Samuel and the Sin Against the Lord
One of the mightiest instrumentalities for the world's advance is intercessory prayer—prayer for others. Some souls have realized this fact. One such was Samuel. He was much like our Washington, a wise, practical leader, who had great forethought and who secured large results.
All through his busy public career, while he was trying to reform and elevate Israel, he prayed for Israel. He laid proper emphasis on instruction and administration: the principles that he taught were the soundest, and the deeds of his official leadership were flawless. But he believed that his full usefulness to his fellow men and his full devotion to God were not accomplished until he had prayed to God to bless men.
To Samuel it was a "sin against the Lord" not to pray for others. In one of the most remarkable addresses in all history, an address that reminds us of Washington's Farewell Address, delivered as he was retiring from public leadership, Samuel so designated failure to pray for others—a "sin against the Lord." At a moment that was in many respects the consummate moment of his life, a life eminently judicious, pure and beneficial, he declared that though he ceased to exercise the functions of official leadership, one thing he would not cease to do—pray for Israel; for to cease doing that would be a sin.
Some such startling assertion seems necessary to arouse our attention to the wondrous power for God's glory and for human good that there is in intercessory prayer. It, too, as well as prophetic teaching and public leadership, may be a mighty ministry of usefulness.
An incident in English history illustrates this ministry. Henry VIII was King of England. William Tyndale, a scholar, wished to translate the Greek New Testament into English, so that the English people could have God's word in their own tongue. The king and church alike refused to allow such a translation. There was not a spot in England where Tyndale was safe to carry out his project. So he went to the Continent. There he labored, under stress and difficulties. He made his translation. He sent it over to England. The authorities burned it. Still he kept at his work, perfecting the translation. Enemies dogged his footsteps. He was deceived, betrayed, imprisoned, and at last burned to death. His dying words were a prayer—a prayer of intercession: "Oh, Lord, open the king of England's eyes!"
Little did it seem as though that prayer would be answered. The king was set against the circulation of the Bible and there was no indication whatever that he would change his mind. But that true prayer of intercession had been offered. All unselfishly Tyndale had prayed that the king's eyes might be so opened that he would see what a blessing the English Bible would be to the English people, and would desire the people to have that Bible. The prayer was answered! In a little time Henry VIII. saw the Bible in an entirely new light. Instead of persecuting those who favored its translation he helped them. He even gave his royal sanction to the issue of the Bible. The English translation which is in our hands today proclaims, whenever we read it, that the prayer of intercession prevails. The English Bible is a witness to the power of intercessory prayer.
It is startling to us sometimes—especially when we have grown careless or lukewarm about intercessory prayer—to turn to the Gospel as John wrote it and see the place occupied there by Christ's intercessory prayer. The closing hours of Christ's life had come. He poured out His heart to His disciples. So helpful, so living were the words He then spoke, that the four chapters beginning with, "Let not your heart be troubled," are the best loved chapters of the Bible. How do they end? How does Christ conclude His last opportunity of free association with His disciples? He concludes it with a prayer—a prayer not for Himself, but for them; for them and those who should believe on Him through their words. This was His last legacy, His crowning service to mankind, ere He died.
Earlier in His ministry He had said to Peter, "I have prayed for thee." Peter had no thought whatever of his particular need: he did not and could not foresee that he would be exposed to peculiar temptations that might lead him to forsake his Master, and even to deny Him. But Christ foresaw the whole exposure, and, in anticipation, Christ prayed for him. When the temptations came, and Peter did deny his Lord, Peter did not utterly fail, because the prayer of intercession availed. In the very hour of denial Peter's heart melted, and penitently he came back to Christ.
We can follow this special prayer of intercession by Christ for Peter and we can note its effects. We cannot in the same way follow the general prayer of intercession as given in John's seventeenth chapter, and note its particular answers. Yet we do not doubt that the courage of James at Jerusalem, and the sweetness of John at Patmos, and the safety and peace of hundreds like our own selves all over the world, were secured through that very prayer.
How much this world of ours would have lost had there been no intercessory prayer! Stephen prayed for the group of people who stood about him as he was being stoned to death—and lo, out of that group comes a young man, Paul, who gives his whole heart and life to the cause of Christ. What an omission it would have been if Stephen had not prayed! Away back in distant days, when Israel contended with the Amalekites in the valley, Moses was on the mountain, with Aaron and Hur at his sides. Moses stretched out his arms in prayer, that God would give victory to Israel. The day dragged on. Moses was old and his arms heavy. But Aaron and Hur helped him, upholding his outstretched arms in supplication: and when the day went down, victory was with Israel!
Intercessory prayer—to prevail—is to be unselfish. All prayer says, "Not my will, but Thine, be done." We are never to pray for things merely pleasing to us, irrespective of their relation to that holy will of God which embraces all His creatures as well as our particular selves. Pure and devoted souls will not obtrude their individual interests as imperative, among counsels that pertain to all humanity. No one of us should ask God to make the day clear for him or her—unless a clear day is best for all the interests of God's will. Our health and strength and the health and strength of our friends are to be sought by us only as they minister to the advance of God's blessed wishes for us and others.
