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Nothing But Leaves February 21st, 1864 by C. H. SPURGEON
"He found nothing but leaves." Mark 11:13 .
Most of the miracles of Moses were grand displays of divine justice. What were the first ten wonders but ten plagues? The same may be said of the prophets, especially of Elijah and Elisha. Was it not significant both of the character and mission of Elias when he called fire from heaven upon the captains of fifties; nor was he upon whom his mantle descended less terrible when the she-bears avenged him upon the mockers. It remained for our incarnate Lord to reveal the heart of God. The only begotten was full of grace and truth, and in his miracles pre-eminently God is set forth to us as LOVE. With the exception of the miracle before us, and perhaps, a part of another, all the miracles of Jesus were entirely benevolent in their character; indeed this one is no exception in reality, but only in appearance. The raising of the dead, the feeding of the multitude, the stilling of the tempest, the healing of diseases what were all these but displays of the lovingkindness of God? What was this to teach us but that Jesus Christ came forth from his Father on an errand of pure grace?
"Thine hands, dear Jesus, were not armed With an avenging rod, No hard commission to perform The vengeance of a God.
But all was mercy, all was mild, And wrath forsook the throne, When Christ on his kind errand came And brought salvation down."
Let us rejoice that God commendeth his love towards us, because in "due time Christ died for the ungodly." Yet, as if to show that Jesus the Savior is also Jesus the Judge, one gleam of justice must dart forth. Where shall mercy direct its fall? See, my brethren, it glances not upon a man, but lights upon an unconscious, unsuffering thing a tree. The curse, if we may call it a curse at all, did not fall. on man or beast, or even the smallest insect; its bolt falls harmlessly upon a fig tree by the wayside. It bore upon itself the signs of barrenness, and perhaps was no one's property; little, therefore, was the loss which any man sustained by the withering of that verdant, mockery, while instruction more precious than a thousand acres of fig trees has been left for the benefit of all ages. The only other instance at which I hinted just now was the permission given to the devils to enter into the swine, and the whole herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. In that case, again, what a mercy it was that the Savior did not permit a band of men to become the victims of the evil one. It was infinitely better that the whole herd of swine should perish than that one poor man should be rendered a maniac through their influence. The creatures choked in the abyss were nothing but swine swine which their Jewish owners had no right to keep; and even then they did not perish through Jesus Christ's agency, but through the malice of the devils, for needs must even swine run when the devil drives. Observe, then, with attention, this solitary instance of stern judgment wrought by the Savior's hand. Consider seriously that if only once in his whole life Christ works a miracle of pure judgment, the lesson so unique must be very full of meaning. If there be but one curse, where does it fall? What is its symbolic teaching? I do not know that I ever felt more solemnly the need of true fruitfulness before God than when I was looking over this miracle parable for such it may justly be called. The curse, you at once perceive, falls in its metaphorical and spiritual meaning upon those high professors who are destitute of true holiness; upon those who manifest great show of leaves, but who bring forth no fruit unto God. Only one thunderbolt, and that for boasting pretenders; only one curse, and that for hypocrites. O blessed Spirit, write this heart-searching truth upon our hearts! I. We will commence our exposition with the remark that THERE WERE MANY TREES WITH LEAVES ONLY UPON THEM, AND YET NONE OF THESE WERE CURSED BY THE SAVIOR, SAVE ONLY THIS FIG TREE.
It is the nature of many trees to yield to man nothing but their shade. The hungering Savior did not resort to the oak or to the elm to look for food, nor could the fir tree, nor the pine, nor the box, offer him any hope of refreshment; nor did he breathe one hard word concerning them, for he knew what was in them, and that they neither were, nor pretended to be fruit-bearing trees. So, dear friends, there are many men whose lives bear leaves, but no fruit and yet, thanks be unto God, almighty patience bears with them. They are allowed to live out their time, and then it is true they are cut down and cast into the fire; but while they are permitted to stand, no curse withers them: the longsuffering of God waiteth to be gracious to them. Here are some of the characters who have leaves but no fruit. There are thousands who ignorantly follow the sign and know nothing of the substance. In England, we think ourselves far in advance of Popish countries; but how much of the essence of Popery peeps out in the worship of very many! They go to Church or chapel, and they think that the mere going into the place and sitting a certain time and coming out again is an acceptable act to God: mere formality, you see, is mistaken for spiritual worship! They are careful to have their infants sprinkled, but what the ceremony means they know not; and without looking into the Bible to see whether the Lord commands any such an ordinance, they offer him their ignorant will worship either in obedience to custom, or in the superstition of ignorance. What the thing is, or why it is, they do not enquire, but go through a performance as certain parrots say their prayers. They know nothing about the inward and spiritual grace, which the Catechism talks about, if indeed, inward spiritual grace could ever be connected with an unscriptural outward and visible sign. When these poor souls come to the Lord's Supper, their thoughts go no farther than the bread and wine, or the hands which break the one and pour out the other; they know nothing whatever of communion with Jesus, of eating his flesh and drinking his blood; their souls have proceeded as far as the shell, but they have never broken into the kernel to taste the sweetness thereof. They have a name to lives and are dead; their religion is a mere show; a signboard without an inn a well-set table without meat; a pretty pageant where nothing is gold, but everything gilt nothing real, but all pasteboard, paint, plaster, and pretense. Nonconformists, your chapels swarm with such, and the houses of the Establishment are full of the same! Multitudes live and die satisfied with the outward trappings of religion, and are utter strangers to internal vital godliness. Yet such persons are not cursed in this life! No, they are to be pitied, to be prayed for, to be sought after, with words of love and honest truth; they are to be hoped for yet, for who knoweth but that God may call them to repentance, and they may yet receive the life of God into their souls? Another very numerous class have opinion but not faith, creed but not credence. We meet them everywhere. How zealous they are for Protestantism! They would not only die for orthodoxy, but kill others as well. Perhaps it is the Calvinistic doctrine which they have received, and then the five points are as dear to them as their five senses. These men will contend, not to say earnestly, but savagely for the faith. They very vehemently denounce all those who differ from them in the smallest degree; and deal damnation round the land with amazing liberality to all who are not full weight according to the balance of their little Zoar, Rehoboth, or Jireh: while all the while the spirit of Christ, the love of the Spirit, bowels of compassion, and holiness of character are no more to be expected from them than grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles. Doctrine, my brethren, is to be prized above all price! Woe to the Church of God when error shall be thought a trifle, for truth be lightly esteemed; and when truth is gone, what is left? But, at the same time, we grossly mistake if we think that orthodoxy of creed will save us. I am sick of those cries of "the truth," "the truth," "the truth," from men of rotten lives and unholy tempers. There is an orthodox as well as a heterodox road to hell, and the devil knows how to handle Calvinists quite as well as Arminians. No pale of any Church can insure salvation, no form of doctrine can guarantee to us eternal life. "Ye must be born again." Ye must bring forth fruits meet for repentance. "Every tree which bringeth not forth fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." Stopping short of vital union to the Lord Jesus by real faith, we miss the great qualification for entering heaven. Yet the time is not come when these mere head-knowers are cursed. These trees have leaves only, but no fatal curse has withered them hopelessly. No; they are to be sought after; they may yet know the Lord in their hearts, and the Holy Spirit may yet make them humble followers of the Lamb. O that it may be so! A third class have talk without feeling. Mr. Talkative, in "Pilgrim's Progress," is the representative of a very numerous host. They speak very glibly concerning divine things. Whether the topic be doctrinal, experimental, or practical, they talk fluently upon everything. But evidently, the whole thing comes from the throat and the lip; there is no welling up from the heart. If the thing came from the heart it would be boiling, but now it hangs like an icicle from their lips. You know them you may learn something from