Prayer and the Bible
The Exclusiveness of Prayer in the Gospel Age
One truth which stands clearly revealed is, that during this Gospel Age any prayer to be effective, that will do definite lasting work, must ascend to God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Other prayer God does not hear (John 5:23; 14:6), for ignoring the world's Saviour they cannot, in the great Plan of Salvation (Acts 4:12).
The Scriptural teaching that in the Gospel Age vital, co‑operative, prayer is the exclusive privilege of the sacrificing followers of Christ, is illustrated in the beautiful, orderly‑arranged, services of the Levitical priesthood in the tabernacle of Moses. We note three general conditions of men in the world today:
(1) the comparatively few who have covenanted with God to lay down their lives with Christ in his sacrificial death,
(2) those who have belief in the Son of God but do not sacrifice with him,
(3) the unheeding Gentile‑unbeliever.
The first class are represented by the sacrificing priest in the "Holy" apartment in the tabernacle, where they enjoy the light of the golden candlestick, eat the showbread, and offer incense on the golden altar, which things are typical of spiritual blessings and privileges. The second class are pictured by the Levites, who are not sacrificing priests, in the "Court" outside the tabernacle. These Levites were not permitted to enter or look into the "Holy", thus prefiguring the inability of the non‑sacrificing believers in Christ, who are therefore not spirit‑begotten sons of God, to perceive the deep spiritual things of God (1 Cor.2:9‑16). The unbelieving world in general is represented by the "Camp" outside the Court.
"The golden altar in the 'Holy' would seem to represent the 'little flock,' the consecrated Church in the present sacrificing condition. From this altar ascends the sweet incense, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ—the willing services of the priests; their praises, their willing obedience—all things whatsoever they do to the glory of God. Those who thus offer incense acceptable to God (1 Pet.2:5) come very close to their Father, close up to the vail which separates from the 'Most Holy'; and if they have requests to make they may be presented with the incense—'much incense with the prayers of saints' (Rev.8:3). The prayers of such priests of God are effectual. Our Lord Jesus kept the incense continually burning, and could say: "I knew that thou hearest me always" (John 11:42). So the under‑priests, 'members of his body,' will be heard always if they continually offer the incense of faith, love and obedience to God. None should expect to have requests recognised who do not thus keep their covenant. "If ye abide in me, and my words (teachings) abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7). "The necessity of a clear apprehension of Christ's teachings as a guide to our requests and expectations, that we may not 'ask amiss,' and out of harmony with God's Plan, is clearly shown by this Scripture, but seldom noticed." (Charles T. Russell).
The Prayers of a Gentile
There is Scriptural record of one apparent exception to the rule governing effective prayer during the Gospel Age (Christian era), where the prayers of the Gentile Cornelius, as we read in Acts 10, had ascended to God as a memorial, and ultimately received the Divine recognition. This proves that the great Jehovah is not unmindful of those whose hearts are in the right, receptive, attitude. We are told that Cornelius was a devout, God‑fearing man, and that he "prayed to God alway." Before God sent the Apostle Peter to tell him "what he ought to do," the heart‑felt prayers of Cornelius could not accomplish any part in the prearranged work of salvation, for he did not then know of "The Way, the Truth, and the Life," the Lord Jesus Christ, apart from whom we can do nothing (John 14:6). Nevertheless his prayers were sincere and uttered in all good faith, and they and his good deeds ascended as a "memorial" before God, and were had in "remembrance" when, in the due time, the offer of joint‑heirship with Christ was extended to the Gentiles (Acts 10:4,31).
After his conversion and illumination by the Holy Spirit, the words of Cornelius could then minister grace and life to his hearers, the necessary power being granted by God through the medium of his prayers in Christ's name (Acts 10:44‑47; Eph.4:29; 1 Tim.4:16; 1 Thess.1:5). It is probable that the earnest, though not yet properly instructed, prayers of many kind‑hearted men and women, devout in their daily lives as was Cornelius, will similarly serve as memorials, and bring them in remembrance before the Everlasting Father in the Age of Restitution immediately in the future. It is probable that there is an important place for such to fill when the scope of Salvation is widened toward all on earth, even as the centurion Cornelius had the honour of holding first place among Gentile believers when the grace of God was due to be extended beyond the nation of Israel. For this reason we would not think to deter any from praying to the Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 17:22‑31), but while commending would seek to make manifest Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life," as Peter was instructed to do for Cornelius, and leave the issue with the heavenly Father who knows the end from the beginning (Acts 10:28,34,35; Isa.46:9,10).
God regards the Children of Believers
We also note the statement of the Apostle in 1 Cor.7:14—"For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the (believing) wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the (believing) husband: else were your children unclean: but now are they holy." Many of the Lord's people who were born in this cleansed or justified, "holy," condition can, on reviewing their early life, perceive that the Lord had kindly regard for them, shaping many of the affairs of their life to their ultimate spiritual advantage. Trials and difficulties were tempered that they might not destroy but discipline. In these days, also, they realised that many of their prayers to God, uttered in simple faith though not with much knowledge, were heard and honoured. We see now that this divine supervision in our infancy was directly owing to our parentage. One or both of our parents were spirit‑begotten new creatures in Christ Jesus; otherwise we had been "unclean" like the children of unbelievers. Such providential covering continues until the years of discretion are attained; and this period varies with the individual. A few seem to have discerning minds at an earlier age; others develop slowly and reach personal accountability later in life; while some, by no means small in number, are so devoid of judgement that they never attain to responsibility.
