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Reasons Why God Certainly Hears Our Prayers.
Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee; for thou wilt answer me.—Ps. 86:5-7.
Thus saith the prophet Jeremiah, “It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.” Lam. 3:22-24.
2. In these words the Holy Spirit gives us strong consolation in our afflictions, drawn from the goodness and lovingkindness of God; without which we should immediately be consumed. As in the natural world light and darkness, by the appointment of God, alternately succeed each other, so do light and darkness, joy and sorrow, in the spiritual world. Hence there is a necessity that the light should spring up after darkness, and joy after sorrow, in the souls of the righteous. Ps. 97:11. For both our life and our well-being depend entirely upon the loving-kindness of God: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” Acts 17:28. He is the never-failing fountain and spring of life and happiness. His works testify this, for by the effects we judge of the cause. Since, therefore, God is the Maker and Creator of all things that have life, it follows that He is Life itself; and as He is the original of all that is good, it follows, that He himself is the Supreme Good and Love itself. For this reason He is called the Living God, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16); not only from his essence, as being an original, necessary Being, but also from the effects which he produces; because he giveth and preserveth breath, and life, and motion to all things. Acts 17:25; Ps. 104:27. “Thou (O Belshazzar), hast praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” Dan. 5:23. “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jer. 2:13. “The Lord is thy life, and the length of thy days.” Deut. 30:20. “The Lord is the strength of my life.” Ps. 27:1. Whence it follows, that God is in effect the life of every living creature, and produces and preserves life in all, according to the words of St. Paul, “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever.” Amen. Rom. 11:36. “Christ is all in all.” Col. 3:11.
3. Now though all creatures derive their life from God, yet man has received it from his Maker in a more eminent degree; for as he is endowed with a rational soul, it follows that he enjoys a more noble life than the rest of the creatures. The life of angels again is more noble and glorious than 292 that of men, because the glory and majesty of God manifest themselves more illustriously in them. Hence also, angels are described in 2 Thess. 1:7, as “mighty,” because they are not subject to vanity and change like man. But the most noble life is that of Jesus Christ our Lord, because he is God and Life itself; according to St. John, “This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20); that is, He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. (Nicene Creed.)
4. And as God is the fountain and principle of life, so he is also of all good. For he is the supreme and eternal GOOD, and whatsoever bears the marks and characters of good, is derived from this original. Thus, every creature has received a small portion of the divine goodness, by which it bears witness of its Maker, and in some manner calls upon man to do the same. Thus the vine speaks to us, “Consider, O man, that the sweetness of my juice, with which I cheer thy heart (Ps. 104:15), is the gift of my Maker.” And so the bread: “That virtue, O man, by which I satisfy thy hunger, is bestowed on me by my Creator and thine.” This is the meaning of that saying of St. Augustine: “That God has, as it were, shed some drops of his divine goodness upon all the creatures, that they might thereby contribute to the happiness of man.” And the Psalmist says: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.” Ps. 65:11.
5. That which, in nature, we call the goodness of God, is, by the Scriptures, called the grace of God; this bearing relation to the soul, and that to the body. And as God has, by a thousand ways, discovered his goodness in the great Book of nature, so he has, in innumerable instances, discovered his grace and mercy in the Book of his word, all which are completed in Christ, who is the great centre of all the treasures of divine goodness and love that are distributed in heaven and earth.
6. Now, as it is the nature of every good being to be communicative, and otherwise it ceases to be good (for who can tell what is good, unless it thus discover itself?); so no man could know whether God were good and gracious unless he had communicated his grace and goodness to others. Who could have known the inestimable benefits of Christ as a Saviour, if he had not so abundantly manifested his love towards us?
7. But why was God pleased to manifest his goodness, grace, and mercy to mankind? It was for this reason: that we might believe in him, love him above all things, and call upon him in all our troubles; and he was pleased to make this manifestation of himself, that it might be, as it were, the first incentive to kindle the flames of devotion in our hearts. For how should we call on him of whom we have not heard? Rom. 10:14. As Almighty God discovered himself to Moses, when he passed by, and he, upon the sense of his goodness, grace, and mercy, immediately began to pray (Exod. 34:8, 9), so has He, in like manner, manifested himself to us, and made all his goodness pass before us, that we also might learn to praise him.
