November 17th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-17-74 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you this glorious day on radio and television, sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The pastor is preaching through the Book of James, and I have come to the fifth chapter. And the message today is on an example of prayer; and the message is entitled Effectual Praying—“the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man” [James 5:16]. The context begins at verse 13 in chapter 5:
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Prayer and means; all of these pharmaceutical gifts that heal us, God gave them to us. Who put penicillin here in the earth? The Lord did. To pray and to use means let him pray over him, using medicinal oil, in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be whole and sound and healed.
Now the passage of the text:
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three and a half years.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
It is only an atheist who doesn’t pray. Even sometimes he will be forced to his knees and call upon the name of God. But all of God’s people would find prayer as natural in their lives as it is to breathe, or to eat, or to drink, or to lie down and sleep. The man who belongs to God will pray, especially, particularly, emphatically, significantly is that true when we come to any crisis in life. A few days ago, one of our beloved members came by the church and came up to see me and said, “I face a severe and heavy operation. I just wondered if you would pray with me.” This is the natural response and reaction of a child of God, to pray.
Now God made it that way when He put the world together and put us together in it; that was a part of the program of the Lord: that we ask, that we pray, that we talk to God, that we bare our souls open and naked before the Lord. God could have made it that He just does what He does and the universe is run as it is run, without any intercession, without any appeal, without any praying on our part. I guess God could have put us together in a home and you never talk to each other, but it would be a strange thing, the way God has made us, that if we were together we would never talked to each other.
It’s the same thing about God and His creation; God made it where we would talk to each other. In fact, I think if a man preached on Genesis and said that God created the man and his wife for fellowship with the Lord, somebody that God could talk to and talk to Him, somebody whom God could love and who would love God, I think he’d have a good exegesis of the matter. I don’t think mountains, and oceans, and stars, and seas, and continents particularly thrill God, but I think talking to Him would, and loving Him would, and praying to Him would.
And the Bible has a very beautiful, beautiful imagery of how God looks upon our praying. It is the imagery of a sweet savor, of a fragrance, of incense that mounts upward, curls upward, smokes upward, rises upward to God [Psalm 141:2]. That’s all through the Bible. Had you entered the Holy Place in the sanctuary of the Lord, in the tabernacle or the temple, on the left side you would have found the seven-branched golden candlestick, on the right side you would have found the golden table of showbread, but in the center you would have found the altar of prayer, a golden incense container. It was situated just before the veil [Hebrews 9:1-2]. And when the priest went in, he went in with incense and burned it on that golden altar [Luke 1:9]. And while the people prayed outside in the courtyard, the fragrance of the incense mounted upward to God [Luke 1:10]—all of which was a picture, an imagery, of how God looks upon our praying [Psalm 144:2].
In the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, which is the dramatic presentation of the Lamb of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, prevailing to take the book out of the hand of Him who sat upon the throne, the book of redemption, and to open the seals thereof [Revelation 5:5], and to look upon the pages, it says, look, “And when He,” the Lord Christ, “had taken the book, the four cherubim and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, fragrances, which are the payers of the saints” [Revelation 5:7-8].
Now I turn to the eighth chapter of the Revelation, “And another angel,” verse 3:
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 saints upon the golden altar which was 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.
The imagery is all through the Holy Scriptures. Our praying is like fragrance that comes up to the Lord, and the sweet savor of it delights God in heaven [Psalm 144:2].
There’s an old Talmudic legend, an old Jewish legend, concerning Sandalphon, the angel of prayer, and the story of his assignment in glory. Someone, whom I do not know, someone has stated in verse. This is it. This is concerning Sandalphon, the angel of prayer in heaven:
Standing erect at the outermost gates
Of the City Celestial he waits,
With his feet on the ladder of light,
. . .
. . . listening breathless
To the sounds that ascend from below,
From the spirits on earth that adore,
From the souls that entreat and implore
In the fervor and passion of prayer;
From the hearts that are broken with losses,
And weary with dragging their crosses
Too heavy for mortals to bear.
And he gathers the prayers as he stands,
And they change to flowers in his hands,
Into garlands of purple and red;
And beneath the great arch of the portal,
Through the streets of the City Immortal
Is wafted the fragrance they shed.
[from “Sandalphon,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]
Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment? So biblical; our prayers ascend up into heaven, and the angel, as he presents them before God they are turned into fragrances, like flowers that smell beautiful. And there they come up before God in beautiful, precious intercession.
Now, the illustration that the pastor uses is a tremendous one:
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it did not rain for three and a half years.
Then he prayed again, no less earnestly, fervently, and the heaven gave her rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
He was certainly a man of passions, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are” [James 5:17]. This mountain of a man with the whirlwind of heaven in his heart, he was volative. He was volcanic. He was eruptive. He was, as the pastor writes in James, “a man of passions” [James 5:17].
