The Condition for Acceptable Prayer — B.B. Warfield
“We need not multiply conditions where the Scriptures do not multiply them. And, speaking strictly, Scripture knows of but one condition. It conduces to the peace and comfort of our souls to remember that there is but one condition to acceptable prayer. It is easiest and best, however, to state this one condition in a twofold manner: objectively and subjectively. There is an objective condition of acceptable prayer and there is a subjective condition of acceptable prayer. The objective condition is that we should have access to God. The subjective condition is that we should have faith. The objective and subjective conditions are one, because it is only in Jesus Christ that we have access to God and only through faith that we are in Him.
Whatever may be said of men as men—the creatures of God—you and I have nothing to do with. You and I are not men as men; we are sinners. And sinners as such have no access to God. They may go through all the motions of prayer, no doubt. It is like bodily exercises that profit nothing; one might as will turn a prayer wheel like the Thibetans. It goes no higher than our own heads. For this is of the very essence of sin—that it breaks communion with God. God is deaf to the sinner’s cry. He owes the sinner punishment, not favour. In Jesus Christ alone has the breach between God and sinful man been filled in. In the blood of His sacrifice only can we penetrate within the veil. In Him only, as Paul repeatedly tells us, do we have our introduction into the Divine presence. All prayer that is acceptable and reaches the ears of God, therefore, is prayer that is conveyed to Him through Jesus Christ. For sinners the atonement of Christ lays the only basis for real prayer.
The subjective condition is faith; and faith is the sole subjective condition. No other condition is ever announced in Scripture. And the promises to faith are repeated, emphatic and unlimited. He that prays in faith shall surely receive. For faith can no more fail in prayer than in salvation; and if faith and faith alone is not the only but all-sufficient instrument of salvation, then we are yet in our sins and are of all men the most miserable. If any one is puzzled by so unlimited a promise, let him reflect what faith is and whence faith comes. If faith is the gift of God in this sphere, too—as assuredly it is—then faith can no more fail than the God who gives it can fail. Or think you that God will deceive you by working faith in you by His Holy Spirit when He has no intention of correspondingly blessing you? Man-made faith—that might fail; for that is no faith at all. But God-inspired faith, as it is God within you working, so is it sure to find God without you hearkening. That is what Paul says in that great passage in the eighth of Romans about the Holy Spirit groaning within us unutterably, and God knowing the mind of His Spirit. It is possibly also what James says in our present passage, when he says that it is an ‘energized prayer’ which is effective. But the gist of the whole matter is that there is no condition of successful prayer but faith.
No condition, but not therefore no characterizing qualities, which are always present where faithful prayer is; and the presence and absence of which you and I can observe as marks of acacceptable or unacceptable prayer. These are customarily enumerated as sincerity, reverence, humility, importunity, submission”
- Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield (1851-1921)
taken from: Faith and Life: ‘Conferences’ in the Oratory of Princeton Seminary, 1916, pp. 434-437.