Twenty Prayers of Jesus
by B.H. Carroll
TEXT: We know not what we should pray for as we ought . . . Lord, teach us to pray. – Romans 8:26; Luke 11:1.
Our most lamentable ignorance is in regard to prayer. “We know not what we should pray for as we ought.” No difficulty in human life is more common than perplexity arising from this ignorance. We are taught that our Heavenly Father has established a throne of grace, to which we are invited to come boldly and obtain help in every time of need, but we do not seem to know how to come. Any reliable information on this subject would be of vast practical value to Christian people. A part of our text says, “Lord, teach us to pray,'” showing that prayer is something to be learned, and that the teacher is Christ.
It is purposed, therefore, today to ask you to become disciples of Christ with reference to prayer. There are three ways set forth in the Scriptures by which we may learn of Christ concerning prayer: (1) We may thoughtfully observe the prayers offered by Christ, in order to learn the proper matter and manner of praying. (2) We may study from the fourfold history of Christ his reception of the petitions offered to him, and learn from the character of the petitions accepted or rejected what petitions ought to be addressed to God. (3) We may study all of the lessons on prayer given by Christ. We have thus marked out for our consideration three methods of learning from Christ about prayer: the kind of prayers that Christ offered, the kind of prayers Christ favorably heard, and his instructions concerning prayer.
To understand this subject thoroughly it will be necessary to go through the Four Gospels on each division, tracing each line of thought from its inception in the gospel history to its consummation, and by the use of a harmony, studying each lesson in its proper chronological order. It will thereby be demonstrated in this, as in all other departments of truth taught by Christ, that there is both a development and a system. Our sermon today will be confined to the first part of this general theme, that is, the prayers Christ offered. I have read all of the Four Gospels through in the last two days in order to note and classify the occasion, the subject matter, and the manner of Christ’s praying. It is my purpose to call your attention to twenty of these prayers in their consecutive order. Others may have escaped notice, but I know that these twenty are there.
First, Jesus prayed for the Holy Spirit before beginning to teach. The history is given in the following Scriptures: Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him, and a voice out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. And Jesus himself, when he began to teach, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:21-23 ASV).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul declares the church to be the pillar and ground of the truth, and among the elements of the truth which the church is to teach is this, “God was justified in the Spirit.” The passage from Luke is at least a partial history of Jesus’ justification in the Spirit. It seems that when he became God in the flesh, the Holy Spirit bore witness to his divinity though veiled in the flesh. The coming of the Spirit upon him at his baptism is referred to thus: “Him hath God the Father sealed,” and again, “He was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power.” Yet again, he himself refers to it thus:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor:
He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
From these scriptural testimonies it is evident that the object of the coming of the Spirit upon him was to accredit him as a divine messenger and to glorify him for his work. We see at once then the appropriateness of the prayer that he offered. He was made known to Israel by his baptism, as the Messiah. His baptism introduced him openly to his public work. Feeling the magnitude of the work committed to him, as he was coming up out of the water, he prayed for the Holy Spirit, and the answer was instantly granted. The question naturally arises, of what practical value is this lesson to us? Seeing Jesus praying, and praying for the Spirit just after his baptism, just before he enters upon his public ministry, what does it suggest to us? Evidently that if our Lord himself would not teach until anointed, endued and filled by the Spirit, it would be a great presumption in us to attempt religious teaching without enduement of power. Our first need as Christians is to be accredited to the world and to be qualified for our duties toward the world. We know, therefore, one object of prayer is to pray for the Holy Spirit.
Though he had instructed his disciples through more than three eventful years, and though he had given them a commission to go and preach the gospel to every creature, he yet said to them, “Tarry ye in Jerusalem. Wait until you are endued with power from on high.” They needed to be accredited. They needed to be qualified for their work, and hence we learn that during the days that they waited, they assembled in an upper chamber in Jerusalem, the men and the women, and prayed for the Holy Spirit, whose outpouring upon them is so vividly set forth in the second chapter of the Acts.
Do you at the present time need the Holy Spirit? As a Christian do you feel powerless to discharge the obligations resting on you? Do you feel conscious that it is impossible for you in your own strength to do what God requires you to do? Will you be so presumptuous as to attempt these solemn and holy duties before you are endued with power from on high? How can you preach the gospel except with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven? How can you even pray, since we are told in the very first part of our context that it is the Spirit that helpeth our infirmities with groanings unutterable? Do you need encouragement to pray for the Holy Spirit? Hear then the words of our Lord: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he, for a fish, give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him?”
If then, the first prayer offered by our Saviour was for the Holy Spirit to qualify him for his work, and if the apostles prayed for and received the Holy Spirit before they entered upon their great work, and if you are encouraged by the last Scripture read to pray for the Holy Spirit, we may rest assured that this is one thing for which it is always proper to pray, and we also learn the manner in which we should ask – that we should ask as a child in need addresses a parent, and with the same expectation of immediately receiving what we ask for.
Second, he prayed against the selfish spirit of monopoly. Following the order of Broadus’ Harmony we have the following history of the case: “And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, All are seeking thee. And he saith unto them, Let us go elsewhere unto the next towns that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth” (Mark 1:35-38). Luke adds: “The multitude sought after him, and came unto him, and would have stayed him, that he should not go from them. But he said unto them, I must preach the good tidings of the kingdom of God to the other cities also” (Luke 4:42-43).
He had but fairly commenced his great ministry in Galilee. Capernaum as his home was the special recipient of his benefits. In the synagogue there he had cast out an unclean spirit, causing the people to cry out in amazement, “What is this? A teaching with authority! He commandeth even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” The record then states that the rumor went forth concerning him unto every place roundabout. Then follows the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and then at sundown the bringing together of vast numbers of sick people and demoniacs, and his healing them all. He read their hearts. He recognized their desire to pre-empt his great services. They had no thought of others.
Now, under these conditions, when all the multitude were seeking him and desirous of retaining him in their place, selfishly concerned about their locality alone, as if it were lawful to monopolize salvation, he, a great while before day, goes out to a desert place and prays. Such inordinate selfishness was not friendly to the spiritual lessons that he wished to impart to the people. It shut their eyes to the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” and narrowed and depreciated his mission. To localize Christ and his gospel denies that the other parts of the world have need of him; hence this prayer.
