What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray to him?
Whether prayer ought to have any place in the sphere of human life is clearly a question of very grave importance. To Christians, prayer is the simple necessity of a newborn life — the instinctive utterance of conscious want; and God can no more disregard it than a tender mother can jest with the cry of her helpless babe. Without prayer, religious duty would degenerate into treadmill drudgery — begun with reluctance, ended with a sigh of relief. Outside the pale of the Christian Church too many there are in every social grade who look on prayer as a symptom of intellectual feebleness, of superstitious alarm, or of fanatical delusion. Examine the grounds on which this notion rests, more especially as it is held by those who have picked up a smattering of our modern science and philosophy.
1. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the immutability of God's character. There is no logical resting place between theism and atheism — between a God absolutely perfect, and no God at all. Grant His existence, and every excellence must belong to Him, so completely and finally, as to be incapable either of addition or subtraction. Why hope to move such a Being with mortal entreaties? What response can they have but their own sad echoes? The objection thus urged is based on a fundamental misconception. Rightly understood, prayer is not intended to change God; it is designed rather by its reflex influence, to change ourselves; to lift us into the circle of His transforming fellowship. Immutability must not be confounded with insensibility. The crowning glory of God's nature is, that He feels appropriately towards all things, unalterably pained with what is wrong, unalterably pleased with what is right; and the supreme object of prayer is to bring us into such relations to Him. that the benignant fulness of His Godhead, free from all fitful caprices, may flow forth with unvarying willingness and certainty for our help and happiness.
2. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the fixity of God's purposes. Every being gifted with intelligence acts more or less from deliberate predetermination. How much more must this be the case with Him who is the great fountain of intelligence, and who ordereth all things according to the counsel of His own mind! This is the simple truth, but does it present any valid argument against the worth of prayer? Does not prayer run parallel with God's designs, not counter to them? Does it not ask what is agreeable to His will; not what is contrary to it? Is it not itself an ordained part of the Divine scheme — a something enjoined by the eternal Maker and Ruler of us? Heaven's decrees no more forbid supplication than they forbid effort. Intercession with God is not an attempt to frustrate His purposes, but to obey and carry them into harmonious fulfilment.
3. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the unchangeableness of God's laws. Laws of nature, men call them. Laws of God, whereby nature is governed, would be a more accurate and equally scientific definition. It is said, Will prayer alter, by so much as a hairbreadth, the course of that huge machinery, named the "System of the Universe," any more than the shriek of perishing villages will arrest the avalanche, or extinguish the volcano? This reasoning leaves untouched the whole realm of the supernatural; and, after all, it is spiritual benedictions with which prayer is chiefly concerned, and which constitute the richest heritage God can bestow, or man receive. With respect to the physical, it is not sound philosophy to represent the world as a piece of clockwork, wound up millenniums ago, and left to run its round without further dependence on the Divine Artificer. He who made the world sustains it; is the source of all its energies, the guide of all its movements. Even human skill can utilise nature's laws. Is the Creator more impotent than the creature?
4. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the infinitude of God's wisdom and love. No incident in our chequered history, be it great or small, is hidden from His omniscient gaze. Why tell Him that of which He is already fully cognisant? Since He comprehends what we need better than we do ourselves, will He not grant or deny all the same, whether we ask or not? But prayer was never meant for any purpose so impertinent as to inform the Deity, or to teach wisdom and understanding to the Most High. But it does not follow that His blessings will be dispensed alike, sought or unsought. Prayer is the sign of moral fitness to receive. Because "God is love," it is lame logic to conclude that He must lavish His treasures equally on those who solicit and on those who spurn them. Heaven's kindness is not an amiable weakness, blind, impulsive. Prayer takes what love offers, and what, without prayer, can never be personally appropriated.
5. Prayer is assumed to be useless because of the withholding of God's answer. It can hardly be denied that there is much praying that ends in nothing. It falls still-born from the lips, and is buried in the dust of abortive and forgotten things. What is the use of presenting requests which are thus unheeded? But to argue after this fashion is to jump at totally false conclusions. While we are waiting, the answer may already be given in another shape. May there not be an indolent proneness to beseech God to do precisely what He expects us to do, and what He has given us the power of doing ourselves? Does delay necessarily mean denial? Surely there are causes enough to account for unanswered prayer, without impugning its efficacy when rightly offered. Instead, therefore, of pleading untenable objections, let the worth of prayer be tried and tested by individual experience.
(L. B. Brown.)
Parallel VersesKJV: What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?