THE REWARD OF FERVENT PRAYER
Delivered May 15, 1850, at the Tabernacle, Moorfields.
The Penny Pulpit, No. 1,522.
"Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it" - Ps. lxxxi. 10.
These words were addressed by God to the Church. There is nothing in the context in which they are found that particularly demands explanation. I would, therefore, proceed at once to say that this promise and injunction being addressed to the Church was also, of course, addressed to individual Christians. Whenever a promise or an injunction is applicable to the Church, it is also applicable to each individual composing the Church. This reveals to us the principle on which God deals with His people. The spirit of what is written here is even more true. In briefly considering this subject, I propose to show:
I. What this language means.
II. What it implies.
III. What its relationship is to our responsibilities.
I. What this language means. Of course it is figurative: "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." Does it mean literally to open the mouth wide and He will fill it with something without our understanding what?
"I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt."
This was addressed to the Church of old, and the spirit of it is addressed to the Church in all ages. It is said in the eighth verse, "Hear, 0 my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; there shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The language, then, is figurative, and is to be understood in the following ways.
God enjoins us to ask of Him great things. The injunction is not only, "Open thy mouth," but open it wide; open it fully to its utmost capacity; by which it is to be understood that we are to ask of God great things, as great as we can conceive, We are merely creatures, and therefore our conceptions are low, and the spirit of the injunction tells us that we should ask great things of our heavenly Father. With our finite powers, we can conceive of Him "who is able to do for us abundantly above all that we can ask or think." Let the request be ever so great, He can grant it. In your petitions to Him, therefore, "open thy mouth wide," ask for things as great as you can conceive.
Another thing we are to understand by this language is, we are to expect those great things for which we ask. We are required to ask believingly in expectation that He will give the things which we ask.
The spirit of this injunction also means that we are to attempt to accomplish great things for God. We are to ask earnestly, to ask largely, to ask perseveringly in order that we may honor and glorify Him. Here, I might add, we are to understand that all our petitions must be addressed in the name of Christ from right motives.
II. What it implies.
The injunction "open thy mouth wide" is followed by the promise "and I will fill it."
This language implies that God is interested in us. What would motivate Him to say this to us if He were not interested in us? Why should He exhort us to open our mouths wide and ask of Him great things if He had no interest in us? This language must surely imply that for some reason or other He has great interest in His Church, and, of course, in each individual composing that Church.
It implies that He is interested in those things He requires us to do. He is interested in giving us the great things which He has promised, and in our possessing them to enable us to do what He requires of us.
God's Full Provision
God has made provision for us in every situation. He does not require great things of His people without promising the grace to help them perform that which He requires of them. But He does require many and great things of His people. He requires them to go forth to the conquest of the world, and many other things He requires of them in the various relations that they sustain to the world and to society.
Now, you must not complain that you cannot accomplish what is required of you, that you cannot do this or that because of your littleness or insufficiency. For God says, open your mouth wide for ability to do His will and He will fill it. He will enable you to do what is required of you. I say, then, that this language implies His interest in us personally, and that He is greatly interested in giving us the things for which we ask. He is quite able out of His fullness to supply all our need, to give us everything we want to enable us to accomplish everything He requires of us.
This language is addressed to different classes of individuals who maintain particular relations in life regarding special and particular circumstances. For example, it is addressed to local authorities, ministers, parents, and private Christians. Whatever the circumstances, this language relates to your particular needs: "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
It is of great importance for everyone to understand that God is interested in each individual. He takes all things into account. He placed us in our various relations; therefore, He must be interested in us. He is able to make His grace sufficient to enable us to do all that is required of us so we may honor and glorify His name. People can never be too well assured of this: "I am Jehovah, thy God." What is implied in that? "Thy God." "Open thy mouth wide," therefore, "and I will fill it." These words apply to every individual in all the relations of life.
Now, think of what your relations are. Think of your circumstances, of your peculiar trials, difficulties and respon sibilities, and the duties you are called upon to perform-no matter what they are. Only understand God as addressing you by name-old and young, rich and poor, influential or otherwise-no matter, only understand God as saying to you, "I am Jehovah, thy God: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." He is interested in your maintaining these responsibilities in a manner worthy of Him, as being His children.