Now what is the solemn lesson to us? What objects of prayer does it suggest? Finds it nothing in our hearts to rebuke? Do you sit there prayerless, brother, saying within your heart: “I would pray, but I know not what to pray for?” Pray for this, then: “Lord, preserve my heart from selfishness – let me not narrow my concern to Waco, or Texas, or the United States. Lord, make me see the destitution in other cities. Open my ear to hear every Macedonian cry, Come over and help us! Help me to realize the unity of the race and the universality of thy mission of redemption. Lord, help me to feel that Paradise is roomy and in my Father’s house are many mansions; that it will not crowd and jostle me if from every tribe and tongue and kindred the blood-washed may come.”
Third, he prayed against the spirit of carnal excitement that magnified the temporal benefits of miracles above the spiritual lessons of his kingdom. Leaving Capernaum he had preached and healed in other cities of Galilee until the excitement was irrepressible. It culminates at the cleansing of the leper, whom he had charged to tell no man, and who had yet the more published abroad what had been done. The result was that Jesus could no more openly enter the city. There was no more an opportunity for teaching. The claim for the body and its wants crowded out the soul and its wants. So we learn from Luke 5:16: “But he withdrew himself in the desert and prayed.”
Again the question arises: What practical lessons are here to be learned for us? Evidently that when our ministry generates an excitement not friendly to the teaching of the kingdom of God, an excitement more carnal than spiritual, and if it can neither be avoided, nor allayed, we are constrained by the example of Christ to turn away and betake ourselves to prayer. He is wise who can keep a reformation within due bounds; who can prevent a movement inaugurated by himself from getting ahead of him and dragging him where he would not go; who can repress the lawless and irresponsible elements that flock to any new movement that has power to attract attention. Hence we may always pray: “Lord, help us to build surely, even if we must build slowly. Help us to keep the soul on top. And give us wisdom to see when carnal elements are predominating, and grace to withdraw from a publicity that means evil and not good.”
Fourth, he prays before ordaining preachers. Our record says, “And it came to pass in these days that he went out into the mountain to pray, and he continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day he called his disciples; and he chose from them twelve whom he also named apostles.” This case speaks for itself. It tells its own story, and evidently sets forth its appropriate lesson, that putting men into the ministry was no slight thing in the estimation of Christ; that the work of the ministry was the most important thing committed to man; that the office of the ministry is the highest known in time, and that when men are to be inducted into this holy and responsible office, there should be intense and long continued prayer to God that they may be qualified for their duties and faithful in the discharge of them; that they may study to show themselves worthy workmen, rightly dividing the Word of God.
And if the Lord, even after instructing for a long time those whom he had called to be his disciples, would not set them apart formally to the work of the ministry without spending a whole night in prayer, do we not sin against the example when we lay hands suddenly on men and induct novices into this high and responsible work? Certainly we may learn here that one of the objects for which Christians may pray is that the teachers of religion may not lightly take upon themselves this work, and may faithfully address themselves to its performance.
It is said that there are a thousand Baptist preachers in Texas, regularly ordained, who are neither pastors of churches, nor missionaries, nor teachers in schools-men without any charge. Was God mistaken in calling these men to preach, or were the churches mistaken in putting them into the ministry with undue haste? Doesn’t such a lamentable fact as this vast horde of unemployed men call upon us not only to exercise more caution in the matter of ordination, but to offer devout, earnest, and long continued prayer to God that we may make no mistake? Is it possible that some of these men failed to find employment because not apt to teach others, or because, though apt, they would not study to show themselves approved unto God; others because, having put their hands to the plow, they look backward, and others be cause they are not willing to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ?
And if there be any of these possibilities, does it not indicate that sin lieth at the door of the churches, which without due consideration, and especially without importunate prayer, laid hands on men who were not called of God, nor sent? Ah, me! What a question is this ministerial question! Brother, if ever you find yourself out of objects of prayer known to be lawful, concentrate your devotion on this point: Pray for preachers! Pray for wiser churches! Is it possible that some churches grind out a lot of preachers as some colleges were once wont to make D.D.’s?
Fifth, he prayed that men might see the spiritual nature of his kingdom. By combining the record of Matthew (14:22), Mark (6:45), and John (6:15) we learn that after the feeding of the five thousand men, besides the women and children, from the five loaves and two little fishes, a tremendous excitement was engendered in the minds of the people. This excitement was shared by the apostles themselves. The direction of the excitement was this: To play the part of Rome’s Pretorian Guard. Jesus, perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him a king, first compelled the disciples to take shipping and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They very reluctantly obeyed him. He then very abruptly dismissed the multitude and himself went up into the mountain apart to pray. The time is night. As it is near the Passover, the moon is full. The grassy lawn on the eastern mountain slopes of the Sea of Galilee, that had lately been populous with the thousands of people ready to be fed by miraculous intervention, is now silent in the moonlight. High up on the mountain, all alone, Jesus is praying. Far below him on the Sea of Galilee his disciples are distressed, not only on account of his absence, but because of the storm that prevents them from reaching their destination. He sees them and he is praying.
Yet many other times will he have to resist this popular impulse to make him a king, whose throne was to be in Jerusalem, whose reign would be temporal, whose miraculous power would be exercised in delivering the people from the dominion of the Romans, and in obtaining the sovereignty of the world. But it was not for this he came. His kingdom was not of this world, and when he saw that this feeling had got ten to a point where it could be no longer controlled and that it was largely shared by the disciples themselves, he dismisses the people and sends the disciples away, that he may pray to God that they may have a proper conception of his mission and work. The history of this case is to be found in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew, sixth of Mark and the sixth of John.
What does the lesson suggest to us? While we may not share the gross ideas of the kingdom of the Messiah that caused the Jews of his time to misapprehend the nature of his work, yet is it not true that to a less degree at least we lose sight of the fact that the kingdom of God is not of this world – that it is spiritual in its nature – that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal – that the kingdom of heaven does not come by observation? It is neither “lo here” nor “lo there.” It is within us. It consists not of meat and drink, but of righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost. Do not many of our churches, especially in the great cities, forget in the magnificence of their building, in the richness of their furniture, in the costly pealing organ, in the stained windows and softened light, in the rented pews and hired choirs, in the philosophical essays which have taken the place of the pulpit exposition of God’s Word – do not these need to pray for a clearer and more spiritual understanding of his kingdom and mission here upon the earth?
