James 4:1
What causes conflicts and quarrels among you? Don't they come from the passions at war within you?
Sermons
Aimless PrayingH. W. Beecher.James 4:1-3
Ask and HaveC. H. Spurgeon.James 4:1-3
Conditions of PrayerW. H. Hutchings, M. A.James 4:1-3
Contention in a CommunityT. Manton.James 4:1-3
DesireDr. Johnson,.James 4:1-3
Disappointed LustT. Manton.James 4:1-3
Foolish Prayers UnansweredJames 4:1-3
Hindrances to the Efficacy of Social PrayerC. Stanford, D. D.James 4:1-3
How Prayer May be Rendered UnavailingJ. A. M. Chapman, D. D.James 4:1-3
Little SinsTheodore Monod.James 4:1-3
Lusting and MurderDean Plumptre.James 4:1-3
Lusting, Yet LackingJ. Trapp.James 4:1-3
Lusts the Causes of StrifeA. Plummer, D. D.James 4:1-3
Men's Love of StrideJustin McCarthy.James 4:1-3
PeaceViedebandt.James 4:1-3
Petitionless PrayersJ. Hamilton, D. D.James 4:1-3
PrayerW. R. Inglis.James 4:1-3
Praying AmissT. Manton.James 4:1-3
Propriety of PrayerJames 4:1-3
Requisites of PrayerG. Carr.James 4:1-3
Serious Reflections on WarS. Davies, M. A.James 4:1-3
The Causes of Spiritual DestitutionD. Thomas.James 4:1-3
The Causes of Unsuccessful PrayerC. Stanford, D. D.James 4:1-3
The Dead-Prayer OfficeJames 4:1-3
The Missing PrayerJ. Harries.James 4:1-3
Thoughtful PrayerBaxendale's AnecdotesJames 4:1-3
WarJ. A. Hamilton.James 4:1-3
Warrior LustsC. F. Deems, D. D.James 4:1-3
Wars and Fighting -- Whence They ProceedJohn Adam.James 4:1-3
Wars and FightingsC. Jerdan James 4:1-3
Was the Picture True? -- ThereDean Plumptre.James 4:1-3
Wrong PrayingJ. ThemoreJames 4:1-3
Ye Ask, and Receive NotDean Plumptre.James 4:1-3
War or Peace?T.F. Lockyer James 4:1-10
Gazing upon the fair portraiture of the heavenly wisdom with which James 3. closes, we perhaps feel as if we could make tabernacles for ourselves in its peaceful presence, that we might continue always to contemplate its beauty. Immediately, however, James brings us down again from the holy mount into the quarrelsome and murderous world. He points us to the "wars" and "fightings" that rage throughout the human family. He returns to the "bitter jealousy and faction" that eat like a gangrene into the heart of the Christian Church. For the congregations which the apostles themselves formed were tainted with the same impurities which cling to the Church in our own time.

I. THE PREVALENCE OF STRIFE AMONG CHRISTIANS. (Ver. 1) In the believing communities of" the Dispersion" there were many elements of discord. The time was one of political agitation and of social turbulence. Within the Churches there were sometimes bitter theological disputes (James 3.). And in private life these Jewish Christians were largely giving themselves up to the besetting sin, not only of Hebrew nature, but of human nature; they struggled for material self-aggrandizement, and in doing so fell into violent mutual conflict. But do not quarrels and controversies of the same kind rage still? Christian nations go to war with one another. Employers and workmen array themselves against each other in hostile camps. Churches cherish within their bosoms the viper of sectarianism. Fellow-believers belonging to the same congregation cease to be on speaking terms with one another, and perhaps indulge in mutual backbiting. How sad to contemplate the long "wars" waged in hearts which should love as brethren, and to witness those outward "fightings" which are their inevitable outcome!

II. THE ORIGIN OF STRIFE. (Vers. 1, 2.) "Whence" comes it? asks James; and he appeals in his answer to the consciences of his readers. The source of strife is in the evil desires of the heart. Usually, it is true, all wars and fightings are traced no further than to some outward cause. One nation attacks another professedly to maintain the country's honor, or perhaps to rectify an unscientific frontier. Trade strikes and locks-out are to be explained by an unsatisfactory condition of the labor market. Ecclesiastical contentions are all alike justified by some assumed necessity in the interests of truth, and sometimes also by a misinterpretation of the words, "first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17). And the personal quarrels that break out among individual Christians are sure to be ascribed to severe and gratuitous provocation. But here, true to his character as the apostle of reality, James sweeps away these excuses as so many dusty cobwebs. He drags out into the blaze of gospel light the one true origin of strife. "Wars" and "fightings have their fountain within the soul, and not without. They come of your pleasures," i.e. of the cravings of your carnal hearts. it is royal pride, or the lust of power, or sometimes the mischievous impatience of an idle army, that "lets slip the dogs of war" between nations. It is avarice and envy that foment the social strife between capital and labor. It is the spirit of Diotrephes that produces the evils of sectarianism. It is the wild and selfish passions of the natural heart that stir up the animosities and conflicts of private life. These passions "war in your members;" issuing from the citadel of "Mansoul," they pitch their camp in the organs of sense and action. There they not only "war against' the regenerated nature (1 Peter 2:11), and against one another, but against one's neighbor, - clamouring for gratification at the expense of his rights and his welfare. This truth is further expanded in ver. 2, and in a way which recalls James 1:14, 15; or which suggests the analysis of sin given by Thomas a Kempis: "Primo occurrit menti simplex cogitatio; deinde fortis imaginatio; postea delectatio et motus pravus et assensio." The first stage is that of unreasonably desiring something which we have not. The second is that of murderously envying those whose possessions we covet - cherishing such feelings as David did towards Uriah the Hittite, or Ahab towards Naboth. The third stage is that of open contention and discord - "ye fight and war." But common to all the stages is the consciousness of want; and at the end of each, as ver. 2 reminds us, this consciousness becomes further intensified. Ye "have not;" "cannot obtain;" "ye have not," - even after all your fierce strivings. The war-spirit, therefore, is generated by that unrest of the soul which only the God of peace can remove. It has its source in that devouring hunger of the heart which only the bread of God can appease. And to cure it we must ascertain what the great nature of man needs, in order to make him restful and happy.

III. THE REMEDY FOR STRIFE. (Vers. 2, 3.) It lies in prayer. If we would have our nature restored to restfulness, we must realize our dependence upon God. To struggle after the world in our own strength will tend only to foster the war-spirit within us. Perhaps we have not hitherto directly consulted the Lord about our worldly affairs. If not, let us begin to do so now. Or perhaps we have "asked amiss," in praying chiefly for what would gratify only the lower elements of our nature, or requesting blessings with a view to certain uses of them which would not bear to be mentioned before his throne. We cannot e.g. expect God to answer the prayer that our worldly business may prosper, if we secretly resolve to employ what success he sends in catering for self glorification. The things that we ask must be what we need for the Lord's service; and we must honestly purpose so to use them. The cultivation of the true spirit of devotion is the way to contentment with our lot in life. We shall secure peace among the powers and passions of the heart, if we "seek first our Father's kingdom and his righteousness." Regular soul-converse with God will exorcise the demons of discord, and call into exercise the gracious affections of faith, submission, gratitude, and peace.

LESSONS.

