James Smith, 1861
To the throne of grace, every trouble should be carried, there every promise should be pleaded, and every request made. With God as our Father — we should be free; and for all the good things we need — we should earnestly plead. Both temporal and spiritual blessings should be sought, for our God rules in providence as well as in grace. In everything, by prayer, we should let our requests be made known unto God. Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, carried everything to the Lord. "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years." James 5:17. Notice,
His name was Elijah, signifying, "The strong Lord," or "The Lord is my strength."
His experience answered to his name, for his strength was in God, the Lord was his strength, and in the strength of the Lord, he wrought wonders.
His office was that of a prophet — employed to deliver God's messages, and at times to predict future events.
He was also a reformer — whose work it was to bring back the Lord's professing people from the idolatry into which they had fallen.
He was God's servant — to do his work, assert his claims, and vindicate his honor.
His character was that of a godly man. He was on good terms with God, being reconciled to him, and walking in close and intimate communion with him. He was engaged in a good work for God, which called for much courage, faith, and prayer. He was jealous for the honor of God, and felt his soul filled with indignation at the insults offered to God by the idol-worship of Baal and Ashtaroth. He was one who . . .
had power with God,
could touch the heart of God,
arrest the arm of God, and
open the hand of God!
Like Jacob, who had power with God and prevailed, and like Moses, to whom God said, "Let me alone, that I may destroy them."
Yet he was but a man — infirm and troubled as we are. "Elijah was a man just like us." He possessed the same fallen nature we have. He was troubled in his body with pain, hunger, and weariness. He was troubled in his soul with fear, unbelief, hope, and sympathy. He was imperfect though sincere and gracious. He was not heard on the ground or his greatness, or personal goodness — but because he prayed in faith.
The PRAYER."He prayed earnestly" — he really prayed in prayer, or with intense feeling. O how many prayerless prayers we offer! How little feeling there is in many of our devotions! The fervent effectual prayer of the righteous man is but seldom offered by us. But Elijah had faith in God, as the prayer-hearing, and prayer-answering God. He had faith in prayer too, as an ordinance of God, ordained to bring down blessings from God.
He prayed, aiming at God's glory — which should be the great end always kept in view.
He prayed aiming at man's good, which next to God's glory, should ever be sought.
Elijah prayed for a judgment, for "he prayed earnestly that it would not rain." His object was to convince the people of the sin of idolatry, giving them a striking opportunity of crying to Baal — and of seeing what Baal could do for them.
It was also to correct them, teaching them that it was an evil and bitter thing — that they had forsaken the Lord their God.
It was intended to reform them, and bring them back to the worship of the true God.
He obtained an answer to his prayer. Rain there was very rare — about every six months; but for three years and six months it rained not. Seven of the wet seasons passed by, and not a drop of rain. Nor only so, the dews were constant and heavy — but there was neither rain nor dew for these three and a half years. What a dreadful visitation! The brooks were dried up, the fountains and springs became exhausted, and the beds of the rivers were laid bare. Famine and death rode through the land in fearful triumph, and the prophet himself had to be supported by a miracle.
O the solemn power of the prophet's prayer! God will answer prayer, if it is earnest, if it is the prayer of faith, if our motive in presenting it is good, and if it is in accordance with his will. It must have these qualifications. Prayer, without earnestness, or intense feeling, in such a case would be but mockery, or a complaint at best. To ask of God without believing his power, or general willingness to answer, is but to insult him. Unless our motive is good — our prayer cannot be acceptable. And not to ask in submission to his will, is to dictate to his wisdom, and display our proud conceit.
Objections from the laws of nature, or human philosophy, are not to be allowed to affect us in prayer. Every miracle interfered with the laws of nature more or less, and many answers to prayer, have been given in opposition to those laws.
When Joshua was in deadly conflict with Israel's foes, and the going down of the sun was likely to prevent the completion of the victory; he cried, "Sun, stand still upon Gibson; and moon in the valley of Ajalon. So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies." Did the laws of nature hinder here? No!
So in the case of Elijah, the prayers of the prophet dried up the clouds of Heaven, and again his prayer raised rain from the sea, and with it soaked the land.
Just so, when Hezekiah was directed to set his house in order, and was told that he would die and not live — he prayed, and the decree was reversed — fifteen years were added to his life, and the promise of deliverance from the hand of the king of Assyria was given him. To assure his mind and confirm his faith, the prophet was directed to say unto him, "And this is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun's shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz! So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps."
In Joshua's case — the sun stood still; but in Hezekiah's case — it went backwards. Where were the laws of nature then? Which was strongest, prayer — or nature's laws?
Look at the three Hebrew youths in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace — is it not the law of fire to consume and devour all that is combustible? Did it not consume and destroy all the bonds that bound them — and yet on their garments or persons, it had no power. "Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn't even smell of smoke!" Again we ask — where were the laws of nature then? Which was strongest — prayer or nature's laws?
So in the case of Daniel — who was cast into the lion's den, whom the hungry lions had no power to touch.
But enough, wherever God presides — he rules; and wherever he rules — all things must submit. He who made the laws of nature — can control the laws of nature; and if necessary for his own glory, or for the good of his people — he will. In prayer, therefore, let us keep in mind that we address a God who is omnipresent, all wise, and free, bound by no law but his own will; and who does according to his will in Heaven, earth, and Hell.
Especially let us pray with intense feeling — for spiritual good, and against spiritual evil. As valuable, as temporal things are, they are not to be compared with spiritual things. While therefore we pray for rain, if the earth needs it, or that it may not rain, if vegetation is suffering from it — let us pray with all our hearts, and with all our souls, that the dew of God's blessing, and the showers of his grace, may come down upon his church, and upon the hearts of his weary people.
Gracious God, withhold the storms of your wrath, and pour down the showers of your mercy, let the gales of grace blow upon us, and the sun of righteousness shine, making us fruitful in every good word and work, for Jesus' sake Amen!