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Praying for the Unsaved
By T. T. Shields

      “But Abraham stood yet before the Lord” (Genesis 18:22).

      We read in the Epistle of Jude, that Sodom and Gomorrah “are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Incidentally, the New Testament again bears witness to the historicity of the Genesis record. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were real cities; the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were real men---they were sinners before the Lord; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a very real destruction; the salvation of Lot out of Sodom was a very real salvation, as Lot well knew. Everywhere the New Testament teaches us that these historical portions of Scripture are designed to teach us spiritual lessons. I have frequently reminded you of that great principle laid down in the New Testament, respecting the journeyings of the children of Israel: that not only is the record of their experience written by inspiration, but that the events recorded were themselves providentially arranged, in order that they might teach spiritual truths. It is said of the life of our Lord Jesus: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are writt en, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, yet might have life through His name.” It could also be said, that many other things occurred in the life of God’s people of ancient time, which are not writen in the Old Tesament; but the things which are written, are written for our learning, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

      Abraham is spoken of in the Word as “the father of all them that believe.” Those who believe are described as “the children of Abraham,” and we are said to be “as Isaac was, the children of promise.” We are accustomed to think of Abraham’s faith as having special applications to his appropriation of the promise respecting Isaac’s birth. I endeavoured to expound to you a few Sunday mornings ago, the text, “Abraham believed God”; and I want to try to show you this morning that his faith in God led him to pray, and made him a mighty intercessor, calling down God’s blessing upon others of lesser faith than his own.



      His faith was itself begotten of a divine revelation. Abraham became a believer because of the disclosure of Himself which God made to him. It was when he saw God, or He revealed Himself to his understanding, he believed: when he realized Who and what God was, he was enabled to trust. And it is ever true that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” And on this occasion the divine Visitor renews His promise to Abraham; and very explicitly pledges that the blessing his heart desires shall in due time come.

      But I want to show you this morning that prayer---true prayer---is an expression of faith, and like faith, is also always inspired by a divine revelation. We never talk to God until He has spoken to us. “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” True prayer ever asks that which is in accord with the will of God; and the will of God may be known only as it is revealed to us by His Spirit.

      Let us now look at this story, a part of which I have read to you this morning, for our instruction. Observe, first of all, that Abraham had known for a long time that Lot was dwelling in Sodom; and yet he had not prayed for him. There came a time when these two parted company; and Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom,” and at last found residence within the walls of the wicked city itself. And beyond question, Abraham knew where Lot was. He knew that he was dwelling in the midst of a wicked people; but there is nothing to show that Abraham felt any particular concern for Lot; or that he ever went into the presence of God, and prayed for his deliverance from the midst of the city.

      Is it not still true that there are many, who are children of Abraham by faith; who are children of promise; who are really the children of God; but who yet do not intercede for the Lots of our day? There are Christian wives, for instance, who rejoice in their husbands’ material prosperity. The wife knows very well that he is getting on; that he is amassing wealth; that he is prospering, according to the standards of the world. And she sees, more and more, that he is being caught in the worldly tide; that he is destitute of religious interest; that he never prays; that he seldom attends the house of God; that in all his affairs he ignores God; that he has no concern for the spiritual welfare of his children, as long as they are respectable; as long as they are making progress in school, he has absolutely no anxiety about their spiritual state; he is careless himself; and equally careless respecting his children. And his wife, who is a Christian, is almost as careless as he is. She does not pray for him; she does not pray for her own children; she does not realize the peril in which they are found. Again and again I have observed Christian parents who are proud of the progress their children are making in school; proud of the young man’s ability in his new situation; and rejoice in his worldly prospects. As the friends and neighbors come in they are sure to talk about how the children are getting on; but never a word is spoken about their relationship to Christ---no concern whatever is felt about their eternal future.

      That was the state in which Abraham was respecting Lot. There is nothing to indicate that Abraham felt any concern whatever about Lot’s spiritual state until God came to the door of Abraham’s tent, and told him directly, personally that Lot was in dire peril; that the clouds of judgment were hanging low over the city where Lot dwelt; that before long vengeance would fall, and the city would be consumed. And when Abraham heard that word from the Lord, he began to pray! He stood before the Lord, and prayed as he had never prayed before.

      And I remind you that we have in this Book that very revelation. This Book clearly makes a distinction between those who believe, and those who do not believe. This Book clearly tells us that there is salvation in Christ; and that apart from Christ there is no salvation. This Book clearly tells us there is a place, a condition, which we are accustomed to speak of as Heaven: that there is a condition of life in which the soul may dwell in intimate fellowship with God. And there is another condition of life, in which the soul will be forever separated from God. This Book tells us of Heaven and of Hell most explicitly. The teaching of the Bible is that even of your friends and mine, husband, wife, children, parents, brother, sister, neighbors, business associates---every one of them who is out of Christ is condemned already; is under the curse of God’s law; is in danger of being “turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God.” That is the warning-revelation of God’s Word; and yet some of us, perhaps, pray but indifferently for the salvation of those we love; while others do not pray at all.

