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Bible Commentary Index
Necessity of Prayer Index
VIII. PRAYER AND CHARACTER
"General Charles James Gordon, the
hero of Khartum, was a truly Christian soldier. Shut up in the Sudanese town
he gallantly held out for one year, but, finally, was overcome and slain. On
his memorial in Westminster Abbey are these words, 'He gave his money to the
poor; his sympathy to the sorrowing; his life to his country and his soul to
God.'" -- HOMER W. HODGE.
PRAYER governs conduct and conduct makes character. Conduct,
is what we do; character, is what we are. Conduct is the outward life.
Character is the life unseen, hidden within, yet evidenced by that which
is seen. Conduct is external, seen from without; character is internal
-- operating within. In the economy of grace conduct is the offspring of
character. Character is the state of the heart, conduct its outward
expression. Character is the root of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears.
Prayer is related to all the gifts of grace. To character
and conduct its relation is that of a helper. Prayer helps to establish
character and fashion conduct, and both for their successful continuance
depend on prayer. There may be a certain degree of moral character and
conduct independent of prayer, but there cannot be anything like distinctive
religious character and Christian conduct without it. Prayer helps, where
all other aids fail. The more we pray, the better we are, the purer and
better our lives.
The very end and purpose of the atoning work of Christ is to
create religious character and to make Christian conduct.
"Who gave Himself for us, that He
might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar
people, zealous of good works."
In Christ's teaching, it is not simply works of charity and
deeds of mercy upon which He insists, but inward spiritual character. This
much is demanded, and nothing short of it, will suffice.
In the study of Paul's Epistles, there is one thing which
stands out, clearly and unmistakably -- the insistence on holiness of heart,
and righteousness of life. Paul does not seek, so much, to promote what is
termed "personal work," nor is the leading theme of his letters deeds of
charity. It is the condition of the human heart and the blamelessness of the
personal life, which form the burden of the writings of St. Paul.
Elsewhere in the Scriptures, too, it is character and
conduct which are made preeminent. The Christian religion deals with men who
are devoid of spiritual character, and unholy in life, and aims so to change
them, that they become holy in heart and righteous in life. It aims to
change bad men into good men; it deals with inward badness, and works to
change it into inward goodness. And it is just here where prayer enters and
demonstrates its wonderful efficacy and fruit. Prayer drives toward this
specific end. In fact, without prayer, no such supernatural change in moral
character, can ever be effected. For the change from badness to goodness is
not wrought "by works of righteousness which we have done," but according to
God's mercy, which saves us "by the washing of regeneration." And this
marvellous change is brought to pass through earnest, persistent, faithful
prayer. Any alleged form of Christianity, which does not effect this change
in the hearts of men, is a delusion and a snare.
The office of prayer is to change the character and conduct
of men, and in countless instances, has been wrought by prayer. At this
point, prayer, by its credentials, has proved its divinity. And just as it
is the office of prayer to effect this, so it is the prime work of the
Church to take hold of evil men and make them good. Its mission is to change
human nature, to change character, influence behaviour, to revolutionize
conduct. The Church is presumed to be righteous, and should be engaged in
turning men to righteousness. The Church is God's manufactory on earth, and
its primary duty is to create and foster righteousness of character. This is
its very first business. Primarily, its work is not to acquire members, nor
amass numbers, nor aim at money-getting, nor engage in deeds of charity and
works of mercy, but to produce righteousness of character, and purity of the
A product reflects and partakes of the character of the
manufactory which makes it. A righteous Church with a righteous purpose
makes righteous men. Prayer produces cleanliness of heart and purity of
life. It can produce nothing else. Unrighteous conduct is born of
prayerlessness; the two go hand-in-hand. Prayer and sinning cannot keep
company with each other. One, or the other, must, of necessity, stop. Get
men to pray, and they will quit sinning, because prayer creates a distaste
for sinning, and so works upon the heart, that evil-doing becomes repugnant,
and the entire nature lifted to a reverent contemplation of high and holy
Prayer is based on character. What we are with God gauges
our influence with Him. It was the inner character, not the outward seeming,
of such men as Abraham, Job, David, Moses and all others, who had such great
influence with God in the days of old. And, today, it is not so much our
words, as what we really are, which weighs with God. Conduct affects
character, of course, and counts for much in our praying. At the same time,
character affects conduct to a far greater extent, and has a superior
influence over prayer. Our inner life not only gives colour to our praying,
but body, as well. Bad living means bad praying and, in the end, no praying
at all. We pray feebly because we live feebly. The stream of prayer cannot
rise higher than the fountain of living. The force of the inner chamber is
made up of the energy which flows from the confluent streams of living. And
the weakness of living grows out of the shallowness and shoddiness of
Feebleness of living reflects its debility and langour in
the praying hours. We simply cannot talk to God, strongly, intimately, and
confidently unless we are living for Him, faithfully and truly. The
prayer-closet cannot become sanctified unto God, when the life is alien to
His precepts and purpose. We must learn this lesson well -- that righteous
character and Christlike conduct give us a peculiar and preferential
standing in prayer before God. His holy Word gives special emphasis to the
part conduct has in imparting value to our praying when it declares:
"Then shalt thou call and the Lord
shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am; if thou take away
from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth the finger, and speaking
The wickedness of Israel and their heinous practices were
definitely cited by Isaiah, as the reason why God would turn His ears away
from their prayers:
"And when ye spread forth your hands,
I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not
hear: your hands are full of blood."
