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






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



"I exhort first of all,--that deprecations, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men--for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty: 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.

      Men, Brethren, and Fathers,

            WE are not among those who believe that when Paul commanded Christians to "teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," he meant hymns--and hymns--and hymns. Nor can we be persuaded that when he exhorts that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, he meant only one thing, four times stated. Paul had neither time nor taste for such tautology.

      Any address to God expressive of our desires may be generically called prayer. But here are specific duties denominated deprecation, prayer, intercession, and thanksgiving. In this apostolic classification Christians in their prayers are to attend to four distinct items:--They are to deprecate evils; supplicate favors; intercede for persons; and return thanks for benefits received. Yes, they may deprecate all sorts of evils--"Deliver us from evil"--"Abandon us not to temptation:" supplicate all sorts of favors, temporal and spiritual--"Give us this day our daily bread"--"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors:" they are to intercede for all sorts of persons, as did Abraham--"Peradventure there be ten righteous in the city, wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place--the city and its inhabitants--for ten's sake?" "And the Lord said, I will not destroy the city for ten's sake." And said Jesus, "Into whatever house you enter, say, Peace be to this house;" for so prayed he for others--"I pray for all them that shall believe on me through their word--that they all may be one--that the world may believe that thou hast sent me"--"Forgive them, for they know not what they do," &c. And finally, we are in every thing to give thanks, and for all sorts of favors conferred on ourselves and others.*

      Two questions, my beloved friends, arise here:--For whom and for what are Christians to pray? For method's sake, and for your memory's sake, I will formally ask, and answer these two questions:--

      1st. For whom are Christians to pray?

      Paul shall answer. He has answered in our text.--"For all men." But says the Universalist, "It is not for the salvation of all men: for all men are decreed to be saved." One, then, may as consistently [272] pray for the sun to rise to-morrow morning, as to pray for the ultimate salvation of all men; because both events are foreordained from all eternity. Again, says the ultra Calvinist, 'The Christian cannot pray for all men; for the elect are so definite and so fixed, that their number can neither be increased nor diminished. It is for all sorts of men--for kings, and all in authority,' says he, 'and not for all individual men. The praying for sorts of men, rather than men, is a doctrine of the schools, and not of Christ. But can we pray for a sort or class of men without praying for the men that compose it? It is preposterous. Could an Englishman pray for kings and for all in authority in that great empire, without praying for the persons of those kings and public functionaries of authority? It is absurd. To pray for all sorts of men is to pray for all men in all these classes, or it is downright mummery and mockery.'

      Paul assigns two reasons for these universal prayers. Perhaps we may learn something from considering them. The reason assigned for praying for kings and officers is, that Christians under their government be allowed to lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty. For their own good, then, they are to pray for the governments under which they live; for this will not only propitiate the governors to their interests, but the Lord sustaining and blessing the governors with prosperity, it will secure like favors to them. Thus preached Jeremiah to the captive Jews--"Seek the good of the city whither the Lord has caused you to be carried away captive: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace." But the second reason rises beyond their own interest: for adds the Apostle, This is moreover "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 gospel, or of the truth. It is, then, in harmony with the divine will. It is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour to pray for all men; and surely this is the beat reason in the world that can be given for doing any thing! This point decided, we next ask--

      2d. For what are Christians to pray?

      We answer first in very general terms:--As we may pray for all persons whom we love, so we may pray for all things that we desire--according to the will of God. Whom may we love? According to the will of God, I ask, whom may we love? I answer, All men, friends and foes. Bless your friends; "bless your enemies;" "pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you;" not for that class, but for the very individuals that compose it. Pray for all men. Love and desire are, then, the metes and boundaries of prayer; and this love and desire are only to be limited by the revealed will of God. All persons may be loved--all good things may be desired. For both, then, it is lawful to pray.

