Sunday, January 29, 2017
The following is a response to Steve Hays' blogpost:
Casting mountains into the sea
Steve's blogpost is a kind of sequel to his blogpost Faith and providence. Of which I responded to in the combox as well as in my own blogpost:
A Response to Steve Hays' Comments Regarding Nabeel Qureshi's Illness
Blue Sentences in Italics are quotations from Steve's Blogpost.
"Did Jesus literally mean that his followers can uproot mountains and cast them into the sea? Is that the kind of world we actually live in?"
I don't see how that isn't in the same league as Joshua commanding the sun to "stand still", Moses speaking to a rock to release water (which he messed up), Jesus commanding a fig tree to die, a storm to cease and demons to leave. Someone might say God indicated to Moses that He wanted to perform the miracle. But that's not the case with Joshua.
12 At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,As far as I can tell Joshua didn't get an impression from God that He was already planning on stopping the sun. Joshua initiated the miracle himself (according to God's hidden decree if Calvinism is true). God didn't let Joshua's "word fall to the ground" in the same way God would later uphold Samuel's words (1 Sam. 3:19). They spoke in faith and God backed up both them and their words. They spoke in a way Paul would later describe in the following way,
"Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon."
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.- Joshua 10:12-14
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,- 2 Cor. 4:13
The woman healed from an issue of blood—recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels—had no revelation from God or Jesus that she would be healed if she touched the hem of Jesus' garment. In fact, Jesus was surprised and wasn't expecting healing virtue to flow from Him to heal her. He didn't know who it was who got healed. In the case of the healing of the Centurion's servant Jesus was going to personally travel to the servant to minister healing, yet it was the Centurion's faith which dictated how the healing would occur. He told Jesus that all He needed to do was to say the word (i.e. give the command) and the healing would occur. Jesus seemed to be reluctant to turn water into wine at the request of His mother, but He did it anyway. Abraham was cheeky when he persisted in lowering the number of people required for God to relent destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. The same thing when Moses contradicted God's apparent decree that He would start all over again and make a people out of Moses. Moses argued with God to change His mind and forgive his fellow Israelites. Moses had the chutzpah to ask God to show him His glory. The Syrophoenican woman persisted in asking Jesus to heal her daughter contrary to His stated intention NOT to heal her, as Vincent Cheung masterfully expounds in his blogpost Faith Override [though, there are some non-sequiturs in the details of his article]. He wrote:
He [Jesus] said no. He said no in three or four ways. There was the silent treatment. There was the positive covenantal argument. There was the negative covenantal argument. And there was the redemptive-historical maneuver.
Imagine what you would have done. He was not just ignoring you, he was saying no. He was not just saying no, he was schooling you in theology. You were defenseless because he was correct, and he was the Son of God............The woman did not accept the denial as “the will of God,” but she pressed on. Jesus asserted a covenantal argument. Then he asserted a redemptive-historical argument. He was correct theologically. What could turn this around? It was the simplest and rarest thing in the world. The woman asserted an argument from faith. She hijacked the Lord’s metaphor and insisted on getting something from him that was not intended for her and that did not belong to her, and that he said was “not right” to give to her. Faith made it right anyway. She had no covenant, and it was not her time, but she still got what she wanted. What’s your excuse?From the human perspective it seems like humans were in control of the miracles and/or God's response. As a Calvinist I would see those actions as previously decreed by God, though they (the humans) didn't know that.
If moving mountains is hyperbole, then is Luke 17:5 also hyperbole?
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"6 And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.- Luke 17:5
"ii) Consider the havoc it would wreak if Christians had the power to trigger natural disasters. Do we really think God has delegated that kind of unbridled power to Christians?"
God's promises to answer prayer are always understood to be in keeping with His purposes, decrees and moral standards. So, for example, God would never answer a prayer for successful adultery and theft, or the destruction of the world, or the damnation of every human, or the cancellation of the Second Coming of Christ etc.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.- John 15:7
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.- 1 John 3:21-22
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.- 1 John 5:14-15
Having Christ's Words abiding in oneself informs one of what God would generally or specifically desire or approve of. There are some things not addressed or covered in God's Word which may or may not be God's purpose to grant. In which case, our confidence in God's granting those types of things will be weaker than for something that God has revealed (e.g. healing according to faith as in James 5:15). Though, if our hearts are attuned to God's heart, we can sometimes sense if something would be in keeping with God's purposes without any impression or private revelation. Other times there might be such an impression or private revelation that God is desirous to perform it. For example, George Mueller said that there were times when he got impressions that God wanted something performed which wasn't covered in Scripture and which he wouldn't have felt free to ask for or do without such an impression or gift of faith. Conversely, God sometimes gives impressions that it is not His will to grant a prayer. That's whether it's not covered by God's Word or even if covered by God's Word. So, if—ex hypothesi—it is God's general will to always heal the sick given sufficient faith, there have been times when people specifically got the impression it was NOT God's intention to heal a person (at least at that time) and so not to pray. That includes folks like George Mueller , Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Francis MacNutt, Charles S. Price et alii.
The following is a quote from chapter 9 of Charles S. Price's book The Real Faith.
Returning to Steve's question:Some years ago I was conducting a meeting in a Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. The Lord led us to hold a healing service one afternoon. The place was crowded, and many were standing outside and on the window ledges, looking into the building. One of that number was a little crippled boy who walked with the aid of crutches. My heart bled for the little fellow, for there was such a look of pathos about his blue eyes that my heart was stirred. Silently I lifted my heart to the Lord, and asked for faith for the healing of the little lad.
Then across the platform there came for prayer a line of children, most of whom were accompanied by their parents. A little girl stood in front of me. Her mother was weeping. I laid my hands on her head and prayed.
Nothing happened; but the spirit of the meeting seemed to change. There was a deadness and a heaviness which weighed heavily upon me. I prayed again; and the feeling seemed to increase. I looked at the weeping mother in bewilderment. She was sobbing. At last she cried out, almost hysterically, "Why won't Jesus heal my girl?"
"Where do you worship?" I asked.
"I go to the Methodist Church," was her reply.
I looked at her closely. Then into my heart there came a suspicion. Just at that moment the Lord imparted the gift of discernment to one of the people by my side who asked the woman this question: "Have you ever been in Mysticism or Occultism?"
She had, she confessed. Her little girl did not go to the Methodist Church. She, herself, had not been there for months. She had been attending a spiritualist seance week after week. Then I knew why my Lord had withheld His blessing and His faith. The mother continued to cry in her agony of soul, "He has healed others; please ask Him to heal my little girl."
I said, "Sister, do you know anything about salvation through the shed blood of Jesus on Calvary?"
She said she had at one time, but a sorrow had come into her life and, instead of taking a little tighter grip on the hand divine, she had turned away from God. In response to my appeal, she said that she would like to give her heart to Christ then and there, and asked me to pray for her. She repeated a prayer of surrender after me, and then I closed with the words, "I am trusting in Jesus as my personal Savior, and I claim the promise of the blood as the atonement for all my sin."
Into my heart, and into hers too there swept a glory wave from heaven. As I reached out my hand once again to her little girl, I knew that her days as a cripple were over. She sprang to her feet. She was healed! Then I looked at the poor little crippled boy and held out my hand for him to try to climb through the window and come to the platform for prayer. He did not come. Instead, he fell through the window, leaving his crutches on the outside! He too was healed.
The Holy Ghost took such charge of that service, that I have seldom seen anything to equal it. Not only were people healed, but many were saved. Down the aisle came a dear, old lady who had been in a wheel chair for years. She was leaping, shouting, and praising God, even as they did in the days when the Savior walked the streets with men. What a meeting! What a time to make men adore Him and angels to rejoice.Now, suppose I had possessed faith for the healing of that little girl. Suppose that when I first laid hands on her head, she had gone away well. Her mother would have taken it as a sign that the seance was in the order of the Lord, and from that moment on she would have been more deeply enmeshed in the spiritism that I do not believe is of God. So, when I prayed in my lack of understanding, the spirit of faith and assurance was lifted from me. How empty I felt. Then, when the mother accepted Jesus as her personal Savior, faith was imparted and the work was done. Instead of struggling to be healed, how much sweeter and richer life would be, were we to look to Jesus who is "the Author and the Finisher of our faith."
"ii) Consider the havoc it would wreak if Christians had the power to trigger natural disasters. Do we really think God has delegated that kind of unbridled power to Christians?"
Assuming God did desire a mountain to be moved, God has the power to keep natural disasters like tsunamis from occurring. Take for example Joshua's commanding the sun to stand still. Some have speculated that God may have bent light in such a way that it looked like the sun stood still, and so provided the extra daylight hours for Joshua to win the battle. However, assuming God literally did stop the Earth from rotating, God—being omnipotent—could have performed the additional miracle(s) of preventing the natural disasters that would otherwise naturally have occurred had the sun literally stood still or the Earth stop spinning (depending whether you use as your coordinate system relative heliocentrism or relative geocentrism).
"iv) Furthermore, it isn't even coherent. What if a farmer prays for rain while his neighbor prays for sunshine to display her baked goods at the county fair?"
Craig Keener has described nature miracles that amounted to this in his two volume book on Miracles [including interviews]. In one instance a village didn't get rain according to the presumptuous statement of a Christian believer despite surrounding villages receiving rain. The believer regretted making the statement before his pagan neighbors, but nevertheless fervently prayed that God would bring it to pass as he said for the sake of God's honor and glory. Also, we have modern instances of rain falling with a clear boundary line so that you can actually see where one side is wet with falling rain and the other side is dry. Steve, has used a better example in times past when he pointed out people on different sides of a war can't both have their prayers answered for their own side win. Most battles in history aren't addressed in Scripture and its prophecies and so do not fall under any specific promise of God.
"vii) Someone might object that we shouldn't interpret v24 in light of experience. I disagree. If a claim has predictable consequences, then it's legitimate to judge the claim by the outcome. If the claim is true, there will be observable evidence. That's the nature of the claim. It is necessary to take experience into account when a particular claim implies a particular experience."
