Part 2 out of 3
his home surroundings in that outside world, the contact with Greek
culture, his natural mental cast fitted him peculiarly for his appointed
task to the great outside majority. His keen reasoning powers, his vivid
imagination, his steel-like will, his burning devotion, his unmovable
purpose, his tender attachment to his Lord,--what a man! Well might the
Master want to win such a man for service' sake. But Paul had some weak
traits. Let us say it very softly, remembering as we instinctively will,
that where we think of one in him there come crowding to memory's door
many more in one's self. A man's weak point is usually the extreme
opposite swing of the pendulum on his strong point. Paul had a tremendous
will. He was a giant, a Hercules in his will. Those tireless journeys with
their terrific experiences, all spell out _will_ large and black. But,
gently now, he went to extremes here. Was it due to his overtired nerves?
Likely enough. He was obstinate, _sometimes;_ stubborn; set in his way:
_sometimes_ head down, jaw locked, driving hard. Say it all _softly_, for
we are speaking of dear old saintly Paul; but, to help, _say_ it, for it
God had a hard time holding Paul to _His_ plans. Paul had some of his own.
We can all easily understand that. Take a side glance or two as he is
pushing eagerly, splendidly on. Turn to that sixteenth chapter of
Acts, and listen: "Having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak
the word in (the province of) Asia," coupled with the fact of sickness
being allowed to overtake him in Galatia where the "forbidding" message
came. And again this, "they assayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of
Jesus suffered them not." Tell me, is this the way the Spirit of God
leads? That I should go driving ahead until He must pull me up with a
sharp turn, and twist me around! It is the way He is obliged to do many
times, no doubt, with most of us. But His chosen way? His own way? Surely
not. Rather this, the keeping close, and quiet and listening for the next
step. Rather the "I go not up yet unto this feast" of Jesus. And then
in a few days going up, evidently when the clear intimation came. These
words, "assayed to go," "forbidden," "suffered not"--what flashlights they
let into this strong man's character.
But there is much stronger evidence yet. Paul had an ambition to preach to
the _Jerusalem Jews_. It burned in his bones from the early hours of his
new life. The substratum of "_Jerusalem_" seemed ever in his thoughts and
dreams. If _he_ could just get to those Jerusalem Jews! He knew them. He
had trained with them. He was a leader among the younger set. When they
burned against these Christians he burned just a bit hotter. They knew
him. They trusted him to drive the opposite wedge. If only _he_ could have
a chance down there he felt that the tide might be turned. But from that
critical hour on the Damascene road "_Gentiles--Gentiles_" had been
sounded in his ears. And he obeyed, of course he obeyed, with all his
ardent heart. _But, but_--those _Jerusalem Jews_! If he might go to
Jerusalem! Yet very early the Master had proscribed the Jerusalem service
for Paul. He made it a matter of a special vision, in the holy temple,
kindly explaining why. "They will not receive of _thee_ testimony
concerning Me." Would that not seem quite sufficient? Surely. Yet this
astonishing thing occurs:--Paul attempts to argue with the Master _why_ he
should be allowed to go. This is going to great lengths; a subordinate
arguing with his commanding general after the orders have been issued! The
Master closes the vision with a peremptory word of command, "_depart_. I
will send thee _far hence_ (from Jerusalem, where you long to be), to the
Gentiles." That is a picture of this man. It reveals the weak side in
this giant of strength and of love. And _this_ is the man God has to use
in His plan. He is without doubt the best man available. And in his
splendour he stands head and shoulders above his generation and many
generations. Yet (with much reverence) God has a hard time getting Paul to
work always along the line of _His_ plans.
That is the man. Now for the thorn. Something came into Paul's life that
was a constant irritation. He calls it a thorn. What a graphic word! A
sharp point prodding into his flesh, ever prodding, sticking, sticking in;
asleep, awake, stitching tent canvas, preaching, writing, that thing ever
cutting its point into his sensitive flesh. Ugh! It did not disturb him so
much at first, because _there was God_ to go to. He went to God and said,
"_Please_ take this away." But it stayed and stuck. A second time the
prayer; a bit more urgent; the thing sticks so. The time test is the
hardest test of all. Still no change. Then praying the third time with
what earnestness one can well imagine.
Now note three things: First, _There was an answer_. God answered _the
man_. Though He did not grant the petition, He answered the man. He did
not ignore him nor his request. Then God told Paul frankly that it was not
best to take the thorn away. It was in the lonely vigil of a sleepless
night, likely as not, that the wondrous Jesus-Spirit drew near to Paul.
Inaudibly to outer ear but very plainly to his inner ear, He spoke in
tones modulated into tender softness as of dearest friend talking with
dear friend. "Paul," the voice said, "I know about that thorn--and how it
hurts--it hurts Me, too. For _your_ sake, I would quickly, so quickly
remove it. But--Paul"--and the voice becomes still softer--"it is a bit
better for _others_' sake that it remain: the plan in My heart _through
you_ for thousands, yes, unnumbered thousands, Paul, can so best be worked
out." That was the first part of what He said. And Paul lies thinking with
a deep tinge of awe over his spirit. Then after a bit in yet quieter voice
He went on to say, "I will be so close to your side; you shall have such
revelations of My glory that the pain will be clear overlapped, Paul; the
glory shall outstrip the eating thorn point."
I can see old Paul one night in his own hired house in Rome. It is late,
after a busy day; the auditors have all gone. He is sitting on an old
bench, slowing down before seeking sleep. One arm is around Luke, dear
faithful Doctor Luke, and the other around young Timothy, not quite so
young now. And with eyes that glisten, and utterance tremulous with
emotion he is just saying:--"And dear old friends, do you know, I would
not have missed this thorn, for the wondrous glory"--and his heart gets
into his voice, there is a touch of the hoarseness of deep emotion, and a
quavering of tone, so he waits a moment--"the wondrous _glory-presence of
Jesus_ that came with it."
And so out of the experience came a double blessing. There was a much
fuller working of God's plan for His poor befooled world. And there was an
unspeakable nearness of intimacy with his Lord for Paul. _The man was
answered and the petition denied that the larger plan of service might be
Shaping a Prayer on the Anvil of the Knees.
The last of these pictures is like Raphael's Sistine Madonna in the
Dresden gallery; it is in a room by itself. One enters with a holy hush
over his spirit, and, with awe in his eyes, looks at _Jesus in
Gethsemane_. There is the Kidron brook, the gentle rise of ground, the
grove of gnarled knotty old olive trees. The moon above is at the full.
Its brightness makes these shadowed recesses the darker; blackly dark.
Here is a group of men lying on the ground apparently asleep. Over yonder
deeper in among the trees a smaller group reclines motionless. They, too,
sleep. And, look, farther in yet is that lone figure; all alone; nevermore
alone; save once--on the morrow.
There is a foreshadowing of this Gethsemane experience in the requested
interview of the Greeks just a few intense days before. In the vision
which the Greeks unconsciously brought the agony of the olive grove began.
The climax is among these moon-shadowed trees. How sympathetic those inky
black shadows! It takes bright light to make black shadows. Yet they were
not black enough. Intense men can get so absorbed in the shadows as to
forget the light.
This great Jesus! Son of God: God the Son. The Son of Man: God--a man! No
draughtsman's pencil ever drew the line between His divinity and humanity;
nor ever shall. For the union of divine and human is itself divine, and
therefore clear beyond human ken. Here His humanity stands out,
pathetically, luminously stands out. Let us speak of it very softly and
think with the touch of awe deepening for this is holiest ground. The
battle of the morrow is being fought out here. Calvary is in Gethsemane.
The victory of the hill is won in the grove.
It is sheer impossible for man with sin grained into his fibre through
centuries to understand the horror with which a sinless one thinks of
actual contact with sin. As Jesus enters the grove that night it comes in
upon His spirit with terrific intensity that He is actually coming into
contact--with a meaning quite beyond us--coming into contact with sin. In
some way all too deep for definition He is to be "made sin." The
language used to describe His emotions is so strong that no adequate
English words seem available for its full expression. An indescribable
horror, a chill of terror, a frenzy of fright seizes Him. The poisonous
miasma of sin seems to be filling His nostrils and to be stifling Him. And
yonder alone among the trees the agony is upon Him. The extreme grips Him.
May there not yet possibly be some other way rather than _this--this!_ A
bit of that prayer comes to us in tones strangely altered by deepest
emotion. "_If it be possible--let this cup pass_." There is still a
clinging to a possibility, some possibility other than that of this
nightmare vision. The writer of the Hebrews lets in light here. The strain
of spirit almost snaps the life-thread. And a parenthetical prayer for
strength goes up. And the angels come with sympathetic strengthening. With
what awe must they have ministered! Even after that some of the red life
slips out there under the trees. By and by a calmer mood asserts itself,
and out of the darkness a second petition comes. It tells of the tide's
turning, and the victory full and complete. _A changed, petition_ this!
"_Since this cup may not pass_--since only thus _can_ Thy great plan for a
world be wrought out--_Thy--will_"--slowly but very distinctly the words
_The changed prayer was wrought out upon His knees!_ With greatest
reverence, and a hush in our voices, let us say that there alone with the
Father came the clearer understanding of the Father's actual will under
"Into the woods my Master went
Clean forspent, forspent;
Into the woods my Master came
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him;
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.
"Out of the woods my Master went
And He was well content;
Out of the woods my Master came
Content with death and shame.
When death and shame would woo Him last
From under the trees they drew Him last
'Twas on a tree they slew Him--last
When out of the woods He came."
True prayer is wrought out upon the knees alone with God. With deepest
reverence, and in awed tones, let it be said, that _that was true of
Jesus_ in the days of His humanity. How infinitely more of us!
Shall we not plan to meet God alone, habitually, with the door shut, and
the Book open, and the will pliant so we may be trained for this holy
partnership of prayer. Then will come the clearer vision, the broader
purpose, the truer wisdom, the real unselfishness, the simplicity of
claiming and expecting, the delights of fellowship in service with Him;
then too will come great victories for God in His world. Although we
shall not begin to know by direct knowledge a tithe of the story until the
night be gone and the dawning break and the ink-black shadows that now
stain the earth shall be chased away by the brightness of His presence.
The Great Outside Hindrance
The Traitor Prince.
There remains yet a word to be said about hindrances. It is a most
important word; indeed the climactic word. What has been said is simply
clearing the way for what is yet to be said. A very strange phase of
prayer must be considered here. Strange only because not familiar. Yet
though strange it contains the whole heart of the question. Here lies the
fight of the fight. One marvels that so little is said of it. For if there
were clear understanding here, and then faithful practicing, there would
be mightier defeats and victories: defeats for the foe; victories for our
rightful prince, Jesus.
The intense fact is this: _Satan has the power to hold the answer
back--for awhile; to delay the result--for a time_. He has not the power
to hold it back finally, _if_ some one understands and prays with quiet,
steady persistence. The real pitch of prayer therefore is Satanward.
Our generation has pretty much left this individual Satan out. It is
partly excusable perhaps. The conceptions of Satan and his hosts and
surroundings made classical by such as Dante and Milton and Dore have
done much to befog the air. Almost universally they have been taken
literally whether so meant or not. One familiar with Satan's
characteristics can easily imagine his cunning finger in that. He is
willing even to be caricatured, or to be left out of reckoning, if so he
may tighten his grip.
