A Sermon Delivered on Sunday Morning, March 12, 1865, by C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)
1. Some of the most learned works in the world smell of the midnight oil; but the most spiritual, and most comforting books and sayings of men usually have a savour about them of prison damp. I might quote many instances: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress may suffice instead of a hundred others; and this good text of ours, all mouldy and chill with the prison in which Jeremiah lay, has nevertheless a brightness and a beauty about it, which it might never have had if it had not come as a cheering word to the prisoner of the Lord, confined in the court of the prison house. God’s people have always in their worst condition found out the best of their God. He is good at all times; but he seems to be at his best when they are at their worst. “How could you bear your long imprisonment so well?” said one to the Landgrave of Hesse, who had been imprisoned for his attachment to the principles of the Reformation. He replied “The divine consolations of martyrs were with me.” Doubtless there is a consolation more deep, more strong than any other, which God keeps for those who, being his faithful witnesses, have to endure exceedingly great tribulation from the enmity of man. There is a glorious aurora for the frigid zone; and stars glisten in northern skies with unusual splendour. Rutherford had a quaint saying, that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great King always kept his wine there, and he began to seek at once for the wine bottles, and to drink from the “wines on the lees well refined.” Those who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls. You know, my companions in affliction, that it is so. You whose bones have been ready to come through the skin through long lying upon the weary bed; you who have seen your earthly goods carried away from you, and have been reduced almost to penury; you who have gone to the grave over seven times, until you have feared that your last earthly friend would be borne away by unpitying Death; you have proven that he is a faithful God, and that just as your tribulations abound, so your consolations also abound by Christ Jesus. My prayer is, in taking this text this morning, that some other prisoners of the Lord may have its joyous promise spoken to them; so that you who are severely shut up and cannot come out because of heaviness of spirit, may hear him say, as with a soft whisper in your ears, and in your hearts, “Call upon me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.”
2. The text naturally splits itself up into three distinct portions of truth. Upon these let us speak as we are enabled by God the Holy Spirit. First, prayer commanded—“Call to me”; secondly, an answer promised—“And I will answer you”; thirdly, faith encouraged—“And show you great and mighty things which you do not know.”
Commanded to Pray
3. I. The first point is PRAYER COMMANDED.
4. We are not merely counselled and recommended to pray, but commanded to pray. This is great condescension. A hospital is built: it is considered sufficient that free admission shall be given to the sick when they seek it; but no order in council is made that a man must enter its gates. A soup kitchen is well provided for in the depth of winter. Notice is promulgated that those who are poor may receive food on application; but no one thinks of passing an Act of Parliament, compelling the poor to come and wait at the door to take the charity. It is thought to be enough to proffer it without issuing any kind of mandate that men shall accept it. Yet so strange is the infatuation of man on the one hand, which makes him need a command to be merciful to his own soul, and so marvellous is the condescension of our gracious God on the other, that he issues a command of love without which not a man born of Adam would partake of the gospel feast, but would rather starve than come. In the matter of prayer it is even so. God’s own people need, or else they would not receive it, a command to pray. How is this? Because, dear friends, we are very subject to fits of worldliness, if indeed that is not our usual state. We do not forget to eat: we do not forget to take the shop shutters down: we do not forget to be diligent in business: we do not forget to go to our beds to rest: but we often do forget to wrestle with God in prayer and to spend, as we ought to spend, long periods in consecrated fellowship with our Father and our God. With too many professors the ledger is so bulky that you cannot move it, and the Bible, representing their devotion, is so small that you might almost put it in your waistcoat pocket. Hours for the world! Moments for Christ! The world has the best, and our prayer closet the parings of our time. We give our strength and freshness to the ways of mammon, and our fatigue and languor to the ways of God. Hence it is that we need to be commanded to attend to that very act which it ought to be our greatest happiness, as it is our highest privilege to perform, that is to meet with our God. “Call upon me,” he says, for he knows that we are apt to forget to call upon God. “What do you mean, oh, sleeper? Arise and call upon your God,” is an exhortation which is needed by us as well as by Jonah in the storm.
