I HAVE had extreme difficulty in trying to arrive at an answer to the question, What would be a suitable subject on which to speak to you? for there are a thousand topics, each one of which presses itself upon our attention; but it struck me that as this day, and the services of this week, celebrate a year of prayer, I had better speak about the results of prayer. I feel certain that the more real our religion becomes, the more commonsense it becomes, the better for us. It strikes me that a great many persons are earnest in business, while they play at religion, look at religion as if it were a matter in the realm of imagination, a very proper thing indeed, but nothing in it, to be attended to out of deference to certain reasons; but still not a matter of real, downright, everyday necessity. Hence prayer is not always regarded as it should be, even by Christian people, as a real business transaction with God, and a matter-of-fact dealing with the Most High. The theory has been broached of late, indeed, that the only use of prayer is to ourselves, to benefit our frame of mind, and the like. That does not appear to have occurred to the old saints, for in the Psalms David seems to be clamorous with God to be heard and to have an answer, and he cries over and over again, “Hear me speedily.” It does not seem to have occurred to the royal psalmist that when he had uttered such-and-such words, and they had had an effect upon his mind, the whole result of prayer had been realized, and that there he ought to leave it. No; in the morning he directed his prayer unto God, and as he shot the arrow into heaven he looked up to see whether it struck the target, and he did not come away satisfied, unless something had been really done.
Now, allow me to say to any man of the world here who may hold that theory about prayer, that there are some of us as sane as you are, and we hope as honest, who do solemnly affirm to you that we dare no more doubt the efficacy of prayer than our own existence, because it is not fifty nor it hundred times that God has heard us — no, nor a thousand; but we are in the habit of prayer, and in the habit of obtaining answers to prayer. Prayer is not to us a thing of the morning, and the evening, and the middle of the day alone; it is the very atmosphere we live in, and to receive answers to prayer is far more common to us than to eat our daily bread. If anybody were to deny to us the virtue of bread for the sustenance of the body we should hardly keep our temper in trying to reason with them; we should think that they had lost their reason; and when anybody says to us that there is no efficacy in prayer, we feel something like the same spirit stirring in our souls as if we could not argue about it, it was so common. No sun?
Man, look up at it. No air? Breathe it. No bread? Eat it. And our only reply that we can sometimes give to any who doubt it is, Try prayer yourselves; and until, with a humble heart, you have gone to your Maker, and asked for mercies at his hand, according to his own promise, and he has refused you, you have not made the experiment in the philosophy, and have no reason to say anything about it. All you can say is, you have never seen it succeed because you have never tried it; but let those who have tried it, and who acknowledge it does succeed, have some credence. If they have none, it will make small matter to them, they will go on just the same, the matter will be to you. But still, here has been a year of prayer — here, in Lombard-street, down some back corner, because if it were held publicly it would annoy some people — and has there been any result from it?
We are bound to ask the question, Have there been results to your prayers, dear friends? Let it be confessed here that there are a great many prayers that lead to no results, because they are not prayers to which results are promised; they are not prayers, indeed, at all in the sight of the Most High.
The repetition of the best words is not prayer. Prayer is bringing God’s promise to mind, and pleading it with him. That is the essence of prayer.
To use a very homely simile, the throne of grace is the bank, and prayer takes the promise, like a cheque, and lays it down upon the counter, and comes away with the cash. It gets what God has promised to give. Now, there are some prayers that do not succeed, because there is no promise quoted in them. Many prayers are very defective from the want of a promise. I may ask God what I will, but I am bound to tell him, “Thou hast promised this.” or “Thou hast promised that.” That is putting the cheque down on the table, and I can go away. I know I pray very differently from some people. I cannot pray by the half-hour together very well, my thoughts begin to wander; but when I get God’s promise I go and put it down before him, and I know he will give it me, and I expect to get it. It seems to me for fellows to go loafing in a bank for the half-hour together, without presenting the cheque, would not show much confidence in the banker. You need not think, therefore, that prayer will be a thing of a few minutes, and soon over. No; because you will have another promise, and another, and another, and another, to come back again within a moment.
Prayer does not consist in saying a great many good things to God, who knows them all beforehand. It consists in challenging his veracity, and, in the name of Jesus, saying, “Oh! God, thou hast said thou wilt do this or that; now, do it.” Oh! that God’s promises were more current among Christians than they are. There are persons in this room whose name, if put to a piece of paper, will make that piece of paper pass through this city just as easily as sterling gold; yet. “Tell it; not in Gath, publish it not in Askelon,” I have even heard God’s people sometimes say they have found it hard to believe. Oh! terrible insult to the Almighty God. It is not hard to believe my fellow-man, after years of probity and integrity; I would trust my life with him; and I cannot trust my God? When prayers do not succeed it is a want of faith at the bottom of it, a want of realization that God has given the promise, and that God’s promise must and shall stand true.
