“Why do you cry unto Me?”
AT first sight we might suppose that crying unto God was so good a thing that it would never be necessary for the Lord to ask the question, “Why do you cry unto Me?” But the question we are now to consider shows that there may be a time when, even to a man like Moses, it is necessary for God to ask, “Why do you cry unto Me?” Think of the circumstances in which the Israelites were then–the Red Sea was before them and the Egyptians were behind–so that when the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry unto Me?” Moses might very properly have replied, “What else can I do? There are great multitudes of blood-thirsty foes behind us and nothing but the roaring sea in front of us–what can we do except cry unto You?” But the fact was that the time for praying about the matter was past and the time for acting had come. So the Lord said to Moses, in effect, “Speak not to Me, but ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward’–forward through the sea that now rolls in front of them. That sea will divide as they march into it, so you need not pray any more about that difficulty. I will prepare a pathway for the people as they advance and they shall go safely through the very midst of the sea.”
There is a time for praying, but there is also a time for holy activity. Prayer is adapted for almost every season, yet not prayer alone, for there comes, every now and then, a time when even prayer must take a secondary place and faithmust come in and lead us not to cry unto God but to act as He bids us, even as the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward; but lift you up your rod and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.”
It is perfectly clear, then, that there may come a time when crying unto God becomes unseasonable. Our Lord’s command to His disciples is, “Ask.” But what follows that command? Why, the promise, “you shall receive.” Then there must be a time for receiving as well as season for asking! But if, instead of stretching out my hands gratefully to receivewhat God is waiting to give, I continue to ask and forget or neglect to receive, I put prayer out of its proper place! Our Savior also said, “Seek, and you shall find.” Well, if I have sought and, at last, have found the treasure I have been seeking–but if, instead of perceiving that it is there and taking possession of it, and blessing God that I have found it–if I still go on seeking for it, then I have forgotten that while there is a time to seek, there is also a time to find, and my seeking then becomes unseasonable!
It is the same with the command and promise, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Suppose that I have knocked and that the door has been opened to me, but that I still stand knocking at it? It is manifest that I am acting foolishly and wrongly–that I am casting reflections upon the owner of the house and also upon the sincerity of my own knocking, for it is doubtful whether I really did knock with the honest purpose of getting the door opened if, when that opening has taken place, I do not avail myself of the opportunity to enter, but continue still to knock. I do not say that we may not pray for something else, but I do say, in respect to the one thing which we have asked of God, that there comes a time for receiving rather than asking. With regard to the thing which we have sought at the Lord’s hands, there comes a time for finding. And concerning the door at which we have knocked, there comes a time for opening. And, in each of these cases, the Lord’s question to Moses comes with appropriateness to each one of us, “Why do you cry unto Me?”
When do you think, dear Friends, that prayer about anything becomes out of date? I answer, When we ought to believe that we have the answer to our supplication. I do believe that many a time some of you go on asking for a certain blessing after you have received it though you are not conscious that you have it. I am glad that you still ask for it as you think that you have not received it, but it would be a better evidence of your spiritual growth if you perceived that when God has given you a certain thing in answer to your petitions, you certainly do not need to continue asking for it. You have it, so rejoice over it and bless the Lord for giving it to you! I think there are some Christians who have received many blessings of which they are quite unaware. They have what they asked for, yet they still continue to pray for them. For instance, in some cases the prayer for assurance is offered long after assurance has been granted. Someone says that he believes the promise of God, but he needs to be more fully assured concerning it. My dear Brother, what do you mean? To be more assured that God made the promise? Because if so, you will have to go into the question of the authenticity of that particular passage and of the Bible in general!