1. The wickedness of the war-spirit.

2. The defilement and degradation which result from allowing selfish motives to govern the heart.

3. The blessedness of making God our Portion, and of resting contented with our allotted share of temporal good.

4. The duty of forgiving our enemies, and of promoting peace in the Church and in society. - C.J.







From whence come wars and fightings?
I. THE QUESTION PROPOSED (ver. 1). We have no very particular information as to the nature of these contests, the parties by whom they were waged, or the matters to which they related. Able interpreters have connected them with the civil, political conflicts which agitated the Jewish people at this period of their history, and prepared the way for the memorable destruction which soon came on them at the hands of the victorious Romans. But it would appear, from what is added, that they were rather struggles about ordinary temporal affairs — about influence, reputation, position, and especially property, money, gains — what more than once the apostle calls "filthy lucre." What they sought was prosperity of that earthly kind; and all striving to secure it they got into collision — they envied, jostled, assailed, injured one another. Alas! this state of things has not been confined to the early age, nor to Jewish converts. What wars and fightings still among the members of the Church! Oh, what controversies and contentions! What angry passions, bitter rivalries, furious contests among the professed disciples of the same Master, the adherents of that gospel which is all animated with love, and pregnant with peace!

II. THE ANSWER GIVEN.

1. The prevalence of lust. And what were these lusts? Just those which are most characteristic of human nature as fallen, and the working of which we see continually around us in the world. There was pride, a high, inordinate opinion of themselves, of their own merits and claims, leading them to aim at sell-exaltation, at authority, pre-eminence — envy, grudging at the prosperity of others, prompting efforts to pull them down and climb into their places — avarice, covetousness, the love of money, the desire to be rich, stirring up all kinds of evil passions, and giving rise to crooked designs and plots of every description. These and such like are always the true cause of our wars and fightings. No doubt the world allures, the devil tempts — no doubt there are many incitements and influences at work all around by which Christians are more or less affected. But what gives them their power? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." It is thronged with lusts, it is inflammable, and hence the spark falling on it is enough to wrap it in the flames of devouring passion. "Which war in your members." These are the bodily organs, and also the mental faculties, especially the former. The lusts are attached to them, connected with them, as the instruments by which they work, through which they come into active and open manifestation. "Ye lust, and have not" — have not what you so strongly and irregularly desire. Hew often are those who give way to such covetous cravings doomed to bitter disappointment! What the parties had not in this instance were those worldly gains and other advantages on which their hearts were set, and for which they strained and struggled. We have now a farther step, and a terrible one, taken under the influence of this lust. "Ye kill, and desire to have." Ye kill — that is, ye murder." It is possible to kill in other ways than by dealing a fatal blow, giving the poisonous draught, or committing any deed by which a charge of murder could be substantiated. By envious rivalries and bitter animosities by false accusations and cruel persecutions — we may wound the spirit, weaken the strength, and shorten the days of our fellow creatures. We may as truly take away the life as if we used some lethal weapon for the purpose. "And desire to have" — desire in an eager, even an envious manner, as the words signifies; for this was what dictated the murder spoken of, and, remaining after its perpetration, sought, through the medium of it, the coveted object or pleasure. "And cannot obtain." No; not even after employing such dreadful means for the purpose. Ye get not the satisfaction ye craved and expected — often not so much as the thing in which ye looked for that satisfaction. How frequently does this happen! Under the influence of insatiable cravings, men silence the voice of conscience, set at nought the restraints of law, trample on honour, principle, life itself; and, after all, either miss what they dare and sacrifice so much for, or get it only to find that what they imagined would be sweet, is utterly insipid, if not intensely bitter. They lose their pains; their killing, while a crime, proves also a mistake.

2. The neglect or abuse of prayer. They sought not from God the blessings they were so anxious to obtain. Had they taken their requests to God a twofold result would have ensued. Their immoderate desires had been checked, abated — the bringing of them into contact with His holy presence must have had a rectifying influence. Then, so far as lawful, as for their own good and the Divine glory, their petition had been granted. Thus their wars and fightings would have been prevented, their evil tendencies would have been repressed, and the disastrous effects they produced have been prevented. But some might repel the charge and say, "We do ask." The apostle anticipates such a defence, and so proceeds, "Ye ask and receive not." How does that happen? Does it not contradict the explanation of the not having which had now been presented? Does it not run directly in opposition to the Lord's express promise, "Ask, and ye shall receive"? No; for he adds, assigning the reason of the failure — "Because ye ask amiss," badly, with evil intent. Ye do it in a spirit and for a purpose that are not good, but evil. It is not forbidden to seek temporal gains; but they did it not to apply them to proper objects, but to expend them in selfish, if not impure gratifications. Nothing is more common. Why, we may even plead for spiritual blessings in the same manner. We may supplicate wisdom, not to glorify God by it, but to exalt ourselves — not to benefit our brethren by it, but to make it conduce to our own pride and importance. We may ask pardon merely for the safety it involves, for the comfort it brings, from a regard to ease and enjoyment, and not to any higher and holier purpose. We may make grace the minister of sin, and value it for the release from restraint — the liberty to live as we please which it is supposed to confer. Of course, such prayers are not answered. They are an insult to the Majesty of heaven. They are a profanation of the Holiest.

(John Adam.)

I. This subject naturally leads us to reflect upon THE FALLEN, DEGENERATE STATE OF HUMAN NATURE. What is this world but a field of battle? What is the history of nations, from their first rise to the present day, but a tragical story of contests, struggles for dominion, encroachments upon the possessions of others?

II. This subject may naturally lead us to reflect upon THE JUST RESENTSIENTS OF GOD AGAINST THE SIN OF MAN. As innocent creatures, under the influence of universal benevolence, would not injure one another, or fly to war, so God would not suffer the calamities of war to fall upon them because they would not deserve it. But alas! mankind have revolted from God, and He employs them to avenge His quarrel and do the part of executioners upon one another.

III. The consideration of war, as proceeding from the lusts of men, may excite us to THE MOST ZEALOUS ENDEAVOURS, IN OUR RESPECTIVE CHARACTERS, TO PROMOTE A REFORMATION. Let our lives be a loud testimony against the wickedness of the times; and a living recommendation of despised religion.

IV. The consideration of war as proceeding from the lusts of men, may make us sensible of our NEED OF AN OUTPOURING OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT. Love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, are mentioned by St. Paul as the fruit of the Spirit, because the Spirit alone is the author of them. And if these dispositions were predominant in the world, what a calm, pacific region would it be, undisturbed with the hurricanes of human passions.

V. The consideration of the present commotions among the kingdoms of the world may CARRY OUR THOUGHTS FORWARD to that happy period which our religion teaches us to hope for, when the kingdom of Christ, the Prince of Peace, shall be extended over the world, and His benign, pacific religion shall be propagated among all nations. Conclusion:

1. "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God."

2. "Pray without ceasing."

(S. Davies, M. A.)

1. Lust is the makebait in a community. Covetousness, pride, and ambition make men injurious and insolent.(1) Covetousness maketh us to contend with those that have anything that we covet, as Ahab with Naboth.(2) Pride is the cockatrice egg that discloseth the fiery flying serpent (Proverbs 13:10).(3) Ambition. Diotrephes' loving the pre-eminence disturbed the Churches of Asia (3 John 1:10).(4) Envy. Abraham and Lot's herdsmen fell out (Genesis 13:7).

2. When evils abound in a place it is good to look after the rise and cause of them. Men engage in a heat, and do not know wherefore: usually lust is at the bottom; the sight of the cause will shame us.

3. Lust is a tyrant that warreth in the soul, and warreth against the soul.(1) It warreth in the soul; it abuseth your affections, to carry on the rebellion against heaven (Galatians 5:17).(2) It warreth against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).

(T. Manton.)