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but no promise of our God shall fail. Do we not often miss an answer to prayer, because we do as a person who went into a bank with a perfectly good cheque, and then laid it on the table and went away. Of course, if he had been in his senses he would have waited till the money had been handed out; or if it was not payable at sight he would have gone at the proper time for it. Do we do so in our prayers?
Do you ask God for something, and then next morning say, “Is it come?”
You know the childish story, not childish in itself, but it is of a child who, when the people met for prayer for rain, took an umbrella with her because she thought she should get wet going home. I have asked something of God: he has promised it. Will he give it? God forbid the question for a moment. He has bound himself to it, and unless he can change or lie he must be faithful to the promise which his children plead. Many of your cheques are to order, and the bearer must put his name on the back; and I believe God’s promises are mostly to order, and we do not put our name on the back; we do not believe God means it. When thou prayest deliberately put thy name down and say, “My God, I do believe this promise, and need it to be fulfilled, and I am asking it under the conditions thou hast laid down; namely, through Jesus Christ, and for thy glory — canst thou run back from thy word?”
Now, if there have been such pleadings as these the answers to prayer will most assuredly come. God will hear and answer prayer. It has been said, “But will prayer alter the purposes of God? No, and there is no necessity that it should, because our prayers are the reflection of the decrees of God.
What God wills to do he moves his people to pray he should do, and prayer and predestination run side by side with each other. “But do you think he will reverse the laws of nature?” No. Of old he did. He was like some master of an engine, who, when something is to be done, stops it and reverses the action. Well, with all deference to the Most High, it was a glorious mode of procedure, and astonished mankind, but there was something rough about it; it was a stopping of his usual course. Nowadays God works miracles without miracles. He lets the machine go on just as it was going on, and yet the prayers of his people are just as much answered as if he had stopped the action of the entire machine and reversed it. We do believe and rejoice in miracles greater than miracles, because they do not involve the suspension of a single, solitary law of nature; yet the purposes of God and the prayers of his people are accomplished.
The prayer offered this year has been for the success of the church, and the church has not succeeded. There is a lamentable fact before us. There are breakings out here and there of the revival spirit, and there are patches where the rain has descended, and there is :good fruit produced; but, for the most part, I am afraid the most sanguine cannot claim 1873 as a year of anything like average success, certainly not of remarkable prosperity. Have the prayers, then, been heard? Well, you must remember that prayer is not everything, and that prayer is heard under certain conditions; and if we fail of certain conditions, then we cannot expect that the answer will come. For instance, a child at school was known to pray God that she might know her lessons better, and then she never studied them at all. We all see the absurdity of that. So sometimes we pray God to convert sinners, and we never speak to them, never show our anxiety by personal address. We cannot expect God to hear a prayer which, in fact, is only the skeleton of a prayer without life, for had it been a living prayer it must have been attended with corresponding action. Do you think that the church of God has put forth action corresponding to her nominal prayer? Has it been so everywhere? We are not to judge, except that we will each one judge himself. Is it not a fact that most churches have been taken up very much with their own prosperity, and have not had large-hearted regard to the prosperity of all the church of Jesus Christ? And may not the Lord be grieved with us for our selfishness in that respect? Are there not a great many divisions among us, which must be the result of error somewhere or other? Is there not an adhesion to our old ways instead of going to Scripture, and each of us trying to do what the Lord bids us, in the Lord’s own way’? Is it not possible also that in some churches the action of good people has been repressed? Priestcraft survives long after the name is given up. There is a horror sometimes at a brother attempting to win souls unless called “reverend gentleman.” I have great reverence for “reverend gentlemen;” but I have very great reverence also for all that serve the Lord, whether they are reverenced by men or not; and if we put any of God’s servants back, or despise their agency, may not that hamper God’s work?
Further, do not you think, many of you great men in business, that your Christianity does not occupy the right position with regard to your business? The Christian in the early days was first a Christian, secondly a farmer, a fisherman, or anything else. Nowadays is it not always that Soand- So is first of all a banker or a merchant, and then he is a Christian? But it is a long way down. His religion is an off-hand farm, which he carries on very much by means of a bailiff; but he does not live on the premises and work. That is the main thing. It seems to me that if a man is a Christian, Christianity ought to eat him right up. It ought to go right through him, and he should be known to be first and foremost a Christian man. Let him be all the rest on an equality with his fellow-men, and I think he may even be superior to them in business tact and capacity. I believe that religion will even sharpen his intellect, and that often communion with God in prayer will give him that calm frame of mind which will enable him to do his business all the better. But the first thing with a saved man is to glorify God, and if you are in a position where that cannot be the first thing, it is a question whether that is the position you should occupy. “For me to live is Christ,” is to be the word of every saved man, not of the apostle only. But suppose that is not the fact. Is it any wonder that we do not see prayer answered? It does not appear to be a prayer from the heart, because it is not sustained by corresponding action. Oh, if we desire the glory of God, let us live to that glory. Vain is it to talk to God in prayer unless we do that. What sacrifices these early Christians made! Their prayers were true, because they sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake. Where is the selfsacrifice of the early days? Here is a great army of us interesting one another, amusing one another, pleasing one another, perhaps edifying one another; and there is the great world outside, with only here and there a straggling missionary preaching the gospel “Oh! but what society can send us out?” I bless God for all societies; but the world will never be converted by societies. The time must come when the Spirit will go forth through the entire mass of us, and we shall feel that we must win the world for Christ.
