The Way Made Plain

By James H. Brookes

Chapter 18



In the light of this precious truth every believer may be addressed in the language of Elisha to ''a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets," who was reduced to the last pot of oil, and whose sons were about to be taken by the creditor as bondmen. "Go," he said, "borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few."1 With faith in the word of God spoken by His servant, she obeyed the direction, and it was only when there was not a vessel more that the oil stayed. So, when we can go to the Lord emptied of self and the world, and relying with implicit confidence upon His promises, we shall receive from His inexhaustible resources "above all that we ask or think," and never until faith fails will the supplies which it commands cease. By a law more fixed and more unalterable than the law of gravitation, God has determined that whatsoever we ask in the name of Jesus, it shall be done for us. It may be that the instrumentality by which this amazing result is produced was included from the first in the department men call "natural," and that it belonged to the original, comprehensive plan which embraced the physical arrangement and government of the earth; but with out undertaking to discuss such a question, about the result itself there is not the shadow of doubt. Prayer ascends from an earnest heart for those things that are according to the will of our Lord; and without the slightest disturbance in the delicate mechanism of the universe, without the faintest discord in the "music of the spheres," as softly and silently as the snowflake falls from heaven, as certainly and surely as the ripened fruit drops from the shaken bough to the outstretched hand beneath, does it call down blessings upon the believing suppliant.

We are never straitened in God, but only in ourselves; for when temptations assail, or troubles arise, we too often fail to put Christ, by faith, between them and us, and too often through unbelief put them between Christ and us, so that we lose courage and power. Ten of the twelve spies who were sent from all the tribes of Israel to search out the land of Canaan returned in great fear, saying, "We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. . . . And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight."2 But Caleb endeavored to quiet the alarmed congregation with the bold language, "Let us go up at once and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it," and Joshua and Caleb thus warned and encouraged their brethren: "Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not."3 The ten fixed their minds upon the giants, not the Lord, and therefore could think of nothing but disaster, defeat, and death, while the two believers fixed their minds upon the Lord, not the giants, and therefore could think of nothing but deliverance, and success, and victory. The former were already unmanned because they looked not to the hills whence cometh our help, but the latter cared not whether their conflict lay with giants or grasshoppers, because they could confidently say, "They that be with us are more than they that be with them."4 So when David was sent by his father, from attending a "few sheep in the wilderness," with parched corn and loaves of bread to his brothers in the Hebrew army, he found the host of Israel trembling at the boastful challenge of Goliath of Gath. Having obtained permission to meet the monster in mortal combat, he threw off the armor of Saul, in which faith could not freely move, and taking with him five smooth stones out of the brook and his sling in his hand, he went forth without the slightest trepidation. Saul and his soldiers thought only of Goliath, and were afraid, but David thought only of Jehovah, and hence could calmly reply to his mail-clad foe, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied;"5 and the next instant a stone from his sling was buried in the forehead of the uncircumcised Philistine, and *' he fell upon his face to the earth."

Whenever Satan can divert our minds from the Lord to ourselves or to our circumstances, we are sure to lose h^art and hope, and our prayers will be wanting in the essential elements of faith and fervor. Look, for example, at Moses, who "was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth,"6 and see how his meekness became weakness, and how his fortitude gave way to fear, and how he yielded to discouragement, despondency, and despair the moment he took his eyes from the Lord to view himself and his difficulties. "I am not able," he cried, "to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. [The Lord had not asked him to do it.] And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness."7 Look at Job, of whom the Lord said unto Satan, "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?"8 "After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day. And Job spake, and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said. There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it."9 Look at Elijah, who, as Moses was the meekest man and Job the most patient, may be called the bravest man on the earth, and yet, terrified at the threat of a woman whose powerful husband he had withstood to the face and humbled into the dust, "he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said. It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers."10 Look at Jeremiah, who was sanctified before he came out of the womb and ordained to be a prophet unto the nations, and yet, after all his experience of the goodness of God, he bitterly exclaimed, "Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which the Lord overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?"11

