Monday, August 24, 2009

Spurgeon Monday: Intercessory Prayer

(Note: This concludes the Spurgeon series on Job. A new series on Spurgeon's sermons on the Sovereignty of God: "Sermons on Sovereignty" will start next Monday.)

Intercessory Prayer

A Sermon
(No. 404)

Delivered on Sunday Morning, August the 11th, 1861 by the

At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

"And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends."—Job 42:10.

THE LORD turned the captivity of Job." So, then, our longest sorrows have a close, and there is a bottom to the profoundest depths of our misery. Our winters shall not frown for ever; summer shall soon smile. The tide shall not eternally ebb out; the floods retrace their march. The night shall not hang its darkness for ever over our souls; the sun shall yet arise with healing beneath his wings,—"The Lord turned again the captivity of Job." Our sorrows shall have an end when God has gotten his end in them. The ends in the case of Job were these, that Satan might be defeated, foiled with his own weapons, blasted in his hopes when he had everything his own way. God, at Satan's challenge, had stretched forth his hand and touched Job in his bone and in his flesh, and yet the tempter could not prevail against him, but received his rebuff in those conquering words, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." When Satan is defeated, then shall the battle cease. The Lord aimed also at the trial of Job's faith. Many weights were hung upon this palm tree, but it still grew uprightly. The fire had been fierce enough, the gold was undiminished, and only the dross was consumed. Another purpose the Lord had was his own glory. And God was glorified abundantly. Job had glorified God on his dunghill; now let him magnify his Lord again upon his royal seat in the gate. God had gotten unto himself eternal renown through that grace by which he supported his poor afflicted servant under the heaviest troubles which ever fell to the lot of man. God had another end, and that also was served. Job had been sanctified by his afflictions. His spirit had been mellowed. That small degree of tartness towards others, which may have been in Job's temper had been at last removed, and any self-justification which once had lurked within, was fairly driven out. Now God's gracious designs are answered, he removed the rod from his servant's back, and takes the melted silver from the midst of the glowing coals. God doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men for nought, and he shows this by the fact that he never afflicts them longer than there is a need for it, and never suffers them to be one moment longer in the furnace than is absolutely requisite to serve the purposes of his wisdom and of his love. "The Lord turned again the captivity of Job." Beloved brother in Christ, thou hast had a long captivity in affliction. God hath sold thee into the hand of thine adversaries, and thou hast wept by the waters of Babylon, hanging thy harp upon the willows. Despair not! He that turned the captivity of Job can turn thine as the streams in the south. He shall make again thy vineyard to blossom, and thy field to yield her fruit. Thou shalt again come forth with those that make merry, and once more shall the song of gladness be on thy lip. Let not Despair rivet his cruel fetters about thy soul. Hope yet, for there is hope. Trust thou still, for there is ground of confidence. He shall bring thee up again rejoicing from the land of thy captivity, and thou shalt say of him, "He hath turned my mourning into dancing."

The circumstance which attended Job's restoration is that to which I invite your particular attention. "The Lord turned again the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends." Intercessory prayer was the omen of his returning greatness. It was the bow in the cloud, the dove bearing the olive branch, the voice of the turtle announcing the coming summer. When his soul began to expand itself in holy and loving prayer for his erring brethren, then the heart of God showed itself to him by returning to him his prosperity without, and cheering his soul within. Brethren, it is not fetching a laborious compass, when from such a text as this I address you upon the subject of prayer for others. Let us learn today to imitate the example of Job, and pray for our friends, and peradventure if we have been in trouble, our captivity shall be turned.

Four things I would speak of this morning, and yet but one thing; I would speak upon intercessory prayer thus—first, by way of commending the exercise; secondly, by way of encouraging you to enlist in it; thirdly, by way of suggestion, as to the persons for whom you should especially pray; and fourthly, by way of exhortation to all believers to undertake and persevere in the exercise of intercession for others.