5. He understands what heavy hearts we have sometimes, when under a sense of sin. Satan says to us, “Why should you pray? How can you hope to prevail? In vain, you say, ‘I will arise and go to my Father,’ for you are not worthy to be one of his hired servants. How can you see the King’s face after you have played the traitor against him? How will you dare to approach to the altar when you yourself have defiled it, and when the sacrifice which you would bring there is a poor polluted one?” Oh brethren, it is well for us that we are commanded to pray, or else in times of heaviness we might give it up. If God commands me, unfit as I may be, I will creep to the footstool of grace; and since he says, “Pray without ceasing,” although my words fail me and my heart itself will wander, yet I will still stammer out the wishes of my hungering soul and say, “Oh God, at least teach me to pray and help me to prevail with you.” Are we not commanded to pray also because of our frequent unbelief? Unbelief whispers, “What profit is there if you should seek the Lord upon such and such a matter?” This is a case quite out of the list of those things where God has interposed, and, therefore (says the devil), if you were in any other position you might rest upon the mighty arm of God; but here your prayer will not avail you. Either it is too trivial a matter, or it is too connected with temporals, or else it is a matter in which you have sinned too much, or else it is too high, too hard, too complicated a piece of business, you have no right to take that before God! So suggests the foul fiend of hell. Therefore, there stands written as an every day precept suitable to every case into which a Christian can experience, “Call to me—call to me.” Are you sick? Do you wish to be healed? Cry to me, for I am a Great Physician. Does providence trouble you? Are you fearful that you shall not to do what is right in the sight of all man? Call to me! Do your children vex you? Do you feel what is sharper than an adder’s tooth—a thankless child? Call to me. Are your griefs little yet painful, like small points and pricks of thorns? Call to me! Is your burden heavy as though it would make your back break beneath its load? Call to me! “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain you; he shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” In the valley—on the mountain—on the barren rock—in the briny sea, submerged, immediately, beneath the billows, and lifted up by and by upon the crest of the waves—in the furnace when the coals are glowing—in the gates of death when the jaws of hell would shut themselves upon you—do not cease, for the commandment always addresses you with “Call to me.” Still prayer is mighty and must prevail with God to bring you your deliverance. These are some of the reasons why the privilege of supplication is also spoken of as a duty in Holy Scripture: there are many more, but these will suffice this morning.
6. We must not leave our first point until we have made another remark. We ought to be very glad that God has given us this command in his Word so that it may be sure and abiding. You may turn to fifty passages where the same precept is uttered. I do not often read in Scripture, “You shall not kill”; “You shall not covet.” Twice the law is given, but I often read gospel precepts, for if the law is given twice, the gospel is given seventy times seven. For every precept which I cannot keep, by reason of my being weak through the flesh, I find a thousand precepts, which it is sweet and pleasant for me to keep, by reason of the power of the Holy Spirit which dwells in the children of God; and this command to pray is insisted upon again and again. It may be a seasonable exercise for some of you to find out how often in Scripture you are told to pray. You will be surprised to find how many times such words as these are given; “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you”—“You people, pour out your heart before him.” “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you”—“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”—“Pray without ceasing”—“Come boldly to the throne of grace,” “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” “Continue in prayer.” I do not need to multiply where I could not possibly exhaust. I pick two or three out of this great bag of pearls. Come, Christian, you ought never to question whether you have a right to pray: you should never ask, “May I be permitted to come into his presence?” When you have so many commands, (and God’s commands are all promises, and all enablings,) you may come boldly to the throne of heavenly grace, by the new and living way through the torn veil.
