The Power of Prayer

There are many encouragements to pray from the examples set before us in the Bible. One leading example is that of Elijah, or Elias, as he is called in James 5:17-18. There we read the following:

‘Elias 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 years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.’

Here we may note two things. First, the man who prayed and second, the power of his prayer.

Firstly, it was Elias who prayed. An Old Testament saint. A prophet of God. As we may see from his life, in the matters recorded in Scripture, he was one whom God cared for. In time of famine the LORD provided for him, be it by the brook Cherith or via the hospitality of the poor widow woman. We may be ready to say, no wonder the prayers of so godly a man, so singular a figure, were heard. But how is he set forth in the passage above? ‘Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are…’ he was a man, subject to becoming discouraged and at times afraid. Thomas Manton comments: “Well then, God’s children, that travail under the burden of infirmities, may take comfort; such conflicts are not inconsistent with faith and piety: other believers are thus exercised, none ever went to heaven but there was some work for his ‘faith and patience’ (Manton on The General Epistle of James p.467 Banner of Truth Trust)

Secondly, note the power of his prayer. He prayed earnestly. He prayed from the heart. His petitions were sincere. Here, he is an example to us. By God’s grace he prayed earnestly and such prayers were heard. Prayer closed and opened heaven to rain in his case. What a mighty power! Matthew Henry writes, “This instance of the extraordinary efficacy of prayer is recorded for encouragement even to ordinary Christians to be instant and earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.”

So, in regard to the devastating bush fires in Australia, may we be strengthened in faith to pray for rain, which is so badly needed. In verse 16 we read, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And Manton makes a good point in writing, “Prayer is a good remedy in the most desperate cases, and when you are lost to all other hopes, you are not lost to the hopes of prayer.” (Manton on The General Epistle of James p.471).

So too, in the New Year, and New Decade, may we be given grace to pray to the Hearer of prayer, through the Mediator Jesus Christ, having confidence of being heard in the matters we bring before Him, through Christ.

As the Saviour said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

G B Macdonald




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Paul’s Prayer for Believers in Ephesus

A number of Paul’s epistles are to Christians living in cities. Believers in Ephesus were surrounded by those who worshiped idols and persons of various cultures and religions. These Christians had need to be prayed for, and Paul was not unmindful of them. In chapter 1 of Ephesians the apostle includes a prayer for these believers in Christ.

Interestingly, in verses 15 and 16 we read of some graces they had which drew out a spirit of prayer in the heart of the apostle for them. “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints. Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers…” He had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love to all the saints. Matthew Henry writes, ‘One inducement to pray for them was the good account he had of them, of their faith in the Lord Jesus and love to all the saints. Faith in Christ and love to the saints, will be attended with all other graces.’ When we hear of those who have faith in the Lord Jesus we should give thanks, for it is the Holy Spirit who grants this grace. When we hear of those who bear a good witness by way of their love to all the saints this should encourage us to pray for such.

But what did he pray for? Surely they had already attained much in having faith and love, what more could be needed? Matthew Henry observes, ‘Now what is it that Paul prays for in behalf of the Ephesians? Not that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound: he means it of a practical and experimental knowledge.’

This increase in knowledge is most needful, even among the most sanctified of the Lord’s people here on earth. John Calvin notes, ‘The knowledge of the godly is never so pure but that some bleariness troubles their eyes and obscurity hinders them.’ (J Calvin – Commentary on Ephesians). Much of the comfort of the gospel is in our understanding being enlightened, to embrace the promises and doctrines of the gospel of Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. As Matthew Henry comments, ‘The graces and comforts of the Spirit are communicated to the soul by the enlightening of the understanding.’

May we be among those that have faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints and who are granted that enlightening of our understanding to be further blessed, through the working of the Spirit of God.

G B Macdonald


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“Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”

“Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” this was the question posed to Abraham and, in virtue of her questioning, surely to Sarah too, in Genesis 18:14.

The LORD had promised repeatedly that Abraham should have a son. He had just before promised again that the child of promise would be by Sarah. The LORD was going to show that He was faithful to His promise – Sarah would have a son, and did – Isaac.

But before Sarah conceived, her faith in the divine promise must needs be strengthened. She had, through long and painful experience of childlessness, come to see that, without the divine blessing, there could be no son. She was now, according to the flesh, past childbearing age. She recognised this, as did Abraham. However, God purposed that Isaac would be the child of this marriage union. His word was clear, “Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10). As Sarah heard this she was amazed. How could this be? The answer to that question was given, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”

This question should encourage the Lord’s people in every generation. The world, the flesh and the devil, are all set against the advance of the gospel, within the soul of the individual believer and also the advance of the gospel in the world. But, in spite of all opposition, well might the people of God reflect, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?”

