The Believer

“My Expectation is from God” (Psalm 62:5)

My expectation!” How the words ring down the centuries out of David’s troubled life! For here was a man who might easily have become a cynic or a pessimist after his scurvy treatment by King Saul. But happily, David had long learned the useful habit of getting his eyes off men and on to God. Like Elijah who followed him, he had looked into the face of famine and then had calmly looked into the face of God, and he could never forget the experience. The result was that he could remain not only unmoved by present distresses, but positively aggressively expectant not only of present relief but of still greater blessing.

In this confident psalm, as was his custom when he was liable to feel depressed, David as it were detached himself from his own soul, got it out opposite to him, that he might expostulate with it and exhort it—a very useful and salutary habit! And just at this time he is led to ring the changes on the word “only,” from the only expectation of his enemies to cast him down, to the only rock of his salvation, the source of his safety, to hold him up. Yet far more than mere passive security, his ardent soul goes out in sane and eager expectation in God for a further advance in blessing.

And such expectation is an attitude of soul towards God which is neither easy or natural, but which needs to be deliberately cultivated, for it is both God-honoring and God-compelling. Such expectation is more than mere passive trust, is deeper than honest desire, and higher than hope in the abstract. It outruns all of these, for it is positive, aggressive, and Divinely ambitious. And I am sure it is an attitude of mind towards God which should be deliberately cultivated and stedfastly maintained by all of us. We are so liable to transfer to the spiritual realm those disappointments which so often come to us in human affairs, and to become pessimists towards God.

Now this same attitude of “expectation” toward God is carried over into the New Testament. At once there comes to mind the Saviour, who at the right hand of God is described as “expecting” till His enemies become His “footstool.” But here the word used is different to that applied to men, and rather has the sense of waiting, for the word “expectation” in itself, as we use it, implies uncertainty as to the future, and, thank God, there is no uncertainty as to His future or the finality of His dominion.

But in Luke 3:15 we do have a very beautiful state of mind described: “For all the people was in expectation,” a state of mind aroused by God. Then, it was as to the first advent of the Son of God. Today, thank God, in many quarters there is a similar expectation as to His second advent. Yet—may I say?—even more vital to the soul than the second advent is the present advent of the Saviour into our hearts in fulness and blessing.

Perhaps our present and rightful expectation in God might well be summed up in the declaration once made in public by Mr. Hudson Taylor. His emphatic words were these: “There is a living God, He has spoken to us in His Word, He means what He says, and can be depended upon to do all He has promised.” To many that may seem a slender charter upon which to found our faith and base our lives and destinies. Yet history has long declared that it is “no vain thing” to trust in the living God, and we may safely explore His faithfulness in our day and generation.

Now it is an interesting fact that the three cardinal Christian virtues of faith, hope (or expectation) and love, everywhere pervade the Old Testament. Thus in the early ages we find Abel slaying his lamb “by faith.” We find Job surrounded by the ruins of his fortune singing still in “hope,” and we find the “love” of God permeating the pages and the lives in the Old Testament. Again, when we come to the Epistles, “Now abideth faith, hope and love,” which run like a refrain through these messages of God, to lighten human hearts and change human lives.

Yet when we come to the Gospels, though faith and love are again in constant operation, faith being the entrance door to salvation, and love the enjoyment of it, yet hope, as a noun is never once mentioned. The reason for its omission is as simple as it is blessed. In the Old Testament men were hoping for Messiah’s coming; in the Epistles we are hoping for His return; but in the Gospels believers had Him in their midst. And the Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the Hope, the only hope of His people. Before He came and after He went, there was constant need for the exercise of hope for Him and in Him. But “can the children mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). For “what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Rom. 8:24). Indeed He “is our hope,” so that while He was present with His people on earth, hope was centred in Him and was satisfied, and was no longer in operation. This remarkable omission of any mention of “hope” in the Gospels is another happy reminder of how for us, everything centres in one Blessed Person, our Lord Jesus Christ.

But now He is gone, as to bodily presence, and in His absence hope must again come into active operation. And so the noun or verb reappears sixty times in the Epistles, from “the consolation and good hope,” which results in our “rejoicing,” to the confident “hope in God,” “which maketh not ashamed” and includes the future “blessed hope” of Christ’s return.

For if faith is the upward attitude of the soul, and love the outward, hope, or expectation, is that forward attitude which reaches out to those things which are before and anticipates the promises. How blessedly different to the poor worldlings who are ever “without hope and without God in the world!”

