BY CLARENCE EDWARD MACARTNEY
WHAT MIGHTY word is that? What word is so mighty that it can conquer God? What is the word that turns captivity captive? What is the word that unites far separated souls around one common mercy seat? What is the word that brings man’s storm-driven ship into the haven of safety and peace? What is the word that turns back the shadow of death on the face of life’s dial? What is the word that gives songs in the night and that lifts the load of guilt from the conscience-smitten heart? What is the word that puts a sword in our hand when we face temptation? What is the word that gives us strength to bear our daily burdens? What is the word that fortifies the soul when it kneels before its cup in some Gethsemane of sore agony? What is the word that lifts us up when we have fallen? What is the word that brings angels down from heaven to
minister to us when we have overcome the devil? What is the word that makes us co-workers with God in the coming of His kingdom? What is the word that recalls the wanderer from the far country? What is the word that is the best physician for both body and soul?
What is the word which, when we speak it, may set a captive free? What is the word that companions the soul in its hours of loneliness and that comforts it in the day of sorrow? What is the word that sets a lamp of forgiveness and reconciliation in the window for the prodigal and the wanderer? What is the word that brings the eternal world to view? What is the word that is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try? What is the word that is the sublimest strain that can reach the majesty on high? What is the word that makes the angels rejoice when they hear it on the lips of a contrite sinner? What is the word that is our watchword at the gate of death, the word with which we enter heaven?
That mighty, all prevailing, God-conquering word is prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”(James 5:16).
The word that conquers God! That is a bold thing to say, and yet we say it by the authority of none other than the greatest example in prayer, our savior Jesus Christ, who said, “Knock and it shall be opened unto
you,” and who told two parables, the parable of the Midnight Visitor and the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge, to encourage us in prayer and to show how prayer conquers God.
When we come to select examples and illustrations from the Bible which prove and demonstrate our proposition that prayer is the word that conquers God, our only embarrassment is the riches of the Bible in that respect, and our only difficulty is to decide what instances of God conquering prayer to select.
We commence with the first recorded prayer in the Bible (Genesis 18:23-33), the prayer of Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a striking and beautiful fact that in the Bible, which is the great treasury of
prayers, the first recorded prayer-is a prayer of intercession. There prayer is seen at its highest. Life’s golden altar is the altar of intercession. A person never does a nobler act than when he becomes a priest to others and makes intercession for them.
As Abraham sat before his tent on the plains of Mamre, he lifted up his eyes, and lo, three men stood by him. After the men had been graciously entertained by Abraham, they gave him and his wife Sarah the promise that a son would be born unto them. Then they departed in the direction of Sodom, Abraham courteously walking part of the way with them. When two of the men, to Abraham’s view, were gone and only one remained, Abraham drew near to God. He had learned who his mysterious visitor was, and he had learned that judgment was about to fall on Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great wickedness. Some people might have said,
“That is what they deserve. They have had plenty of warnings and have not heeded them. Now let them perish.” But that was not what Abraham thought and not what Abraham said; he was noble, magnanimous Abraham, the Friend of God.
Abraham drew near to God and began to plead for the wicked cities, asking if God would not spare them for the sake of the righteous men that lived there. Abraham did not know how few righteous men were
there, but he began with fifty: “Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? . . . Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25-30).
Then God promised Abraham that He would spare the city if there were fifty righteous there. Then Abraham, with beautiful humility and yet angelic earnestness, said, “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes…wilt Thou destroy all the city for the lack of five?” (verses 27-28).
And God said, “If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.”
And so Abraham continued his pleading with God, asking that the place be spared for the sake of thirty righteous, and then for the sake of twenty, and finally for the sake of ten.
Alas, not even ten righteous could be found in Sodom. Destruction and death fell upon the city and all its inhabitants, save Lot and his daughters. But there is something deeply moving, infinitely tender and
pathetic, wonderfully uplifting about that intercession of the friend of God for the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. That is the way we ought to feel towards other people, and that is the way we ought
to approach God and to pray to Him. Who knows how much you and I owe to those who have pled with God for our souls? Go, then, to the golden altar of prayer, and there offer your prayers in behalf of other souls.
There is a place where thou canst touch the eyes
Of blinded men to instant, perfect sight;
There is a place where thou canst say, “Arise!”
To dying captives, bound in chains of night;
There is a place where thou canst reach the store
Of hoarded gold and free it for the Lord;
There is a place-upon some distant shore-
Where thou canst send the worker or the Word;
There is a place where Heaven’s resistless power
Responsive moves to shine insistent plea;
There is a place – a silent, trusting hour-
Where God Himself descends and fights for thee.