Conversely, if it works in some sense for some people in some areas, then that might suggest they are interpreting the passage correctly. I say "in some sense" since the people I cite have their own peculiar qualifications regarding the efficacy of faith (as I've given my own throughout this blogpost). I say "in some areas" because some Christians seem to have developed faith in some areas more than (or to the exclusion of) others. Mueller had great faith for provision but not in healing apart from the gift of faith. Whereas Smith Wigglesworth had great faith for healing, but virtually none for finances in comparison to Mueller. The apostle James apparently had great faith for healing and WISDOM. I've already cited James 5:14ff for healing. Here's James regarding EXPECTANT Faith for WISDOM:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.6 But let him ask in faith. with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.- James 1:5-8
James' statement about "anything from the Lord" might be interpreted to mean that James was teaching the exercise of expectant faith was not limited to asking for wisdom. This would be consistent with his statement later on regarding the "prayer of faith" for healing in James 5:14ff. Others had great faith for prophesying (Rom. 12:6) as God gave to each person a measure of faith (Rom. 12:3, Eph. 4:7). I could name more Arminian/Arminian-like healing ministers and give examples, and I've already mentioned a Pentecostal (Price), a Catholic (MacNutt) and a Lutheran (Blumhardt). But I should give some more Calvinist examples as well, besides Mueller (who more or less eventually came to a Calvinistic soteriology). For example, Andrew Murray [here or here] and A. J. Gordon were two Calvinists (of sorts) who believed and taught—in some sense and degree—expectant faith for healing. For contemporary Calvinistic examples, I would recommend the writings of Sam Storms, or reading Johanes Lilik Susanto's Doctoral Thesis where he gives examples in his own experience [or HERE]. Or controversial Calvinist Vincent Cheung's testimonies.
Beginning in Healing Ministry by Vincent Cheung
Advancing in Healing Ministry by Vincent Cheung
Contending in Healing Ministry by Vincent Cheung
Or Cheung's books on Biblical Healing
Here's a quote from Cheung's blogpost Advancing in Healing Ministry:
I'm not saying as a matter of fact that Vincent Cheung or any of the people I have (or could) listed performed the supernatural feats they've claimed or have been attributed to them. The point is that IF some of them have, then Steve's criteria of experience would be evidence for my view. Especially since doubt and faith (much less sufficient faith) are not empirically observable, whereas apparent healing in connection with—and in the context of—a profession of faith would be empirically observable. This is analogous to how a Christian can logically claim to have a positive experience of God's presence, whereas atheists cannot logically claim to have a positive experience of the non-existence of God. Atheist lack of experience doesn't proof God's non-existence since, (generally speaking) as the saying goes, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." It could be the case that everyone Steve could cite who failed to receive a positive answer to prayer 1. didn't pray for something that was God's will (ever or at that time); 2. prayed for something contrary to God's will (ever or at that time); 3. lacked sufficient faith to meet the conditions to received what God was willing to grant; 4. prayed with impure motives (James 4:2-3); or a combination of those things. I've cited a few experiential cases because Steve's blogpost emphasized the informative nature of experience and what we can infer from them. I could have cited more examples, but one need only browse this blog Charismata Matters.
The first time I preached was also the first time I prayed for the sick. I was sixteen, a high school student. Someone was able to secure the basement of a bank for me to preach to a group of adults every Sunday. Most of the people were middle-aged, probably older than I am now. If any of them looked down on me because of my age, they no longer did after the first night.
In the message, I declared that God still performed miracles and that he commanded all believers to heal the sick. After I finished, I invited anyone who was sick to come forward, and I would pray for healing in front of everybody. Before that time, although I had heard about it, I had never prayed for the sick, never seen anyone pray for the sick, and never seen any miracle of healing. I went ahead by faith, because God told me to pray for the sick in the Bible.
Only one person came up, although after she was healed, others streamed forward. She had an abnormal curvature of the spine for some years, and was frequently in pain. I asked her to name her condition, if she had been to the doctor, and to tell us what the doctor said about it. I asked her to describe what had to be changed physically in order for her to be healed. And I confirmed that she was in pain at that moment.
Then I placed my hand on her back and was going to command her spine to become straight in the name of Jesus. I hardly went further than “In the name of Gee…” when I felt a blast come down through the ceiling (Isaiah 65:24, Matthew 6:8). I say that I could “feel” it, but it was not the same as a sensation on the body. A sensation on the body occurs when something interacts with our body, so that something that occurs beyond the space that our body occupies would not produce such a sensation. But I could feel this definitely. It was so much like a physical sensation that I would have mistaken it as one if not for the fact that it started very far from my body, even from the level above us. The Bible might be referring to something similar when it says, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him” (Mark 5:30).
This blast of power or energy took the shape of a sphere, about four to five feet in diameter. It crashed down through the ceiling at an angle, struck the woman on the head, and went down her spine to my hand. She fell to the floor. When we picked her up, she no longer had any pain, and she could bend down to touch her toes, something that she could not do before.
When it happened, although the whole place gasped, I was not surprised, because I really believed. I told the people to thank God, and asked if there were other sick people present, and waved them forward. Now, I am just telling you what happened, but special sensations are in fact unnecessary for healing, and more powerful cases have occurred when I did not feel anything.
So I had success the first time I prayed for the sick. On the other hand, there was one person who prayed for over a hundred people before the first healing happened. He continued, because the Bible told him to pray for the sick. Then, once the miracles started, they never stopped. He had a worldwide ministry of healing for decades. Another person prayed for many people over a year and a half before the first healing happened, and he has been a strong proponent of the healing ministry ever since on an international scale. I cannot speculate on why it happened this way for them, especially since I did not know them personally, although I might be able to offer some theories if I know more about their personalities and circumstances.
My point is that you should pray for the sick because the Bible teaches it, and do not give up if people do not receive healing right away. Even if you are not successful the first time, or the first fifty times, it does not mean that you will never have a ministry of healing. It does not happen the same way with everybody. Do not think that you do not have the “gift” of healing. Forget about the gifts – relatively speaking, the Bible almost never talks about spiritual operations in such terms. All you need is faith in God and compassion toward the people. God has all the gifts.
From my Calvinistic Continuationist perspective the difference between those for whom "it works" and for those whom it doesn't is the result of the nexus of 1. God's sovereignty, 2. God's calling and 3. people's knowledge and faith (the latter two ultimately falling under the influence of the first). While God may be generally willing to heal people and to use every Christian to minister healing, not everyone has a specific calling for a healing ministry (or have gifts of healing). The latter group would naturally have greater success in a healing ministry than the average Christian.
FN #1. One thing more. Some say, “Oh, I shall never have the gift of Faith Mr. Mueller has got.” This is a mistake—it is the greatest error—there is not a particle of truth in it. My Faith is the same kind of Faith that all of God's children have had. It is the same kind that Simon Peter had, and all Christians may obtain the like Faith. My Faith is their Faith, though there may be more of it because my Faith has been a little more developed by exercise then theirs; but their Faith is precisely the Faith I exercise, only, with regard to degree, mine may be more strongly exercised. Now, my beloved brothers and sisters, begin in a little way. At first I was able to trust the Lord for ten dollars, then for a hundred dollars, then for a thousand dollars, and now, with the greatest ease, I could trust Him for a million dollars, if there was occasion. But first, I should quietly, carefully, deliberately examine and see whether what I was trusting for, was something in accordance with His promises in His written Word.- George Mueller
FN #2 "It pleased the Lord, I think, to give me in some cases something like the gift (not grace) of faith, so that unconditionally I could ask and look for an answer. The difference between the gift and the grace of faith seems to me this. According to the gift of faith I am able to do a thing, or believe that a thing will come to pass, the not doing of which, or the not believing of which would not be sin; according to the grace of faith I am able to do a thing, or believe that a thing will come to pass, respecting which I have the word of God as the ground to rest upon, and, therefore, the not doing it, or the not believing it would be sin. For instance, the gift of faith would be needed, to believe that a sick person should be restored again, though there is no human probability: for there is no promise to that effect; the grace of faith is needed to believe that the Lord will give me the necessaries of life, if I first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness: for there is a promise to that effect. (Matt. vi. 33.)" - George Mueller
Friday, January 27, 2017
I greatly admire and appreciate the persons and works of both Steve Hays and Nabeel Qureshi. The following is a response to both Steve's blogpost on Nabeel's situation and Nabeel's approach to seeking healing and coping with possible impending death.
My comments should be read in light of Steve Hays' blogpost:
Faith and providence.
[Highly Recommended, though I have some disagreements. See also my comments in the combox there.]
Blue Sentences in Italics are quotations from Steve's Blogpost.
I've previously summarized my views on Healing HERE
Preventing crises of faith due to bad theology is always a good thing. Nevertheless, I think we also shouldn't structure our theology based on what's safest for Christians, but rather on God's truth and promises. As a Calvinist I believe that as a matter of fact God does sometimes intentionally decree that such and such person will not and may not be healed in this life despite all his/her praying, believing and being prayed for by others (including those of godly Christians, not just pagans). However, I don't think that fact negates the Scriptural teaching concerning God's willingness to heal according to faith. For the freewill theist, faith is self-generated, and therefore outside the bounds of God's decree and overarching providence. But for the Calvinist, faith is (in the ultimate/final analysis) God's gift. Whether it be faith for salvation, or healing. Whether it be the special "gift of faith" or the "grace of faith" (a distinction made by George Mueller which I agree with). That's true even though Christians can (and are encouraged to) strengthen and grow their faith. Such attempts (success or failure) by Christians to cultivate their faith is itself empowered and decreed by God (the successes are obviously also empowered and decreed by God).
