Sermon 1469. Prayer Perfumed with Praise
Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, April 20th, 1879, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."-Philippians 4:6.
ACCORDING TO THE TEXT, we are both by prayer and supplication to make known our requests unto God. If any distinction be intendedhere, I suppose that by prayer is meant the general act of devotion and the mention of our usual needs; and by supplicationI think would be intended our distinct entreaties and special petitions. We are to offer the general prayer common to allthe saints, and we are to add thereto the special and definite petitions which are peculiar toourselves. We are to worship in prayer, for God is to be adored by all his saints, and then we are to beseech his favoursfor ourselves, according to the words of the text, letting our requests be made known unto God. Do not forget this secondform of worship. There is a good deal of generalizing in prayer, and God forbid that we should say a word against it, so faras it is sincere worship, but we want to have more of specific, definite pleading with God, asking him for such-and-such things,with a clear knowledge of what we ask. You will hear prayers at prayer-meetings, in which everything is asked in generalbut nothing in particular, and yet the reality and heartiness of prayer will often be best manifested by the putting up ofrequests for distinct blessings. See how Abraham, when he went to worship the Lord, did not merely adore him, and in generalpray for his glory, but on a special occasion he pleaded concerning the promised heir, at another time he cried, "O that Ishmaelmight live before thee," and on one special occasion he interceded for Sodom. Elijah, when on the top of Carmel, did notpray for all the blessings of providence in general, but for rain, for rain there and then. He knew what he was driving at,kept to his point, and prevailed. So, my beloved friends, we have many wants which are so pressing as to be very distinctand definite, and we ought to have just so many clearly defined petitions which we offer unto God by way of supplication,and forthe divine answers to these we are bound to watch with eager expectancy, so that when we receive them we may magnify theLord.
The point to which I would draw your attention is this: that whether it be the general prayer or the specific supplicationwe are to offer either or both "with thanksgiving." We are to pray about everything, and with every prayer we must blend our thanksgivings. Hence it follows that we ought alwaysto be in a thankful condition of heart: since we are to pray without ceasing, and are not to pray without thanksgiving, itis clear that we ought to be always ready togive thanks unto the Lord. We must say with the Psalmist, "Thus will I bless thee while I live; I will lift up my handsin thy name." The constant tenor and spirit of our lives should be adoring gratitude, love, reverence, and thanksgiving tothe Most High.
This blending of thanks with devotion is always to be maintained. Always must we offer prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. No matter though the prayer should struggle upward out of the depths, yet must its wings be silvered o'er withthanksgiving. Though the prayer were offered upon the verge of death, yet in the last few words which the trembling lips canutter there should be notes of gratitude as well as words of petition. The law saith: "With all thysacrifices thou shalt offer salt;" and the gospel says with all thy prayers thou shalt offer praise. "One thing at a time"is said to be a wise proverb, but for once I must venture to contradict it, and say two things at a time are better, whenthe two are prayer and thanksgiving. These two holy streams flow from one common source, the Spirit of life which dwells withinus; and they are utterances of the same holy fellowship with God; and therefore it is right that they should mingle as theyflow, and find expression in the same holy exercise. Supplication and thanksgiving so naturally run into each other thatit would be difficult to keep them separate: like kindred colours, they shade off into each other. Our very language seemsto indicate this, for there is small difference between the words "to pray," and "to praise." A psalm may be either a prayeror praise, or both; and there is yet another form of utterance which is certainly prayer, but is used as praise, and is reallyboth. I refer to that joyous Hebrew word which has been imported into all Christian languages, "Hosanna." Is it a prayer?Yes. "Save, Lord." Is it not praise? Yes; for it is tantamount to "God save the king," and is used to extol the Son of David.While we are here on earth we should never attempt to make such a distinction between prayer and praise that we should eitherpraise without prayer or pray without praise; but with every prayer and supplication we should mingle thanksgiving, and thusmake known our requests unto God.
