Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

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

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now to plant the seed and water it and cause it
to grow into the great tree, in the branches of
which all the fowls of the air may rest. The
Spirit is the leaven which leavens the world; in
Israel it is that leaven laid away in the closet until


the day of leavening comes; when that day comes
and it is drawn out of its dark corner and placed
in the heap of meal — then, indeed, the day of the
leaven has come. Or to use a figure of Isaiah's,
during all those dark ages the Kingdom of God,
confined to Israel, was like a pent-in stream.
The Spirit of God was its life, its principle, during
all the ages; it was He that kept it pent in. Now
the Kingdom of God is like that pent-in stream
with the barriers broken down, and the Spirit of
God driving it.

The new dispensation is, once more, the dis-
pensation of the Spirit, because now the mode of
the administration of God's Kingdom has be-
come spiritual. This is in accordance with its
new extent and its new object, and is intended to
secure and to advance its universality and its
rapid progress. In the old dispensation, the
Kingdom of God was in a sense of this world;
it had its relation to and its place among earthly
states; it was administered by outward ordinances
and enactments and hierarchies. In the new dis-
pensation the Kingdom of God is not of this
world; it has no relation to or place among earthly
states; it is not administered by external or-
dinances. The Kingdom of God now is within
you; its law is written on the heart; it is admin-
istered by an inward force. Where the Jewish
ordinances extended, there of old was the King-
dom of God; where men were circumcised on the


eighth day, where they turned their faces to the
Temple at the hours of sacrifice, and whence they
went up to Jerusalem to the annual feasts. A
centralized worship we say; for the Temple at
Jerusalem was the place where God might be
acceptably worshipped and they were of the
Kingdom who owned its sway. Now, "where
the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the Church" —
as Tertullian and Irenseus and Ignatius tell us;
wherever the Spirit works — and He works when
and where and how He will — there is the Church
of God. We are freed from the outward ordi-
nances. Touch not, taste not, handle not; and are
under the sway of the indwelling Spirit alone.
An inward power takes the place of an out-
ward commandment; love shed abroad in our
hearts supplants fear as our motive; a Divine
strength replaces our human weakness.

Finally, we may say that the new dispensa-
tion is the dispensation of the Spirit, because now
the Spirit works in the hearts of God's people
with a more prevailing and a more pervading
force. We cannot doubt that He regenerated and
sanctified the souls of God's saints in the old dis-
pensation; we cannot doubt that He was operat-
ing creatively in them in renewing their hearts,
and that He was powerfully present in them,
leading them in right paths. "Create within me
a new heart and renew a right spirit within me"
is an Old Testament prayer; and it must repre-


sent an Old Testament experience. And yet we
seem to be not merely authorized but compelled
to look upon the mode of the Spirit's work as
more powerful and prevailing in the new dispen-
sation than in the old. For in these new times,
God seems to promise not only that He will pour
out His Spirit upon all flesh, but that He will pour
Him out in an especial manner on His people.
In what sense would the fact that He will pour
out the Spirit on the seed of Israel be character-
istic of the new dispensation, if there were not
some advance here on the old.^^ Such a passage as
Ezekiel 36:26 or Zech. 12:10 would seem to mean
as much as this: that the Holy Spirit will work
so powerfully in the hearts of God's people in the
new time, that the sanctification which had lagged
behind in the«old should be completed now. That
is to say, there is here the promise of a holy
Church. This too, no doubt, is of progressive
realization. After a number of Christian cen-
turies we have cause still to weep over the back-
slidings of the people of God as truly as Israel had.
But Christ is perfecting His Church even as He
perfects the individual, and after a while He will
present it to Himself a holy Church, without spot
or wrinkle or any such thing.

