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PART III. ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE DIVINE GUIDANCE, OR THE OPERATION OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE SOUL.

CHAPTER EIGHTH.


ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO PRAYER FOR THE PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL.


The spread of the Gospel takes place in connection with prayer. Prayer for the spread of the Gospel always preceded and attended by faith. Illustrations of this view. Of faith in its relation to the results of this form of prayer. Remarks on the value of this form of faith. Of the operation of the Holy Spirit.

THE subject of this chapter is a trite one. It is frequently the theme, as it ought to be, of the pulpit; and is, therefore, too well understood to require extended remarks. The progress of the Gospel, including not merely its announcement in various parts of the world but all those propitious influences which naturally attend upon its announcement, is one of the great objects, to which the thoughts and affections of the Christian world strongly attach themselves. But such is the obvious arrangement of God’s providences, as we find them developed in the light of observation and experience, as well as in the Scriptures, that we speak only the universal sentiment on the subject, when we say, that this progress does not exist, and cannot exist, without being preceded and attended with prayer. The moment that prayer ceases, all effort in behalf of the missionary cause ceases; missionary schools are closed; missionary churches are laid in ruins; missionary stations are abandoned. If prayer without corresponding effort is vain, it is not the less true, that effort without prayer, especially in such a cause, is equally vain.

2.—To pray without
believing, when we use the term belief in the full extent of its applications, is an impossibility. In other words, there is, and from the nature of the case there must be, more or less of belief, in some of its modifications, in every case of prayer. The proposition is an universal one. Whatever may be the object, which calls forth our supplications, faith is always at the bottom. In praying, for instance, for the spread of the Gospel, it is obvious, that we pray for it on the ground, that the Gospel has a remedial or healing efficacy. And this implies, that we believe in the first place, that there are persons to be healed. Annul the fact of belief in this respect, unimportant as this modification of faith may seem, and you necessarily annul the form of prayer, of which we are now speaking. What motive have we, or can we have for praying, that the Gospel may be preached in all lands, if we have no belief, that man is a fallen being, that he has gone astray into paths of rebellion, and that he truly needs a Savior? We have already had occasion to say, in a former chapter, that desire is an element, involved in all prayer. On this point, there is, and can be, as I suppose, but one opinion. But how can we desire, that the Gospel may every where be announced as the true and only effectual remedy of moral evils, when we do not believe, that such evils exist? Looking at the subject in this aspect, therefore, it is exceedingly clear, that we cannot pray for the spread of the Gospel without faith.

3.—Another remark, which may properly be made, is, that the strength, the fervor of our prayer, will be in proportion, other things being equal, to our belief in the
degree of the moral and physical evil, which is to be corrected. And this view explains, in part, the too great apathy of the Christian world, in relation to the progress of the Gospel. They believe the condition of heathen nations to be a sad one; but there is reason to think, that they do not generally believe it to be so exceedingly deplorable, as it actually is. There is reason to fear, that there is much skepticism on this subject among ministers and churches of all denominations of Christians; not an unbelief that the heathen need the Gospel, but a secret perplexity and doubt as to the actual extent of that need. And hence, although they have a degree of faith, they do not have a faith adequate to the occasion. They have faith enough to enable them to pray; but they do not, as a general thing, have faith enough to enable them to pray fervently. They do not believe, as they ought to believe. They do not believe, as the primitive Christians and preachers believed. They do not believe, as the Apostle Paul believed, who gave his time, his worldly interests, his reputation, his life, to the cause of missions.

4.—Again, we cannot pray for the spread of the Gospel as the remedy of moral evils, without believing, not merely that such evils exist, but also that the Gospel is the appropriate source of relief. “It is a saying worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” “Behold the Lamb of God,
who taketh away the sins of the world.” “Ye were as sheep going astray, but now are returned to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.” If we do not believe in these propositions or in others, involving the same import, namely, that Jesus Christ is the appropriate and effectual remedy for the world’s moral evils, we do not pray, and cannot pray for the spread of the Gospel, considered as the remedy of sin. If we do not believe in it as a remedy, such are the laws of the mind, that it is impossible for us to pray for it as a remedy. We may have the other forms of belief, which have been referred to; but we shall not pray for the progress of the Gospel, without this form of faith in addition to them.

5.—But this is not all. It is possible to desire the spread of the Gospel without praying for it. But it should be remembered, that simple desire is no substitute and no compensation for prayer. Prayer is not merely desire; but it is desire ADDRESSED TO GOD. It is the recognition of God as the source of consolation and hope, which distinguishes prayer from simple desire. It is possible, therefore, to desire, but it is not possible to
pray, without first believing that God is, and that he is the “rewarder of all those, who diligently seek him.” We must believe in God as God, which involves the fact that he is supreme and that he listens to the supplications of all those who put their trust in him, before we can pray. So that, looking at the subject in this point of view also, we again come to the result, which has already been repeatedly indicated, namely, that prayer for the spread of the Gospel necessarily implies faith.

