« Prev 20. Prayer. Next »

§ 20. Prayer.

Prayer is the converse of the soul with God. Therein we manifest or express to Him our reverence, and love for his divine perfection, our gratitude for all his mercies, our penitence for our sins, our hope in his forgiving love, our submission to his authority, our confidence in his care, our desires for his favour, and for the providential and spiritual blessings needed for ourselves and others. As religion, in the subjective sense of the word, is the state of mind induced by the due apprehension of the character of God and of our relation to Him as our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer; so prayer is the expression, uttered or unuttered, of all the feelings and desires which that state of mind produces or excites. A prayerless man is of necessity, and thoroughly irreligious. There can be no life without activity. As the body is dead when it ceases to act, so the soul that goes not forth in its actions towards God, that lives as though there were no God, is spiritually dead.

Prayer takes a great deal for granted. It assumes, in the first place, the personality of God. Only a person can say I, or be addressed as Thou; only a person can be the subject and object of intelligent action, can apprehend and answer, can love and be loved, or hold converse with other persons. If God, therefore, be only a name for an unknown force, or for the moral order of the 693universe, prayer becomes irrational and impossible.737737Philosophers, says Dr. Chalmers, “look on the Supreme Principle to be in every way as inflexible and sure as they have uniformly found of the subordinate principles; and that He is as unfit to be addressed by a petition or the expression of a wish, as any fancied spirit that may reside in a volcano or a storm, in any other department of nature’s vast machinery — that the cries of urgency and distress are of no more avail when sent up to Him who wields the elements of the world, as if they were only lifted to the elements themselves — that the same unchangeableness which pervades all nature, is also characteristic of nature’s God: and so they deem to be an aberration from sound philosophy, both the doctrine of a special providence and the observation of prayer.” Chalmers, Works, ed. New York, 1844, vol. ii. p. 319. Secondly, God, however, although a person, may dwell far off in immensity, and have no intercourse with his creatures on earth. Prayer, therefore, assumes not only the personality of God, but also that He is near us; that He is not only able, but also willing to hold intercourse with us, to hear and answer; that He knows our thoughts afar off; and that unuttered aspirations are intelligible to Him. Thirdly, it assumes that He has the personal control of all nature, i.e., of all things out of Himself; that He governs all his creatures and all their actions. It assumes that He has not only created all things and endowed matter and mind with forces and powers, but that He is everywhere present, controlling the operation of such forces and powers, so that nothing occurs without his direction or permission. When it rains, it is because He wills it, and controls the laws of nature to produce that effect. When the earth produces fruit in abundance, or when the hopes of the husbandman are disappointed, these effects are not to be referred to the blind operation of natural laws, but to God’s intelligent and personal control. There is no such reign of law as makes God a subject. It is He who reigns, and orders all the operations of nature so as to accomplish his own purposes.

This does not suppose that the laws of nature are mutable, or that they are set aside. There is scarcely any effect, either in nature or in the acts of men, due to the operation of any one natural force. We produce effects by combining such forces, so that the result is due to this intelligent and voluntary combination. In like manner, in the ordinary operations of nature, God accomplishes his purpose by a similar intelligent and voluntary combination of natural causes. When He wills that it should rain, He wills that all the secondary causes, productive of that effect, should be brought into operation. The doctrine of providence only supposes that God does, on the scale of the universe, what we do within the limited sphere of our efficiency. We, indeed, so far as effects out of ourselves are concerned, are tied to the use of 694secondary causes. We can act neither against them, nor without them. God is not thus limited. He can operate without second causes as well as with them, or against them. There seems to be no little confusion in the minds of many writers on this subject. They insist on the immutability of the laws of nature, and some times speak of God as constantly controlling their operation by combining and directing their forces, and yet they resolve all second causes into the divine efficiency; that is, an efficiency directed by intelligence and will. “It is but reasonable,” says Sir John Herschel, “to regard the force of gravitation as the direct or indirect result of a consciousness or will existing somewhere.”738738Outlines of Astronomy, 5th ed. p. 292. “It may be that all natural forces are resolvable in some one force, and indeed in the modern doctrine of the correlation of forces, an idea which is a near approach to this, has already entered the domain of science. It may also be that this one force, into which all others return again, is itself but a mode of action of the Divine Will.”739739The Reign of Law, by the Duke of Argyle, 5th ed. London, 1867, p. 129. It is a common remark that the only force of which we have any direct knowledge is mind-force, and hence that it is unphilosophical to assume any other. From this it is inferred that all the forces operating in nature are the energy of the one Supreme Intelligence. This doctrine, as shown when treating of the doctrine of Providence, almost inevitably leads to pantheism. But it is difficult to see how those who take this view can consistently speak of the immutability of law, or of God’s being free only within its limits. It is essential to the idea of mind-power, that it should be free; that it should act when, where, and how it pleases. In the case of God, indeed, it cannot act unwisely or unjustly. But if all the forces of nature are only manifestations of the divine efficiency, what meaning can be attached to the proposition that He operates with, and through, and never independently of natural law?