Surely it must mean much to us that we live
in the dispensation of the Spirit, a dispensation
in which the Spirit of God is poured out upon all
flesh with the end of extending the bounds of


God's Kingdom until it covers the earth; and
that He is poured out in the hearts of His people
so that He reigns in their hearts and powerfully
determines them to do holiness and righteousness
all the days of their lives. Because we live under
this dispensation, we are free from the outward
pressure of law and have love shed abroad in our
hearts, and, being led by the Spirit of God, are
His Sons, yielding a willing obedience and by in-
stinct doing what is conformable to His will.
Because this is the dispensation of the Spirit we
are in the hands of the loving Spirit of God whose
work in us cannot fail; and the world is in His
powerful guidance and shall roll on in a steady
development until it knows the Lord and His
will is done on earth as in heaven. It is because
this is the dispensation of the Spirit that it is a
missionary age; and it is because it is the dispen-
sation of the Spirit that missions shall make their
triumphant progress until earth passes at last
into heaven. It is because this is the dispensa-
tion of the Spirit that it is an age of ever-increasing
righteousness and it is because it is the dispensa-
tion of the Spirit that this righteousness shall
wax and wax until it is perfect. Blessed be God
that He has given it to our eyes to see this His
glory in the process of its coming.


Acts 9:11: — "For behold, he prayeth."

We read these words, "For behold, he prayeth,"
of Saul of Tarsus, immediately after the account
of how, when he was journeying from Jerusalem
to Damascus on his persecuting errand, he was
smitten to the ground by the Divine hand and
raised again by those gracious words — how gra-
cious, how inexplicably gracious they must have
seemed to him! — which promised him service for
the very One whom he was now persecuting.
And when we read them our first thought is likely
to turn on the appropriateness of prayer in the
circumstances. Thus the theme is obviously sug-
gested of prayer as the appropriate expression of
the renewed sinner's heart. On this subject I
I shall not, however, speak to you just now. I
wish to call your attention, rather, to another sub-
ject for meditation which also lies in our passage,
though perhaps not so prominently. That is,
Prayer as a means of Grace.

If we look closely at this verse we shall see that
it suggests prayer as a means of grace. You will
notice that it reads, ''For behold, he prayeth, and
he hath seen" a vision of Ananaias coming to him
to restore him to sight. ''For behold he prayeth



and''; that is, this statement is given as a reason,
and as a reason why Ananaias should now go to
him. And the reason is that Paul is now pre-
pared for the visit. And the preparation con-
sists of the two items that he is praying and that
he has seen in a vision Ananaias coming. In
other words, that he is in a state of preparedness
for the reception of grace in general is evidenced
by his being in prayer; while he is prepared for
Ananaias' coming in particular through the vision.
The passage thus represents prayer as the state of
preparedness for the reception of grace; and,
therefore, in the strictest sense as a means of
grace. We purpose to look at it for a few mo-
ments in this light.

Even if we should not rise above the naturalis-
tic plane, I think we might be able to see that the
attitude into which the act of prayer brings the
soul is one which especially softens the soul and
lays it open to gracious influences. Say that we
hold with those who believe in prayer, but do not
believe in answer to prayer. Well, is not the
mental attitude assumed in prayer, at least, an
humble attitude, a softening attitude, a bene-
ficfal attitude .f^ Do we not see that thus the very
act of prayer by its reflex influence alone — could
we believe in no more — will tend to quiet the soul,
break down its pride and resistance, and fit it
for a humble walk in the world. ^^ In its very na-
ture, prayer is a confession of weakness, a con-


fession of need, of dependence, a cry for help, a
reaching out for something stronger, better, more
stable and trustworthy than ourselves, on which
to rest and depend and draw. No one can take
this attitude once without an effect on his char-
acter; no one can take it in a crisis of his life with-
out his whole subsequent life feeling the influence
in its sweeter, humbler, more devout and restful
course; no one can take it habitually without
being made, merely by its natural, reflex influ-
ence, a different man, in a very profound sense,
from what he otherwise would have been. Prayer,
thus, in its very nature, because it is an act of
self-abnegation, a throwing of ourselves at the
feet of One recognized as higher and greater than
we, and as One on whom we depend and in whom
we trust, is a most beneficial influence in this hard
life of ours. It places the soul in an attitude of
less self-assertion and predisposes it to walk simply
and humbly in the world.

