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CHAPTER XXIV.


Prayer in its Relation to the Absolute Religion.


1.— Prayer, in its analysis and its foundation, necessarily involves the fact of the existence and the presence of two personalities — of God who is prayed to and of man who prays. Prayer in utterance is not merely and exclusively petitionary; but includes both supplication and adoration. The basis of these two forms, or that which entitles them to an uttered existence, is found in the character of the being who is prayed to. God can always give what we ask for; and his character, perfect in all its attributes, is worthy of the highest adoration. So far as this, we have a basis of fact and thought which is unchangeable, and which to this extent evidently brings the doctrine of Prayer within the limits of the Absolute Religion.

2.— As we advance further, however, we are obliged to admit, that the common doctrine on the subject of prayer may be regarded as somewhat at fault. The doctrine to which we refer is, that God is necessarily unimpressible, or as the theologians commonly express it, that he is
impassive; in other words, that though he hears he cannot be moved, and that in the possession of all knowledge, he is nevertheless without emotions and affections, because his plans being founded in infinite wisdom are fixed and inflexible, and his emotions and affections, which have their antecedence and basis in the facts of existence, are necessarily as fixed and “impassive” as his immovable plans. We do not deny that this is a view, which, properly understood and under proper limitations, embraces an important truth. But when not accepted with these conditions, it cannot be regarded as the whole truth, and perhaps it would be correct to say, that it is a serious and injurious perversion of the truth. It should be kept in mind that man is not a mere idealism or fiction in the world of existences; but in a true and substantial sense of the term a reality. Next to God, because he is in a true and especial sense the child of God, he is the great fact of the universe; vast in powers, complicated and yet wisely adjusted in the methods of mental action, and eternal in his duration.

3.— And further it is a necessity, that God’s existence being without limitations, should correspond to, embrace, and harmonize with all other existences. Man cannot pray without God’s hearing his prayer; and he cannot offer a prayer, so far as the element of desire is a part of it, without God’s answering; although the way or method of answering is not always perceived. Such a prayer being a fact in his existence, it is necessarily a fact known: and being a fact and being known as a fact, it cannot by any possibility be disregarded. God is moved by it.

4.— But can it not be said, that God himself by his own interior operation made the prayer. Such is sometimes the doctrine. And yet, even if something can be said in favor of that view, can it not be said with far greater truth, that God made man, and that in the exercise of the powers and responsibilities God had given him, man made the prayer? God and man, though standing in the closest relationship, are not identical. It is a mistaken and erroneous philosophy which asserts it. Man from the moment of his creation became a part of the universe; as we have already said, not a fiction or pretence or mere semblance of being, but a reality; not a thing made to be ignored; not a thing made to be dashed to pieces; not a mere plaything to be laughed at, contemned, trifled with and thrown aside at will. God does not work in that way. God is a serious being and very far from being a thoughtless trifler; and when he does a thing he does it seriously and in wisdom, and he does it for permanency; and all his dealings with man are stamped and sealed with justice. Remember therefore that man is really and truly man; and when he prays at all, his prayer is and must be a prayer and nothing else; and God hears because the ear of his knowledge is infinite and cannot be shut; and God answers the prayer by corresponding to it in wisdom and goodness, because the love of his heart is infinite, and it is not possible for him to ignore or to trample on the desires of the children whom he has made. It is thus and cannot be otherwise.

But this is not argument, perhaps some will say. And this in a certain sense may be true. But if it is not argument in the ordinary sense, it is something higher than argument; it is both the intuition of the intellect and the affirmation of the heart. And now it is to be remembered that we are speaking of prayer, and not of the mere appearance or pretense of prayer.

We have already said that prayer necessarily involves two things, first the Being who is prayed to; second the being who prays. And we may add also, prayer involves a desire of the object which calls forth the prayer, and faith in God as the giver of that for which we ask. And it is hardly necessary to add that there must be sincerity in all. And now, looking at the matter in the light of the Absolute Religion, in the light of the highest reason, which is the intuitional reason, how is it possible in the nature of things that God can be insensible to, and take no cognizance of a sincere desire? Let those who think so, go back to first principles, and find out if possible what God is.

But remember also that prayer has
faith in it. But faith in God as the answerer of prayer in his own good time and way and wisdom, which is confessedly implied and involved in faith, is wholly incompatible with the idea that God is an impassive being, and is not moved by our supplications.

5.— But how can it be possible, says one, that God who is Infinite should be moved by the finite? I ask in return, how is it possible that God who is Infinite should not be moved by the finite? The Infinity of God, who is not only an infinity of knowledge but an infinity of feeling, implies and requires that all the facts of the finite should be known, and also that all the feelings which are appropriate to this knowledge should be actually experienced. It cannot be otherwise. The failure to experience all the feelings which are appropriate to all existing facts, would imply and would establish an imperfection in his character. To accept God in the infinitude of knowledge, and to curtail Him in the infinitude of feeling, is to mutilate Him in one of his most essential attributes and to make him unworthy of reverence. If He knows a thing and feeling is truly appropriate to that thing, then it follows that feeling is a necessity. And hence it is not merely as a dogmatic declaration, but as a requisition of the Absolute of things, that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without his notice, and that he will not allow the husbandman to “muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.” And does He not care for man, as well as for oxen and the birds of the air? Does He number the hairs of our heads, and have no respect for the petitions of the heart? Does he not pity man’s sorrows and hear his cries and honor his faith?

When men know God only by the intellect, they may be at a loss on these questions; but when they know him by the comprehension of the heart, they know what the answer is, and there can be no other.

The plain language of Scripture therefore, and the doctrine commonly received, that God is a hearer and answerer of prayer, that He takes an interest in all our wants and does not fail to respond to them, is a doctrine also of the Absolute Religion. And every friend and advocate of the Absolute Religion may know assuredly, first by reason and secondly by experience if he will make the experiment, that when he prays to God, God will hear him. The true parent loves to have his children ask for what they want. And so of God, He could not listen to the petition, if he did not love to answer it. The two things would be incompatible. The outward expression of that which is within, is a necessity. It is true that this expression in its modes is very various. There is verbal expression; there is the expression of the countenance, there is the expression of action. The fullest expression of joy or of sorrow is generally found to require the combination of all these. In point of fact, man wants and he receives; he has needs and he has supplies. The existence of wants necessitates prayer; it may exist merely in the form of desire, or it may go further and embody itself in expression: but in either case, it is prayer.

It may perhaps be said, that God who is omniscient knows our wants; and there is no necessity of expression. But expression takes place of itself, and is a necessary attendant of want; and it is doubtful, whether the want could possibly be supplied without an expression in some of its forms.