Monday, March 4, 2013

The Heart of God Affected by Prayer

Sermon XXVI [sermon 26] 

THE HEART OF GOD AFFECTED BY PRAYER

by Edward D. Griffin

Gen. XXXII. 28. [Genesis 32:28]

And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and has prevailed.

Jacob, having taken certain extraordinary measures to wrest the birthright and blessing from Esau, was compelled by his brother's hate to flee to Padanaram. In this country, which lay to the east of Euphrates, lived Laban, the brother of Jacob's mother. The wanderer took up his abode with his uncle, married his two daughters, and by them had a numerous offspring. After the lapse of twenty years God commanded him to return to his father, and renewed the promise of his protection. Jacob set out on his return, crossed Euphrates and came to Mahanaim, a place on the east of Jordan, which afterwards belonged to the tribe of Gad. From this place, or about this time, he sent messengers before him to Mount Seir, (a country on the south of Canaan, in which Esau had settled,) to make his peace with his brother. The messengers returned with the account that Esau was on his way with four hundred armed men. Jacob had now crossed the river Jabbok and had proceeded on his way as far as Jordan. At this intelligence he was greatly alarmed. For notwithstanding the general promises of God, he knew not what particular trials might await him. Though his own life was safe, he knew not how many of his children were doomed to bleed on his brother's sword. It was a trying moment. Something more was to be done than to sit still and pray. Notwithstanding all the promises and all his trust in God, he knew that means must be used for the preservation of his family: and the means which he adopted discovered a remarkable sagacity and knowledge of the human heart. He set apart five droves of cattle as a present, which he sent across Jordan to meet his brother. He separated the cattle into different droves, and sent one drove after another, with suitable distances between; wisely foreseeing that, coming in this order, they would make a deeper impression on his brother than though they had all met him at once.

In the mean time he decamps in the night and carries back his family several miles up Jabbok, to the ford of the river. There he crosses it and leaves his family on the north side, in a place of as great safety as he could find. This done, he re-crosses the ford, takes his station between his family and the approaching enemy,—on a spot of ground which from the vision of that night was afterwards called Penuel,—and then casts himself on God.

This was indeed a solemn and most trying hour. It was the dead of night. Universal stillness reigned. His sleeepless family lay trembling on the other side of Jabbok. His brother was hastening forward, with forced marches and implacable resentments, to slay "the mother with the children." To flee, thus encumbered with women and children, was impossible. To attempt resistance against so great a force, would be vain. What can screen him from a brother's fury? He has exhausted all the means in his power. He can do no more.— What hopes then remain but those which rely on heaven? To heaven he turned his eyes. Soon a bright form appeared before him. It was the same that had appeared to him at Bethel; the same Person, and perhaps the same figure, that afterwards hung on Calvary.

By miraculous light he was emboldened to embrace him and to press him importunately for a blessing. The heavenly form put on the appearance of resistance, as though he would tear himself away. How could he be spared? What could the patriarch do alone in that trembling crisis? Methinks I hear the cries of the affrighted children from the other side, and the fierce tread of hostile feet before. He could not let him go. He was emboldened, (surprising confidence!) to hold the vision fast. O did he know what he had in his embrace? It was nothing less than the treasure of the universe. How could he let him go? Who would not give his life for such another embrace?

This surprising struggle, which was designed to bring out God's condescension to be wrestled with in prayer, and the confidence and efficacy of faith, continued "until the breaking of the day." Then said the Angel of the covenant "Let me go for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go except thou bless me. And he said unto him, what is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.—And he blessed him there."

Having thus prevailed with God, and obtained power to prevail with men, that is, with Esau and his host, his heart was at rest.

The sun arose as he passed over to his family. He had not been there long before, across the plain, he discovered his brother, approaching. He had just time to dispose his family in the order in which he wished them to approach;—the two handmaids with their children first, Leah with her children next, and the beloved Rachel with her Joseph in the rear; in order that the most beloved might be the least exposed in case of attack, or in case of peace that the most beautiful, by coming last, might complete the agreeable impression. With all his confidence in God he still adhered to means.

