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Creator's plan to meet it. It would be strange if prayer, the breath of all consciously needing souls, could not be answered. It would be strange, if the skepticism that denies the possibility of aid could be vindicated. Yet there is such a skepticism; and it lies deeply imbedded in the mind of the present day. The scientific tendency, running too far, has overrun and crushed, to a lamentable extent, the true religious aspiration. Is it not derogatory to the Supreme Being, says this skepticism, to suppose that he attends to wants, so infinitely numerous, varied and minute ? Can it be believed, that he watches over the personal condition of innumerable souls, that he touches the secret springs of unnumbered minds at their call ?
But now, we ask, why cannot this be believed ? The knowledge of all these prayers is implied in omniscience. Is the power of God any less ? Is his goodness any less ? If your son implores your help and guidance, you give it. Cannot the Infinite Being do that for all minds, which you can do for one ? And how would you give it?
You would, perhaps imperceptibly and indirectly, touch some spring in your child's mind which you saw and the way to which you saw, and he did not see; and prayer may have been the very act that prepared that spring for your touch. Cannot the Almighty do that for every mind? Could he not create an attendant spirit for every mind, like the imaginary genius of Socrates, which should do that? And can he not directly do what he can cause to be done ? Suppose that you conceived of God as existing in the form of many-fold, of infinite-fold spirits, of spirits as many as the souls that are in the universe. Could not each spirit watch as its guardian angel over each soul? But is the sum of infinity less than its parts ?
We conceive that this doubt is altogether presumptuous; that it errs, not by thinking too highly of God, but too poorly ; that it really does not attribute that greatness to God, which belongs to him. It is the pride of philosophy. But humility is something greater. From its lowliness looking up, it takes a larger view than pride from its loftiness looking down. Prayer we cannot help. It is our nature's cry for aid. And we believe that He who has made us to pray, can answer our prayer.
We would learn of Jesus rather than of any “philosophy, falsely so called.” “If ye, then, being evil," says he, “know how to give good
gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?" content to make the Psalmist's wisdom ours; and to say, with him, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear unto my supplications; hear my voice, according to thy loving-kindness; O Lord, quicken me according to thy mercy; bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me; for I am poor and needy." And we believe - solemn as it is so to believe we believe that He hears us now!
In speaking thus of those things, whether in speculation or in ritual, that have created difficulties in the way of devotion, we have naturally adverted to those considerations that may afford relief. To state causes is itself, to a certain extent, to apply remedies. But we wish to offer some further thoughts to this purpose.
There must be, - may we not say, a new view of God. That word, so dead so dead that many use it in oaths and prayers alike mechanically — must become a living breath; living and life-giving. All the words that ever were uttered concentrate their meaning in that one word. All the thoughts of all living creatures gather up their fervor and intensity in that one boundless Wisdom and Goodness. What do we say? They are all but vanishing shadows in the presence of that Life and Light. In infinite streams they forever flow from that one Source. Surely this cannot be believed, if prayer and praise are irksome. We would even that we could bring back something of the ancient reverence for God; something of that real respect and veneration for his nature, that made it the special study of philosophers and sages; that we could dismiss from this theme that half worldly, half superstitious awe which essentially degrades it, and causes many to feel as if there were subjects far more dignified than this, or as if this were no subject for them. Do we not respect wisdom? And here is infinite wisdom ! Do we not admire beauty, whether of thought or action? And here is infinite beauty! Do we not revere greatness ? A great man, a being of a powerful and noble nature, how do we follow after him. And here is an infinite grandeur! And then, if this Being taketh interest in us, what thought can move us, thrill us, like that? How touching is it to me, if one but sendeth word in mine affliction, that he grieves for
God so loved the world, that he sent his Son to die for it! We feel, that we are now using words weak words. What can they say ? What are they, unless there is poured upon them the living breath of piety ? Come that breath into our dwellings and our churches, and reanimate the dead!
We speak now in no poor, craven tone of entreaty. We speak in the manhood and manliness of our reason. It is no concern of ours that we are pressing. We have heard preachers who seem always to speak of devotion, we had almost said, of the Divinity, with something like a tone of patronage; as if religion were some small affair or interest of their own. Away with the cant, and the dead custom of it! We are not pleading for God with any slavish supplication. There, is the Infinite Beauty, the Infinite Grandeur! It is our privilege — that is all — to bow down before it with lowliest, sweetest, most enrapturing devotion; to draw nigh to it, in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, humbly and hopefully.