I do think we ARE Biblically warranted to exercise "expectant faith" with the understanding that God is sovereign and has the right (due to authority, perfect wisdom mixed with love) to refuse to positively answer a prayer request. I don't think this position is logically contradictory. I also think it balances all of the Scriptural teaching equally. I remember as a young Calvinist emphasizing God's sovereignty to such an extent that I ended up, in essence and unintentionally, disagreeing with (or at least "correcting") Jesus' teaching and example. So, for example, in the Lord's (model) Prayer, I would end up praying the last four petitions conditionally. Namely, "IF IT BE YOUR WILL forgive my sins. IF it be your will, lead me not into temptation. Also deliver me from evil and give me bread ONLY IF it be your will." However, Jesus does seem to encourage us to have high expectations that our prayers are and/or will be answered positively (e.g. Matt. 7:7-11//Luke 11:9-13; Matt. 17:19-20; Matt. 21:21-22//Mark 11:22-24; Luke 17:5-6; John 14:12-14; 15:7, 16 and many other passages).
When it comes to provision, Jesus said we are to look at the birds of the air and see how God provides for them even though being His creatures, they are nevertheless NOT His children; and that we believers are His children and are "of more value than them" (Matt. 6:26; 10:29-31). Also, that God already knows what we need before we ask, as well as knowing we need certain necessities of life.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.- Matt. 6:8
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.- Matt. 6:31-33Obviously these promises aren't true and fulfilled without qualification or exception since there have been Christians in times past who have died of sickness and starvation. However, our Lord does seem to encourage us to generally expect His provision all things being equal (even if not all things considered from His omniscient perspective).
"In his latest update he says Jesus healed everyone who came to him, or everyone who was brought to him. He infers from this that it is God's will to heal everyone."
Many non-Calvinists often assume God only has one will. However, Calvinists are free to believe that there is a sense in which God has multiple wills.
See my blogpost: Distinctions in God's Will from a Calvinist Perspective. Even well known Calvinist R.C. Sproul refers to three kinds, 1. Sovereign decretive will, 2. Preceptive will, 3. Will of disposition. In my blogpost I add three more kinds of God's will. Working with only Sproul's three, it's logically possible for God's will of disposition to be that all be healed even if in God's decretive will He has decided not to heal everyone. In keeping with some medieval theologians Luther distinguished between the hidden God (deus absconditus) and the revealed God in Christ (deus revelatus). He taught that we ought to approach and believed God as He has revealed Himself finally and most especially in Christ, and to leave God's hidden and secret purposes to Himself. Similarly, I think we can do the same when it comes to earthly blessings (e.g. health, wealth, protection etc.), while acknowledging that God's ways are sometimes mysterious and counterintuitive on account of His sovereignty and far seeing wisdom.
It does seem that Jesus did heal everyone who actively came to Him for healing. The only two He refused to heal was the the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman and Lazarus. In the former case, Jesus finally and eventually did heal the daughter and commended the woman for her great faith manifested in her persistence. In the latter case, neither Lazarus nor his two sister technically asked Jesus to heal him, but left it up to Jesus what to do. Despite the fact that in His ministry Jesus often encouraged people to believe for healing and taught that they would receive according to their faith (e.g. Matt. 9:29; 8:13; Mark 9:23 etc.). As C.H. Spurgeon said, "Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the Kingdom", and they technically didn't ask for healing.
"To some degree, we can infer God's will from providence. For providence mirrors God's decretive will. The past is the record of God's plan for the world, up to that point."
I agree with this statement and would emphasize the phrase "to SOME DEGREE". However, when it comes to healing, provision, protection (et cetera), Scripture encourages us to ask for and expect them, all the while teaching us to understand that God is sovereign in granting and withholding such blessings. There is a clear tension in Scripture's teaching on these topics, yet they aren't contradictory. Though atheists often frame them as contradictory on the one hand, while some Christians over emphasize one side to the neglect of the other on the other hand. For example, some Charismatics emphasizing God's goodness and willingness to bless and answer prayer to the neglect of God's sovereignty. While some Calvinists so emphasize God's sovereignty that their acquiescent faith doesn't rise to the level of expectant faith.
"So there's nothing faithless about inferring that it's not God's will to miraculously heal everyone, or every Christian in particular, from the fact that God doesn't heal everyone. History in itself, is a reflection of God's will."
While providence can give us a hint as to what God might have decreed, our inferences are not infallible. We cannot infallibly infer what God's 1. future decree or 2. ultimate purpose is based on past providence. God encourages us to persist in prayer both in the OT and NT (1 Kings 18:42-46 cf. James 5:17-18); as well as displaying His disappointment in our lack of persistence (2 Kings 13:18-19). Especially for those things God has said He's generally willing to grant like healing (Matt. 17:19-20; Ps. 103:3; James 5:14-16).
"Most people didn't come to Jesus for healing for the simple reason that most people didn't know he existed. Outside the ambit of Judea and Samaria, he was unknown. So consider all the ailing people who never had an opportunity to seek him out for healing. Not to mention people living on other continents."
Very true. However, from a Calvinist perspective, I think there's a parallel we can draw regarding God's will for salvation and healing. In Calvinism, the offer of salvation is sincere to all who do fall under the preaching of the Gospel. Meaning, anyone who is fortunate enough (in God's providence) to hear a sufficiently faithful presentation of the Gospel, then the offer is sincerely given to that person. Anyone may receive it the Gospel if they encounter it. Calvinists also don't discourage people from accepting the Gospel on account of the fact that God has decreed that some people who hear the Gospel will not accept it. Rather they do their very best to encourage acceptance and faith. Similarly, I think Christians should encourage faith for healing even if, as a matter of fact, God hasn't decreed to heal everyone who prays for or is prayed for for healing. Just as no amount of rejection of the Gospel should tell us that anyone is a lost cause while they are still alive, so we should never assume that God never intends to heal someone so long as the person is alive. Since, past providence only tells us about the past. For all we know, God's providential plan is to heal a person tomorrow or an hour from now.
I think the theological concept (popularized, but not invented by George E. Ladd) of the Kingdom of God being "Already, But Not Yet" touches on this subject. There's a sense in which, because of the finished work of Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated even if it hasn't fully arrived or been realized. Because of that, we can have foretastes of the blessings of the Kingdom now. Jesus said, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). I think it isn't eisegetical to include in that dominical statement the BLESSINGS of the Kingdom. That's obviously implied. It is not eisegetical because in principle "all the promises of God in Christ are 'Yes' and 'Amen'" (2 Cor. 1:20). In principle all provision and healing (etc.) has been provided for in Christ. Since the Cross Event and the establishment of the New Covenant—which is based on better promises [Heb. 8:6]—God is ALL THE MORE (not the less) "Jehovah Jireh" (our provider), "Jehovah Rapha" (our healer), "Jehovah Tsidkenu" (our justifier), "Jehovah Mekaddishkem" (our sanctifier), "Jehovah Shalom" (our peace), "Jehovah Nissi" (our banner/victory), "Jehovah Shammah" (who is there [i.e. here with us]), "Jehovah Raah/Rohi/Roi" (our shepherd) et cetera.
"He said in light of this that he must believe God has in fact healed him. But sadly, that hasn't happened."
In principle all believers have been healed at the cross of Christ. Even if they haven't yet appropriated it or if God hasn't yet bestowed it (which amounts to the same thing, since faith is the gift of God—as per Calvinism). Jesus clearly taught that we are warranted to believe we've received something by faith, and according to truth, even if it hasn't already arrived or manifested in current earthly fact.
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."- Mark 11:24 ESV
"And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."- Matt. 21:22 NASB
[ESV doesn't imply one ought to believe that one has already in principle received the request. Possibly because it better translates the passage than the NASB, NKJV, KJV, and YLT. Meaning, I could be wrong in citing this verse to support my position. Nevertheless, Mark 11:24 is clear in every translation.]
Truth and observable fact (in this world) aren't always in agreement. Christ is reigning and the ruling King even if it isn't a direct and visible rulership at the present time. Paul teaches as a matter of TRUTH that "all things are yours" even if as a matter of FACT they aren't (1 Cor. 3:21-23). That's because they are in principle. By Christ's stripes we have already been healed even if we're not experiencing it. That's because Christ has already purchased our healing at the cross—in principle (Matt. 8:16-17 cf. Isa. 53:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:24).
If a promise never arrives in this Age, then God may have decreed for it to arrive in the next Age. Though, admittedly, some promises may only have the possibility of being fulfilled here and now in this Age. For example, OT promises of no barrenness and the promise of having children who aren't miscarried but grow up normally to adulthood (Ex. 23:26; Deut. 7:13). Some will ask, "What of the pastoral problems of disappointment, disillusionment and the condemnation of lacking enough faith if one were to adopt this approach to faith?" That shouldn't happen in my theology of healing. I've addressed these types of concerns in a footnote in another blogpost HERE.
I agree with most of the sentiments of Calvinist continuationist Vincent Cheung in the following blogposts. The exceptions include his overly critical condemnation of cessationists who haven't yet arrived at his conclusions. Also, his arguments aren't as logical as they should or could be. I've come to my conclusions mostly independently from his.
Faith Override by Vincent Cheung
All Things Are Yours by Vincent Cheung
The Extreme Faith Teacher by Cheung
See also his books on Healing here: Vincent Cheung on Healing
There are a number of Arminian/Arminian-like teachers on healing I appreciate. The one whose teaching I appreciate the most and from whom I've been most influenced is Roger Sapp's teaching and ministry. Many of his materials can be accessed at my blogpost here:
Roger Sapp Materials
My blogpost on recommended resources for healing can be accessed HERE
Again, I've summarized my views on Healing HERE
When it comes to the general issue of suffering and persecution, I believe God has taught that we will experience such things in this world and to expect it (2 Tim. 3:12; Act 14:22; John 16:33). I believe God deals with us according to our knowledge and faith. So, for those who haven't arrived at the views of healing and sickness I (and others) have come to, I think sickness could be part of that suffering which some Christian endure for the glory of God. However, I believe that technically sickness is always a negative. It's portrayed that way 99% of the time in the OT and the NT. Jesus always dealt with sickness as an enemy (e.g. Acts 10:38). He never coddled it. He never accepted it. He taught it was always to be resisted and prayed against and hopefully overcome. Not overcoming it though is not necessarily a manifestation of inferior faith, even if it is a manifestation of a lack of sufficient faith to get healed. God has promised that with enough faith healing will occur. In the context of healing and deliverance Jesus said, "If you can [or "if you can believe" depending on a textual variant] ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO HIM WHO BELIEVES" (Mark 9:23). However, in God's providence He doesn't always allow us to arrive at that level of faith. Our duty to believe is independent of what God has secretly decreed.