Before the whole Jacob himself passed over, to receive the blessing on the very spot where he had wrestled with the Angel. "And," (still using means,) "he—bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him; and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept." Behold the blessed effects of trusting in God and committing one's self to him in prayer when all other helpers fail. On the same spot that had been sanctified by his prayers, he received this great deliverance. The same clod that had been just wet with praying tears, was now sprinkled with the tears of brother affection.— Who will ever again distrust the faithfulness or resources of that God who could thus extract its venom from the scorpion's sting and soften an Esau into a brother. Penuel is the place where all should seek relief, as they have occasion, from the dangers and trials of life.

"Thy name shall be called—Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men." The very name of Israel signifies one who prevails with God: and the application of this name to the whole Church is a standing memorial of their potency in prayer. Great is Israel's weight and prevalence in heaven. And they will prevail with men; will prevail over all their enemies,—over all the profane Esaus who throw away their own birthright and then follow their "brother with the sword." Yes, great is Israel's weight and prevalence in heaven. And so long as they retain this name, their influence will never cease. It is a mark put upon them to betoken that they are invincible, (I had almost said, almighty,) in prayer. For by prayer they take hold of almighty strength and appropriate it to their benefit.

My object in this sermon is to show that by prayer believers really affect the heart of God.

It seems to be too common an opinion that God acts from the dictates of wisdom without feeling, or at least that he has no feelings for individuals, but only a benevolence for the universe at large. but how can he love the whole and not the parts? It is sometimes said that prayer is designed merely to fit men for blessings, not to influence God. If by fitting men for blessings is meant that it awakens in them those feelings which please and affect the mind of God, and render him unwilling to deny their requests, then prayer truly fits them for the blessings. But what will yous ay when prayer brings down blessing on others who never prayed, and who live in distant quarters of the globe. The good bestowed in such a case is no personal benefit to the prayerful. It is objected that God causes the exercises which are put forth in prayer, and that he cannot be affected by what he himself produces. But he created men and angels, who are none the less the objects of his love on that account. Will the objector say that God has no delight in the holiness of creatures because he himself has caused it? And if he can love the creatures which he has made and the holiness which he has caused, why can he not be affected by the prayers which he has excited? Every man has an individuation of existence as distinct from God as from Gabriel, and has a consciousness of pleasure as distinct from that which is attached to the divine mind as it is from the happiness of Paul. Our persons, our character, our desires, our happiness, are all as interesting to God as though he had not created or sanctified us,—as though we were self existent.

The Scriptures speak of God as though he was really affected by prayer,—as though, from infinite and direct tenderness towards his children individually, he could not deny their requests, except so far as their good and the public interest require it. Are these representations merely after the manner of men, as we speak of his eyes and hands and feet, or do they hold forth literal and exact realities?

One thing is certain: the experience of creatures can never prove that these representations are not literally true. The conduct of God will always correspond with that of a parent who is actually prevailed upon by the entreaties of his children. They go to him, ask, and receive; receive what they would not have had if they had not asked for it. They who bear the name of Israel have the same power to prevail with God that Jacob had at Penuel. The Angel of the covenant acted as though he could not break away from the eager patriarch. The effect was the same as though he could not. So it is with the struggle of other saints. How often is the appearance strongly held out that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Zion in prayer appears absolutely invincible. By prayer she slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand of Sennacherib's army at a stroke. By prayer she destroyed the immense army of Moab in the days of Jehoshaphat. By prayer she slew a hundred and twenty thousand of the Midianites, while Gideon and the three hundred men with him only blew their trumpets and broke their pitchers and stood still in their place. By prayer she ovethrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea. By prayer she vanquished the Amalekites at Rephiddim. By prayer she demolished the walls of Jerico. And the time would fail me to tell of the overthrow of the Canaanites, the Philistines, Edom, Ammon, and Syria, and all the conquests which prayer has made. When prayer has put her hand to the sword, "one" has chased "a thousand, and two" have "put then thousand to flight." Thus have Israel power to prevail with men. And the history of the Church proves that they have power to prevail with God.

