaven come continually through the prayer of him who is at God’s fight hand and ever prays for us. But it teaches us, also, that all these blessings must in the same manner be desired and asked for by us. The whole nature and glory of God’s blessings consist in this – they must be obtained in answer to prayer, by hearts entirely surrendered to him, and hearts that believe in the power of prayer.
Now we come to the most remarkable instance of all. In Gethsemane we see that our Lord, according to his constant habit, consulted and arranged with the Father the work he had to do on earth. First he besought him in agony and bloody sweat to let the cup pass from him; when he understood that this could not be, then he prayed for strength to drink it, and surrendered himself with the words: ‘Thy will be done.’ He was able to meet the enemy full of courage and in the power of God gave himself over to the death of the cross. He had prayed.
Oh, why is it that God’s children have so little faith in the glory of prayer, as the great power for subjecting our own wills to that of God, as well as for the confident carrying out of the work of God in spite of our great weakness? Would that we might learn from our Lord Jesus how impossible it is to walk with God, to obtain God’s blessing or leading, or to do his work joyously and fruitfully, apart from close unbroken fellowship with him who is ever a living fountain of spiritual life and power!
Let every Christian think over this simple study of the prayer life of our Lord Jesus and endeavour from God’s word, with prayer for the leading of the Holy Spirit, to learn what the life is which the Lord Jesus Christ bestows upon him and supports in him. It is nothing else than a life of daily prayer. Let each minister especially recognise how entirely vain it is to attempt to do the work of our Lord in any other way than that in which he did it. Let us, as workers, begin to believe that we are set free from the ordinary business of the world, that we may, above everything, have time, in our Saviour’s name, and with his Spirit, and in oneness with him, to ask for and obtain blessing for the world.
Is it not sad that our thoughts about the Holy Spirit are so often coupled with grief and self-reproach? Yet he bears the name of Comforter, and is given to lead us to find in Christ our chief delight and joy. But there is something still more sad: he who dwells within us to comfort us is often grieved by us because we will not permit him to accomplish his work of love. What a cause of inexpressible pain to the Holy Spirit is all this prayerlessness in the Church! It is the cause also of the low vitality and utter impotence which are so often found in us, because we are not prepared to permit the Holy Spirit to lead us.
God grant that our meditation on the work of the Holy Spirit may be matter for rejoicing and for the strengthening of our faith!
The Holy Spirit is ‘the Spirit of prayer’. He is definitely called by this name in Zechariah 12, 10: ‘The spirit of grace and of supplications. ‘Twice in Paul’s epistles there is a remarkable reference to him in the matter of prayer. ‘Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8.15). ‘God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4.6). Have you ever meditated on these words: ‘Abba, Father’? In that name our Saviour offered his greatest prayer to the Father, accompanied by the entire surrender and sacrifice of his life and love. The Holy Spirit is given for the express purpose of teaching us, from the very beginning of our Christian life onward, to utter that word in childlike trust and surrender. In one of these passages we read: ‘We cry’; in the other: ‘He cries.’ What a wonderful blending of the divine and human cooperation in prayer. What a proof that God – if I may say so – has done his utmost to make prayer as natural and effectual as though it were the cry of a child to an earthly Father, as he says: ‘Abba, Father’.
Is it not a proof that the Holy Spirit is to a great extent a stranger in the Church, when prayer, for which God has made such provisions, is regarded as a task and a burden? And does not this teach us to seek for the deep root of prayerlessness in our ignorance of, and disobedience to, the divine instructor whom the Father has commissioned to teach us to pray?
If we desire to understand this truth still more clearly we must notice what is written in Romans 8.26, 27: ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’ Is it not clear from this that the Christian if left to himself does not know how to pray; or how he ought to pray; and that God has stooped to meet us in this helplessness of ours by giving us the Holy Spirit himself to pray for us; and that his operation is deeper than our thought or feeling, but is noticed and answered by God?
