“There is something that has been troubling me for some time. If we do not now receive the Holy Spirit, why the necessity of prayer, except to praise God and give Him thanks? Why do we ask for anything in prayer? And why do we pray for others? Is there any way God can come in contact with His creatures except by His Spirit?
“In distress, temptation and perplexity, we pray for comfort, strength and guidance. How can these be given except by the direct influence of the Spirit of God? I have frequently heard Christadelphians make requests in prayer that I cannot understand the possibility of being answered except by the direct work of the Spirit of God on their minds, or on the minds of those connected with their circumstances. For example: A person is about to deliver a lecture to the alien. A brother, on opening the meeting, prays that the speaker may present the Truth in an acceptable manner, and that some of the hearers may be led to a knowledge of the Truth.
“At a morning meeting, a brother prays to God to be with the saints that are gathered together, that they may live in peace and love with one another (how can He be with them except by His Spirit?) and to be with the sick, afflicted and suffering to comfort, strengthen, or sustain (how can God comfort, strengthen, or sustain us in answer to prayer except by His Spirit?), to make their beds of affliction for them, to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Do we not make each request in prayer daily? If they are answered would it not necessitate a daily supply of the Spirit? If it is only through the Word and by our own effort such prayers are answered, why do we not go to the Word at once, and use our own effort? What faith or reason can there be in such prayers if we do not receive the Spirit?” (HAW)
The difficulties exhibited in the foregoing are due to the mixing and confounding of the things that differ. Three things require to be carefully separated. 1. God’s action towards man. 2. Man’s action when God grants him the gift of His Spirit, and 3. The prayers of men not sufficiently emancipated from forms of speech brought with them from the sectarian theologies of the day, forms of speech which owe their existence to the metaphysical theories of the Dark Ages, and not to Bible spirit or example. When men pray according to the Bible instead of according to the unenlightened jargon of the cloister and the pulpit, there will be less occasion for the perplexities illustrated in the communication of HAC.
1. GOD’S ACTION TOWARD MEN
This is all by spirit; for God is spirit and everywhere present in the subtle, invisible and penetrating energy of the spirit. When He creates, it is by His spirit (Job 26:13, Ps 104:30). When he speaks, it is by His spirit (Neh 9:30; 2Pet 1:21). When He upholds, or directs, or guides, it is by His spirit (Ps 17:5; 51:12). But for everything there is a time and a season.
We know little of creation. The system we stand related to was created “in the beginning.” Creation in this sense is a past affair. The working of the system in the birth and death of generations, the rotation of the seasons on earth, the motion of the heavenly bodies among themselves, is not creation, but operation – all “in God”, but still not His direct work – not the result of His volition as creation was at the beginning. Cold freezes, fire destroys, without His direct action. Creation is His direct action.
We know as little experimentally of His speaking, except that we are in possession of the message, and of the momentoes and monuments of the fact that it is His message. When He spoke, it was by the spirit in the prophets and apostles. This was an impulse outside the human faculty. As Peter says, the message “came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” “At sundry times and divers manners” God spake thus unto the fathers, as Paul declares in Hebrews 1:1. He has not so spoken for 1800 years. He certainly is not so speaking now, at least not in any case to which we have accessible knowledge. The men who profess to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit speak in total contradiction to God’s written message, which, on God’s authority, (Is 8:20), is proof that it is not His speaking at all, but the utterance of mere human sentiments brewed under various pressures and processes that are perfectly natural, though the unhappy subjects consider them spiritual.
There was a time for God to speak and He spoke. There is a time for Him to be silent, and He is silent; and our only access to His mind meanwhile is the diligent study of the records of His past wonderful works and words.
But is He, therefore, unregardful of those upon the earth, who, in such a time of drought as this, are seeking to slake their parching thirst after Him as the fountain of living water, which He has opened in the earth in the written oracles of His truth? The Bible itself forbids such a thought as this. It is not of any particular generation that it is written in the Psalms (34:15), “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.” Peter, ages afterwards, applied them in his day (1Pet 3:12). So Paul, in Heb 12:5, gives the widest scope to the words written a thousand years before his day. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” At all times it is true “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you,” except that there come times when, as in the case of Israel, He hides his face and will no more be found of a perverse and heedless generation (Jer 14:10-16; 15:1-9). Such a generation is upon the earth now, and if it were not for the express revelation which we have that a people at such a time as this will be found alive at the Lord’s coming, we might well doubt if God would look to any in the midst of such great wickedness. But having such a revelation, we may take courage, “coming out from amongst them and being separate”, that God will still look to such as are of a humble and contrite heart, trembling at His word. In this courage, we may draw nigh from day to day with full assurance of heart – having such an high priest, come boldly to the throne, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16; 10:21,22).