In a passion of anger, he stood before Ahab and Jezebel [1 Kings 18:17-19]. In a passion of contempt and scorn, he ridiculed the false prophets of Baal and Baal himself [1 Kings 18:25-29]. In a passion and fury of iconoclasm, he destroyed the places and the high scenes of idolatry in Israel [1 Kings 18:30-40]. In a passion of intercession and prayer, he asked God for rain upon the thirsting earth [1 Kings 18:41-45; James 5:17-18]. In a passion of ecstasy, he ran before the chariot of Ahab from Carmel to Jezreel, a distance of thirty miles [1 Kings 18:46]. And in a like passion of despondency and melancholia, running from Jezebel, he sat in grief and despair under the juniper tree [1 Kings 19:1-4].
He was certainly that, a man of passions. But he was at the same time a mysterious man, a strange and unearthly man. He would suddenly appear before Ahab and just as suddenly go away [1 Kings 17:1-5]. He would suddenly appear before Obadiah and just as suddenly be gone [1 Kings 18:7-12]. He would suddenly appear before Ahaziah and his companies of fifty and then just as quickly disappear [2 Kings 1:2-4]. He would suddenly appear before Elisha, then before his very eyes be carried away into glory, this strange and solitary prophet, Elijah [2 Kings 2:11].
Can you see that white page? That is the end of the Old Testament. And how does it end? “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” [Malachi 4:5]. When I turn the page, having seen how the Old Testament closes with Elijah, I see that the New Testament opens with the same prophet. “I will send you Elijah before My face, and he shall prepare the way of Messiah’s coming” [Matthew 3:1-3; 11:10].
And John the Baptist, as his father Zechariah said, “Going in the power and spirit of Elijah” [Luke 1:17], announced the coming of the kingdom. And in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, when the Lord is saying to the disciples, concerning His coming, the disciples replied:
Master, it is our understanding that Elijah shall precede the coming of the Messiah.
And the Lord answered and said unto them, Elijah truly must come, and restore all things.
But I say unto you, That Elijah has already come, and they knew him not, and they have done with him whatsoever they would, they cut off his head.
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
This man Elijah, closing the Old Testament, opening the New Testament, and some of us believe that when the Lord Jesus comes again He will be preceded by the return of the prophet Elijah. What a mountain of a man; great, solitary stalwart, standing for God in a day and an age of absolute apostasy, like America today, corrupt and evil and becoming more so with the passing of every hour.
You see, from the top echelon, from the top crust of Israel, where Jezebel the queen presided, from the upper crust to the lowest mud seal, including those sorry characters, suborn, bought off, who witnessed against Naboth in his own inheritance [1 Kings 21:5-13], the whole nation was corrupt. Like America today, it festers with evil, and promiscuity, and pornography, and drunkenness, and drugs, and blasphemy!
Anyone who would call America “Christian” today uses language that has lost its meaning. America is no more Christian than any other of the nations of the world. It is secular and evil and becoming more so every day. America’s not turning to God. If you found one of those men in Washington down on his knees praying to God as the great general and first president of the United States did at Valley Forge, if you found one of them doing it, you’d say, “This is very unusual. It’s unusual, very unusual, you ought to take his picture. Somebody ought to paint it. It’s very unusual.” Elijah lived in a day like that. And alone, alone, he gave himself as a champion for God, for revival, for turning the people back to the Lord God.
I cannot help but pause here to remark on the fearlessness of God’s saints; absolutely unafraid. When a man is full of the Holy Ghost he is bold and fearless, absolutely, before anyone upon any occasion in the earth. I read, for example, as I prepared this message, I read about Francis of Assisi. In 1215 he journeyed with a few of his disciples to Egypt and to Palestine, there to present the cause of Christ, to preach the gospel to the Islamic world.
And he stood before Kamil, the sultan—a sultan is the Mohammedan ruler of an Islamic nation—Francis stood before Kamil, the sultan of Egypt, there to present the claims of Christ. And the bold fearlessness of the man, and at the same time his deep Christian humility, made a profound impression upon the sultan.
Anyway, upon a day, Francis was appealing to the sultan. And as he spoke, interdiction came from the priests of Mohammed. And they addressed the sultan and said, “Sire, you are learned in the law and you are sworn to uphold it by the hand of Mohammed, the prophet of God. And we are asking you therefore to take off the heads of these men.” And when the request was made, Francis of Assisi replied and said, “Sire, I have tried to get your priests to talk to me, and they will not do it. Maybe they will act for you.”
Thus spoke Francis to the sultan and said, “Cause a great fire to be built. Heat the furnace seven times hotter, and I and my disciples will enter the fire. And you cause the priests of Islam also to enter the fire, to walk into the furnace. And we shall see whose faith is true and whose God answers prayer.” By the time that Francis had done his address and had presented his challenge, the priests of Islam, horrified at the thought, silently dissolved away.