them, but all time while you are yourself aware that if they bless others by their words, they themselves remain unblessed. Ah! let us be very anxious lest this should be our own case. Let the preacher feel the anxiety of the apostle Paul, lest, after having preached to others, he himself should be a castavay; and let my hearers feel the same concern, lest, after talking about the timings of God, they should prove to be mere lip-servers, and not accepted children of the Most High. Another tribe springs up just now before my eye those who have regrets without repentance. Many of you under a heart-searching sermon feel grieved on account of your sins, and yet never have the strength of mind to give them up. You say you are sorry, but yet go on in the same course. You do really feel, when death and judgment press upon you, a certain sort of regret that you could have been so foolish, but the next day the strength of temptation is such, that you fall a prey to the very same infatuation. It is easy to bring a man to the river of regret, but you cannot make him drink the water of repentance. If Agag would be killed with words, no Amalekite would live. If men's transient sorrows for sin were real repentance on account of it, there is not a man living who would not, sometime or other, have been a true penitent. Here, however, are leaves only, and no fruit. We have yet again, another class of persons who have resolves without action. They will! Ah! that they will! but it is always in the future tense. They are hearers, and they are even feelers, but they are not doers of the Word: it never comes to that. They would be free, but they have not patience to file their fetters, nor grace to submit their manacles to the hammer. They see the right, but they permit the wrong to rule them. They are charmed with the beauties of holiness, and yet deluded with the wantonness of sin. They would ran in the ways of God's commandments, but the road is too rough, and running is weary work. They would fight for God, but victory is hardly won, and so they turn back almost as soon as they have set out; they put their hand to the plough, and then prove utterly unworthy of the kingdom. The great majority of persons who have any sort of religion at all, bear heaves, but they produce no fruit. I know there are some such here, and I solemnly warn you, though no curse falls upon you, though we do not think that the miracle now under consideration has any relation to you whatever, yet remember, there is nothing to be done with trees which bring forth only leaves, but in due time to use the axe upon them, and to cast them into the fire: and this must be your doom. As sure as you live under the sound of the gospel, and yet are not converted by it, so surely will you be cast into outer darkness. As certainly as Jesus Christ invites you, and ye will not come, so certainly will he send his angels to gather the dead branches together, and you among them, to cast them into the fire. Beware! beware! thou fruitless tree! thou shalt not stand for ever! Mercy waters thee with her tears now; God's lovingkindness digs about thee still; still the husbandman comes, seeking fruit upon thee year after year. Beware! the edge of the axe is sharp, and the arm which wields it is nothing less than almighty. Beware! lest thou fall into the fire! II. Secondly, THERE WERE OTHER TREES WITH NEITHER LEAVES NOR FRUIT, AND NONE OF THESE WERE CURSED! The time of figs was not yet come. Now, as the fig tree either brings forth the fig before the leaf, or else produces figs and leaves at the same time, the major part of the trees, perhaps all of them, without exception of this one, were entirely without figs and without leaves, and yet Jesus did not curse any one of them, for the time of figs was not yet come. What multitudes are destitute of anything like religion; they make no profession of it; they not only have no fruits of godliness, but they have no leaves even of outward respect to it; they do not frequent the court of the Lord's house; they use no form of prayer; they never attend upon ordinances. The great outlying mass of this huge city how does religion affect it? It is a very sad thing to think that there are people living in total darkness next door to the light; that you may find in the very street where the gospel is preached, persons who have never heard a sermon. Are there not, throughout this city, tens and hundreds of thousands who know not their right hand from their left, in matters of godliness? Their children go to Sabbath schools, but they themselves spend the whole Sabbath day in anything except the worship of God! In our country parishes, very often neither the religion of the Establishment nor of Dissent, at all affects the population. Take, for instance, that village which will be disgracefully remembem'ed as long as Essex endures, the village of Hedingham. Theme are in that place not only parish Churches, but Dissenting meetinghouses, and yet the persons who foully murdered the poor wretch supposed to be a wizard, must have been as ignorant and indifferent to common sense, let alone religion, as even Hottentots or Kaffirs, to whom the light of religion has never come. Why was this? Is it not because there is not enough of missionary spirit among Christian people to seek out those who are in the lowest strata of society, so that multitudes escape without ever coming into contact with godliness at all? In London, the City Missionaries will bear witness that while they can sometimes get at the wives, yet there are thousands of husbands who are necessarily away at the time of the missionary's visit, who have not a word of rebuke, or exhortation, or invitation, or encouragement, ever sounding in their ears at all, from the day of their birth to the day of their death; and they might, for all practical purposes, as well have been born in the center of Africa as in the city of London, for they are without God, without hope, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, far oft; not by wicked works only, but by dense ignorance of God. These persons we may divide into two classes, upon neither of whom does the withering curse fall in this life. The first we look upon with hope. Although we see neither leaves nor fruit, we know that "the time of figs is not yet." They are God's elect, but they are not called. Their names are in the Lamb's Book of Life, and were there from before the foundations of the world; though they be dead in trespasses, they are the objects of divine love, and they must, in due time, be called by irresistible grace, and turned from darkness to light. "The Lord hath much people in this city," and this should be the encouragement of every one of you, to try to do good, that God has among the vilest of the vile, the most reprobate, the most debauched and drunken, an elect people who must be saved. When you take the Word to them, you do so because God has ordained you to be the messenger of life to their souls, and they must receive it, for so the decree of predestination runs; they must he called in the fullness of time to be the brethren of Christ and children of the Most High. They are redeemed, beloved friends, but not regenerated as much redeemed with precious blood as the saints before the eternal throne. They are Christ's property, and yet perhaps, they are waiting around the ale-house at this very moment until the door shall open bought with Jesus' precious blood, and yet spending their nights in a brothel, and their days in sin; but if Jesus Christ purchased them he will have them. If he counted down the precious drops, God is not unfaithful to forget the price which his Son has paid. He will not suffer his substitution to be in any case an ineffectual, dead thing. Tens of thousands of redeemed ones are not regenerated yet, but regenerated they must be; and this is your comfort and mine, when we go out with the quickening Word of God. Nay, more, these ungodly ones are prayed for by Christ before the throne. "Neither pray I for these alone," saith the great Intercessor, "but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." They do not pray for themselves; poor, ignorant souls, they do not know anything about prayer; but Jesus prays for them. Their names are on his breast, and ere long they must bow their stubborn knee, breathing the penitential sigh before the throne of grace. "The time of figs is not yet." The predestinated moment has not struck; but, when it comes, they shall, for God will have his own; they must, for the Spirit is not to be withstood when he cometh forth with power they must become the willing servants of the living God. "My people shall be willing in the day of my power." "He shall justify many." "He shall see of the travail of his soul." "He shall divide a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong." No curse falls upon these; they deserve it, but eternal love prevents it. Their sins write it, but the finished sacrifice blots it out. They may well perish because they seek not mercy, but Christ intercedes for them, and live they shall. Alas! however, among those who have neither leaves nor fruit, there is another class which never bring forth either the one or the other; they live in sin and die in ignorance, perishing without hope. As these leave the world, can they upbraid us for neglecting them? Are we clear of their blood? May not the blood of many of them cry from the ground against us? As they arc condemned on account of sins, may they not accuse us because we did not take the gospel to them, but left them where they were? Dread thought! but let it not be shaken off, there are tens of thousands every