The Scriptural doctrine is that God is an extra-mundane, personal Being, independent of the world, who has created it, and endowed all things material with their several properties or powers, which He in his omnipresent, and infinitely wise omnipotence, constantly controls. This doctrine is presupposed in prayer; for “prayer and the answer of prayer, are simply . . . . the preferring of a request upon the one side, and compliance with that request upon the other. Man applies, God complies. Man asks a favour, God bestows it. These are conceived to be the two 695terms of a real interchange that takes place between the parties — the two terms of a sequence, in fact, whereof the antecedent is a prayer lifted up from earth, and the consequent is the fulfilment of that prayer in virtue of a mandate from heaven.”740740Chalmers, ut supra, p. 321.

Prayer also supposes that the government of God extends over the minds of men, over their thoughts, feelings, and volitions, that the heart is in his hands, and that He can turn it even as the rivers of water are turned.

It is evident, therefore, that not only atheism, pantheism, materialism, and every other system of philosophy which involves the denial of the existence or the personality of God, but also all other theories, whether scientific or philosophical, which do not admit of the control of God over the operations of nature and the character and conduct of men, are inconsistent with prayer. According to all these systems there is either no one to pray to, or nothing to pray for. If there be no personal God, there is no one to pray to; and if God, supposing such a Being to exist, has no control over nature or man, then there is no rational motive for prayer; there is nothing to be accomplished by it. The idea that the service would still be of value for its subjective effect is irrational, because its subjective effect is due to faith in its objective efficiency. If a man believes that there is no God, he cannot make himself a better man by acting hypocritically, and pouring forth his prayers and praises to a nonentity. Or, if a believer in the existence of God, if he has such a theory of his nature or of his relation to the world, as precludes the possibility of his hearing, or if He hears, of his answering our prayers, then prayer becomes irrational. Candid men, therefore, who in their philosophy hold any of the theories referred to, do not hesitate to pronounce prayer superstitious or fanatical. Kant, although a theist, regards all as unphilosophical enthusiasts who assume that God hears or answers prayer.741741Kant’s Leben, von Borowsky, p. 199 (Büchner’s Biblische Real-und Verbal-Concordanz, word “Bitte”); Halle, 1840, 6th ed. p. 560.

