When I got home again to Edinburgh, I wrote the following letter to him: "My special interest in writing you at this time lies in the said study entitled 'WHY PRAY?' That you will not mind criticism thereof I am certain, even if you find that I am radically opposed to the conclusions set forth. I ask for permission to show the other side of the picture, as there is another side. It is evident that the conclusions come to savour too much of the attitude to Prayer shown in the magazine "Unsearchable Riches," which attitude I have always opposed. To put the case very simply, I cannot, after all I have gone through, after all I have learned in and from the Scriptures, believe that our God is incapable of being moved by His children. I do not charge any of you of directly imbibing or copying these teachings of "Unsearchable Riches," but the similarity is striking.
"The passage chosen at the Barnet house meeting (near London) on 11th October last to open the subject, Ezekiel 36:16-38, strikes me as being singularly inept and inapposite. Actually, the passage does not deal with the subject of Prayer, and if it does deal with the matter of God's intentions, these are towards a nation described as unclean and unsanctified. True, the Nation, when cleansed and restored, will yet enquire for Jehovah, as a result of His dealings with them. He can bring the lost to seek for Him, and even to grope for Him. But when we are dealing with the subject of Prayer as it affects the children of God, those who know Him and delight in Him, the matter takes on a completely different complexion. Those afar off may grope for God, and come to seek Him, but those who are near and close, like Abraham, 'Friend of God,' those who come to be intimate with the living God, are surely on a very different footing.
"I observe that special note of verse 37 of this chapter was taken, and attention drawn to the emphasis throughout on God's intentions. But can we be sure that everything is so 'cut and dried' as it might seem to be? The Authorised Version reads thus: 'I will yet (for) this be enquired by the house of Israel, to do (it) for them. . . .' Young, however, gives it a different turn: 'Yet this I am required, by the house of Israel to do to them, I multiply them as a flock of men.' Rotherham, however, gets a good deal farther away from the A.V., with: 'Even yet—for this will I be prevailed upon by the house of Israel to work for them,—I will multiply them—like a flock—with men.' If the word 'prevailed' is correct, which I do not think it is, it would reverse the interpretation given to the passage, completely.
"The tentative, unchecked, unpublished text of the C.V. is (or was four or five years ago), 'Further for this shall I be inquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them. I will increase them with humans as with sheep.' The few Niphal (Passive) forms of the verb darash doubtless demand some study, especially those followed by the preposition l—(to, for; rendered in A.V. 'sought OF;' or 'enquired of BY').
"Yet the same construction, is by the C.V. with its strange and unaccountable and bewildering inconsistency, rendered in Ezekiel 20:31, 'Living am I, avers the Lord Jehovah, should I be inquired of FOR you?' and earlier in the same verse: 'And shall I be inquired of FOR you, sons of Israel?' In ch. 20:3, the C.V. has 'Should I be inquired of to be inquired of BY them?' It does not seem reasonable, at first sight, to give the preposition l—the force of BY: FOR would strike one as being the natural rendering.
"The next passage stated as having been examined, the Lord's Prayer, so called, was no doubt, a 'typical example of prayer,' but only at the time it referred to, and to the Disciples. For us today it is certainly far from typical. Both in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 the subject is prayer as proseuchomai only, although the term 'request' (aiteO) also comes in later. In these studies of 'WHY PRAY?'I have no doubt that it was the subject of prayer in general that came under discussion, without going into the special meaning of such terms as deEsis (C.V. petition); enteuxis (C.V. pleading); aitEma (C.V. request); hiketEria (C.V. supplication). Three of these occur in 1. Tim. 2:1, so that the distinction between them is worth finding out. I feel it is a misfortune that your studies did not deal specially with the more powerful of these terms, petition, pleading, supplication, as distinguished from prayer in general.
"To conclude that all the headings quoted for the Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew 'cover the already settled details of the purposes of God,' seems like begging the question. I cannot discover any logical ground for people praying 'deliver us from the evil (one)' if such deliverance is 'already settled,' and they know this. Therefore, the statement that 'Prayer cannot alter external things' stands not proven.
