Abraham’s Prayer Failure

Written by Commissioner George Scott Railton

January 19, 2022

We have no description of anyone’s pleading with God for others at all resembling that of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom. There are several remarkable facts connected with it which cannot have been recorded without special reason. We know that prophets and apostles begged for the pardon or deliverance of help of their own people, country, and city, and did so for months and years, if not for whole generations.

Though we have no statement about Noah, it is entirely inconsistent with all we know of him and his work to suppose that he made no intercession for all the guilty multitudes, for he walked with God and was perfect in His sight.

Why then do we have such an exact description of Abraham’s huckstering prayer in Genesis 18? It must be that God meant us distinctly understand that He liked it, notwithstanding it’s lack of ultimate success. We learn very later that there is the possibility of praying in the Spirit; that God is willing Himself to prompt and direct our prayers, and that when He does so it is His will to grant the petition we put up to Him.

Surely God wants every human being to understand that He likes us to pray and plead, as Abraham did, even when we do not feel sure of any such special help or prospect. It is certain that many of the most needy would never pray at all, if they waited to be sure about the best way to pray, or the result. We have every reason for believing that many a soul is convicted and brought to God as a result of definite pleadings for them, of which God and the intercessor were aware at the time. But how much of this pleading do we really do?

One of the most striking facts about this example of prayer is that there was no kneeling or other formality about it. There is, alas! always and everywhere, only too little of it, and when that is the case, where there is supposed to be a real effort in prayer, it must, surely, be a great disgrace to us, both before God and man.

Time and Solitude

And yet we see here (vs. 22), and in other cases too, descriptions of His saints, “standing before God,” as if they were quite upon His level, getting His way, in fact, to insist upon and immediate answer! This ought to take away forever any excuse for a want of prayer on the plea that one cannot get solitude or quiet time for the purpose. The Army has, I believe, many glorious pleaders with God who pray as they stand before the furnace, or amidst the din and rattle of machinery, or in the crowded living room, where lively children and adults give mother little peace from dawn to midnight.

And yet, in Abraham’s case, we get a most charming exhibition of humility and proper awe, notwithstanding all the familiarity and persistent boldness of his arguments. He talks to God exactly as Eastern business men are accustomed to do in the marketplace, and yet never for a moment forgets that he is in the presence of the Judge of all men, who has power and might to destroy as well as to save.

But, beyond all else, we see an example of intimacy with God, upon which all Abraham’s friendship, desire, and power to pray, and to get blessing, rested. We call the intercession for Sodom a failure, and so it was, so far as that city and all its inhabitants, including even Lot and his family, were concerned. Yet, halt! How do we know that any of those who were saved would have escaped but for Abraham’s prayer? We do not know how much of all the future blessedness of Abraham and his family and descendants, and of all the millions of Abraham’s spiritual seed in all the generations since, have flowed from that astonishing conversation with God in visible shape.

Alas! how few of those now living can look back, I fear, upon very much of such intercourse with God on behalf of others; and how few have ever since their own deliverance from sin, got into such fellowship, even for their own souls!

Freedom in Prayer

Why should it be so? Why, especially in the case of officers, who have had more or less experience of God’s never ending goodness and mercy, His overflowing wealth of love, and His almost boundless patience?? The whole of this story seems to be a special revelation of God’s longing for and delight in the most complete and unlimited freedom as between Himself and His loved ones. Are you really one of that sort, or does it require a great effort of memory to recall any very definite attempt to get any new intercourse with Him, or to win any new blessing or help? Having just witnessed the great commissioning in this country, how can one fail to hope for many new scenes of this kind in officers’ quarters everywhere? Oh, why does it so seldom happen that there is any great and sudden change in the spirit and course of officers or corps? There are enough such events to give us the assurance that such secret pleadings with God do take place, and do alter things. But, if it were common, should we not see many a corps and city aroused and transformed, as God must wish them to be?

Fear and Intercession

One great, unmistakable fact stands out like a huge rock in connection with this and every remarkable prayer – that the fear of God is as essential as His love to any real, earnest praying. How vastly important is this truth to us in these milk and water days! Nobody every prayed in a way pleasing to God without fully realizing the power of His anger and the danger of guilty souls.

Nothing can be more vital to an officer, nowadays, than to keep clear of the lying jellyfish sort of gospel that is popular. The devil so perfectly understands how to pass off his abominable, damning doubts – labelled “Sweet Views of Truth.” He has the impudence even to pretend that “the old” Testament, the Bible of Christ and His apostles, is to be looked upon as something quite inferior to “the new.” It will never do for his dear disciples to be alarmed in their sins, and taught that God is as much resolved to destroy the wicked as to bless the righteous – in fact, righteousness, according to him, consists in making everything as comfortable for the moment as possible for everybody.

Facing the Facts

Abraham, whilst talking with his Almighty Friend, and enjoying such fellowship with Him as few have ever known, was perfectly conscious all the time that, unless he could prevail with Him in favor of Sodom, on account of some righteous leaven there, the entire population were going to be destroyed within a very few days. We have all, perhaps, in our hearts, been too ready to grumble because Abraham did not go further even with his pleadings. But how could Abraham plead for the continued existence of a city, whose continuance in its actual condition seemed to God to be an evil beyond endurance, in the interests of mankind?

And God is the same today. Whoever may doubt or sneer at our faithfulness let us be true to our mission, and make everybody feel the two-edged sword that He has entrusted to us, and see the coming doom of every repentant soul, as well as all the beauties and joys that are to be got by every true penitent. And let us prove to the guilty the reality of our faith by the manifest, unmistakable earnestness of our pleadings for them!

Do you think that the godless who were in your meetings, outdoors and in, last week, went away feeling that you believed them to be on the brink of hell?

Or, do you and your soldiers make upon the population around you no deeper and better impression that Lot and his family made upon Sodom?

What is God’s impression of your prayers last week?

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