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THE USE AND PREVALENCE OF CHRIST'S NAME.
Delivered on Friday, May 24, 1850
BY THE REV. PROFESSOR FINNEY,
OF OBERLIN COLLEGE, UNITED STATES,
At the Tabernacle, moorefields.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1,562.
[Last in a series of three "Lectures on the Conditions of Prevailing Prayer."]
"Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full"--John xvi. 24.
In passing over the Conditions of Prevailing Prayer, I noticed one--that prayer should be made in the name of Jesus Christ. In speaking further on this subject from these words--
I. I shall endeavor to show what is implied in an acceptable offering of prayer in the name of Christ.
II. The state of mind that can acceptably use Christ's name in prayer is indispensable to prevailing with God.
III. The reasons for which we are required to pray in Christ's name.
There is some good reason, doubtless, for our being required to pray in Christ's name. In this case, our Lord was addressing his disciples. While he lived, it was natural that they should not clearly understand their exact position with regard to God, in such a sense as to fully comprehend the reason for using Christ's name in prayer. We must endeavor to ascertain our real relationship to the government of God. We are outlaws, criminals, under condemnation. True Christians are not outlaws and criminals in such a sense as to be under condemnation; still, they never come into such a relationship with God as to be accepted in their own name. In order to their acceptance with God, they must remember always their relationship to God and their position to his government. When persons are under sentence for any capital offense, they are regarded as outlaws; the government, as such, does not even recognize their existence while they occupy such a position in relation to it. Being outlawed, they are civilly dead,--that is the government, as such, regards them as dead; and, so far as it is concerned, to all intents and purposes, they are not legally in existence. The government has no intercourse with them, knows nothing of them; they are, to it, just as if they were not.
This is the true governmental position, and precisely, under God's government, the position in which the sinner stands when viewed as a sinner and separate from Christ. They are criminals, and He, as head of the universe, knows nothing of them, only as being cast out, condemned to die, outlawed.
But, even when people come to be Christians, they do not come into such a relation to God as to have no more need of coming to Him through Christ. An unconverted man stands condemned; he is under sentence of eternal death. Suppose such an one is convinced of sin--convicted by his own conscience as well as by the law of God--the sentence is gone out against him; how is such an individual to appear in God's presence? Why, he cannot have even access to God! How can an individual, who has been remanded to prison under sentence for a capital crime, have any connection with the government of his country? He is governmentally dead; and it behooves the government to treat him as such; while in such a position, he can have no relation to government but as a dead man. Yet the head of the government may have no ill will or wrong feeling toward him; he might even be disposed, if he could be in a position, to treat with him; as in individual, the head of the government might regard him as a living man, and as one for whom he had great affection. This he might do in his individual capacity; but, as the head of a government, he has necessarily a public as well as a private character to sustain, and this he must not overlook. He must not act as a mere private individual, public reasons forbid him to do so; and whatever his private relations and feelings may be, he must remember his public relations and character for the sake of the public good.
Now, let us look at such in individual as he stands before God, and is subject to His laws and government. Such is the sacredness of the governmental character and relations of the sovereign, that when the law has pronounced sentence against him, there are laws which place the ruler and the ruled in certain relations to each other. The ruler cannot justly overlook these relations. Now, when the law has once pronounced sentence against an individual, it has committed the public character of the lawgiver against him; and for the government by any public act to go against this is to depart from its principles and to take up arms against the law.
This is so in human governments; and if so in human governments, are not the reasons infinitely stronger in God's government for maintaining His public character, and being careful that He gives no opportunity for any individual to draw a false inference as to His position? Once convicted, the sinner comes before God. What can he do? He is governmentally dead; and the whole human race stands in that position to God--condemned criminals, outlawed, under the sentence of death. God's public character and relations are such that He cannot so much as have the least intercourse, nor suffer them so much as to take His name on their lips without offense--He can regard them only as criminals. If He acts contrary to this, He forfeits the confidence of the universe. It is His public character and relation that render it necessary, that if sinners are to approach Him, there must be a Mediator; they must come not in their own names; for if they do He will not know, hear, or look at them. They must be so united to Christ that Christ may be virtually the petitioner--that, in a governmental point of view, it is Christ, not the sinner, that approaches God--the way is perfectly open. There is not--there cannot be--any approach to God, but by Christ. Unless you come to Him through Christ; and, virtually, as Christ, in Christ's very Spirit,--unless you can do this, God will not so much as look at you or allow you, or suffer you to approach His presence.