John Calvin, in his comments on this chapter writes:

‘But if we thoroughly investigate the source of distrust, we shall find that the reason why we doubt of God’s promises is because we sinfully detract from his power. For as soon as any extraordinary difficulty occurs, then, whatever God has promised, seems to us fabulous; yea, the moment he speaks, the perverse thought insinuates itself, How will he fulfil his promises? Being bound down, and pre-occupied by such narrow thoughts, we exclude his power, the knowledge of which is better to us than a thousand worlds. In short, he who does not expect more from God than he is able to comprehend in the scanty measure of his own reason, does him a grievous wrong. Meanwhile, the word of the Lord ought to be inseparably joined with his power; for nothing is more preposterous, than to inquire what God can do, to the setting aside of his declared will.’ (J. Calvin, Commentary on Genesis Banner of Truth Trust 1965 p.476)

Note that immediately after this question, which begs its own most positive answer, the LORD affirmed again His promise to Abraham. “At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” There is a time appointed for every blessing that God purposes to bestow upon His own people and His own Church. But, like Sarah, we need our faith in the divine promise to be strengthened. The question, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” when applied with comfort by the Holy Spirit, can do this. May we think upon it, and the fact that God did give a son, even Isaac, so fulfilling His promise. In this way, we may be strengthened and encouraged to pray in faith and wait with patience.

G B Macdonald


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Sydney Communion August/September 2019

At our recent communion, we were privileged to have the assistance of Rev J D Smith of our Auckland congregation.

On Thursday morning we looked at the solemn subject of the danger of following the sins of others. The example was from 2 Kings 13:1-2 in relation to Jehoahaz, one of the kings of Israel. Sadly, as with so many of the kings of Israel, before and after him, he ‘followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin’. The particularly solemn matter of those who lead others into sin by founding false religion was noted. Sadly, we read that Jehoahaz, ‘departed not therefrom.’ Repentance unto life is a saving grace, which only God can grant.

At the evening service on Thursday, we considered The Song of Solomon 1:5-6. Rev Smith had three heads of sermon. 1. The Condition of the Believer. 2. The Confession of the Believer. 3. The Comeliness of the Believer. The sinner saved by grace is black but comely. Black with sin, but, as found in Christ – most comely.

On the day of self examination, Rev Smith preached again from the Song of Songs. This time in chapter 7 and verse 4, Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.’ Marks of grace were identified. Fundamentally, there is a sweet relationship between Christ and the believer, which the Song of Solomon brings out in such exalted language.

On Saturday, a great question was placed before us, as it had been before others during the ministry of Jesus. In Matthew 22:41-46 we find Him interacting with the Pharisees. They and others have been seeking to entangle him in His talk. They failed. Jesus, finishes the matter by posing a question to them, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” Here precious doctrine of the divinity of Christ is brought out from Scripture. The One who asked them was the Son of God and the true Christ. He still is, and this should be considered when He commands His people, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

The Communion Sabbath morning is a special occasion. The truth before us was solemn and profound, the words of Pilate concerning Jesus – “Behold the man!” The Appointment of Christ, The Humanity of Christ and the Beholding of Christ were the three divisions in the sermon. The suffering Saviour was preached, the One who is God and man, Emmanuel, God with us. The necessity of the true humanity of Jesus was pointed out. He could only suffer in His human nature, but suffer He must, being the substitute and sacrifice for His people’s sin.

On the evening of the Lord’s Day, we looked at the subject of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The builders were manifesting great pride in their disobedience to the will of God, which was for them to spread abroad in the earth. They much preferred to make them a name in the earth by building a city and a tower the top of which was to rise to heaven. This spirit is still found among men. So, by way of gospel application, we need to be brought out of the way of seeking heaven by our works and closed in to Christ who declared, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

The Monday evening service marked the close of the communion and again the love of Christ to the Church was highlighted. The text was chapter 4:8 from the Song of Solomon, Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards.” The believer is traversing the dangerous mountains of life and has much need of obedience to the voice of the Beloved. Christ says, “Come with Me…” and the child of God is to do so. His or her comfort and security lies much in cleaving to Christ.