Our first work, therefore, ought to be to come into God’s presence not with our ignorant prayers, not with many words and thoughts, but in the confidence that the divine work of the Holy Spirit is being carried on within us. This confidence will encourage reverence and quietness, and will also enable us, in dependence on the help which the Spirit gives, to lay our desires and heart-needs before God. The great lesson for every prayer is – see to it, first of all, that you commit yourself to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and with entire dependence on him, give him the first place; for through him your prayer will have a value you cannot imagine, and through him also you will learn to speak out your desires in the name of Christ.
What a protection this faith would be against deadness and despondency in the inner chamber! Only think of it! In every prayer the triune God takes a part – the Father who hears: the Son in whose name we pray; the Spirit who prays for us and in us. How important it is that we should be in right relationship to the Holy Spirit and understand his work!
The following points demand serious consideration.
1. Let us firmly believe, as a divine reality, that the Spirit of God’s Son, the Holy Spirit, is in us. Do not imagine that you know this and have no need to consider it. It is a thought so great and divine that it can gain an entrance to our hearts and be retained there only by the Holy Spirit himself. ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our -spirit’ (Rom. 8.16). Our position ought to be that of reckoning with full assurance of faith that our heart is his temple, yes, that he dwells within us and rules soul and body. Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray, that we have his Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.
Oh, it is no wonder that we have been prayerless, and have felt this work too heavy for us, if we have sought to hold fellowship with the eternal God apart from his Spirit, who reveals the Father and the Son.
2. In the practice of this faith in the certainty that the Spirit dwells and works in us, there must also be the understanding of all that he desires to accomplish in us. His work in prayer is closely connected with his other work. We have seen in an earlier chapter that his first and greatest work is to reveal Christ in his omnipresent love and power. So the Holy Spirit will in prayer constantly remind us of Christ, of his blood and name, as the sure ground of our being heard.
He will, further, as ‘the Spirit of holiness’, teach us to recognise, and hate, and have done with sin. He is ‘the Spirit of light and wisdom’ who leads us into the heavenly secret of God’s overflowing grace. He is ‘the Spirit of love and power’ who teaches us to witness for Christ and to labour for souls with tender pity. The more closely 1 associate all these blessings with the Spirit, the more shall I be convinced of his deity and shall be the more ready to commit myself to his guidance, as I give myself to prayer. What a different life mine would be if I knew the Spirit as the Spirit of prayer! There is still another thing which I need constantly to learn afresh, that –
3. The Spirit desires to have full possession of my life. We pray for more of the Spirit, and we pray well, if alongside this prayer we set the truth that the Spirit wants more of me. The Spirit would possess me entirely. Just as my soul has my whole body for its dwelling-place and service, so the Holy Spirit would have my body and soul as his dwelling-place, entirely under his control. No one can continue long and earnestly in prayer without beginning to perceive that the Spirit is gently leading to an entirely new consecration, of which previously he knew nothing. ‘I seek Thee with my whole heart.’ The Spirit will make such words more and more the motto of our lives. He will cause us to recognise that what remains in us of double-mindedness is truly sinful. He will reveal Christ as the almighty deliverer from all sin, who is always near to defend us. He will lead us in this way in prayer, to forget ourselves and make us willing to offer ourselves for training as intercessors, to whom God can entrust the carrying out of his plans, and who day and night cry to him to avenge his church of her adversary.
God help us to know the Spirit and to reverence him as the Spirit of prayer!
To understand grace, to understand Christ aright, we must understand what sin is. And how otherwise can we come to this understanding than through the light of God and his word?
Come with me to the beginning of the Bible. See there man created by God, after his image, and pronounced by his creator to be very good. Then sin entered, as rebellion against God. Adam was driven out of paradise and was brought along with the untold millions of following generations under curse and ruin. That was the work of sin. Here we learn its nature and power.
