“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”
Prayer is a solemn but blessed privilege to the saints of God. It is solemn, when we duly consider the infinite disparity between the trembling petitioner, and the supreme God before whom he bows down to worship. No flesh can stand in his presence, for all flesh is corrupted, and all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; and as God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, we cannot approach him without being consumed, only as we are permitted to draw nigh by that new and living way which he has consecrated through the flesh of him who was made flesh and dwelt among us, and from whose fullness, as the only begotten of the Father, we, who have passed from death unto life, have received, and grace for grace. It is a blessed privilege, because none can pray unto God acceptably unless they are quickened by the Spirit of the Lord, for God is a Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth; and as all spiritual blessings were given to the children of God, according as they were chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, the indispensable qualification to pray acceptably to God is a spiritual blessing. And in the enjoyment of this privilege, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us. Those who are born of God are born of the Spirit, and become spiritual worshipers; not in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the Spirit. This includes all who are of the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, or in any of the powers of the flesh, physical or mental; all their confidence is in him by whom, and through whom alone, they have access by the Spirit unto God.
As the flesh profiteth nothing, and no flesh can approach unto God, prayer and all other worship of the true God being purely spiritual, they are sadly mistaken who think they are to be heard for their much speaking, or for any other fleshly exercises of their organs of speech, or the passions of their carnal nature.
“The heathen think they shall be heard for their much speaking.” The term heathen applies not alone to pagans, or the barbarous tribes of mankind, but to all who are strangers to God, ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, whether they be Jews, Papists or Protestants. All who are not born of God and taught by the Spirit, are in heathen darkness, so far as the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is concerned, and they invariably think there is some virtue in their uttering solemn sounds from their unhallowed tongues. The carnal Jews relied on their long prayers, and frequent repetitions of them, and in that error they disfigured their faces, prayed often, loud and long, in corners of the streets and at the market places.
Papists and Protestants teach their unregenerated children to use vain repetitions of this kind; to repeat what is called the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer which Christ taught his disciples to use, and which can be used acceptably only by the children of God, who can in spirit and in truth say, “Our Father which art in heaven.” None can call Jesus, Lord, but by the Holy Ghost, and none can come unto the Father but by him. Written and printed forms of prayer are prepared for vain repetition, to be read by the parsons and vainly repeated by their deluded hearers, after the same manner that masses are said, beads counted by Papists, or senseless mutterings are uttered by pagans who bow down to stocks or stones, and by all of them under the delusive hope that there is some merit or virtue in their performance, to please the gods before whom they bow. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Yet men who are dead in sin, and consequently destitute of the faith of the Son of God, are taught to rely upon their vain repetition of prayers and invocations to commend them to the divine favor. This is what the Scriptures pronounce impossible.
But the saints themselves are liable to err sometimes on this subject, or the admonition of our text would be inapplicable to them. Paul says, We ask and receive not, because we ask amiss; and he further testifies that we know not how to pray as we ought; we are dependent on the Spirit to make intercession for us in language which our tongues can neither utter nor repeat. If, then, the christian cannot pray acceptably to God only as the spirit of grace and of supplication is given to help his infirmities, how preposterous to contend that unregenerated men, totally destitute of spiritual life, and totally ignorant of the Spirit and of the things of the Spirit, which things are foolishness unto them, can worship God in spirit and in truth. He that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and to believe in God is a work of faith, and consequently they who have no faith cannot pray only in hypocritical forms and vain repetitions.
Christians should avoid ostentatious display in prayer, or flowery language, fluent speech or affections, to be admired of men. But as the Spirit indites the desires, so let the child of grace breathe them forth in the simplicity of the heart, knowing that the God to whom we pray knows all our necessities, and needs not to be informed of anything by us. And the
“Painted hypocrites are known,
Through the disguise they wear.”
Middletown, N. Y.
May 15, 1857.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 455 - 457