The great movement in the time of the Crusades was not because one or two went forth to fight the Saracens. But when Peter the Hermit preached the Crusade, the enthusiastic throughout the whole of the western nations went. “Deus vult” was the cry; and so men gave up their trades and everything for the Quixotic conquests of the Holy Land. There is no Quixotism about winning souls for Christ. That is the real thing worth living for. And shall we never see the church of God so fall of the divine power that Christian men and women, by the mass, will bring their substance, and say, “Here it is; we are going to give that and ourselves towards the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ”? “That is fanaticism,” somebody will say. The Lord God Almighty send us that fanaticism to the full, because then when we go to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” God will say to us, “You mean it. I can see that you are laying yourself out for it;” and then will come the answer, and the triumph of Christ throughout the nations. Do you think it too much to expect that the mass of Christians should do this? If we meet with a man who says, “I am for Christ, and mean to spread the Word of God in the regions beyond,” we hold up our hands and say, “What a wonder of self-sacrifice!” Why, in the Romish Church there are hundreds and thousands of men and women who devote all their life and property to what they call a religious life; and, with all their mistakes, shall their religion breed an enthusiasm of which ours is incapable? Can it possibly be that error, as we regard it, shall make men lead lives of zeal for Christ? And yet we who say we. have the very truth of God in our hearts give a miserable proportion of our income to the cause of Christ — a little spare hour of an evening, when perhaps it serves the turn of our amusement, and that is all. It cannot go up to God as real prayer unless the action shall back it up.
I fear I transgress the time, but there may be some person here, perhaps, who says, “This is all to Christian people; have you not a word to say to me? I desire, to be saved.” My dear friend, whenever any man desires to be saved he may rest assured he has not got the start of his God. “When he was yet a great way off his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell upon his neck.” If you desire God he desires you. If there is only a, spark of desire in your heart towards him there is a whole furnace of love in his heart towards you; and the way to be saved is not a difficult one; it is one that may be accomplished here while you are sitting on that seat.
Whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. To believe is to trust — just to trust my soul with him. It is to do what people do with their money at the banker’s. They take it and leave it there, and are quite satisfied it is all right. So you should go and leave your souls in the hands of Christ, and say — “I know that safe with him remains, Protected by his power, What I’ve committed to his hands, Till the decisive hour.” I heard a young gentleman use a pretty simile the other Sunday, in speaking to a number of children, He said when he was in the Highlands he met with several gates where he had to pay a penny or something else to go through; and when he came to one gate he put his hand into his pocket, to pay but a little girl ran in front, and locked the gate. “You have not got to pay anything,” she said, “but you have to say, ‘Please allow me to go through here,’ and you shall go through.” “Well,” he said,” I did not deliberate; I said it.” The proprietor wished to reserve his right of way; that was all. Now, you have nothing to pay to God. Christ is the door. All you have to say is, “Please let me go through.” That is all. Only let it be God’s will, acknowledge that you have no right to it, but ask for it, and you shall receive it; for in this case, “he that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Oh, I think, young men, if I had not Christ to be my Savior at this present moment I should not like to close my eyes in sleep until I had him, for the joy and peace it gives you to know that you are resting in Christ is something not to be equaled, certainly not to be surpassed. All the wealth and treasure of the world cannot give such joy. “And is that all that a man does in order to be saved? Does he simply trust in Jesus?” Yes, that is all. “But are there no good works?” After he is saved there will be abundance of good works, and there will be this excellency about them, that they will not be performed with a view to self-salvation, and consequently will not be selfish, but will be performed out of gratitude and love for mercy received, and they will have an element which is always acceptable with our heavenly Father. Believe thou first and work afterwards. Get thou life in Christ by simply casting thyself at his feet, and then go forth, and for the love of him give up thyself and all thou hast that thou mayest bring others into the same blessed state of reconciliation and joy. God bless you, beloved, in your prayer, for Christ’s sake.