The next inquiry is, How are we to receive the answer? By sight or by FAITH? It seems to us that it must be by faith. The life of the just is represented as a life of faith; and we should naturally conclude the life of faith would include the answer to prayer, as well as prayer itself.
It is very evident that the just live, as subjects of the divine Sovereign, not only by praying but by being answered. And in either case, according to the Scripture representation, the principle or inspiring element of the inward life, whether a person prays or is answered in prayer, is faith. Any other view will probably be found, on close examination, to be inconsistent with the doctrine of living by faith. Accordingly, on the true doctrine of holy living, viz., by faith, we go to God in the exercise of faith, believing that he will hear; and we return from him in the exercise of the same faith, believing that he has heard; and that the answer exists and is registered in the divine mind, although we do not know what it is, and perhaps shall never be permitted to know.
And in accordance with these views, if, in a given case, we know from the word of God that the petition is agreeable to the divine will, and that it is also agreeable to the divine will that it should be granted now, then the doctrine of faith will require us to believe, that the divine decision is made up and is given, and that we do now have the things which we sought for, although they may come in a different way, and with a different appearance from what we anticipated. And, on the other hand, if the word of God has not revealed to us the divine will, the doctrine of faith still requires us to believe that the true answer exists in the will of God; that the decision of God is made up as in the other case, whatever that decision may be, and whenever and wherever it may be visibly accomplished. In both cases we have need of faith; we believe that God is either now doing, or that he will do. So that the true answer to prayer, as it seems to us, is an answer resting upon the revealed declaration or word of God for its basis, and made available to us in any given case by an act of faith. God promises that he will answer. Faith, accepting the declaration, recognizes the answer, whether it be known or unknown, as actually given in every case, where it can justly be expected to be given.
We proceed now to give some illustrations. We will suppose, for instance, that, in a particular emergency, we need and are sincerely desirous of wisdom to guide us, and that we truly and humbly ask for it. While we thus pray, it is of course implied, that we, at the same time, employ all those rational powers which God has given us, and which are appropriate to the subject under consideration. To do otherwise would be like the husbandman’s asking the rains and the blessing of heaven upon lands, which he had neglected to cultivate. While we thus pray and thus act, it becomes our privilege and our duty, in accordance with the doctrines of the life of faith, to believe fully and firmly, that God does in fact answer, and that in the sanctified exercise of the powers which are given us, we truly have that degree of wisdom which is best for us in the present case. Whether we are conscious of any new light on the subject or not, it is our privilege, and what is very important, it is our duty, as those who would be wholly the Lord’s, to believe that we have just that degree of knowledge which is best for us. Even if we are left in almost entire ignorance on the topic of our inquiry, and are obliged to grope our way onward in the best manner we can, we still have the high satisfaction of knowing, that we are placed in this position because God sees that a less degree of light is better in our case than a greater, and it is certain that his perception of it involves the fact that it is so. And accordingly, if it be true that God does not give to us that precise form and degree of wisdom, which, in our ignorance we sought for, we nevertheless have received all that wisdom, which, in the view of faith, is either necessary or desirable. Such is God’s answer. And such also is the true answer, viz., the answer which precisely corresponds to the spirit of the petition, if the petition has been offered up in the true spirit. But it is obvious it is an answer, which could never be realized as the true answer, and as God’s answer, except in the exercise of faith. It is, therefore, an answer resting upon the revealed declaration or word of God, viz., that he will give wisdom to those that sincerely ask it, and made available to us in being received by faith. It answers our purpose just as much and as well, and in some important points of view far better, than if it were an answer addressed directly to our sight.
We will suppose, as another illustration of the subject, that we have a sincere and earnest desire for the salvation of one of our friends. Under the pressure of this desire we lay the case before our heavenly Father in supplication. What is the nature of the answer which we can reasonably expect, and which we ought to expect under such circumstances? Is it a specific answer of such a nature as to make known to us, by a direct communication, whether the thing shall be done or not, and whether it shall be done at a particular time or not? Or is it an answer resting upon the revealed declaration of the word of God, as that answer is received and made available to us by faith? In the former case we shall pray till we know, or rather till we think we know; not merely know that God answers us, and answers us in the best manner; but what is a very different thing, shall pray till we know or think we know what the answer is. Under the influence of a very subtle and secret distrust of God, we shall not be disposed to desist until we obtain some sign, some voice, some specific manifestation, some feeling which shall make us certain; and certain, not merely that God hears us, and will do all he consistently can for us; but shall insist on a certain knowledge, by means of such signs and manifestations, of the precise thing which he will do. In other words, we cannot trust the answer in God’s keeping; but must gratify our inordinate and sinful curiosity by having a revelation of it. — In the latter case, viz., where we expect an answer, resting upon God’s word and received by faith, it is very different. While we humbly, earnestly, and perseveringly lay our request before God, we shall leave the result in his hands with entire resignation; believing in accordance with the declarations of his holy word, that he does truly hear us; entirely confident that he will do what is right; and recognizing his blessed will, although that will may as yet be unknown to us, as the true and only desirable fulfillment of our supplication. We shall feel, although salvation is desirable both for ourselves and others, that the fulfillment of the holy will of God is still more, yea infinitely more desirable. “THY WILL BE DONE.” And here is a real answer, such an answer as would completely satisfy an angel’s mind; and yet it is an answer received by simple faith. “The just shall live by faith.” The whole doctrine is beautifully summed up in a short passage in the first Epistle of John. “And this is the confidence [or strong faith] that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desire of him.”
— edited from The Life of Faith, Part 1, Chapter 17.