Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed…
I. THAT PRAYER MAY PREVAIL WITH GOD. This fact is more doubted than denied. Let us, then, notice, that all our objections to a full belief in the efficacy of prayer arise from a greater confidence in our own unaided reasonings, and certain intuitive convictions, than in the testimony of God. In this connection, therefore, I would remind you of one or two facts, which tend to modify an extravagant confidence in our reason. One is this: The Author of nature has not consulted human wisdom in the arrangement of even material causes. We know that fire consumes wood. But how do we come to know it? By reasoning beforehand how it ought to be? No; there is not a single law of matter or mind that man has found out by anticipation. But again: The Author of nature has contradicted the wisdom of man in the constitution of the universe. I mean by the wisdom of man, his mere logic, independent of his observation, and those impressions or perceptions to which men yield such firm credence, even in opposition to the Scriptures. For more than five thousand years from the creation of the world, the wisest men were continually making the most egregious blunders in describing the processes of nature. But when Lord Bacon at length arose to disenthral the human mind, he showed that, except in the department of abstract truth, as mathematics and metaphysics, they must look outward; that evidence, not intuition, must guide them. Conjectures concerning the Creator's plans and modes of action were useless; and, if confided in, injurious. If, then, men have reasoned so short of the truth, in regard to material causes, why should we trust our reason against the testimony of God in the higher departments of truth? These general considerations we adduce before making a more particular examination of the objections which human reason presents to the efficacy of prayer. It is perfectly manifest that there is no solid, rational ground for denying or doubting the efficacy of prayer, because the whole subject lies beyond the sphere of intuitive or abstract reasoning. Yet there are objections which these general views are not sufficient to remove. One may be thus stated: "We are conscious of an immeasurable disparity between the Infinite mind and our limited understandings. We cannot teach Him anything. Is it not, then, a loss of time, and a vain ceremony, to make such addresses to the Deity?" This is the strongest form I can give the objection. Now, there are at least three distinct grounds upon which its entire futility can be shown: the very nature of communion; the relations and feelings of a teacher; and those of a parent. If there be a possibility of such a thing as communion between God and His creatures, then that communion must be the interchange of thoughts and feelings. So that, unless it can be shown that the Creator is for ever to be cut off from all intellectual and social communion with all His creatures (for the objection as really lies against His communion with angels and archangels), then our intellectual disparity is not a good and sufficient reason why we should not pray. Moreover, we can learn from the feelings of a teacher who takes a deep interest in the communication of his pupil, how God can be pleased to hear our prayers. It is not so much that the pupil imparts any information, or that his notions are all correct; but it is because he is making progress, and because this is the way in which he is to be developed. Our Heavenly Father may see that by no exercise we perform do we make such progress in all spiritual attainments as by fervent, energised prayer. And then, again, the parental feelings explain much. In the nursery, words are not weighed with the balance of the schools. A kindred difficulty to this is, that "there is such majesty and grandeur in the King of heaven that we are too mean to approach Him." It may suffice now to say, in reference to this embarrassment, that it can be turned into an encouragement by applying to it one passage of the Word: "If I be a Father, where is My honour; and if I be a Master, where is My fear?" The legitimate consequence of His majesty and authority and glory is to exact homage, adoration, and praise. There is one blessed line of Scripture worth infinitely more than all the deductions of an earthborn wisdom: the High and Mighty One declares, "Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth Me." Another doubt arises from the Divine goodness, about which we sometimes reason thus: "If God is infinitely kind, and disposed to promote our welfare, then He will not withhold any blessing, simply because we do not ask for it, or ask without sufficient fervour; nor would He more bestow it for our asking." Now, upon all this logic we ask two questions: Is it so in fact? and ought it to be so of right? As to the matter of fact, we may make our experiment in any department of life. Man needs, for example, an abundant supply of the fruits of the earth. Let him, then, apply this short-hand inference from God's goodness to this case. God is kind, and disposed to bestow every good thing on all His creatures; therefore He will not withhold any needful quantity of Indian corn and wheat and vegetables, simply because we do not perform this or that agricultural operation, nor is it reasonable to think He will the more bestow it for our labours. Does Omnipotent Goodness require the aid of ploughs and harrows to feed His children? Here we see the reasons to be entirely contradictory to facts; for we know that it holds true in regard to every department of life, "the hand of the diligent maketh rich, but the sluggard cometh to want." And there can be no reason, derived from the kindness of God, to show that it is not as true of praying as of ploughing. And as we can