Professor Tyndall, one of the representative scientific men of the age, says, “One by one natural phenomena have been associated with their proximate causes; and the idea of direct personal volition, mixing itself in the economy of nature, is retreating more and more.” Science, he tells us “does assert, for example, that without a disturbance of natural law, quite as serious as the stoppage of an eclipse, or the rolling the St. Lawrence up the 696Falls of Niagara, no act of humiliation, individual or national, could call one shower from heaven, or deflect towards us a single beam of the sun.” [Man may deflect the beams of the sun at pleasure, but God cannot. Man, according to Professor Espy, can make it rain, but God cannot.] “Those, therefore, who believe that the miraculous is still active in nature, may with perfect consistency join in our periodic prayers for fair weather and for rain: while those who hold that the age of miracles is past, will refuse to join in such petitions.”742742Fragments of Science for Unscientific People, by John Tyndall, LL. D., F. R. S., London, 1871, pp. 31, 32, and 36. With Professor Tyndall and the large class of scientists to which he belongs, there never has been an event in the external world due to the exercise of any other force than the undirected operation of physical causes. “Nothing has occurred to indicate that the operation of the law [of gravity] has for a moment been suspended; nothing has ever intimated that nature has been crossed by spontaneous action, or that a state of things at any time existed which could not be rigorously deduced from the preceding state. Given the distribution of matter and the forces in operation in the time of Galileo, the competent mathematician of that day could predict what is now occurring in our own.”743743Ibid. pp. 63, 64. What is meant by “spontaneous action”? Spontaneous is antithetical to necessary. Spontaneous action, therefore, is free action; the action of intelligence and will; such action as Professor Tyndall displays in writing or delivering his lectures. His assertion, therefore, is that there has never occurred in nature any effect which may not be referred to necessary, i.e., to blind, unintelligent causes. This of course precludes the possibility of miracles. For a miracle is an event in the external world which cannot be referred to any natural cause, but which must from its nature be ascribed to the immediate efficiency, or the “spontaneous action” of God. When Christ said, “I will; be thou clean,” and the leper was cleansed, the only cause, or efficient antecedent of the cure, was his will a volition. So when He said,” Lazarus come forth,” or when He “said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” The scientific man has no idea how small he looks, when, in the presence of Christ, he ventures to say that nature has never been crossed by “spontaneous action,” that Christ’s will was not a cause, when he healed the sick, or opened the eyes of the blind, or raised the dead, by a word; or 697when He himself rose by his own power from the grave. To say that these facts never occurred, simply because, according to the ephemeral theory of the hour, they could not occur, is the infinite of folly. It is a thousand fold more certain that they occurred than that the best authenticated facts of history are true. For such facts we have only ordinary historical evidence; for the truth of Christ’s miracles, and especially of his resurrection, we have the evidence of all the facts of history from his day to the present. The actual state of the world, and the existence of the Church, necessitate the admission of those facts, to which God himself bore witness of old in signs, and wonders, and divers miracles, as He does still in a manner absolutely irresistible, in the gift of the Holy Ghost. To hear the whole gospel, even constructively, pronounced a lie, is a sore trial to those who have even a glimmer of the faith of Paul, and who can only say with quivering lips, what he said with the fulness of assurance, “I know whom I have believed.”744744In the volume above referred to, there is an article entitled, “Miracles and Special Providences,” being a review by Professor Tyndall of the Rev. Mr. Mozley’s Bampton Lectures on Miracles. In that review “magic, miracles, and witchcraft” are placed in the same category. Scientific men are prone to think that there is no other evidence of truth, than the testimony of the senses. But the reason has its intuitions, the moral nature its à priori judgments, the religious consciousness its immediate apprehensions, which are absolutely infallible and of paramount authority. A man might as easily emancipate himself from the operation of the laws of nature, as from the authority of the moral law, or his responsibility to God. When, therefore, men of science advance theories opposed to these fundamental convictions, they are like bats impinging against the everlasting rocks.

But apart from the case of miracles, it may be safely said, that so far from its being true that nature has never been “crossed by spontaneous action,” such action in nature is familiar, constant, and almost universal. What is an organism, but the product of spontaneous action? that is, of the intelligent (and therefore voluntary) selection and application of appropriate means for the accomplishment of a foreseen and intended end? If the world is full of the evidences of spontaneous action on the part of man, nature is full of evidence of such action on the part of God. The evidence is of the same kind, and just as palpable and irresistible in the one case as in the other. It is admitted of necessity by those who deny it. Darwin’s books, for example, are full of such expressions as “wonderful contrivance,” “ingenious device,” 698“marvellous arrangements.” These expressions reveal the perception of spontaneous action. They have no meaning except on the assumption of such action. “Contrivance,” “device,” imply design, and would not be used if the perception of intention did not suggest and necessitate them. Some twenty times already, in the course of this work, it has been shown that in many cases, those who begin with denying any spontaneous action in nature, end with asserting that there is no other kind of action anywhere; that all force is mind-force, and therefore spontaneous as well as intelligent.