"In this connection I observe that Romans 8:26 is quoted, but I do not think it is relevant. Commonly, the meaning is assumed to be that we do not know what to pray FOR, therefore God's spirit comes to our aid and supplies the deficiency. Both the A.V. and the C.V. have this mischievous word 'for', for which there is no ground. The proper sense I have taken to be, that we know not WHAT (Greek: toti, the any) or HOW we should pray, we are at a lack for words, owing to the afore mentioned infirmities. We are Sons of God, but still await the deliverance of our body, so that our method of prayer may be poor. But to argue that we do not know what to pray FOR, is a very different proposition. It seems there are plenty of things and people and circumstances in the world and the home to pray for, without our being taught. Paul, for example, is emphatic that we should be making petitions, prayers, pleadings and thanksgiving for all mankind, for Kings, etc., in order that a mild and quiet life should accrue to us. This is a most important prayer for us to make, and if it means anything at all, it means that the peace of a nation depends on how much its believers pray this prayer. It is often said, that a Nation gets the kind of government its habits and morals deserve. Behind that however, is the more important fact that a Nation's morals will depend much on the lives of its believers, and how those believers live and pray.
"At various fearful times during the present War I have known very clearly, in grim earnest, what to pray FOR, but usually my words or manner has been far from eloquent, because I was too oppressed and burdened to know WHAT or HOW to express myself.
"Reverting to the Lord's Prayer, I regret much that the whole context was not surveyed. The context in Luke was indeed named, ch. 11:1-13, but an integral part of it was apparently ignored. And it is this part, from v. 5 to v. 13 that supplies the answer to the question, "WHY PRAY." How this was missed is a puzzle. The disciples had asked the Lord, Teach us to be praying, and in His reply, the Lord does nothing less than tell them to be persistent to the length of 'pestering' (C.V.).
"The logical inference is nothing less than that God's intention must be that His suppliants should pester Him, importune Him (anaideia, C.V. UN-MODESTY: some explain this as impudence, shamelessness, without regard to time, place, and person, effrontery, brazen-faced determination. Only here and Septuagint Deuteronomy 28:50.
"You must observe that the friend was unwilling to get up from his couch at midnight; the door was locked; the children with him were (gone) into bed. 'I cannot rise and give you.' Plainly he had no intention of doing anything. Finally he did get up and hand out the food; not because the needy one was his friend, but because the latter was so persistent, so persistent because he knew and realized the giver would yield to his impassioned boldness. The Lord then continues with the well known, Ask, Seek, Knock! The entire passage is one. We cannot separate verses 5-8 from what precedes or follows. The disciples were taught to persevere in prayer, just as Paul three times teaches us to persevere. That is the same as saying that we too ought to request, to seek, and to knock.
"It seems to me that the whole force and inference of verses 9 and 10 is that prayer can and does alter external things. What would the disciples think of the Lord's discourse? Somehow, I cannot imagine them to have been so sophisticated and antinatural as to reason, Well, let us seek and knock,—not because we can get anything altered, as it is impossible for God to have alternative methods of carrying out His purposes, not because we may after all 'prevail,' but merely because we feel it is our duty to say something to God. Furthermore, the Lord winds up the subject with a reference to the Father. 'If Ye then, being naturally wicked, are aware (how) to be giving good gifts to your children, by how much rather the Father, who, out of heaven, will be giving Holy Spirit to those requesting Him.'
"The question naturally arises, will the Father grant Holy Spirit in the same way to those who do not ask for it, does the gift depend on the asking, or not, does God thrust His Spirit on those who neither wish nor ask for it?" Or to take another very personal and national example: Would God have wrought the miracle and deliverance of 'DUNKIRK' had there been no volume of effective prayer ascending up to Him from a comparatively few people in this land, men and women who sweated in prayer, who wept in agony before God, who persevered in deadly earnest, until they knew that God must yield, until He did yield, giving them in spirit the enormous thrill of an answer? I could have given you my own tremendous experience of those days. It is still wonderfully fresh in my memory. It became a part of my life, something never to be forgotten or effaced. But I question whether you would believe me or understand me, as it is very obvious you would hardly write as you have done had you been through one such experience.
