4 The Prayer of Faith

"And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:22-24).

There is an unseen principle of force in the material world which is mightier far than all the physical elements that we touch and see. It is the force of attraction which, in its twofold form of cohesion and gravitation, holds the physical universe together. As the force that condenses and holds in cohesion the minutest particles of matter, it is the cause by which, in a sense, all things consist or hang together. But for this cohesive force, our bodies would dissipate into impalpable air, the rain-drops and the oceans would dissolve into vapor, the mighty mountains would crumble to pieces, and the great world itself would explode in a catastrophe of wreck and dissolution. And in its wider and far-reaching application, it is the force that holds our planet in its orbit and keeps it, on its awful journey of a thousand miles a minute and more than five hundred million miles a year, from rushing into the distant fields of immensity, or diverging a hair-breadth from its unmarked path amidst the spheres, or even quivering in its course notwithstanding the terrific velocity of its career. It is the same force that holds all the planets on their aerial track, and all the systems that circle round ten thousand suns in all their spheres, without collision or catastrophe. It is the mighty power of gravitation. All unseen it is, and noiseless. There is no vibration in its mighty heart-throbs; no reverberation from its voice; no trace of its viewless but mighty arm. Yet, it is mightier than the earth which it poises in space and propels along its pathway; mightier than the sun, from whose center it sweeps the circle of the solar system with its revolving circuit of planets; mightier than all the stars in all their spheres; the great, invisible, intangible, inaudible, impalpable secret of the material universe and all its mighty movements. How simple is this subtle force, and yet how sufficient and sublime!

But now let us ascend from the material world to the social, rational, and human sphere, and there, too, we shall find a corresponding principle which holds society together, even as the law of gravitation holds the worlds of space. What is that principle that binds the family together, that cements the friendships of life, that controls the partnerships of business, that forms the basis of commercial confidence and the greatest transactions of business, and leads men continually to stake their whole fortune and every material interest on their investments and securities? Why, it is simply confidence, trust, faith between man and man! Without it, the home circle would be torn with strife and wrecked with distrust and misery. Without it, political and national fabrics would collapse, and government would be impossible. Without it, business would be ruined. No single bank could stand a day without the trust of its constituents, and no security would be worth anything were men to cease to trust the promises and reliability of their fellowmen. The world is adopting this very name of trust in this day for its strongest institutions. Everything now is taking the form of a commercial trust. There must be some fascination in the term, and well there may be, for it is the very cohesive principle of society, the law of gravitation for the whole social world.

Let us now carry this thought to its true plane and apply it to the great spiritual kingdom of which all natural things are but imperfect types. Should it seem strange if this law of faith were found to be the very principle of the spiritual world as it is of the natural, the underlying force which holds it together, and the remedial principle which is to bring back our own lost orb to its true place in the circle of the heavens? Such indeed it is. Faith is the essential principle of the Kingdom of God. It was the loss of faith which separated man from God in Eden. The fall of the race began the moment they listened to Satan's insinuations, "Hath God said?" and the recovery of the race commences the moment the soul begins to trust its God. This is why faith has been made indispensable to the reception of the gospel and the salvation of the soul. This is why it is forever true, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." Faith is the gateway of salvation, and it is not strange that it should be made the gateway of prayer.

Let us consider this great subject thoughtfully and prayerfully, and may the Holy Spirit search our hearts on this solemn matter, until we shall be convicted of sin, because we believe not. For this is the condemnation, because they have not believed on the name of the Son of God.

Faith is necessary in order to have acceptable and effectual prayer. This our Lord very distinctly states in this passage. He commands the disciples to have faith in God, and then adds, "When ye pray, believe that ye receive them." But this is not the only place where this necessity is emphasized, for we are told in Hebrews that "without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." There must be a believing recognition of God's personal existence and of His goodness and graciousness, and that He does hear and answer prayer.