Come further on and see the ark of Noah on Ararat. So terrible had godlessness become among men, God saw nothing for it but to destroy man from off the earth. That was the work of sin.
Come once more with me to Sinai. God wished to establish his covenant with a new nation – with the people of Israel. But because of man’s sinfulness, he could do this only by appearing in darkness and lightning so terrible that Moses said: ‘I exceedingly fear and quake’ (Heb. 12.2 1). And before the end of the giving of the law that awful message came: ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’ (Gal. 3. 10). It was sin which made that necessary.
Come once more with me, and this time to Calvary There see what sin is, and the hatred and enmity with which the world cast out and crucified the Son of God. There sin reached its climax. There Christ was, by God himself, made sin, and became a curse, as the only way to destroy sin. In the agony in which he prayed in Gethsemane, that he might not drink the terrible cup, and in the agony in which on the cross, in the deep darkness of desertion, he cried out: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ we obtain at least some faint idea of the curse and indescribable suffering which sin brings. If anything can make us hate and detest sin, it is Christ on the cross.
Come once again with me to the judgment seat of the Great Day, and see the bottomless pit of darkness wherein countless souls will be plunged under the sentence: ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire’ (Matt. 25.41). Oh, will not these words soften our hearts and fill us with a never-to-beforgotten horror of sin, so that we may hate it with a perfect hatred?
And now is there anything else that can help us to understand what sin is? Yes, there is. Turn your eyes inward, and behold your own heart, and see sin there. Remember that all you have already seen of the hatefulness and godlessness of sin should teach you what sin in your own heart means – all the enmity against God, all the ruin of men, all of its inner nature of hatefulness, lie hidden in the sin you have committed, guilt of every transgression against God. And when you remember that you are a child of God, and yet commit sin and allow it sometimes to fulfill its lusts, is it not fitting that you should cry out with shame: ‘Woe is me, because of my sin’? ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord’ (Luke 5:8).
One great power of sin is that it blinds men so that they do not recognise its true character. Even the Christian himself finds an excuse in the thought that he can never be perfect and that daily sin is a necessity. He is so accustomed to the thought of sinning that he has almost lost the power and ability of mourning over sin. And yet there can be no real progress in grace apart from an increased consciousness of the sin and guilt of every transgression against God. And there cannot be a more important question than this: ‘How can 1 regain the lost tenderness of conscience and become prepared really to offer to God the sacrifice of a broken heart?’
Scripture teaches us the way. Let the Christian remember what God thinks about sin – the hatred with which his holiness bums against it, the solemn sacrifice which he made to conquer sin, and deliver us from it. Let him tarry in God’s presence till his holiness shines upon him, and he cries out with Isaiah: ‘Woe is me! for I am undone’ (Isa. 6.5).
Let him remember the cross, and what the love of Christ had to endure there, through the unspeakable pain which sin caused him; and let him ask if this will not teach him to hearken to the voice which says: ‘Oh, do not this abominable thing which 1 hate’ (Jer. 44.4). Let him take time, so that the blood and love of the cross may exercise their full influence on him, and let him think of sin as nothing less than giving his hand to Satan and to his power. Is not this a terrible result of our prayerlessness, and of our short and hasty tarrying before God – that the true knowledge of sin is almost lost?
Let the believer think not only of what redemption has cost Christ, but also of the fact that Christ is offered to him, by the Holy Spirit, as a gift of inconceivable grace, through whom divine forgiveness and purification and renewing have taken possession of him; and let him ask himself with what return such love should be repaid. If only time were taken to tarry in God’s presence and ask such questions, the Spirit of God would accomplish his work of conviction of sin in us and would teach us to take an entirely new standpoint, and would give us a new view of sin. The thought would begin to arise in our hearts that we have in very deed been redeemed, so that in the power of Christ we may live every day as partners in the great victory which Christ obtained over sin on the cross, and manifest it in our walk.