What power had Abraham to prevail with God, when by successive entreaties he obtained his promise to spare the wicked Sodom if there were in it fifty righteous men,—if forty-five,—if forty,—if thirty,—if twenty,—and even if ten. In repeated instances, when the patience of God seemed exhausted by the rebellions in the wilderness, Moses prevailed with him to reverse the exterminating sentence. Joshua prevailed with God to cause the sun and moon to stand still. Gideon prevailed with him to confirm his faith by the fleece and the dew, and to vary the sign at his solicitation. Hannah prevailed with him to give the long desired son to her maternal arms. Samuel prevailed with him to rock the pole with thunders and to deluge the earth with rain, as a reproving sign to the rebellious Hebrews. Elijah by his prayers stopped the windows of heaven, that "it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months." Again he prayed, "and the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit." Hezekiah prevailed on God to reverse the sentence of death which had gone out against him, and for a confirming sign to carry back the shadow of the sun ten degrees. By prayer Daniel obtained secrets from God who no other man could discover, stopped the mouths of lions, and brought down angels to unfold the counsels of heaven. The three children prevailed on God to quench the rage of the seven times heated furnace. Esther and the Jews prevailed on him to blunt all the bolts of Persian thunder, and to raise his people to triumph from the very gates of death. While the disciples were assembled to pray for the imprisoned Peter, the angel of the Lord entered his prison, smote off his chains, and brought him out. Paul and Silas by their prayers raised an earthquake which burst open all the prison doors, and shook off all their bands, and brought the jailer to the foot of the cross. When the apostles and their "company" were praying bout the persecuting priest and elders, "the place was shaken,—and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." "And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell" of the millions who through prayer "subdued kingdoms,—obtained promises,—escaped the edge of the sword,—waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."

It was because they bore the name of Israel and as a prince had power to prevail with God. And all who bear this name are addressed by God in this wonderful language, "Command ye me." [cf. Isa. 45:11]

We must therefore conclude that God is as really affected by the supplications of his children as any earthly parent is. Indeed he says this in so many words. "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish will he—give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the holy Spirit to them that ask him."— Do you who are parents feel that you cannot deny your children anything which they discreetly ask and which you are able to bestow? The same feelings has God. "I say discreetly ask; for they sometimes make indiscreet requests for things that would injure them; in which case, however disposed to indulgence, you do not yield to their solicitations. So it is with God. He does not grant his people what would injure them or mar the public good; but he will grant them something better. When Paul thrice prayed for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, he was not answered in exact form, but in the bestowment of greater good. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

The grand objection to the theory that God is really affected by prayer, arises from an apprehension that this would militate against his unchangeableness. I therefore say, that he has none of the fickleness and weakness of earthly parents when they are moved by the entreaties of their children. Their emotions are new and temporary, and often partial and unwise. Under the temporary excitement they are hurried into feelings and actions which are injurious to their children and unjust to others. Not so with God. Why, I ask, would it be more inconsistent with his immutability to be affected by the prayers of his children, than to feel compassion for their sufferings, or complacency in their holiness, or benevolence for their persons and desires for their happiness? All these feelings must be new and imply change unless they have existed in one eternal now. And if without change he can feel this compassion and complacency and benevolence towards his children, why, without change, can he not be affected by their prayers?

The grand truth is, that God's existence is not in succession, but in one eternal now. To suppose otherwise would impute to him imperfection, and deny his immutability, omniscience, and infinity. If he exists in succession he is constantly receiving new ideas; and then there is a change of thought, which must lead to a change of counsel. If he is eternally receiving new ideas, he is not in possession of all ideas at once, and therefore is not omniscient. If hew ideas are constantly coming into his mind, either the old ones are crowded out and forgotten, or he must grow in knowledge. On either supposition he is not infinite.

