Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed…
I. SOME CAUTIONARY REMARKS.
1. Let us beware of the influence of merely human passions in our solemn approach to the Searcher of hearts. It is by no means impossible that a man of ardent feeling should deceive both himself and his friends, when his natural impetuosity is directed to religious objects. Passion may be mistaken for spirituality; and the danger is greatly increased by the fact that every object that is made the subject of prayer is of deep importance, and therefore worthy of the liveliest emotions of the heart: we ought to be fervent in spirit. Prayer without importunity is like a material body without the breath of life; but our fervency must also be well regulated by consistent knowledge and holy principle. Our feelings may be excited on religious subjects as well as others, even to excess; and the language adopted under their influence will be forcible and strong, while yet the real principle of holiness, the essential spirituality of devotion, may be utterly unknown. Sudden and powerful impulses are always to be suspected; they are not acquired by knowledge; they are not corrected by rational and sober reflection; they are generally the offspring of a rude, untaught, but active mind; and the only answer we can reasonably expect to the unhallowed effusions of human passion, mistaken for prayer, is a rebuke. "Ye know not what ye ask; ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." We justly attach every idea of solemnity and importance to all things connected with a religious profession, and to the observance of all religious duties; but prayer is, without exception, the most solemn act in which a creature polluted with sin, and laden with guilt, can be engaged. If at any time our understanding ought to be in full exercise, if in any case the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart ought to be distinguished by correct knowledge, by serious and deliberate reflections, and by unimpassioned sobriety of mind, it is when we seek the privilege of intercourse with the Father of light, and when we address Him professedly on the subjects of eternal moment.
2. It is very important that we be guarded against unwarranted expectations in answer to prayer. We are not allowed to expect, by any promises of Scripture, that we shall, by our prayers, accomplish anything out of the general order of nature; or that God will, for our sake, effect some great object without the application of appropriate and efficient means. If we ask what we have no right to ask; if we apply to the only wise God for that which we cannot assure ourselves is according to His will; there is no scriptural encouragement to expect a favourable answer: in that case, we shall "ask and receive not, because we ask amiss." It is perfectly consistent with our acknowledged circumstances to pray for our daily bread; to solicit the protection of Him in whose hands our life is; to "acknowledge God in all our ways": but it is not to be supposed that the desires and feelings of man, especially in relation to things temporal, should ever be made the standard or rule of the Divine government. Most persons are sometimes placed in a position which would induce them, unless their feelings were chastened by the mighty power of religious principle, to present very improper requests before the throne of God; and many would be glad to get to themselves a distinguished name as having power to prevail with God, being great in prayer and faith; but as the Word of God, which is the only rule of prayer and faith, does not encourage, in any instance, an expectation that the sovereign King should suspend for a single moment the course and order of His ways for our sake; much less can we expect any Divine interposition of an extraordinary and miraculous character without betraying an arrogance of heat, most opposite to the lowly, humble, unassuming spirit of the gospel of Christ.
3. Yet, on the other hand, it is highly important in this age of scepticism to be protected against any doubt of the real efficacy of prayer. It does not follow that because a duty so reasonable, a privilege so excellent, is sometimes misunderstood, and often perverted to evil purposes, therefore it is to be rejected altogether: nor can we allow ourselves to be despoiled, by any specious reasonings called philosophy, of the never-failing source of encouragement we experience in an unshaken conviction, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Prayer is effectual for every purpose of essential importance; desires may be uttered in the language of prayer, the object of which would be to gratify a lofty or a worldly disposition; but the great object of all religion, especially of this most solemn act of devotion, is to subdue the influence of earthly gratifications, to promote the purity of our hearts, and to accomplish the salvation, the eternal well-being of our immortal souls. It were folly to ask who among men are most distinguished by such high and happy attainments. No one who is conversant with the Scriptures, or with the state and history of the Christian Church in every age, will entertain the hope that even the purest devotion will fortify his physical nature against the attacks of disease, or protect him from the accidents of human life, or save him from the anxieties that are involved in the very pleasures of relative and domestic society. Neither will he suppose that his prayers will create wealth, or command the success he may desire in the common pursuits of business, or raise him to an elevation in the ranks of society that would gratify an ambitious mind. Religion is not designed to make us men of the world.
II. THE APOSTLE'S INSTRUCTIONS.
1. Let it never be forgotten that prayer must always be offered in the name of Christ. To reject the Divinely appointed method of justifying the ungodly, is to reject the righteousness of God: this itself is immorality.
2. The prayer of the righteous is sincere; it is prayer that goeth not out of feigned lips, it is the sentiment of the heart.
3. Prayer must be fervent and importunate. Our own individual necessities, our own immortal souls, the situation of all our fellow creatures, the state of the whole world at the present moment, the character of the times, and the prospect of the Church, all call, and loudly, for energetic prayer.
4. The success of prayer is intimately connected with our habitual character. The prayer of a righteous man will prevail.
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.