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PART I. SOME OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL AND SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES AND DOCTRINES OF FAITH.



CHAPTER SEVENTEENTH.


ON THE DOCTRINE OF RECEIVING BY FAITH.
[This chapter is found in The Interior Life. It is introduced here, as necessary to a full understanding of the subject of the present Work.]


Answers to prayer may reasonably be expected. Nature of the answers which may be expected to be given. Answers to prayer to be received by faith. Illustrations of this doctrine. Additional remarks indicating the results and applications of the principles, which are laid down..

IT is well understood that we must pray in faith. No petition to God, which is not attended with confidence in his character and his word, can be acceptable to him. But I suppose that it is not so generally understood and recognized that, in most cases, we must receive by faith, as well as pray by faith; that faith is as necessary in the reception of the thing petitioned for, as in the petition itself.

1.—In order the better to understand this subject, we would remark, in the first place, that every Christian, who humbly and sincerely addresses his Maker, may reasonably expect an answer. It does not well appear how a perfectly just and holy Being could impose on his creatures the duty of prayer, without recognizing the obligation of returning an answer of some kind. In making this remark, we imply, of course, that the prayer is a
sincere one. An insincere prayer, just so far as insincerity exists, is not entitled to be regarded as prayer, in any proper sense of the term. Our first position, therefore, is, that every person, who utters a sincere prayer, may reasonably expect an answer, and that in fact an answer always is given, although it is not always understood and received. And this appears to be entirely in accordance with the Scriptures. “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and ye SHALL find; knock and it SHALL be opened unto you. For every one that asketh RECEIVETH; and he that seeketh FINDETH; and to him, that knocketh, it shall be OPENED.”

2.—But it becomes now an important inquiry, What is the true and just answer of God to the petitions of his people? It seems to us that it is, and it cannot be any thing else, than the decision of his own infinitely just and omniscient mind, that he will give to the supplicant or withhold, just as he sees best. In other words, the true answer to prayer is God’s deliberate purpose or will, existing in connection with the petition and all the circumstances of the petition. But some will say, perhaps, that on this system we sometimes get our answer, without getting what we ask for; and that God’s decision may not correspond with our own desire. But this objection is met by a moment’s consideration of the nature of prayer. There never was true prayer, there never can be true prayer, which does not recognize, either expressly or by implication, an entire submission to the divine will. The very idea of prayer implies a right on the part of the person to whom the prayer is addressed, either to give or to withhold the petition. And the existence of such a right on the part of God implies a correlative obligation on the other party to submit cheerfully to his decisions. To ask absolutely, without submission to God’s will, is not to pray, but to
demand. A demand is as different from true prayer, as a humble request is from an imperative order. A request God always regards; he always treats it with kindness and justice; but a demand cannot be properly addressed to Him, nor can it properly be received by Him. The true model of the spirit of supplication, even in our greatest necessities, is to be found in the Savior’s prayer at the time of his agony in the garden. “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” True prayer, therefore, that prayer, which can be suitably addressed to the Supreme Being, and that which it is suitable for an imperfect and limited mind to offer, always involves the condition, whether it be expressed or not, that the petition is agreeable to the divine will. This condition is absolutely essential to the nature of the prayer. There is no acceptable prayer, there is no true prayer without it. Such being the nature of the prayer, the answer to the prayer will correspond to it, viz., it will always be the decision of the divine mind, whatever that decision may be, made up in view of the petition, and of all the attendant circumstances.

3.—The next inquiry is, How are we to receive the answer? By sight or by FAITH? It seems to us that it must be by faith. The life of the just is represented as a life of faith; and we should naturally conclude the life of faith would include the answer to prayer, as well as prayer itself.

It is very evident that the just live, as subjects of the divine Sovereign, not only by praying but by being answered. And in either case, according to the Scripture representation, the principle or inspiring element of the inward life, whether a person prays or is answered in prayer, is faith. Any other view will probably be found, on close examination, to be inconsistent with the doctrine of living by faith. Accordingly, on the true doctrine of holy living, viz., by faith, we go to God in the exercise of faith, believing that he will hear; and we return from him in the exercise of the same faith, believing that he
has heard; and that the answer exists and is registered in the divine mind, although we do not know what it is, and perhaps shall never be permitted to know.