It is not enough to condemn the faults of past ages. We should address ourselves to the correction of our own faults, and each one here today ought to be asked, My brother, my sister, is there not even with you some fault in the sight of God with reference to the spirituality of the reign of Christ upon the earth? What is the trend of your thought, of your life, of your religious service? Is it formal, ritualistic, consisting in mere rites and ceremonies? Is it heartless, external? Is it rationalistic, “liberal,” according to modern phraseology? Does it subordinate the religious to the political, as did the Herodians of the time of Christ? Oh, is it not necessary to ask ourselves if we do not need Christ’s caution: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and the leaven of the Sadducees, and the leaven of the Herodians”?
Sixth, he prayed that his immediate disciples, at least, might have a God-revealed spiritual faith in him as the Messiah. Our record says, “And it came to pass that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him, and he asked them saying, Who do the multitudes say that I am?” (Luke 9:18.) We are not told in words for what Jesus was praying on this occasion, but it is easy to infer the object of his prayer from the context. The great Galilean ministry was ended; miracle and parable and precept had fulfilled their mission. Never again as a teacher was Jesus to labor among these people around the Sea of Galilee. Privately afterward, it is true, he passed through the section of country on his way to Jerusalem, and incidentally there might be some manifestation of his power, but his great ministry was ended, and ended for ever, so far as that section was concerned. He had now, at the close of his work, retired from the jurisdiction of Herod in Galilee, and approaching Caesarea Philippi, he is about to sum up the results of his great Galilean work. He is quite certain that men, the mixed multitude, have various opinions concerning him and his mission. Some think him only a man, but a good man; some think him an impostor; some think him John the Baptist; some, Elijah, some Jeremiah. Why, then, is he praying? Evidently he is praying that his immediate disciples may have a God-revealed faith in his Messiahship and in his divinity.
We gather this because, as soon as the prayer was over, he began to catechize the disciples, drawing out from them who, having mixed with the multitude, were cognizant of popular thought, the opinions entertained concerning him, and following it up with the emphatic question, “Who say YE that I am?” And when Peter answered for the rest, as well as for himself, and impulsively cried out, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the heart of Jesus glowed with happiness. His prayer was answered and in his exultation he said, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” It seems then that Peter’s confession exhibited faith – that it bears the relation to Christ’s prayer that effect does to cause. It is easy, then, for us to draw from this example of Christ’s praying a practical lesson profitable to us.
There would be no need for prayer if faith were a mere intellectual perception of the truth of a proposition – if it were head-faith only, if it came from flesh and blood, or from the will of man. But, as no man can come to Christ except by faith, and as none can come except the Father draw him, those who do receive him, even believing on his name, are born not of flesh nor of blood nor of the will of man, but of God. Paul in preaching relied not on the words of man’s wisdom, but only on the demonstration of the Spirit, because he would not have man’s faith to stand in man, but in God.
Then here is an object of prayer that we need never misunderstand, no matter who is preaching, no matter how apt to teach, how eloquent in speech, how accomplished in literary acquirements, how fervent in animal spirits, the faith of the gospel, the true faith which makes a man a Christian, must be a God-revealed faith; hence, we need to pray in connection with all teaching, with all preaching, that God himself would give faith to the hearer. And it is on this account that Paul said, “What is Paul and what is Apollos? Servants by whom ye believed even as God gave to every man.” That is why we should pray for sinners. That is why preaching, however clear its conceptions, however forcible and cogent its argument, is ineffective without the intervention of God.
So, then, if you are concerned upon the subject of not knowing what to pray for as you ought, do look at this lesson. Our Saviour himself holds it up for our admonition. It is lawful, it is enjoined, it is urgently needed that we should pray that men might have God-given faith. The text shows that Peter’s faith apprehended three things: 1. That Jesus was the Messiah, that is, anointed to be the prophet, priest and king. It recognizes his office. 2. It apprehended his divinity: “Thou art the Son of God.” 3. It apprehended his filial connection with the living God, and not a dead heathen deity. But this was far from being the highest development of faith. This much must be clear in order to the next, and what next? He wanted to teach them that he was to be a suffering Messiah, the necessity of his vicarious atonement, praying that they might see him as the Messiah, and as divine, and that prayer being answered, it laid the foundation for the next teaching, and so we learn that from that time – that is, from the time of the confession of this faith, he began to show them plainly that he must go to Jerusalem, to be rejected of the Sanhedrin, and to suffer and die for his people.
Seventh, he prayed that his people may see glimpses of his glory, lest they should be depressed by views of his humiliation. The record says, “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up into the mountain to pray. And as he was praying the fashion of his countenance was altered and his raiment became white and dazzling. And behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
From this record it is evident that this is the reverse side, the bright side of the dark view just before presented of his rejection and passion. Seeing from Peter’s rebuke how little his faith in his Messiahship and divinity was ready even now to recognize his vicarious atonement, and realizing the depression of spirit that with their views of him would necessarily follow the announcement of his speedy death, we may understand at a glance the object of the prayer here recorded. Evidently he prayed that this very Peter, and others with him, to whom the idea of his passion was abhorrent, should see the glory that was to follow that passion, shortly to take place at Jerusalem. Hence we call this the prayer for transfiguration. The prayer that, in miniature, might be seen the majesty and glory of the second coming of Christ.
Surely if arising from this death at Jerusalem there should come a change of glorifying his face, that would make his garments white and glistening; that would introduce him unto majesty and glory; that would prefigure their own redemption from sorrow and death, it would go far toward reconciling their minds to what before had been so abhorrent. While the disciples seem not to have gathered the lesson which was intended at the time, yet we learn from Peter’s later testimony that it was not altogether lost on him. That testimony is: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’; and this voice we ourselves heard out of heaven when we were on the holy mount.”
As Moses and Elijah were present in this transfiguration scene, one who had died and the other who had been translated, one representing the law and the other the prophets and both speaking with him of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem, there must have been a momentous connection between that death and the translation of Elijah and the hope of Moses; and so with all of the classes represented by these two men. It represented the power and the majesty of his second coming, in this: at his second coming, the dead will be raised; Moses who died was there; at his second coming the living Christians will be translated without death; Elijah who was translated was there. So, on a simple and representative miniature scale, there was given in the transfiguration scene two of the mightiest events which attend Christ’s second coming – the resurrection of the dead and the translation of the living, both resurrection and translation arising from the meritorious ground of his vicarious death, which Peter seemed so much to deprecate. Hence we call this the reverse side, the bright side of the other picture presented, the one which showed in sorrowful colors his humiliation and his passion.