These suggestions of horns and hoofs, of forked tail and all the rest of
it seek to give material form to this being. They are grotesque to an
extreme, and therefore caricatures. A caricature so disproportions and
exaggerates as to make hideous or ridiculous. In our day when every
foundation of knowledge is being examined there has been a natural but
unthinking turning away from the very being of Satan through these
representations of him. Yet where there is a caricature there must be a
true. To revolt from the true, hidden by a caricature, in revolting from
the caricature is easy, but is certainly bad. It is always bad to have the
truth hid from our eyes.
It is refreshing and fascinating to turn from these classical caricatures
to the scriptural conception of Satan. In this Book he is a being of great
beauty of person, of great dignity of position even yet, endowed with most
remarkable intellectual powers, a prince, at the head of a most
remarkable, compact organization which he has wielded with phenomenal
skill and success in furthering his ambitious purposes.
And he is not chained yet. I remember a conversation with a young
clergyman one Monday morning in the reading-room of a Young Men's
Christian Association. It was in a certain mining town in the southwest,
which is as full of evil resorts as such places usually are. The day
before, Sunday, had been one of special services, and we had both been
busy and were a bit weary. We were slowing down and chatting leisurely. I
remarked to my friend, "What a glad day it will be when the millennium
comes!" He quickly replied, "I think this is the millennium." "But," I
said, "I thought Satan was to be chained during that time. Doesn't it say
something of that sort in the Book?" "Yes," he replied, "it does. But I
think he is chained now." And I could not resist the answer that came
blurting its way out, "Well, if he is chained, he must have a fairly long
chain: it seems to permit much freedom of action." From all that can be
gathered regarding this mighty prince he is not chained yet. We would do
well to learn more about him. The old military maxim, "Study the enemy,"
should be followed more closely here.
It is striking that the oldest of the Bible books, and the latest, Job and
Revelation, the first word and the last, give such definite information
concerning him. These coupled with the gospel records supply most of the
information available though not all. Those three and a half years of
Jesus' public work is the period of greatest Satanic and demoniac
activity of which any record has been made. Jesus' own allusions to him
are frequent and in unmistakable language. There are four particular
passages to which I want to turn your attention now. Let it not be
supposed, however, that this phase of prayer rests upon a few isolated
passages. Such a serious truth does not hinge upon selected proof texts.
It is woven into the very texture of this Book throughout.
There are two facts that run through the Bible from one end to the other.
They are like two threads ever crossing in the warp and woof of a finely
woven fabric. Anywhere you run your shears into the web of this Book you
will find these two threads. They run crosswise and are woven inextricably
in. One is a black thread, inky black, pot-black. The other is a bright
thread, like a bit of glory light streaming across. These two threads
everywhere. The one is this--the black thread--there is an enemy. Turn
where you will from Genesis to Revelation--always an enemy. He is keen. He
is subtle. He is malicious. He is cruel. He is obstinate. He is a master.
The second thread is this: the leaders for God have always been men of
prayer above everything else. They are men of power in other ways,
preachers, men of action, with power to sway others but above all else men
of prayer. They give prayer first place. There is one striking exception
to this, namely, King Saul. And most significantly a study of this
exception throws a brilliant lime light upon the career of Satan. King
Sauls seems to furnish the one great human illustration in scripture of
heaven's renegade fallen prince. These special paragraphs to be quoted are
like the pattern in the cloth where the colours of the yarn come into more
definite shape. The gospels form the central pattern of the whole where
the colours pile up into sharpest contrast.
Praying is Fighting.
But let us turn to the Book at once. For we _know_ only what it tells. The
rest is surmise. The only authoritative statements about Satan seem to be
these here. Turn first to the New Testament.
The Old Testament is the book of illustrations; the New of explanations,
of teaching. In the Old, teaching is largely by kindergarten methods. The
best methods, for the world was in its child stage. In the New the
teaching is by precept. There is precept teaching in the Old; very much.
There is picture teaching in the New; the gospels full of it. But picture
teaching, acted teaching, is the characteristic of the Old, and precept
teaching of the New. There is a wonderfully vivid picture in the Old
Testament, of this thing we are discussing. But first let us get the
teaching counterpart in the new, and then look at the picture.
Turn to Ephesians. Ephesians is a prayer epistle. That is a very
significant fact to mark. Of Paul's thirteen letters Ephesians is
peculiarly the prayer letter. Paul is clearly in a prayer mood. He is on
his knees here. He has much to say to these people whom he has won to
Christ, but it comes in the parenthesis of his prayer. The connecting
phrase running through is--"for this cause I pray.... I bow my knees."
Halfway through this rare old man's mind runs out to the condition of
these churches, and he puts in the always needed practical injunctions
about their daily lives. Then the prayer mood reasserts itself, and the
epistle finds its climax in a remarkable paragraph on prayer. From praying
the man goes urging them to pray.
We must keep the book open here as we talk: chapter six, verses ten to
twenty inclusive. The main drive of all their living and warfare seems
very clear to this scarred veteran:--"that ye may be able to withstand the
wiles of the devil." This man seems to have had no difficulty in believing
in a personal devil. Probably he had had too many close encounters for
that. To Paul Satan is a cunning strategist requiring every bit of
available resource to combat.
This paragraph states two things:--who the real foe is, against whom the
fight is directed; and, then with climactic intensity it pitches on the
main thing that routs him. Who is the real foe? Listen:--"For our
wrestling is not against flesh and blood"--not against men; never that;
something far, subtler--"but against the principalities"--a word for a
compact organization of individuals,--"against powers"--not only organized
but highly endowed intellectually, "against the world-rulers of this
darkness,"--they are of princely kin; not common folk--"against the hosts
of wicked spirits in the heavenlies"--spirit beings, in vast numbers,
having their headquarters somewhere above the earth. _That_ is the foe.
Large numbers of highly endowed spirit beings, compactly organized, who
are the sovereigns of the present realm or age of moral darkness, having
their _headquarters_ of activity somewhere above the earth, and below the
throne of God, but concerned with human beings upon the earth. In chapter
two of the epistle the head or ruler of this organization is referred to,
"the prince of the powers of the air." That is the real foe.
Then in one of his strong piled up climactic sentences Paul tells how the
fight is to be won. This sentence runs unbroken through verses fourteen to
twenty inclusive. There are six preliminary clauses in it leading up to
its main statement. These clauses name the pieces of armour used by a
Roman soldier in the action of battle. The loins girt, the breastplate on,
the feet shod, the shield, the helmet the sword, and so on. A Roman
soldier reading this or, hearing Paul preach it, would expect him to
finish the sentence by saying "_with all your fighting strength
That would be the proper conclusion rhetorically of this sentence. But
when Paul reaches the climax with his usual intensity he drops the
rhetorical figure, and puts in the thing with which in our case the
fighting is done--"with all prayer _praying_." In place of the
expected word fighting is the word praying. The thing with which the
fighting is done is put in place of the word itself. Our fighting is
praying. Praying is fighting, spirit-fighting. That is to say, this old
evangelist-missionary-bishop says, we are in the thick of a fight. There
is a war on. How shall we best fight? First get into good shape to pray,
and then with all your praying strength and skill _pray_. That word
_praying_ is the climax of this long sentence, and of this whole epistle.
This is the sort of action that turns the enemy's flank, and reveals his
heels. He simply _cannot_ stand before persistent knee-work.
Now mark the keenness of Paul's description of the man who does most
effective work in praying. There are six qualifications under the figure
of the six pieces of armour. A clear understanding of truth, a clean
obedient life, earnest service, a strongly simple trust in God, clear
assurance of one's own salvation and relation to God, and a good grip of
the truth for others--these things prepare a man for the real conflict of
prayer. _Such a man_--_praying_--_drives back these hosts of the traitor
prince_. Such a man praying is invincible in his Chief, Jesus. The
equipment is simple, and in its beginnings comes quickly to the willing,
Look a bit at how the strong climax of this long sentence runs. It is
fairly bristling with points. Soldier-points all of them; like bayonet
points. Just such as a general engaged in a siege-fight would give to his
men. "With all prayer and supplication"--there is _intensity_;
"praying"--that is _the main drive_; "at all seasons"--_ceaselessness_,
night and day; hot and cold; wet and dry; "in the Spirit"--as _guided by
the Chief;_ "and watching thereunto"--_sleepless vigilance;_ watching is
ever a fighting word; watch the enemy; watch your own forces; "with all
perseverance"--_persistence_; cheery, jaw-locked, dogged persistence,
bulldog tenacity; "and supplication"--_intensity again_; "for all the
saints"--_the sweep of the action_, keep in touch with the whole army;
"and on my behalf"--the human leader, rally around _the immediate leader._
This is the foe to be fought. And this the sort of fighting that defeats
A double Wrestling Match.
Now turn back to the illustration section of our Book for a remarkably
graphic illustration of these words. It is in the old prophecy of Daniel,
tenth chapter. The story is this: Daniel is an old man now. He is an
exile. He has not seen the green hills of his fatherland since boyhood. In
this level Babylon, he is homesick for the dear old Palestinian hills, and
he is heartsick over the plight of his people. He has been studying
Jeremiah's prophecies, and finds there the promise plainly made that after
seventy years these exiled Hebrews are to be allowed to return. Go back
again! The thought of it quickens his pulse-beats. He does some quick
counting. The time will soon be up. So Daniel plans a bit of time for
special prayer, a sort of siege prayer.
Remember who he is--this Daniel. He is the chief executive of the land. He
controls, under the king, the affairs of the world empire of his time. He
is a giant of strength and ability--this man. But he plans his work so as
to go away for a time. Taking a few kindred spirits, who understand
prayer, he goes off into the woods down by the great Tigris River. They
spend a day in fasting, and meditation and prayer. Not utter fasting, but
scant eating of plain food. I suppose they pray awhile; maybe separately,
then together; then read a bit from the Jeremiah parchment, think and talk
it over and then pray some more. And so they spend a whole day reading,
They are expecting an answer. These old-time intercessors were strong in
expectancy. But there is no answer. A second day, a third, a fourth, a
week, still no answer reaches them. They go quietly on without hesitation.
Two weeks. How long it must have seemed! Think of fourteen days spent
_waiting_; waiting for something, with your heart on tenter hooks. There
is no answer. God might have been dead, to adapt the words of Catharine
Luther, so far as any answer reaching them is concerned. But you cannot
befool Daniel in that way. He is an old hand at prayer. Apparently he has
no thought of quitting. He goes quietly, steadily on. Twenty days pass,
with no change. Still they persist. Then the twenty-first day comes and
there is an answer. It comes in a vision whose glory is beyond human
strength to bear. By and by when they can talk, his visitor and he, this
is what Daniel hears: "Daniel, the first day you began to pray, your
prayer was heard, and I was sent with the answer." And even Daniel's eyes
open big--"the _first_ day--three weeks ago?" "Yes, three weeks ago I left
the presence of God with the answer to your prayer. But"--listen, here is
the strange part--"the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me,
resisted me, one and twenty days: but Michael, your prince, came to help
me, and I was free to come to you with the answer to your prayer."
Please notice four things that I think any one reading this chapter will
readily admit. This being talking with Daniel is plainly a spirit being.
He is opposed by some one. This opponent plainly must be a spirit being,
too, to be resisting a spirit being. Daniel's messenger is from God: that
is clear. Then the opponent must be from the opposite camp. And here comes
in the thing strange, unexpected, the evil spirit being _has the power to
detain, hold back God's messenger_ for three full weeks by earth's
reckoning of time. Then reenforcements come, as we would say. The evil
messenger's purpose is defeated, and God's messenger is free to come as
There is a double scene being enacted. A scene you can see, and a scene
you cannot see. An unseen wrestling match in the upper spirit realm, and
two embodied spirit beings down on their faces by the river. And both
concerned over the same thing.
