Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:Praying for "free course" is scriptural, obviously. It's in 2 Thessalonians 3:1. But does it mean there in that very text how people are using it, when they talk about praying for free course? Should people be encouraged to pray like they are being encouraged to pray?
Revivalist John Van Gelderen talks about "free course" in his book, The Revived Life. In the midst of describing an evangelistic situation with a lady, he writes:
Recognizing the enemy built up in this dear lady's mind, I suggested we all get down on our knees to pray. Through exercising throne seat authority, the scale of blindness fell off this lady's eyes. Then she could see the glorious light of the gospel. When again pointed to Jesus' offer of salvation, she gladly responded to the invitation to trust in Jesus to save her, and she rejoiced with joy unspeakable.
The same dynamic is needed for multitudes without Christ. The prayer meeting of Acts 1 accessed the outpouring of the Spirit of Acts 2. This is an example of greater works -- the powers of darkness dispelled and the power of the Spirit displayed -- so that many have the opportunity to hear "the word of the Lord" in a setting where it has "free course" and "is glorified" or given its full weight (2 Thess 3:1).Upon quoting John 14:12-14, Van Gelderen continues:
Whether individually or corporately, whether defensively or offensively, learn to claim the Name -- the name of Jesus! This is not a mere mantra of words. When the Spirit convinces you of the truth of the enthroned Christ, you can claim the Name and experience throne seat authority!Van Gelderen shows his revivalist understanding of a "free course" prayer. This type of belief and teaching is rampant among Charismatics, evangelicals, fundamentalists, independent and even unaffiliated Baptists. One reads this language from the revivalist Charles Finney, as in his autobiography (p. 469):
But although I am sure that large numbers of persons were converted, for I saw and conversed with a great number myself that were powerfully convicted, and to all appearance converted; yet the barriers did not break down so as to give the word of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord, free course among the people.Revivalist A. T. Pierson wrote:
From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening in any land which has not begun in a union of prayer, though only among two or three. And no such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined. It is in exact proportion to the maintenance of such joint and believing supplication and intercession that the Word of the Lord in any land or locality has had free course and been glorified.Revivalist Jack Hyles wrote in his book, Meet the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit must be invited to help. He must be invited every day. He must be invited for every task. He must have free course to do His work alone.You can find other examples than these, since the onset of second blessing theology in the middle of the 19th century. On the other hand, here's what John Gill wrote:
The particular petitions he would have put up follow, that the word of the Lord may have free course. By "the word of the Lord". . . is meant the Gospel; which is of God, and not of man, comes by the Lord Jesus Christ, and is concerning him, his person and offices, and concerning peace, pardon, righteousness, life, and salvation by him, as the subject matter of it: and the request is, that this might "have free course": or "might run": be propagated and spread far and near: the ministry of the word is a course or race, and ministers are runners in it, having their feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; which is the message they are sent with, and the errand they run upon: which comes from heaven, and is to be carried into all the world, and spread: Satan and his emissaries do all they can to hinder the progress of it; God only can remove all obstructions and impediments; when he works none can let; all mountains become a plain before Zerubbabel.I want to focus on "free course." These words come from the King James Version, and the translators provided an italicized "free" to indicate that this was supplied, not in the original. A lot of the mileage of revivalists comes from a word the translators say isn't in the Bible. Maybe there is something to "free" course, but the translators said there wasn't -- thus, the italics.
Gill gets the gist of it. The one Greek word is trecho, which BDAG, the foremost lexicon gives three nuances of meaning:
1. to make rapid linear movement, run, rush, advance. . . 2. to make an effort to advance spiritually or intellectually, exert oneself. . . 3. to proceed quickly and without restraint, progress.I believe Gill is right about "word of the Lord" being "the Gospel," for the reasons he says. What does Paul want with the gospel? He wants rapid linear movement, advancement, movement, progress. He wants it to get to more places. Trecho was used for racing and for battle movements.
The "free course" part of the prayer is about the gospel getting to more places and more people. Albert Barnes wrote:
The margin is "run." So also the Greek. The idea is, that it might meet with no obstruction, but that it might be carried abroad with the rapidity of a racer out of whose way every hindrance was removed.Jamieson-Fausset-Brown reports:
may have free course—literally, "may run"; spread rapidly without a drag on the wheels of its course. . . . the apostle referring here to the external course of the word, rather than its inward efficacy in the soul, as also Christ seems chiefly to do in those parables. There are many things that hinder the course of the gospel; sometimes wicked rulers make laws against it, sometimes great persecutions have been raised, sometimes false teachers oppose it, sometimes professors prove apostates and scandalize the world against it, sometimes reproaches are thrown in the way of it.Paul could only stay in Thessalonica two weeks when he went there. He had to leave because of threat of death and intense, physical persecution. In a number of the means that God uses to allow for the furtherance of the gospel, praying would advance that.
Revivalists bring something else to "free course" in the way of some overcoming power toward transforming results. In the doctrine of revivalism, this prayer will translate to numerous conversions. God will then enact the cause for an abundance of new people to be coerced. In my experience, free course for a preaching conference has meant a certain enthusiastic feeling in the meeting. The attendees are fired up or moved emotionally. This free course means stirring oration, powerful sentiment, and very often intense physical exertion. The answer to the prayer is a crisis through which someone enters a higher life. Barriers inhibiting the emergence into this spiritual experience are weakened or diminished. "Free course" is a form of second blessing or continuationism.
We should pray for the free course of the gospel as Paul said it in 2 Thessalonians 3:1. Think about your church. You want to gain ground. You want to move to the next town and the next and then the next, like Philip in Acts 8. When he was done, he preached the gospel up the coast. Churches need to have this urgency to push outward. Each church. We should be praying this would happen. A related prayer exhorted by the Lord Jesus was for laborers. More laborers will increase the speed at which the gospel gets further than what it has already.
Once the gospel arrives, it will do what is necessary in a persons life. Contrary to Van Gelderen, the spiritual weapon, scripture, is used to pull down the strongholds. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This is not the free course. The free course is the gospel getting to more people. They may not even get saved when it gets there. They won't be overcome by some kind of domineering, invincible sway, name-it and claim-it. Paul, like we should, had a concern for further spread, attempting to see as many people hear a true gospel as possible.
Let us heed Paul's admonition. The actual one.