day who pass into the world of spirits unsaved, and inherit the righteous wrath of God. Yet in this life, you see, no special curse falls upon them, and this miracle has no special bearing upon them; it bears upon a totally different class of people, of whom we will now speak. III. WE HAVE BEFORE US A SPECIAL CASE. I have already said, that in a fig tree, the fruit takes the precedence of the leaves, or the leaves and the fruit come at the same time; so that it is laid down as a general rule, that if there be leaves upon a fig tree, you may rightly expect to find fruit upon it. To begin then with the explanation of this special case, in a fig tree fruit comes before leaves. So in a true Christian, fruit always takes the precedence of profession. Find a man anywhere who is a true servant of God, and before he united himself with the Church, or attempted to engage in public prayer, or to identify himself with the people of God, he searched to see whether he had real repentance on account of sin he desired to know whether he had a sincere and genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and he perhaps tarried some little time to try himself to see whether there were the fruits of holiness in his daily life. Indeed, I may say that there are some who wait too long; they are so afraid lest they should make a profession before they have grace in possession, that they will wait year after year too long become unwise, and make what was a virtue become a vice. Still this is the rule with Christians: they first give themselves to the Lord and afterwards to the Lord's people according to his will. You who are the servants of God do you not scorn to vaunt yourselves beyond your line and measure? Would you not think it disgraceful on your part to profess anything which you have not felt? Do you not feel a holy jealousy when you are teaching others, lest you should teach more than God has taught you? and are you not afraid even in your prayers lest you should use expressions which are beyond your own depth of meaning? I am sure the true Christian is always afraid of anything like having the leaves before he has the fruit. Another remark follows from this where we see the leaves we have a right to expect the fruit. When I see a man a Church-member, when I hear him engage in prayer, I expect to see in him, holiness, the character and the image of Christ. I have a right to expect it, because the man has solemnly avowed that he is the partaker of divine grace. You cannot join a Church without taking upon yourselves very solemn responsibilities. What do you desire when you come to see us, and ask to be admitted into fellowship? You tell us that you have passed from death unto life, that you have been born again, that there has been a change in you, the hike of which you never knew before, one which only God could have wrought. You tell us you are in the habit of private prayer; that you have a desire for the conversion of others. If you did not so profess, we dare not receive you. Well now, having made these professions, it would be insincere on our part if we did not expect to see your characters holy, and your conversation correct; we have a right to expect it from your own professions. We have a right to expect it from the work of the Spirit which you claim to have received. Shall the Holy Spirit work in man's heart to produce a trifle? Do you think that the Spirit of God would have written us this Book, and that Jesus Christ would have shed his precious blood to produce a hypocrite? Is an inconsistent Christian the highest work of God? I suppose God's plan of salvation to be that which has more exercised his thoughts and wisdom than the making of all worlds and the sustenance of all providence; and shall this best, this highest, this darling work of God, produce no more than that poor, mean, talking, unacting, fruitless deceiver? Ye have no love for souls, no care for the spread of the Redeemer's kingdom, and yet think that the Spirit, has made you what you are! No zeal, no melting bowels of compassion, no cries of earnest entreaty, no wrestling with God, no holiness, no self-denial, and yet say that you are a vessel made by the Master and fitted for his use! How can this be? No; if you profess to be a Christian, from the necessity of the Spirit's work, we have a right to expect fruit from you. Besides, in genuine professors we do get the fruit, we see a faithful attachment to the Redeemer's cause, an endurance to the end, in poverty, in sickness, in shame, in persecution. We see other professors holding fast to the truth, they are not led aside by temptation, neither do they disgrace the cause they have espoused; and, if you profess to be one of the same order, we have a right to look for the same blessed fruits of the Spirit in you, and if we see them not you have belied us. Observe further that our Lord hungers for fruit. A hungry person seeks for something which may satisfy him, for fruit, not leaves! Jesus hungers for your holiness. A strong expression, you will say, but I doubt not of its accuracy. For what were we elected? We were predestinated to be conformed unto the image of God's Son; we were chosen to good works, "which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." What is the end of our redemption? Why did Jesus Christ die? " He gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Why have we been called but that we should be called to be saints? To what end are any of the great operations of the covenant of grace? Do they not all point at our holiness? If you will think of any privilege which the Lord confers upon his people through Christ, you will perceive that they all aim at the sanctification of the chosen people the making of them to bring forth fruit that God the Father may be glorified in them. O Christian, for this the tears of the Savior! for this the agony and bloody sweat! for this the five death-wounds! for this the burial and the resurrection, that he makes you holy, even perfectly holy like unto himself! And can it be, that when he hungers after fruit, you think nothing of fruit-bearing? O professor, how base art thou, to call thyself a blood-bought child of God, amid yet to live unto thyself! How darest thou, O barren tree, professing to be watered by the bloody sweat, and digged by the griefs and woes of the wounded Savior how darest thou bring forth leaves and no fruit? Oh! sacrilegious mockery of a hungry Savior! oh! blasphemous tantalizing of a hungry Lord! that thou shouldst profess to have cost him all this, and yet yield him nothing! When I think that Jesus hungers after fruit in me, it stirs me tip to do more for him. Does it not have the same effect on you? He hungers for your good works; he hungers to see you useful. Jesus the King of kings, hungers after your prayers hungers after your anxieties for the souls of others; and nothing ever will satisfy him for the travail of his soul but seeing you wholly devoted to his cause. This brings us into the very midst and meaning of the miracle. There are some, then, who make unusual profession, and yet disappoint the Savior in his just expectations. The Jews did this. When Jesus Christ came it was not the time of figs. The time for great holiness was after the coming of Christ and the pouring out of the Spirit. All the other nations were without leaves. Greece, Rome, all these showed no signs of progress; but there was the Jewish nation covered with leaves. They professed already to have obtained the blessings which he came to bring. There stood the Pharisee with his long prayers; there were the lawyers and the Scribes with their deep knowledge of the things of the kingdom. They said they had the light. The time of figs was not come, but yet they had the leaves, though not a single fruit; and you know what a curse fell on Israel; how in the day of Jerusalem's destruction the tree was withered altogether from its root, because it had its leaves, but had no fruit. The same will be true of any Church. There are times when all the Churches seem sunken alike in lethargy such a time we had, say ten years ago but one Church, perhaps, seems to be all alive. The congregations are large. Much, apparently, is proposed for the growth of the Savior's kingdom. A deal of noise is made about it; there is much talk, and the people are all expectation; and, if there be no fruit, no real consecration to Christ, if there be no genuine liberality, no earnest vital godliness, no hallowed consistency, other Churches may live on; but such a Church as this, making so high a profession, and being so precocious in the produce of leaves, shall have a curse from God. No man shall eat fruit of it for ever, and it shall wither away. In the case of individuals the moral of our miracle runs thus. Some are looked upon as young believers, who early join the Church. "The time of figs is not yet;" it is not a very ordinary case to see children converted, but we do see some, and we are very grateful. We are jealous however lest we should see leaves but not fruit. These juveniles are extraordinary cases; and on that account we look for higher results. When we are disappointed what shall come upon such but a curse upon their precocity, which led them to the deception. Some of us were converted, or profess to have been, when young, and if we have lived hitherto, and all we have produced has been merely words, resolves, professions, but not fruit unto God, we must expect the curse. Again, professsors eminent in station. There are necessarily but few ministers, but few Church officers; but when men so distinguish themselves by zeal, or by louder professions than others, as to gain the