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treaty its special acknowledgement and boon; stands ever ready, without jar to a single process of his administration, to come to us when we call; and is far less cumbered to bestow and bless, than we, his tardy suppliants are, to seek his presence, and implore his help.
Let us now return, ere we quit this branch of our subject, to a consideration of the difficulty which challenged us when we started. It is, as every one must perceive, only a decorous modification of the skeptical objection we have just discussed, but when it assumes a Christian garb it perhaps requires a separate treatment.
"Is not the deity an unchangeable being? Does not St. James assure us that he is without variableness, or the shadow of turning? And do you flatter yourself by your importunities to allure him from his steadfast throne, to alter and re-arrange the lines of your lot? Do you expect Him, the unalterable, to vibrate to the cries of your sorrow stricken heart, and to shift his course to distil on your exigency the dews of his heavenly help? Pray if you please," for the objector in this instance is a Christian, and dare not inhibit prayer entirely,-" pray if you please, but look not, foolishly, or look in vain, for any direct recognition of your requests, and let the tranquil and grateful temper which is the spontaneous issue of the office, suffice and satisfy you." Now, as in the former case, we might hint, that our supplications and his response to them, are perhaps appointed by the prescient God to be powerfully influential upon the disposal of the lines of our lot, and that our cries of anguish are pre-ordained as the adequate means procurative of the heavenly solace we solicited; and that so, just because of our conviction of his unchangeableness, are we confident of the certainty with which in both instances he will hearken and do.' But
let us attempt a reply by analogy, rather.
The strength of the difficulty lies in the assumption of such an immutability in God, as necessitates a course so uniform and steadfast in his dealings with man, that he may not deviate from it,-for the objection assumes that he must deviate from it,-to meet any individual entreaty, how urgent soever the want, and clamorous the cry. Now, it strikes us that this very uniformity and invariability, so far from sapping, should reinforce our conviction of the efficacy of prayer, by assuring us of the certainty
with which, from within the scope of his general processes, he detaches and imparts special privileges to those who employ special means to procure them.
In the material world, there are certain comforts and blessings patent to all. The light and warmth of sunshine, the bland breeze of summer, and the healthful blasts of winter, the smell of flowers, the grandeur of mountains, and of the sea, the solemnity of forests, and all the varied beauty and magnificence of nature,-these are free to all, and no inclosure excludes the poorest or the idlest from their enjoyment. And so in the spiritual domain of the same God over all, there are common advantages unpurchased of prayer, which natural religion and Christianity gratuitously bestow. A partial knowledge of God, a vague faith in him, an easy and indolent reliance upon his goodness, a tolerably correct system of public and personal morality, and a somewhat dim and unassured, but still comfortable hope of a future life, of pardon, and final rest, of these, all who are Christians in name, are participants. Prayer does not include them, nor its omission forfeit them.
To return to the realm of Providence. From his confidence in the suitability to the supply of human want, of that general economy of nature, which lavishes unbought so many blessings upon all, assured by the very regularity and certainty of the system, that special advantages may be secured from it by special effort, the agriculturalist tills, and sows, and reaps, and gathers sustenance for the life material. And so, from a similar confidence in the suitability of the general economy of grace to spiritual need, and hence a conviction that singular privileges may be won from it by singular endeavor, the devout spirit waits on God, and importunes, and prevails, and gathers fruit unto life eternal. In both cases, the objects are attained by reliance upon the adaptability of the resources of that divine goodness which sheds unnumbered benefactions upon the race, to meet and satisfy peculiar diligence with peculiar privileges, and to do so, without the slightest deviation from the course of its steadfast and universal operations.
Further, for it is perhaps no mere fanciful speculation that would carry out the analogy-as by the skill and labor of the husbandman, in dressing and enriching his
fields, his soil does actually inhale a greater amount of warmth and vital energy from the sun, and suck in, in a larger degree, the fertilizing juices of the rain, than the crude, unbroken earth around it; so the heart prepared by pious aspiration, and nourished by prayer, gathers in more copiously the effluences of God's comforting grace, and drinks in more luxuriant draughts of the reviving dews of his holy spirit, than the arid bosoms unsoftened by religious culture, that yield reluctant entrance to heavenly impulses, and nurture only the natural weeds of passion, and the wild flowers of unspiritual affections.