That is the Daniel story. What an acted out illustration it is of Paul's
words. It is a picture glowing with the action of real life. It is a
double picture. Every prayer action is in doubles; a lower human level; an
upper spirit level. Many see only the seen, and lose heart. While we look
at the things that are seen, let us gaze intently at the things unseen;
for the seen things are secondary, but the unseen are chief, and the
action of life is being decided there.
Here is the lower, the seen;--a group of men, led by a man of executive
force enough to control an empire, prone on their faces, with minds clear,
quiet, alert, persistently, ceaselessly _praying_ day by day. Here is the
upper, the unseen:--a "wrestling," keen, stubborn, skilled, going on
between two spirit princes in the spirit realm. And by Paul's explanation
the two are vitally connected. Daniel and his companions are wrestlers
too, active participants in that upper-air fight, and really deciding the
issue, for they are on the ground being contested. These men are indeed
praying with all prayer and supplication at all times, in the Spirit, and
watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication, and _at length
Prayer Concerns Three.
Now a bit of a look at the central figure of the pattern. Jesus lets in a
flood of light on Satan's relation to prayer in one of His prayer
parables. There are two parables dealing distinctively with prayer: "the
friend at midnight," and "the unjust judge." The second of these
deals directly with this Satan phase of prayer. It is Luke through whom we
learn most of Jesus' own praying who preserves for us this remarkable
It comes along towards the end. The swing has been made from plain talking
to the less direct, parable-form of teaching. The issue with the national
leaders has reached its acutest stage. The culmination of their hatred,
short of the cross, found vent in charging Him with being inspired by the
spirit of Satan. He felt their charge keenly and answered it directly and
fully. His parable of the strong man being bound before his house can be
rifled comes in here. _They_ had no question as to what that meant. That
is the setting of this prayer parable. The setting is a partial
interpretation. Let us look at this parable rather closely, for it is full
of help for those who would become skilled in helping God win His world
back home again.
Jesus seems so eager that they shall not miss the meaning here that He
departs from His usual habit and says plainly what this parable is meant
to teach:--"that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." The great
essential, He says, is _prayer_. The great essential in prayer is
_persistence_. The temptation in prayer is that one may lose heart, and
give up, or give in. "Not-to-faint" tells how keen the contest is.
There are three persons in the parable; a judge, a widow, and an
adversary. The judge is utterly selfish, unjust, godless, and reckless of
anybody's opinion. The worst sort of man, indeed, the last sort of man to
be a judge. Inferentially he knows that the right of the case before him
is with the widow. The widow--well, she is a _widow_. Can more be said to
make the thing vivid and pathetic! A very picture of friendlessness and
helplessness is a widow. A woman needs a friend. This woman has lost her
nearest, dearest friend; her protector. She is alone. There is an
adversary, an opponent at law, who has unrighteously or illegally gotten
an advantage over the widow and is ruthlessly pushing her to the wall. She
is seeking to get the judge to join with her against her adversary. Her
urgent, oft repeated request is, "avenge me of mine adversary." That is
Jesus' pictorial illustration of persistent prayer.
Let us look into it a little further. "Adversary" is a common word in
scripture for Satan. He is the accuser, the hater, the enemy, the
adversary. Its meaning technically is "an opponent in a suit at law." It
is the same word as used later by Peter, "Your adversary the devil as a
roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour." The word
"avenge" used four times really means, "do me justice." It suggests that
the widow has the facts on her side to win a clear case, and that the
adversary has been bully-ragging his case through by sheer force.
There is a strange feature to this parable, which must have a meaning. _An
utterly godless unscrupulous man is put in to represent God!_ This is
startling. In any other than Jesus it would seem an overstepping of the
bounds. But there is keenness of a rare sort here. Such a man is chosen
for judge to bring out most sharply this:--the sort of thing required to
win this judge is certainly not required _with God_. The widow must
persist and plead because of the sort of man she has to deal with. But God
is utterly different in character. Therefore while persistence is urged in
prayer plainly it is not for the reason that required the widow to
persist. And if that reason be cut out it leaves only one other, namely,
that represented by the adversary.
Having purposely put such a man in the parable for God, Jesus takes pains
to speak of the real character of God. "And He is _long-suffering_ over
them." _That_ is God. That word "long-suffering" and its equivalent on
Jesus' lips suggests at once the strong side of love, namely, _patience_,
gentle, fine patience. It has bothered the scholars in this phrase to know
with whom or over what the long-suffering is exercised. "Over them" is the
doubtful phrase. Long-suffering over these praying ones? _Or_,
long-suffering in dealing righteously with some stubborn adversary--which?
The next sentence has a word set in sharpest contrast with this one,
namely "speedily." "Long-suffering" yet "speedily."
Here are gleams of bright light on a dark subject with apparently more
light obscured than is allowed to shine through. Jesus always spoke
thoughtfully. He chooses His words. Remembering the adversary against whom
the persistence is directed the whole story seems to suggest this: that
there is _a great conflict on_ in the upper spirit world. Concerning it
our patient God is long-suffering. He is a just and righteous God. These
beings in the conflict are all His creatures. He is just in His dealings
with the devil and this splendid host of evil spirits even as with all His
creation. He is long-suffering that no unfairness shall be done in His
dealings with these creatures of His. Yet at the same time He is doing His
best to bring the conflict to a speedy end, for the sake of His loyal
loved ones, and that right may prevail.
The upshot of the parable is very plain. It contains for us two
tremendous, intense truths. First is this: _prayer concerns three_, not
two but three. God to whom we pray, the man on the contested earth who
prays, and the evil one against whom we pray. And the purpose of the
prayer is not to persuade or influence God, but to join forces with Him
against the enemy. Not towards God, but with God against Satan--that is
the main thing to keep in mind in prayer. The real pitch is not Godward
The second intense truth is this:--the winning quality in prayer is
_persistence_. The final test is here. This is the last ditch. Many who
fight well up to this point lose their grip here, and so lose all. Many
who are well equipped for prayer fail here, and doubtless fail because
they have not rightly understood. With clear, ringing tones the Master's
voice sounds in our ears again to-day, "always to pray, _and_ not to
A Stubborn Foe Routed.
That is the parable teaching. Now a look at a plain out word from the
Master's lips. It is in the story of the demonized boy, the distressed
father, and the defeated disciples, at the foot of the transfiguration
mountain. Extremes meet here surely. The mountain peak is in sharpest
contrast with the valley. The demon seems to be of the superlative degree.
His treatment of the possessed boy is malicious to an extreme. His purpose
is "to destroy" him. Yet there is a limit to his power, for what he would
do he has not yet been able to do. He shows extreme tenacity. He fought
bitterly against being disembodied again. (Can it be that embodiment eases
in some way the torture of existence for these prodigal spirits!) And so
far he fought well, and with success. The disciples had tried to cast him
out. They were expected to. They expected to. They had before. They
failed!--dismally--amid the sneering and jeering of the crowd and the
increasing distress of the poor father.
Then Jesus came. Was some of the transfiguring glory still lingering in
that great face? It would seem so. The crowd was "amazed" when they saw
Him, and "saluted" Him. His presence changed all. The demon angrily left,
doing his worst to wreck the house he had to vacate. The boy is restored;
and the crowd astonished at the power of God.
Then these disciples did a very keen thing. They made some bad blunders
but this is not one of them. They sought a private talk with Jesus. No
shrewder thing was ever done. When you fail, quit your service and get
away for a private interview with Jesus. With eyes big, and voices
dejected, the question wrung itself out of their sinking hearts, "Why
could not _we_ cast it out?" Matthew and Mark together supply the full
answer. Probably first came this:--"because of your little faith." They
had quailed in their hearts before the power of this malicious demon. And
the demon knew it. They were more impressed with the power of the demon
than with the power of God. And the demon saw it. They had not prayed
victoriously against the demon. The Master says, "faith only as big as a
mustard seed (you cannot measure the strength of the mustard seed by its
size) will say to this mountain--'Remove.'" Mark keenly:--the direction of
the faith is towards the obstacle. Its force is against the enemy. It was
the demon who was most directly influenced by Jesus' faith.
Then comes the second part of the reply:--"This kind can come out by
nothing but by prayer." Some less-stubborn demons may be cast out by the
faith that comes of our regular prayer-touch with God. This extreme sort
takes special prayer. This kind of a demon goes out by prayer. It can be
put out by nothing less. The real victory must be in the secret place. The
exercise of faith in the open battle is then a mere pressing of the
victory already won. These men had the language of Jesus on their lips,
but they had not gotten the victory first off somewhere alone. This demon
is determined not to go. He fights stubbornly and strongly. He succeeds.
Then this _Man of Prayer_ came. The quiet word of command is spoken. The
demon must go. These disciples were strikingly like some of us. They had
not _realized_ where the real victory is won. They had used the word of
command to the demon, doubtless coupling Jesus' name with it. But there
was not the secret touch with God that gives victory. Their eyes showed
their fear of the demon.
Prayer, real prayer, intelligent prayer, it is this that routs Satan's
demons, for it routs their chief. David killed the lion and bear in the
secret forests before he faced the giant in the open. These disciples were
facing the giant in the open without the discipline in secret. "This kind
can be compelled to come out by nothing but by prayer," means this:--"this
kind comes out, and must come out, before the man who prays." This thing
which Jesus calls prayer casts out demons. Would that we knew better by
experience what He meant by prayer. It exerts a positive influence upon
the hosts of evil spirits. They fear it. They fear the man who becomes
skilled in its use.
There are yet many other passages in this Bible fully as explicit as
these, and which give on the very surface just such plain teaching as
these. The very language of scripture throughout is full of this truth.
But these four great instances are quite sufficient to make the present
point clear and plain. This great renegade prince is an actual active
factor in the lives of men. He believes in the potency of prayer. He fears
it. He can hinder its results for a while. He does his best to hinder it,
and to hinder as long as possible.
_Prayer overcomes him._ It defeats his plans and himself. He cannot
successfully stand before it. He trembles when some man of simple faith in
God prays. Prayer is insistence upon God's will being done. It needs for
its practice a man in sympathetic touch with God. Its basis is Jesus'
victory. It overcomes the opposing will of the great traitor-leader.
III. How to Pray
1. The "How" of Relationship.
2. The "How" of Method.
3. The Listening Side of Prayer.
4. Something about God's Will in Connection with Prayer.
5. May We Pray with Assurance for the Conversion of Our Loved Ones?
The "How" of Relationship
If I had an ambition to be the ambassador of this country to our
mother-country, there would be two essential things involved. The first
and great essential would be to receive the appointment. I would need to
come into certain relation with our president, to possess certain
qualifications considered essential by him, and to secure from his hand
the appointment, and the official credentials of my appointment. That
would establish my relationship to the foreign court as the representative
of my own country, and my right to transact business in her name.
But having gotten that far I might go over there and make bad mistakes. I
might get our diplomatic relations tangled up, requiring many
explanations, and maybe apologies, and leaving unpleasant memories for a
long time to come. Such incidents have not been infrequent. Nations are
very sensitive. Governmental affairs must be handled with great nicety.
There would be a second thing which if I were a wise enough man to be an
ambassador I would likely do. I would go to see John Hay and Joseph H.