The significance of all this is, of course, vastly
increased, when we rise above the region of natur-
alism into that of supernaturalism. If when we
believe only in prayer but not in its answer, if
when we look only for a natural, reflex influence
on our life of the attitude into which prayer
brings us, we can recognize in it a softening,
blessing effect; how much more when we perceive
a Divine person above who hears and answers the
prayer. If there were no God, we can see that it


would be a blessing to men to think there was a
God and throw themselves at His feet in prayer.
If there is a God who sits aloft and hears and an-
swers, do we not see that the attitude into which
prayer brings the soul is the appropriate attitude
which the soul should occupy to Him, and is the
truest and best preparation of the soul for the
reception of His grace? The soul in the attitude
of prayer is like the flower turned upwards to-
wards the sky and opening for the reception of the
life-giving rain. What is prayer but an adoring
appearing before God with a confession of our
need and helplessness and a petition for His
strength and blessing.^ What is prayer but a
recognition of our dependence and a proclamation
that all that we dependent creatures need is
found abundantly and to spare in God, who gives
to all men liberally and upbraids not.^ What is
prayer but the very adjustment of the heart for
the influx of grace .'^ Therefore it is that we look
upon the prayerful attitude as above all others the
true Christian attitude — just because it is the
attitude of devout and hopeful dependence on-
God. And, therefore, it is that we look upon that
type of religious teaching as, above all others, the
true Christian type which has as its tendency to
keep men in the attitude of prayer, through all
their lives.

Every type of religious teaching will inevitably
beget its corresponding type of religious life.


And that teaching alone which calls upon man to
depend wholly on the Lord God Almighty — our
loving Father who has given His Son to die for us
— for all the exercises of grace, will make Chris-
tians whose whole life is a prayer. Not that other
Christians do not pray. But only of these Chris-
tians can it be said that their life is an embodied
prayer. In so far as any Christian's life is a
prayerful life, pervaded by and made up out of
prayer, it approaches in its silent witness the ideal
of this type of teaching. What other attitude is
possible to a Christian on his knees before God but
an attitude of entire dependence on God for His
gifts, and of humble supplication to Him for His
favour? But are we to rise from our knees only
to take up a different attitude towards God.^ Says
one of the greatest thinkers of modern times:
"On his knees before God, every one that has
been saved will recognize the sole efficiency of
the Holy Spirit in every good work. ... In a
word, whoever truly prays ascribes nothing to
his own will or power except the sin that con-
demns him before God, and knows of nothing
that could endure the judgment of God except it
be wrought within him by the Divine love. But
whilst all other tendencies in the Church preserve
this attitude so long as their prayer lasts, to lose
themselves in radically different conceptions as
soon as the Amen has been pronounced, the Cal-
vinist adheres to the truth of his prayer, in his


confession, in his theology, in his Hfe, and the
Amen that has closed his petition re-echoes in
the depths of his consciousness and throughout
the whole of his existence." That is to say, for us
Calvinists the attitude of prayer is the whole
attitude of our lives. Certainly this is the true
Christian attitude, because it is the attitude of
dependence, and trust. But just because this
is the attitude of prayer, prayer puts the soul
in the attitude for receiving grace and is essen-
tially a means of grace.

But once again, prayer is a means of grace be-
cause it is a direct appeal to God for grace. It is
in its very innermost core a petition for help and
that is — proportionately to its sphere — for grace.
The means — the most direct and appropriate,
the most prevailing and sure means of obtaining
aid from a superior, is to ask for it. If a com-
munity desires a boon from the government, it
petitions for it. The means above all others by
which we are to obtain God's blessing is natu-
rally and properly to petition for it. It is true
that all prayer is not petition. The Apostle gives
us a list of the aspects of prayer in 1 Tim. ii:l sq.
under the names of "supplications, prayers, in-
tercessions, thanksgivings." All these elements
enter into prayer. Prayer in its full conception
is then, not merely asking from God, but all in-
tercourse with God. Intercourse, indeed, is the
precise connotation of the standing word for