And when Francis was done, he was standing there by himself, with his little handful of Christian followers. And the sultan looked around, seeing all of the Islamic devotees gone, and said, “It must be that my priests worship with words and not by faith.” Now you just think of the fearlessness of a saint of God like Francis that would dare do a thing like that: “Build a fire and I’ll walk in it, and we’ll see whose God answers.”
Now that’s the stuff God’s saints are made of. We may not have many today, but they have been innumerable in days past, and Elijah was one of them; fearless and bold, standing on Mt. Carmel, testing whether it be Baal or Jehovah God by fire [1 Kings 18:20-40]. So he got on his face and prayed, and he prayed that God would withhold rain from the earth [James 5:17; 1 Kings 17:1]. Why that? Because the people needed to remember and to know and to come back to the God upon whom our life and living depend.
It is God who gives us breath. It is God who gives us length of days. It is God who sends the rain. It is God who makes the germinating seed to sprout and gives us fruit, and fertility, and increase, and abundance. Our lives are dependent upon God. And in order to show that dependence, Elijah prayed the Lord would withhold rain from the earth. And God listened to a man praying.
The earth turned to iron and the heavens turned to brass. The cold stars looked down from the sky and there was no dew. The water courses were dried up, and there was no vegetation. The earth, burned and dry, cracked into great fissures. Even the Brook Cherith, where Elijah was fed by the ravens, dried up [1 Kings 17:1-7].
And the whole earth cried and moaned in its grief, and the people suffered in their poverty, and famine, and death. And after three and a half years, Elijah, the man of God, knelt once again before the Lord and prayed [1 Kings 18:42, 45; James 5:18]. And this time he prayed, saying, “O God, the suffering of the people, they can find rest only in the grave. Lord, open the windows of heaven and send blessings and showers and rain from Thy gracious hand.”
And he prayed six times and there was no answer [1 Kings 18:42-43]. And when he prayed the seventh time, his servant came back from looking out over the great sea from the top of Mt. Carmel and brought the announcement, “My father, there is over the sea a cloud just the size of a man’s hand” [1 Kings 18:44]. If God helps at all, He will help mightily. If God thus sends an advanced guard, the great battalions are following. And Elijah stood up and said to Ahab, “Up, get thee up, for there is a sound of abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41]. And God answered a man’s prayer and brought refreshing showering rain upon the thirsting earth [1 Kings 18:45; James 5:18].
But you say and rightly say, because James knew you would say it, and that’s why he writes the text, but you say, “That’s no illustration for me. How could I ever mount up in fearless boldness and in faith like Elijah? To compare me with Elijah is no illustration at all. And to talk to me about prayer as you speak here concerning Elijah means nothing to me; I’m not in the same world. How could that be an encouragement to me?”
Well, James was the pastor of the church, and he lived among his people, and he knew them well, and he knew we were going to say that. So that’s the reason he wrote it like it is. He says, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are” [James 5:17], homoiopathe. You know that, “homo, homo,” like. If you have homogenized milk, it’s milk the same all the way through it. It doesn’t separate cream from skim milk; it stays the same, “homo” milk, milk all the way through. Pathes, if I change the pronunciation of it, pathos, pathos, feeling; “Elijah was a man, homoiopathe, he’s a man just as we are, feeling such as we are”; exalted sometimes, cast down sometimes, a man just like us.
You’ll find that same word homoiopathes used in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas healed the lame man at Lystra [Acts 14:8-10], the people came out to offer sacrifices, saying, “The gods have come down to earth in the likeness of men” [Acts 14:11]. And when Paul saw it, he rent his garments, saying, “Do it not, for we are homoiopathes, as you, we are men of like living, like failing, like passions as you are, just like you” [Acts 14:14-15]. And that’s what James says here about the prophet: “He is a man just like us, just like us” [James 5:17], and he prayed in the hour of need [James 5:18].
In the poor home at Zarephath, when the widow’s son died, Elijah prayed, and God heard his prayer and restored the son to the arms of his mother [1 Kings 17:17-24]. He was a man just as we are. Just like us, but he prayed.
Now there were two ways that he prayed, and both of those ways are ours for the having, for the possessing, for the taking. Now you look at the text: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” [James 5:16]. First, of the two things in that, “a righteous man,” God has deference, God pays deference to a righteous man. A righteous man can’t talk to God and God not hear him, and the Lord not heed him. God listens.
When Abraham stood before the Lord and God said, “I am going to destroy the cities of the plain,” Abraham said, “God, if there were fifty righteous, You would not destroy the righteous with the wicked, would You?” God has deference to a righteous man, and fifty of them—the Lord said, “No.” And Abraham said, listen, “If there were five lacking of fifty, You would not destroy the city for lack of five?” “No,” said God, “if there are forty-five, I’ll spare it.”