"It would be idle to reason that God would have delivered one-third of a million men (and some females too) from the enemy in any case. If He was going to do that in any case, there would have been no need for the praying at all; hours of stern and serious and concentrated effort would have been useless. Nor do I believe it was entirely God's Spirit that urged me to supplicate for these men; that urged me to ask for what God was about to accomplish in any case. It was the terrible fate awaiting our only Army and our Country that made me impassioned, impetuous, vehement. I had just been in London on business as a Bank Inspector, and London at that dread time was very stuffy and dismal, with most of the people looking very gloomy. And somehow in London I could not pray as I would like to have done, and I was in agony. After four days I returned to Edinburgh. Soon we heard of the capitulation of King Leopold of Belgium. On 30th May (1940) I was praying in the evening for our Army and found prayer very easy. I was thoroughly determined that God alone would have to save us, and gradually I got more and more close to Him, and began to feel Him as though He was approaching me, and all at once I got a very definite assurance from Him that all would be well. Two evenings later the very same thing happened, another clear assurance, which made me feel for some days as though I was walking on air. God Almighty had balked the German Army, by means of dense fog in the English Channel, which allowed our Army to get home in all sorts of boats. And in a few days we saw young soldiers with beards in our railway station, newly arrived from the South. They had no chance to shave on the way home.
"About a fortnight previously I had sought the Face of the Lord, apparently in vain: the heavens seemed like brass, and this depressed me greatly. It seemed as if temporarily I had lost God's Spirit, and that God's Spirit was not behind my asking.
"You write that 'The very idea that a change can take place has to be set against the strong feeling we all have that God's rule of His creatures is by 'law' and it is an almost revolting thought that the course of the universe can be in any way altered to suit the whim of praying men, for that is almost what it amounts to! Again, all that we know from the scientific side suggests that the possibility of change, in even small details, is practically out of the question.' I think you prejudice the issue by using the terms 'universe,' 'whim,' and 'scientific.' Why not just accept in simple faith-obedience the historical account of Joshua's long day, regarding which we are informed that 'There was no day like that before it or after it, that Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of a man' (Joshua 10:14). The obvious meaning, apparent to any unsophisticated reader, is that Almighty God paid heed to a human being's impassioned appeal to lengthen daylight, so that the enemy might be quite discomfitted. I imagine that if the truth of the matter really was merely that God so acted upon Joshua at that moment that he petitioned for just what God was about to do, the account would have read differently; at least it would have been so worded as not to deceive the simple. The view that the Israelites took of the wonder was that that extraordinary day was the result of Joshua's supplicating Jehovah to do something; or rather, to be correct, Jehovah hearkened to Joshua's military command addressed to the Sun and to the Moon, to be silent. We are not even told that in this instance the spirit of Jehovah came upon Joshua. Had this happened, the case might have been that God's Spirit came upon him and obliged him to ask just what God was about to do in any case. But such a method of answering would have overthrown 'law.' When we petition,—being earnestly for anything, the petition must be natural, unforced, not artificial, otherwise Law is broken. And when a child petitions its Father for anything, does not the universal Law of Fatherhood teach you that the Father will accede if the granting of the request will do no harm, if it is likely to be beneficial, if it will bring the child, and the Father, pleasure? This is a great Law which you have evidently completely overlooked. And how often does the N.T. impress upon us that the relationship of our God to us is that of a Father? I have no children or heir, but if I had, I think I should want to yield to any simple petition that would cause no harm. I have one special little friend of four years of age, the son of a niece, whom I could hardly refuse anything that was good. Being wonderfully amenable to reason and logic, he does not ask for the impossible, or the foolish, or the dangerous. (He is now 22 years old, and still a fine fellow).
"Let us hope, however, that you are not going to tell us that the relationship between God and Father and ourselves His children is not as close and warm and loving and friendly as that between. the best human father and his child. The pages of the N.T. gleam with the great fact revealed that God now shows Himself as our Father. And surely one of the great laws of Fatherhood is the giving of good gifts to the children. (Luke 11:13). But whereas in human affairs the giving of good gifts by a Father is natural and quite unartificial, purely in answer to a child's simple artless request you would argue that a human request to God is virtually merely God asking something of Himself, through an impassive and controlled human agent, who is denied the credit of even feeling that the urgent petition is his very own.