The sinner, therefore, when he comes to God, must approach Him in this way. He must put on Christ, appropriating to himself all that Christ has done--taking to himself, as it were, the very work of Christ, and come in the person and name of Christ, with Christ's Spirit; then the request he makes will virtually be Christ's own Spirit making intercession. The sinner is in Him; and, governmentally, united with Him. The greatest sinner in the world, as well as the least, may come in this way; only let them do this, and they are accepted as really as Christ is accepted, because Christ is accepted. He lives in Christ and is governmentally regarded as being found in Christ. If he comes repenting, believing, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, he is as really, freely, and fully accepted as Christ himself; for now he is come into a state of mind in which he really comes in Christ's name. He now comes to be found in Christ, and governmentally, he is known only as a part of Christ, one of Christ's family, a member of Christ's own body, a part of Christ himself. In this capacity he is known in the government of God.
May Christ now be laid aside? By no means. Unless you abide in the same state of mind, in the possession of the same proportion of Christ, you are cast out. The Bible everywhere teaches us this; nor will it ever be otherwise, to all eternity, since he will be found in Christ, and accepted only on His account. This governmental relation will always exist; and the relation of His saints to Christ will be the sole and only reason they are received into heaven. What Christ has done will not save one out of Him. There is no dropping Christ's name, His interposition, and our relation to Him when we approach God.
This leads me, in the next place, to remark that the use of Christ's name implies that we recognize our relationship to God as sinners, truly abhorring ourselves and repenting. We must truly and fully concede to God the entire justice and propriety of His treating us as rebels, and refusing so much as to look at us, unless we come to Him through Christ.
The use of His name acceptably, also implies a state of mind which can and does receive these truths into the inmost hearts; for unless we really renounce and abhor our own righteousness, and wholly give up all expectations of approaching God and prevailing in our own name, and come to God in Christ's name alone, we can never prevail with Him. Some say, "Why come in Christ's name more than in the name of Paul, or of Moses?" What idea can a Unitarian have of Christ's name, when he denies His divinity and sacrifice? The Unitarian cannot understand this; he professes great love to God, and to worship "his heavenly Father," and so forth. I have heard much of this--what shall I call such slang except slang? I have heard them say they are "fond of God, and God is fond of them;" but they have nothing beyond a species of sentimentalism, very far from this recognition of their relationship to the Creator. This governmental relation must be ever kept in view--it must be an ever-present consideration, and in such a degree as always to influence us in our approach to God.
There are thoughts which take possession of the mind, and are always there, and have their influence, though we may not at all times be conscious of it. For example, persons who have children: this fact always acts upon them; hours may glide away and their children remain unthought of; yet, the fact that they have children is an influence always acting upon them. When persons approach God they must have not only an idea that they sustain certain relations to Christ; but in order to approach Him acceptably, there should be a vivid recollection of this. When the name of Christ is used, they should know well why they use it. The idea of their governmental relations and character without Christ, must have its due weight with them. Do not, for a moment, once think of coming without Christ.
But again, to use this name acceptably implies a realizing sense of our character and relations, and of His character and relations; God's character and governmental position--our character and governmental position. Now, unless the mind has a realizing sense, so as really to mean it ought to mean in using Christ's name, it does not do so acceptably. We are to use it understanding why we use it. It implies, also, the most implicit confidence in Christ's influence at His Father's court; an entire confidence that coming to God in His name we shall really obtain what we ask in His name.
When persons really and truly use the name of Christ, there is a very important sense in which they pray for Christ. I do not mean by praying for Him, that Christ needs to be prayed for as a sinner--as one who needs forgiveness, or any favor from God for Himself; but that the Church is Christ's, God having given the world to Him in such a sense that every favor bestowed on them is regarded, governmentally, as bestowed on Him. The saints are Christ's servants. This is Christ's world in such a sense, that when the government of God grants anything to the inhabitants thereof, it yields it to Christ. Prayer has been made for Him, it is said, continually.
