And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
I. AN ASSURANCE THAT GOD HEARS PRAYER. "This is the boldness that we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." Prayer is much more than petition. Canon Liddon admirably defines it: "Prayer is the act by which man, conscious at once of his weakness and of his immortality, puts himself into real and effective communication with the Almighty, the Eternal, the self-existent God.... Prayer is not only - perhaps in some of the holiest souls it is not even chiefly - a petition for something that we want and do not possess. In the larger sense of the word, as the spiritual language of the soul, prayer is intercourse with God, often seeking no end beyond the pleasure of such intercourse. It is praise; it is congratulation; it is adoration of the Infinite Majesty; it is a colloquy in which the soul engages with the All-wise and the All-holy; it is a basking in the sunshine, varied by ejaculations of thankfulness to the Sun of Righteousness for his light and his warmth Prayer is not, as it has been scornfully described, 'only a machine warranted by theologians to make God do what his clients want;' it is a great deal more than petition, which is only one department of it: it is nothing less than the whole spiritual action of the soul turned towards God as its true and adequate Object.... It is the action whereby we men, in all our frailty and defilement, associate ourselves with our Divine Advocate on high, and realize the sublime bond which in him, the one Mediator between God and man, unites us in our utter unworthiness to the strong and all-holy God." Such is prayer in its highest and largest significance. But in our text prayer is viewed simply as petition. "If we ask anything;... whatsoever we ask.... the petitions which we have asked of him." Notice:
1. The offering of prayer. This implies
(1) consciousness of need. How many are man's wants! Regular supplies for the requirements of the body, forgiveness of sin, daily guidance and grace, reliable hope as to our future, etc. We are creatures of constant and countless necessities. Every moment we are dependent upon the power and grace of the Supreme. The exercise of prayer implies
(2) belief that God is able and willing to supply our needs. Without this faith man would never address himself in his times of need to God. Moreover, the "we" of our text refers to Christians, even unto them "that believe on the Name of the Son of God" (verse 13). Their belief in the reality of prayer springs out of their faith in Christ. And the exercise of prayer is an expression of their spiritual life.
2. The hearing of prayer. How marvelous is the fact that God hears the innumerable prayers that are ever being presented unto him! None but an Infinite Being could hear them. And a Being of infinite intelligence cannot fail to observe every longing which is directed towards him. No utterance whatever escapes the Divine ear. None but a gracious Being would regard the prayers which are offered by such unworthy suppliants. Great is the condescension of God in attending to our requests. That he does graciously hear and attend to them is repeatedly declared in the sacred Scriptures (see 2 Samuel 22:7; Psalm 22:4, 5, 24; Psalm 30:2, 8-12; Psalm 31:22; Psalm 34:4-6; Psalm 50:15; Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1-8; John 16:23, 24; James 1:5; James 5:16).
II. AN IMPORTANT LIMITATION OF THE SCOPE OF ACCEPTABLE PRAYER. "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."
1. This limitation is necessary. God's will is supreme. The well-being of the universe is bound up with the execution of his will. Therefore he cannot grant the petitions which are not in harmony therewith. This limitation is necessary also, inasmuch as different suppliants may be seeking from him at the same time things which are thoroughly opposed to each other. Thus in time of war between two Christian nations, prayer is presented to God for the success of each of the contending armies. The requests of both cannot be granted.
2. This limitation is beneficial. The judicious and kind parent does not give to his child the thing which he asks for, if it will prove hurtful or perilous to him. In our ignorance we may pray to God for such things as would be injurious to us, in which case it is well for us to be denied. Thus the request of St. Paul was not granted, though his prayer was graciously answered (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). On the other hand, the clamorous cry of the unbelieving and self-willed Israelites for flesh was acceded to, to their sore injury (Numbers 11:4-6, 31-34; Psalm 106:15).
3. This limitation allows a large sphere for the exercise of prayer. There are many things which we know are "according to his will," and these are the most important things; e.g., supplies for bodily and temporal needs, forgiveness of sins, grace to enable us to do or to bear his will, guidance in our quest of truth and in our way of life, the sanctification of our being, and possession of an inheritance in heaven. We may seek the salvation of others, the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the final triumph of his cause throughout the world. These and other things we know accord with his will.
III. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE THINGS SOLICITED IN SUCH PRAYERS WILL BE GRANTED. "And if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him." Alford calls attention to the present,... "we have the petitions," with the perfect, "which we have asked of him." "The perfect reaches through all our past prayers to this moment. All these 'we have;' not one of them is lost: he has heard, he has answered them all: we know that we have them in the truest sense, in possession." It is important to bear in mind here the character of those to whom St. John writes. They are genuine Christians; possessors of Jesus Christ, and of eternal life in him. Their will is that God's will may be done. In them is fulfilled the inspiring assurance of the sacred psalmist: "Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." In whomsoever this character is realized, the desires are in harmony with the will of God, and the things solicited in prayer are such as God takes pleasure in bestowing and man is blessed in receiving. And this assurance which the apostle expresses is confirmed by the experience of the godly in all ages (cf. Exodus 32:11-14, 31-34; Numbers 11:1, 2; 1 Kings 17:17-24; 1 Kings 18:42-45; 2 Kings 4:28-36; Psalm 116:1-8; Isaiah 38:1-8; Daniel 9:20-23; Acts 12:1-17). Let us seek a character like that indicated by the apostle (verses 11-13), and then this inspiring and strengthening "confidence toward God" may be ours also. - W.J.
And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us
I. GOD IN ANSWERING OUR PRAYERS ALLOWS HIMSELF GREAT LATITUDE OF TIME. We are impatient creatures, eager for speedy and immediate results. But God is always calm, deliberate, judicious. He waiteth to be gracious, not capriciously but discreetly. A benefit often owes its chief value to its being seasonable, opportune. And the discipline of delay is frequently even a greater profit than the bliss of fruition.
II. Consider THAT THE ANSWER OF PRAYER IS WITHOUT LIMITATION IN REGARD TO THE MODE. God binds Himself to grant our requests, but He limits Himself to no particular method of granting them. God is not wont to bestow His favours, especially spiritual favours, on men directly. He far more commonly employs indirect and circuitous processes for their conveyance. Hence, we do not often perceive the success of our petitions as the fruit of God's immediate agency. We lose sight of its connection with its true source in the multiplicity of intermediate objects and events, not for the most part evidently relevant or suitable to the end. We pray for a new heart, and we expect our answer in the up springing and operation within us of new desires. Or we ask for the production or increase of some spiritual grace. But the real answer may come in changes of our external state unlooked for and unwelcome, such as will call us to toil and suffering, under the operation of which, by the secret influences of the Divine Spirit, the result we desire may be slowly and painfully developed. We looked for the blessing by immediate and easy communications; it comes under a course of prolonged and afflictive discipline.
III. Consider THAT GOD IN ANSWERING PRAYER HOLDS HIMSELF AT PERFECT LIBERTY IN REGARD TO THE SHAPE OF ITS ANSWER. Whether that which we ask for be really or only apparently good for us, or whether it be compatible with higher interests pertaining to ourselves or others must be left to His decision. "Our ignorance in asking," and especially in reference to temporal things, we ought not to overlook. In all true prayer, "the Spirit helpeth our infirmities." He will in all such cases hear us according to the Spirit's meaning, and not according to our own. The removal of a trouble, for instance, may not be so great a blessing to us as grace to bear it; and in that case God will withhold the inferior good which we ask. From all these considerations it must appear to reflecting minds that the answer of prayer must necessarily be a thing of great obscurity and of manifold disguises; and that our confidence in it, and consequent satisfaction from it, must rest far more on the Word of God than upon direct experience, observation, recognition, consciousness.
(R. A. Hallam, D. D.)I. EXPLANATION: and let the explanation be taken from instances in Holy Writ. Elijah bowed his knee on the top of Carmel, and prayed to God for rain. He sent his servant till at last he brought back the news, "There is a little cloud the size of a man's hand." Quite enough for Elijah's faith. He acts upon the belief that he has the petition, though not a drop of rain has fallen.
II. COMMENDATION. Expect answers to prayer.
1. By this means you put an honour upon God's ordinance of prayer.
2. Such a spirit, in the next place, having honoured prayer, also honours God's attributes. To believe that the Lord will hear my prayer is honour to His truthfulness. He has said that He will, and I believe that He will keep His word. It is honourable to His power. I believe that He can make the word of His mouth stand fast and stedfast. It is honourable to His love. The larger things I ask the more do I honour the liberality, grace, and love of God. It is honourable to His wisdom, for I believe that His word is wise and may safely be kept.