7. But there are times when God not only commands his people to pray in the Bible, but he also commands them to pray directly by the motions of his Holy Spirit. You who know the inner life understand me at once. You feel suddenly, possibly in the midst of business, the pressing thought that you must retire to pray. It maybe, you do not at first take particular notice of the inclination, but it comes again, and again, and again—“Retire and pray!” I find that in the matter of prayer, I am myself very much like a water wheel which runs well when there is plenty of water, but which turns with very little force when the brook is growing shallow; or, like the ship which flies over the waves, putting out all her canvas when the wind is favourable, but which has to tack about most laboriously when there is very little of the favouring breeze. Now, it strikes me that whenever our Lord gives you the special inclination to pray, that you should double your diligence. You ought always to pray and not to faint; yet when he gives you the special longing after prayer, and you feel a peculiar aptness and enjoyment in it, you have, over and above the command which is constantly binding, another command which should compel you to cheerful obedience. At such times I think we may stand in the position of David, to whom the Lord said, “When you hear a sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall bestir yourself.” That marching in the tops of the mulberry trees may have been the footfalls of angels hastening to the help of David, and then David was to strike the Philistines, and when God’s mercies are coming, their footfalls are our desires to pray; and our desires to pray should at once be an indication that, the proper time to favour Zion is come. Sow plentifully now, for you can sow in hope; plough joyously now, for your harvest is sure. Wrestle now, Jacob, for you are about to be made a prevailing prince, and your name shall be called Israel. Now is your time, spiritual merchantmen; the market is high, trade much; your profit shall be large. See to it that you use very well the golden hour, and reap your harvest while the sun shines. When we enjoy visitations from on high we should be particularity constant in prayer; and if some other duty less pressing should have to be postponed for a time, it will not be amiss and we shall be no loser; for when God bids us especially to pray by the admonitions of his Spirit, then we should bestir ourselves in prayer.
Promised an Answer
8. II. Let us now take the second point—AN ANSWER PROMISED.
9. We ought not to tolerate for a minute the ghastly and grievous thought that God will not answer prayer. His nature, as revealed in Christ Jesus, demands it. He has revealed himself in the gospel as a God of love, full of grace and truth; and how can he refuse to help those of his creatures who humbly in his own appointed way seek his face and favour? When the Athenian senate, upon one occasion, found it most convenient to meet together in the open air, as they were sitting in their deliberations, a sparrow, pursued by a hawk, flew in the direction of the senate. Being hard pressed by the bird of prey, it sought shelter in the bosom of one of the senators. He, being a man of rough and vulgar mould, took the bird from his bosom, dashed it on the ground and so killed it. Whereupon the whole senate rose in uproar, and without one single dissenting voice, condemned him to die, as being unworthy of a seat in the senate with them, or to be called an Athenian, if he did not render help to a creature that confided in him. Can we suppose that the God of heaven, whose nature is love, could tear out of his bosom the poor fluttering dove that flies from the eagle of justice into the bosom of his mercy? Will he give the invitation to us to seek his face, and when we, as he knows, with so much fear and trepidation, yet summon courage enough to fly into his bosom, will he then be unjust and ungracious enough to forget to hear our cry and to answer us? Let us not think so harshly of the God of heaven. Let us remember next, his past character as well as his nature. I mean the character which he has won for himself by his past deeds of grace. Consider, my brethren, that one stupendous display of bounty—if I were to mention a thousand I could not give a better illustration of the character of God than that one deed—“He who did not spare his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all”—and it is not my inference only, but the inspired conclusion of an apostle—“how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” If the Lord did not refuse to listen to my voice when I was a guilty sinner and an enemy, how can he disregard my cry now, that I am justified and saved? How is it that he heard the voice of my misery when my heart did not know it, and would not seek relief, if after all he will not hear me now that I am his child, his friend? The streaming wounds of Jesus are the sure guarantees for answered prayer. George Herbert represents in that quaint poem of his, “The Bag,” the Saviour saying—
If ye have anything to send or write
(I have no bag, but here is room)
To my Father’s hands and sight,
(Believe me) it shall safely come.
That I shall mind what you impart
Look, you may put it very near my heart,
Or if hereafter any of friends
Will use me in this kind, the door
Shall still be open; what he sends
I will present and somewhat more
Not to his hurt.
Surely, George Herbert’s thought was that the atonement was in itself a guarantee that prayer must be heard, that the great gash made near the Saviour’s heart, which let the light into the very depths of the heart of Deity, was a proof that he who sits in heaven would hear the cry of his people. You misread Calvary, if you think that prayer is useless. But, beloved, we have the Lord’s own promise for it, and he is a God who cannot lie. “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will answer you.” Has he not said, “Whatever you shall ask in prayer, believe that you shall have it and you shall have it.” We cannot pray, indeed, unless we believe this doctrine; “for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him”; and if we have any question at all about whether our prayer will be heard, we are like him who wavers; “for he who wavers is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed with the wind; let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord.”