Intercessory prayer! for whom shall it be offered? Intercession is always for persons; we supplicate for things, we intercede for persons. Who shall these persons be? "For kings and for all that are in authority," Paul says, "Kings and all that are in authority" is an inclusive designation comprehending all charged with the responsibilities of public oversight and public welfare.
Tyndale prayed for Henry VIII; we are to pray for all rulers. The design of such prayer is penned, namely: that rulers shall so use their power that "the people may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." The prayer is not that our special officer, whoever he may be, police magistrate, justice of the peace, mayor, governor, president, may be preserved in strength and may conduct his office so as to secure the praise of his particular following: but it is that every officer may administer his station to the good of others "in all godliness and honesty." Intercessory prayer rises above a party, an administration, a sect, a college, a corporation; it views all things in the light of eternal and world-embracing principles — principles of righteousness and goodness and truth —and in reality it asks that those who hold office shall be men who carry out the very will of God — for the good of humanity.
Of such prayer there never can be too much. Office is deceptive. Office has power, and often that power in itself gives a sense of self-sufficiency to the person who holds it. "Is not this great Babylon that I have builded?" boasted Nebuchadnezzar. To whom, forsooth, was he responsible? Men and women in the line of hereditary monarchies often forget that their authority, as all authority of any kind, is a God-conferred gift, and that they must use it as God wishes, else they desecrate it. Even when people have temporary authority conferred upon them by the franchises of others, they may give their constituents supreme place in consideration, and thus rest their dependence upon those constituents rather than upon God. To keep office by pleasing their constituents becomes their chief aim. The temptation to do this is fearful. Knox did not care for office, did not care whether the queen honored him or dishonored him, whether she let him live or put him to death. What Knox cared for was Scotland's welfare. He did not consult, nor did he fear, the will of men: he consulted and he feared the will of God alone.
Today there is not a person bearing authority who does not need our intercessory prayer. Paul held his apostleship by a special call thereto, but in his sense of insufficiency, he said, "Pray for us." Every minister needs prayer. He has his own peculiar temptations: to formality, to slackness, to discouragement. He may do and say very foolish things; he may be like the shepherds of prophetic days who cried peace when there was no peace, and denied the people the spiritual food they lacked. On the other hand a minister of pure motives and true piety may be a great blessing. The people prayed, and when Peter stood up at Pentecost, three thousand hearts were changed. The people prayed all night for John Livingstone, and when next day at Shotts he preached, five hundred souls came to Christ. A praying people make a powerful ministry. This is not due merely to the fact that knowledge of their prayers cheers the minister, though cheer him it does. When Spurgeon stepped forward into his tabernacle pulpit on a Sunday morning, with his large band of deacons around him—men who had spent a half hour in prayer that God's words through Spurgeon's lips might bring glory to God—Spurgeon himself felt stronger and the people who knew what had taken place felt the more expectant. For if there is anything God specially delights to own, it is prayer that the Holy Spirit may be in the assembly of His worshipers. God "loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." Pray then for the minister, have children pray for him—not for his sake, but for the people's sake, and for God's glory in the people's good. What an opportunity for continued usefulness every invalid has, and everyone detained from the House of God has—to pray for the ministry of the Gospel! "God forbid," may they one and all declare, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for the ministry."
Authority is wide-spread and diversified. Teachers have it. They too are exposed to temptations—perhaps to be unduly dogmatic, perhaps to do their work for the work's sake, perhaps to withdraw too much from the responsibilities of the Church, and the burdens of the State. The power for good of a teacher's life, if that life be earnest, scholarly, unselfish and godly, is mighty. Day by day there comes the contact between the teacher and impressible souls. Little by little truths can be indoctrinated, ideals magnified, ambitions purified. If the spirit be what it may be, the effect will be, perhaps, a lifelong blessing. The pupil in after years will express views and enforce sentiments that to him are absolutely his own—and still it was the teacher away back in the past, who somehow so inculcated all these views and sentiments that the teacher, not the pupil, is their real author.
Teachers need prayer—prayer that they may be patient, that they may see good possibilities in every pupil, and that they may endeavor to bring out those possibilities in all "godliness and honesty." We wish sound views of society, of business and of government taught; we wish the eternal principles of righteousness engrafted upon young life. When a man or woman so arouses the nobility of pupils that the pupils scorn to do the wrong or the petty thing, and aspire after standards that are Christlike, then the teacher fulfils his mission. But the very best teacher is in danger of carrying a heavy heart because routine is so unceasing, and drudgery so persistent. We do well then to pray that he may always come to his classes like a benediction and that his personal fellowship with his pupils may be an unceasing inspiration.