What think you? Do you not begin to see that the sin of prayerlessness has had a more terrible effect than you at first supposed? It is because of this hasty and superficial converse with God that the sense of sin is so weak and that no motives have power to help you to hate and flee from sin as you ought. Nothing, nothing except the hidden, humble, constant fellowship with God can teach you, as a child of God, to hate sin as God wants you to hate it. Nothing, nothing but the constant nearness and unceasing power of the living Christ can make it possible for you rightly to understand what sin is and to detest it. And without this deeper understanding of sin, there will be no thought of appropriating the victory which is made possible for you in Christ Jesus, and will be wrought in you by the Spirit.
0 my God, cause me to know my sin and teaching me to tarry before thee and to wait on thee till thy Spirit causes something of thy holiness to rest upon me! 0 my God, cause me to know my sin, and let this drive me to listen to the promise: ‘He that abideth in him sinneth not,’ and to expect the fulfillment from Thee!
The Holiness of God
It has often been said that the conception of sin and of the holiness of God has been lost in the Church. In the inner chamber we have the place where we may team again how to give God’s holiness the position it should have in our faith and life. If you do not know how to spend half an hour in prayer, take up the subject of God’s holiness. Bow before him. Give yourself time, and give God also time, that he and you may come into touch with one another. It is a great work, but one fraught with great blessing.
If you wish to strengthen yourself in the practice of this holy presence, take up the holy word. Take, for instance, the book of Leviticus and notice how God seven times gives the command: ‘Ye shall be holy, for I am holy’ (11.44, 45; 19.2; 20.7, 26; 21.8; 22.32). Still more frequent is the expression: ‘I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.’ This great thought is taken over into the New Testament. Peter says (1 Pet. 1. 15, 16): ‘Be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for 1 am holy.’ Paul writes in his first epistle (1 Thess. 3.13; 4.7; 5.24): ‘he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness…. God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness… Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.’
Nothing but the knowledge of God, as the holy one, will make us holy. And how are we to obtain that knowledge of God, save in the inner chamber? It is a thing utterly impossible unless we take time and allow the holiness of God to shine on us. How can any man on earth obtain intimate knowledge of another man of remarkable wisdom, if he does not associate with him, and place himself under his influence? And how can God himself sanctify us, if we do not take time to be brought under the power of the glory of his holiness? Nowhere can we get to know the holiness of God, and come under its influence and power, save in the-inner chamber. It has been well said: ‘No man can expect to make progress in holiness who is not often and long alone with God.’
And what now is this holiness of God? It is the highest and most glorious and most all-embracing of all the attributes of God. Holiness is the most profound word in the Bible. It is a word that is at home in heaven. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us this. Isaiah heard the seraphs with veiled faces cry out: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts’ (6.3). John heard the four living creatures say: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty’ (Rev. 4. 8). This is the highest expression of God’s glory in heaven, by beings who live in his immediate presence and bow low before him. And dare we imagine that we, by thinking, and reading, and bearing, can understand or become partakers of the holiness of God? What folly! Oh, that we might begin to thank God that we have a place in the inner chamber, a place where we can be alone with him, and take time for the prayer: ‘Let thy holiness, 0 Lord, shine more and more into our hearts, that they may become holy.’
And let our hearts be deeply ashamed of our prayerlessness, through which we have made it impossible for God to impart his holiness to us. Let us beseech God fervently to forgive us this sin, and to allure us by his heavenly grace, and to strengthen us to have fellowship with him, the holy God.
I have said that the meaning of the words, ‘The holiness of God’, is not easily expressed. But we may begin by saying that they imply the unspeakable aversion and hatred with which God regards sin. And if you wish to understand what that means, remember that he preferred to see his Son die, rather than that sin should reign. Think of the Son of God, who gave up his life rather than act in the least matter against the will of the Father. Still further, he had such a hatred of sin that he preferred to die rather than that men should be held in its power. That is something of the holiness of God, which is a pledge that he will do everything for us – for you and me – to deliver us from sin. Holiness is the fire of God that will consume sin in us and make us holy sacrifices, pure and acceptable before him. It was for this reason that the Spirit came down as fire. He is the Spirit of God’s holiness, the Spirit of sanctification in us.
