Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Arguing With God
Put Me in remembrance; let us contend together; state your case, that you may be acquitted. Isaiah 43:26NKJV
This morning we begin to study Westminster Larger Catechism Question 196, which asks, “What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” The first part of the answer states: “The conclusion of the Lord’s prayer (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen,) teaches us to enforce our petitions with arguments, which are to be taken, not from any worthiness in ourselves, or in any other creature, but from God.” Today we begin to consider the final question of the Larger Catechism.
You might be thinking “Arguing with God?” What kind of a title is that? That is because we usually think of arguments negatively as disagreements expressed loudly or angrily. However, historically an argument is simply a collection of reasons or propositions put forward in support of a certain point of view. Whenever we are trying to make a case for something we are arguing in this classical sense. Accordingly the Westminster Divines understood this last section of the Lord’s Prayer as instructing us to put forward in our prayers, powerful reasons as to why God should grant our requests. As seen in the verse at the head of this article, supplying God with such reasons as we pray is Biblical. Think of Abraham at the end of Genesis 18, pleading with God to spare the cities if a certain number of righteous people are found in them, or Moses in Exodus 32, supplying God with reasons as to why He should not destroy the nation in order to make a new nation from him. God wants us to earnestly set before Him why He should grant us our requests. The principle seems to be that the more we believe that God can and will be moved to hear us, the more we will spend time and effort offering Him our reasons for doing what we ask. The person who really does not believe God will do what he asks will not waste time giving God any reasons. But the person who knows His heavenly Father loves him and delights in granting him his requests will present God with all kinds of reasons to do what He is asking.
However, notice that the Catechism makes clear that the force of our arguments is not from anything in us, or in any other creature, but in God alone. That means that we are to plead, argue, reason with God that He would hear and grant our requests not for our sake, but for His sake. In other words I am to pray, “Lord, please do what I am asking you to do in this situation, not because I really want you to, or even because it seems like a really good idea to me, but do it in order to glorify Your Name, establish Your will, and fulfill Your Words.” Now, obviously we can give these kinds of reasons for God to answer our prayers, if and only if we are asking God to do what is in accord with His declared will. God’s declared will is that which He has spoken in His Word either by way of promise or by way of command. So to ask for something for God’s sake is to ask for it in order for God to do what He has commanded of us or promised to do for us. Thus, I can pray “Lord as I read Your Word this morning, sanctify me in it, for Your Son prayed “Sanctify them in truth, Your Word is truth,” (John 17:17). Here my argument for God to hear my prayer is that He would do what He said should be done, when God the Son prayed this very thing to God the Father on my, and every other believer’s, behalf.
Thus, we do not argue with God in order for Him to allow us to do something selfish or sinful, as spoiled children begging their fatigued father or mother to let them eat all the candy in the house or stay up all night – something they know they are not supposed to do but figure they can get by their persistence – God forbid! But we should be zealous to multiply reasons for God to do for us what He has already either commanded or promised to give to us when we come to Him in real humble and expectant faith. In this way we put God in remembrance of His mercies, we call upon Him to be faithful to His covenant, we argue for Him to glorify Himself by keeping His Word to us. Scripture records numerous examples of God granting these kinds of requests to His believing children, when they come to Him asking Him to be faithful to Himself. May God give us the faith and the zeal to always “enforce our petitions with arguments.”