This commingling of precious things is admirable. It reminds me of that verse in the Canticles where the king is describedas coming up from the wilderness in his chariot, "like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powdersof the merchant." There is the myrrh of prayer, and the frankincense of praise. So, too, the holy incense of the sanctuaryyielded the smoke of prayer which filled the holy place, but with it there was the sweet perfume ofchoice spices, which may be compared to praise. Prayer and praise are like the two cherubim on the ark, they must neverbe separated. In the model of prayer which our Saviour has given us, saying, "After this manner pray ye," the opening partof it is rather praise than prayer-"Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name," and the closing part of it is praise,where we say, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen." David, who is the great tutorand exemplar of the church as to her worship, being at once her poet and her preacher, takes care in almost every psalm,though the petition may be agonizing, to mingle exquisite praise. Take for instance, that psalm of his after his great sinwith Bathsheba. There one would think, with sighs and groans and tears so multiplied, he might have almost forgotten or havefeared to offer thanksgiving while he was trembling under a sense of wrath; and yet ere the psalm that begins "Have mercyupon me,O God," can come to a conclusion the psalmist has said: "O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thypraise," and he cannot pen the last word without beseeching the Lord to build the walls of Jerusalem, adding the promise,"then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shaltthey offer bullocks upon thine alter." I need not stop to quote other instances, but it is almost always the case that Davidby the fireof prayer warms himself into praise. He begins low, with many a broken note of complaining, but he mounts and glows, and,like the lark, sings as he ascends. When at first his harp is muffled he warbles a few mournful notes and becomes excited,till he cannot restrain his hand from that well-known and accustomed string which he had reserved for the music of praisealone. There is a passage in the eighteenth Psalm, at the third verse, in which indeed he seems to have caught the very ideawhich Iwant to fix upon your minds this morning. "I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be savedfrom mine enemies." He was in such a condition that he says, "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodlymen made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me." Driven by distress, he declaresthat he will call upon the Lord, that is, with utterances of prayer; but he does not alone regard his God as the object ofprayer,but as One who is to be praised. "I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;" and then, as if inspired toinform us of the fact that the blending of thanksgiving with prayer renders it infallibly effectual, as I shall have to showyou it does, he adds, "So shall I be saved from mine enemies."
Now, if this habit of combining thanksgiving with prayer is found in the Old Testament saints, we have a right to expect ityet more in New Testament believers, who in clearer light perceive fresh reasons for thanksgiving; but I shall give you noinstance except that of the writer of my text. Does he not tell us in the present chapter that those things which we haveseen in him we are to do, for his life was agreeable with his teachings? Now, observe, how frequently hecommences his epistles with a blending of supplication and thanksgiving. Turn to Romans 1:8-9, and note this fusion of these precious metals-"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith isspoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that withoutceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers." There is "I thank my God," and "I make mention of you always in my prayers."This was not writtenwith a special eye to the percept of our text; it was natural to Paul so to thank God when he prayed. Look at Colossians 1:3-"We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." To the same effect we read in FirstThessalonians 1:2-"We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers." Look also at Second Timothy1:3-"I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance ofthee in my prayers night and day." And if it be so in other epistles, we are not at all surprised to find it so in Philippians 1:3-4-"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." Nor needI confine you to the language of Paul's epistle, since it is most noteworthy that in Philippi itself (and those to whom hewrote must have remembered the incident) Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God at midnight, so that theprisoners heard them. It is clear that Paul habitually practised what he here enjoins. His own prayers had not been offeredwithout thanksgiving; what God hath joined together he had never put asunder.
With this as a preface, I invite you to consider, carefully and prayerfully, first, the grounds of thanksgiving in prayer; secondly, the evil of its absence; and thirdly, the result of its presence.
I. First, then, there are REASONS FOR MINGLING THANKSGIVING WITH PRAYER. In the nature of things it ought to be so. We haveabundant cause, my brethen, for thanksgiving at all times. We do not come to God in Prayer as if he had left us absolutelypenniless, and we cried to him like starving prisoners begging through prison bars. We do not ask as if we had never receiveda single farthing of God before, and hardly thought we should obtain anything now; but on the contrary,having been already the recipients of immense favours, we come to a God who abounds in lovingkindness, who is willingto bestow good gifts upon us, and waits to be gracious to us. We do not come to the Lord as slaves to an unfeeling tyrantcraving for a boon, but as children who draw nigh to a loving father, expecting to receive abundantly from his liberal hands.Thanksgiving is the right spirit in which to come before the God who daily loadeth us with benefits. Bethink you for awhilewhatcause you have for thanksgiving in prayer.
