Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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conjunctive preposition is left off of this verb just
to advise us of that. Nor may we omit to note
and give effect to the changes of tense: first the
aorist, then the present, then the future, then the
present again; all of which changes are significant.
Lastly, a careful observation of the consecution
of the clauses will certainly bid us pause before we
fall in with their division into two pairs, the first
encouraging, the last warning; a division far too
simple to do justice to the subtlety of the whole
thought, or even the surface considerations de-
rived from the sequence of the tenses and verbs.
Let us look at the saying then a moment in its


own light and then ask how it lends itself to Paul's
purpose in adducing it here.

We perceive at once that the passage consists
of four conditional sentences which stand, there-
fore, in a certain formal parallelism with one an-
other. The first of these sentences declares that
sharing in Christ's death entails sharing in
Christ's life. The idea is a frequent one in the
New Testament and must, indeed, in all Pauline
churches at any rate, have become long ere this a
Christian commonplace. The language in which
it is expressed is the same as that which meets us
in Rom. 6:8, and stands in express relation with
that of, say, 2 Cor. 5:14f. It would be most un-
natural violently to separate the statement here
from the ordinary connotation of the language.
This is reinforced by the fact that the aorist
tense is employed, and thus a dying with Christ
already accomplished by every Christian who took
this language on his lips, most naturally suggested.
It is most unnatural, therefore, to understand here
a dying with Christ not yet accomplished, per-
haps never to be accomplished; the language im-
plies rather a dying which has been the invariable
experience of every Christian heart. Are we to
say that the passage teaches that only if we share
in Christ's death in the sense that we like Him die
for the Gospel, are we to share in his life.? Or, are
we to say that the meaning is rather that every
faithful Christian that dies shall live again? The


latter is too flat a sense to be attributed to our
passage; the former, obviously too narrow. The
reference is neither to martyrdom, not yet merely
to a Christian death. The death here is obviously
ethical or rather, spiritual, and yet not quite in
the exact sense of Rom. 6 :8, but more in that of
2 Cor. 5 :14. The simple meaning obviously is that
he who is united with Christ in His death shall
share with Him His life also; that all those "in
Christ Jesus" as they died with Him on Calvary,
as that death which He there died, since it was for
them, was their death in Him, so shall share with
Him in His resurrection life, shall live in and
through Him.

The appeal is clearly to the Christian's union
with Christ and its abiding effects. He is a new
creation; with a new life in him; and should live
in the power of this new and deathless life. For
there is a stress laid also on the persistence of this
life and a pointing of the reader to the deathless-
ness of the life in Christ. Know ye not, says the
Apostle in effect, that if ye died with Christ ye
shall also live with Him, and that the life ye are
living in the flesh ye live by the power of the Son
of God, and it shall last for ever.? The pregnancy
of the implication is extreme, but it is all in-
volved in the one fact that if we died with Christ,
if we are His and share His death on Calvary, we
shall live with Him ; live with Him in a redeemed
life here, cast in another mould from the old life


of the flesh, and Hve with Him hereafter for ever.
This great appeal to their union and communion
with Christ lays the basis for all that follows. It
puts the reader on the plane — sets him at the
point of view — of "in Christ Jesus."

Now, the second and third clauses present the
contrasting possibilities, emerging from the situa-
tion presented in the first clause, and belong as
such together, as positive and negative state-
ments. He who is in Christ may by patient con-
tinuance in well-doing abide in union with his
Lord, and he shall not fail of his reward. The
metaphysical possibility remains open, however,
that he may deny his Lord, in which case, he shall,
himself, in accordance with our Lord's own ex-
press threat, be denied by Him. Observe the
precise justice of the contrasting expressions em-
ployed in these alternatives. The tense changes
first from the aorist to the present, because not
tJie act of incorporation in Christ, but the process
of steadfast endurance, is in question. The verbs
in the apodosis are also varied to meet the exact
case; we begin as sharers in Christ's life; if we
continue steadfastly in that life we shall share in
its glories. The thought is precisely that of Rom.
8:16, 17; if we are God's children, we are heirs,
joint heirs with Christ, "if so be that we suffer
with Him, that we may be glorified with Him
also." Only in our present passage the matter is
not conceived so distinctly as suffering or as suffer-


ing with Christ; in preparation for the companion
clause yet to come the idea of "with Christ" falls
away here. The two cases rest with us — abiding
steadfastly or disowning. The "reigning with
Christ" is an advance on "living with Christ"; it
throws the emphasis on the reward: if we have
died with Him we are sharers of His life; if we
abide in this life we shall inherit with Him the

