The Universally Offered and Unanswered Prayer
If disembodied saints and holy angels are permitted to look down from the gates of heaven upon the affairs of earth, among the many inconsistencies of mortals, they must be amazed to hear much of the praying of the world.
Nothing, it seems to us, will astonish them more than to hear the many prayers of multitudes for a clean heart who between their prayers for it, will deny its possibility and even strive to prove it can not be.
There is very much of this kind of praying everywhere. We have known preachers to stand in the pulpit and pray for a pure heart, who outside of the sacred desk were rebuking those as fanatics, who claimed that God had answered the prayer in their own experience. Was there ever a more inconsistent act!
Thousands of people are singing of the power of Jesus’ blood to cleanse from all sin and at the same time fighting the experience and the people who declare its possibility. We sometimes look on with amazement, as we hear a Christianity that prays while on its knees for a clean heart and goes right out from praying, to deny its possibility. We wonder men dare to thus trifle with God and sacred things.
All the church is singing and praying for a clean heart. There can be found scarcely an evangelical denomination that does not voice this hymn in their worship,
“O, for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels thy blood,
So freely spilt for me.”
We once as a stranger attended a social meeting. After a time the meeting dragged and a brother took the floor, who said, “Brethren, it is just as bad to sing a lie as to tell one. Here you have been singing tonight, ‘I love to tell the story.’ I should think you did! Just see how this meeting drags.”
The writer thought it a good time to say something, too, and so said, “I like what the brother said about singing a lie. You have been singing some wonderful hymns tonight. You have been singing, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood,’ and that ‘sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.’ Have you lost your guilty stains?” We found that it threw a coolness over the meeting to ask them if God had done what they had been saying and singing.
We were once sent to a church as pastor. The first Sunday night we heard a brother praying that God would make him holy. We told the people right after the brother’s prayer that this was just what the Lord could do, and had made arrangements to do. We had a stormy time for the next six months, because we insisted in the face of opposition that God could and would answer true prayer for the very thing people were praying for.
In the rituals of most of the churches, as well as in the hymnbooks, are many prayers for this experience. The Church of England and the Methodist Episcopal Church pray every time they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” And, when candidates come forward for holy baptism, the prayer is offered, “O, merciful God, grant that all carnal affections may die in these persons, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in them,” but it is usually considered fanaticism to declare that God has answered this prayer. If it be fanaticism to claim the experience of a clean heart, it is certainly blasphemous to pray for it and then deny its possibility. We had rather be a fanatic than to be a blasphemer.
And so men are praying all over the land a prayer they do not expect God to answer, until much of the praying of today is a solemn trifling with the Almighty. People pray at their family altars to be kept from sin during the day who do not believe such an experience possible. Mark Guy Pearse tells of the quaint Yorkshire class leader, Daniel Quorm, who was visiting a friend. One forenoon he came to the friend and said, “I am sorry you have met with such a great disappointment.”
“Why, no,” said the man, “I have not met with any disappointment.”
“Yes,” said Daniel, “you were expecting something remarkable today.”
“What do you want?” said the friend.
“Why, you prayed this morning that you might be kept sweet and gentle all day long. And, by the way things have been going, I see you have been greatly disappointed.”
“O,” said the man, “I thought you meant something particular.”
It might be asked right here, why do people pray for holiness universally? We reply, because, if a person is a Christian, he cannot pray for any experience lower than this and be honest. No honest man ever prayed, “O Lord, make me almost right, but not quite.” No sincere soul ever prayed, “O Lord, make my heart almost clean.” Almost right is not right, but wrong. A true Christian wants, as some one says, “to be upright and downright, and inright and outright, and nothing but all right.” To pray for anything less is to mock God.
The reason that a true Christian thus prays is because he is led in his praying by the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us, “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself (Himself), maketh intercession for us.”
A man in the clear experience of conversion always prays for holiness. John says, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.” Good men pray for a clean heart and insincere men hear the prayer so much that they pray for it, too, for it would not sound right to pray for anything less. And so the whole church are praying for a clean heart, even when they do not believe it possible.
The great trouble seems to be that many want the church as a whole to be holy, but want to be excused from making the prayer personal. When David prayed he made a personal prayer. He prayed, “Create in me a clean heart.” There are hosts of people who would like to have the church right in the aggregate. And have much to say about the need of such a church, but they never make the prayer personal. We were once the pastor of a church, where many of the dear old brethren were very censorious concerning the modern encroachments of the world upon the church. They seemed to pride themselves in being of the old-fashioned stock, and had much to say against the worldliness of the other and younger portion. Put when we brought up the subject of heart purity and urged it upon the church, to our surprise some of these were the first to object. They wanted the rest of the church right, whether they were themselves right or not.
It is every man’s business to be what he believes the rest of the church ought to be. The whole church ought not to be any better than you ought to be. God never saves people in crowds. He saves them singly. No physician ever thinks of doctoring a crowd by the wholesale. He deals out the medicine to each one. Every man must take the dose for himself. Get every man cured and the whole crowd is cured. Get every man to pray for and obtain a clean heart, and then the whole church will have the blessing of a clean heart. To pray for a holy, consistent, spiritual church and not be holy, consistent and pure ourselves, is not only to stand in the way of our own prayers, but is rant and cant. If every man sweeps before his own door, then we shall have a clean street. If every Christian would see to it that he is right, then the whole church will be right. And if we are not particular to be what we know the whole church ought to be, then we virtually stand in the way of our own prayers.
Here is one of the great difficulties of modern religiousness. It puts off the real business upon a committee instead of assuming any personal responsibility. It expects the pastor and the class leaders or deacons to have all the piety while it helps pay the hills and sings about this glorious salvation and tells the Lord how much be ought to do for other folks. Let us be sure that we are personal in our praying for a clean heart, and with David pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Everybody in the Bible that got anything of God had to be personal in their praying. Reader, are you making the prayer for a clean heart personal, or are you criticizing others and setting up a standard for them?