As John Calvin has said, "You know however that our duties by no means depend on our hopes of success, but that it behooves us to accomplish what God requires of us, even when we are in the greatest despair respecting the results."--John Calvin, letter to Philip Melanchthon, March 5, 1555
(Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, vol. 6, p. 158).
Some will point out the Apostle Paul's acceptance of sickness as disproving my position. It doesn't because Paul received a revelation concerning his "thorn in the flesh". My theology of expectant faith for healing focuses on (though not limited to) 1. God's Revealed Will in Scripture regarding His general willingness to heal, 2. God's Dispositional Will regarding sickness and health. These can be overridden by God's Directional Will (in this case an extra-Scriptural revelation that God does not intend to heal Paul for the meantime or indefinitely). See again my Distinctions in God's Will. Unless and until one receives such a revelation, they are warranted to believe God would prefer them healed and to expectantly hope and pray it will happen. Also, it's not clear that Paul's "thorn the flesh" was actually sickness or related to a possible eye problem. Some interpret Paul to be implying he was eventually healed of his eye problem in Gal. 4:12-15 since he speaks of it in the past tense. Charismatics have made a good case that Paul's thorn was actually demonic opposition which stirred up strive and persecution against Paul (see for example F.F. Bosworth's book Christ the Healer and Roger Sapp's book Performing Miracles and Healing).
Having written what I have, I'm not imply or stating that any or all of the Apostles held to my view of healing. They may not have. There could be minor differences among the Apostles regarding various doctrines. Infallibly inspired as they were when preaching or writing officially as Christ's representatives, they were still (in themselves) fallible and not all knowing. They didn't necessarily understand the full implications of what they themselves wrote or what was written in the Old Testament. If this was true with OT prophets (1 Pet. 1:10-12), why not NT Apostles (2 Pet. 3:16). Doctrine was being developed and theological understanding was maturing even during the times of the Apostles. That's true in post-Apostolic church history as well. For example, none of the Apostles would have formulated the doctrine of the Trinity as the Church did later at the councils of Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus and Chalcedon. The same thing goes for the doctrine of justification via faith alone as precisely formulated by Reformational and Post-Reformational Evangelicals. The same could be (and I believe is) true regarding the doctrine of healing, pneumatology, provision, election and predestination, eschatology etc.
In a post like this the issue of the use of ordinary means should be addressed. I'm convinced that going to doctors and using medicine, surgery and other things in keeping with ordinary providence are Biblical and should be encouraged, even though God should be the first and continuing source we should ultimately look to for any blessing. Availing oneself of ordinary means is not necessarily an expression of doubt. Since, God is not only a God of extraordinary providence, but also of ordinary providence and special providence. Jesus' statement "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick", strongly implies that Jesus approved of doctors (see Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31). Also, Paul referred to Luke as the beloved doctor/physician as if he continued to be a doctor after becoming a Christian, rather than abandoning his practice (Luke 4:14).
My Blog Comments That Address the Supernatural [comprehensive list] http://charismatamatters.blogspot.com/2013/07/my-blog-comments-that-address.html
Sunday, November 20, 2016
The following is Chapter One of A.B. Simpson's book:
A Larger Christian Life [online Here or Here].
I've collected links to other great books by A.B. Simpson HERE.
THE POSSIBILITIES OF FAITH.
"If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. "-Mark ix: 23.
These are bold and stupendous words. They open the treasure house of the Eternal King to sinful worms, and offer to the children of clay the privilege of God's own omnipotence and all the possibilities of His infinite resources. Side by side these two astounding declarations stand, "All things are possible with God;" "All things are possible to him that believeth."
I. Let us consider the possibilities of faith:--
Salvation is possible to him that believeth. No matter how vile the sin,
how many or how great the sins, how aggravated the guilt, how deep the
corruption, how long the career of impenitence and crime, it is everywhere
and forever true, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life," "Believe
on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved." And thus alone can any soul be
saved, for it is just as true forever, no matter what qualifications the
soul may possess, whether the highest morality or the deepest depravity,
"He that believeth not shall be damned." This blessed text opens the gates
of Paradise and all the possibilities of grace to any and every sinner, and
"whosoever will, may come, and take the Water of Life freely."
Sanctification is possible to him that believeth. "Inheritance among them
that are sanctified by faith that is in me," is still the inscription over
the gates of our full inheritance. "Purifying our hearts by faith "is still
the Divine process of full salvation. Thus alone can the soul be sanctified.
It is not a work, but a gift of grace, and all grace must be by faith. It
is not possible by painful struggling; it is not possible by penance and
self-torture; it is not possible by sickness, suffering or self-crucifixion;
it is not possible by moral suasion, careful training, correct teaching and
perfect example; it is not possible even by the dark, cold waters of death
itself. The soul that dies unsanctified shall be unsanctified forever. "He
that is holy, let him be holy still: he that is filthy, let him be filthy
still." But it is possible to him that believeth. It is the gift of Jesus
Christ; it is the incoming and indwelling of Jesus Christ; it is the interior
life and divine imparting of the Holy Ghost, and it must be by faith alone.
And it is possible to any soul that will believe, no matter how unholy it
has been, no matter how perverse it is; as mean perhaps and crooked as Jacob,
as gross as David in his darkest sin, as self-confident as Simon Peter, as
willful and self-righteous as Paul-it may be and shall be made as spotless
as the Son of God, as holy as the holiness of Jesus Himself, who comes to
dwell within, if we will only believe and receive.
Divine Healing is possible to him that believeth. "The prayer of faith shall
save the sick," is still the Master's unaltered word for His suffering church.
And this faith must be the faith of the receiver, for in the epistle it is
said, "Let not him that wavereth think that he shall receive anything of
the Lord." Still it is as true as when the Master touched the eyes of the
blind men to whom He said it, "According to your faith be it unto you." It
matters not how serious the disease, it may be as helpless as the cripple's
who could not in any wise lift herself up; as chronic as the impotent man
who lay for thirty and eight years helpless at the pool; as obscure and as
despised a case as the poor blind men who begged by the wayside and whom
the multitude thought unworthy of Christ's attention, or as the sinful woman
of Syro-Phoenicia, whom even the Saviour called a dog, and yet to her, as
to others, the healing came when He could say, "Great is thy faith; be it
unto thee even as thou wilt." It is not the faith which heals, it is the
God that the faith touches; but there is no other way of touching God except
by faith, and, therefore, if we would receive His Almighty touch, we must
All power for service is possible to him that believeth. The gift of the
Holy Ghost is received by faith. The power of the apostles was in proportion
to their faith. Stephen ''full of faith and power'' could meet all the wisdom
of Saul of Tarsus and the synagogue of the Cilicians. The simple story of
Barnabas is that "he was a good man. and full of faith and the Holy Ghost,
and much people were added unto the Lord." The secret of effective preaching
is not logic, or rhetoric, or elocution, but to be able to say, "I believed
and therefore have I spoken." The success of some evangelists and Christian
workers is out of all proportion to their talent or capacity in any direction,
but they have one gift which they faithfully exercise, and that is expecting
God to give them souls; and, therefore, they are never disappointed. The
church has yet to see in the present generation the full possibilities of
faith in the work of the Lord. The examples of a Moody and a Harrison are
but types of what is possible for the humblest worker who, with a single
eye to the glory of God and simple fidelity to the gospel of Christ, will
dare to expect the mightiest results. Both these examples, perhaps the most
marked instances of wide fruitfulness in the present generation, are persons
without great natural gifts or educational advantages, and, therefore, the
more encouraging as incentives to the work of faith. Humble toiler in the
vineyard of the Lord, will you go forth to all the possibilities of faith
in your work for Him as you realize the strength of your weakness and the
might of your God? for it is "not by might or by power but by my Spirit,
saith the Lord of Hosts."
The day has come for God to reveal Himself through the very weakness of His instruments, and to prove once more that He has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the things that are mighty.
All difficulties and dangers must give way before the omnipotence of faith.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been compassed seven
days, and still the mightiest citadels of the adversary must give way before
the steadfast and victorious march of faith. By faith Daniel stopped the
mouths of lions, and was delivered, we are expressly told, because he believed
in his God. It was not his uprightness of life, or courageous fidelity that
saved him, but his confidence in Jehovah. Such faith has carried the intrepid
Arnot through the jungles of Africa, and delivered the heroic Paton from
the murderous fury of the savages of Tanna, and held back the stroke of death
and the threatened disaster from many of us in the humbler experiences of
our providential lives. Still the God of faith is as near, as mighty and
as true as when He walked with the Hebrew children through the fire, and
guarded the heroic Paul through all the perils of his changeful life. There
is no difficulty too small for its exercise, and there is no crisis too terrible
for its triumph. Shall we go forth with this shield and buckler, and prove
all the possibilities of faith? Then, indeed, shall we carry a charmed life
even through the very hosts of hell, and know that we are immortal till our
work is done.
All the victories of prayer are possible to him that believeth. "Whatsoever
ye shall ask in prayer, believing, shall ye receive." "When ye pray, believe
that ye receive the things that ye ask, and ye shall have them." It is not
the strength or the length of the prayer that prevails, but the simplicity
of its confidence. It is the prayer of faith that claims the healing power
of the unchanging Saviour. It is the prayer of faith that reaches the soul
that no human hand, perhaps, can approach, and sometimes brings from Heaven
the answer before the echo of the petition has died away. Yonder in the city
of Cleveland a brokenhearted wife is praying with an evangelist for her husband's
soul. At that very hour an influence all unknown to himself is leading him
into a prayer-meeting in Chicago at noon, and before that prayer is ended
the choirs of Heaven are singing over a repentant soul, and the Holy Ghost
is whispering to her heart that the work is accomplished, not less surely
than when on the morrow the swift mail brings the glad tidings from his own
hand. The prayer of faith has reared those enduring monuments on Ashley Down,
where two thousand orphan children are fed every day by the hand of God alone,
in answer to the humble, believing cry of a faithful minister. These are
but patterns of what God has always been ready to do and hindered only by
His people's unbelief. Beloved, these possibilities are open to each of us.
