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[Here we begin a series on prayer. We will start the series with a study by Jonathan Edwards on our God being a God who hears our prayers.]—Ed.
The Most High a Prayer-Hearing God, pt. 1
by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
O Thou that hearest prayer. (Ps. 65:2, AV).
This psalm seems to be written, either as a psalm of praise to God for some remarkable answer of prayer in the bestowment of some public mercy; or else on occasion of some special faith and confidence which David had that his prayer would be answered. It is probable that this mercy bestowed, or expected to be bestowed, was some great public mercy, for which David had been very earnest and importunate, and had annexed a vow to his prayer; and that he had vowed to God, that if he would grant him his request he would render Him praise and glory. — This seems to be the reason why he expresses himself as he does in the first verse of the psalm: “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed,” i.e. that praise which I have vowed to give Thee on the answer of my prayer, waiteth for Thee, to be given Thee as soon as thou shalt have answered my prayer; and the vow which I made to Thee shall be performed. In the verse of the text, there is a prophecy of the glorious times of the gospel, when “all flesh shall come” to the true God, as to the God who heareth prayer, which is here mentioned as what distinguishes the true God from the gods to whom the nations prayed and sought: those gods, who cannot hear, and cannot answer their prayer. The time was coming when all flesh should come to that God who does hear prayer. — Hence we gather this doctrine that it is the character of the Most High, that He is a God who hears prayers. I shall handle this point in the following method:
1. Show that the Most High is a God that hears prayer.
2. That He is emintently such a God.
3. That herein He is distingished from all false gods.
4. Give the reasons of the doctrine.
I. The Most High is a God that hears prayer. Though He is infinitely above all, and stands in no need of creatures, yet He is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms of the dust. He manifests and presents himself as the object of prayer, appears as sitting on a mercy seat, that men may come to Him by prayer. When they stand in need of any thing, He allows them to come, and ask it of Him; and He is wont to hear their prayers. God in His word hath given many promises that He will hear their prayers; the Scripture is full of such examples; and in His dispensations towards His church, manifests Himself to be a God that hears prayer.
Here it may be inquired, What is meant by God’s hearing prayer? There are two things implied in it.
1. His accepting the supplications of those who pray to Him. Their address to Him is well taken; He is well pleased with it. He approves of their asking such mercies as they request of Him, and approves of their manner of doing it. He accepts of their prayers as an offering to Him: He accepts the honour they do Him in prayer.
2. He acts agreeably to His acceptance. He sometimes manifests His acceptance of their prayers by special discoveries of His mercy and sufficiency, which He makes to them in prayer, or immediately after. While they are praying, He gives them sweet views of His glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty, and enables them with great quietness, to rest in Him, to leave themselves and their prayers with Him, submitting to His will, and trusting in His grace and faithfulness. Such a manifestation God seems to have made of himself in prayer to Hannah, which quieted and composed her mind, and took away her sadness. We read (in I Samuel 1) how earnest she was, and how exercised in her mind, and that she was a woman of a sorrowful spirit. First, she came and poured out her soul before God, and spoke out of the abundance of her complaint and grief, then we read that she went away, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad (see verse 13), which seems to have been from some refreshing discoveries which God had made of Himself to her, to enable her quietly to submit to His will, and trust in His mercy whereby God manifested His acceptance of her. — Not that I conclude persons can hence argue, that the particular thing which they ask will certainly be given them, or that they can particularly foretell from it what God will do in answer to their prayers, any further than He has promised in His word; yet God may, and doubtless does, thus testify His acceptance of their prayers, and from hence they may confidently rest in His providence, in His merciful ordering and disposing, with respect to the thing which they ask. — Again, God manifests His acceptance of their prayers, by doing for them agreeably to their needs and supplications. He not only inwardly and spiritually discovers His mercy to their souls by His Spirit, but outwardly by dealing mercifully with them in His providence, in consequence of their prayers, and by causing an agreeableness between His providence and their prayers. — I proceed now,
