Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail.
I. THE DUTY. (Ver. 16.) It is twofold.
1. Mutual confession. The subject here is not confession of sin to God, although that is an essential part of true penitence (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:8-10). Neither is it auricular confession to a priest; although the Church of Rome bases her doctrine of the necessity of such mainly upon this passage. That Church, while recommending the confession of venial sins, makes the rehearsal of all mortal sins essential to salvation. But history testifies that the confessional, instead of proving a means of grace, has been to an unspeakable degree a school of wickedness. The confession here spoken of is occasional, not regular. It is particular, not indiscriminate. It is mutual, "one to another," and not on the one part only. It is in order to edification, and not for absolution. Christ has given his ministers no power to pardon sin. "The only true confessional is the Divine mercy-seat" (Wardlaw). The exhortation before us is addressed to the brethren generally, whether presbyters or ordinary members of the congregation. And it is only some sins which it is proper to confess to our fellow-men. There are many "secret faults" of impure thought and corrupt desire on which we should keep the lids closely down. But we ought to confess:
(1) Wrongs done to brethren. If on any occasion we have acted unjustly by a brother, or calumniated him to others, we should, so soon as we come to ourselves, confess our fault, ask his forgiveness, and make all possible reparation. Our Savior has enjoined this (Matthew 5:23, 24). It was a beautiful practice of the primitive Church to see that all quarrels among brethren were made up, in the spirit of Christian love, before the celebration of the Lord's Supper. And the Church of England has an earnest counsel to the same effect in her Communion Service.
(2) Scandalous sins. A scandalous sin is one which, on account of its publicity, is a scandal, and is calculated to bring reproach upon religion. The discipline of the Church requires that such an offence be confessed openly. Discipline is an ordinance of Christ, and is intended to conserve the purity of the Church, as well as the spiritual profit of her members. A good man, therefore, when he has fallen into gross and open sin, should be willing to make public confession before the Church and to his fellow-members.
(3) Sins which deeply wound the conscience. There are occasions when we may profitably speak of such to a pious pastor or to some prudent Christian friend. "Certainly they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration; as beggars, to move the more, will not only represent their general want, but uncover their sores" (Manton). Happy is the man who has such a friend, if any persons in the world should confer with one another about matters of spiritual experience, it is surely husband and wife. If such never "confess their sins one to another," certainly they are not married in the Lord.
2. Mutual prayer. This is the main advantage to be derived from mutual confession. We should take our friends into our confidence about our sins, that we may induce them with intelligent sympathy to intercede for us. Not only are the spiritual officers of the Church to pray for the sick and the erring; this duty is incumbent upon the whole congregation. Any member who cherishes strong opinions about the remissness of the elders or of the pastor in sick-visitation, should labor as much as possible to supplement their deficiencies. We should all remember at the throne of grace the afflicted of our company, and those who have confessed sin to us. God wants us to pray "for all men," and "for all the saints." To pray for others will help to free us from spiritual selfishness; it will develop within us sympathy for brethren, and thus tend to knit the Church together in love.
II. As ENCOURAGEMENT TO DISCHARGE THIS DUTY. It is an inestimable blessing to be able to engage on our behalf the spiritual sympathy and the earnest applications of our fellow-Christians. We have here:
1. A statement of the power of prayer. (Ver. 16.) It "availeth much." The evolution of events is controlled by the living God, as the First Cause of all things; and prayer occupies the same place in his moral government that other second causes do. God is roused into action by the prayers of his people. Prayer is thus more than merely a wholesome spiritual discipline; it moves the arm of the Almighty, and virtually admits the believer who presents it to a share in the government of the world. The apostle recommends intercessory supplication as peculiarly effectual. The petitioner, however, must be "a righteous man. He who would intercede successfully must himself have faith in Christ - that faith which is made perfect by holy deeds (Psalm 66:18; John 9:31). The supplication" of such a man "availeth much in its working," i.e. when energized by the Holy Spirit, who "maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:26). Mere routine prayer avails nothing. A form of sound words is not enough. We must put our heart's blood into our request. Indeed, what we desire must be begotten within us of "the spirit of grace and of supplications."
2. An historical example of this power. (Vers. 17, 18.) With such examples the pages of the Old Testament are thickly strewn; but the apostle selects one case only - that of Elijah. Although an extraordinary personage, and a very eminent prophet, Elijah was by no means a demigod: he was "a man of like passions [literally, 'homoeopathic'] with us." He bad the same human nature which we have - the same susceptibilities, dispositions, and infirmities. He, too, had his secret faults, and his presumptuous sins. But, being "a righteous man," he was a man of prayer; and his success as a suppliant should be an example to us. Two special petitions presented by this prophet are cited.
(1) A prayer for judgment. (Ver. 17.) The Old Testament history does not mention the fact that the long drought which fell upon the land of Israel in the days of Ahab was sent in answer to the prayer of Elijah. It was so, however. The prophet had been brooding, among the uplands of Gilead, over the wickedness of the court and of the people; and at length he prayed by the Spirit that Jehovah, for his own glory and for the well-being of the nation, would send this drought upon the land. And God heard him, and closed the windows of heaven for three years and a half.