I. First, then, BY WAY OF COMMENDING THE EXERCISE, let me remind you that intercessory prayer has been practiced by all the best of God's saints. We may not find instances of it appended to every saint's name, but beyond a doubt, there has never been a man eminent for piety personally, who has not always been pre-eminent in his anxious desires for the good of others, and in his prayers for that end. Take Abraham, the father of the faithful. How earnestly did he plead for his son Ishmael! "O that Ishmael might live before thee!" With what importunity did he approach the Lord on the plains of Mamre, when he wrestled with him again and again for Sodom; how frequently did he reduce the number, as though, to use the expression of the Puritan, "He were bidding and beating down the price at the market." "Peradventure there be fifty; peradventure there lack five of the fifty; peradventure there be twenty found there; peradventure there be ten righteous found there: wilt thou not spare the city for the sake of ten?" Well did he wrestle, and if we may sometimes be tempted to wish he had not paused when he did, yet we must commend him for continuing so long to plead for that doomed and depraved city. Remember Moses, the most royal of men, whether crowned or uncrowned; how often did he intercede! How frequently do you meet with such a record as this—"Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before God!" Remember that cry of his on the top of the mount, when it was to his own personal disadvantage to intercede, and yet when God had said, "Let me alone, I will make of thee a great nation," yet how he continued, how he thrust himself in the way of the axe of justice, and cried, "Spare them, Lord, and if not," (and here he reached the very climax of agonizing earnestness) "blot my name out of the Book of Life." Never was there a mightier prophet than Moses, and never one more intensely earnest in intercessory prayer. Or pass on, if you will, to the days of Samuel. Remember his words, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord, in ceasing to pray for you." Or bethink you of Solomon, and of his earnest intercession at the opening of the temple, when, with outstretched hands he prayed for the assembled people; or if you want another royal example, turn to Hezekiah with Sennacherib's letter spread out before the Lord, when he prayed not only for himself, but for God's people of Israel in those times of straits. Think ye, too, of Elias, who for Israel's sake would bring down the rain that the land perish not; as for himself, miracles gave him his bread and his water, it was for others that he prayed, and said to his servant, "Go again seven times." Forget not Jeremy, whose tears were prayers—prayers coming too intensely from his heart to find expression in any utterance of the lip. He wept himself away, his life was one long shower, each drop a prayer, and the whole deluge a flood of intercession. And if you would have an example taken from the times of Christ and his apostles, remember how Peter prays on the top of the house, and Stephen amidst the falling stones. Or think you, if you will, of Paul, of whom even more than of others it could be said, that he never ceased to remember the saints in his prayers, "making mention of you daily in my prayers," stopping in the very midst of the epistle and saying, "For which cause I bow my knee unto the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." As for the cloud of holy witnesses in our own time, I will hazard the assertion that there is not a single child of God who does not plead with God for his children, for his family, for the church at large, and for the poor ungodly perishing world. I deny his saintship if he does not pray for others.

But further, while we might commend this duty by quoting innumerable examples from the lives of eminent saints, it is enough for the disciple of Christ if we say that Christ in His holy gospel has made it your duty and your privilege to intercede for others. When he taught us to pray, he said, "Our Father," and the expressions which follow are not in the singular but in the plural—"Give us this day our daily bread." "Forgive us our debts"; "Lead us not into temptation"; evidently intending to set forth that none of us are to pray for ourselves alone, that while we may have sometimes prayers so bitter that they must be personal like the Saviour's own—"Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me"; yet, as a rule, our prayers should be public prayers, though offered in private; and even in secret we should not forget the church of the living God. By the mouth of Paul how frequently does the Holy Ghost exhort us to pray for ministers! "Brethren," says Paul, "pray for us"; and then after exhorting them to offer prayers and supplications for all classes and conditions of men, he adds, "And for us also that we may have boldness to speak as we ought to speak." While James, who is ever a practical apostle, bids us pray for one another; in that same verse, where he says, "Confess your sins the one to the other," he says, "and pray one for another," and adds the privilege "that ye may be healed," as if the healing would not only come to the sick person for whom we pray, but to us who offer the prayer; we, too, receiving some special blessing when our hearts are enlarged for the people of the living God.

But, brethren, I shall not stay to quote the texts in which the duty of praying for others is definitely laid down. Permit me to remind you of the high example of your Master; he is your pattern; follow ye his leadership. Was there even one who interceded as he did? Remember that golden prayer of his, where he cried for his own people, "Father, keep them, keep them from the evil!" Oh what a prayer was that! He seems to have thought of all their wants, of all their needs, of all their weaknesses, and in one long stream of intercession, he pours out his heart before his Father's throne. Bethink you how, even in the agonies of his crucifixion, he did not forget that he was still an intercessor for man. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Oh, remember, brethren, it is your Saviour's example to you today, for there before the throne, with outstretched hands, he prays not for himself, for he has attained his glory; not for himself, for he rests from his labours, and has received his everlasting recompense; but for you, for the purchase of his blood, for as many as are called by his grace, yea, and for those who shall believe on him through our word—

"For all that come to God by him,
Salvation he demands;
Points to the wounds upon his heart,
And spreads his bleeding hands."

