The Prayer of Faith

by Glenn Conjurske

“The prayer of faith,” says James, “shall save the sick.” Yet we have all known of many who have died in spite of many prayers. Evidently not every prayer is “the prayer of faith.” And it is evidently not always possible to pray the prayer of faith, for no amount of praying can make man in the flesh immortal, nor prolong his natural life beyond a rather brief limit. The ninety-first Psalm contains abundant inspiration for the prayer of faith, saying, “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon-day. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee.” Yet we can have no perpetual tenure here, but rather, as the Psalm closes, “With long life will I satisfy thee.” And we need only turn back a page, to Psalm 90:10, to learn that there can be no limitless duration to such promises, for there we read, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow, for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” This is the almost universal experience of the human race, prayer or no prayer. The tombstone of a man who died at just “fourscore years” in 1819 bears this eloquent testimony to the general truth:

Our age to seventy years is set,
How short the time, how frail the state,
And if to eighty we arrive,
We rather sigh & groan than live.

Some few, by reason, perhaps, of surpassing strength, may live beyond even the “fourscore years,” but their tenure cannot be extended indefinitely. I recently heard of a woman who is 120 years old. When asked, “How does the future appear?” she replied “Very brief.” And this is the simple matter of fact, which no prayer or faith can alter. I take it as an established fact, then, that the prayer of faith cannot be prayed in every instance, and there are other things which prevent it besides the irreversible process of aging and the inevitable fact of death. I suppose that lukewarmness may be the most common thing which prevents it. The prayer of faith is certainly prevailing prayer—-for “the prayer of faith shall save the sick”—-and lukewarmness certainly stands in the way of prevailing prayer.

I will not pretend to define dogmatically what “the prayer of faith” is or is not, yet I believe it is safe to say that the prayer of assurance is the prayer of faith. The Lord has said, “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24). This is certainly “the prayer of faith,” whatever else the prayer of faith may be. The apostle John speaks in a similar vein, saying, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have desired of him.” (I John 5:14-15). This, of course, means that we “know that we have” those things before we actually receive them, precisely as in the Lord’s words, “believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them”—-at a future day. The possession of this assurance is certainly a mark of “the prayer of faith,” though I will not venture to say that the absence of such assurance indicates the reverse.

Unfortunately, this doctrine which is so plainly taught by Christ and by John, is never taught by Paul. It therefore must not belong to the church. And to clinch the matter, Paul left Trophimus at Miletum sick. All of this makes it indubitably plain to certain minds that the sick cannot be healed by the prayer of faith today. Nothing miraculous is possible today. Miracles have ceased. They belonged only to the apostles, and the apostolic age. A little independent Baptist paper, recently received, contains an article entitled 20th Century Healing Frauds, by Raymond A. Waugh, Sr., of Midland, Texas. This article categorically asserts, “The `signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds’ were the `Marks’ or `Signs’ of the Apostles. When the Apostles departed from this earthly scene, the Apostolic `signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds’ were forever ended.” And therefore, “All of those who have experienced fatal sicknesses and diseases during the last 1,900 years that could not be healed by some medical means have gone ahead and died, and that without exception. All of those who have had physical disabilities that were beyond the capability of Medical science to remedy likewise have continued on in their disability until God has brought an end to their mortality.”

But these reckless assertions as thoroughly overturn the Bible doctrines of prayer and faith as they do modern healing frauds. When the doctors have told Mr. Waugh that there is nothing more that they can do for his wife, or his daughter, or himself, will he then cease to pray, and “go ahead and die”? To this his doctrine shuts him up, and he really has no business to lay such burdens upon others if he will not bear them himself.

But against all of this modern unbelief, and all the modern doctrines which are urged in support of such unbelief, I urge some simple facts of history. I could indeed fill up this magazine with accounts of “signs” and “wonders” wrought in answer to prayer, but that is not my purpose, and most of them I leave alone, limiting myself in this article to accounts of “the prayer of faith.” By this I refer to accounts of prayers which have exemplified the Lord’s words, “believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them”—-prayers in which those who prayed knew that they had the things which they had desired of the Lord.

