Note: This portion was extracted from 7 Essential Subjects For All Christians.
If I were honest, I would have to admit that all too often I find myself disinterested in hearing what certain individuals have to say on a number of given topics. This is especially true when it comes to politics. Indeed, I find myself dismissive of what some have to offer if they do not hold to my particular set of beliefs. How can they offer anything instructive on X when they cannot even get Y correct? I reason, as I justify in my mind why I should not bother to listen to what they have to say.
But what if God acted on that same principle? What if God thought, Why should I listen to anything they have to say, since they are clearly wrong? If so, we’d all be in trouble. But we need not worry about that. Fortunately for us, God hears our prayers, despite our inadequacies. That is to say, when the psalmist recorded the words, “O thou that hearest prayer” (Psa. 65:2), he was accurately portraying God as one who is ready, eager, and willing to hear the prayers of mankind—even those who insufficiently and erroneously approach him.
Preaching in the eighteenth century, philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards approached this verse and offered some helpful remarks. In part of that address, Edwards addressed the question: Why is God so ready to hear the prayers of mankind? Here is his answer to that question.
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To this I answer,
1. Because he is a God of infinite grace and mercy. It is indeed a very wonderful thing, that so great a God should be so ready to hear our prayers, though we are so despicable and unworthy: that he should give free access at all times to every one; should allow us to be persistent without esteeming it an indecent boldness; should be so rich in mercy to them that call upon him; that worms of the dust should have such power with God by prayer; that he should do such great things in answer to their prayers, and should show himself, as it were, overcome by them. This is very wonderful, when we consider the distance between God and us, and how we have provoked him by our sins, and how unworthy we are of the least gracious notice. It cannot be from any need that God stands in of us; for our goodness extendeth not to him. Neither can it be from anything in us to incline the heart of God to us; it cannot be from any worthiness in our prayers, which are in themselves polluted things. But it is because God delights in mercy and condescension. He is herein infinitely distinguished from all other gods: he is the great fountain of all good, from whom goodness flows as light from the sun.
2. We have a glorious Mediator, who has prepared the way, that our prayers may he heard consistently with the honor of God’s justice and majesty. Not only has God in himself mercy sufficient for this, but the Mediator has provided that this mercy may be exercised consistently with the divine honor. Through him we may come to God for mercy; he is the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the Father but by him. This Mediator hath done three things to make way for the hearing of our prayers.
(1.) He hath by his blood made atonement for sin; so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass. By his atonement he hath made the way to the throne of grace open. God would have been infinitely gracious if there had been no Mediator; but the way to the mercy-seat would have been blocked up. But Christ hath removed whatever stood in the way. The veil which was before the mercy-seat “is rent from the top to the bottom,” by the death of Christ. If it had not been for this, our guilt would have remained as a wall of brass to hinder our approach. But all is removed by his blood (Heb. 10:17).
(2.) Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, that is to say, that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard. He has not only removed the obstacles to our prayers, but has merited a hearing of them. His merits are the incense that is offered with the prayers of the saints, which renders them a sweet savor to God, and acceptable in his sight. Hence the prayers of the saints have such power with God; hence at the prayer of a poor worm of the dust God stopped the sun in his course for about the space of a whole day; hence Jacob as a prince had power with God, and prevailed. Our prayers would be of no account, and of no avail with God, were it not for the merits of Christ.
(3.) Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven. He hath entered for us into the holy of holies, with the incense which he hath provided, and there he makes continual intercession for all that come to God in his name; so that their prayers come to God the Father through his hands, if I may so say; which is represented in Revelations 8:3-4:
“And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God, out of the angel’s hand.”
This was typified of old by the priest’s offering incense in the temple, at the time when the people were offering up their prayers to God; as Luke informs us: “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense” (Luke 1:10).