We may not be called to public service, or qualified for instructive speech,
or endowed with wealth and influence, but to each of us is given the power
to touch the hand of omnipotence and minister at the golden altar of prevailing
prayer. One censer only we must bring-the golden bowl of faith, and as we
fill it with the burning coals of the Holy Spirit's fire, and the incense
of the great High Priest, lo! there will be silence once again in Heaven,
as God hushes the universe to listen, and then the living fire will be poured
out upon the earth in the mighty forces of providence and grace by which
the kingdom of our Lord is to be ushered in.
All peace and joy are possible to him that believeth. The apostle's prayer
for the Romans is that the God of hope shall fill them with all joy and peace
in believing. It is God's will and purpose that the unbelieving soul shall
be an unhappy soul, and that he shall be kept in perfect peace whose mind
is stayed on God and trusting in Him. Would you then know the peace that
passeth all understanding? Be careful for nothing, and steadfastly believe
that the Lord is at hand, supreme above every circumstance, and causing all
things to work together for good to them that love Him. Would you be happy
in the darkest hour? Then trust in the Lord and stay yourself upon your God.
Would you have the perennial overflowings of joy? Then learn to say, "Though
now we see Him not, yet believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full
of glory." The joy of mere paroxysmal emotion is like the cut flower of a
brief winter's day, separated from the root and withering before another
sun goes down. The joy of faith is the fruit and perpetual bloom that covers
the living tree, or springs from the rooted plant in the watered garden.
"The men of faith have found
Glory begin below-
Celestial fruit on hostile ground
From faith and hope may grow."
The evangelization of the world is to be given to faith. The most successful
missionary operations of to-day are sustained wholly through faith in God
and the power of prayer. If China is to be evangelized in the present century
it will be due to the faith of one humble missionary who has dared to attempt
great things for God and to expect great things from Him. There is no field
for faith so vast and so sublime as the mission field to-day, and there is
no limit to the possibilities which faith may claim. Oh, that some of us
may rise to the magnitude of this great opportunity and become workers together
with God for the greatest achievement of all the Christian centuries.
The Lord's coming will, doubtless, be given at last to faith. There will
be a generation who shall say, "Lo! this is our God, we have waited for Him."
As yet it is our blessed hope, but it will some day become more. And reading
both upon earth and sky the tokens of His coming, His waiting bride shall
hear the glad cry, "The marriage of the Lamb is come." To Simeon of old it
was made known that he should see the Lord's Christ, and to some shall be
given in the last times the Morning Star that shall precede
the Millennial dawn. The Lord help us so to understand our times and the
work the Master expects of us to prepare His coming, that we shall be permitted
to share its glorious recompense of faith and even hasten that joyful day.
- But beyond all that has been said this promise means that all things are possible to him that believeth. It is possible to have any or even many of the achievements specified and yet miss the all things of God's highest will. The meaning of this promise in its fullness is that faith may claim a complete life, a blessing from which nothing shall be lacking, a finished service, and a crown from which no jewel of recompense shall be found wanting. There are lives which are not wholly lost and yet are not saved to the uttermost. There are rainbows whose arch is broken, but there is a rainbow round about the throne whose perfect circle is the type of a completed record and an infinite reward. Many of us are coming short of all that God has had in His highest thought for us. When the king of Israel stood by the bedside of the dying prophet of the Lord, Elisha put his hand upon the hands of Joash and helped him shoot the arrows which were symbolic of faith and victory; but then the prophet required that the king should follow up this act of mutual faith by a more individual expression of the measure of his own expectation. Alas, like most of us, his faith evaporated long before its needed work was done. He smote thrice upon the ground and then he stayed. Too late for him to recover his lost blessing, the grieved and angry prophet upbraided him for his negligence and narrowness of heart, and told him sorrowfully that his blessing should be limited according to the measure of his own little faith. Never shall I forget the solemnity with which God brought this passage to my soul in a crisis of my life, and asked how much I would take from Him and how little would satisfy my faith. Thank God He enabled me to say with a bursting heart, "Nothing less than all Thy highest thought and will, even the all things of faith's greatest possibilities." The Lord help us to look forward ever to the time when all these opportunities shall be passing from our grasp, and to live each day under the power of those holy aspirations whose true value we shall then be able to understand, and evermore to say with Him who cherished the same lofty ambition, "I count not my life dear unto myself that I may finish my course with joy." Beloved, are you missing anything out of your life, your one precious, narrow span of earthly opportunity, the pivot on which eternity revolves, the one eternal possibility that never will return again? God is waiting to give you all, and all things are possible to him that believeth.
Because the ruin of the race began with the loss of faith, and its recovery
must come through the exercise of faith. The poison Satan injected into the
blood of Eve was a question of God's faithfulness, and the one prescription
that the Gospel gives to unsaved sinners is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ
and thou shalt be saved."
Faith is the law of Christianity, the vital principle of the Gospel dispensation.
The law of faith the apostle calls it in distinction from the law of works.
The Lord Jesus expressed it in the simple formula which has become the standard
of answered prayers and every blessing that we receive through the name of
Jesus. God is, therefore, bound to act according to our faith and also according
to our unbelief.
Faith is the only way known to us by which we can accept a gift from God,
and inasmuch as all the blessings of the Gospel are the gifts of grace, they
must come to us through faith and in the measure of our faith, if they come
Faith is necessary as a subjective influence to prepare our own hearts for
the reception of God and His grace. How can the Father communicate His love
to a timid, trembling heart? How can God come near to a frightened child?
I have seen a little bird die of terror in my hand, when I intended it no
harm but tried in vain to caress it and win its love. And so the individual
heart without faith would die in the presence of God in absolute terror,
and be unable to receive the overflowing love of the Father which it could
Faith is an actual, spiritual force. It is, no doubt, one of the attributes
of God Himself. We find it exemplified in Jesus in all His miracles. He explains
to His disciples that it was the very power by which He withered the fig
tree, and the power by which they could overcome and dissolve the mightiest
obstacles in their way. There is no doubt that while the soul is exercising
through the power of God the faith that commands what God commands, that
a mighty force is operating at that very moment upon the obstacle, a force
as real as the currents of electricity or the power of dynamite. God has
really put into our hands one of His own implements of omnipotence and permitted
us to use it in the name of Jesus according to His will and for the establishment
of His Kingdom.
- The pre-eminent reason why God requires faith, is because faith is the only way through which God Himself can have absolute room to work, for faith is just that colorless and simple attitude by which man ceases from his own works and enters into the work of God. It is the difference between the human and the divine, the natural and the supernatural. The reason therefore why faith is so mighty and indeed omnipotent is that it just makes way for the omnipotence of God. Therefore the two sentences are strangely and exactly parallel. "All things are possible with God." "All things are possible to him that believeth." The very same power is possessed by God and him that believeth, and the reason is that the latter is lost in, and wholly identified with, the former. How shall we illustrate the mighty distance between the earthly and the heavenly, the human and the divine, the finite and the infinite? Some one has said, take the strongest piece of artillery, load it to the muzzle with powder or dynamite, put in it the most perfect steel ball, be sure you have all the latest improvements in advance, then fire it, and your bullet will sweep through space at the rate of six hundred feet in a second. But in that second let God, with a single flash of light and without an effort or a sound, propel a ray from yonder sun or star or midnight lamp, and it will fly six hundred thousand miles. Six hundred feet, six hundred thousand miles! This is a feeble figure of the difference between the human and the divine. That ponderous gun with its slow but destructive power is a type of man's works. That gentle sunbeam and lightbeam with its silent, swift, beneficent minis-try is a type of God's infinite resources. This is the world into which faith introduces us. Surrendering its own insufficiency, it links itself with the all-sufficiency of God, and goes forth triumphantly exclaiming, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me," while approving Heaven echoes back, "All things are possible to him that believeth."
Of course we need scarcely say that faith is dependent upon obedience and
rightness of heart and life. We cannot trust God in the face of willful sin,
and even an unsanctified state is fatal to any high degree of faith, for
the carnal heart is not the soil in which it can grow, but it is the fruit
of the Spirit, and is hindered by the weeds of sin and willful indulgence.
The reason that a great many Christians have so little faith is because they
are living in the world and in themselves, and separated in so large a part
of their life from God and holiness. When the Lick Observatory was built
on the Pacific coast, it was necessary to go above the valleys and lowlands
of the coast, where the fogs and mists hung heavily over the land, and select
a site on the top of Mount Hamilton, above the fogs and vapors of the ground,
and in clear, unobstructed view of the heavens. So faith requires for its
heavenly vision, the highlands of holiness and separation, and the clear,
pure sky of a consecrated life.
Beloved, may you find in this the explanation of many of your doubts and fears, that your plane is too low, your heart is too mixed, and your life is too near this "present evil world."
Faith is hindered by the weak and unscriptural way in which so many excuse
their unbelief and lightly think and speak of the sin of doubting God. If
we would have strong faith we must recognize it as an imperative and sacred
obligation, and steadfastly and firmly believe God, and refuse ever to doubt
Him. Let us not say we cannot believe. It is true, we cannot of ourselves,
but all that God also provides, and He has provided for us the power to believe
if we will choose to do so. Let us then no more condone and palliate our
doubts as harmless infirmities and sad misfortunes, but "take heed lest there
be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living
Faith is hindered by reliance upon human wisdom, whether our own or the wisdom
of others. The devil's first bait to Eve was an offer of wisdom, and for
this she sold her faith. "Ye shall be as gods," he said, "knowing good and
evil," and from the hour she began to know she ceased to trust. It was the
spies that lost the land of promise to Israel of old. It was their foolish
proposition to search out the land, and find out by investigation whether
God had told the truth or not, that led to the awful outbreak of unbelief
that shut the doors of Canaan to a whole generation. It is very significant
that the names of these spies are nearly all suggestive of human wisdom,
greatness and fame. And so in the days of Christ, it was the bondage of the
Jews to the traditions of the fathers and the opinions of men, that kept
them back from receiving Him. "How can ye believe," He asked, "which receive
honor from men, and seek not that which cometh from God only?" This, to-day,
has much to do with the limitation of the church's faith. The Bible is measured
by human criticism, and the promises of God are weighed in the balance of
natural probability and human reason. Our own wisdom is just as dangerous
if it take the place of God's simple word, and therefore, if we would "trust
the Lord with all our heart," we must "lean not to our own understanding."