(2) A prayer for mercy. (Ver. 18.) This request Elijah presented upon Mount Carmel, on the evening of that memorable day when God had answered by fire, and the prophets of Baal had been slain. God had intimated to Elijah at Zarephath that he was about to send rain; and now the prophet wrestled for the fulfillment of the promise, and sent his servant seven times to the mountain-top to watch for the visible answer. And soon "the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." Both of these chapters in Elijah's life illustrate vividly the power that there is in "the prayer of faith." And should any one ask, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" the answer is, that he is "with us" yet; and that prayer is still the golden key which opens the door of heaven, and brings us "in its working" salvation manifold. - C.J.
Confess your faults one to another.
1. Some public. And so by the Church in ordinary or extraordinary humiliation (Leviticus 16:21; Nehemiah 9:3). So also to the Church, and that either —(1) Before entrance and admission, in which they did solemnly disclaim the impurities of their former life, professing to walk suitably to their new engagement for time to come (Matthew 3:6; Acts 19:18). Or —(2) Upon public scandals after admission, for of secret things the Church judgeth not; but those scandalous acts, being faults against the Church, cannot be remitted by the minister alone; the offence being public, so was the confession and acknowledgment to be made public (2 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Timothy 5:20). Now this was to be done, partly for the sinner's sake, that he might be brought to the more shame and conviction; and partly because of them without, that the community of the faithful might not be represented as an ulcerous, filthy body, and the Church not be thought a receptacle of sin, but a school of holiness.
2. Private confession to men. And so —(1) To a wronged neighbour, which is called a turning to him again after offence given (Luke 17:4), and prescribed by our Saviour (Matthew 5:24). God will accept no service or worship at our hands till we have confessed the wrong done to others. So here, confess your faults one to another, it may be referred to injuries. In contentions there are offences on both sides, and every one will stiffly defend his own cause, &c.(2) To those to whom we have consented in sinning, as in adultery, theft, &c. We must confess and pray for each other (Luke 16:28). It is but a necessary charity to invite them that have shared with us in sin to a fellowship in repentance.(3) To a godly minister or wise Christian under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have disburdened ourselves into the bosom of a godly friend, our conscience findeth a great deal of ease. Certainly they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration; as beggars, to move the more, will not only represent their general want, but uncover their sores.(4) When in some special cases God's glory is concerned; as when some eminent judgment seizeth upon us because of a foregoing provocation, which provocation is sufficiently evidenced to us in gripes of conscience, it is good to make it known for God's glory (2 Samuel 12:13; Joshua 7:19). So when Divine revenge pursueth us if we are brought to some fearful end and punishment, it is good to be open in acknowledging our sin, that God's justice may be the more visibly cleared; and hereby God receiveth a great deal of glory, and men a wonderful confirmation and experience of the care and justice of providence.
I. THE TERM "FAULT" IN SCRIPTURE IS FREQUENTLY EMPLOYED AS SYNONYMOUS WITH "SIN." It also has a special sense, and relates to small sins. Faults represent the unconscious imperfections of moral conduct — the ten thousand little sins of daily life which do not argue intentional wrong, and which yet are annoying and mischievous. Faults in this point of view belong to every part of a man's nature, and to every portion of his conduct — to the tongue, to the hand, to the temper, to the reason, to the conscience, to every affection, and to every sentiment. There is no one part of a man's nature that is without fault; and no man can carry himself through a single day without faults multitudinous. They are the signs and tokens of men's universal imperfection. There are two extremes of opinion respecting faults. The one regards them with an excessive, uncharitable emphasis of blame. The other sometimes utterly ignores them, and sometimes ostentatiously undervalues them, as factors of moral results. Either extreme is wrong. Faults are not sins, necessarily, though they breed sins; and yet, they are not harmless. There is great danger in them, and great mischief in them, and great misery in them. They should therefore be studied, outgrown, corrected.
II. LET US CONSIDER THE EFFECTS, UPON HUMAN LIFE AND CHARACTER, OF FAULTS — not of grave mistakes; not of great sins of the strong arm and nimble foot; but those ten thousand little things that men do which are not just right, which they themselves could wish they had not done, and which everybody else could wish they had not done, but which are passed by, and of which it is said, "These are their weaknesses." We say, by way of excusing them, "We all have our faults." And so we brush them away. There is a right charity on this subject; but it is wiser for each of us to take heed of our faults. For —
1. Faults are often stepping-stones to heinous sins. They go before and prepare the way. They tend to dull moral sensibility. This is especially true of faults in the direction of the moral sentiments. A very slight carelessness in truth-telling will lead by and by to the gravest temptations towards falsehood. Small faults are baits and roles to draw men up to greater ones, so that their mischief is not measured by their own diameter, but by that which they lead to. There is a little gipsy girl in the old castle, and some one says to the lord, "You have an enemy there." "What! that little gipsy girl?" says the lord, "what can she do? Here am I with my armed men; and every gate and door and window is bolted and barred. I guess she cannot take the castle." No, she cannot take it; but at dead of the night she can go and draw back some bolt, and let men in that can take it.
