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deeply-rooted feelings of our nature instinctively give birth to, that the thoughts gushing forth from our hearts, should be stified by the pride of intellect. Rather let the doubter sift to the bottom his doubts : let him examine the numerous passages of the Old and New Testaments, and our belief and hope is, that though he may begin with the words that Coleridge used in 1794 of God, as
The Spirit that in secret sees
Aught to implore were impotence of mind.. he will, beart and soul, join in the words of the same great and good man, three years later-'I utterly recant this sentiment, it being written in Scripture, “ Ask and it shall be given you,” and my human reason being moreover convinced of the propriety of offering petitions, as well as thanksgivings to Deity.'
Two more historical instances may be noticed of the servants of God in ancient times having offered up prayer for the temporal good of themselves or their country.
Dan. ii. 18.- Daniel, fearing for the lives of himself and his companions, from the decree of Nebuchadnezzar against “ the wise men,” urges his companions to desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning the secret, that he and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Israel. And this prayer for knowledge, by which to escape danger, was graciously beard and answered.
Nehemiah i. -And Nehemiah, before his requesting permission to visit and rebuild Jerusalem, prayed earnestly to God to grant him mercy in the king's sight.
Thus then, historically considered, we find that prayer, not merely as the means of a holy and purifying communion with God, but also prayer for temporal and earthly benefits was used by the good and wise men of old ; by all of that cloud of witnesses whom the apostle holds out to us as examples of faith and patience. And further, we find that such prayer was not only made in faith, but heard and answered by God in many cases, and when his wisdom deemed such answer unfit to be granted, no reproof whatever was given to the individual thus praying, as if he had erred in principle.
Besides these proofs from the historical books, almost every Psalm contains thanksgivings or prayers for deliverance from danger to wbich we only refer as they are familiar to every reader of Scripture. But there are some passages in the prophets which afford the strongest confirmation of the truth of this doctrine-confirmation too, which cannot in any way be explained away, for they are the direct words of the Most High. Isaiah opens bis prophecies by the sublime address : “ Hear, o heavens, and give ear, 0 earth, for the Lord hath spoken ; ” and then he proceeds in the words of God, to upbraid the Jews for their past sins, and to urge repentance by promises and threats, and among the latter are these awful but instructive words : “ And when ye spread forth your hands I will bide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers I will not bear : your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah i. 15. Vide Jer. xi. 11.) What does this passage teach, but that the prayers of wicked men are unheard
* Literary Remains, i, 36. .
because of their sins, as again it is prophesied of Moab : “ And it shall come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary on the high place, that he shall come to his sanctuary to pray; but he shall not prevail; ” (Isaiah xvi. 12.) the reason apparently being that the sanctuary, was resorted to only because they were tired of praying to a false god. But the prayers of the good will be heard, as we read : “ He (the Lord) will be very gracious to thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.” (Isaiah xxx. 19. Compare Zech. x. 6.) . And this passage immediately follows the denunciation of their vain dependence on the strength of Pharaoh, careless of the promise that not in the broken reeds of others, but “ in quietness and confidence should be their strength.”
This point is put in a still more striking manner by the contrast drawn more than once between the idols “ made from gold weighed in the balance,” (Isaiah xiv. 20.) unto whom one shall cry and not be saved out of his trouble, (Isaiah xlvi. 5-9.) and the God, the only true God, who listeneth and answereth those who pray in faith. (Compare the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal, 1 Kings xviii.) And lastly, in Jeremiah, the utterest woe of the wicked is, that prayer for them was not to be made, as John the apostle of love says, “ There is a sin unto death, I say not that he shall pray for it.” 1 John v. 16.