In truth, we might more specifically say that the Gospel is our remedy. Not some infinite beauty, as it were a haze of splendor in the sky, but the Father, the living God, is presented to us in the Gospel. No pantheistic dream beguiles us there. We know what that dream is ; we have dreamed it ourselves; and we have come to see that the Gospel of Christ is as much a Gospel to modern mysticism and abstraction as it is to old, solid, wooden idolatry. No; Jesus spake of the Father - of his father and our Father. That is no worn-out teaching. It is true and vital and needful to-day. That shall stand us instead of all the dreams of Zeno and Spinoza and Strauss. To the Father we can pray; but we cannot pray to “the soul of the world.” If we addressed ourselves to this, we might pray like an Indian, but not like a Christian. We do maintain, that Christianity, historical Christianity, the very Gospel as it is, is our grand resource. If any one can show us a wiser and more perfect being than Jesus Christ, we must resort to him ; but till then we must say — while his touching words are in our ears, “ will ye also go away?
“ Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Finally, let us attempt to speak of this subject, for a moment, in a more practical manner.
We have said that prayer is a great action. Let us add that it is a great end. Prayer is always represented as a
We cannot regard it altogether in this light. Prayer too is an end. The adoring contemplation of God is the sublimest point of human attainment: and this, not because he is God, the Sovereign, the Ruler, but because he is the sum of all wisdom, goodness, perfection, and the end to which all true science, intelligence, virtue, purity, aspiration must forever lead.
Suppose that he is regarded in this light and that you humbly resolve to acquaint yourself with him ; not from fear, but for love's sake ; from an unforced desire to pry into this great mystery and majesty of the universe. Take then a season and best in the morning, before you
leave your apartment - and devote it to this sublime study. Many have done this to acquire a language. Say that it is your season of study. Make no mystery, make no superstition of it; say, we repeat, that it is your season of study. And let the topics of study be various — yourself, man, nature, the Bible. Have good books around you, and especially the biographies of good men ; such as the works of Fenelon, of Jeremy Taylor, of Channing ; the biographies of Lindsey, Carpenter, William Penn, Baxter, Oberlin. Then, amidst those studies, pray; not of constraint ; not necessarily at all, we would even say ; pray as your mind disposes you, and after such manner as seems good to you; kneeling, or standing, or walking in your chamber, or in a sitting posture; at intervals, in ejaculations, or in solemn concentration of thought. Let all be natural, unforced, free. You must have freedom. You must act willingly, or all is naught. We are proposing some far higher thing than ordinary, formal morning prayers. It is to plunge into the depths of your own nature; it is to study “the deep things of God.” It is to know yourself, to know the Gospel, to know Jesus Christ, to know God !
Let us dwell a moment longer upon the proposition which we have made. Perhaps we may not draw any one to enter fully into this practice on the single reading of this essay.
We cannot expect to accomplish every thing at
Suppose that you have good books around you, — the Bible of course, and books of prayers, spiritual guides, aids to meditation, biographies. Suppose that you have them in your apartment, or your place of retirement wherever it is. We would indeed that in the construction of our houses more reference were had to this object; or that we had, as in Catholic countries, the ever open churches, to whose shaded and silent retreats and time-hallowed altars those might resort who have no other place for devotion. This, it will be perceived, however, would not be all that we desire. But if there were in our houses, and connected with their apartments, little oratories - we would even say, if there were altars in them, — but at least, if there were good books in them, we cannot help thinking that such an arrangement would be a powerful ministration to the general piety, to that thoughtfulness, to that meditative spirit, that becomes rational and immortal creatures. But if there be no such convenient arrangement, yet if there be some place where a man may pause for a few moments, in the busy and weary walk through life; suppose, we say again, that the good books be there. Surely the noble works of Jeremy Taylor and Fenelon and Channing can do no man any harm. He who has any books, ought to have these. And if any one were disposed to add the works of Marcus Antoninus or Plato or Seneca, we would make no objection. There were noble meditations among the ancients; and any thing that would lift the mind to a higher thought, to a serener atmosphere, than that which pervades the dusty street, we would value. And though it were for curiosity's sake, yet for any cause, would we rather that a man should surround himself with such ministrations than not to do it at all. We would fain break up, by any means, this fatal spell of common-place, of worldliness, by which men are enthralled. It is a dreadful thing to pass through this dusty cloud of life without ever looking above and beyond it. There are glorious realities around us, there is a presence of infinite beauty amidst which we walk, and most men know it not; and they do not know it, because they do not meditate. They have no insight into the grand realities of their being, because they give no fixed and piercing attention to them. The insight cannot possibly come in any other way.