Perfect Prayer, by Chauncey Giles

from Chauncey Giles Perfect Prayer. How Offered: How Answered  (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1903)

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Perfect Prayer.
How Offered: How Answered

by Chauncey Giles

I. Efficacious Prayer

“If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” — John xiv. 14

The nature and use of prayer is a living question. It touches the hopes and fears, the customs and the heart, of humanity. All religions, Christian and Pagan alike, teach the duty and the use of prayer. The Sacred Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments commend it by example, enforce it by precept, encourage it by promises, and illustrate its nature and use by numerous and impressive examples. Our Lord taught His disciples how to pray, exhorted them to do it earnestly and faithfully, encouraged them by the most solemn promises of a full and speedy answer, and gave to them and to the world His own Divine example. He prayed often with fervor and sometimes with agony. Surely there is testimony sufficient to show the nature and use of prayer and to incite to its faithful practice. It is a want implanted in the human mind; it is in harmony with the laws of the Divine order.

But still there are many doubts about its efficacy. Multitudes of apparently sincere and fervent prayers are not answered. We are brought face to face with this question today in a direct and forcible manner. Millions of sincere and earnest prayers, from day to day and week to week, were offered to the Lord to preserve the life of our beloved President [Lincoln]. Days were set apart and specially dedicated to this service by our public magistrates. Christians in foreign lands united in the petition. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the whole Christian world was on its knees before the throne of grace, imploring the mercy of our Heavenly Father to spare this precious life to us. But the prayer was not answered in the sense it was generally offered. After a long and painful struggle the illustrious martyr passed away from earth to his final home. Why was not the prayer of so many millions of people answered? The prayers were sincere, fervent, for a noble purpose, and oft-repeated. Such a conspicuous instance of the apparent inefficacy of prayer cannot fail to awaken doubts in the minds of many sincere Christians, even about its use and power to prevail with the Lord. These doubts ought, if possible, to be removed, for they tend to unsettle the faith of man in the Divine Providence, in the goodness and mercy of the Lord, and in His faithfulness in keeping His promises.

The Lord promises to answer prayer. These promises are direct, positive, and repeatedly made in the most solemn manner. The Old Testament is full of such promises. They are reiterated, if possible, with more emphasis and solemnity in the New. The Lord calls Himself the hearer of prayer. His ears are ever open to the cry of His people. He encourages us to ask freely, fully. “I say unto you,” He says, “Ask, and it shall be given unto you.” “For every one that asketh receiveth.” “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you” “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” We are invited, exhorted to ask and the promise is explicit that we shall receive what we ask for. But oftener than otherwise our prayer is not, or does not seem to be answered. Why is it? Does not the Lord keep His promise? Before we answer that question in the negative we ought to examine the question in all its bearings. We ought to be sure that we ask. Prayer is asking.

What is asking? It must be something more than repeating a prayer by rote; something more than articulate breath. Millions of prayers may be repeated without asking a favor of the Lord. The words employed are empty sounds. They are not the expression of any desire; they are not the form of any thought. Asking is turning to the Lord, opening the heart to Him. It is the turning of the soul to the Lord and the opening of its inmost forms to the quickening breath of the Holy Spirit, as the plant turns to the sun and opens every cell and pore to the light and to the quickening breath of his heat. Genuine prayer is not merely a matter of terms. We may use the most appropriate and eloquent words and not ask for a blessing. On the other hand, we may ask in the most effective form and not utter a sound. The will and the affections may lie prostrate in profound humiliation and entire self-surrender to the Lord to be penetrated by His life, and led by His wisdom. The heart asks, and He who looks upon the heart sees the desire before it is formed into thought. He hears the cry of the spirit before it gains vocal utterance, and answers before we call. We find in the body perfect examples of real asking. As hunger is the body’s prayer for bread; thirst, its prayer for water; so desire is the soul’s prayer for the means to satisfy its wants.

