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PART III. ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE DIVINE GUIDANCE, OR THE OPERATION OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE SOUL.

CHAPTER SIXTH.


ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE STATE OF CONTINUAL PRAYER.


The state of continual prayer recognized in the Scriptures, and in writers on Christian experience. The state of continual prayer does not necessarily imply vocal or discursive prayer. The state of continual prayer involves the existence of a permanent disposition, rather than of a mere act or succession of acts. Continual prayer implies continual desire. Continual desire implies continual faith. Of some practical applications of this state of mind. Of the happiness connected with it.

ON a certain occasion the Savior spake a parable to this end, that “men ought always to pray.” [Luke 18:1.] “Pray without ceasing” says the Apostle. “In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” [1st Thess. 5:17, 18.] The state of continual prayer is the true state of the Christian. Certain it is, that we find such a state fully recognized not only in the Scriptures, but in many devout writers on Christian experience. “A Christian,” says Antonia Bourignon, “is obliged to pray always; not merely in the church, but at all times and in all places. Such a prayer consists essentially in the elevation of the soul to God, and in union with him in the exercise of love. So that the mind may be in that state, which constitutes continual prayer or prayer without ceasing, even while we walk and work, eat and drink, and even while one is at rest. In our sleep our affections and will ought to be in such a state, that we may regard them as blessing God always.” [See the Light of the World, Part I. Conference X, as compared with Conference XIV.]

2.—In saying that the true state of the Christian is that of continual prayer, it is hardly necessary to add, that we do not mean
vocal prayer, which requires a physical effort, and which, therefore, the laws of our physical nature render it impossible continually to present. Nor do we mean what is sometimes termed discursive prayer; that is to say, a prayer, which, whether vocal or mental, specifies successively the different subjects of supplication, and which, therefore, implies and requires successive acts of perception, of comparison, and deduction. The mind, as well as the body, requires rest. And any acts of the mind, which imply effort, as all discursive acts do, must cease and must give the mind rest, after a time. It is true, that continual prayer implies the existence of such discursive acts to some extent; it is not unreasonable to suppose, that they may make, and that they do make, from time to time, a part of it; but they do not, and cannot constitute it.

3.—The state of continual prayer may be regarded, as it seems to us, as something more than a mental act or exercise, and something more than even a succession of such acts or exercises. “We do not mean to say, that continual prayer is either necessarily or actually inconsistent with specific and separate acts, with such acts as we may properly speak of as being separate and distinct subjects of notice in our consciousness. On the contrary, it often implies and includes them; but still in its
essence, in that which makes it what it is, it is obviously something more. In other words, and perhaps more specifically, the mind in continual prayer is the mind concentrated and fixed in one position, in one attitude; that is to say, it is the mind, not merely in an act or exercise, which appears and disappears, which may come and go in a moment; but is in that fixed and permanent state, which may properly be described as a disposition; a disposition, resulting from the operation of the Holy Spirit, and which is sustained in that permanency or continuity, which is characteristic of dispositions, by the constant in-dwelling of the same divine agent.

4.—It will aid us somewhat in the understanding of what has been said, when we remark further, that continual prayer implies continual DESIRE. As it is self-evident, that there cannot be prayer without desire, so it is equally clear, that there cannot be continual prayer without continual desire. Another remark, which follows in connection with what has just been stated, is, that continual desire implies, and that it must necessarily imply, an object continually present before the mind. Desire without an object to which it relates, desire without an object which is desired, is obviously a natural impossibility. Continual prayer, therefore, implies not only a continual desire, but also a permanent or continual
object of desire. And we may remark further, that there is but one object, which is appropriate to this state of mind, and which at the same time is characterized by perpetuity. The appropriate object of that continual desire, which is involved in every case of continual prayer, is the fulfillment of God’s blessed will. The one great desire of the heart, which experiences this prayer, is, THY WILL BE DONE. To that will, it steadily looks; and in its fulfillment alone can it be satisfied. As the will of God is never discontinued but is eternal as God himself is, we have thus a perpetual foundation laid of the permanency, the perpetuity, the everlastingness, if we may so express it, of this accepted and ennobling desire. And consequently we have a foundation for that state of mind, which we may properly designate as the state of continual prayer.

5.—There is another principle, involved in the analysis of this deeply interesting subject, which should not be omitted. It is a principle, which we think will commend itself to every reflecting mind, as a true one. It is this. The desire, which is involved in continual prayer, must not only have an object; but such are the laws of the mind’s action, that, before desire can be exercised, we must
believe in the object, as a thing suitable to be desired. In other words, we must have faith in God’s will as holy, just, and good. It would be a natural impossibility, or perhaps we should rather say, it would be a mental or psychological impossibility, to desire the fulfillment of God’s will, without faith in its fulfillment as a thing desirable. And it is in this way, that, by an immutable law of mental action, a law which is obviously recognized in the dispensations of divine grace, we connect the state of continual prayer with that of continual faith. Faith here, as every where else, is the basis, the foundation.

6.—And we may add, when we have continual faith, we naturally and necessarily have that great result, in the form of continual prayer, to which our attention is now directed. The one involves the other. Desire, when directed to God, constitutes the essence of prayer. And accordingly if we continually believe in God’s will as holy, just, and good, and in the fulfillment of that will
as a thing to be desired, the desire of its fulfillment will exist, and will exist continually, as a matter of course. It is no more a matter of contingency, than that God is contingent. Faith in a thing desirable, considered as desirable for us in our situation, is followed with a desire of the thing by a law as certain as the laws of the physical world; even more certain, because physical laws may be altered or annulled, but that of faith, considered in relation to the results which we are now contemplating, never has changed, never will change. We cannot help noticing here, how infallibly the results of inward Christian experience, when traced back to their source, all terminate in the same central feeling; all going to show the truth of the scripture declaration, that “THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” And we anticipate the time with emotions of pleasure and thankfulness, when faith in God through Christ shall be universally understood and proclaimed as the true basis, whether we consider the subject philosophically or scripturally, both of the inward and outward life.

