"And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God" (John 16:23-27).
"For Jesus' sake," "in Jesus' name" are phrases familiar to every ear and tongue in Christendom, but how little they are thoroughly understood we shall probably find as we glance at their deeper meaning. This is the profound teaching about prayer which the Master chiefly emphasizes in His closing addresses to His disciples.
Undoubtedly it means this much at least, that we are to pray to the Father as revealed in Jesus Christ.
"Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name" might be translated, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father as represented by me." It expresses Christ's identity with the Father. The Father had been known to them before by many different names: "Elohim," the God of nature; "El Shaddai," the God of power; "Adonai," the God of providence; "Jehovah," the God of covenant grace, but henceforth, He is to be known as "Jehovah-Jesus," God in Christ. This is undoubtedly implied in the language of this passage, and involved in the thought to which the Saviour is giving expression. It is the same thought that He repeats in the parallel verse, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." There it plainly expresses that the Father and Son are acting in perfect concert, and it is through the Son only that the Father is glorified and revealed to man or understood by him.
The idea may be carried so far as to do away with the distinct personality of the Father and the Son, and this, of course, would be extreme and erroneous. But bearing this in mind and recognizing fully the dual personality, it is true that the Father Himself is revealed to us in the person of the Son, and that we are to ask the Father for our petitions and feel encouraged to expect His gracious answer because of what we know of Jesus, through Whose presence and teachings He Himself has become revealed to us. Would we come with confidence to our Saviour? Let us come with the same confidence to His Father, for "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." The words that He hath spoken, the Father that dwelt in Him spoke. The love that He manifested was the Father's love, Whom He came to reveal. He is the brightness of that Father's glory, the express image of His person, and the reflection of His will and character. It is to God in Christ, therefore, that we are to pray; to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; to Him, of Whom we know nothing except through the Son, and in Whom we trust, even as in Jesus Himself. Thus let us learn to pray in the Name of Jesus.
This expression, however, denotes far more than the identity of the Father and the Son. It expresses the great truth of mediation and intercession.
Not only do we come to the Father as we know Him in Jesus, but we come to Him through the Mediator. There are deep necessities for this in the nature of God and the relationships of sinful men with Him. So deeply did Job realize this that he cried out for a Daysman, who could "lay his hand upon us both," some being that could touch at once both heaven and earth and bring them into harmony and fellowship. This is just what Christ has done. His incarnation has bridged over the infinite gulf between the eternal and spiritual Deity and finite man, and His atonement has healed the awful breach that had morally and imperatively separated the sinner from a holy God. Like the dying mother, who, with her latest breath, reached out one hand to her husband and the other to her boy, and, drawing both hands together, united them upon her dying breast and covered them with her tears and benedictions; so Jesus in His death has united the sinner with his offended God, praying, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," and appealing to sinful men, "Be ye reconciled to God."
But not only has He brought God and men into reconciliation and fellowship, but He keeps that fellowship unbroken by His ceaseless intercession. "He ever liveth to make intercession for (us)," and, therefore, "is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him."
This idea of mediation is widely illustrated in the Holy Scriptures. We see it in the story of Joseph and his relation to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. "Go to Joseph," was the king's response to all who came to him for relief or judgment. All the affairs of the kingdom were entrusted to his administration, and he was the mediator and channel of all communication. We see it in the beautiful story of Esther as she ventured to touch the golden scepter and stand between her people and their oppressor and danger; and by her courage and patriotism she saved her nation from extinction. Still more impressively was it foreshadowed in the ministry of Moses, who became, at Sinai, the channel of communication between God and the terrified people. "Speak thou with us," was their cry, "but let not God speak with us lest we die"; and God consented to use Moses as the channel of His revelations to Israel and to teach the lesson of our Great Mediator.
But the most striking of all the ancient types of Christ our Mediator was Aaron, the Hebrew High Priest. It was his special office to stand between the people and God and present their worship in the Holy of Holies and make intercession for their sins and needs. For them he passed through the open veil, stood beneath the Shekinah, presented the blood and incense at the mercy seat, and came back to them with the benediction of Jehovah. In all this he was but the type of the better ministry of the Great High Priest in the true Tabernacle of heaven. There He hath entered, with His own blood, through the rent veil of His own flesh, now to appear in the presence of God for us.
