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XVIII. THE PLEADING NOTE IN PRAYER

WE all know quite well what it is to “plead together.” We all plead with one another every day. We all understand the exclamation of the patriarch Job quite well—“O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour.” We have a special order of men among ourselves who do nothing else but plead with the judge for their neighbours. We call those men by the New Testament name of advocates: and a much-honoured and a much-sought-after office is the office of an advocate. But, what if in this also, “earth be but the shadow of heaven: and things therein each to other like, more than on earth is thought”?

Prayer, in its most comprehensive sense embraces many states of the mind, and many movements and manifestations of the heart. But our use of the word prayer this morning will be limited to these two elements in all true prayer—petition and pleading.

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Petitioning and pleading are two quite distinct things. When we make a petition, we simply ask that something shall be granted and given to us. Whereas when we plead, we show reasons why our petition should be granted and given. Petitioning is asking: whereas pleading is arguing. When a petitioner is in dead earnest, he is not content with merely tabling his petition. He does not simply state his bare case, and then leave it to speak for itself. No. Far from that. He at once proceeds to support his case with all the reasons and arguments and appeals that he can command. His naked petition, he knows quite well, is not enough. And thus it is that, like Job, he hastens to “order his cause before God, and to fill his mouth with arguments.”

Now, as was to be expected, we find that Holy Scripture is full not only of petitioning but of pleading also. Especially the Psalms. Then, again, Job is an extraordinary book in many respects; but in nothing is it more extraordinary than just in its magnificent speeches of argumentation and pleading, both with God and with man. So much so, that a young advocate could study no finer model of the loftiest rhetoric of his great profession than just the passionate pleadings and appeals of which this splendid book is so full. And then, most wonderful of all, most instructive, most impressive, and most heart-consoling of all, the 217 17th of John is full of this same element of reasoning and pleading,—more full of reasoning and pleading, remarkable to discover, than even of petitioning. Three petitions, or at most four, are all that our Lord makes to His Father in that great audience of His. And then, all the rest of His time and strength, in that great audience, is taken up with pleadings and arguments and reasonings and appeals,—as to why His four petitions for Himself, and for His disciples, should be heard and answered.

And then, the pleas, so to call them, that are employed by the prophets and the psalmists,—and much more by our Lord Himself,—are not only so many argumentative pleas; they are absolutely a whole, and an extraordinarily rich, theology in themselves. The warrants they all build upon; the justifications they all put forward; the reasons they all assign why they should be heard and answered,—all these things are a fine study in the very deepest divinity. The things in God and in themselves that all those petitioners put forward; the allegations and pretexts they advance; the refuges they run into; and the grounds they take their last stand upon,—the prayers of God’s great saints are not only a mine for a divinity student to work down to the bottom, but they are an incomparable education to every practitioner of the advocate’s art. And if they are indisputably all that, then much more are those inspired prayers the 218 very best meditation and ensamp1e to every throne-besieging sinner, and to every importuning saint. For those great suppliants plead before God, God Himself: they plead the Divine Nature and the Divine Name: they plead, and put God in remembrance of what He can do, and what He cannot do: they plead themselves, and their depraved and debilitated human nature: and, in their last resort, they plead the very greatness of their own guilt, and their desert,—if they got their desert,—to be for ever cast out of God’s presence. With such extraordinary arguments as these do God’s saints fill their mouths when they enter in to petition and to plead before God.

Come then, and let us all join ourselves to them. Come, and let us learn to pray with them; and, especially, to plead. And, first, let us take the case of that man here, who has been a great transgressor. Such a transgressor as he was whose great transgressions were the occasion and the opportunity of our present text. Just see what a powerful,—what an all-powerful,—argument God gives to this great transgressor in Israel to plead. Just listen to the most wonderful words. “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Put Me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.”