6.—We proceed to remark further, that there are special commands and special promises, which have relation to the spread of the Gospel. And this is not all. The whole economy of Revelation, from beginning to end and in every part of it, involves, as it seems to us, the pleasing and great idea, that the Gospel, which was but a grain of mustard seed in its commencement, will expand itself in every direction, will demolish every religious doctrine which is antagonistical in its principle, and will finally leave but one opinion, but one desire, one universally acknowledged way of salvation, and one great object, which really constitutes salvation in its result, namely, an union of the soul with God, accomplished by perfect harmony of will. This is the broad and cheering promise of the Bible, embodied in specific commands, in specific promises, and in the whole plan and progress of Revelation. And it is by faith in this great promise especially, that the prayer for the progress of the Gospel is now sustained, and will be more abundantly sustained in ages yet to come.

7.—The office of faith can hardly be said to be accomplished in what precedes prayer. Faith goes before, and it follows after. It not only lays the foundation for that form of prayer which we are now considering, viz., for the spread of the Gospel, but it has the effect to inspire a suitable disposition in regard to the result. The strong desire for the progress of the Gospel and for the conversion of the world, which is involved in adequate prayer for that object, would be likely to render us uneasy and fretful, were it not attended by faith that the result, and the whole result, will come in God’s time. The doctrine of faith, in its relation to our belief in God as the fulfiller of his promises, includes not only the fulfillment of the thing promised, but the
manner of its fulfillment, and the time of its fulfillment. And all faith, which does not include these, is exceedingly liable to be interrupted, shaken, and weakened. Faith says, in relation to events future; “BE PATIENT, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” And again it is said, “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” Men may pray much for the spread of the Gospel; they may sanction their prayers by unwearied efforts; but if they have not that faith, which will lead them calmly and thankfully to permit God to fulfill their desires in his own time and way, they fall far short of the higher degrees and the more excellent results of this Christian grace.

8.—I think we have seen some illustrations of what has just been said in our own day. Within the short period of half a century efforts have been made for the spread of the Gospel and for the general progress of humanity, such as have seldom been witnessed in any previous periods. The principles of toleration have been established; the methods of civil government have been improved; the bonds of the slave have been partially sundered; the spirit of war has been broken; the claims of universal brotherhood, the claims of man upon man, simply because
he is man, begin to be more generally recognized; and above all, the Gospel, which is the secret source of these favorable results, is on its rapid way to every land, to every dwelling place. And yet there are some persons, to whom nothing or almost nothing seems to be done, because it is evident, that much remains to be done; and who, in the spirit of distrust and impatience, seem almost ready to abandon the cause of humanity, because God, who sees the end from the beginning, is accomplishing his own work in his own time. This state of things, just so far as it exists, is not only an inconvenience, but a sin. A sin, which is the natural result of short-sighted and selfish views, but which can never exist in connection with full faith in God.

9.—Believe in God. Believe in all that God has promised either expressly or impliedly. And then, in the exercise of faith, pray to him; for you cannot pray to him, without first believing in him. And then add effort to prayer. Effort is the necessary incident to all true supplication. But having prayed in faith, and having added to supplication all appropriate and reasonable effort, the doctrine of faith requires us to leave the result with entire confidence, that God will do all things well. Friends may disappear, and opposers may multiply; obstacles, which were unexpected, may arise, and the time of fulfillment may seem to be rendered more and more remote; but the heart, that is strong in faith, reposes firmly arid calmly, in the conviction, that the word of God can never fail.

10.—And I think we may properly add here, that of all the various forms or modifications of faith, there is none more pleasing to God than this. The belief in the fulfillment of an object, before the anticipated time of fulfillment has arrived, is indirectly but powerfully supported by the
anticipation itself. In other words, it derives encouragement from the anticipated nearness of its fulfillment. But when that anticipation is disappointed, when the day comes without that which we expected to come with it, when the cloud is before us and over us, the cloud without its bright bow of promise, it is then that we are enabled, in the flight and failure of those from whom we had hoped better things, to separate between the false and the real, and to discriminate the small but accepted number of those, who have the true faith. A faith, built not upon what is seen, but upon what has been declared; not upon man’s present estimate, but upon God’s eternal veracity.

11.—The form of prayer, which we have been considering in this chapter, like all other prayer, has its origin in a divine operation. If there were no inward Teacher, no Holy Ghost, and men were left to the inspirations of nature instead of the teachings of God in-dwelling, there would be no prayer for the heathen, as there would be no prayer for any thing else. But the operation of the Holy Ghost, in this case as in others, always has its appropriate time, its appropriate place, its appropriate conditions; constituting together its formulary or law of action. From this great law the inward Teacher never varies, because it is a law, always sustained, as it was conceived at first, in infinite wisdom. And accordingly, while we can say, that all true prayer, which is offered up for the spread of the Gospel, is originated by the Holy Spirit, it is still true, that such prayer never exists independently of faith. If this is not the whole law of the Spirit’s action, it is certainly a part of it. God, who always regards the facts and relations of things, has seen fit in his wisdom to connect them together in such a manner as to make faith the permanent antecedent of prayer. The Holy Spirit, therefore, originates prayer; he inspires it within us; but he never acts arbitrarily. And if he never inspires the spirit of supplication, without first imparting the grace of faith, it is because he never violates, and never can violate, his own wise and unalterable law of action, either in whole or in part.