But it may be said, the example and opinions of the Jews concern us not ; they were under the immediate government of God, with whom the high priest could hold direct communion ; they well knew if their prayers for temporal benefits were answered or not, and their whole dispensation was founded on temporal good and evil. Now all this may be true, (and here we will not stop to inquire into the last point) but the only real inference that follows from these premises is, that we cannot with positiveness assert that such and such a temporal good was given in direct answer to prayer, but we are not therefore debarred from prayer. What God then was, that is he now. It is true that the Urim and Thummim no longer shine with eloquent and instructive light; that the glories of the temple are passed away; but it is also true that their history is an example (Vide 1 Cor. x.) to nations and to individuals, and that we can by the light of the Gospel far more clearly discover our relation to God, and the character of God than they could, although the cloud of the presence of the Most High rested on the ark. The outward glories of the temple have faded away, but the inner light is made manifest to us by Christ, and this inner light was then only shrouded by the external splendour which changed not its essence, nor marred its perfectness, although then a full knowledge of it was not given to man. Mere reason would tell us, that in the Old Testament we should find the character of God, the New Testament ever being the key to those hieroglyphics; and Christ himself referred the cavilling Jews, who could not, or would not see in the meek and lowly Jesus, the promised Messiah, to the Old Testament as that which testified of him. He came not indeed to destroy but to fulfil, and whatever of the attributes of God are discoverable in the Old Testament are again taught in the New. The Old, like the lustrous moon in a calm night, bears witness by its radiance to the glorious source of light, the Sun of Righteousness who only hath beamed forth in these latter days. Much that was plainly adapted to the time and circumstances of the Jews was commanded, but these forms and imperfect types have of course passed away, but can we say that God's attributes are different now. This cannot be, and when therefore the Old Testament plainly proves that then no logical difficulty in the explanation lessened the truth, that God will hear prayer; we cannot now disbelieve it unless we can shew that such accounts of prayer being answered are mistakes, or that Christ has taught plainly that though prayer was then heard, now it cannot be. Of the first hypothesis nothing need be said, and we will now inquire if the second be true, and if there is no such lesson taught but the contrary, how can any remain in doubt, who regard the Bible as the sole rule of our faith, and guide of our conduct.
In that compendium of all practical doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “ But when ye pray, use not vaid repetitions as the heathens do, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him.” (Matt. vi. 7, 8. Compare Luke xi.) Here prayer is not forbidden, nay, the very words, “ when ye pray,” imply its rightfulness; and not to leave the matter doubtful, the Lord's prayer follows, in which we are directed to pray for our daily bread; and again the command and promise, “ Ask and it shall be given unto you,” Matt. vii. 7. is followed by a comparison between an earthly father who gives good gifts to his children, and our Father who is in heaven. With these passages may be joined those in our Lord's last conversation, (John xiv. 13; xvi. 23.) as “ Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name that will I do, and whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” It may be allowed that these passages, if standing alone, and not linked to the previous belief of the Jews, and the subsequent conduct of Christ's disciples, would not absolutely prove the rightfulness of petitionary prayer : but taken in connexion with what we are taught in other parts, they support the fabric of our faith. We have however, much more direct proofs that prayer was not like the morning and evening sacrifice, merely of temporary use, but was as fit for the Christian as the Jew. Christ moved with compassion for the multitude who were scattered as sheep having no shepherd, bade bis disciples to “ pray the Lord of the harvest, that he will send more labourers into his vineyard.” Matt. ix. 38. Here although the thing prayed for could have been performed without the prayer having been offered, as the twelve disciples had already been sent as labourers, yet the means of obtaining this blessing for others was appointed to be prayer. Again, Christ himself bids his followers, when denouncing woes on Jerusalem, that they should “ pray thạt their flight might not be in the winter.” Matt. xxiv. 20.
But the most impressive and awful lesson as to the mode of prayer, is taught by Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the approach of the final trial roused all the feelings, which Christ by being clothed with a fleshly body shared with human nature, and the chosen of God prayed in exceeding sorrow, and three several times did he repeat the thrilling words, -" Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Matt. xxvi. So may we in the hour of grief or danger, pray earnestly for relief, and escape, yet humbly yielding our wills to the will of our heavenly Father, who will wisely grant or refuse our petitions, as shall be best for our ultimate happiness.
The instances given iu the Gospels are not many but still important, nor should we be surprised, when we recollect that petitionary prayer, being common among the Jews, and in every way consonant to the nature of man, needed not to be so often enforced as many of the other doctrines and lessons which were then delivered to the world by Christ for the first time.
The apostles, however, complete the long chain of evidence on this point, by their example and precepts, which we will pow quote.
Acts i. 24.- Almost the first act of the apostles, was to elect a colleague instead of Judas; and not to do this by their opinion only of the fitness of the individual, but by prayer to the Lord who knew the hearts of men, “ that he would shew which of the two was the most fit.” And although the means used after the prayer was what we call chance, yet they looked on Matthias as appointed of God, because they had prayed, and they believed that God had heard and answered their prayer.