8. But you will say, How has God manifested himself to me? If he would show himself to me, as he did to Moses, why should I not praise him as he did? To which I answer: This is done in Christ Jesus, in whom he manifested all his goodness after a 293 visible manner. “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. And did we but seriously consider all that our blessed Saviour has done for us, we should, doubtless, exclaim: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and in truth.”
10. And thus we see in what sense the type, which may be discerned in this narrative of Moses, was fulfilled by the incarnation of Christ. For God, descending from heaven in him, was pleased to make his glory pass before us.
11. When Paul and Barnabas wrought great miracles at Athens, the heathens cried out, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.” Acts 14:11. This was their judgment of the matter; but we may in a very proper sense say, that all the goodness and grace of God did, by Christ, come down to us upon earth, in order that we might thereby be drawn to God, and that the spirit of faith and prayer might be bestowed on us. For by prayer only we obtain the grace and favor of God.
12. Let us now produce some reasons which may convince us, that God hears our prayers.
13. And first, such is the power of prayer and entreaty, that they often pacify and prevail upon, not only the compassionate and kind, but even morose and harsh tempers; of which we have an instance in the case of the widow, who by her continual prayers, prevailed even upon that unjust judge, who neither feared God, nor regarded man. Luke 18:4, 5. For prayer, as it proceeds from the spirit, and is, as it were, the strength of the soul, has a marvellous power and influence upon the minds of others, so as to be able to soften and mould them into any form of benevolence. Now as God is not a harsh Being, but merciful in the highest degree, the most sincere love, the most perfect patience, the most generous compassion, the most ardent love itself, and in a word, the most absolute perfection; so he cannot but be tenderly moved by the ardent and devout prayers of his servants. Were it otherwise, it would follow, that God is not supremely good, loving, and merciful. Now, as true as it is that he is all this; so true it is that he is easy to be entreated by devout and humble prayer.
14. Tauler says: “God is moved with so vehement a love towards us, as if his divinity itself depended on us, and his only aim and design were, to discover to us the abyss of his divinity, and the fulness of his essence and nature; so that all may belong to us, even as it belongs to him.” And again, “We were created, and are called and invited to things immeasurably great, and eternal; wherefore God is exceedingly displeased with us, when we prefer the empty and trifling vanities of the world before him, who is ready, not only to bestow all things else, but even Himself upon us.” Again, “So great is the love of God towards us, that he will deny us nothing: yea, he anticipates our prayers, meets us (as it were) half-way, and courts our friendship, being a thousand times more ready to give, than we are to receive.”
15. The second argument is found in the truth and promise of God. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee.” Ps. 50:15. “Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Ps. 86:5. The Lord, 294 we see, is good; and if this be not sufficient, he is also ready to forgive; and if this do not satisfy us, he is also plenteous in mercy. But to whom? Even to all those that call upon him. Hence, it is said, “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry, and will save them.” Ps. 145:18, 19; Isa. 65:24; John 16:23; Matt. 7:7, 8. Ask, but rest not there; seek also; neither think this sufficient, but knock. “For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” “What things soever ye desire, when you pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Mark 11:24. Compare this with Luke 11:9. And that God will keep his promise, is as certain, as that he really is what he, in his holy word, has declared himself to be. And that he may hear us, and pour his abundant goodness upon us, he has commanded us to pray often, to pray earnestly, and without ceasing. Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17.
16. A third argument for our prayer, is God's paternal tenderness, which is thus illustrated. “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?—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 to them that ask him?” Luke 11:11, 13. And is not God this Father, “of whom the whole family in heaven and in earth is named”? (Eph. 3:15) whom St. Paul calls, “The Father of mercies, and God of all comfort?” 2 Cor. 1:3. Shall man then be merciful, and shall God, that created that merciful heart, be unmerciful? Shall he that gave to parents such tender affection, be without compassion himself? Why should God call himself a Father, if he be not of a paternal disposition? So that, in short, we must conclude, either that God is unjustly styled our Father, or else he will hear the prayers of his children that call upon him. Hence, it is said, “Thou, O Lord, art our Father.” Isa. 63:16. And, “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” Jer. 31:9. But if the affections of a mother be so great, that she cannot but have “compassion on the son of her womb” (Isa. 49:15), why should we think God so void of mercy? Why should we question God's compassions toward us, if we approach him with penitent and contrite hearts? How do the mother's bowels yearn over her beloved son, when she sees him laboring under any dangerous disease? So the Almighty God says of himself: “Therefore, my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” Jer. 31:20.
