By William S. Plumer, 1875
I. Atheism never worships. In practice modern deism is
atheistic. But there is no form of religion without prayer, and surely there
is no salvation to those who restrain prayer. Our needs as creatures, and
our necessities as sinners, can be supplied by Him who is infinite. Prayer
is a duty taught by natural religion.
II. In Scripture prayer is mentioned about five hundred
times. It is spoken of in the first book of the Bible, Gen. 4:26; and in the
last chapter of the sacred volume, Rev. 22:20. To speak of a prayerless
Christian is as absurd as to talk of a living man who never breathes. As
soon as Saul of Tarsus met with a change of heart, it was said, "Behold, he
prays." Acts 9:11.
III. Quite a variety of words and phrases are used in
Scripture to express the act of praying, such as bowing down to God, serving
him, calling upon his name, seeking him, entreating him, beseeching him,
inquiring of him, and, in one case, commanding him. In a single verse Paul
speaks of supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks. 1
IV. By nature we are poor creatures. We are not
sufficient as of ourselves to think anything good, or right, or holy. 2 Cor.
3:5. Nor can we of ourselves ever offer a right prayer: "And the Holy Spirit
helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for,
nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that
cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what
the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with
God's own will." Romans 8:26, 27. So that all prayer truly pleasing to God,
is indited by the Holy Spirit, who is freely given by God to all who
sincerely ask for so great a blessing. Luke 11:13.
V. According to Scripture there is no one posture, and no
particular set of gestures, attitudes, or intonations, requisite to
acceptance in praying. David sat and prayed. 1 Chron. 17:16. Compare
Exod. 17:12. The publican stood and prayed. Luke 18:13. Daniel
kneeled and prayed. Dan. 6:10. Jonah lay in the whale's belly and
prayed. Jonah 2:1. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall as he lay in his
bed, and prayed. Isaiah 38:2. Our Lord prostrated himself with his face to
the ground, and prayed. Matt. 26:39. Very often the ancients prayed with
their hands and eyes directed to heaven. So Moses lifted his hands until
from weariness he could hold them up no more, until Aaron and Hur stood and
held them up. Exod. 17:11, 12. Compare Psalm 141:2. But the publican lifted
not up even his eyes to heaven, yet he was accepted. Our whole behavior
should suit the occasion, and should express reverence, trust, and humility.
VI. Nor does the power of prayer depend upon the words
used. The Pharisee used many words and was rejected. The publican used few
words and was justified. Luke 18:10-14. Hannah murmured or whispered her
good prayer. 1 Sam. 1:13-17. When prayer is social or public, it should be
in words understood by all who unite in the service. 1 Cor. 14:14-17.
VII. Neither is the place nor the direction of the face
towards any place of the least importance. The temple was once a very fit
place of prayer. Isaiah 56:7. Compare 1 Kings 8:29, 30; Dan. 6:10. But
prophecy required that all this should pass away: "For from the rising of
the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among
the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and
a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, says the Lord
Almighty." Mal. 1:11. Accordingly, when Christ came, he said to the woman of
Samaria: "Believe me, the hour comes, when you shall neither in this
mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." John 4:21. The Lord
looks on the heart, not on the place where we are, when we call upon his
VIII. For whom shall we pray? Not for the dead. 2 Sam.
12:15-23; Luke 16:25, 26; Rev. 14:13. Again, living men may treat with such
scorn and blasphemy sacred things, and especially the person and work of the
Holy Spirit, that though they may be living and known to us, we shall not
feel obliged or able to pray for such despisers. Compare 1 John 5:16; Mark
3:29. With these exceptions we are to pray for all men: for kings and
rulers, 1 Tim. 2:1, 2; for enemies, Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35; for unkind
friends, who have wronged us, Job 42:10; for the sick, Jas. 5:14-16; for the
church, Psalm 122:6; for the afflicted, Psalm 50:15; Jas. 5:13; for men's
souls and bodies, 3 John 2; for preachers of the gospel, 1 Thess. 5:25; for
the wicked that they perish not, Jer. 31:7; in short, for all sorts of men.
1 Tim. 2:1. Bad men are in perishing need of help and mercy. Godly men are
in the midst of trials and enemies, and require help from God. We should
pray for ourselves. Psalm 90:17.
IX. We should pray often. Jesus spoke two parables to
this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint. Luke 11:5-9;
18:1-8. The Scriptures call on us to "continue instant in prayer." Romans
12:12; to "pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," Eph.
6:18; yes, to "pray without ceasing," 1 Thess. 5:17.
X. It is required in all worship, in prayer particularly,
that it be intelligent. It is sad when it may be truly charged upon us, "You
worship you know not what." John 4:22. In malice it is desirable that all be
children, but in understanding let all be men. 1 Cor. 14:20. "What is it
then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding
also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding
also." 1 Cor. 14:15.
XI. It is very important that all our worship should be
offered in innocence and benevolence. It is shocking for men to come around
the throne of grace with malice in their hearts and with stains upon their
hands. That was a good resolution of David: "I will wash my hands in
innocency: so will I compass your altar, O Lord!" Psalm 26:6. And Paul says,
"I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without
wrath and doubting. 1 Tim. 2:8. And Peter exhorts us to "lay aside all
malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings."
1 Pet. 2:1. Compare Matt. 5:23, 24; 6:14, 15.
XII. All prayer that God is bound to answer must be
offered in faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb. 11:6;
Jas. 1:6, 7.
XIII. All acceptable prayer must be fervent and earnest.
"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a
man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it
might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years
and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth
brought forth her fruit." Jas. 5:16-18.
XIV. In all prayer we must submit to the ultimate will of
God. In this our divine Lord set us an example, which we should never
forget. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:
nevertheless not as I will, but as you will." "O my Father, if this cup may
not pass away from me except I drink it, your will be done." Matt. 26:39,
XV. With prayer the Scriptures often unite alms-giving.
To Cornelius the Lord said in a vision, "Your prayers and your alms are come
up for a memorial before God." Acts 10:4. It was Jesus who said, "It is more
blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35. He also said, "Sell that you
have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure
in the heavens that fails not, where no thief approaches, neither moth
corrupts." Luke 12:33.
XVI. To prayer it is often proper to unite fasting. David
says: "I humbled myself with fasting, and my prayer was genuine." Psalm
35:13. Daniel followed this example. Dan. 9:3. Compare 1 Cor. 7:5.
XVII. Both Christ and his apostles unite watching and
prayer. In vain do we pray unless we watch. "Watch and pray, that you enter
not into temptation." Matt. 26:41; compare Mark 13:33; 14:38; Eph. 6:18;
XVIII. Such prayer as the Scriptures require is
wondrously efficacious. Psalm 50:15; Matt. 7:7, 8. There is no mightier
influence exerted by creatures than that found in prayer. The history of
human salvation is a history of the power of prayer. It is God's memorial in
every generation--that he hears prayer.