And in accordance with these views, if, in a given case, we know from the word of God that the petition is agreeable to the divine will, and that it is also agreeable to the divine will that it should be granted now, then the doctrine of faith will require us to believe, that the divine decision is made up and is given, and that we do
now have the things which we sought for, although they may come in a different way, and with a different appearance from what we anticipated. And, on the other hand, if the word of God has not revealed to us the divine will, the doctrine of faith still requires us to believe that the true answer exists in the will of God; that the decision of God is made up as in the other case, whatever that decision may be, and whenever and wherever it may be visibly accomplished. In both cases we have need of faith; we believe that God is either now doing, or that he will do. So that the true answer to prayer, as it seems to us, is an answer resting upon the revealed declaration or word of God for its basis, and made available to us in any given case by an act of faith. God promises that he will answer. Faith, accepting the declaration, recognizes the answer, whether it be known or unknown, as actually given in every case, where it can justly be expected to be given.

4.—We proceed now to give some illustrations. We will suppose, for instance, that, in a particular emergency, we need and are sincerely desirous of wisdom to guide us, and that we truly and humbly ask for it. While we thus pray, it is of course implied, that we, at the same time, employ all those rational powers which God has given us, and which are appropriate to the subject under consideration. To do otherwise would be like the husbandman’s asking the rains and the blessing of heaven upon lands, which he had neglected to cultivate. While we thus pray and thus act, it becomes our privilege and our duty, in accordance with the doctrines of the
life of faith, to believe fully and firmly, that God does in fact answer, and that in the sanctified exercise of the powers which are given us, we truly have that degree of wisdom which is best for us in the present case. Whether we are conscious of any new light on the subject or not, it is our privilege, and what is very important, it is our duty, as those who would be wholly the Lord’s, to believe that we have just that degree of knowledge which is best for us. Even if we are left in almost entire ignorance on the topic of our inquiry, and are obliged to grope our way onward in the best manner we can, we still have the high satisfaction of knowing, that we are placed in this position because God sees that a less degree of light is better in our case than a greater, and it is certain that his perception of it involves the fact that it is so. And accordingly, if it be true that God does not give to us that precise form and degree of wisdom, which, in our ignorance we sought for, we nevertheless have received all that wisdom, which, in the view of faith, is either necessary or desirable. Such is God’s answer. And such also is the true answer, viz., the answer which precisely corresponds to the spirit of the petition, if the petition has been offered up in the true spirit. But it is obvious it is an answer, which could never be realized as the true answer, and as God’s answer, except in the exercise of faith. It is, therefore, an answer resting upon the revealed declaration or word of God, viz., that he will give wisdom to those that sincerely ask it, and made available to us in being received by faith. It answers our purpose just as much and as well, and in some important points of view far better, than if it were an answer addressed directly to our sight.

5.—We will suppose, as another illustration of the subject, that we have a sincere and earnest desire for the salvation of one of our friends. Under the pressure of this desire we lay the case before our heavenly Father in supplication. What is the nature of the answer which we can reasonably expect, and which we ought to expect under such circumstances? Is it a specific answer of such a nature as to make known to us, by a direct communication, whether the thing shall be done or not, and whether it shall be done at a particular time or not? Or is it an answer resting upon the revealed declaration of the word of God, as that answer is received and made available to us by faith? In the former case we shall pray till we know, or rather till we think we know; not merely know that God answers us, and answers us in the best manner; but what is a very different thing, shall pray till we know or think we know what the answer is. Under the influence of a very subtle and secret distrust of God, we shall not be disposed to desist until we obtain some sign, some voice, some specific manifestation, some feeling which shall make us
certain; and certain, not merely that God hears us, and will do all he consistently can for us; but shall insist on a certain knowledge, by means of such signs and manifestations, of the precise thing which he will do. In other words, we cannot trust the answer in God’s keeping; but must gratify our inordinate and sinful curiosity by having a revelation of it.—In the latter case, viz., where we expect an answer, resting upon God’s word and received by faith, it is very different. While we humbly, earnestly, and perseveringly lay our request before God, we shall leave the result in his hands with entire resignation; believing in accordance with the declarations of his holy word, that he does truly hear us; entirely confident that he will do what is right; and recognizing his blessed will, although that will may as yet be unknown to us, as the true and only desirable fulfilment of our supplication. We shall feel, although salvation is desirable both for ourselves and others, that the fulfilment of the holy will of God is still more, yea infinitely more desirable. “THY WILL BE DONE.” And here is a real answer, such an answer as would completely satisfy an angel’s mind; and yet it is an answer received by simple faith. “The just shall live by faith.” The whole doctrine is beautifully summed up in a short passage in the first Epistle of John. “And this is the confidence [or strong faith] that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desire of him.”

