THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF PRAYER.
Ix our last Saturday's issue we referred to certain aspects of prayer—principally the question Is prayer of any use ? We wish in the present article to indicate the Christian doctrine of prayer, or at least the law regulating it. There is apparently much misconception regarding this—much futile prayer, and many people sad-hearted in consequence. Look at the curious spectacle as it presents itself to us in We hare every nation engaged therein praying for success. Russia, Great Britain, France, Servia, Austria, Montenegro, and Turkey are each and all invoking victory for their .arms, and presumably expecting it. Then wo have the German Emperor ostentatiously patronising the Almighty—ordaining days for special intercession, and ascribing the victories of his armies as answers to his own and his people's 2<etitions. What is to be said to all this? Well, we want to indicate what is the law in the Christian Creed regulative of prayer. When we have found that, then we shall know better how to deal with this curious and pathetic spectacle. ■x- ***** *
In our article last Saturday we Said that prayer itself was a Jaw of Nature. We are always asking and receiving. Every day, every hour, we are doing -that. Man is a bundle of wants. As civilisation develops these wants increase. That is what civilisation means. Man becomes less and less self-contained, more and more dependent on his fellows. And the more he gets the Jess satisfied he is. Never was there an age in which man was better off than today, yet never an age in which he was more discontented. And so the prayer principle becomes more imperative than ever. Instead of dying out with progress, it asserts itself with greater vitality. Man is ever asking, seeking, knocking, and he is always praying—praying more to-day than ever- before. But what a confused, mixed, lawless thing these prayers of his are! He is clamoring-and hammering at Heaven's gate, without purpose, or intelligence, or order. Thus it has been and is with the heathen world. In what wild ways have they besought their gods to hear them? By cries, by incantations, by sacrifices. by cutting themselves with knives and swords, with faces in the dust screeching "Oh, Baal, hear us!” —thus they have sough 11 o wri ug an answer from their deity. And, among ourselves, how little different it is! True, the fierce and bloody rites by which the heathen sought to commend their prayers to their gods have ceased. But the prayers of Christendom, what for the most part are they? They are a disorderly swarm of petitions. With some it is a mere cry of terror—a protest against God’s dealings with them; with others it is a sigh or a shriek—“ God help us! God pity ns!” Hero it is the outburst as of a wounded animal robbed of its prey; there it is the complaint of a heart, jaded and sore, pining in pain or bewilderment; and yonder it is selfishness or wilful sin that vehemently asks God to have its wishes granted, so that it may gratify its pleasures and its lusts.
* * * * * * » But with the coming of Christ there came the regulative law that was to govern all efficacious prayer. This law was to sift and test, order and inspire them until tho swarm of wild, noisy, senseless, clamorous petitions Is built into an articulate, intelligent righteous, and rational speech. What is this law? It is the name of Christ. What does that mean? It does not mean that tho mere saying “For Christ’s sake,” tagged bn at the end of a prayer, makes it acceptable to the Almighty. The name of Christ means very much more than a mere verbal addendum : it means the character, the will, the spirit of Christ. The name stands for the personality, the nature of Christ. At first that limits prayer, but in the end it crowns it. It limits prayer because it decrees that the only prayers that will be answered arc those in harmony with the will of Christ. And it crowns it because wo may be sure that these are infallibly efficacious. “Whatever ye ask the Father in My name “ that will I do.” It is right that this should bo so, for unless we are utterly unselfish in our prayers—ready to use. the answers to forward all those virtues and graces for which Christ’s character stands —we will only bo confirmed in our egoism and sin. A business man, for instance, prays that he may have success hi h;siness before he has the, spirit of Christ that would lead him to use his larger wealth as Christ used His. If ho gets prosperity while he is still under the control of a stingy nature ho will only be confirmed in his meanness. If he does not got it, and his non-praying neighbor across the street does, then he will say : “ Prayer is no use. I have prayed and “' got no answer. My competitor across “ the way does not pray, and yet he “ succeeds.” Hr Horton, in his suggestive hook, ‘My Belief,’ gives two or three striking historical illustrations of this principle on which we are insisting. He refers to the capture of Constantinople by the lurks in 1455. The Greeks prayed, and trusted in the silly prophecy of the indolent monks. They fought listlessly. When the walls wore captured they took refuge in St. Sophia's, but they were brought out and sold as slaves by their conquerors. The crucifix was tarried through the streets with a janizary's cap upon it, and the cry was heard; “Behold! the