2. Faults unwatched tend to run together, and so to become far more potent than they are in detail. A little sharpness in a person's voice occasionally is not unpleasant. A little spirit is necessary. It is of the nature of spice. Life without anything in it, you know, is dough; and therefore a little temper — just a little spice — raises the dough, and makes bread of it. But a little more temper, and a little more, and a little more, and you are a shrew and a scold. The result is of great moment, but it is made up of the sum of little things, each one of which is apparently of not much importance.
3. Faults also prevent true growth in life. There is a great difference, of course, between faults that prevent growth, and those that do not. There are many that do not seem to do it; but there are some that do it. You may give a tree a good soil, and a good summer; and if that tree is a little sluggish, and it falls behind a little, it will be attacked by moss, which is a parasitic plant which draws its nourishment partly from the tree, and partly from the air; and it will very likely be attacked by a fly which is another kind of parasite that feeds upon the leaf. Each particular speck of moss, each particular fungus, that hangs itself upon the tree, amounts to very little. One apple-tree is ten million times bigger than one of those little plants that feed on it; but each one of these epiphytes shoots its little roots into the tree; and being multiplied by millions, they suck out the sap, and diminish the vigour of the tree, and prevent its growth. There are thousands of little faults that multiply on men, and act in the same way. The men become bark-bound, and leaf-blighted, and cease to have moral growth.
4. Faults, again, propagate themselves silently and secretly, and very dangerously; and they do mischief far from the point at which they start, and do mischiefs, too, that apparently are quite beyond their own nature. A picture may be spoiled by being torn, or slashed; a bomb or ball may burst through the canvas and destroy it; but then, a picture in a neglected convent may be steamed by the range, and smoked by the chimney, and dimmed by the gathering dust of ages, and be put out by these silent incrustations of time as effectually as if it were taken out of the frame and burned. And as it is in art, so it is in character. You can overlay beauty, you can mar perfectness of quality and faculty, by little faults. And the displeasure is greater, frequently, when the thing is marred, than when it is destroyed. A man has a large emerald, but it is "feathered," and he knows an expert would say, "What a pity that it has such a feather!" it will not bring a quarter as much as it otherwise would; and he cannot take any satisfaction in it. A man has a diamond; but there is a flaw in it, and it is not the diamond that he wants. A man has an opal, but it is imperfect, and he is dissatisfied with it. An opal is covered with little seams, but they must be the right kind of seams. If it has a crack running clear across, it is marred, no matter how large it is, and no matter how wonderful its reflections are. And this man is worried all the time because he knows his opal is imperfect; and it would worry him even if he knew that nobody else noticed it. So it is in respect to dispositions, and in respect to character at large. Little cracks, little flaws, little featherings in them, take away their exquisiteness and beauty, and take away that fine finish which makes moral art. How many noble men there are who are diminished, who are almost wasted, in their moral influence 1 How many men are like the red maple I It is one of the most gorgeous trees, both in spring, blossoming, and in autumn, with its crimson foliage. But it stands knee-deep in swamp-water, usually. To get it, you must wade, or leap from bog to bog, tearing your raiment, and soiling yourself. I see a great many noble men, but they stand in a swamp of faults. They bear fruit that you fain would pluck, but there are briars and thistles and thorns all about it; and to get it you must wade your way through all these hindrances.
5. Faults are great wasters of happiness. They are the source of frets. They mar our peace. They keep up petty discords. They are so small as to elude the grasp. They are like a piano that has been standing all summer in an empty house without being tuned. Some of the notes are too low, and some too high; and they are all of them just a little out of tune. The instrument is good and sound, and pretty nearly chorded; but it is not quite in tune. And the not quite takes away all comfort from the musician who sits down to it. He plays, it may be, through the middle range without much discomfort; but when he strikes a note in the upper range, it makes him cringe. And so it is with happiness. Happiness is harmony. It requires the faculties to be harmonious all the way through. Violent excitement is seldom a source of great happiness. It gives joy for the moment, but it is not often the source of what we call true happiness. That comes from a lower range of action.
6. Faults are also dangerous, in their own way, because they have insect fecundity. They art apt to swarm. And though a few of them may not do much harm, when men come to have a great many of them they will avail as much as if they were actual transgressions. It is not necessary that there should be wolves, and lions, and bears in the woods to drive hunters out of them. Black flies, or mosquitos, or gnats, will drive them out, if there are enough of them. These little winged points of creation make up what they lack in individual strength by their enormous multitude.