So, again, in speaking of prayer for healing, it is declared that "the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." If we would understand what James means by the prayer of faith, we have only to turn to the first chapter and hear him say, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally" (or rather, "of course"), "but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord." The language here is very emphatic. "Of course" God will give to all, but they must take by faith what God gives, or the giving is in vain. The man who wavers does not take, cannot receive. He is like that poor victim in the hospital who died in agony, with water held to his lips, but unable to swallow a single drop through the spasms which contracted his throat, arising from the most terrific of all human diseases. There are people to whom the Lord gives the Water of Life, but they will not drink it. There are people whose tables God has spread with the blessings of faith, but they do not partake of its bounties. There are prayers which God has answered, but we do not enjoy the answers. There are souls whom God has long ago forgiven, but they are in darkness and despair because they did not trust His pardon. Therefore, when the troubled and despairing father came to Him about his child, crying, "I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not . . . but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us, " the Master simply answered, as He turned the whole question back upon the man, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."

It is perfectly right that God should require us to believe before He answers our prayers, because faith is the law of the New Testament and the gospel dispensation. The Apostle Paul speaks of two laws in the third chapter of Romans, the law of works and the law of faith. The former has been superseded, and the principle on which the whole gospel is based is the law of faith. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." We have already suggested why this law has been adopted. No doubt in the light of eternity we shall find many reasons for it which we could not now fully apprehend, but it is enough to know that as it was through unbelief that men fell, so it is through faith that they must be restored. In a word, we must come back to the point from which we started in a wrong direction. When Bunyan's pilgrim found that he had lost his roll on the Hill of Difficulty, he simply went back to the place where he had lost it and started on again. And so we must begin at the point of departure from God, by learning to trust Him. God is bound to act upon this principle if it be the law of this dispensation, and He cannot justly acknowledge our plea if we do not present it according to the prescribed rule.

If this be true, it works most solemnly in both directions; and while, on one side, it is gloriously certain, "According to your faith be it unto you," yet, on the other, it may be just as true, "According to your unbelief it shall be unto you." It may be that God for very consistency is required to keep His word to those who doubt Him as well as to those who believe Him, and that the enemy of souls might even accuse Him of falsehood and inconsistency if He answered the prayer of unbelief. He has announced this as the principle of His throne of grace, the very law on which petitions will receive attention and consideration, and surely we cannot afford to disregard this sacred intimation or venture into His presence expecting our unbelieving complaint and insulting doubts and insincerities to bring any blessing from His hand.

But faith is not only the law of the Christian dispensation; it is also a mighty force in the spiritual world. We are touching now upon a subject which the wisest spirits can but dimly comprehend, but upon which, perhaps, there is light enough to be well assured that the very act of believing for anything which God has promised is an actual creative force and produces effects and operations of the most important character. Indeed it seems that faith is the very principle upon which God Himself acts, and the secret of His power in creating matter and in commanding the events of providence. "He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast." When the disciples wondered at the withering of the fig tree, Jesus simply said it was an act of divine faith. It was the faith of God that produced it, and then He commanded them to "have faith in God." The faith of God must mean the faith which God Himself exercises. In the fourth chapter of Romans we are told a little about this faith of God, when it is said that Abraham acted like Him "who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were." He commands that which is not and expects it and believes in the efficacy of His own command without a shadow of hesitation, and He sees it instantly or ultimately accomplished. And even for the things that lie in the future in His purpose, He counts them as if they were present or past. The lapse of time is nothing in His mind and involves no uncertainty as to the results. He so believes in the things that are not that He calls them by the names of actual realities. He called Abraham "the father of many nations," before he even had a child, and made him call himself by the same significant name. He calls Jesus Christ "His only begotten Son," "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world," and the cross was as real to the Father ages ago as it is now. He speaks of you and me as if we were already sitting in the heavenly palaces in the ages to come, and shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.