Again the question arises: If Christ prayed that his disciples might be guarded against depressions arising from his pre-announced death by a revelation of the glory to follow, what lawful object of prayer does it suggest to us? There are parts of the path of our earthly pilgrimage full of thorns and leading up steep declivities; parts of the way are overshadowed by clouds reaching down into the very valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes we are called upon to bear things that are almost unbearable, and to do things, in the weakness of the flesh, almost impossible; sometimes we sorely hunger for the viands of the heavenly banquet, and crave with intense longing the joys of everlasting and final deliverance.
In such a time, is it not well to pray that our heavenly Father take us for a while to the top of some high mountain, from whose summit, through the clear atmosphere of that lofty altitude, we may see the Heavenly City itself, and, though from afar, may catch the glittering sheen of the apparel of its inhabitants and anticipate something of the gladness that wells up from the hearts of the finally redeemed?
Through the Holy Spirit is given unto us a pledge, an earnest, a forecast of what God will ultimately bestow on us. As the grapes of Eschol, borne far away from their parent stem, as a sample, enabled the Israelites in the desert to judge of the fertility and fruitfulness of the goodly land which God had given them, so these partial glimpses, these transfiguration scenes here on earth, enable us, because of what they forecast in future happiness, to take up again the burden of life and bear it manfully and bravely for the few days remaining.
Thus Paul, whether in the body or out of the body, he could not tell, was caught up to the third heaven, into the Paradise of God, and saw things unlawful to utter. And thus in part, at least, what the eye hath not seen, what the ear hath not heard nor the heart conceived of, the things which God hath in reservation for them that love him, the Holy Spirit, in answer to prayer, reveals to us here and now. It is only intended for a temporary support of the weary and desponding soul which, from hope deferred, had been made sick by delay. So then, brother, sister, when your burden becomes too heavy, when life’s ways become too dark, when the heart is too sore, when you are ready to perish, it is not amiss to pray to God to open the heavens, and through a rift in the sky to shine down into your heart some of the light of the Glory World.
Eighth, a prayer of thanksgiving for the success of his ministers. The record says: And the seventy returned with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject to us in thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven. Behold I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and tread on all the powers of the enemy; and nothing shall in any wise hurt you. Howbeit, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and didst reveal them unto babes; yea, Father; for so it was well pleasing in thy Sight.”
We have considered one prayer of Christ, offered just be fore the twelve apostles were sent out to work in Galilee. That was a prayer in deep and intense anxiety that they might faithfully fulfil their mission. Here is a prayer of thanksgiving. The occasion is not the outgoing, but the homecoming of the seventy sent out to work in Judea. Jesus rejoices in spirit. He thanks the Father, Lord of heaven and earth.
This teaches us a very solemn lesson. Men, weak in themselves, men having but little in an external, or intellectual, or educational way, were yet qualified to turn the world upside down. They had gone forth in his name, had cast out devils, had trodden serpents and scorpions under their feet, had exercised power over the evil one; wherever they went the strongholds of the enemy had fallen before them. Jesus, in spirit and from afar, had watched the progress of their missionary labor.
He says, “I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven.” That is, the lightning from heaven suddenly falls to the ground, so Jesus had seen Satan fall before the onslaught of these seventy untutored men who went forth in the power of the Spirit of God. They were the babes; they could not be classed with the wise and the understanding; and Jesus rejoiced that through such weak and humble instrumentalities the revelation of God was made to men.
Well might he rejoice at it. Well might he offer a prayer of thanksgiving, that Satan and his demons and their strongholds fell before these humble ministers of the gospel, for if only the great men of the world, if only the wise men, if only the mighty scholars were able to overthrow Satan and lead souls to Christ, how little of the empire of Satan would ever be vanquished, since so few of this class, kept back by intellectual pride, kept back by their love for glory, think it a mission lofty enough for them, to be humble heralds of the cross. Therefore it had been well pleasing to God to choose the weak things of this world in the accomplishment of his designs. Gathered in the museum of religious collections, we see very little heavy armament capable of sending projectiles through the strongest armor plate, or of beating down the thickest wall. We see few fine tempered Damascus blades, but we see the sling of David, Gideon’s pitchers and lamps, Shamgar’s ox goad, the jaw bone of an ass in the hand of Samson, and such like things, blessed of God to the pulling down of the strongholds of Satan and of the world. It teaches us every one to pray with rejoicing when we see the powers of Satan falling under the triumphs of the gospel, and that we ought to thank God for every such humble, successful minister of grace.
And for myself, I hesitate not to say that I would go a greater distance and at a greater cost to shake the hand of some untutored man, some man of poverty, some man of scanty resources, who yet by simple faith in God, relying alone upon the demonstration of the Spirit and power, had preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, making the gospel the power of God unto the salvation of lost souls, than nearer home to shake the hand of one who carried a dozen titles, gifted in natural endowments, cultured and accomplished in his attainments, yet who failed practically in leading souls to Christ, whose intellectual and educational powers seemed to serve no other purpose in the pulpit than to put the bread of life above the reach of the people and to lull drowsy souls to sleep while he eloquently and learnedly discussed philosophy and metaphysics and liberalism and rationalism and higher criticism.
I repeat the words of Dr. Broadus: “Let us bear in mind that the early progress of Christianity, that great and wonderful progress to which we still appeal as one of the proofs of its divine origin, was due mainly to the labors of obscure men, who have left no sermons, and not even a name to history, but whose work remains plain before the All-seeing Eye, and whose reward is sure. Hail, ye unknown, forgotten brethren! We celebrate the names of your leaders, but we will not forget that you fought the battles and gained the victories. The Christian world feels your impress, though it has lost your names. And not only are these early laborers not unknown, but most of them were in their own day little cared for by the great and learned. Most of them were un educated. . . . Not only in the first centuries there were these uncultivated but good and useful men, but such preachers have abounded from that day to this, in every period, country, and persuasion in which Christianity was making any real and rapid progress.” – History of Preaching, pp. 49-51. And if we are like Jesus, we will rejoice in their triumphs over Satan and thank God that the work of salvation was committed to them instead of to the wise and noble and great of this world.