Choate, and have as many interviews with them as possible, and learn all I
possibly could from them of London official life, court etiquette,
personages to be dealt with, things to do, and things to avoid. How to be
a successful diplomat and further the good feeling between the two
governments, and win friends for our country among the sturdy Britons
would be my one absorbing thought. And having gotten all I could in that
way I would be constantly on the alert with all the mental keenness I
could command to practice being a successful ambassador.
The first of these would make me technically an ambassador. The second
would tend towards giving me some skill as an ambassador. Now there are
the same two how's in praying. First the relationship must be established
before any business can be transacted. Then skill must be acquired in the
transacting of the business on hand.
Just now, we want to talk about the first of these, the how of
relationship in prayer. The basis of prayer is right relationship with
God. Prayer is representing God in the spirit realm of this world. It is
insisting upon His rights down in this sphere of action. It is standing
for Him with full powers from Him. Clearly the only basis of such
relationship to God is _Jesus_. We have been outlawed by sin. We were in
touch with God. We broke with Him. The break could not be repaired by us.
Jesus came. He was God _and_ Man. He touches both. We get back through
Him, and only so. The blood of the cross is the basis of all prayer.
Through it the relationship is established that underlies all prayer. Only
as I come to God through Jesus to get the sin score straightened, and only
as I keep in sympathy with Jesus in the purpose of my life can I practice
Six Sweeping Statements.
Jesus' own words make this very clear. There are two groups of teachings
on prayer in those three and a half years as given by the gospel records.
The first of these groups is in the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus
preached about half-way through the second year of His ministry. The
second group comes sheer at the end. All of it is in the last six months,
and most of it in the last ten days, and much of that on the very eve of
that last tragic day.
It is after the sharp rupture with the leaders that this second series of
statements is made. The most positive, and most sweeping utterances on
prayer are here. Of Jesus' eight promises regarding prayer six are here. I
want to ask you please to notice these six promises or statements; and
then, to notice their relation to our topic of to-day.
In Matthew 18:19, 20, is the first of these. "Again I say unto you, that
if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they Shall
ask, it shall be done for them of My Father who is in heaven." Notice the
place of prayer--"on earth"; and the sweep--"anything"; and the
positiveness--"it shall be done." Then the reason why is given. "For where
two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of
them." That is to say, if there are two persons praying, there are three.
If three meet to pray, there are four praying. There is always one more
than you can see. And if you might perhaps be saying to yourself in a bit
of dejection, "He'll not hear me: I'm so sinful: so weak"--you would be
wrong in thinking and saying so, but then we do think and say things that
are not right--_if_ you might be thinking that, you could at once fall
back upon this: the Father always hears Jesus. And wherever earnest hearts
pray Jesus is there taking their prayer and making it His prayer.
The second of these: Mark 11:22-24, "Jesus answering saith unto them, have
faith in God"--with the emphasis double-lined under the word "God." The
chief factor in prayer is God. "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall say
unto this mountain, be thou taken up and cast into the sea--" Choosing, do
you see the unlikeliest thing that might occur. Such a thing did not take
place. We never hear of Jesus moving an actual mountain. The need for such
action does not seem to have arisen. But He chooses the thing most
difficult for His illustration. Can you imagine a mountain moving off into
the sea--the Jungfrau, or Blanc, or Rainier? If you know mountains down in
your country you cannot imagine it actually occurring. "--And shall not
doubt in his heart--" That is Jesus' definition of faith. "--But shall
believe that what he saith cometh to pass; he shall have it. Therefore, I
say unto you, all things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye
receive them, and ye shall have them." How utterly sweeping this last
statement! And to make it more positive it is preceded by the emphatic
"therefore--I--say--unto--you." Both whatsoever and whosoever are here.
Anything, and anybody. We always feel instinctively as though these
statements need careful guarding: a few fences put up around them. Wait a
bit and we shall see what the Master's own fence is.
The last four of the six are in John's gospel. In that last long quiet
talk on the night in which He was betrayed. John preserves much of that
heart-talk for us in chapters thirteen to seventeen.
Here in John 14:13, 14: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will
I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask
anything in My name, that will I do." The repetition is to emphasize the
unlimited sweep of what may be asked.
John 15:7: "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you--" That word
abide is a strong word. It does not mean to leave your cards; nor to hire
a night's lodging; nor to pitch a tent, or run up a miner's shanty, or a
lumberman's shack. It means moving in to stay. "--Ask whatsoever ye
will--" The Old Version says, "ye shall ask." But here the revised is more
accurate: "Ask; please ask; I ask you to ask." There is nothing said
directly about God's will. There is something said about our wills. "--And
it shall be done unto you." Or, a little more literally, "I will bring it
to pass for you."
I remember the remark quoted to me by a friend one day. His church
membership is in the Methodist Church of the North, but his service
crosses church lines both in this country and abroad. He was talking with
one of the bishops of that church whose heart was in the foreign mission
field. The bishop was eager to have this friend serve as missionary
secretary of his church. But he knew, as everybody knows, how difficult
appointments oftentimes are in all large bodies. He was earnestly
discussing the matter with my friend, and made this remark: "If you will
allow the use of your name for this appointment, _I will lay myself out_
to have it made." Now if you will kindly not think there is any lack of
reverence in my saying so--and there is surely none in my thought--that is
the practical meaning of Jesus' words here. "If you abide in Me, and My
words sway you, you please ask what it is your will to ask. And--softly,
reverently now--I will lay Myself out to bring that thing to pass for
you." That is the force of His words here.
This same chapter, sixteenth verse: "Ye did not choose Me, but I chose
you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your
fruit should abide; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name,
He may give it you." God had our prayer partnership with Himself in His
mind in choosing us. And the last of these, John 16:23, 24, second clause,
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, if ye shall ask anything of the Father,
He will give it you in My name. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name:
ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled."
These statements are the most sweeping to be found anywhere in the
Scriptures regarding prayer. There is no limitation as to who shall ask,
nor the kind of thing to be asked for. There are three limitations
imposed: the prayer is to be _through Jesus_; the person praying is to be
in fullest sympathy with Him; and this person is to have faith.
Words With a Freshly Honed Razor-Edge.
Now please group these six sweeping statements in your mind and hold them
together there. Then notice carefully this fact. These words are not
spoken to the crowds. They are spoken to the small inner group of twelve
disciples. Jesus talks one way to the multitude. He oftentimes talks
differently to these men who have separated themselves from the crowd and
come into the inner circle.
And notice further that before Jesus spoke these words to this group of
men He had said something else first. Something very radical; so radical
that it led to a sharp passage between Himself and Peter, to whom He
speaks very sternly. This something else fixes unmistakably their relation
to Himself. Remember that the sharp break with the national leaders has
come. Jesus is charged with Satanic collusion. The death plot is
determined upon. The breach with the leaders is past the healing point.
And now the Master is frequently slipping away from the crowd with these
twelve men, and seeking to teach and train them. That is the setting of
these great promises. It must be kept continually in mind.
Before the Master gave Himself away to these men in these promises He said
this something else. It is this. I quote Matthew's account: "If any man
would come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross (daily,
Luke's addition) and follow Me." _These words should be written
crosswise over those six prayer statements_. Jesus never spoke a keener
word. Those six promises are not meant for all. Let it be said very
plainly. They are meant only for those who will square their lives by
these razor-edged words.
I may not go fully into the significance of these deep-cutting words here.
They have been gone into at some length in a previous set of talks as
suggesting the price of power. To him whose heart burns for power in
prayer I urge a careful review of that talk in this new setting of it. "If
any man would come after Me" means a rock-rooted purpose; the jaw locked;
the tendrils of the purpose going down around and under the gray granite
of a man's will, and tying themselves there; and knotting the ties; sailor
knots, that you cannot undo.
"Come after Me" means all the power of Jesus' life, and has the other
side, too. It means the wilderness, the intense temptation. It may mean
the obscure village of Nazareth for you. It may mean that first Judean
year for you--lack of appreciation. It may mean for you that last six
months--the desertion of those hitherto friendly. It will mean without
doubt a Gethsemane. Everybody who comes along after Jesus has a Gethsemane
in his life. It will never mean as much to you as it meant to Him. That is
true. But, then, it will mean everything to you. And it will mean too
having a Calvary in your life in a very real sense, though different from
what that meant to Him. This sentence through gives the process whereby
the man with sin grained into the fibre of his will may come into such
relationship with God as to claim without any reservation these great
prayer promises. And if that sound hard and severe to you let me quickly
say that it is an easy way for the man who is _willing._ The presence of
Jesus in the life overlaps every cutting thing.
If a man will go through Matthew 16:24, and habitually live there he may
ask what he wills to ask, and that thing will come to pass. The reason,
without question, why many people do not have power in prayer is simply
because they are unwilling--I am just talking very plainly--they are
unwilling to bare their breasts to the keen-edged knife in these words of
Jesus. And on the other side, if a man will quietly, resolutely follow the
Master's leading--nothing extreme--nothing fanatical, or morbid, just a
quiet going where that inner Voice plainly leads day by day, he will be
startled to find what an utterly new meaning prayer will come to have for
The Controlling Purpose.
Vital relationship is always expressed by purpose. The wise ambassador has
an absorbing purpose to further the interests of his government. Jesus
said, and it at once reveals His relationship to God, "I do always those
things that are well pleasing to him."
The relationship that underlies prayer has an absorbing purpose. Its
controlling purpose is to please Jesus. That sentence may sound simple
enough. But, do you know, there is no sentence I might utter that has a
keener, a more freshly honed razor-edge to it than that. That the purpose
which _controls_ my action in every matter be this: to please Him. If you
have not done so, take it for a day, a week, and use it as a touch stone
regarding thought, word and action. Take it into matters personal, home,
business, social, fraternal. It does not mean to ask, "Is this right? is
this wrong?" Not that. Not the driving of a keen line between wrong and
right. There are a great many things that can be proven to be not wrong,
but that are not best, that are not His preference.
It will send a business man running his eye along the shelves and counter
of his store. "The controlling purpose to please Jesus ... hm-m-m, I guess
maybe that stuff there ought to come out. Oh, it is not wrong: I can prove
that. My Christian brother-merchants handle it here, and over the country:
but _to please Him_: a good, clean sixty per cent, profit too, cash money,
but _to please Him_--" and the stuff must go down and out.
It would set some woman to thinking about the next time the young people
are to gather in her home for a delightful social evening with her own
daughters. She will think about some forms of pastime that are found
everywhere. They are not wrong, that has been conclusively proven. But _to
please Him_. Hm-m. And these will go out. And then it will set her to
work with all her God-given woman-wit and exquisite tact to planning an
evening yet more delightful. It will make one think of his personal
habits, his business methods, and social intercourse, the organizations he
belongs to, with the quiet question cutting it razor-way into each.
And if some one listening may ask: Why put the condition of prayer so
strongly as that? I will remind you of this. The true basis of prayer is
sympathy, oneness of purpose. Prayer is not extracting favours from a
reluctant God. It is not passing a check in a bank window for money. That
is mandatory. The roots of prayer lie down in oneness of purpose. God up
yonder, His Victor-Son by His side, and a man down here, in _such
sympathetic touch_ that God can think His thoughts over in this man's
mind, and have His desires repeated upon the earth as this man's prayer.
The Threefold Cord of Jesus' Life.