II. the state of mind that can acceptably use Christ's name in prayer is indispensable to prevailing with God.
To pray in His name, we must ask the thing not for ourselves, because we are not our own; we do not own ourselves, and of course therefore, we can own nothing else. The fact is, we are Christ's, and when we seek anything in Christ's name, we seek it for Him. We are Christ's servants; and as children, we belong to Christ. If we want anything for ourselves, separate from Christ, to glorify ourselves, we cannot have it; but if we want it for His sake, because we belong to Him, and ask it as something to be given to us only because we belong to Him, then we can have it. Suppose, for example, we pray for anything whatever, and ask it merely for ourselves alone, we ask it selfishly "that we may consume it upon our lusts." We have no right to come and plead Christ's name to obtain things for ourselves as not belonging to Him. We are not authorized to use His name in any such sense as that. We are not authorized to make use of His name to get things merely to please ourselves, as distinct from pleasing Him. Many regard the Gospel and Christ's name in such a light, as if they might use Christ's name as a mere speculation for their own selfish purposes. But Christ has never given permission for any such use of it; the fact is, that unless we ask for these things, recognizing the fact that we are His, and that whatever we ask for--even our daily bread--is to be used for Him; the very air we breathe is to be inhaled for Him; the clothing we wear is to be worn for Him; and unless we recognize this practically--unless we really come to regard ourselves as asking for things for Christ's sake, we cannot expect an answer to prayer.
What is meant by the phrase "for Christ's sake?" Do you mean for your sake, in Christ's name? Do you not know that, as I have said, you belong to Christ, and have no right to approach God, only as you approach Him in Christ's name? If, however, you overlook this fact, or think it only a speculation, no wonder you don't prevail. You have no right, as I have said, to pray at all unless you pray as for Christ, recognizing that all you are and have are His. If you want the Spirit of God that you may use the grace received for Him, you may have it; but you must have a single eye to His glory. If you do not so regard it--if you ask it for yourselves, as distinct from Him, you cannot have it.
We must remember, too, that for God to give anything to the inhabitants of this world, as such, without Christ, would be inconsistent with His position. God promises things to Christ, who distributes them to His children; all the promises are in Christ to the glory of God, and we must recognize this if we would use Christ's name aright, and expect the fulfillment of the promises made through Him. These promises are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. God is infinitely sincere in giving them to Christ, who receives them and gives them to men. They are given in the utmost good faith, so that coming in His name it is, "Yes, yes; as often as you please, if you really come in Christ's name, you may approach Me with the utmost confidence and boldness not impudence, but boldness." We are infinitely welcome. There need be no hesitation. You are thoroughly welcome to as much as you want, only be sure you come meaning what you ought to mean in the use of Christ's name.
We should also recognize the fact, also, in the use of Christ's name that there is so good a reason for this use of it, that, for God to promise us anything in any other way, or encourage us to approach Him in any other way, were to forfeit His governmental position. The true idea of faith in Christ is a heart-recognition of the fact that God is, out of Christ, to us necessarily "a consuming fire;" but that in Christ, we are as safe and as welcome as Christ Himself. We may come to His house, to the mercy seat--yea, to His very feet with every possible freedom. It is impossible that the angels themselves should be more welcome. We may rise, as it were, above the angels, and approach even nearer, perhaps, than they are allowed to do. If we only clothe ourselves with Christ as with a garment, renouncing and abhorring self, there is no language that can express the fullness and the freedom with which we can approach Him, and receive as largely as we can ask or think--nay, exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
To use Christ's name acceptably also implies that you do it in faith. By faith you must rely implicitly on Christ, trusting in Him as your wisdom, sanctification, and redemption, expecting that He will accept you as freely and as fully as He has promised. The truth is that really to accept Christ implies a great deal more than is often supposed. I have been struck with the extent to which Christ is lost sight of in many of His relations, and has come to be viewed simply as a Savior for whose sake our sins are forgiven--losing sight of sanctification and justification. "What!" said a doctor of divinity to me a few years ago; "What! Christ, the second person in the Trinity, our sanctification? I never heard of such a thing!" Well now, I cannot tell you how shocked I felt. Never heard the apostle say, "Who, of God, is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption"? It was as much one as the other. No one understands what it is to put on Christ thoroughly, properly, until he has learned something more than that he sustains to Him merely one relation.
Lastly, it implies really and universally depending upon Him. People are dependent upon Him, but there is a difference between being really dependent and depending. Every sinner in the world is really dependent upon Him, but every sinner does not really depend upon Him in the sense of depending upon His name. We must come to depend not upon our prayers, states of mind, feelings--not upon anything we have done, or ever expect to do at all--but we must depend on Him really understanding that such is our relationship to God that we can never expect to be accepted unless we are found in Him, that we must put on Christ even to approach God.