The communion having ended it becomes us to pray for a blessing to follow the Word and Sacrament, desiring the glory of God in the salvation of sinners and the strengthening of His people.

G B Macdonald

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Advice for Christians from an Apostle of Jesus

In his epistle, James has much practical advice for Christians. One example of such advice can be found in James 5:13 “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

Here he highlights two conditions in which Christians may be found. Some may be afflicted, while others may be merry or, of good cheer. Indeed, the same believer can at one time be afflicted and at another much uplifted in spirit. In any condition the believer may be in, they have their Christian duty.

Here, James suggests two leading duties, one in each condition. For the afflicted – prayer. For the merry – singing of psalms. Note that in both conditions, there is an answerable  duty. This does not mean of course, that the afflicted ought not to sing psalms or the merry to pray, but surely the apostle identifies the leading duty in each case. As Matthew Henry writes, ‘Not that prayer is to be confined to a time of trouble, nor singing to a time of mirth; but these several duties may be performed with special advantage, and to the happiest purposes, at such seasons.’

Surely, when so good advice is given from a Spirit-inspired apostle of Jesus, we have reason to hope that if we follow it, then God will grant a blessing. As Matthew Henry comments, ‘Afflictions should put us upon prayer, and prosperity should make us abound in praise.’ And might we not hope that such prayer will be answered and praise heard?

Thus, the practical advice of the apostle James should be heeded. He was one who was a godly man himself and knew many of the Lord’s people in the early Christian church. The advice he suggests is still relevant today.

“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

G B Macdonald


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Two Rich Promises

We read of two rich and wonderful promises made over to the people of God in the closing verse of Psalm 29. The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.” This is what David had learned by personal experience.

The first promise – “The LORD will give strength unto his people…” Is this not a comfort? His people may be assured of two things by their Christian experience. First, that they are weak and second, that their God is of infinite strength. Furthermore, He is able and willing to give strength unto His people. He may suffer them to be tried, but they may be assured that when they call upon Him in trouble, He is able to save them by His mighty hand and stretched out arm. This is such a wonderful promise that C H Spurgeon writes, “Why are we weak when we have divine strength to flee to?”

The second promise – “…the LORD will bless his people with peace.” Not only strength but also peace! And what a blessing peace is. Matthew Henry comments, ‘…peace is a blessing of inestimable value, which God designs for all his people.’ And this peace comes through Jesus Christ, who is the ‘Prince of Peace.’ (Isaiah 9:6) Peace is very much associated with Jesus. When the angels in that ‘multitude of the heavenly host’ praised God for the birth of Christ, it was in the following terms, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward me.” When Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His assembled disciples, it was with the words, “Peace be unto you.” God will bless His people with peace. This is a sure promise. Peace through the Cross of Christ. Peace through justifying faith in the Son of God. As Paul writes, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Thus, the people of God may derive great comfort from Psalm 29:11. Not one, but two,  rich and precious divine promises:

The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.”

G B Macdonald

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A Comforting Scripture from the Pen of Peter

In his first epistle, Peter writes many precious things to encourage those Christians to whom he wrote. They were exposed to the malice and scorn of the world. God’s people in our day may also suffer for their Christian profession.

One of the glorious truths Peter writes is found in chapter 5 and verse 7 “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”

Let us look at the latter part of the verse first. “…He careth for you.” Doubtless Peter cared for them, but of course he does not refer to himself, but to God. In verse 6 he had said, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:” Thus we know, that the One who cares for believers is none other than the Most High God. One who is of infinite power and majesty. What a privilege to have God to care for us. This is the blessing of the believer in Christ! The mighty hand of God strengthens and protects the child of God. No real evil can befall such. Yes, like Stephen, their life may be taken from them, but, as with Stephen, shall they not be then ushered into glory? Matthew Henry writes, “…all shall be so ordered that no hurt but good, shall come unto you.”

Is it any wonder then, that such as could be assured that God cared for them, could also be encouraged to cast all their care upon Him? What a happy duty. What a great privilege. All kinds of care, to be cast upon God. Small or great. Pressing and immediate or of long continuance. That endured by ourselves, or burdens we are mindful of in our loved ones’ providence, but which weigh on us. As Matthew Henry writes, “The best remedy against immoderate care is to cast our care upon God, and resign every event to the wise and gracious determination.”

How happy they are who, having Christ as their Mediator, can cast their care upon the Most High, ever coming unto God through Christ and finding great relief in the thought, “…he careth for you.”

G B Macdonald

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