There is such a thing as General Truth, something, which runs through the whole of the Divine revelation at all times, a kind of principle of truth, found everywhere because it is a fundamental characteristic of our God, and an essential in all His relationships with men at all times. This Truth is distinct from those Special Truths which may apply only to certain individuals or groups of individuals at certain times, and are clearly designated as such by their context in Holy Writ. If much of the general confusion regarding the meaning of the Scriptures is due to the forcing of Special Truth into contexts which it does not fit, it is equally true that many of the difficulties of those who can appreciate these special truths is due to the omission from their thinking of some of the principles of General Truth.
In a letter from the late Alexander Thomson, dated 1954, he writes of certain views on the relationship of Evil to
God, and the problems of Divine Sovereignty and the human will (matters which still have not been satisfactorily and scripturally resolved so far as the present writer is concerned) and says "for many years I accepted or tried to accept these views, but the nett effect was to make me almost give up prayer." Here is an instance of the danger I have mentioned, because whatever may be the truth or otherwise concerning these unresolved matters the outstanding importance of prayer for all believers of every time and place is a General Truth of major importance which we neglect at our peril. Throughout the whole of Scripture the need for, and the value of, prayer is emphasised time and time again, indeed it is a universal truth about God that He hears prayer: "0 Thou that hearest prayer, to Thee shall all flesh come."
I am being bold enough to suggest that many of us fail to realise the importance of this, and because of our failure our efforts on behalf of Gods truth suffer accordingly. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" is something which was always true and remains true now. We may tend to think that such a Scripture is meant to refer to the prayers of saintly characters, to very good and inspired men, but the reference is to "righteous" men, and the only persons who can qualify for this description are those who, in Christ Jesus, have been given Gods righteousness. However unworthy we may feel ourselves to be, those of us who are in Christ are righteous in the only true sense of the word, and by effectual, fervent prayer we have a means of achieving much--on Scriptural warrant.
The subject of prayer is, of course, a vast one. It is also, I submit, one which is little understood, and while it is not the intention of the present article to attempt an analysis of prayer, it is the writers desire to point out that in prayer we have a source of power and a means of grace which too many of us have tended to neglect for one reason or another, sometimes because of wrongly held views on parts of Scripture which we do not properly understand, and sometimes because of only a partial understanding of the Scriptural teaching about prayer itself.
Those who look to the Pauline epistles for the truth for today have no excuse whatever for this neglect, for the Apostles insistence on the need for, and the value of, prayer is iterated and reiterated in every letter that he wrote. But do we give these injunctions their full value? Probably all of us find great comfort (as we should) in his assurance that if we make our requests known unto God, with thanksgiving, the peace of God, which is superior to every mental state, will garrison our hearts and apprehensions in Christ Jesus. This is a grand truth, but it does not exhaust the functions of prayer, as we see at once when we read the Apostles own prayers as recorded in Colossians and Ephesians.
Is this not a subject upon which all might meditate, to our own good, and for the good of the work for which this ministry stands? God is to be sought, and entreated. He always has been thus disposed, and He always will be--this is a General Truth.
The eighth chapter of the book of Zechariah looks far into the future of the people of Israel, and tells of the days when Jehovah returns to Zion and dwells in the midst of Jerusalem. When this great event happens we are told that many peoples and strong nations will come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and we have this delightful prophecy, that one man will say to another :--
"Let us go at once to entreat the favour of the Lord,
And to seek the Lord of Hosts;
I am going."
Far in the future there will be access to God in His temple, where His favour may be sought, but right in the present there is access to Him through Christ and although He has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the celestials in Christ, there are still favours He is waiting and willing to grant us for our earthly life and walk, if we ask Him.
If we interpret certain Scriptures in such a way as to lead us to a kind of fatalism--what is to be will be--we are not only denying ourselves the privilege of entreating the favour of God, but we make nonsense of His instruction to make our requests known to Him. There is no denying that the purposes of God are assured, and that He sees the end from the beginning, nor would any saint wish to deny such truths, for they are our assurances for all the future, but within the vast framework of the Divine Plan in which no creature can withstand His intention there is much Scripture which forbids us to think that God has dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" to tie His hands so that He can change nothing. And it must be self-evident to anyone who has bad any experience at all of the gracious dealings of God in this earthly life that, notwithstanding the natural law by which He operates the universe, He can and does intervene sometimes without, but frequently in response to, the requests of those who call upon Him in faith. The earthly life of our Lord is rich in incidents in which He is shown to be superior to the natural forces which He himself created and set in motion, as of course it must be, for the Law-giver is superior to the law.