So we have thought a little of the Psalmist’s expectation of coming events, and of the waiting people’s expectation of God’s visitation and blessing, which is still in the hearts of God’s people today. But there is one more “expectation” which needs to be found in our hearts as well. It just expresses the Apostle’s outlook. And so eager is his desire for “this grace also,” that a special intensive form of the word has to be used to express his feelings, found nowhere else in Scripture: “apokaradokia,” my “earnest expectation” (Phil. 1:20). And what was the object of this most eager expectation? “More worlds to conquer” for the gospel? More provinces to evangelize or churches to found? More hundreds of converts to win for the Saviour? More immortal epistles to write for the permanent enrichment of the Church for all time? No; something even more personal and precious than any of those great privileges.

Paul’s supreme expectation was simply in the words of Scripture: “That Christ shall be magnified in my body.” And what is the purpose of a magnifying-glass? To be seen itself? Far otherwise. It is to make some object more visible. And that was exactly Paul’s earnest expectation, not to be seen or noticed himself, but to help to make the Saviour more visible to men and women around. The astronomer’s glass brings the heavenly body nearer, and so would Paul bring this Heavenly Visitor nearer to the ones He had come to seek and to save. Surely this is a very safe and pure ambition. It might not indeed fit in with modern “publicity methods” which so seem to exalt the man, the servant. For today he wants to be in the picture! He is doing the work, he wants a little of the glory! Well, so did not Paul. For the cleaner the lens and the better it does its work, the less it will be seen, and that was just the wise ambition of God’s great servant.

Now this same very great privilege and service is open to the very humblest of His own. For it depends not on brains, but on hearts, loving hearts. Many of our lives have to be lived among “common things,” but if this grace of “magnifying” Christ becomes ours, they need never be “commonplace.” Gracious Lord, may the self in each of us be so lost sight of, that Christ, and only Christ, shall be seen through the little lens of our lives, and that we may ever and effectually magnify Thee to the needy world around! And do Thou ever enlarge our “expectations” in Thee, and for Thee!

Faith is the Victory

“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). That statement of course cannot stand alone. It is a great declaration of a great truth, yet as it stands it is really only a half-truth. For faith in itself has no virtue or value, it may be even the most hurtful delusion unless the object of the faith is the right one.

Yet this one-sided statement of truth finds its most beautiful complement and consummation in the Saviour’s own declaration: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So it is really and only our faith in a risen and victorious Saviour which can in any sense overcome the world which “lieth in the evil one,” and so is ever antagonistic to God.

“Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22) must therefore become our watchword and war-cry. But how to have faith in God, how only to ask in accordance with His will? For all His promises, though essentially “Yea and Amen” in Christ, are yet conditional upon being “according to the will of God.” It is here the faithful are liable to errors and mistakes. For faith often must be directed to expecting the impossible, for, “All things are possible to him that believeth.”

And here we are liable to error in two directions, and to run from one extreme to the other in our adventures of faith, to have fainting faith, on the one hand, and to have foolish faith on the other, to expect too little or too much. And we have to learn by experience, by God’s grace, to steer a middle course, the middle course not of compromise, but of the centre of the will of God. To turn neither to the left hand nor to the right.

These two opposite dangers are strikingly brought out in our Lord’s first two temptations. When in Matthew 4:2, having fasted forty days, “He was afterwards an hungered,” the tempter came and said: “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Now we know that He who (chap. 3:9) had just claimed to be able “of these stones to raise up children to Abraham” could equally with a word have commanded “stones to be made bread.” What then was the temptation of the evil one to Him? Was it not that He should take Himself out of His Father’s care, abandon His position of dependence, and provide for Himself, as if He could no longer depend on His Father’s love and wisdom to provide for Him.

Had He done this (which, of course, as the sinless Son of God He could not do) faith would thereby have given place to fear and panic. And just so the constant temptation to us, in the difficult places our loving Father’s will brings us into, is to doubt our Father’s love and care or ability to deliver us, to “faint” in our faith, and instead of leaning on God to lean instead on “the arm of flesh.”

The second temptation to the Saviour was: “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down, for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee…lest… Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.” That protection from Psalm 91:11 was undoubtedly a promise given by God, and apparently for just such a time as this. Yet as it was not just then the will of His Father, that He should cast Himself down, the promise was not therefore available and did not apply. So had Christ followed out the suggestion of the evil one (which, thank God, He could not do) He would have been giving way not now to panic but to presumption. He would have been presuming on the promise of the keeping power of God, as we Christians so easily and so often do.

