Holiness and Prayer
Joseph Caryl, 1647
"But if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf" Job 8:5-6
Holy people are fit for holy duties—and they alone. Sin is our separation from God, and holy duties are acts of communion with Him: how then shall sin and holiness stand together? Make your supplication unto God—but be you pure and upright. What have unholy people to do about holy things? God cannot receive the services of those who are unlike Him. Prayer purifies—yet purifying must be a preparative to prayer. "If I regard iniquity in my heart—the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). We are commanded to pray, "lifting up holy hands" (1 Timothy 2:8).
"When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood!" (Isaiah 1:15). As He speaks out the fullness of His grace ("Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet"—Isaiah 1:18, etc.), so also the necessity of gracious purity in man: "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!" (Isaiah 1:16-7).
The prayers of the pure and upright are prevailing prayers. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). Fervency of prayer effects nothing, unless the person praying is righteous.
God is not melted into compassion by the heat of our words—but by the holiness of our hearts. In the prayer of a righteous man, there is prevailing strength, such as God Himself yields to. "As a prince you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome," said He to Jacob when He wrestled with him (Genesis 32:28).
It is in no way contrary to the doctrine of free grace, to say we must be holy—if we desire to be heard.
Bildad's doctrine is an excellent piece of divinity. Though he said before, "you must seek unto God early, and make your supplication to the Almighty," that out of His free grace, He would bestow a blessing—yet he adds, "If you were pure and upright" (Job 8:5-7). Though we are not heard because we are pure and upright—yet none can come with a warrantable confidence to be heard, in their impurity and hypocrisy: if they do, God will reject their supplications. It is impudence, not confidence, to make supplication to God with a reserve, or a resolve in secret to go on in sin. The greatest sinners in the world—those who are most impure and filthy—may come to God and find favor; yet every man that comes unto God must come with this desire: to have his impurities removed and his backslidings healed. "But to the wicked, God says: What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you." (Psalm 50:16-17).
It no way crosses the doctrine of free grace when, in the same breath, we say that God will do us good freely for His own name's sake—and that we must be pure and upright who come to God. "With the pure you will show yourself pure; and with the froward you will show yourself froward" (Psalm 18:26). But does the Lord change His temperament as the company changes? He cannot do so, being without variableness or shadow of turning (James 1:17). God is pure and upright with the unclean and hypocritical, as well as with the pure and upright—and His actions show Him to be so. Though there be nothing in our purity and sincerity which deserves His mercy—yet we cannot expect mercy without them. Our comforts are not grounded upon our graces—but our comforts are the fruits of them.