Come, brethren, with such an example as this, we are verily guilty if we forget to plead for others.
But I will go a little further. If in the Bible there were no example of intercessory supplication, if Christ had not left it upon record that it was his will that we should pray for others, and even if we did not know that it was Christ's practice to intercede, yet the very spirit of our holy religion would constrain us to plead for others. Dost thou go up into thy closet, and in the face and presence of God think of none but thyself? Surely the love of Christ cannot be in thee, for the spirit of Christ is not selfish. No man liveth unto himself when once he has the love of Christ in him. I know there are some whose piety is comfortably tethered within the limits of their own selfish interests. It is enough for them if they hear the Word, if they be saved, if they get to heaven. Ah, miserable spirit, thou shalt not get there! It would need another heaven for thee, for the heaven of Christ is the heaven of the unselfish, the temple of the large-hearted, the bliss of living spirits, the heaven of those who, like Christ, are willing to become poor that others may be rich. I cannot believe—it were a libel upon the cross of Christ, it were a scandal upon the doctrine which he taught—if I could ever believe that the man whose prayers are selfish has anything of the spirit of Christ within him. Brethren, I commend intercessory prayer, because it opens man's soul, gives a healthy play to his sympathies, constrains him to feel that he is not everybody, and that this wide world and this great universe were not after all made that he might be its petty lord, that everything might bend to his will, and all creatures crouch at his feet. It does him good, I say, to make him know that the cross was not uplifted alone for him, for its far-reaching arms were meant to drop with benedictions upon millions of the human race. Thou lean and hungry worshipper of self, this is an exercise which would make another man of thee, a man more like the Son of Man, and less like Nabal the churl. But again; I commend the blessed privilege of intercession, because of its sweet brotherly nature. You and I may be naturally hard, and harsh, and unlovely of spirit, but praying much for others will remind us we have, indeed, a relationship to the saints, that their interests are ours, that we are jointly concerned with them in all the privileges of grace. I do not know anything which, through the grace of God, may be a better means of uniting us the one to the other than constant prayer for each other. You cannot harbour enmity in your soul against your brother after you have learned to pray for him. If he hath done you ill, when you have taken that ill to the mercy seat, and prayed over it, you must forgive. Surely you could not be such a hypocrite as to invoke blessings on his head before God and then come forth to curse him in your own soul. When there have been complaints brought by brother against brother, it is generally the best way to say, "Let us pray before we enter into the matter." Wherever there is a case to be decided by the pastor, he ought always to say to the brethren who contend, "Let us pray first," and it will often happen that through prayer the differences will soon be forgotten. They will become so slight, so trivial, that when the brethren rise from their knees they will say, "They are gone; we cannot contend now after having been one in heart before the throne of God." I have heard of a man who had made complaints against his minister, and his minister wisely said to him, "Well, don't talk to me in the street; come to my house, and let us hear it all." He went, and the minister said, "My brother, I hope that what you have to say to me may be greatly blessed to me; no doubt I have my imperfections as well as any other man, and I hope I shall never be above being told of them, but in order that what you have to say to me may be blessed to me let us kneel down and pray together." So our quarrelsome friend prayed first and the minister prayed next, both briefly. When they rose from their knees, he said, "Now, my brother, I think we are both in a good state of mind; tell me what it is that you have to find fault with." The man blushed, and stammered, and stuttered, and said, he did not think there was anything at all, except in himself. "I have forgotten to pray for you, sir," said he, "and of course I cannot expect that God will feed my soul through you when I neglect to mention you at the throne of grace." Ah, well, brethren, if you will exercise yourselves much in supplication for your brethren you will forgive their tempers, you will overlook their rashness, you will not think of their harsh words; but knowing that you also may be tempted, and are men of like passions with them, you will cover their faults, and bear with their infirmities.

Shall I need to say more in commendation of intercessory prayer except it be this, that it seems to me that when God gives any man much grace, it must be with the design that he may use it for the rest of the family. I would compare you who have near communion with God to courtiers in the king's palace. What do courtiers do? Do they not avail themselves of their influence at court to take the petitions of their friends, and present them where they can be heard? This is what we call patronage—a thing with which many find fault when it is used for political ends, but there is a kind of heavenly patronage which you ought to use right diligently. I ask you to use it on my behalf. When it is well with you, then think of me. I pray you use it on the behalf of the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the tempted, the tried, the desponding, the despairing; when thou hast the King's ear, speak to him for us. When thou art permitted to come very near to his throne, and he saith to thee, "Ask, and I will give thee what thou wilt"; when thy faith is strong, thine eye clear, thine access near, thine interest sure, and the love of God sweetly shed abroad in thy heart—then take the petitions of thy poor brethren who stand outside at the gate and say, "My Lord, I have a poor brother, a poor child of thine, who has desired me to ask of thee this favour. Grant it unto me; it shall be a favour shown unto myself; grant it unto him, for he is one of thine. Do it for Jesus' sake!" Nay, to come to an end in this matter of commendation, it is utterly impossible that you should have a large measure of grace, unless it prompts you to use your influence for others. Soul, if thou hast grace at all, and art not a mighty intercessor, that grace must be but as a grain of mustard-seed—a shrivelled, uncomely, puny thing. Thou hast just enough grace to float thy soul clear from the quicksand, but thou hast no deep floods of grace, or else thou wouldst carry in thy joyous bark a rich cargo of the wants of others up to the throne of God, and thou wouldst bring back for them rich blessings which but for thee they might not have obtained. If thou be like an angel with thy foot upon the golden ladder which reaches to heaven, if thou art ascending and descending, know that thou wilt ascend with others' prayers and descend with others' blessings, for it is impossible for a full-grown saint to live or to pray for himself alone. Thus much on commendation.

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