10. Furthermore, it is not necessary, still it may strengthen the point, if we add that our own experience leads us to believe that God will answer prayer. I must not speak for you; but I may speak for myself. If there is anything I know, anything that I am quite assured of beyond all question, it is that praying breath is never spent in vain. If no other man here can say it, I dare to say it, and I know that I can prove it. My own conversion is the result of prayer, long, affectionate, earnest, and importunate. My parents prayed for me; God heard their cries, and here I am to preach the gospel. Since then I have ventured upon some things that were far beyond my capacity as I thought; but I have never failed, because I have cast myself upon the Lord. You know as a church that I have not scrupled to indulge large ideas of what we might do for God; and we have accomplished all that we purposed. I have sought God’s aid, and assistance, and help, in all my various undertakings, and although I cannot tell the story here about my private life in God’s work, yet if it were written it would be a standing proof that there is a God who answers prayer. He has heard my prayers, not now and then, nor once nor twice, but so many times, that it has grown into a habit with me to spread my case before God with the absolute certainty that whatever I ask from God, he will give to me. It is not now a “Perhaps” or a “Possibility.” I know that my Lord answers me, and I dare not doubt, it would indeed be folly if I did. Just as I am sure that a certain amount of leverage will lift a weight, so I know that a certain amount of prayer will get anything from God. Just as the rain cloud brings the shower, so prayer brings the blessing. Just as spring scatters flowers, so supplication ensures mercies. In all labour there is profit, but most of all in the work of intercession: I am sure of this, for I have reaped it. As I put trust in the queen’s money, and have never failed yet to buy what I want when I produce the cash, so I put trust in God’s promises, and mean to do so until I find that he shall once tell me that they are base coin, and will not do to trade with in heaven’s market. But why should I speak? Oh brothers and sisters, you all know yourselves that God hears prayer; if you do not, then where is your Christianity? Where is your religion? You will need to learn what the first elements of the truth are; for all saints, young or old, know for a certainty that he does hear prayer.
11. Still remember that prayer is always to be offered in submission to God’s will; that when we say, God hears prayer, we do not intend by that, that he literally always gives us what we ask for. We do mean, however, this, that he gives us what is best for us; and that if he does not give us the mercy we ask for in silver, he bestows it upon us in gold. If he does not take away the thorn in the flesh, yet he says, “My grace is sufficient for you,” and that amounts to the same thing. Lord Bolingbroke said to the Countess of Huntingdon, “I cannot understand, your ladyship, how you can understand that earnest prayer to be consistent with submission to the divine will.” “My lord,” she said, “that is a matter of no difficulty. If I were a courtier of some generous king, and he gave me permission to ask any favour I pleased of him, I should be sure to put it like this, ‘Will your majesty be graciously pleased to grant me such and such a favour; but at the same time although I very much desire it, if it would in any way detract from your majesty’s honour, or if in your majesty’s judgment it should seem better that I did not have this favour, I shall be quite as content to go without it as to receive it.’ So you see I might earnestly offer a petition, and yet I might submissively leave it in the king’s hands.” So with God. We never offer up prayer without inserting that clause, either in spirit or in words, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will; not my will but yours be done.” We can only pray without an “if” when we are quite sure that our will must be God’s will, because God’s will is fully our will. A much slandered poet has well said—
Man, regard your prayers as a purpose of love to your soul,
Esteem the providence that led to them as an index of God’s good will;
So shall you pray aright, and thy words shall meet with acceptance.
Also, in pleading for others, be thankful for the fulness of your prayer;
For if you are ready to ask, the Lord is more ready to bestow.
The salt preserves the sea, and the saints uphold the earth;
Their prayers are the thousand pillars that prop the canopy of nature.
Verily, an hour without prayer, from some terrestrial mind,
Were a curse in the calendar of time, a spot of the blackness of darkness.
Perchance the terrible day, when the world must rock into ruins,
Will be one unwhitened by prayer—shall he find faith on the earth?
