By the ministry of the Word souls receive life, light, and understanding. As recipients of life there are desires formed within them which need an outgate, either by prayer or by worship. By the former, dependence upon God is confessed and expressed; by the latter, relief is afforded to the heart, in the enjoyment of God’s love, through the pouring itself out before Him. If the sense of need is uppermost within us, whether for ourselves, for others, or for the work of God upon earth, prayer in one or more of its forms is the suited way in which to express it. If it be the exceeding riches of God’s grace upon which the soul is dwelling, worship will be found to give it proper and satisfying relief. Thus graciously does God afford His people an outlet for their hearts, His ear being open to hear whatever they have to say to Him. To a consideration of prayer let us now address ourselves.
Man’s proper place is one of dependence upon God, and this the Lord, though God as well as man, frequently manifested in His own life on earth. He prayed; He spent a whole night in prayer; He prayed earnestly; He prayed in secret; He prayed openly. In the wilderness, on the mount, on Jordan’s brink, and in the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus Christ poured out His soul in prayer to God.
Prayer too, public and private, characterized the early Christians. Of the first converts we read: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42.) Their enjoyment of the grace of God did not lead to forgetfulness of their dependence upon God; nor in the hour of God’s interposition on their behalf did they fail to remember how all their resources were in Him. For when Peter and John, who had been taken before the council, were restored to their own company, the hostility of the ecclesiastical rulers to the spread of the truth having now become manifest, the whole company, to whom the two apostles reported all that the chief priests and rulers had said to them, lifted up their voice with one accord to God for the continued successful prosecution of the work. (Acts 4:24.) Again, when Peter was in prison, arrested by the political power which at that time had sway at Jerusalem, and his martyrdom was determined upon for the morrow, fervent prayer was made on his behalf, and a prayer meeting was held for that purpose in the house of Mary the mother of John, surnamed Mark. (Acts 12) And that meeting had not broken up, though it was past the hour of midnight, when Peter in person announced to them how their prayer had been heard, and his release had been effected. Nor was it only in Jerusalem that meetings for prayer were held; for when the Holy Ghost had marked out Barnabas and Paul at Antioch for the work to which He had called them, prophets and teachers there assembled laid their hands on them, after fasting and prayer, recommending them to the grace of God for the work they had been called on to undertake. (Acts 13:3; 14:26.) On another occasion, at Tyre, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem for his last visit there of which we have any record, the whole assembly, including the wives and children, knelt down in prayer outside the city, on the sea-shore, with those of Paul’s company. (Acts 21:5,) A refreshment, doubtless, this must have been to the apostle’s heart—a service, too, well-pleasing to God.
Besides these instances of common prayer, in which the whole company took part, we learn from Scripture how repeatedly saints were wont to resort to it. The twelve, when exercising their apostolic powers in appointing the seven deacons, engaged in prayer before they laid their hands upon them. (Acts 6:6.) Similarly, Paul and Barnabas, when appointing elders in every city, prayed with fasting, and commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed. (Acts 14:23.) And Peter and John, in Samaria, prayed that the converts might receive the Holy Ghost previous to the laying on of their hands to bestow it. (Acts 8:15.) Peter, too, when raising up Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:40), and Paul, when about to heal the father of Publius (Acts 28:8), alike confessed their entire dependence upon God for the exercise of such powers on man’s behalf. Of Stephen we read that his latest utterance was one of intercession for his murderers. (Acts 7:60.) Of Paul we learn that, though the character of his future work was told him at his conversion, ere he rose from the ground (Acts 26:17, 18),1 yet it was when engaged in prayer in the temple at Jerusalem, that he received his directions to depart to the Gentiles. (Acts 22:17, 18.) In the house which was left desolate to the Jews, for the presence of the Lord was not there, the divine command to depart to the Gentiles was communicated directly to the vessel fitted for the service. On another occasion, in a place and under circumstances very different from the last, Paul and Silas, in the prison at Philippi, with their feet made fast in the stocks, at midnight prayed, and sang praises to God. Their bodies were subjected to the power and malice of man. Their spirits were free, and unfettered. They prayed, and they sang praises to God (Acts 16:25), and an answer came. God acted in power and in grace. An earthquake shook the prison, opened its doors, and set the prisoners free; and the word of God, by Paul and Silas, converted the jailer and his household. Again, at Miletus, the apostle did not bring to a close his farewell interview with the Ephesian elders, until he had prayed with them. (Acts 20) How prayer characterized him his epistles demonstrate. (Rom. 1:9,10; Eph. 1:16; 3:14; Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:3; Phil. 4.) How he valued the prayers of others, and counted on them, his epistles also teach us. (Rom. 15:30; Eph.6:19; Phil. 1:7;2 Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1; Phil. 22; Heb. 13:18.) But he seems not to have asked the prayers of any who were walking in ways that he had to reprove. To the Galatians he made no request for their fellowship with him in prayer, though we cannot doubt from the tone of his letter that he prayed or them. (Gal. 4:19.) Nor did he solicit the prayers of the Corinthians till Titus had assured him of their godly sorrow. A silence of this kind on the part of the apostle has surely a voice for us. To ask for the prayers of others should never be a matter of form on our part.