There is often entire contrariety between the prayer of the heart and the prayer of the lips. We do not desire what we formally ask, and we would stoutly resist receiving it if it were offered to us. How many millions of men and women will repeat the Divine petitions today, “Thy kingdom come. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” while they are opposing the coming of the Lord’s kingdom in their own hearts, and in the world! If it should come, and the Lord’s will should be done on the earth as it is in heaven, it would defeat their purposes, destroy their business, blast their hopes. How many would dare to ask the Lord to forgive them as they forgive others? As much, and no more. Would it not be equivalent to asking Him not to forgive them? Genuine, complete, effective asking is an action of the whole nature; it is the consenting voice of every faculty. It begins in the heart, it is formed in the understanding, it is merely expressed with the lips.

Such being the nature of genuine prayer, let us consider the conditions on which it is answered. Every Divine promise is made upon conditions, and no prayer can be answered unless those conditions are complied with. These conditions are always the same, though variously expressed. At one time the condition is faith, “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them.” “All things are possible to him that believeth.” The condition on which our Lord wrought His miracles of healing was faith in Him. “Believest thou that I can do this?” was almost invariably His question. “He did not many mighty works” in His own country, because of their unbelief.”

In our text asking in His name is the condition. What are we to understand by His “name”? There has been the most remarkable misconception by religious teachers of what is meant in this and many other passages by the “name” of the Lord. It has been supposed that it meant “for His sake.” Consequently, prayer is generally addressed to the Father, and He is asked to grant the petition for the sake of the Son. In this way two distinct persons are recognized as God, and one asked to grant a favor, not because He delights to confer blessings upon man, which He must do if He is a being of infinite love; not for man’s sake, because he is poor and perishing and needs Divine mercy and aid but for the sake of His Son. There is but one instance in the whole Bible where it is said that God confers any blessing upon men for Christ’s sake, and that is a mistranslation, which is corrected in the new revision. In this passage the Apostle exhorts the Ephesians to forgive one another even as God “in Christ,” which is true doctrine, “has forgiven them,” and not as in the old version, “for Christ’s sake,” which is neither Scripture nor true doctrine.

A glance at the use of “name” in the sacred Scriptures will show that it must mean more than a mere epithet applied to the Lord, as we give names to children. One of the commandments forbids us “to take the Lord's name in vain.” The Lord warns the children of Israel to beware of the Angel whom He would send before them, “for,” He says, “my name is in him.” They are repeatedly forbidden to profane His holy name. Solomon built a house unto the name of the Lord. The Psalms and prophets are full of similar expressions. The Lord is implored to pardon, to quicken, to bless for His name’s sake. The Psalmist calls upon men to honor, praise, glorify, and bless the Lord's holy name. Our Saviour taught His disciples to pray “Hallowed be thy name.” He calls His own sheep by name, writes His name upon their foreheads, gives to His people a new name. They who believe will have life in His name. These and a multitude of other passages show that name stands for the Lord Himself. It involves all the Divine attributes, and embodies all the laws of the Divine order. It comprehends His love, wisdom, power, and all the methods of carrying His purposes of good to men into effect.

To ask in His name, therefore, is to ask according to His will and wisdom. It is to ask that the Lord shall decide whether the request itself is a wise one, and whether it will be for our good, or not, to have it answered in our own way. We are always asking for favors which it would be to our injury, and to the injury of others, to have granted. We ask for success in every undertaking; for exemption from all pain and sorrow; for wealth, pleasure, honor, power. But all these attainments for every one are impossible in the nature of human society. We do not ask them in the name of the Lord; we ask them in our own name; according to our desires, and the measure of our wisdom, or the degree of our folly.

The conditions on which we shall receive what we ask are expressed in another way, which throws much light upon the subject. Our Lord compares His relation to men to that which exists between the vine and its branches. “I am the vine,” He says, “ye are the branches.” “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.” Here the conditions of obtaining whatever we ask are, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you.” They are without doubt the same as asking in His name, and believing in Him with undoubting faith. No one truly believes in the Lord who does not abide in Him, and in whom the Lord’s words do not abide. Nor can any others ask in His name, because they do not know what it is. Here, then, we have the conditions on which the Lord promises to answer prayer, and the only conditions on which He can give us what we ask. They are that the request shall be in accord with all the laws of the Divine order, and the purposes of infinite love and wisdom.