We cannot avoid the conclusion then that God's existence is not in succession but in one eternal now. Whatever feelings therefore he has, he had from eternity. Whatever objects are now present to his mind, were always present. With him there is nothing new. His children were individually before him from eternity, and his heart was always affected with benevolence towards them, with love for their holiness and compassion for their sufferings; and with equal certainty it was always affected by their prayers. He eternally and unchangeably beheld them before him, eternally and unchangeably heard their prayers, and eternally and unchangeably felt those yearnings of tenderness which could not deny their consistent requests.— Prayer can have the same influence with him as though he had not what creatures call foreknowledge and foredetermination,— as though he never existed till to-day. We may go to him with as much confidence as we would go to an earthly parent, who could be not only impressed but changed by our entreaties.

What a glorious circumstance it is that there is such a God,—enthroned in infinite majesty, yet from the midst of whose radiant glories divine compassion looks out as from a thousand eyes, and melts with pity for a dying world,—with more than a father's tenderness for his children. O such a God! Who can stifle the bursting praise? Who can hold their tongue from running loose in anthems of thanksgiving? Infinite ocean of love! real, unbounded love! let us love and adore and delight in thee as we may, as we ought, as we must.

We see then with what spirit and expectations we ought to pray;—not with a view to change God, but to become such objects as he eternally and unchangeably loved, and to present such petitions as he eternally and unchangeably felt unable to deny.

Still our prayers must be made with entire submission. No condescending language of God as if subjecting himself to our dictation,—no consciousness of power to influence him,—should make us forget that he has a sovereign right to do with us as seemeth good in his sight. Even his best beloved Son must say, "Not my will but thine be done."

We cannot be exclaim what admiration and transport, what a glorious privilege is prayer.—How unspeakable the privilege of approaching that heart which is full of tendernesses like these, and of gaining over that power which "openeth and no man shutteth," which "shutteth and no man openeth."

With all the energy of wrestling Jacob let us embrace and hold fast a prayer-hearing God. Had we the patriarch's strength of faith, our prayers would not be languid and unavailing; nor should we so irresolutely give over the struggle when God for a moment seems to reject our petitions,—an appearance which he sometimes puts on on purpose to try the strength of our faith and desire? Had Jacob been thus irresolute, he would have missed the blessing on the banks of Jabbok and his name would never have been called Israel. What powerful motives rush upon us to "pray without ceasing" What motives to union in prayer. If Jacob alone was so invincible, how great might be the united strength of praying thousands. Ere God "shall appear in his glory" to "build up Zion," there must be many wrestling Jacobs. The inscription is written on the broad side of heaven, "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them."

Let the subject come down with the weight of a thousand thunders upon the prayerless. Do they know the incalculable loss they sustain by neglecting prayer? Worlds could not countervail the damage. And do they weigh the infinite guilt incurred by refusing the tendered compassions of a God? Heaven itself cries aloud, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near." Have you determined to reject his love and the immortal happiness which is opening upon you, and to defy his resentments, to breast his power, and to lie down in everlasting burnings? If so, then proceed and put your dreadful resolution to the test. But O that it may waver; O that it may change. O that Gabriel and Paul and all the saints above may strike a higher note as they see you on your faces, as they hear you cry with bursting tears, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Amen.



More sermons by Edward D. Griffin at the www.puritansermons.com HERE
Sermons there include "When I Was A Child"; "Heaven"; "Enoch Walked With God"

Google books:
Sermons by the Late Rev. Edward D. Griffin, D.D. volume 1 HERE
Sermons by the Late Rev. Edward D. Griffin D. D. volume 2 HERE

Fifty-Four Plain Practical Sermons by the Late Edward D. Griffin, D.D. HERE

Sermons, Not Before Published, on Various Practical Subjects by the Late Edward D. Griffin HERE
(apparently another version of the previous book)

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