"Joshua's long day did not require to affect the whole 'universe.' His request was not the humouring of a whim of his. The 'scientific' side cannot deny a change in the daylight, although apparently what passes for Science has not yet been able to explain the miracle, and I have read a great many 'explanations.'
"On one occasion during the latter half of the 17th century, when the Covenanters (accented on the third syllable), men who fought for religious freedom in the South of Scotland, were being chased by the red-coats over the Pentland Hills which rise to about 1,900 feet, four or five miles to the South of us here, and they Were impelled to supplicate God for deliverance. What happened? A dense mist came down right at the place and blotted them out, so that their persecutors were baffled and foiled. But God could thus act without the course of the universe being the least altered. We do not require to believe that any law of nature was broken. This was what you would describe as a 'small detail' also.
"Has this shallow, sophisticated, over-learned twentieth century so warped us and spoiled us that we are unable to approach God our Father with the same naturalness with which a human child would approach his father? Who are we to dictate to our God that He must accomplish any purpose by only one route or method? A human father will plan to send his boy to a certain school, to a certain Church or Sunday-School; to go to a certain spot for a holiday, and probably arrange for the boy's life work. But no father does in fact administer or arrange or foresee every event in the boy's life. The boy is allowed a certain amount of 'rope' or freedom, and self-expression. I cannot see why the same rule should not pertain to God's dealings with us. Let us say that God arranges for us in the climacteric periods of our life, and when He is entreated to arrange for us, in the hour of danger, difficulty and distress. At these times we are more or less obliged to leave things in His hands. But, if there are four or five routes or methods whereby I may proceed to work each morning, am I obliged to burden my mind each time with the thought that I have no freedom of choice, that each morning God arranges how I shall go? Am I obliged to ask each morning how I shall travel the four miles? Why must we cumber God every morning with deciding how we must travel? If the milkmaid should 'Caw the yowes tae the knowes' (Drive the ewes to the hillocks), as is often her duty, why should she mind their slithering, indirect tracks, so long as she gets them to their pasture soon is her objective that is in view, not the unimportant intervening route or method. I have many a time found while approaching a place of interest on foot, that there were two or more ways of reaching it. Sometimes there might be a special reason for going one way in preference to another, when I would deliberately choose to go a certain way. At other times there was nothing to choose between alternative routes, and my sole objective was to the town before me. Thus, in mid Wales, while proceeding from Newtown to Montgomery, I found there were two routes available. My objective was to reach the ancient village town of Montgomery, noted for the number of savants it produces in proportion to its population, besides its history and situation. As to how I reached it, I was not concerned, so long as the road was good and the weather remained fine. The map did not give one of the routes any apparent preference over the other, so I decided upon one of the two ways just as though I had spun a coin to decide for me.
"That God is the chooser of all our steps is, the more one looks into the matter, a repulsive doctrine. The theory is all very well so long as we are obedient and faithful. No doubt, when we walk with the Lord, in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. But the unfortunate truth is, none of us is always walking with the Lord, none of us is always in the light, none of us is invariably obedient. We cannot, we dare not say that the Lord plans or directs those steps of ours which lead downwards into evil or wrongdoing, and the Lord has surely made known to us some of the things which are wrong and against His will. This would be like saying that there is 'no condemnation' for those who walk after the flesh, or that all things work for good to those believers who are not going on loving God.
"Now why should not God allow of His objectives being reached by different routes? Many of His objectives will be reached through terrible human failures. But does He plan those failures? I might be right or I might be wrong with the present War, and the vision found in ch. 7 of Daniel. If, however, Daniel was viewing the present struggle, and obtained a Divine Vision of the outcome, we get the knowledge that God foresees the end from the beginning. But that by no means indicates that God also planned the end, or the intermediate stages.
"After the fall, it is evident that God left man more or less to himself and man has certainly gone his own way in independence of God, at least, so he thinks. After the crucifixion, Jehovah left Israel more or less to itself, and this was the only course possible. We all know some 'believers' whom God has had to give over to the flesh or to Satan, seeing that they have given up His Revelation or turned aside to wrong ways. The remainder of this article will follow in another issue.
