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1,2. Prayer divinely explained as a devotional sacrifice, under the similitude of incense.
3. Our annihilation in this sacrifice.
4,5. Solidity and fruit of this prayer according to the Gospel.
Both devotion and sacrifice are comprehended in prayer, which, according to St. John is an incense, the smoke whereof ascendeth unto God; therefore it is said in the Apocalypse, that “unto the angel was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints.” (Rev. viii. 3.)
Prayer is the effusion of the heart in the presence of God: “I have poured out my soul before the Lord,” said the mother of Samuel. (1 Sam. i. 15.) The prayer of the wise men at the feet of Christ in the stable of Bethlehem, was signified by the incense they offered.
2. Prayer is a certain warmth of love, melting, dissolving, and sublimating the soul, and causing it to ascend unto God, and, as the soul is melted, odors rise from it; and these sweet exhalations proceed from the consuming fire of love within.
This is illustrated in the Canticles, (i. 12,) where the spouse says, “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.” The table is the centre of the soul; and when God is there, and we know how to dwell near, and abide with Him, the sacred presence gradually dissolves the hardness of the soul, and, as it melts, fragrance issues forth; hence it is, that the Beloved says of his spouse, in seeing her soul melt when he spoke, “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness, like pillars of smoke perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?” (Cant. v. 6; iii. 6.)
3. Thus does the soul ascend to God, by giving up self to the destroying and annihilating power of divine love. This is a state of sacrifice essential to the Christian religion, in which the soul suffers itself to be destroyed and annihilated, that it may pay homage to the sovereignty of God; as it is written, “The power of the Lord is great, and he is honored only by the humble.” (Eccles. iii. 20.) By the destruction of self, we acknowledge the supreme existence of God. We must cease to exist in self, in order that the Spirit of the Eternal Word may exist in us: it is by the giving up of our own life, that we give place to his coming; and in dying to ourselves, He himself lives in us.
We must surrender our whole being to Christ Jesus, and cease to live any longer in ourselves, that He may become our life; “that being dead, our life may be hid with Christ in God.” (Col. iii. 3.) “Pass ye into me,” sayeth God, “all ye who earnestly seek after me.” (Eccles. xxi. 16.) But how is it we pass into God? In no way but by leaving and forsaking ourselves, that we may be lost in Him; and this can be effected only by annihilation, which, being the true prayer of adoration, renders unto God alone, all blessing, honor, glory, and power, forever and ever.” (Rev. v. 13.)
4. This prayer of truth; it is “worshipping God in spirit and in truth:” (John iv. 23.) “In spirit,” because we enter into the purity of that Spirit which prayeth within us, and are drawn forth from our own carnal and human method; “in truth,” because we are thereby placed in the truth of the all of God, and the nothing of the creature.
There are but these two truths, the All and the Nothing; everything else is falsehood. We can pay due honor to the All of God, only in our own Annihilation; which is no sooner accomplished, that He, who never suffers a void in nature, instantly fills us with Himself.
Ah! did we but know the virtues and the blessings which the soul derives from this prayer, we should not be willing to do anything else; It is the pearl of great price; the hidden treasure, (Matt. xiii. 44,45,) which, whoever findeth, selleth freely all that he hath to purchase it; it is the well of living water, which springeth up unto everlasting life. It is the adoration of God “in spirit and in truth:” (John iv. 14-23:) and it is the full performance of the purest evangelical precepts.
5. Jesus Christ assures us, that the “kingdom of God is within us:” (Luke xvii. 21:) and this is true in two senses: first, when God becomes so fully Saviour and Lord in us, that nothing resists his domination, then our interior is his kingdom; and again, when we possess God, who is the Supreme Good, we possess his kingdom also, wherein there is fulness of joy, and where we attain the end of our creation. Thus it is said, “to serve God is to reign.” The end of our creation, indeed, is to enjoy God, even in this life; but, alas! who thinks of it?58
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