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Requisites of Effectual Prayer.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 476-483.

Second part of Sermon XLI. for the Fifth Sunday after Easter.
(for the first part, on the Epistle..
If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, 
and it shall be done unto you.—St. JOHN xv. 7. 

And now we come to what our Blessed Lord Himself says to us, in that His last discourse on the subject of prayer. This lesson from the Altar is like the Voice of God speaking to us from His mercy-seat between the cherubims,—the words of Christ in His own Gospels.  And these His last words at parting, come before us on this Sunday with a new and peculiar interest, as we are filling up the season of the forty days, when our Lord was with His disciples on earth after the Resurrection, and was now again about to leave them and to ascend to the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. In our own name we can ask for nothing of God; after all our doings and deservings we have no plea to make; it is only as penitent sinners at best that we can venture to look up and ask for anything, and then only in the Name of Christ. In His “Name,” that is, in Him as He is, the Son of the Most High, the everlasting God. “In the Name of Christ,” says St. Augustin, “is signified the right opinion concerning Him;” and “whatsoever ye shall ask,” he explains to mean, “everything that is not contrary to everlasting salvation.” Ye shall receive it—it is not said when ye shall receive it, for the answer may be for a time delayed—but ye shall receive at the time most convenient for you. And surely with such a promise we ought to ask for the best of all things, even this fulness of joy, which is the Comforter Himself, having our hearts and desires there, “where true joys are to be found.”

These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. When our Lord spoke to His disciples of that all-prevailing Name in which their prayers should be heard, it was in great measure as a dark saying or proverb to them ; for they knew not as yet of the great mysteries of Godliness—of the Atoning Sacrifice He was about to make—of His interceding as Mediator between God and man; the veil was not yet rent, nor the Holy Place opened.

At that day ye shall ask in My Name; and I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you. I need not tell of My intercessions for you at the right hand of God; I must not speak of My praying to the Father, as if I loved you more than He does. For the Father Himself love/h you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God. Their faith is thus spoken of as consisting in their belief that He “came from God,” because this contained all; if from God, His mission was Divine, His words were true, His doctrine to be accepted, the mysteries He spoke of beyond question. Here our Lord seems to say, such is My union with the Father, that whosoever loveth Me is loved of Him, and whosoever believeth in Me is of Him received. The love of Christ in our hearts is itself the gift of the Father; and our belief in Him is because it is revealed to us by His Father in Heaven. It is in Christ’s Incarnation, in our being one with Him, parts of His Body, and quickened by His Spirit, that we are beloved of the Father; it is in Him that we are at all times the objects of the Father’s love, if we break not this holy bond. As a beloved child always receives benefits from its parent, and is the object of his tender regards, whether he is asking for them or not, so as long as we are in Christ by obedience, God ceases not daily to watch over and bless us; and the prayers that we make, the faith which suggests those prayers, the love which renders them importunate and fervent, these are nothing else but the workings of His own good Spirit in the heart. The Spirit asks, and in asking knows that He shall receive, and gives us to know that we shall have what we ask for. He Himself gives us to love Him; “we love Him because He first loved us.” [1 St. John iv. 10]  If we seek Him it is because He is seeking for us, and therefore we feel His constraining power within us.

I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. His disciples said unto Him, Lo, now speakest Thou plainly. Already “speakest Thou plainly,” as Thou hast promised to do by the Spirit of truth hereafter. And speakest no proverb. There is in this no dark saying. Now are we sure that Thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask Thee: by this we believe that Thou earnest forth from God. There is a difficulty here; for how is it in those our Lord’s words, of coming from and going to the Father, that the disciples say there was no longer any proverb, and that they were convinced by this of His coming from God ? it cannot be that they now clearly understood concerning His Incarnation and His Ascension. The passage seems to refer to what had gone before. It is said that the disciples were perplexed and reasoning among themselves respecting two mysterious expressions our Lord had made use of; the one, of His being with them for “a little while,” the other of His “going to the Father.” This was the subject of secret reasoning and discussion among themselves, of which to Him they bad said nothing; but He, knowing their hearts, as the all-knowing, heart-searching God, to Whom alone the thoughts are known; He answered what they were desirous to ask Him before they had expressed it to Him. On this they said, “Now already Thou speakest plainly, and it is from this Thy knowledge of our hearts that we know Thee to be of God.” There is no miracle, no manifestation of Godhead so startling and overpowering to man, as this secret knowledge of his own thoughts. It was upon the faintest intimation of this that Nathaniel at once exclaimed, “Thou art the Son of God" [St. John i. 49.]  It is this that makes many of us tremble at the Bible, because we find God’s eye to be there; and some-times at the whispering of the Spirit within, or some unwonted Providence from without. This, my brethren, this knowledge of the secret heart, such as no creature has, is the one great manifestation of God in Christ, Which is reserved for the last and great day. “Thou hast searched me out and known me ;“ and it is of this that the Psalmist exclaims, in adoring wonder, “Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me; I cannot attain unto it.” [Ps. cxxxix. 5.]

