By Bobby Witherington
In his tract, “God’s Simple Plan of Salvation,” Mr. Ford Porter says: “Simply believe on Him as the one who bore your sin, died in your place, was buried and was raised for your justification. Now call upon Him.” Mr. Porter then cited Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. ” Now please note carefully the following words from his pen: “The first prayer for a sinner to pray is given in Luke 18:13 — ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ Now you are a sinner and surely you are sorry because of it. Right now, wherever you are lift your heart to God in prayer. It does not take a long, loud prayer, for God is anxious to save you. Just say: ‘Oh God, I am a sinner and I am sorry, have mercy upon me, and save me for Jesus’ sake.’ Now just take Him at His word.”
Charles Colson, a self-described “hatchet man” for former President Richard Nixon, a member of his cabinet who served prison time because of his involvement in the Watergate episode, wrote a book entitled Born Again, in which he detailed his experiences following Watergate — experiences which supposedly led to his “rebirth.” It was a time of deep soul searching, and apparently Mr. Colson was doing just that. He went to a friend’s house on the Maine coast, and spent time in study and meditation. Now please note his words on page 130 of his book, Born Again: “And so early that Friday morning, while I sat alone staring at the sea I love, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe you. I accept you. Please come into my life. I commit it to you.”‘ From that time forward, according to Mr. Colson, he has been a child of God. He believes he “prayed through.”
Long have we heard about the mourner’s bench system of salvation, in which penitent sinners are called to the mourner’s bench and where long, fervent prayers are prayed that the sinners might be saved right then and right there and without their complying with the terms of pardon. In such instances those who “got saved” were the ones who kept praying until they had “prayed through.”
Now-a-days we do not hear so much about the old time “mourner’s bench,” but the mourner’s bench system of “praying through” is as popular and prominent as ever. It is not unusual for one to turn his TV on, especially on Sunday night, and to see a prime time religious showman addressing a huge crowd. At the conclusion of the message, aided by special music, the preacher gives his “altar call.” Numerous ones generally “go forward,” meet the preacher before his elevated platform, and there they pray together. Then the “saved” (?) supplicants are encouraged to go home and “join the church of your choice.” And, backing up a bit in our narration of what occurs, while the persons seeking salvation through prayer are making their way to the front, the TV preacher solemnly looks into the TV cameras directly to his TV audience, who are then told to give their hearts to Jesus, accept Him as their personal Savior, and join with him in prayer. And presto I right there before the TV they are saved and from thenceforth bound for glory.
Well do I recall my days as an ironworker in which, on one occasion, I was talking with a co-worker who seemingly specialized in showing others how irreligious he could be. A column, whose anchor bolts were insufficiently anchored, had just fallen to the ground-along with its human cargo. Fortunately the workman (me!) landed in soft mud and was uninjured. But I reminded my coworker that he could have been on that column, and the landing site could have been a hard surface, and that he could have been killed. “Then, ” I queried, “where would you spend eternity?” His reply? “I could have gotten saved between the time I fell and the time I hit the ground!” Apparently in some instances it doesn’t take long to “pray through.”
Do you ever wonder why there is so much indifference toward the Bible and religion in general? One reason should be apparent. So many people have heard this death-bed, last-minute, split-second, “pray though” philosophy for so long that they don’t see the need to make prior preparation!
I would not for one minute, yea, for one second, minimize the importance of prayer. There are no prayerless Christians. Show me a person who does not pray, and I will show you one who is headed for hell. And if I knew how I would word it plainer! But the question this article is assigned to deal with is. this, “Can a sinner be saved by ‘praying through’?”
Of course, I trust that it will be understood that I am referring to an alien sinner-one who has never gotten “through.” I am keenly mindful of the fact that we all sin, and in that sense, are sinners. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And, further, “if we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8,10). The “we” and “us” of those verses refer to those to whom Christ was preached in order that they, like the Apostles, could have fellowship “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). And when children of God sin, they had better pray! Peter put it to Simon this way: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). Indeed, what hope could any child of God have if he did not “have an advocate with the Father”? (1 Jn. 2:1) Incidentally, I must say that it worries me more than just a little when I hear gospel preachers (?) suggest that Christ’s perfect, personal righteousness is so credited to the Christian’s account, that when God looks at him He only sees the personal righteousness of “his only begotten Son,” who has spread such an umbrella of grace on the Christian that even God doesn’t see his sins-especially if they happened to be sins of ignorance, or maybe of “doctrine” instead of “gospel.” Who are we to give anyone comfort in any sin-ignorant or presumptuous, “gospel” or “doctrine,” big or little? Instead of quibbling over what sins somebody might get by with, we ought to proclaim God’s hatred of sin and His way of escape for both His children and for aliens. If God wants to exercise clemency in some instances, then well and good! That is His prerogative. But it is not my place to preach clemency. Brethren, let us quit sounding a lot of “uncertain” sounds; instead let us do our dead level best to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). That is our role. God can surely take care of His role, without any help from us!
