_ 4th Pastoral Letter. - God the answerer of prayer. - Edinburgh, February 20, 1839.

O all of you, my dear flock, who are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blame before Him in love, your pastor again wishes grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are many sweet providences happening to us every day, if we would but notice them. In the texts which ministers choose, what remarkable providences God often brings about! I have often felt this, and never more than now. Some of you may remember that the last chapter of the Bible which I read to you in the church was 1 Kings 19., where we are told of Elijah going away into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights to the mount of God, where he was taught that it is not by the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, that God converts souls, but by the still small voice of the gospel. May not this have been graciously intended to prepare us for what has happened? Another providence some of you may have noticed. For several Thursday evenings before I left you I was engaged in explaining and enforcing the sweet duty of believing prayer. Has not God since taught us the use of these things? "Trials make the promise sweet" "Trials give new life to prayer." Perhaps some of us were only receiving the information into the head; is not God now impressing it on our hearts, and driving us to practise the things which we learned? I do not now remember all the points I was led to speak upon to you, but one, I think, was entirely omitted I mean the subject of answers to prayer. God left it for us to meditate on now. Oh, there is nothing that I would have you to be more sure of than this, that "God hears and answers prayer." There never was, and never will be, a believing prayer left unanswered. Meditate on this, and you will say: "I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplication" (Psalm 116:1).

First, God often gives the very thing His children ask at the very time they ask it. You remember Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10): she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. "Give unto thine handmaid a man child" This was her request. And so she went in peace, and the God of Israel heard and granted her her petition that she had asked of Him; and she called the child's name Samuel, that is, "Asked of God." Oh that you could write the same name upon all your gifts! you would have more joy in them, and far larger blessings along with them. You remember David, in Psalm 138.:

In the day that I cried Thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul." You remember Elijah (1 Kings 17:21): "O Lord my God' I pray Thee let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." You remember Daniel (Daniel 9:20-21): "While I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation." Oh, what encouragement is here for those among you who, like Daniel, are greatly beloved, who study much in the books of God's word, and who set your face unto the Lord to seek by prayer gifts for the Church of God! Expect answers while you are speaking in prayer. Sometimes the vapours that ascend in the morning come down in copious showers in the evening. So may it be with your prayers. Take up the words of David (Psalm 5:3): "My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up." You remember, in Acts 12., Peter was cast into prison, "but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him." And, behold, the same night the answer surprised them at the door. Oh, what surprises of goodness and grace God has in store for you and me, if only we pray without ceasing! If you will pray in union to Jesus, having childlike confidence towards God,—having the Spirit of adoption, crying Abba within you,—seeking the glory of God more than all personal benefits, I believe that in all such cases you will get the very thing you ask, at the very time you ask it. Before you call, God will hear; and while you are speaking, He will answer. Oh, if there were twenty among you who would pray thus, and persevere therein like wrestling Jacob, you would get whatever you ask! yea, the case of Daniel shows that the effectual fervent prayer of one such believer among you will avail much. "Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart "(Psalm 37:4).

Second, God often delays the answer to prayer for wise reasons. The case of the Syrophenician woman will occur to you all (Matthew 15:21-28). How anxiously she cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou son of David! But Jesus answered her not a word." Again and again she prayed, and got no gracious answer. Her faith grows stronger by every refusal. She cried, she followed, she kneeled to Him, till Jesus could refuse no longer. "O woman, great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Dear praying people, "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgivings." Do not be silenced by one refusal. Jesus invites importunity by delaying to answer. Ask, seek, knock. "The promise may be long delayed, but cannot come too late." You remember, in the parable of the importunate widow, it is said, "Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily "(Luke 18:18). This shows how you, who are God's children, should pray. You should cry day and night unto God. This shows how God hears every one of your cries, in the busy hour of the daytime, and in the lonely watches of the night. He treasures them up from day to day; soon the full answer will come down: "He will answer speedily." The praying souls beneath the altar, in Revelation 6:9-11, seem to show the same truth, that the answer to a believer's prayers may, in the adorable wisdom of God, be delayed for a little season, and that many of them may not be fully answered till after he is dead. Again, read that wonderful passage, Revelation 8:3, where it is said that the Lord Jesus, the great Intercessor with the Father, offers to God the incense of His merits, with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which is before the throne. Christ never loses one believing prayer. The prayers of every believer, from Abel to the present day, He heaps upon the altar, from which they are continually ascending before his Father and our Father; and when the altar can hold no more, the full, the eternal answer will come down. Do not be discouraged, dearly beloved, because God bears long with you because He does not seem to answer your prayers. Your prayers are not lost. When the merchant sends his ships to distant shores, he does not expect them to come back richly laden in a single day: he has long patience. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Perhaps your prayers will come back, like the ships of the merchant, all the more heavily laden with blessings, because of the delay.
Third, God often answers prayer by terrible things. So David says in Psalm 65.: "By terrible things in righteousness wilt Thou answer us, O God of our salvation." And all of you who are God's children have found it true. Some of you have experienced what John Newton did when he wrote that beautiful hymn, "I asked the Lord that I might grow." [27] You prayed with all your heart, "Lord, increase my faith." In answer to this, God has shown you the misery of your connection with Adam. He has revealed the hell that is in your heart. You are amazed, confounded, abashed. You cry, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" You cleave to a Saviour God with a thousand times greater anxiety. Your faith is increased. Your prayer is answered by terrible things. Some of us prayed for a praying spirit: "Lord, teach us to pray." God has laid affliction upon us. Waves and billows go over us. We cry out of the depths. Being afflicted, we pray. He has granted our heart's desire. Our prayer is answered by terrible things.

Fourth, God sometimes answers prayer by giving something better than we ask. An affectionate father on earth often does this. The child says, Father, give me this fruit. No, my child, the father replies; but here is bread, which is better for you. So the Lord Jesus dealt with his beloved Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). There was given to Paul a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. In bitterness of heart he cried, "Lord, let this depart from me." No answer came. Again he prayed the same words. No answer still. A third time he knelt, and now the answer came, not as he expected. The thorn is not plucked away the messenger of Satan is not driven back to hell; but Jesus opens wide His loving breast, and says, "My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength, is made perfect in weakness." Oh, this is something exceeding abundant above all that he asked, and all that he thought! Ah, this is something better than he asked, and better than he thought! Surely God is able to do "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Dear praying believers, be of good cheer. God will either give you what you ask, or something far better. Are you not quite willing that He should choose for you and me? You remember that even Jesus prayed, "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me! "That desire was not granted, but there appeared unto Him an angel from heaven strengthening Him (Luke 22:43). He received what was far better strength to drink the cup of vengeance. Some of you, my dear believing flock, have been praying that, if it be God's will, I might be speedily restored to you, that God's name might be glorified; and I have been praying the same. Do not be surprised if He should answer our prayers by giving us something above what we imagined. Perhaps He may glorify Himself by us in another way than we thought. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgements, and His ways past finding out! For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things to whom be glory for ever. Amen."

These things I have written, that you may come boldly to the throne of grace. The Lord make you a praying people. "Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making request with joy."

Now, the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another, according to Christ Jesus. "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing; and the God of peace be with you all. Amen."

[27] Olney Hymns, Book iii. Hymn 36.