For there is an economy of mercy, as of wisdom, and power, and means;
Neither is one blessing granted unbesought from the treasury of good:
And the charitable heart of the Being, to depend upon whom is happiness,
Never withholds a bounty, as long as his subject prayeth;
Yea, ask what you will, to the second throne in heaven,
It is yours, for whom it was appointed; there is no limit unto prayer:
But and if you cease to ask, tremble, you self-suspended creature,
For your strength is cut off as was Samson’s: and the hour of your doom is come.
Encouragement for Faith
12. III. I come to our third point, which I think is full of encouragement to all those who exercise the hallowed art of prayer: ENCOURAGEMENT FOR FAITH, “I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know.”
13. Let us just remark that this was originally spoken to a prophet in prison; and, therefore, it applies in the first place to every teacher, and, indeed, since every teacher must be a learner, it has a bearing upon every student in divine truth. The best way by which a prophet and teacher and student can know the reserved truths, the higher and more mysterious truths of God, is by waiting upon God in prayer. I noticed very especially yesterday in reading the Book of the Prophet Daniel, how Daniel came to understand Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The soothsayers, the magicians, the astrologers of the Chaldees, brought out their curious books and their strange looking instruments, and began to mutter their abracadabra and all sorts of mysterious incantations, but they all failed. What did Daniel do? He set himself to prayer, and knowing that the prayer of a united body of men has more prevalence than the prayer of one, we find that Daniel called together his brethren, and asked them to unite with him in earnest prayer that God would be pleased in his infinite mercy to open up the vision. “Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, so that they would desire mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.” And in the case of John, who was the Daniel of the New Testament, you remember he saw a book in the right hand of him who sat on the throne—a book sealed with seven seals which no one was found worthy to open or to look at. What did John do? The book was eventually opened by the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who had prevailed to open the book; but it is written first before the book was opened, “I wept much.” Yes, and the tears of John which were his liquid prayers, were, as far as he was concerned, the sacred keys by which the folded book was opened.
14. Brethren in the ministry, you who are teachers in the Sunday School, and all of you who are students in the college of Christ Jesus, I urge you to remember that prayer is your best means of study: like Daniel you shall understand the dream, and its interpretation, when you have sought out God; and like John you shall see the seven seals of precious truth unlocked, after you have wept much. “Yes, if you cry after knowledge, and lift up the voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you shall understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Stones are not broken, except by an earnest use of the hammer; and the stone breaker usually goes down on his knees. Use the hammer of diligence, and let the knee of prayer be exercised, too, and there is not a stony doctrine in Revelation which is useful for you to understand, which will not shatter to pieces under the exercise of prayer and faith. “Bene orasse est bene studuisse” was a wise sentence of Luther, which has been so often quoted, that we hardly venture except to hint at it. “To have prayed well is to have studied well.” You may force your way through anything with the leverage of prayers. Thoughts and reasoning may be like the steel wedges which may open a way into truth; but prayer is the lever, the prise which forces open the iron chest of sacred mystery, so that we may get the treasure that is hidden in it for those who can force their way to reach it. The kingdom of heaven still suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Take care that we work away with the mighty implement of prayer, and nothing can stand against you.
