1 Thessalonians 5, 25.—Brethren, pray for us.
This brief request, standing, as it does, in a series of laconic exhortations, is a striking illustration of the importance which the Scriptures attach to intercessory prayer. "Rejoice evermore," "pray without ceasing," "quench not the Spirit," "despise not prophesyings," "prove all things, hold fast that which is good," "abstain from all appearance of evil;" these are some of the precepts with which it stands connected. With an evident design to close his epistle with a series of pointed practical directions, the apostle gives a place among them not only to the general precept, "pray without ceasing," but also to the special request, "brethren, pray for us." The request itself is one very frequently repeated in the Pauline epistles, under different forms, but always expressive of the writer's confidence in the real efficacy of such intercessions, as means of spiritual good to himself, and of furtherance to the glorious cause in which he was engaged. To the Hebrews, Paul says, " Pray for us, for we trust we have a good conscience, willing in all things to live honestly; but I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner." (Heb. 13, 18. 19.) The same request is made to the Komans with reference to the same result, but with greater earnestness of importunity. "!N"ow I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, that my service for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints, that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed." (Rom. 15, 30-32.) In asking the same favour, and exacting the same duty of the Ephesians, he sets before them, as the end to be attained, his greater fidelity and success in the performance of his ministerial functions, "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds, that therein I may speak boldly as I ought to speak." (Eph. 6, 18-20.)
In all these passages there are several points of resemblance, connecting them together, and identifying them as characteristic manifestations of one and the same Spirit, the same personality. In the first place, there is the absorption of the whole soul, with its powers and affections, in the one great object of the writer's life. In the next place, there is the habitual disposition to do something more than think of it, or wish for its attainment, the disposition to employ with energy the necessary means and all the means available. In the third place, there is the appearance, or rather the conclusive evidence of a thorough persuasion, that among these means the prayers of true believers held a place and an important place; that the apostle asked them and enjoined them, not merely as a salutary exercise to those whom he addressed, not merely as a token of affection and of confidence on his part towards them, but as a real efficacious means to the attainment of that end for which he lived and was prepared to die, as actually helping him, procuring him divine grace, and in a certain sense securing his success, and even his salvation. This idea, which is not obscurely implied, in the passages already quoted, is distinctly expressed in others, as when writing to the Church at Corinth, after speaking of the dangers and sufferings from which God had delivered him, he adds, "in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us, ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf." (2 Cor. 1, 10. 11.) But .the strongest expression of this confidence, in connection with the great apostle's governing desire, and we may almost say his ruling passion, is contained in his address to the Philippians, with respect to one of the severest trials which he had experienced. "What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death; for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil. 1,18-21.) of himself and others, and that, whether living or dying, he might gain his darling end, that of magnifying Christ. "With such an end in view, and with such convictions of the means by which it was to be accomplished, Paul uttered volumes when he wrote these four words, Brethren, pray for us. that these attainments in the spiritual life, although calling for grateful recognition, did not preclude the necessity of earnest prayer that God would grant to them the spirit of wisdom and of revelation, in the knowledge of him and of the riches of that glorious salvation to which he had called them. Gratitude for past gifts did but stir up the apostle to ask more. To the Philippians, through whose prayer the Apostle knew that even his sorest trials should turn to his salvation, (Phil. 1. 19,) he says, as he said to the Ephesians, "I thank my God upon every mention or remembrance of you, always, in every -prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy." (Phil. 1, 3. 4.) Here again the prayer is a daily, a perpetual prayer, a thankful, nay, a joyful prayer, a prayer for further, greater gifts, increasing knowledge, holiness and usefulness, as instruments in glorifying God—" And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that ye may be sincere and without offence until the day of Jesus Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1, 9. 11.) To the same Thessalonians whom Paul exhorts to pray without ceasing, (1 Thess. 5, 17,) and to pray for him, (ib. 5, 25,) he could say and does say," We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers," (1 Thess. 1, 2.)—and again, with his favourite combination ot thanksgiving, joy, and importunate desire—"What thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?" (1 Thess. 3, 9. 10.) As he shows how far he was from stagnant acquiescence in what he had obtained already for them, by his prayers for their advancement in the spiritual life, so he shows how far he is from flattering their spiritual pride, by making the deficiency of their faith a reason for continuing to pray even for those whose actual attainments he regarded as a matter of gratitude and joy. In the same spirit, he says in another epistle to the same Thessalonians, " we pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God, and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 1, 11. 12.) I shall only add, under this head, that for the same Corinthians, whom Paul describes as helping together by prayer for him and his associates, he prays to God, in the same epistle, that they may do no evil, and rising still higher, that they may be perfect. (2 Cor. 13, 7. 9.)