Think for a moment into Jesus' human life down here. His marvellous
activities for those few years over which the world has never ceased to
wonder. Then His underneath hidden-away prayer-life of which only
occasional glimpses are gotten. Then grouping around about that sentence
of His--"I do always the things that are pleasing to Him"--in John's
gospel, pick out the emphatic negatives on Jesus' lips, the "not's": not
My will, not My works, not My words. Jesus came to do somebody's else
will. The controlling purpose of His life was to please His Father. That
was the secret of the power of His earthly career. Right relationship to
God; a secret intimate prayer-life: marvellous power over men and with
men--those are the strands in the threefold cord of His life.
There is a very striking turn of a word in the second chapter of John's
gospel down almost at its close. The old version says that "Many believed
on His name beholding His signs which He did, but Jesus did not commit
Himself unto them" because He knew them so well. The word "believed," and
the word "commit" are the same word underneath our English. The sentence
might run "many _trusted_ Him beholding what He did; but He did not
_trust_ them for He knew them." I have no doubt most, or all of us here
to-day, trust Him. Let me ask you very softly now: Can He trust you? While
we might all shrink from saying "yes" to that, there is a very real sense
in which we may say "yes," namely, in the purpose of the life. Every life
is controlled by some purpose. What is yours? To please Him? If so He
knows it. It is a great comfort to remember that God judges a man not by
his achievements, but by his purposes: not by what I am, actually, but by
what I would be, in the yearning of my inmost heart, the dominant purpose
of my life. God will fairly flood your life with all the power He can
trust you to use wholly for Him.
Commercial practice furnishes a simple but striking illustration here. A
man is employed by a business house as a clerk. His ability and honesty
come to be tested in many ways constantly. He is promoted gradually, his
responsibilities increased. As he proves himself thoroughly reliable he is
trusted more and more, until by and by as need arises he becomes the
firm's confidential clerk. He knows its secrets. He is trusted with the
combination to the inner box in the vault. Because it has been proven by
actual test that he will use everything only for the best interests of his
house, and not selfishly.
Here, where we are dealing, the whole thing moves up to an infinitely
higher level, but the principle does not change. If I will come into the
relationship implied in these words:--it shall be the one controlling
desire and purpose of my life to do the things that please Him--then I may
ask for what I will, and it shall be done. That is how to pray: the how of
relationship. The man who will live in Matthew 16:24, and follow Jesus as
He leads: simply that: no fanaticism, no morbidism, no extremism, just
simply follow as He leads, day by day,--then those six promises of Jesus
with their wonderful sweep, their limitless sweep are his to use as he
The "How" of Method
Touching the Hidden Keys.
One of the most remarkable illustrations in recent times of the power of
prayer, may be found in the experience of Mr. Moody. It explains his
unparalleled career of world-wide soul winning. One marvels that more has
not been said of it. Its stimulus to faith is great. I suppose the man
most concerned did not speak of it much because of his fine modesty. The
last year of his life he referred to it more frequently as though impelled
The last time I heard Mr. Moody was in his own church in Chicago. It was,
I think, in the fall of the last year of his life. One morning in the old
church made famous by his early work, in a quiet conversational way he
told the story. It was back in the early seventies, when Chicago had been
laid in ashes. "This building was not yet up far enough to do much in," he
said; "so I thought I would slip across the water, and learn what I could
from preachers there, so as to do better work here. I had gone over to
London, and was running around after men there." Then he told of going
one evening to hear Mr. Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle; and
understanding that he was to speak a second time that evening to dedicate
a chapel, Mr. Moody had slipped out of the building and had run along the
street after Mr. Spurgeon's carriage a mile or so, so as to hear him the
second time. Then he smiled, and said quietly, "I was running around after
men like that."
He had not been speaking anywhere, he said, but listening to others. One
day, Saturday, at noon, he had gone into the meeting in Exeter Hall on the
Strand; felt impelled to speak a little when the meeting was thrown open,
and did so. At the close among others who greeted him, one man, a
minister, asked him to come and preach for him the next day morning and
night, and he said he would. Mr. Moody said, "I went to the morning
service and found a large church full of people. And when the time came I
began to speak to them. But it seemed the hardest talking ever I did.
There was no response in their faces. They seemed as though carved out of
stone or ice. And I was having a hard time: and wished I wasn't there; and
wished I hadn't promised to speak again at night. But I had promised, and
so I went.
"At night it was the same thing: house full, people outwardly respectful,
but no interest, no response. And I was having a hard time again. When
about half-way through my talk there came a change. It seemed as though
the windows of heaven had opened and a bit of breath blew down. The
atmosphere of the building seemed to change. The people's faces changed.
It impressed me so that when I finished speaking I gave the invitation for
those who wanted to be Christians to rise. I thought there might be a few.
And to my immense surprise the people got up in groups, pew-fulls. I
turned to the minister and said, 'What does this mean?' He said, 'I don't
know, I'm sure.' Well," Mr. Moody said, "they misunderstood me. I'll
explain what I meant." So he announced an after-meeting in the room below,
explaining who were invited: only those who wanted to be Christians; and
putting pretty clearly what he understood that to mean, and dismissed the
They went to the lower room. And the people came crowding, jamming in
below, filling all available space, seats, aisles and standing room. Mr.
Moody talked again a few minutes, and then asked those who would be
Christians to rise. This time he knew he had made his meaning clear. They
got up in clumps, in groups, by fifties! Mr. Moody said, "I turned and
said to the minister, 'What _does_ this mean?' He said, 'I'm sure I don't
know.'" Then the minister said to Mr. Moody, "What'll I do with these
people? I don't know what to do with them; this is something new." And he
said, "Well. I'd announce a meeting for to-morrow night, and Tuesday
night, and see what comes of it; I'm going across the channel to Dublin."
And he went, but he had barely stepped off the boat when a cablegram was
handed him from the minister saying, "Come back at once. Church packed."
So he went back, and stayed ten days. And the result of that ten days, as
I recall Mr. Moody's words, was that four hundred were added to that
church, and that every church near by felt the impulse of those ten days.
Then Mr. Moody dropped his head, as though thinking back, and said: "I had
no plans beyond this church. I supposed my life work was here. But the
result with me was that I was given a roving commission and have been
working under it ever since."
Now what was the explanation of that marvellous Sunday and days following?
It was not Mr. Moody's doing, though he was a leader whom God could and
did mightily use. It was not the minister's doing; for he was as greatly
surprised as the leader. There was some secret hidden beneath the surface
of those ten days. With his usual keenness Mr. Moody set himself to ferret
By and by this incident came to him. A member of the church, a woman, had
been taken sick some time before. Then she grew worse. Then the physician
told her that she would not recover. That is, she would not die at once,
so far as he could judge, but she would be shut in her home for years.
And she lay there trying to think what that meant: to be shut in for
years. And she thought of her life, and said, "How little I've done for
God: practically nothing: and now what can I do shut in here on my back."
And she said, "I can pray."
May I put this word in here as a parenthesis in the story--that God
oftentimes allows us to be shut in--He does not shut us in--He does not
need to--simply take His hand off partly--there is enough disobedience to
His law of our bodies all the time to shut us aside--no trouble on that
side of the problem--_with pain to Himself_, against His own first will
for us, He allows us to be shut in, because only so _can_ He get our
attention from other things to what He wants done; get us to see things,
and think things His way. I am compelled to think it is so.
She said, "I _will_ pray." And she was led to pray for her church. Her
sister, also a member of the church, lived with her, and was her link with
the outer world. Sundays, after church service, the sick woman would ask,
"Any special interest in church to-day?" "No," was the constant reply.
Wednesday nights, after prayer-meetings, "Any special interest in the
service to-night? there must have been." "No; nothing new; same old
deacons made the same old prayers."
But one Sunday noon the sister came in from service and asked, "Who do you
think preached to-day?" "I don't know, who?" "Why, a stranger from
America, a man called Moody, I think was the name." And the sick woman's
face turned a bit whiter, and her eye looked half scared, and her lip
trembled a bit, and she quietly said: "I know what that means. There's
something coming to the old church. Don't bring me any dinner. I must
spend this afternoon in prayer." And so she did. And that night in the
service that startling change came.
Then to Mr. Moody himself, as he sought her out in her sick room, she told
how nearly two years before there came into her hands a copy of a paper
published in Chicago called the _Watchman_ that contained a talk by Mr.
Moody in one of the Chicago meetings, Farwell Hall meetings, I think. All
she knew was that talk that made her heart burn, and there was the name
M-o-o-d-y. And she was led to pray that God would send that man into their
church in London. As simple a prayer as that.
And the months went by, and a year, and over; still she prayed. Nobody
knew of it but herself and God. No change seemed to come. Still she
prayed. And of course her prayer wrought its purpose. Every
Spirit-suggested prayer does. And that is the touchstone of true prayer.
And the Spirit of God moved that man of God over to the seaboard, and
across the water and into London, and into their church. Then a bit of
special siege-prayer, a sort of last charge up the steep hill, and that
night the victory came.
Do you not believe--I believe without a doubt, that some day when the
night is gone and the morning light comes up, and we know as we are known,
that we shall find that the largest single factor, in that ten days' work,
and in the changing of tens of thousands of lives under Moody's leadership
is that woman in her praying. Not the only factor, mind you. Moody a man
of rare leadership, and consecration, and hundreds of faithful ministers
and others rallying to his support. But behind and beneath Moody and the
others, and to be reckoned with as first this woman's praying.
Yet I do not know her name. I know Mr. Moody's name. I could name scores
of faithful men associated with him in his campaigns, but the name of this
one in whom humanly is the secret of it all I do not know. Ah! It is a
secret service. We do not know who the great ones are. They tell me she is
living yet in the north end of London, and still praying. Shall we pray!
Shall we not pray! If something else must slip out, something important,
shall we not see to it that intercession has first place!
Making God's Purpose Our Prayer.
With that thought in mind let me this evening suggest a bit of how to
pray. As simple a subject as that: how to pray: the how of method.
The first thing in prayer is to find God's purpose, the trend, the swing
of it; the second thing to make that purpose our prayer. We want to find
out what God is thinking, and then to claim that that shall be done. God
is seated up yonder on the throne. Jesus Christ is sitting by His side
glorified. Everywhere in the universe God's will is being done except in
this corner, called the earth, and its atmosphere, and that bit of the
heavens above it where Satan's headquarters are.
It has been done down here by one person--Jesus. He came here to this
prodigal planet and did God's will perfectly. He went away. And He has
sought and seeks to have men down upon the earth so fully in touch with
Himself that He may do in them and through them just what He will. That He
may reproduce Himself in these men, and have God's will done again down on
the earth. Now prayer is this: finding out God's purpose for our lives,
and for the earth and insisting that that shall be done here. The great
thing then is to find out and insist upon God's will. And the "how" of
method in prayer is concerned with that.
Many a time I have met with a group of persons for prayer. Various special
matters for prayer are brought up. Here is this man, needing prayer, and
this particular matter, and this one, and this. Then we kneel and pray.
And I have many a time thought--not critically in a bad sense--as I have
listened to their prayers, as though this is the prayer I must
offer:--"Blessed Holy Spirit, Thou knowest this man, and what the lacking
thing is in him. There is trouble there. Thou knowest this sick woman, and
what the difficulty is there. This problem, and what the hindrance is in
it. Blessed Spirit, pray in me the prayer Thou art praying for this man,
and this thing, and this one. The prayer Thou art praying, I pray that, in
Jesus' name. Thy will be done here under these circumstances."