Spontaneous action cannot be got rid of. If denied in the present, it must be admitted in the past. If, as even Professor Huxley teaches, “Organization is not the cause of life; but life is the cause of organization,”745745Elements of Comparative Anatomy, pp. 10, 11. the question is, Whence comes life? Not out of nothing, surely. It must have its origin in the spontaneous, voluntary act of the ever, and the necessarily Living One.

The theory of the universe which underlies the Bible, which is everywhere assumed or asserted in the sacred volume, which accords with our moral and religious nature, and which, therefore, is the foundation of natural, as well as of revealed religion, is that God created all things by the word of his power, that He endowed his creatures with their properties or forces; that He is everywhere present in the universe, coöperating with and controlling the operation of second causes on a scale commensurate with his omnipresence and omnipotence, as we, in our measure coöperate with, and control them within the narrow range of our efficiency. According to this theory, it is not irrational that we should pray for rain or fair weather, for prosperous voyages or healthful seasons; or that we should feel gratitude for the innumerable blessings which we receive from this ever present, ever operating, and ever watchful benefactor and Father. Any theory of the universe which makes religion, or prayer, irrational, is self-evidently false, because it contradicts the nature, the consciousness, and the irrepressible convictions of men. As this control of God extends over the minds of men, it is no less rational that we should pray, as all men instinctively do pray, that He would influence our own hearts, and the hearts of others, for good, than that we should pray for health.

It is also involved in the assumptions already referred to that the sequence of events in the physical and moral world is not 699determined by any inexorable fate. A fatalist cannot consistently pray. It is only on the assumption that there is a God, who does his pleasure in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, that we can rationally address Him as the hearer of prayer.

In like manner it is assumed that there is no such foreordination of events as is inconsistent with God’s acting according to the good pleasure of his will. When a man enters upon any great enterprise, he lays down beforehand the plan of his operations; selects and determines his means, and assigns to each subordinate the part he is to act; he may require each to apply continually for guidance and directions; and may assure him that his requests for assistance and guidance shall be answered. Were it possible that every instance of such application or request could be foreseen and the answer predetermined, this would not be inconsistent with the duty or propriety of such requests being made, or with the liberty of action on the part of the controller. This illustration may amount to little; but it is certain that the Scriptures teach both foreordination and the efficacy of prayer. The two, therefore, cannot be inconsistent. God has not determined to accomplish his purposes without the use of means; and among those means, the prayers of his people have their appropriate place. If the objection to prayer, founded on the foreordination of events, be valid, it is valid against the use of means in any case. If it be unreasonable to say, ‘If it be foreordained that I should live, it is not necessary for me to eat,’ it is no less unreasonable for me to say, ‘If it be foreordained that I should receive any good, it is not necessary for me to ask for it.’ If God has foreordained to bless us, He has foreordained that we should seek his blessing. Prayer has the same causal relation to the good bestowed, as any other means has to the end with which it is connected.

The God of the Bible, who has revealed himself as the hearer of prayer, is not mere intelligence and power. He is love. He feels as well as thinks. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. He is full of tenderness, compassion, long-suffering, and benevolence. This is not anthropomorphism. These declarations of Scripture are not mere “regulative truths.” They reveal what God really is. If man was made in his image, God is like man. All the excellences of our nature as spirits belong to Him without limitation, and to an infinite degree. There is mystery here, as there is everywhere. But we are all used to mysteries, the naturalist as well as the 700theologian. Both have been taught the folly of denying that a thing is, because we cannot tell how it is. It is enough for us to know that God loves us and cares for us; that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without his notice, and that we are, in his sight, of more value than many sparrows. All this for the believer is literal truth, having in its support the highest kind of evidence. The “how” he is content to leave unexplained.

It is an objection often urged against the propriety of addressing prayer to God, that it is inconsistent with his dignity as an infinite Being to suppose that He concerns Himself with the trifling affairs of men. This objection arises from a forgetfulness that God is infinite. It assumes that his knowledge, power, or presence, is limited; that He would be distracted if his attention were directed to all the minute changes constantly occurring throughout the universe. This supposes that God is a creature like ourselves; that bounds can be set to his intelligence or efficiency. When a man looks out on an extended landscape, the objects to which his attention is simultaneously directed are too numerous to be counted. What is man to God? The absolute intelligence must know all things; absolute power must be able to direct all things. In the sight of God, the distinction between few and many, great and small, disappears. In Him all creatures live, and move, and have their being.

