Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
"Oh, that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments." (Job 23:3, 4)
In Job's uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afflicted child of God is once more to see his Father's face. Job's first prayer is not, "Oh that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!" nor even, "Oh that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!" The first and uppermost cry is, "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM--who is my God, that I might come even to his seat!" God's children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heaven-born instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. "He that has made his refuge God," might serve as the title of a true believer. A hypocrite, when he feels that he has been afflicted by God, resents the infliction, and, like a slave, would run from the master who has scourged him; but not so the true heir of heaven. He kisses the hand that smote him and seeks shelter from the rod in the bosom of that very God who frowned upon him.
It appears that Job's end in desiring the presence of God was that he might pray to him. He had prayed, but he wanted to pray as in God's presence. He desired to plead as before one whom he knew would hear and help him. He longed to state his own case before the seat of the impartial Judge, before the very face of the all-wise God. He would appeal from the lower courts, where his friends had judged unrighteously, to the High Court of heaven. There, said Job, "I would order my cause before him and fill my mouth with arguments."
Job teaches us how he meant to plead and intercede with God. He does, as it were, reveal the secrets of his closet and unveils the art of prayer. We are admitted into the guild of suppliants; we are shown the art and mystery of pleading; we have taught to us the blessed handicraft and science of prayer.
There are two things here set forth as necessary in prayer--ordering of our cause, and filling our mouth with arguments.
First, it is needful that our suit be ordered before God. There is a vulgar notion that prayer is a very easy thing, a kind of common business that may be done anyhow, without care or effort. Some think that you have only to pull a book down from the shelf and get through a certain number of very excellent words and you have prayed, and then you may put the book up again. Others suppose that to use a book is superstitious, and that you ought rather to repeat extemporaneous sentences, sentences which come to your mind with a rush, like a herd of swine or a pack of hounds, and that when you have uttered them with some little attention to what you have said, you have prayed. Now neither of these modes of prayer were adopted by ancient saints. They appear to have thought a great deal more seriously of prayer than many do today.
The ancient saints were wont, with Job, to order their cause before God, that is, in the manner of a petitioner coming into Court. A petitioner does not come into court unprepared--stating his case on the spur of the moment--but enters into the audience chamber with his suit well prepared, having moreover learned how he ought to behave himself in the presence of the great One to whom he is appealing. There are times, when in peril and distress, that we may fly to God just as we are, as the dove enters the cleft of the rock even though her plumes are ruffled. But in ordinary times, we should not come with an unprepared spirit. See yonder priest? He has a sacrifice to offer. But he does not rush into the court of the priests and hack at the bullock with the first ax upon which he can lay his hand. He washes his feet at the brazen laver, puts on his garments, adorns himself with his priestly vestments, and then he comes to the altar with his victim properly divided according to the law. He is careful to do according to the command and takes the blood in a bowl and pours it in an appropriate place at the foot of the altar, not throwing it any which way. He does not kindle the fire with a common flame but with the sacred fire from off the altar. Now this ritual is all superseded, but the truth which it taught remains the same: our spiritual sacrifices should be offered with holy carefulness. God forbid that our prayer should be a mere leaping out of one's bed and kneeling down and saying anything that comes first to mind. On the contrary, may we wait upon the Lord with holy fear and sacred awe.
If any ask what order should be observed in prayer, I am not about to give you a scheme such as many have drawn out in which adoration, confession, petition, intercession, and ascription are arranged in succession. I am not persuaded that any such order is of divine authority. The true spiritual order of prayer seems to me to consist in something more than mere arrangement. It is most fitting for us first to feel that we are now doing something that is real; that we are about to address ourselves to God whom we cannot see, but who is really present. Feeling the reality of God's presence, our mind will be led by divine grace into a humble state. Consequently, we shall not deliver ourselves of our prayer as boys repeating their lessons, as a mere matter of rote; much less shall we speak as if we were rabbis instructing our pupils, or as I have heard some do, with the coarseness of a highwayman stopping a person on the road and demanding his money. On the contrary, we shall be humble yet bold petitioners, humbly importuning mercy through the Savior's blood. When I feel that I am in the presence of God and take my rightful position in that presence, the next thing I shall want to recognize will be that I have no right to what I am seeking, and cannot expect to obtain it except as a gift of grace, and I must recollect that God limits the channel through which He will give me mercy--he will give it to me through his dear Son. Let me put myself then under the patronage of the great Redeemer. Let me feel that now it is no longer I that speak but Christ who speaks with me, and that while I plead, I plead his wounds, his life, his death, his blood, himself.
The next thing is to consider what I am to ask for. It is most proper in prayer to aim at great distinctness in supplication. It is well not to beat around the bush in prayer but to come directly to the point. I like that prayer of Abraham's, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee!" There is the name of the person prayed for and the blessing desired, all in a few words. Many persons would have used a roundabout expression of this kind: "Oh that our beloved offspring might be regarded with the favor which thou bearest to those who," etc. Some people cannot even pray for the minister without using such circular descriptives that you might think it were someone whom it did not do to mention too particularly. Why not be distinct and say what we mean as well as mean what we say? It is not necessary, my dear brethren, to ask for every supposable good thing; it is not necessary to rehearse the catalog of every desire you may have, have had, can have, or shall have. Ask for what you now need, and, as a rule, keep to present need. Ask for it plainly, as before God, who does not regard your fine expressions and to whom your eloquence and oratory will be less than nothing and vanity. You are before the Lord; let your words be few but let your heart be fervent.