Ninth, he prayed that his disciples might desire to learn to pray. Our record says: “And it came to pass as he was praying in a certain place that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Again we are left to infer the object for which Jesus prayed. We gather that object from what followed the prayer. There was something in the manner of his praying, its solemnity, its reverent spirit, that made an awful impression upon the minds of the disciples, leading them not only to see that they did not know how to pray, but provoking a desire to learn, and inducing them to ask him to teach them and to lead them into a docile attitude on the subject, receiving instruction as to the manner and matter of praying.
Only recently I was much impressed by a communication from Dr. Robertson of the Theological Seminary at Louisville, published in the “Religious Herald,” upon the irreverent manner of modern prayer. He states the case of one who paused at the entrance of a church, not knowing whether it would be right to create a disturbance by going in just at that time, for from some signs he supposed that they were engaged in prayer. But he hesitated because he saw very many others that did not seem to be engaged in prayer. While the voice of the pleader seemed to be the voice of prayer, while the kneeling attitude of one or two seemed to suggest prayer, while the partially bowed heads of one or two others seemed to somewhat indicate prayer, yet the most of the people were sitting up, looking around, some of them whispering, some laughing so there was made upon his mind the impression that many of that congregation were guilty of profanation.
Is this praying? Did Jesus so pray? Oh, if that thoughtless, irreverent crowd could have seen him pray one time, marked his reverent tone in using the name of God, the reverent uplifting of his eyes to heaven-if they could have heard one time the gracious words that fell from his lips, would not the impression have been made on them that they didn’t know how to pray? Would they not now from the memory of it be compelled to lay aside their unseemly manner in the midst of public devotion and cry out in agony, “Lord, teach us to pray”?
There is one member in my congregation whose presence always cheers me, and whose absence always depresses me. It is because of his reverent manner in the house of God. None ever knew him to stop at the door and enter into idle conversation with those loitering there; none ever knew him, after taking his seat, to read letters or newspapers, or to engage in any sort of word or action that would attract to himself public attention, but evidently drawing in every wandering thought, and evidently fixing his mind on the occasion of the gathering, endeavoring to prepare himself by devout meditation for the duties of the hour. It is always an encouragement for a preacher to see his face.
It should teach us, it seems, that our devotions, the elements of our devotions, are always calculated to make an impression for good or evil on the unconverted. God is not the author of confusion. All of our services should be unto edification. They should never be so conducted as to leave upon the mind of the unlearned or of the unbelievers the impression that we are hypocrites.
Paul says, “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving; but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving but to them that believe. If therefore the whole church is assembled together and all speak with tongues, and there come in men unlearned or unbelieving, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all; the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed.”
“Lord, teach us to pray.” Lord, teach us to sing; Lord, teach us to preach; Lord, teach us to teach; so that the stranger as he enters the door will say, “Truly God is among these people”; so that the sinner may be convinced in his heart of his sins by the very earnestness of God’s people.
The rest of the subject must be deferred to the night discussion, but before I dismiss you, brethren, I would ask you to fix in your mind these several occasions of Christ’s praying, and the stated or inferred objects for which he prayed, that we may learn from them how and for what we should go to the throne of grace in order to obtain the divine favor. “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air.” The spirit of prayer then is the measure of our religion. It is not the cry of superstition; it is not the muttering of ignorance; it is not the mechanical and perfunctory lip service of the formalist or of the ritualist. It should come from the heart; it is God-inspired. It goes to God. And from these lessons of our Lord Jesus Christ, and those to be presented tonight, let us see if we cannot say to ourselves, we have learned somewhat how to pray and what things to pray for.
TEXT: We know not what we should pray for as we ought . . . Lord, teach us to pray. – Romans 8:26; Luke 11:1.
I closed my sermon this morning with the announcement that the same subject would be continued tonight. In the morning sermon was discussed: (1) our Lord’s prayer for the Holy Spirit to accredit him and qualify him for his work; (2)) his prayer against the selfish spirit of monopoly; (3) against the spirit of carnal excitement that magnified the temporal benefits of miracles above the spiritual lessons of his kingdom; (4) his prayer before ordaining preachers; (5) that man might see the spiritual nature of his kingdom; (6) that at least his immediate disciples might have a God-revealed spiritual faith in him as the Messiah; (7) that his people might see glimpses of his glory lest they should be depressed by views of his humiliation; (8) a prayer of thanksgiving for the success of his humble ministers; and (9) that his disciples might desire to learn to pray. It is purposed tonight to continue this subject in its chrono logical order, being governed by the chronology observed in the Harmony of Dr. Broadus.
Tenth, Christ’s prayer at the grave of Lazarus. We find this record in John 11:32-43:
“Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, said I not unto thee that if thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth!”
This record evinces the extreme sensitiveness of our Lord’s nature, both in sympathy with the bereaved and in indignation against unbelief. His sympathy for the bereaved is exhibited in his tender manner and words and in his tears. His indignation against unbelief is expressed twice by the words, “groaning in spirit,” and “groaning in himself.” The margin translates thus: “Was moved with indignation in spirit,” and being moved with indignation in himself.” It is easy to see what excited his indignation. Here were Jews from Jerusalem indulging in formal mourning and condolence, and who, under this formal mourning, were cherishing bitter unbelief and hatred of him, so that he prayed in the presence of deadly hostility as well as of loving trust.
Our record tells us, the object for which he prayed, that those who believed on him should see the glory of God; that they should see that glory as triumphing over death and corruption, and that this power was to be put forth that the multitude standing around might believe that he was divinely sent. Twice before we have special instances of the raising of the dead: one, a girl who had just died; another, a young man who had been dead for some time and whose body was being carried to the grave. But this remarkable instance of resurrection was after Lazarus had been dead four days, and after decay and corruption had set in.
What lesson of value, then, do we gather from the prayer that Christ offered on this occasion? Evidently this, that in the darkest sorrows of life, when those whom we love more than life are taken away from us, we may pray to see the glory of God in their protection from the victory of the grave; that we may, by faith, confidently trust their sleeping bodies to his kind and loving and ceaseless care, and that while we sorrow, we may not sorrow as those who have no hope, but may look forward to the time when our Lord himself shall return with a shout and the sound of the trumpet, bringing with him the spirits of our dead, and that at his voice our loved ones may wake up from the grave and be glorified and reunited to their spirits. We may learn from it that the same Jesus who so tenderly comforted Mary and Martha, and who wept to share their sorrow, likewise commiserates us in our days of darkness, and exercises toward us the same loving compassion that he did toward them.