“No,” you say, “I do not mean that, for I am quite sure that God gave that promise.” Then, do you mean that you doubt whether God will fulfill the promise that He has given? Because if so, I must say with all solemnity, that you ought to be assured that God cannot lie. This is not a thing for you to pray about, but for you to believe! It is the Lord’s due that you should not allow anything like a question to arise over this matter. “Has He said, and shall He not do it? Or has He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” There is His definite promise and yet I go and ask Him to give me an assurance concerning it? If I were to give a promise to any of you and you were, afterwards, to come to me and say, “Give me further assurance,” I would feel that you did not believe that I could or would do what I had promised! If such treatment as that were meted out to me by any of you, I would not feel that you had done me any honor by finding it difficult to believe my word–yet why should I expect you to honor me? But I do expect that a son should honor his own father! And I do expect that a child of God should so fully believe his Heavenly Father that he should not talk about needing assurance of the truthfulness and reliability of His promises of Grace! Instead of continuing to pray for God to keep His word, it would be far better for you to believe that He has done so and that He always will do so!
“But it may be presumption,” says someone. No, it can never be presumption to believe God! It is presumption to ever doubt Him. However great His promise may be, it must be true–and it is presumptuous for anyone to ask, “Canthis be true?” or, “How can it be accomplished?” It would be enough for me that God has said it–how He will fulfill His promise is His business, not mine. I rest upon His word with a simple, childlike faith–and I am sorry if any of you are not doing the same. I feel that, sometimes, in the matter of assurance, God might say to us, “‘Why do you cry unto Me?’ Believe My word and rest assured that I shall certainly fulfill all that I have promised.”
It is the same, also, in plain matters of Christian duty. It is a very shocking thing, but I have known the case of a man, I hope a Christian, knowing such-and-such a thing to be right, yet not attending to it, but saying that he was praying about it. He is quite certain about that particular thing–it could not possibly be plainer than it is, yet he is praying about it! Such-and-such a Truth of God is revealed plainly enough in the Scriptures–the man could see it there and did not doubt its authenticity–but he wanted it to be “brought home” to his conscience, so he said. Well, all I can say about such conduct as that is that it is a kind of rebellion against God, a shameful piece of hypocrisy–pretending to honor God in one duty while you know that you are neglecting another!
My dear Brothers and Sisters, if you are a Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you know that it is the will of Christ that all Believers should be baptized even as He was, do not go home and pray about it–but be baptized! If you are not a member of a Christian Church and you know that it was the practice of the early Christians to first give themselves to the Lord and afterwards to give themselves to His Church, do not tell me that you have been praying about that matter for months–cease praying about it and go and do it! It is idle to talk of praying about things which are clearly according to the will of God. Cease praying about them–practice them!
You feel that you ought to have family prayer, yet you say that you have been praying about it! Praying about it? That is not what you have been doing–you have only been trying to see whether you could not find a loophole by which you could escape from an uncongenial but recognized duty! Go and do it, dear Friend–do not, any longer, act the hypocrite’s part by pretending to pray about it! Yet this is the way in which some, who say that they love the Lord, try to play fast and loose with known precepts and duties. Do not let any of us fall into this sin–if we do, the Lord may well say to us, as he did to Moses–only He may say it to us with more anger–“‘Why do you cry unto Me’ about such a thing as that? Do what you know to be right.”
- Now, leaving that part of our theme altogether, I come to a more general subject, which is this, IT IS GOOD FOR A MAN OFTEN TO ASK HIMSELF THE QUESTION, “WHY DO I PRAY? WHY DO I CRY UNTO GOD?”
