St. Louis, Mo., August 11, 1907


Pastor C T Russell preached here today from the text, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him" (Matt. 6:8). The speaker said:

Wrong views of the divine character and purposes in respect to the eternal destiny have led to wrong views on nearly every subject treated in the divine Word. For instance, neglecting the direct statement of the scriptures as to who may address God in prayer and who may not, the greater number of Christians as well as worldly people, believing that eternal torment is the destiny provided for the vast majority of the race, are glad to hope that somehow, by "luck" they and their friends will escape that doom, even though no more worthy of divine favor than the majority of mankind. They therefore encourage the [HGL385] thought in themselves and in others that, regardless of real faith, regardless of their acceptance of God's arrangements in Jesus, regardless of their having failed to come into vital relationship with Jesus, they believe that at any moment before they die they may breathe a prayer, or have a pastor or priest or friend pray for them, and as a result receive all the blessings and favors of God as surely as though they had spent a life in consecration and attempted obedience to the divine will as outlined in the divine word. While ready to admit that those who have lived in sin and alienation from God would have no right to expect of the Creator mercy, favor, eternal life in heavenly glory, they have concluded that everything religious is aside from their own ideas of practical common sense, and that such a view is no more unreasonable than the reverse proposition, namely, that all are going to eternal torment who have not come into harmony with God, however soberly and decently they may have lived. The one inconsistency seems to them to balance the other.

The fact is that neither proposition is scriptural: God's ways are just and righteous altogether. As he has not ordained eternal torment as a penalty for sin, neither has he ordained that a sinner's prayer, uttered a few moments before his death, would change his eternal destiny. We are not forgetting the dying thief, whose recorded prayer and prompt answer seem to be the foundation of much of the expectancy along this line. We are to remember that his request was not that he should go to heaven nor was that our Lord's promise. In his dying hour he recognized and confessed himself a sinner; he recognized the Lord as the great One, the Son of God, suffering unjustly, he knew not why. He had faith, however, in Jesus' claim that he was the Messiah the one who had been promised of old as the great king, the establishment of whose kingdom would bring blessings to the Jews and to all the nations of the earth by bringing all back into harmony and relationship with God. By faith he looked forward to that kingdom and confessed it, saying, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" the very kingdom for which the Lord taught his disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven" the very kingdom that is to be established at the second coming of our Lord. Our Lord's answer was in harmony with the request.

As the thief did not ask to go to heaven, neither did Jesus promise that he should go. As the thief asked to be remembered when the Lord had come into his kingdom when he would take to himself his great power and begin his reign, this is what Jesus referred to when he said, "Amen (so be it as you have asked), thou shalt be with me in Paradise." It will be at the second coming of Christ that Paradise will be restored as promised, and in Paradise that thief will surely be, and his repentance and confession was a step in preparation for the blessings and privileges of that kingdom a step in advance of his comrade; a step which will never need to be restored. Paradise was lost 6,000 years ago by the disobedience of the first Adam. Our Lord as taking the place of the first Adam in respect to the race has redeemed the world of mankind, and as a result at the second coming Paradise is to be restored, and mankind by restitution processes is to be brought back to the full perfection of being which Adam possessed in Eden so many as will not return under those favorable conditions being destroyed in the second death.


A careful analysis of the text, then, shows that our Lord did not mean that the thief would be in Paradise on the day on which they died, but on that day on which Paradise will be restored the great Millennial day, the "day of Christ," the day of which the apostle says, "A day with the Lord is as a thousand years." As the scriptures originally were written without punctuation, those who have fallen into the error of supposing that nobody dies, but that the moment of apparent death is in every case an entrance upon a superior degree of life, seize upon this text and punctuate it according to their misconceptions, so as to make it say in contradiction of all the facts that the Lord and the thief would both be in Paradise in a few hours. As a matter of fact, as the apostle points out, our Lord went not to paradise but to sheol, hades, the tomb, and was dead three days, and rose from death on the third day and ascended to the Father thirty days later. We remember, too, that Jesus said, in speaking to Mary after His resurrection, "I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and your God." Our Lord did not go to Paradise, but to hades, for the very good reason that the Paradise promised had not yet been established nor is it now established. Its establishment will come in the Millennial age.