I have often thought of the magnitude of unbelief. The unbelief of many is so great that they entirely overlook the secret depths of meaning that the promises of God contain, and they stumble at some of the plainest things in the Bible.
Suppose the King of England should send his son to travel on the Continent or in America, and should say to him, "Now, son, you are going among strangers, so remember your great responsibilities: you are my son, and you are my representative. When the people see you they will form an opinion of me, and they will estimate my character very much by yours, as a natural consequence. Now, remember, wherever you are, that the eyes of the people are upon you and my honor is concerned in your behavior. I have great interest in you; first, because you are my son; and second, because you are to be my representative among those who do not know me personally. I am, therefore, greatly concerned that you should not misrepresent me. For particular and weighty reasons, therefore, I want you to conduct yourself like a prince, and that you may do so, you shall always have the means. Remember never to exercise any kind of economy that will disgrace your father and the nation you represent. Draw upon me liberally. Of course, you will not squander needlessly upon your lusts, for such conduct would disgrace yourself and dishonor me: but what you want for the purpose of representing fully the Sovereign of England you can have. Draw largely; always remember this."
Now observe, God has placed His people here in a world of strangers to Him. He has placed them in various relations. He has admonished them to remember that they are His children and they are also His representatives in this world. God says to them, "I have placed you in these relations that you may honor me. I love you as my own children. I have given my Son to redeem you, and thus I have proved my personal regard for you. I always desire that you should walk worthy of the high vocation wherewith you are called. Remember, you are my representatives in the midst of' a rebellious world; therefore, 'let your light so shine before men, that others, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven."'
God's own interest in us leads Him to tell us to ask largely of Him. His intrinsic regard for us as our Father, as His redeemed children, is very great. Indeed, in every point of view,
He has the deepest interest in us. That we may not dishonor Him, He tells us He will give us grace to meet all our respon sibilities and discharge our duties. "Open your mouths wide," He says, "and I will fill them." "I will 'supply all your needs.'l am glad to do it. I shall delight to do it. I am interested in doing it."
Now, don't you ever forget this. Ask largely enough, ask confidently enough, and ask perseveringly enough to meet all your needs. I suppose that no one is disposed to call in question the truth of any of these principles.
These words, "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," imply that provision is made to supply our needs, and that God's ca pability is so great that He does not fear that we shall need anything, or be able to conceive of anything, beyond His power to grant. Hence, He tells us that His grace is sufficient for us. Observe, He does not caution us about asking too much, but He tells us here, as in many other parts of the Bible, to make our requests unlimited: "Ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." Of course it means "what you will" for a right reason, not for a selfish and improper reason.
We are not restricted at all in Him. It is not intended that we should hesitate to accomplish anything which He requires of us. We are not restricted in Him, for He says, "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." In any of the circumstances or relations in which we may ever be placed, or whatever we may be called upon to accomplish, we are never to regard ourselves as restricted in Him.
If He requires His people to go forth to the conquest of the world, they are abundantly able to take possession of the land. We are to have confidence in Him, and to take possession of it in His name and in His strength. If He tells us to compass the city and blow with the ram's horns, the walls of Jericho shall surely tumble down-there is no mistake about it.
In this injunction and promise is implied that if we fail in anything to perfectly represent or obey Him in every respect, and in all things to be and do what He requires of us, the fault is not His but ours. It is not to be resolved into "the mysterious sovereignty of God," for the fault is ours. If we fail, it is not because God by any arbitrary sovereignty withheld the power, but because as a matter of fact, in the possession of our liberty we failed to believe and appropriate the promises.