17. A fourth argument is, the intercession of Christ. With what ardent prayer did he, in the time of his humiliation upon earth, recommend his Church to his Father, and intercede for all believers!
18. Thus, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me; that they may be one, as we are. Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, 295 may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:11, 17, 15, 20, 24, 26. Nor did he pray so for us only upon earth; for even now he continues his intercessions for us at the right hand of God. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God;—let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4:14, 16; 7:26; 9:11; Rom. 8:34.
19. A fifth argument is, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who “beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16), and this witness in our hearts cannot deceive us. For if this testimony be in us of a truth, we shall have a demonstrative evidence that we are God's children, and that he hears us in Christ when we pray unto him.
20. Sixthly, because God and Christ are with us, and dwell in us by faith, how can we suppose that God will not hear our sighs and groans? “Thou understandest my thought afar off. There is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.” Ps. 139:2, 4. Think not, therefore, that God is separated from thee by any distance of place, that may hinder thy prayers from coming to him, “for he is in thee, and thou in him.” Acts 17:28; John 17:23. Since, therefore, he lives and works in thee, why should he not hear thy prayers? “Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee?” Ps. 38:10. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight.” Ps. 19:14.
21. Seventhly, because the Holy Spirit, who is truly God, is also the Spirit of prayer, and himself maketh intercession in us with sighs and groanings unutterable. Zech. 12:10; Rom. 8:26. Why then shouldest thou imagine that God will not see, hear, and regard that which he himself works in thee? Therefore it is impossible that even the feeblest sigh proceeding from the Holy Spirit in us, and tending towards God, can be lost or come to nought. For as it proceeds from God, so it goes to him; and whatsoever is in him cannot perish. The deeds are wrought in God, and will be made manifest. John 3:21.
22. Eighthly, God is not forgetful like men, as “a book of remembrance is written before him, for them that fear the Lord, and that think upon his name” (Mal. 3:16): so that he cannot be forgetful of our prayers. God cannot forget that which is good, nor will he call the sins of the penitent to remembrance. So mighty and so abundant is the grace of God, that he blots out our sins, and calls not our transgressions to mind. But the good which he himself has wrought in us, he can never forget; for then he must forget himself and his own works. It is therefore impossible that God should disregard those prayers which his own Holy Spirit works in us; any more than he can forget his word, or be unmindful of his promise. “Since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still,” saith God by the prophet. Jer. 31:20. And again, “Thou tellest my wanderings; put thou my tears into thy bottle.” Ps. 56:8. So he assures us that “He will ever be mindful of his covenant.” Ps. 111:5. And what is this covenant? Nothing else but the remission of our sins, confirmed to us by the death of Christ, and sealed by his Holy Spirit. Eph. 1:13.
23. And now, perhaps, thou wilt say, If these things are so, how comes 296 it to pass that God does not hear and grant my petitions? I have often prayed, and called, and sighed, and all to no purpose.
24. Thus much, indeed, must be granted, that many a man prays a great while for that which he does not obtain; and thence we judge that his prayers are not heard. What then becomes of these our reasons for believing that prayer will assuredly be heard? This is a very great trial, and has given much disturbance to many sincere and well-disposed souls.
25. But here we must observe, that the certainty of God's hearing our prayers, is incontestably proved by the arguments already produced, which are built upon an immovable foundation; whence it appears, that God does as certainly hear our prayers, as He is (1.) merciful, and a lover of mankind. (2.) As he is true in all his promises, yea, eternal truth itself. (3.) As he has a fatherly tenderness for us. (4.) As Jesus Christ is our mediator. (5.) As God and Christ dwell in us; which are all truths so certain and evident, that no believing heart ought to question them.