Prayer for one’s self (James 5:13); prayer for others, for saints (Eph. 6:18), and for all men (1 Tim. 2:1); prayer too for the work of God upon earth (Col. 4:3, 4)—with such requests are we permitted to approach God. Nor is this anything new; for saints in Old Testament times addressed Him, and in accordance with the revelation of their day drew nigh to God as the Almighty (Job 8:5), or as Jehovah God of Israel (1 Kings 8:23), who dwelleth between the cherubim. (2 Kings 19:15.) As seated on His earthly throne, Israel addressed to Him their supplications. Christians, however, are privileged to call on God as their Father who is in the heavens, and to pray likewise to the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:8); but nowhere are they authorized in Scripture to pray to the Holy Ghost. Praying in the Holy Ghost (Jude 20; Eph.6:18) is what Christians are exhorted to do; but never are they told to pray to Him. Praying in the Holy Ghost we shall express the desires which the Spirit of God has formed in our hearts, and as the Spirit would lead us to present them; and, as having access to the heavenly sanctuary, we pray to Him who is in the heavens. Prayer then should ever be in accordance with the revelation vouchsafed to God’s saints. What was suited to Solomon and Hezekiah would not be fitting for us. We should not address God as the God of Israel, nor speak to Him as dwelling between the cherubim. Similarly, since the Holy Ghost is with us, making intercession too for us according to God (Rom. 8:27), and with the bride asks the Lord Jesus to come (Rev. 22:17), addresses to Him, whether invoking His presence on earth, or asking Him to help us, receive no countenance from the divine word, and indicate a lack of spiritual understanding in those who resort to them.
Prayer to God as the Father was first taught by the Son, who reveals Him. (Matt. 11:27.) Taught by Him about the Father, the disciples asked the Lord how they were to pray; for clearly the old forms of prayer did not meet the position into which they were brought by this revelation on the part of the Son. To their desire He responded, and gave them what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), but without the doxology, which did not really form part of it. Now this act on the Lord’s part is full of instruction for us. John the Baptist, who had ministered truth for his day, taught his disciples how to pray. The Lord Jesus, who revealed the Father, taught also His disciples, some of whom certainly had been disciples of John, how they were to pray. The old Jewish forms of prayer clearly no longer suited the disciples of Christ. The prayer, or prayers, John taught his disciples ceased to be the proper expression of their heart, when they had learnt from the Son about the Father. It is plain, then, that prayer should always be in harmony with, and based upon, the revelation of God which has been vouchsafed us. Souls in those days felt that. The Lord then endorsed the thought as correct, and afterwards abundantly confirmed it; for just before His departure, on the night previous to His crucifixion, unasked by the eleven, He discoursed in a marked way on this important subject. Of the power of prayer, when offered up in faith, He had taught them only a few days before. (Matt. 21:21, 22; Mark 11:22-24.) Now, in the immediate prospect of His departure, He teaches them a good deal more. He was about to leave them to go to the Father, henceforth to be hidden from their sight. They should, however, have a clear proof that He was, where He had told them that He was going; for they should do greater works than He had done, and whatsoever they should ask in His name, that He would do, that the Father might be glorified in the Son, adding, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14.) The world, the Jews, might taunt them with trusting to a crucified man; but as answers came to prayers offered up in His name, they would have abundant proof, both that He was with the Father, accepted on high, though rejected on earth, and also that He was caring for His own.
Now here for the first time do we read of prayer to be offered up in His name. When He gave the disciples the prayer of Matt. 6. He did not tell them to present their petitions in His name; and in John 16:24 we distinctly learn from His own lips that this was something quite new. “Hitherto,” He said, “have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” The prayer of Matt. 6 was prayer to the Father, the pouring out of the heart to God from one that knew himself to be His child; but, till the atonement by the blood of Christ was accomplished, prayer in His name was unknown. As soon as that was effected, and known by those who believed on Him, prayer was to be offered up in His name. His name would henceforth have a meaning for them as well as for God; for it expresses all that He is in the eyes of God the Father. The answer would come from God; but the Son it would be who would fulfil the desires of their hearts. “I will do it” assured them of this, and of His unabated interest in all that concerned them.