15. We must not, however, stop there. We have applied the text to only one case; it is applicable to a hundred. We single out another. The saint may expect to discover deeper experience and to know more about the higher spiritual life, by being much in prayer. There are different translations of my text. One version renders it, “I will show you great and fortified things which you do not know.” Another renders it, “Great and reserved things which you do not know.” Now, all the developments of spiritual life are not equally easy to attain. There are the common emotions and feelings of repentance, and faith, and joy, and hope, which are enjoyed by the entire family: but there is an upper realm of rapture, of communion, and conscious union with Christ, which is far from being the common dwelling place of believers. All believers see Christ; but all believers do not put their fingers into the prints of the nails, nor thrust their hand into his side. We do not have all the high privilege of John to lean upon Jesus’ bosom, nor of Paul, to be caught up into the third heaven. In the ark of salvation we find a lower, second, and third storey; all are in the ark, but all are not in the same storey. Most Christians, concerning the river of experience, are only up to the ankles; some others have waded until the stream is up to the knees; a few find it chest deep; and only a few—oh! how few!—find it to be a river to swim in, the bottom of which they cannot touch. My brethren, there are heights in experiential knowledge of the things of God which the eagle’s eye of acumen and philosophic thought have never seen; and there are secret paths which the lion’s whelp of reason and judgment have not as yet learned to travel. God alone can bear us there; but the chariot in which he takes us up, and the fiery steeds with which that chariot is pulled, are prevailing prayers. Prevailing prayer is victorious over the God of mercy, “By his strength he had power with God: yes, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication to him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spoke with us.” Prevailing prayer takes the Christian to Carmel, and enables him to cover heaven with clouds of blessing, and earth with floods of mercy. Prevailing prayer bears the Christian aloft to Pisgah and shows him the reserved inheritance; indeed, and it elevates him to Tabor and transfigures him, until in the likeness of his Lord, just as he is, so are we also in this world. If you wish to reach to something higher than ordinary grovelling experience, look to the Rock that is higher than you, and look with the eye of faith through the windows of importunate prayer. To grow in experience then, there must be much prayer.
16. You must have patience with me while I apply this text to two or three more cases. It is certainly true of the sufferer under trial: if he waits much upon God in prayer he shall receive greater deliverances than he has ever dreamed of—“great and mighty things which you do not know.” Here is Jeremiah’s testimony:—“You drew near in the day that I called upon you: you said, ‘Do not fear oh Lord, you have pleaded the causes of my soul; you have redeemed my life.’ ” And David’s is the same:—“I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place—. I will praise you: for you have heard me, and are become my salvation.” And yet again:—“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them out by the right way, so that they might go to a city of habitation.” “My husband is dead,” said the poor woman, “and my creditor is come to take my two sons as bondsmen.” She hoped that Elijah would possibly say “What are your debts? I will pay them.” Instead of that, he multiplies her oil until it is written, “Go and pay your debts, and”—what was the “and?”—“you and your children live upon the rest.” So often it will happen that God will not only help his people through the miry places of the way, so that they may just stand on the other side of the slough, but he will bring them safely far along on the journey. That was a remarkable miracle, when in the midst of the storm, Jesus Christ came walking upon the sea, the disciples received him into the ship, and not only was the sea calm, but it is recorded, “Immediately the ship was at the land where they were going.” That was a mercy over and above what they asked for. I sometimes hear you pray and make use of a quotation which is not in the Bible:—“He is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we can ask or even think.” It is not so written in the Bible. I do not know what we can ask or what we can think. But it is said, “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or even think.” Let us then, dear friends, when we are in great trial only say, “Now I am in prison; like Jeremiah I will pray as he did, for I have God’s command to do it; and I will look out as he did, expecting that he will show me reserved mercies which I do not know anything about at present.” He will not merely bring his people through the battle, covering their heads in it, but he will bring them out with banners waving, to divide the spoil with the mighty, and to claim their portion with the strong. Expect great things of a God who gives such great promises as these.
