No subject in the Bible as come in for greater abuse, and is more misapplied than the subject of prayer. Especially during our summer meetings, you will find men in all the walks of life praying most earnestly for things impossible to obtain, and many things they do not expect to get, and for many things that would wreck the universe if God should hear and answer their prayers.
In all this confusion the seeker after truth may ask himself the question, “Is it right to pray for salivation? Two theories along this line have been advanced. If one can be true the either, is in harmony with the word of God? One claims the sinner may approach God through the medium of prayer—God in one place and the sinner in another, and the line between the two takes the place of prayer; that the sinner and the church may pray together; that God will hear and answer their prayers, and save the sinner from his sins. Under this theory comes the mourners’ bench system of getting religion which has been so popular for the past 100 years.
The other claims that God is the moving cause in man’s redemption; that God’s love is demonstrated by Christ coming to die for us; that Christ selected the twelve apostles and sent them out after being baptized with the Holy Ghost; that they preached the word of truth and established the church of Christ. From the sinner’s standpoint, it is claimed that he must hear, must have faith, must repent, must confess Christ, and must be baptized for the remission of sins. This, they claim, completes the scheme of human redemption, and by anything short of this no one can expect salvation.
Which way does the Bible teach? I select two examples of prayer in the Bible. God heard and answered both and saved them. There is no mall today, wanting salvation who cannot apply this answer to himself and be saved, just like they were.
Cornelius was a praying man (Acts 10:2).
He was praying to know what to do to be saved, as the language of the angel shows.
His prayer was heard—went up as a memorial before God. He saw an angel and talked with him. Upon this experience of grace, Cornelius could have joined almost any sectarian church, for they would declare he was saved. Yet the Lord did not accept that experience, but told him to send for Peter, who would tell him words whereby he and his house should be saved. All things were fulfilled. Peter got there to answer his prayer. Now can we not apply the answer of Peter to ourselves, and do as Cornelius did, and be saved? But what did Peter tell him to do?
Peter preached the gospel to him, and fulfilled the mission of the Spirit. Which taught that God had ordained through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21).
Cornelius heard him, and Paul taught that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).
Cornelius believed the preaching of Peter, as was demonstrated at the trial of Peter who argued that God had made choice of him that the Gentiles should hear the word of the Lord and believe (Acts 15:6-9).
Cornelius repented of his sins after believing in Jesus. for we hear the apostles rejoicing that God to the Gentiles, had granted repentance unto life when Peter related the circumstances to them (Acts 11:18).
Cornelius confessed the Son of God for Peter went to tell him what he must do to be saved, and Cornelius believed with all his heart. Paul taught that what we believe in our hearts we must confess with our mouth, “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:8-9).
Cornelius was commanded to be baptized (Acts 10:48). Why? Because Peter went to answer his prayer for salvation to tell him what he must do to be saved, and Jesus had taught, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved’ (Mark 16:16). Peter could not promise him salvation until he obeyed.
Thus we find one man praying for salvation, and a servant of God sent to answer his prayer. This man was saved by the gospel, and, in being saved by it, he had to hear, believe, repent, confess Christ, and be baptized by His authority. Is it safe for us to expect salvation on anything less?
We now take up Paul’s salvation. Cornelius represents the best of moral men on one side, and Paul the chief of sinners on the other. Yet both of these men were religious men, which shows that a man may be religious, and at the same time not be a Christian, but may be even persecuting the church of God, as Paul was doing.
Paul was a praying man when Ananias went to him (Acts 9:11).
Ananias went to tell him what to do to be saved (Acts 9:6).
When Ananias got there he preached to him the gospel, which Paul claims is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16).
Paul was commanded to be baptized and wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
But was that all that Paul was commanded to do?
Paul heard the teaching of Ananias.
He believed; for he was saved by the gospel, and afterwards taught that no one could come to God without believing (Heb. 11:6).
Paul repented; for he taught that God commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30).
Paul confessed Christ: for he taught that with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Paul was baptized to wash away his sins; for Peter commanded on Pentecost to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
Thus we have examined these two cases of conversion, and found them saved in answer to prayer, but that neither was saved according to the sinner’s prayer system of salvation. Then, dear reader, which way will you accept? One is from God, the other is from man; one is doing the will of God, the other is open rebellion in His sight; one is salvation at the end of obedience, the other is deception which prevents obedience.
You may ask me if I don’t think it is right to pray for sinners. Certainly I do, for Paul teaches that I should pray for all men everywhere (1 Tim. 2:1). But do you think God will come down in converting power and save them directly in answer to prayer? A thousand times, No; for Solomon has said: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination (Prov. 28:9). The law says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), and no believer in the word of God can expect or pray for salvation in any other way.
Then if God has offered salvation through obedience to his word, let us not expect salvation through praying a “Sinner’s Prayer.”