Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed…
Has it never happened, when travelling, that you have stopped among the ruins of an old building, and there evoked, by thought, a vanished past? And if the stones which surrounded you were those of a church, have you not experienced a strange emotion in imagining all the generations which had passed through that enclosure, all the prayers which had been heard there. Well! an analogous spectacle in the moral world impresses me. There also we shall meet with ruins which sin heaps up every year, ruins of souls made for a superior life, and degraded by vanity, by selfishness, by lusts But search thoroughly, and, under the thick coating of vice or of indifference, you will find the traces of a sanctuary, you will recognise vestiges which will tell you that those souls ought to belong to God. Of those vestiges I wish to point out only one: it is the instinct of prayer living in the depth of every man's soul, which is found always and everywhere, which makes the rough face of those poor savages, whose mouth hardly stammers out a human language, to turn towards heaven in their afflictions. How great is that instinct, and how shall we not admire its beauty! Here is a weak, ignorant being, who will pass away, and who unites himself to the all-powerful God, to the Author of all life, of all intelligence; here is a being hitherto selfish and defiled, who returns trembingly to the Author of all love and all holiness; he considers in his soul His sovereign power and goodness, he restores to Him, in acts of thanksgiving, the life he has received from Him. But, while showing what is admirable in that instinct of prayer, how can we help thinking with sorrow of the way in which it has been perverted? What has prayer, almost everywhere, become? An outward act, a religious routine, and nothing more. The spirit has disappeared and the form alone has remained. Is prayer efficacious? What a strange question, you will say, for why should we pray if we believed we were fulfilling a useless act? That is evident; but you must understand us. In a general sense, all will grant that prayer operates; but on whom does it operate? Is it on us simply? Such is the question, First of all, here is a reflection which should occur to you. If prayer can and ought to act only on him who prays, I ask what is the meaning of all the prayers we address to God for others? That remark made, I interrogate the human soul as to that instinctive and universal impulse which induces it to pray. What does it, then, want? To raise itself simply to God, to unite itself to the Source of all good, to calm itself in the contemplation of universal order, to learn to resign itself before inflexible necessity? Ah! who would dare to say so except by denying the reality of things? What! that shipwrecked man who lifts a look of anxious expectation towards God, that mother whose heart is rent at the sight of her child in agony, or that other one who trembles at the thought of the temptations which will destroy her son; do you believe that they do not ask, do you believe that they have not an ardent and profound confidence that they will act on the Divine will, that they will modify the course of things? But you cannot, you dare not, say so, and, behold, you are reduced to maintain that they are all victims of a presumptuous illusion. An illusion! but whence comes that illusion which I find everywhere and always, that illusion which neither education, nor influence, nor example could plant in those depths of the human soul, from whence it comes out at critical hours? Therefore it will be God who must have put it in us; God who must have created in our soul that hunger without nourishment, that thirst without mitigation; God who must have said to His creature, "Thou shall always ask Me, but I will never answer thee." No, no; I believe in that spontaneous testimony of the soul. God will, God must reply to that desire. Moreover, we are Christians; the best and most sublime things we know respecting God we owe to Jesus Christ. "What idea does Jesus wish to give us of prayer? Is it simply, in His eyes, an exaltation of the soul, a spiritual exercise, and, if there is an idea which is familiar to Him, which comes back each instant to His lips, is it not that prayer is a real request which obtains its reply, that it acts on God, that it can modify events, that its action depends on the intensity of faith? And besides, what Jesus here teaches is that which comes from the whole of Scripture with an evidence that no other explanation will be able to weaken. Recall the sublime scene where Abraham intercedes with God to delay the punishment of Sodom; recall the wrestling of Jacob with the angel, and that name of Israel, which means "a conqueror of God"; then, leaping over centuries, see the Canaanite woman at the feet of Jesus Christ, wresting from Him, by her supplications, her tears, her admirable faith, the cure He seemed at first to refuse her, and tell us if prayer, such as Scripture presents it to us, is not a sovereign act which operates on us first of all, but also, apart from us, on others, on events, on the world, and, to employ the bold paradox of Scripture, even on God Himself. To have both the cry of nature and the Divine word for one's self, is not that essential, and what more is necessary for