The Life of Trust
The question “What is meant by the prayer of faith?” is beginning to arrest, in an unusual degree, the attention of Christians. What is the significance of the passages both in the New Testament and the Old which refer to it? What is the limit within which they may be safely received as a ground of practical reliance? Were these promises limited to prophetical or apostolical times, or have they been left as a legacy to all believers until the end shall come?
Somehow or other, these questions are seldom discussed either from the pulpit or the press. I do not remember to have heard any of them distinctly treated of in a sermon. I do not know of any work in which this subject is either theoretically explained or practically enforced. It really seems as if this portion of Revelation was, by common consent, ignored in all our public teachings. Do not men believe that God means what he appears plainly to have asserted? Or, if we believe that he means it, do we fear the charge of fanaticism if we openly avow that we take him at his word?
The public silence on this subject does not, however, prevent a very frequent private inquiry in respect to it. The thoughtful Christian, when in his daily reading of the Scriptures he meets with any of those wonderful promises made to believing prayer, often pauses to ask himself: What can these words mean? Can it be that God has made such promises as these to me, and to such men as I am? Have I really permission to commit all my little affairs to a God of infinite wisdom, believing that he will take charge of them and direct them according to the promptings of boundless love and absolute omniscience? Is prayer really a power with God, or is it merely an expedient by which our own piety may be cultivated? Is it not a transcendent power, accomplishing what no other power can, overruling all other agencies, and rendering them subservient to its own wonderful efficiency? I think there are few devout readers of the Bible to whom these questions are not frequently suggested. We ask them, but we do not often wait for an answer. These promises seem to us to be addressed either to a past or to a coming age, but not to us, at the present day.
Yet with such views as these the devout soul is not at all satisfied. If an invaluable treasure is here reserved for the believer, he asks, why should I not receive my portion of it? He cannot doubt that God has in a remarkable manner, at various times, answered his prayers; why should he not always answer them? And why should not the believer always draw near to God in full confidence that he will do as he has said? He may remember that the prayer which has been manifestly answered was the offspring of deep humility, of conscious unworthiness, of utter self-negation, and of simple and earnest reliance on the promises of God through the mediation of Christ. Why should not his prayers be always of the same character? With the apostles of old he pours out his soul in the petition, “Lord, increase our faith.”
And yet it can scarcely be denied that the will of God has been distinctly revealed on this subject. The promises made to believing prayer are explicit, numerous, and diversified. If we take them in their simple and literal meaning, or if in fact we give to them any reasonable interpretation whatever, they seem to be easily understood. Our difficulty seems to be this: the promise is so “exceeding great” that we cannot conceive God really to mean what he clearly appears to have revealed. The blessing seems too vast for our comprehension; we “stagger at the promises, through unbelief,” and thus fail to secure the treasure which was purchased for us by Christ Jesus.