It is absurd to suppose that He would answer any other petitions, or could grant our requests in any other way. A wise parent will not grant the request of the child he loves, even though it would give him great present satisfaction, and save from momentary pain, if he knows that it would harm the child. If it were necessary that a broken bone should be set, or a limb amputated, to prevent lasting deformity, or to save the child’s life, he would insist on the operation, however earnestly the child might plead against it, because he loves his child, and looks to its permanent and greatest good. Is it not absurd to suppose that the Lord, who sees the end in the beginning, who knows the bearing of success and defeat, of joy and sorrow, upon individual and national happiness, should grant every request which men, who are blinded by selfish and worldly affections, and who judge mostly by appearances, may make? Will He annul or suspend the laws of His Divine order, and act contrary to the ordinations of His Divine Providence, at the request of one man or of a million of men? How could He govern the universe and preserve order in its movements if He did? Large bodies of men often pray for directly opposite things. Two nations are at war. Each one prays for its own success. Both are equally fervent and sincere, and have equal faith. To grant the prayers of one nation would be to reject the petitions of the other. It would be impossible to grant the prayers of both. The Lord does not promise to answer every prayer. He only promises to answer those which accord with certain prescribed conditions.

These conditions operate in two ways. They determine the nature of the request, as well as of the answer. Our prayers are the outgrowth and expression of ourselves. They depend upon our character, our intelligence, our purpose in life. We ask only for those things which we believe to be favorable to us. We seek escape from some impending calamity, or for the bestowal of some fancied good. But what we regarded as a calamity might prove a blessing, and the seeming good might prove to be a curse. Every affection asks for gratification. A wicked man will not ask for the same things as a good man. One who is ignorant of the Lord, or who has misconceptions of His true character, will not pray in the same way, or for the same objects, as the man who has some true knowledge of Him and His laws. The man who believes that the Lord is a being of infinite love who only seeks to bless His children, will not pray to be saved from His wrath, for He knows that He has none. He will not implore in abject fear the Lord to have mercy upon him, for he knows that He is in the constant effort to do it. The history of religions, and our own experience, show that what men desire and pray for is determined by their own knowledge and character.

When we abide in the Lord and His words abide in us we shall be filled with His love; we shall be imbued with His spirit; we shall be directed by His wisdom; His way will be our way. As His words abide in us, they will become the living spring of our action. We shall desire to have no will or way of our own which is contrary to His will. Would it be possible for a man in this state to ask for the gratification of any selfish desire? It would be contrary to every principle of his nature. His mind could not conceive such a prayer; his lips could not utter it. Could he ask, without reservation, to be released from any labor, to be saved from any trial, however strongly he may shrink from it? We cannot help shrinking from pain and suffering of every kind; and when the suffering is great we cannot restrain a desire to be free from it. Our Lord Himself did. But it may be for our good to suffer it, and, therefore, from a higher point of view, we could not ask to be saved from it. When in more than mortal agony our Lord prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” He added “Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” “If we abide in Him, and His words abide in us,” we can pray in no other way. Every prayer will be put up in the spirit, and with the reservation, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” As we come into union with the Lord, and are imbued with His spirit, and trust Him with implicit confidence we shall have no desire for anything contrary to His will. The quality of our prayers will change. We shall only ask directly and positively for spiritual good; for help to overcome our evils; for light in our darkness, and for the love of heaven in our hearts. If we pray for particular natural blessings, or to be saved from the difficulties and dangers and trials of this life, it will always be with the reservation, “Nevertheless not my will, but Thine be done.” So far as we cherish this spirit, and pray in this manner, our request will be answered.