"Wars" and "fightings" are not to be understood literally. St. James is referring to private quarrels and law-suits, social rivalries and factions, and religious controversies. The subject-matter of these disputes and contentions is not indicated because that is not what is denounced. It is not for having differences about this or that, whether rights of property, or posts of honour, or ecclesiastical questions, that St. James rebukes them, but for the rancorous, greedy, and worldly spirit in which their disputes are conducted. Evidently the lust of possession is among the things which produce the contentions. Jewish appetite for wealth is at work among them. "Whence wars, and whence fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your pleasures which war in your members?" By a common transposition, St. James, in answering his own question, puts the pleasures which excite and gratify the lusts instead of the lusts themselves, in much the same way as we use "drink" for intemperance, and "gold" for avarice. These lusts for pleasures have their quarters or camp in the members of our body — i.e., in the sensual part of man's nature. But they are there, not to rest, but to make war, to go after, and seize, and take for a prey that which has roused them from their quietude and set them in motion. There the picture, as drawn by St. James, ends. St. Paul carries it a stage farther (Romans 7:23). St. Paul does the same (1 Peter 2:11). In the Phaedo of Plato (66, 67) there is a beautiful passage which presents some striking coincidences with the words of St. James. "Wars, and factions, and fightings have no other source than the body and its lusts. For it is for the getting of wealth that all our wars arise, and we are compelled to get wealth because of our body, to whose service we are slaves; and in consequence we have no leisure for philosophy because of all these things. And the worst of all is that if we get any leisure from it, and turn to some question, in the midst of our inquiries the body is everywhere coming in, introducing turmoil and confusion, and bewildering us, so that by it we are prevented from seeing the truth. But, indeed, it has been proved to us that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything we must get rid of the body, and with the soul by itself must behold things by themselves. Then, it would seem, we shall obtain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers; when we are dead, as the argument shows, but in this life not. For if it be impossible while we are in the body to have pure knowledge of anything, then of two things one — either knowledge is not to be obtained at all, or after we are dead; for then the soul will be by itself, apart from the body, but before that not. And in this life, it would seem, we shall make the nearest approach to knowledge if we have no communication or fellowship whatever with the body, beyond what necessity compels, and are not filled with its nature, but remain pure from its taint until God Himself shall set us free. And in this way shall we be pure, being delivered from the foolishness of the body, and shall be with other like souls, and shall know of ourselves all that is clear and cloudless, and that is perhaps all one with the truth." Plato and St. James are entirely agreed in holding that wars and fightings are caused by the lusts that have their seat in the body, and that this condition of fightings without, and lusts within, is quite incompatible with the possession of heavenly wisdom. But there the agreement between them ceases. The conclusion which Plato arrives at is that the philosopher must, so far as is possible, neglect and excommunicate his body, as an intolerable source of corruption, yearning for the time when death shall set him free from the burden of waiting upon this obstacle between his soul and the truth. Plato has no idea that the body may be sanctified here and glorified hereafter; he regards it simply as a necessary evil, which may be minimised by watchfulness, but which can in no way be turned into a blessing. The blessing will come when the body is annihilated by death. St. James, on the contrary, exhorts us to cut ourselves off, not from the body, but from friendship with the world. Even in this life the wisdom that is from above is attainable, and where that has found a home factions and fightings cease. When the passions cease to war those who have hitherto been swayed by their passions will cease to war also.

(A. Plummer, D. D.)

The word translated "lusts" is used to express the pleasure of the senses, and hence sometimes signifies strong desire for such gratification. In this picturesque sentence, these are represented as warriors spreading themselves through "the members," seizing the body as the instrument for the accomplishing of their designs and the gaining of their ends. It is the desire for greater territories, larger incomes, more splendour, wider indulgence in physical pleasures, greater gratification of their pride and ambition, which lead kings to war. Every war has begun in sin. It is so in religious circles. The pride of opinion, the love of rule, the enjoyment of more renown for numbers and wealth and influence, have led sects and Churches into all the persecution and so-called religious wars which have disgraced the cause of truth, and discouraged the aspirations of the good, and increased the infidelity of the world.

(C. F. Deems, D. D.)

But is there nothing to be said in favour of war? There is one thing often said of it — namely, that, in spite of its horror, and folly, and wickedness, it evokes courage, magnanimity, heroism, self-sacrifice. There has been much eloquence expended on this theme; but good Dr. Johnson said all that was necessary on the matter long ago. Boswell writes: "Dr. Johnson laughed at Lord Kames's opinion that war was a good thing occasionally, as so much valour and virtue were exhibited in it. 'A fire,' said the Doctor, 'might as well be considered a good thing. There are the bravery and address of the firemen in extinguishing it; there is much humanity exerted in saving the lives and properties of the poor sufferers. Yet, after all this, who can say that a fire is a good thing?'" But what is the Christian principle about war? For our religion, if it is good for anything, must be good for everything; it must have an authoritative word on this matter. Murder is not less murder because a man puts on a red coat to do it in; it is not less murder because a thousand go out to do it together. There are no earthly orders which may countermand the commandment of God. In the first two centuries of the Christian Church this was so well understood that Celsus, in his attack upon Christianity, says "that the State received no help in war from the Christians, and that, if all men were to follow their example, the sovereign would be deserted and the world would fall into the hands of the barbarians." To which answered as follows: — "The question is — What would happen if the Romans should be persuaded to adopt the principles of the Christians?... This is my answer — We say that if two of us shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by the Father who is in heaven. What, then, are we to expect, if not only a very few should agree, as at present, but the whole empire of Rome? They would pray to the Word, who of old said to the Hebrews, when pursued by the Egyptians, 'The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.'" What Origen and other great teachers said many Christians heeded, and there were men who refused to enter the army, although the penalty of their refusal was death. The Quaker-like sentiment and principle of the Church was changed when the Church was established and protected by Constantine, and from various causes, into which we need not enter, since the discussion would have a somewhat academic tinge, and we are concerned with a practical question. In the Middle Ages soldiering became more reputable than ever through the rise of the Mohammedan power and the institution of chivalry. And for all practical purposes Christendom is still unchristian so far as war is concerned. That is true in spite of all the understandings about the illegitimacy of certain materials and methods, in spite of all the hospital staff and the nurses, and the other efforts to palliate the horrors of sweeping and scientific murder.

(J. A. Hamilton.)

Lord Palmerston, in a short letter to Mr. Cobden, said, "Man is a fighting and quarrelling animal."

(Justin McCarthy.)

Peace among men is the consequence of peace in men.

(Viedebandt.)

Desires increase with acquisition; every step a man advances brings something within his view which he did not see before, and which, as soon as he sees it he begins to want. Where necessity ends, curiosity begins; and no sooner are we supplied with everything that nature can demand than we contrive artificial appetites.

(Dr. Johnson,.)

Ye lust and have not.
1. Lustings are astrally disappointed. God loveth to cross desires when they are inordinate; His hand is straitened when our desires are enlarged.(1) Sometimes in mercy (Hosea 2:7). Prosperous and successful wickedness encourageth a man to go on in that way; some rubs are an advantage.(2) Sometimes in judgment, that He may torment men by their own lusts; their desires prove their just torture. The blood heated by intemperance, and the heart enlarged by desire, are both of them sins that bring with them their own punishment, especially when they meet with disappointment. Learn, then, that when the heart is too much set upon anything, it is the ready way to miss it. When you forget to subject your desires to God's will, you shall understand the sovereignty of it. Be not always troubled when you cannot have your will; you have cause to bless God. It is a mercy when carnal desires are disappointed; say as David (1 Samuel 25:32). It teacheth you what reflections to make upon yourselves in case of disappointment. When we miss any worldly thing that we have desired, say, Have not I lusted after this? Did not I covet it too earnestly? Absalom was the greater curse to David because he loved him too much. Inordinate longings make the affections miscarry.

2. Where there is covetousness there is usually strife, envy, and emulation. Ye lust; ye kill; ye emulate — these hang in a string. As there is a connection and a cognation between virtues and graces — they go hand in hand — so there is a link between sins — they seldom go alone. If a man be a drunkard, he will be a wanton; if he be covetous, he will be envious.