God of the Christians!” Singularly enough, the heirs of that Byzantine Christianity—the Russians—met defeat in our own day at the hands of Japan. Never were- so many prayers —of a kind —offered. When bad news came from tho front the Russian cities were full of kneeling people, and ikons, genuflexions, and intense burning were in evidence everywhere. But little pagan Japan disposed of “Christian” Russia, notwithstanding all her prayers. In the fall of Constantinople and in the humiliation of Russia the same phenomena arc presented : a corrupt Government, weakened by bribery, luxury, and superstition, resorts to prayer as a. bribe to God, hoping thus to " buy victory by a repetition of phrases. And it "is in vain. . The scourge of Islam or of pagan_ Japan prevails over prayer coupled with iniquity. ******* The application of all this to the prayers of tho nations to-day is obvious. They are all praying, but the regulative law of prayer will certainly operate here, as everywhere else The nation that will win victory is the nation that will make the best use of prayer, and the best us© of it is that which is indicated, in the ideals and character of Christ. These- are the highest ethics this world has yet seen, or is ever likely to see. We. humbly believe that Germany is not that nation, and w© also think humbly that the purposes to which she would apply her triumph are those which are most remote from tho spirit of Christ—from the great principles which H© mad© current coin—viz., Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Therefore, we believe that the Kaiser’s prayers are vain petitions, and that the omens of victory are over the opposing camps. Our laws of Nature, therefore, must be made to iu-
elude this one: “ Whatsoever ye shall ask “of the Father in My name shall be “ granted ” ; for that is only another way of saying that the Will of God is supremo, and must triumph over every opposing obstacle. ******* From all this two^. things emerge with clearness and comfort. First, we must be prepared to allow the Almighty to be the trustee of many prayers. A fevered child asks for injurious food. The answer is held over—for a while. It will get the food by and by—when it can make a right u&o of it. But meanwhile the granting of its petitions would not be a kindness, but a curse to it. It® prayer is not answered at the time and in the way it wished. Yet there is a very peal sense in which it is answered. It is answered in the heart of the mother at the very moment that the child makes its request. She says: “Yes, “dear, you will get that after a little, but “take the other just non-.’’ And so people must be willing to ailow God to be the trustee of many prayers. He withholds the answer of this or that one for reasons as rational and as kind as the mother does that of her suffering child. And unanswered prayers are sometimes more profitable than answered ones. They ought to lead us to ask if what we arc seeking is right, and if we are going to use it according to the law “in His name.” Thus the law is redemptive as well as regulative. If the prayer conform to this law and the answer be withheld, then wo must be content to wait. We must bo willing to allow the’ Eternal Father to act as our trustee. And the larger and more unselfish our desires, the more likely will delay be required. The moral and spiritual problems of this vast universe are so intricate and interlaced as to dictate the necessity of this. But if the branches are in the vine the blossoms and fruit are there also, and will gladden us some day with a sudden surprise. As Mrs Browning has it; ; God keeps a niche In Heaven to hold our idols, and albeit He brake them to our faces, and denied That our close kisses should impair their white, I know wo shall behold them raised, complete, The dust swept from their beauty, glorified, Yew Memnons, singing in the great God light. ******* There is a second thing we must note. People may say that we arc not like the great pray-ers of old—-not like John and Paul and the saints and sages’ of the centuries that are gone. We are only simple, common folks. Very well; John and Paul and the other Apostles, what were they? Working men, like the rest of us. “They “ wrestled hard, as we do now, with “ doubts and sins and fear.” But the real comfort and courage lio again “in His name.” A golden sovereign has the same purchasing power whether it is in the hands of a baron or a beggar man, of a peasant or a prince. The cashier of a bank looks at the name on the cheque presented to him for payment, not at the person who presents it, for A is the signature thueto that is authoritative. And so the power of prayer in tho Christian conception depends or the xamk. This equal ises the great and the good, and enables us to understand how the prayer; of rife poorest may be mightier than the power of kings. It enables us to understand how a Booth or a Barnardo solved problems that were the perplexity of political economises. As an old German mystic poet of the Reformat inn ora , explaining the forces that won that battle, ascribed it to tho praying men and wo
men— They in the silence did pi ©pare Horses and men and weapons of war
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THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF PRAYER., Evening Star, Issue 15702, 16 January 1915