FOR information about Christopher Love, see Book Review . The following piece is from The Works of that Faithful Servant of Christ, Mr Christopher Love, vol 1, 1805. The volume, which consists of most instructive, searching and readable sermons, has been republished by Soli Deo Gloria Publications. It costs £25.95, but is available at £21.50 from The Free Presbyterian Bookroom, Glasgow.
What follows here is about importunity in prayer – part of a sermon on the text, “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth” (Luke 11:8). Christopher Love asks the question, “Wherein lies the difference betwixt that holy importunity, in the hearts of God’s people, and the seeming importunity which flows from the gifts of nature?” His answer (which we have had to abbreviate somewhat) is as follows.
1. An holy importunity makes a man restless till his prayers be heard. Psalm 143:6 and 7, “I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.” A thirsty land is never satisfied till it gets rain. So Psalm 119:20, “My soul breaketh for the longing it hath,” and Psalm 42:1, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” The hart never rests till it come to the water. Such is the importunity of a godly man, he is never quiet, never satisfied till his prayers be returned into his bosom.
But it is otherwise with an hypocrite, he may pray for mercy, for pardon of sin, but he can rest contented though God doth not hear him; he can beg grace, but he can be very well satisfied without grace. “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat,” Proverbs 13:4.
2. An holy importunity makes a man more earnest for spiritual, than temporal mercies. This hath been the mind of God’s people: “There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us,” Psalm 4:6. Observe the difference between the mind of David and that of wicked men. Their great question was, Who would show them any temporal good? Who would give them increase of corn and wine? But David’s heart breathed after God’s favour. So Psalm 143:6, “I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee,” and Psalm 63:1, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” David was in a wilderness, he wanted water. One would have thought he should have sought God for water: but David thirsted more for God than for water; he desired spiritual advantages more than temporal enjoyments. This importunity, makes a man to endeavour more against sin than affliction; more to desire saving grace that common mercies.
But now the heart of a hypocrite is more desirous of temporal than spiritual mercies. You read in Hosea 7:14, “And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me.” They howled, for what? Was it for grace and spiritual blessings? No, it was for corn, and wine, and oil; not for grace, not for acquaintance with God. Another instance you have in Acts 8. Simon Magus offered money to purchase the Holy Ghost. Was his end in desiring the Holy Ghost to obtain a spiritual mercy? No, but it was that he might work miracles. And when Peter put him upon begging a spiritual mercy, (verse 22, “Pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee”), Simon Magus followed not Peter’s rule; he had no great desire of the pardon of sin, or any spiritual mercy; but he prays, that none of those things which Peter had spoken of (verse 24) might come upon him. That is, that his money might not perish, nor he perish with it; this was his great request and desire.
3. The holy importunity of God’s people is more in the inward affections of the heart than in the outward expressions of words. Psalm 38:9, “All my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hid from thee.” David’s heart panted and failed him (verse 10) but not a word is there of expressions of words, though his expressions were very good. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” Romans 8:26. It is said, “The four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints,” Revelation 5:6. They are called odours for their sweetness; golden, for their excellency; and vials, which are vessels of large extent in the belly, but narrow mouthed. The hearts of God’s people are like vials, many times enlarged within, when they may be straitened in their words and expressions. There are often most dilated desires in the hearts of the saints, and yet they themselves narrow-mouthed so that they are not able to utter.
But now it is otherwise with hypocrites; they have more in the outward expression than in the inward activity. It was God’s complaint against the Jews of old they drew nigh to Him with their lips, when their hearts were far from Him. An hypocrite indeed performs duty, but his duties never reach to his heart: they are like a pot that is hot at top, but cold at bottom.
4. An holy importunity makes a man more enlarged before God in secret, than before men in public. “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” The voice of Christ’s church is sweet to Him, even when she is in secret and none but God beholds her.