3. Again, to believe that God hears prayer, and to look for an answer, is truly to reverence God Himself. If I stand side by side with a friend, and I ask him a favour, and when he is about to reply to me I turn away and open the door and go to my business, why what an insult is this! Merely to knock at mercy's door without waiting a reply, is but like the runaway knocks of idle boys in the street: you cannot expect an answer to Such prayers.
4. Furthermore, thus to believe in the result of prayer tries and manifests faith.
5. Such a habit, moreover, helps to bring out our gratitude to God. None sing so sweetly as those who get answers to prayer. Let me add how this would make your faith grow, how it would make your love burn, how every grace would be put in active exercise if, believing in the power of prayer, you watched for the answer, and when the answer came went with a song of praise to the Saviour's feet.
III. Having thus spoken by way of commendation, we pause awhile, and turn to speak by way of gentle REBUKE. I am communing this morning with those persons to whom John wrote; you who believe on the name of the Son of God; you who do believe in the efficacy of prayer. How is it that you do not expect an answer? I think I hear you say, "One reason is my own unworthiness; how can I think that God will hear such prayers as mine?" Let me remind thee that it is not the man who prays that commends the prayer to God, but the fervency of the prayer, and in the virtue of the great Intercessor. Why, think you, did the apostle write these words: "Elias was a, man of like passions with us"? Why, precisely to meet the case of those who say, "My prayer is not heard because I have such and such faults." Here is a case in point with yours. "Yes," say you, "but, sir, you do not know the particular state of mind I have been in when I have prayed. I am so fluttered, and worried, and vexed, that I cannot expect my prayer, offered in such a state of mind, to prevail with God." Did you ever read the thirty-fourth psalm, and care fully consider where David was when his prayer had such good speed with God? Do not, I pray you, get into the ill habit of judging that your prayers are not heard because of your failings in spirit. "Yes," says a third, "it is not merely that I do not so much doubt the efficacy of prayer on account of myself, but my prayers themselves are such poor things." This is your sin as well as your infirmity. Be humbled and pray God to make you like the importunate widow, for so only will you prevail. But at the same time let me remind you that if your prayers be sincere it shall often happen that even their weakness shall not destroy them. He may rebuke the unbelief of your prayer, and yet in infinite mercy He may exceed His promise. Further, I have no doubt many of God's people cannot think their prayers will be heard, because they have had as yet such very few manifest replies. You say you have had no answers! How know you? God may have answered you, though you have not seen the answer. God has not promised to give you the particular mercy in kind, but He will give it you somehow or other. Many do not pray expecting an answer, because they pray in such a sluggish spirit. They called some of the early Christians on the Continent, "Beghards," because they did pray hard to God; and none can prevail but those who pray hard. Then there are so many, again, who pray in a legal spirit. Why do you pray? Because it is my duty? A child does not cry because the time to cry has come, nor does a sick man groan because it is the hour of groaning, but they cry and groan because they cannot help it. When the newborn nature says, "Let us draw nigh unto God," then is the time and the place. A legal spirit would prevent our expecting answers to prayer. Inconsistencies after prayer, and a failure to press our suit, will bring us to doubt the power of prayer. If we do not plead with God again and again, we shall not keep up our faith that God hears us.
IV. EXHORTATION. Let us believe in God's answering prayer, I mean those of us who have believed in Jesus; and that because we have God's promise for us. Hear what He says, "Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He shall hear thee." Again, prayer must be answered, because of the character of God our Father. Will He let His children cry and not hear them? He heareth the young ravens, and will He not hear His own people? Then think of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. When you pray it is the blood that speaks. Think, again, that Jesus pleads. Shall the Father deny the Son? Besides, the Holy Spirit Himself is the Author of your prayers. Will God indite the desire, and then not hear it?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER is expressed in the words, "This is the confidence that we have in Him." The nature of this confidence is determined by the connection. It is not the confidence of presumption, but of children in a father. God is dishonoured by distrust. Christ is dishonoured by unbelief.