Eleventh, praying for little children, Matthew 19:13-15: “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them and departed thence.” We have just seen Jesus at the grave; we now see him at the cradle. And as he could pray at the end of human existence, so now we behold him praying at its beginning. What a touching scene! See the mothers bringing their babes in their arms and asking that our Lord should put his hands on them and pray, invoking a heavenly benediction on their infant life. And mark, too, the spirit of the disciples, who would forbid such objects of prayer, and hear the rebuke of Jesus and see him as he takes the children in his arms. What a lesson does this suggest to us! Does it not show us that we in a measure share the spirit that animated the disciples of Christ, and especially when we do not seem willing to pray for any except adults, or those who have become hardened in sin? Do we not defer our prayers too long? Why should we not bend over the infant in the cradle before into that young mind has ever come a knowledge of right and wrong; before those little feet have learned to walk in the paths of wickedness; before that chubby little hand has been clenched to strike in malice; before those mild eyes have sparkled with hate; before habits of evil have been formed and temptations have been felt?
Would it not be well that we should pray that God should guard them from the evil one and prepare them for the duties of life and the trials of life hidden from their sight, but that yet lie certainly before them in their path? I have myself, not once but many times, and not in the case of my own children only, but in the case of the children of my neighbors, knelt at the cradle and prayed that God’s blessing might rest upon the unconscious infant, and that his life and health and spiritual prosperity might be precious in the sight of God. Yes, brethren, pray at the cradle, pray at the grave, pray everywhere.
Twelfth, in view of the inquiry of Gentiles concerning himself, he prays that the Father may glorify his name. The record speaks thus: (John 12:20-28) “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast. The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am there shall also my servant be; if any man serve me, him will my Father honor. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven saying, I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.
The Greeks are coming! “Sir, we would see Jesus.” It is a presage of brighter days in the future when the wall of partition shall be broken down, when the way to heaven shall be made free to the barbarian, the Scythian, the bond, the free, yea, to every tribe and tongue; when those who had been aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and without God, and without hope in the world, should turn toward the Lord. The Greeks are coming! “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Well might he, in view of that inquiry, cry out in earnestness, “Father, glorify thy name.” He glorified it when Cornelius sent for Peter. He glorified it as Paul preached at Athens and Corinth and Thessalonica and Berea and Rome and to the ends of the world. And now, when we see, wide-open, the door of access to all of the South American republics, to ancient, priest-ridden Italy and other Latin states, to Japan and China and a thousand other foreign fields, may we not say, “The Greeks are coming. Oh, Father, glorify thy name in their salvation'”?
Thirteenth, he prays that Peter’s faith may not fail under the sifting process of the devil. Our record says (Luke 21:31-34): “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren. And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison and to death. And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”
Behold this impulsive and confident disciple, who is ready enough to admit that all other men may fall away from Christ and deny him, but he will not deny him even under the test of death. Behold the audacity of Satan and his malice and his shrewd judgment of the weakness of human nature. What audacity does he manifest in approaching the Lord Jesus Christ himself and making a special request that he might sift the followers of Christ as a man sifts wheat. See, too, that our Lord grants Satan’s request. He does enable him to thoroughly test their faith by his sifting process. Judas, as chaff, is finally and forever separated from the wheat, and under his sifting, Peter, relying so confidently in his own strength, falls fearfully, falls repeatedly, falls shamefully, and yet, O matchless mercy! see the prayer of Christ intervening, lest his trust in the Lord should be utterly blotted out.
This is the only passage in the Word of God upon which the Papists rely as cited in the Vatican decrees, to prove the infallibility of the Pope. They say that Christ prayed that faith might not fail Peter; that the Pope is Peter’s successor; that Peter, residing in the Pope, is still preserved from failing faith; and therefore when the Pope speaks ex-cathedra his utterances are infallible. But as was abundantly demonstrated in the famous speech of Bishop Kenrick, prepared to be delivered to the Vatican Council, the word “faith” here does not refer to the system of doctrine, nor the teaching gift, but to Peter’s personal trust in our Lord. What, then, is the lesson to us? What object of prayer does it suggest? What weakness of our own does it guard us against? Certainly while it admonishes us not vainly to rely on our own powers, not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and while it exhorts that he that thinketh he standeth should take heed lest he fall, yet it abundantly shows that our salvation does not so much depend on our hold on Christ as Christ’s hold on us. It shows that but for the intercession of Jesus there would not necessarily be perpetuity in our faith; that it is his love for us that prevents us from turning him loose altogether in the hour of trial.
If this be true, then certainly it is a becoming thing, an appropriate and urgent thing, that we should watch and pray against temptation, as this very Peter is exhorted to do but a short time after. It should teach us to consider how fallible and few are our human resources when pitted against principalities and powers in high places, and how little in ourselves we are able to stand when we wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against Satan and his demons, and that if the devil had carefully studied the case of Job and formed his judgment concerning the reality of Job’s religion, and believed that if the case was put into his hands, he could destroy Job’s trust in God, and if he had the audacity to believe that he could shake loose from Christ the faith of his immediate disciples, what is there in us that should lead us to presume upon our powers of resistance, should the day of direful evil come upon us? How do you know, my brother, but that the fiery trials through which you are passing may have been allowed of our Lord at Satan’s request? Satan, knowing your weaknesses, your susceptibilities, your vain confidence, your presumption, has asked God that he might sift you as wheat. Should not then you pray to God to be delivered from the evil one? Should it not be a matter of deep joy to you that a stronger hand than yours grasps your life? Oh, let every one of us lift up our eyes and hearts today to our great High Priest, who ever liveth to intercede for us, and put our feebleness in his hands, and say to him, “Lord, pray for me that my faith may not fail, as thou didst pray that Peters faith might not fail.”
Fourteenth, his prayer at the institution of the Supper. The record of this familiar transaction may be found in Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. The act of devotion here is expressed by these words, “blessed,” or “gave thanks,” and because of his thanksgiving the Supper has been called the Eucharist, the form of the language our Lord used on private occasions as well as in this solemn hour. It applies in one sense as well to the ordinary giving of thanks when we partake of our daily food as it does to the institution of a solemn memorial, so that there is presented to the mind two objects of prayer: first, that we should thank God as we partake of our daily food in our homes, in our families, but more particularly and solemnly when we come to that memorial ordinance established in connection with the Passover Feast, and indeed suggested by that remarkable ancient type, that here, as a church, we should lift up our hearts in gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of our Lord.