Such assurance in praying neither began nor closed with the apostolic era. The Old Testament saints possessed it as well as we. In the sixth Psalm David cries to the Lord with great earnestness, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak: O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed, but thou, O Lord, how long?” He continues in this strain for some time, and when his praying to God is finished, he turns to men, and says, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity, for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication. The Lord will receive my prayer.” This is that faith of which the Lord speaks, possessed before the answer is given. We have no record of the answer in David’s case, but I offer a number of accounts which recount the prayer, the certainty of faith, and the answer.

The reader will note that in the instances which I am about to relate, the prayer was followed by the full assurance of the answer, and that of course before the answer came. Such assurance, I suppose, marks that prayer as “the prayer of faith.” I would not contend, however, that where no such assurance exists, there is no prayer of faith. It would be an easy thing to fill this magazine with examples of signal answers to prayer where no such assurance existed, or at least where it was not mentioned. There must have been something of faith in those prayers, for they obtained their answer, though there was no previous assurance of it. To this we may add, it is certainly a mark of faith to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Nevertheless, such praying is not to be confused with that which the Lord speaks of in Mark 11:24, and which John speaks of in I John 5. John speaks of knowing that we have the petitions which we have desired of him. This is assurance. And it should be pointed out that John speaks this concerning “if we ask any thing according to his will.” That is, he speaks of praying when we know that our petition is in accordance with his will. In such a case we may pray with “the full assurance of faith,” and this, certainly, is “the prayer of faith,” whatever else may be worthy of the name.

Martin Luther was known as a man of prayer, and a man of faith. At one point he found his friend and coadjutor Melancthon sick unto death, and very dejected in mind. Melancthon had written his will, and was expecting to die. “When Luther arrived he found Melancthon apparently dying. His eyes were dim, his understanding almost gone, his tongue faultering, his learning imperfect, his countenance fallen, incapable of distinguishing anyone, and indisposed to all nourishment. At such a sight Luther was in the most terrible consternation, and turning to those who had accompanied him in his journey, exclaimed, `Alas, that the devil should have thus unstrung so fine an instrument!’—-Then in a supplicating posture he devoutly prayed, `We implore thee, O Lord our God, we cast all our burdens on thee and WILL CRY TILL THOU HEAREST US, pleading all the promises which can be found in the Holy Scripture respecting thy hearing prayer, so that THOU MUST INDEED HEAR US to preserve at all future periods our entire confidence in thine own promises.’ After this he seized hold of Melancthon’s hand, and well knowing the extreme anxiety of his mind and the troubled state of his conscience, said, `Be of good courage, Philip, YOU SHALL NOT DIE. . . . Do not therefore give way to this miserable dejection and destroy thyself, but trust in the Lord who can remove it and impart new life.’ While he thus spake, Melancthon began visibly to revive, as though his spirit came again, and was shortly restored to his usual health.”

C. H. Spurgeon thus describes his own prayer of faith: “When, some months ago, I was racked with pain to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone: and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, `Thou art my Father, and I am Thy child; and Thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as Thou makest me suffer; and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt Thou hide Thy face from me, my Father? Wilt Thou still lay on me Thy heavy hand, and not give me a smile from Thy countenance?’ I talked to the Lord as Luther would have done, and pleaded His Fatherhood in real earnest. `Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.’ If He be a Father, let Him show Himself a Father,—-so I pleaded; and I ventured to say, when they came back who watched me, `I shall never have such agony again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.’ I bless God that ease came, and the racking pain never returned. Faith mastered it by laying hold upon God in His own revealed character,—-that character in which, in our darkest hour, we are best able to appreciate Him.”

I have remarked above that I do not believe it is always possible to pray the prayer of faith, and also that lukewarmness is one of the great impediments to it. Now the two incidents which I have just related may afford a clue as to when it is possible to pray the prayer of faith. It was in his “darkest hour” that Spurgeon prayed so. Luther prayed so when he was in “the most terrible consternation.” At such times men cannot be lukewarm, and therefore they can pray in such a way as to prevail with God. And do not the very terms which we have quoted at the head of this article, from the book of James, bear this out? “The prayer of faith shall save the sick.” This is not praying for coughs and colds, or minor headaches or backaches. It is when the sick is in desperate straits—-when he is in deep distress or danger—-that the prayer of faith is said to save him. When our plight is desperate, it becomes necessary, it becomes natural, to pray the prayer of faith—-not that we cannot do so at other times also.