And first you have this, that such a thing as prayer is possible, that a finite creature can speak with the infinite Creator,that a sinful being can have audience with the thrice-holy Jehovah. It is worthy of thanksgiving that God should have commandedprayer and encouraged us to draw near unto him; and that moreover he should have supplied all things necessary to the sacredexercise. He has set up a mercy seat, blood besprinkled; and he has prepared a High Priest, everliving to make intercession; and to these he has added the Holy Ghost to help our infirmities and to teach us what weshould pray for as we ought. Everything is ready, and God waits for us to enquire at his hands. He has not only set beforeus an open door and invited us to enter, but he has given us the right spirit with which to approach. The grace of supplicationis poured out upon us and wrought in us by the Holy Ghost. What a blessing it is that we do not attempt prayer with aperadventure, as if we were making a doubtful experiment, nor do we come before God as a forlorn hope, desperately afraidthat he will not listen to our cry; but he has ordained prayer to be the ordinary commerce of heaven and earth, and sanctionedit in the most solemn manner. Prayer may climb to heaven, for God has himself prepared the ladder and set it down just bythe head of his lonely Jacob, so that though that head be pillowed on a stone it may rest in peace. Lo, at the top of thatladder is the Lord himself in his covenant capacity, receiving our petitions and sending his attendant angels with answersto our requests. Shall we not bless God for this?
Let us praise his name, dear friends, also especially that you and I are still spared to pray and permitted to pray. Whatif we are greatly afflicted, yet it is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed. If we had received our desserts we shouldnot now have been on praying ground and pleading terms with him. But let it be for our comfort and to God's praise that stillwe may stand with bowed head and cry each one-"God be merciful to me a sinner." Still may we crylike sinking Peter, "Lord save, or I perish." Like David, we may be unable to go up to the temple, but we can still goto our God in prayer. The prodigal has lost his substance, but he has not lost his power to supplicate. He has been feedingswine, but as yet he is still a man, and has not lost the faculty of desire and entreaty. He may have forgotten his father,but his father has not forgotten him; he may arise and he may go to him, and he may pour out his soul in his father's bosom.Therefore, let us give thanks unto God that he has nowhere said unto us-"Seek ye my face in vain." If we find a desireto pray trembling within our soul, and if though almost extinct we feel some hope in the promise of our gracious God, if ourheart still groans after holiness and after God, though she hath lost her power to pray with joyful confidence as once shedid, yet let us be thankful that we can pray even if it be but a little. In the will and power to pray there lies the capacityforinfinite blessedness: he who hath the key of prayer can open heaven, yea, he hath access to the heart of God; therefore,bless God for prayer.
And then, beloved, beyond the fact of prayer and our power to exercise it, there is a further ground of thanksgiving thatwe have already received great mercy at God's hands. We are not coming to God to ask favours and receive them for the firsttime in our lives. Why, blessed be his name, if he never granted me another favour, I have enough for which to thank him aslong as I have any being. And this, moreover, is to be recollected, that whatever great things we are aboutto ask, we cannot possibly be seeking for blessings one-half so great as those which we have already received if we areindeed his children. If thou art a Christian, thou hast life in Christ. Art thou about to ask for meat and raiment? The lifeis more than these. Thou hast already obtained Christ Jesus to be thine, and he that spared him not will deny thee nothing.Is there, I was about to say, anything to compare with the infinite riches which are already ours in Christ Jesus? Let usperpetually thank our Benefactor for what we have while we make request for something more. Should it not be so? Shallnot the abundant utterances of the memory of his great goodness run over into our requests, till our petitions are baptizedin gratitude. While we come before God, in one aspect, empty handed to receive of his goodness, on the other hand we shouldnever appear before him empty, but come with the fat of our sacrifices, offering praise and glorifying God.
Furthermore, there is this to be remembered, that when we come before God in the hour of trouble, remembering his great goodnessto us in the past, and therefore thanking him, we ought to have faith enough to believe that the present trouble, about whichwe are praying, is sent in love. You will win with God in prayer if you can look at your trials in this light:-"Lord, I havethis thorn in the flesh. I beseech thee, deliver me from it, but meanwhile I bless thee for it;for though I do not understand the why or the wherefore of it, I am persuaded there is love within it; therefore, whileI ask thee to remove it, so far as it seemeth evil to me, yet wherein it may to thy better knowledge work my good, I blessthee for it, and I am content to endure it so long as thou seest fit." Is not that a sweet way of praying? "Lord, I am inwant, be pleased to supply me; but, meanwhile, if thou do not, I believe it is better for me to be in need, and so I praisethee formy necessity while I ask thee to supply it. I glory in mine infirmity, even while I ask thee to overcome it. I triumphbefore thee in my affliction, and bless thee for it even while I ask thee to help me in it and to rescue me out of it." Thisis a royal way of praying: such an amalgam of prayer and thanksgiving is more precious than the gold of Ophir.