Self-sufficiency and dependence on our strength is also a hindrance to our
God, therefore, has to reduce us to helplessness before we can have much trust in Him. The hour of His mightiest interposition is usually the time of our greatest extremity.
A secular weekly tells the story of a little fellow whose experience represents a good many older people. He had reached that epoch in a boy's life when he gets his first pants, and the uplift unsettled his spiritual equilibrium. Hitherto he had been a devout little Christian and usually joined his little sister every morning in asking the Lord's help and blessing for the day, but this morning, when he looked at his new pants, and felt himself a man, he stopped his little sister as she began to pray for him as usual, "Lord Jesus, take care of Freddie to-day, and keep him from harm," and like poor Simon Peter, in his own self-sufficiency, he cried out, "No, Jennie, don't say that; Freddie can take care of himself now." The little saint was shocked and frightened, but knew not what to do. And so the day began, but before noon they both climbed up into a cherry-tree, and while reaching out for the tempting fruit, Freddie went head foremost down into an angle between the tree and the fence, and with all his desperate struggles and his frightened sister's, he was utterly unable to extricate himself, and at last he looked up to Jennie with a look of mingled shame and intelligence and said, "Jennie, pray; Freddie can't take care of himself after all." Just then a strong man was coming along the road, and the answer to their prayer quickly came as the sturdy arms in a few minutes had taken down the fence and Freddie was free, and went forth a lesson for life, to walk like Simon Peter, with downward head and humble trust in a strength and care more mighty than his own.
Truly this is the soil of faith! Wisely said Habakkuk, centuries ago, as he contrasted pride and confidence, "His soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by faith."
Beloved, has God brought you to the end of your strength? Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for it is the beginning of His Omnipotence, if faith will but fall into His mighty arms and cry like those of old, "Lord, it is nothing with Thee to help by many or with those who have no power. Help us, Lord, for in Thy Name we go against this great multitude."
Faith is hindered by sight and sense, and our foolish dependence upon external
The very evidence in which we must live and grow is the unseen, and therefore all outward things must be withdrawn before we can truly believe; and as we look not at the things which are seen but on the things which are not seen, they grow real, more real than the things of sense, and then God makes them real in actual accomplishment. But faith must first step out into the great unknown, and walk upon the water to go to Jesus, nay, walk upon the air; but where was something only void it will find the rock beneath, like the traveler in the Alps who had reached the end of the mountain path as it suddenly disappeared beneath a great mass of ice and snow and became a subterranean torrent, while the mountain rose sternly in front and the miles of desolation which he had traveled lay behind. What should he do? Suddenly his guide exclaimed, "Follow me!" and plunged into the descending torrent and then disappeared from his view under the great mountain which it tunnelled. It was an awful venture, but he must either follow or die, and plunging in, there was a sudden shock, and the whirl of waters and blackness of darkness, and then a burst of light, and he was lying on the banks of a quiet stream on the other side of the mountain, in the sweet valley below. The unseen way had led to life and light.
So faith still walks in paths of mystery oft-times, but God will always make it plain. Is not this the hindrance to your faith, that you hesitate to believe before you venture upon the naked word of promise? Your faith alone is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. God help us to walk by faith and not by sight!
Therefore God has to train us in the way of faith by difficulties, trials, and seeming refusals, until like the Syro-Phoenician woman, we simply trust on and refuse to be refused. He is always waiting to recompense our trust by the glad words, "Great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
- Finally, this faith is hindered most of all by what we call "our faith," and our fruitless struggles to work out a faith which after all is but a make-believe and a desperate trying to trust God, which must ever come short of His vast and glorious promises. The truth is that the only faith that is equal to the stupendous promises of God and the measureless needs of our life, is "the faith of God" Himself, the very trust which He will breathe into the heart which intelligently expects Him as its power to believe, as well as its power to love, obey, or perform any other exercise of the new life.
Beloved, in the light of this great provision, listen to the mighty promise now, and in His faith rise to claim, "If thou canst, believe. All things are possible to him that believeth," and cry, "Lord, I believe, nay, not I, but Thou! Help Thou my unbelief."
And now, beloved, this mighty engine of spiritual power is placed in our hands by Omnipotent love. Shall we claim, and by the help of God, rise to its utmost possibilities, and shall we from this hour turn it, like a heavenly weapon, upon the field of Christian life and conflict, and use it for all to which God has called us in the great conflicts of the age and for the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Our lot has fallen upon momentous times; the last decade of this stupendous century has just begun, and it finds the Church of God awaking to the greatest campaign of the Christian centuries, the evangelization of the world, with a view to the preparation for our Lord's immediate coming. What a glorious possibility! It is one of the possibilities of faith.
Last night as I sat at my open window, far into the night watches, from one of the cottages yonder, I heard the voice of prayer go forth all night long. It was a ceaseless and mighty cry that the mighty God would work with all His power and glory, and though the same words were oft repeated by the same voice, it never seemed to grow monotonous, for there was so much that language could not express in that prayer that it touched my heart with tenderness and solemnity, and seemed like a prophecy of that which I trust is to go forth from this mighty convocation and be caught up by all the world until it shall be answered by the voices of heaven above, proclaiming, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth." Oh, shall we take this engine of omnipotence, the prayer of faith, and turn it toward the heavens, and turn it upon the earth, and turn it against every foe, until we shall find it wholly true, "All things are possible to him that believeth?"
It has been proposed that we should form, this day, a Prayer Alliance, for the evangelization of the world during this present century, and the speedy coming of our Lord Jesus. Beloved, can there be a grander opportunity for the practical application of this great theme, and shall we not with one heart, join hands in believing prayer, around the world, until the happy day when we shall join hands once more around the Millennial Throne and praise Him for the glorious fulfillment?
Friday, September 2, 2016
The following audio is from a radio broadcast of Focus on the Family around 20 years ago. On it Dr. Dobson interviews Duane Miller about his sickness and how God healed him while he was preaching a sermon on God's sovereignty in healing. The actual healing was caught on audio tape and is played at the end of the interview.
See also my blogpost:
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
The following is from chapters 4, 5 and 6 of E.M. Bounds' book The Possibilities of Prayer. I've collected links to all of Bounds' books on prayer HERE.
Chapter 4--Prayer-Its Possibilities
How vast are the possibilities of prayer! How wide is its reach! What great things are accomplished by this divinely appointed means of grace! It lays its hand on Almighty God and moves him to do what he would not otherwise do if prayer was not offered. It brings things to pass which would never otherwise occur. The story of prayer is the story of great achievements. Prayer is a wonderful power placed by Almighty God in the hands of his saints, which may be used to accomplish great purposes and to achieve unusual results. Prayer reaches to everything, takes in all things great and small which are promised by God to the children of men. The only limit to prayer are the promises of God and his ability to fulfill those promises. "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it."
The records of prayer's achievements are encouraging to faith, cheering to the expectations of saints, and is an inspiration to all who would pray and test its value. Prayer is no mere untried theory. It is not some strange unique scheme, concocted in the brains of men, and set on foot by them, an invention which has never been tried nor put to the test. Prayer is a divine arrangement in the moral government of God, designed for the benefit of men and intended as a means for furthering the interests of his cause on earth, and carrying out his gracious purposes in redemption and providence. Prayer proves itself. It is susceptible of proving its virtue by those who pray. Prayer needs no proof other than its accomplishments. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." If any man will know the virtue of prayer, if he will know what it will do, let him pray. Let him put prayer to the test.
What a breadth is given to prayer! What heights it reaches! It is the breathing of a soul inflamed for God, and inflamed for man. It goes as far as the gospel goes, and is as wide, compassionate, and prayerful as is that gospel.
How much of prayer do all these unpossessed, alienated provinces of earth demand to enlighten them, to impress them and to move them toward God and his Son, Jesus Christ? Had the professed disciples of Christ only have prayed in the past as they ought to have done, the centuries would not have found these provinces still bound in death, in sin, and in ignorance.
Alas! how the unbelief of men has limited the power of God to work through prayer! What limitations have disciples of Jesus Christ put upon prayer by their prayerlessness! How the church, with her neglect of prayer, has hedged about the gospel and shut up doors of access!
Prayer possibilities open doors for the entrance of the gospel: "Withal praying also for us that God would open to us a door of utterance." Prayer opened for the apostles doors of utterance, created opportunities and made openings to preach the gospel. The appeal by prayer was to God, because God was moved by prayer. God was thereby moved to do his own work in an enlarged way and by new ways. Prayer possibility gives not only great power, and opens doors to the gospel, but it gives facility as well to the gospel. Prayer makes the gospel to go fast and to move with glorious swiftness. A gospel projected by the mighty energies of prayer is neither slow, lazy nor dull. It moves with God's power, with God's radiance and with angelic swiftness.
"Brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified," is the request of the apostle Paul, whose faith reached to the possibilities of prayer for the preached Word. The gospel moves altogether too slowly, often timidly, idly, and with feeble steps. What will make this gospel go rapidly like a race runner? What will give this gospel divine radiance and glory, and cause it to move worthy of God and of Christ? The answer is at hand. Prayer, more prayer, better prayer will do the deed. This means of grace will give fast going, splendor, and divinity to the gospel.