In the light of these principles let us look at some recent events in our own history. Probably no more sincere, fervent, and persistent prayers were ever offered to the Lord for any special favor than that the life of our late President should be spared to the nation. So far as these petitions were offered up in the name of the Lord they were granted, so far as they did not comply with those conditions they were not granted. How can this be, it will be asked, when both prayed for the same thing? But both classes did not pray for the same thing. There was the widest difference in their requests, -difference in principle, and in the object sought. Both parties agree in one point, that the life of the President may be spared; but one class asks that it may be done, if it be consistent with the laws of the Divine order, and the highest good of our nation, and of the world. Their prayer is breathed in the Lord's name, and with the implied reservation, “Neverertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” The real prayer is that the Lord will do what in His infinite wisdom He sees to be best. The answer is left with Him. Their prayer is answered, is it not? The Lord has done what in His infinite wisdom He knew to be best for our nation, for our beloved President, for his family, and for the world. His wound was mortal. All the forces stored up by the Divine Providence in his mind and body, in the skill of his physicians, and in the remedies applied for his relief, were not sufficient to save him. His life could only have been prolonged by a violation of the laws of the Divine wisdom and that was not asked for by those who prayed in the Lord’s name. They did not ask Him to do anything contrary to Himself; anything opposed to His purpose. They asked for a special favor only on the condition that the Lord should see that it was a favor. If it was not, they did not ask for it. Their prayer was answered.

The prayer of those who did not pray in the Lord’s name was not answered. They asked in their own name. They asked for a specific object without conditions; they did not look beyond the event itself; they made their own wisdom the test of what was best for all. They prayed, “Let it be as I will.” Such a prayer could not be offered in the Lord’s name. Such a petition could not be made by one who dwelt in the Lord, and in whom the Lord’s words were an abiding life and a guiding light. Their prayer was not granted. It could not be in the nature of things. If it were possible, it would involve all human affairs and the whole creation in ruin.

But some one may say, This is a mere quibble. How can two persons ask for the same favor, and the request of one be granted and the other denied, when neither of them get it? From a superficial view it does seem impossible. But let us regard the subject in the light of a familiar illustration. A wise and kind father says to his two sons, “I desire to do everything in my power for your highest good. Come to me freely; ask me any favor you please, and if, in my judgment, it be for your happiness, I will grant it.” Encouraged by this promise both ask for the same thing. One of the sons says, “This favor seems to me very desirable; I think it will help me and conduce greatly to my prosperity and happiness. But I do not desire to rely upon my own judgment. You know better than I. If you think it is not best. I desire to abide by your judgment.” The other comes in his own name. He pleads for it; tries to persuade his father to let him have it. He looks only to the favor. He judges of its value wholly by his own estimation. He does not make any condition.

The father decides that it is not best to grant his sons’ request. He sees many ways in which it might be injurious to them. Is it not true that, when the whole question is taken into account, the prayer of one of the sons is answered, and of the other not, though neither of them receive the particular thing asked? The one asks for it on certain conditions, and unless those are present, he desires that his request be not granted. Those conditions are not present, and, therefore, his request for the special favor is not granted; but as a whole it is. The larger request, which embraced and qualified the other, is granted. He gets what he asks, according to the conditions. The other son made no conditions, and when the special favor was denied his whole prayer was rejected.

So it is with all the favors we ask of the Lord. When we ask in His name the conditions are always implied. We do not desire the Lord to grant our request, whether He sees that it is best for us or not. We ask it if He sees that it would be good for us and for all, and can be granted without violence to the laws of the Divine Providence. The Lord keeps His promises. He answers every prayer offered according to the prescribed conditions, and He answers no others. He has not promised to answer any others. He could not answer any others; and if we could see all the bearings of giving or denying to us our requests as the Lord in His omniscience sees them, we should not desire to have the decision otherwise than He makes it.

But the Lord often answers the prayers of His people when He seems to deny them. He answers them so largely and fully; does so much better by us than we can ask or think, that the particular favor is lost sight of in the profusion of blessings. Our prayer is answered in spirit, while
it is not granted in the letter. Our people prayed with united voice and heart that the life of our President might be spared to us. Why was this prayer so general and so earnest? Was it not because there was so much confidence in his ability and integrity? Was it not because of the general hope and belief that he would reform abuses, purify the currents of political thought, and improve the condition of civil service? The prayers were not so much for him personally as for the country. The intense interest in his life was excited by the hope of the use he would render the nation and the world. Are these hopes blasted? Has his influence ceased? Has he gone beyond the limits of his power to serve us?