Let the great transgressor listen to that. Let 219 him lay up that in his heart. Let him plead that with all his might, till his transgressions are all blotted out. Let him fill his mouth with this argument,—this unanswerable argument,—God’s own sake. Let every great transgressor, in his great extremity, take this very text; and, when he has found this place, let him, on his knees, lay this place open before God. Let him be very bold. Let him, with all plainness, put God in remembrance of this great promise of His. “Look down, and see,”—let the great transgressor say with this promise open before him and before God,—” look down, and see if these are indeed Thine own words to such sinners as I am. Or was the prophet deceived in thinking that these were the very words of the sin-pardoning God? And has he so deceived me? Hast Thou, O God, in very divine truth, said that Thou wilt blot out and wilt not remember my sins? I shall always remember them. They shall ever be before me. But, O my God, if ever Thou didst blot out, and forget any man’s sins,—oh, blot out and forget mine!” And then, from that, still go on to plead before God the greatness of your misery because of your sin. Tell Him that your sin and misery are far beyond all telling. And ask Him if it is indeed true that He “delights in mercy.” And then, plead those two great arguments together,—your misery and His mercy. Put Him in remembrance, that if He indeed delights 220 in mercy,—as He says He does,—then He will have His fill of delights in you; for that you are of all men most miserable, and most absolutely dependent on His great mercy. And as you so pray, and so plead, ere ever you are aware, your sinful heart will break out into this song with the prophet and will say, “Who is a God like unto Thee, That pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by transgression? Thou retainest not Thine anger for ever, because Thou delightest in mercy. He will turn again: He will have compassion upon us: Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Or, is the sanctification and true holiness of your so sinful soul,—is that your special and your always most pressing case before God? Is it the positively awful pollution and depravity of your heart that casts you, day and night, on your face before God and man? Is this the cry that never ceases before God from you: “Create in me a clean heart, O God”? Is your inward enslavement to sin something you have never seen or heard equalled in Holy Scripture, or anywhere else? Is that, indeed, so? Then,—just say so. You cannot take into your mouth a better argument with God than that. Tell Him: put Him in remembrance: search the Scriptures: collect the promises, and plead with Him to consider your case, and to say if He has ever seen such a sad case as yours,—ever since He began to sanctify and to save sinners. 221 And He will surely bow down, and will hear that cry of your heart that no mortal man hears: and He will wipe off the tears that no mortal hand can touch.

When Zion’s bondage God turned back,

As men that dreamed were we;

Then filled with laughter was our mouth

Our tongue with melody,

As streams of water in the south

Our bondage, Lord, recall:

Who sow in tears, a reaping time

Of joy enjoy they shall.

Or, again, are you a father, and is it your son’s bondage to sin that you are to-day pleading before God? If that is your case, then put Him in remembrance that He is a Father also; and that He has prodigal sons as well as you. And that He has it in His power to make your heart, and your house, as glad as His own house, and His own heart, are again made glad, as often as any son of His which was lost is found, and which was dead is alive again. Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and read nothing else: plead the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and plead nothing else,—till it is all fulfilled to you, and till you, and your house, are all made as merry as heaven itself.

Or, is it some secret providence of God, some secret dispensation, that is as dark as midnight to you? Is it some terrible crook in your lot, that will not even out, all you can do? Is it some cross, so heavy that it is absolutely crushing out all faith, 222 and all hope, and all love, in your heart? I have already spoken about the Book of Job. Have you ever read that book in real earnest?—that so spiritual and experimental book, written with such a Divine intention towards such sufferers as you are? You must not charge God foolishly, till you have prayed, and pled, your way through that wonderful book. For all this time, if you only knew it, and would but bow to believe it, God is but putting you to school as He put His servant Job,—if you would only read the children’s school-books and learn the children’s lessons. Nay, not only so, but God humbles Himself to plead with you about your cross, and about your cup, since you will not plead with Him. God puts you “in remembrance” since you will not so put Him. “It is good,”—so God pleads with you, and, in order to justify Himself before you, He reasons with you and says, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. For the Lord will not cast off for ever. But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.” And so on, to the end of that great Divine apology that every sufferer should have by heart. And, if you had God’s pleading with you by heart, and always listened to it, He would surely deal with you in your sufferings as He dealt with His own Son in His sufferings,—He would either make your cup to pass away from you: or else He would send 223 the Holy Ghost to strengthen you. Till you would boast over your very worst sufferings, and would say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Or, what else is your present case? Is it old age that is fast descending on you, and that will not be rolled back? Is it old age, age and death itself, both of which—and before very long—will claim you, and carry you off as their prey? If that is your case—just listen to this recorded pleading of a fast-ageing saint like yourself. And make his successful pleading your own; if, indeed, you are fast getting old, and are not entirely happy about it. Plead in this way, for one hour every night: and see what your reward will be. These are that expert’s very words, literally transcribed. “Having spent the day”—he said every night—“I give Thee thanks, O Lord. Evening draws nigh: make it bright. For as day has its evening, so has life: the evening of life is old age, and old age is fast overtaking me: make it bright. Cast me not off in the time of old age: forsake me not when my strength faileth me. Even to old age, be Thou He: and even to hoar hairs do Thou carry me. Abide with me, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day of this toilful life is now far spent. The day is fled and gone: life too is fast going, this lifeless life. Night cometh: and then 224 cometh death, the deathless death. Let the fastcoming close of my life be believing, acceptable, sinless, fearless; and, if it please Thee, painless. And let me outstrip the night, doing, with all my might, some good work. For near is Judgment. Oh, give me a good and acceptable plea to plead in that day, O God!” And if your heart still trembles at the thought of the cold and lonely grave, go on to plead this: “What profit is there in my blood when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth? For in death there is no remembrance of Thee: in the grave who shall give Thee thanks? Wilt Thou shew wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise Thee? The living, the living, he shall praise Thee.” Till, to scatter your ungodly doubts and fears, He will take pity and will Himself plead with you, and will say to you, and will put you in remembrance: “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that God giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength? Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” And, as if an Old Testament prophet were not enough for your comfort, He will send you a New Testament apostle to testify and to plead with you,225 and to say: “For this cause we faint not: but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