Furthermore, beloved, whenever we are on our knees in prayer, it becomes us to bless God that prayer has been answered somany times before. Here thy poor petitioner bends before thee to ask again, but ere he asks he thanks thee for having heardhim so many times before. I know that thou hearest me always, therefore do I continue still to cry to thee. My thanksgivingsurge me to make fresh petitions, encouraging me in the full confidence that thou wilt not send me awayempty. Why, many of the mercies which you possess today, and rejoice in, are answers to prayer. They are dear to you because,like Samuel, whom his mother so named because he was "asked of God," they came to you as answers to your supplications. Whenmercies come in answer to prayer they have a double delight about them, not only because they are good in themselves, butbecause they are certificates of our favour with the Lord. Well, then, as God has heard us so often and we have the proofsofhis hearing, should we ever pray with murmurings and complainings? Should we not rather feel an intense delight when weapproach the throne of grace, a rapture awakened by sunny memories of the past?
Again, we ought to pray with thanksgiving in its highest of allsenses, by thanking God that we have the mercy which we seek. I wish we could learn this high virtue of faith. When I wasconversing lately with our dear friend George Miller, he frequently astonished me with the way in which he mentioned thathe had for so many months and years asked for such and such a mercy, and praised the Lord for it. He praised the Lord forit as though he had actually obtained it. Evenin praying for the conversion of a person, as soon as he had begun to intercede he began also to praise God for the conversionof that person. Though I think he told us he had in one instance already prayed for thirty years and the work was not yetdone, yet all the while he had gone on thanking God, because he knew the prayer would be answered. He believed that he hadhis petition, and commenced to magnify the Giver of it. Is this unreasonable? How often do we antedate our gratitude amongthesons of men! If you were to promise some poor person that you would pay his rent when it came due, he would thank youdirectly, though not a farthing had left your pocket. We have enough faith in our fellow-men to thank them beforehand, andsurely we may do the same with our Lord. Shall we not be willing to trust God for a few months ahead, ay, and for years beforehand,if his wisdom bids us wait. This is the way to win with him. When ye pray, believe that ye receive the boons ye ask, and yeshall have them. "Believe that ye have it," says the Scripture, "and ye shall have it." As a man's note of hand standsfor the money, so let God's promise be accounted as the performance. Shall not heaven's bank-notes pass as cash? Yea, verily,they shall have unquestioned currency among believers. We will bless the Lord for giving us what we have sought, since ourhaving it is a matter of absolute certainty. We shall never thank God by faith and then find that we were befooled. He hassaid,"All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." And therefore we may rest assured that thethanksgiving of faith shall never bring shame into the face of the man who offers it.
Once again, and then I will say no more upon these grounds of thanksgiving; surely, brethren, if the Lord do not answer theprayer which we are offering, yet still he is so good, so supremely good, that we will bless him whether or no. We ought evento praise him when he does not answer us, ay, and bless him for refusing our desires. How devoutly might some of us thankhim that he did not answer our prayers when we sought for evil things in the ignorance of our childishminds. We asked for flesh, and He might have sent us quails in His anger, and while the flesh was yet in our mouths hiswrath might have come upon us; but in love he would not hear us. Blessed be his name for closing his ear in pity! Let us adorehim when he keeps us waiting at his doors; thank him for rebuffs, and bless him for refusals, believing always that RalphErskine spoke the truth when he said:
"I'm heard when answered soon or late,
Yea, heard when I no answer get:
Yea, kindly answered when refused,
And treated well when harshly used."
Faith glorifies the love of God, for she knows that the Lord's roughest usage is only love in disguise. We are not so sordidas to make our songs depend upon the weather, or on the fulness of the olive-press and the wine-fat. Blessed be his name,he must be right even when he seems at cross purposes with his people; we are not going to quarrel with him, like silly babeswith their nurses, because he does not happen to grant us every desire of our foolish hearts. Though heslay us we will trust in him, much more if he decline our requests. We ask him for our daily bread, and if he withholdit we will praise him. Our praises are not suspended upon his answers to our prayers. If the labour of the olive should fail,and the field should yield no fruit; if the flock should be cut off from the fold, and the herd from the stall, yet stillwould we rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of our salvation. Blessed Spirit, raise us to this state of grace and keepusthere.