With this sublime expression of humility and triumph, of indifference and superiority to life and death, and at the same time of believing reliance on the power even of human intercession, I close the examples of Paul's habitual desire and entreaty for the prayers of others. What has been cited will suffice to show that, at his own request, and in obedience to his own command, "prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him," (Acts 12, 5,) throughout the wide field of his apostolic labours, in Italy, in Greece, in Asia Minor, and in Palestine; at Pome, at Corinth, at Philippi, at Thessalonica, at Ephesus, and among the churches of the Hebrew Christians. This extensive organization of a systematic and concerted intercession, in behalf of the apostle and his work, is a practical demonstration that he not only believed in the necessity and efficacy of prayer in general, but of intercession in particular, and that so far from regarding the ministry or even the apostleship as superior to this means of grace, as exempted from the need of it, he looked upon the exaltation of his office, and the greatness of his work, as creating a peculiar and more urgent necessity for this assistance, that his official movements, and his intercourse with the churches might be unobstructed; that his mouth might be opened to speak boldly as he ought to speak; that the very trials and discouragements with which he met might tend to the salvation
Let us now consider, for a moment, whether Paul regarded this important spiritual service as incumbent only upon others towards himself, or whether he expected it to be reciprocal, both as an obligation and a benefit. The solution of this question will be greatly facilitated, and the result rendered far more striking, by applying the inquiry to those very churches upon which we have seen the apostle so importunately calling for their intercessions. Near the end of his epistle to the Romans, we have heard him asking "for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake and for the love of the Spirit," that they would strive together with him in prayer to God for him. (Rom. 15, 30.) The prayers of the apostle, in which they are asked to join, might seem to be prayers only for himself and for his work. But near the beginning of the same epistle, with a solemn appeal to the Searcher of hearts, expressing his anxiety to be believed, and implying the importance of the fact in question, he says, "God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, (still keeping in his own view and the view of others his official relations to the Church and to its head,) that without ceasing, I make mention of you always in my prayers." (Eom. 1, 9.) Observe the strength of the expressions, always, without ceasing, lest he should be understood as speaking only of
periodical or occasional intercession, and not of the habitual and constant burden of his prayers. What follows might indeed seem to describe even Paul's own prayers, as having reference simply to himself, "making request if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you." (Kom. 1, 10.) But how utterly unselfish even this desire was, breaks out in the next sentence, "for I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that ye may be established." (Rom. 1, 11.) It was for their sake that he thus desired to come to them, yet likewise for his own, "that is that I may be comforted together with you, or jointly comforted in you, by the mutual faith both of you and me," (Rom. 1, 12,) a beautiful expression of the truth that he who prays for others not only will pray for himself, but does so in the very act of intercession, by identifying his own spiritual interest with that of those for whom he prays, and regarding every blessing granted to them as being more or less directly a blessing to himself.
"We have seen that Paul prayed for the Romans always, without ceasing. In like manner he says to the Ephesians, (1,15. 16,) "I, also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers." Here again the constancy of his intercessions is particularly mentioned; but there are two additional circumstances not to be neglected. The one is, that the apostle's prayers for the Ephesian Christians, included thanksgiving for what they were already and had already experienced. The other is,
It is surely no fortuitous coincidence, that in these five cases, the same persons, whose prayers he importunately asks for himself, are represented as the subjects of his own unceasing, thankful, joyful, fervent intercessions. The general inference is therefore obvious enough, that one of the most uniform and intimate relations which subsisted between Paul and his spiritual children, throughout tEe vast field of his labours, was that of mutual intercession, not as a mere interchange of spiritual compliments, but as an indispensable and efficacious means of grace. That this was not an incident of the apostleship, a relation growing out of any thing peculiar in the circumstances under which these Christians were converted, is clear, not only from the absence of any terms implying such restriction, and from the fact that Paul's fellow-labourers are more than once apparently included with himself in the profession and request, but also from the obvious consideration that, as soon as we are able to perceive and willing to admit the existence of sufficient reasons for this* mutual relation in the case of the apostle and his spiritual children, every one of these reasons bears with double force upon the case of other ministers and other converts. If they who had received the gospel under the impression of inspired preaching and attended by the tokens of miraculous power, needed still the wrestling intercessions of the man of God, to shield them against danger, to preserve them from error, and to fill up what was lacking of their faith, how much more must this necessity exist, or rather, how much clearer is it, in the case of those who have had no such outward pledges of divine interposition. And if he, clothed with extraordinary powers, accredited from heaven by the signs of an apostle, had occasion so repeatedly and earnestly to ask the prayers of others for his personal safety and the progress of his work, how much more pressing should the sense of this necessity be on the hearts of those who with ordinary powers are called to the same difficult and responsible work.