prayer in the New Testament — the second in the
list of 1 Tim. ii:l, translated in our version sim-
ply "pra^^ers." The sacred idea of prayer "per se
is, therefore, to put it sharply, just communion
with God, the meeting of the soul with God, and
the holding of converse with Him. Perhaps we
would best define it as conscious intercourse or
communion with God. God may have com-
munion with us without prayer; He may enter
our souls beneath consciousness, and deal with
us from within; and because He is within us we
can be in communion with Him apart from prayer.
But conscious communion with Him is just prayer.
Now, I think we may say, emphatically, that
prayer is a means of grace above everything else
because it is in all its forms conscious communion
with God. This is the source of all grace. When
the soul is in contact with God, in intercourse
with God, in association with Him, it is not only in
an attitude to receive grace; It is not only ac-
tually seeking grace; it is already receiving and
possessing grace. And intercourse with God is
the very essence of prayer.

It is impossible to conceive of a praying man,
therefore, as destitute of grace. If he prays, really
prays, he draws near to God with heart open for
grace, humbly depending on Him for its gift.
And he certainly receives it. To say, Behold he
prayeth! is equivalent, then, to saying, Behold a
man in Christ! Dr. Charles Hodge used to


startle us by declaring that no praying soul ever
was lost. It seemed to us a hard saying. Our
diflSculty was that we did not conceive "praying"
purely enough. We can, no doubt, go through the
motions of prayer and not be saved souls. Our
Saviour tells us of those who love to pray on the
street corners and in the synagogues, to be seen
of men. And He tells us that they have their
reward. Their purpose in praying is to be seen
of men, and they are seen of men. What can
they ask more.^ But when we really pray — we
are actually in enjoyment of communion with
God. And is not communion with God salva-
tion? The thing for us to do is to pray without
ceasing; once having come into the presence of
God, never to leave it; to abide in His presence
and to live, steadily, unbrokenly, continuously,
in the midst of whatever distractions or trials,
with and in Him. God grant such a life to every
one of us !


Acts 22:10:— "What shall I do. Lord?"

When Paul was stricken to the ground on his
way to Damascus by the glory of the risen Christ,
bursting on him from heaven, he had but two
questions to ask: Who art thou, Lord? and What
shall I do. Lord? By the first he certified him-
selt as to the person before whose majesty he lay
prone; by the second he entered at once into His
willing service.

In this, too, Paul's conversion is typical. No
one can call Jesus Lord save by the Holy Ghost;
but when the Holy Ghost has moved with power
upon the soul, the amazed soul has but two ques-
tions to ask: Who art thou, Lord? and What shall
I do, Lord? There is no question in its mind as
to the legitimacy of the authority claimed, as to
its extent and limitations, as to its sphere, as to
its sanction. He whose glory has shone into the
heart is recognized at once and unquestioningly as
Lord, and is so addressed no less in the first ques-
tion than in the second. Who art thou. Lord?
is not a demand for credentials; it is a simple in-
quiry for information, a cry of wondering adora-
tion and worship. And it is, therefore, followed

at once with the cry of. What shall I do, Lord?



In this latter question there unite the two es-
sential elements of all religion, surrender and con-
secration — the passive and active aspects of that
faith which on the human side is the fundamental
element of religion, as grace is on God's side, when
deahng with sinful men. "What shall I do. Lord? "
In that simple question, as it trembled on the lips
of Paul lying prostrate in the presence of the
heavenly glory, there pulsated all that abnegation
of self, that casting of oneself wholly on Christ,
that firm entrusting of oneself in all the future to
Him and His guidance, — in a word, the whole of the
"assensus" and "fiducia," which (the "notitia"
being presupposed) constitute saving faith. And
saving faith wherever found is sure to take this
position, perhaps not purely — for what faith of
man is absolutely pure.^ — but in direct propor-
tion to its purity, its governing power over the
life. Surrender and consecration, we may take
it then, are the twin key-notes of the Christian
life: "What shall I do, Lord.^^" the one question
which echoes through all the corridors of the Chris-
tian heart.