Nor may we leave out from "authority" employers of labor. Certainly such employers have their peculiar temptations. Often they are deceived, often they are severely tried by the slackness and unfaithfulness of their employees. The superior mental and material gifts whereby employers hold authority may prove a snare to their hearts. Because others have a lower order of talent employers may, forsooth, look down on the others. Self-made men find it hard to deal gently with those whose incapacity always keeps them weaklings. But these self-made men are under special responsibilities. Because God has made them leaders, God has committed the welfare of tens, twenties, hundreds, thousands, into their hands. Their views, their decisions, their example, are fraught with mighty influence. The tendency with many men concerning these employers is, not to pray for them, but to berate them. Fault is found with their deficiencies, and sometimes even antagonism is aroused against them.
The whole world today, even where there are Christian churches, is filled with those who do not understand one another. The effort to maintain interests dear to one set of people seems to blind the eyes of that set to the interests dear to another set. Hence the opposition and the bitterness. But it is far, far better to pray for "captains of industry" than to arouse hatred against them. Employers are but weak, fallible men, to whom God has assigned tremendous responsibility. Let us ask him to open their eyes, as the eyes of Henry VIII were opened, and the result will be, that the hearts of employers will become wise and the lives of employees will become enriched.
The prayer of intercession offered for all that are in authority, offered not as a perfunctory utterance, but offered straight out of a burdened heart, assures all that are in authority that we understand their burdens, sympathize with their difficulties and expect "godliness and honesty" to characterize their purposes. A man in authority who is careless or wicked is a libel on his station; authority is conferred by God only—that he who has it may strive to make this world a happy, beautiful place for every human life.
Our prayer of intercession is not complete when offered merely for those in authority; it is to be offered "for all men." When the High Priest came into the Holy of Holies with the breastplate over his heart, the name of every tribe was engraved on that breastplate. Face to face with God he interceded for all. We all need intercession. Whittier expresses in "The Prayer Seeker" the call of every human soul for our sympathy and intercession.
"Along the aisle where prayer was made
A woman, all in black arrayed,
Close veiled, between the kneeling host,
With gliding motion of a ghost,
Passed to the desk and laid thereon
A scroll which bore these words alone,
'Pray for me!'
"Back to the night from whence she came,
To unimagined grief or shame!
Across the threshold of that door
None knew the burden that she bore;
Alone she left the written scroll,
The legend of a troubled soul,—
'Pray for me!'
"Glide on, poor ghost of woe or sin!
Thou leav'st a common need within;
Each bears, like thee, some nameless weight,
Some misery inarticulate,
Some secret sin, some shrouded dread,
Some household sorrow all unsaid.
'Pray for us!'
"He prayeth best who leaves unguessed
The mystery of another's breast.
Why cheeks grow pale, why eyes o'erflow,
Or heads are white, thou need'st not know.
Enough to note by many a sign
That every heart hath needs like thine.
‘Pray for us!’
In Mr. Moody's long and useful labors there was one story that he loved to tell because it suggested the glory of God and in no wise suggested the glory of Mr. Moody. He told it to indicate his belief in the power of prayer. This is the story:
"After the Chicago fire he went to London to rest and to learn from the Bible scholars there. He had no intention of preaching. One Sunday morning he was persuaded to preach in a church in London. Everything about the service dragged. He wished that he had never consented to preach. There was a woman in the city who had heard of Mr. Moody's work in America and had been asking God to send him to London. This woman was an invalid. Her sister was present at the church that Sunday morning. When the hearer reached home she asked her sister to guess who had spoken for them that morning. She guessed one after another of those with whom her pastor was in the habit of exchanging, and then gave it up. Her sister said, 'No, Mr. Moody from Chicago.' The sick woman turned pale, and said, 'This is an answer to my prayer. If I had known that he was to be at our church, I should have eaten nothing this morning, but waited on God in prayer. Leave me alone this afternoon: do not let anyone come to see me; do not send me anything to eat.' All that afternoon this woman gave herself to prayer. As Mr. Moody preached that night, he soon became conscious that there was a different atmosphere in the church. 'The powers of an unseen world seemed to fall' upon him and his hearers. As he drew to a close he felt impressed to give out an invitation. He asked for all who would accept Christ to rise. Four or five hundred people rose. He thought that they misunderstood him, and so he put the question several ways that there might be no mistake. But no, they had understood. He then asked them to go to an adjoining room. As they passed out, he asked the pastor of the church who these people were. He replied, 'I do not know.' 'Are they your people?' 'Some of them.' 'Are they Christians?' 'I do not think so.' In that adjoining room he put the question very strongly, but still there were just as many who rose. He told them to meet their pastor the next night. Next day he left for Dublin, but no sooner had he reached there than he received a telegram from the pastor saying that he must return and help him, for a great revival had commenced, and there were more out the second night than the first. Hundreds were added to the church at the time."
That was the beginning of Mr. Moody's work as an international evangelist. Out of that work came the religious quickening of Great Britain and Ireland, and the salvation of thousands upon thousands of souls throughout the world. Well was it for England and all Europe that the invalid woman did not cease to pray for the ministry of God's world.
Taken from A Mighty Means of Usefulness: A Plea For Intercessory Prayer by James Gore King McClure