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eternity, upward to God himself, sweep the slowly arching sides of the mighty circle of truth whose entire round will, nevertheless, forever baffle finite measurement.
The man of faith is the man of power. He whose eye is fixed not upon present attainment, but upon future promise; not upon the difficulties that beset the race, but upon the goal to be won and the glory yet to be attained; not upon the little that is, but upon the more that may be; not upon the delusive doubts, but upon the eternal verities of nature—this man, satisfied with nothing less than the award of universal inheritance, when he shall awake in the likeness of the Infinite and Eternal—this man has dropped the weakness of humanity and grasped the omnipotence of God! Before such a faith mountains of doubt and difficulty are removed at the word of command, and swallowed up in the sea of complete achievement. To such a faith all things are possible. To the ear of such a faith rings out the sublime promise of God, "All things are yours." Doubt is weakness. It is Elijah cowering on Carmel, to whom comes the chiding question, "What doest thou here?" Conviction is power; it is Elijah single-handed, but invincible in the truth, challenging the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, in the name of the God that answered by fire. Conviction compacts a man's strength, focalizes his energy, harnesses him in armor fresh from the celestial forge, which falsehood may try in vain to pierce; arms him with truth, the invincible sword of God. Skepticism is the Circe of the soul,— fair to look upon, and friendly in her offices of feigned kindness, but at her touch man loses the image of God, and sinks grovelling to the earth, to claim kinship with the brute.
S. H. Carpenter.
THE proposition recently made through Prof. Tyndall, has stirred up afresh difficult questions about prayer. Some of us are talking, some thinking, some writing. It seems to me there is a touchstone principle which, if rightly applied, will solve many of our difficulties.
The essence of all prayer is in these words: "Thy will be done.' Here is not only the substance, but the sum. Whatever accompanies it, whatever of special petition, is not merely in subordination to it, but is an emanation from it; is not merely in accord, but in unison with it. That the will of God may be perfected, whatever that will may be, however unseen by us, however unknown in its means and ends, however counter to our fleshy longings, to our apparent welfare, —this must be the fundamental desire of the praying heart, and not only fundamental, but the all-informing, all-absorbing desire. Our requests may be excursive, but faith leads them back to this centre, where they concur and close. This is not merely a submission of our will to that of God. The man whose life is hid with Christ in God, has no will apart or deviating from God's will. Though still free, his will is raised to be coincident with that of God. Thus regulated, his words express his own will only so far as they express God's will; all other construction he denies. Whatever will not bear this test, is not prayer.
A consideration of the ground of prayer will confirm this view. God has declared that " of him, and through him, and to him, are all things "; and our response is, "To him be glory forever, amen." He has revealed to us the Son as " heir of all things, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high "; and we hail him: "The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to whom be honor and power everlasting, amen." We lay us at his feet, yielding body, soul, and spirit to his will. We have no desire but for him. We offer no petition but that his own purposes may stand fast and be perfected in us, in all men, in the universe of which he is King. We can ask nothing of ourselves, for we have no merit, and hence no claim. All our asking is grounded on his deserts. We can ask nothing for ourselves as separate from him', for we arc in him and have no interest apart from him, and cannot' by any possibility need, and therefore cannot truly desire, anything that is not incorporate with his own objects. Hence all prayer is, "Thy will be done, for Christ's sake, amen." Here is petition summed, here is the sole ground. This Christian formula, and the Old Testament formula, " that thy name may be glorified," are identical. If, then, this is the only ground on which we can offer a petition, it follows that the petition can be no more than "Thy will be done"; for all things conducive to the glory of his name, are included in his will. The ground and the petition are commensurate, and their contents convertible. In the Lord's prayer they are placed in coordination: "Hallowed be thy name,—thy will be done."
Then this wide but impassable boundary is set for prayer. Within it are all Christian needs, all sinless desires. These we express in specific petition, but all specific petitions are dominated by this principle, and if not in accord with it, are nullified by it. I cannot ask God to restore my sick child for the child's sake, however much it may suffer; nor for my own, however agonizing my natural desire, but only for Christ's sake, that his name may bo glorified. This may be answered more truly by death than by life; the real petition granted, the formal request denied. If Christians were unitedly to pray for the health of the patients in a hospital, test ward, their petition must fundamentally be: God's will be done, that his name may be glorified; and this might be most perfectly answered by no difference between that ward and others. The proposition for a test ward is based on a radically erroneous notion of the spirit and object of prayer. It could not be, in any special sense, a test.