You have not quite completed the ordering when you have asked for what you want through Jesus Christ. There should be a searching as to whether it is assuredly a fitting thing to ask, for some prayers would never be offered if men did but think. A little reflection would show us that some things which we desire were better let alone. We may, moreover, have a motive at the bottom of our desire which is not Christ-like, a selfish motive which forgets God's glory and caters only for our own ease and comfort. Now although we may ask for things which are for our profit, yet still we must never let our profit interfere in any way with the glory of God. There must be mingled with acceptable prayer the holy salt of submission to the divine will. When we are sure that what we ask for is for God's glory, then, if we have power in prayer, we may say, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me."
Still, prayer itself is an art which only the Holy Ghost can teach us. He is the giver of all prayer. Pray for prayer; pray till you can pray and don't give up praying because you cannot pray. It is when you think that you cannot pray that you are most praying, and sometimes when you have no sort of comfort in your supplications, it is then that your heart, all broken and cast down, is really wrestling and truly prevailing with the Most High.
The second part of prayer is filling the mouth with arguments, not with words or good phrases or pretty expressions. When we come to the gate of mercy, forcible arguments are the knocks of the rapper by which the gate is opened.
Why are arguments to be used at all? is the first question. The answer is not because God is slow to give or because we can change the divine purpose or because he needs to be informed of our circumstances. The arguments to be used are for our own benefit, not for his. He requires us to plead with him and to bring forth our strong reasons because this will show that we feel the value of the mercy. When a man searches for arguments for a thing, it is because he attaches importance to that which he is seeking.
My brethren, there is no need for prayer at all as far as God is concerned, but what a need there is for it on our own account! If we were not constrained to pray, I question whether we could even live as Christians. If God's mercies came to us unasked, they would not be half so useful as they now are when they have to be sought for. The very act of praying is a blessing. To pray is, as it were, to bathe oneself in a cooling stream, to mount on eagle's wings above the clouds, to enter the treasure house of God. To pray is to grasp heaven in one's arms, to embrace the Deity within one's soul. To pray is to cast off your burdens, to tear away your rags, to shake off your diseases and to be filled with spiritual vigor. It is to reach the highest point of Christian health.
The most interesting part of our subject remains: a rapid summary and catalog of a few of the arguments which have been used with great success with God.
It is well in prayer to plead with Jehovah his attributes. Abraham did so when he laid hold upon God's justice when he pleaded for Sodom. "That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Here the wrestling begins. It was a powerful argument by which Abraham grasped the Lord's left hand and arrested it just when the thunderbolt was about to fall. But there came a reply to it. It was intimated to him that this would not spare the city, and you notice how the good man, when sorely pressed, retreated by inches; and at last, when he could no longer lay hold upon justice, he grasped God's right hand of mercy, and that gave him a wondrous hold when he asked that if there were but ten righteous there the city might be spared. So you and I may take hold at any time upon the justice, the mercy, the faithfulness, the wisdom, the long-suffering, the tenderness of God, and we shall find every attribute of the Most High to be, as it were, a great battering ram with which we may open the gates of heaven.
Another mighty piece of ordnance in the battle of prayer is God's promise. When Jacob was on the other side of the brook Jabbok and his brother Esau was coming with armed men, he pleaded with God not to suffer Esau to destroy the mother and the children. As a master reason he pleaded, "And thou said, Surely I will do thee good." Oh the force of that plea! He was holding God to his word, "Thou said."
A third argument to be used is that employed by Moses--the great name of God. How mightily did he argue with God on one occasion upon this ground! "What will thou do for thy great name? The Egyptians will say, Because the Lord could not bring them into the land, therefore he slew them in the wilderness." Now, if the Lord should not be as good as his promise, not only is the believer deceived, but the wicked world looking on would say, "Aha! Where is your God?"
We may also plead the sorrows of his people. This is frequently done. Jeremiah is the great master of this art. "The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!" He talks of all their griefs and trials in the siege. He calls upon the Lord to look upon his suffering Zion, and ere long his plaintive cries are heard.
It is good to plead with God the past. David prays, "Thou have been my help. Leave me not, neither forsake me." Moses also, speaking with God, says, "Thou did bring this people up out of Egypt." As if he would say, "Do not leave thy work unfinished."
Lastly, the grand Christian argument is the suffering, the death, the merit, the intercession of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I am afraid we do not understand what it is that we have at our command when we are allowed to plead with God for Christ's sake. When we ask God to hear us, pleading Christ's name, we usually mean, "O Lord, thy dear son deserves this of thee; do this unto me because of what he merits." But we might go farther. Supposing you should say to me, you who keep a warehouse in the city, "Sir, call at my office and use my name, and say that they are to give you such a thing." I should go in and use your name and obtain my request as a matter of right and a matter of necessity.
This is virtually what Jesus Christ says to us. "If you need anything of God, all that the Father has belongs to me; go and use my name." When you have Christ's name, to whom the very justice of God has become a debtor and whose merits have claims with the Most High, there is no need to speak with fear and trembling and bated breath. Oh waver not and let not faith stagger. The name of Christ which you plead shakes the gates of hell!
The man who has his mouth full of arguments in prayer shall soon have his mouth full of benedictions in answer to prayer. It is said--I know not how truly--that the explanation of the text, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," may be found in a very singular Oriental custom. It is said that not many years ago (I remember the circumstance being reported) the King of Persia ordered the chief of his nobility, who had done something which greatly gratified him, to open his mouth. And when he had done so, he began to put into his mouth pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds until he had filled it as full as it could hold. Then he bade him go his way. This is said to have been occasionally done in Oriental courts toward great favorites. God says, "Open thy mouth with arguments," and then he will fill it with mercies priceless, gems unspeakably valuable. Would not a man open his mouth wide to have it filled in such a style? Surely the most simple-minded among you would be wise enough for that. Let us then open wide our mouths when we have to plead with God. Our needs are great, let our requests be great, and the supply shall be great too.
"Order and Argument in Prayer" in Charles H. Spurgeon, 12 Sermons on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971; reprint).
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