In some cases, I fear that the answer will be exceedingly unsatisfactory. One replies, “ I pray because I was alwaystrained to do so. My dear mother, now in Heaven, taught me a form of prayer and that is why I continue to repeat it.” If your mother had taught you the Muslim form of prayer, I suppose you would have kept on repeating it. Or if she had taught you to worship a block of wood or stone, would you have done so? I do not wish to speak with contempt concerning the influence of a mother’s teaching, but I must say that this, alone, is a very unsatisfactory reason for presenting a prayer to God. Let me ask, Did your mother, when she taught you that form of prayer, merely mean that you should repeat those words without any particular thought as to what they meant? If she did, your mother knew but little of vital godliness and, probably, you know even less! You must pray to God from your inmost heart. Your soul must have real fellowship with Him, or else the prayer your mother taught you may be of no more use for you than if you repeated the alphabet backwards or forwards. I have heard of a man of 70 who said that he always prayed night and morning. When he was asked what he said in his prayer, it turned out that he only repeated the form which he had been taught to say as a little child. Now, if you had taught a parrot to say a prayer like that, the parrot would not have been saved, nor will you, if that is all you have to depend upon. There must be something, as a reason for prayer, vastly superior to that, or else your prayer may be nothing but a mockery of supplication, a sepulcher of devotion with no life in it, an external form which cannot please God.
Another says, “ I pray because prayer is a part of my religion.” Yes, and it is a part of every true Christian’s religionto pray. It must be an essential part of his religion. But what sort of prayer is this of yours which seeks to justify itself upon the ground of being a part of your religion? And what is the religion of which it is a part? Is it a religion which knows God and draws near to Him? Is it a religion which leads you to seek the Lord in spirit and in Truth? If so, God bless your religion and the prayer that is a part of it! But if your religion consists merely in attendance at church, or at the meeting house so many times on the Lord’s-Day and in the repetition of certain words which you have been taught, God deliver you from it! If your religion is to be worth anything, it must have a heart–there must be heart-work–the work of the Holy Spirit upon your heart and the drawing near of your soul unto God. Otherwise, all your outward performances, however excellent they may appear to be, will land you short of Heaven.
Another friend replies, “I pray because it is a right thing to do.” There is something hopeful about that answer, but the question is, What sort of prayer do you pray? I make that enquiry because, although it is right to pray, it is not right to pray some sorts of prayer. It is the right thing for a clerk in the telegraph office to work the telegraphic apparatus, but suppose that he should merely move a handle backwards and forwards for a whole day, yet never send a message or receive one? I would not think it was right for him to keep on moving that handle to no purpose. Evidently a wire is broken, or something is out of order–there is no connection with the electric current, for the machinery does not work. And in like manner, a prayer that never reaches the heart of God as it should and never brings an answer to your suppliant soul–a prayer in which you have no fellowship with the invisible Jehovah–is not a right kind of prayer to pray. And I cannot say of such prayer that it has any good reason why it should be presented. If you do not mean the petitions that you present, you mock God when you utter them, for they are only words and nothing but words.
There are some who would not like to say, just in so many words, exactly what they think, but they really pray because they regard prayer as being more or less meritorious. They do not consider it so meritorious that they expect to be saved by it, but they have some kind of notion that it helps with a great many other things, among the rest, faith in Jesus Christ to procure salvation for the soul. All these things go into the scale and, at last, they make up the weight required–that seems to be their idea. In fact, according to some, our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, is only a make-weight–our prayers, tears, alms and good works count for a great deal. These people do not quite advocate salvation by works. They do not go the full length of the road that the Romanist takes, but they go a very long way in the same direction through their belief that there is some kind of merit about various things appertaining to themselves, and, especially, that their prayers are meritorious.
I will speak about this error very strongly, lest I should not be understood by all and I state my final conviction that if any man thinks that his prayers have any merit in them, of themselves, every prayer that he presents is an insult to the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is set forth as the only Propitiation for sin! If you think that your prayers help in any degree toput away sin, you make an antichrist of your prayers! Christ’s blood and righteousness form the only ground of youracceptance before God. If you reckon your prayers as a ground, or medium, or even a help to your acceptance with God,you push the Cross of Christ far into the background and put your prayers into the place of the only Substitute for sinners–and the more you pile them up, the more you multiply your sin!
