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PRAYER FOR WISDOM.
ST. JAMES i. 5, 6.
“If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.”
When the Scriptures speak of wisdom, they almost always mean spiritual wisdom : that kind of knowledge and good sense, by which men are aware what to do, in order to be fit for eternal life hereafter. What the world means by wisdom-the becoming great and rich, and knowing how to obtain most enjoyment for one's self,—this is no part of the wisdom of the Bible. But a right sense of practical matters, judging truly which are trifles and which are of real consequence, what will please God and what will displease Him—this is indeed wisdom : this is what makes men wise unto salvation.
Now St. James here in the text supposes a person so far in earnest, as to desire the knowledge of the way to please his Maker. Such a person will presently find, that, left to himself, he greatly lacks wisdom-he is far from knowing clearly, on each occasion, what he must do, in order to please God; what thoughts, words, and actions will best prepare him to be happy in Heaven. The Apostle, I say, supposes a man aware of his own blindness and ignorance, and tells him plainly how he may cure it.
Let him ask of God, who giveth unto all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and wisdom shall be given him."
It will be well to consider this gracious promise with an eye to the subject of the services--the Collect, I mean, and the Epistle, appointed by the Church for the present Sunday. They both relate to the use of the holy Scriptures. The Epistle tells us for what purpose the Scriptures were written : viz. for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of God's holy Word, might have hope. The Collect is a prayer, that God's gracious purpose in giving the Bible to man may be fulfilled in us : that we may so read and use the divine Book, as to embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life. In other words, it is a prayer for spiritual wisdom : for what is spiritual wisdom, but a true understanding and remembrance of the Bible, in those matters, on which our life eternal depends ?
According to St. James, then, the key to the Bible, the secret for obtaining the knowledge of God's Truth, is Prayer. If any man lack wisdom, if he feel in himself that he does not hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the holy Scriptures as he could wish, “ let him ask that wisdom of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." You see, the promise is quite express and positive; as is the like promise of our Saviour; “ If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.”
And to encourage us still more in our prayers, we are put in mind that God gives to all; that He gives liberally; that He does not upbraid, or unkindly remind people of His gifts.
He gives to all. The unthankful and the evil receive from Him life and breath, and light and air, and food and raiment, and health and friends, and innumerable blessings and comforts of various kinds. How much more may those expect, by His mercy, to grow better, who sincerely long and pray for improvement. Again, the Almighty gives liberally. He
His hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness. It is His delight to be bountiful; He loves to be good and gracious; HE is never tired of showing kindness. When you pray to Him to do you good, you pray to Him to do that in which He greatly delights. Can there be a greater encouragement to those who seriously desire good things of Him ?
Further, we are put in mind of another circumstance, which, when it is found in men's earthly benefactors, is always accounted a great addition to their kindness. God upbraideth not : that is to say, He does not, like niggardly men, proudly reproach those to whom He has been bountiful, but shows them by His whole way of dealing with them that all His intention is to do them good, Consider what an infinite host of favours we are every one of us receiving from the ALMIGHTY, every day and hour of our lives; and how quietly and silently He goes on, every succeeding day and hour, heaping up new favours upon us. If He call on us to thank and praise Him; if, for that purpose, He remind us of past mercies; it is not for His own sake, but purely for ours; because thanking and praising Him is the best comfort we can have here, and the very preparation for happiness hereafter. Thus you see how truly it is said of the Bountiful Giver of all good to all men, that “ HE upbraideth not;" and therefore no man has occasion to be shy of asking favours of Him, as they naturally are shy of asking favours of each other, as expecting, at some future time, to be reminded of them in a mortifying way. The more they ask of Him, the better He is pleased, provided only they ask devoutly. Instead of reproaching them with all He has done for them before, like proud and weak men when their petitioners keep returning, He encourages them to try again and again : the more we ask the better He is pleased, provided only we ask with a good mind.