III. The reasons for which we are required to pray in Christ's name.
Our relations to God's government, when viewed out of relationship with Christ, are really those of sinners under sentence for a capital crime--"condemned already," governmentally regarded as dead. There are two senses in which sinners are represented in the Bible: "dead in trespasses and sins"--that is unconverted persons; and secondly, they are civilly dead--viewed governmentally, they are outlaws under sentence of death. These are acts which no one can dispute. If a man is a sinner, the law of God has condemned him, and the sentence of death is already out against him. A man can no more deny this than he can deny his own existence. There is not a moral agent in the world who does not know that, as far as God's law is concerned, he is regarded as an outlaw and a rebel; he can no more doubt or deny it than he can doubt or deny his own existence. These facts are not only revealed in the Bible, but are most clearly manifest to our own consciousness; our very conscience testifies to their truthfulness.
Now, if we don't believe what God says on this subject, we make Him a liar; and if we don't believe our own nature, we make Him a liar again; for we must not overlook the fact that God is as really the Author of our own nature as of the Bible itself. Does your conscience accuse you of sin? It is as truly a revelation from God as anything can be. It is God's own testimony in this sense,--God has given us a power by which we irresistibly condemn ourselves. He has implanted within us a law which, when we sin, irresistibly compels us to condemn ourselves. This is God's own voice and revelation; and he who disbelieves it is guilty of making God a liar. If, then, we approach Him in our own name, we virtually deny the truth of these things, and pour contempt upon His governmental relations and the sacredness of His character. The truth is that His character and governmental relations are such that no one can be accepted of God who violates or overlooks these relations.
Again--It is an absolute insult to the majesty of God, as Governor of the universe, to overlook these solemn facts so plainly revealed to us both in His Word and in our hearts. And he who would approach God in this manner is a deluded wretch, rushing rudely into the face of his Maker.
Again--It is pouring contempt upon God's authority, and virtually denying the wisdom and necessity of His method of accepting us. Bear in mind that a merciful disposition on the part of God is no reason why He should accept people holding certain relations. Suppose the Queen of England felt compassion for a certain rebel, so much so indeed that in her private apartments she really wept. And suppose this rebel, hearing of this, should attempt to force himself upon her regardless of the sacredness of the place because she has compassion on him. May he force himself into her presence? No, indeed! The fact is the same with God. These relations must not be lost sight of. The good of society, as well as individual interest, demand they should not be overlooked, but well pondered. And every act of both parties should have reference to these relations. It is precisely this way under God's government. And if it is necessary in human governments to recognize these relations, is it not infinitely more so under God's government?
These truths appear everywhere within, without, upon the page of inspiration, and in our minds. It is clear that out of Christ and apart from Him, God can have no conversation with sinners. Apart from Christ, sinners are under sentence, condemned outlaws, rebels whom God is pledged to destroy unless they can find a Mediator. To come to God without Christ is a virtual denial of the necessity of a Mediator. To come without Christ is to appear at the feast in our own filthy garments instead of throwing over us His righteousness. Under the Old Testament dispensation, many truths were taught in an impressive manner. There were the holy vestments in which the high priests were obliged to appear before God, and without which they were not allowed to approach God. So must we, as it were, throw Christ over us as a robe. This is the lesson the ceremony was designed to teach.
But let me say again: that not to use Christ's name thus is to contemn the advocacy of Christ. In other words, God has made Him our advocate, and not to pray in Christ's name is to thrust Him aside and become our own advocates--it is to have low and blasphemous conceptions of God's relationship to us as Creator. The real saints under the Old Testament dispensation understood this method of approach to God. Daniel prayed for the Lord's sake. He and all the real saints doubtless understood the way of approach as shadowed forth in the typical dispensation. We can well enough account for the fact that there is now so little prevailing in prayer, because comparatively so few use Christ's name rightly. They have no definite idea of the reasons for using it. In their hearts they are really in a state in which they do not make proper use of His name. I have often feared that multitudes of people pray for themselves, and in such a sense as really to be selfish. In their supplications they do not recognize themselves as belonging to Christ and as deserving answers to their prayers for Christ's sake.
When men do this, they make use of Christ's, just as a man would make use of his master's name to get money to speculate with himself. A clerk or agent takes a check, goes to the bank and draws money, but it is for his employer. He is certainly going to use it himself; but, take note, he does it in the name and for the sake of his employer--not to further his own private interests but the interests of his master. Now, if we would come to Christ in a proper manner, we must regard ourselves as His servants in this sense--wanting what we want and obtaining what we obtain for the purpose of serving Him and glorifying His name. While we separate ourselves from Him and seek things for ourselves, no wonder our religion profits us so little--no wonder Christ's name on our lips is of no avail! To refuse to come in Christ's name is as effectual a hindrance to our prayers being answered as if there were no Christ at all. Who does not believe that if a man neglects or refuses to use Christ's name in the sense in which He requires us to use it, it is just as effectual a bar to His acceptance as if there had been no Christ? The same reason requiring Christ's interposition for us requires that we should recognize these reasons and always on our approach to God have respect to them.