Acts vii. 60.- The dying protomartyr Stephen, thought it not un. suitable for him to follow the example of Christ on the cross, and pray for his murderers, saying, “ Lay not this sin to their charge." And we know that one at least of those who were present, the young man named Saul, was converted afterwards.
Acts viii. 24.- When Simon, fearing the punishment of his unholy love of gain, asked Peter to “ pray to the Lord, that none of these things come upon me.” He was not here reproved for his error, for he was only following Peter's own example, who had just before (verse 15,) prayed that the new converts might receive the Holy Ghost; and when Peter was in prison, prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him, that is plainly for his release, (Acts xii. 4.) as the title of the chapter in our Bible says, “ whom an angel delivereth upon the prayers of the church.
In the account of Cornelius we are told, that the reason he was rewarded of God by the opportunity of hearing Peter was, because “his alms and prayers had come up as a memorial before God.” And here was an answer given to prayer, not indeed for a temporal object, but yet for a spiritual object, which was to be effected by the means of human agents, as are those objects for which we pray, in distress, poverty, or danger.
St. Paul, in several parts of his epistles shows us in what way we should pray by his example. He does not hesitate to beseech the disciples to pray that he may be delivered from the various dangers to which he is exposed, but always with the hope that such deliverance would not only free him individually, but be of advantage to the church, and to the glory of God. We will quote his words :“ Now I beseech you brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea, and that my service (the distribution of the JULY, 1842.
money collected by the Macedonians and others for the poor Christians at Jerusalem, 2 Cor. viii. 6.) may be accepted of the saints ; that I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.” (Rom. xv. 30. See also 2 Thess. iii. 2; 1 Thess. iij. 10, 11; Philemon 25.) And when telling the Corinthians of his distress in Asia, he says, that “ In God only had he trusted, who had delivered him, and in whom we trust that he will deliver us, ye also helping together by prayer for us.” Acts xix. 23. .
But perhaps the strongest instance of his opinion, respecting the propriety of petitionary prayer, is given by his thrice repeated prayer, that the thorn in the flesh, which although we cannot be certain what it was, was plainly some bodily affliction, might depart from him. 2 Cor. xii. 7. And equally pregnant with instruction is the answer which was then given to him : “ My grace is sufficient for thee,-for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This should be ever present to our minds, if tempted to repine because our prayers seem unanswered. Here as in the case of Moses, there is nothing from which any inference can be drawn, as to the impropriety of prayer, för can we believe that God would have left his disciples in an error which if error would lead to much fanaticism and false notions. God is truth, and we dare not admit such an idea.
In his epistle to Timothy, (1 Tim. ii. 1-3.) he again emphatically teaches this doctrine, when he exhorts that “ supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men ; for kings and all that are in authority ;” and the reason is then given, “ that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
Bearing in mind the circumstances in which the Christians were tben placed, against whom the kings of the world were ranged, nothing can more plainly show that they, following the Apostles, believed that prayer was to be made, and would be heard ; as the author of the Hebrews writes, “ Pray for us, for I trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly ; but I beseech you the rather to do this, 'that I may be restored to you the sooner.” And as St. James says, “ The prayer of a righteous man availeth much; ” having just before quoted as an instance Elijah's prayer, and thus confirming our argument, that although much of the Jewish dispensation was but for a time, yet prayer was then right to be offered, and is still so.
It remains only to observe, that these prayers for temporal good should be made in humbleness and trustfulness in the mercy and wisdom of God, and that we should not fall into the characteristic mark of fanaticism, by ever boldly telling the world, that in such or such an action, we were directly or certainly guided by the Holy Spirit in answer to our prayers. Nor may we offer such prayers when we are acting imprudently, or expect a miracle to be worked in our favour, such conduct is contrary to the spirit which we are taught to cultivate. To conclude, prayer may be offered for the temporal benefit of ourselves or others, for health, wealth, and happiness, for the improvement of our intellect, but above all for our spiritual improvement, or to use the words of the Apostle, who gives this three-fold division of all that we can hope or want," That our spirit, and soul, and body, may be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”