One of the questions that is more often asked in this connection than any other perhaps is this: may we pray with assurance for the conversion of our loved ones? No question sets more hearts in an audience to beating faster than does that. I remember speaking in the Boston noonday meeting, in the old Broomfield Street M. E. Church on this subject one week. Perhaps I was speaking rather positively. And at the close of the meeting one day a keen, cultured Christian woman whom I knew came up for a word. She said, "I do not think we can pray like that." And I said, "Why not?" She paused a moment, and her well-controlled agitation revealed in eye and lip told me how deeply her thoughts were stirred. Then she said quietly, "I have a brother. He is not a Christian. The theatre, the wine, the club, the cards—that is his life. And he laughs at me. I would rather than anything else that my brother were a Christian. But," she said, and here both her keenness and the training of her early teaching came in, "I do not think I can pray positively for his conversion, for he is a free agent, is he not? And God will not save a man against his will."
I want to say to you to-day what I said to her. Man is a free agent, to use the old phrase, so far as God is concerned; utterly, wholly free. And, he is the most enslaved agent on the earth, so far as sin, and selfishness and prejudice are concerned. The purpose of our praying is not to force or coerce his will; never that. It is to free his will of the warping influences that now twist it awry. It is to get the dust out of his eyes so his sight shall be clear. And once he is free, able to see aright, to balance things without prejudice, the whole probability is in favour of his using his will to choose the only right.
I want to suggest to you the ideal prayer for such a one. It is an adaptation of Jesus' own words. It may be pleaded with much variety of detail. It is this: deliver him from the evil one; and work in him Thy will for him, by Thy power to Thy glory in Jesus, the Victor's name. And there are three special passages upon which to base this prayer. First Timothy, second chapter, fourth verse (American version), "God our Saviour, who would have all men to be saved." That is God's will for your loved one. Second Peter, third chapter, ninth verse, "not wishing (or willing) that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." That is God's will, or desire, for the one you are thinking of now. The third passage is on our side who do the praying. It tells who may offer this prayer with assurance. John, fifteenth chapter, seventh verse, "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you ask what it is your will to ask, and I will bring it to pass for you."
There is a statement of Paul's in second Timothy that graphically pictures this (2Ti_2:24-26): "The Lord's servant must not strive "—not argue, nor combat—"but be gentle towards all, apt to teach"—ready and skilled in explaining, helping—"in meekness correcting (or, instructing) them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will."
That word "deliver" in this prayer, as used by Jesus, the word under our English, has a picturesque meaning. It means rescue. Here is a man taken captive, and in chains. But he has become infatuated with his captor, and is befooled regarding his condition. Our prayer is, "rescue him from the evil one," and because Jesus is Victor over the captor, the rescue will take place.
Without any doubt we may assure the conversion of these laid upon our hearts by such praying. The prayer in Jesus' name drives the enemy off the battle-field of the man's will, and leaves him free to choose aright. There is one exception to be noted, a very, very rare exception. There may be extreme instances where such a prayer may not be offered; where the spirit of prayer is withdrawn. But such are very rare and extreme, and the conviction regarding that will be unmistakable beyond asking any questions.
And I cannot resist the conviction—I greatly dislike to say this, I would much rather not if I regarded either my own feelings or yours. But I cannot resist the conviction—listen very quietly, so I may speak in quietest tones—that there are people ... in that lower, lost world ... who are there ... because some one failed to put his life in touch with God, and pray.