Consequently the thief is not now in Paradise, but in the grave, in the state of death, sheol of the Hebrew, hades of the Greek. "He knows not anything," as the wise man foretold. (Eccl. 9:5.) He is where the apostle Peter declares the great prophet and King of Israel is- "David is not ascended into the heavens, his sepulchre is with us until this day." (Acts 2:34, 29.) the time has not yet come for paradise to be established and the thief must wait, but waits in unconsciousness for the time when Messiah, as the great King, shall speak to him and to all the prisoners of hope gone down to the great prison house of death, saying, Come forth, show yourselves. (Isa. 49:9.) "Marvel not at this," says Jesus, "for the hour is coming when all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man and shall come forth." (John 5:28.) The penitent thief will come forth and also the inpenitent one, for it is written, "There shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:15.) The one will come forth justified because of his exercise of faith, the other thief will also come forth, but the penitent one will have much advantage in various ways in that day. Though both will have the advantage of that time, when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the great deep, and when all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest of them, so that it would be unnecessary to preach to the many more, "Know thou the Lord." (Jer. 31:34.) In that day all the proper thoughts and endeavors will be rewarded with a blessing from the Lord, according to His promise that those who give even so trifling a blessing as a cup of cold water to one of His disciples will by no means lose his reward. Likewise those who have done evil will have by their evil deeds marked their characters to their disadvantage, so that they will have more [HGL386] difficulty than others of their time in attaining to full restitution of all that was lost in Adam.

Rightly punctuated, our Lord's expression, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee this day, thou shalt be with me in paradise," has great force and signification. The day that the thief acknowledged Him was indeed a dark day, in which even the disciples had fled, in which the Master Himself was crucified as a blasphemer. No wonder he said, "Verily I say unto you this day" this dark day, this day which seems so unfavorable to the faith in me you have confessed notwithstanding this you shall be with Me in paradise according to your request, according to your prayer, "Remember Me when thou comest into thy kingdom."


If inclined to urge that the experiences of the thief prove that any sinner may come to God in his extremity, we remind you that this sinner's case was a special one in that he belonged to the specially favored nation of the Jews, which at that time was in divine favor under the law covenant made with Moses at Mount Sinai. Under that covenant all of the Jewish nation were God's people, temporarily at least, and had privileges of prayer as such. God had provided the Temple as a house of prayer for that entire nation, and had granted them the privileges of prayer. Since that time their law covenant has been set aside, so that a Jew today would have no more right or privilege of prayer than would a Gentile, a "sinner," of whom it is written, "We know that God heareth not sinners." John 9:31

Besides, that Jewish sinner came to God through the Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus, and it was through that Mediator that he had the assurance of coming blessing. None today are justified by the typical sacrifices of the Law, and only believers are subjects of the atonement effected by our Lord Jesus; hence only believers can come unto the Father through him. It is therefore, wholly erroneous that any and everybody can come to God as he may please. God declares that by reason of sin our race is unfit to have fellowship with him. He has declined to entertain such fellowship or to recognize sinners, and is thus maintaining the dignity of his righteousness. But meantime, in the exercise of his love and mercy, he has provided a new and living way by which the sinners whom he has condemned may return into harmony with himself and become the recipient of divine favor unto life. Nevertheless the terms and conditions are strict and unalterable and read, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me," "There is none other name given under heaven and amongst men whereby we must be saved," - "than the name of Jesus." "He that hath the Son hath life, he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" the "wrath of God abideth on him." (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12; John 3:36.) Those upon whom the wrath of God is abiding certainly need not attempt to approach God in prayer, or otherwise than by his appointed representative, the Redeemer.


It is a great mistake and quite contrary to the word of God that many are teaching and preaching the fatherhood of God as respects all mankind thus ignoring the Redeemer and His office, rejecting Him as the door to the sheepfold the way, the truth and the life. God did indeed acknowledge Himself as the Father of Adam when the latter was perfect, before his disobedience; and thus we read that Adam was a son of God as truly as the angels are styled the sons of God. But none others of the human family from then until our dear Redeemer's advent were ever styled sons of God. That blessed title of relationship has not been sullied. Our Lord Jesus could and did properly claim this title because it was true of Him; His life was from God, and He was recognized of the Father. Then came the call of this Gospel age the invitation first to the Jews and afterwards to the Gentiles to become children of God. This is the invitation under which we have come into God's family an invitation based upon the redemptive work of Jesus and our renouncement of sin and acceptance of Him and consecration to follow in His steps. As the apostle says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." (1 John 3:2.) We are indeed not sons in the full glory and full sonship which is promised us when we shall share in the first resurrection. The apostle declares, "Now are we the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like him."