ear of the Christian public and are placed in responsible positions if they bring forth no fruit, they are the persons upon whom the curse will light. It may be with other Christians that "the time of figs is not yet;" they have not made the advances which these profess to have made; but having been, upon their own profession, elected to an office which essentially requires fruit, since they yield it not, let them beware. To those who make professions of much love to Christ, the same caution may be given. With the most of Christians, I am afraid, I must say that "the time of figs is not yet," for we are too much like the Laodicean Church. But you meet with some men how much they are in love with Christ! How sweetly they can talk about him, but what do they do for him? Nothing! nothing! Their love lies just in the wind which comes out of their own mouths, and that is all. Now, when the Lord has a curse, he will deal it out on such They went beyond all others in an untimely declaration of a very fervent love, and now they yield him no fruit. "Yes," said one, "I love God so much, that I do not reckon that anything I have is my own. It is all the Lord's all the Lord's, and I am his steward." Well, this dear good man, of course, joined the Church, and after a time, some mission work wanted a little help. What was his reply? "When I pay my seat rent, I have done all I intend to do." A man of wealth and means! After a little time, this same man found it inconvenient even to pay for his seat, and goes now to a place not quite so full, where he can get a seat and do nothing to support the ministry! If there is a special thunderbolt anywhere, it is these unctions hypocrites who whine about love to Christ, and bow down at the shrine of mammon. Or, take another case. You meet with others whose profession is not of so much love, but it is of much experience. Oh! what experience they have had! What deep experience! Ah! they know the humblings of heart and the plague of human nature! They know the depths of corruption, and the heights of divine fellowship, and so on. Yes, and if you go into the shop you find the corruption is carried on behind the counter, and the deceit in the day-book; if they do not know the plague of their own hearts, at least they are a plague to their own household. Such people are abhorrent to all men, and much more to God. Others you meet with who have a censorious tongue. What good people they must be; they can see the faults of other people so plainly! This Church is not right, and the other is not right, and yonder preacher well some people think him a very good man, but they do not. They can see the deficiencies in the various denominations, and they observe that very few really carry out Scripture as it should be carried out. They complain of want of love, and are the very people who create that want. Now if you will watch these very censorious people, the very faults they indicate in others, they are indulging in themselves; and while they are seeking to find out the mote in their brother's eye, they have a beam in their own. These are the people who are indicated by this fig tree, for they ought, according to their own showing, taking t hem on their own ground, to be better than other people. If what they say be true, they are bright particular stars, and they ought to give special light to the world. They are such that even Jesus Christ himself might expect to receive fruit from them, but they are nothing but deceivers, with these high soarings and proud boastings; they are nothing after all but pretenders. Like Jezebel with her paint, which made her all the uglier, they would seem to be what they are not. As old Adam says, "They are candles with big wicks and no tallow, and when they go out they make a foul and nauseous smell." "They have summer sweating on their brow, and winter freezing in their hearts." You would think them the land of Goshen, but prove them the wilderness of sin. Let us search ourselves, lest such be the case with us. IV. And now to close, SUCH A TREE MIGHT WELL BE WITHERED.
Deception is abhorred of God. There was the Jewish temple, there were the priests standing in solemn pomp, there were the abundant sacrifices of God's altar. But was God pleased with his temple? No, because in the temple you had all the leaves, you had all the externals of worship, but there was no true prayer, no belief in the great Lamb of God's passover, no truth, no righteousness, no love of men, no care for the glory of God; and so the temple, which had been a house of prayer, had become a den of thieves. You do not marvel that the temple was destroyed. You and I may become just like that temple. We may go on with all the externals of religions, nobody may miss us out of our seat at Tabernacle, nay, we may never miss our Christian engagements; we may be in all external matters more precise than we used to be, and yet for all that, we may have become in our hearts a den of thieves; the heart may be given to the world while external ceremonies are still kept up and maintained. Let us beware of this, for such a place cannot be long without a curse. It is abhorrent to God. Again, it is deceptive to man. Look at that temple! What do men go there for? To see holiness and virtue. Why tread they its hallowed courts? To get nearer to God. And what do they find there? Instead of holiness, covetousness; instead of getting nearer to God, they get into the midst of a mart where men are haggling about the price of doves, and bickering with one another about the changing of shekels. So men may watch to hear some seasonable word from our lips, and instead of that, may get evil; and as that temple was cursed for deluding men, so may we be, because we deceive and disappoint the wants of mankind. More than this, this barren fig tree committed sacrilege upon Christ, did it not? Might it not have exposed him to ridicule? Some might have said, "How goest thou to a tree, thou prophet, whereon there is no fruit?" A false professor exposes Christ to ridicule. As the temple of old dishonored God, so does a Christian when his heart is not right; he does dishonor to God, and makes the holy cause to be trodden under foot of the adversary. Such men indeed have reason to beware. Once more, this tree might well be cursed, because its bringing forth nothing but leaves was a plain evidence of its sterility. It had force and vitality, but it turned it to ill account, and would continue to do so. The curse of Christ was but a confirmation of what it already was. He did as good as say, "He that is unfruitful, let him be unfruitful still." And now, what if Christ should come into this Tabernacle this morning, and should look on you and on me, and see in any of us great profession and great pomp of leaves, and yet no fruit, what if he should pronounce the curse on us, what would be the effect? We should wither away as others have done. What mean we by this? Why, they have on a sudden turned to the world. We could not understand why such fair saints should, on a sudden, become such black devils; the fact was, Christ had pronounced the word, and they began to wither away. If he should pronounce the unmasking word on any mere professor here, and say, "Let no man eat fruit of thee for ever," you will go into gross outward sin and wither to your shame. This will take place probably on a sudden; and taking place, your case will be irretrievable; you never afterwards will be restored. The blast which shall fall upon you will be eternal; you will live as a lasting monument of the terrible justice of Christ, as the great head of the Church; you will be spared to let it be seen that a man outside the Church may escape with impunity in this life, but a man inside the Church shall have a present curse, and be made to stand as a tree blasted by the lightning of God for ever. Now, this is a heart-searching matter. It went through me yesterday when I thought, "Well, here am I, I have professed to be called of God to the ministry; I have forced myself into a leading place in God's Church; I have voluntarily put myself into a place where sevenfold damnation is my inevitable inheritance if I be not true and sincere." I could almost wish myself back out of the Church, or at least in the obscurest place in her ranks, to escape the perils and responsibilities of my position; and so may you, if you have not the witness of the Spirit in you that you are born of God you may wish that you never thought of Christ, and never dreamed of taking his name upon you. If you have by diligence worked yourself into a high position among God's people; if you have mere leaves without the fruit, the more sure is the curse, because the greater the disappointment of the Savior. The more you profess, the more is expected of you; and if you do not yield it, the more just the condemnation when you shall be left to stand for ever withered by the curse of Christ. O men and brethren, let us tremble before the heart-searching eye of God; but let us still remember that grace can make us fruitful yet. The way of mercy is open still. Let us apply to the wounds of Christ this morning. If we have never begun, let us begin now. Now let us throw our arms about the Savior, and take him to be ours; and, having done this, let us seek divine grace, that for the rest of our lives we may work for God. Oh! I do hope to do more for God, and I hope you will. O Holy Spirit, work in us mightily, for in thee is our fruit found! Amen.
True Prayer True Power!
August 12, 1860 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
© Copyright 2004 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. All rights reserved.
Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio Cassette or CD:
“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” [Mark 11:24 ]
This verse has something to do with the faith of miracles; but I think it has far more reference to the miracle of faith. We will, this morning, consider it in that light. I believe that this text applies not only to the apostles, but also to all those who walk in the faith of the apostles, believing in the promises of the Lord Jesus Christ. The advice which Christ gave to the twelve and to his immediate followers is repeated to us in God's Word this morning. May we have the grace to constantly obey it. “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” There are so many persons who complain that they don't enjoy prayer. They don't neglect it, for they dare not; but they would neglect it if they could, because they don't find any pleasure in praying. And don't we all have to admit, that sometimes when we pray, that it is very difficult work and seems to be almost drudgery? We spend the allotted time, but we rise from our knees unrefreshed, like a man who has laid on his bed but has not slept so hasn't really recovered his strength. When the time comes around again conscience drives us to our knees, but there is not sweet fellowship with God. There is no crying out of our needs to him with the firm conviction that he will supply them. After having gone again through a certain round of customary utterances, we rise from our knees perhaps more troubled in conscience and more distressed in mind than we were before. There are many Christians, I think, who complain of this that they pray not so much because it is a blessed thing that allows them to draw near to God, but because they must pray, because it is their duty, because they feel that if they did not, they would lose one of the sure evidences of being Christians. Brothers and sisters, I don't condemn you; but at the same time, if I may be the means of lifting you up this morning from so low a state of grace into a higher and healthier atmosphere, my soul will be extremely glad. If I can show you a more excellent way; if from this time forward you may come to look at prayer as your natural state, as one of the most delightful exercises of your life; if you will come to esteem it more than your necessary food, and to value it as one of heaven's best luxuries, surely I will have answered a great end, and you will have to thank God for a great blessing. Give me your attention while I beg you, first, to look at the text; secondly to look around you; and then, to look above you. I. First, LOOK AT THE TEXT. If you look at it carefully, I think you will perceive the essential qualities which are necessary for any great success and power in prayer. According to our Savior’s description of prayer, there should always be some definite objects for which we should plead. He speaks of definite request, “Whatever you ask for.” It seems then that he made the point that God's children would go to him to pray when they had something to pray for. Another essential qualification of prayer is earnest desire; for the Master assumes that when we pray we have needs and desires, thus we are asking for something. Indeed it is not prayer, it may be something like prayer, the outward form or the bare skeleton, but it is not the living thing, the all-prevailing, almighty thing, called prayer, unless there is a complete and consuming desire. Observe, too, that faith is an essential quality of successful prayer “believe that you have received it.” You cannot pray so as to be heard in heaven and answered to your soul's satisfaction, unless you believe that God really hears and will answer you. One other qualification appears here upon the very surface, namely, that a real expectation should always accompany a firm faith “believe that you have received it.” Not merely believe that “You will” but “You that you have” received it count them as if they were received, believe it as if you had it already, and act as if you had it act as if you were sure you would have it believe that you received it, and you will have it.” Let us review these four qualifications, one by one. 1. To make prayer of any value, there should be definite objects for which to plead for.
My brothers and sisters, we often ramble in our prayers after this, that, and the other, and we get nothing because in each request we do not really desire anything. We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any one object. Don’t you sometimes fall on your knees without thinking beforehand what you plan to ask God for? You do so as a matter of habit, without any action of your heart. You are like a man who goes to a store and doesn’t know what he wants to buy. He may perhaps make a good purchase when he is there, but certainly it is not a wise plan to adopt. And so the Christian in prayer may afterwards attain to a real desire, and get what he asked for, but how much better would it be if having prepared his soul by consideration and self-examination of his true needs, he came to God with specific requests. If we requested a meeting with a king or a president, we should expect to be able to answer the obvious question, “What do you wish to see them about?” We would not be expected to go into the presence of royalty or a great leader, and then to think of some petition after we came there. It is the same with the child of God. They should be able to answer the great question, “What is your petition and what is your request, and it will be yours?”
Imagine an archer shooting with his bow, and not knowing where the target is! Would he be likely to have success? Conceive of a ship on a voyage of discovery, putting to sea without the captain having any idea of what he was looking for! Would you expect that he would come back heavily laden either with the discoveries of science, or with the treasures of gold? In everything else you have a plan. You don’t go to work without knowing that there is something that you plan to accomplish; how is it that you go to God without knowing what you intend to ask for? If you had some particular need you would never find prayer to be dull and heavy work; I am persuaded that you would long for it. You would say, “I have something that I want. Oh that I could draw near to my God, and ask him for it; I have a need, I want to have it satisfied, and I long till I can get alone, that I may pour out my heart before him, and ask him for this thing after which my soul so earnestly pants after.”
You will find it more helpful to your prayers if you have some objects at which you aim, and I think also if you have some persons whom you will mention. Do not merely plead with God for sinners in general, but always mention some by name. If you are a Sunday-school teacher, don't simply ask that your class may be blessed, but pray for your children definitely by name before the Most High. And if there is a mercy in your household that you crave, don't go in a round-about way, but be simple and direct in your pleadings with God. When you pray to him, tell him what you want. If you don’t have enough money, if you are in poverty, if you are in desperate need, state the case. Don’t be shy with God. Come at once to the point; speak honestly with him. He needs no beautiful phrases such as men will constantly use when they don't like to say right out what they mean. If you need either an earthly or spiritual mercy, say so. Don't rummage through the Bible to find words in which to express it. Express your needs in the words which naturally suggest themselves to you. They will be the best words, depend on it. Abraham's words were the best for Abraham, and yours will be the best for you. You need not study all the texts in Scripture, to pray just like Jacob and Elijah did, using their expressions. If you do you will not truly imitate them. You may imitate them literally and in a forced way, but you lack the soul that suggested and animated their words. Pray in your own words. Speak plainly to God; immediately ask for what you want. Name persons, name things, and be direct with the objects of your supplications, and I am sure you will soon find that the weariness and dullness of which you often complain in your prayers, will disappear; or at least you won’t experience them very often like you did before. “But,” someone says, “I don’t feel that I have any special things to pray about.” Ah! My dear friend, I don’t know who you are, or where you live, to not have any thing to pray about, for I find that every day brings either a need or trouble, and that I have every day something to ask of my God. But if we still insist that have no troubles, that we have attained to such a level of grace that we have nothing to ask for, then I ask, do we love Christ so much that we have no need to pray that we may love him more? Do we have so much faith that we have ceased to cry, “Lord increase my faith?” You will always, I am sure, by a little self-examination, soon discover that there is some legitimate object for which you may knock at Mercy's door and cry, “Give me, Lord, the desire of my heart.” And if you haven’t any desire, you have only to ask the first struggling Christian you meet, and he will give you something to pray for. “Oh,” he will reply to you, “If you have nothing to ask for yourself, then please pray for me. Ask that a sick wife may be healed. Pray that the Lord will graciously help the person struggling with a discouraged heart; ask that the Lord would send help to some minister who has been laboring in vain, and spending his strength for nothing.” When you have done asking for yourself, plead for others; and if you can’t meet with someone who can suggest a theme, look on this huge, Sodom, this city like another Gomorrah lying before you; carry it constantly in your prayers before God and cry, “Oh that this city may live before you, that its sin may be stopped, that its righteousness may be exalted, that the God of the earth may draw to himself many people out of this city.” 2. It is equally necessary that with the definite object for prayer that there should also be an earnest desire for its attainment.
“Cold prayers,” says an old Christian, “ask for a denial.” When we come to the Lord with an attitude of indifference in our prayers then, we do as it were, stop his hand, and restrain him from giving us the very blessing we pretend that we are seeking. When you have your object in your heart, your soul must become so possessed with the value of that object, with your own excessive need for it, with the danger which you will be in unless that object would be granted, that you will be compelled to plead for it as a man pleads for his life.
There was a beautiful illustration of true prayer, prayer that was addressed to a man, in the conduct of two noble ladies, whose husbands were condemned to die and were about to be executed, when they came before King George and plead for their pardon. The king rudely and cruelly rejected them. King George the first! It was in his very nature to act the way he did. And they pleaded again, and again, and again, and they would not rise from their knees; they had to actually be dragged out of court, for they would not stop pleading until the king had granted their wish, and told them that their husbands would live. Sadly! they failed, but they were noble women for their perseverance in pleading for their husbands’ lives.