III. WE ARE COMMANDED, THEN, TO CONFESS OUR FAULTS. TO whom? The priest? Yes. If any man knows a priest who is a good man, and is willing to listen to him and give him good advice, there is no earthly reason why he may not go to him, as a sensible man who has a heart of sympathy, and a desire to help his fellow creatures. But that is not what is meant, evidently, in the text. "Confess your faults one to another." Frequently a man will admit his great sins, but not his faults. The apostle says, "You are to own your faults." If a man says," You were proud," say, "Yes, I was proud." "You ought not to have done that." "Well, I ought not to have done it." "You said that through vanity." "It is true, I did. I was under the influence of vanity, and I sacrificed you through vanity. I confess it. Help me out of it next time." How wise, then, is James's command, "Confess your faults one to another." Nor is that all — "and pray one for another." If we prayed more we should blame less; we should be far more tolerant; we should not suspect so much; we should not carry stories so much; we should not do wrong so much. For, there is nothing that makes a man so charitable as that which he has himself suffered. An old veteran, who has gone through a hundred battles, and is as firm as a rock in the midst of dangers, has a young officer under his command, who in his first action quivers with fear, and trembles like an aspen leaf. If this superior officer had never seen any service, he would scoff at the young man, and laugh him to scorn; but instead of that, the true man and veteran comes up to the frightened soldier, and says, "My young man, keep cool. You are doing well. I was as scared as you are when I first went into action; but I got over it, and you will get over it." What balm! what magnanimity! There is nothing like the sympathy which is created by our own experience. By confessing our faults one to another, and praying for one another, we learn humility on the one side, and on the other side that large charity which covers transgression and hides a multitude of sins. Finally, while we are striving to bear our own burdens, and to sustain the faults and shortcomings of our fellow-men, let us remember every day what Christ is obliged to bear in and for us.
(H. W. Beecher.)
(C. F. Deems, D. D.)
Pray one for another.
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Congregational Pulpit.I. THE PRINCIPLES OF THE TEXT.
1. Prayer should be united and mutual; with each other and for each other. The secret root of piety is to be watered in private; but then this will prompt us to social efforts. To prevent selfishness we should pray with others, and learn to say "our Father." It has a happy effect on men to hear themselves prayed for, and may set them to pray for themselves. It promotes mutual love and sympathy to pray to ether. It also heightens the flame of our devotedness and zeal. It often corrects and regulates our prayers, which in privacy might grow erratic or careless. It is due to the interests of Christ's Church that we should unite in prayer.
2. Mutual prayer demands mutual confidence and love. Quarrelling and fault-finding separate us from one another. First, we should confess our faults one to another, with real sorrow for them and determination not to repeat them. Then we should forgive each other freely, and from our hearts. Not to forgive hinders prayer (Mark 11:25). To this must be added zealous interest in each other's spiritual good, not cold and haughty distance and mutual estrangement ever after.
3. True prayer must be righteous. We must seek righteous ends. We must be influenced by righteous motives. We must seek right things.
4. Our prayer must be earnest. The words "effectual fervent" are one in the original, where the term denotes labouring, energetic, agonising prayer; prayer in the spirit; prayer with our whole heart and strength, and under the impulse and guidance of God's Holy Spirit.
II. THE ILLUSTRATION (1 Kings 18:41, &c.).
1. Elijah was a righteous man.
2. Yet he was nothing more than a man.
3. He gave himself to prayer to fulfil the purposes of his mission.
4. His prayer was effectual in regard to material things.
5. His prayer at first was for temporal evil.
6. It was for a public benefit.
1. In some cases unite to prayer for temporal good, when it is for God's glory.
2. Unite to prayer for spiritual blessings; for the deepening of God's work in your own hearts — for the conversion of friends — for the welfare of the Church you belong to — for a blessing on God's Word; for a revival of religion at large.
(S. Baring Gould, M. A.)
(Sword and Trowel.)
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man.