17. Again, here is encouragement for the worker. Most of you are doing something for Christ; I am happy to be able to say this, knowing that I do not flatter you. My dear friends, wait upon God much in prayer, and you have the promise that he will do greater things for you than you know of. We do not know how much capacity for usefulness there may be in us. That donkey’s jawbone lying there upon the earth, what can it do? No one knows what it can do. It gets into Samson’s hands, what can it not do? No one knows what it cannot do now that a Samson wields it. And you, friend, have often thought yourself to be as contemptible as that bone, and you have said, “What can I do?” Indeed, but when Christ by his Spirit grips you, what can you not do? Truly you may adopt Paul’s language and say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” However, do not depend upon prayer without effort. In a certain school there was one girl who knew the Lord, a very gracious, simple hearted, trustful child. As usual, grace developed itself in the child according to the child’s position. Her lessons were always best said of any in the class. Another girl said to her, “How is it that your lessons are always so well said?” “I pray to God to help me,” she said, “to learn my lesson.” Well thought the other, “Then I will do the same.” The next morning when she stood up in the class she did not know anything; and when she was in disgrace she complained to the other, “Why I prayed to God to help me learn my lesson and I do not know anything about it. What is the use of prayer?” “But did you sit down and try to learn it?” “Oh, no,” she said, “I never looked at the book.” “Ah,” then said the other, “I asked God to help me to learn my lesson; but, then I sat down to it studiously, and I kept at it until I knew it well, and I learned it easily, because my earnest desire, which I had expressed to God was, help me to be diligent in endeavouring to do my duty.” So it is with some who come up to prayer meetings and pray, and then they fold their arms and go away hoping that God’s work will go on. Like the negro woman singing “Fly a broad, oh mighty gospel,” but not putting a penny in the plate; so that her friend touched her and said, “But how can it fly if you do not give it wings to fly with?” There are many who appear to be very mighty in prayer, wondrous in supplications; but then they require God to do what they can do for themselves, and, therefore, God does nothing at all for them. “I shall leave my camel untied,” said an Arab once to Mohammed, “and trust to providence.” “Tie it up” said Mohammed, “and then trust to providence.” So you who say, “I shall pray and trust my Church, or my class, or my work to God’s goodness,” may rather hear the voice of experience and wisdom which says, “Do your best; work as if it all rested upon your toil; as if your own arm would bring your salvation”; “and when you have done it all, cast yourself on him without whom it is in vain to rise up early and to sit up late, and to eat the bread of carefulness; and if he prospers you give him the praise.”
18. I shall not detain you many minutes longer, but I want to notice that this promise ought to prove useful for the comforting of those who are intercessors for others. You who are calling upon God to save your children, to bless your neighbours, to remember your husbands or your wives in mercy, may take comfort from this, “I will show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” A famous minister in the last century, one Mr. Bailey, was the child of a godly mother. This mother had almost ceased to pray for her husband, who was a man of a most ungodly kind, and a bitter persecutor. The mother prayed for her boy, and while he was only eleven or twelve years of age, eternal mercy met with him. So sweetly instructed was the child in the things of the kingdom of God, that the mother requested him—and for some time he always did so—to conduct family prayer in the house. Morning and evening this little one laid open the Bible; and though the father would not condescend to stay for the family prayer, yet on one occasion he was rather curious to know “what kind of a prayer the boy would make,” so he stopped on the other side of the door, and God blessed the prayer of his own child under thirteen years of age to his conversion. The mother might well have read my text with streaming eyes and said, “Yes, Lord, you have shown me great and mighty things which I did not know: you have not only saved my boy, but through my boy you have brought my husband to the truth.” You cannot guess how greatly God will bless you. Only go and stand at his door, you cannot tell what is in reserve for you. If you do not beg at all, you will get nothing; but if you beg he may not only give you, as it were, the bones, and broken meat, but he may say to the servant at his table, “Take that dainty meat, and set that before the poor man.” Ruth went to glean; she expected to get a few good ears: but Boaz said, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not rebuke her”; he said moreover to her, “At mealtime come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.” Indeed, she found a husband where she only expected to find a handful of barley. So in prayer for others, God may give us such mercies that we shall be astounded at them, since we expected very little. Hear what is said of Job, and learn its lesson, “And the Lord said, ‘My servant Job shall pray for you: for I will accept him: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that you have not spoken about me the thing which is right, like my servant Job—.’ And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
19. Now, this word to close with. Some of you are seekers for your own conversion. God has quickened you to solemn prayer about your own souls. You are not content to go to hell, you want heaven; you want to be washed in the precious blood; you want eternal life. Dear friends, I urge you to take this text—God himself speaks it to you—“Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” At once take God at his word. Go home, go into your bedroom and shut the door, and try him. Young man, I say, try the Lord. Young woman, prove him, see whether he is true or not. If God is true, you cannot seek mercy at his hands through Jesus Christ and get a negative reply. He must, for his own promise and character bind him to it, open mercy’s gate to you who knock with all your heart. May God help you, believing in Christ Jesus, to cry aloud to God, and his answer of peace is already on the way to meet you. You shall hear him say, “Your sins which are many are all forgiven.”
20. May the Lord bless you for his love’s sake. Amen.