And as our life as ministers of the Gospel is
nothing else but one side of our Christian life —
the flower and fruit of our Christian life — sur-
render and consecration must be made also its
notes. It is in direct proportion as they are made
its key-notes that we may hope for success in our
ministry; for only in this proportion are we


Christ's ministers and not servitors of our own-
selves. Let us, then, approach this holy calling
in this spirit, the spirit of Paul before us and of
every child of Christ through all the ages. Let us
now as we enter these halls to begin or to re-begin
our preparation for the great work before us, have
no reservations — that we will serve the Lord in
this sphere, but not in that; that we will serve
Him to this extent, but not to that; that we will
serve Him in this mode, but not in that. Let
surrender and consecration be our watch-words.
"What shall I do, Lord.^" — ^let that question be
the spirit of all our lives.

And now let us observe what is involved in such
a spirit. I think we may say this much on even a
surface survey of the matter — (1) that there is an
element of humility that enters into it; (2) that
there is an element of true dignity that enters
into it, and (3) that there is an element of power
that enters into it. Humility, dignity, power —
at least these three things.

Humility — what a difference in this regard be-
tween Saul the Pharisee and Paul the Christian!
Before his conversion Saul seems to have had no
doubt of what he should do. His fundamental
characteristics seem to have been those of the
type of character which we call masterful. He
was a man of decision, of energy; somewhat self-
sufficient, as indeed a Pharisaic training was apt
to make one; little inclined, one would think, to


defer to the guidance of others. We must guard
against supposing him to have been a man of
violent and wicked impulses, as we may be misled
into fancying by his career as a persecutor and
his own words of subsequent sharp self -rebuke —
after his eyes were opened. A man of deep relig-
ious heart at all times, set on serving the Lord,
his very vices were but the defects of his virtues.
But somewhat headstrong, opinionated, undocile,
perhaps; bent on serving God with a pure con-
science, but constitutionally apt to go his own way
in that service — for the God of Israel had never
bidden him persecute the saints, and that was an
outgrowth, we may be sure, of his habitual self-
direction. What can I do to glorify the God of
Israel — we may be sure that he had often asked
himself that very question — nay, that it was always
echoing through his soul and was the lode-star
of all his life. There was nothing small or little
in Paul's Pharisaic life; no reserves in his devo-
tion to his ideal, and no shrinking from labor, or
diflSculty, or danger. Paul never was a place-
seeker, never was a sycophant, never was self-
indulgent, or self-sparing. The elements of a
great character wrought in him mightily. What
he lacked was not readiness to do and dare; what
he lacked was humility. And the change that
took place in him on the road to Damascus was
in this regard no less immense than immediate.
It was a totally new note which vibrated through


his being, that found expression in the humble in-
quiry, "What shall I do. Lord?" It is no longer
a question directed to himself: "What shall I
do? — what shall /, in my learning and strength
and devotion — what shall I do to the glory of
God?" It is the final and utter renunciation of
self and the subjection of the whole life to the
guidance of another. "What shall I do, Lord?''
Heretofore Paul had been, even in his service to
God, self -led; hereafter he was to be, even in the
common affairs of life, down to his eating and
drinking, God-led. It is the characteristic change
that makes the Christian; for the Christian is
particularly the Spirit-led man : they that are led
by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
And as the Christian more and more perfectly
assumes the attitude of a constant and unre-
served "What shall I do, Lord?", he more and
more perfectly enters into his Christian heritage,
and lives out his Christian life — the very key-
note of which is thus easily seen to be humility.

Dignity — there is an element of dignity which
enters into this attitude also. For humility is
not to be mistaken for a degrading supineness.
Lowliness of mind is far from being the same with
lowness of mind. When Paul ceased to be self-
led and became Christ-led, he did not by that step
become low in mind or morals; it was a step up-
wards, and not downwards. There is a lurking
feeling in most of us, no doubt, that our dignity


consists just in our self-government. Self-suf-
ficiency is its note, or, as we perhaps prefer to
call it, self-dependence. That man is really a
man, we are prone to think, who carves out his
own fortune, rests on his own efforts, and seeks
favour and certainly direction from no one. Now
there is a proper basis for this feeling; we need
courageous men who call no man master and
swear in the words of none; this self-centred,

Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 9 of 27)