Oh, think over the holiness of God, and bow in lowliness before him, till your heart is filled with the assurance of what the holy one will do for you. Take a week, if necessary, to read and re-read the words of God on this great truth, till your heart is brought under the conviction: ‘This is the glory of the inner chamber, to converse with God the holy one; to bow down in deep humility and shame before him, because we have so despised him and his love through our prayerlessness.’ There we shall receive the assurance that he will again take us into-fellowship with himself. No one can expect to understand and receive the holiness of God who is not often and long alone with God.
Someone has said that the holiness of God is the expression of the unspeakable distance by which he in his righteousness is separated from us, and yet also of the unspeakable nearness in which he in his love longs to hold fellowship with us and dwell in us. Bow in humble reverence, as you think of the immeasurable distance between you and God. Bow in childlike confidence in the unspeakable desire of his love to be united with you in the deepest intimacy; and reckon most confidently on him to reveal something of his holiness to the soul which thirst after him and waits upon him and is quiet before him.
Notice how the two sides of the holiness of God are united in the cross. So terrible was the aversion and anger of God against our sin that Christ was left in the thick darkness, because God, when sin was laid upon him, had to hide his face from him. And yet so deep was the love of God toward us and he so desired to be united to us that he spared not his Son but gave him over to unutterable sufferings, that so he might receive us, in union with Christ, into his holiness, and press us to his heart as his beloved children. It was of this suffering that our Lord Jesus said: ‘I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth’ (John 17.19). Thus he is become of God our sanctification, and we are holy in him.
I beseech you, think not little of the grace that you have a holy God who longs to make you holy. Think not little of the voice of God which calls you to give time to him in the stillness of the inner chamber, so that he may cause his holiness to rest on you. Let it be your business every day, in the secrecy of the inner chamber, to meet the holy God. You will be repaid for the trouble it may cost you. The reward will be sure and rich. You will learn to hate sin, and to regard it as accursed and conquered. ‘Me new nature will give you a horror of sin. The living Jesus, the holy God, will, as conqueror, be your power and strength; and you will begin to believe the great promise contained in 1 Thessalonians 5.23, 24: ‘The very God of peace sanctify you wholly… Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.’
In opposition to sin stands obedience. ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous… Ye became the servants of righteousness’ (Rom. 5.19; 6.18). In connection with all that has been said about sin, and the new life, and the reception of the Holy Spirit, we must always give to obedience the place assigned to it by God.
It was because Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross, that God so highly exalted him. And Paul, in this connection, exhorts us: ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 2.5). We see, above everything else, that the obedience of Christ, which was so pleasing to God, must become really the characteristic of our disposition and of our entire walk. Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so the surrender to an implicit and unquestioning obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.
How little this is understood by Christians! How many there are who allow themselves to be misled, and rest satisfied with the thought that sin is a necessity, that one must sin every day! It would be difficult to say how great the harm is which has been done by this mistake. It is one of the chief causes why the sin of disobedience is so little recognised. 1 have myself heard Christians, speaking about the cause of darkness and weakness, say, halflaughingly: ‘Yes, it is just disobedience again.’ We try to get rid of a servant as speedily as possible who is habitually disobedient, but it is not regarded as anything extraordinary that a child of God should be disobedient every day. Disobedience is daily acknowledged, and yet there is no turning away from it.
Have we not here the reason why so much prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit is offered, and yet so few answers come? Do we not see from Acts 5.32 that God has given his Holy Spirit to them that obey him? Every child of God has received the Holy Spirit- If he uses the measure of the Holy Spirit which he has, with the definite purpose of being obedient to the utmost, then God can and will favour him with further manifestations of the Spirit’s power. But if he permits disobedience to get the upper hand, day by day, he need not wonder if his prayer for more of the Spirit remains unanswered.