But further, since unlimited power was at His command to do whatsoever they asked, He proceeded to tell them on what conditions, all their requests would be granted. “If ye abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7.) Conforming to these conditions—for they are conditions—they could reckon on asking the right things, and could be sure of receiving an answer. For, if abiding in Christ, and His words abiding in them, they would be in the full current of God’s thoughts, and hence their desires would be quite in conformity with His mind. Farther, He added, “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 of the Father in my name, He may give it you.” (John 15:16.) Here He again lays down conditions, and mentions the name of the One to whom they were to address themselves, which as yet in this discourse He had not stated. And now one more point had to be noticed, ere His instructions on the subject of prayer were completed; viz., the time from whence they might begin thus to pray. “At that day,” i.e. after His resurrection, “ye shall ask in my name; and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (John 16:26, 27.) Familiar personal intercourse with the Lord as man upon the earth would cease; for He would be no longer present with them in the manner that He had been. They would therefore in that day ask nothing of Him; but whatsoever they should ask the Father in His name, the Father would give them. (John 16:23.) So direct was to be their intercourse with the Father, and such a valid plea would they be able always to urge before Him.
Four distinct points then are taken up by the Lord in these three chapters of John’s gospel. 1st, In whose name we are to pray (14); 2nd, Conditions on which, if fulfilled, we can be sure of answers to our requests; 3rd, The one to whom we can pray (15); and, 4th, The time when the Lord’s instructions were first to be acted on. (16) Whilst then we can always present our requests to God the Father, who is never weary of hearkening to the cry of His children, and whilst we have a plea on which to base our petitions—a plea the full value of which is known, not to us, but to Him to whom we pray—there are, we must ever remember, conditions laid down, conforming to which we can reckon upon an answer to our prayers; viz., faith, as set forth in Matt. 21, and the conditions stated in the gospel by John. A remembrance of these will surely check rash and inconsiderate petitions. Can I link the name of Christ with the prayer I am presenting to the Father? Have I the mind of God as to that which I am solicitous to get? Can I prefer my requests in faith?
These remarks apply to prayer in general, both private and public, Liberty to resort to the former is freely given us in the epistles. (Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Peter 4:7.) Instructions about the latter are set forth in 1 Tim. 2. Of common prayer the Lord also has made mention in Matt. 18:19, 20, assuring His disciples that if only two should agree touching anything they might ask, it should be done for them of His Father who is in the heavens; for where two or three are gathered together unto His name, there is He in the midst of them. On His presence then we can reckon, if the condition laid down is complied with—gathered unto His name; for of that His people need never be deprived, however small their number, though they are upon earth and He is in heaven.
Now this supposes a meeting for prayer, directions for which Timothy received from Paul. For, what the order of such a meeting should be, it is not left to man to devise. How various in that case the arrangements would surely be! God, however, has given us by the apostle His regulations in connection with it. And such were needed; for since Christianity restores woman to her proper place in connection with man, which amongst the heathen was lost, and Judaism did not teach (Matt. 19:8), though she is still subject to God’s governmental dealings, the consequence of the fall; and since too the saints were taught that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), there was a danger—and the state of matters shows it had already risen—lest they should confound the condition in Christ with the relative position of the sexes in the assembly. In Christ we are all one; in the assembly we are not. The grace shown to us in Christ does not override God’s order in creation. This the Corinthians had to be taught (1 Cor. 11:1-9), and of this Timothy is reminded.
Looking at that chapter, we can form a very good idea of what a prayer meeting must have been in apostolic times, if all gathered together were in subjection to the teaching of the Word. Composed of persons of both sexes, the]men only opened their mouths in prayer, any one of whom, however, was free, if guided by the Spirit, to lead the whole company in their devotions. “For I will,” wrote the apostle, “that the men pray everywhere.” Both the men and the women were indwelt by the Holy Ghost; for He then dwelt, and does now dwell, in every true believer. The fact then of having received the Holy Ghost did not make such an one fit to lead others in prayer. All were one in Christ; but God’s order in the assembly was to be observed, although, as it would seem, the separation of the sexes, carried out in the synagogue, was not maintained in the Christian assembly. Might then any man, because of his sex, make himself the mouthpiece of the company in their devotions? Assuming that he was otherwise able to do it, he would nevertheless, on any occasion, have been disqualified, if he could not lift up holy (or pious) hands without wrath and reasoning. What creatures then they were in themselves in the assembly at Ephesus, since such a caution was required! “Just like me,” however, any one, and every one, who knows something of his evil nature, must surely acknowledge. What grace then to allow such to approach the throne of grace on behalf of themselves, and as the mouthpieces of the assembly of God!