Of that which we have spoken this is the sum: under every condition, and in every necessity, draw nigh to God in prayer, butalways bring thanksgiving with you. As Joseph said to his brethren, "Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be withyou;" so may the Lord say to you, "You shall not receive my smile unless you bring thankfulness with you." Let your prayersbe like those ancient missals which one sometimes sees, in which the initial letters of the prayers aregilded and adorned with a profusion of colours, the work of cunning writers. Let even the general confession of sin andthe litany of mournful petitions have at least one illuminated letter. Illuminate your prayers; light them up with rays ofthanksgiving all the way through; and when you come together to pray forget not to make melody unto the Lord with psalms,and hymns, and spiritual songs.
II. Secondly, I shall drive at the same point, while I try to show THE EVIL OF THE ABSENCE OF THANKSGIVING in our prayers.
First and foremost, we should be chargeable with ingratitude. Are we to be always receiving and never to return thanks? Aristotlerightly observes: "A return is required to preserve friendship between two persons," and as we have nothing else to give toGod except gratitude, let us abound therein. If we have no fruit of the field, let us at least render to him the fruit ofour lips. Have you no thanks to bring? How, then, can you expect further favours? Does not liberalityitself close its hand when ingratitude stands in the way? What, never a word of gratitude to him from whom all blessingsflow! Then may even the ungodly despise you.
Next, it would argue great selfishness if we did not combine praise with prayer. Can it be right to think only of ourselves,to pray for benefits and never honour our Benefactor? Are we going to import the detestable vice of avarice into spiritualthings, and only care for our own souls' good? What, no thought for God's glory! No idea of magnifying his great and blessedname! God forbid that we should fall into a spirit so mean and narrow. Healthy praise and thanksgivingmust be cultivated, because they prevent prayer from becoming overgrown with the mildew of selfishness.
Thanksgiving also prevents prayer from becoming an exhibition of the want of faith; for indeed some prayer is rather a manifestationof the absence of faith than the exercise of confidence in God. If when I am in trouble I still bless the Lord for all I suffer,therein my faith is seen. If before I obtain the mercy, I thank God for the grace which I have not yet tasted, therein myfaith is manifest. What, is our faith such that it only sings in the sunshine? Have we nonightingale music for our God? Is our trust like the swallow, which must leave us in winter? Is our faith a flower whichneeds the conservatory to keep it alive? Can it not blossom like the gentian at the foot of the frozen glacier, where thedamp and chill of adversity surround it? I trust it can, it ought to do so, and we ought to feel that we can praise and blessGod when outward circumstances appear rather to demand sighs than songs.
Not to thank God in our prayers would argue willfulness, and want of submission to his will. Must everything be ordered according to our mind? To refuse to praise unless we have our own way is great presumption, andshows that like a naughty child we will sulk if we cannot be master. I might illustrate the willfulness of many a supplicationby that of a little boy who was very diligent in saying his prayers, but was at the same time disobedient, ill-tempered, andthe pest of the house. His mother told him that she thought it was mere hypocrisy for him to pretend to pray. He replied,"No, mother, indeed it is not, for I pray God to lead you and father to like my ways better than you do." Numbers of peoplewant the Lord to like their ways better, but they do not intend to follow the ways of the Lord. Their minds are contrary toGod and will not submit to his will, and therefore there is no thanksgiving in them. Praise in a prayer is indicative of anhumble, submissive, obedient spirit, and when it is absent we may suspect willfulness and self-seeking. Very much of theprayer of rebellious hearts is the mere growling of an angry obstinacy, the whine of an ungratified self-conceit. God mustdo this and he must do that, or else we will not love him. What baby talk! What spoiled children such are! A little whippingwill do them good. "I have never believed in the goodness of God," said one, "ever since he took my dear mother away." I knewagood man whose child was on the verge of the grave; when I went to see her he charged me not to mention death to her,for he said, "I do not believe God could do such an unkind action as take my only child away." When I assured him that shewould surely die in a few days, and that he must not quarrel with the will of the Lord, he stood firm in his rebellion. Heprayed, but he could not bless God, and it was no marvel that his heart sank within him, and he refused to be comforted, whenat lasthis child died, as we all felt sure she would. He became afterwards resigned, but his want of acquiescence cost him manya smart. This will not do; this quarreling with God is poor work! Resignation comes to the heart like an angel unawares, andwhen we entertain it our soul is comforted. We may ask for the child's life, but we must also thank the Lord that the dearlife has been prolonged so long as it has been, and we must put the child and everything else into our Father's hands andsay, "Ifthou shouldest take all away, yet still will I bless thy name, O thou Most High." This is acceptable prayer, because itis not soured by the leaven of self-will, but salted with thankfulness.