We see the Christ. We see his broken body. We see that body separated from its blood. We see the double giving of thanks for the body broken and for the blood shed, and it should lead us in every act of our private life, but more particularly in that solemn hour when the church of God assembles together to commemorate the departed Lord, our hearts should go out in gladness and thanksgiving that the bread of life was given to us. It may well be that we have given to this ordinance an air of sorrow, of deep melancholy, borrowed from the minds of the disciples, as they viewed it as an announcement of his speedy death, but evidently he intended it to be an occasion of joy and not of sadness. Solemn? Yes, but not such a solemnity as banishes melody from the heart and rejoicing from the spirit. In giving thanks for a favor, there is bound to be in the heart a feeling of joy for that favor, else there is no gratitude in our formal word of thanks. Our celebrations of the Lord’s Supper should therefore be occasions of great, deep, and solemn joy and not of sadness.
Fifteenth, he prayed that another paraclete might be given to the disciples when he departed – a Comforter. Our record says, “I will pray the Father and he will give you another Comforter that he may be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him; ye know him for he abideth with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you desolate. I come unto you” (John 14:16-18). This prayer of our Lord was answered on the Day of Pentecost. His presence in the person of the Spirit is referred to in the commission, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” From the time that this prayer was answered the gospel has been preached, and wherever preached with power, has been accompanied by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. We need not elaborate this point, as it has been sufficiently discussed on the first prayer of Jesus for the Holy Spirit. The lesson taught here is the same. It teaches us that we cannot go out and work for God, that we cannot be happy in our work, that e cannot overcome the world, that we cannot lead men to Christ, if the Comforter be not with us. Oh, how great is our desolation, with Jesus gone, if the other Comforter be not with us!
Sixteenth, the great intercession. We now come to the Lord’s prayer, not that which is usually styled “The Lord’s Prayer,” for that was a prayer that he intended for us to offer, but this is a prayer that our Lord himself offered. It embraces the whole of the seventeenth chapter of John, which it is not necessary for me to quote in detail. The prayers of the Bible are usually very short. This and the prayer offered by Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, are the only long prayers in the whole Book of God, and he himself specially cautioned his disciples against vain repetitions in prayer or any thought that they should be heard for their much speaking. Let us notice some of the details of this memorable prayer that our Lord offered for his disciples.
First, “Holy Father, keep in thy name what thou hast given me. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me, and I guarded them, and not one of them perished. . . .I pray that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.” This first supplication of our Lord, as contained in this great intercession, evidently shows our exposedness to danger from Satan, and that if it was necessary for him to pray that Peter’s faith should not fail under the sifting process of the devil, it is just as essential to our safety that the same prayer should be offered in our behalf. We need to be kept, to be kept by the power of God, to be kept through faith unto salvation. We need to be guarded. Our adversary goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. His malevolence against Christians is now just as bitter and undying in its hate as it was in the days of Christ. No one of us is safe, even for one hour, if the protecting power of God should be withdrawn. It is a prayer that we should breathe out from our hearts every day of our lives, Lord, keep me this day from the evil one.” None of us, brethren, could give guarantees of the maintenance of our Christian integrity, of the preservation of our purity, of the brightness of the shining of our spiritual lamp, if the keeping power of God were withdrawn from us. When, then, you want to know for what to pray every day of your life, pray, “Father, let me not perish. Guard me. Keep me from the evil one.”
What next did he pray for? Hear the words, “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth.” We may well inquire just here the meaning of the term, “sanctify.” As has been stated on more than one occasion, the word has several meanings. It may mean to set apart, to consecrate, or it may mean to make holy. In this connection it certainly has the former meaning, to set apart, consecrate in truth. We gather this from the following language used in the same connection: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” Whatever then was the sanctification which Christ exercised in his own case is the sanctification that he prayed for in behalf of his disciples, but as he himself was already as pure and holy as God is pure and holy, certainly he did not sanctify himself in the sense of to make holy, but to set apart himself and to consecrate himself in the truth, in doing the truth. So he prays that his people may set themselves apart and may consecrate themselves as witnesses of the truth. To set one’s self apart to a particular object makes that one a devoted one. I mean by a devoted one him who has not only consecrated himself to one thing, but separated himself from all other things in order to a full consecration.
And I would here inquire, brethren, if a large part of the barrenness of our present state does not arise from the fact that in this first sense of the word “sanctify” we have not sanctified ourselves. We have not permitted God to sanctify us. We have not recognized that we are God’s own people in the true sense of that word “peculiar,” a peculiar people, that is, peculiar to God, belonging to God alone and to his truth alone, acknowledging no other authority, subordinating ourselves to no other government, but making him not only supreme in our life, but supreme as the object of our affections. When we remember then that Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth,” let us pray that prayer. Let us endeavor by God’s help to make a deliberate act of entire consecration to his service.
Did you ever do that? Did you ever go off alone and, after thoughtful consideration of the whole matter, deliberately, as if you had written the words down on a piece of paper, and signed your name to it, and placed the document upon the altar of God, in this form: “Lord Jesus Christ, I do this day (mentioning the date), here and now offer to thee myself, all of me, my entire life and being, to be thine alone, to suffer what seems good to thee, to bear what thou mayest choose to impose upon me, to do what thou wouldst have me do. Lord, take me altogether and write thy name of ownership and authority upon my head and hand and heart, all over me, as thine, forever thine.” That is the sanctification that is referred to here.
Mark next that he prays in this great intercession, “that they may be one.” This is certainly a prayer for the unity of his people, that as Jesus and the Father are one, so his people should be one – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Holy Spirit. Oh, this bond of unity! Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! And whenever there is a tendency in any of us to create strife or schism, to make separations between brethren, to alienate, to divide the followers of God, let us in our shame and sorrow come back to this prayer of our Lord that they may be one. How many exhortations leap from the Word of God at a moment’s thought, substantiating this prayer of Jesus, exhorting us to be of one mind, that there be no divisions, and oh, how much of shame and reproach has come upon Christ’s cause by our divisions among ourselves! Why need we then say that we do not know what to pray for when there is such a glorious, broad object for prayer? Let God grant that thy people may be one, that the world may believe that the Father did send thee.” Mark again: “Father, that which thou hast given me I will that where I am, there they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me.”