That is exactly the way for us to pray to God. We must have such a desire for the thing we want, that we will not stop praying until we have it but always in submission to his divine will, nevertheless. Feeling that the thing we ask for cannot be wrong, and that he himself has promised it, we have resolved it must be given, and if not given, we will plead the promise, again, and again, until heaven's gates will shake before our pleas will cease. No wonder that God has not blessed us much lately, because we are not fervent in prayer as we should be. Oh, those cold-hearted prayers that die upon the lips those frozen supplications; they don’t move men's hearts, how should they move God's heart? They don’t come from our own souls, they don’t well up from the deep secret springs of our inmost heart, and therefore they cannot rise up to him who only hears the cry of the soul, before whom hypocrisy and formality are clearly seen. We must be earnest, otherwise we have no right to hope that the Lord will hear our prayer. And surely, my brothers and sisters, we would stop all insincerity in prayer and be constantly serious in our requests, if we could comprehend the greatness of the Holy God before whom we plead. Will I come into your presence, my Lord, and mock you with cold-hearted words? Will I be content to babble through a form with no soul and no heart? Ah, my brothers and my sisters! We have no idea how many of our prayers are an abomination to the Lord. It would be an abomination to you and to me to hear men ask us in the streets, as if they did not want what they asked for. But haven’t we done the same to God? Haven’t we taken that which is heaven's greatest blessing to us, and made it into a dry dead duty? It was said of John Bradford that he had a unusual way to pray, and when asked what his secret was, he said, “When I know what I want I always stop and continued to present that prayer until I feel that I have pleaded it with God, and until God and I have had dealings with each other upon it. I never go on to another petition until I have completely gone through the first.”
Sadly! for some men who begin “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name;” and before they have realized the adoring thought “hallowed be your name,” they have begun to repeat the next words ”Your kingdom come;” then perhaps something strikes their mind, “Do I really wish his kingdom to come? If it were to come now where would I be?” And while they are thinking of that, their voice is going on with, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven;” so they jumble up their prayers and run the sentences together. Oh! stop at each request until you have really prayed it. Don’t try to put two arrows on the bow at once, they will both miss. He that would load his gun with two charges cannot expect to be successful. Discharge one shot first, and then load again. Plead once with God and prevail, and then plead again. Get the first mercy, and then go again for the second. Don’t be satisfied with running the colors of your prayers together, until there is no picture to look at but just a huge glob, a smear of colors badly laid on. Look at the Lord's Prayer itself. What clear sharp outlines there are in it. There are certain definite mercies, and they do not run into one another. There it stands, and as you look at the whole it is a magnificent picture; not confusion, but beautiful order. It should be the same with your prayers. Stay on one until you have prevailed with that, and then go on to the next. With definite objects and with fervent desires mixed together, there is the dawning of hope that you will prevail with God. 3. But again: these two things would not be powerful and effective unless they were mixed with a still more essential and divine quality, namely, a firm faith and belief in God.
Brothers and sisters, do you believe in prayer? I know you pray because you are God's people; but do you believe in the power of prayer? There are a great many Christians that don’t, they think it is a good thing, and they believe that sometimes it does wonders; but they don’t think that prayer, real prayer, is always successful. They think that its effect depends upon many other things, but that it hasn’t any essential quality or power in itself. Now, my own soul's conviction is, that prayer is the greatest power in the entire universe; that it has a more omnipotent force than electricity, gravity, or any other of those secret forces which men have called by names, but which they do not understand. Prayer has as obvious, as true, as sure, as invariable an influence over the entire universe as any of the laws of matter. When a person really prays, it is not a question whether God will hear them or not, he must hear them; not because there is any compulsion in the prayer, but there is a sweet and blessed compulsion in the promise. God has promised to hear prayer, and he will keep his promise. Since he is the most high and true God, he cannot deny himself. Oh! to think of this; that you a puny person may stand here and speak to God, and through God is controlling the entire universe. Yet when your prayer is heard, creation will not be disturbed; though the greatest prayer is answered, providence will not be disarranged for a single moment. Not a leaf will fall earlier from the tree, not a star will stray from its course, nor one drop of water trickle more slowly from its fount, all will go on the same, and yet your prayer will have effected everything. It will speak to the decrees and purposes of God, as they are being daily fulfilled; and they will all shout to your prayer, and cry, “You are our brother; we are decrees, and you a prayer; but you are yourself a decree, as old, as sure, as ancient as we are.”
Our prayers are God's decrees in another shape. The prayers of God's people are but God's promises breathed out of living hearts, and those promises are the decrees, only put into another form and fashion. Don’t say, “How can my prayers affect the predetermined will and plan of God?” They cannot, except in so much that your prayers are decrees, and that as they come out, every prayer that is inspired of the Holy Spirit to your soul is as omnipotent and as eternal as that decree which said, “Let there be light, and there was light;” or as that decree which chose his people, and ordained their redemption by the precious blood of Christ. You have power in prayer, and you stand today among the most potent ministers in the universe that God has made. You have power over angels, they will fly at your command. You have power over fire, and water, and the elements of the earth. You have power to make your voice heard beyond the stars; where the thunders die out in silence, your voice will wake the echoes of eternity. The ear of God himself will listen and the hand of God himself will yield to your will. He commands you pray, “Your will be done,” and your will, will be done. When you can plead his promise then your will is his will.
Doesn’t it seem amazing my dear friends, an awesome thing to have such power in one's hands as to be able to pray? You have heard sometimes of men who pretended to have a weird and mystic power, by which they could call up spirits from the dead, by which they could make showers of rain, or stop the sun. It was all a figment of their imagination, but even if it was true then the Christian would be a greater magician still. If he has but faith in God, there is nothing impossible to him. He will be delivered out of the deepest waters he will be rescued out of the distressing troubles in famine he will be fed in times of great diseases he will go unscathed in the middle of calamities he will walk firm and strong in war he will always be protected and in the day of battle he will lift up his head, if he can only believe the promise, and hold it up before God's eyes and plead it with the confidence of unfaltering reliance. There is nothing, I repeat it, there is no force so tremendous, no energy so marvelous, as the energy with which God has endowed every man and woman, who like Jacob can wrestle, like Israel can prevail with him in prayer. But we must have faith in this; we must believe prayer to be what it is, or else it is not what it should be. Unless I believe my prayer to be effectual it will not be, for it will depend to a great extent on my faith. God may be merciful and grant my request even when I don’t have the faith; that will be his own sovereign grace, but he has not promised to do it. But when I have faith and can plead the promise with earnest desire, it is no longer a probability as to whether I will get the blessing, or whether my will, will be done. Unless the Eternal will swerve from his Word, unless the oath which he has given will be revoked, and he himself will cease to be what he is, “We know that we have what we asked of him” [1 John 5:15 ].
4. And now to mount one step higher, together with definite objects, fervent desires and strong faith in the efficacy of prayer there should be and Oh may divine grace make it so with us! there should be mingled a real expectation.
We should be able to count the answered prayers before we receive them, believing that they are on the road. Reading the other day in a sweet little book, which I would commend to the attention of all of you, written by an American author who seems to truly and completely know the power of prayer, and to whom I am indebted for many good things a little book called The Still Hour, [Austin Phelps, 1820-1890].
In the little book, I noted a reference to a passage in the book of Daniel, the tenth chapter I think, where, as he says, the whole machinery of prayer seems to be exposed. Daniel is on his knees in prayer, and an angel comes to him. He talks with him and tells him that as soon as Daniel set his mind to gain understanding and to humble himself before God, his words were heard, and the Lord had sent him to Daniel. Then he tells him in the most business-like, “I would have been here sooner, but the Prince of Persian kingdom resisted me; nevertheless the prince of your nation [Michael the Archangel] helped me, and I am come to comfort and instruct you.”
