THERE is probably no better test of faith than prayer. Men that have no faith do not pray. There can be no reason in praying without faith. To a man utterly without faith there can be no more empty and unmeaning thing practiced by human beings than prayer. To such a man the suppliant appears to be simply speaking into the open air, or to nobody. It is to him, as nearly as we can imagine, like a man talking to himself. He can see nothing in it. But to the man of faith, who has the Almighty Father of heaven and earth before him, it is the highest order of address possible to a human being--an address to the Infinite One! What an exalted honor, that a fellow-creature, who had forfeited everything, and been alienated from his God by wicked works, but who had been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and brought back to God, should not only be permitted to address his glorious Creator, but encouraged to come boldly to a throne of grace; that the poor, helpless creature, formed out of the dust of the ground, should be permitted to address the great Creator who thus formed him; that the weak and imperfect worm of the dust, whose breath is in his nostrils, should have the wonderful privilege to address the Almighty and the Perfect One; that the ignorant, wayward and erring, the polluted and sinful, should address Him who knows all things--who is absolutely holy and pure! that the helpless should be permitted to address Him who is mighty and able to save to the uttermost all who come to him--to do for them abundantly above all that we ask or think! What wonderful compassion! What a gracious condescension!
Some call it a duty to pray, and urge men to pray as a duty! But this is a very low view of it. It rises far above the mere idea of duty, into the exalted rank of privilege, mercy and favor. Instead of our being exhorted to pray, and urged to do it because it is commanded, or because it is an obligation; because it is required in the law of God, we should desire to come--press forward to the enjoyment of the exalted privilege, the merciful grace--the right of petition; the favor conferred on us by our heavenly Father, as his dependent creatures, to come boldly to the throne of grace; to ask for the things we need; to ask, too, believing that he will hear us, and that he will withhold from its no good thing. This is more than mere duty, rises far above it, and is transcendently more exalted than the mere idea of duty; it is a most gracious privilege, a wonderful mercy and sublime favor of our God. In view of it we ought to praise him forever and ever.
Who, that has the love of Christ in him, will permit such an exalted privilege to pass unenjoyed? Who will permit such favor to be extended to him and not implore the blessing of our God? Who can know that we can come as children to a kind and an affectionate parent, and ask for help in every time of need, and not come to the blessed Father of our spirits, realizing our continued wants and absolute dependence? Shall we wait for the judgments of God to come and impress us with a sense of our helplessness and continued dependence? If we do, and only pray then, we show no more faith than the people of the world; for they, too, pray when calamity comes, and implore the pious to pray for them. The hardened and wayward Jews desired the prayers of Moses, and entreated him to pray for them when the fiery serpents were sent on them. So wicked people in our day desire prayer, and pray themselves when the sword or pestilence comes; but as soon as the calamity is removed they are like Pharaoh of old--their penitence is gone; they want no more prayer.
This is but a feeble and low conception of prayer, and does not at all rise up into the true conception of it, or the life of a man who lives and walks with God; whose life is one of daily communion with God; who daily comes to God in prayer, as a privilege, a delight, and who enjoys it as a favor from the Lord; one who receives strength and help from God daily in calling on him. How delightful the state of soul on the part of the disciples of the Lord when they came to him and said: "John taught his disciples to pray," and added, "Lord, teach us how to pray." They were certainly in a good condition to be taught to pray, and how to pray, or anything else he pleased to teach them. They were in a most teachable condition. The Lord says: "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint."
It is a settled matter that faith and prayer go together. Where there is much faith there is also much prayer; where there is little faith there is little prayer; and when there is no faith there is no prayer. There is one thing remarkable about faith--it is strongest in the most trying circumstances, or when we most need it. It never forsakes us in the hour of trial. If it is with us, supporting, sustaining and encouraging us in health, in prosperity and in our greatest strength, it will still be with us in adversity, in sickness and in weakness. As our hold on this world becomes less and less firm, and our prospects become more and still more dim, and we find ourselves cutting loose from this world, our faith becomes stronger and stronger. It is perhaps not known that any person who believed on Christ in health, and prosperity, and through life, ever abandoned the faith of Christ on the approach of death, or that the faith ever became weaker at the approach of death. Faith never fails in the hour of trial, in the midst of danger, or at the approach of death, if it existed before. On the contrary, it becomes stronger, bolder, and more invincible, as it nears the other world. It was never known to fail in the breast of the dying man, in whom it resided before, and up till the approach of death. Firmly it holds its grasp till the last breath. He who believes in life and health does not give up faith in sickness and death. Faith is a settled conviction in the honest soul that remains and grows stronger and stronger till the last.