"What James means in ch. 4:14-15, when he states 'should the Lord be willing' we shall do this or that, I take to be that 'should the Lord be not unwilling,' or 'should the Lord not prevent.' In actual life, do we continually have to ask the Lord each morning whether we ought to make an effort to go to work? Don't we take it as the Lord's will that we should do our daily work, unless He prevents us? When we propose to do something out of the routine, generally we receive guidance through not being prevented. We are guided by the Word of God and by circumstances. Life would be impossible were we to seek to know God's will for us every five minutes.
"What, I wonder, would you make of the boldness (Greek: parrEsia) which we have toward Him, that if we should be requesting anything according to His will, He is hearing us? Is not this converse between intimate friends? We can use this boldness toward those with whom we are very intimate, is it not to prevail on them to do something for us, or give us something, which otherwise they would not think of giving? Intimate friends can ask what they like of each other, and they know they can. Not only so, but it gives them delight to share things and give each other things. Why should not God Himself have this delight? Will He not accomplish far more in a personal way for one using holy boldness toward Him? Is God forbidden to 'go out of His way,' so to speak, for those who know Him best? Is not the aim of Paul's teaching very largely that we should get to KNOW God, personally? I hardly think you would maintain, that for those who come to know God with some degree of intimacy, He will not do far more personally as though to friends, than for those who do not trouble to 'seek Him out.'
"Abraham evidently experienced this reverential boldness when he pled before Jehovah face to face for Sodom (Genesis 18). Reading together verses 17 and 23, it is clear that Abraham had been advised of Jehovah's intention to destroy the cities because their sin was very grievous. This, however, deterred him not one whit from pleading with Jehovah, with great persistence, as the other two 'men' had already been 'sent to destroy' Sodom (Ch. 19:3), and his supplication was terribly urgent. Jehovah gave His guarantee that for Abraham's sake, because of his urgent pleading, He would bear with the cities (A.V.: spare), should there be found no more than ten righteous people within Sodom.
For all we know Abraham may have reckoned that there were ten righteous. In verse 32, he said he would speak but one time more. That was his final appeal, 'Perhaps there will be found there ten.' Had he believed that it was impossible for him to make Jehovah change His mind, would he have continued to plead? He was not praying for any change within himself or with any other human being, but for the doom of these cities to be averted. He, who knew God Almighty far better than we can, besought Him for external things to be altered. Surely Abraham was not engaged in such pleading merely in order that he might grow in grace, or because prayer is a pious exercise. It looks as though he was beseeching the face of Jehovah in grim and deadly earnest, as if his supplication might be the means of saving from ruin whole cities.
"The case of Abraham was cited in a pamphlet called 'Light and Heat' which I issued in October, 1941, in an article entitled 'Persevere in Prayer.' I also alluded to the case of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38: 5. Would that you had sought to rebut the evidence I brought forward in that article, then had you a strong case to put forward. Hezekiah was sick (verb Khalah again) unto death. Isaiah came to him and let him know plainly that he was to set his house in order, as he was to die, and live no more. This was Jehovah's revealed intention. Nevertheless, Hezekiah did not accept this as irrevocable or final. He knew Jehovah's heart was subject to change and to feeling. Therefore did he turn to the wall and wept with tremendous weeping before Jehovah. The result was not that Jehovah said He had all along never meant the threat of death, but He made a distinct addition to the King's life of fifteen years. No universal law of Nature was upset when Isaiah prescribed for the King a simple application of a lump of figs to the eruption. But a further outcome of Hezekiah's supplications was the complete reversal of Nature's Laws in the bringing back, by Jehovah, of the shadow on the sundial by ten degrees.
"The reason given for the King's recovery, and we must accept it in humble faith-obedience, without attempting to substitute any other 'reason' was that Jehovah heard his prayer and saw his tears. And Jehovah heard him in spite of the fact that Hezekiah's heart later became lifted up in pride, and he forgot the benefit conferred on him.