Sometimes I feel clear as to the particular prayer to offer, but many a
time I am puzzled to know. I put this fact with this, but I may not know
_all_ the facts. I know this man who evidently needs praying for, a
Christian man perhaps, his mental characteristics, his conceptions of
things, the kind of a will he has, but there may be some fact in there
that I do not know, that seriously affects the whole difficulty. And I am
compelled to fall back on this: I don't know how to pray as I ought. But
the Spirit within me will make intercession for this man as I allow Him to
have free swing in me as the medium of His prayer. And He who is listening
above as He hears His will for this man being repeated down on the
battle-field will recognize His own purpose, of course. And so that thing
will be working out because of Jesus' victory over the evil one.
But I may become so sensitive to the Spirit's thoughts and presence, that
I shall know more keenly and quickly what to pray for. In so far as I do
I become a more skillful partner of His on the earth in getting God's will
The Trysting Place.
There are six suggestions here on how to pray. First--we need _time_ for
prayer, unhurried time, daily time, time enough to forget about how much
time it is. I do not mean now: rising in the morning at the very last
moment, and dressing, it may be hurriedly, and then kneeling a few moments
so as to feel easier in mind: not that. I do not mean the last thing at
night when you are jaded and fagged, and almost between the sheets, and
then remember and look up a verse and kneel a few moments: not that. That
is good so far as it goes. I am not criticising that. Better sweeten and
sandwich the day with all of that sort you can get in. But just now I mean
this: _taking time_ when the mind is fresh and keen, and the spirit
sensitive, to thoughtfully pray. We haven't time. Life is so crowded. It
must be taken from something else, something important, but still less
important than this.
Sacrifice is the continual law of life. The important thing must be
sacrificed to the more important. One needs to cultivate a mature
judgment, or his strength will be frizzled away in the less important
details, and the greater thing go undone, or be done poorly with the
fag-ends of strength. If we would become skilled intercessors, and know
how to pray simply enough, we must take quiet time daily to get off alone.
The second suggestion: we need a _place_ for prayer. Oh! you can pray
anywhere, on the street, in the store, travelling, measuring dry goods,
hands in dishwater,--where not. But you are not likely to unless you have
been off in some quiet place shut in alone with God. The Master said:
"Enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door": that door is
important. It shuts out, and it shuts in. "Pray to thy Father who is in
secret." God is here in this shut-in spot. One must get alone to find out
that he never is alone. The more alone we are as far as men are concerned
the least alone we are so far a; God is concerned.
The quiet place and time are needful to train the ears for keen hearing. A
mother will hear the faintest cry of her babe just awaking. It is
up-stairs perhaps; the tiniest bit of a sound comes; nobody else hears;
but quick as a flash the mother's hands are held quiet, the head alert,
then she is off. Her ears are trained beyond anybody's else; love's
training. We need trained ears. A quiet place shuts out the outer sounds,
and gives the inner ear a chance to learn other sounds.
A man was standing in a telephone booth trying to talk, but could not make
out the message. He kept saying, "I can't hear, I can't hear." The other
man by and by said sharply, "If you'll shut that door you can hear." _His_
door was shut and he could hear not only the man's voice but the street
and store noises too. Some folks have gotten their hearing badly confused
because their doors have not been shut enough. Man's voice and God's voice
get mixed in their ears. They cannot tell between them. The bother is
partly with the door. If you'll shut that door you can hear.
The third suggestion needs much emphasis to-day: _give the Book of God its
place in prayer._ Prayer is not talking to God--simply. It is listening
first, then talking. Prayer needs three organs of the head, an ear, a
tongue and an eye. First an ear to hear what God says, then a tongue to
speak, then an eye to look out for the result. Bible study is the
listening side of prayer. The purpose of God comes in through the ear,
passes through the heart taking on the tinge of your personality, and goes
out at the tongue as prayer. It is pathetic what a time God has getting a
hearing down here. He is ever speaking but even where there may be some
inclination to hear the sounds of earth are choking in our ears the sound
of His voice. God speaks in His Word. The most we know of God comes to us
here. This Book is God in print. It was inspired, and it _is_ inspired.
God Himself speaks in this Book. That puts it in a list by itself, quite
apart from all others. Studying it keenly, intelligently, reverently will
reveal God's great will. What He says will utterly change what you will
Our Prayer Teacher.
The fourth suggestion is this: _Let the Spirit teach you how to pray_. The
more you pray the more you will find yourself saying to yourself, "I don't
know how to pray." Well God understands that. Paul knew that out of his
own experience before he wrote it down. And God has a plan to cover our
need there. There is One who is a master intercessor. He understands
praying perfectly. He is the Spirit of prayer. God has sent Him down to
live inside you and me, partly for this, to teach us the fine art of
prayer. The suggestion is this: let Him teach you.
When you go alone in the quiet time and place with the Book quietly pray:
"blessed Prayer-Spirit, Master-Spirit, teach me how to pray," and He will.
Do not be nervous, or agitated, wondering if you will understand. Study to
be quiet; mind quiet, body quiet. Be still and listen. Remember Luther's
version of David's words, "Be silent to God, and let Him mould thee."
You will find your praying changing. You will talk more simply, like a man
transacting business or a child asking, though of course with a reverence
and a deepness of feeling not in those things. You will quit asking for
some things. Some of the old forms of prayer will drop from your lips
likely enough. You will use fewer words, maybe, but they will be spoken
with a quiet absolute faith that this thing you are asking is being worked
This thing of _letting the Spirit teach_ must come first in one's praying,
and remain to the last, and continue all along as the leading dominant
factor. He is a Spirit of prayer peculiarly. The highest law of the
Christian life is obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. There needs
to be a cultivated judgment in reading His leading, and not mistaking our
haphazard thoughts as His voice. He should be allowed to teach us how to
pray and more, to dominate our praying. The whole range and intensity of
the spirit conflict is under His eye. He is God's General on the field of
action. There come crises in the battle when the turn of the tide wavers.
He knows when a bit of special praying is needed to turn the tide and
bring victory. So there needs to be special seasons of persistent prayer,
a continuing until victory is assured. Obey His promptings. Sometimes
there comes an impulse to pray, or to ask another to pray. And we think,
"Why, I have just been praying," _or_, "he does pray about this anyway. It
is not necessary to pray again. I do not just like to suggest it." Better
obey the impulse quietly, with fewest words of explanation to the other
one concerned, or no words beyond simply the request.
Let Him, this wondrous Holy Spirit teach you how to pray. It will take
time. You may be a bit set in your way, but if you will just yield and
patiently wait, He will teach what to pray, suggest definite things, and
often the very language of prayer.
You will notice that the chief purpose of these four suggestions is to
learn God's will. The quiet place, the quiet time, the Book, the
Spirit--this is the schoolroom as Andrew Murray would finely put it. Here
we learn His will. Learning that makes one eager to have it done, and
breathes anew the longing prayer that it may be done.
There is a fine word much used in the Psalms, and in Isaiah for this sort
of thing--_waiting_. Over and over again that is the word used for that
contact with God which reveals to us His will, and imparts to us anew His
desires. It is a word full of richest and deepest meaning. Waiting is not
an occasional nor a hurried thing. It means _steadfastness_, that is
holding on; _patience_, that is holding back; _expectancy_, that is
holding the face up to see; _obedience_, that is holding one's self in
readiness to go or do; it means _listening_, that is holding quiet and
still so as to hear.
The Power of a Name.
The fifth suggestion has already been referred to, but should be repeated
here. Prayer must be _in Jesus' name_. The relationship of prayer is
through Jesus. And the prayer itself must be offered in His name, because
the whole strength of the case lies in Jesus. I recall distinctly a
certain section of this country where I was for awhile, and very rarely
did I hear Jesus' name used in prayer. I heard men, that I knew must be
good men, praying in church, in prayer-meeting and elsewhere with no
mention of Jesus. Let us distinctly bear in mind that we have no standing
with God except through Jesus.
If the keenest lawyer of London, who knew more of American law, and of
Illinois statute and of Chicago ordinance--suppose such a case--were to
come here, could he plead a case in your court-house? you know he could
not. He would have no legal standing here. Now you and I have no standing
at yonder bar. We are disbarred through sin. Only as we come through one
who has recognized standing there can we come.
But turn that fact around. As we do come in Jesus' name, it is the same as
though Jesus prayed. It is the same as though--let me be saying it very
softly so it may seem very reverent--as though Jesus put His arm in yours
and took you up to the Father, and said, "Father, here is a friend of
mine; we're on good terms. Please give him anything he asks, for My sake."
And the Father would quickly bend over and graciously say, "What'll you
have? You may have anything you ask when My Son asks for it." That is the
practical effect of asking in Jesus' name.
But I am very, very clear of this, and I keep swinging back to it that in
the ultimate analysis the force of using Jesus' name is that He is the
victor over the traitor prince. Prayer is repeating the Victor's name into
the ears of Satan and insisting upon his retreat. As one prays
persistently in Jesus' name, the evil one must go. Reluctantly, angrily,
he must loosen his clutches, and go back.
The Birthplace of Faith.
The sixth suggestion is a familiar one, and yet one much misunderstood.
Prayer must be _in faith_. But please note that faith here is not
believing that God _can_, but that He _will_. It is kneeling and making
the prayer, and then saying, "Father, I thank Thee for this; that it will
be so, I thank Thee." Then rising and going about your duties, saying,
"that thing is settled." Going again and again, and repeating the prayer
with the thanks, and then saying as you go off, "that matter is assured."
Not going repeatedly to persuade God. But because prayer is the deciding
factor in a spirit conflict and each prayer is like a fresh blow between
the eyes of the enemy, a fresh broadside from your fleet upon the fort.
"Well," some one will say, "now you are getting that keyed up rather high.
Can we all have faith like that? Can a man _make_ himself believe?" There
should be no unnatural mechanical insisting that you do believe. Some
earnest people make a mistake there. And we will not all have faith like
that. That is quite true, and I can easily tell you why. The faith that
believes that God _will_ do what you ask is not born in a hurry; it is not
born in the dust of the street, and the noise of the crowd. But I can tell
where that faith will have a birthplace and keep growing stronger: in
every heart that takes quiet time off habitually with God, and listens to
His voice in His word. Into that heart will come a simple strong faith
that the thing it is led to ask shall be accomplished.
That faith has four simple characteristics. It is _intelligent_. It finds
out what God's will is. Faith is never contrary to reason. Sometimes it is
a bit higher up; the reasoning process has not yet reached up to it.
Second, it is _obedient_. It fits its life into God's will. There is apt
to be a stiff rub here all the time. Then it is _expectant_. It looks out
for the result. It bows down upon the earth, but sends a man to keep an
eye on the sea. And then it is _persistent_. It hangs on. It says, "Go
again seven times; seventy times seven." It reasons that having learned
God's will, and knowing that He does not change, the delay must be caused
by the third person, the enemy, and that stubborn persistence in the
Victor's name routs him, and leaves a clear field.
The Listening Side of Prayer
A Trained Ear.
In prayer the ear is an organ of first importance. It is of equal
importance with the tongue, but must be named first. For the ear leads the
way to the tongue. The child hears a word before it speaks it. Through the
ear comes the use of the tongue. Where the faculties are normal the tongue
is trained only through the ear. This is nature's method. The mind is
moulded largely through the ear and eye. It reveals itself, and asserts
itself largely through the tongue. What the ear lets in, the mind works
over, and the tongue gives out.