Unbelief is of a different nature. It is precisely the opposite of faith in itself, and in all its effects on human beings. Instead of its holding its grasp firm in the hour of trial, and bearing up the spirit of the unbeliever, it frequently fails in the hour of danger, the time of trial, or on the approach of death; and he who had avowed it before disavows it in death. What can be the reason of this? Why should not he who was a skeptic in his life, his health and strength, and up till the approach of death, remain one then? The truth is, he never was settled. He never had settled convictions nor established principles; but was simply involved in doubts, uncertainty and confusion. There is nothing in doubts, uncertainty and confusion on which for a dying man to rest his soul. When a man comes to the close of life, and finds himself cutting loose from the world, he wants something more than a string of doubts, uncertainties and difficulties over which to stumble and fall; he wants something better than confusion, darkness and night into which to leap at death; and, in nine cases out of ten, he repudiates the unbelief of his past life, recants it all and turns from it with loathing. He turns his eye to the rock of offense; the sure rock; the tried stone; the one rejected by the Jewish builders, but chosen of God, elect and precious; and to the fact that "He who shall not believe on Him shall be confounded," and discovers, when it is too late, except to warn others, the rock on which be has grounded.
What is the first thing faith extorts from his lips? To whom does he now go? Does he send for unbelievers to come now and comfort him? Not a word of it! Does he call for his old infidel books? No; he does not want to see them. Does he now talk of difficulties in the Bible, of contradictions and incongruities? Not a word of it! These have all been dispersed. Does he now tell that he has no credulity, and that he can not believe? No; not a word of it! All sophistry is out of his mind; he now believes with the simplicity of a child. The solemnities and reality of an approaching dissolution and eternity have swept away all doubts and confusion, all sophistry and evasion, all caviling and quibbling, and the faith of Christ is impressed on his inmost soul. Awful, grand and sublime reality has now come up into view, and overspread the whole canopy above him; his unbelief has vanished forever; he knows not what has become of it. It is to him like a dream, a nightmare, a myth of the past. In former years he caviled about prayer, and could see no reason in it; but now his inmost soul is impressed with a reason for it, or, rather, a necessity for it, and the importance of it. He wonders now that he ever had any doubt about it; that he ever failed to feel the importance of it, and the necessity for it. His impression now is that prayer ought to rise up from the lips of every erring creature in human form.
It is recorded in some of the prints that a skeptic was in the habit of puzzling religious people over the idea of prayer--that he would inquire whether they thought that their poor, feeble words, put forth from the lips of a finite mortal, could change the mind of the Infinite One, and induce him to do what he would not otherwise do! No doubt he thus stumbled many of but little faith. After he had gone on for years in this way, he made a short trip at sea. During this trip the ship was overtaken in a storm, and the danger became very threatening. Many religious persons on board fell down and called on Him who made sea and land, and all things, to save them. Our sturdy skeptic looked on. The danger became more and still more fearful. It was not now a mere question of theory, nor a mere puzzle for Christians, but a solemn and awful puzzle for a skeptic. His skepticism fell from under him and left him in the midst of the most terrible consternation! Presently he, too, bowed himself and poured forth his supplications with the balance, no doubt in good earnest.
After a time the danger passed away and all were safe. A believer, who knew the character of the skeptic, approached him and said: "I thought you did not pray--that you could not see how prayer could change the mind of the Deity, and induce him to do what he would not otherwise do?" The skeptic replied: "I understand you, sir; I see the point. That doctrine will do on dry land, but it will not do on a sinking ship." There is precisely the case. We are all on a sinking ship, and though the danger is not so visible all the time as it appeared to him on the ship, it is present all the time, and the ship is sinking, whether we see it or not, and will soon go down. Of this we should be sensible all the time, and call on the Lord, whether we see danger or not. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Our very lives are in his hands, and he may suspend them any moment. All we enjoy is from him, and we may be in the deepest distress any hour. How important, then, that we continually call on him!