      But both the power of prayer and the objects and uses of prayer will be better seen and more highly appreciated by an induction of instances from the Bible:--Abraham prayed for the king of Egypt, and he was cured. He prayed for a son, and Isaac was born. Isaac and Rebecca had no issue; he entreated the Lord, and Jacob and Esau were the answer to his prayer. Jacob prayed for Joseph, and he inherited blessings above the blessings of his progenitors. Jacob wrestled with the Lord and prevailed, and obtained the title "Israel"--a Prince of God. [273] Moses interceded for Aaron, and his life was saved: he lifted up his hands to heaven, and Israel triumphed over Amalek. Hannah prayed for a son, and Samuel was the son that was given. Samuel prayed against the enemies of Israel, and the Lord answered him by thundering upon them from heaven; and again he prayed, and the Lord answered him by thunder for a sign to Israel. How oft did David say, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears"--"In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even. into his ears"--"Thou heardest the voice of my deprecations when I cried to thee"--"I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications; because he has inclined his ear unto me: therefore will I call upon him so long as I live." Hezekiah, seized with a deadly distemper, prayed earnestly to the Lord, and the Lord said, "I have heard thy prayer, and have seen thy tears, and I have added unto thy days fifteen years." Again, he prayed to be saved from the Assyrian hosts under Sennacherib their king, and in one night the angel of death slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand men! And what shall I more say? The time would fail me to tell of Elijah, who shut and opened heaven by prayer; of Zacharias and Elizabeth, whose prayers obtained another Elijah; of the multitudes of Jews who sought and obtained many cures and blessings from the Messiah; of Cornelius, whose prayer brought an angel from heaven, and Peter from Joppa to communicate to him the word of eternal life; of the prayers of the primitive church, that shook both heaven and earth--that brought Peter out of the inner prison at the hour of midnight, and made the word of the Lord run speedily throughout the earth. All sorts of blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, have been vouchsafed to men and women in answer to prayer.

      Wherever there is much faith there will be much prayer; and little faith, little prayer. The Lord is very liberal; but he desires for our good that we should ask, seek, and knock, not only once, twice, or three times, but often, very often; for he that thus seeks, finds; and to him who thus knocks, it shall be opened.

      Having, then, answered these two important questions--For whom we ought to pray, and for what--we shall notice an objection sometimes offered against the obvious meaning of these words, "Who will have all men to be saved." An objector says, 'Is not God omnipotent, and can he not do what he wills? If, then, he wills the salvation of all, must not all be saved? God, indeed, is omnipotent; but wisdom and goodness direct his power. He can only do what his goodness prompts and his wisdom directs. Power, then, only executes what wisdom directs and goodness prompts. Now goodness prompts to save the willing, and not the unwilling; and wisdom guides how this may be done compatibly with the promptings of divine goodness: therefore, God cannot save the unwilling, though he desires not the death of the sinner, but rather that he would turn and live; for, as Peter says, "he desires not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." God is, then, omnipotent to save all that come to him by his Son; but he cannot save those who will not have his Son to reign over them.

      Brethren, pray for every one you love, and for every thing you [274] lawfully desire. A Christian should not desire any thing for which he ought not to pray; and he ought to pray to the Lord for every thing he rationally desires, even to the minuteness of his daily bread. Be anxious, then, for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and deprecation, let your requests be made known to God.

A. C.      

      * We are not so whimsically critical, nor so mathematically precise, as to imagine that in the order of the words these things must be so arranged as that we most always begin with deprecations and end with thanksgivings, else our worship is inacceptable. We do not thus convert the New Testament into a ritual or rubrick, an one of our very precise brethren in the West, who will, in despite of all remonstrance, have It that the order of words in Acts ii. 42. is the divinely stereotyped order of Christian worship; who, to prove that in narration that which is first told always first happened, actually proved that Noah's oldest son Japheth was the youngest, because he is always last mentioned. Thus refuting himself without knowing it! [272]

[The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, 3 (June 1839): 272-275.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Short Sermons on Christian Practice: Sermons on Prayer--No. II" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 3, No. 6, June 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. 272-275.

      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. 272:    1 Tim. ii. 1. [ 1 Tim. ii. 1-4.

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created February 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

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

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