Where is that blessed place-dost thou ask
O. Soul, it is the secret place of prayer.
-Adelaide A. Pollard
“The Indian Christian”
Another man whose prayer conquered God was Jacob. We have the record of that conquest in one of the most mysterious transactions of the Bible. There is something about it that appeals to us because of its very
inscrutable mystery, and yet something there that appeals to us because we feel there is something in it that is deeply human. I refer to Jacob’s midnight encounter with the angel on the fords of the Jabbok
It was twenty years since Jacob had deceived his dying father Isaac and cheated his brother Esau out of the blessing that belonged to the firstborn. During those two decades, although he had to struggle and fight for it, Jacob had found love, a home, and prosperity in Mesopotamia and now, a rich man, is returning to his father’s country, when suddenly there falls across his path the shadow of his old transgression. He receives word that his brother Esau is on the march to meet him with four hundred armed men. Perhaps Jacob hoped that Esau was dead or, if living, that he had forgotten Jacob’s great sin against him. Now he learns that Esau is on the march to meet him, Esau the cheated and the wronged, who had sworn an oath that he would kill his brother Jacob on sight.
Although distressed and frightened, Jacob’s old cunning did not desert him. He divided his people and his flocks and herds into two bands and sent them on before him so that if Esau attacked one company, the other might escape. Then he made his prayer that God would deliver him out of the hand of Esau. He then sent messengers with costly presents to Esau, hoping thus to placate his brother. Having sent his company across the ford of the Jabbok, Jacob remained himself on the other side. “And Jacob was left alone!” This was to be the greatest experience of Jacob’s life. It was an experience which came to him when he was left
alone. Do not fear your solitary moments. God will come closer to you then than at any other time.
As Jacob stood there, alone in the shadows, “there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Who or what he was, Jacob did not know. But he did not seek to shun the battle or escape the encounter.
All through the night the two antagonists fought there on the banks of the little stream. There was not a spectator to view their struggles. There was not a sound save the scuffling of their feet and the panting
and labored breathing of the wrestlers. In awful solitude they fought. In the battle Jacob seemed to be getting the advantage so much so that his mysterious antagonist touched the hollow of his thigh and put it
out of joint. Yet Jacob fought on, gripping his enemy all the more fiercely and tightly.
Then, as the morning dawned, Jacob suddenly learned that this midnight wrestler was not really an enemy but a friend, and as the angel hastened to be away with the dawning of the day, Jacob gripped him closely and cried, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” Then the departing angel blessed Jacob and changed his name from Jacob, the supplanter, to Israel, prince with God, for, he said, “As a prince thou
hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
In that night Jacob conquered God. Mysterious though that narrative is, rich are the treasures we find in it. What opposes us in life, what makes us struggle and plant and labor, is, after all, not an enemy but a friend in disguise. Do not mourn over the hard and difficult experiences of life, over the touches of providence that, as it were, have thrown your thigh out of joint, for in ways that you know not they have made you strong.
Still more is this true of our sorrows and our trials. At first they seem to come upon us with threat and anger, as that mysterious battler came upon Jacob there in the lonely watches of the night on the banks
of the Jabbok. But their only purpose is to bless us, change us, to teach us how to pray, to transform our characters. Therefore, when these angels in disguise come upon you, hard though the battle is and
desperate the encounter, heavy and labored though the breathing of the soul may be, make sure that you conquer God in them. Make sure that you utter the prayer of struggling Jacob, “I will not let thee go except
thou bless me.”
The Mother Who Conquered Christ
In the life of Christ Himself there is a beautiful and striking illustration of what He so frequently taught by parable and precept, the power of prayer to conquer God. In two of his parables, the Friend at Midnight (when the man knocked at the door of his unwilling neighbor until he came down and gave to him) and the parable of the Unjust Judge, who avenged the widow lest she weary him by her continual coming, Christ taught persistence and perseverance in prayer. But in His dealing with the Syro-Phoenician mother He Himself illustrated the power of earnest, effectual, God-conquering prayer (Mark 7:24-30).
On the shores of Syria where Tyre once stood, you can still see the waves of the Mediterranean breaking over the prostrate pillars that once were the glory of Tyre. Standing there, one thinks of Tyre and its
temples and its navies and of Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander who brought Tyre into the dust, but most of all of how a poor heart broken, gentile mother persuaded Jesus to heal her daughter.