But hold on. I was assigned the topic “pray through”! Well, hopefully, we have shown which sinner is under consideration; that is, can an alien sinner be saved by “praying through”?
Most denominational preachers, when asked this question, answer in the affirmative. And then they will generally quote Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” For them, that settles it. The case is closed. But hold on! Is that verse, in context, discussing prayer? No! This verse, in context, sets forth God’s divine impartiality. Note verse 1, “whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. ” Who all does “whosoever” include? As many as are indicated in verse 12, which says, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek. for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” Hence, “whoever,” be he a “Jew” or a “Greek,” that “shall call upon the Lord shall be saved.” Contextually speaking, the subject of Romans 10:13 is not prayer; rather it is briefly comprehended in the question, “Can people of all nations be saved?” And the answer is a happy “yes.” Verses 14,15 follow with a number of rhetorical questions, like: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” Incidentally, the “sent” preachers of verse 15 refers to those original proclaimers of the “gospel of peace,” men whom the Lord selected, qualified, and set, and whose message we are still dependent on for salvation. Now notice verse 16, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report.” This verse clearly reveals that the hearers of the message have a responsibility to the message-namely, they must obey it.
But what does it mean to “call upon the name of the Lord”? It surely means more than merely saying “Lord, Lord,” for Jesus asked, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46)
Calling On The Name Of The Lord
When Peter addressed the multitude on Pentecost he quoted from the prophet Joel — Joel 2:28-31; cf. Acts 2:16-21. The last statement from Joel which Peter quoted is Acts 2:21,”And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” Hence, with this wonderful promise Peter began his sermon, and then he preached the sermon so his audience would learn how to “call upon the Name of the Lord.” He preached Christ, His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation to the “right hand” of God. The message resulted in many being pricked in their heart, and asking, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). If Peter had been a modem denominational preacher, he would have said, “Just accept Jesus into your hearts as your personal Savior, and then pray the sinner’s prayer.” But Peter was not a denominational preacher; he was a gospel preacher! So an audience who at that point had faith (implied by their being “pricked in their heart”), but faith only, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In Acts two calling “on the name of the Lord” included faith, repentance, and baptism. Yes, we can read about prayer in this chapter, for after they “were baptized” (Acts 2:42), they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
On a later occasion, to a temporarily blinded Saul, whose penitence was implied in his going without food or drink, and who prayed, Ananias said, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16; cf. 9:9,11,18). In Saul’s case “calling on the name of the Lord” was not praying, for he had been doing that already. It is entirely possible that he had spent the full three days praying. But he didn’t “pray through”! He had to arise and be baptized! Backing up a bit in our narration of Saul’s conversion, we observe that Ananias, when first told to go to Saul, reminded the Lord about Saul saying, “and he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (Acts 9:14). Ananias surely wasn’t talking about prayer in that verse, for the Jewish leaders had no objection to prayer itself. In fact, they loved to “pray standing in the synagogues and in the corner of the streets” (Matt. 6:5), and for a pretense would “make long prayer” (Matt. 23:14). Saul did not go to Damascus to merely persecute people who prayed; he went there to apprehend those who had obeyed the gospel of Christ-those who, in so doing, had “called upon the name of the Lord.”
“My little children, these things write I under you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2: 1). Yes, “we have an advocate with the Father,” but “we” who? “We who are a part of that “spiritual house” and that “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5,9). Being a part of that “royal priesthood,” we can approach God through our High Priest who “ever liveth to make intercession for them” that come unto God through Him (Heb. 7:25). Yes, because “we” have “an high priest” we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Heb., 4:15,16). But over what is Christ “high priest”? He is “high priest over the house of God” (Heb. 10:21), and “the house of God . . . is the church of the living God” (I Tim. 3:15), and the church, or body, is composed of those who have been baptized (1 Cor. 12:13)!
Look At John 9:31
To the Pharisees the man whose eyes Jesus opened said, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshiper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth” (Jn. 9:31). Someone may reply, saying, “that man was not inspired.” So what? The question is, did he state the truth? How could he, a Jew, “know” that God heareth not sinners? Could it be because his “Bible” said, “He that turneth Away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination” (Prov. 28:9)? But compare the words of the formerly blind man in John 9:31 with the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21, wherein Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Look at these verses closely and you will observe that the man whose eyes Jesus opened said the same thing in John 9:31 that Jesus said in Matthew 7:21. So we conclude by observing that those who say the alien sinner can “pray through” are not merely wrong; they are people who have not yet gotten their eyes open-which means they are “blind leaders of the blind” (Matt. 15:14). So unless you love the “ditch,” don’t follow them. Obey the gospel, and then continue “instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 15: pp. 468-469, 472
August 1, 1985