It was this faith in Jesus Christ that commanded and compelled the quickening of Lazarus in his tomb. It was a resistless force, a divine power that actually moved upon second causes and compelled their obedience; and if that faith of God be in us, it will be a corresponding force, and there shall be in us that effectual working prayer which availeth much, which, at the very moment we are offering it and believing for it, is moving something or upon some heart, and making someone conscious of the presence of the power of God.

Surely this is reason enough, then, that we should pray in faith. It is a spiritual force which God requires of us to cooperate with, to enter into, to use with Him and for His glory. The mighty forces of nature must have man's cooperation or they are lost and wasted. The electricity goes to waste if we do not constrain it to our will and use it according to its own laws. And so God's omnipotence must be taken hold of by our faith and actually used, in deep humility but holy confidence, for the carrying through of His own great purposes. Could we see what is behind the curtains of the invisible world, we should be able to trace living streams of spiritual influence passing from the heavens at the very instant that the prayer of faith is ascending from some lonely closet, and terminating upon the very persons at that very instant whose names are being held up before the throne. Two streams of heavenly power would be distinctly visible; one an ascending line of prayer from the kneeling suppliant, and the other a descending current of power upon some far distant heart. Such phenomena have actually been traced in innumerable instances. While Elijah was praying on Carmel, the clouds were actually marshaling on the distant horizon; while Jacob was praying at Peniel, the heart of Esau, as he lay in his tent that night, was going back to early memories, and melting into the tender welcome which he gave at that noontide to his once hated brother. While some of God's remembrancers have been holding up special fields in far distant lands, it has been actually found at that very moment showers of blessing have been descending on that special field prayed for. While some weeping wife or mother has been praying for her husband or boy, that husband or boy was being converted hundreds of miles away. Faith is therefore a force as mighty as that which we control when we touch the electric button, or open the valve of the engine, or pull the little cord that explodes the mighty subterranean battery which upheaves the mountain of rock or discharges the sunken torpedo. In requiring us, therefore, to pray in faith, God simply requires us to join hands with Himself in the exercise of His own almighty power, and be partakers of His mighty working.

The faith which God requires of us in prayer is essential to our own spiritual welfare; and, if it add no direct ulterior result in the actual answer, it would be abundantly repaid in the blessing which believing prayer brings to our own spirit. How it quiets our fears, tranquilizes our agitation, and stills our troubled spirit! How it enables us to submit to God and say "Thy will be done" as we never can until we believe that His will for us is only love and blessing. Indeed, so wonderful are the subjective benefits of prayer that many go so far as to say that this is all the value of prayer. This would be a very foolish conclusion to adopt, for it would be a strange blessing if we were only comforted by an imaginary dream which had no objective reality. Take away the actual reality of God and the facts of prayer, and you take away the foundation of our subjective comfort; for, if God be not real and the answer not actual, why, our comfort is a lie, and our ulterior peace a delusive dream. But if we know God is real, and that His promise will be actually fulfilled, then indeed we can rest our troubled heads upon His breast and our hearts upon His promises, and be still and know that He is God.

How self-possessed and restful the hearts that have learned to trust God for all they ask! How sweetly these two thoughts are combined in the benignant words of the apostle in Philippians: "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." There we have the injunction to pray about everything—the requirement to pray without care, doubt, or anxiety, and then the promise that the peace of God shall keep our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.

But God requires our trust in order to keep us from hindering His answer to our prayer by our own restless activity or flight. When we ask God to do anything for us, we must give Him time to do it, and carefully avoid rushing off in unbelieving haste to do something that would probably quite hinder His plan. Many a time, if God were to come with the answer to our prayer, He would find that we were not there, but had simply run away in fear and doubt, first firing our gun like a sentinel, and then getting off as fast as our limbs could carry us. Suppose Israel had not believed God when they cried unto Him at the Red Sea, but had rushed back upon their foes or forward into the deep or away into the mountains, where God could never have answered their prayer by dividing the sea. To prevent this He had to say to them first, "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord," and then bid them go forward in His way and claim it.