The Object of Prayer.

As prayer involves the ascription of divine attributes to its object, it can be properly addressed to God alone. The heathen prayed to imaginary beings, or to idols, who had eyes that saw not, and hands that could not save. Equally unscriptural and irrational are prayers addressed to any creature of whose presence we have no knowledge, and of whose ability either to hear or answer our petitions we have no evidence.

In the Old Testament, the prayers therein recorded are urnformly addressed to God, as such; to the one Divine Being, because the distinction of the persons in the Godhead was then but imperfectly revealed. In the New Testament, prayer is addressed either to God, as the Triune God, or to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as distinct persons. In the Christian doxology, used wherever the Bible is known, the several persons of the Trinity are separately addressed. The examples of prayer addressed to Christ, recorded in the New Testament, are very numerous. As prayer, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes 701all converse with God either in the form of praise, thanksgiving, confession, or petition; all the ascriptions of glory to Him, as well as all direct supplications addressed to Him, come under the head. The Apostles prayed to Him while He was yet with them on earth, asking of Him blessings which God only could bestow, as when they said, “Lord, increase our faith.” The dying thief, taught by the Spirit of God, said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” The last words of the first martyr, Stephen, were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Paul besought the Lord thrice that the thorn in his flesh might depart from him. So in 1 Timothy i. 12, he says, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” In Revelation i. 5, 6, it is said, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation v. 13, “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, ‘Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.’” As the Bible so clearly teaches that Christ is God manifest in the flesh; that all power in heaven and earth is committed to his hands; that He is exalted to give repentance and the remission of sins; as He gives the Holy Ghost; and as He is said to dwell in us, and to be our life; it does thereby teach us that He is the proper object of prayer. Accordingly, as all Christians are the worshippers of Christ, so He has ever been the object of their adoration, thanksgivings, praises, confessions, and supplications.

Requisites of Acceptable Prayer.

1. The first and most obviously necessary requisite of acceptable prayer, is sincerity. God is a Spirit. He searches the heart. He is not satisfied with words, or with external homage. He cannot be deceived and will not be mocked. It is a great offence, therefore, in his sight, when we utter words before Him in which our hearts do not join. We sin against Him when we use terms, in the utterance of which the angels veil their faces, with no corresponding feelings of reverence; or use the formulas of thanksgiving without gratitude; or those of humility and confession without any due sense of our unworthiness; or those of petition without desire for the blessings we ask. Every one must acknowledge 702that this is an evil often attending the prayers of sincere Christians; and with regard to the multitudes who, in places of public worship, repeat the solemn forms of devotion or profess to unite with those who utter them, without any corresponding emotions, the service is little more than mockery.

2. Reverence. God is an infinitely exalted Being: infinite in his holiness as well as in knowledge and power. He is to be had in reverence by all who are round about Hun. This holy fear is declared to be the first element of all true religion. His people are designated as those who fear his name. We are required to serve Him with reverence and godly fear. And whenever heaven is opened to our view, its inhabitants are seen prostrate before the throne. We offend God, therefore, when we address Him as we would a fellow creature, or use forms of expression of undue familiarity. Nothing is more characteristic of the prayers recorded in the Bible, than the spirit of reverence by which they are pervaded. The Psalms especially may be regarded as a prayer-book. Every Psalm is a prayer, whether of worship, of thanksgiving, of confession, or of supplication. In many cases all these elements are intermingled. They relate to all circumstances in the inward and outward life of those by whom they were indited. They recognize the control of God over all events, and over the hearts of men. They assume that He is ever near and ever watchful, sustaining to his people the relation of a loving Father. But with all this, there is never any forgetfulness of his infinite majesty. There is a tendency sometimes in the best of men, to address God as though He were one of ourselves. Luther’s familiar formula was, Lieber Herr, or Lieber Herr Gott (dear Lord, dear Lord God). As Lieber Herr is the usual mode of address among friends (equivalent to our Dear Sir), it sounds strangely when God is thus addressed. In Luther it was the expression of faith and love; in many who imitate him it is the manifestation of an irreverent spirit.