We have already said that we must not forget that the Spirit desires to possess more of us. How can we wholly surrender ourselves to him otherwise than by being obedient? The Scripture says that we must be led by the Spirit, that we must walk by the Spirit. My right relationship to the Holy Spirit is that I allow myself to be guided and ruled by him. Obedience is the great factor in our whole relationship to God. ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God’ (Jer. 7.23; 11.4).
Mark how the Lord Jesus, on the last night, when giving his great promise about the Holy Spirit, lays emphasis on this point. ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter’ (John 14.15, 16). Obedience was essential as a preparation for the reception of the Spirit. And this thought is often repeated by him. ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and 1 will love him, and will manifest myself to him’ (John 14.21). So also in verse 23: ‘If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’ ‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you’ (15.7). ‘If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love’ (verse 10). ‘Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you’ (verse 14).
Can words more plainly or impressively declare that the whole fife, in the new dispensation, following the resurrection of Christ, depends on obedience? That is the Spirit of Christ. He lived to do not his own will, but the will of the Father. And he cannot with his Spirit make an abiding home in the heart of one who does not surrender himself utterly to a life of obedience.
Alas, how few there are who are truly concerned because of this disobedience! How little it is believed that Christ really asks for and expects this from us because he has undertaken to make it possible for us. How much is it manifested in prayer, or walk, or in the depths of the soul-life, that we really endeavour to be well-pleasing to the Lord in all things? We say too little in regard to our disobedience. ‘I will be sorry for my sin.’
But is obedience really possible? It is certain for the man who believes that Christ Jesus is his sanctification and relies on him.
Just as it is impossible for a man whose eyes have not yet been opened to see that Christ can at once forgive his sin, so is it also with faith in the assurance that there is in Christ a sure promise of power to accomplish all that God desires from his child. Just as, through faith, we found the fullness of forgiveness; so through a new act of faith, a real deliverance from the dominion of the sin which has so easily beset us is obtained, and the abiding blessing of the continuous experience of the keeping power of Christ becomes ours. This faith obtains a new insight into promises the meaning of which was not previously understood: ‘The God of peace … make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ’ (Heb. 13.20, 21). ‘Unto him that is able to keep you from falling … be glory and majesty’ (Jude 24, 25). ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall’ (2 Pet. 1. 10). ‘To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness’ (1 Thess. 3.13). ‘But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil’ (2 Thess. 3.3).
When the soul understands that the fulfilment of these and other promises is secured for us in Christ, and that, as certainly as the forgiveness of sin is assured to us in him, so also is power against new or fresh attacks of sin assured to us. Then for the first time is the lesson learned aright that faith can confidently rely upon a full Christ and his abiding protection.
This faith sheds a wholly new light on the life of obedience. Christ holds himself responsible to work this out in me every moment if I only trust him for it. Then 1 begin to understand the important phrase with which Paul begins and closes his epistle to the Romans (Rom. 1.5; 16.26): ‘The obedience of faith.’ Faith brings me to the Lord Jesus, not only to obtain the forgiveness of sin, but also that 1 may every moment enjoy the power which will make it possible for me, as a child of God, to abide in him and to be numbered among his obedient children of whom it is written that, as he who has called them is holy, as they also may be holy in all manner of conversation. Everything depends on whether or not 1 believe on the whole Christ, with the fullness of his grace, that he will, not now and then but every moment, be the strength of my life. Such faith will lead to an obedience which will enable me to ‘walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work… strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power’ (Col. 1.10, 11).
The soul which feeds on such promises will experience now, instead of the disobedience of self-effort, what the obedience of faith means. All such promises have their measure, their certainty, and their strength in the living Christ.
