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have in Him, that if we ask anything, according to His will, He heareth us.” Now, there are very many cases in which our prayers may be asked for things “according to the will ” of God, and, consequently, offered up in faith. Whatever God has promised, may thus be made the subject of prayer. When, therefore, we are requested by others to plead along with themselves for promised blessings, we may have confidence that such prayers shall be heard and answered, just as when we plead in faith for ourselves alone.*
But the question regarding intercessory prayer suggested by the perusal of this volume is, Whether we are entitled to pray with assured confidence for the conversion of an impenitent unbeliever, who has himself no desire for salvation ? Now, it is quite true—blessed be God !-that we may pray, and ought to pray, for the greatest sinner on earth. We are warranted to do so by the character of God, and by His command, that “ intercessions should be offered up for all men” on this very ground, that “God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; for there is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” We are, moreover, taught to do so by the example of Christ, whose last prayer was for His enemies, “Father, for
* Ought there not to be some inquiry into every case requesting prayer, before it is brought before a public prayer-meeting? What evidence is there that it is real and not fictitious ? What check is there to any scoffer making requests for persons that have no existence, and for blessings that are not desired ?
give them, for they know not what they do ”-a prayer which was gloriously answered on the day of Pentecost, when those enemies were made to know what they had done, and so were led to seek and obtain forgiveness. Nay, we cannot help praying for others, from the necessity of our casting every burden and care on the Lord ; and, above all, from our being constrained by that love to even lost souls which is inspired by Him who wept over Jerusalem. There need, therefore, be no shutting up of the heart in pleading for the most desperate, and in beseeching Christ to cast out the devils which sorely torment this child or friend; yea, to raise them up though now dead and corrupt in trespasses and in sins! The touching story of the Canaanitish woman may itself for ever sustain the heart, in circumstances apparently the most desperate, to persevere in pleading for others. But while all this should be remembered and acted upon much more than it is, yet it does not follow that we are warranted in assuming that our prayers for the unconverted must be heard and answered as surely as those we offer up for ourselves or others, when both are seeking only what they know to be “ according to the will of God.” For is this or that man's conversion, as he is, “according to the will of God ?” Does He will that an unbeliever shall be saved, without repentence, and faith towards the Lord Jesus? And if not, where has God promised, in answer to the prayers of others, to awaken in this man such repentance and faith, or so to work in his soul that he shall believe and live? If the man himself “ will not be saved,” and “ prefers darkness to light," what ground
of assurance have we that God, by any process, shall cause him to will to be saved, or to prefer the light? If he refuses to hear God's own calls to him, how know we that God will certainly hear and answer our calls for him? Let us remember with reverence how Christ said, that “ He could not do many mighty works because of their unbelief”-how He wept for sinners, saying, “I would, but ye would not”-and how He prayed, “not for the world !” The awful fact which comes between our prayers for the unconverted and God the hearer and answerer of prayer, is the deep mystery of a responsible human will, which “ hates knowledge, and does not choose the fear of the Lord.” Therefore, all prayers for uncovenanted blessings, or those never promised, should be with a peradventure, and not with that assurance of faith which has a distinct promise to rest upon.
But with this holy reserve, which becomes us when remembering the relationship of others to God, as free and responsible beings, we may pour out our hearts before Him. With the freedom of children, we may confide to Him all our anxieties about others; and plead for them, even as when we plead with them “in Christ's stead,” and with heaven-taught earnestness, uttering every longing of our soul in their behalf. And such prayers never can be in vain. They will be answered in some form or other. It may be, it has been, times and ways without number, by the conversion of those prayed for in circumstances which have made many a Christian parent and friend sing with joy, “I love the Lord because He hath heard the voice of my supplica
tion!” The Lord is indeed always found by those who seek Him; but over and above this, how often does He seek and find those “ who sought Him not !” Why He thus acts so to one more than to others in like desperate circumstances, we cannot tell. There are mysteries in God's dealings with individuals and nations, both in providence and grace, founded on principles not revealed to us. All we can say at present is, “ Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight!” But we know enough of God, of what He can do, may do, and has done, to strengthen our hearts as we lift up our hands to a throne of grace to convert the unconverted. The day of judgment alone will reveal the connection between the petitions of the Christian parents in their closet, or of two or three uniting in earnest supplication, and the cry far away from some broken-hearted prodigal, “I will arise and go to my Father!” The wonders of intercessory prayer cannot be known until the Redeemer unfolds the history of His kingdom upon earth. But, when that great and eventful period arrives, we doubt not that among those causes now hidden, but then to be revealed, which affect the character of men and nations, the power of intercessory prayer, offered up by humble and unknown saints, will be recognised as having been more constant, more real and irresistible, than that of the greatest heroes, or of those fleets and armies whose achievements emblazon the page of history! A praying people is, more than the world understands, “ the cheap defence of nations." We offer these remarks to our readers for their encouragement to continue in inter
cessory prayer; so that, if it is not heard, they may neither blame their own unbelief, nor “ charge God foolishly," as if He did not answer them, though not in the way in which they desired. * At such trying times are we not made to drink of the Saviour's sufferings, as when He wept over Jerusalem, because, notwithstanding all His love and earnest pleadings, the things of her peace were for ever hid from her eyes !
We wished, before concluding, to have made some observations, suggested by this volume, as to the employment of lay agency in connection with “revivals” and general prayer-meetings. But we have occupied already much more space than we intended when we began this Preface. We shall only make a single remark or two on the subject alluded to. In regard to the inner and outer work of a living, earnest congregation, it never can be carried on efficiently without the hearty and active co-operation of its members as well as office-bearers. In times of revival especially, it is utterly impossible, physically and morally, for the clergy alone to undertake a tithe of the work which these times necessarily entail. We look with no jealousy upon “lay members” of the Church offering their assistance at any time, as if they were intruders,
* We knew a pious woman whose faith was much shaken in prayer and her heart much pained, because she had prayed for the conversion of a very selfish and profligate son who died at sea ; the mother declaring that, having prayed in faith, she knew that evidence would be found in his desk, or from some other source, that her prayers were heard and answered. No such evidence, alas! but the reverse, was ever given.