Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. Atheism never worships. In practice modern deism is atheistic. But there is no form of religion without prayer, and surely there is no salvation to those who restrain prayer. Our needs as creatures, and our necessities as sinners, can be supplied by Him who is infinite. Prayer is a duty taught by natural religion.

II. In Scripture prayer is mentioned about five hundred times. It is spoken of in the first book of the Bible, Gen. 4:26; and in the last chapter of the sacred volume, Rev. 22:20. To speak of a prayerless Christian is as absurd as to talk of a living man who never breathes. As soon as Saul of Tarsus met with a change of heart, it was said, "Behold, he prays." Acts 9:11.

III. Quite a variety of words and phrases are used in Scripture to express the act of praying, such as bowing down to God, serving him, calling upon his name, seeking him, entreating him, beseeching him, inquiring of him, and, in one case, commanding him. In a single verse Paul speaks of supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks. 1 Tim. 2:1.

IV. By nature we are poor creatures. We are not sufficient as of ourselves to think anything good, or right, or holy. 2 Cor. 3:5. Nor can we of ourselves ever offer a right prayer: "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will." Romans 8:26, 27. So that all prayer truly pleasing to God, is indited by the Holy Spirit, who is freely given by God to all who sincerely ask for so great a blessing. Luke 11:13.

V. According to Scripture there is no one posture, and no particular set of gestures, attitudes, or intonations, requisite to acceptance in praying. David sat and prayed. 1 Chron. 17:16. Compare Exod. 17:12. The publican stood and prayed. Luke 18:13. Daniel kneeled and prayed. Dan. 6:10. Jonah lay in the whale's belly and prayed. Jonah 2:1. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall as he lay in his bed, and prayed. Isaiah 38:2. Our Lord prostrated himself with his face to the ground, and prayed. Matt. 26:39. Very often the ancients prayed with their hands and eyes directed to heaven. So Moses lifted his hands until from weariness he could hold them up no more, until Aaron and Hur stood and held them up. Exod. 17:11, 12. Compare Psalm 141:2. But the publican lifted not up even his eyes to heaven, yet he was accepted. Our whole behavior should suit the occasion, and should express reverence, trust, and humility.

VI. Nor does the power of prayer depend upon the words used. The Pharisee used many words and was rejected. The publican used few words and was justified. Luke 18:10-14. Hannah murmured or whispered her good prayer. 1 Sam. 1:13-17. When prayer is social or public, it should be in words understood by all who unite in the service. 1 Cor. 14:14-17.

VII. Neither is the place nor the direction of the face towards any place of the least importance. The temple was once a very fit place of prayer. Isaiah 56:7. Compare 1 Kings 8:29, 30; Dan. 6:10. But prophecy required that all this should pass away: "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, says the Lord Almighty." Mal. 1:11. Accordingly, when Christ came, he said to the woman of Samaria: "Believe me, the hour comes, when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." John 4:21. The Lord looks on the heart, not on the place where we are, when we call upon his name.

VIII. For whom shall we pray? Not for the dead. 2 Sam. 12:15-23; Luke 16:25, 26; Rev. 14:13. Again, living men may treat with such scorn and blasphemy sacred things, and especially the person and work of the Holy Spirit, that though they may be living and known to us, we shall not feel obliged or able to pray for such despisers. Compare 1 John 5:16; Mark 3:29. With these exceptions we are to pray for all men: for kings and rulers, 1 Tim. 2:1, 2; for enemies, Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35; for unkind friends, who have wronged us, Job 42:10; for the sick, Jas. 5:14-16; for the church, Psalm 122:6; for the afflicted, Psalm 50:15; Jas. 5:13; for men's souls and bodies, 3 John 2; for preachers of the gospel, 1 Thess. 5:25; for the wicked that they perish not, Jer. 31:7; in short, for all sorts of men. 1 Tim. 2:1. Bad men are in perishing need of help and mercy. Godly men are in the midst of trials and enemies, and require help from God. We should pray for ourselves. Psalm 90:17.

IX. We should pray often. Jesus spoke two parables to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint. Luke 11:5-9; 18:1-8. The Scriptures call on us to "continue instant in prayer." Romans 12:12; to "pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," Eph. 6:18; yes, to "pray without ceasing," 1 Thess. 5:17.

X. It is required in all worship, in prayer particularly, that it be intelligent. It is sad when it may be truly charged upon us, "You worship you know not what." John 4:22. In malice it is desirable that all be children, but in understanding let all be men. 1 Cor. 14:20. "What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." 1 Cor. 14:15.

XI. It is very important that all our worship should be offered in innocence and benevolence. It is shocking for men to come around the throne of grace with malice in their hearts and with stains upon their hands. That was a good resolution of David: "I will wash my hands in innocency: so will I compass your altar, O Lord!" Psalm 26:6. And Paul says, "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 1 Tim. 2:8. And Peter exhorts us to "lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings." 1 Pet. 2:1. Compare Matt. 5:23, 24; 6:14, 15.

XII. All prayer that God is bound to answer must be offered in faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb. 11:6; Jas. 1:6, 7.

XIII. All acceptable prayer must be fervent and earnest. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, 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." Jas. 5:16-18.

XIV. In all prayer we must submit to the ultimate will of God. In this our divine Lord set us an example, which we should never forget. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will." "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, your will be done." Matt. 26:39, 42.

XV. With prayer the Scriptures often unite alms-giving. To Cornelius the Lord said in a vision, "Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God." Acts 10:4. It was Jesus who said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35. He also said, "Sell that you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not, where no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts." Luke 12:33.

XVI. To prayer it is often proper to unite fasting. David says: "I humbled myself with fasting, and my prayer was genuine." Psalm 35:13. Daniel followed this example. Dan. 9:3. Compare 1 Cor. 7:5.

XVII. Both Christ and his apostles unite watching and prayer. In vain do we pray unless we watch. "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." Matt. 26:41; compare Mark 13:33; 14:38; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2.

XVIII. Such prayer as the Scriptures require is wondrously efficacious. Psalm 50:15; Matt. 7:7, 8. There is no mightier influence exerted by creatures than that found in prayer. The history of human salvation is a history of the power of prayer. It is God's memorial in every generation--that he hears prayer.