God Is Honored By Big Requests
This injunction and promise implies that God considers himself honored by the largeness of our requests. If we ask but a trifling thing, it shows that we find ourselves either unable or unwilling to expect or believe any great thing of Him. What does it imply when people ask small favors of God? I know very well what people say-they are so unworthy that they cannot expect to get any great things in answer to their poor requests. But is this real humility, or is it a voluntary humility? Is it a commendable state of mind? "Our prayers are so poor, are so unworthy, that we cannot expect to receive much in answer to them; therefore, we have not confidence enough to ask great things, and so we only ask for small things that we may without presumption expect to receive." Is this a right disposition of mind? This is that voluntary humility which God denounces: it is self-righteousness. What state of mind must that individual be in, who, instead of measuring his requests by the greatness of God's mercies, the greatness of His promises and the largeness of His heart, shall measure them by his own worthiness or unworthiness? Why, the fact is, if an individual will measure his requests by such a standard, he will ask nothing better than hell, and he may expect nothing better. This is applicable to all men in all ages, if they make themselves the standard of their requests. But if we are to rely upon God's promises, God's faithfulness, God's abounding grace in Christ Jesus and God's eternal love, then there are infinite blessings in store for His people, which the goodness of His heart is trying to force upon them. Then, pray, what has our great unworthiness to do, only to commend us to God's grace and mercy? Whenever, therefore, we ask great things of God, and expect great things from Him, we honor Him, inasmuch as we say, "Lord, although we are infinitely unholy and unworthy of thy bless ings, yet we judge not of what thou art willing to give us, mea sured by our unworthiness, but by thine own wonderful love to the world as shown in the gift of thine own and well-beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we will not ask small things of so great a God. We will ask great things because it is in thine heart to give them, and thou findest it more blessed to give than we do to receive." Now, it is by this sort of confidence that we honor God.
Some ask scantily, sparingly, for fear of overtaxing or over burdening God. What a mean, low, and contemptible view this is of God! Suppose the prince, whom we referred to, had been very sparing in drawing upon his father's accounts. Suppose that he drew only five or ten dollars at a time. The strangers among whom he was living would have noticed it. They would have said, "What can it mean? Why does he not draw more? How is he so poor? Is his father so miserly or so poor?" Thus dishonor would be brought upon his father and his country because the prince drew so sparingly when he might have had plenty.
Now, God has sent His children to this land, and He has told them that they are the "light of the world," the "salt of the earth," a "city that is set upon a hill." And He says, "Let your light shine"; show yourselves worthy of your heavenly Father. Now, suppose that from a lack of confidence, or for some other reason, they draw very sparingly. Everybody will see that they get but little from God in answer to prayer. A miserable, lean, famishing supply is all they get from their heavenly Father. There is but a slight spiritual distinction between them and the world in which they live; they have so little grace, so little faith, so little of anything that one might suppose God would surely provide for His children. Is this honorable to God? What, profess to be children of God and never realize your high distinction! Living in a world of rebels, having no more grace than you have, you never thought of the dishonor you bring upon God. What do you think of your Father? Do you think that God your Father is satisfied? To see you, people would think you had no Father, that you were poor orphans. And yet God says, "'open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it'; ask of Me such things as you need. Why, then, do you go about in such a miserable condition? Why live at such a dying rate, always in doubt, darkness and trouble? Do you not know that I am the Lord your God, and that if you open your mouth wide, I will fill it?"
Now, brethren, is not this true? Is this some newfangled doctrine not taught in the Bible? Or is it true that professing Christians generally have infinitely misconceived this matter, not understanding what God requires of them, or that they have dishonored Him in the highest degree by such conduct. They the light of the world! Why, their lamps are gone out! They cannot get any oil; and if they could, they have no money to buy it. Why is your lamp gone out? Has God your Father failed to send you a remittance? At all events, the lamp's gone out and left you in obscure darkness-a worldly spirit has come over you. What is the matter? You have been going by little and little till you have lost almost all confidence in God, and scarcely expect to receive anything from Him in answer to your prayers.
I don't know how it is with you, but I know that the great mass of professing Christians are in this miserably low state. They seem neither to know that they dishonor God by their conduct, nor that God is ready and willing to give them abundance of grace if they will believingly seek for it.
Of course, if God considers himself honored by the largeness of our requests, it must be upon the condition that we really have confidence in Him, expecting to receive those things for which we ask. If we should ask great things in words but not mean what we ask, or if we do not expect to receive answers to our petitions, we dishonor God by mocking Him. Always observe and remember this: a man who really expects great things from God and asks of God in faith with right motives will receive them. Those who honor God, God will honor.
God regards himself as honored by everything we accomplish in His name: by our asking great things of Him, and by our attempting great things in His name.