It is obvious that should any die while in the "minority" state of mind, they are not of that class who are "dead in Christ". For the irresponsible are incapable of taking the intelligent step of full consecration to God, without which none can receive the Holy Spirit of begettal, and so become
members in particular in the body of Christ. Nevertheless the child of the believer has much advantage over the child of the unbeliever; for the prayers of his parents, and the character training and heavenly knowledge he acquires, enables him to choose the right way when sanctification in the service of the Lord is made clear to him; whereas the child of the unbeliever has much of error in doctrinal teaching and practice to unlearn. Thus it is manifest that, during the time until their discretionary powers are sufficiently developed, the prayers of the children of the consecrated are honoured by God, these prayers cannot have the vital force of such as are uttered by the mature Christian who has made a covenant with God by sacrifice.
Idea. Expression. Realisation.
The necessary part fulfilled by prayer in the outworking of God's glorious Plan of Salvation, is apparent when we consider the three successive stages which must be essential parts of every completed work. To illustrate:
A man conceives an idea to build a house. At first no one is aware of this, and hence his plans are secret. In his thoughts only has his idea taken formation.
Then, having detailed all the features of the house in his mind, he voices this idea that his workers may know of it.
And having heard their employer, these co‑labourers build the house and materialise the idea. The idea was conceived, expressed, and realised.
So with God's creation of earth. In his thoughts he pictured what form the earth should have, and all the details connected with it (Isa.40:13,14).
Then God gave expression to his idea. As the Scriptures declare: "He spake." Or as it is written in Genesis: "God said—."
With the result that "it was so." "He spake, and it was done" (Psa.33:9). God's idea was realised. All his mighty power was at the disposal of those agents which put into effect his idea as soon as it was expressed.
Here, then, we have what is really the basis of prayer. It may at first appear strange, but it is true. For what is prayer but the expression of God's will? And of our prayers express the will of God, we know that God's will must be done. But if any pray contrary to the Divine arrangement he is voicing his own or some other's will; and thoughts not sanctioned by God cannot be realised as the Scriptures declare: "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Psa.127:1). For there is but one grand scheme which can achieve the promised blessing to all nations, the one which had its conception in the mind of the great Jehovah (Isa.14:24; 55:6‑11). It is contained in the Word, but is secret. It is revealed to those only who make a covenant with him by sacrifice (Psa.50:5; 25:14; Prov.3:32). Authority to give plain utterance to the secret thoughts of God was first invested in Jesus Christ, and by him extended to the members of his Body; and therefore every detail of the loving heavenly Father's gracious and beautiful Plan shall be realised. For the assurance we have of the truth of this we thank and praise Him (Matt.13:34,35; John 7:16,17; Rom.16:25,26).
The Will of God
God warned Adam that if he ate of the forbidden fruit he would die. Adam disobeyed, the sentence was pronounced, and Adam died (Gen.2:17; 3:17‑19; 5:5). Was this contained in the Creator's original idea? Yes; otherwise he could not have devised his wonderful plan of salvation beforehand if he had not foreknown that man would require to be saved. The Almighty was not taken by surprise, for he knew that Satan would succeed in causing the entrance of sin. He had left Adam freedom of will to chose either obedience with life, or disobedience with death; and as Adam was created perfect mentally, morally and physically, he had ability to obey—he was not deceived into disobedience like Eve (1 Tim.2:14). God therefore did not foreordain the sin of our first parents; but He foreknew of it.
The Scriptures show that God had prearranged to so overrule the foreknown degradation of mankind, that it became an essential part of his Plan for the exaltation of his Son Jesus Christ (Phil.2:7‑11; Heb.2:9,10; Heb.5:7‑10; 1 Pet.1:18‑21).
It was the heavenly Father's foreordained intention to select the "Bride" for his Son from the fallen human race; and in so doing he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence (1 Pet.1:2,3; Eph.1:4‑12).
And, additionally, his original idea provided that the "children" of Christ and his Bride were to be a regenerated human family—a family which had been condemned to death, and which would therefore require to be purchased from the grave and owe its restored life to its great Redeemer, its "Everlasting Father."
Christ with his glorified Church, spoken of in the Scriptures as "the Spirit and the Bride," will be the life‑giver who will bestow everlasting life to men in the regeneration, or times of restitution (Psa.45:16; Isa.9:6; Matt.19:28; John 6:40,48‑51; John 10:10; John 11:25,26; Acts 3:19‑21). The making of the "new heavens and the new earth" is a work of salvation from first to last, and is to be completed within Jehovah's "Rest Day" of seven thousand years (John 4:42; 1 Tim.4:10; Heb.2:10; Heb.5:7‑9). "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18; Heb.3:11; Heb.4:1‑3).
How God Communicated His Will
During the course of the centuries God declared the numerous details of his purpose or idea; for we read that "Holy men of God (of old) spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit"; and "God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (2 Pet.1:21; Acts 3:21). Not only did he express himself by human mouthpieces under inspiration, but also by means of types and shadows; or, as the Scriptures put it: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past" (Heb.1:1).
Next time—How God's Will is Realised