Charles M. Alexander—-who was song leader for the gospel campaigns of both R. A. Torrey and J. Wilbur Chapman—-says something to the purpose in this regard. Says he, “The night on which my father died is the one to which I look back definitely as the date of my conversion. I had to cross the city on foot at a late hour, and as I trudged along, the thought kept recurring again and again to my mind—-`Is my father’s soul safe in heaven?’

“Of course I knew he had been a professing Christian, an elder in the church, and all that sort of thing. Still the thought would not down—-`Is my father safe in heaven?’ In the travail of my spirit I turned to God, and as I walked along the streets of Atlanta, I prayed: `O God, if by token, or vision, or impression there is any way whereby Thou canst vouchsafe assurances to the creatures Thy hands hath made, give me, I pray Thee, to realize the certainty of my father’s being safe at home with Thee.’ I prayed, [note +] as men generally do, when forced into desperate straits—-in faith, believing. And the answer came, as clearly and distinctly as any answer ever came, to myself or any one else: `Your father is safe with Me.’

“The load of doubt lifted immediately from my heart. I looked up towards the stars, and right there, under the open sky, pledged myself and life to the service of my Master and Lord.”

I do not quote this as an example to follow. No doubt a hundred thousand others have prayed such prayers at such times, and the wish is likely to be the father of the answer. I quote it for the connection which Alexander makes between the “desperate straits” and the prayer of faith.

“Desperate straits,” of course, do not concern only the health of the body. George Whitefield relates the following: “You know how I was threatened to be arrested, soon after my arrival, for above three hundred pounds, due on account of the Orphan-house in Georgia, and I do not know but a writ was actually taken out. This drove me to my knees. GOD gave me to wrestle, with strong cryings and many tears, both before and after I went to rest—-I could plead with him that it was not for myself but his poor. . . . GOD was pleased to give me an answer of peace. Having as I thought a full assurance of immediate help from some quarter or another, I went to sleep most comfortably. Early the next morning a friend came to me to enquire, if I knew where a gentlewoman of his acquaintance might put out three or four hundred pounds. I replied, let her lend it to me, and in a few months, GOD willing, she shall have it again.—-Upon being acquainted with my circumstances, she most chearfully sent me the sum I wanted, and thus my enemies were disappointed of their hope.”

Hanserd Knollys and Benjamin Keach were both prominent Baptists in the eighteenth century. Mr. Keach “was at one time so ill, in 1689, as to be given over by the physicians, and several of the ministers and his relations had taken leave of him, as a dying man past all hopes of recovery.” Knowing nothing of the refinements of modern theology, he did not have sense enough to “go ahead and die,” or at any rate his ministerial brethren did not have sense enough to let him. “But (says Crosby) the Rev. Mr. Hansard Knollys seeing his dying friend and brother in the gospel near to all appearance expiring; betook himself to prayer, and in an earnest and very extraordinary manner, begged that God would spare him and add unto his days the time he granted to his servant Hezekiah. As soon as he had ended his prayer, he said, `Brother Keach, I shall be in heaven before you,’ and quickly after left him. So remarkable was the answer of God to this good man’s prayer, that I cannot omit it, though it may be discredited by some, there are yet living incontestable evidences of the fact. For Mr. Keach recovered of that illness and lived just fifteen years afterwards.”

Jabez Swan, a prominent Baptist evangelist in America during the nineteenth century, relates the following: “The next day I was summoned home to my family in Norwich, New York. All four of my children were sick, some of them not expected to live. I sought before I left the sympathy of a neighboring pastor with whom my old friend Chamberlain was at work in the city. He and pastor Bellamy prayed for my family. When prayer was over, Brother B. said, `I don’t know who is dead at your house, but no more will die now.’ At the moment of prayer my youngest son lay, the doctor said, dying, in a most distressing manner. His fever gave way so suddenly that he came near dying before anything could be given to rally him.” The prayer of faith had prevailed, and his children were all spared.