Christian Age.We are often told that no prayer can be effectual in securing the blessing sought unless it is consistent with God's will to grant it. But the all-important question at once arises. "How can I know what is and what is not consistent with God's will?" Suppose I have a sick child for whose recovery I am intensely anxious. I am told that if his restoration to health is in harmony with God's will, I may pray for it in the confident expectation of receiving an answer to my prayer. But how can I know whether or not it is so? Clearly, I cannot know it unless God Himself informs me. What, then, shall I do? Shall I leave the sick one in the hands of God to have the issue of his sickness determined simply and alone by the will of God? This would be to deny the utility of prayer. But though I know not what God's will concerning my child may be, I am most diligent to use the power of prayer for his recovery, just as I use the power of medicine or of nursing. Is it said that I am to pray with a submissive spirit? Very true; as soon as any occasion for submission appears. But there is neither occasion nor room for it, till I learn that God cannot grant my request. I saw the other day a man attempting to split a rock with a sledge-hammer. Down came the sledge upon the stone as if it would crush it, but it merely rebounded, leaving the rock as sound as before. Again the ponderous hammer was swung, and again it came down, but with the same result. Nothing was accomplished. The rock was still without a crack. I might have asked (as so many are disposed to ask concerning prayer) what good could result from such a waste of time and strength. But that man had faith. He believed in the power of that sledge. He believed that repeated blows had a tendency to split that rock. And so he kept at it. Blow after blow came down all apparently in vain. But still he kept on without a thought of discouragement. He believed that a vigorously swung sledge "has great power." And at last came one more blow and the work was done. That is the way in which we ought to use prayer. God has told us that "the earnest prayer of the righteous man has great power." We ought to believe it, just as that man believed that his sledge had power. And believing it, we ought to use prayer for the attainment of spiritual results with just such confidence of success as that man used his sledge. But says one, "I don't know whether the thing for which I am praying is consistent with the will of God." No matter whether it is or not. That is not a question that there is any need of determining or asking. We don't know God's will about any of our plans for the future. But that doesn't paralyse our efforts or lead us to distrust the efficiency of the means we use for accomplishing those plans. A young man wishes to secure an education. He knows nothing of God's will in the matter, nor does he hesitate a moment because of his ignorance. He simply knows that God has established certain means to be used for attaining the end desired, and that if he faithfully and perseveringly uses these, he may reasonably hope to succeed. It is true he may fail. It may be God's will that he should die within a year. Or some one of the many obstacles in his path may prove entirely insurmountable. But he is to take no notice of any such possibilities. He is to commence and prosecute his studies as if he knew that, if industrious and persevering, he would certainly succeed. This is the way to succeed. And this is the only way. Earnestness, perseverance, unflinching resolution, have ten thousand times made not only possible, but actual, what would otherwise have been impossible. It is just so with prayer. We are no more to concern ourselves about God's will concerning the things for which we pray, than about His will concerning the things for which we toil. We are to recognise and hold fast the fact with both hands, with memory, mind, and heart, that prayer is a means appointed of God for securing spiritual results, as industry and resolution are for achieving results in temporal things. And that is a universal law of God's government, that the more earnestly and perseveringly we use any means that God has appointed, the more certain are we to attain the end we seek. And believing these things, we are to act accordingly. We are to use prayer with just as much expectation of accomplishing something by it, as we use industry. We are to believe with all the heart that "the earnest prayer of the righteous man has great power."
(James Vaughan, M. A.)I. THE PRAYER OF FAITH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD, WHEN BOTH ARE SCRIPTURALLY DEFINED.
II. IT IS CONSISTENT WITH NATURE AND MIRACLES. God can and will perform what He has promised.
III. THE SCRIPTURAL CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH A MIRACLE MIGHT BE WROUGHT AND THE ANSWER TO PRAYER BELIEVED.
1. There is a plane of prayer which is acceptable, which has true faith, but which is offered in the ordinary conditions of a secular yet pious life, without special stress of emotion or elevation of view.
2. The element of time in prayer is important. In respect to the kingdom we shall not have the harvest with the seed-sowing, but after.
3. There are unlimited possibilities in Christian prayer. The Spirit is given to help our infirmities, when we know not what to ask for. The Church will ask more, receive more, and do more.
(R. B. Thurston, D. D.)how that action will take place under the influence of prayer. But how many of those hews are there that we could understand and resolve? Do you conceive how the will which is spiritual can act on matter? Do you know how my hand obeys my intellect? Does not mystery surround you here on all hands, and do the most learned penetrate it better than the most simple? There is another objection opposed to us when we affirm that we can, by prayer, modify the course of events and operate on God Himself. Objectors say to us that it is doubting the wisdom and the goodness of God, that it is substituting our action for His, that an inconceivable pride is there, and that the sole attitude which becomes us in respect to Him is the waiting on and submission to His will. Let us remove what is specious from that objection. When we say that a man acts, by his prayer, on God Himself, we babble in the speech of man of things which are beyond us, the Divine will being incapable of yielding to ours, and remaining as the last word and the explanation of all. Having said this, we shall remark that the objection put before us is destroyed, like the preceding, by itself. The wisdom and goodness of God should prevent us from addressing our demands to Him, they tell us; but what would you answer him who, in the name of the same principle, should pretend to condemn the labour of man? We should answer, "Yes, assuredly God wills that I should live, but He wills that I live by labouring, and for that He has placed the instinct for labour in me. Now, if I did not obey that instinct, His will, however good it may be, would not be realised in respect to me. It therefore depends on me, on my labour, that the will of God should be accomplished." Well! what is true of labour is true of prayer also. Yes, God wills that such an end be attained, that such a result be produced; but there is a condition to it, it is the labour of the soul, in a word, it is prayer. If I do not pray, that Divine will, will never be accomplished. There remains the most popular and oftenest repeated objection; it is that which people pretend to draw from experience. "If prayer were really efficacious," they say, "if it operated on others, on events, on the world, we should see its effects." But who are they, then, who pretend thus to judge the results of prayers of faith, and so discern their reality? Do they know if those prayers were true and sincere? Do they know what sentiment dictated them? They are astonished at their small amount of efficacy, but it would be necessary first to know if they could rise to God. What do you think of those selfish or vicious prayers which only interest or passion has inspired? In order to appreciate the visible effect of prayers we must therefore judge what the prayers themselves are worth, and what inspection of man could discern their value? That is what must be first remembered; and now let us view more nearly the objection opposed to us. People show us prayers which remain unanswered, prayers of the most believing, of the most pious, of the most humble redeemed by Jesus Christ, and they tell us it is impossible, in face of such a fact, still to affirm with my text that prayer is efficacious. Well 1 to that argument of experience, experience may reply. I appeal to those who know bow to pray, and who are apparently the best judges in that matter. I appeal to them confidently, and I know that they will testify firmly that prayer is efficacious. Besides, there are visible results of prayer which impress themselves so evidently that none can deny them. When, forty centuries ago, we could have seen, in the plains of Chaldea, the obscure chief of an unknown tribe bending the knee before Jehovah and invoking Him for his son, in the persuasion that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in his name; when, two thousand years later, we could have heard a handful of Galileans Fraying in an upper room in Jerusalem, and imagining that the world would be conquered by the faith of which they were witnesses, we might have been tempted to smile before the prayer of Abraham and before that of the first disciples of Christ. Who to-day would dare to say they were deceived? To-day the third of humanity beholds in Abraham the father of believers, and the prayer of the apostles is repeated by the Church growing in all points of the universe.