But, in this age of unbelief, every imaginable difficulty that can cause an erring creature to stumble is thrown in the way. A man wants to know whether God did not, "from all eternity," foreknow all things that can ever come to pass! This is certainly going far back, and it will not be expected that any man would know all about it. But, for the present, and for the sake of reasoning, it is granted that God, as they express it, from all eternity, foreknew all things that would ever come to pass. What then? Then God foreknew who would be saved and who would be lost! Very well; what of it? If God knew a man will be lost, he will be lost! Certainly; if God knew that a man will be lost, he will be lost. If God knew that a man will be saved, he will be saved! Certainly; if God knew that a man will be saved, he will be saved. That is as certain as certainty itself. "What is the use, then," says a man, "for me to trouble myself about it? If God knew I will be saved, I will be saved; and if he knew I will be lost, I will be lost!"
That reasoning is very pretty, and can be used in reference to many other things. When you got sick, God knows whether you will get well or die. If he knows you will get well, you will get well; if he knows that you will die, you will die! What is the use to send for the doctor, to take medicine, etc.? Do you say, "We must use the means?" Yes; and God has provided means to save you, and you must use the means or be lost. God has made you free, and you can use the means and live, or reject the means and die; and it will not mitigate your sufferings any in a lost state to think, to know, or to tell, that God knew before time began that you would not believe the gospel; or that, believing it, you would reject it; or, if you did not reject it, that you would not obey it, and that you would be lost.
Man may be entirely free, and act freely, and the Lord may see before what he will do, and foretell it. This foreseeing, or foretelling, what a man will do is not the cause of his doing it; he would do just as he does, if the Lord had not foretold, or foreseen, what he would do at all. The Lord foreseeing, or foretelling, what a man will do is not the cause of his doing it, and has no control over his doing it. He would do just as he does if the Lord had not foreseen, or foretold, anything about it. What, if the Lord did foresee, before time began, that a man would refuse to control himself--give way to intoxication, and rage, and commit a murder--is that foreseeing it the cause of it, or has it any control over it? Surely not! It would all have occurred just as it did if there had been no foresight about it. All such talk is nothing but sophistry employed by men to deceive their own hearts, and excuse themselves in their sins.
It matters not if the Lord, before the beginning of time, looked down through the ages, and saw the first time a man would evade prayer, make an excuse and omit it, and every other step he would take in his retrograde movement, till his final apostasy--the looking down and foreseeing it would, in no sense, be the cause of it, nor have any controlling influence in bringing it about. But false reasoning, such as here alluded to, would have some influence in bringing it about; and the more it would be employed, the more influence it would have, till it would finally overthrow the faith and ruin him who employed it. This is the ground for all the apostolic warnings uttered to the ancient disciples to take heed; to watch and be faithful. How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the teaching;" said Paul to the preacher, "continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels." "Strive to enter in at the strait gate;" says the Lord, "for many shall seek to enter in and shall not be able."
These Scriptures, and numerous others with which the word of God abounds, show that the followers of Christ, in this wilderness of sin through which they are passing, need every encouragement and support they can have; indeed, that they are in a dangerous land, making a perilous pilgrimage, and need help. How precious it comes to them to know that our heavenly Father cares for them, and even numbers the hairs of their heads; that he is ever mindful of them; that he has promised that he will never leave them nor forsake them, but grant them grace and glory, and withhold from them no good thing. He encourages them to come boldly to a throne of grace; to ask, believing that he will bear them, and grant the petitions asked, according to his will. What they have to do, then, is to ask in faith; to come to our most gracious and blessed Father, believing, and not as a skeptic, doubting; to come in full assurance of faith, in child-like confidence in Him who is able to do for us abundantly, above all that we ask or think. He is the unwasting and inexhaustible source of life and light, of eternal glory and blessedness.
"But the age of miracles has passed away, and I do not see how God can answer prayer now. Not only so, but I do not believe in the immediate operation of the Spirit; nor in any special providence, and do not think that God answers prayer now!" This reasoning is too elaborate. The whole might be comprehended in fewer words. Why not say, "I have no faith, and therefore see nothing in prayer?" This is all there is of it. Why talk about miracles, immediate operations of the Spirit, or special providence? This is all talk! Do you regard the account of the miracles recorded in Scripture? Do you regard the account there of the special and miraculous work of the Spirit of God? Do you regard any providence at all--special, particular, general, or any other? Does God, in your view of it, do anything at all? or has he made the universe, put the whole of it in motion, under immutable laws, folded his hands and seated himself to observe it run its course? Does he hear no prayers, answer no petitions, exercise no providence, protect no one, and confer benefits on no one? Does he now forgive no sins, preserve nobody, give no good things to them that ask him? Does he mean nothing when he says, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you?" Does he mean nothing when he says, "I am able to keep you from falling?"
