Alexander Campbell Short Sermons on Christian Practice:
Sermons on Prayer--No. I






B E T H A N Y, VA. MAY, 1839. =================================================================



TEXT.--Continue instant in prayer. Col. ii. 2. Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. Phil. iv. 6. Be patient in affliction, continue instant in prayer. Rom. xii. 12. Is any man afflicted? Let him pray. James v. 13. Praying always, with all deprecation and supplication in the spirit. Eph. vi. 18. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks. 1 Thess. v. 17, 18. I exhort first of all, that deprecations, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men--for kings and for all in authority; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come to an acknowledgment of the truth. 1 Tim. ii. 1-4. Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. Matth. vii. 7. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their supplication. 1 Pet. iii. 12. Pray for one another.--The inwrought prayer of the righteous man availeth much. James v. 17. If you fathers know how to give good things to your children that ask you, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him. Matth. vii. 11.----[Lord, increase our faith in these promises!!]

      RELIGION, my Christian brethren, as the term indicates, began after the Fall. Holy men and angels did not need faith, repentance, prayer, altars, priests, victims, rites, or religious usages, to bring them back, or bind them fast to God. The word religion, indeed, imports a previous apostacy. The verb religo, with all its family, indicates a binding again, or tying fast that which was dissolved. The primitive man loved, wondered, and adored, as angels now do, without religion; but fallen man needs religion in order to his restoration to the love, and worship, and enjoyment of God. To know and enjoy God himself is the supreme bliss, as it is the highest style and dignity of man; and to this, religion is but the means: for as Jesus says, "Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man." So we may say that man was not made for religion, but religion, or a remedial system, was made for fallen man.

      That which is properly called religion is immutably the same thing, though variously dispensed. Thus we have had various dispensations of religion adapted to the different states of the human family in its progress onward to the present moment. New institutions have characterized these different dispensations. Still the remedial system is necessarily and essentially the same thing; and therefore religion, in all its elements, is, like its Author, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." Thus prayer, like faith and repentance, belongs to no age or [204] dispensation; but has always been an institution of grace--a part of a remedial system; and is alike the privilege of all the miserable and distressed of human kind who acknowledge a Mediator. Hence, while they who want nothing need not pray, the right of petition is the inalienable, equal; and universal right of all the miserable and distressed under a just and merciful administration.

      But in order to our being acceptably heard In our deprecations, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings, there are certain indispensable prerequisites; and the burthen of my present discourse shall be a definition of these prerequisites.

      The first of these in order is a Mediator. God cannot listen to a rebel on his own merit or account. It would be beneath his dignity, not merely in his own esteem, but also in that of a universe of pure and exalted intelligences, to commune with, or listen to, the importunities of a guilty and polluted transgressor. Hence we say with Paul, "There is but one God, and one Mediator between God and men--the man Christ Jesus"--and with Peter we say, "There is none other name under heaven given amongst men by which we must be saved:" for Jesus himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father but by me."

      In the second place, faith in God and in his son Jesus Christ is indispensable; for "without faith," says Paul, "it is impossible to please God: for he that comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."Let him ask in faith," says James; and let not the man that is undecided, or that "wavereth, think that he shall receive any thing from the Lord."

      In the 3d place, repentance, or a full preparation of our hearts to seek the Lord, is a prerequisite, without which no man can be accepted of God. Thus spake Peter to Simon, "Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray to God." And said the Lord to Jeremiah, "You shall pray unto me, and, I will hearken unto you; and you shall seek me and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart." Jer. xxix. 12, 13. A thousand testimonies speak the same things.

      In the fourth place, we mast be led by the Spirit; for we know not what we should ask without its teachings. In other words, we must pray according to the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, or its promptings in us. For example, we cannot pray for worldly riches and honor in faith, in repentance, or in the Holy Spirit: not because we have no promise of these things, but because such requests are not compatible with repentance, nor with the teachings of the Holy Spirit. We may, indeed, pray for competence, for influence, for wisdom, for the salvation of our families, &c. because such desires are prompted by the Holy Spirit.