This is the same thought proclaimed in the Gospel of John (John 1:11, 12), "He came unto his own and his own received him not. But to as many as received him to them gave he power (privilege) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name," and who are begotten of the Spirit. It is a high honor indeed to be recognized as God's children and to be permitted to pray, "Our Father which art in heaven." The more the Scriptural limitations along this line are recognized the better it will be both for the Lord's people and for the world. The latter will see that they have something to do before they can claim they are children of God, the brethren will see more clearly, more distinctly, the privileges which they have entered into and the honors and blessings conferred upon them. It is the children of God that the apostle addresses, saying, "Let us then, dearly beloved, come with boldness (courage) to the throne of grace." (Heb. 4:16.) Others have no right to come with courage to the throne of grace no right to come at all if they are unbelievers. Hence in the divine program we are not sent to pray with sinners but to preach to them to declare to them the only name given under heaven and amongst men whereby they may come into relationship with God as his children and have the privileges of prayer.

But while the privileges of prayer really belong to those who not only have recognized sin and accepted the Lord Jesus as their Redeemer, and additionally have consecrated their little all to him and to his service, nevertheless the Lord does not seem to confine the privilege of prayer to this consecrated class. In much mercy he has provided that as soon as we have fled from sin and accepted Christ we may be counted as members of the household of faith, even before we go on to make a consecration, which brings us into membership in the church, which is the body of Christ. So, then, there are two classes who in the present time have access to God in prayer: (1) The justified ones; (2) the justified who have consecrated themselves, and who in [HGL387] consequence styled the royal priesthood, members of the body of the great High Priest. But there is a difference as respects the liberty of these two classes at the throne of grace. The first class have access to the Father only through Jesus, the Redeemer, in whom they have justification. The second named class have the same approach, but in addition are assured by the Master, "The Father himself loveth you." (John 16:27.) This last named class has come into that special relationship with God which is termed the begetting of the Holy Spirit, hence theirs is a place of special nearness and favor. These may draw nigh to the golden altar of the Holy and offer incense as members of the body of Christ, whereas the others, who have not made the consecration, are not in the condition typified by the Holy but are in the court condition, and can approach the Father only indirectly. The words of our Lord in our text and its context, the Lord's prayer, were addressed to the consecrated class as represented by his apostles; and all who are sincere at heart and right-minded after they have come to an appreciation of justification, the forgiveness of their sins, should be glad to present their bodies living sacrifices, and to thus join the royal priesthood class and become recognized of God as members of the body of Christ, which is the church, and thus come to the enjoyment of the privilege of prayer in its highest and truest sense.


Having found, then, the particular class addressed in our text, we hear the Master's injunction to them that they use no vain repetitions that they must not count the value of their prayers by the number of the words used nor the number of moments or hours spent upon their knees. The true disciple must rememberthat God looketh upon the heart and that he seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth. Remembering this, they will be on guard against prayer formalities, against hypocritical prayers, to be seen of men, to be heard of men, to be supposed to be very righteous. The true disciple will seek the divine benediction, and is urged by our Lord to seek this in private, in the secret chamber the secret chamber of the heart. In the moment of trial or difficulty how quickly we can enter it, look to our Father in heaven and receive his blessing and guidance! This will not hinder us from more formal prayer in private with wife or husband or children. Neither will it hinder us from prayer at the gatherings of the church, which is the Lord's family or household. Indeed all of these various opportunities for worship are commended to us by the words and examples of our Lord and the apostles.

Our Lord declares that those who hypocritically pray in public for the sake of being heard, for the sake of being considered pious, have their reward, the reward they are seeking, the approval of those about them. But having gotten their reward for their prayers, they must not expect anything from the Lord; it was not his favor they were really at heart seeking, but the favor and approval of men, from whom they got their reward, the reward they sought. The exhortation to us is that if we appreciate most the Lord's favor we will seek most earnestly to approach him with sincerity of heart.


