John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 19

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 19

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The Praying Church


We have seen that Peter was cast into prison, with the known intention of Herod Agrippa that he should be taken from it only to his death. We may readily conceive the deep concern of the believers in Jerusalem at this event, and at the threatened addition to the loss they had already sustained. And what did they under these circumstances? Did they not move heaven and earth for his deliverance? They sought to move heaven; and left it to heaven to move the earth. They were of that plain, right-minded people who deemed that both the surest and readiest course of proceeding for the attainment of any object was to go direct, and first of all, to him who holds all the elements, and all the interests, and hearts, and lives of men in his hands. We therefore read of nothing that they did, but that “prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him.”

In the first place it might be asked, what possible use could there be of prayer in such a case as this? Here was Peter in a strong and well-guarded prison, chained to soldiers conscious of his slightest movements, and reserved for death by a tyrant not likely to be moved from his purpose by any influence that could be brought to bear upon him. There never was a man in a case, deliverance from which could seem more of a moral and even physical impossibility. Yet the believers, though they knew all this, prayed not the less earnestly and hopefully for him. Prayer, like faith, of which prayer is the expression—

Laughs at impossibilities,

And cries, ‘It shall be done!’”

“The first Christians were persuaded that nothing is impossible to him that believes, because nothing is impossible to God. Daniel was preserved in a den of Lions, and the three Jewish confessors in the midst of a fiery furnace. God could bend the heart of the tyrant to mercy, or defeat his purpose by his sudden death, or incline the people to intercede for the life of his servant, or deliver him by a miracle. They did not limit the Holy One of Israel, and say, ‘How can this thing be?’ Reflecting on his power, they overlooked the obstacles to the answer of their prayers, and being strong in faith, gave glory to God.” Note: Dick’s Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles.

It may be that the Lord permitted that combination of circumstances which rendered the release of Peter impossible to any human means or influence, in order that the believers might look entirely to Him for the deliverance of Peter; and that this deliverance, being granted solely by his power and in manifest answer to their prayers, might strengthen their faith, and recover them from any discouragement the loss of James had occasioned, by assuring them that, although he had been taken from them, their interests were not unwatched, nor their safety unguarded; and that James had not died because his Lord could not have delivered him had He seen fit to do so; but because it was, for good reasons of his own, his will that his servant should be called home. We cannot doubt that the Lord’s hand was in that postponement of Peter’s execution, which afforded the opportunity for the fervent prayers of the Church to be offered on his behalf, in order that the deliverance, when it came, might be felt as an answer to those prayers. The Lord likes to be asked for his mercies, because by asking we evince the fervency of our desires, and acknowledge our dependence upon Him for them. Asking is indeed one of the conditions of receiving. He has not promised to give to those that need, but to those that “ask.” He has not promised that those who want shall “find,” but those who “seek.” He has not undertaken to open his door to those who loiter around it, but to those who “knock.”

The prayer which evinces its earnestness by its fervency and perseverance is the only real prayer, and it is the only prayer God has pledged himself to heed. Such prayer He never refuses, unless He knows that it would be injurious, or not good to grant it. Yet it is so difficult for Him as a Father to pain his children, by refusing such prayers when offered to Him, that He seems often to exclude the opportunity of being asked for that which he does not mean to grant; while, on the other hand, it is so agreeable to Him to grant their requests, that He often provides the opportunity for being asked for that which He designs to bestow. Both considerations seem to have operated here. James seems to have been taken away somewhat suddenly, before the Church could offer its prayers on his behalf; while the doom of Peter was postponed that prayer might be offered for him.

Indeed, as Scott remarks “When time is given for prayer, and when, as in this case, the opportunity for prayer is given, and great numbers are excited up to join in it, as with one heart and soul, it may be regarded as an indication that God intends to grant their desires.”

As the answer to the prayer of the Church was the deliverance of Peter, his deliverance was probably what the Church prayed for. This might not appear absolutely from the expression that they prayed “for him.” Nor, doubtless, did they pray for his deliverance alone; but that the Divine presence might be with him, strengthening him in his prison-house, and that, if not previously delivered, he might “witness a good confession” before Herod’s judgment-seat. Even the prayer for his deliverance was assuredly conditional; no effectual prayer can be otherwise, so long as those who ask do not certainly know what is absolutely best, while He who is asked knows it well. Such must be all our own prayers; and God often grants our prayers most effectually by denying us the exact thing we ask—

“What may conduce

To my most healthful use,

Almighty God! me grant;

But that or this

That hurtful is

Deny thy suppliant.”—Herrick.