But an hypocrite doth never care to have secret communion with God; he cares not to pray alone; and if he be brought to that he takes no care of his heart, he curbs not his thoughts; all his care is in popular applause. The hypocrite may be resembled to a nightingale which sings sweetest when one is near her. So carnal men, when others are witnesses of their actions, put forth the utmost of their ability. Like Jehu, they are zealoues in order that others would see it” (2 Kings 10:16).
5. This holy importunity makes a godly man the more humble, the more enlarged he is to prayer. He looks upon his enlargements as not coming from his natural abilities, but as the gracious gift of God’s Spirit. So he hath nothing whereof to boast; and so it makes him low in his own eyes. You know a violet, one of the sweetest flowers, grows lowest in the earth. The fullest ears of corn do hang down most: the fullest barrels make the least noise: so the most gracious heart is the most low and vile in its own apprehension. The fuller he is of divine discoveries, or enlargement, the less boast doth he make in the world. The heavier a ship is laden, the less it is tossed with winds and waves; the more empty it is, the more it is lifted up above the water; so the more empty a man is, the more tossed too and fro he is with every wind of applause. Grace is, as it were, the ballast of the soul, to keep down a man’s spirits, and make him humble in the midst of gifts. “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” Be not puffed up, do not boast of your enlargements. Sobriety is opposed to pride, and watchfulness is opposed to remissness and deadness and carelessness of spirit in the performance of duties. Thus it is with a sincere man that hath this true importunity in him.
But now wicked men, if ever they have enlargement in duty, it puffs them up. It is with them, as it was with Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16), when God had helped him marvellously, till he was strong. But when he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction. When God helps the soul of such a man in duty, it makes him to lift up himself against God, and be puffed up above his brethren.
6. He that hath this holy importunity in him, his desires are rather quickened than abated by denials. You find this in the woman of Canaan, Matthew 15:22. She cried unto Christ saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” Jesus Christ takes no notice of her; He answers her not a word, verse 23. That is discouragement. One would have thought she would desist, but she prayed again, and the disciples besought Him to send her away. That is another discouragement, which would have knocked off many; but she continues her request still. Jesus Christ Himself answers her, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” That is a third discouragement; and yet that doth not cool her affections, but she comes afresh to Christ, and worships Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” She found yet another repulse, and that worse than the former. “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,” Matthew 15:26. Christ, you see, calls her a dog; and yet all this doth not cast her off, but she takes encouragement even from this discouraging answer: “And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” She was resolved she would not give over, till she got what she came for. Denials are to the saints, as water to the smiths’s forge, when it is sprinkled upon it, it is so far from cooling or quenching it, that it makes it burn with greater heat; so the denials and discouragements God’s people meet with, to make their desires stronger, their affections to burn the hotter.
But to an hypocrite, denials and discouragement take off the wheels of his affections so that they move slowly and heavily, Job 21:15, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” As if to say, “We get no good by it, the mercies we ask are not yet in our hands.” Now this argues a sinful impatience, and a want of holy importunity.
7. Holy importunity is kindled in the heart, by the motion and operations of God’s blessed Spirit. Galatians 4:6, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” In the time of the law those sacrifices that were accepted were burnt with fire from heaven, Leviticus 9:24, “And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering.” And so also in Elijah’s time, 1 Kings 18:38. When Elijah had laid his sacrifice upon the altar of the Lord, “then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” The true importunity is from above, it is a fire kindled by God Himself in the hearts of his people.
But there is another importunity that comes only from natural principles, from natural abilities, a strong memory, a profound judgment, a ready wit, a fluent tongue; and these are very advantageous to the duty. There is the gift of prayer as well as the grace of prayer. Some are importunate in prayer out of fleshly respects. Now this is but a counterfeit prayer. . . .
What are the reasons why God’s people must labour for this holy importunity in prayer? Because God hath tied and promised returns not to the persons praying, but to the qualifications of their prayers. When Scripture makes mention of this duty of prayer, it doth also mention several concomitants that must go along with it to make it acceptable. . . And so we are commanded to pray earnestly, and fervently, and importunately. So David did, Psalm 55:17, “I will pray and cry aloud, and he shall hear my voice.” So also in Romans 15:30, “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” ” I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.”