3. It is lust and covetousness that is most apt to trouble neighbourhoods and vicinities (Proverbs 15:27). Covetousness maketh men of such a harsh and sour disposition. Towards God it is idolatry; it robbeth Him of one of the flowers of His crown, the trust of the creature; and it is the bane of human societies. Why are men's hearts besotted with that which is even the reproach and defamation of their natures?

4. Lust will put men not only upon dishonest endeavours, but unlawful means, to accomplish their ends, killing, and warring, and fighting, etc. Bad means will suit well enough with base ends; they resolve to have it; any means will serve the turn, so they may satisfy their thirst of gain (1 Timothy 6:9).

5. Do wicked men what they can, when God setteth against them their endeavours are frustrated (Psalm 33:10).

6. It is not good to engage in any undertaking without prayer. That no actions must be taken in hand but such as we can commend to God in prayer; such enterprises we must not engage in as we dare not communicate to God in our supplications (Isaiah 29:15).

(T. Manton.)

If we remember the state of Jewish society, the bands of robber-outlaws, of whom Barabbas was a type, the "four thousand men who were murderers" of Acts 21:38, the bands of zealots and Sicarii who were prominent in the tumults that preceded the final war with Rome, it will not seem so startling that St. James should emphasise his warning by beginning with the words "Ye murder." In such a state of society murder is often the first thing that a man thinks of as a means to gratify his desires, not, as with us, a last resource when other means have failed.

(Dean Plumptre.)

was, perhaps, a grim truth in the picture which St. James draws. It was after the deed was done that the murderers began to quarrel over the division of the spoil, and found themselves as unsatisfied as before, still not able to obtain that on which they had set their hearts, and so plunging into fresh quarrels, ending as they began, in bloodshed.

(Dean Plumptre.)

There is no sowing in a storm.

(J. Trapp.)

Ye have not, because ye ask not.
I. THE CAUSE IS SOMETIMES NON-ASKING. There are some blessings that God gives without asking — such as being, faculties, seasons, elements of nature, &c.; others that He gives only for asking — spiritual blessings.

1. What does prayer do?

(1)It effects no alteration in the plan of God.

(2)It cannot inform the Almighty of anything of which tie was before ignorant.

(3)It does not give a claim to the Divine favours.

2. But —

(1)It does fulfil a condition of Divine beneficence.

(2)It does bring the mind into vital contact with its Maker.

(3)It does deepen our sense of dependence upon God.

(4)It does fill the soul with the idea of mediation; for all prayer is "in the name of Christ."

II. THE CAUSE IS SECRETARIES WRONG ASKING.

1. TO pray insincerely is to pray amiss.

2. Without earnestness.

3. Without faith.

4. Without surrendering our being to God.

(D. Thomas.)

Man is a creature abounding in wants, and ever restless, and hence his heart is full of desires. Man is comparable to the sea anemone, with its multitude of tentacles which are always hunting in the water for food; or like certain plants which send out tendrils, seeking after the means of climbing. The poet says, "Man never is, but always to be, blest." This fact appertains both to the worst and the best of men. In bad men desires corrupt into lusts: they long after that which is selfish, sensual, and consequently evil. In gracious men there are desires also. Their desires are after the best things-things pure and peaceable, laudable and elevating. They desire God's glory, and hence their desires spring from higher motives than those which inflame the unrenewed mind. Such desires in Christian men are frequently very fervent and forcible; they ought always to be so; and those desires begotten of the Spirit of God stir the renewed nature, exciting and stimulating it, and making the man to groan and to be in anguish until he can attain that which God has taught him to long for. The lusting of the wicked and the holy desiring of the righteous have their own ways of seeking gratification. The lusting of the wicked develops itself in contention; it kills, and desires to have; it fights, and it wars; while, on the other hand, the desire of the righteous, when rightly guided, betakes itself to a far better course for achieving its purpose, for it expresses itself in prayer fervent and importunate. The godly man, when full of desire, asks and receives at the hand of God.

I. THE POVERTY OF LUSTING. "Ye lust, and have not." Carnal lustings, however strong they may be, do not in many cases obtain that which they seek after. The man longs to be happy, but he is not; he pines to be great, but he grows meaner every day; he aspires after this and after that which he thinks will content him, but he is still unsatisfied; he is like the troubled sea which cannot rest. One way or another his life is disappointment; he labours as in the very fire, but the result is vanity and vexation of spirit. How can it be otherwise? If we sow the wind, must we not reap the whirlwind, and nothing else? Or, if peradventure the strong lustings of an active, talented, persevering man do give him what he seeks after, yet how soon he loses it. The pursuit is toilsome, but the possession is a dream. He sits down to eat, and lo! the feast is snatched away, the cup vanishes when it is at his lip. He wins to lose; he builds, and his sandy foundation slips from under his tower, and it lies in ruins. Or if such men have gifts and power enough to retain that which they have won, yet in another sense they have it not while they have it, for the pleasure which they looked for in it is not there. They pluck the apple, and it turns out to be one of those Dead Sea apples which crumble to ashes in the hand. The man is rich, but God takes away from him the power to enjoy his wealth. By his lustings and his warrings, the licentious man at last obtains the object of his cravings, and after a moment's gratification, he loathes that which he so passionately lusted for. Thus may it be said of multitudes of the sons of men, "Ye lust, and have not." Their poverty is set forth in a threefold manner — "Ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain"; "Ye have not, because ye ask not"; "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss." If the lusters fail, it is not because they did not set to work to gain their ends; for, according to their nature, they used the most practical means within their reach, and used them eagerly, too. Multitudes of men are living for themselves, competing here and warring there, fighting for their own ]land with the utmost perseverance. They have little choice as to how they will do it. Conscience is not allowed to interfere in their transactions, but the old advice rings in their ears, "Get money; get money honestly if you can, but by any means get money." No matter though body and soul be ruined, and others be deluged with misery, fight on, for there is no discharge in this war. If you are to win you must fight; and everything is fair in war. So they muster their forces, they struggle with their fellows, they make the battle of life hotter and hotter, they banish love, and brand tenderness as folly, and yet with all their schemes they obtain not the end of life in any true sense. Well saith James, "Ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not." When men who are greatly set upon their selfish purposes do not succeed, they may possibly hear that the reason of their non-success is "Because ye ask not." Is, then, success to be achieved by asking? So the text seems to hint, and so the righteous find it. Why doth not this man of intense desires take to asking? The reason is, first, because it is unnatural to the natural man to pray; as well expect him to fly. God-reliance he does not understand; self-reliance is his word. bell is his god, and to his god he looks for success. He is so proud that he reckons himself to be his own providence; his own right hand and his active arm shall get to him the victory. Yet he obtains not. The whole history of mankind shows the failure of evil lustings to obtain their object. For a while the carnal man goes on fighting and warring; but by and by he changes his mind, for he is ill, or frightened. His purpose is the same, but if it cannot be achieved one way he will try another. If he must ask, well, he will ask; he will become religious, and do good to himself in that way. He finds that some religious people prosper in the world, and that even sincere Christians are by no means fools in business; and, therefore, he will try their plan. And now he comes under the third censure of our text. "Ye ask, and receive not." What is the reason why the man who is the slave of his lusts obtains not his desire, even when he takes to asking? The reason is because his asking is a mere matter of form, his heart is not in his worship. This man's prayer is asking amiss, because it is entirely for himself. He wants to prosper that he may enjoy himself; he wants to be great simply that he may be admired: his prayer begins and ends with self. Look at the indecency of such a prayer, even if it be sincere. When a man so prays he asks God to be his servant, and gratify his desires; nay, worse than that, he wants God to join him in the service of his lusts. He will gratify his lusts, and God shall come and help him to do it. Such prayer is blasphemous; but a large quantity is offered, and it must be one of the most God-provoking things that heaven ever beholds.