26. But we complain that God does not presently give us what we ask for, and, therefore, that our prayers are not heard. For this two reasons may be given: 1. That God hears our prayers, regarding more our happiness than our desires. 2. That he reserves to himself the liberty of bestowing the blessings which we ask, either upon our bodies or our souls, as he shall think most proper. Thus, perhaps, we ask of God some temporal blessings, who seeing them to be unfit for us, gives us spiritual ones; by which means we not only receive what we prayed for, but so much the more, as the good of the soul is to be preferred to that of the body. For as the soul is much more noble than the body, and spiritual blessings are more excellent than earthly; so much better is it for us, that God should give us his eternal and spiritual blessings rather than those transitory and fading enjoyments in which we are generally most delighted. He hears our prayers, not always with respect to our bodies, but to our souls; which is of far greater importance. If it should please God to visit you with some bodily disease, and you pray for health, doubt not; your prayers will be heard, and you shall certainly enjoy, if not the health of your body, yet the health of your soul, which is much to be preferred. Every man in his sound senses must think so. What advantage would it be to have the body in health, but a sinful, distempered soul, liable to eternal death? When it is well with the soul, a man may say with David, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” Ps. 73:25, 26. And with the suffering Job, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Job 19:25. And from Him the soul may derive life. Therefore David, comparing spiritual blessings with earthly, tells us: “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” Ps. 119:72.
27. But, perhaps, you will say that you pray for both; the health of your soul as well as of your body; and for spiritual blessings, as well as temporal. To this the Lord himself answers thee, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9); which was the reply given to St. Paul, though he had desired to be answered in his own 297 way. And thus it appears, that God always hears our prayers, if not with regard to our bodies, yet certainly to our souls.
28. Besides, God has reserved to himself the liberty of accomplishing our desires either in this world, or the next, as he shall deem most proper. Wherefore if thou dost not receive the blessings for which thou prayest, consider that it is not good for thee to enjoy them here, but that the answer to thy prayers is reserved for the other life, which is more noble and durable, and more capable of pure enjoyments than this. There the Lord will bestow on thee a thousandfold, for all that He seemed to deny thee here. As He cannot forget our prayers, so He cannot fail to answer them graciously; if not in this life, yet certainly in that which is to come. As many prayers as thou offerest up here, so many blessings shalt thou receive hereafter; for then “we shall reap if we faint not.” Gal. 6:9. Then will the Lord say to the believing soul, “Behold thy prayer which thou offeredst to me. See, here is that for which thou didst pray, and a thousand times more than thou didst desire.” And for this time of retribution we must patiently wait.
29. That man would be a very foolish husbandman, who would expect to reap as soon as he had sown; and who, when he had done this, would cry out with tears, that he had sown much seed, but could see no sign of harvest. Thou fool! wait till the season of harvest arrives, and then thou shalt receive the fruits of thy labor with a blessed increase. These are the complaints which many people make: “I have prayed,” says one, “so often; I have so often sighed from the bottom of my soul; but I see no prospect of being heard, so that all my prayers, and sighs, and tears, are in vain.” Ah, impatient soul! Thou hast scarcely sowed, and dost thou already talk of harvest? Wait for the precious harvest of eternal life, and thou shalt reap an abundant crop of glory! “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Gal. 6:7. There thou shalt gather with joy the fruit of the numerous prayers, which, as so many precious seeds, thou hast sown in tears. Psalm 126:5. This is the word and promise of God, which shall certainly be fulfilled, either here or in the other world. Thus, when thou art taking thy last sad farewell of a dying child, husband, wife, or friend, thou must consider that this is the season in which the bodies of thy friends, and thine own also, are, as it were, to be sown and committed to the earth; but that the harvest of the resurrection is at hand, when “the angels, the reapers, shall gather the sheaves, and put them into barns.” Matt. 13:30, 39. There we shall find that our prayers, sighs, and tears were not lost, but only sent beforehand, to be received again with usury, finding all things in God that ever our souls could conceive or desire. So the promises of God, and the arguments produced to sustain them, shall stand firm and unshaken in Christ Jesus, to be eternally fulfilled to all believing souls, to their everlasting joy and salvation, for which we shall render eternal thanks and praises to God.
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