God Is Dishonored By Feeble Requests
Suppose a man goes forth in the name of the Lord Jesus to carry the Gospel to those who are in darkness, believing what Jesus has said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Suppose that in this confidence he attempts great things, and aims at the conquest of cities and nations. The greater his aims in God's name and strength, so much the greater is the honor that God receives. He goes forth relying on God, as God's servant, as God's child, to accomplish great things in His name and strength. God considers himself honored by this. God considers himself honored by the high attainments of His children and dishonored by their low attainments. He is honored in the fact that their graces so shine forth that it shall be seen by all around that they have partaken largely of His Spirit.
Exalted piety is honorable to God. Manifestations of great grace and spirituality of mind honor God. He is greatly honored by the fruits of righteousness His people bring forth. Christ himself says, "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bring forth much fruit." Ministers should be greatly fruitful. They should bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in their tempers, in their lives, in the strength of their faith and labors of love. Can you doubt that God has great interest in these things? Indeed His great desire, that you should bring forth fruit to His glory, is shown in the fact that He says, "open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
And it must imply, also, that He is greatly dishonored by the opposite of this. Professing Christians who have but little faith make but feeble efforts, and have but very little to distinguish them from the world around them. Nothing can be more offensive to God than for His professed servants to have so little confidence in Him that they ask sparingly to receive sparingly. It must be admitted, I suppose, that the conceptions of the general population of Christians are very low-they expect but small things from God. But this is dishonorable to God, as I have said, and He is endeavoring by every possible means to encourage our faith. At one time He will go into the nursery, where the mother is with her children, and say, "Mother, if thy son should ask for bread, would you give him a stone? or if he should ask a fish, would you give him a serpent? or if he should ask an egg, would you give him a scorpion to sting him to death?" The mother is surprised, and can scarcely contain herself. "Well," He says, "I did not suppose you would do so; but if these things would be far from you-if you would by no means do them, and feel indignant at the bare suggestion of the possibility of such a thing, 'how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?"' "How much?" Why, as much as He is better than you are.
A parent has no higher happiness than to give his little ones what they ask for if it is for their good. A father or a mother purchases some dainty thing; they can hardly bear to taste it themselves-the children must have it. "If ye, then, being evil"- compared with God, infinitely evil-"know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give?" Oranges, sweets, candy? No; "the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." That is the great blessing which you need. Oh, if we could only have more of the Spirit!
Christians live as if God had but little of the Holy Spirit to give. But is this the representation of the Scriptures? No, indeed; but infinitely the reverse of this. Some professing Christians live like spiritual skeletons, and, if they are reproved for it, they say, "Oh, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit." Indeed, and is that the reason you are so much like the world? Why you do not prevail with God to convert your children, and the clerks and people around you? Grieve not the Holy Spirit with such excuses; seek, and ye shall find. God is infinitely more ready to give you His Holy Spirit than you are to give good gifts to your own children.
When God exhorts His people to open their mouths wide, and promises to fill them, we are to understand that He seeks in them a clear medium through which to communicate His blessings to those around them. This is a natural law of the divine economy. If you are parents and have unconverted children, or have those around you unconverted, God seeks to make you an agent by which He can communicate the blessings of salvation to them.
When God thus urges people to open their mouths wide in order that He may fill them, we are to understand that His heart is very much set upon their having the things which He is seeking to give them. He takes the highest interest in their having these things-a greater interest than they do themselves. He restrains not His gift at all; the infinite fountain of His love and blessing flows everlastingly, so that every empty vessel may be filled; and, when they are all full, this living stream still flows on forever.
We must not be afraid of asking too much. When we seek a favor from a finite being, we might ask so much as to be thought unreasonable; but, when we come to an infinite being, we cannot ask too largely. Oh, brethren, always remember that.
III. What its relationship is to our responsibilities.
We are entirely without excuse to God for not being and doing what would in the highest degree satisfy His divine mind. We are not restricted in Him, but in ourselves.