It is so easy and natural for us to form our plans for God, relying upon some convenient promise which seems to apply, when all the time such plans are not the will of God, and so such promises are not available. In other words we are presuming, having presumptuous faith, and then we wonder why God has not answered our prayer and honored our faith.

Between Italy and Sicily lie the Straits of Messina, narrow and stormy, scoured by tides and swept by squalls. To add to the danger and peril of the ancient mariner with his frail sailing-ship, on the Italian shore frowns the menacing rock of Scylla; while equally dangerous on the Sicilian shore is the dreaded whirlpool of Charybdis, guarding the Straits. The anxious mariner in seeking to keep clear of the rock Scylla was likely to be engulfed in the whirlpool of Charybdis on his other bow, and vice versa.

And herein is a parable of the life of faith. For surely to all of us, called to deal in faith in God there is the danger of feeble and fainting faith on the one hand, and, avoiding this, of foolish and presumptuous faith on the other. Who then is sufficient for these things? Who can avoid these dangers? Thank God for the exactly applicable promise of Isaiah 30:21: “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” Thank God, He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” a sound mind to discern the will of God. So as we walk “softly” before God we may be kept from extremes and errors, from panic and presumption, and kept safe and stedfast in the middle way of the will of God, and so may triumphantly reach His desired goal of faith.

If then “assuredly gathering” what is the will of God, and having great and precious promises which do apply, and will prevail, we must ever “obtain” these promises by the reckoning of faith. For “obtaining” a promise is more than mere praying or asking, it is asking in faith, and believing to obtain, asking and receiving in fact.

This is graphically brought out in the first Bible record of a man “believing God” (Gen. 15:6). Here faith laughed at a human impossibility and cried, “It shall be done!” By the “law of the first mention” of a word in the Bible, great importance attaches to this text. Here the relations between believing by man and imputing by God, are first and finally settled.

The word used here for “believing,” as indeed right through the Old Testament is the Hebrew word (in English spelling) “Aman.” It is similar in meaning, and almost exactly similar in form, to the better-known Hebrew word, “Amen.” Now with most people the use of the word Amen at the end of a prayer is almost like a postscript, a further earnest petition, “May it be so,” in regard to what has been audibly asked before. Yet this is not at all the real force and meaning of “Amen.” The word uttered after a spoken petition is not a further prayer to God, but rather a respectful command: “Be it so,” in the sense of “It shall be so.” So faith in this sense of Amen is “an affirmation and an act which bids eternal truth be fact.” And we are graciously invited by a loving Father to do just this in prayer, “concerning the work of My hands command ye Me” (Isa. 45:11). So Abraham “amened” God in regard to His promise in regard to Isaac.

Thus the Hebrew “Aman,” translated “believe,” and the Hebrew “Amen” not usually translated, are both humble yet confident affirmations of belief that what we have asked of God is in accordance with His will, and therefore we have “received” the petition. (“What things soever ye desire …believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” Mark 11:24.) This may seem all a great mystery, yet it is really the coping-stone of an act of faith, asking, believing, and receiving, affirming that God has answered, and maintaining that position in simple faith.

And this great principle of affirming faith is frequent in the “faithful.” Thus, faced with as great a miracle as Abraham, Elizabeth (Luke 1:45) believes and affirms (in regard to Mary), “Blessed is she that believeth, for there shall be a performance of those things told her.” So Elizabeth “Amened” God, in regard to Mary’s promise of a soil. So too With Sarah who laughed first in unbelief (Gen. 18:12), and later laughed in confident faith (Gen. 21:6). She too “received strength” through faith. She “believed,” but went further when she judged (or affirmed) Him faithful who had promised (Heb. 11:11).

Finally Paul in the storm, assured by the angel of the safety of all on board, a seeming miracle, confessed (Acts 27:25), “J believe God” and then followed by “Amening” God, “It shall be even as it was told me.”

Here we have then an important principle that in the use of those weapons that alone are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds,” we need to do more than ask, we must ask and believe, and still further, take our stand, and stake our all, upon God doing what He has promised to do. So we can quietly and confidently join the apostle in “Be of good cheer; I believe God,” and it shall be so. This is indeed “faith triumphant.” Lord, increase our faith.”