This woman, probably a widow, had an only child, a daughter, who was grievously afflicted with an unclean spirit. When she heard that the great healer of Israel had come to their village, her heart beat high with hope. But when she spoke of the matter to her neighbors, they, no doubt, discouraged her. They probably said, “He will do nothing for you. Remember we are pagans and He is a Jew. Even if you get to where
He is, His friends and disciples will not let you approach Him.” But undeterred by their discouraging remarks, the woman made her appeal to Jesus, first of all, it would seem, on the street and then at the
house. ” Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David. My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” But what was the answer of Jesus? He answered her not a word! Nothing hurts, humiliates, and disconcerts,
and sometimes angers like silence. I will make no attempt to explain the silence of Jesus, unless it was that He wanted not only to test out the faith and earnestness of this woman, but to encourage you and me in
our prayers in those times when we pray and it seems that God is silent. His silence to Pilate, to Herod, and to those who mocked Him and cursed Him, we can understand, but how could He be silent to this
heartbroken mother in her distress?
That silence would have frozen hope in the minds of most mothers, but not so this mother. She followed Jesus to the house where He was being entertained. There the irritated disciples said to Jesus, “Send her
away for she crieth after us.” Perhaps they meant “Lord, you might as well grant her request, for if you do not, she will keep on bothering us this way.” Or it may have been just a suggestion that Jesus rid them
of this nuisance. Then Jesus spoke for the first time, not to the woman but to the disciples, saying, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. You know that my mission is to the Jews. It is not
possible now for me to deal with those outside of Israel.”
Then the poor woman, dropping the formal language in which she had first addressed Jesus as the Son of David, cried out, “Lord, Help me!” It was as if she had said, “Lord, I realize that I am not a Jew. I know
that I have no claims upon Thee, but I am a poor brokenhearted mother. Lord, help me!”
Then for the first time Jesus spoke to the woman herself. But what a speech it was! “Let the children first be filled, for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it unto the dogs.” That evidently was a proverb, something like our, “Charity begins at home.” It amounted to this, “Don’t you know the proverb, woman, how it is not proper to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs?” This, one would think, would have further humiliated and angered the woman. Had she not been likened to one of the dogs that prowl about the tables in that eastern land? But instead of being repulsed, this woman cried out the more earnestly and with a beautiful quickness and charm of speech, “Yes, Lord, I know that’s so. But, Lord, even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table!” Then, Jesus, conquered by so wonderful a love and so invincible a faith, answered, “O woman, great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt!”
There were two remarkable things about the great faith of this woman and her conquering prayer. The first thing was the obstacles that her faith overcame: the handicap of her pagan race, the discouragement of
her neighbors, the rude discouragement of the disciples, the strange disconcerting silence of Jesus, and her seeming humiliation at His hands when He compared her to the outcast dogs. Every conceivable obstacle was there. But she overcame them all and today is immortal for her faith. The other remarkable thing about this faith is that it was exercised, not for herself but for another. Prayer reaches its grandest heights when we pray for another.
We all have difficulties in the way of our prayers and our faith. There are the discouragement of the world about us, the discouragement which comes from unworthy disciples of Christ, and the silence of God when we long to hear His voice. In these moments of discouragement and in the face of these difficulties, remember that mother who conquered Jesus by her prayers. For your own sake, and still more for the sake of others, keep on praying and hold on to your faith. Remember that you wield in your prayer the mightiest power, the power that moves the hand that moves the world.
God is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God. He always answers. Let us be satisfied with His answers, whether or not they are the answers that we expected. Prayer is the key to the problems of our day; it locks the door that keeps out the doubts and dangers of the night. There are two prayers which we are encouraged to make, and about the answer to which there can be no doubt: one is, “Thy will be done”; the other, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Christ heard that last prayer in His last hour on the Cross and was conquered by it, for He said to the penitent thief, “today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Luke
Clarence Edward Noble Macartney (1879-1957) ministered in Paterson, N.J., and Philadelphia, PA, before assuming the influential pastorate of First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA, where he ministered for
twenty seven years. His preaching especially attracted men, not only to the Sunday services but also to his popular Tuesday noon luncheons. He was gifted in dealing with Bible biographies, and, in this respect, has
well been called “the American Alexander Whyte.” Much of his preaching was topical-textual, but it was always biblical, doctrinal and practical. Perhaps his most famous sermon is “Come Before Winter.” The
sermon I have selected is taken from The Greatest Words in the Bible and in Human Speech, published 1938 by Cokesbury Press.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM CLASSIC SERMONS ON PRAYER, PAGES 8-17. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.