II. THE RULE OF PRAYER prescribed in the text — "If we ask anything according to His will." It is clear this rule is intended to remind us there is to be a limitation in our prayers. It plainly suggests there are many things which we may not ask of God in prayer. We must not suppose we are to follow our own desires in our supplications. We may wish for many things which we ought not to obtain. They may be wrong in themselves. Or, though proper in themselves, they might be hurtful to us. In either of these cases it would be contrary to the wisdom and goodness of God to grant them. This rule also reminds us there are certain blessings which are right in themselves, and which it may be the will of God to bestow, but which we must ask only in subservience to His pleasure, and service, and glory. For example, I am justified in asking for health within these limitations. So also may I ask a reason able share of temporal prosperity. With all these exceptions, however, the rule before us assumes there are some things clearly declared to be in such full harmony with the will of God, that we may ask them absolutely and confidently, and without any reserve. They contain all that is essential to our real interests, for both time and eternity. We may ask at once for the pardon of our sins. The promise is plain and universal (Isaiah 1:18). The same is true of the renewal of the soul in righteousness. So also may we ask for increasing holiness. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." We need set no limits to our desires after holiness. God has set none. In a word, we may ask for the Holy Spirit, and this is the sum and centre of all blessings. We may go beyond ourselves, too, and ask for others. We may pray for the conversion and godliness of our household; for the advancement of the cause of Christ in earth.
III. THE ACCEPTANCE OF OUR PRAYERS AND THEIR GRACIOUS ANSWERS. "He heareth us." This is universally true. He is more ready to hear than we are to ask. God then often hears and answers our prayers, although it may not seem to be so at the time of our entreaty. Or He may hear and answer, but not in the way we desire. Besides, we may have answers to our prayers, although we know neither the time nor the manner of them. The very exercise is good. Still, we may have manifest answers to our prayers. If we mark the providence of God we shall discover that He has heard us. But it is in eternity we shall see all the answers to all our prayers.
(J. Morgan, D. D.)I. PRAYER IS THE EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE IN GOD.
1. In general, the language of want, desire, and necessity.
2. Specially, the language of the soul enlightened by the Spirit of God to discover its necessities, and to desire what the Divine bounty has provided for them.
3. It is intelligent, discriminating, definite — embracing the exercise of faith in the Divine purpose and integrity.
II. OUR PETITIONS, EMBODYING, THE SOUL'S CONFIDENCES, ARE REGULATED BY GOD'S PROMISE AND WARRANT. His will as revealed. Precepts concerning our progress in holiness to which everything else is subordinate. Promise — revelation of Divine intention in relation to the moral progress of the soul. God hath said — then faith may confide.
III. FAITH BRINGS WITHIN THE RANGE OF OUR EXPERIENCE THE BLESSINGS WE THUS DESIRE. Faith, not an opinion, nor a bare persuasion, but an intelligent, active principle.
1. Apprehending the good promised and sought.
2. By its moral influence it prepares and qualifies for the enjoyment of the promised good.
3. The love thus relying on the promise becomes conscious of the blessings bestowed.
(John A. Williams, B. A.)
I. That if we ask anything, HE HEARETH US — that it is possible to make known our thoughts, feelings, and desires to God. I cannot believe that He who built the cells of hearing is Himself deaf; nor that amid the myriad eyes His hands fashioned, and in the blaze of all the suns kindled by His power, God alone is blind! No, it is infinitely more consonant to right reason to believe with John that He heareth us.
II. Yes, no doubt He can; but WILL He? Will He pay any attention to the woes and the wants of so insignificant a creature as man is? Well, shifting the emphasis one word on, I say, "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that He heareth us — men and women with nothing special about them except their mere humanity. God Himself, by His love, has proved the greatness and value of man.
III. That if we ask ANYTHING ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." I said that without faith in God's being and intellect prayer would be impossible; and now I say that without this saving clause — without the confidence that God only grants petitions which accord with His own will — prayer would be dangerous. What could be more fatal than for the power of God to be at the disposal of human caprice? But, thank God, He will not yield. God is inexorable. Love always is inexorable. The doctor's child wishes to have the run of the surgery, that he may play with the keen blades and taste of every coloured powder and potion; and the servant may yield to his importunities, simply because her love is weak; but the father is inexorable, deaf, unyielding. Why? Because he loves his child intensely. I can venture to draw near to God; it is safe, because I have this confidence in God that He will not yield to me against His own wisdom and will. He is inexorable for my highest good. But God's refusal of one thing always means a grant of something better. "According to His will." Why so? Because nothing that is not on a level with that will is good enough for thee.
(J. M. Gibbon.)I. REGENERATE HUMANITY AS THE SUBJECT OF CONTINUAL NECESSITY. Man is a suppliant. There is no moment in his immortality in which he can declare absolute independence of a Superior Power. Our salvation has not lessened our dependence on the Divine bounty. We feel necessities now of which in our natural state we. are totally unconscious.
1. There is our want of a world conquering faith. Without faith man is the mere sport of swelling waves or changeful winds — faith gives him majesty by ensuring for all his energies an immovable consolidation!