This is the order in Isaiah's fiftieth chapter in those words,
prophetic of Jesus. "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that
are taught.... He wakeneth my ear to hear as they that are taught." Here
the taught tongue came through the awakened ear. One reason why so many of
us do not have taught tongues is because we give God so little chance at
It is a striking fact that the men who have been mightiest in prayer have
known God well. They have seemed peculiarly sensitive to Him, and to be
overawed with the sense of His love and His greatness. There are three of
the Old Testament characters who are particularly mentioned as being
mighty in prayer. Jeremiah tells that when God spoke to him about the deep
perversity of that nation He exclaimed, "Though Moses and Samuel stood
before Me My heart could not be towards this people." When James wants
an illustration of a man of prayer for the scattered Jews, he speaks of
Elijah, and of one particular crisis in his life, the praying on Carmel's
tip-top. These three men are Israel's great men in the great crises of its
history. Moses was the maker and moulder of the nation. Samuel was the
patient teacher who introduced a new order of things in the national life.
Elijah was the rugged leader when the national worship of Jehovah was
about to be officially overthrown. These three men, the maker, the
teacher, the emergency leader are singled out in the record as peculiarly
men of prayer.
Now regarding these men it is most interesting to observe what _listeners_
they were to God's voice. Their ears were trained early and trained long,
until great acuteness and sensitiveness to God's voice was the result.
Special pains seem to have been taken with the first man, the nation's
greatest giant, and history's greatest jurist. There were two distinct
stages in the training of his ears. First there were the forty years of
solitude in the desert sands, alone with the sheep, and the stars,
and--God. His ears were being trained by silence. The bustle and confusion
of Egypt's busy life were being taken out of his ears. How silent are
God's voices. How few men are strong enough to be able to endure silence.
For in silence God is speaking to the inner ear.
"Let us then labour for an inward stillness--
An inward stillness and an inward healing;
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks in us, and we wait
In singleness of heart, that we may know
His will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do His will, and do that only."
A gentleman was asked by an artist friend of some note to come to his
home, and see a painting just finished. He went at the time appointed, was
shown by the attendant into a room which was quite dark, and left there.
He was much surprised, but quietly waited developments. After perhaps
fifteen minutes his friend came into the room with a cordial greeting, and
took him up to the studio to see the painting, which was greatly admired.
Before he left the artist said laughingly, "I suppose you thought it queer
to be left in that dark room so long." "Yes," the visitor said. "I did."
"Well," his friend replied, "I knew that if you came into my studio with
the glare of the street in your eyes you could not appreciate the fine
colouring of the picture. So I left you in the dark room till the glare
had worn out of your eyes."
The first stage of Moses' prayer-training was wearing the noise of Egypt
out of his ears so he could hear the quiet fine tones of God's voice. He
who would become skilled in prayer must take a silence course in the
University of Arabia. Then came the second stage. Forty years were
followed by forty days, twice over, of listening to God's speaking voice
up in the mount. Such an ear-course as that made a skilled famous
Samuel had an earlier course than Moses. While yet a child before his ears
had been dulled by earth sounds they were tuned to the hearing of God's
voice. The child heart and ear naturally open upward. They hear easily and
believe readily. The roadway of the ear has not been beaten down hard by
much travel. God's rains and dews have made it soft, and impressionable.
This child's ear was quickly trained to recognize God's voice. And the
tented Hebrew nation soon came to know that there was a man in their midst
to whom God was talking. O, to keep the heart and inner ear of a child as
mature years come!
Of the third of these famous intercessors little is known except of the
few striking events in which he figured. Of these, the scene that finds
its climax in the opening on Carmel's top of the rain-windows, occupies by
far the greater space. And it is notable that the beginning of that long
eighteenth chapter of first Kings which tells of the Carmel conflict
begins with a message to Elijah from God: "The word of the Lord came to
Elijah: ... I will send rain upon the earth." That was the foundation of
that persistent praying and sevenfold watching on the mountaintop. First
the ear heard, then the voice persistently claimed, and the eye
expectantly looked. First the voice of God, then the voice of man. That is
the true order. Tremendous results always follow that combination.
Through the Book to God.
With us the training is of the _inner_ ear. And its first training, after
the early childhood stage is passed, must usually be through the eye. What
God has spoken to others has been written down for us. We hear through our
eyes. The eye opens the way to the inner ear. God spoke in His word. He is
still speaking in it and through it. The whole thought here is to get _to
know God._ He reveals Himself in the word that comes from His own lips,
and through His messengers' lips. He reveals Himself in His dealings with
men. Every incident and experience of these pages is a mirror held up to
God's face. In them we may come to see Him.
This is studying the Bible not for the Bible's sake but for the purpose of
knowing God. The object aimed at is not the Book but the God revealed in
the Book. A man may go to college and take lectures on the English Bible,
and increase his knowledge, and enrich his vocabulary, and go away with
utterly erroneous ideas of God. He may go to a law school and study the
codes of the first great jurist, and get a clear understanding and firm
grasp of the Mosaic enactments, as he must do to lay the foundation of
legal training, yet he may remain ignorant of God.
He may even go to a Bible school, and be able to analyze and synthesize,
give outlines of books, and contents of chapters and much else of that
invaluable and indispensable sort of knowledge and yet fail to understand
God and His marvellous love-will. It is not the Book with which we are
concerned here but the God through the Book. Not to learn truth but
through truth to know Him who is Himself the Truth.
There is a fascinating bit of story told of one of David's mighty men.
One day there was a sudden attack upon the camp by the Philistines when
the fighting men were all away. This man alone was there. The Philistines
were the traditional enemy. The very word "Philistines" was one to strike
terror to the Hebrew heart. But this man was reckoned one of the first
three of David's mighty men because of his conduct that day. He quietly,
quickly gripped his sword and fought the enemy single-handed. Up and down,
left and right, hip and thigh he smote with such terrific earnestness and
drive that the enemy turned and fled. And we are told that the muscles of
his hand became so rigid around the handle of his sword that he could not
tell by the feeling where his hand stopped, and the sword began. Man and
sword were one that day in the action of service against the nation's
enemy. When we so absorb this Book, and the Spirit of Him who is its life
that people cannot tell the line of division between the man, and the God
within the man, then shall we have mightiest power as God's intercessors
in defeating the foe. God and man will be as one in the action of service
against the enemy.
A Spirit Illumined Mind.
I want to make some simple suggestions for studying this Book so as to get
to God through it. There will be the emphasis of doubling back on one's
tracks here. For some of the things that should be said have already been
said with a different setting. First there must be the _time_ element.
One must get at least a half hour daily when the mind is fresh. A tired
mind does not readily _absorb_. This should be persisted in until there is
a habitual spending of at least that much time daily over the Book, with a
spirit at leisure from all else, so it can take in. Then the time should
be given to _the Book itself_. If other books are consulted and read as
they will be let that be _after_ the reading of this Book. Let God talk to
you direct, rather than through somebody else. Give Him first chance at
your ears. This Book in the central place of your table, the others
grouped about it. First time given to it.
A third suggestion brings out the circle of this work. _Read prayerfully._
We learn how to pray by reading prayerfully. This Book does not reveal its
sweets and strength to the keen mind merely, but to the Spirit enlightened
mind. All the mental keenness possible, _with the bright light of the
Spirit's illumination_--that is the open sesame. I have sometimes sought
the meaning of some passage from a keen scholar who could explain the
orientalisms, the fine philological distinctions, the most accurate
translations, and all of that, who yet did not seem to know the simple
spiritual meaning of the words being discussed. And I have asked the same
question of some old saint of God, who did not know Hebrew from a hen's
tracks, but who seemed to sense at once the deep spiritual truth taught.
The more knowledge, the keener the mind, the better _if_ illumined by the
Spirit that inspired these writings.
There is a fourth word to put in here. We must read _thoughtfully_.
Thoughtfulness is in danger of being a lost art. Newspapers are so
numerous, and literature so abundant, that we are becoming a bright, but a
_not thoughtful_ people. Often the stream is very wide but has no depth.
Fight shallowness. Insist on reading thoughtfully. A very suggestive word
in the Bible for this is "_meditate_." Run through and pick out this word
with its variations. The word underneath that English word means to
mutter, as though a man were repeating something over and over again, as
he turned it over in his mind. We have another word, with the same
meaning, not much used now--ruminate. We call the cow a ruminant because
she chews the cud. She will spend hours chewing the cud, and then give us
the rich milk and cream and butter which she has extracted from her food.
That is the word here--ruminate. Chew the cud, if you would get the
richest cream and butter here.
And it is remarkable how much chewing this Book of God will stand, in
comparison with other books. You chew a while on Tennyson, or Browning, or
Longfellow. And I am not belittling these noble writings. I have my own
favourite among these men. But they do not yield the richest and yet
richer cream found here. This Book of God has stood more of that sort of
thing than any other, yet it is the freshest book to be found to-day. You
read a passage over the two hundredth time and some new fine bit of
meaning comes that you had not suspected to be there.
There is a fifth suggestion, that is easier to make than to follow. _Read
obediently._ As the truth appeals to your conscience _let it change your
habit and life_.
"Light obeyed, increased light:
Light resisted, bringeth night
Who shall give us power to choose
If the love of light we lose?"
Jesus gives the law of knowledge in His famous words, "If any man willeth
to do His will he shall know of the teaching." If we do what we know
to do, we will know more. If we know to do, and hesitate and hold back,
and do not obey, the inner eye will surely go blind, and the sense of
right be dulled and lost. Obedience to truth is the eye of the mind.
Then one needs to have a _plan_ of reading. A consecutive plan gathers up
the fragments of time into a strong whole. Get a good plan, and stick to
it. Better a fairly good plan faithfully followed, than the best plan if
used brokenly or only occasionally. Probably all the numerous methods of
study may be grouped under three general heads, wide reading, topical
study, and textual. We all do some textual study in a more or less small
way. Digging into a sentence or verse to get at its true and deep meaning.
We all do some topical study probably. Gathering up statements on some one
subject, studying a character. The more pretentious name is Biblical
Theology, finding and arranging all that is taught in the whole range of
the Bible on any one theme.
But I want especially to urge _wide reading_, as being the basis of all
study. It is the simple, the natural, the scientific method. It is adapted
to all classes of persons. I used to suppose it was suited best to college
students, and such; but I was mistaken. It is _the_ method of all for all.
It underlies all methods of getting a grasp of this wonderful Book, and so
coming to as full and rounded an understanding of God as is possible to
men down here.
By wide reading is meant a _rapid reading through_ regardless of verse,
chapter, or book divisions. Reading it as _a narrative_, a story. As you
would read any book, "The Siege of Pekin," "The Story of an Untold Love,"
to find out the story told, and be able to tell to another. There will be
a reverence of spirit with this book that no other inspires, but with the
same intellectual method of running through to see what is here. No book
is so fascinating as the Bible when read this way. The revised version is
greatly to be preferred here simply because it is a _paragraph_ version.
It is printed more like other books. Some day its printed form will be yet
more modernized, and so made easier to read.
To illustrate, begin at the first of Genesis, and read rapidly through _by
the page_. Do not try to understand all. You will not. Never mind that
now. Just push on. Do not try to remember all. Do not think about that.
Let stick to you what will. You will be surprised to find how much will.
You may read ten or twelve pages in your first half hour. Next time start
in where you left off. You may get through Genesis in three or four times,
or less or more, depending on your mood, and how fast your habit of
reading may be. You will find a whole Bible in Genesis. A wonderfully
fascinating book this Genesis. For love stories, plotting, swift action,
beautiful language it more than matches the popular novel.
But do not stop at the close of Genesis. Push on into Exodus. The
connection is immediate. It is the same book. And so on into Leviticus.