If Joshua's hosts had not believed in God and marched around Jericho at His command, they never would have found the answer which was awaiting their seventh circuit on the seventh day. We find, in the thirtieth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet pleading with his people to be quiet and not hinder the deliverance which they had asked God to give them from Sennacherib and his army. But instead of this, they insisted upon doing something to help themselves; they sent an embassy into Egypt for an alliance with Pharaoh. The prophet warned them without avail that the Egyptians should help in vain, and that their strength was to sit still. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength; and ye would not. But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses." And God answered, Get all the horses you want; you will need them soon, for "they that pursue you be swift." Then the prophet adds, "Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you," for "blessed are all they that wait for him." In due time they found out their Egyptian alliance was a broken reed and a reed that pierced the hand that leaned upon it. The Egyptians were helpless, and Sennacherib, furious that they should have gone to Egypt, returned with a fierce and cruel scorn, and bade his caged prisoners prepare for their doom. Then they were shut up to faith and cried unto the Lord alone, and lo! in a moment, without any of their contriving, God sent an angel at night, who simply swept along the line of Syrian tents, shook his fiery wings above those slumbering hosts, and their vital breath ceased and the morning saw an army of corpses, and the caged and invested city found itself gloriously free!

So God requires us to trust Him and be still until He brings His answer to us and works it out in our lives, and without faith we are sure to do something to hinder Him or get out of the place where we can receive the answer in its fullness.

It is reasonable to believe for an answer which we do not yet see. How can I believe for that which I do not know or see to be actually so? Simply because if you did see and know from other evidence, it would not be believing at all, but learning from the evidence of your senses. You only believe when you do not see. "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." God's way for us is to believe first, on the simple evidence of His promise, and to continue to believe without other evidence until we have proved our faith without sight; then He will permit us to see and know by the demonstration of the fact itself.

This is nothing more than we are doing every day in the affairs of human life. Millions of dollars are invested in our commercial exchanges every week on the simple faith of a telegram or an item of news in the daily papers. Values are bought and sold on paper where the actual realities have not been seen by either party. Securities are constantly negotiated by those who buy them on simple trust. Every time we send a telegram and act upon it, we are venturing on simple faith in the operator that despatches it, on the wire that carries it, and the messenger boy that delivers it. We do not see it go, nor do we see it received, but we rest, and probably take most important action on the certainty that it has gone and that the matter has been settled. It is surely very humiliating that we cannot put the same confidence in the Word of our God as we do in the fidelity of a messenger boy.

Then again, we are constantly in the habit of recognizing things as done when in fact they are only decided and long weeks and even months must intervene before we see the actual accomplishment. A friend of mine had an application for a pension before Congress. It meant everything to her and her helpless husband and family. On one side was a life of toil and suffering; on the other, comfort and happiness for those she loved better than her life. There was considerable delay and uncertainty, but at last the message was flashed across the wires from Washington one day, and she quickly hastened to tell me the glad news, with tears of joy. She said, "I have got my husband's pension, praise the Lord!" But if one of our critics had been there, I suppose he would have said, "Madam, you are telling a story; you have not a single dollar of your pension, and won't have a single dollar of it for months to come." And the critic, in one sense, would have been right, for she herself told me in the same breath, "It will be several months before we have it actually, for it has to go through a great deal of red tape, but that does not make any difference."

And so the dear woman went ahead in simple faith, and long before she had the money, all the arrangements for her future life were made as calmly and surely as if she had had the first installment deposited in the bank. To her, the decree of the supreme authority was enough; the question of time meant nothing, and she could truthfully say, even in the face of the critic, "I have my pension." Honestly and actually she did have all that was necessary to make it certain and to give her the benefit of it.

And so the moment our petition passes the Throne, we are justified in believing that we have just what we ask and in saying, like her, "I have got my answer, praise the Lord!" This was what God intended to teach Daniel when He sent the angel from heaven, after he had been praying twenty-one days, to say to him, "From the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days." In the very beginning his prayer passed the Throne above, and he was justified all those three weeks in counting the answer given, but the delivery of the blessing and even the message was hindered by the opposition of the enemy. But all the opposition of earth or hell cannot hinder God's purposes, and to His mind and the mind of faith, they are as certain from the beginning as after they have taken form like the solid mountains and become the facts and memories of actual life.