All this shows that Moses was not meek, and that Job was not patient, and that Elijah was not brave, and that Jeremiah was not submissive, except as their thoughts rested on the Lord. The moment their minds were occupied with themselves or with their circumstances, the first became irritable, and the second gave way to self-righteous complaints, and the third was panic-stricken, and the fourth fell into the depths of despair. Thus do the distinguished men whose names have been given furnish a striking illustration, not only of the truth previously stated, that the "flesh "in a believer is no better than the '' flesh "in an unbeliever, but of the importance of keeping the eye steadily fixed on the Lord if we would retain perfect composure of spirit amid our sharpest trials. Contrast their hasty and intemperate language with the calm and joyful words of the Son of man at a period in His earthly ministry darker than any known to the saints who had longed for His appearing. The generation that heard His tender messages of love heaped cruel slanders upon Him, saying, "Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber." Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, that had listened to His marvellous discourses and witnessed His mighty works, rejected with contempt His gentle entreaties and repelled with anger His solemn admonitions. He stood alone in the world He came to save, but "at that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. . . . Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,"12 and then immediately followed the sweetest invitation ever addressed to the weary and sorrowful: '' Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."13 Blessed example! He kept His gaze constantly directed to His Father, and therefore nothing could disturb His peace or arrest the stream of grace that flowed from His loving heart.

"We see, then, that we can never know in our own experience the riches of the Lord unto all that call upon Him unless our souls have formed the habit, so to speak, of looking to Him continually. There are many who pray "by fits and starts," now wrapped up in worldliness, and anon at a season of special religious interest, or under the pressure of some personal trouble, bethinking them of the God whom they have long neglected, and then wondering that they do not receive an immediate answer to their supplications. The Holy Ghost says, "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord."14 The fearfully common sin, even among professed Christians, of making the glorious God a convenience or necessity in times of need, when ordinarily the mind is carried like a wind-driven wave hither and thither across the sea of life, may account for the number of prayers that are offered in vain. It is the privilege of every child of God to abide in the Saviour; to walk in the light as He is in the light; to have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ; and to maintain a communion with the Holy Spirit so intimate and so endearing that prayer will become as natural as breathing, and almost as constant. "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint."15 '' Pray without ceasing."16 "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit."17 "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."18

A Christian servant-girl overheard a number of ministers discussing the text, "Pray without ceasing," and found that at length they appointed one of their number to prepare an essay upon the subject to be read at their next meeting. She modestly expressed surprise to a fellow servant that they should take so much time about a passage of Scripture so plain and simple; and her remark having reached the ears of one of the ministers, he asked her why she thought it easy to understand the text. She replied with humility that it seemed to her believers were compelled to pray without ceasing, for everything they did reminded them of the Saviour and salvation. "When, for example," she went on to say, "I open my eyes in the morning, I praise God who hath shined into my heart to give me the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. When I dress, I bless Him for having clothed me in the spotless robe of His dear Son's righteousness. When I wash my face, I thank Him for the precious blood that cleanseth from all sin. When I kindle the fire, I think of the cloven tongues like as of fire, and the Holy Ghost who came down on the day of Pentecost to dwell with the disciples of Jesus forever. When I sweep the room, I ask that the Holy Spirit may remove from me all defilement, and keep me clean through the word. When I eat my breakfast, I turn my mind to the Bread of heaven that daily nourishes my soul; and thus in all my little duties there is something that brings Christ before me and causes me to pray without ceasing."

If there were more Christians living, like the poor girl, in close and constant communion with Jesus, there would be fewer to exclaim, "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!"19 The trouble with too many of us is that we have learned to ''say our prayers," as it is significantly called, and to be contented with a parrot-like repetition of words, without understanding or feeling their real import. Hence the formality and feebleness of our supplications until the Holy Spirit leads us back into real fellowship with God, when prayer becomes the delight of the soul and establishes it in a posture of unceasmg worship before the throne. Then we can pray continually, even in the midst of our ordinary pursuits, in walking the streets, in turning the leaves of a book, in the pauses of a conversation. Then we can know how it was Nehemiah found time to pray when the king asked him a question, and when it was necessary that he should immediately answer. He was the cupbearer of Artaxerxes, and as he took up the wine to give it unto the monarch on a certain occasion, the latter noticed the sad expression of his face, and said to him, "Why is thy countenance sad? "It would not do to be sorrowful in the presence of royalty, and he was forced to confess that he mourned because, as he writes, "The city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire. Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven; and I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favor in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it."20

He certainly did not go aside to pray, and he certainly had very little time to call upon the Lord, for the haughty Persian despot would not brook delay in response to a question; and yet between the question and the reply which promptly followed the Hebrew captive prayed to the God of heaven. He offered what is termed ejaculatory prayer, and as the word ejaculatory comes from a Latin word signifying a dart or javelin, his prayer darted up instantly to the throne of Jehovah, and as instantly gained the blessing he sought. So when our souls are in habitual communion with God we can flash forth our petitions, as it were, wherever we may be, and they are borne faster than by electric wires to the loving heart of the Saviour who said, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."21