We must mingle our thanksgivings with our prayers, or else we may fear that our mind is not in harmony with the divine will.Recollect, dear friends, that prayer does not alter the mind of God: it never was the intent of prayer that it should attemptanything of the kind. Prayer is the shadow of the decrees of the Eternal. God has willed such a thing, and he makes his saintsto will it, and express their will in prayer. Prayer is the rustling of the wings of the angels whoare bringing the blessing to us. It is written, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desiresof thine heart." It is not said that he will give the desire of his heart to every Jack and Tom; but you must first delightin the Lord, and when your mind finds all her joy in God then it is clear that God and you, as far as it can be, are standingon the same plane and moving in the same direction, and now you shall have the desire of your heart because the desire ofyourheart is the desire of God's heart. Character, as much as faith, lies at the basis of prevalence in prayer. I do not meanin the case of the prayer of the sinner when he is seeking mercy, but I mean in the habitual prayers of the godly. There aresome men who cannot pray so as to prevail, for sin has made them weak, and God walks contrary to them because they walk contraryto him. He who has lost the light of God's countenance has also lost much of the prevalence of his prayers. You do notsuppose that every Israelite could have gone to the top of Carmel and opened the windows of heaven as Elijah did. No,he must first be Elijah, for it is the effectual, fervent prayer, not of every man, but of a righteous man, that availethmuch; and when the Lord has put your heart and my heart into an agreement with him then we shall pray and prevail. What didour Lord say-"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Doubtlessmanylose power in prayer because their lives are greivous in the sight of the Lord, and he cannot smile upon them. Will anyfather listen to the requests of a child who has set himself up in opposition to parental authority? The obedient, tender,loving child, who would not wish for anything which you did not think right to give, is he whose requests you are pleasedto consider and fulfil; yea, more, you even anticipate the wishes of such a child, and before he calls you answer him. Maywe be suchchildren of the great God.
III. And now, in the third place, let us consider THE RESULT OF THE PRESENCE OF THIS THANKSGIVING IN CONNECTION WITH PRAYER.According to the context, the presence of thanksgiving in the heart together with prayer is productive of peace. "In everythingby prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God, which passethall understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Now that peace, thatconscious calm, that divine serenity, which is described as the peace of God, is not produced by prayer alone, but byprayer with thanksgiving. Some men pray, and therein they do well; but for lack of mixing thanksgiving with it their prayeragitates them, and they come away from the closet even more anxious than when they entered it. If they mingled in their petitionsthat sweet powder of the merchants, which is called praise, and mixed it after the art of the apothecary, in due proportions,the blessing of God would come with it, causing repose of heart. If we bless our gracious Lord for the very trouble wepray against; if we bless him for the very mercy which we need, as though it had already come; if we resolve to praise himwhether we receive the boon or not, learning in whatsoever state we are therewith to be content, then "the peace of God, whichpasseth all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus." Brethren, as you value this divine rest of spirit,asyou prize constant serenity of soul, I beseech you, mingle praises with your prayers.
The next effect of it will be this: the thanksgiving will often warm the soul, and enable it to pray. I believe it is theexperience of many who love secret devotion that at times they cannot pray, for their heart seems hard, cold, dumb, and almostdead. Do not pump up unwilling and formal prayer, my brethren; but take down the hymn-book and sing. While you praise theLord for what you have, you will find your rocky heart begin to dissolve and flow in rivers. You will beencouraged to plead with the Lord because you will remember what you have aforetime received at his hand. If you had anempty wagon to raise to the mouth of a coal-pit, it might be a very difficult task for you; but the work is managed easilyby the common-sense of the miners. They make the full wagons, as they run down, pull the empty wagons up the incline. Now,when your heart is loaded with praise for mercy received, let it run down the incline, and draw up the empty wagon of yourdesires,and you will thus find it easy to pray. Cold and chill prayers are always to be deplored, and if by so simple a methodas entreating the Lord to accept our thanksgiving our hearts can be warmed and renewed, let us by all means take care to useit.