(E. Bersier, D. D.)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.)John 15:7).
(J. Rendel Harria.)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.
(S. Morell.)"Do not break," said the Bow to the String one day, putting a stretch upon its power. "I will do my utmost," answered the String; and with a twanging sound the arrow shot forth, pierced the air, went straight to the mark, and gained the prize. The arrow which is shot from a loose cord drops powerless to the ground, but from the tightly-drawn bow-string it springs forward and reaches the object to which it is directed.
Elias was a man subject to like passions.1. God's eminent children are men of like passions with us (1 Peter 5:9); they are all troubled with a naughty heart, a busy devil, and a corrupt world. When we partake of the Divine nature we do not put off the human; we ought to walk with care, but yet with comfort.
2. It is no injury to the most holy persons to look upon them as men like ourselves. There is a double fault; some canonise the servants of God, not considering them in their infirmities, make them half gods, who were by privilege exempted from the ordinary state of men, and so lose the benefit of their example. Others reflect only upon their infirmities, and instead of making them precedents of mercy, make them patrons of sin.
3. In the lives of God's choicest servants there was some considerable weakness. Elias, in the midst of his miracles, was encumbered with many afflictions. Paul had "abundance of revelations," but "a thorn in the flesh." In the life of Jesus Christ Himself there was an intermixture of power and weakness; of the Divine glory and human frailty. And all this to show that in the highest dispensations God will keep us humble, and in the lowest providences there is enough to support us.
4. Grace is not impassible, or without passions and affections. The stoics held no man a good man but he that had lost all natural feeling and affection. Elijah was a man of like passions. Grace doth not abrogate our affections, but prefer them; it transplanteth them out of Egypt that they may grow in Canaan; it doth not destroy nature, but direct it.
5. All that God wrought by and for His eminent servants was with respect to His own grace, not to their worth and dignity. God did much for Elijah, but he was a man of like passions with us; though his prayers were effectual, yet he was, as every believer is, indebted to grace. When we have received a high assistance, yet still we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).
6. Where the heart is upright our infirmities shall not hinder our prayers. Elijah was a man of like passions, yet he prayed, and it rained not; imitate his faith and earnestness, and your infirmities will be no impediment (2 Chronicles 30:19). Those that do not allow their infirmities may pray with hope of success. God knoweth the voice of the Spirit; our fleshly desires meet with pardon, and our spiritual with acceptance.
7. From that "he prayed earnestly," or prayed in prayer. This is our duty, to pray in prayer. .Not only to say a prayer, but to pray a prayer (Romans 8:26). Let not the heart be wandering while the lips are praying; lip-labour doth no more than a breathing instrument, make a loud noise; the essence of prayer lieth in the ascension of the mind.
8. It is sometimes lawful to imprecate the vengeance of God upon the wicked.(1) There is a great deal of difference between public and private cases. In all private cases it is the glory of our religion to bless them that curse us, to pray for them that despitefully use us.(2) In public cases we must not desire revenge directly and formally; so our prayers must respect the vindication of God's glory, and the avenging of our own case only as it doth collaterally and by consequence follow thereupon.(3) God's people do not desire vengeance against particular persons absolutely, but in general against the enemies of the Church, and expressly against such as are known to God to be perverse and implacable.(4) Their ordinary prayers are against the plots rather than the persons of their enemies. They can love the nature, though they hate the sin.
9. God may continue judgments, especially that of unseasonable weather, for a long time. Second causes do not work by chance, cannot work at pleasure. This is the bridle which God hath upon the world; the ordering of the weather is one of the most visible testimonies of His power and goodness.