Such is the encouragement Christians have to pray—such the sure way by which spiritual wisdom may be attained by all who will. Nevertheless, it is quite plain that few have such wisdom as I have mentioned; few have a right practical understanding of the Scriptures. This is plain, were it only from the circumstance, that Christians agree so little among themselves what the Scriptures really mean : they disagree, not only in small circumstances, but in the most important points of Faith and Practice. Now, it is plain that where this happens, they cannot, more than one of them, be right; and equally plain, that so far as they are wrong, they are wanting in true spiritual wisdom, in the right understanding of the Bible.
Now, how should this be ? that when the very Son of God is come from Heaven to give men understanding, they should still be in blindness and darkness ?
In the first place, many do not pray. The promise of understanding is to prayer; they who ask of God shall receive spiritual wisdom. No wonder if those who neglect to ask, however sharp and knowing they may be in other things, remain as children, without sense or discretion in their judgment of what relates to God's kingdom.
It is to be feared that many great scholars have fallen into grievous errors, in spite of all their shrewdness and industry, for this simple reason, that they were not devout, they did not in earnest ask God's blessing on their labours. But do not imagine, that great scholars only are likely to go wrong in that way. Every man has his own soul to save, and has need to be a scholar in the Scriptures, so far as knowing the way to save it. But if he set about this study, either reading or hearing the Gospel, in a proud, conceited, self-sufficient way, then, the quicker he is in natural understanding, and the more diligent he is to learn, and the more leisure he enjoys, the farther he is likely to go wrong in his notions of the meaning of Scripture. For, depending on himself, he will not ask of God; and not asking, he will not obtain. When I say he will not ask, I do not suppose that any person, imagining himself to be a Christian, entirely neglects Prayer to God. But I mean that he will not ask earnestly; he will not pray from his very heart. That is, in God's sight, he will not pray : for God looks on the very heart, and judges by what he finds there.
Now to these persons of whom I have been speaking, who are too self sufficient to pray, according to the true sense of the word prayer, for a right knowledge of the meaning of the Sacred Scriptures—to them add the infinite number of those who do. pray, but not in faith; and you will cease to wonder that so little should be found of spiritual wisdom even among Christians. For it is most distinctly to be noted, that the promise made by God's Holy Spirit in the text depends on these two conditions: first, that man pray; and secondly, that he pray in faith. Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering : for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed : For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the LORD: a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." Putting the Apostle's words all together, we may perhaps see plainly enough what the faith is which he requires : it is such a faith as will
keep a man from wavering—keep him from being double-minded, divided, unsteady in his ways. People are wanting in this faith ;they waver in their prayers for spiritual wisdom; they are doubleminded, divided, unstable,—when they do not really intend, supposing God shows them the truth, to practise it with all their might. They have faith ;—they are single-minded, simple, steady worshippers of God,—when they truly and heartily purpose to perform His will the moment they know it. Balaam, for example, had not faith, when he desired God to let him know whether it was His will for him to go with Balak's messengers
He doubted not that God was, nor that he was in God's hand: but he did not devoutly give himself up to God, to do what seemed Him good : he wavered between his Maker and the wages of unrighteousness. Therefore, much as he knew of God's wonders, he could not be said to have spiritual wisdom. The Jews at Capernaum had not faith, when they asked our LORD to tell them, “ What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" For when they found that God's work was not such as they had hoped ; that it was altogether a spiritual thing, contrary to their schemes of worldly greatness ; they left our Saviour and walked no more with Him. These examples may serve to show, that the faith which recommends our prayers to God, is when we give ourselves up, in the thought and purpose of our hearts, to obey His gracious will, once made known to us in answer to our prayers.
And perhaps it might be well to bear this in mind, when we are looking at those portions of the Gospel, which promise every thing to faith and prayer. For example, where our Saviour tells His - disciples, “ What things soever ye desire; when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” This, it is likely, may have startled many. For who, it may be said, ever received all the blessings he prayed for? But this is answered by asking again, Who ever, when he prayed, believed that he received what he asked for, in the full meaning of our Saviour's words ? For by such belief, it should seem that He meant such a faith as St. James describes in the tex : full trust in Him, and entire submission to His holy will. Any person so minded, any person thoroughly willing to let God choose for him, would in reality always believe that he receives of God