II. How CHRISTIAN CHURCHES MAY SUFFER SPIRITUAL POVERTY, SO that they, too, "desire to have, and cannot obtain." Of course the Christian seeks higher things than the worldling, else were he not worthy of that name at all. At least professedly his object is to obtain the true riches, and to glorify God in spirit and in truth. Yes, but all Churches do not get what they desire. We have to complain, not here and there, but in many places, of Churches that are nearly asleep and are gradually declining. These Churches "have not," for no truth is made prevalent through their zeal, no sin is smitten, no holiness promoted; nothing is done by which God is glorified. And what is the reason of it? First, even among professed Christians, there may be the pursuit of desirable things in a wrong method. "Ye fight and war, yet ye have not." Have not Churches thought to prosper by competing with other Churches? Is it not the design of many to succeed by a finer building, better music, and a cleverer ministry than others? Is it not as much a matter of competition as a shop front and a dressed window are with drapers? Is this the way by which the Kingdom of God is to grow up among us? In some cases there is a measure of bitterness in the rivalry. I bring no railing accusation, and, therefore, say no more than this: God will never bless such means and such a spirit; those who give way to them will desire to have, but never obtain. Meanwhile, what is the reason why they do not have a blessing? The text says, "Because ye ask not"; I am afraid there are Churches which do not ask. Prayer in all forms is too much neglected. But some reply, "There are prayer-meetings, and we do ask for the blessing, and yet it comes not." Is not the explanation to be found in the other part of the text, "Ye have not, because ye ask amiss"? He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire, if there is no fire in our prayers. Many prayers fail of their errand because there is no faith in them. Prayers which are filled with doubt are requests for refusal.

III. THE WEALTH WHICH AWAITS THE USE OF THE RIGHT MEANS, namely, of asking rightly of God.

1. How very small, after all, is this demand which God makes of us. Ask! Why, it is the least thing He can possibly expect of us, and it is no more than we ordinarily require of those who need help from us. We expect a poor man to ask; and if he does not, we lay the blame of his lack upon himself. If God will give for the asking, and we remain poor, who is to blame? Surely there must be in our hearts a lurking enmity to Him; or else, instead of its being an unwelcome necessity, it would be regarded as a great delight.

2. However, whether we like it or not, remember, asking is the rule of the kingdom. "Ask, and ye shall receive." It is a rule that never will be altered in anybody's case. Why should it be? What reason can be pleaded why we should be exempted from prayer? What argument can there be why we should be deprived of the privilege and delivered from the necessity of supplication?

3. Moreover, it is clear to even the most shallow thinker that there are some things necessary for the Church of God which we cannot get otherwise than by prayer. You can buy all sorts of ecclesiastical furniture, you can purchase any kind of paint, brass, muslin, blue, scarlet, and fine linen, together with flutes, harps, sackbuts, psalteries, and all kinds of music — you can get these without prayer; in fact, it would be an impertinence to pray about such rubbish; but you cannot get the Holy Ghost without prayer. Neither can you get communion with God without prayer. He that will not pray cannot have communion with God. Yet more, there is no real spiritual communion of the Church with its own members when prayer is suspended. Prayer must be in action, or else those blessings which are vitally essentially to the success of the Church can never come to it. Prayer is the great door of spiritual blessing, and if you close it you shut out the favour.

4. Do you not think that this asking which God requires is a very great privilege? Suppose we were in our spiritual nature full of strong desires, and yet dumb as to the tongue of prayer, methinks it would be one of the direst afflictions that could possibly befall us; we should be terribly maimed and dismembered, and our agony would be overwhelming. Blessed be His name, the Lord ordains a way of utterance, and bids our hearts speak out to Him.

5. We must pray: it seems to me that it ought to be the first thing we ever think of doing when in need.

6. Alas! according to Scripture and observation, and, I grieve to add, according to experience, prayer is often the last thing. God is sought unto when we are driven into a corner and ready to perish. And what a mercy it is that He hears such laggard prayers, and delivers the suppliants out of their troubles.

7. Do you know what great things are to be had for the asking? Have you ever thought of it? Does it not stimulate you to pray fervently? All heaven lies before the grasp of the asking man; all the promises of God are rich and inexhaustible, and their fulfilment is to be had by prayer.

8. I will mention another proof that ought to make us pray, and that is, that if we ask, God will give to us much more than we ask. Abraham asked of God that Ishmael might live before him. He thought, "Surely, this is the promised seed: I cannot expect that Sarah will bear a child in her old age. God has promised me a seed, and surely it must be this child of Hagar. Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!" God granted him that, but He gave him Isaac as well, and all the blessings of the covenant. There is Jacob; he kneels down to pray, and asks the Lord to give him bread to eat and raiment to put on. But what did his God give him? When tie came back to Bethel he had two bands, thousands of sheep and camels, and much wealth. God had heard him and done exceeding abundantly above what he asked. "Well," say you, "but is that true of New Testament prayers?" Yes, it is so with the New Testament pleaders, whether saints or sinners. They brought a man to Christ sick of the palsy, and asked Him to heal him; and He said, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." He had not asked that, had he? No; but God gives greater things than we ask for. Hear that poor, dying thief's humble prayer: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." Jesus replies, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Suppose that a man takes up his pen and a piece of parchment, and writes on the top of it, "To the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.: the humble petition of So-and-So"; but there he stops. He sits with the pen in his hand for half an hour, but does not add another word, then rises and goes his way. And he repeats this process day after day — beginning a hundred sheets of paper, but putting into them no express request; sometimes, perhaps, scratching down a few sentences which nobody can read, not even himself, but never plainly and deliberately setting down what it is that he desires. Can he wonder that his blank petition and scribbled parchments have no sensible effect on himself nor on any one besides? And has he any right to say, "I wonder what can be the matter. Other people get answers to their petitions, but I am not aware that the slightest notice has ever been taken of one of mine. I am not conscious of having got a single favour, or being a whir the better for all that I have written"? Could you expect it? When did you ever finish a petition? When did you ever despatch and forward one to the feet of Majesty? And so there are many persons who pass their days inditing blank petitions — or rather petitionless forms of prayer.

(J. Hamilton, D. D.)

A gentleman of fine social qualities, always ready to make liberal provision for the gratification of his children, a man of science, and a moralist of the strictest school, was sceptical in regard to prayer, thinking it superfluous to ask God for what nature had already furnished ready to hand. His eldest son became a disciple of Christ. The father, while recognising a happy change in the spirit and deportment of the youth, still harped upon his old objection to prayer, as unphilosophical and unnecessary. "I remember," said the son, "that I once made free use of your pictures, specimens, and instruments for the entertainment of my friends. When you came home you said to me, ' All that I have belongs to my children, and I have provided it on purpose for them; still, I think it would be respectful always to ask your father before taking anything.' And so," added the son, "although God has provided everything for me, I think it is respectful to ask Him, and to thank Him for what I use." The sceptic was silent; but he has since admitted that he has never been able to invent an answer to this simple, personal, sensible argument for prayer.

Ye ask amiss.
Prayer is the nearest approach that, in our present state, we can make to the Deity. To neglect or shun this duty is to shun all approaches to God.

I. ATTENTION AND FERVENCY are principally requisite to render our prayers acceptable to God and beneficial to ourselves. It is not the service of the lips, it is the homage of the mind which God regards. He sees and approves even the silent devotions of the heart.

II. PERSEVERANCE is another condition upon which depends the success of our prayers.

III. HUMILITY AND SUBMISSION to the Divine will are necessary conditions of our prayers.

1. Humility, because of His infinite greatness and majesty.

2. Submission to His all-wise will, because of our own ignorance.

IV. Our prayers to God ought to be accompanied with A TRUST AND CONFIDENCE in His goodness; a confidence that composes our fears, and sets us above all despondency.