The possibilities of prayer reach to all things. Whatever concerns man's highest welfare, and whatever has to do with God's plans and purposes concerning men on earth, is a subject for prayer. In "whatsoever ye shall ask," is embraced all that concerns us or the children of men and God. And whatever is left out of "whatsoever" is left out of prayer. Where will we draw the lines which leave out or which will limit the word "whatsoever"? Define it, and search out and publish the things which the word does not include. If "whatsoever" does not include all things, then add to it the word "anything." "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it."
What riches of grace, what blessings, spiritual and temporal, what good for time and eternity, would have been ours had we learned the possibilities of prayer and our faith had taken in the wide range of the divine promises to us to answer prayer! What blessings on our times and what furtherance to God's cause had we but learned how to pray with large expectations! Who will rise up in this generation and teach the church this lesson? It is a child's lesson in simplicity, but who has learned it well enough to put prayer to the test? It is a great lesson in its matchless and universal good. The possibilities of prayer are unspeakable, but the lesson of prayer which realizes and measures up to these possibilities, who has learned?
In his discourse in John fifteen, our Lord seems to connect friendship for him with prayer, and his choosing of his disciples seemed to have been with a design that through prayer they should bear much fruit.
"Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."
Here we have again the undefined and unlimited word, "whatsoever," as covering the rights and the things for which we are to pray in the possibilities of prayer.
We have still another declaration from Jesus:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
Here is a very definite exhortation from our Lord to largeness in praying. Here we are definitely urged by him to ask for large things, and announced with the dignity and solemnity indicated by the double amen, "Verily, Verily." Why these marvelous urgencies in this last recorded and vital conversation of our Lord with his disciples? The answer is that our Lord might prepare them for the new dispensation, in which prayer was to have such marvelous results, and in which prayer was to be the chief agency to conserve and make aggressive his gospel.
In our Lord's language to his disciples about choosing them that should bear fruit, he clearly teaches us that this matter of praying and fruit-bearing is not a petty business of our choice, or a secondary matter in relation to other matters, but that he has chosen us for this very business of praying. He had specially in mind our praying, and he has chosen us of his own divine selection, and he expects us to do this one thing of praying and to do it intelligently and well. For he before says that he had made us his friends, and had brought us into bosom confidence with him, and also into free and full conference with him. The main object of choosing us as his disciples and of friendship for him was that we might be the better fitted to bear the fruit of prayer.
Let us not forget that we are noting the possibilities of the true praying ones. "Anything" is the word of area and circumference. How far it reaches we may not know. How wide it spreads, our minds fail to discover. What is there which is not within its reach? Why does Jesus repeat and exhaust these words, all-inclusive and boundless words, if he does not desire to emphasize the unbounded magnificence and illimitable munificence of prayer? Why does he press men to pray, so that our very poverty might be enriched and our limitless inheritance by prayer be secured?
We affirm with absolute certainty that Almighty God answers prayer. The vast possibilities, and the urgent necessity of prayer lie in this stupendous fact that God hears and answers prayer. And God hears and answers all prayer. He hears and answers every prayer, where the true conditions of praying are met. Either this is so or it is not. If not, then is there nothing in prayer. Then prayer is but the recitation of words, a mere verbal performance, an empty ceremony. Then prayer is an altogether useless exercise. But if what we have said is true, then are there vast possibilities in prayer. Then is it far reaching in its scope, and wide in its range. Then is it true that prayer can lay its hand upon Almighty God and move him to do great and wonderful things.
The benefits, the possibilities and the necessity of prayer are not merely subjective but are peculiarly objective in their character. Prayer aims at a definite object. Prayer has a direct design in view. Prayer always has something specific before the mind's eye. There may be some subjective benefits which accrue from praying, but this is altogether secondary and incidental. Prayer always drives directly at an object and seeks to secure a desired end. Prayer is asking, seeking and knocking at a door for something we have not, which we desire, and which God has promised to us.
Prayer is a direct address to God. "In everything let your requests be made known unto God." Prayer secures blessings, and makes men better because it reaches the ear of God. Prayer is only for the betterment of men when it has affected God and moved him to do something for men. Prayer affects men by affecting God. Prayer moves men because it moves God to move men. Prayer influences men by influencing God to influence them. Prayer moves the hand that moves the world.
That power is prayer, which soars on high,
Through Jesus to the throne;
And moves the hand which moves the world,
To bring salvation down.
The utmost possibilities of prayer have rarely been realized. The promises of God are so great to those who truly pray, when he puts himself so fully into the hands of the praying ones, that it almost staggers our faith and causes us to hesitate with astonishment. His promise to answer, and to do and to give "all things," "anything," "whatsoever," and "all things whatsoever," is so large, so great, so exceeding broad, that we stand back in amazement and give ourselves to questioning and doubt. We "stagger at the promises through unbelief." Really the answers of God to prayer have been pared down by us to our little faith, and have been brought down to the low level of our narrow notions about God's ability, liberality, and resources. Let us ever keep in mind and never for one moment allow ourselves to doubt the statement that God means what he says in all of his promises. God's promises are his own word. His veracity is at stake in them. To question them is to doubt his veracity. He cannot afford to prove faithless to his word. "In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began." His promises are for plain people, and he means to do for all who pray just what he says he will do. "For he is faithful that hath promised."
Unfortunately we have failed to lay ourselves out in praying. We have limited the Holy One of Israel. The ability to pray can be secured by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, but it demands so strenuous and high a character that it is a rare thing for a man or woman to be on "praying ground and on pleading terms with God." It is as true today as it was in the days of Elijah, that "the fervent, effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much." How much such a prayer avails, who can tell?
The possibilities of prayer are the possibilities of faith. Prayer and faith are Siamese twins. One heart animates them both. Faith is always praying. Prayer is always believing. Faith must have a tongue by which it can speak. Prayer is the tongue of faith. Faith must receive. Prayer is the hand of faith stretched out to receive. Prayer must rise and soar. Faith must give prayer the wings to fly and soar. Prayer must have an audience with God. Faith opens the door, and access and audience are given. Prayer asks. Faith lays its hand on the thing asked for.
God's omnipotent power is the basis of omnipotent faith and omnipotent praying. "All things are possible to him that believeth," and "all things whatsoever" are given to him who prays. God's decree and death yield readily to Hezekiah's faith and prayer. When God's promise and man's praying are united by faith, then "nothing shall be impossible." Importunate prayer is so all powerful and irresistible that it obtains promises, or wins where the prospect and the promise seem to be against it. In fact, the New Testament promise includes all things in heaven and in earth. God, by promise, puts all things he possesses into man's hands. Prayer and faith put man in possession of this boundless inheritance.
Prayer is not an indifferent or a small thing. It is not a sweet little privilege. It is a great prerogative, far-reaching in its effects. Failure to pray entails losses far beyond the person who neglects it. Prayer is not a mere episode of the Christian life. Rather the whole life is a preparation for and the result of prayer. In its condition, prayer is the sum of religion. Faith is but a channel of prayer. Faith gives it wings and swiftness. Prayer is the lungs through which holiness breathes. Prayer is not only the language of spiritual life, but also makes its very essence and forms its real character.
O for a faith that will not shrink
Though pressed by every foe;
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe.
Lord, give us such a faith as this,
And then, whate'er may come,
We'll taste e'en here, the hallowed bliss
Of our eternal home.
Chapter 5--Prayer-Its Possibilities (Continued)
AFTER a comprehensive and cursory view of the possibilities of prayer, as mapped out in what has been said, it is important to descend to particulars, to Bible facts and principles in regard to this great subject. What are the possibilities of prayer as disclosed by divine revelation? The necessity of prayer and its being are coexistent with man. Nature, even before a clear and full revelation, cries out in prayer. Man is, therefore prayer is. God is, therefore prayer is. Prayer is born of the instincts, the needs and the cravings and the very being of man.
The prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple is the product of inspired wisdom and piety, and gives a lucid and powerful view of prayer in the wideness of its range, the minuteness of its details, and its abounding possibilities and its urgent necessity. How minute and exactly comprehending is this prayer! National and individual blessings are in it, and temporal and spiritual good is embraced by it. Individual sins, national calamities, sins, sickness, exile, famine, war, pestilence, mildew, drought, insects, damage to crops, whatever affects husbandry, enemies-whatsoever sickness, one's own sore, one's own guilt, one's own sin-one and all are in this prayer, and all are for prayer.
For all these evils prayer is the one universal remedy. Pure praying remedies all ills, cures all diseases, relieves all situations, however dire, calamitous, fearful, and despairing. Prayer to God, pure praying, relieves dire situations because God can relieve when no one else can. Nothing is too hard for God. No cause is hopeless which God undertakes. No case is mortal when Almighty God is the physician. No conditions are despairing which can deter or defy God.
Almighty God heard this prayer of Solomon, and committed himself to undertake, to relieve and to remedy if real praying be done, despite all adverse and inexorable conditions. He will always relieve, answer and bless if men will pray from the heart, and if they will give themselves to real, true praying.
This is the record of what God said to him after Solomon had finished his magnificent, illimitable and all-comprehending prayer:
"And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for a house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts that they devour the land, or if I send pestilence among the people; If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land; Now my eyes shall be open, and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there forever."
God put no limitation to his ability to save through true praying. No hopeless conditions, no accumulation of difficulties, and no desperation in distance or circumstance can hinder the success of real prayer. The possibilities of prayer are linked to the infinite integrity and omnipotent power of God. There is nothing too hard for God to do. God is pledged that if we ask, we shall receive. God can withhold nothing from faith and prayer.
The thing surpasses all my thought,
But faithful is my Lord;
Through unbelief I stagger not,
For God hath spoke the word.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, "It shall be done!"
The many statements of God's Word fully set forth the possibilities and far reaching nature of prayer. How full of pathos! Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." Again, read the cheering words: "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him."
How diversified the range of trouble! How almost infinite its extent! How universal and dire its conditions! How despairing its waves! Yet the range of prayer is as great as trouble, is as universal as sorrow, as infinite as grief. And prayer can relieve all these evils which come to the children of men. There is no tear which prayer cannot wipe away or dry up. There is no depression of spirits which it cannot relieve and elevate. There is no despair which it cannot dispel.