Another instance comes from the life of Valentine Cook, an American Methodist preacher. A woman who was present supplied this account to Cook’s biographer. “At one time, she said, their class-leader—-T. G.—-was taken very ill. Her husband was with him most of the time, and was greatly distressed on his account. The case at length was pronounced hopeless by his physicians. Mr. Cook coming into the room when it was supposed the sick man was actually dying, approached his bed, and said to him in a distinct tone of voice, `Brother G—-—-–, do you know me?’ `O yes,’ was the reply. `Do you desire,’ said he, `that we continue to pray for your recovery?’ `I leave that,’ said the afflicted man, `to you and them.’ He then walked into the room where the physicians were in consultation. `What,’ said he, `is the conclusion? Must Brother G—-—-— die at this time?’ `He must without the intervention of Almighty power,’ was the reply. `Well, then,’ said Mr. Cook, `I’ll go to Him in whose hands are the issues of life and death. I shall file two pleas for his restoration: the one on account of his family, and the other on behalf of the Church.’ He then retired to the woods. In less than an hour he returned, and was told that there was no change for the better. He again retired, and did not return till some time after dark. When he entered the sick man’s room, he exclaimed, `Brother G—-—-–, the Lord has heard our prayers: your life will be prolonged, for the sake of the Church and your family.’ He immediately left for home, declining to exchange a single word with any one as he retired. In less than a week Brother G—-—-— was walking about his room, and is living to this day, though evidently on the margin of eternity.”

William M’Kendree was another Methodist preacher, and one of the early bishops in the American Methodist church. He was a man of great power and great influence. These old Methodists did not lightly take upon themselves the office of preaching, and many of them went through long and deep turmoil of heart before doing so. When M’Kendree was in the midst of those exercises, the following occurred: “On a certain day, as I sat at a table, my father stepped in and addressed me thus: `William, has not the Lord called you to preach the gospel?’ I answered, `I cannot tell: I do not know what a call to preach the gospel implies.’ He added, `I believe he has, and I charge you not to quench the Spirit.’ For a moment I was as one thunder-struck. We both shed tears. I asked him why he thought the Lord had called me to preach the gospel. He answered, `While you lay sick of the fever…when the doctor and all your friends had given you up for lost, I was greatly afflicted at the thought of your dying in your sins. I applied myself to the throne of grace, and prayed incessantly. While I was on my knees, the Lord manifested himself to me in an uncommon manner, and gave me an assurance that you should live to preach the gospel, and I have never lost my confidence, although you have been too careless.’ He then repeated his caution not to quench the Spirit.”

A similar account (and yet others could be given) concerns another Methodist preacher, Ashley Hewitt. “He was expiring in great Christian triumph in one room, and a lovely daughter was expiring in another room of the same building. His only remaining earthly anxiety was for the conversion of that daughter. She was a member of the Church, but had never professed a change of heart. In the triumph of all-conquering faith, he had embraced the conversion of that child. His oft-repeated inquiry, `Is she yet converted?’ was as often answered in the negative; but she was an earnest seeker. At length her friends saw her draw her last breath as they supposed, and felt the pulse stand still. These sad tidings were carried to the father. `Did she give any evidence of conversion before she expired?’ was the anxious question of the father. The answer, `No,’ did not appal his heart or shake his confidence. `Then she is not dead!’ was the answer of unwavering faith. Soon a noise was heard in the chamber of the supposed dead girl. She was alive in more than one sense. She proclaimed to all the full assurance of faith, and soon expired, shouting the praises of God.”

R. A. Torrey was a man of prayer and faith, and a firm believer in the prayer of faith, though he affirms also that “it is not always possible to pray `the prayer of faith.”’ He relates, “In my first pastorate, after I had been there a little while, a member of my congregation, not a member of my church, was taken very ill with typhoid fever, and went down to the gates of death; he was entirely unconscious. When I went down to call at the home I found the physician there sitting by his bed. The physician, who was a friend of mine, said, `He cannot live; recovery is absolutely impossible. He will die in a short time.’ I knelt down to pray, and as I began to pray I was led to pray that God would raise up this man—-he was absolutely unconscious; had been unconscious for a long time—-and perfectly restore him to health. As I prayed there came into my heart a confidence that that man would get well. I knew it. When I rose from my knees I turned to the physician and said, `Dr L., Eddy Clarke’—-that was the man’s name—-`will get well.’ `No,’ he said, `Mr Torrey, he can’t get well.’ I said, `Doctor, he will get well.’ He said, `Mr Torrey, he can’t get well. It is an impossibility.’ I said, `That may be; but he will get well.’ The physician was himself a backslider. He said, `Oh, well, that is all right from your standpoint, but he can’t get well.’ I said, `I know he will get well.’ Then I went home. After a time they came up to my house and said, `Eddy is dying.’ “No,” I said, he is not dying.” “Oh,” they said, “he is,” and they told me just what he was doing—-going through the stages of death. I said, `He is not dying. What is more, he won’t die and can’t die.’ But they said, `He will die.’ I said, `He can’t.’ He didn’t. He is living yet, or at least he was the last I knew.”

