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heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shail 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 xi. 22-24.
On this passage I submit a few remarks to the reader's attention. It is obviously of the exercise of miraculous power that our Lord is speaking throughout the passage. In order to the working of a miracle, it was necessary that the individnal should have a firm persuasion on his mind at the time, that he had power and authority from God to performi it. Supernatural gifts do not appear to have resided in any as a habit, and therefore their exercise on any given occasion was an exercise of faith in God—not of faith generally, but of faith in reference to this particular power. This seems to have been in our Lord's mind when he employed the language of the last verse in the above passage.
The English reader will observe that the pronoun them is supplied twice in the verse. The Greek scholar knows that the verb lausavete is in the present, and not in the future tense; and may therefore, according to the Hebrew-Greek idiom of the New Testament, refer to the past equally as to the future. Considering the sentence then as elliptical, it may be filled up thus—“What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye have received [the promise of them, or the power to perform them,] and ye shall have them.” Our Loril could not mean that the persuasion of receiving them, apart from their being pi omised, should be a sufficient reason for their being obstained. But the full persuasion of having the power to perform, or the promise to receive, is a different thing. The former would restrict the passage to the exercise of miraculous gifts; the latter would extend its application to all that believe. I have no objection to the fullest confidence in the efficacy of prayer in general, or to the strongest persuasion that we shall obtain what we ask in particular; provided that persuasion has for its foundation not the mere fiction of our own mind, but the assurance of God's testimony. I have been surprised to find, that the critics and commentators universally, as far as I can perceive, (and I have taken some pains to ascertain it,) pass over the difficulty which belongs to this passage. I am far from satisfied that I have suggested the true solution. Richard Baxter, in conformity with my idea, says the meaning is-—“No difficulty shall hinder you from ebtaining what God hath promised, and is fit to be done, if you firmly trust his love and promise.”
The doctrine of a particular faith in prayer was very prevalent in the time of the Commonwealth. Howe preached against it before the Protector, at the risk of incurring his displeasure. The Notes of that sermon, which were first given by Calamy, are unhappily so imperfect, that little can be made of them.
The doctrine of the efñcacy of prayer is, beyond all controversy, clearly revealed in Scripture, and is therefore matter of belief with every Christian. In proportion to the confidence which he reposes in it, will be his earnestness and perseverance in the exercise. On this, as on other subjects, our metaphysical reasonings harmonizing with our unbeliet and indifference, suggest various difficulties. It would generally be injurious, rather than beneficial, to notice such difficulties in preaching. They would perplex the many, without perhaps enlightening the few. But in a Note it may be right to advert to them.
On the tendency of prayer to operate any change upon, or give any special direction to the divine mind, men greatly perplex themselves. On the bypothesis that all God's plans are arranged and determined by his infinite wisdom, it may be asked, how can our prayers influence them at all? If contrary to God's intentions, they canuot be heard ; if agreeable to them, the things would occur of themselves. It is argued, therefore,' that whatever influence prayer may have upon us, it is not conceivable that it should have any influence God's purpose stood fast, and at the same time he appeared the Hearer of prayer. But it may be said, supposing that Abraham had gone on to pray, how would the matter have stood ? I answer, the supposition is uncalled for, because God knew that Abraham would stop where he did. Or had he gone on, it would have appeared that God had designed notwithstanding his threatening, to save Sodom, in answer to the supplications of his servant, and therefore had stirred him up to pray.
In reply to this difficulty, I would say, it is very unreasonable to plead our ignorance as an objection to the discharge of an obvious duty, which is no less the dictate of nature than of revelation. Admitting that we cannot understand how prayer influences God's mind and operations, that is no more a reason why we should neglect it, than that we should omit a thousand things, because we cannot explain the processes which they involve. Ought I to neglect food, because I cannot explain what the principle of life is, or how the food which I take contributes to nourish and sustain it? A physician knows well that a particular medicine almost invariably produces a given effect, though he cannot understand or explain how. Should he let his patient die on that account?
It does not follow, that because our prayers produce an effect on God, and change his apparent conduct, that God is changeable, or that he alters his fixed determinations accord. ing to the weak, and often capricious, entreaties of his creatures. His very determinations comprehend the states of our minds, and the desires to which he lends his ear. They are part of the means provided for by himself, under the influence of his own Spirit; and, therefore, the answer to prayer infers not mutability or caprice in God, but consistency and unchangeableness. He knew what he meant to do in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah; and between that determination, and his attention to the prayers of Abraham, there was the most perfect agreement. The spirit of faith and prayer led Abraham to entreat God to show mercy; to every petition a favourable answer was returned. The spirit of faith forsook the patriarch, and God ceased to promise mercy,
An instance of a contrary result to the affair of Sodom, is supplied in the case of Jonah and the Ninevites. The threatening of God was absolute; but God at the same time knew the effect, which, through his own agency, the proclamation of destruction would have upon the Ninevites, and he had determined to act accordingly, regardless of the peevishness of the prophet. In such cases God is said to repent, not because any real change takes place in his views; but, because from certain arrangements a change takes place on us, which appears to operate, or to be followed by a change on God's conduct toward us.
“If it be in itself proper,” says Dr. Price, “that we should humbly apply to God for the mercies we need from him, it must also be proper, that regard should be paid to such appli. cations;
and that there should be a different treatment of those who make them, and those who do not. To argue this as implying changeableness in the Deity, would be extremely absurd; for the unchangeableness of God, when considered in relation to the exertion of his attributes in the government of the world, consists, not in always acting in the same manner, however cases and circumstances may alter; but in always doing what is right, and in adapting his treatment of his intelligent creatures to the variation of their actions, cha. racters, and dispositions. If prayer then makes an alteration in the case of the supplicant, as being the discharge of an indispensable duty; what would in truth infer changeableness in God, would be, not his regarding and answering it, but his sot doing this. Hence it is manifest, that the notice which he may be pleased to take of our prayers, by granting us blessings in answer to them, is not to be considered as a yielding to importunity, but as an instance of rectitude in suiting his dealings with us to our conduct.”— Price's Four Dissertations, p. 209.
This beautiful passage seems a full answer to the difficulty in regard to prayer, when its effect terminates on the worshipper himself. Dr. Price subsequently notices the bearing of the difficulty, when our prayers are designed to embrace the good of others. • The whole scheme of nature,” he says, seems,
indeed, to be contrived on purpose in such a manner as that beings might have it in their power in numberless ways, to bless one another. And one great end of the precarious and mutually dependent condition of men, appears plainly to be, that they might have rooin and scope for the exercise of the benevolent affections. From this constitution of things it is, that almost all our happiness is conveyed to us, not immediately from the hands of God, but by the instrumentality of our fellow beings, or through them as the chan. nels of his beneficence, in such a sense, that had it not been for their benevolence and voluntary agency, we sliould have for ever wanted the blessings we enjoy.
“Now with respect to prayer, why may not this be one thing that may alter a case, and be a reason with the Divine Being for shewing favour? Why, by praying for one another, may we not, as in many other ways, be useful to one another ? Why may not the universal Father, in consideration of the humble and benevolent intercessions of some of his children for others, be pleased often, in the course of his providence, to direct events for the advantage of the persons interceded tor, in a manner that otherwise would not have been done ?