II. To show that the Most High is eminently a God that hears prayer. This appears in several things.
1. In His giving such free access to Him by prayer. God in His word manifests himself ready at all times to allow us this privilege. He sits on a throne of grace, and there is no veil to hide this throne, and keep us from it. The veil is rent from the top to the bottom; the way is open at all times, and we may go to God as often as we please. Although God be infinitely above us, yet we may come with boldness: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16). How wonderful is it that such worms as we should be allowed to come boldly at all times to so great a God! — Thus God indulges all kinds of persons, of all nations: “Unto all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours; grace be unto you” (I Corinthians 1:2,3), etc. Yea, God allows the most vile and unworthy; the greatest sinners are allowed to come through Christ. And He not only allows, but encourages, and frequently invites them; yea, manifests Himself as delighting in being sought to by prayer: “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8), and in Song of Solomon 4:14, we have Christ saying to the spouse, “O my dove, let me hear thy voice; for so sweet is thy voice.” The voice of the saints in prayer is sweet unto Christ; He delights to hear it. He allows them to be earnest and importunate; yea, to the degree as to take no denial, and as it were to give Him no rest, and even encouraging them so to do: Isaiah 62:6, 7. “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest.” Thus Christ encourages us, in the parable of the importunate widow and the unjust judge (see Luke 18). So, in the parable of the man who went to his friend at midnight are (see Luke 11:5). Thus God allowed Jacob to wrestle with Him, yea, to be resolute in it; “I will not let thee go, except Thou bless me” (Gen.. 32:26 ). It is noticed with approbation, when men are violent for the kingdom of heaven, and take it by force. Thus Christ suffered the blind man to be most importunate and unceasing in his cries to Him (see Luke 18:38-39). He continued crying, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” Others who were present rebuked him, that He should hold his peace, looking upon it as too great a boldness, and an indecent behaviour towards Christ, thus to cry after Him as He passed by. But Christ did not rebuke him, but stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him, saying, “What wilt thou that I should do to thee?” And when the blind man had told Him, Christ graciously granted his request. — The freedom of access that God gives, appears also in allowing us to come to Him by prayer for every thing we need, both temporal and spiritual; whatever evil we need to be delivered from, or good eye would obtain: “Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6.)
2. That God is eminently of this character, appears in His hearing prayer so readily. He often manifests His readiness to hear prayer, by giving an answer so speedily, sometimes while they are yet speaking, and sometimes before they pray, when they only have a design of praying. So ready is God to hear prayer, that He takes notice of the first purpose of praying, and sometimes bestows mercy thereupon: “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). We read, that when Daniel was making humble and earnest supplication, God sent an angel to comfort him, and to assure him of an answer (see Daniel 9:20-24). When God defers for the present to answer the prayer of faith, it is not from any backwardness to answer, but for the good of His people sometimes, that they may be better prepared for the mercy before they receive it, or because another time would be the best and fittest on some other account: and even then, when God seems to delay an answer, the answer is indeed hastened, as in Luke 18:7, 8: “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though He bear long with them? I tell you, that He will avenge them speedily.” Sometimes, when the blessing seems to tarry, God is even then at work to bring it about in the best time and the best manner: “Though it tarry, wait for it; it will come, it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3).
3. That the Most High is eminently one that hears prayer, appears by His giving so liberally in answer to prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5, 6). Men often show their backwardness to give, both by the scantiness of their gifts, and by upbraiding those who ask of them. They will be sure to put them in mind of some faults, when they give them any thing, but, on the contrary, God both gives liberally, and upbraids us not with our undeservings. He is plenteous and rich in His communications to those who call upon Him: “For Thou art good and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all that call upon Thee” (Psalm 86:5); and Romans 10:12: “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him” — Sometimes, God not only gives the thing asked, but He gives them more than is asked. So He did to Solomon: “Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honour, so that there shall not be and among the kings like unto thee, all the days” (1 Kings 3:12,13). Yea, God will give more to His people than they can either ask or think, as is implied in Ephesians 3:20. “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
4. That God is eminently of this character, appears by the greatness, of the things which He hath often done in answer to prayer. Thus, when Esau was coming out against his brother Jacob, with four hundred men, without doubt fully resolved to cut him off, Jacob prayed and God turned the heart of Esau, so that he met Jacob in a very friendly manner (see Genesis 32). So in Egypt, at the prayer of Moses, God brought those dreadful plagues, and at his prayer removed them again. When Samson was ready to perish with thirst, he prayed to God and he brought water out of a dry jaw-bone, for his supply (see Judges 15:18,19). And when he prayed, after his strength was departed from him, God strengthened him, so as to pull down the temple of Dagon on the Philistines: so that those whom he slew at his death were more than all those whom he slew in his life. — Joshua prayed to God, and said, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon” (Josh. 10:12), and God heard his prayer, and caused the sun and moon to stand still accordingly. The prophet “Elijah was a man of like passion” with us; “and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit”, as the apostle James observes in James 5:17-18. So God confounded the army of Zerah, the Ethiopian, of a thousand thousand, in answer to the prayer of Asa (see II Chronicles 14:9ff). And God sent an angel, and slew in one night an hundred and eighty-five thousand men of Sennacherib’s army, in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (see 2 Kings 19:14-16, 19, 35).
5. This truth appears, in that God is, as it were, overcome by prayer. When God is displeased by sin, He manifests His displeasure, comes out against us in His providence, and seems to oppose and resist us; in such cases, God is, speaking after the manner of men, overcome by humble and fervent prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). It has a great power in it; such a prayer-hearing God is the Most High, that He graciously manifests himself as conquered by it. Thus God appeared to oppose Jacob in what He sought of Him, yet Jacob was resolute, and overcame. Therefore God changed his name from Jacob to Israel; for, says He, “as a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). A mighty prince indeed! “Yea, He had power over the angel and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto Him” (Hosea 12:4) — When His anger was provoked against Israel, and He appeared to be ready to consume them in His hot displeasure, Moses stood in the gap, and by his humble and earnest prayer and supplication averted the stroke of divine vengeance (see Exodus 32:9, etc. and Numbers 14:11, etc).
(This study will continue in the next issue, D.V.)