3. Humility. This includes, first, a due sense of our insignificance as creatures; and secondly, a proper apprehension of our ill-desert and uncleanness in the sight of God as sinners. It is the opposite of self-righteousness, of self-complacency and self-confidence. It is the spirit manifested by Job, when he placed his hand upon his mouth, and his mouth in the dust, and said, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes; by Isaiah when he said, Woe is me! because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; and by the publican, who 703was afraid to lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, and said, God be merciful to me a sinner. Such language is often regarded as exaggerated or hypocritical. It is, however, appropriate. It expresses the state of mind which cannot fail to be produced by a proper apprehension of our character as sinners in the sight of a just and holy God. Indeed there is no language which can give adequate expression to that rational sense of sin which the people of God often experience.

4. Importunity. This is so important that on three different occasions our Lord impressed its necessity upon his disciples. This was one evident design of the history of the Syrophenician woman, who could not be prevented from crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David.” (Matt. xv. 22.) Thus also in the parable of the unjust judge, who said, “Because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” (Luke xviii. 5-8.) Again in Luke xi. 5-8, we read of the man who refused to give his friend bread, of whom Christ said, “Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” God deals with us as a wise benefactor. He requires that we should appreciate the value of the blessings for which we ask, and that we should manifest a proper earnestness of desire. If a man begs for his own life or for the life of one dear to him, there is no repressing his importunity. He will not be refused. If the life of the body is to be thus earnestly sought, can we expect that the life of the soul will be granted to those who do not seek it with importunate earnestness.

5. Submission. Every man who duly appreciates his relation to God, will, no matter what his request be disposed to say, “Lord, not my will but thine be done.” Even a child feels the propriety of subjecting his will in all his requests to his earthly father. How much more should we submit to the will of our Father in heaven. He alone knows what is best; granting our request might, in many cases, be our destruction. Our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane set us an example in this matter, that should never be forgotten.

6. Faith. We must believe. (a.) That God is. (b.) That He is able to hear and answer our prayers. (c.) That He is disposed 704to answer them. (d.) That He certainly will answer them, if consistent with his own wise purposes and with our best good. For this faith we have the most express assurances in the Bible. It is not only said, “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find,” but our Lord says explicitly, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.” (John xiv. 13.) And again, “If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. xviii. 19.) All the promises of God are conditional. The condition, if not expressed; is implied. It cannot be supposed that God has subjected Himself in the government of the world, or in the dispensation of his gifts, to the shortsighted wisdom of men, by promising, without condition, to do whatever they ask. No rational man could wish this to be the case. He would of his own accord supply the condition, which, from the nature of the case and from the Scriptures themselves, must be understood. In 1 John v. 14, the condition elsewhere implied is expressed. “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to his will, He heareth us.” The promise, however, gives the assurance that all prayers offered in faith, for things according to the will of God, will be answered. The answer, indeed, may be given, as in the case of Paul when he prayed to be delivered from the thorn in the flesh, in a way we do not expect. But the answer will be such as we, if duly enlightened, would ourselves desire. More than this we need not wish. Want of confidence in these precious promises of God; want of faith in his disposition and readiness to hear us, is one of the greatest and most common defects in the prayers of Christians. Every father desires the confidence of his children, and is grieved by any evidence of distrust; and God is our Father; He demands from us the feelings which children ought to have towards their earthly parents.

7. The prayers of Christians must be offered in the name of Christ. Our Lord said to his disciples: “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive.” (John xvi. 24.) “I have chosen you . . . . that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you.” (xv. 16.) “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.” (xiv. 13.) By “the name of God” is meant God himself, and God as manifested in his relation to us. Both ideas are usually united. Thus to believe “in the name of the only begotten Son of God” is to believe that Christ is the Son of God, and that as such He 705is manifested as the only Saviour of men. To act in the name of anyone is often to act by his authority, and in the exercise of his power. Thus our Lord speaks of the works which He did “in his Father’s name;” that is, by the Father’s authority and in the exercise of his efficiency. And of the Apostles it is frequently said that they wrought miracles in the name of Christ, meaning that the miracles were wrought by his authority and power. But when one asks a favour in the name of another, the simple meaning is, for his sake. Regard for the person in whose name the favour is requested, is relied on as the ground on which it is to be granted. Therefore, when we are told to pray in the name of Christ, we are required to urge what Christ is and what He has done, as the reason why we should be heard. We are not to trust to our own merits, or our own character, nor even simply to God’s mercy; we are to plead the merits and worth of Christ. It is only in Him, in virtue of his mediation and worth, that, according to the Gospel, any blessing is conferred on the apostate children of men.