Lastly, I believe that when a man begins to pray with thanksgiving he is upon the eve of receiving the blessing. God's timeto bless you has come when you begin to praise him as well as pray to him. God has his set time to favour us, and he willnot grant us our desire until the due season has arrived. But the time has come when you begin to bless the Lord. Now, takean instance of this in Second Chronicles 20:20-Jehoshaphat went out to fight with an exceeding greatarmy, and mark how he achieved the victory. "They rose early in the morning and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa:and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; believe in the LORDyour God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the peoplehe appointed"-what? warriors, captains? No, that was all done, but he "appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praisethebeauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever. Andwhen they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, whichwere come against Judah; and they were smitten." Victory came when they began to sing and praise. You shall get your answersto prayer when you multiply your thanksgivings in all your prayers and supplications: rest you sure of that.
Our thanksgiving will show that the reason for our waiting is now exhausted; that the waiting has answered its purpose, andmay now come to a joyful end. Sometimes we are not in a fit state to receive a blessing, but when we reach the condition ofthankfulness, then is the time when it is safe for God to indulge us. A professing Christian came to his minister once andsaid, "Sir, you say we should always pray." "Yes, my friend, undoubtedly." "But then, Sir, I have beenpraying for twelve months that I might enjoy the comforts of religion, and I am no happier than before. I have made thatmy one perpetual prayer, that I might enjoy the comforts of religion, and I do not feel joy nor even peace of mind; in fact,I have more doubts and fears than ever I had." "Yes," said his minister, "and that is the natural result of such a selfishprayer. Why, dear friend," he said, "come and kneel down with me, and let us pray in another manner, 'Father, glorify thyname!Thy kingdom come.' Now," said he, "go and offer those petitions and get to work to try to make it true, and see if youdo not soon enjoy the comforts of religion." There is a great deal in that fact: if you will but desire God to be glorified,and aim at glorifying him yourself, then shall the joys of true godliness come to you in answer to prayer.
The time for the blessing is when you begin to praise God for it. For, brethren, you may be sure that when you put up a thanksgivingon the ground that God has answered your prayer, you really have prevailed with God. Suppose you had promised to some poorwoman that you would give her a meal tomorrow. You might forget it, you know; but suppose when the morning came she sent herlittle girl with a basket for it, she would be likely to get it I think. But, suppose that shesent in addition a little note in which the poor soul thanked you for your great kindness, could you have the heart tosay, "My dear girl, I cannot attend to you today. Come another time"? Oh dear no, if the cupboard was bare you would sendout to get something, because the good soul so believed in you that she had sent you thanks for it before she received yourgift. Well, now, trust the Lord in the same manner. He cannot run back from his Word, my brethren. Believing prayer holdshim, butbelieving thanksgiving binds him. If it is not in your own heart, though you be evil, to refuse to give what you havepromised when that promise is so believed that the person rejoices as though he had it; then depend upon it the good God willnot find it in his heart to refuse. The time for reception is fully come because thanksgiving for that reception fills yourheart. I leave the matter with you. If you are enabled to pray in that fashion, great good will come to yourselves, and tothechurch of God, and to the world at large by such prayers.
Now, I think I hear in this audience somebody saying, "But I cannot pray so. I do not know how to pray. Oh, that I knew howto pray! I am a poor, guilty sinner. I cannot mix any thanksgiving with my supplications." Ah, my dear soul, do not thinkabout that just now. I am not so much preaching to you as I am preaching to the people of God. For you it is quite enoughto say-"God be merciful to me a sinner." And yet I will venture to say that there is praise in such apetition. You are implicitly praising the justice of God, and you are praising his mercy by appealing to him. When theprodigal returned, and he began his prayer by saying, "I am not worthy to be called thy son," there was in that confessiona real praise of the father's goodness, of which he was unworthy to partake. But you need not to think about this matter atpresent, for first you have to find Jesus, and eternal life in him. Go and plead the merit of Jesus, and cast yourself uponthe loveand mercy of God in him and he will not cast you away: and then another day, when you thus have found and known him, takecare that the thanksgiving for your salvation never ceases. Even when you are most hungry, and poor, and needy in the futurecontinue to bless your saving Lord, and say, "This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him: and because the LORD inclined hisear unto me I will praise his name as long as I live."
God bless you, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Philippians 4.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK."-18 (Vers. 1.), 1001, 982.