Now I want you to see that God breathes the desire into our hearts, and as soon as the desire is there, before we call he begins to answer. Before the words make it half way up to heaven, while they are yet trembling on the lip knowing the words we mean to speak he begins to answer them, sends the angel; the angel comes and brings down the needed blessing. Why the thing is a revelation if you could see it with your eyes. Some people think that spiritual things are dreams, and that we are talking nonsense. No, I do believe there is as much reality in a Christian's prayer as in a lightning flash; and the utility and excellency of the prayer of a Christian may be just as sensibly known as the power of the lightning flash when it strikes the tree, breaks off its branches, and splits it to the very root. Prayer is not an imagination of fiction; it is a real actual thing, coercing the universe, binding the laws of God themselves in chains, and constraining the High and Holy One to listen to the will of his poor but favored creature man himself. We must always believe this. We need an absolute assurance in prayer. To count the answers before they are received! To be sure that they are coming! To act as if we have actually received them! When you have asked for your daily bread, then you are to no longer be concerned about it, but to believe that God has heard you, and will give it to you. When you have taken the case of your sick child before God and believe that the child will recover, or if they should not, that it will be a greater blessing to you and more glory to God, and so you leave it with him. To be able to say, “I now know that he has heard me; I will stand on my watchtower; I will look for my God and hear what he will say to my soul.” Have you ever been disappointed, Christian, when you prayed in faith and expected the answer? I bear my own testimony here this morning, that I have never yet trusted him and found him to fail me. I have trusted man and have been deceived, but my God has never once denied the request I have made to him, when I have backed up the request with belief in his willingness to hear, and in the assurance of his promise. But I hear some one say, “Can we pray for earthly things?” Yes, you may. In everything make known your needs to God. It is not merely for spiritual, but for everyday concerns. Take your smallest trials before him. He is a God that hears prayer; he is your household God as well as the God of the Sanctuary. Always take all that you have before God. As one good man who was about to be united with this Church told me of his departed wife, “Oh,” he said, “she was a woman that I could never get to do anything until she made it a matter of prayer. Whatever it was, she used to say, ‘I must make it a matter of prayer;’” Oh for more of this sweet habit of spreading everything before the Lord, just as Hezekiah did with the threatening letter from the enemy, and there leaving it, saying, “Your will be done, I leave it with you!” Men say Mr. Muller of Bristol is a bit crazy and eccentric, because he will gather seven hundred children and believe that God will provide for them; though there is no money or food. He is only doing what ought to be the commonplace action of every Christian man and woman. He is acting in accordance to a decree of God, which the world will always scoff at, because they do not understand it, for it doesn’t make sense to them, because it is based on the uncommon faith in a faithful God. Oh that we had that uncommon faith to take God at his word! He cannot and he will not permit the person that trusts him to be ashamed or confused.
Now, I have, as best as I could, set forth before you what I conceive to be four essentials of prevailing prayer “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” II. Having thus asked you to look at the text, I want you now to LOOK AROUND YOU.
Look around you at our prayer meetings, and look around you at your times of private prayer, and judge them both by the meaning of this text.
First, look around you at our prayer meetings.
I do honestly believe that the prayer-meetings which are usually held among us, have far less of the faults which I am about to indicate, than any others I have ever attended. But, still they have some of the faults, and I hope that what we will say will be taken to heart by every brother and sister who is in the habit of engaging publicly in prayer at the prayer-meetings.
Is it not a fact, that as soon as you enter the prayer-meeting, you feel, that many of the men who pray seem to have a good memory to remember a great many texts, which always have been quoted since the days of our grandfather's grandfather, and they are able to repeat them in a regular order. The gift to do this lies, in some other churches, especially in village churches, in having strong lungs, so as to be able to hold out, without taking a breath for 25 minutes when you are brief, and 45 minutes when you are rather drawn out. The gift lies also in being able not to ask for anything in particular, but in passing through a range of everything, making the prayer, not an arrow with a point, but rather like a nondescript machine, that has no point whatever, and yet is meant to be all point, which is aimed at everything, and consequently strikes nothing. Those brethren are often the most frequently asked to pray, who have those unusual, and perhaps, excellent gifts, although I certainly must say that I cannot obey the apostle's injunction in coveting very earnestly such gifts as these.
Now, if instead of this, some man is asked to pray, who has never prayed before in public; suppose he rises and says, “Oh Lord, I feel myself such a sinner that I can scarcely speak to you, Lord, help me to pray! O Lord, save my poor soul! O that you would save my old friends! Lord, bless our minister! Be pleased to give us a revival. O Lord, 1 can say no more; hear me for Jesus’ sake! Amen.” Well, then, you feel somehow, as if you had begun to pray yourself. You feel an interest in that man, partly from fear lest he should stop, and also because you are sure that what he did say, he meant. And if another should get up after that, and pray in the same spirit, you go out and say, “This is real prayer.” I would sooner have three minutes prayer like that, than thirty minutes of the other kind, because the one is praying, and the other is preaching.
Allow me to quote what an old preacher said on the subject of prayer, and give it to you as a little word of advice he said, “Remember, the Lord will not hear you, because of the arithmetic of your prayers; he does not count their numbers. He will not hear you because of the rhetoric of your prayers; he does not care for the eloquent language in which they are conveyed. He will not listen to you because of the geometry of your prayers; he does not compute them by their length, or by their width. He will not regard you because of the music of your prayers; he does not care for sweet voices, nor for harmonious periods. Neither will he look at you because of the logic of your prayers; because they are well arranged and compartmentalized. But he will hear you, and he will measure the amount of the blessing he will give you, according to the divinity of your prayers. If you can plead the person of Christ, and if the Holy Spirit inspires you with zeal and earnestness, the blessings which you shall ask, will surely come to you.”
Brothers and sisters, I would like to burn the whole stock of old prayers that we have been using for the past fifty years. That “oil that goes from vessel to vessel,” that “horse that rushes into the battle,” that misquoted mangled text, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” [Matthew 18:20 ]. and all those other quotations which we have been manufactured, and dislocated, and copied from man to man. I wish we came to speak to God, just out of our own hearts. It would be a great thing for our prayer meetings; they would be better attended; and I am sure they would be more fruitful, if every man and woman would shake off that habit of formality, and talk to God as a child talks to his father; ask him for what we want and then sit down and be quiet. I say this with all Christian sincerity. Often, because I have not chosen to pray in any conventional form, people have said, “That man is not reverent!” My dear sir, you are not a judge of my reverence. To my own master, I stand or fall. I don’t think that Job quoted anybody. I don’t think that Jacob quoted his father Abraham. I don’t find Jesus Christ quoting Scripture in prayer. They did not pray in other people's words, but they prayed in their own. God does not want you to go gathering up those excellent but very musty spices of the old sanctuary. He wants the new oil just distilled from the fresh olive of your own soul. He wants spices and frankincense, not of the old chests where they have been lying until they have lost their savor, but he wants fresh incense, and fresh myrrh, brought from your own soul's experience. Make sure that you really pray, don’t learn the language of prayer, but seek the spirit of prayer, and may God Almighty bless you, and make you more mighty in your supplications. I have said, “Look around you.” I want you to continue the work, and look around your own prayer closets.