God’s Life Assurance (Ps. 11:3, 4)

In Psalm 11 the writer puts a question which is very much to the point today in these times of war. He asks, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” For the world’s foundations are being destroyed before our eyes, the foundations of life and liberty and society. Today in a way unthinkable a generation ago, foundations we thought established for all time are being dissolved before our eyes, and the State claims the soul as well as the body of its subject. The foundations of peace laid with such care twenty years ago, have gone; and might, not right, seems to rule the world. The natural cry as a result is: “What can the righteous do?” Now, in verse four, comes a strange statement in the Psalm which partly explains this strange and ominous outlook for the believer. The Lord’s “eyelids try the children of men.” Many a time we must all have pictured to ourselves the eyes of God “beholding the evil and the good,” and watching His children in their daily lives and activities for Him. Have we ever pondered the functions of the eyelids of God? This is of course metaphorical language, for God is a Spirit; yet this remarkable statement is intended to convey something very definite to us. How can God’s eyelids try men? Surely the inference is that as we look up in our need and danger and perplexity and cry to Him, God appears unseeing, He seems inattentive to our cry, because His eyes are veiled to our need. He does this with the very definite and gracious purpose of the “nevertheless afterwards.” But in spite of this seeming inattention, and lack of sight, and therefore knowledge of our fears and needs, yet all the time we are reassured: “His eyes behold the children of men.” Thank God, too, there is more than that: “His throne is in Heaven,” He is omnipotent, and is always seriously concerned about each humblest believer and his every need.

Now this most interesting question: “If the foundations be destroyed?” has been deliberately faced by the business world. For in modern life a rather wonderful system of insurance has been developed, by which men, warned by disasters in the past, have sought to insure themselves against loss and damage in an unknown future. Thus men insure their lives against death, their houses against fire, their goods against theft, their cars against damage. Thus in this life the “children of this world are in their generation (often) wiser than the children of light;” they realize the wisdom of safeguarding the future as far as possible.

But there is one factor such men are unable to insure against. For insurance companies often specially exempt themselves from paying for damages resulting from what they call “an act of God.” But in these uncertain and perilous days this is just what we need to be, and may be, insured about most of all. For God has not left us in darkness; He has foretold “wars and rumors of wars,” “men’s hearts failing them for fear for…those things coming on the earth.” So we must be prepared, and being forewarned ought to be fore-armed.

Of course, Christians do not need or want to be insured against these acts of God; for, as children of God, we have His special promises and protection. No; we need not be insured against them but to be assured about them, so that when they do occur, our faith may not fail, and our position of trust in God may not be abandoned in panic, but rather that “in quietness and confidence” in God, we may still find our strength and realize we are still “safe in the arms of Jesus.” How can we get this “all-in” policy from God then, which will cover all our risks, and meet all our needs?

Well, the basis of all assurance and reassurance about our unknown dangers and difficulties is summed up in two clauses of our Lord’s departing words: “All power is delivered unto Me,” and “Lo, I am with you alway.” For God still controls the world, and is able to safeguard and comfort His own. These two sentences from Matthew 28:18, 20 have a very special value and application today in these perilous times.

Yet in reassuring ourselves about difficulties and God’s power of dissolving them, we must always remember that His plans are larger than ours and often quite different to ours. He is often indeed “the God of the unexpected.”

This is well and strikingly brought out in the case of the three Hebrews in Daniel 3. Their insurance against the king’s wrath consisted in three successive clauses of faith: (1) “Our God is able to deliver us from the furnace.” I trust all of us, in view of past deliverances by God, can quite confidently say that. (2) “He will deliver us out of thy hand, O King.” That too was their confidence. From their then-permitted viewpoint, they believed God would do so. We, too, are often equally convinced God is going to deliver us, and that, too, in the way we have planned for Him.

Yet if that had been the limit of their confidence and their faith, it would not have sufficed these Hebrews. But they had in reserve a last and final insuring clause in the “insurance policy” which saved the situation. They were able to go on valiantly with a declaration which was absolutely invincible. (3) “But if not, we will not … worship the golden image.” So then, and ever since, a quiet confidence like that took them right past second causes and men, and left them dependent on the only and first great Cause, God. They were insured indeed! And exactly so, we may be today. We too may be called to this last great stand of faith.