Oh, how precious is this prayer of Jesus! We hear his words, Let not your heart be troubled. In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself.” And how joyous the exultation of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians: “And so we shall be ever with the Lord.” How it reconciles him, not merely to the thought of dying, but makes departure a thing to be desired, so as actually to place him in the attitude of wishing to depart, knowing that death is gain, because when absent from the body he is present with the Lord. While we hold the cold hands of the dying saint and mark the death struggle as the spirit is separating from the body, and shudder at the physical contortions that mark the dissolution of the bond that held the dual nature of man together, ought not our souls to rejoice at the thought that in a moment’s time this fleeting spirit shall be with God? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Well might the apostle say, “For we know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Yes, we may always pray for that, Lord, to be with thee. Whom have I in heaven but thee, and who is there on earth that I desire beside thee? And to behold that glory and to share that glory, who can estimate it? Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor the heart of man conceived of the things which God has in reservation for those that love him. True, he makes a revelation concerning them by the Holy Spirit to his people, but it is a revelation that the mind can but faintly grasp. It is far different from the actual fruition itself.
Notice finally under this great intercession this prayer: “That the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them and I in them.” What a love is this! The love of the Father for the Son. “Oh, love divine, all love excelling!” And yet Jesus prayed that this love might be in us the love that the Father had for him, the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, given unto us. If after cold, dark winter has bound the earth in its rigorous chains, the sunshine of spring shall come, and the falling rains, melting the snow, warming the heart of the earth and causing it to bud and blossom and bear fruit, clothing its prairies with carpets of grass and its forests with foliage, and filling the boughs of the trees with the singing of birds, oh, what must be the effect in us of the love that God had for our Lord Jesus Christ! And yet he prays that that love may be in us.
But mark you the connection: “That the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them and I in them.” “I in them,” which shows that if Christ is not formed in our hearts the hope of glory, if on our souls is not impressed the image of Christ, then the Father cannot love us as he loved the Son. But if in each of us is the reproduction of the image of the Son, then the same love that was extended to the Son will be extended to us. How hard to realize that thought, that even in me, so prone to sin, so fallible in judgment, so erring even in me, shall be the image of Christ, and because of that image there shall be in me the same love of the Father that was extended to our Lord.
Seventeenth, his prayer in Gethsemane: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” As it is my purpose to use the import of this prayer in connection with another to be considered later, I will pass it for the moment and consider next:
Eighteenth, his prayer for sinners. The record says (Luke 23:33-34)), “And there they crucified him and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left. And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” This voice of Christ from the cross possesses for me a very deep significance. This is not our Lord praying for those who are Christians. Unquestionably, it is our Lord praying for sinners, and he is praying that their sins may be forgiven them, and we have abundant evidence that many of them were forgiven, from the subsequent testimony of the Acts of the Apostles. Even those that crucified the Lord of Glory, in the day of the Spirit’s power, were pricked to the heart, and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” and by the grace of God were saved by that very blood which with wicked hands they had shed. This prayer of Jesus is an everlasting warrant to his church and people to pray for sinners. When I look at it, when I reflect on it, I cannot help but recall the words of good old Samuel, when the sinners of Israel asked him not to cease praying for them. He replied, God forbid that I should so sin as to cease to pray for you.” While the world stands, and the memory of the cross abides, it must ever be a lesson that cannot be blotted out, that Christian people who love to walk in the tracks of our Lord Jesus Christ and observe his example, may pray for forgiveness of sinners.
Nineteenth, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). As was stated just now, this dying exclamation of our Lord must be considered in connection with the prayer offered in Gethsemane. In the one case the shadow of the approaching death, the anticipation of the ignominy of dying a felon’s death, not as a martyr, but dying as a sinner, because in the place of sinners-I say that the apprehension of this despising shame, of this darkness, was so great that he cried out, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” And here he offers the prayer of one who is lost: Why hast thou forsaken me?” It is the wail of a lost soul, because he was standing in the place of a lost soul. He was undergoing the execution of a culprit. The sword had been awaked against the shepherd and he was smitten. On him were falling the thunderbolts of the divine wrath. He was made to be sin, though he knew no sin, and it is maintained that in this moment, in this hour of supernatural darkness, which lasted three hours, when all earthly and heavenly light was shut out from him, that at this moment he died the spiritual death. To die spiritually is to be separated from God, and so unspeakably awful was the horror of that separation, when he thus tasted spiritual death, there was extorted from his anguished lips the cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
These are not prayers, I trust, that we are to offer. We do not have to drink that cup. But they do have a very solemn lesson for the unconverted. As Jesus felt in Gethsemane, and as he felt when the Father forsook him, so must feel every impenitent man when he dies. Then he tastes spiritual death. Then he enters that outer darkness. Then he shrinks with unspeakable horror from the cup that is filled with the wrath of God. But it is pressed to his lips, and if he be out of Christ, he must drink it. And if it was not possible for God’s omniscience to discover any other way to save a sinner, nor for his omnipotence to provide any other way except through the vicarious death of Jesus Christ; if to save any sinner Jesus had to drink that cup, had to be separated from the Father, whoever does not accept the atonement of Jesus Christ must drink that cup for himself and bear that separation for himself; must hear the word, “Depart, ye accursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The Scripture says that he tasted death for every man. It does not refer to the mere dissolution of soul and body. It means that he tasted spiritual death, and thus was his body offered on the altar of his divinity, and when he died that spiritual death and said, “It is finished,” that was the end of the expiation. All else that followed was but the carrying out and completing of the work which had been done His resurrection, his ascension into heaven, his enthronement there, his ever living to make intercession for us – all of it is based upon the expiation that he made on Calvary.
Twentieth, we come now to the last prayer of Jesus. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 24:44). That this has a suggestive lesson is evident from the fact that the disciples after this time adopted it as a form of prayer for themselves when in the act of dying. We see it illustrated in the case of Stephen, who, looking steadfastly up into heaven, saw the heavens open, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and kneeling down and speaking to his blessed Lord in full view, and imitating his Lord’s last prayer, he said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” I have read of a mother who was bending over her dying child. He had been sinful. He was suffering terribly. Every breath was anguish. Spasms shook his frame and he kept appealing to his mother: “Oh, Mother, where am I going? Mother, who will meet me on the other side of death?” And his mother kept saying, “Son, oh, my dying boy, say this: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'”