The same sad truth was declared by the Lord through the
mouth of Jeremiah:
"Therefore, pray not thou for this
people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them
in the time that they cry unto Me for their trouble."
Here, it is plainly stated, that unholy conduct is a bar to
successful praying, just as it is clearly intimated that, in order to have
full access to God in prayer, there must be a total abandonment of conscious
and premeditated sin.
We are enjoined to pray, "lifting up holy hands, without
wrath and doubting," and must pass the time of our sojourning here, in a
rigorous abstaining from evil if we are to retain our privilege of calling
upon the Father. We cannot, by any process, divorce praying from conduct.
"Whatsoever we ask, we receive of
Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things which are
pleasing in His sight."
And James declares roundly that men ask and receive not,
because they ask amiss, and seek only the gratification of selfish desires.
Our Lord's injunction, "Watch ye, and pray always," is to
cover and guard all our conduct, so that we may come to our inner chamber
with all its force secured by a vigilant guard kept over our lives.
"And take heed to yourselves, lest at
any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and
cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."
Quite often, Christian experience founders on the rock of
conduct. Beautiful theories are marred by ugly lives. The most difficult
thing about piety, as it is the most impressive, is to be able to live it.
It is the life which counts, and our praying suffers, as do other phases of
our religious experience, from bad living.
In primitive times preachers were charged to preach by
their lives, or not to preach at all. So, today, Christians, everywhere,
ought to be charged to pray by their lives, or not to pray at all. The most
effective preaching, is not that which is heard from the pulpit, but that
which is proclaimed quietly, humbly and consistently; which exhibits its
excellencies in the home, and in the community. Example preaches a far more
effective sermon than precept. The best preaching, even in the pulpit, is
that which is fortified by godly living, in the preacher, himself. The most
effective work done by the pew is preceded by, and accompanied with,
holiness of life, separation from the world, severance from sin. Some of the
strongest appeals are made with mute lips -- by godly fathers and saintly
mothers who, around the fireside, feared God, loved His cause, and daily
exhibited to their children and others about them, the beauties and
excellencies of Christian life and conduct.
The best-prepared, most eloquent sermon can be marred and
rendered ineffective, by questionable practices in the preacher. The most
active church worker can have the labour of his hands vitiated by
worldliness of spirit and inconsistency of life. Men preach by their lives,
not by their words, and sermons are delivered, not so much in, and from a
pulpit, as in tempers, actions, and the thousand and one incidents which
crowd the pathway of daily life.
Of course, the prayer of repentance is acceptable to God.
He delights in hearing the cries of penitent sinners. But repentance
involves not only sorrow for sin, but the turning away from wrong-doing, and
the learning to do well. A repentance which does not produce a change in
character and conduct, is a mere sham, which should deceive nobody. Old
things must pass away, all things must become new.
Praying, which does not result in right thinking and right
living, is a farce. We have missed the whole office of prayer if it fail to
purge character and rectify conduct. We have failed entirely to apprehend
the virtue of prayer, if it bring not about the revolutionizing of the life.
In the very nature of things, we must quit praying, or our bad conduct.
Cold, formal praying may exist side by side, with bad conduct, but such
praying, in the estimation of God, is no praying at all. Our praying
advances in power, just in so far as it rectifies the life. Growing in
purity and devotion to God will be a more prayerful life.
The character of the inner life is a condition of effectual
praying. As is the life, so will the praying be. An inconsistent life
obstructs praying and neutralizes what little praying we may do. Always, it
is "the prayer of the righteous man which availeth much." Indeed, one may go
further and assert, that it is only the prayer of the righteous which avails
anything at all -- at any time. To have an eye to God's glory; to be
possessed by an earnest desire to please Him in all our ways; to possess
hands busy in His service; to have feet swift to run in the way of His
commandments -- these give weight and influence and power to prayer, and
secure an audience with God. The incubus of our lives often breaks the force
of our praying, and, not unfrequently, are as doors of brass, in the face of
Praying must come out of a cleansed heart and be presented
and urged with the "lifting up of holy hands." It must be fortified by a
life aiming, unceasingly, to obey God, to attain conformity to the Divine
law, and to come into submission to the Divine will.
Let it not be forgotten, that, while life is a condition of
prayer, prayer is also the condition of righteous living. Prayer promotes
righteous living, and is the one great aid to uprightness of heart and life.
The fruit of real praying is right living. Praying sets him who prays to the
great business of "working out his salvation with fear and trembling;" puts
him to watching his temper, conversation and conduct; causes him to "walk
circumspectly, redeeming the time;" enables him to "walk worthy of the
vocation wherewith he is called, with all lowliness and meekness;" gives him
a high incentive to pursue his pilgrimage consistently by "shunning every
evil way, and walking in the good."
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Bible Commentary Index
Necessity of Prayer Index