If these considerations are sufficient to extend the
application of the principle involved in the precepts and the practice of Paul, to all Christ's ministers and those who are in any sense their spiritual children, it is easy to foresee that the very same reasoning will carry us still further, and require us to recognize the right and duty of mutual intercession as extending to all Christians, and as arising, not from any peculiar official relations, but from a common character and interest. Whatever special motives and incitements to the duty may be afforded by the mutual relations of the teacher and the taught, the spiritual father and the spiritual children, the essential ground of the necessity in question must lie back of these, in something not confined to these relations, but existing in the common experience of all believers. Especially is this the case if we regard the right and duty of mutual intercession, not as a mere token of affection, but as an appointed and effective means of grace, as well to those who ask as those for whom they ask. If God has indeed ordained this as an efficacious instrument of spiritual good, it cannot be supposed that he intended to restrict its use and operation to the case of those who sustain what may be called an accidental relation to each other in the family of Christ. The necessity of mutual intercession may indeed appear to some to be so clearly inyolved in the admitted necessity of prayer in general, as to supersede all argument for or against it. The difference between prayer for others and ourselves, being merely circumstantial; the essence of the prayer, as consisting in sincere desire addressed to God, for some thing in accordance with his will, is of course the same in either case. The exclusive object of address is still the same. The same moral qualities, sincerity, humility aud faith, are requisite in both to make the prayer acceptable. The warrant of encouragement to pray, in either case, is furnished by God's mercy in the precious promises with which his word abounds. There is but one throne of grace and one way of access to it. The meritorious intercession of the Son, and the auxiliary intercession of the Spirit, are in all cases equally necessary.
Why then should the question even be propounded, "Whether prayer for others is a right and duty of all Christians? Not of course because the answer is in any measure doubtful, or the grounds on which it rests in any measure recondite or susceptible of novel illustration, but simply because a brief consideration of these grounds may serve to place the duty in its proper place, not only as a duty, but as an important means of grace. Because we are familiar with the precepts and examples of the Scriptures on this subject, it does not follow that truth respecting it might have been inferred as a matter of course from the general teachings of God's word respecting prayer, even without specific teachings as to this kind of prayer. It is conceivable, to say the least, that the efficacious influence of prayer might have been confined to the suppliant himself. Christian benevolence, it is true, must prompt him to desire the good of others, and to use the necessary means for its promotion. But this might not have been among the number. The power of men to help each other might have been restricted to the use of physical and moral means externally. Such an arrangement is indeed so foreign from onr scriptural associations and habitual ideas as to the duty and the means of doing good to one another, that we may find it hard to form a definite idea of it as really existing. But as no man can believe, or repent, or obey for another; as each man must in this respect bear his own burden; as the wants and dangers of each are numberless, requiring all the grace that he can ask; it would not be absurd, in the absence of explicit revelation and experience, to suppose that every man was called upon to pray for himself, for the pardon of his own sins, for the sanctification of his own corrupt nature, for his own deliverance from the power of temptation, and his own preparation for the joys of heaven, without presuming to address the throne of grace in behalf of any other, however strong his sympathy, however ardent his desires for their good. Such a supposition, however foreign from the actual state of things is, in itself, no more surprising than that all participation in the faith, repentance and obedience of each other, is impossible to true believers, however earnestly they may desire to supply each other's lack of faith or service, or to bear each other's burdens. On these grounds, and in this sense, the right and duty of intercessory prayer, however certain and familiar, may be represented as a doctrine of revelation, rather than a necessary rational deduction from the necessity of prayer in general, as a means of procuring the divine favour, and an immediate source of salutary spiritual influence. This view of the matter, so far from obscuring the glory of divine grace as beheld in the economy of man's salvation, greatly enhances it by making that a free gift, a gratuitous concession, which might otherwise have seemed to be a natural necessity. If men might justly have been suffered to pray only for themselves, as they are actually suffered to repent and believe only for themselves, then the privilege of doing good to others by our prayers, and of deriving benefit from theirs, is a distinguishing feature in the gospel system, and a notable instance of divine compassion. That the system does, in point of fact, Include such a provision, is a proposition which requires no proof. That it occupies a prominent position, and is insisted on as highly important, is sufficiently established by Paul's precept and example as already exhibited. We have seen that with a frequency and emphasis too marked to be mistaken, he addresses to the same persons urgent requests for their prayers in his behalf, and strong asseverations of his constancy in prayer for them. We have seen that the blessings which he hopes to obtain through their intercession, are deliverance from danger, consolation under sorrow, but especially boldness and success in his ministry, and more abundant honour to the name of Christ; while the mercies which he asks on their behalf are steadfastness, increase of faith, of love, of knowledge, more abundant usefulness, and full salvation. From these examples we may easily deduce a safe and comprehensive rule as to the objects and the compass of our intercession.