V. INTEGRITY OF HEART, without which we have reason to apprehend that God will be as regardless of our supplications as we have been of His commandments.

(G. Carr.)

I. THE PROMISE GIVEN TO PRAYER IS CONDITIONAL, AND NOT ABSOLUTE, AS TOUCHING THE THING WHICH IS PRAYED FOR; and therefore we may fail in gaining an answer to prayer in consequence of praying for that which is wrong in itself, or which would be fraught with danger to its possessor. Prayer is not a power entrusted to us, like that of free will, which we may exert for good or evil, for weal or woe; it must be used for good, either present or ultimate. What we pray for, it must be consistent with the Divine perfections to grant. To pray to a Holy God for the fulfilment of some evil desire, and to suppose that He will grant our petition, is to degrade God in a way which He Himself has denounced — "Thou thoughtest wickedly, that I am even such a one as thyself," and to make Him "serve with" us in our "sins." Having seen what we may not pray for, consider what are legitimate subjects for petition. The good things which are given to us by God are either spiritual or temporal; under the former are included our salvation and perfection, and all the means which directly lead to and insure those results — e.g., pardon for sin, strength against temptation, final perseverance; under the latter, "all the blessings of this life." We will take temporal goods first, and spiritual after, reversing the order of importance. Attached to every prayer for temporal things, then, there must be understood or expressed the clause "as may be most expedient for" us, until we know the will of God concerning the thing we are asking from Him. Spiritual goods differ from the former in two great respects. They must be sought primarily, and prayers for them need not be guarded by any implied or expressed condition.

II. THAT THE STATE OF THE PERSON WHO ASKS A BENEFIT IS A MATTER OF CONSEQUENCE may be learnt by analogy from the influence which it possesses with our fellow-men when prayers are addressed to them. We are much affected by the relation of the petitioner to us in granting a favour. To be in a state of grace, to have the privilege of the adopted child, then, is a ground of acceptance with God; whilst, on the other hand, if the heart is set on sin, and has no covenanted relation with God, however right the thing asked for may be, the prayer may be of no avail. Prayer unites the soul to God, but we cannot conceive of that union, unless there is some likeness between the terms of it, "for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" St. illustrates this truth in the following manner: The fountain, he says, which ceaselessly pours forth its waters will not fill the vessel which has no mouth, or which is inverted, or which is held on one side. In the same way, God is the Fount of all goods, and desires to impart His gifts to all, but we fail to receive them, because our heart is closed against Him, or turned away from Him, or but half-converted towards Him. Whilst the heart is set on earthly possessions, or bent on sin, or has a lingering love for sinful pleasure, it is incapable of receiving and retaining the gifts of God; but to the heart that is whole with Him, He will give out of His fulness.

III. THERE ARE CERTAIN CONDITIONS WHICH OUGHT TO ACCOMPANY THE ACT OF PRAYING, IN ORDER TO ENSURE SUCCESS. Prayer is a momentous action, and must therefore be performed in a becoming manner; and a defect in this respect, though the thing prayed for be right, and the soul that prayed be in a state of grace, may hinder the accomplishment of its petitions.

1. The first of these conditions is faith. "If faith fails," says St. Augustine, "prayer perishes." It must be observed, that the faith which should accompany an act of prayer is of a special kind; it does not consist in the acknowledgment of the Unseen, or in the acceptance of revealed truth generally, but has direct reference to the promises of God which concern prayer. Yet it must not be supposed that, in order to pray acceptably, we must always feel quite certain of obtaining our requests; we must feel quite certain that, as far as God is concerned, He has the power to hear and answer prayer, and that He uses it as an instrument of His providence, but that in temporal things, at least, inasmuch as the bestowal of what we ask may not be expedient for us, therefore absolute certainty of gaining it may not be entertained.

2. Another disposition for praying aright, and one which touches so closely on the first as to render its separate treatment a difficulty, is to be found in the exercise of hope. We must not unduly dwell either upon the magnitude of the thing asked, or the unlikelihood of its bestowal, or our unworthiness to receive it, but rather turn to the merits of our Mediator, "in whom," St. Paul says, "we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him"; and to the Fatherhood of God, as our Lord Himself, in the prayer which He has given us for a model, has directed — that this second disposition for praying acceptably may be elicited and sustained. But this confidence must be flanked by another virtue, to hinder it from excess.

3. Though it be true that "the prayer of the timid does not reach the heavens," it is also to be remembered that the prayer of the presumptuous only reaches heaven to be beaten back to earth. Confidence must be held in check by lowliness.

4. There is one disposition more which is necessary, if we would secure the force of prayer — perseverance. God promises to answer prayer, but He does not bind Himself to answer it at the time we think best. There are reasons for delay, some doubtless inscrutable, but others which are in some degree within the reach of our comprehension. Delay may be occasioned by the fact that our dispositions need to be ripened before, according to the Divine Providence, an answer to prayer can be granted; or, again, another time may be better for us to receive the benefit for which we have besought God; or, again, some past sin may for a while suspend the Divine favours, or make them more difficult of attainment, as a needful discipline; or the delay may be for the purpose of heightening our sense of the benefit, when granted, and increasing our gratification in the enjoyment of it. Moreover, the struggle itself in perseveringly pressing upon God our petitions, is lucrative in several ways; it lays up store above, where patient faithfulness is not unrewarded; it has a sanctifying effect, for the inner life grows through the exercise of those virtues which prayer calls into operation. A third effect of persevering and finally successful petition is to be found in the witness it bears to the power of prayer — a witness to ourselves in the soul's secret experience, and, if known, to others also — for, as in seeking anything from one another, it is not in that which is given at once that we find an evidence of the power of our solicitation, but in that which has been again and again refused, and at last is, as it were, almost extorted froth another; so when God grants our requests, after He has long refused to do so, we seem to conquer Him by our entreaties, and thereby the potency of prayer is conspicuously manifested. The conditions of prayer may be summed up in few words — if we turn from sin and seek God, if we turn from earth and seek heaven, if in prayer we exert all our spiritual energies, we shall be heard; and we shall be able from our own experience to bear witness to the power of prayer.

(W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)

1. By grieving the Spirit through not feeling our need of His assistance.

2. By lack of reverence.

3. By praying with a fretful and complaining spirit.

4. By thinking more of self them of God.

5. By a want of definiteness.

6. By the absence of earnest desire.

7. By impenitence.

8. By unwillingness to have our prayer answered. We pray for the generous loving Spirit of Christ; then we remember a rival in business, or an enemy who has wronged us — and the spirit of prayer is gone.

9. By being in too great a hurry when we pray. "Fall on your knees, and grow there," says one who has tested the worth of prayer.

10. By neglecting to maintain a state of prayer. The spirit of prayer, like a silvery stream, must run all through our daily life.

11. Through want of co-operation with God in bringing the answer to our own prayer. You pray for the conversion of sinners. Are you living before them in a way that they may have occasion to glorify God? What have you given for the conversion of the heathen? I once endeavoured to secure five hundred dollars from a man in Boston for the work among the heathen. He told me he would make it a subject of prayer. A few days afterwards I saw him, and he gave me one hundred dollars. Theft same man, a little later, built a residence for seventy-five thousand dollars, and furnished it for one-third as much more. You pray for your city's welfare. How did you vote?

(J. A. M. Chapman, D. D.)

1. We pray amiss when our ends and aims are not right in prayer. The end is a main circumstance in every action, the purest offspring of the soul.