"I also pointed out in the aforesaid article, that the Hebrew verb nacham means to 'change the mind' and is so used of God Himself. Your contention is, I think, that God is incapable of thus changing His mind. To some folk it seems derogatory to speak of God changing His mind, as though He were human. To me, however, there is nothing more delightful than a God who is so very human that He can change His mind, when it is immaterial to His eventual revealed purposes whether He proceeds by one course or another. This verb, in Niphal (Passive) is generally rendered in the A.V. by 'repent' and is used of God at least thirty times. It appears to correspond with the Greek metanoeO, 'repent' or in the C.V., after-MIND. The C.V. renders nacham by 'repent,' and in the Piel and Hithpael by 'console' that is, to change some other person's mind for him. As, however, repent is not altogether a very good word to use, for obvious reasons, I think it much better to use 'change the mind' or 'change the mental attitude.'
"To reason away the expression of deep feeling on the part of God in the following examples, by putting them down to 'anthropomorphism,' is to cast a slur upon those holy men of old who preserved for us God's revelation. These prophets knew and understood God very much better than do the shallow and ephemeral thinkers of this present very pretentious and boastful, but very ignorant and backward age.
"And Jehovah is changing His mind that He makes Man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And Jehovah said, I shall destroy Man whom I have created. . . . for I change My mind that I make them" (Gen. 6:6-7). That this grief was illusory or chimerical I cannot believe, or that Moses intended it to appear so. After the making of the Golden calf, Jehovah's wrath waxed hot against Israel, and Moses pained the face of Jehovah (A. V.: besought the Lord; Heb. khalah) by his intercession and unanswerable logic. 'And Jehovah is changing His mind concerning the evil which He says to do unto His people.' (Gen. 32:11-14).
"Numbers 23:19 does not overthrow my argument; the verse explains itself. Says Balaam, 'God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should be changeful-of-mind; hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall not make it good?"
"For Jehovah will adjudicate His people, and concerning His servants will He change His mind, for He will see that (their) hand (i.e. power) departs" (Deut. 32:36). He is the One, Who, 'in all their affliction was afflicted' (Isaiah 63:9); Who is capable of being intensely moved by all the distresses of His people. At least, if He is not capable of being moved by suffering, I do not see how He can 'love the world,' as real love is something that must ever be suffering, in this world.
"In 1. Sam. 15 we learn that Jehovah changed His mind about setting up Saul as King (11 and 35). Verse 29 does not invalidate our argument, by stating that 'The Continuer (or Permanence, C.V.) of Israel will not lie nor change His mind, for He is not a man that He should change His mind,' as there were cases where Jehovah did not and could not change His mind, and in this case, Saul's Kingdom had been given to a neighbour who was better than Saul. Then Jeremiah speaks of the 'Cities which Jehovah overthrew, and changed not His mind' (20:16).
"In the case of Nineveh, God's threat was no idle one that the huge city was to be overthrown in forty days (Jonah 3:4). This was God's declared intention, without any promise of deliverance should there be repentance. The Ninevites, however, changed their mind and set their lives in order, and were not deterred from hoping for the possibility that Aleim might turn and change His mind, and turn away from His fierce anger (v. 9). That He did change His mind, when He saw their works and their reformation, is a fact of history.
"It seems to be a rather poor reason for the exercise of prayer that a Christian prays 'Partly because he feels compelled to, and partly because that is one of God's ways of causing him to grow in grace.' The question before us ought to be, rather, does God in the Scriptures set forth these as reasons for prayer? I do not think He does. Nor do I think it is ever stated that prayer's purpose is to change ourselves, as you state. As for myself, I know no difference between those 'days when we start the day with sincere prayer,' and those when we 'let it slide.' Because, for one thing, I do my supplication generally at night. And moreover, surely the relationship betwixt us and God is much closer than to permit of a difference in our feelings for the worse should we omit to seek His face on occasion. His mercy is fresh for us each morning, whether we go through the normality of a prayer or no. I think God wishes us to glory in the fact that His kindly goodwill (what some call Grace) is ever disposed towards us, whatever we do or whatever we feel. If there are in fact, mornings when prayer is allowed to 'slide' it would almost seem that the compulsion is absent, the urge, as. though there was nothing special to pray for; or that the experience of growing in grace through this morning prayer was not attractive enough for one to keep it up regularly in spite of perhaps his weaker physical state of feelings.