The induction may however be made more extensive by inquiring briefly what other cases are particularly mentioned in connection with this duty, that is to say for whom and for what the Scriptures teach us either by precept or example that we may or ought to intercede. The right and duty once established, it is true, there can be no practical difficulty in applying the principle to special cases, any more than in applying the general ride of charity or Christian love. It has pleased God, however, to incite and regulate our best affections, not by general rules merely, but by particular directions and examples, so as to leave us under no doubt either with respect to our right and duty in the general, or to particular cases and emergencies. Lest the mention of some cases should be understood as simply exclusive of all others, we have general precepts of the largest kind. "I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, should be made for all men," then with a distinct specification of a certain class, "for kings, and all that are in authority," not merely for their own sake, but for the peace of society and the edification of the church, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (1 Tim. 2,1. 2.) But while we are thus authorized and taught to pray for men in general, and for that class on whom the peace and welfare of the whole depend, we are especially encouraged to expect a blessing on our prayers for true believers, "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." (Eph. 6, 18.) A different apostle exhorts believers to "pray one for another," (James 5,16,) that they " may be healed," whether ot bodily or spiritual maladies, for both are mentioned in the context. This peculiar obligation to pray for
all saints does not destroy our right to pray for sinners, and especially for those who are particularly near to us. While we pray that saints may be saved from error and from temporal distress, we should pr-ay that sinners may be saved from death and everlasting ruin. Paul's heartfelt desire and prayer to God for Israel was " that they might be saved." (Rom. 10, 1.) So intense was his desire for this blessing that he could wish himself accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh." (Rom. 9, 3.) While these specifications teach us that the most expansive Christian benevolence has no need to consider itself straitened in God, there are others to warn us against being straitened in ourselves. As we are taught not to restrain prayer before God on account of exceptions which we may suppose him to have made, so likewise we are taught not to restrain it on account of exceptions which we make ourselves. To pray for children may be deemed a thankless or a needless form; and so when "there were brought unto " our Saviour " little children that he should put his hands on them and pray, the disciples rebuked those that brought them, but when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased and said, suffer little children to come unto me* and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven, and he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." This was an exercise of his divine prerogative. The only way in which a mere man can effectually bless is by invoking the blessing of God, i. e., by praying for the object. This example of the Saviour, therefore, furnishes a rule for our intercessions, by teaching
us that even little children may be prayed for. Here the exception, if made at all, wonld rest on the supposed insignificance of the object.
But there are other cases where a deeper feeling and a stronger motive may be supposed to hinder intercession. To pray for fellow-Christians is an obligation easily acknowledged. To pray even for sinners if they be our friends, can scarcely be denied to be a duty. To pray for those unknown to us, or those to whom we are indifferent, is still an obligation which may be externally discharged at least without repugnance. But to pray for enemies might seem to be impossible, or if possible, extravagant, the mere romance of charity, if we did not know it to be the glory of the Christian morality, the triumph of the gospel over Jew and Gentile. "Ye have heard that it hath been said thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." (Matt. 5, 44.) Well might the Saviour add to such a precept, "bo ye therefore perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." No religion or morality but that which aims at the highest perfection could find place for such a privilege or such a duty. Nay, not only are our enemies to be the subjects of our intercessions, but forgiveness of injuries is made the condition of our being heard at all for others or ourselves. By this variety of precept and example, we are not only assured of our right and duty to pray for others as well as for ourselves, but are taught, in every variety of form, that in our
application of the general rule, we need make no exceptions on account of the unworthiness or insignificancy of the object prayed for, and we must make no exceptions, in compliance with a spirit of malignant partiality. Nevertheless, we may and must pray more earnestly for some than others. While we own the obligation to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks for all men, and especially for kings and all in authority, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty, it is natural and right that we should pray with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watch thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints, and even among these we may pray with special emphasis for God's ambassadors, that utterance may be given them, or for his new-born children that they may be sincere and without offence until the day of Jesus Christ. We may pray for all men, but there are some who have a special right to say to us and we to them, Brethren, pray for -ms.