For, after all, God did not deliver them—did not deliver them from the furnace, because He willed to do an ever so much greater thing. He willed to deliver them in the furnace, and thereby accomplish a number of important things.

So these three high officials ignominiously “bound” “fell down into the midst of the burning fiery furnace,” which was not very pleasing to the flesh, but was mightily pleasing to God. For on the terms of such a faith and obedience “yielding” their bodies to God, that they might not yield their wills to the king, wonderful things began to happen.

God, who had seemed unconcerned before, was evidently most deeply concerned. (1) He caused the flames to burn with a wonderful discrimination, so that though their bonds were consumed in an instant, not “a hair of their head was singed” nor the smell of smoke passed upon them. He can still control the flames of every sore trial and affliction. And have we no bonds? Can they not be got rid of in other ways? Well, often God tries other ways, but because of our unwillingness, may have to have recourse as a last resort to fire.

How many bonds are liable to entangle us with things below. How many of God’s children have been bound to the world; so preoccupied with material things that they have had little time left over for God, or longings for the Saviour’s return. Yet He so wants us to be ready and expectant! That is why a good many bonds have been burned in recent years of disappointment and disillusionment. Many have been banker’s bonds, which have become hardly worth the paper they were printed on. God has been reminding us, “Here we have no continuing city,” though many have been seeking to make one. Truly indeed.

“The angels from their home on high
Look down on us with pitying eye,
That where we are but passing guests
We build such strong and solid nests:
While where we hope to dwell for aye
We scarce take heed one stone to lay.”

(2) In the furnace they had a marvelous interview with the Son of God. Perhaps as they were being bound, they were glad that Daniel was out of it all, away perhaps on some distant embassy! He at least would escape. And he did! But he missed more than the fire, for he thereby missed that never-to-be-forgotten meeting with the Son of God, which was no doubt the outstanding event of these Hebrews’ lives. Is it not so sometimes with us? As we look back from the “nevertheless afterwards,” when calm has come again after trial, do we not realize that then was the time of God’s greatest nearness and imminence, and our greatest privilege.

(3) The King’s word was changed, and no doubt his heart as well if we may judge from the proclamation he made. Is this not a very proper way of convincing the doubter? When God delivers us, protects us, and in the middle of the fire enables us to “continue,” is it not the very best, the surest, proof to the worldling that God is able to save to the uttermost, and is a “very present help?”

Thus there were three blessed results from the fire, all won by their triumphant “But if not,” that invincible statement of their final belief and trust in God. Is it not this same last uttermost faith which characterized the great believers who live and triumph in the Bible?

(a) Just so at the supreme crisis in Abraham’s life, to his sinking heart (Gen. 21:7) came Isaac’s wondering embarrassing question, so hard to face, so hard to answer: “Behold the wood…but where is the lamb?” What could his father say? Only this, “God will Himself provide a lamb.” That was what he hoped, he believed. “God will surely provide, but if not, you, Isaac, will have to die.” Abraham did not actually say that. But he did more, he lived it, and so went on in absolute trust in God, as the knife was upraised, believing, as the New Testament tells us, “God was able to raise him even from the dead.” Not for nothing was Abraham finally called “the friend of God.”

(b) Job too, in sore afflictions, is able still to cling and cry, “He knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold!” That was his earnest expectation, but absolutely safeguarding it was his reserve “But if not,” “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Thus he too was Divinely guarded against the unexpected.

(c) Great-hearted John the Baptist joins this confident company. He sends from prison his perplexed question, “Art Thou He which should come?” As if to say, Thou art not doing what we expected; we see no kingdom being set up. Yet the quavering question, “Art Thou He that should come?” is followed by a statement confident with invincible faith: “But if not” “we shall look for Another.” “We believe and are convinced the promised Messiah is coming. We shall find Him, we must follow Him. Art Thou He?—for if not we shall go on looking for Another which is He.” So John has the same safeguard from his human expectations, and has ultimate reliance on God.

(d) Finally there appears One greater than Abraham, than Job, than John, One who in His mysterious prayer in the garden makes use of the same invincible formula of faith in God. “Let this cup pass,” He cries, “but if not” “Thy will be done.” The prayer we cannot fathom, but the plea we can repeat, and so be forever safe in the will of God. But the fact that the Divine Son of God thus puts His imprimatur upon this great revealed principle is an indication how urgent it is that we His children should learn to ever leave the result with God.