And so on, and so on. Through all your life, and in all its estates. Only, oh learn to pray, and to plead. Study to pray. Study to plead. Give yourself to prayer. Pray without ceasing. Take lessons in prayer, and in pleading. Be ambitious to become, yourselves, experts and even real authorities in prayer. It is a noble ambition. It is the noblest of all the ambitions—especially you, who are advocates and pleaders already. You have an immense start and advantage over ordinary men in this matter of prayer. And, especially, in this matter of pleading in prayer. It should be far easier for the Holy Ghost to teach our advocates to pray than to teach this heavenly art and office to any other manner of man. For every true advocate studies, down to the bottom, every case you put into his hands to plead. And much more will he study, till he has mastered, his own case before God. Every true advocate absolutely ransacks the records of the Court also for all former cases in any way similar to this case he has in his hand. He puts the judge in remembrance of his own past opinions, 226 and of all his predecessors’ past opinions and past judgments. Not only so, but a skilful advocate will study the very temperament and mood of mind at the time; the age; and the very partialities and prejudices of the judge,—so set is every adroit advocate on carrying his case. Altogether, you cannot but see what an advantage an advocate has, when once he becomes a man of prayer.

But, instead of any advantage and start in prayer, like that, you may well have this desperation and hopelessness in your case, that you positively hate to pray, or even to hear about prayer. It is not only that you have had no experience in prayer: you would never so much as bow your knee if it were not for one thing before you,—that without prayer you cannot escape. Well, awful as your case is, it is not absolutely hopeless. God is such, and He has made such provision for you, that even you may yet become a man of prayer; aye, and, what is more, an advocate for other men. Go to Him just as you are. Make your dreadful case your great argument with Him. Say this to Him; say: “Lord, teach this reprobate now before Thee to pray. Teach this castaway, if it be possible, to pray! Lord, soften this stone to pray!” Tell Him the truth, and the whole truth. Tell Him, on your knees, how you hate to come to your knees. Tell Him that you never spent a penny upon a help to pray. Tell Him, honestly, that, if it were not 227 for hell-fire; all the books and all the sermons in the world would never have brought you to His footstool. And what will He do? Will He cast you away with contempt and indignation, as He well might, from His presence? No! But He will do this. He will do as all the humane crowns on earth do. When an accused man is so poor, and so friendless, that he cannot pay for a pleader, he is supplied with one of the best pleaders for nothing. And so will the Crown of heaven do with you. So God has already done with you, and for you. For, you and we,—we all,—have an Advocate with the Father. It is Christ that died; yea, rather, that is risen again: who also maketh intercession for us. “And this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

He Who, for men, their Surety stood,

And poured on earth His precious blood,

Pursues in heaven His mighty plan,

The Savior and the Friend of man.

With boldness, therefore, at the throne,

Let us make all our sorrows known;

And ask the aids of heavenly power

To help us in the evil hour.

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