But it is important in this connection for the believer to inquire what motive leads him to pray or what object he hopes to attain. The Holy Ghost directed the apostle to write, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts "[or desires].22 There is reason to fear that through the deceitfulness of the old nature many Christians often pray merely that their wishes may be gratified and their comfort promoted, without a becoming submission to the will of God, and without a proper regard for His glory. I do not say that it is wrong, when under the burden of heavy affliction, to exclaim with the Master in Gethsemane, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; "but surely it is right to add with the Master, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."23 Still, let us not be too much troubled about our motive in praying when there is a sincere desire to honor God; because we have the sweet assurance in His word that "like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust."24 I only desire to put you on your guard "against the wiles of the devil,"25 and then to encourage you to continue in prayer with the confident expectation that it will be answered, even though you may not live to see the evidence of it in this world. No doubt one of the most delightful surprises in store for us in heaven will be the glorious demonstration of the truth that ^' praying breath was never spent in vain."

I have the authority of a devoted and well-known minister and author for the following: A Christian father and mother had a son whom they sought to bring up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,"26 and for whom they made continual supplication at the throne of grace. As he advanced, however, in years, he became more and more profligate, until he completed his disgrace and well-nigh broke the hearts of his parents by running away from home and going to sea as a common sailor. On his first voyage he was standing upon the bulwarks of the ship, uttering the most horrible blasphemies, when by a lurch of the vessel he was tossed into the waves. Rescued with difficulty, he was brought back apparently lifeless, and every one around his prostrate body believed that he was dead, except the surgeon, who was moved by some unaccountable impulse to persevere in efforts to resuscitate him, although all hope seemed to be gone. His persistent purpose was at length rewarded by seeing a faint spark of life, which he carefully nourished, and at length the young man, opening his eyes, slowly and deliberately said, "Jesus Christ has saved my soul." After he had fully recovered the power of speech, he stated that as he fell into the great ocean he felt that he was lost forever, and his multiplied sins came trooping about him like demons to drag him down into hell; but suddenly a text which his father had taught him in his childhood came to his remembrance: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief;"27 and while sinking, as he thought, into perdition, he cast himself upon a gracious Redeemer. His subsequent life proved that he was really born again in that dreadful moment when the sea closed over his head, for he returned home to become a faithful and useful minister of the Gospel, although his salvation was not more complete after years of service in the cause of the Saviour than it was the instant he believed on Him who came to save the chief of sinners.

If he had perished in the water, doubtless his parents would have gone down to the grave fearing that he had made shipwreck of his soul; and yet at the second coming of Jesus they would have been caught up with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good."28 Remember for your comfort that in prayer you are not coming to an unjust Judge or an unfeeling Governor, from whose unwilling hand a favor has to be wrung by the force of importunity, but you are approaching a kind and loving Father, who is far more willing to bestow upon you things that are for your good than you are to confer a pleasure upon your child or the dearest friend you have on earth. It dishonors and grieves Him when His people act as did the priests of Baal to whom Elijah said, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."29 Why not believe these precious promises? "He that keepeth thee will not slumber."30 "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous [that is, those who are righteous by faith in Christ], and his ears are open unto their cry."31 "He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper."32 If, therefore, you are troubled in your prayers by the consciousness of your own sinfulness as well as by the cares and sorrows arising from other sources, you know the remedy. Go to Him who never slumbers, whose ear is always open to your cry, and who is a mighty helper, and frankly confess your iniquities, for "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."33 This language is addressed only to believers in Christ, and it points out the way of relief from the torturing recollection of the errors and evils into which we have been betrayed. Our relationship to God as His dear children can never be destroyed, blessed be His name! but our communion with Him may often be disturbed, and the method which He reveals to restore that communion is an honest and sincere confession of our faults. He has said," If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins," and this is enough. Suppose you have been grievously wronged by one with whom you had lived for years in confidential and pleasant intercourse. Being convinced of the injustice he has done you, he comes at length with confession upon his lips asking to be forgiven. You assure him that he is fully forgiven, and that your relations to each other shall be in the future as they have been in the past. He goes away, but returns the next day with a sad countenance and sorrowful heart, saying, '' Please forgive me." You reply that he is already forgiven, and you now repeat the assurance in all sincerity and love, but he returns the next day, and the next, and the next, with the same cry, "Please forgive me." You at once perceive that his ungenerous suspicion and unbelief would be a more cruel insult than his original offence, for his conduct would plainly declare that he looked upon you as a liar.