see how the welfare of man and of society is promoted by the arrangement which creates a necessity for labour, and how this arrangement is a fruit of the Divine goodness in all the arts and employments of life, so we can see how the goodness of God may have made prayer a necessary means of procuring many indispensable blessings, on account of its direct benefit to us. Nothing in its place more cultivates the character than fervent, effectual, or energised prayer; and there is, in itself considered, no higher privilege to man than this communing and pleading with the Most High. A fourth difficulty is with the omniscience, foreknowledge, and unchangeableness, of God. The force of the objection is this: "If He has determined from all eternity what He will do, or if He knows everything that we can tell Him, our telling Him cannot change His view, so as to induce Him to change His purpose." This chilling argument is with many persons very powerful. They might just as well refuse to plant as to pray on this ground. God knows the results in the one case as much as in the other; and your sowing the seed in expectation of a crop is just as inconsistent with His foreknowledge as your praying for rain, or success in business, or the conversion of a soul, in expectation of such result. Let it be borne in mind, that no such view of God's attributes should ever be held as reduces him to a machine, an automaton, instead of a rational being, thinking, deciding, and acting, in view of facts. A kindred objection to prayer, and almost identical with this, is that "God is acting from fixed laws; prayer for rain can do no good, because rain is the result of specific material causes, which act by regular and purely mechanical forces; not depending upon any present volition of the Creator, but merely upon that original volition which called them into existence." Now, here it is assumed that no other than material causes or forces can affect matter. This is contradicted by creation, by miracles, and by the moral purposes for which the universe was created. It assumes that God has left no place for His own direct action. It assumes that you know all the causes of events; and that prayer is not one. The holiness and justice of God, too, have discouraged some from praying. This I esteem as really the greatest difficulty on the whole subject; and yet that sceptics never suggest, and the worldly. minded do not feel. The other difficulties exist only in our imaginations; this lies deep in the character of Jehovah, and the principles of His eternal kingdom. This is a difficulty which no reasoning would ever have removed, which no efforts of man could ever have diminished. To meet and remove this, the whole arrangement of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and mediation of Christ was made.
II. PRAYER WILL PREVAIL WITH GOD. Let us turn to —
1. The commands. They are such as these: "Pray without ceasing." "I will, therefore, that men pray everywhere." "The end of all things is at hand; be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." "Seek the Lord while He may be found." Commands of this nature abound, and are addressed, with the other general precepts of God's law, to all mankind.
2. Promises to prayer, lavished in prodigal bounty, like the rich fruits of the earth, springing up through all these glorious fields of revealed truth and grace. "Ask, and it shall be given you. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. He will regard the prayer of the destitute. He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
3. The doctrine of prayer. It is connected in Scripture with the Trinity. The Father is represented as on a throne of grace. The Holy Spirit is represented as interceding for us, by creating within our hearts the desire to pray, and teaching us how to address the Most High. The Son is represented as interceding in heaven for us. This is the Scriptural doctrine of prayer. And it evidently involves the fact that God regards prayer as an important exercise on our part.
4. The history of prayer is among the most interesting portions of the Bible.
III. THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER IS PROPORTIONED TO ITS FERVID ENERGY. We instinctively feel that the highest degree and the strongest expression of approbation belongs to the highest forms of character. But there is no more distinctive exhibition of the highest form of religious character than the habit of fervent and earnest prayer. It is connected with the most thorough conquest of that enslavement to sense which is the curse and degradation of man. It shows a mind living in the precincts of the world of light. It is a conquest over that indolence and brutal sluggishness which mark our debased enslavement to an infirm and earth-born body. The energetic prayer shows that the soul has caught at least a glimpse of the heavenly glory; breathed the pure breath of a heavenly atmosphere; enjoyed communion with its Divine Saviour; burst for a moment its accursed bonds; and now it cries, "My soul thirsteth after God, in a dry and thirsty land, where no waters be." Such is prayer, "the effectual, fervent prayer, the inwrought prayer of the righteous man." It burns on the heart as God's holy altar; it consumes the idols of the heart; it makes a sacrifice of. every interest and every faculty; there is a life given up there, "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God." And is it more probable that God will accept such sacrifice? that He will signally express His approbation of a prayer which is wrought in the soul by the gracious power of His own Spirit, Who thus "maketh intercession for us"; and wrought in the soul, too, by your own earnest endeavours to learn to pray, and to be ready to pray?
(E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.