It is this belief in Christ as God which would be all in all to us, and our certain salvation, if we could steadfastly adhere to it; but, alas it soon passes away as a cloud, or rather, I should say, though it be life-giving as the sun in the heavens, yet it is soon hid from view, and lost to us by earthly clouds that arise. We behold, as in a glass, and then go away and forget. And so was it with these disciples; they had all along before confessed their faith in Christ at God; they had done so more than once, and were blessed of God for doing so. And now again do they make this strong confession of belief; yet this sheet-anchor of the soul was soon lost. When many believed, on one occasion, St. John said, “But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them; for He knew what was in man.” [St. John ii. 24, 25.]  So was it now. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own. Even this very night, notwithstanding your high assurances of faith, when the enemy cometh, ye all shall have fled.

“Ye shall be scattered,” and shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. This, indeed, from that time may be said of every good man when friends desert him in the hour of tribulation—that he is not alone, because Christ is with him; he is, in this high and sacred sense, never less alone than when alone. But it was of Himself, in the mystery of Godhead, that Christ spake of His union with the Father; as on another occasion, to His Jewish enemies, “He that sent Me is with Me; the Father hath not left Me alone.” [St. John viii. 29.]  But here, as a matter of very sweet and Divine consolation to His grieving disciples, “Ye shall forsake and leave Me; I shall be bereaved of you all whom I have loved, in the trial that approaches, but I am not alone, or deserted of God.” And then He adds those gracious and memorable words, the most gracious and memorable last words ever spoken by man,—His last farewell benediction to His disciples, before He turns to God in that solemn prayer for them.

These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In Christ we may have peace passing understanding, beyond human thought, not only in the midst of troubles, and in spite of them, but all the more in consequence of them; and it is, we may here learn, that through His word we may find in Him this peace. “These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.” Strange must the words have sounded unto them, when He had just told them that they should so soon desert Him. Ye shall not flee from Me, as now ye are about to do, in order to find peace with the world; but ye shall flee unto Me, even when out of your sight, and in Me ye shall find peace and refuge when the world is most at enmity with you.

In the world ye shall have tribulation; new and strange gift of a King to his faithful followers! “tribulation!” this is the best legacy which I can leave you, the highest reward for continuing with Me in My temptations, the most precious mark of My love that I can bestow upon you whom I have chosen out of the world; “ye shall have tribulation,” ye shall have to drink of My cup of suffering, and to be baptized with My Baptism of blood. If the dearly beloved of the Father, Who is in the bosom of God, hath on. earth no portion but this—to he more than all men “acquainted with grief,” and “a Man of sorrows,” be assured there is no outward mark of sonship more certain.

But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. Tribulation, but with joy; distress, but with victory; mourning the pledge of the Comforter. And hence St. Paul, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation! [2 Cor. vii. 4.]  And full of confidence from his own experience of the victory over the world here pronounced by his Lord, ho exclaims, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” [Rom. viii. 37.]  And St. John, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God ?" “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” [1 St. John v. 5. 4.]

Such are indeed great consolations, most gracious encouragements; but the one practical lesson of this Sunday is prayer; that we ask in the Name of Christ, with all that earnestness and humility which becomes those who would not take that saving Name in vain; that in order that we may pray effectually we abide in Him, and His words by obedience abide in us; that, as St. James says, we be “not hearers only, but doers of the Word,” in order that we may worship God with pure and undefiled worship, lifting up pure hands in faith without wavering.

So may we, in the words of the Collect, not only “by His holy inspiration think those things that be good,” but also, “by His merciful guiding, perform the same."