What does he mean when he says, "If ye, being evil, know how to give good things unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts to them that ask him?" What does he mean when he says, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him?" Is this religion? Is it faith or unbelief? It is certainly not faith. Shall we doubt and distrust? The very laws, in both nature and grace, are in his Almighty hands. The entire universe is all in his hands, and he can do as seems good in his own eyes. The fearful elements are all waiting for his fiat. He holds the terrible lightnings, the fearful thunders, the winds, rains, hails, in his hands; he controls the pestilence, and all the fearful destroyers of the human race; he holds the heavenly bodies in his hands, metes out their course, and controls them all. It is nothing but blind unbelief that sees not his Almighty hand in all those things, and that realizes not the importance of coming to him and calling on him.
"But I can not understand how God can answer prayer without a miracle." True, you can not understand how God can answer prayer without a miracle! Can you understand how he would answer prayer with a miracle? You can no more understand how God could answer prayer with, or by, a miracle, than how he would do it without a miracle. The disciples prayed for Peter and John when they were in prison; the Lord heard them, answered their prayer, and released the apostles from prison by miracle. Do you understand how he did it? "He did it by an angel." True; but how? How did the angel do it? How did he take their bonds off? How did be open the prison door? How did he open the great iron gate? There you stand confounded! You can not tell how. Though it was done by miracle, and by an angel, you have to admit that you can not tell how. It explains nothing about how it was done to inform us that it was done by miracle and by an angel.
Admit that there is an immediate influence of the Spirit, and that the Lord answers prayer by this immediate influence; and that explains nothing about how he answers. No man can understand any more how the Lord can answer prayer by an immediate influence of the Spirit, than he can how he can answer prayer without an immediate influence of the Spirit. It explains nothing to any intelligent man to tell him that God answers prayer by an immediate influence of the Spirit, except the fact that he does it through that immediate influence. How he does it through that immediate influence can no more be understood than how he does it without that immediate influence. It is not prayer to prescribe to the Lord how he must do this or that, or to dictate to the Lord how he shall bless us; nor is it faith to understand how he will bless us. But it is faith that looks up to him and assures us that he can, and will bless us, though we understand not how he will do it; and it is prayer that implores him to do it. We have the faith; the full assurance of faith that the Lord can and will answer the prayers of the saints, who ask according to his will, without their understanding how he will do it. This is faith, and nothing short of this is faith; and it is prayer that thus comes to him and calls upon him, without seeing how he will answer.
This rationalism, that goes no further than we can see, is not faith at all, but sight. "We walk by faith, not by sight." This rationalism, that asks the Lord to do nothing till it can understand how he will answer, is not prayer at all. It is nothing but dull and dry philosophy, dictating to the Lord what to do and how to do it. This enters not into the soul of spiritual enjoyment at all; it rises not up into precious union and communion with God. But the saints rise by faith to Him who is invisible, and ask for relief when they can see no way of relief; when they see not how he will bring relief; with all confidence that be can and will bring the desired relief. They come in the assurance that he can see how to bring the relief, and that he will do it, though they see not how. They come to him because it is dark and cloudy, and their weak vision can not penetrate beyond the storm. They see not the relief, nor how it will come; but they have a Father that can see the relief, and can bring it, they know not how; but they have the full assurance of faith that he can and will bring it, and they implore him to bring it. This is prayer--not philosophy. It is coming to God by faith--walking by faith, and not by sight.
We see no reason for any saint not thus coming. We are taught to pray, "Give us day by day our daily food." Do the saints see, as they pray thus from year to year, how the Lord will answer? Do they see, or can they tell, how the Lord will. answer? Can they understand how he will do this? Do they pray for him to give them daily bread by miracle, or by an immediate influence of the Spirit? They do not pray for him to give the food in this way or that. Certainly not. They know not how he will do it. But their Heavenly Father is rich; has the resources, the wisdom and the goodness, and can give the daily bread, and will do it. They come to him, then, in full assurance of faith, and ask him to give, not knowing how he will give, or dictating to him how to give, but leave it with him to give in any way that may please him.
