Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
I. PREDESTINATION SHOULD BE NO BARRIER IN THE WAY OF PRAYER. The text derives a special interest from the very position which it occupies. He who saw the farthest into the counsels of the Divinity above, saw nothing there which should affect either the diligence or the devotions of any humble worshipper below. However indelibly the ultimate futurities of man are written in the book of heaven, this should not foreclose but rather stimulate his prayers. Let us quit arduous speculation, and keep by obvious duty — taking our lesson from Paul, who, though just alighted from the daring ascents among the past ordinations of the Godhead, forthwith busies himself among the plain and the present duties of the humble Christian. Theology has its altitudes shooting upwardly to heaven till lost in the cloudy envelopment which surrounds them. Yet there is a clear path which winds around its basement, and by which the lowliest of Zion's travellers may find an ascending way that will land him in a place of purest transparency, where he shall know even as he is known.
II. UNLESS THE DESIRE OF THE HEART GOES BEFORE IT, IT IS NO PRAYER AT ALL. The virtue does not lie in the articulation, but altogether in the wish which prompts it. It is thus that we can pray without ceasing. In the case of prayer, God has committed Himself to the amplest promises of fulfilment; but He is not pledged to the accomplishment of any prayer where the desire of the heart does not originate the utterance of the mouth. The want of such desire nullifies the prayer; and to imagine otherwise would be to countenance the superstition that a religious service consists in mere ceremonial. Be assured of this and of every other ordinance of Christianity, that, unless impregnated with life and meaning, it is but a body without a soul — a mere service which the hand can perform, but which the heart with all its high functions has no share in. It stands in the same relation of inferiority to genuine religion that the drudgery of an animal does to the devotion of a seraph. In one word, if in the doing of any ordinance there be not the intercourse of mind with mind, there substantially is nothing; and yet we fear it to be just such a nothingness as is yielded by many who are regular in prayer, and who walk with decency and order through the rounds of a sacrament.
III. THE SUBJECT OF THE PRAYER. "That Israel might be saved."
1. It is not all desire that will meet with acceptance in heaven, for the same Scripture which holds out the promise of "ask, and ye shall receive," has also held out the warning that many ask and receive not "because they ask amiss."
2. Still, Scripture does furnish the principles by which to discriminate the warrantable from the unwarrantable, and so classifies the topics of prayer. It is written "that if we ask any thing according to His will He heareth us." This does not confer a sanction upon every suit, but certainly upon a vast number of them. Thus, surely, every petition in the Lord's Prayer may be preferred with utmost confidence; and so it is that while we have no warrant to pray for this world's riches, we have a perfect warrant to pray for daily bread. The same principle of agreeableness to the will of God sustains our faith, when praying for the salvation of ourselves or others, being expressly told that God willeth such intercessions to be made for all men, and on this ground too that He willeth all men to be saved.
3. So near does God bring salvation to us that there is no obstacle between our sincere wish for it and our secure possession of it. At least there is but one stepping-stone between them; and that is prayer. And so let us ask till we receive — let us seek till we find — let us knock till the door of salvation is opened to us.
IV. THE WHOLE EXTENT AND IMPORT OF THE TERM SALVATION.
1. Its common acceptance is a deliverance from the penalty of sin. Whereas, additionally to this, it signifies deliverance from sin itself. "He shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" — save them from a great deal more than the torment of sin's penalty, even from the tyranny of sin's power. The first secures for the sinner a change of place, the second a change of principle. This last is the constituting essence of salvation; the other more the accompaniment. The one takes place after death. The other takes place now.
2. The legitimate desire, then, which should animate the heart when the mouth utters a prayer for salvation is for a future happiness, but also for a present holiness. Man might like to be put into a state of happiness without holiness; but God does not like that such a happiness shall be conferred upon him. It is most assuredly not God's will that heaven should be peopled with any but those who are of the same family likeness with Himself. He loves the happiness of His creatures, but He loves their virtue more. And so from Paradise all that offendeth shall be rooted out. Now remember that in praying to be saved, you just pray that such a heaven may be the place of your settlement through all eternity. Else there is no significancy in your prayer. It is not enough that you seize by faith on a deed of justification. You must enter forthwith on a busy process of sanctification. Now that a way for the ransomed of the Lord is open, let us forget not that it is a way of holiness. There is a work of salvation going on in heaven, and by which Jesus Christ is there employed in preparing a place for us. But there is also a work of salvation going on in earth, and by which Jesus Christ through His Word and Spirit is here employed in preparing us for the place. And our distinct business is to be ever practising and ever improving ourselves in the virtues of this preparation. This desire for salvation, then, if rightly understood, is desire for a present holiness.
V. BUT THIS IS AN INTERCESSORY PRAYER, and suggests what we ought to do for the salvation of those who are dear to us. Paul had made many a vain effort for the salvation of his countrymen; but after every effort failed, still he had recourse to prayer. The desire of his heart was not extinguished by the disappointment he met with.
1. This might serve as admonition to those whose hearts are set on the salvation of relatives or friends — to the mother who has watched and laboured for years that the good seed might have future in the hearts of her children, but does not find that this precious deposit has yet settled or had occupation there, etc., etc. Let them never forget, that what has heretofore been impracticable to performance may not be impracticable to prayer. With man it may be impossible; but with God all things are possible. That cause which has so oft been defeated and is now hopeless on the field of exertion, may on the field of prayer and of faith be triumphant. God willeth intercessions to be made for all men, and He willeth all men to be saved. These declarations place you on firm and high vantage-ground in praying for souls. This, however, is a matter on which parents may delude themselves. They may be glad to stand exonerated from the fatigues of performance, and take refuge in the formalities of prayer. That prayer never can avail which is not the prayer of honesty, and it is not the prayer of honesty if, even though you pray to the uttermost for the religion of others, you do not also perform to the uttermost.
(T. Chalmers, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.