Possibly I have quoted the answers which would be given if I were to ask many of you why you cry unto the Lord in prayer. I would like to listen to the prayer of every man here present–without his knowing that I was doing so–I would like to put my ear to the keyhole of his room and hear the style of his praying, but, as I cannot do that, I would like to ask whether you would wish anybody to hear them? How do your prayers appear to the eyes of God? Has it been humble, earnest, sincere, trustful, relying upon the atoning Sacrifice of Christ, and upon the effectual working of the Holy Spirit? If so, it is well, but if not, it is only vanity of vanities. All is vanity! How would it be with some of us if we were put into the condition of the Highland soldier of whom I have read? In our war with our American colonists, before they gained their freedom from this country, a certain Highland regiment was engaged. Every evening one of the men was observed to go away from the camp into an adjacent woods–and it was suspected that he had gone to give information to the enemy. He was, therefore, arrested and brought before the colonel of the regiment.
The other officers said to him, “Now tell us what you have been doing while you have been absent from the camp.” “Well,” he said, “I have been accustomed, whenever I can, to retire for an hour or two of private prayer.” The colonel happened to be a Scotchman and a Presbyterian, so he said to the soldier, “Well, you never had such reason to pray before as you have tonight. If you do go for an hour together to pray, you can pray–so let us hear you now.” The man knelt down and poured out his soul before God, seeking deliverance at the Lord’s hands and resigning his spirit into the keeping of his Heavenly Father. He prayed with such an earnest, simple power that when he had finished, the colonel said to the other officers, “A man who can come on parade like that must have been drilled a good many times. I think we may confidently accept what he has said as being true. There is no doubt about his having been alone in prayer to God, now that he can pray like that before us.”
Happy is the man whose prayer would bear to be listened to by his fellow men in such a critical season as that, so that they should be compelled to say of him, “That man has often prayed before tonight–he has the very brogue of one who communes with Heaven.” But he who gives such answers as I have been quoting would certainly not be able to pray before others as that soldier did!
II. But now, secondly, THERE ARE SOME ANSWERS TO THIS QUESTION WHICH BETRAY A GREAT DEAL OF IGNORANCE.
“Why do you cry unto Me?” There are times, dear Brothers and Sisters, when a sinner’s crying to God in prayerhinders him from immediate repentance. The Gospel comes to each man and says, “Repent, and be converted.” The man says, “I will pray.” So he gets away alone and he prays–but such prayer as that cannot be acceptable to God. There is a favorite sin, of which he has long been guilty. He does not give it up, but he says that he will pray about it. God says to such a man, “‘Why do you cry unto Me?’ Give up your sin! This is not a matter for you to pray about, but to repent of.” The man says, “I was asking for repentance.” Ask, if you will, for repentance, but exercise it as well. Christ does not bidus pray to have our right hand cut off, or our right eye plucked out, but He says, “If your right eye offends you, pluck it out, and cast it from you…And if your right hand offends you, cut it off, and cast it from you.” It will never do for any man to hope to be saved by putting prayer into the place of genuine repentance and immediate forsaking of sin!
The same is true of those who put prayer into the place of believing in Christ. “I mean to pray about the salvation ofmy soul,” says someone. My dear Friend, the Gospel says to you, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” “I have been praying for salvation, Sir, and I hope to get it if I keep on praying.” No, you will not–on the contrary, you will be lost forever if you pray instead of believing in Christ! As surely as you live, if you will not accept God’s way of salvation, which is to believe in Jesus Christ, whether you pray or do not pray, you are a lost man. “There,” says the Lord, “on yonder Cross is your only hope. Trust My Son, and you shall be saved.” “Lord,” you reply, “I will pray about the matter.” Again the Lord says to you, “You see My well-beloved Son hanging upon that tree? There is life for a look at Him.” “Lord, I will pray about the matter.” The Lord says, “I have said to you, ‘Hear, and your soul shall live.’ ‘Look unto Me, and be you saved.’” “Lord, I will pray.” To put the matter very strongly, might not the man almost as well say, “Lord, I will swear”? Is there not just as much of the spirit of rebellion in the one answer as in the other? He has chosen his own way instead of accepting God’s way! God’s way is, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.” And to this, the man replies, “Lord, I will pray.” And if that is all he does, he sets his seal to his own condemnation! In such a case, the Lord asks the question in my text, “Why do you cry unto Me?” Why are you crying? For another atonement beside that of the Lord Jesus Christ? Crying for God to save you in some other way than by believing in Jesus? Crying for somebody else to believe for you? Crying to the Holy Spirit to repent for you? Is that what you want? He will not do it! Why should He repent for you? You must repent for yourself and believe for yourself, for the Holy Spirit cannot repent for you, or believe for you. If a man, instead of believing the Truth of God which is so plain and which is evidently able to save him–if, instead of simply resting upon the atoning Sacrifice of Christ, he says, “I will pray about the matter,” he betrays the fatal ignorance of his heart in supposing that God will make a new way of salvation for him instead of the one which He has plainly revealed in His Word!
