Page images

of science. Harmonious and varied language flowed from lips, as though it were his native dialect. An imagination, rig glowing, and ever active, was continually clothing every obje with the brightest hues." All this was attended by a love of tellectual effort for its own sake, and a reverence for greatne and goodness so heart-felt as to be a controlling spring of actic These powers and springs of action were arranged with a sy metry so perfect, that the man, any one of whose features when e amined by itself appeared disproportioned in their combination, i not strikingly surpass the ordinary size. Over all this greatne was thrown the sober and modest garment of humility, which forth this symmetry with becoming gracefulness, and lent to it manly and dignified beauty.

Such was Mr. Burke, who, if we consider him with referen to his feelings, thoughts, or deeds, must be pronounced one England's best patriots, most splendid writers, ablest statesme and one of nature's noblest men.

Art. VI.-ON EFFICACIOUS PRAYER. The efficacy and usefulness of prayer, in some sense, is denie only by the atheist. But, how is prayer effectual;—wherein con sists its usefulness ?-is a question on which the merely philosophi cal religionist, and the unquestioning believer of the simple gas pel, are at the greatest variance. The one considers the useful ness of prayer as consisting primarily and chiefly, not to say solely, in its natural re-action on the mind from which it proceeds. The other values it as a direct communication between himself and God,—the way in which he obtains from the Author and Head of the universe, blessings inestimable for bimself and for others. The one smiles at the happy enthusiasm of believing, that the petitions of a mortal can affect the purposes and counsels of the Infinite. The other prays, believing that God hears him, and expecting to obtain the good he asks for; and when he is told, that the great use of devotion is its natural effect on his own feelings and habits, he revolts at the chilling dogma, and regards it as another illustration of the truth, that the world by wisdom knows not God. The one rejoices that his views are rational ; the other is satisfied to be scriptural.

Which of these views is right? I do not ask which is the christian view ; but, which is best conformed to sound philosophy, or what is the same thing, to common sense ?

We may safely begin by conceding to our speculating religionist so much as this: Prayer has all that efficacy which you ascribe to it. It is useful by its natural effect on the suppliant

. That

prayer has such a tendency, is obvious from the nature of the hu-, man mind, and is illustrated by the constant experience of all who pray. It tends to the culture of the best affections, and necessafily promotes regularity, deliberation, and wisdom of conduct. The mind in drawing near to God to express its desires, exercises its powers and affections in a manner to which nothing else is analagous; and in that act acquires new views, and becomes conscious of new emotions. He who surveys the world as it presents itself when he is bowing in fervent devotion before God, surveys it in a new light; all its objects and relations,-its cares, its duties, its trials, its fears, and sorrows, and hopes, are seen as they cannot be seen from any other position. The exercises of devotion spread a hallowed calmness over the spirit, and impart to the soul an unction redolent of heaven, which can be attained by no other process. Such exercises, when habitual, affect powerfully the daily conduct. He who prays morning and evening with faith and fervor, will naturally be not only more sober, more regular and methodical, but also more comprehensive in his views, and more manly in his calculations and pursuits, than he would ever be without such a practice. So true is this, that,--setting aside for the moment the idea of any other efficacy in prayer, We may say, the man who lives without prayer, is ignorant of the true art of living, and of the true happiness of life.

But is this all the efficacy of acts of devotion ? Before I answer this question, I propose another remark. The man who behieres that the natural effect of prayer on the mind of the suppliant is all its efficacy, will never pray,—will never so pray as to tıperience the legitimate effects of prayer.

What motive can prompt such a man to pray? Not, surely, the expectation of any benefit which God will bestow in answer to his

requests; for he believes not that God is to be moved at all by his petitions. The only motive that can lead him to pray, is the re-action which is to be produced on himself. Prayer is with him only the poetical or philosophical contemplation of God; it is prayer only in form,-prayer only by a mental fiction. His aim is not to move God by his supplications, but only to move himself by the power of his own imagination. The sole object on which his mind is intent in this exercise, is self-excitement, the excitement of his feelings, by throwing himself into a certain state of dreamy musing.* It was once said by a plain man, in attempting to describe his own conversion, “Before I was converted, i I prayed in company, I prayed to my fellow-men; if I prayed ? secret, I prayed to myself; but now I pray to God.” So man whom we are supposing, when he prays, prays not to G but to himself;—what he says in the language of prayer, is signed not for God's hearing, but for his own. In a word, prayers are not prayer, but something else. The theory whi he has adopted, excludes the idea of prayer.

** There are devotional exercises which, though they assume the style and phrases of prayer, have no other object than to attain the immediate pleasures of excitement. The devotee is not in truth a petitioner, for his prayers termi. Date in themselves; and if he reaches the expected pitch of transient emotion, he desires notbing more.' Nat. Hist. of Enthusiasto, pp. 39, 40.

How then can such a man really experience any of the effe which prayer naturally tends to produce on the mind and he of the suppliant ? He is really no suppliant; his speculatio have made it impossible for him, while he abides by them, to of any sincere petition. He does not go to the throne of Ga mercy at all. How then can his soul be moved and stirred fro its inniost depths, by any exercise in the form of prayer? He can he be conscious of any feelings kindred to those which are e perienced by him who, with an unsophisticated spirit, with all ti simplicity of a child, goes to God, believing that he is, and the he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him?