The companion clause presents the other pos-
sibility. The "deny" corresponds to "the stead-
fast endurance" and Christ's disowning us cor-
responds to the "reigning with Him"; both as
opposite contrasts. The tense is changed in ac-
cordance with the new nature of the case. It is
not a matter of continually disowning Him; it is
a matter of breaking the continuance of our stead-
fast endurance. This is done by an act. Hence
the future, expressing the possibility of the act:
"should we disown Him," — if we shall disown
Him, why then, He (emphatic), also will disown
us! This is the dreadful contingency; all the more
dreadful on account of three things: (1) the sim-
ple brevity of its statement as a dire possibility to
be kept in mind and steadfastly guarded against;
(2) the express reminiscence of our Lord's own
words in Matt. 10:33 carrying the mind back to
the most solemn of associations possible to con-
nect with the words; (3) the emphatic "He,"
thrusting the personality of Christ for the first


time upon the consciousness of the reader; as be-
fore, He is only gently kept in mind by the impli-
cations of the "with." This emphatic "He" is
partly due, of course, to the change of construc-
tion, by which a new subject is needed for the suc-
ceeding verb; though it would be, perhaps, better
to say the desire for emphasis is the cause of the
change of construction. We might have had a
passive verb, "If we deny we shall be denied,"
with or without the "by Him." But the person-
ality of Christ is too strongly felt here for mere
suggestion or even for relegation to the predicate.
The change to the active construction and the
expression of the subject and its expression by the
demonstrative "He," all pile emphasis on em-
phasis; "If we disown, HE, too (not merely He,
but HE, too), will disown us!" This is the climax
of the sentence and a fitting pause is reached.
"If we died with Him we shall also live with him;
if we steadfastly endure we shall also reign with
him; but if we shall ever, by any possibility, deny
Him, He, too, will deny — us!" The thought is
complete with this. Both alternatives are devel-
oped. And the effect of the whole is a powerful
incentive to abide in Christ. Patient endurance —
nay, bold, steadfast, brave endurance — ^has its
reward — reigning with Christ. But if we fall
from this and disown Christ, do we not remember
His dreadful threat: "He, too, can and will dis-
own — even us!"


Surely there is nothing required to enhance the
terror of this situation. The poignancy of the
appeal to steadfast endurance seems scarcely to
need heightening. But on the other hand there
would seem need for a closing word of encourage-
ment to weak and faltering Christians. And there
would seem a way open for it. For the very sharp-
ness of the assertion that if there is disowning on
one side there will be disowning on the other, too,
seems to hint something else. The contrast be-
tween the present tense of the second clause ex-
pressing continuance and the tense of the third
clause expressing an act, calls for consideration:
"If we continue to — ," "If we shall perchance
ever — ." Nothing is said of the continuance of
the disowning on either side. Disowning begets
disowning. True; but is that all.^^ Shall one act
of even such dreadful sin divide us from all that
we had hoped for, in a long life of endurance .^^
What shall poor weak, faltering Christians do in
that case? It does not seem impossible, to say
the least, that the last clause comes in to comfort
and strengthen. There is hope even for the
lapsed Christian! For "though we prove faith-
less, He (emphatic), HE, at least, abides faithful:
for deny Himself He cannot!" Deny us He may
and will; every denial entails a denial. But
deny Himself, He cannot. Our unbelief shall
not render the faith of God of none effect.