Perhaps another one says, “ I am in hopes that, by praying, I shall be made more fit for believing in Christ.” Fit forbelieving in Christ? You also are upon the wrong tack, like these others of whom I have been speaking. Your ignorance is misleading you. Fit for believing in Christ? A man is never so “fit for believing” as when, in himself, he is most unfit! It is unfitness, not fitness, that is required! What is fitness for being washed? Filth–and filth alone! What is fitness for receiving alms? Poverty, abject need. What is fitness for receiving pardon? Guilt–and only guilt. It comes not as an act of Grace, but as an act of Justice if there is no guilt–for the display of God’s pardoning Grace, guilt is needed. If you are guilty, if you are black, if you are foul you have all the fitness that is required! So, come and find in Jesus Christ all that meets your greatest and most urgent need!
Does someone ask, “But must I not have a sense of my need?” Not as a fitness for coming to Christ, for the man who says, “I am quite fit to be saved, for I feel my need,” does not really feel his need as he should and is the farthest off from Christ. O you who are most empty, most guilty, most lost, most ruined, you are the most “fit” for the great Savior to save! May the Holy Spirit enable you to realize this and drive out of you the foolish notion that your praying is to help Christ to save you and to take you part of the way on the road to Heaven! Your prayer will not help the Divine surgery which alone can cure you! So, just as you are in all your wretchedness and sin, trust Christ to save you, for He is able to save you, from first to last, without any help of yours!
III. Now I am going to close by mentioning OTHER ANSWERS WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO THIS QUESTION–“Why do you cry unto Me?”
I will tell you my own answer to this question. I cry to God, principally, because I cannot help doing so. I cry to Godfor the same reason that I eat when I feel hungry and for the same reason that I groan when I am in pain–it is the outward expression of the condition of my inward life. I cannot help praying. I think if anyone were to say to me, “You must not kneel down to pray,” it would not make any difference to my praying. If I were not allowed to utter a word all day long, that would not affect my praying. If I could not have five minutes that I might spend in prayer by myself, I would pray all the same. Minute by minute, moment by moment, somehow or other, my heart must commune with my God. Prayer has become as essential to me as the heaving of my lungs and the beating of my pulse. I do ask God to give me power in prayer and I chide myself if I am lax in prayer. Still, almost unconsciously, one gets praying in the streets, praying while preaching to you–yes, sometimes, one almost prays in his sleep! One gets so into the spirit of prayer that, without always knowing it, there is a prayer leaping from the heart and the very glance of the eye becomes a means of communion with God. So, that is my answer to the Lord’s question, “Why do you cry unto Me?” I pray because I cannot help doing so.
It is an equally good answer when anyone can say, “ I pray because I delight in it. There is no holy exercise which is sosweet, so blessed, so delightful, so inspiring, so care-removing, as praying to my loving Heavenly Father. Nothing brings me as near to Heaven, or opens its gate so wide to me, or gives me such a foretaste of its Glory, as prayer mingled with praise.”