God has solemnly declared that ''if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins," and "he that believeth not God hath made him a liar."34 He uses the words faithful and just rather than the words gracious and merciful, because He is addressing those who are already accepted in the Beloved, of whom the Saviour says, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit."35 Here we have washed and wash, but in the original they are entirely different words. The former was employed by the Greeks to imply the bathing of the entire person, but the latter denoted the washing of a part of the person, as the hands, the face, or the feet. Among the ancients sandals were worn instead of shoes, and hence that portion of the feet which was exposed would soon become defiled with the dust of the earth. If a man had bathed before going to an entertainment, he would not need to bathe again, but his feet being washed from the defilement contracted by the way, he would be "clean every whit." So he who believes upon the sure testimony of God's word that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth him from all sin is bathed as to his entire person, and he needeth not to go back to that blood as if it had lost its efficacy; and yet he cannot travel far in this sinful world without getting his feet, his walk, his ways, polluted by coming into contact with that which is evil. Let him, then, judge himself in the light of the inspired word, and discovering thus what is wrong about him, let him frankly confess his sins, and arise from the confession knowing that he is "clean every whit."

It only remains to say a word about wandering thoughts in prayer, of which every Christian, perhaps, has reason to complain. It may be well that we are troubled in this way, for he who is acquainted with his own heart knows his proneness to trust in legalism or in self-righteousness, in place of resting calmly on the finished work of Christ. If we could pray with the fervency and fluency we desire, fixing our minds intently on the majestic Being whom we address, it is probable that we would soon be puffed up with a high conceit of our attainments, and grieve the Spirit of God whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption. Still, it is a sore evil to approach God as supplicants and worshippers while thinking of other objects; and it may be of service to suggest that as far as possible you should pray aloud even in your private devotions, and especially that you pray frequently, after reminding yourself that you are about to enter into the presence of the great King. A hymn on this subject by Faber has brought comfort to many souls; and without adding anything of my own, which the limits of the present chapter forbid, I will here transcribe it for the benefit of the reader.

"Ah! dearest Lord, I cannot pray,
     My fancy is not free;
Unmannerly distractions come,
     And force my thoughts from Thee.

"The world that looks so dull all day
     Glows bright on me at prayer.
And plans that ask no thought but then,
     Wake up and meet me there.

"All nature one full fountain seems
     Of dreamy sight and sound.
Which, when I kneel, breaks up its deeds.
     And makes a deluge round.

"Old voices murmur in my ear,
     New hopes start into life,
And past and future gayly blend
     In one bewitching strife.

"My very flesh has restless fits;
     My changeful limbs conspire
With all these phantoms of the mind
     My inner self to tire.

"I cannot pray; yet, Lord, Thou know'st
     The pain it is to me
To have my vainly struggling thoughts
     Thus turn away from Thee.

"Had I, dear Lord, no pleasure found
     But in the thought of Thee,
Prayer would have come unsought, and been
     A truer liberty.

"Yet Thou art oft most present, Lord,
     In weak, distracted prayer;
A sinner out of heart with self
     Most often finds Thee there.

"And prayer that humbles sets the soul
     From all illusions free,
And teaches it how utterly,
     Dear Lord, it hangs on Thee.

"Ah, Jesus, why should I complain,
     And why fear aught but sin?
Distractions are but outward things;
     Thy peace dwells far within.

"These surface-troubles come and go
     Like ruffliugs of the sea;
The deeper depth is out of reach
     To all, my God, but Thee."


1) 2 Kings iv. 3.

2) Num. xiii. 31-33.

3) Num. xiii. 30; xiv. 9.

4) 2 Kings vi. 16.

5) 1 Sam. xvii. 45.

6) Num. xii. 3.

7) Num. xi. 14, 15.

8) Job i. 8.

9) Job iii. 1-4.

10) 1 Kings xix. 3, 4.

11) Jer. xx. 14-18.

12) Matt. xi. 25, 26.

13) Matt. xi. 28.

14) James i. 6, 7.

15) Luke xviii. 1.

16) 1 Thess. v. 17.

17) Eph. vi. 18.

18) Phil. iv. 6.

19) Isa. xxiv. 16.

20) Neh. ii. 2-5.

21) John xv. 7.

22) James iv. 3.

23) Matt. xxvi. 39.

24) Ps. ciii. 13, 14.

25) Eph. vi. 11.

26) Eph. vi. 4.

27) 1 Tim. i. 15.

28) Eccles. xi. 6.

29) 1 Kings xviii. 27.

30) Ps. cxxi. 3.

31) Ps. xxxiv. 15.

32) Heb. xiii. 5, 6.

33) 1 John i. 9.

34) John v. 10.

35) John xiii. 10.