In His response to these advances, He will work by His Spirit; but in what way we know not; we cannot know; we need not care to know. We know not what our present life is. No creature knows the essence or mode of its life. Yet all live it. How much more may we be content with the simple fact that in this higher relation of being which Revelation unveils to us. The simple fact is that God can cast down and lift up; He can prosper or hinder; He can comfort or afflict in a million ways, in which we shall not see His working hand, though we shall feel His work. The study of the ways of His providence as illustrated in Scripture history, and Scripture history alone will give us light and guidance here. All human story is unreliable. In the book The Ways of Providence, the divine story alone is brought to bear for the light it sheds on our own path. But in all this, God is the worker. Man is the subject, without possessing in himself the Spirit of God as it was in the apostles and those who received it by the laying on of their hands (Acts 8:18). From this we have carefully to discriminate the idea expressed in our second item.
2. MAN’S ACTION WHEN GOD GRANTS HIM THE GIFT OF HIS SPIRIT
The modern idea that believers have the Spirit now as believers had it then is a fruitful source of spiritual mischief. It leads men to look within, instead of looking to God. It leads them to neglect the Bible and follow their own spirits. It leads, in fact, to darkness and death instead of light and life. When God granted the gift of His Spirit, the Spirit was in the control of those who received it (1 Cor 14:32) for the particular purpose for which it was bestowed. It was in the various men who received it, a supernatural power of wisdom, or prophecy, or interpretation, or miracle as the case may be (1Cor 12:8-10), This dispensation of the Spirit was for a particular purpose, viz., for the attestation of the Apostolic testimony to the resurrection of Christ, and for the consolidation of the Apostolic work in the development of a people for the Lord (Heb 2:4; Eph 4:11-13). This manifestation has now lapsed. There is no reason to expect its revival till the Lord is actually here himself again. It would be an unspeakable source of comfort and strength to see the gift of the Spirit again restored. But it is only a weakness and a distress to suppose they exist when they do not exist, and to have offered in their place the weak, and effusive, and egotistic sentimentalism which mistakes the phosphorescent action of the human brain under “religious” excitement for “the power of the spirit of God” (Rom 15:19).
3. UNENLIGHTENED PRAYERS
On this subject, we can do no better than reproduce the following remarks from The Christadelphian for September, 1881:- “Men who do not know how to address their fellow men are not likely to excel in their approaches to the High and Holy One. The inability to pray is one of the acutest symptoms of the ungodly state of the present evil world. We see no remedy for it but in individual spiritual culture. The secret of true prayer is the conviction and realisation of the existence and universal presence of the Creator. Where a man lacks this, he speaks into the air, and is apt to have his utterances shaped by a sense of the presence of man rather than God. How is the right state of mind to be attained? We know of only one way in our age, and that is by daily familiarity with the Holy Oracles which bring God to bear on the understanding and heart. The process of their reading and study continued long enough will in the end make God a reality to the mind and impart reverence and grace of utterance to our approaches. The reading of the Scripture will teach us how to pray … There can be no doubt that many prayers are publicly offered which must be as offensive to God as He declares the prayers of Israel to have been. Many prayers are not prayers at all, but the mere recital of senseless remarks and phrase borrowed from the degraded religious communities around us. Prayer ought to consist chiefly of three things; the expression of our sincere adoration of God’s greatness and excellence, the giving of thanks for His goodness, as multitudinously manifested, both to the race and to ourselves individually, and supplication for the various things we need.
There are prayers which are childish. They are mostly of “orthodox” origin. They will disappear before Bible enlightenment. The prayers that “we may be made truly thankful”: that “we may be in earnest”; that “we may have had an edifying time”; that the speaker (who perhaps has his address prepared) “may speak acceptable words”; that the hearers (who are already there just as they are) “may have good and honest hearts” &c., &c., are all prayers that smell of the old Roman cask; prayers that are unreasonable, that could not be answered, that are a mere rattle of words, and in their implications are an unintelligent shutting of the eyes to facts, and an insult to the majesty of God. They are mostly the result of “saying prayers” instead of praying; and of slavishly conforming to “pious” phrases instead of allowing the heart to open in a rational sense of our relation to the Eternal, and a true discernment of what we require of Him.
Robert Roberts, The Christadelphian, August 1893