If this be the construction, the whole closes on a


note of hope. The note of warning throbs through
even the note of hope, it is true, for He who can-
not deny Himself must remember His threats
also; and no Christian holding this wonderful
"faithful saying" in his heart will fail to note this.
But the note of hope is the dominant one, and I
take it this last clause is designed to call back the
soul from the contemplation of the dreadfulness of
denying Christ and throw it in trust and hope
back upon Jesus Christ, the faithful One, who
despite our unfaithfulness, will never deny Him-
self — will never disown Himself, — ^but will ever
look on His own cross and righteousness and all
the bitter dole He has suffered, and will not let
anything snatch what He has purchased to Him-
self out of His hands.

In this view of the matter, then, the arrange-
ment of the clauses is not in a straightforward
quartet — ^two by two — but rather this:

If we died with Him we shall also live with Him;

If we endure we shall also reign with Him;

If we shall deny, He too will deny us.
If we are faithless. He abideth faithful, for Himself He camiot


James 5:16b: — "The supplication of a righteous man availeth

I WANT to speak to you this afternoon about
prayer, and I have chosen a text which, if we can-
not quite say of it that it brings prayer before us
at the height of its idea, yet, certainly, presents its
value to us in the most emphatic way.

Men ask, What is the use of praying? Above
all, What is the use of bringing specific petitions
to the throne of the Almighty? "To crave boons
you know little of, from a God of whom you know
nothing at all, save that you have made him in
your own image — of what profit can that be?"
That is the language of unbelief.

Much, however, which passes for belief asks
practically the same thing in somewhat more
chastened forms of speech. This half belief also
asks. What is the use of praying? We must have
a very low conception of God, it suggests, to sup-
pose that He does not know how to govern His
universe without our telling Him. Do we really
think He will subordinate His wisdom to the de-
mands of our folly? Cannot we leave the direc-
tion of affairs to Him? If He be, indeed, a good
and wise God, must we not leave it to Him? Why
rush hysterically into His presence and demand



that the universe be ruled according to our no-
tions? Are we competent to give Him advice?
Do we fancy that we know what is best even for
ourselves, as He does not? He cannot hear us
unless He be God; He certainly ought not to
hearken to us if He be God. If He is "mighty
enough to make laws," why should we think Him
"weak enough to break them" at our request?
Prayer is in effect an attempt to undeify the
Deity and substitute our will for His will. It is
not only foolish and immoral, therefore, but su-
premely self-contradictory. We cannot attempt
it save on the supposition that it is God whom we
are addressing; we would not attempt it if we
really believed that He whom we are addressing is
God. Of one thing, at least, we may be assured,
that it is of no use to pray.

Well, you see, it is precisely to this point that
our text speaks. It speaks not of prayer in gen-
eral, but of the specific act of petition. "Suppli-
cation," our Revised Version calls it. It is that
precise act of prayer which is the making of a re-
quest, the urging of a desire, the preferring of a
petition. And what it says about it is that so
far from its being of no use, it is of very great use.
"The prayer," — or more specifically, the "peti-
tion," the "request," the " supphcation " — "of a
righteous man availeth much," "is of great value,"
"exerts great power." There is another word in
the sentence, but as it is of somewhat doubtful


interpretation and in no way qualifies the sense of
the declaration for our present purpose, we may
pass it by here. It is variously rendered as quali-
fying the prayer of the righteous man that availeth
further as "earnest"; or as indicating the source
from which such a prayer alone can come, by
affirming that it is "inwrought" in him, that is,
by the Holy Ghost; or as further describing the
value of it as avaihng "in its working." It is
obvious that whether we say "the fervent prayer
of the righteous man availeth much," or "the
prayer of a righteous man availeth much, seeing
that it is inwrought," or "the prayer of a righteous
man availeth much in its working," the one main
thing asserted in every case is that a righteous
man's prayer is of high value; that it is strong to
obtain its end; that it is fully worth offering up.
And this emphatic assertion is buttressed im-
mensely by its context. The assertion is made in
order to encourage the readers to pray for one
another, and for themselves. To pray for one
another when they are sick; to pray for one
another when they are soul-sick. If any is
sick among you, exhorts James, send for the elders
of the Church and have them pray over such an
one; and the prayer of faith shall heal the sick;
yes, and if he have any sin on his conscience, it
will heal that sin. And all of you — why, confess
your sins to one another — and pray for one an-
other, and the prayer will bring healing. Take