There is no reason for any doubts in the matter. Look at that aged saint, who for sixty years has been praying for his bread, and never failed to receive it! May he not continue, to ask in faith? Look at that man that has been walking with God for sixty years, and has the promise of God before him all the time: "I will never leave you, nor forsake you; but will grant you grace and glory, and withhold from you no good thing." He has had this promise verified to him all the time, and the Lord is still with him. What ground has he to doubt, or those that know him? Can he tell how God has given him his food and raiment all the time; how he has shielded him from the arrows of destruction that have been flying thick all around him during this long journey; how the Lord has preserved him from temptations; from the general whirlpool that has swallowed so many millions of his race and swept them down forever? No, he can not tell how all this has been done; but he knows the fact, that it has been done. He did not understand how the Lord would do all this, but he believed on him, trusted in him, called on him; and the Lord has done it. Nor can he now tell how it has been done; but he has the fact that it has been done, and is transported with the thought that the Lord could do and has done all this, though he know not how he would, and even now knows not how he did it.
"But I can not understand how the Lord can raise up the sick, in answer to prayer, without a miracle, or an immediate operation of the Spirit." Certainly you can not. Nor can you understand how the Lord can raise up a sick man, in answer to prayer, by miracle, or an immediate influence of the Spirit, any more than you can how he can do it without miracle, or an immediate influence of the Spirit. You can not understand how he can do it at all; but you can know the fact that he can, raise up the sick, and that he does, whether you can understand how he does it or not. He does this, too, without miracle. Then, if he can and does raise up the sick without miracle, why may he not do this in answer to prayer? The truth is, prayer is a trial of faith, and intended to be a test of faith. We can not pray without faith--that is, in true intent and spirit of it. To come to the Lord in faith, over the sick, and pray for the sick, not simply in view of their being raised up, or recovered, but to invoke the divine blessing on them, in full assurance that the Lord will hear, answer and bless them--it may be, not precisely as we meant it, or looked for it, but in a better way--is the exercise of living faith. But to start up doubts and subtleties about how the Lord will answer prayer, is the work of skepticism and not of faith.
A man, who had been a wicked man all his life, confessed Christ and obeyed the gospel when he was seventy years old. His aged companion said to a friend: "I have prayed for that for forty years!" Think of that, "O ye of little faith"--a good woman praying for the conversion of her husband forty years, and not a visible prospect to any mortal eye that her prayer would ever be answered! Still she prayed on till forty years had fled, and till she was bending under the weight of years, and lived to know that the prayer was answered! That was the prayer of faith. The Lord heard and answered it. Little did she understand how the Lord would answer. She puzzled her mind over no questions about miracles, immediate operations of the Spirit, or any other vain theories or philosophies of men who have no faith; but she prayed in faith; asked, believing that the Lord would hear and answer. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." The prayer just mentioned was "the effectual fervent prayer" that availeth much.
The Lord taught the first disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come." They evidently thus prayed. He also taught them to preach, saying, "The kingdom is at hand." They thus preached, and the preaching was true; but they did not themselves understand anything but the fact that it was at hand. They had in their minds all the time a temporal kingdom. Every time they prayed, "Thy kingdom come," they had this temporal kingdom in their minds, and prayed that it might come. The Lord answered their prayer, not in the sense they had in their minds, but in a better sense--in giving them a kingdom not of this world. They did not see how the Lord would answer when they prayed; but he answered, and that, too, in a better way than they had in view. Instead of a kingdom of this world, as they meant it, he gave them a kingdom not of this world. In the same way the prophets spoke of good things to come, and prayed for them; but they did not themselves understand the things they uttered, nor how their prayers would be answered. But the good things came as the Lord intended, and their prayers were answered, in his way, as he intended, and not as they intended. We must remember to pray according to his will. "Not as I will, but as thou wilt," said the Lord.
The Lord does for us, not simply as we ask him, or as we intend it, but better; he does for us "abundantly above all that we ask or think." This shows the folly of the dictatorial prayer, prescribing minutely all about what and how men want the Lord to bless them. A chaplain, in Congress, once prayed in this dictatorial style, minutely describing what he desired the Lord to do for the President, the Cabinet, Senate, Congress and Judiciary; the army and navy, with the matters of the nation generally. When be was through, a Congressman leaned over to another one and observed: "I am sorry our chaplain did not leave the Lord a little more margin to work on." The same regret may exist in reference to many prayers. They are more like lectures to the Lord, instructing him how we want things done, than humble petitions, entreating and beseeching him to do for us that which is suited for our good, and which is pleasing to him. In one word, we should permit no theories to come in our way, no philosophies; but come to our most gracious and blessed Father with the full assurance that he can and will care for, us--if not in some way that we can see, in some better way.