Different Kinds of Prayer.

As prayer is converse with God, it includes those spiritual exercises, those goings forth of the soul towards God in thought and feeling, which reveal themselves in the forms of reverence, gratitude, sorrow for sin, sense of dependence, and obligation. In this sense, the man who lives and walks with God, prays always. He fulfils to the letter the injunction “Pray without ceasing.” It is our duty and high privilege to have this constant converse with God. The heart should be like the altar of incense, on which the fire never went out.

It is, however, a law of our nature that we should clothe our thoughts and feelings in words. And therefore, prayer is in one form speech. Even when no audible utterance is given, words as the clothing or expression of inward states are present to the mind. There is power, however, in articulate words. The thought or feeling is more distinct and vivid even to ourselves, when audibly expressed. Prayer, in this sense, is usually distinguished as secret, social, and public. It would be a great mistake, if a Christian should act on the assumption that the life of God in his soul could be adequately preserved by that form of prayer, which consists in habitual communion with God. The believer needs, in order to maintain his spiritual health and vigour, regular and stated seasons of prayer, as the body needs its daily 706meals. “When thou prayest,” is the direction given by our Lord, “enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. vi. 6.) The Bible presents to us the example of the people of God, and of our blessed Lord himself, as a rule of conduct on this subject. We read that Christ often retired for the purpose of prayer, and not unfrequently spent whole nights in that exercise. If the spotless soul of Jesus needed these seasons of converse with God, none of his followers should venture to neglect this important means of grace. Let each day, at least, begin and end with God.

Social prayer includes family prayer, and prayer in the assemblies of the people for social worship. As man’s nature is social, he must have fellowship with his fellow men in all that concerns his inward and outward life. No man lives, or can live for himself, in religion any more than in any other relation. As the family is the most intimate bond of fellowship among men, it is of the utmost importance that it should be hallowed by religion. All the relations of parents, children, and domestics are purified and strengthened, when the whole household is statedly assembled, morning and evening, for the worship of God. There is no substitute for this divinely appointed means of promoting family religion. It supposes, indeed, a certain amount of culture. The head of the family should be able to read the Scriptures as well as to lead in the prayer. Those, however, who cannot do the former, may at least do the latter. All persons subject to the watch or care of the Church should be required to maintain in their households this stated worship of God. The character of the Church and of the state depends on the character of the family. If religion dies out in the family, it cannot elsewhere be maintained. A man’s responsibility to his children, as well as to God, binds him to make his house a Bethel; if not a Bethel, it will be a dwelling place of evil spirits.

When and where the mass of the people were so ignorant as to be incompetent profitably to maintain religious services in their families, it was natural and proper for the Church daily to open its doors, and call the people to matins and vespers. It was far better to have this opportunity for daily worship, than that such stated service should be neglected. It is not wise, however, to continue a custom when the grounds on which it was introduced no longer exist; or to make a church ordinance the substitute for a divine institution.

707

Public Prayer.

The public services of the sanctuary are designed for worship and instruction. The former includes prayer and singing; the latter, the reading the word of God and preaching. These elements should be preserved in due proportion. In some churches instruction is made entirely subordinate to worship; twice the time being devoted to the latter that is allotted to the former. This seems to be contrary to the Scriptural rule. Knowledge in the Bible is represented as the essential element of religion. There can be no true worship of God without adequate knowledge of God; there can be no repentance, faith, or holy living unless the truths on which these exercises and this living are dependent are understood, and are present to the mind. Religion is a reasonable, that is (λογική) a rational service, with which ignorance is incompatible. Christian ministers, therefore, are always in the New Testament called διδάσκαλοι, teachers. Their great commission received from Christ was “to teach all nations.” The Apostles, therefore, went everywhere, preaching. Paul says Christ did not send him to baptize, or to perform mere religious services, but to preach tho Gospel, which he declared to be the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation. No human authority could have transformed Paul from a preacher into an offerer of prayers. It was not until pagan ideas of worship began to pervade the Church, and ministers were transmuted from teachers into priests, that the teaching element was made so entirely subordinate to that of worship, as it has been for ages in the Church of Rome.

