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Phila delphia > On Persevering Prayer for Others by Charles G. Finney from "The Oberlin Evangelist"

The Oberlin Evangelist

Lecture II
On Persevering Prayer for Others

Charles G. Finney

Charles G. Finney

A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age

  Wisdom is Justified

by Charles Grandison Finney

Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart

from "The Oberlin Evangelist"
January 17, 1855

Lecture II.

by the Rev. C. G. Finney

Text.--Luke 11:5-8: "And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves: for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. 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."

I. Prayer offered for others, and the encouragement we have for such prayer;

II. Why should we pray for others?

III. Perseverance in prayer.

IV. But why do not men pray more for others?

I. I propose, in speaking from this passage, to treat the prayer offered for others, and the encouragement we have for such prayer.

But some of you perhaps did not fully understand me when I said in my last sermon that prayer did not change God's nature and purposes. Some men say--"Prayer must change God's plans if he answers it." No, never. It has always been God's plan to hear and answer prayer. This has always entered into his purposes.

Again, God's immutability implies that he will answer prayer. It would be strange indeed if God should not change his course in answer to prayer, if he be indeed immutable. If he were not to change for right prayer, it would prove him to be not good--it would imply that he had ceased to be benevolent; indeed, it would undeify him at once. When you come to resolve this idea into its elements, you will see that it subverts the whole idea of God and of his attributes. It must imply that God's creatures might come into any position before him, and he can never answer their prayers.

But many say--I can see how prayer may benefit myself, but cannot see how it can benefit others. I reply, the latter can easily be seen. No man can read the Bible without seeing that this is the fact--prayer does benefit others. No man can study his own convictions without seeing evidence of it. If prayer never could benefit others, the fact would belie all our innate convictions.

I have heard of another case, of a man in his sins, praying for a sick child. God heard, and wonderful to say, God answered, and the case made an impression on his mind which terminated in his speedy conversion.

II. Let us now ask--Why should we pray for others? Why has God so constituted us that we feel that we may and must pray for others? I answer,

Again, prayer for each other draws us into a deeper consideration of each other's wants. When you begin to pray for another, you are compelled to study his character, his temptations, his wants. This opens the way for a richer heart-union.

Again, prayer for others draws us into sympathy with God's love, and with his feelings towards his people. We may blame them more, or may pity them more; or it may be that we shall simply love them more;--but, however this may be, we shall be more likely to have the same mind towards them that God has.

Again, it is intrinsically fit and proper that God should manifest his pleasure in every case of disinterested importunity for the souls of others. The case may be that of a stranger to you, yet your heart becomes deeply engaged and your very soul takes hold of the case; God sees it with delight. What do you want, my child, says he. I want this soul should be converted, you reply. Is there not some propriety in God's being pleased with this prayer? God looks on this suppliant, saying--"You come not to plead for yourself, not for life, not for any temporal good; but for your enemy. You come to pray for your enemy and you want I should convert his soul. I will do it." Indeed, I suppose that, other things being equal, a sincere prayer offered for any enemy is more sure to be granted than any other prayer. But whether offered for an enemy, or for a friend, it is impossible that God should not be greatly influenced by self-sacrificing, really benevolent prayer. He must be if he loves real benevolence, and seeks to promote it among his creatures.

Again, prayer for others needs this encouragement. If we were to pray earnestly for others and God did not regard it, we should lose confidence in prayer, not to say also in God himself.

III. I come next to speak of the importance of perseverance in prayer.

The case of Jacob struggling with the angel of the covenant, is in point here. It was only after he had safely passed the crisis, and said, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me," that the Lord blessed him as he prayed.

IV. But why do not men pray more for others?


1. Brethren, what is your state of mind in regard to the various objects of prayer around you? How do you feel for the young people gathered here? Do you sympathize earnestly in prayer for the elder members of the church? What is your state of mind towards the impenitent? Are you praying in earnest for those who have long time remained impenitent among us? Do you feel deeply for the strangers who are coming among us? Will you allow me to ask you in all faithfulness, have you the spirit of prayer for others? As a preacher, I think I can tell when you pray by the light I experience in my own mind when I study my sermons, and by the effect my words produce on the minds of my hearers. Do you not know that when some are agonizing in prayer, some sinners are correspondingly struggling under conviction? Just in proportion to the amount and power of struggling prayer will be the struggles of those who are smitten with arrows of convicting truth.

2. Some of you who once prayed with earnestness and power, I fear have lost that spirit, or have let it sorely languish. Let me ask you all--Have you as much of the spirit of prayer as you once had? Do you feel bowed down with grief because God's work revives no more? Some of you can answer in the affirmative; but some of you cannot. Some of you must say in truth, there has been a great falling off in prayer, and in interest for souls. On one occasion, as I was preaching on this subject, a man who was represented to be one of the most pious men in the church rose and said, "I am the man--Mr. Finney, you need not say another word; I am the Achan in this camp of Israel; you need not look any further for the Achan--I am he." What he said seemed to have more effect than everything else in the meeting, and was the commencement of a glorious revival.

3. To the students present, let me say--Are you aware how much you can do by praying for each other? Are you in the habit of meeting in little circles for this purpose? Are some of your classmates in their sins, and can you let them live and die so? Are you not in fault for their impenitence? Have you set your heart so intensely upon the conversion of these souls that you cannot live unless they are converted?

4. And will you not all pray for your teachers and stay up their hands and make their hearts strong by your sympathies and your prayers in their behalf? Cry unto God for them that they may be made mighty through God for the converting and saving of precious souls. O, if all the church were filled with the spirit of prayer, what a rush we should see towards the kingdom of heaven, even this very night! What is your practice during our meetings of enquiry? Are you instant in prayer then? It always alarms me in a church to find that few or none enquire about the state of these meetings with anxious sinners. It shows that the hearts of the people are not there. Brethren, do you pray for those who have set their faces enduringly towards Zion?


of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart

  1. Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart, is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE XII).

  2. Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit, but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).

  3. Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).

  4. Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).

  5. Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses: (1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and, (2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established, confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).

  6. Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation. The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  7. Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity, because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  8. Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect... it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE III).

  9. Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).

  10. Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man." Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).

  11. Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).


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