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Chapter XXXIV.

Answer on the different reasons for prayer being heard.

Isaac: That there are different reasons for prayer being heard in accordance with the varied and changing condition of souls the words of the gospels and of the prophets teach us. For you have the fruits of an answer pointed out by our Lord’s words in the case of the agreement of two persons; as it is said: “If two of you shall agree upon earth touching anything for which they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”16301630    S. Matt. xviii. 19. You have another in the fulness of faith, which is compared to a grain of mustard-seed. “For,” He says, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain: Be thou removed, and it shall be removed; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”16311631    S. Matt. xvii. 19. You have it in continuance in prayer, which the Lord’s words call, by reason of unwearied perseverance in petitioning, importunity: “For, verily, I say unto you that if not because of his friendship, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as much as he needs.”16321632    S. Luke xi. 8. You have it in the fruits of almsgiving: “Shut up alms in the heart of the poor and it shall pray for thee in the time of tribulation.”16331633    Ecclus. xxix. 15. You have it in the purifying of life and in works of mercy, as it is said: “Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress;” and after a few words in which the barrenness of an unfruitful fast is rebuked, “then,” he says, “thou shalt call and the Lord shall hear thee; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here am I.”16341634    Is. lviii. 6, 9. Sometimes also excess of trouble causes it to be heard, as it is said: “When I was in trouble I called unto the Lord, and He heard me;”16351635    Ps. cxix. (cxx.) 1. and again: “Afflict not the stranger for if he crieth unto Me, I will hear him, for I am merciful.”16361636    Exod. xxii. 21, 27. You see then in how many ways the gift of an answer may be obtained, so that no one need be crushed by the despair of his conscience for securing those things which are salutary and eternal. For if in contemplating our wretchedness I admit that we are utterly destitute of all those virtues which we mentioned above, and that we have neither that laudable agreement of two persons, nor that faith which 399is compared to a grain of mustard seed, nor those works of piety which the prophet describes, surely we cannot be without that importunity which He supplies to all who desire it, owing to which alone the Lord promises that He will give whatever He has been prayed to give. And therefore we ought without unbelieving hesitation to persevere, and not to have the least doubt that by continuing in them we shall obtain all those things which we have asked according to the mind of God. For the Lord, in His desire to grant what is heavenly and eternal, urges us to constrain Him as it were by our importunity, as He not only does not despise or reject the importunate, but actually welcomes and praises them, and most graciously promises to grant whatever they have perseveringly hoped for; saying, “Ask and ye shall receive: seek and ye shall find: knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened;”16371637    S. Luke xi. 9, 10. and again: “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing ye shall receive, and nothing shall be impossible to you.”16381638    S. Matt. xxi. 22; xvii. 20. And therefore even if all the grounds for being heard which we have mentioned are altogether wanting, at any rate the earnestness of importunity may animate us, as this is placed in the power of any one who wills without the difficulties of any merits or labours. But let not any suppliant doubt that he certainly will not be heard, so long as he doubts whether he is heard. But that this also shall be sought from the Lord unweariedly, we are taught by the example of the blessed Daniel, as, though he was heard from the first day on which he began to pray, he only obtained the result of his petition after one and twenty days.16391639    Cf. Dan. x. 2 sq. Wherefore we also ought not to grow slack in the earnestness of the prayers we have begun, if we fancy that the answer comes but slowly, for fear lest perhaps the gift of the answer be in God’s providence delayed, or the angel, who was to bring the Divine blessing to us, may when he comes forth from the Presence of the Almighty be hindered by the resistance of the devil, as it is certain that he cannot transmit and bring to us the desired boon, if he finds that we slack off from the earnestness of the petition made. And this would certainly have happened to the above mentioned prophet unless he had with incomparable steadfastness prolonged and persevered in his prayers until the twenty-first day. Let us then not be at all cast down by despair from the confidence of this faith of ours, even when we fancy that we are far from having obtained what we prayed for, and let us not have any doubts about the Lord’s promise where He says: “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive.”16401640    S. Matt. xxi. 22. For it is well for us to consider this saying of the blessed Evangelist John, by which the ambiguity of this question is clearly solved: “This is,” he says, “the confidence which we have in Him, that whatsoever we ask according to His will, He heareth us.”16411641    1 John v. 16. He bids us then have a full and undoubting confidence of the answer only in those things which are not for our own advantage or for temporal comforts, but are in conformity to the Lord’s will. And we are also taught to put this into our prayers by the Lord’s Prayer, where we say “Thy will be done,”—Thine not ours. For if we also remember these words of the Apostle that “we know not what to pray for as we ought”16421642    Rom. viii. 26. we shall see that we sometimes ask for things opposed to our salvation and that we are most providentially refused our requests by Him who sees what is good for us with greater right and truth than we can. And it is clear that this also happened to the teacher of the Gentiles when he prayed that the messenger of Satan who had been for his good allowed by the Lord’s will to buffet him, might be removed, saying: “For which I besought the Lord thrice that he might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.”16431643    2 Cor. xii. 8, 9. And this feeling even our Lord expressed when He prayed in the character16441644    Ex persona hominis assumpti. The language is scarcely accurate, but it must be remembered that the Conferences were written before the rise of the Nestorian heresy had shown the need for exactness of expression on the subject of the Incarnation. Compare the note on “Against Nestorius,” Book III. c. iii. of man which He had taken, that He might give us a form of prayer as other things also by His example; saying thus: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt,”16451645    S. Matt. xxvi. 39. though certainly His will was not discordant with His Father’s will, “For He had come to save what was lost and to give His life a ransom for many;”16461646    S. Matt. xviii. 11; xx. 28. as He Himself says: “No man taketh my life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.”16471647    S. John x. 18. In which character there is in the thirty-ninth Psalm the following sung by the blessed David, of the Unity of will which He ever maintained with the Father: “To do Thy will: O My God, I am willing.”16481648    Ps. xxxix. (xl.) 9. For even if we read of the Father: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten 400Son,”16491649    1 John iii. 16. we find none the less of the Son: “Who gave Himself for our sins.”16501650    Gal. i. 4. And as it is said of the One: “Who spared not His own Son, but gave Him for all of us,”16511651    Rom. viii. 32. so it is written of the other: “He was offered because He Himself willed it.”16521652    Is. liii. 7. (Lat.) And it is shown that the will of the Father and of the Son is in all things one, so that even in the actual mystery of the Lord’s resurrection we are taught that there was no discord of operation. For just as the blessed Apostle declares that the Father brought about the resurrection of His body, saying: “And God the Father, who raised Him from the dead,”16531653    Gal. i. 1. so also the Son testifies that He Himself will raise again the Temple of His body, saying: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”16541654    S. John ii. 19. And therefore we being instructed by all these examples of our Lord which have been enumerated ought to end our supplications also with the same prayer, and always to subjoin this clause to all our petitions: “Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”16551655    S. Matt. xxvi. 39. But it is clear enough that one who does not16561656    “Non” though wanting in most mss. must be read in the text. pray with attention of mind cannot observe that threefold reverence16571657    Reading “curvationis” with Petschenig: the text of Gazæus has “orationis.” which is usually practised in the assemblies of the brethren at the close of service.

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