The victorious life
In the chapter on ‘The More Abundant Life’, we viewed the matter chiefly from the side of our Lord Jesus. We saw that there is to be found in him – the crucified, and the risen, and the glorified one who baptises with the Holy Spirit – all that is needful for a life of abundant grace. In speaking of the victorious life, we shall now look at the matter from another standpoint. We want to see how a Christian can live really as a victor. We have already often said that the prayer life is not something which can be improved by itself. It is so intimately bound up with the entire spiritual life that it is only when that whole life (previously marked by lack of prayer) becomes renewed and sanctified that prayer can have its rightful place of power. We must not be satisfied with less than the victorious life to which God calls his children.
You remember how our Lord, in the seven epistles in the Revelation of John, concludes with a promise to those who overcome. Take the trouble of going over that seven-times repeated ‘him that overcometh’; and notice what unspeakably glorious promises are there given. And they were given even to churches like Ephesus, that had lost its first love; and Sardis, to whom it was said, ‘thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead’ (Rev. 3.1); and Laodicea, with her lukewarmness and selfsatisfaction – as proof that, if only they would repent, they might win the crown of victory. The call comes to every Christian to strive for the crown. It is impossible to be a healthy Christian, still more impossible to be a preacher in the power of God, if everything is not sacrificed to gain the victory.
The answer to the question, of how we attain to it, is simple. All is in Christ. ‘Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ’ (2 Cor. 2.14). ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Rom. 8.37). All depends on our right relationship to Christ, our entire surrender, perfect faith, and unbroken fellowship with him. But you wish to know how to attain to all this. Listen once more to the simple directions as to the way by which the full enjoyment of what is prepared for you in Christ may be yours. These are – a new discovery of sin; a new surrender to Christ; a new faith in the power which will make it possible for you to persevere.
1. A new discovery of sin
In Romans 3, you find described the knowledge of sin which is necessary, in repentance, for forgiveness ‘That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’ (verse 19). There you took your stand, you recognised your sin more or less consciously, and confessed it, and you obtained mercy. But if you would lead the victorious life, something more is needful. This comes with the experience that in you, that is, in your flesh, there ‘dwelleth no good thing’ (Rom. 7.18). You have a delight in the law of God after the inner man, but you see another law in your members bringing you into captivity to the law of sin and compelling you to cry out: ‘0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (verse 24). It is not, as it was at conversion, when you thought over your few or many sins. This work goes much deeper. You find that, as a Christian, you have no power to do the good that you wish to do. You must be brought to a new and deeper insight into the sin of your nature and into your utter weakness, even though you are a Christian, to live as you ought. And you will learn to cry out: ‘Who shall deliver me; I, wretched man, a prisoner bound under the law of sin?’
The answer to this question is: ‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 7.25). Then follows the revelation of what there is in Christ. It is not just as given in Romans 3. It is more: I am in Christ Jesus, and ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death’, (Rom. 8.2) under which I was bound. It is the experience that the law or power of the life of the Spirit in Christ has made me free and now calls on me, in a new sense and by a new surrender, to acknowledge Christ as the bestower of the victory.
2. A new surrender to Christ
You may have used these words ‘surrender’ and ‘consecration’ many times, but without rightly understanding what they mean. As you have been brought by the teaching of Romans 7 to a complete sense of the hopelessness of leading a true Christian life, or a true prayer life, by your own efforts, so you feel that the Lord Jesus must take you up, by his own power, in an entirely new way; and must take possession of you, by his Spirit, in an entirely new measure. This alone can preserve you from constantly sinning afresh. This only can make you really victorious. This leads you to look away from yourself, really to get free from yourself, and to expect everything from the Lord Jesus.