7.—He, who is in the state of continual prayer, continually lives and acts for God. The state of continual prayer, as we have already had occasion to notice, is a fixed state, a
disposition; it is the affections going out to God and attached to him, in consequence of faith being at the bottom of it, by a permanent law; it is the heart, which is man’s moral centre, praying wholly and praying always. Such a prayer, therefore, necessarily commands the outward life. It is impossible to separate them. With a heart, that is continually praying, there is, and must be a life continually acting; the one corresponding to the other. If speaking is action, and if it is true, as the Savior expresses it, that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” then it will be found equally true, that the hands, and feet, and every thing which is instrumental in and makes a part of man’s outward activity, will speak continually, in their own mode of utterance, out of the same abundance. If we would know, therefore, whether our heart is continually praying, we may reason from effect to cause, and infer an answer from the greater or less holiness of our lives.

8.—Continual prayer is a state of mind, which is not only adapted to our relations with God, relations which are permanent and unchangeable; but to those outward and incidental relations, which characterize our present state. And hence we may properly speak of it as man’s true state. He, who prays always, is safe always; and if he prays in faith, not only faith in God as the
object of prayer, but faith in God as the giver and answerer of prayer, I think we may say, in the evangelical, if not in the legal sense of the terms, that he is right always. In whatever his hand finds to do, God approves him. And in connection with what has just been said, we may remark, that one advantage of the state of continual prayer, considered in its relation to the present outward life, is that it is not only exercised at all times, but is adapted to all employments and all occasions. He, who thus prays, is not taken by surprise. He does not say, in the manner of those who fall into this or that error, into this or the other sin, I neglected to pray, I did not look to God, and I am now reaping the consequences of it. Prayer keeps him from the consequent, because it keeps him from the antecedent. He, who thus prays, glorifies God moment by moment; wherever he goes, and whatever he does, whether in the place of retirement, or in the place of public action, or in whatever other diversities of situation Providence has seen fit to place him. He meets all occasions in a proper manner, because he always meets them in the divine relation. He always meets them rightly, because he meets them under God’s eye and with a humble and dependent reference to God’s guidance and approbation.

9.—Sometimes in the view of particular or specific objects, the mind, which is in the state of continual prayer, prompted by the intimations of a divine and ever present providence, assumes at once the attitude or rather perhaps the act of specific prayer. It prays for the poor, the sick, the tempted, the impenitent, specifying their circumstances, and perhaps calling them by name; it prays for a father, a son, a friend, an enemy, for the church general or the church particular, or for any other object, which God in his providence presents or which is calculated to embody the feeling of intercessional desire. This statement will help to illustrate some of the statements already made, namely, that continual prayer is not inconsistent with specific acts, but that it often includes them, and that it is adapted to every situation. At the same time it should always be remembered, as a thing necessary in making out the philosophy of continual prayer, that under this specific and comparatively outward prayer which attaches itself to the known and the visible, there is continuously with it another prayer, still deeper or still higher in the soul, which attaches itself to the unknown and the invisible; a prayer real and permanent although not always uttered with the lips; a prayer in which God delights, and in which he has his throne of thrones; the prayer, “NOT MY WILL, OH GOD, BUT THINE BE DONE.”

10.—The state of continual prayer is a truly happy state. It might be thought to be otherwise, because such prayer involves the state of continual desire; and desire, so long as it is ungratified, so long as some uncertainty attaches to the possession or fulfillment of its object, is always more or less painful. But those, who experience the state of continual prayer, not only always desire, but always experience continuously with the desire the
fulfillment of the desire. Their leading desire, their leading prayer, that which overtops, if we may so express it, and embraces all other prayer, is, that God’s will may be done. The faith in the truth and excellence of God’s character, which lays the foundation of this continual prayer, as we have already seen, is a faith perpetual, a faith undoubting. This faith, which believes in God’s will, as holy, just, and good, never admits the suspicion of any uncertainty or contingency in relation to its fulfillment. When the moment of fulfillment comes, he, who continually prays, having a faith, both in continuance and strength equal to the desire involved in his prayer, knows that the fulfillment, whatever it may be, is such as to glorify God, and therefore he bows to it in submission and thankfulness. He may feel a sorrow in view of it, considered in certain relations, for instance, when he sees impenitent sinners falling under it into dreadful ruin; (the Savior himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, not only on his own account but on account of others;) but this grief, often sharp and painful to the natural sensibilities, is counterbalanced in the inner and higher life, and is annulled, and even turned into peaceful acquiescence and thankfulness, when the event, however painful it may be in some of its aspects, is considered in its relation to God’s glory and the ultimate good of the universe. So that we may say with entire confidence, that he, who prays continually, inasmuch as this sublime prayer is sustained by a faith of the highest kind, cannot now, and cannot ever, so long as the soul continues in this state, be wanting in the elements of the highest happiness. And this may be said especially, among other things, because he, who continually prays, has the privilege, a privilege so marked and eminent, that we cannot well conceive of a greater one, of always rejoicing in the presence and in-dwelling of the Holy Ghost.