2. Our ends and aims are wrong in prayer when we ask blessings for the use and encouragement of our lusts. Men sin with reference to the aim of prayer several ways.(1) When the end is grossly carnal and sinful. Some seek God for their sins, and would engage the Divine blessing upon a revengeful and carnal enterprise; as the thief kindleth his torch that he might steal by at the lamps of the altar.(2) When men privily seek to gratify their lusts, men look upon God as some great power that must serve their carnal turns; as he came to Christ, "Master, speak to my brother to divide the inheritance" (Luke 12:13). We would have somewhat from God to give to lust; health and long life, that we may live pleasantly; wealth, that we may "fare deliciously every day"; estates, that we raise up our name and family; victory and success, to excuse ourselves from glorifying God by suffering, or to wreak our malice upon the enemies; Church deliverances, out of a spirit of wrath and revenge.(3) When we pray for blessings with a selfish aim, and not with serious and actual designs of God's glory, as when a man prayeth for spiritual blessings with a mere respect to his own ease and comfort, as for pardon, heaven, grace, faith, repentance, only that he may escape wrath. This is but a carnal respect to our own good and welfare. God would have us mind our own comfort, but not only. God's glory is the pure spiritual aim.

3. Prayers framed out of a carnal intention are usually successless. God never undertook to satisfy fleshly desires. He will own no other voice in prayer but that of His own Spirit (Romans 8:27).

(T. Manton.)

Prayers miss —

1. Because they are too selfish.

(1)We set a high value on ourselves, and no dependence upon God.

(2)Self seeking is the chief prompting principle.

(3)We lack regard for God's glory and our own good.

(4)We feel not our own need.

2. Because they are too fretful and complaining. Not a grain of praise or thanksgiving.

3. Because they are too indefinite, vague, doubtful, and calculative.

4. Because they are too insincere, too much in a hurry, and irreverent.

5. Because they are too heartless.

(1)The source from which they rise is bad — the heart.

(2)The desire (the very soul of prayer) is worldly. No continuous thought of God.

(3)Soul earnestness is absent. All is cold, lifeless.

(J. Harries.)

Most Christians are alive to the duty of prayer, and believe most firmly in its power. Yet, in the experience of all, prayer is not prevalent, as it ought. Few but have reason sadly to confess: "We have asked but we have received not." Where, then, lies the fault? Is it with God? No; God's ear is never heavy that it cannot hear. His arm is never shortened that it cannot save. The fault lies with ourselves. It is because we have not asked aright that we have asked in vain.

I. THERE MAY BE SOMETHING "AMISS" IN THE SOURCE FROM WHENCE OUR PRAYERS COME. All true prayer must come from the heart. Its own emptiness and want must prompt the cry, else it will not "enter into the ear of the Lord of Sabaoth." Perhaps our hearts are toll, and there is no room for the blessing, which we profess to seek, to enter. Full of worldly desires, delights, and passions. In such a case, vain must our asking be — insulting to the God whom we address.

II. THERE MAY BE SOMETHING "AMISS" IN THE OBJECTS WHICH OUR PRAYERS SEEK. Perhaps we have no definite object in view whatever. We have not inquired as to our wants ere engaging in the exercise. Utter in God's presence no "vague generalities," which have been well termed "the death of prayer," but plead before Him felt, individual want. But granting that we have a definite object in view, that object may be altogether of a selfish nature. It is something pleasing to ourselves we wish — self-honour, self-pleasure, self-gratification. So intently is our mind fixed upon some object on which our heart is set — so entirely are we wrapt up in the attainment of it — that we forget to ask ourselves whether the gratification of our desire may be conducive to our highest well-being, may be in accordance with the will of God.

III. THERE MAY BE SOMETHING "AMISS" IN THE SPIRIT BY WHICH OUR PRAYERS ARE PERVADED, What was said concerning the Israelites with reference to Cannaan may be said of our prayers with reference to the audience chamber of God: "They could not enter in because of unbelief." In this — the absence of faith — we have the secret of the non-success of the greater number of our petitions. And our faith must be such as to bring us to the mercy-seat pleading again and yet again the self-same request. Our faith must not fail, if at first asking no answer comes, for we "ask amiss" if we ask not perseveringly.

(W. R. Inglis.)

1. We ask amiss, and consequently without success, when we fail to feel the parental love of God. Your approaches to the mercy-seat have been visits of ceremony, rather than affection; your prayers have been elaborations of language, rather than bursts of strong desire. Cold reserve has taken the place of openhearted confidence; and you have often said only what you thought you ought to feel, instead of saying what you really felt, and asking for what you really wanted. You have treated God as a stranger. You have not confided to Him your secrets. You have not even told Him so much as you have told your father or mother. You have not trusted His mighty love.

2. We ask amiss if, in our prayers, we fail to realise the mediation of Christ. Though children, we are rebels; and there is no rebel so sinful as a rebel-child. We have forfeited the original rights of children, and can approach God no more directly, but only mediately. You close your prayers with the formula, "We ask all these things for Christ's sake"; but in religion meaning is everything, and what do you mean? Do you truly renounce dependence on yourself, and rely alone on the worthiness of Jesus? Do you make His name your grand argument, and only hope? Does the fact of His mediation have to you the force of a reality? Do you put all your prayers into His censer, that they may be offered as His own?

3. We ask amiss when we ask for wrong things. The heart will ever give a bias to the judgment. What we know depends upon what we are. In our case the heart is wrong; the judgment, therefore, is likely to be wrong; and as a further consequence, we are likely to ask for wrong things. In us there is at once the inexperience of childhood, and the darkness of a perverted nature; and, naturally, the things we wish for are not always the things a loving Father could bestow. In this world of illusions, and from this heart of darkness, we often ask for a temptation, or for a sorrow, or for a curse, when, deceived by its wrong name or fascinating aspect, we think it would be a glorious boon. Where and what should we now have been if all our prayers had been answered? There can be no mistake in the judgment of the "only wise"; no unkindness in "love"; no unfaithfulness in Him whose name is "faithful and true." What if your prayers had been heard? Agrippina implored the gods that she might live to see her infant Nero an emperor. Emperor he became, and from his imperial throne plotted that mother's death.

4. We ask amiss, when our prayers are wanting in intensity. "A thing may be good in itself," remarks a Puritan father, "yet not well done. A man may sin in doing a good thing, but not in doing well. When Cicero was asked which oration of Demosthenes he thought best, he said, 'the longest.' But if the question should be, which of prayers are the best, the answer then must be 'the strongest.' Therefore, let all young converts who are apt to think more than is meet of their own enlargements, endeavour to turn their length into strength, and remember the wide difference between the gift and the grace of prayer."

5. We "ask amiss" if we are satisfied with devoting hurried and infrequent periods of time to the exercise of prayer. True, prayer consists not in telling off a long rosary of solemn words; and that length which is simply the result of formal routine, or verbal fluency, is to be condemned without reserve; but this does not render it the less important that we should have seasons, long and frequent as circumstances will allow, which shall be regarded as sacred to prayer; stated seasons, when, like the prophet in his cave, or the priest in the holiest place, the soul is to be alone with God, to speak and to be spoken to, to rise above the life of the senses, and thus to cultivate a sacred intimacy with Him who is invisible. Many a man, if he dared to give his thoughts expression, would say, "I have so much to do that I really have no time for prayer." Luther thought differently when he said, "I have so much to do that I find I cannot get on without three hours a day of praying." No time for prayer! But the scholar must have time to read his books, and the sailor to consult his compass. Every man must have time for his own vocation; and your vocation is prayer. As a man lives by his labour, a Christian lives by his faith, and prayer is but the act by which faith draws the spirit's supplies of life from God, the Source.