I have often feared that many use His name without hardly knowing why they do so. It is done by them as a mere matter of form. Perhaps they have never so much as inquired what state of mind was requisite to the proper use of Christ's name. I fear some people simply suppose that to append the phrase "for Christ's sake" to their prayers is enough. But this is a grievous error. If we come in Christ's name, we may claim as our due whatever God has promised to Christ. Now, Christ has rendered great service to the government of God, and of this we as His children are to have the full benefit. We are not to suppose that what Christ has done has merely rendered it possible that God may forgive us. He has rendered the most important service to the government of God that can be conceived. He has placed God's character, government, and relations, and the entire question of revelation in such an aspect as to give the whole universe a great deal of new light on the subject. He has arrested the progress of rebellion and established the authority of God over all being. Angels sinned, and God exercised the law upon them. Man sinned, and who knows where it might have ended had it not been for Christ's intervention. He has done that which amply entitles Him to receive gifts for men--to bestow them upon those for whom He died. The government of God can well afford to let Him do so, seeing how wonderfully He rebuked sin and revealed the divine character. So great a thing has He done in His death that the government of God can well afford to dispense favors to all who belong to Him; and they are bestowed as freely as they can flow forth from a heart of infinite love.
In himself, God is disposed to do all He can in behalf of His creatures; and our greatest governmental obstacle Christ has completely removed. He has, moreover, so wonderfully magnified the law and made it honorable that, instead of there being an obstacle in the way, there is a direct invitation from God to come to Him that He may come out and show the infinite largeness of His heart by giving Christ's people all the riches of His glorious kingdom. So that, as I have said, the Head of the very government which stood in the way now invites us to come to Him that the deep tides of His love and salvation may burst forth--that His grace may infinitely abound, like a sea with neither shore nor bottom, whose waves flow on with boundless universality. The door is open wide to every sinner.
We are never constricted in God, but in our own hearts, on account of our stinted faith and limited confidence. Christ, as our representative, became poor that we might become rich. The Divine government can now well afford to come forth, because, as I have said, of Christ's unspeakable services, and the glorious Head of that government can let His compassions flow to sinners. He may use language toward us it would not be fitting for Him to use, if it were not for what Christ has done. Christ now offers you His righteousness and mediation that--guilty and condemned as you are--deserving as you are to be thrust out--notwithstanding all this, He has set the door wide open. Now, therefore, instead of standing on the Court of the Gentiles, in the Court of the Hebrews, or even in the Court of the Priests, the veil is rent, and access is free to the mercy seat itself, where the cherubim stand with the Shechinah amid a flood of glory.
Put on Christ, then, and come confessing your sins, renouncing your own righteousness, recognizing God's governmental relations. Oh, come! Come quite up to the mercy seat! God invites you to come, if you will do so in the way I have described. No one is a Christian until he believes--until, in fact, he does the very thing I am now exhorting you to do. Believe in Christ, that is being a Christian. Do you say, Has Christ died for me? Yes, He died for you as really as if there were no other sinner in the universe. Do you say, May I have access to Him in my own behalf, clad in the filthy rags with which I have been trying to cover myself? Yes! Do as blind Bartimeus did. The poor blind man sat by the wayside. Great multitudes were thronging along, some before, some behind, crowding around the person of the Savior. Bartimeus naturally inquired the cause of this unusual gathering, and was told it was Jesus passing. He had heard of Him and exclaimed aloud, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me!" They told him to be still, as if there were something improper in his act. But he would not be silenced. He believed Jesus would restore his sight, and he lifted up his voice above all the noise--"Jesus," he cried out, "thou Son of David, have mercy on me!" Christ stopped--"What is that?" Why, a blind man. "Bring him here." "What wilt thou have me to do?" "Lord, that I might receive my sight." He would not be kept away. He threw himself upon Christ in faith and instantly received the object of his wishes.
Now, sinner! Why don't you follow the example set here? I wish I had more time to the subject. Oh, that Christians would but understand what they may have by prayer if they really use Christ's name rightly! You are either infidels or you believe that you will receive what you pray for in Christ's name. Now, do you get what you ask? Do you use Christ's name effectually? Do your families know that God hears and answers your prayers? Can you honestly say, "I believe God hears me?" If you can, I am glad. But if you can't, remember you are not using Christ's name rightly. He will not hear you till you do so.