Indeed, all God's promises to His children are gauged on this pattern. To the penitent sinner Christ's word was instant and final, "Thy faith hath saved thee." To the disciples His message of cleansing was, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." To the sick and suffering the decree always went forth, "Be thou clean," "Receive thy sight," "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt," "Thy son liveth," "According to thy faith be it unto thee." To Abraham the promise that carried with it all the promises of the future was in the perfect tense, "I have made thee the father of many nations." And the explanation given was that God, as the very principle of His government, "calleth those things which be not as though they were." This very thing that so many shrink from is the very essence of all true faith, and the lack of it teaches the very line of demarcation between effectual faith and that which is only hope.

Shall we then, beloved, recognize the reasonableness of faith and rise to something higher than the mere reasonings of probability and the mere hope and encouragements to which men can rise without the need of God at all? Shall we count God's Word more true than all our evidences and feelings, than all the endorsements of men, than all the actual evidences of its fulfillment, for even the latter may not be abiding, but "the word of God abideth forever," and "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Let us learn to be very deliberate in our prayers. Many persons pour out a reckless mass of ill-considered supplication very much as a boy blows his soap bubbles into the air, scarcely expecting ever to see them again. It is doubtful if such persons go through the mental effort of believing or attempting to believe that they shall surely receive one in ten of these petitions. Certainly, if they should receive them, it would take a very busy life to hold all the answers and turn them to practical account. The habit of asking indiscriminately wears out the very power of believing. It is a pity ever to ask anything from God which we have to abandon or confess to be of no significance. It is a very serious thing to take the name of our God in vain, and everything asked in His name without meaning or effect is of this character. Every time we find our prayers ineffectual we are weakened for our next attempt, and after a time, like iron heated and cooled successively, the temper of our faith is worn out and its very fiber disintegrated like the rusty metal. If we would ever learn the prayer of faith, we must learn to pray with thoughtful deliberation and carefully weigh our words before the Lord as He has weighed His promises, for "the words of the Lord are as silver tried in a furnace." The secret of faith is always to endeavor to ascertain, before we ask, whether we are asking according to His will, and then to take the simple stand of John the beloved: "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."

Let us cultivate the habit of definitely believing when we have thus prayed. Let us commit the matter to God and recognize it henceforth as one of the things He has promised and passed, and a thing for which we cannot pray again in the sense of an unsettled question. Faith is a matter of definite will, to a certain extent at least. We must choose to believe and fix our will as the sailor sets his helm; then God will swell our sails and hold our helm for us in the attitude in which we set it. We cannot create the faith, but we can choose to believe, and God will sustain us in our choice and uphold us in our trust.

We must claim the faith of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the enabling of His trust, to sustain ours. We choose to believe, but He must enable us to claim even His own promises. This follows, of course, consistently with the whole doctrine of Christ's indwelling life. We must trust Him for our faith as well as for our love and holiness, but in each case we must yield ourselves and choose to stand in the position assumed, and then throw ourselves upon Him to sustain us. This He will do, baptizing us with such a spirit of prayer and confidence that we shall be enabled to claim and humbly command the blessing which He has already decreed.

And then we must stand fast, and not be shaken by either delay or apparent denial, drawing comfort and encouragement even from His seeming refusals, until at last our Lord shall look upon us as He did the Syro-Phoenician woman, with admiring love, and say: "Great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt."

Beloved, let us realize that God is educating us for higher destinies, and placing upon us, day by day, heavier loads of discipline, that we may be thus trained for the mightier activities of faith, which, in the eternal world, we are to share with our enthroned Lord. Let us not stagger under these loads, but, like Abraham of old, be "strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform," and we shall find that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment," has worked out for us "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

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