everything to God. If you are suffering go in
prayer; if you are in joy go in praise. But in any
and every case, go. It is strong and reiterated
advice, you see. Go continually, go always, to
God. Go, go, because prayer is not of no profit;
but, on the contrary, the "prayer of a righteous
man profiteth much!" And then James supports
this central declaration with a most telling exam-
ple. It is taken from the Hfe of Elijah. Elijah
prayed. He was a man just like us. And he got
what he prayed for. And it was no little thing
he asked for. He asked for drought and he asked
for rain. And he got the drought and the rain
he asked for. See, says James in effect, see, how
much the prayer of a righteous man is good for!

It looks as if we could not easily find a stronger
assertion of the value of prayer; and of prayer at
the very apex of its difficulty as I have said;
prayer, specifically as petition. But I do not wish
this afternoon to confine our thoughts to this one
point- the value of petition, but to take encour-
agement from this emphatic assertion of the value
of prayer, and direct our minds to a general con-
sideration of prayer in the large.

First, then, the idea of prayer. In its most
general connotation, prayer is the Godward ex-
pression of subjective religion. Subjective religion
is the state of mind consequent on the apprehen-
sion of God. Prayer is, therefore, in its most gen-
eral sense the Godward expression of that state of


mind which is consequent on the apprehension of
God. In short, all conscious communion with
God is prayer. A great many elements, there-
fore, enter into prayer. It is not to be confined to
petition. Every form of expression of the soul
Godward is a form of prayer. Many terms,
therefore, are employed in the Scriptures, He-
brew and Greek alike, to give expression to the
various forms and modes of praying. In some
passages several of these are accumulated and
that with full consciousness of the variety of
mental state and action expressed by them.
One of the most formal of these summations
occurs at the opening of the second chapter of
First Timothy. Here four terms are gathered
together to give more adequate expression to
what Paul would have us do when we pray; four
terms which emphasize the mental movements
we call respectively adoration, petition, urgency,
thanksgiving. These four elements, at least,
ought, therefore, to intertwine in all our acts of
prayer. When we come before God, we should
come with adoration in our hearts and on our lips,
with thanksgiving suffusing all our being for His
goodness to us, and making known our desires
with that earnestness which alone can justify our
bringing them to Him.

Next, the presuppositions of prayer. Obviously
they are the presuppositions of subjective religion.
And these may be summed up in the existence.


the personality, the accessibility and the contin-
ued activity of God in the world. The Scriptures
themselves tell us that to come to God implies
that we believe that He is, and that He is the re-
warder of those who diligently seek Him. We
must really believe in the existence of God and in
His care for the works of His hands, or we cannot
pray to Him. Not only then cannot the atheist,
or the agnostic, or the pantheist, pray; nor yet
the deist or the fatalist. But neither can ad-
herents of many a variety of our modern thought
which baptizes itself with the Christian name,
pray as men ought to pray. I have particularly
in mind in saying this, on the one hand, those ex-
treme advocates of the reign of law in external
nature who love to call themselves either spec-
ulative theists or non-miraculous Christians; and
on the other those extreme advocates of the au-
tocracy of the human will, who fancy that the
whole cause of liberty is bound up with the self-
sufficiency of the human soul.

The one of these would forbid us to pray for any
external want; the other for any internal effect on
the soul. So, between the two, they would take
away the whole sphere of prayer. Unless we
should prefer wisely to look at it from the oppo-
site angle, and to say that each refutes the other,
and between the two they allow us the whole
sphere of prayer. Certainly, that is what the
Scriptures do. They authorize, or rather require,


us to pray both for external and internal blessings;
for rain and drought like Elijah; for the healing
of sickness like the elders of the Church; for the
healing of sin-sick souls like Christians at large.
There is, no doubt, a problem of how God an-
swers prayers for external effects ; and we may be
chary of supposing that miracles will be wrought
when special providences will serve the end; and
there is a problem of how God answers prayer
for internal changes and we may be chary of sup-
posing that violence is done to our nature, when
confluent action along psychologically indicated
lines will suffice. But one thing we must hold
firmly to : God answers prayer. And that equally,
and equally readily and equally easily, for in-
ternal and for external things.