"But I can not think that prayer can. change the mind of the Deity, and induce him to do what he otherwise would not do." The mind of the Lord is not changed when he answers prayer, but simply carried out as he intended and promised. There is no change in his mind at all. It was his mind all the time; his purpose, to answer the prayers of his saints; and when he answers them, he simply does what he purposed to do; what was in his mind to do all the time. When the sinner comes to the Lord in his appointed way, and the Lord pardons him, he does not change his mind to do so, but does precisely what was in his mind to do all the time, and what he had promised to do. The same is true when the Lord hears and answers the prayers of the saints. He does what he designed to do all the time and what he promised to do.
"I hold that the Lord does not answer prayer at all; but I think it right to pray because it is commanded; and then it has a good influence on our own hearts; and if we pray for certain things we will labor for them, and in this way do more good, and thus carry out the work of the Lord. If we pray for the conversion of the world, we will labor for it, and more will be brought to God." With that view of it, an atheist could pray as well as any of us. He has no God to answer his prayer, but his prayer will have all this good effect on his own heart. This is but little better than the prayer of the infidel, who became alarmed, and thought he must pray, and prayed: "O God, if there be any, save my soul, if I have any, from hell, if there be any." It is the coldest and gloomiest rationalism, or, plainly, unbelief. We come to God believing that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him; that he will hear us and answer us; that he will be with us in trouble; that he cares for us; that he is our everlasting trust. We, live in the continual divine assurance that the Lord is ever present with us; that he is on the right hand, that we should not be moved. We have the Lord God sanctified in our heart, or set apart in our heart, and ever before us; and make it a matter of continual anxiety to do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
The service must be a willing and a delightful one; not actuated by a slavish fear of punishment, but by love to him, and a continual desire to please him because we love him. It is easy to serve him whom we love, and try to please him; thus keeping in view his continued good will and approval. How easy the service actuated by love! How easy for a good husband to serve the wife he loves in affliction; to minister to her wants and do everything possible for her comfort or relief! How easy for the kind mother to serve the child of her bosom, that she loves as her life; to minister to its wants by day and by night! She says, "It is my child, and I must give attention to its wants." How easy and delightful to serve the Lord whom we love; to try to do those things that are pleasing in his sight! How precious to come to him in prayer and supplication and pour out the desire of our hearts to him; lay before him all our wants! When we are in trouble we love to find a true friend to whom we can unbosom the soul, and open our hearts. How unspeakably happy ought we to be, then, that we have a kind Father to whom we can come, who will hear us, to whom we can open the inmost recesses of our hearts, spread out all our trials, our sorrows, our sufferings and griefs; and who will enter into our necessities, redress all our grievances, and bear us up in the midst of all our trials.
When the burden upon our soul is so heavy that it appears insupportable, and when no mortal arm can remove it; when no one on earth can fully comprehend our distress, our Father will hear us and can comprehend it all, soothe all our sorrows and bring relief; and he assures us that he will do this. Need we then have some one to exhort us to come to him, to urge us to call on him, to pray without ceasing? We certainly need not; but wilt come cheerfully, joyfully, and realize, it as a wonderful privilege to come to our kind and merciful Father and to call on him, with the assurance that he will hear us and give us all things richly to enjoy. Who can enter into all our wants, our distresses, our woes; who can know the depression of our spirits, the load on our hearts, the anguish, the trouble of spirit, and the grief we may be enduring, as our kind and blessed Father does? Whose Almighty Arm can bring relief, can comfort the heart, support the sinking spirit, lift up those bowed down, and comfort the afflicted heart, as His who made heaven and earth and all things? To whom can we come under all circumstances, in all our trials, and at all times; and who can bring relief, give the comfort, the peace of mind, the tranquillity, or whatever is needed on the part of a poor, erring and helpless creature, but our kind and most gracious Heavenly Father? None can give as he can. He is immeasurably rich; his resources are inexhaustible; his liberal hand is ever open to supply all our wants; his ears are ever attentive to our prayers, and his watchful eyes are ever over us, and his love is unfailing. How wonderful then, that there should be a child of his in the whole kingdom so unmindful of his love as to fail to call on him; to put forth his supplications and entreaties for his continued care and providence, and offer up thanksgiving and gratitude for all he enjoys.