6. You should also be reminded that the dominion of some particular sin may often rob your prayers of their efficacy.

7. "We ask amiss" when we ask for a blessing on some sinful deed, or on something which we do for a sinful end. A. Roman robber is said thus to have prayed to the goddess Laverna: "Fair Laverna, give me a prosperous robbery, a rich prey, and a secret escape. Let me become rich by fraud, and still be accounted religious" (Horace, Ep. I., Lib. 1:16, 60). The Pharisees, those Brahmins of ancient Israel, "devoured widows' houses," and yet, "for a pretence, made long prayers," no doubt trying to believe that prayer sanctified their fraud, and had a virtue to secure its prosperity. Many a man, who wears a worthier name than they, will pray, when, if he had but courage to analyse his prayer, he would find that he is virtually asking God's blessing on some sin. He will pray when he sets out on some enterprise which must prove a temptation to himself, or which tends to the injury of others; he will pray as he begins some act of strife or litigation; he will pray when he is about to engage in some commercial dishonesties, made "respectable" by custom, or disguised by some gentle name; and, while he cannot afford, or will not dare to consider the question of their Christian lawfulness, he prays that God may bless him in his deed; and the desire of his heart is that he may still be" counted religious." But even though the thing we seek be intrinsically good, if our motive in seeking it be doubtful, our prayers will be unavailing. Not only must we know what we ask, but why we ask it. You may do right to ask for health; to ask for the powers of industrial efficiency; to ask for social influence; to ask God to "speed the plough" of worldly toil; for there is no evil inherent in the nature of these things; but if you ask simply with a view to purposes of pride or pleasure, God will be silent.

(C. Stanford, D. D.)

1. The comparatively small numbers who sustain it may help to account for the comparatively slight and partial results of social prayer. As every power must be stronger in its collective than in its separate existence, in its aggregate than in its individuality — and will have augmented force in the degree of its increasing accumulation — efficacious as is solitary prayer, social prayer has a heightened efficacy; and if "the prayer of one righteous man avail much," the prayers of many avail more. When, therefore, we "forsake the assembling of ourselves together" — when we leave them to be sustained by a limited and variable attendance — what wonder is it if we find that in proportion as they lose in social force, they die in spiritual effect? There is yet another affecting consideration. When all the inhabitants of a certain district are summoned for the purpose of sending a petition to the legislature, but only a few respond; the inference is, that, whatever may be the feeling of a few individuals, the community itself is indifferent to that petition, and it is, therefore, set aside as a thing of utter insignificance. On the same principle, when a Church is summoned by its executive ministry to weekly meetings for prayer, and only a few members attend, is it not a fair inference that the Church itself is indifferent to those prayers? They may, indeed, be earnestly presented by individuals, but the whole society is not identified with their presentation; and if God dealt with us, as man deals with man, we could not feel surprised if such prayers of the Church were rather regarded as an assertion of its indifference, than an expression of its strong desire.

2. Want of agreement in spirit, on the part of those who meet to pray, may sometimes hinder the success of social prayer. If, while one prays aloud, the rest are prayerless; if, instead of pouring their desires along the channel of his language, they are the listless victims of unsettled and dispersive thought, before God there is no prayer meeting, but only one solitary prayer. Let every man, if possible, sign every petition — sign it with his individual mind — and make it his own, or else let all the non-consenting multitude separate, each man to "mourn apart," and to offer his sacrifice in solitude.

3. Much of what frequently enters into the exercise of social prayer, is no prayer at all, and is therefore followed by no definite results. Shall the Church only be in earnest when in sorrow, and do we require persecution to teach us how to pray?

4. Another cause of ineffectiveness may be the frequent want of suitable gifts on the part of those who lead the devotion. When alone with God, the language of silence, or of confused, broken, almost silent speech, tell all that need to he told; but it is different in social prayer; there, the "gift of utterance" is required, and the prayer utterer, like the preacher, must; find fit words, and seek the gift no less than the grace of prayer.

(C. Stanford, D. D.)

The words are obviously written as in answer to an implied objection: "Not ask," a man might say; "Come and listen to our prayers; no one can accuse us of neglecting our devotions." Incredible as it might seem that men plundering and murdering, as the previous verses represent them, should have held such language, or been in any sense men who prayed, the history of Christendom presents but too many instances of like anomalies. Cornish wreckers going from church to their accursed work, Italian brigands propitiating their patron saint before attacking a company of travellers, slave-traders, such as John Newton once was, recording piously God's blessing on their traffic of the year; these may serve to show how soon conscience may be seared, and its warning voice come to give but an uncertain sound.

(Dean Plumptre.)

What becomes of all the unanswered letters? Many of them find their way to the Deadletter Office. Some never reach the person for whom they are intended because the postage is not paid; some fail because they are directed to the wrong office; some cannot be sent because the address is illegible; and some because the matter enclosed is not such as may be sent by post. All these are examined at different offices, and finally they fall into the Dead-letter Office. Some of the reasons assigned why letters go to the Dead-letter Office will hold good of unanswered prayers. But no really valuable prayer with a heart's me-sage in it ever fails of its destination or goes unanswered.

Sometimes we ask for things which would be very hurtful to others, though they might be gain to us. A poor boy needed a sovereign to enter a mechanical institute, where he would have great advantages. He only heard of it a short while before the opening of the term, and he did not see how he could get the money in time. His father could not afford give it to him; he tried in vain to raise it. He was too proud to ask a friend for it; so he prayed God that he might somewhere find the sovereign he needed. He did not find it. Now, was there anything wrong in the prayer? At first sight it looks simple and harmless enough, doesn't it? But think for a moment. Would not some one have to lose the sovereign before the lad could find it? That puts the matter in a very different light. This poor lad was asking God to take the money out of some one's pocket and put it into his. But it surely is not fair to ask God to help us at the expense of other people.

(J. Themore)

We may be asking of God, and yet, at the same time, clinging to some one sin — perhaps some very small thing in itself, as we call it, but enough to interrupt the current between us and God. It does not take such a very large thing to interrupt the electric current. A whole train was stopped not long ago because some small insect had got where it ought not to have been. It stopped the electric current that turned a certain disc to show the engineer whether or not he was to go on. That little insect stopped the current and the whole thing went wrong; the engineer stopped the train, which was not necessary at all. So it does not take a very obviously visible sin to break the communication between God and us.

(Theodore Monod.)

Baxendale's Anecdotes.
The father of Sir Philip Sidney enjoined upon his son, when he went to school, never to neglect "thoughtful prayer." It was golden advice, and doubt. less his faithful obedience to the precept helped to make Philip Sidney the peerless flower of knighthood and the stainless man that he was — a man for whom, for months after his death, every gentleman in England wore mourning.

(Baxendale's Anecdotes.)

I think that most men, when they pray, are like an archer who shoots in the dark. Some one tells him that if he will strike the target placed in a certain hole, he shall have such a reward; and he lets fly his arrow into the hole, without being able to see the object which he wishes to hit, hoping that he may hit it and that the reward will be forthcoming. And we take our desires as arrows, and, without seeing any target, fire, and fire, and fire, till our quiver is empty, hoping that we may hit something, and that some benefit may revert to us. many men pray, and pray, and pray, till they are tired of praying, without any perceptible result, and then say, "It is of no use; it is fantasy and folly." Some men pray, not because they think they will hit anything, but because it makes them feel better. Very few men pray intelligently.

(H. W. Beecher.)

One of AEsop's fables tells how a herdsman who had lost a calf out of his grounds sent to seek it everywhere, but net finding it betook himself to prayer. "Great Jupiter," said he, "if thou wilt show me the thief that has stolen my calf I will sacrifice a kid to thee." The prayer was scarcely uttered when the thief stood before him — it was a lion. The poor herdsman was terrified, and his discovery drove him again to prayer. "I have not forgotten my vow, O Jupiter," he said, "but now that thou hast shown me the thief, I will make the kid a bull if thou wilt take him away again." The moral of the fable is that the fulfilment of our wishes might often prove our ruin. Our ignorance often betrays us into errors which would be fatal if our prayers were granted. It is in kindness to us that they are refused.

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