Now do not try to understand Leviticus the first time. You will not the
hundredth time perhaps. But you can easily group its contents: these
chapters tell of the offerings: these of the law of offerings: here is an
incident put in: here sanitary regulations: get the drift of the book. And
in it all be getting the picture of God--_that is the one point_. And so
A second stage of this wide reading is fitting together the parts. You
know the arrangement of our Bible is not chronological wholly, but
topical. The Western mind is almost a slave to chronological order. But
the Oriental was not so disturbed. For example, open your Bible to the
close of Esther, and again at the close of Malachi. This from Genesis to
Esther we all know is the historical section: and this second section the
poetical and prophetical section. There is some history in the prophecy,
and some prophecy and poetry in the historical part. But in the main this
first is historical, and this second poetry and prophecy. These two parts
belong together. This first section was not written, and then this second.
The second belongs in between the leaves of the first. It was taken out
and put by itself because the arrangement of the whole Book is topical
rather than chronological.
Now the second stage of wide reading is this: fit these parts together.
Fit the poetry and the prophecy into the history. Do it on your own
account, as though it had never been done. It has been done much better
than you will do it. And you will make some mistakes. You can check those
up afterwards by some of the scholarly books. And you cannot tell where
some parts belong. But meanwhile the thing to note is this: you are
absorbing the Book. It is becoming a part of you, bone of your bone, and
flesh of your flesh, mentally, and spiritually. You are drinking in its
spirit in huge draughts. There is coming a new vision of God, which will
transform radically the reverent student. In it all seek to acquire _the
historical sense_. That is, put yourself back and see what this thing, or
this, meant to these men, as it was first spoken, under these immediate
And so push on into the New Testament. Do not try so much to fit the four
gospels into one connected story, dovetailing all the parts; but try
rather to get a clear grasp of Jesus' movements those few years as told by
these four men. Fit Paul's letters into the book of Acts, the best you
can. The best book to help in checking up here is Conybeare and Howson's
"Life and Letters of St. Paul." That may well be one of the books in your
You see at once that this is a method not for a month, nor for a year, but
for years. The topical and textual study grow naturally out of it. And
meanwhile you are getting an intelligent grasp of this wondrous classic,
you are absorbing the finest literature in the English tongue, and
infinitely better yet, you are breathing into your very being a new, deep,
broad, tender conception of _God_.
A Mirror Held up to God's Face.
It is simply fascinating too, to find what light floods these pages as
they are read back in their historical setting, so far as that is
possible. For example turn to the third Psalm, fifth verse,
"I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustaineth me."
I was brought up in an old-fashioned church where that was sung. I knew it
by heart. As a boy I supposed it meant that night-time had come, and David
was sleepy; he had his devotions, and went to bed, and had a good night's
sleep. That was all it had suggested to me.
But on my first swing through of the wide reading, my eye was caught, as
doubtless yours has often been, by the inscription at the beginning of the
psalm: "A psalm of David, _when he fled from Absalom his son_." Quickly I
turned back to Second Samuel to find that story. And I got this picture.
David, an old white-haired man, hurrying one day, barefooted, out of his
palace, and his capital city, with a few faithful friends, fleeing for his
life, because Absalom his favourite son was coming with the strength of
the national army to take the kingdom, and his own father's life. And that
night as the king lay down to try to catch some sleep, it was upon the
bare earth, with only heaven's blue dome for a roof. And as he lay he
could almost hear the steady tramp, tramp of the army, over the hills,
seeking his throne and his life. Let me ask you, honestly now; do you
think you would have slept much that night? I fear I would have been
tempted sorely to lie awake thinking: "here I am, an old man, driven from
my kingdom, and my home, by my own boy, that I have loved better than my
own life." Do you think _you_ would have slept much? Tell me.
But David speaking of that night afterwards wrote this down:--"I laid me
down, and _slept; I awaked_; (the thought is, I awaked _refreshed_) for
the Lord sustaineth me." And I thought, as first that came to me, "I never
will have insomnia again: I'll trust." And so you see a lesson of trust in
God came, in my wide reading, out of the historical setting, that greatly
refreshed and strengthened, and that I have never forgotten. What a God,
to give sleep under such circumstances!
A fine illustration of this same thing is found in the New Testament in
Paul's letter to the Philippians. At one end of that epistle is this
scene: Paul, lying in the inner damp cell of a prison, its small creeping
denizens familiarly examining this newcomer, in the darkness of midnight,
his back bleeding from the stripes, his bones aching, and his feet fast in
the stocks. That is one half of the historical setting of this book. And
here is the other half: Paul, a prisoner in Rome. If he tries to ease his
body by changing his position, swinging one limb over the other, a chain
dangling at his ankle reminds him of the soldier by his side. As he picks
up a quill to put a last loving word out of his tender heart for these old
friends, a chain pulls at his wrist. That is Philippians, the prison
epistle, resounding with clanking chain.
What is the keyword of the book, occurring oftener than any other?
Patience? Surely that would be appropriate. Long-suffering? Still more
fitting would that seem. But, no, the keyword stands in sharpest contrast
to these surroundings. Paul used clouds to make the sun's shining more
beautiful. Joy, rejoice, rejoicing, is the music singing all the way
through these four chapters. What a wondrous Master, this Jesus, so to
inspire His friend doing His will!
Every incident and occurrence of these pages becomes a mirror held up to
God's face that we may see how wondrous He is.
"Upon Thy Word I rest
Each pilgrim day.
This golden staff is best
For all the way.
What Jesus Christ hath spoken,
Cannot be broken!
"Upon Thy Word I rest;
So strong, so sure,
So full of comfort blest,
So sweet, so pure:
The charter of salvation:
Faith's broad foundation.
"Upon Thy Word I stand:
That cannot die.
Christ seals it in my hand.
He cannot lie.
Thy Word that faileth never:
Something about God's Will in Connection With Prayer
He Came to His Own.
The purpose of prayer is to get God's will done. What a stranger God is in
His own world! Nobody is so much slandered as He. He comes to His own, and
they keep Him standing outside the door, like a pilgrim of the night,
staff in hand, while they peer suspiciously at Him through the crack of
Some of us shrink back from making a full surrender of life to God. And if
the real reason were known it would be found to be that we are _afraid_ of
God. We fear He will put something bitter in the cup, or some rough thing
in the road. And without doubt the reason we are afraid of God is because
we do not _know_ God. The great prayer of Jesus' heart that night with the
eleven was, "that they may _know_ Thee the only true God, and Jesus
Christ whom Thou didst send."
To understand God's will we must understand something of His character,
Himself. There are five common every-day words I want to bring you to
suggest something of who God is. They are familiar words, in constant use.
The first is the word _father_. "Father" stands for strength, loving
strength. A father plans, and provides for, and protects his loved ones.
All fathers are not good. How man can extract the meaning out of a fine
word, and use the word without its meaning. If you will think of the
finest father ever you knew that anybody ever had; think of him now. Then
remember this, God is a father, only He is so much finer a father than the
finest father you ever knew of. And His will for your _life_--I am not
talking about heaven, and our souls just now, that is in it too--His will
for your life down here these days is a father's will for the one most
The second word is a finer word. Because woman is finer than man, and was
made, and meant to be, this second word is finer than the first. I mean
the word _mother_. If father stands for strength, mother stands for
love,--great, patient, tender, fine-fibred, enduring love. What would she
not do for her loved one! Why, not unlikely she went down into the valley
of the shadow that that life might come; and did it gladly with the
love-light shining out of her eyes. Yes, and would do it again, that the
life may remain if need be. That is a mother. You think of the finest
mother ever you knew. And the suggestion brings the most hallowed memories
to my own heart. Then remember this: God is a mother, only He is so much
finer a mother than the finest mother you ever knew.
The references in scripture to God as a mother are numerous. "Under His
wings" is a mother figure. The mother-bird gathers her brood up under her
wings to feel the heat of her body, and for protection. The word mother is
not used for God in the Bible. I think it is because with God "father"
includes "mother." It takes more of the human to tell the story than of
the divine. With God, all the strength of the father and all the fine love
of the mother are combined in that word "father." And His will for us is a
mother's will, a wise loving mother's will for the darling of her heart.
The third word is _friend_. I do not mean to use it in the cheaper
meaning. There is a certain kindliness of speech in which all
acquaintances are called friends. Tupper says, we call all men friends who
are not known to be enemies. But I mean to use the word in its finer
meaning. Here, a friend is one who loves you for your sake only and
steadfastly loves without regard to any return, even a return-love. The
English have a saying that you may fill a church with your acquaintances,
and not fill the pulpit seats with your friends. If you may have in your
life one or two real friends you are very wealthy. If you will think for a
moment of the very best friend you ever knew anybody to have. Then
remember this: God is a friend. Only He is ever so much better a friend
than the best friend you ever knew of. And the plan He has thought out for
your life is such a one as that word would suggest.
The fourth word, I almost hesitate to use, yet I am sure I need not here.
The hesitancy is because the word and its relationship are spoken of
lightly, frivolously, so much, even in good circles. I mean that rare fine
word _lover_. Where two have met, and acquaintance has deepened into
friendship, and that in turn into the holiest emotion, the highest
friendship. What would he not do for her! She becomes the new human centre
of his life. In a good sense he worships the ground she treads upon. And
she--she will leave wealth for poverty if only so she may be with him in
the coming days. She will leave home and friends, and go to the ends of
the earth if his service calls him there. You think of the finest lover,
man or woman, you ever knew anybody to have. Then remember this, and let
me say it in soft, reverent tones, God is a lover--shall I say in yet more
reverent voice, a sweetheart-lover. Only He is so much finer a lover than
the finest lover you ever knew of. And His will, His plan for your life
and mine--it hushes my heart to say it--is a lover's plan for his only
The fifth word is this fourth word a degree finer spun, a stage farther
on, and higher up, the word _husband_. This is the word on the man side
for the most hallowed relationship of earth. This is the lover
relationship in its perfection stage. With men husband is not always a
finer word than lover. The more's the pity. How man does cheapen God's
plan of things; leaves out the kernel, and keeps only an empty shell
sometimes. In God's thought a husband is a lover _plus_. He is all that
the finest lover is, and more; more tender, more eager, more thoughtful.
Two lives are joined, and begin living one life. Two wills, yet one. Two
persons, yet one purpose. Duality in unity. Will you call to mind for a
moment the best husband you ever knew any woman to have. Then remember
this that God is a husband; only He is an infinitely more thoughtful
husband than any you ever knew. And His will for your life is a husband's
will for his life's friend and companion.
Now, please, do not _you_ take one of these words, and say, "I like that";
and _you_ another and say, "That conception of God appeals to me," and
_you_ another. How we do whittle God down to our narrow conceptions! You
must take all five words, and think the finest meaning into each, and then
put them all together, to get a close up idea of God. He is all that, _and
You see God is so much that it takes a number of earth's relationships put
together to get a good suggestion of what He is. He is a father, a
mother, a friend, a lover, a husband. I have not brought book, and
chapter, and verse. But you know I could spend a long time with you
reading over the numerous passages giving these conceptions of God.
And God's will for us is the plan of such a God as that. It includes the
body, health and strength; the family and home matters; money and business
matters; friendships, including the choice of life's chief friend; it
includes service, what service and where; and constant guidance; it
includes the whole life, and the world of lives. All this He has thought
into, lovingly, carefully. Does a wise mother think of her child's needs
into the details, the necessities and the loving extras? That is God.