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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Mark 11

Verse 24

DISCOURSE: 1445
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH IN PRAYER

Mark 11:24. I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

THERE is no grace more highly commended in the Scriptures, than faith: for though in some respects love may be considered as the greater, inasmuch as it more assimilates us to the Deity, and is of infinitely longer duration [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:13.]; yet faith is the parent of love, and the root of every other grace. Faith, above all other graces, honours God, and benefits the soul; for it gives to him the glory of all his infinite perfections, and brings down from him a supply of all those blessings which he has promised to bestow. Its efficacy is particularly seen in prayer: our Lord has assured us, that it shall secure to us every blessing that we ask for: “I say unto you,” &c. &c.

It is our intention to shew,

I.

What is that faith which we are to exercise in prayer—

[Many distinguish between that faith which worketh miracles, and that whereby we obtain salvation: but I much doubt the propriety of the distinction, as it is usually explained. It is supposed that the faith itself is different: but I apprehend that the difference exists, not in the faith, but in the objects of that faith: the faith is the same; but its operation is different, according to the objects on which it is exercised. I would say of faith, so far as it relates to our present subject, that it is an expectation founded on a promise. To expect any thing which God has not promised, is presumption: to doubt the fulfilment of what he has promised, is unbelief: to expect the accomplishment of his word is faith.

But promises are of different kinds; some are absolute and others conditional: and the office of faith is to apprehend them as they are given; if they are given absolutely, we must expect them absolutely; if conditionally, conditionally. Our faith in each must be equally assured: we must as fully expect the accomplishment of a conditional promise on the performance of the condition, as of any promises to which no condition is annexed. But we must be careful not to construe the conditional as absolute, or the absolute as conditional: if we take the absolute promises, and make them to depend on the performance of conditions, we deny to God the exercise of his sovereign grace: if, on the other hand, we make the conditional promises absolute, and expect their accomplishment merely from the circumstance of their fixing themselves strongly on our minds, we shall, on the occurrence of a disappointment, be led to doubt the veracity of God, and to reject all his promises as unworthy of belief.

We will explain ourselves more fully.
There are many promises which we call absolute; such as those which relate to Christ as the Author of salvation to a ruined world [Note: Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3.]; such as relate also to the increase and establishment of his Church [Note: Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:6-9.]; and such also as afford the broad grounds of hope to all who shall believe in Christ [Note: Isaiah 55:7. John 6:37. Acts 13:39. 1 John 1:7.]. We are to believe these as true and certain, independent of any title to them, or interest in them, possessed by us. As applied to ourselves indeed, they may be considered as conditional; but as indefinitely taken, they may be called absolute.

There are other promises which we call conditional; because they are made to persons of certain characters, or upon our performance of certain conditions [Note: Matthew 5:3-10; Matthew 7:7-8; Matthew 11:28-29. Acts 16:31.]: and these we are to believe as infallibly certain to all who attain the qualifications or perform the conditions. Yet we must not imagine that the qualification or the action forms the proper ground on which God bestows the blessing: the blessing is God’s free gift, as well when it is conditionally granted, as when it is unconditional: the bestowment of Canaan on the descendants of Abraham was free, notwithstanding the final possession of it was suspended on their obedience to his commandments; and so it is in all cases: the performance of conditions may be appointed of God as means to an end; and the end may be inseparable from the means; but still the end is God’s free gift; and from his free grace alone do we derive our title to it: the use of the means is no more than the beggar’s stretching out his hand to receive a proferred donation.

Amongst these may be classed all temporal promises, such as those which relate to health, or riches, or honour: for these are no further promised than the bestowment of them shall accord with God’s will, and be subservient to his glory. We shall have them in that measure that shall be conducive to our spiritual and eternal welfare. Promises also which relate to others, are of this kind. God engages to “pour out his Spirit on our seed and his blessing on our offspring,” &c. [Note: Isaiah 44:3-5.] But this cannot be fulfilled, unless the individuals themselves seek his blessing: and therefore it must be understood as subject to that condition.

Such then is the faith which we are to exercise in prayer. We are to lay hold on the promises of God in his word, and are to apprehend them, not as they are applied to our minds, but as they are given by God. Their striking our minds more or less forcibly makes no alteration in them: they are not a whit more or less certain on that account: their accomplishment is no otherwise affected by our conduct than as we exercise faith on them, or entertain doubts respecting them: if we do not credit them, they will not be fulfilled to us; if we do credit them, they will be fulfilled absolutely, or on our performance of the conditions, according to the quality of the promises themselves.]

Having stated what we apprehend to be the kind of faith that we are to exercise, we proceed to mark,

II.

The importance of it towards the success of our prayers—

Two things are noted in our text, the one expressed, the other implied; and they will serve to shew us the importance of faith in the strongest light in which it can be seen:

1.