      Why was it that Abraham prayed when God told him these things? Let me give you the text of a few Sunday morning’s ago in another setting. God came to Abraham’s tent, and He said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” And then He told him of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and He said, “I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.” He told Abraham that He was going down to Sodom, and if He found it “according to the cry of it,” His judgment would fall. What made Abraham pray? The revelation?---not only that, but this, “Abraham believed God.” Let me ring it in your ears---“Abraham believed God!” “Abraham believed God!” How did he believe? Just a short time before, on this visit, He told him that Isaac should be born. And when Sarah heard it she laughed aloud: it was too good to be true. “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh?” And she denied, because she was afraid. “And he said, Nay, but thou didst laugh when I gave thee My promise.” She was afraid in the presence of God; yet grace abounded toward her as toward her husband; and together, when they received the promise of life, they “believed God.”

      But the same day God uttered also His promise of death; and again, “Abraham believed God.” Do you see it? He believed God! He said, “If God is going down to Sodom, if He is going to inspect it, if He has said that judgment shall fall, then judgment will fall; and Lot will share in the overthrow of the city.” And immediately he stood before the Lord, and began to pray.

      Now my brethren and sisters, what we need above all things is to believe God---not only the Word which promises life; but the Word which solemnly warns us that “the wages of sin is death;” that “these shall go away into everlasting punishment;” that there is a place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;” that it is true which God hath spoken: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” That if men are not saved through faith in the Lord Jesus; if they are not “born again;” then they are lost---that is all---they are lost!

      We have no more ground for believing in our own salvation through faith in Christ, than we have for believing in the utter and eternal destruction of every soul that rejects Him. The Word of the Lord promises both, and if we believe God, we must believe both.

      And that is the weakness of the modern church. Russellism and many other kindred heresies have served to lessen the conviction of Christian people respecting these matters. I recall some years ago being in a ministers’ meeting, when a minister---I remember the shock of it at this moment---when a minister, I suppose of nearly sixty years of age, told the brethren how that once in his early ministry, he had preached from the text: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God;” and amid great merriment he told his fellow-ministers that long ago he had put away such texts as that, and had promised the Lord that if He would forgive him for that one indiscretion, he would never commit it again!

      My brethren, the truth is, that people may go today into scores of churches in this city, and other cities, and hear no word that will disturb their consciences; no word that will arouse them to a sense of the peril of the wicked. And yet, if we believe this Word at all, we must believe both sides of the revelation---that He Who promises life in Christ promises only destruction out of Christ.

      What then? Shall we believe God! I cannot persuade you of it; I cannot persuade myself of it. I am called frequently to conduct funeral services. A man has died without Christ; without showing the slightest interest in Christ. What am I to say? I wish I could speak words of comfort. I tell you what I do always---I preach the gospel; and tell people that there is only one way to be saved, and that is through Christ. It is not easy to be faithful in these matters, but we must be true even when and where tears are falling and hearts are bleeding. There are many people within the circle of your acquaintance---people in your own homes; of whom your heart would dispose you to say: “I find it difficult to persuade myself that the Bible doctrine of final rewards can be true with respect to this and that one.” There is only one way by which you can be persuaded of the truth: When God came to Abraham, and spoke to him directly, calling him by name, He said, in effect, “Abraham, there are the clouds of vengeance; there is the judgment coming---do you believe God?” And “Abraham believed God;” and believing, he began to pray.

      It is not enough that we intellectually agree with the truth of Scripture. It is only as the Spirit of God takes His own word, and lays it upon our own hearts; when He comes by a personal visitation, and makes us realize the peril of the lost, that we shall begin to pray. And it is in my heart this morning, my dear friends, to suggest to you that we should pray together these coming weeks that God in the greatness of His grace will do for us what He did for Abraham---that He will come to us, that He will visit us each personally, and tell us unmistakably that peril in which men and women are found who are out of Christ. We read of men in times past who spent whole nights of agony, pleading for the salvation of the lost; of men who wept tears of grief, because they believed somebody was in danger of eternal damnation. But it is only as God the Spirit withdraws the veil from our eyes, as He makes the things of the spiritual realm real to us, and enables us to anticipate the future, that we shall be able to realize these tremendous truths of the Scripture, and be able to pray.

      Shall we pray then for ourselves, that we may be awakened as we have never been awakened before; that we may realize as we have never realized before, the peril in which men are placed who know not Christ? “Abraham stood yet before the Lord:” and there is not a Christian wife here whose husband is unsaved! Nor a husband whose wife is unsaved; nor a father or mother who has children unsaved; nor one who has brother, or sisters over whom eternal doom is pending, hanging low over those we love---I say if we believed that, there is not a Christian here who would not stand before the Lord and pray! It would become the passion of our lives to bring them to Christ---everything in life would be subordinated to that one business.

      Have you not seen it when sickness has come into a home? The wife, or child, or some other member of the family, is ill. But it is only a slight indisposition; and the work of the house goes on just the same. The father goes to business; and the rest of the family go about their work, for there is just one member slightly indisposed. But he or she does not get up again quickly. The doctor comes again and again; and he says, “The fever is rising, and rising”---until at length he takes the family into his confidence. He says, “It is a battle now for life: there is only one chance in many hundreds that we shall be able to baffle death!” And then what happens? When death draws near, business and everything else must go, in order that everybody may concentrate on this one task of saving a precious life from the grave.