To the questions, may we pray for others? must we pray for others? a sufficient answer seems to have been given from the word of God. To the further question, whether we sufficiently appreciate the value of this doctrine, and its influence upon the whole condition of the Christian, we may all, perhaps, safely and sincerely answer no. In order to recover or obtain a correct notion of the value of salvation, it is not unusual to recur to the position that without injustice, and without detracting even from his goodness, God might have left the world to perish without hope. But even supposing that he meant to save some from eternal misery, he might have left them in a dubious state of mingled good and evil like the present life. Or even if he meant to make them ultimately blessed, he might have suffered ages of expurgatory suffering to intervene. But God has magnified the riches of his wisdom, power, and grace, by revealing a method of total deliverance from evil, and of introduction to eternal bliss, directly subsequent to the present state. The transition of the saved is not from darkness into an eternal twilight, or through twilight into a far-distant day. It is from darkness to light, from total darkness to unclouded light, from death to life, from hell to heaven, from the power of Satan unto God. And yet so familiar are our minds with this great doctrine, that we compare it only with itself, forgetting the innumerable terrible alternatives which might have been presented. Forgetting what might have been, we look upon what is as that which must be, and detract so much from our inducements to adore the saving grace of God. Now the error thus committed with respect to the whole method of salvation, may be repeated likewise with respect to many of the particular provisions comprehended in it. By regarding what is actually done as the result of a fatal necessity, we fail to consider what our condition might have been, and thus withhold from God a large share of the praise which would have been extorted from us by a view of what he has gratuitously added to the bare hope of deliverance from hell. He might have left us as it were within its jaws, and hanging over the abyss of fire. He might have left us on its verge enveloped in its thick smoke,
r and deafened by its ascending shrieks; in a word, b.6 might have done immeasureably less for ns, and yet have saved us. To borrow a single illustration from the subject which has been before us, God might have given us the hope and promise of eternal life, and yet excluded us till death from all communion with himself, from all approach to him in prayer. Oh, what a dispensation even of free mercy, yet without a throne of grace, or way of access to the Father! Or again, he might have suffered us to pray, but only for ourselves, without the right of intercession on behalf of others, or the hope of human intercession for ourselves. The way in which we are affected by this supposition may perhaps afford a measure of the value which we put upon the privilege. If we regard it with indifference, its practical value is, to us, as nothing. If we shrink from the idea of a different arrangement with sincere aversion, it can only be because we estimate in some degree aright that wonderful provision of God's mercy which, by suffering his redeemed ones to pray not only for themselves, but for others, with the hope of being heard, and with the promise of the Holy Ghost to aid their infirmities, establishes an intimate connection between every renewed soul and every other, through the throne of grace; a subtle and mysterious power, by which one may reach another—nay, may reach a thousand—nay, may reach a world, and be himself the object of as many influences as he thus puts forth; of influences tending all exclusively to good, for God will not hear the prayer of malice and hypocrisy, nor answer that of well-meant ignorance;—one soul interceding for all
saints, and all saints, as it were, for one—sending up the exhalation of a pure desire for others, and receiving in return a rain of heavenly influence; each drop, each shower, representing the petition of some pious heart, on which his own prayers had invoked a blessing, either individually, or as one in the nameless but beloved company of " all saints," for which the Bible taught him, and the Spirit prompted him, and aided him to pray! The hope of such a recompense, even in this life, together with the impulse and variety imparted by a man's prayers for others to his prayers for his own soul, may well incite us both to utter and obey more readily the precept of the text; like Pald, to "pray without ceasing" for the brethren; like Paul, to say, "Brethren, pray for us!"