If we begin to understand this, we are prepared to admit that in our nature there is nothing good, that it is under a curse, and is nailed with Christ to his cross. We come to see what Paul means when he says that we are dead to sin by the death of Christ. Thus do we obtain a share of the glorious resurrection life there is in him. By such an insight we are encouraged to believe that Christ, through his life in us, through his continual indwelling, can keep us. Just as, at our conversion, we had no rest till we knew he had received us so now we feel the need of coming to him, to receive from him the assurance that he has really undertaken to keep us by the power of his resurrection life. And we feel then that there must be an act as definite as his reception of us at conversion, by which he gives us the assurance of victory. And although it appears to us to be too great and too much, yet the man who casts himself, without plea, into the arms of Christ will experience that he does indeed receive us into such a fellowship as will make us, from the beginning onwards, ‘more than conquerors’.
3. A new faith in the power which will make it possible for you to persevere in your surrender
You have heard of Keswick, and the truth for which it stands. It is that Christ is prepared to take upon himself the care and preservation of our lives every day, and all the day long, if we trust him to do it. In the testimony given by many, this thought is emphasised. They have told us that they felt themselves called to a new surrender, to an entire consecration of life to Christ, reaching to the smallest things, but they were hindered by the fear of failure. The thirst after holiness, after an unbroken fellowship with Jesus, after a life of persevering childlike obedience, drew them one way. But the question arose: ‘Shall I continue faithful?’ And to this question there came no answer, till they believed that the surrender must be made, not in their own strength, but in a power which was bestowed by a glorified Lord. He would not only keep them for the future, but he must first make possible for them the surrender of faith which expects that future grace. It was in the power of Christ himself that they were able to present themselves to him.
0 Christian, only believe that there is a victorious life! Christ, the victor, is your Lord, who will undertake for you in everything and will enable you to do all that the Father expects from you. Be of good courage. Will you not trust him to do this great work for you who has given his life for you and has forgiven your sins? Only dare, in his power, to surrender yourself to the life of those who are kept from sin by the power of God. Along with the deepest conviction that there is no good in you, confess that you see in the Lord Jesus all the goodness of which you have need, for the life of a child of God; and begin literally to live ‘by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2.20).
Let me, for your encouragement, give the testimony of Bishop Monte, a man of deep humility and tender piety. When he first heard of Keswick he was afraid of ‘perfectionism’ and would have nothing to do with it. Unexpectedly, during a vacation in Scotland, he came in contact with some friends at a small convention. There he heard an address by which he was convinced how entirely the teaching was according to Scripture. There was no word about sinlessness in the flesh or in man. It was a setting forth of how Jesus can keep from sin a man with a sinful nature. The light shone into his heart. He who had always been counted a tender Christian came into touch now with a new experience of what Christ is willing to do for one who gives himself entirely to him Listen to what he says on the text: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil. 4.13). 1 dare to say that it is possible for those who really are willing to reckon on the power of the Lord, for keeping and victory, to lead a life in which his promises are taken as they stand, and are found to be true. It is possible to cast all our care on him daily, and to enjoy deep peace in doing it. It is possible to have the thoughts and imaginations of our hearts purified in the deepest meaning of the word, through faith. It is possible to see the will of God in everything, and to receive it, not with sighing, but with singing. It is possible, in the inner life of desire and feeling, to lay aside all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil-speaking, every day and every hour. It is possible, by taking complete refuge in divine power, to become strong through and through; and where previously our greatest weakness lay, to find that the things which formerly upset all our resolves to be patient, or pure, or humble, furnish today an opportunity -through him who loved us, and works in us an agreement with his will, and a blessed sense of his presence and his power to make sin powerless. These things are divine possibilities, and because they are his work, the true experience of them will always cause us to bow lower at his feet and to learn to thirst and long for more. We cannot possibly be satisfied with anything less than – each day, each hour, each moment, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit – to walk with God.’
Thank God, a life of victory is sure for those who have a knowledge of their inward ruin and are hopeless in themselves, but who, in ‘the confidence of despair’, have looked to Jesus, and, in faith in his power to make the act of surrender possible for them, they have done it, in his might, and now rely on him alone every day and every hour.