Shall any one doubt the resources of our Heavenly Father to bless and comfort his creatures? Are not all the elements of nature his; under his control and ready to be subservient to his mandate? Are not the cattle upon a thousand hills and the gold of the four quarters of the earth his, and ready for his use? Is not the landed patrimony of earth in his hands? Are not all the goods and chattels of the world at his will? Are not all the heavenly bodies at his feet to do his bidding? Are not all the heavenly messengers ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? In one word, are not all the vast resources of the universe at his disposal? Is not even the creative power in him? He is infinite in power, and infinite in goodness. Not a promise that he ever made has failed. For six thousand years he has been the same; the immutable, the holy, just and good. How wicked then, that we should doubt or distrust his promise. He is the same yesterday, to-day and forever; the inflexible, the immutable, and the Infinite One. Holy and revered is his name; worthy to be admired, to be held in everlasting remembrance, and adored by all his intelligent creatures. The angels fall before him, and worship, Him who sits on the throne, and adore the Lamb! We ought to be unspeakably happy, that provision is made for us through the mediation of our Lord the Christ, to come to the Father. But we must remember that we can not come in our own name, nor in any other name, than the name of our Lord the Anointed. "No man," says he, "comes to the Father, but by me." Let us not forget this; but come through Him whom God has lifted up to draw all men to him. There is no other name than his by which any human being can be saved. Let us come then, in his name, and through him, to the Father, and live forever and ever.
Prayer should be studied carefully, most profoundly, considered, and our address to the Father well ordered. We greatly need to be taught how to pray. It is astonishing that any matter of so much importance should receive so little attention as this very subject does. There is nothing among us more unaccountable than the prayers and thanksgiving, evincing that there has been no preparation of mind or heart for the solemn performance, and that so little is well or ordered. A brother is called upon to pray, it may be in the public assembly and on the Lord's day. He commences giving thanks for existence, preservation, food, raiment, friends, brethren, peace, a land of liberty, prosperity, etc., etc.; and one begins to think there will not be a petition in it; but, it may be, that toward the close some favor may be asked. A brother is called on to give thanks for the loaf at the Lord's table. He commences praying, and continues praying, till he has made quite a long prayer, and closes without giving thanks for the loaf at all. Now, why should a brother called on for prayer make it nearly all thanksgiving; and, when called on for thanksgiving, make it nearly all prayer? What reason can there be for this? Certainly, it has no foundation in reason.
Then, we should be careful about running into circumlocutory phrases and sentences, instead of the directness and simplicity of Jesus. It is certainly more direct to say, "We thank thee," than to say, "We desire to thank thee." It is surely more direct and fitting to say, "We thank thee for this loaf," than to say, "We desire to thank thee that we are permitted to come round the Lord's table." A few words of thanksgiving in the beginning of a prayer are quite proper. But in a short space of time, the words of prayer should express our dependence, our wants and necessities, and the divine assistance should be entreated. At the close of thanksgiving at the Lord's table, or when about to partake of a common meal, a short petition or two invoking divine aid is in place. But the main matter is thanksgiving, and that should be the burden.
Let us live, then, under the continual impression that "men ought always to pray and not to faint;" that it is the Divine Will that men "pray everywhere;" that we should "pray without ceasing, rejoice evermore," and "in everything give thanks." "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Come then, in childlike confidence, to our blessed and glorious Father; not as a formality, nor merely as a duty, but because you need his Almighty Arm to protect and sustain you, to guard and shield you in the midst of the evils of the world, and finally to save you. Our glorious Father can see dangers that we can not see, and avert calamities that we have no power to stay. He is our everlasting trust, our strong hold, the rock of our defense. In the name then of our Lord Jesus the Christ, our only Savior, let us come to our Father, who always hears us and who is faithful to keep that which is committed to his hands; who will be with us in every trial, in all our sufferings, and in crossing the cold river, where he will receive us to himself to be with him forever and ever. Let us join with all the ransomed of our God and the heavenly hosts in ascribing the blessing, the glory and the honor to him, through our Lord Jesus the Christ, forever and ever.