10. Lastly, observe how sad it is for any to provoke the prophets of the Lord to pray against them. There is much in their messages, and there is as much in their solemn prayers.
(T. Manton.)I. THE CAPACITY OF HUMANITY. We have probably been impressed with some form of the idea that man, as yet, has only begun to use the powers that are in him, that he walks on earth fettered by many limitations. The question is whether we shall take the average of humanity, and think of the few men who stand above it as exceptional beings, or whether we shall think of them as the standard-bearers of the great advancing army; as the types and prophecies of what shall sometime be the common attainment. Here lies the chief danger, that a man will think that the superior piety of some one, to whom he looks with reverence, is entirely out of his reach, something beyond the range of his capacity. He thinks of the saints as beings of a different order; he asks them to pray for him, and he puts great faith in their prayers; but this is not treating them right; they are but men and women of like passions as we are. They have had to conquer their temptations, overcome their difficulties, and tremble in weakness before they could stand in strength. If they could pray, you can pray; if they had to step up by the Master's side to live the brave and noble life He led, then, by the same course, and not by clinging to their sainthood, can you go up and become as they are. The line of sainthood superstitiously used has kept men away from God, instead of bringing them to God. But the same thing is going on wherever men forget that the great and good among them are not to be taken as exceptions, but as types and models of all that we may and ought to be. We forget that Christ incarnate was such as we are, and some of us are putting Him where He can be no example to us at all. Let no fear of losing the dear, great truth of the divinity of Jesus make you lose the dear great truth of the humanity of Jesus. No man can know how far he is from God until he has had some vision of himself close to God held in His arms, pressed to His bosom. To be capable of God, to know that God can fill us with Himself, and make us strong in Himself, this is the promise of infinity. Looking on into futurity, you cannot begin to see the end of these paths upon which you are now entering: but you can be all you need to be; you can know all you need to know; where other men have gone you can go, and what they have done you can do. From the men who have won in this life and passed on we should gather hope and courage.
II. THE LIKENESS OF MEN TO ONE ANOTHER. The inequalities of birth and education, the diversities in moral nature surrounding us ca every side, compel us to ask what there is left that is common to all men? What is it that really likens all men to one another? The answer is to be found in that ancient figure of the Bible which represents God as our Father. In a household, or family of children, there are inequalities enough; but there are certain things which they all have in common because they are all members of the same household. One is brave, another is timid; one is prudent, another thoughtless; one is headstrong, another is docile; yet in all their differences of character they are alike in that they have their father's nature and their household rights. Each, while possessing something distinct from the rest, will have those qualities which mark him as a member of that family. Paul and I are brothers. But, because he wrote an Epistle to the Hebrews, shall I suppose that I can reason and write upon those sublime mysteries? There are certain qualities peculiar to Paul which constitute his manhood; but not one of us can read the story of his life without feeling ourselves grander and holier for it. So always try and believe about the noblest of your race, the men or women in your own circle whom you know to be beyond yourselves in attainment, who possess something personal which you can never represent, that, so far as they show out humanity, the lustre and completeness of human nature, you may get new courage and faith in yourselves from what you see them do.
III. SPIRITUAL POWERS ARE THE MOST COMPLETE STEP OF OUR HUMAN NATURE. Religions nature is very different in all of us; but it is in all of us. The different forms of its utterance are apt to bewilder. We are apt to settle on certain forms, and, because we do not find them everywhere, we think it cannot be that the relation of the child's soul to the father's soul constitutes religion. We may appeal to man's consciousness for this. Here, James says, is a man in the attitude of prayer;-no matter if separated from us by centuries, and no matter if immensely stronger in faith — nevertheless, he is "a man subject to like pass ons," and to his prayer there comes the answer. He prayed for certain things — rain, food; no matter what it was — he wanted something he could not get out of himself, or out of his own nature; but he had a right to pray as the Father had told him, and because of his needy human nature, and because of his sacred rights as a child of God. Here is a man who says, "I cannot pray; I am too far from God, I am too worldly," etc. Are you not needy, and His child? Is not your nature full of the wants He has taught it to feel, and are not your rights as the rights of a child to its father? Your need and your nature as a child of God are all the credentials you want; take these, cast yourselves down beside Elias, and David, and the praying Jesus, for they were all men of like passions with you, and the grace they needed shall be given you as it was given unto them.
(Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Prayed earnestly that it might not rain.1. When God meaneth to bestow blessings, He stirreth up the hearts of the people to pray for them. God that decreeth the end, decreeth the means (Ezekiel 36:37; Jeremiah 29:12).
2. Though we are sure of the accomplishment of a blessing, yet we must not give over prayer. God's children are never more diligent and free in their endeavours than when confident of a blessing; hope is industrious, and draweth to action.
3. Prayer is a good remedy in the most desperate cases, and when you are lost to all other hopes, you are not lost to the hopes of prayer.