Oh, brothers and sisters, there is no place that some of us need to be so much ashamed to look at as in our prayer closet. I cannot say the hinges are rusty; they do open and shut at their appointed times. I cannot say that the door is locked and cobwebbed. We do not neglect prayer itself; but those walls, what a tale might they tell! “Oh!” the wall might cry out, “I have heard you when you have been in such a hurry that you could scarcely spend two minutes with your God, and I have heard you, too, when you were neither asleep nor awake, and when you didn’t know what you were saying.” Then one wall might cry out, “I have heard you come and spend ten minutes and not ask for anything, at least your heart didn’t ask. The lips moved, but the heart did not ask. The lips moved, but the heart was silent.” How might another wall cry out ”Oh! I have heard you groan out your soul, but I have seen you go away distrustful, not believing your prayer was heard, quoting the promise, but not believing that God would fulfill it.” Surely the four walls of the closet might come together and fall down upon us in their anger, because we have so often insulted God with our unbelief and with our hurry, and with all kinds of sins. We have insulted him even at his mercy seat, on the spot where his condescension is most fully manifested. Isn’t this true with you? Must we not each confess that we are guilty? See to it then, Christian brothers and sisters, that a change is made, and God make you more mighty and more successful in your prayers than ever before. III. But not to detain you, the last point is to look upward, LOOK ABOVE.
Look above Christian brothers and sisters, and let us weep. Oh God, you have given us a mighty weapon, and we have allowed it to rust. You have given us that which is as mighty as yourself, and we have let that power lie dormant. Wouldn’t it be a vile crime if a man had an eye given him which he would not open, or a hand that he would not lift up, or a foot that grew stiff because he would not use it. And what must we say of ourselves when God has given us power in prayer, and yet that power lies still. Oh, if the universe was as still as we are, where would we be? Oh God, you give light to the sun and it shines with it. You give light even to the stars and they twinkle. To the winds you give force and they blow. And to the air you give life and it moves, and men breathe it. But to your people you have given a gift that is better than force, and life, and light, and yet they permit it to lie still. Forgetful almost that they wield the power, seldom exercising it, though it would provide them with countless blessings. Weep, Christian. Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, saw that on the coins of the other Emperors, their images were in an erect posture triumphing. However, he ordered that his image should be struck kneeling, for he said “That is the way in which I have triumphed.”
We will never triumph till our image is struck kneeling. The reason why we have been defeated, and why our banners trail in the dust, is because we have not prayed. Go go back to your God, with sorrow, confess before him, that you were armed, and carried bows, but turned your backs in the day of battle. Go to your God and tell him that if souls are not saved, it is not because he hasn’t the power to save, but because you have never anguished over perishing sinners. Your heart has not cried out, neither has your spirit been moved. Wake up, wake up, You people of Israel; be astonished, You careless ones; You who have neglected prayer; You sinners that have been at ease. Wake yourselves up; wrestle and strive with your God, and then the blessing will come the early and the latter rain of his mercy, and the earth will bring forth abundantly, and all the nations will call him blessed. Look up then, and weep. Once more look up and rejoice. Though you have sinned against him he loves you still.
You have not prayed to him nor sought his face, but behold he cries to you still “Seek my face;” and he does not say to you, “You seek me in vain.” You may not have gone to the fountain, but it flows as freely as before. You have not drawn near to God, but he still waits to be gracious, and is ready to hear all your petitions. Behold, he says to you, “Enquire of me concerning things to come, and concerning my sons and daughters, command me.” What a blessed thing it is that the master in heaven is always ready to listen!
Augustine has a very beautiful thought on the parable of the man who knocked at his friend's door at midnight, saying, “Friend, give me three loaves.” His paraphrase of it runs something like this I knock at mercy's door, and it is the dead of night. “Will not some of the servants of the house come and answer me?” No; I knock, but they are asleep. Oh! You apostles of God You glorified martyrs You are asleep; You rest in your beds; You cannot hear my prayer. But will not the children answer? Are there not children who are ready to come and open the door to their brother? No; they are asleep. My brethren that have departed with whom I took sweet counsel, and who were the companions of my heart You cannot answer me for you rest in Jesus; your works follow you, but you cannot work for me. But while the servants are asleep, and while the children cannot answer, the Master is awake awake at midnight too. It may be midnight with my soul, but he hears me, and when I am saying “Give me three loaves,” he comes to the door and gives me as much as I need.
Christian, look up then and rejoice. There is always an open ear if you have an open mouth. There is always a ready hand if you have a ready heart. You only have to cry and the Lord hears; no, before you call he will answer, and while you are speaking he will hear. Oh! Don’t be backward then in prayer. Go to him when you reach your home; no, on the very way lift up you heart silently; and whatever your petition or request may be, ask it in Jesus’ name, and it will be done to you. Yet, again, look up dear Christian, and make changes to your prayers from this time forward. Look on prayer no longer as a romantic fiction or as an strenuous duty; look at it as a real power, as a real pleasure. When philosophers discover some latent power, they seem to have a delight to put it in action. I believe there have been many great engineers, who have designed and constructed some of the most wonderful of human works, not because they would be paid a great sum of money, but simply from a love of showing their own power to accomplish wonders. To show the world what skill could do and what man could accomplish, they have tempted companies into speculations that could never repay them, so far as I could see, in order that they might have an opportunity of displaying their genius.
O Christian men and women, will a great Engineer attempt great works and display his power, and will you who have a mightier power than was ever wielded by any man apart from his God will you let that power be hidden? No! think of some great object, strain the sinews of your supplications for it. Let every vein of your heart be full to the brim with the rich blood of desire, and struggle, and wrestle, and tug and strive with God for it, using the promises and pleading the attributes, and see if God does not give you your heart's desire. I challenge you this day to exceed in prayer so much that my Master can’t meet your desires. I throw down the gauntlet to you. Believe him to be more than he is; open your mouth so wide that he cannot fill it; go to him now for more faith than the promise warrants; venture it, risk it, outdo the Eternal if it is possible; attempt it. Or as I would rather put it, take your petitions and needs and see if he does not honor you. Test him to see if he will fulfill the promise, and richly bless you with the anointing oil of his Spirit by which you will be strong in prayer. I cannot refrain from adding just these few syllables as you go away. I know there are some of you that never prayed in your whole life. You have said a form of prayer, perhaps, many years, but have never prayed once. Ah! poor soul, you must be born again, and until you are born again you cannot pray as I have been directing the Christian to pray. But let me say this much to you. Does your heart long after salvation? Has the Spirit whispered, “Come to Jesus, sinner, he will hear you?” Believe that whisper, for he will hear you. The prayer of the awakened sinner is acceptable to God. He hears the brokenhearted and heals them. Take your troubles and your disappointments to God and he will answer you. “Ah,” but one says, “I have nothing to plead.” Well, just plead as David did “Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” You have that plea say it for his dear sake, who shed his blood, and you will prevail, sinner.
But don’t go to God, and ask for mercy with your sin in your hand. What would you think of the rebel, who appeared before the face of his sovereign and asked for pardon with the dagger sticking in his belt, and with the declaration of his rebellion on his breast? Would he deserve to he pardoned? He could not deserve it in any case, and surely he would deserve double his doom for having thus mocked his master while he pretended to be seeking mercy. If a wife had forsaken her husband do you think she would have the impudence, with brazen face, to come back and ask pardon while leaning on the arm of her new lover? No, she could not have such impudence, and yet it is so with you perhaps asking for mercy and going on in sin praying to be reconciled to God, and yet harboring and indulging your lust. Wake up! Wake up! and call upon your God, you sleeper. The boat is nearing the rock, perhaps tomorrow it may strike and be destroyed, and you will sink down into the unfathomable depths of everlasting woe. Call on your God, I say, and when you call upon him, cast away your sin or he cannot hear you. If you lift up your unholy hands with a lie in the right hand, a prayer is worthless on your lip. Oh, come to him, say to him, “Take away all iniquity, receive us graciously, love us freely,” and he will hear you, and you will yet pray as prevailing princes, and one day will stand as more than conquerors before the starry throne of him who ever reigns God over all, blessed forevermore. Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Mark 11". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26