      Four things are therefore indispensable to acceptable and successful prayer--a Mediator, faith, repentance, and the teachings of the Holy Spirit. Without these four, no person can expect to be answered or accepted of the Lord, And no man can ask any thing from the Lord, with these prerequisites, which he will not certainly obtain from the Lord.

      In these matters, other things not mentioned, may, by some, be supposed to be included. But, in the mean time, we teach only what [205] is now, and always was, indispensable to acceptable and successful prayer.

      We shall now advert to two difficulties which have frequently fallen in our way:--

      1st. No testimony, no promise--there can be no faith. Now as we have not promises importing to us that all things we may ask shall be conferred, how can we pray in faith? But it has been said that we must pray according to the Holy Spirit; consequently there is nothing which the Holy Spirit prompts us to ask which may not be asked in faith, that God is both able and willing to bestow it. Now the Holy Spirit has taught us that God wills our sanctification and salvation through the truth as it is in Jesus: consequently we may ask in faith whatever is necessary to this end. And whatever earthly bounties or temporal favors for ourselves or others we may ask, the Spirit teaches us to ask them confidently, so far as they may be according to the will of God; and no farther can we lawfully desire them. Our text affords ample proof of this: for Christians, as such, are commanded to "be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication to make their requests known to God." Now I ask, would the Lord command so to ask without an intimation in the command that we should receive! If we are to "continue instant in prayer"--"to pray always"--"to pray without ceasing," and for all things that we can lawfully desire, surely it is because "the Lord's ears are open to our prayers," and it is that we may receive the blessings that we ask. If our natural and selfish parents answer our requests, how much more will our heavenly Father confer our desires!

      But a second difficulty is sometimes urged with much vehemence--"Is not God immutable, and are not all his laws fixed? And does not prayer imply a wish to change the heavenly Father, or to cause him to change the laws of his moral or physical government?" I answer this difficulty by stating a fact, and adding an illustration of it: In the first place God has promised many favors on condition that they shall be asked. Now in obtaining those favors by prayer, we have only complied with the conditions on which God always and immutably willed to confer them. Now this may be illustrated many ways--as, for example, when Joseph, the governor of Egypt, had stowed away provisions for seven years' famine, he made proclamation to all Egypt, that, on certain conditions, he would supply every applicant with bread. Now when those applicants came and asked for bread according to the terms of the proclamation, could any one of them think that he had effected a change in the mind of the governor by his application! And should a sceptic in the power, wisdom, and generosity of Joseph, have asked an applicant while on his way to the store-houses, if he intended to effect a change in the mind of the governor; might he not have replied, No, sir, I am only complying with the gracious terms of his proclamation; for it is written in the proclamation, "For all these favors I will be inquired of by all the wretched sons of want in all the land of Egypt."

      I have recently learned that there is much scepticism on the subject of the utility of prayer in the minds of some professors. I intend, with the help of the Bible and common sense, to attempt the eradication of this deleterious influence: for a prayerless Christian is as paradoxical to me as a lungless man. I could as easily believe that a man could [206] live seven years without breathing, as a Christian live seven days without praying.

A. C.      

[The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, 3 (May 1839): 204-207.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Short Sermons on Christian Practice: Sermons on Prayer--No. I" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 5, May 1839. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1839), pp. 204-207.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. Inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and typography have been retained; however, corrections have been offered for misspellings and other accidental corruptions. Emendations are as follows:

            Printed Text [ Electronic Text
 p. 204:   James. [ James v. 13.
           1 Thess. v. 18, 19. [ 1 Thess. v. 17, 18.
           1 Tim. ii. 1. [ 1 Tim. ii. 1-4.
           James v. 17. [ James v. 16.
           Matth. vii. 10. [ Matth. vii. 11.
 p. 206:   always""--"to pray [ always"--"to pray

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 21 February 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Short Sermons on Christian Practice:
Sermons on Prayer--No. I

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