This proposition originated, most probably, in the wide-spread doubt as to the efficacy of prayer to induce a suspension or modification of the operation of physical law. This is worthy of close consideration.
Beyond reasonable dispute, physical law is invariable. That there have been miracles, innovations on physical law, subjecting it to variation or exception, is true. Their purpose required them to be manifestly exceptions; that purpose has been accomplished, and since the apostolic day we have had no miracle. The investigations of science establish the invariable character of physical law. Our daily life is ordered on this conviction, which metaphysicians record among our intuitions. So we must believe that every force does have, and must have, its full legitimate effect, and is never counteracted in the sense of nullified. We reserve only this: that the working of physical forces according to law, is by, and not aside from God's will, and that physical law is merely a generalization expressing, not constraining, God's purposes in nature. Knowing him to be of unchangeable will, we find in this reservation additional reason for profound faith in the constancy of nature, and in the absolute irreversibility of any tittle of its laws.
No intelligent Christian ever prays for the instant flood of an ebbing tide, for full moon in time of new, for any momentary suspension of gravitation, for the non-explosion of fired gunpowder, however much it might apparently conduce to his own or the general welfare; and if I thrust my hand into the fire and pray not to be burned, it is not only folly, but blasphemy. Why? Because intelligent Christians consider physical law to be as truly the expression of God's will, as moral law; and to pray for its suspension, or violation, or overruling, is a contradiction of the essential principle of prayer. To pray for the admission into heaven of an unwashed soul, would not be more heinous than to pray that a corpse should not see corruption. That the earthquake and the ocean-waves, the storm of wind and rain, the breeze and the shower, occur according to physical law, obediently to the Lawgiver's will, we do not doubt; though they are as yet beyond our calculus. No prayer can possibly induce their coming, arrest, or change, independently of natural order. We do not say the Almighty cannot, but that the Immutable will not. This invariableness without the shadow of turning, is of infinite importance to our faith, and to the conduct of the universe, natural and spiritual. Indeed, aught else is inconceivable, or at least incompatible with the scriptural idea of God.
It is to be observed that prayer in a storm at sea is not for instant calm, but for rescue; in time of famine, not for manna, but for relief; the relief or rescue being hoped for in a natural, not a supernatural way. It is within the limit we have indicated to ask God for any physical blessing—as for rain, for fruitful and healthful seasons, for the stay of pestilence—if we suppose that these events may occur in the regular processes of nature. It is just as reasonable to pray for the orderly occurrence of some event, as to give thanks for one that has already so occurred.
But to ask for a deviation from the established order, is neither Scriptural nor reasonable. The doctrine of special providences, in its usual form, teaching that God, to meet special needs, considered as exigencies unprovided for in his general economy, will interpose to overrule or counteract the regular sequences of nature, is false; for it sets nature on the one hand, and God on the other, as separate powers, whereas God is in nature working his will; it shows us God correcting and contradicting himself; it denies his immutability. No, all the providences of God are from eternity, and come to pass in the chain of causation. There can be no distinction between special and ordinary providence, other than that a special providence is a remarkable and unusual conjuncture, wherein natural causes are obscure, but the final cause manifest. This distinction may be convenient, but is superficial, not fundamental. The thunderbolt that arrests a murderer's arm, is not more "an immediate act of God" than the rising of the sun.
Are all things, then, bound inexorably by physical law? Surely this leads to fatalism. Not at all. The Creator of the world left one, and only one thing free,—the will of intelligent creatures. This operates as a cause which is not itself an effect, and its every free choice is the absolute beginning of a new series. To it is given the control of a limited physical force, which may be combined with others and produce extraordinary results; that is, results which, in the absence of intelligent free-will, would not occur. But this combination does not and cannot nullify, or suspend, or make exceptions to any physical law. The introduction of a new component only changes the direction and intensity of the resultant, and that strictly according to law. No force is in itself modified, but the gross effect is moulded at will.
Moreover, mind influences mind, so as to excite special determinations, and attain special results. The divine mind also exerts influence which may, without coercion, direct the human powers into such new combinations as will result in extraordinary events, without imparing or infringing any physical law. Thus prayer for health may be answered if remedy be within human reach; prayer for daily