We are not only without excuse to God, but we are cruel to ourselves. How cruel a man would be to himself if he starved himself to death in the midst of plenty, of which he might freely partake. Now, what excuse can a Christian have for all his doubts, fears, darknesses and perplexities, and how cruel he is to himself when such marvelous provision is made to set the Christian free from all such unhappy experiences. Do we live under such circumstances, and yet have a life of complaining? Indeed! And is it a law of God's house that His children almost starve? Is it a rule of God's house that His children should not have grace enough to lift them above perplexities and unbelief? Does God starve His children to death? "They do all they can; can't they get grace enough," says the devil, "to prevent their living so much like my own servants? So much alike are they, indeed, that nobody can distinguish them from my children!" Dear children, is there not an infinite mistake here? Are we not dishonoring God if we do not avail ourselves of the great things which God has provided us?
It is cruelty to the world also. God has said, "Go forth and conquer the world: disciple all nations." Has He said this to His people, and do they slumber, do they hesitate? What is the matter, brethren? Are not the words, "Come over and help us," borne on the four winds of heaven? "Come over into Macedonia and help us"; send us missionaries, send us Bibles, send us tracts, send us the Gospel? And is the Church unable to do it? What is the matter? Do let me ask, is there not something entirely wrong here? Does God require His people to make brick without straw? Has the world any right to expect the gospel of salvation to be sent to them by the Church? Brethren, consider!
What cruelty it is to those around us and those who sustain relations to us. We have such a promise in the Bible, yet our children remain unconverted! Think of it!
If Christians would but avail themselves of all the blessings which God has provided and really become filled with the Spirit, what do you suppose would be the result? Let me ask this question, "Suppose every Christian in your city should really comply with the appeal and be filled with the Holy Spirit, what do you suppose would be the natural effect upon the populace? Suppose every Christian were to open His mouth wide, and should receive the Holy Spirit, do you not believe that in one year a very great change would occur in the city, so that you would scarcely know it?" I have not the least doubt that more good would be done than has been done before in your city. If one church could be thoroughly awakened, another and another would follow, till the whole city would be aroused and every chapel would be filled with devout inquirers after salvation. This has been the case frequently in American cities; and the like may occur in any city if Christians are but thoroughly alive to their duties and responsibilities. If every Christian in your city would make up his mind to take hold of the promise of God, and thus come into deep sympathy and fellowship with Him, the effect would be astonishing. Like the lamps of the city, Christians are scattered over it so they may give light to the multitudes around them; but if they are not lighted up, the purpose for which they were intended is not accomplished. Let every Christian in your city be filled with the Holy Spirit, and what would be the result? Your city would move! Your state would move! America would move! Europe would move! Asia would move! The world would move!
Now, brethren, does this appear extravagant? If so, it is because you do not consider the power of the promises of God and what the churches are able to effect in His name. The guilt and the weakness of the Church is her unbelief. This is so great that she does not expect to do much. We must now conclude with a few remarks.
Many people so confound faith with sight that they are ready to say, "If God should make windows in heaven, then might this thing be." A great many people have no faith except in connection with sight: give them the naked promise and they cannot believe it; they must have something they can see. Few individuals can walk by faith. When they see a thing accomplished, they think they have strong faith; but only let this appearance be put out of sight and their faith is gone again. Now, what a Christian ought to be able to do is this: take God's promises and anchor right down upon them without waiting to see anything; because, somebody must believe simply on the strength of God's testimony, somebody must begin by naked faith, or there will be no visible testimony.
God always honors real faith. He is concerned to do so. God often greatly honors the faith of His people. He frequently gives them more than they expect. People will pray for one individual, and God will often honor their faith by not only converting that individual but many others also.
I once knew a man who was sick, and a neighbor of his, an unconverted man, frequently sent from his store things for his comfort. This poor man said to himself, "I cannot recompense Mr. Chandler for his kindness, but I will give myself up to pray for him." To the surprise of all the neighborhood, Mr. Chandler became converted; this he testified before the whole congregation, which had such an effect that a great revival ensued and many souls were brought to God. This poor man gave himself up to pray for one individual, and God honored his faith by converting many, thus fulfilling the declaration of His Word, that He will "do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think."
Instead of finding that God gives grudgingly and sparingly, He gives abundantly. God always acts worthy of himself. You ask a blessing of God in faith and He says, "Be content, and take a great deal more so that your cup shall run over." The fact is, where but little is attempted, little expected, little will be received; but where little is really obtained, the fault is not with God, but entirely with us.