If we had been present at such a meeting, we should have found the women, who were obedient to the apostolic injunctions, adorned in seemly guise, with modesty and discretion; and instead of setting off their persons by jewels or costly array, had we watched their general behaviour, followed them to their homes, and spent a day in their company, we should have seen them adorned with ornaments of great value indeed, such as become women professing godliness, even with good works. Further, whilst in the assembly they would all have been silent (1 Cor. 14:34), elsewhere we should have found them surely learning in quietness (hJsuciva), not teaching nor usurping authority over the men; but being in quietness, remembering both woman’s place in creation, as evidenced by the fact that Adam was first formed, then Eve, and the fatal consequences of her intercourse in the garden with the serpent. The woman was deceived, the man was not. Adam hearkened to the voice of his wife. She proved her unfitness to take the lead. “Nevertheless,” adds the apostle, “she shall be preserved in child-bearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Thus, whilst the head of the woman is the man, her preservation in child-bearing is connected governmentally as much with the husband’s behaviour as with her own.
Having glanced at the orderly arrangement of a prayer meeting, we may in conclusion enquire, what would have been the character of their prayers. Very comprehensive they might be, and very free. Bound by no written or pre-arranged form, they could freely make use of all the different kinds of prayer with which we are acquainted. Supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, they were free to present before the throne of grace. Addressing the High and the Holy One with all the reverence and solemnity that befits a creature addressing its God, they could nevertheless speak to Him in all the confidence of children, being free to express every desire, and to lay before Him all the wants and wishes of the assembly. The grace this speaks of is great. God would be entreated of them. He would hearken to their prayers. He would let them hold free, personal intercourse with Him; for such ejnteuvxi",3 translated intercession, seems to imply. And to thanksgivings too they were also free to give utterance on such occasions. For if mindful of the grace which gives free access to God, and the freedom permitted of speaking on behalf of all saints and all men, remembering too past answers to prayer, surely in the consciousness of all this thanksgivings might well mingle with supplications, prayers, and intercessions. How comprehensive then can prayers be, since we may pray for all saints and for all men! In Eph. 6:18 we are exhorted to pray for all saints; in 1 Tim. 2:1 we are taught to pray for all men. Each of these statements is in character with the epistle in which it occurs. In Ephesians we are taught especially about the body of Christ; in Timothy we have God presented as the Saviour. Prayer for all saints is in keeping with the teaching of the one; prayer for all men is in full accord with the line of truth in the other.
Living as the early Christians did under rulers who knew not God, prayer, they were taught, was to be offered for those in authority, as well as for the well-being and necessities of individuals. Thus grace, of which they were partakers, was to be manifested in them; and a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty, they might lead, the result of God upholding and restraining the constituted authorities placed over them. Thank God, we in our land are little familiar with the troubles, and the insecurity to life and property, which are liable to attend the absence of a stable government. Still, prayer for the powers that be we should not on that account forget; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Of God’s willingness to save all we are here reminded, that we may pray for all; but of His counsels the apostle is not in this passage treating. How willing is God to save! He declares it, and He has given proofs of it: “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men.” Here national distinctions and dispensational position drop out of sight. And the Mediator, the man Christ Jesus, gave Himself a ransom for all, and appointed Paul to be a herald, an apostle, and a teacher of nations, in faith and truth to testify of it. He gave Himself! What words for us to read! He has provided too the channel by which this should be made known. What desire on His part for men’s salvation does this manifest! What freedom must this have given to Christians when presenting petitions to God!
1 “Now” in verse 17 is omitted in all uncial MSS.
2 “Because ye Lave me in your heart,” not “because I have you in my heart,” is what the apostle really expressed.
3 The noun elsewhere occurs only in 1 Tim. 4:5. The verb ejntugcavnw is used of the intercession of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25); of the Holy Ghost (Rom. 8:27); of Elijah with God (Rom. 11:2); and of the Jews with Festus against Paul. (Acts 25:24.)