The ministry of Aaron may well express the deeper meaning of His High Priesthood. Upon his heart the ancient priest continually carried, engraven in precious jewels, the names of Israel's tribes, and this was but to teach us that Christ, our Great High Priest, perpetually carries upon His heart our names, engraven in imperishable characters and worn as jewels of ornament and pride, even amid the glories of the heavenly world. It does not merely mean that He prays for us occasionally or takes our petitions and presents them to His Father. That, undoubtedly, He does, but He prays for us ten thousand times when we are too ignorant or too forgetful to pray for ourselves, and every moment He holds our names before His Father in unforgetting love and ceaseless remembrance. And not only upon his heart, but the ancient priest carried them also upon his shoulders. So, upon the strong arms of His omnipotence, our ascended Lord continually bears our burdens, as strong to help as He is swift to hear.
The ancient priest bore upon his brow a beautiful and significant symbol, a coronet with jeweled letters, carrying the significant words, "Holiness to the Lord." This he was continually to bear as often as he entered the Holy Place, that he might bear the iniquities of the children of Israel in their holy things. So, our blessed Intercessor bears upon His brow this inscription, not for Himself, for His holiness is never questioned, but as the proclamation of our holiness and perfect acceptance. He covers the imperfection of our holiest services with His perfect righteousness and keeps us constantly accepted in the presence of holy angels and the infinite and heart-searching God. What infinite meaning these figures give to the simple words, "In his name!" How wide they open the gates of prayer, and how perfect the consolation they give to the timid heart! "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, . . . let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
"In his name," signifies that our prayers are to be grounded upon the finished work of Christ and our redemption rights through His death and atonement.
Indeed, His very intercession for us is based upon His sufferings and blood. It is on the ground of the cross and the accomplished redemption that He claims for us all the purchase of His blood and all the promises of the everlasting covenant.
We are all familiar with the incident of the brave soldier who had often pleaded for the pardon of his unworthy brother and saved his life from public execution on account of desertion, but at last had been told by his kind general that it was useless to plead any more, because if he repeated the offense, it would be absolutely necessary in the interests of public order that the penalty should be required. Unfortunately, the reckless man soon repeated the offense, and the sentence of the court-martial was about to be pronounced without mercy. Then the general, noticing the brave old soldier weeping silently in the ranks, asked him if he had anything to say for his brother, but the old veteran simply stood up and raising aloft the stump of his amputated arm, he silently held it up, while the great tears rolled down his cheeks, and many wept around him as they thought of all it meant of sacrifice and devotion to his country. That was all his plea. He knew that words were useless now, but he held up the pledge of his sufferings and love, and let it plead more eloquently than speech for his brother's forfeited life. And eloquently it did plead, for, with tears of emotion, the old commander answered, "Sit down, my brave fellow, you shall have your brother's life. He is unworthy of it, but you have purchased it by your blood."
It is thus our ascended Redeemer pleads for us. He does not beg for mercy that would be simply gratuitous and unbought, but He boldly asks for that which is His purchased right, and for which His own blood has been sacrificed. Long before the incarnation and the cross He had entered into a covenant with the Father; and God had promised, by His immutable oath, that if He would bear the sins of men and settle for all the penalties of a holy law, He should receive as His mediatorial right forgiveness for every penitent and believing sinner who should accept His gospel, and all the resources of grace that should be needed to consummate the salvation of every sinner. And now He simply claims His redemption rights and our rights through Him by virtue of that promise.
Asking in Jesus' name, therefore, is asking that for which Jesus has suffered and died, and which He has freely, fully purchased for all His own. Surely with such a plea, we may come boldly to the throne of grace and ask as much as the precious blood of Calvary is worthy to claim, and how much that is, it will take all eternity to tell. This is the strong ground of our prayer for salvation, that salvation has been purchased, and that forgiveness is the birthright of every believing penitent. This is the plea of our prayer for sanctification, "for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." This is the foundation of our plea for physical healing, for "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses," and purchased redemption for our suffering bodies. And on this ground we may claim every other needed blessing, for "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
Have we learned the meaning of His name and the power of His cross and blood as the strong and all-prevailing plea of the believing suppliant at the throne of grace?