It would also be a good answer if you should say, “ I pray because I have such great needs that I cannot help praying.I have such a little faith that I must pray for more. I have so many troubles that I must pray to be delivered out of them. I feel that I have so many sins that I must pray to be cleansed from them. I have so many desires after better things that I must pray for those things to be given to me. I feel that not merely my happiness, but my sorrow also drives me to my knees.” I do not mind how you get to the Mercy Seat as long as you get there in spirit and in Truth and do really pray. But, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I do hope that these reasons for prayer are those that you would yourselves give if the Lord were to say to each one of you, “Why do you cry unto Me?”
I think I hear another say, "
I pray because what little repentance and faith I have can express themselves best in
prayer. I tell the Lord how I hate my sin and I ask Him to help me to hate it still more. I go to Him when I fall and ask Him to hold me up for the future. I tell Him all my faults and follies and I ask Him to teach me, and sanctify me. I find that my little faith is most at home and at ease when I go to God in prayer. I tell the Lord that I do trust Him and I ask Him to increase my faith. I tell Him that if He should refuse to listen to me, I will still cling to the hem of His garment and if I perish, I will perish at the foot of His Cross.“ Well, that is the right way to pray–when prayer is the expression of penitence and faith.
“Yes,” says another, “but I pray because I get more repentance and more faith by praying.” Just so. They grow whilethey are exercising themselves. He that weeps for sin will weep more as he prays, and he that believes in Christ will believe more strongly while he expresses that believing in prayer for yet greater faith.
All these are good reasons for praying without ceasing.
Perhaps one of the best is this. “ I pray because I am nothing, and I want to get to the great ‘I AM.’ I pray because Ihave nothing and I know that all I can have must come from Him. I pray because my poverty would gladly draw upon His infinite wealth, because my weakness would drink in His eternal strength, because my sin would be a partaker of His perfect holiness, because my nothingness would find itself lost in the all-sufficiency of God.” These are blessed reasons for praying and if these are your reasons, pray on, Brothers and Sisters. Pray on, if you can thus answer the Lord’s question, “Why do you cry unto Me?”
I suppose that there may have come into this place someone who never prays. If so, I do not know where you are, Friend. I am glad I do not. I would look upon you with the greatest pity if I knew you. The very thought of such a sad case as yours makes me feel heavy of heart. A man who never speaks to his Maker! A man? Can he be a man? Let me look him up and down. A man, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God, yet he never speaks to his Creator! O God, to what a terrible depth a man can sink if he can live without prayer! What a strange creature he is! A little chicken drinks and lifts its head each time it sips. “The ox knows his owner, and the ass”–you know how stupid the ass is, yet he knows “his master’s crib.” But here is a man, whom God has made, and kept in being all these years. He gave him a household and made him well-to-do among his fellow men, and kept him out of the asylum, and out of the workhouse, and out of the jail, and out of Hell, and yet he never prays? O knees that never bend before the Lord! O hearts that never yield yourselves to God, are you not accursed?
Ah, Sirs, assuredly a curse rests upon the man who never prays! He who prays not, believes not, and what says the Word of God concerning the man who does not believe? “He that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” From my inmost soul, I pity even guilty men who are condemned to die because they have broken the laws of their country and have taken the lives of their fellow creatures. Yet, O you unbelievers, their condition only differs in degree from yours, for you, also, are “condemned already” because you have not believed on the only-begotten Son of God! Oh, I beseech you, turn unto Him before it is too late and you are cast into Hell, where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched forever and ever! If you believe that what I have said is false, you will take no notice of it, but if you believe that this Book is, indeed, the Word of God, and most, if not all of you, know that it is–then, escape for your lives–look not behind you, but lay hold on eternal life and may God the Holy Spirit enable you to do so this very moment!
It is not to prayer that I exhort you, but I urge you to obey that great Gospel command, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” And more than that, in the name of God, I command you to believe in Him whom He has sent as the only Savior of sinners. Believe on Him! Trust in Him and go your way forgiven! God grant it, for Jesus' sake! Amen.