4. The efficacy of prayer is very great. Certainly they that neglect prayer do not only neglect the sweetest way of converse with God, but the most forcible way of prevailing with Him.
5. There is a mutual dependence and subordination between all second causes. The creatures are serviceable to one another by mutual ministries and supplies; the earth is cherished by the heat of the stars, moistened by the water, and by the temperament of both made fruitful, and so sendeth forth innumerable plants for the comfort and use of living creatures, and living creatures are for the supply of man.
I. PRAYER IS NATURAL TO MAN. Here is a mother whose child is dangerously ill, apparently suspended between life and death. What is the use of telling that mother that the life of her child depends on fixed laws, and that, therefore, it is sheer ignorance to pray? In her inmost heart she knows that the life of her child is in the hands of God, and that her hope is only in Him. Here, again, is a farmer, the greater part of whose land is raider water, and unless the floods dry up ruin will stare him in the face. If this man believe at all in God, how can he help praying? But the same God who made the earth and the whole universe also made the man, and wrought into the very texture of his being that belief in the efficacy of prayer. Is it not likely, then, that the Creator knew something about the structure of His own universe when He put that spiritual instinct into the man's soul? Is there not, therefore, at least a strong presumption that He will answer prayer in relation to the weather?
II. IT IS INCREDIBLE THAT THE MAKER OF THE UNIVERSE SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO REGULATE THE ACTION OF HIS OWN LAWS. The assertion of Professor Tyndall that God, without working a stupendous miracle, "cannot deflect towards us a single beam of the sun," is simply a gratuitous assumption. This is, indeed, "science, falsely so-called," for it rests upon no adequate basis of facts. As an infinite Spirit, God is present in every part of the universe, He is near to every atom of matter throughout infinite space, and He is therefore able to interfere effectively at any given point, or throughout any given region. And this, too, not by changing the laws which He Himself has ordained, but by working through those laws. Have not all the marvels of modern science been wrought upon this principle? Cannot any ordinary mortal deflect a beam of the sun without a miracle? and surely the same feat is possible to Omnipotence! Man cannot "make the clouds his chariot, or walk upon the winds of the wind"; but he can make the winds and the lightning his submissive servants. Nay, more. By cutting down forests and by draining low lands and marshes man has actually changed the climate of large tracts of country. Man controls Nature while acting in harmony with her laws; why, then, may not the omnipotent Creator do the same?
III. GOOD MEN, IN ALL AGES, HAVE BELIEVED THAT GOD ACTS UPON NATURE IN ANSWER TO PRAYER. Read the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, and you can have no doubt as to his opinion upon the subject (1 Kings 8:35, 36). Take, again, the case of Elijah. When he prayed, first of all, that "it might not rain," and then afterwards, when the people repented, that rain might be sent, could he give a stronger proof of his belief in the power of prayer with regard to the phenomena of nature? Both these men, too, evidently believed that God has reserved to Himself the right of turning nature to moral uses. Further, does not the Bible give many instances in which God used famine as a rod to chastise His people when they rebelled against Him, and sent plenty when they repented?
IV. BOTH IN ANCIENT AND MODERN TIMES GOD HAS REPEATEDLY ANSWERED PRAYER FOR RAIN. If we believe the history of Elijah, there is an end to the whole controversy; for if God on only one occasion sent rain in answer to prayer, there can be no reason why He should not do so any number of times. Our Lord, at any rate, believed this history, for He took its truthfulness for granted when preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. Coming down to modern times, it is hard to read the story of the Spanish Armada without believing its destruction to have been the result of direct Divine interference. One of the medals struck to commemorate the event bore the inscription, "Afflavit Dens, et disipantur" — "God blew, and they were scattered." Many since that time have prayed for favourable weather, and have believed that God heard them.
(A. Plummer, D. D.)Josephus of the troubles caused by Caligula's insane attempt to set up his statue in the temple at Jerusalem. Petronius, the then Governor of Judaea, was moved by the passionate entreaties of the people, and supported the efforts made by Agrippa I., who remained at Rome, to turn the Emperor from his purpose. It was one of the years of drought that brought about the great famine foretold by Agabus. No rain had fallen for many weeks, and the people — Christians as well as Jews, though Josephus, of course, makes no mention of the former — were "instant in prayer," calling upon the Lord God of Israel to send rain upon the earth. Suddenly rain fell in a plenteous shower from an almost cloudless sky. The earth was refreshed, and the pressing danger averted. Petronius, Josephus relates, was much moved by this manifestation, this Epiphany of the Divine power, and looked upon it partly as an answer to the prayers of the people, partly as the reward of the equity which he had shown in dealing with them.
LinksJames 5:16 NIV
James 5:16 NLT
James 5:16 ESV
James 5:16 NASB
James 5:16 KJV
James 5:16 Bible Apps
James 5:16 Parallel
James 5:16 Biblia Paralela
James 5:16 Chinese Bible
James 5:16 French Bible
James 5:16 German Bible
James 5:16 Commentaries