Yes; this “But if not” is indeed an impregnable phrase of equally impregnable faith, which places the believer beyond the reach of man or of second causes or of surrounding circumstances, and safely delivers him for ever into the hands of God. It is a “strong habitation indeed.” Ever let us use it!

“Praying with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18)

God in His wisdom has ordained that man shall be one of the essential links in the chain of Divine blessing. He who might have had “more than twelve legions of angels,” has yet chosen the weak human instrument without which His power often cannot be manifested and available. This Divine mystery is still further deepened when we come to the realm of prayer. Often in Scripture it is revealed that God has determined on some action or blessing, yet still He waits till the human intercessor, with the lever of faith and prayer, has set in motion these Divine actions and blessings.

There are accurate accounts preserved for us by God, of such successful intercession by many of the greatest men of the Bible. And there are two of Abraham and Elijah which are in startling contrast, and which are recorded in such detail that they are evidently to be deeply instructive for us “upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

Of course faith as a motive force is very much discredited among men in these days of “many inventions” in the material world. Yet Christians must still live up to their old Bible name of “believers.” They must still set their watches by the Sun of Righteousness rather than by the clocks of men. They must still maintain their attitude of “looking unto Jesus” for deliverance and blessing. We need not be particularly concerned in “thinking with the great thinkers,” for their theories change from day to day; but we need to be tremendously concerned about “believing with the great believers” in a living God who changeth not, in order that, as with faithful Abraham, it may be “counted unto us for righteousness.”

(A) In the case of Abraham indeed we are given the example in Genesis 18:25 of an unsuccessful intercession, yet the whole passage is fraught with spiritual lessons.

(1) Abraham was granted the privilege (which indeed is still open to believers today) of being in the “inner circle” with God. We read in Psalm 103:7: “He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” Moses, then, was admitted to that inner circle, while the Israelites saw only the outward acts of God. To Moses were made known the principles upon which God acted, His motives and His desires. So it may be with the humblest believer if he will only consult the Word as to things “which shall be hereafter.” And so it was, then, with Abraham. “Shall I hide from Abraham,” asked God, “the thing which I do?” And evidently God decided He would not do so, because “Abraham shall become a mighty nation.” So straightway He revealed to him the urgency of judgment for Sodom.

(2) Twenty-five years before Abraham had been allowed of God to rescue his disinherited nephew, Lot (Gen. 15:2), from the four heathen kings who had taken him captive; but it was only to bring him back again to Sodom. And now at this fresh danger to the nephew whom he still loved Abraham steps into the breach again. “Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” he asks of God. That was just what God did not do, as the after events showed. But here again we are reminded of the Lord’s own words: “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 15:13). The righteous are designed by God to be a restraining force on the wickedness of the world around; but—wonderful fact!—they are also a restraint upon the judgments of God. For “the longsuffering of God” still “waits,” not only in mercy to sinners, but also on account of the presence of the saints (1 Peter 3:19).

(3) Then Abraham begins to plead for the doomed city, and makes request again and again, and evidently with God’s full approval. He does not, as with Paul in regard to the “thorn,” meet with immediate refusal by God, but is led on from request to request, from faith to faith, till Sodom’s reprieve depends on the presence of only ten righteous persons within it.

(4) And that would have gained the day, had only Lot like Moses been “faithful in all his house,” or had he like Abraham commanded “his children and his household after him” (Gen. 18:18). For it seems clear that had Lot won for God even, and only, the members of his own household, wife, and sons, and married daughters, and their husbands, as well as the two daughters who alone escaped with him, there would have been the required ten righteous. Reading the Bible account indeed there seem to be no righteous at all in Sodom. Yet we are told in 2 Peter 2:8 that “just Lot…that righteous man…vexed his righteous soul, with their unlawful deeds.”

(5) Yet surely these ten verses giving us such details of Abraham’s intercession with God, are to instruct us, to encourage us to go on asking, “making our petition large.” For it evidently pleased God that His servant should pray and persist. And how many times did he pray? Just six times. Six is the human number of incompleteness, the number that just falls short of seven, which is the Divine and perfect number of completeness. So Abraham exercised faith in God six times, and just failed in accomplishing the deliverance and “obtaining” God’s promise of mercy. “All nations of the earth” were to be “blessed in him.” Yet Sodom just failed to be included. In fact, this great believer prayed “with perseverance,” which did not quite persevere. For pleading, “Wilt Thou … not spare the place?” six times only, Sodom was destroyed, even though Lot and his daughters were saved out of it.