"In conclusion, all that you say in your circular regarding Prayer, is, to me, extremely disappointing and saddening. It seems almost inconceivable that anyone in this age of enlightenment in scriptural things can seriously put forward such views. Important texts, upon which we ought to be building our ideas and knowledge of real prayer, such as the Judge and the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1), Eph. 6:18 (Why the 'watching' and all 'the perseverance'?). Eph. 3:20 (According to the power that worketh in US). James 4:2 (Ye have not, BECAUSE YE ASK NOT). James 5:16, (A righteous person's energetic petition avails MUCH—should have been dealt with, or at least touched upon. While on page 51 of your circular you state, quite rightly, that 'we have a place in His working,' why not permit God to have a place for this working in Prayer? The views you put forward will only, I fear, cause mischief, and undo lives. That anyone can accept your summing up of the matter. 'If not, why pray?' If we have the Spirit, we cannot do otherwise. You do not answer your questions at all, in any way, and this part of your argument is the very weakest part of a very weak effort.
"In your Notes on Personal Bible Study, whereto I am about to refer, you say, very rightly, on page 27, that 'the true meaning of a passage should always be taken as that which would come most naturally to those to whom it was first addressed. That is a principle that should override all others.' Your treatment of the Prayer texts quite denies such a principle.
"The Ephesians must have understood Eph. 3:20-21 as a very strong incitement to ask for great things, according to what degree of power was working within them. When they learned that their God was able to do exceeding above all they could ask or apprehend, it is not likely they would feel cruel limitations imposed by the blighting fetters of fatalism—such as even I underwent for years as a direct result of the teaching of the magazine 'Unsearchable Riches.'
"Paul calls for perseverance, watching, and thanksgiving during prayer (Co1. 4:2). When human beings do persevere, or 'stick in,' and keep on observing, to the extent of attaining success, the success is the result of their own grit and perseverance. That grand verb, proskartereO in all of its ten occurrences in the N.T., never refers to God or His activities. The persevering, or 'waiting on' (both used in the C.V.) is the human side of the transaction in true prayer. As you know, it is those that 'wait on Jehovah' or persevere for Him, that renew their strength. The Colossian saints must have so understood this verse, in its natural sense; and could not have understood it differently, any more than the Ephesians understood Eph. 6:18-19:—'Through every prayer and petition praying in every occasion, in spirit, and thereunto (evidently the spirit; Gk. eis auto-neuter) being vigilant in all perseverance and (every) petition concerning all the saints, and for me, that to me may be given expression (logos) in opening of my mouth in boldness. . . .'
"One of the obvious and natural meanings of this statement is that if these saints failed to uphold Paul in persevering prayer and petition, there was a possibility that he might not boldly express Christ, as he wished to do. There were occasions when he did not speak with boldness, when he did not accomplish all he aimed at; just those occasions, probably, when there was not a volume of persevering and prevailing prayer ascending to God. My experience has always been, for over thirty years, that our God does alter external things, and that He is not impassive or unmoved when His people are passionate or impassioned or deeply moved. Paul did not rely upon himself to be bold enough when he wished to be so; nor did he rely upon God to make him bold directly; he relied upon God's saints to petition God to grant him the necessary boldness. And there is some point in this, for if I beseech God to make me bold, if the boldness comes, I may think it is mine; but if others obtain the boldness for me from God by earnest petition, I cannot claim that I have acquired it by my own effort.
"May I add, in conclusion, that I have in the above discussion by no means overlooked the force of the word
gnOston (or gnOsta) in Acts 15:17 or 15:18; gnOston,
however, not as a Passive (which the Greek is not), but as a
verbal adjective, and understood along with such statements.
as we find in Genesis 18:21 (where Jehovah has to go down
and see whether Sodom had actually done according to report); besides other passages, i.e. Rev. 20:12, 15 (where
books of reference seem to be required). The subject of the kind of knowledge possessed by God (not its extent) is a wide,
and untrodden subject, but tremendously interesting."