While teaching should be, as it clearly was during the apostolic age, the prominent object in the services of the Lord’s day, the importance of public prayer can hardly be overestimated. This, it is often said, is the weak point in the Presbyterian Sabbath service. This is probably true. That is, it is probably true that there are more good preachers than good prayers. The main reason for this is, that the minister devotes a great part of the labour of the week to the preparation of his sermon, and not a thought to his prayers. It is no wonder, therefore, that the one should be better than the other.

In order that this part of divine service should be conducted to the edification of the people, it is necessary, (1.) That the officiating minister should have a truly devout spirit; that the feelings and desires, of which the prayers are the utterance, should 708be in exercise in his own heart. (2.) That his mind and memory should be well stored with the thoughts and language of Scripture. Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Their utterances, whether in adoration, thanksgiving, confession, or supplication, were controlled by the Spirit of God. Hence they express the mind of the Spirit; they are the most appropriate vehicles for the expression of those feelings and desires which the Spirit awakens in the minds of God’s people. No prayers, therefore, are more edifying, other things being equal, than those which abound in the appropriate use of Scriptural language. (3.) The prayer should be well ordered, so as to embrace all the proper parts and topics of prayer in due proportion This will prevent its being rambling, diffuse, or repetitious. (4.) It should also be suited to the occasion, whether that be the ordinary service on the Lord’s day, or the administration of the sacraments, or the special service on days of thanksgiving or of fasting and humiliation. (5.) It is hardly necessary to say that the language employed should be simple, solemn, and correct. (6.) The prayers should be short. Undue length in this service is generally owing, not more to diffuseness than to useless repetitions.

Prayer as a Means of Grace.

Means of grace, as before stated, are those means which God has ordained for the end of communicating the life-giving and sanctifying influences of the Spirit to the souls of men. Such are the word and sacraments, and such is prayer. It has not only the relation which any other cause has to the end for which it was appointed, and thus is the condition on which the blessings of God, providential or spiritual, are bestowed; but it brings us near to God, who is the source of all good. Fellowship with Him, converse with Him, calls into exercise all gracious affections, reverence, love, gratitude, submission, faith, joy, and devotion. When the soul thus draws near to God, God draws near to it, manifests his glory, sheds abroad his love, and imparts that peace which passes all understanding. Our Lord says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John xiv. 28.) In such fellowship, the soul must be holy and must be blessed.

The Power of Prayer.

The course of human events is not controlled by physical force alone. There are other powers at work in the government of the 709world. There is the power of ideas, true or false; the power of truth; the power of love and human sympathy; the power of conscience; and above all, the Supreme Power, immanent in the world as well as over it, which is an intelligent, voluntary, personal power, coöperating with and controlling the operations of all creatures, without violating their nature. This Supreme Power is roused into action by prayer, in a way analogous to that in which the energies of a man are called into action by the entreaties of his fellow-men. This is the doctrine of the Bible; it is perfectly consistent with reason, and is confirmed by the whole history of the world, and especially of the Church. Moses by his prayer saved the Israelites from destruction; at the prayer of Samuel the army of the Philistines was dispersed; “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” These facts are referred to by the Apostle James, for the purpose of proving that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Paul constantly begged his Christian brethren to pray for him, and directed that prayer should “be made for all men: for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” This of course supposes that prayer is a power. Queen Mary of Scotland was not beside herself, when she said she feared the prayers of John Knox, more than an army. Once admit the doctrine of theism, that is of the existence of a personal God, and of his constant control over all things out of Himself, and all ground for doubt as to the efficacy of prayer is removed, and it remains to us, as it has been to the people of God in all ages, the great source of spiritual joy and strength, of security for the present and confidence for the future. The Forty-sixth Psalm still stands: “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

710711
« Prev 20. Prayer. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection