The Prayers of the Unsaved
John W. Hodge
There are those "among us" who teach that God will not hear the prayers of the unsaved regardless of what they pray for, or the circumstances in which they may find themselves. As proof of such position we are referred to John 9:31 which read: "Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God and doeth his Will, him he heareth."
This statement was made by the man born blind to whom Jesus gave sight, and was made in defense of Christ whom the Pharisees declared to be a sinner. We have no ground for doubting the truthfulness of this statement; but we do doubt that it was used with reference to what is commonly referred to as "aliens" exclusively -- those who are not the children of God. Rather it refers to any individual, whether in or out of God's family circle, who fives contrary to God's will.
David, a man after God's own heart, said: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." (Psa. 66:18) Solomon said: "He that turneth away his ears from the hearing of the law even his prayer shall be abomination." (Prov. 28:9.) We might add Peter's statement as follows: "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears open to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." (I Pet. 3:12.)
Because one has become a child of God is no guarantee that his prayers will always be answered of God, if he becomes a servant of sin. And on the other hand, because one is lost in sin - unsaved - and turns to God in prayer desiring to be granted time and opportunity to do God's will is no evidence that God will not hear him. Is it not the will of God that none perish?
Full well am I acquainted with the fact that there are certain things for which the unsaved cannot scripturally pray. The same is true of those in covenant relationship with God. It is not affirmed here that an unsaved person can "pray his way through to salvation," for this is not God's way to save him. God would not hear this kind of prayer; but if one with a mood and honest heart, as Cornelius and Saul of Tarsus were, should pray for time and opportunity to know the truth, would such petition be denied simply because the one who offered the petition was not in God's family?
Perhaps it would not be amiss to say that we have not understood what the blind man meant by the term "sinners." All "sinners" are unsaved but not all the unsaved are necessarily sinners - that is, in the active sense. Neither Saul nor Cornelius, whom the Lord heard in prayer, were sinners in the sense that they were active participants in sin. One may be called a farmer long after he has retired or quit farming. Paul said, "Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief." (I Tim., 1: 15.) Paul was one who did not let sin reign in his life, hence was always on pleading terms with the Lord. The blind man's statement, "We know that God hearth not sinners has reference to those who turned against God's will completely -- those who neither desired to hear it or to heed it, and may rightly apply to either the unsaved -- the unconverted -- or to those who have once been saved. If the statement applies only to the unsaved -- those lost in sin--and not to those in God's family who turn to sinful living, then there is one class of sinners whom God will not hear and another class that he will hear!!
Are we ready to decide that it is this way? Somebody has said, "God is ready to hear any man pray -- provided he prays for the right thing -- who is ready to hear and heed his law." People who realize their lost and ruined condition before God will naturally mourn over the condition they are in and cry for time and opportunity to learn the truth and obey it. A man said to me once upon hearing the gospel preached, "You have come here to teach us God's will in answer to my prayers.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 45, pp. 6-7