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great things and difficult, which thou knowest not." How broad these words of the Lord, how great the promise, how cheering to faith! They really challenge the faith of the saint. Prayer always brings God to our relief to bless and to aid, and brings marvelous revelations of his power. What impossibilities are there with God? Name them. "Nothing," he says, "is impossible to the Lord." And all the possibilities in God are in prayer.
Samuel, under the judges of Israel, will fully illustrate the possibility and the necessity of prayer. He himself was the beneficiary of the greatness of faith and prayer in a mother who knew what praying meant. Hannah, his mother, was a woman of mark, in character and in piety, who was childless. That privation was a source of worry and weakness and grief. She sought God for relief, and prayed and poured out her soul before the Lord. She continued her praying, in fact she multiplied her praying, to such an extent that to old Eli she seemed to be intoxicated, almost beside herself in the intensity of her supplications. She was specific in her prayers. She wanted a child. For a man child she prayed.
And God was specific in his answer. A man child God gave her, a man indeed he became. He was the creation of prayer, and grew himself to a man of prayer. He was a mighty intercessor, especially in emergencies in the history of God's people. The epitome of his life and character is found in the statement, "Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him." The victory was complete, and the ebenezer was the memorial of the possibilities and necessity of prayer.
Again, at another time, Samuel called to the Lord, and thunder and rain came out of season in wheat harvest. Here are some statements concerning this mighty intercessor, who knew how to pray, and whom God always regarded when he prayed: "Samuel cried unto the Lord all night."
Says he at another time in speaking to the Lord's people, "Moreover, as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you."
These great occasions show how this notable ruler of Israel made prayer a habit, and that this was a notable and conspicuous characteristic of his dispensation. Prayer was no strange exercise to Samuel. He was accustomed to it. He was in the habit of praying, knew the way to God, and received answers from God. Through Samuel and his praying God's cause was brought out of its low, depressed condition, and a great national revival began, of which David was one of its fruits.
Samuel was one of the notable men of the old dispensation who stood out prominently as one who had great influence with God in prayer. God could not deny Samuel anything he asked of God. Samuel's praying always affected God, and moved God to do what would not have otherwise been done had Samuel not prayed. Samuel stands out as a striking illustration of the possibilities of prayer. He shows conclusively the achievements of prayer.
Jacob is an illustration for all time of the commanding and conquering forces of prayer. God came to him as an antagonist. He grappled Jacob, and shook him as if he were in the embrace of a deadly foe. Jacob, the deceitful supplanter, the wily, unscrupulous trader, had no eyes to see God. His perverted principles, and his deliberate overreaching and wrongdoing had blinded his vision.
To reach God, to know God, and to conquer God, was the demand of this critical hour. Jacob was alone, and all night witnessed to the intensity of the struggle, its changing issues, and its veering fortunes, as well as the receding and advancing lines in the conflict. Here was the strength of weakness, the power of self-despair, the energy of perseverance, the elevation of humility, and the victory of surrender. Jacob's salvation issued from the forces which he massed in that all-night conflict.
He prayed and wept and importuned until the fiery hate of Esau's heart died and it was softened into love. A greater miracle was wrought on Jacob than on Esau. His name, his character, and his destiny were changed by that all-night praying. Here is the record of the results of that night's praying struggle: "As a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." "By his strength he had power with God, yea, he had power over the angel and prevailed."
What forces lie in importunate prayer! What mighty results are gained by it in one night's struggle in praying! God is affected and changed in attitude, and two men are transformed in character and destiny.
Chapter 6--Prayer Its Possibilities (Continued)
THE possibilities of prayer are seen in its results in temporal matters. Prayer reaches to everything which concerns man, whether it be his body, his mind, or his soul. Prayer embraces the very smallest things of life. Prayer takes in the wants of the body, food, raiment, business, finances, in fact everything which belongs to this life, as well as those things which have to do with the eternal interests of the soul. Its achievements are seen not only in the large things of earth, but more especially in what might be called the little things of life. It brings to pass not only large things, speaking after the manner of men, but also the small things.
Temporal matters are of a lower order than the spiritual, but they concern us greatly. Our temporal interests make up a great part of our lives. They are the main source of our cares and worries. They have much to do with our religion. We have bodies, with wants, pains, disabilities, and limitations. That which concerns our bodies necessarily engages our minds. These are subjects of prayer, and prayer takes in all of them, and large are the accomplishments of prayer in this realm of our being.
Our temporal matters have much to do with our health and happiness. They form our relations. They are tests of honesty and belong to the sphere of justice and righteousness. Not to pray about temporal matters is to leave God out of the largest sphere of our being. He who cannot pray in everything, as we are charged to do by Paul in Philippians, fourth chapter, has never learned in any true sense the nature and worth of prayer. To leave business and time out of prayer is to leave religion and eternity out of it. He who does not pray about temporal matters cannot pray with confidence about spiritual matters. He who does not put God by prayer in his struggling toil for daily bread will never put him in his struggle for heaven. He who does not cover and supply the wants of the body by prayer will never cover and supply the wants of his soul. Both body and soul are dependent on God, and prayer is but the crying expression of that dependence.
The Syrophoenician woman prayed for the health things. In fact the Old Testament is but the record of God in dealing with his people through the divine appointment of prayer. Abraham prayed that Sodom might be saved from destruction. Abraham's servant prayed and received God's direction in choosing a wife for Isaac. Hannah prayed, and Samuel was given to her. Elijah prayed, and no rain came for three years. And he prayed again, and the clouds gave rain. Hezekiah was saved from a mortal sickness by his praying. Jacob's praying saved him from Esau's revenge. The old Bible is the history of prayer for temporal blessings as well as for spiritual blessings.
In the New Testament we have the same principles illustrated and enforced. Prayer in this section of God's Word covers the whole realm of good, both temporal and spiritual. Our Lord, in his universal prayer, the prayer for humanity, in every clime, in every age and for every condition, puts in it the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread." This embraces all necessary earthly good.
In the Sermon on the Mount, a whole paragraph is taken up by our Lord about food and raiment, where he is cautioning against undue care or anxiety for these things, and at the same time encouraging a faith which takes in and claims all these necessary bodily comforts and necessities. And this teaching stands in close connection with his teachings about prayer. Food and raiment are taught as subjects of prayer. Not for one moment is it even hinted that they are things beneath the notice of a great God, nor too material and earthly for such a spiritual exercise as prayer.
The Syrophoenician woman prayed for the health of her daughter. Peter prayed for Dorcas to be brought back to life. Paul prayed for the father of Publius on his way to Rome, when cast on the island by a shipwreck, and God healed the man who was sick with a fever. He urged the Christians at Rome to strive with him together in prayer that he might be delivered from bad men.
When Peter was put in prison by Herod, the church was instant in prayer that Peter might be delivered from the prison, and God honored the praying of these early Christians. John prayed that Gaius might "prosper and be in health, even as his soul prospered."
The divine directory in James, fifth chapter, says: "Is any among you afflicted, let him pray Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him."
Paul, in writing to the Philippians, fourth chapter, says: "Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." This provides for all kinds of cares-business cares, home cares, body cares, and soul cares. All are to be brought to God by prayer, and at the mercy seat our minds and souls are to be unburdened of all that affects us or causes anxiety or uneasiness. These words of Paul stand in close connection with what he says about temporal matters specially: "But now I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at the last your care of me bath flourished-again: wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect to want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
And Paul closes his epistle to these Christians with the words, which embrace all temporal needs as well as spiritual wants:
But my God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus.
Unbelief in the doctrine that prayer covers all things which have to do with the body and business affairs, breeds undue anxiety about earth's affairs, causes unnecessary worry, and creates very unhappy states of mind. How much needless care we would save ourselves if we but believed in prayer as the means of relieving those cares, and would learn the happy art of casting all our cares in prayer upon God, "who careth for us!" Unbelief in God as one who is concerned about even the smallest affairs which affect our happiness and comfort limits the holy one of Israel, and makes our lives altogether devoid of real happiness and sweet contentment.
We have in the instance of the failure of the disciples to cast the devil out of the lunatic son, brought to them by his father, while Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, a suggestive lesson of the union of faith, prayer, and fasting, and the failure to reach the possibilities and obligations of an occasion. The disciples ought to have cast the devil out of the boy. They had been sent out to do this very work, and had been empowered by their Lord and master to do it. And yet they signally failed. Christ reproved them with sharp upbraidings for not doing it. They had been sent out on this very specific mission. This one thing was specified by our Lord when he sent them out. Their failure brought shame and confusion on them, and discounted their Lord and master and his cause. They brought him into disrepute, and reflected very seriously upon the cause which they represented. Their faith to cast out the devil had signally failed, simply because it had not been nurtured by prayer and fasting. Failure to pray broke the ability of faith, and failure came because they had not the energy of a strong authoritative faith.
The promise reads, and we cannot too often refer to it, for it is the very basis of our faith and the ground on which we stand when we pray: "All things whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." What enumeration table can tabulate, itemize, and aggregate "all things whatsoever"? The possibilities of prayer and faith go to the length of the endless chain, and cover the unmeasurable area.
In Hebrews eleven, the sacred penman, wearied with trying to specify the examples of faith, and to recite the wonderful exploits of faith, pauses a moment, and then cries out, giving us almost unheard of achievements of prayer and faith as exemplified by the saints of the olden times. Here is what he says:
And what shall I say more? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, of Barak, of Samson, of Jephthah, of David also; and Samuel, and the prophets; Who through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions; Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens; Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.
What an illustrious record is this! What marvelous accomplishments, wrought not by armies, or by man's superhuman strength, nor by magic, but all accomplished simply by men and women noted alone for their faith and prayer! Hand in hand with these records of faith's illimitable range are the illustrious records of prayer, for they are all one. Faith has never won a victory nor gained a crown where prayer was not the weapon of the victory, and where prayer did not jewel the crown. If "all things are possible to him that believeth," then all things are possible to him that prays.
Depend on him; thou canst not fail;
Make all thy wants and wishes known:
Fear not; his merits must prevail;
Ask but in faith, it shall be done.