"We know not what we should pray for as we ought," but the more we understand Gods Word the more are we likely to know what He would have us pray for, and, additionally, there are many things which we are instructed to pray for. And that this instruction is not just a formal call to deliberate prayer is made clear by Pauls words "Pray without intermission," implying as they do an attitude of mind and spirit which is constantly and consciously in touch with our God, so that we are indeed, praying "on every occasion." "Prayer is the souls sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed."
All through the Scriptures we have instance after instance of men of God seeking Him in prayer, sometimes for worship, sometimes in contrition and sometimes with definite requests for His active intervention. Our Lord is the classic example; He constantly sought God in prayer and, at the same time, constantly acknowledged that His chief desire was that Gods will should be done. There is no higher pattern upon which we can model our own petitions.
Let us turn back to the basic truth and believe it. God is the only Free Agent in the Universe, and He is free to do as He wills--and He has the ability (should He so will) to grant the requests of His people without in any way doing violence to His Own pre-conceived purposes. He is a rewarder of faith, and of those who diligently seek Him.
It is often said that "all things work together for good to them that love God," but is not this a wrong impression of what the Scripture really means? The Revised Standard Version translates "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose" and goes on (verses 29 and 30) to detail just how God works for their good, through being designated beforehand, justified and also glorified. In these ways God is working for our good, but it does not follow that all the experiences of daily life are "worked together for good," indeed, many of them work us evil. We should not accept such events with equanimity or a fatalistic feeling that they are "for our good eventually." On the contrary we should beseech our God about them, even as Paul did about his splinter in the flesh. The answer may well be that we must endure, but the possibility (and in many cases the probability) is that God will cure! I believe that God in Christ watches constantly over all His saints, and intervenes on our behalf and directs our steps in many ways quite unknown to us--our deepest thanks are due to Him that He does so. But we are yet men and women, still subjects of the natural laws and hazards of the world in which we live, still subject to the trials and tribulations which afflict all flesh, despite the fact that our future glorification is fully assured in Christ our Lord. God is there to be entreated in any situation, when we call upon Him He will hear.
There may be truth in the thought that we are upon this earth in order to gain an experience of Evil, so that when the time comes we may understand and fully enjoy the experience of Good. We have availed ourselves of the resources that God has provided for our salvation--why do we not more fully recognise and avail ourselves of the resources that are available in Him for our daily walk?
There is so much that can give us cause for concern; our personal welfare, and that of those who are dear to us, our personal well-being and the well-being of the nation of which we form a part, at the human level. In all these things it must be true that effectual, fervent prayer availeth much. And what about the work and witness of those who, in such a dark day, are endeavouring to let the light of truth shine forth?
Paul asks for prayers for himself, that he may be given utterance to speak his evangel as he ought to speak. We who write and read and speak about the Scriptures are also entitled to ask for prayer, and to pray ourselves, on behalf of the work which we seek to do. It may be that few seem interested in our efforts--is this not a matter on which we can approach the God in Whose name we make the endeavour? It is possible that we do not receive enough because we do not ask enough--there is an incident in the history of Israel where God says that if they would only ask Him, He would "open the windows of heaven" and give them such a blessing that they would be unable to contain it. To take a "fatalistic" line about such a thing as this, to imply that God knew they would not ask because it was predestined that they would not, comes very near to blasphemy, but this is, in effect, the outcome of believing that every event has been planned from the beginning and is precisely fitting into a pre-conceived pattern. Of course God has a plan--He has declared it. Of course He controls events so that His will cannot be thwarted. Of course He is omnipotent and omniscient. HE IS GOD. But the teaching of Scripture reveals that He gives to man a wide field in which he can choose his actions and perform his works, and for these choices and works man remains accountable--accountable because man is not forced into these courses by a relentless fate.
And Gods saints are accountable, too, for the way in which they utilise the resources which He places at their disposal in Christ Jesus, and although in His wisdom God does not frequently display His power in a spectacular physical sense in the present day, He still has an outstretched hand and a mighty arm. Is it any the less mighty because His operation is in the spiritual rather than the material sphere?
We should all be careful to examine Gods Word diligently lest we fall into the error of asking Him to do things which He has clearly shown there that He will not do. This is a mistake made by many zealous people who pray "not according to knowledge," but the will of God has not been revealed for every event and occasion, except in the broadest terms.
There are many reasons why we should pray, and the careful reader of Scripture must be aware of many of them. Throughout all Scripture it is apparent to the attuned ear that God delights to be supplicated by His children. Constantly as He bestows His grace despite our unworthiness and gives us blessings "above all that we can ask or think," when we do ask, and He finds Himself disposed to grant what we ask, we are then more than ever conscious of His goodness towards us.
We do not have to go to Jerusalem, nor to the earthly temple, for the bodies of Gods saints are His temple, and we can speak to Him as children to their Father. Let us go at once to entreat the favour of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts. I am going!
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