"In his name," means, finally, in union and complete identity with Him.
It expresses our relation to Him as well as His relation to the Father. It means in His person, in His stead, on His account, as if the petitioner were the very Son Himself. We all know something of how far a human name and introduction will go. The friend we introduce in our name is received, in some sense, as we would be received. Still more is this the case when he is commended to us on the ground of intimate relations with the one we love. The wife is received by her husband's family as if she were part of him and kin with them. In his name she comes to them as he would come. Sometimes we see this relationship very strongly and strangely illustrated in the case of those who otherwise would have no claim whatever for consideration.
In the days that followed the American war, many an incident was told of the tender bonds of fellowship and suffering, on the battlefield or in the Southern hospital-bonds which often gave the stranger a place in the old homestead as dear as that of the fallen soldier boy whom he had befriended. One such incident is related of a wretched tramp who called one day at a farmhouse in the west and was refused, very naturally, by the suspicious housewife. But the stranger drew from his well-worn pocket a scrap of paper and handed it to the woman. It was the writing of her boy, and it told how this man had fought by his side and then had nursed him in the hospital until the last hour had come; and how, as these lines were being written, he was committing his dying body and his last messages for home and mother to his hands; and it asked them, if they ever met, to receive him and love him as he had been loved and cherished, for his sake and in his name. That was enough. The haggard face and ragged dress and tramp-like appearance of the stranger were all forgotten, and the rough man was clasped in that mother's arms and taken to that home circle as a child, for the sake of another.
It is thus that we become identified with Jesus, and our Father receives us in His name as He receives Him. This is what faith may claim as it comes in His name. We enter into His rights, we ask on His account, and we expect to be welcomed and loved even as He is loved. This was His own bequest to us in His intercessory prayer in the seventeenth chapter of John, "That the world may know that thou hast . . . loved them, as thou hast loved me," and "that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." Is it too bold if we claim that which He Himself has asked for us as our place of privilege and right?
Not only, however, may we claim His rights; we must also come in His will and spirit, and ask as He claims and only what He Himself would ask. The privilege is limited by its own very nature. We cannot ask in the behalf of Christ what Christ Himself would not ask if He were praying. "In his name," therefore, necessarily means in harmony with His will and at the prompting of His Spirit. We may not, therefore, claim from God that which would be sinful or selfish, or involve harm to another, or hindrance to the cause of Christ. All our asking must be within this eternal limit, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." But this will is as large as the utmost of our being. Within this large and ample place there is room for every reasonable petition for spirit, soul, and body, family and friends, temporal circumstances, spiritual services, and utmost possibilities of human desire, hope or blessing.
And, finally, this identity with Him implies that He will be in us as the spirit of faith, making it His prayer and supplying the spirit and conditions of effectual prevailing intercession.
Such then, beloved, is the divinely appointed channel of prayer. Oh, how it encourages the unworthy and weak to come with full assurance of faith to the mercy seat! You may be a poor sinner, but He who represents you yonder is the Righteousness of God, and bears upon His brow, above your name, the flashing jeweled coronet which inscribes your standing, "Holiness unto the Lord." You may be an obscure and insignificant disciple, but He who endorses your petition has the mightiest name in earth and heaven. You may be a timid spirit and a faint-hearted child of unbelief and fear, but He who bids you have the faith of God and Who offers Himself to you as the spirit of faith and prevailing prayer is the One who said on earth, "Father, . . . I knew that thou hearest me always." "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am," and in His faith you may claim with boldness all His will, and go forth in deepest humility, but sublimest confidence, saying,
I am not skilled to understand
What God hath willed, what God
But this I know, at His right hand,
Stands One who is my Saviour.
|Chapter 2||Table of Contents||Chapter 4|