Click for printer friendly page
Bible Commentary Index
Necessity of Prayer Index
IX. PRAYER AND OBEDIENCE
"An obedience discovered itself in
Fletcher of Madeley, which I wish I could describe or imitate. It produced
in him a ready mind to embrace every cross with alacrity and pleasure. He
had a singular love for the lambs of the flock, and applied himself with the
greatest diligence to their instruction, for which he had a peculiar gift. .
. . All his intercourse with me was so mingled with prayer and praise, that
every employment, and every meal was, as it were, perfumed therewith." --
UNDER the Mosaic law, obedience was looked upon as being
"better than sacrifice, and to harken, than the fat of lambs." In
Deuteronomy 5:29, Moses represents Almighty God declaring Himself
as to this very quality in a manner which left no doubt as to the importance
He laid upon its exercise. Referring to the waywardness of His people He
"O that there were such a heart in
them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it
might be well with them, and with their children after them."
Unquestionably obedience is a high virtue, a soldier quality.
To obey belongs, preeminently, to the soldier. It is his first and last
lesson, and he must learn how to practice it all the time, without question,
uncomplainingly. Obedience, moreover, is faith in action, and is the outflow
as it is the very test of love. "He that hath My commandments and keepeth
them, he it is that loveth Me."
Furthermore: obedience is the conserver and the life of love.
"If ye keep My commandments," says
Jesus, "ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father's
commandments and abide in His love."
What a marvellous statement of the relationship created and
maintained by obedience! The Son of God is held in the bosom of the Father's
love, by virtue of His obedience! And the factor which enables the Son of
God to ever abide in His Father's love is revealed in His own statement,
"For I do, always, those things that please Him."
The gift of the Holy Spirit in full measure and in richer
experience, depends upon loving obedience:
"If ye love Me, keep My commandments,"
is the Master's word. "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you
another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever."
Obedience to God is a condition of spiritual thrift, inward
satisfaction, stability of heart. "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall
eat the fruit of the land." Obedience opens the gates of the Holy City, and
gives access to the tree of life.
"Blessed are they that do His
commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in
through the gates, into the city."
What is obedience? It is doing God's will: it is keeping His
commandments. How many of the commandments constitute obedience? To keep
half of them, and to break the other half -- is that real obedience? To keep
all the commandments but one -- is that obedience? On this point, James the
Apostle is most explicit: "Whosoever shall keep the whole law," he declares,
"and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
The spirit which prompts a man to break one commandment is
the spirit which may move him to break them all. God's commandments are a
unit, and to break one strikes at the principle which underlies and runs
through the whole. He who hesitates not to break a single commandment, would
-- it is more than probable -- under the same stress, and surrounded by the
same circumstances, break them all.
Universal obedience of the race is demanded. Nothing short
of implicit obedience will satisfy God, and the keeping of all His
commandments is the demonstration of it that God requires. But can we keep
all of God's commandments? Can a man receive moral ability such as enables
him to obey every one of them? Certainly he can. By every token, man can,
through prayer, obtain ability to do this very thing.
Does God give commandments which men cannot obey? Is He so
arbitrary, so severe, so unloving, as to issue commandments which cannot be
obeyed? The answer is that in all the annals of Holy Scripture, not a single
instance is recorded of God having commanded any man to do a thing, which
was beyond his power. Is God so unjust and so inconsiderate as to require of
man that which he is unable to render? Surely not. To infer it, is to
slander the character of God.
Let us ponder this thought, a moment: Do earthly parents
require of their children duties which they cannot perform? Where is the
father who would think, even, of being so unjust, and so tyrannical? Is God
less kind and just than faulty, earthly parents? Are they better and more
just than a perfect God? How utterly foolish and untenable a thought!
In principle, obedience to God is the same quality as
obedience to earthly parents. It implies, in general effect, the giving up
of one's own way, and following that of another; the surrendering of the
will to the will of another; the submission of oneself to the authority and
requirements of a parent. Commands, either from our heavenly Father or from
our earthly father, are love-directing, and all such commands are in the
best interests of those who are commanded. God's commands are issued neither
in severity nor tyranny. They are always issued in love and in our
interests, and so it behooves us to heed and obey them. In other words, and
appraised at its lowest value -- God having issued His commands to us, in
order to promote our good, it pays, therefore, to be obedient. Obedience
brings its own reward. God has ordained it so, and since He has, even human
reason can realize that He would never demand that which is out of our power
Obedience is love, fulfilling every command, love expressing
itself. Obedience, therefore, is not a hard demand made upon us, any more
than is the service a husband renders his wife, or a wife renders her
husband. Love delights to obey, and please whom it loves. There are no
hardships in love. There may be exactions, but no irk. There are no
impossible tasks for love.