(B) A successful intercession. In contrast let us turn to Elijah. He, great man of God though he was, does not find a place in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews among the paladins of faith, though his miracles are referred to. Perhaps this was because he had earlier been “mentioned in despatches,” in the Epistle of James years before.

(1) There (James 5:17) his natural character and his spiritual exploits are described in striking contrast. “He was subject to like passions as we are,” and we watch the prophet, running in panic “for his life.” We see this heroic figure seated under the juniper tree of depression, so natural, so human! Yet he was a “mountain-peak man” indeed, who “prayed earnestly” and effectually, and it was done.

Our first introduction to him is when he stands and cries with the voice and the fiat of God: “There shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Prom this verse it might seem that he was merely voicing a declaration of God. But James 5:17 takes us farther back. He shows us that Elijah’s previous praying was the reason of this judgment. So distressed was the prophet by the deadness and apostasy of his people, that he felt nothing but a long drought over the land would break Israel’s spiritual drought. So he prayed “earnestly” (literally, “prayed with prayer”) that it might not rain, and so, deliberately, inspired by God, plunged himself and the nation into three years of desolation and ruin.

(2) Then follows in chapter 18 the great spiritual crisis of the nation, when God flamed out upon the sacrifice, and the people cried out at last: “The Lord He is the God!” The false prophets of Baal were slain. Yet even before the people had thus publicly acknowledged Him, God had answered, and seeing the time was ripe and the people prepared, had promised Elijah the rain. And is He not waiting for the right conditions and the public acknowledgment of God before He delivers the nations today and gives victory and peace? God bring us to our knees as a nation before the dictators have to!

(3) And now follows Elijah’s second intercession. Here the spiritual order was reversed. In bringing the drought, evidently Elijah had prayed believingly, and God had then authorized him to declare to the people, “There shall not be rain.” But here God moved first, and in chapter 18:1 declared to Elijah, “I will send rain.” And then follows Elijah’s intercession. So that though God had promised the rain, it was still needful for Elijah with the key of prayer to open the windows of heaven that the rain might fall! How many, many promises of God, in like manner, wait for our praying, for our releasing! What a definite and blessed ministry it is to “turn God’s promises into facts” by prayer!

(4) So Elijah went up again to the crest of Carmel, to seek the promised rain from God. How eagerly he waited! How expectant he was! Yet his face was “between his knees.” He really had no need to see with his eyes, for he had the “second sight of faith.” After a period of prayer, that he might pray, “watching thereunto” (Eph. 6:18), he said to his servant, “Go now, and look towards the sea.” But the report from the blue Mediterranean was “nothing.” Again and again the prophet prayed, sending the servant for a report each time. So he prayed (like Abraham) six times, and still there was nothing. Yet still he persisted, and, thank God, at the seventh time, and not till the seventh time, faith saw its reward: “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud … like a man’s hand,” and in no time the heaven became black with clouds, and there was “a great rain.”

(5) Now surely there was some deep purpose of God in delaying the cloud, the answer, till the prophet had prayed and sent seven times. Surely there is an even deeper purpose in detailing so carefully this persisting in prayer, just as God must have a purpose in detailing Abraham’s failing in prayer to “obtain.” Surely it is that we might learn to pray “always … with all perseverance.”

Often in God’s service we must be “bowed” before Him in far-reaching intercession, as was Elijah, “his head between his knees,” crying to God long after the answer has been purposed in the mind of God and is on its way. Often, as with Daniel (10:12), “from the first day” “thy words were heard,” yet we knew it not, and surely God cries in these days of national emergency, “Ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers, keep not silent!”

Someone has wisely said, “In great crises and problems and needs, act faith even when you do not feel it.” God does not say “See,” but “Look.” If we will give the look of faith, He can soon turn it into sight. Continually God needs to test our faith and keep us waiting. It is only that we may continually prove His faithfulness. God help us then to learn to pray “with all perseverance,” not like Abraham six times, and falling short of the answer, but like Elijah praying and persisting seven times, and so letting “patience have her perfect work” and fruit, in mighty deliverance by God.

I remember telling our Solomon Island converts how bulldogs (unlike their half-starved curs) once they take hold can be almost killed before they will let go. One of those God-illuminated native teachers caught the idea like a flash, and prayed a little later, “Oh, God, make us bulldogs in prayer!” May He do the same for us in the homelands!