Our Lord assures us that the heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him. Our asking is not therefore to be with a view to giving our all-wise Creator information. Nor is it to be with a view to changing the divine purposes, but rather it is to be a manifestation of our faith and trust, which will bring us into closer relationship of his favors. Thus the child at the table spread with earthly bounties is invited to pass his plate for a share, and the passing of his plate signifies the acceptance of the invitation and well represents the proper attitude of prayer. It is for the child to appreciate the provision which has been made and to accept with thankfulness. And so with God's people; their prayers are merely their acceptance of things which God has for them and is pleased to give them. And while he would have us understand that he is the giver of all blessings, and that therefore our temporal mercies are from his bounty as well as our spiritual favors, nevertheless he would have us more and more be solicitous for the spiritual advantages, which are his best gifts, leaving to him to determine what portion of earthly blessings and mercies and comforts would best serve our necessities without interference with our highest welfare and the portion of spiritual blessing which we desire and which he has promised. Every proper prayer, therefore, of the children of God should be in line with this declaration of our text that our Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him. We neither ask him to get from him more than he is willing to give nor different things from what he has provided, but we may have the things which are expedient for us, the provisions of his love and wisdom. The apostle intimates that all things God sends us through his providences are to be received with prayer and thanksgiving, with grateful appreciation of the providences of God on our behalf. We are to count our blessings and give thanks rather than to study our wants and urge a fulfillment of them according to our natural tastes, preferences and ignorance. Consequently as the Lord's people grow in grace and knowledge and love their prayers will indicate this, in that they will abound more and more in thankfulness and in requests for the Holy Spirit rather than in petitions for earthly things.


Discussing this subject of prayer, the apostle declares that we know not what things to ask for as we ought, but that the spirit maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:26.) Many have grossly misunderstood this declaration, and supposed it to mean that the Holy Spirit was a person who went to God on behalf of his saints and implored God to grant their desires somehow, contrary to the divine will. Nothing could be further from the thought the apostle is here expressing. His teaching is to the contrary of this, that when the Lord's consecrated ones come to the throne of grace in harmony with the divine invitation, they are sometimes ignorant of what would be the proper requests to make of God. As babes in Christ we might ask for something that would be very injurious to us or misunderstanding the divine word we might petition for things [HGL388] that were never promised to us at all. As an illustration of this we have probably all heard earnest Christian people praying that God would fulfill to them the declaration of the scriptures, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matt. 3:11.) these dear Christians ignorantly pray, "O Lord, baptize us with fire." They know not what they ask for; they have misunderstood the divine word. John's declaration which they quote was a prophecy of (1) the Pentecostal blessing upon the church, and (2) a prophecy of the fire of trouble which would come upon the Jewish nation after the Israelites indeed had all been gathered out by the Gospel call, the time of awful trouble which came upon that nation, culminating in its utter destruction in the year 69 A.D.

The dear Christian people who so earnestly prayed to be baptized with the fire, therefore, would be most astonished if the Lord would answer their petitions. But God does better for them than they pray; he hearkens to their spirit, to their real meaning, to their intention, to their heart's desires. He hears not, recognizes not, answers not the faulty phraseology of the well meant prayer, but accepts the petitions of their spirits, their hearts, when these come before him with groanings that cannot be uttered. That is to say when the heart at times is overburdened and desires fellowship with the Lord, and in its weakness knows not how to express itself, its groanings and desires and intents are all discerned by the Lord and accepted as the real petition. Thus indeed does the Lord help our infirmities. Thus does he everyway care for those who are his in Christ Jesus, especially the "little flock" who are seeking to walk in the footsteps of our Redeemer. All things are theirs, for they are Christ's and Christ is God's. Even their imperfect and blemished petitions are all answered for them exceedingly abundantly better than they could have asked or thought.

Let us, therefore, come with holy courage to the throne of grace in every time of trouble, in every time of need, in all of life's trials and difficulties not as those who dictate to the Almighty, but as children coming to a father. Let us tell him of our distress, perplexities, and ask him for solution of them all according to the divine will and intention, and let us arise from our knees with hearts cheered and lightened and full of faith that he who hath begun the good work in us will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.

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