Now, the conditions of acceptable prayer. Let
us study here the simplicity of Scripture. We
need not multiply conditions where the Scriptures
do not multiply them. And, speaking strictly,
Scripture knows of but one condition. It con-
duces to the peace and comfort of our souls to
remember that there is but one condition to ac-
ceptable prayer. It is easiest and best, however,
to state this one condition in a twofold manner:
objectively and subjectively. There is an ob-
jective condition of acceptable prayer and there
is a subjective condition of acceptable prayer.
The objective condition is that we should have ac-
cess to God. The subjective condition is that


we should have faith. The objective and sub-
jective conditions are one, because it is only in
Jesus Christ that we have access to God and only
through faith that we are in Him.

Whatever may be said of men as men — the
creatures of God — you and I have nothing to do
with. You and I are not men as men; we are
sinners. And sinners as such have no access to
God. They may go through all the motions of
prayer, no doubt. It is like bodily exercises that
profit nothing; one might as will turn a prayer
wheel like the Thibetans. It goes no higher than
our own heads. For this is of the very essence of
sin — that it breaks communion with God. God
is deaf to the sinner's cry. He owes the sinner
punishment, not favour. In Jesus Christ alone
has the breach between God and sinful man been
filled in. In the blood of His sacrifice only can we
penetrate within the veil. In Him only, as Paul
repeatedly tells us, do we have our introduction
into the Divine presence. All prayer that is ac-
ceptable and reaches the ears of God, therefore,
is prayer that is conveyed to Him through Jesus
Christ. For sinners the atonement of Christ lays
the only basis for real prayer.

The subjective condition is faith; and faith is
the sole subjective condition. No other condi-
tion is ever announced in Scripture. And the
promises to faith are repeated, emphatic and un-
limited. He that prays in faith shall surely re-


ceive. For faith can no more fail in prayer than
in salvation; and if faith and faith alone is not
the only but all-sufficient instrument of salvation,
then we are yet in our sins and are of all men the
most miserable. If any one is puzzled by so un-
limited a promise, let him reflect what faith is and
whence faith comes. If faith is the gift of God in
this sphere, too — as assuredly it is — then faith
can no more fail than the God who gives it can
fail. Or think you that God will deceive you by
working faith in you by His Holy Spirit when He
has no intention of correspondingly blessing you?
Man-made faith — that might fail; for that is no
faith at all. But God-inspired faith, as it is God
within you working, so is it sure to find God
without you hearkening. That is what Paul says
in that great passage in the eighth of Romans
about the Holy Spirit groaning within us unutter-
ably, and God knowing the mind of His Spirit.
It is possibly also what James says in our present
passage, when he says that it is an "energized
prayer" which is effective. But the gist of the
whole matter is that there is no condition of suc-
cessful prayer but faith.

No condition, but not therefore no character-
izing qualities, which are always present where
faithful prayer is; and the presence and absence
of which you and I can observe as marks of ac-
acceptable or unacceptable prayer. These are
customarily enumerated as sincerity, reverence.


humility, importunity, submission. Many more
similar characteristic features of acceptable prayer
could be added. We need not dwell on these in

Lastly, the effects of prayer. These too are
both objective and subjective. Which are the
more important.^ That depends very much on
the specific exercises of prayer which we have in
mind; and on the specific things we pray for,
if it is of the exercise of petition that we are

The main point to emphasize is that prayer has
an objective effect. It terminates on God, and
does not merely bound back like a boomerang
upon our own persons. We do not throw it up
towards the heavens to have it do nothing but
circle back to smite our own heads. But though
this is to be mainly insisted upon, it does not fol-
low that prayer may not also have subjective
effects; or that these subjective effects may not
be of unspeakable importance to us; or even that
in some exercises of prayer, they may not be

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