      And if God would but open eyes, and enable us to see Hell itself yawning before those we love; we, too, should stand before the Lord and pray!


      By a kind of divine instinct, he pleaded the vicarious principles. I pity the man who does not believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture; he must be very blind. If God did not put the cross in the Old Testament, I wonder who did? One thing is certain: Somebody who knew all that was to be revealed in the New Testament wrote the first pages of this Book---and every page throughout the whole Book; because the vicarious principles run all through the Bible.

      Abraham did not plead that sin should be condoned; he did not ask that God should ignore the wickedness of the city. No, But he said, “Let the righteousness of the righteous avail for the salvation of the wicked. Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?” “And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.” And then Abraham said, “Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous?” and he received the promise that the city should be spared for their sakes. Then he dropped to forty; “And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.” “Peradventure there shall thirty be found there.” “Peradevnture there shall be twenty found there.” “I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.” “And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there.” And the Lord answered, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” But Abraham’s faith could go no farther. He could only plead the righteousness of ten. For less than ten he did not dare to ask a stay of judgment.

      How much more highly privileged are we! We have not to plead the righteousness of fifty, nor of ten; but we can plead the righteousness of One Whose righteousness avails for the salvation of a whole world! Blessed be God! And we are encouraged to pray that though the wicked deserve the judgment that is threatened, God will for the sake of Jesus, have mercy upon them. Surely a solemn obligation rests upon all of us who are thus privileged to pray, to stand before the Lord.


      Lot was dwelling in Sodom; and was as indifferent to the impending doom as Abraham had been. And when the angels came to Sodom, and told Lot of his danger, he seemed to but half believe their warning, and to be in no hurry to quit the place. But the angels took Lot in hand: “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him; . . .and set him without the city.” He was reluctant to leave; and yet by God’s grace he was saved out of the wicked city.

      Well do I know that it is a tremendous task to awaken the unconverted to their need of a Saviour; but it is almost as great a task to awaken you and me to an appreciation of their peril. But mark this: When God awakens Abraham, He always awakens Lot. When He puts in Abraham’s heart a deep concern for Lot, He will not leave Lot until he becomes concerned for himself. Agonizing saints will soon be surrounded by repentant sinners. An interceding church will soon echo with the cry of the newborn.

      And I say this for the greater encouragement of anxious parents, or wives, or relatives, here this morning. You say, “Sir, I am disheartened; I am discouraged because I see no religious interest at all on the part of those of whom I am thinking this morning, and for whom I long have prayed.” No, perhaps not, as yet, but when you and I become really desperately in earnest, as Abraham was, when this matter becomes real and imperative to us, it will become real to those for whom we pray.

      Lot had some difficulty, too. He spoke to his sons-in-law, conveying to them the angels’ warning. But it is certain that Lot had been long indifferent to his own and his family’s danger, because when he spoke to his sons-in-law, and said, “Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city,” he seemed to his sons-in-law as one who mocked.

      And there is always that difficulty of overcoming the influence of an indifferent past. Perhaps someone here this morning says, “I do not know how to begin; I have been indifferent so long; I have neglected my family so long in spiritual matters I am ashamed now to show an interest. They will not believe me if I warn them of the wrath to come.” That is true. No one will believe you unless the power of the Spirit of God awakens him.

      And while Lot lingered, the men laid hold upon him and brought him out of the city. Whether he would or not, they compelled him to come. Do you believe that doctrine? I heard a brother pray in one of our meetings lately: “O Lord, we are tired of coaxing sinners to be saved. Give us the power that will break their wills, and compel them to come.” And God, the Holy Spirit, will give us that power. Abraham never could have brought Lot out of Sodom, even if he had gone down into that city to speak for himself. He probably would also have seemed as one who mocked, both to Lot and his family. He might have said, “Uncle, what is all this about? I have been here a long time; but you have said nothing to me until now. I am glad to have a visit from you; glad you are interested in me; but you have left me alone for a long time. Why this sudden concern?” And the only way by which Abraham could bring power to bear upon Lot was over the Mercy-Seat! He accomplished by standing before the Lord what he never could have done by going down to Sodom. And so can we.

      “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand. . . .and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.” I have seen God force men to be saved. I have known Him to rob them of their sleep; and make it impossible for them to attend to their business; and make the things of the spiritual world so real to them that they were constrained to yield to God. The record says, “God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.” Lot was saved in direct answer to Abraham’s prayer. And God will remember our prayers. Still the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Shall we address ourselves with increased devotion to the ministry of prayer?

      Shall this be a day of intercession with us? Shall we pray for our Lots? Shall we pray that God will give His angels charge concerning them; that somehow or another, by the power of the Holy Spirit, reluctant hearts may be drawn to Him, Whom we love?

“When Jesus has found you tell others the story,
That my loving Saviour is your Saviour too;
Then pray that your Saviour may bring them to glory,
And prayer shall be answered, ‘twas answered for you.


[Christopher Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, 2008, pp. 262, 266-268; via Internet. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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