Christians? On that ground I place myself, in order to approach the objections by which men seek to shake our faith. You know the first, the oldest objection. They tell us that prayer cannot be efficacious because it would change the laws of nature. Is that true? Well, O reasoner! why then should you act? Why do you take a step, even one? Why do you seek for your nourishment? Why do you sow? Why do yea build? Each of your acts is in the most flagrant contradiction to your system. You cannot modify nature, and every instant you modify it! I know how we shall be answered. It will be said that, when man acts on nature, he does it in an outward, visible manner which every one can appreciate, and that there is no relation between that action and the action claimed for prayer. But that was not the question. It was, you know, to prove that man can modify nature; and we have seen that he can do so. I am told now that it is inconceivable how that action will take place under the influence of prayer. But how many of those hews are there that we could understand and resolve? Do you conceive how the will which is spiritual can act on matter? Do you know how my hand obeys my intellect? Does not mystery surround you here on all hands, and do the most learned penetrate it better than the most simple? There is another objection opposed to us when we affirm that we can, by prayer, modify the course of events and operate on God Himself. Objectors say to us that it is doubting the wisdom and the goodness of God, that it is substituting our action for His, that an inconceivable pride is there, and that the sole attitude which becomes us in respect to Him is the waiting on and submission to His will. Let us remove what is specious from that objection. When we say that a man acts, by his prayer, on God Himself, we babble in the speech of man of things which are beyond us, the Divine will being incapable of yielding to ours, and remaining as the last word and the explanation of all. Having said this, we shall remark that the objection put before us is destroyed, like the preceding, by itself. The wisdom and goodness of God should prevent us from addressing our demands to Him, they tell us; but what would you answer him who, in the name of the same principle, should pretend to condemn the labour of man? We should answer, "Yes, assuredly God wills that I should live, but He wills that I live by labouring, and for that He has placed the instinct for labour in me. Now, if I did not obey that instinct, His will, however good it may be, would not be realised in respect to me. It therefore depends on me, on my labour, that the will of God should be accomplished." Well! what is true of labour is true of prayer also. Yes, God wills that such an end be attained, that such a result be produced; but there is a condition to it, it is the labour of the soul, in a word, it is prayer. If I do not pray, that Divine will, will never be accomplished. There remains the most popular and oftenest repeated objection; it is that which people pretend to draw from experience. "If prayer were really efficacious," they say, "if it operated on others, on events, on the world, we should see its effects." But who are they, then, who pretend thus to judge the results of prayers of faith, and so discern their reality? Do they know if those prayers were true and sincere? Do they know what sentiment dictated them? They are astonished at their small amount of efficacy, but it would be necessary first to know if they could rise to God. What do you think of those selfish or vicious prayers which only interest or passion has inspired? In order to appreciate the visible effect of prayers we must therefore judge what the prayers themselves are worth, and what inspection of man could discern their value? That is what must be first remembered; and now let us view more nearly the objection opposed to us. People show us prayers which remain unanswered, prayers of the most believing, of the most pious, of the most humble redeemed by Jesus Christ, and they tell us it is impossible, in face of such a fact, still to affirm with my text that prayer is efficacious. Well 1 to that argument of experience, experience may reply. I appeal to those who know bow to pray, and who are apparently the best judges in that matter. I appeal to them confidently, and I know that they will testify firmly that prayer is efficacious. Besides, there are visible results of prayer which impress themselves so evidently that none can deny them. When, forty centuries ago, we could have seen, in the plains of Chaldea, the obscure chief of an unknown tribe bending the knee before Jehovah and invoking Him for his son, in the persuasion that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in his name; when, two thousand years later, we could have heard a handful of Galileans Fraying in an upper room in Jerusalem, and imagining that the world would be conquered by the faith of which they were witnesses, we might have been tempted to smile before the prayer of Abraham and before that of the first disciples of Christ. Who to-day would dare to say they were deceived? To-day the third of humanity beholds in Abraham the father of believers, and the prayer of the apostles is repeated by the Church growing in all points of the universe.
(E. Bersier, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.