No. His influence has not ceased. He is more alive today than ever before. He lives in more hearts today than ever before. He is a living power in more minds today than he would have been four years hence, after the most successful conduct of our national affairs. His principles are more widely known, and they will have more weight in forming the opinions of our people. They are beyond the reach of friend or enemy. No power can change them. No mistakes in policy; no calumny of enemies; no cunning of political artifice; no blindness of party zeal can weaken their power, or obscure their brightness. Sanctified by his martyrdom in the prime of his manhood, his memory will be cherished in the hearts of our people, and handed down from generation to generation. He lives and will continue to live. His memory will be kept green and fruitful by a tender sympathy, by a reverent admiration and a profound respect for the principles which he lived and died to maintain. Such men never die. Their principles enter into the heart of humanity and become permanent forces, which awaken affection, mould thought, and direct action. Every prayer offered for the preservation of his life has been answered.

But there is another respect in which the prayers of our people were really answered when it seemed as though they were not. Without doubt many hearts were touched with pity that he who had won his way from such low conditions, up through every grade of employment and office to the highest position in his country, if not in the world, should be hurled from it just as he was entering upon its duties and beginning to reap its rewards, and they prayed for him,—prayed that he might be spared to enjoy his well-earned success. From the point of view of earth and time, it did appear as though the cup was dashed from his lips before he could taste of the joy of success. His sun went down while it was yet day. But if it sunk below the horizon of this life, it rose above the horizon of the other into a brighter day, and better conditions for serving his country and family and attaining the true blessedness of life.

He has lost nothing personally. He is the same man, in the same noble form, the embodiment of the same principles. He is today what he became by the knowledge he gained and the principles which were wrought into the fabric of his spiritual nature, and became character. Not a single truth or principle, or affection, or reward will be lost. He possesses all those qualities which excited admiration, created confidence, awakened sympathy, and won the heart. He is reaping, and will continue to reap in larger measures, his reward. He has risen to higher honors, which will be freely accorded to him with liberal hands, according to the full measure of his deserts.

Nor is he personally lost to us. He lives not only as a memory, a sentiment; not only by the truths he taught and by the influence of his example. He lives as a man. He is not removed from country, wife, and home. He is merely transferred to another province of the Lord’s kingdom. He has not gone away from us. He has come nearer to the secret springs of our national life. He has been promoted from a lower to a higher and more interior plane of power, in which he can do more to guide our action and control our destiny than he could have done as our Chief Magistrate.

We are justified in the conclusion, therefore, that every sincere prayer to the Lord that He would preserve the life of our President, that he might continue to serve and bless his country, and reap the reward of his deeds has been answered. Not, indeed, in the special way asked and hoped for; but in a wiser, fuller, and more efficient way. Shall we not be content with that? Shall we, who cannot see so much of the consequences of any act as a mole in the ground sees of the material universe, dictate to infinite wisdom in what specific form our prayers shall be answered? If a hungry man asks us for a crust, will he complain that his request is not granted when we give him a loaf? Our request may be of such a nature that it cannot be granted without our cooperation, and much labor and sorrow; and the Lord may be answering our petition while He seems to us to be denying it.

Suppose we honestly pray that our sins may be forgiven, and that we may be admitted into heaven. We may think only of the penalty, and believe that the Lord can forgive sin as a magistrate can pardon a criminal, and that we can be admitted into heaven by personal favor, as we might be to a feast. The Lord begins to answer our prayer. He suffers us to be tried and tempted that we may see our evils, see their vile and unclean nature, and put them away. Afflictions come upon us; the love of world and self is assaulted, and instead of the rest and peace of heaven, we come into infernal torment. Why is this? Has the Lord turned a deaf ear to our prayer? We asked for peace, and we find war; we prayed for rest, and we are wearied with labor and goaded by conflicting passions. If in our agony we should cry unto the Lord, “O Lord, hear me, answer me, save me!” His reply could truly be, “I do hear you, I am answering you, I am saving you.” So the Lord leads us in a way we know not and could not have chosen, to the end we seek. He answers our prayer while He seems to us to reject it.

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