6.—In connection with the doctrine which has been laid down, viz., that answers to prayers are to be received by faith, we proceed to make a few remarks which are naturally related to it. And one is, that this doctrine is favorable to self-renunciation. The desire of definite and specific answers naturally reacts upon the inward nature and tends to keep alive the selfish or egotistical principle. On the contrary, the disposition to know only what God would have us know, and to leave the dearest objects of our hearts in the sublime keeping of the general and unspecific belief that God is now answering our prayers in his own time and way, and in the best manner, involves a present process of inward crucifixion, which is obviously unfavorable to the growth and even existence of the life of self.

7.—We remark again, that a disposition to seek a specific, or rather a visible answer to our prayers, in distinction from an answer addressed to our faith, tends to weaken the principle of faith. The
visible system, if we may be permitted so to call it, implies that we will trust God only so far as we can see him. It requires, as one may say, ready payment, cash in hand, a mortgage of real estate, something seen or tangible. It cannot live upon what it calls mere air; it is not disposed to trust any thing to a mere word, a mere promise, though it be the word or promise of the Almighty. Such, on a close examination, will be found to be the spirit of the specific or visible system; a system which will answer, to some extent, in our intercourse with men, but not in our intercourse with God. It is easy to see, in addition to other evils resulting from it, that it is adverse to the growth of faith; which, in accordance with a well known law of our mental and religious nature, nourishes by exercise, and withers by repression. If the system, which is not satisfied without seeing or knowing, should prevail generally, faith would necessarily be banished from the world, and God would be banished with it.

8.—The system, which requires a present and visible or ascertained answer, in distinction from the system of faith, which believes that it has an answer, but does not require God to make it known, till he sees best to make it known, is full of danger. It tends to self-confidence, because it implies that we can command God, and make him unlock the secrets of his hidden counsels whenever we please. It tends to self-delusion, because we are always liable to mistake the workings of our own imaginations or our own feelings, or the intimations of Satan, for the true voice of God. It tends to cause jealousies and divisions in the church of Christ, because he, who supposes that he has a specific or known answer, which is the same, so far as it goes, as a specific revelation, is naturally bound and led by such supposition, and thus is oftentimes led to strike out a course for himself, which is at variance with the feelings and judgments of his brethren. Incalculable are the evils, which, in every age of the Christian history, have resulted from this source.

9.—We have but a single remark more, viz., it is a great and blessed privilege to leave every thing in the hands of God; to go forth like the patriarch Abraham, not knowing whither we go, but only knowing that God leads us. “BE CAREFUL FOR NOTHING; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Philippians 4:6. This is what is sometimes denominated walking in a “general and indistinct faith;” or walking in the “obscurity of faith,” or in the “night of faith.” Faith, in its relation to the subject of it, is truly a light in the soul, but it is a light which shines only upon
duties, and not upon results or events. It tells us what is now to be done, but it does not tell us what is to follow. And accordingly it guides us but a single step at a time. And when we take that step, under the guidance of faith, we advance directly into a land of surrounding shadows and darkness. Like the patriarch Abraham, we go, not knowing whither we go, but only that God is with us. In man’s darkness, we nevertheless walk and live in God’s light. A way of living, which may well be styled blessed and glorious, however mysterious it may be to human vision. Indeed, it is the only life worth possessing, the only true life. “Let the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing;” let nations rise and fall; let the disturbed and tottering earth stand or perish; let God reveal to us the secret designs of his providence or not, it is all well. “Cast all your cares upon God, for he careth for you.” “BELIEVE in the Lord, your God, so shall ye be established. BELIEVE his prophets, so shall ye prosper.”