Surely this is a clear instance of “believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” R. A. Torrey, though he was the greatest of the Fundamentalists, was evidently ignorant that that scripture belonged to another dispensation, but if the Lord condescends to answer the ignorant according to their faith, then surely ignorance is bliss. May God deliver us all from that knowledge which deprives us of our faith. Let us by all means “add to our faith knowledge,” but how can knowledge which shrinks and dwarfs our faith be said to be added to it?

The prayer of faith is our unfailing resource when all other resources fail, and that not only for the healing of the body, but in all other exigencies as well. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” and in every such extremity into which the Lord may place us, he looks for faith, and for the prayer of faith. Some, I am well aware, will fault me for making the prayer of faith our unfailing resource, as though I were thus robbing God of his glory, for God (they will say) is himself our unfailing resource. Suffice it to say, I know that as well as they do, but I have not one grain of sympathy with the hyperspirituality which thus discards the plain declarations of Scripture, for it is God who says, “Ye have not because ye ask not,” and it is God who says of the man who lacks faith, “Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” The prayer of faith is our unfailing resource, and the lukewarm and unbelieving, who cannot pray the prayer of faith, will do well to consider the fact that they have no resource at all—-except in repentance, for that door is always open.

William Bramwell, a prominent English Methodist, was no stranger to the prayer of faith, and I give the following from his biography:

“Another instance of Mr. Bramwell’s faith, was at the time when a general alarm agitated our body respecting a bill which M. A. Taylor, Esq. was about to bring into the house of commons, to abridge the religious liberties of Dissenters. Many at that season were led to plead mightily to God, that our privileges might be continued; and, among others, Mr. Bramwell did not forget to offer up his fervent supplications. At the evening service, one Lord’s day, before a very crowded congregation, he got into an agony of prayer; and, after wrestling for some time, he said, `Lord! thou hast now told me that this bill shall never pass into a law.’ Adding, `It is out of the power of any man, or any set of men, to bring it to pass!’ Several of the congregation thought he was going too far; but in about a week afterward the bill was quashed.”

Bramwell was known for such praying. On one occasion Thomas Riley—-a powerful preacher among the Methodists, and also an officer in the army—-was ordered to the front in Spain. Bramwell went to prayer for him. “After many applications from day to day, he met the soldier and his wife at the house of a friend. It was the last night of Riley’s stay; the next morning his regiment was to march, and the next month his corpse might probably be stretched on some of the bloody battle-fields of the Peninsula. Mr. Bramwell sat abstractedly for a while, struggling apparently with some inward perplexity. He could obtain no satisfactory answer to his entreaties. `But after supper was over,’ says the gallant soldier, `he suddenly pulled his hand out of his bosom, laid it on my knee, looked me in the face, and said, “Brother Riley, mark what I am about to say: You are not to go to Spain!” “But the marching orders?” “Never mind: remember, I tell you, you are not; for I have been wrestling with God on your behalf, and when my Heavenly Father condescends in mercy to bless me with power to lay hold on Himself, I do not easily let Him go; no, not until I am favoured with an answer. Therefore, depend upon it, that the next time I hear from you, you will be settled in quarters.”’ The next morning, however, Riley’s regiment left Sheffield, with Spain for its prescribed destination; but he had not proceded far before he learned that the order had been countermanded; it was not to go to Spain! The next time Mr. Bramwell heard from the soldier, it was to say, that the latter was settled in quarters on English ground, as predicted.”

There is room in such praying, certainly, for a great deal of presumption, as there is in everything which concerns faith. I would grant—-yea, contend—-that a great deal of what goes under the name of “faith” in the church is nothing other than presumption. This may make us all humble and diffident, but it does nothing to discourage real faith. God knows how to confound presumption, but he that believeth shall never be confounded.

Glenn Conjurske