“If there are forty, thirty, twenty, ten?” [Genesis 18:22-32]. And the reason Abraham stopped at ten, he took it for granted that Lot, righteous Lot, and his family, and the friends that he would have won to the Lord in that length of time would have spared the city. But there were not even ten. Had there been ten there would have been no destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
God listens to, pays deference, to a righteous man. And when a man who is righteous before God, who coming in the blood of Christ and in the forgiveness of sin, when a man who is righteous stands before God and pleads his cause, God listens to him. The Book says so [James 5:16]. God has deference, pays deference to a righteous man.
And the other thing is; that the prayer be fervent, fervent [James 5:16]; that it come from a heart that comes in the name of Christ, washed in the blood of the Lamb, made righteous in the sight of God. And the other, that the prayer be fervent. In the translation here, you look at it in English and it’s a beautiful thing, what it says.
When you look at it as James the pastor wrote it, it has just a little more emphasis to it. In the English, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” [James 5:16]. Polu ischuei, polu ischuō, polu is much. Ischuō means “to be strong, to be able, to prevail.” It’s strong, able, prevailing, what? The “prayer of a righteous man” energoumene, we’d say, a participle from energeō, energeō.
Now, you know that word. That’s no new word to you, energeō, “energy”; energeō, energeō means “to work.” It means “to accomplish.” Prayer from a righteous man offered to God, earnestly, fervently, has energy in it! [James 5:17]. God did it that way. It just does.
A little tiny, invisible, microscopic, infinitesimal atom has more energy in it than anything else in this earth, energy! Who put it there? God did it. God made it that way. And God did that in prayer. There is energy in it. There is moving in it. There is accomplishment in it. There is ableness in it. There is power in it. There is moving in it! God did that.
If you want power in the church, pray. If you want power in the pulpit, pray. If you want power in the nation, pray. If you want power in the work, pray. There’s energeo, there is energy. There is power in it! And I think just like God, just as God has done with the atom, there’s more power in it than anything in the universe; there is also the same in prayer. There’s more power in it than in anything that we can do. We can work and work and work and work. It’s not half as effective as to pray and pray and pray. We go farthest when we go on our knees. Energy and power; I must close.
Did you know in my reading, in the life of Hudson Taylor, he was back here in America, and a young man said to him, “I feel called of God to be a missionary. I’d love to go with you to China. But I am no preacher. I cannot speak effectively, and I just melt in a public audience. I cannot preach. I cannot speak.” And Hudson Taylor said, “Can you pray?” And the young man replied, “Yes, I know how to pray. I can pray.” And the great missionary founder of the China Inland Mission said to the young fellow, “We’ve got too many preachers on the mission field already, compared to the few numbers of prayers that we have. We need more prayers more than we need more preachers. You come.”
So the young man went to the mission field as a man of prayer. And the thing I read said this: that the people passing by the little place where he lived would stop and listen to the tears, and the cries, and the agonies of intercession of that man as he prayed for their souls. And the thing that I read said that people began coming to the house asking for help, and encouragement, and guidance. And the story ended saying that the ministry of that man of prayer was greater and far more far reaching than all of the preachers that they had in that province in China.
When I read that I thought, “That’s not strange or unusual. I can see how a thing like that would be true.” If you had a man who knew how to pray and could get hold of the throne of God in heaven, I can see how people would seek him out, “Pray for me. I’m having a hard time. Pray for me. It’s a difficult way. Pray for me. It’s dark and I don’t see through to the light. Remember me.”
As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, respond with your life. On the first note of the first stanza, come. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Prayerlessness is practical atheism(James 5:11, 13-14)
B. The prayers of the people of God
1. In love and adoration, a sweet incense before God(Revelation 5:8, 8:3)
a. Talmudic legend of Sandalphon, the angel of prayer
2. In time of need, a source of illimitable powerII. The example of Elijah (James 5:16)
A. A mountain of a man, with a whirlwind for a heart
1. A man of passions
2. A volcanic suddenness about him (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 2:11)
3. Stood in solitary grandeur(Malachi 4:5, Matthew 3:1-3, 17:10-13, Luke 1:17)
B. Israel in days of Elijah corrupt, depraved
1. Elijah alone undertook revival – fearless, praying
a. Francis of Assisi before Sultan Kamil 1215 AD
D. His intercession before God – petition on Mt. Carmel(1 Kings 18:41-45)III. But I can’t do that – Elijah no illustration at all
A. James knew his people; that they would despair at this example(James 5:17, Acts 14:13-15)
1. Wrote that Elijah was a man like us, and he prayed in the hour of need(1 Kings 17:8-16)
B. Effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16)
1. God pays deference to a righteous man(Genesis 18:22-32)
2. The fervent prayer has energy, power in it
a. Hudson Taylor