2. There is our need of infallible wisdom. The realities of life rebuke our self-sufficiency. The countless errors for whose existence we are unhappily responsible are teaching us that our unaided powers are unequal to the right solution of life's problems.
3. There is our need of renewing and protective grace. All who know the subtlety of sin feel their danger of being undermined by its insidious influence. Without the "daily bread" of heaven we must inevitably perish.
II. REGENERATE HUMANITY INTRODUCED TO THE INFINITE SOURCE OF BLESSING.
1. This source is revealed by the highest authority. It is the Son revealing the Father — the Well-beloved who is intimately acquainted with the feelings which characterise the Infinite Being in regard to an apostate race; so that in accepting this testimony we accept it at the lips of a Divine witness.
2. This source is continually accessible. It would indeed have been graciously condescending had God appointed periodical seasons at which He would have listened to human cries; but He has appointed us audience hours — He is ever ready to hear man's song and to attend man's suit.
3. This source is inexhaustible. The ages have drunk at this fountain, but it flows as copiously as though no lip had been applied to the living stream.
III. REGENERATE HUMANITY ENGAGED IN SOCIAL DEVOTION.
1. Prayer is the mightiest of all forces (Matthew 18:19, 20).
2. Special encouragement is given to social worship.
3. Am I surrounded by those who inquire how they can serve their race? I point to the text for answer: you can agree to beseech the enriching blessing of God!
IV. REGENERATE HUMANITY CAUSING A DISTRIBUTION OF THE RICHES OF THE UNIVERSE. While man is a moral alien he has no influence in the distribution of Divine bounty: but when he becomes a child he may affect the diffusion of celestial blessings. If God has given us His Son will He not with Him freely give us all things? If He has given us the ocean we know that He will not withhold the drop! This assurance is solemnly suggestive.
1. It silences all complaints as to the Divine bounty. Do you wail that you feel so little of holy influence? The reason is at hand: "Ye have not because ye asked not, or because ye asked amiss."
2. It places the Church in a solemn relation to the unsaved world. That world is given us as a vineyard. The fruitful rain and glorious light may be had for asking. Are we clear of the world's blood in the matter of prayer?
3. It defines the limit of our supplication. "If we ask anything according to His will." There is a mysterious boundary separating confidence and presumption. We must not interfere in the settled purposes of God.Conclusion:
1. Earth is intended to be a great sanctuary — "if two of you shall agree on earth."
2. All worship is to be rendered in connection with the name of Christ.
3. The true suppliant retires from the altar in actual possession of the blessings which he besought. "We know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." We have too long acted as though we wished some visible manifestation or audible proof of answered prayer, whereas the scriptural doctrine is — believe and have.
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
(J. M. Gibbon.)I. THE PROPER QUALIFICATIONS OF PRAYER, WITH RESPECT TO THE SUBJECT MATTER OF IT.
1. What we pray for must be as to the matter of it, innocent and lawful. To pray that God would prosper us in any wicked design is not to present ourselves as humble suppliants to His mercy, but directly to affront His holiness and justice.
2. What we pray for must not only be lawful in itself, but designed for innocent and lawful ends.
3. The subject matter of our prayers must be according to the ordinary course and events of God's providence, something possible. We must not expect that God will interpose by a miraculous power, to accomplish what we pray for.
4. What we pray for ought to tend chiefly to our spiritual improvement and growth in grace.
II. HOW FAR, WHEN WE PRAY ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL, WE MAY, WITH HUMBLE CONFIDENCE, RELY ON THE SUCCESS OF OUR PRAYERS.
1. Whatever God has promised absolutely, He will faithfully and to all intents and purposes perform (Numbers 23:19).
2. Where the promises of God are made to us upon certain conditions or reserves, we have no right to the performance of them any further than is agreeable to the reason of such conditions.(1) God alone perfectly knows what would be the consequence of His granting us our requests.(2) The heart of a man is very deceitful; it is not easy for him at all times to discover the secret insincerity which lies at the bottom of it.Conclusion:
1. If prayer be a means of giving us access to God, and procuring for us so many and great blessings, it is just matter of reproof to Christians especially that this duty is so generally neglected among them.
2. What has been said affords good men matter of great consolation, even when they do not find the return of their prayers in the blessings they pray for. God intends the very denial of their requests to them for good.
(R. Fiddes, D. D.)
(T. G. Selby.)
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