The beneficial influences of prayer on the suppliant, result from nothing else than those feelings which arise in the mind while at dressing actual and sincere petitions to God. The mind, intet on its intercourse with its Maker, and on its errand to the thron of grace, is awed perhaps with the majesty of the Eternal King, o melted with perceptions of bis kindness and condescension, o prostrated with a consciousness of its own unworthiness, or fillet with strong desires and purposes of new obedience. This excite mentis, so far as the suppliant is concerned, incidental to the act in which he is engaged. He is aiming, the while, at something else ; he is aiming to address bis desires to his Father in heaven. But in the case of the man who believes that some such effect on his feelings is the only or the chief efficacy of prayer, everything is different. With him, excitement is the direci object of the mind's regard ; that glow of feeling which is incident to acts of devotion, is all that he is intent upon. Praying is with him only an operation on his own mind, to produce certain feelings; and his mind's regard is therefore fixed, not so much on the great objects from the contemplation of which such emotions naturally spring, as on itself, and on the process by which the feeling is to be evolved. The consequence is, the process fails; there is no morement of feeling; or if there is some excitement, it is only artiscial and morbid, far, far removed from the natural healthy feelings of the true suppliant. The feelings of the one, are the feelings of a sickly and affected sentimentalist; the feelings of the other are the spontaneous emotions of a healthy, active, practical mind.

It is proper to add here, in relation to this point, that in proportion as these restricted views of the efficacy of prayer are entertained by the mind ; in proportion as a man makes self-excitement the end of his devotional exercises, and feels that what good he gets by praying must come in that way; just in that proportion will the effects follow, which have been described ; just in that proportion be either will not attempt to pray, or will utter prayers which are palpably not genuine ; and just in that proportion he will become the subject either of a deadness which nothing can move, or of an unnatural and morbid excitement.

We are now prepared to affirm directly, that the only proper idea of the efficacy of prayer, is the idea of its efficacy with God, its actual effect on his counsels and proceedings, on the dispensations of his providence and of his grace.

That prayer has such an efficacy, and that a mighty one, cannot be denied by any who admit the authority of the numerous scripfure testimonies which are direct to this point. While the scriptures, of both testaments, abound in assertions and illustrations of the power of prayer with God, they never once allude to the possibility of its being useful in any other way. That prayer is effectual with God, must be admitted, too, by all who are not prepared utterly to abnogate a duty, taught by all the lessons, and enforced by all the impulses, of natural conscience. To say that prayer is a duty, and at the same time to say that prayer has no effect on the counsels and proceedings of God, is not far from an obvious contradiction.

Omitting here to gather testimonies from the prophets and apostles, it is enough for us to say, that Jesus Christ sets forth the efficacy of prayer in the simplest and most unequivocal terms, and explains it by the clearest illustrations. “ Ask, and it shall be given you. Every one that asketh, receiveth ; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. What man is there of you, whom, if his son ask bread, he will give him a stone ? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. Shall not God avenge [vindicate] his own elect, who cry to him day and night, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will vindicate them speedily.” What can be more simple than this? What more explicit? What theory, what philosophy, can avoid the force of such testimony, without directly contradicting it? Who can help seeing, that the only idea of the efficacy of prayer, which Jesus Christ intended to inculcate, was the idea of its efficacy with God?

Yet there are objections to this truth, on which the duty of prayer so vitally depends,-the truth, I mean, that prayer is answered by the great Author and Ruler of nature. These objections often operate to weaken faith, where they fail to overwhelm it. Too often they lead christians of a speculative turn of mine feel, as if prayer were valuable, chiefly, on account of its effec the mind that offers it. Thus they clog the wings of devotion, miserably obstruct the intercourse between earth and hea The effect is disastrous when the minds of christians, by any fluence whatever, are led away from prayer itself, to the ex ment incidental to devotion.

To draw out these objections at length, and to attempt a deta and particular solution of each in its order, would involve us much theological disquisition. Briefly to touch upon them, h ever, will not be aside from the general design of these remark

The sources of unbelief in regard to the literal and real efficacy prayer, are two; and the various objections may, with suffici accuracy for our present purpose, be generalized accordingly the objection from experience and the objection from speculati

What I call the objection from experience, is not often express in words; but I am persuaded it is often felt when it is not utter and even when the thoughts have not distinctly formed it. may be stated thus : It is a matter of fact, that God does not ways answer prayer by fulfilling the desires of the suppliar There are innumerable instances in which prayer is obviously un vailing, except as the petitioner finds a natural benefit in the exe cise and culture of his devotional feelings. You have prayed i the life of a friend in dangerous sickness; you called on God wi cries and tears; but that friend went down to the grave.

YC have prayed for the conversion of an acquaintance, a relative, brother, a bosom companion ; you have prayed often, and with servency and humble boldness that would not be denied; but th subject of your prayers is still unconverted. And though you cannot give up praying, because prayer is a duty, and becaus you have so often found it sweet and refreshing to pour out you soul before God; you are somewhat tempted to feel, if not to say that

prayer is more efficacious by its re-action on the mind, tha by any direct influence in respect to the dispensations of di vine providence or grace. Experience in these cases seems to say, that prayer is fruitless. This objection, however, whethem stated or only felt, whether in the form of argument or of secret and half-unconscious discouragement, derives all its force from the forgetfulness of two or three plain principles.

i. If God should always answer prayer directly,—if he should invariably give forthwith to every suppliant the particular thing desired, what would it amount to ? To nothing less than this : every creature that prays, becomes forthwith a worker of miracles. The moment God begins to act on such a plan, he abandons his system of general laws, and commences a dispensation of perpetual miraculous operations. And not only this, but if God should thus

« PreviousContinue »