With what simplicity and in what a matter-of-fact way does
the Apostle John say: "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we
keep His commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in His sight."
This is obedience, running ahead of all and every command.
It is love, obeying by anticipation. They greatly err, and even sin, who
declare that men are bound to commit iniquity, either because of
environment, or heredity, or tendency. God's commands are not grievous.
Their ways are ways of pleasantness, and their paths peace. The task which
falls to obedience is not a hard one. "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is
Far be it from our heavenly Father, to demand
impossibilities of His children. It is possible to please Him in all things,
for He is not hard to please. He is neither a hard master, nor an austere
lord, "taking up that which he lays not down, and reaping that which he did
not sow." Thank God, it is possible for every child of God, to please his
heavenly Father! It is really much easier to please Him than to please men.
Moreover, we may know when we please Him. This is the witness of the
Spirit -- the inward Divine assurance, given to all the children of God that
they are doing their Father's will, and that their ways are well-pleasing in
God's commandments are righteous and founded in justice and
wisdom. "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and
good." "Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints." God's
commandments, then, can be obeyed by all who seek supplies of grace which
enable them to obey. These commandments must be obeyed. God's
government is at stake. God's children are under obligation to obey Him;
disobedience cannot be permitted. The spirit of rebellion is the very
essence of sin. It is repudiation of God's authority, which God cannot
tolerate. He never has done so, and a declaration of His attitude was part
of the reason the Son of the Highest was made manifest among men:
"For what the law could not do, in
that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness
of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the
righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the
flesh, but after the Spirit."
If any should complain that humanity, under the fall, is too
weak and helpless to obey these high commands of God, the reply is in order
that, through the atonement of Christ, man is enabled to obey. The Atonement
is God's Enabling Act. That which God works in us, in regeneration and
through the agency of the Holy Spirit, bestows enabling grace sufficient for
all that is required of us, under the Atonement. This grace is furnished
without measure, in answer to prayer. So that, while God commands, He, at
the same time, stands pledged to give us all necessary strength of will and
grace of soul to meet His demands. This being true, man is without excuse
for his disobedience and eminently censurable for refusing, or failing, to
secure requisite grace, whereby he may serve the Lord with reverence, and
with godly fear.
There is one important consideration those who declare it to
be impossible to keep God's commandments strangely overlook, and that is the
vital truth, which declares that through prayer and faith, man's nature is
changed, and made partaker of the Divine nature; that there is taken out of
him all reluctance to obey God, and that his natural inability to keep God's
commandments, growing out of his fallen and helpless state, is gloriously
removed. By this radical change which is wrought in his moral nature, a man
receives power to obey God in every way, and to yield full and glad
allegiance. Then he can say, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God." Not only
is the rebellion incident to the natural man removed, but a heart which
gladly obeys God's Word, blessedly received.
If it be claimed, that the unrenewed man, with all the
disabilities of the Fall upon him, cannot obey God, there will be no denial.
But to declare that, after one is renewed by the Holy Spirit, has received a
new nature, and become a child of the King, he cannot obey God, is to assume
a ridiculous attitude, and to display, moreover, a lamentable ignorance of
the work and implications of the Atonement.
Implicit and perfect obedience is the state to which the man
of prayer is called. "Lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting," is
the condition of obedient praying. Here inward fidelity and love, together
with outward cleanness are put down as concomitants of acceptable praying.
John gives the reason for answered prayer in the passage
previously quoted: "And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him because we keep
His commandments and do those things which are pleasing in His sight."
Seeing that the keeping of God's commandments is here set
forth as the reason why He answers prayer, it is to be reasonably assumed
that we can keep God's commandments, can do those things which
are pleasing to Him. Would God make the keeping of His commandments a
condition of effectual prayer, think you, if He knew we could not keep His
statutes? Surely, surely not!
Obedience can ask with boldness at the Throne of grace, and
those who exercise it are the only ones who can ask, after that
fashion. The disobedient folk are timid in their approach and hesitant in
their supplication. They are halted by reason of their wrong-doing. The
requesting yet obedient child comes into the presence of his father with
confidence and boldness. His very consciousness of obedience gives him
courage and frees him from the dread born of disobedience.
To do God's will without demur, is the joy as it is the
privilege of the successful praying-man. It is he who has clean hands and a
pure heart, that can pray with confidence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus
"Not every one that saith unto me,
Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the
will of My Father which is in heaven."
To this great deliverance may be added another:
"If ye keep My commandments ye shall
abide in My love, even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in
"The Christian's trade," says Luther, "is prayer." But the
Christian has another trade to learn, before he proceeds to learn the
secrets of the trade of prayer. He must learn well the trade of perfect
obedience to the Father's will. Obedience follows love, and prayer follows
obedience. The business of real observance of God's commandments
inseparably accompanies the business of real praying.
One who has been disobedient may pray. He may pray for
pardoning mercy and the peace of his soul. He may come to God's footstool
with tears, with confession, with penitent heart, and God will hear him and
answer his prayer. But this kind of praying does not belong to the child of
God, but to the penitent sinner, who has no other way by which to approach
God. It is the possession of the unjustified soul, not of him who has been
saved and reconciled to God.
An obedient life helps prayer. It speeds prayer to the
throne. God cannot help hearing the prayer of an obedient child. He always
has heard His obedient children when they have prayed. Unquestioning
obedience counts much in the sight of God, at the throne of heavenly grace.
It acts like the confluent tides of many rivers, and gives volume and
fulness of flow as well as power to the prayer chamber. An obedient life is
not simply a reformed life. It is not the old life primed and painted anew
nor a church-going life, nor a good veneering of activities. Neither is it
an external conformation to the dictates of public morality. Far more than
all this is combined in a truly obedient Christian, God-fearing life.
A life of full obedience; a life settled on the most
intimate terms with God; where the will is in full conformity to God's will;
where the outward life shows the fruit of righteousness -- such a life
offers no bar to the inner chamber but rather, like Aaron and Hur, it lifts
up and sustains the hands of prayer.
If you have an earnest desire to pray well, you must learn
how to obey well. If you have a desire to learn to pray, then you must have
an earnest desire to learn how to do God's will. If you desire to pray to
God, you must first have a consuming desire to obey Him. If you would have
free access to God in prayer, then every obstacle in the nature of sin or
disobedience, must be removed. God delights in the prayers of obedient
children. Requests coming from the lips of those who delight to do His will,
reach His ears with great celerity, and incline Him to answer them with
promptitude and abundance. In themselves, tears are not meritorious. Yet
they have their uses in prayer. Tears should baptize our place of
supplication. He who has never wept concerning his sins, has never really
prayed over his sins. Tears, sometimes, is a penitent's only plea. But
tears are for the past, for the sin and the wrongdoing. There is another
step and stage, waiting to be taken. It is that of unquestioning obedience,
and until it is taken, prayer for blessing and continued sustenance, will be
of no avail.
Everywhere in Holy Scripture God is represented as
disapproving of disobedience and condemning sin, and this is as true in the
lives of His elect as it is in the lives of sinners. Nowhere does He
countenance sin, or excuse disobedience. Always, God puts the emphasis upon
obedience to His commands. Obedience to them brings blessing, disobedience
meets with disaster. This is true, in the Word of God, from its beginning to
its close. It is because of this, that the men of prayer, in Holy Writ, had
such influence with God. Obedient men, always, have been the closest to God.
These are they who have prayed well and have received great things from God,
who have brought great things to pass.
Obedience to God counts tremendously in the realm of prayer.
This fact cannot be emphasized too much or too often. To plead for a
religious faith which tolerates sinning, is to cut the ground from under the
feet of effectual praying. To excuse sinning by the plea that obedience to
God is not possible to unregenerate men, is to discount the character of the
new birth, and to place men where effective praying is not possible. At one
time Jesus broke out with a very pertinent and personal question, striking
right to the core of disobedience, when He said: "Why call ye Me, Lord,
Lord, and do not the things I say?"
He who would pray, must obey. He who would get anything out
of his prayers, must be in perfect harmony with God. Prayer puts into those
who sincerely pray a spirit of obedience, for the spirit of disobedience is
not of God and belongs not to God's praying hosts.
An obedient life is a great help to prayer. In fact, an
obedient life is a necessity to prayer, to the sort which accomplishes
things. The absence of an obedient life makes prayer an empty performance, a
mere misnomer. A penitent sinner seeks pardon and salvation and has an
answer to his prayers even with a life stained and debauched with sin. But
God's royal intercessors come before Him with royal lives. Holy
living promotes holy praying. God's intercessors "lift up holy hands," the
symbols of righteous, obedient lives.
To the best of our knowledge these files are public domain.
Click for printer friendly page
Bible Commentary Index
Necessity of Prayer Index