Without it, no prayer even for the smallest blessing can succeed

[If we go to God without faith, instead of honouring, we insult him; we tell him to his face, that the representations given of him in his word are too good to be true. Unbelief necessarily ascribes to God a defect either of power or of will to accomplish what he has promised: for if we believe him fully able, and fully willing, to accomplish his word, there remains no ground of doubt. It may be said that doubts may arise from a sense of our own unworthiness: but I answer, that all doubts ascribed to that source, have their origin in pride and ignorance: they argue an unwillingness to receive the promises in our proper character, and an ignorance of the freeness and fulness of the promises. Let us make the case our own. We have invited a person to come and receive some great benefit: and he no sooner comes into our presence, than he betrays a doubt about our sincerity, and a suspicion that we intend to disappoint him. Should we be pleased with such a person? Should we feel disposed to extend our benefits to him in such a state? In what light God regards such persons, he himself has told us: he interprets all doubts of his power, or willingness to supply the necessities of his people, as a high provocation; an insult, that kindles his wrath against every person that indulges them [Note: Psalms 78:19-22; Psalms 78:40-41.]: and he warns us, that every prayer offered in such a spirit shall be disregarded; and that it will be in vain for such a suppliant to expect any thing at his hands [Note: James 1:5-7.]. Hence the command to all who would find acceptance to their prayers, is, to “lift up holy hands without wrath or doubling [Note: 1 Timothy 2:8.].”]

2.

With it, no prayer even for the greatest blessing can fail

[Faith honours every perfection of the Deity: his power, his love, his faithfulness are all acknowledged, when we go to him in a firm expectation that he will fulfil his promises. Hence to such suppliants he gives a liberty to “ask for whatsoever they will,” and assures them, that he will fulfil all their petitions [Note: John 14:13-14; John 15:7; John 16:24.]. He does not indeed bind himself to any particular time or manner of answering their prayers: he may see fit to defer his answer for a considerable time; but he will not delay beyond the best time [Note: Luke 18:7.]. He may also withhold the particular blessing that is asked; but he will give a better in its stead; as when he refused Moses his permission to go into the land of Canaan, but gave him a sight of Canaan, and then took him up to heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 3:25-26. with 34:4, 5.]. He may also continue the affliction which we desire to have removed: but he will give us grace to bear it; and will glorify himself by means of it; which, in the eyes of every real saint, will be incomparably better than the removal of it [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.]. It is possible enough that his people under particular circumstances may think that he has not answered their prayer; as for instance, when they hare been praying for spiritual benefits, and he has sent them temporal calamities: but the truth is, that he makes their “tribulation to work the very blessings they have sought for, namely, patience, and experience, and hope;” and it is not till long afterwards that they see how mysteriously, yet how graciously, he has answered their petitions. There is but one limit to their petitions, namely, the will of God: and if the desire be within that limit, every believer may rest assured, that God either has answered his prayers, or will answer them in due time [Note: 1 John 5:14-15.].]

Learn then from hence,
1.

The true nature of prayer—

[It is thought by men in general to be a duty: and a duty it certainly is in some point of view; but it should rather be regarded as a privilege. In what light did Hagar view access to a fountain, when she and her child were perishing with thirst? In what light did the man-slayer view his liberty of running to the city of refuge? Or in what light would any poor person consider the knocking at our door, when he was bidden to come for a supply of all his wants? O that we viewed aright God’s invitations to a throne of grace! We should not come then, as too many do, to perform a task; to offer petitions which we neither expected nor desired to have answered; and which, if God should offer to grant them, we would pray back again with ten times more fervour than was put forth in offering them: No: we should come as children to a father, “delighting ourselves in him as our God,” and saying with David, “At morning and evening and at noon-day will I pray;” or with the Apostle, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”]

2.

The folly of unbelief—

[Unbelief builds a wall, as it were, between God and us: it effectually prevents all access to him, and as effectually prevents the communications of his grace to us — — — It may be thought, that if God has decreed to give us his blessing, our unbelief shall not prevent it; nor need we be solicitous about praying for it. But are we not told that Jesus “could not do many mighty works at Nazareth because of their unbelief?” Do we not remember that the Apostles failed in their attempts to cast out an unclean spirit “because of their unbelief?” Yea, are we not told, that, “notwithstanding a promise was given to the Israelites that they should enter into Canaan, they entered not in because of unbelief?” When God gave the most absolute promises, he said, “Yet will I be inquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them [Note: Ezekiel 36:37.].” And, when he declared by his Prophet, that he had “thoughts of peace towards his people to give them an expected end,” he particularly added, that “then they should go and pray unto him, and should find him, when they should search for him with their whole heart [Note: Jeremiah 29:11-13.].” Let us guard then against this most pernicious evil, and go unto our God, saying, “Lord, I believe: help thou my unbelief.”

Yet, in exercising faith, we must guard against presumption; for if our faith be of an unhallowed kind, and go beyond the promise, it shall not be crowned with success. When Elisha heard that the widow’s son was dead, he sent his servant with his staff, conceiving that the touch of that would suffice to restore him: but God had promised no such thing; and therefore the attempt failed [Note: 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 4:31.]. But in exercising faith, let us exercise it assuredly indeed, but humbly, and in an exact conformity to the command of God.]

3.

The wisdom of treasuring up the promises of God in our mind—

[These are the true ground and measure of our expectations from God. And, if we look into the Holy Scriptures, we shall find, that there is not a state or condition in which we can be placed, but there is a promise exactly suited to it. We go with confidence to an honourable man, when we have a promise of any thing under his own hand: with what confidence then may we go to God, when we can take his promises along with us! Look at Jacob, how he pleads with God a promise that had been given him many years before [Note: Genesis 28:15. with 32:12.]: see David pleading in like manner [Note: 2 Samuel 7:25.Psalms 119:49; Psalms 119:49.]: and learn from them the true use of the promises; “nor ever stagger at them through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God.” They are “exceeding great and precious,” commensurate with all our necessities. Let us therefore account nothing too great to ask; but “open our mouth wide, that God may fill it:” “nor shall one jot or tittle fail of all the good things that he has promised to us.”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 11". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/mark-11.html. 1832.