And yet again, to admonish us that to receive, we must ask, to find, we musk seek, let the cultivator intermit for one season his usual labor, and no fond persuasions on his part, of the uniform and unvarying goodness of God, will supply the harvest he has lost. So is it false to fact, however plausible it may seem in the metaphysics of natural religion, that the divine love is too large and impartial to be affected by our supplications, that as he surely knows without communication from us, all our wants and trials, he needs no importunities of ours to persuade him to a more personal appliance of his grace than that he would spontaneously exert upon us. The foolish husbandman, at the close of an idle season, standing disconsolate in his empty barns, is a fit effigy of the indigent soul desirous of extraordinary privileges, yet declining the use of prayer to procure them. Or if we will be answered from the lips of him who studied the plan of the divine government as he read it on the heart, lying in the bosom of the Father, peruse the parable of the friend at midnight, (Luke xi.) and that of the unjust judge, (Luke xviii.) and heed the lesson they were designed to teach us.
"Lightly won, lightly worn," is as true of heavenly, as of human advantages; and if, to deepen our sense of dependence on him, and to increase our appreciatian of the high value of his favors,-if to inspire us with heavenward impulses, and to habituate us to seek Him who hides himself from the heedless gaze of the indolent and unworthy-if, in this preliminary world, to train us for the skies, so that, when death releases us, we shall instinctively seek upward to him whom here we see through a glass darkly, on the threshold of his secret pavilion, to cry, "Now, I beseech
thee, shew me thy glory,"-if for ends like these, he has ordained, that only by solicitation shall his chiefest blessings and his choicest bounties be shed down upon us, overweening and presumptuous indeed is the confidence, which reckons his grace so prodigal and undiscriminating, as to be lavished upon unconscious wants, and unthankful hearts.
Do we mean then-for such an issue some may anticipate from the drift of our argument-that to every petition we choose to prefer, we have a right to expect an apposite response? We have shown above, that definiteness of request is encouraged in Scripture, and we have intimated that, destitute of this attribute, the very nature of the exercise is altered, and that what the worshipper imagines prayer is only meditation. So long as we indulge in mere generalities, so long as, sensible of spiritual want, or bewildered in difficulty, or shaking under the discipline of sorrow, we refrain from distinct and direct deprecation of the particular evil besetting us, or entreaty for the very grace we need, so long as we limit ourselves to pious ejaculations, no matter how fervent, to protestations of submission to our Maker's will, to mere aspirations after meeker tempers, purer lives, and tranquil fortunes, and suppress within our hearts the holy instinct that struggles to burst upward in immediate appeal to the listening God, so long do we betray our disbelief in him as the answerer of prayer, indicate our persuasion that while as a mode of spiritual exercitation it is advantageous, as a means of obtaining what we desire it is useless, and demonstrate our entire want of that confidence in him as hearing us when we ask any thing according to his will, which is the distinctive spirit of prayer.
But although thus insisting that prayer is prayer, that to pray is really to ask for what we want, we do not think that we are warranted to hope for precisely such a response to our wishes as we may frame for ourselves. We remember in our young days, of hearing of a good old Presbyterian lady in Edinburgh, one of whose nightly petitions ran to the effect, that heaven would grant her an income of £400 a year, adding with earnest specification, “ payable quarterly, O Lord!" So carefully and circumstantially to prescribe to God the exact amount of the favor
we' solicit, we certainly would not advocate. Yet we have no quarrel with the nature of her request. We are justified in seeking temporal, no less than spiritual advantages, from him in whom we live, and move, and have our being, and from whom cometh down our every good, as well as our every perfect gift.
But while seeking them, like the patriarch, let us worship leaning on the staff of a faith that will support us, whether he grant or withhold. It is ours to plead, directly, specially; it is His to discern, and decide whether what we covet be really that which we require. St. John tells us that if we ask for any thing that is in accordance with his will, he hears, that is, he answers us. And very clearly, we think, we detect in such an exhortation, an implied encouragement to make an immediate appeal to him for every blessing in his treasure-store of goodness. "If we ask any thing," is evidently addressed to persons who are assumed to ask for many things. And yet our expectations are to be qualified by the reflection that only such as are agreeable to his will shall be accorded. Nor does this qualification, when rightly applied, tend to impair our confidence in him. Rather does it augment it; and while not at all interfering with the particularity of our requests, shutting out from the scope of our supplications no one object of reasonable desire, it calls upon us to cultivate a larger faith than that which consists in a persuasion that each separate quest will receive just such an answer as our conceptions have fashioned for us, and to cast ourselves with implicit reliance on his wisdom and kindness, to select and bestow just such benefactions as he sees to be advantageous for us. We cannot read the records of his will, and because we cannot, it is not for us to decide which of the many boons we seek would really be boons to us. But just therefore-since even those of them set apart for us, will not be granted unless they be besought just because he reserves from us a knowledge of those, among the many objects of our desires, which would be truly profitable to us,-those things that are according to his will just therefore is it requisite, that in our flights heavenward, we sweep the whole circuit of our wants upon the unwearying wing of prayer, sustained the while by a strong and steadfast faith-a faith far bolder