Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what would we gain if we pray to Him?'
(1) in prolonged life;
(2) in the power and influence they are permitted to gain;
(3) in their family prosperity;
(4) in their freedom from calamity;
(5) in their domestic security;
(6) in their abundance and joy.
This mystery Job does not instantly unravel But what is the effect of all this prosperity on the wicked? It does not humble him nor make him thankful As an uneven glass distorts the fairest image, so their impure and ill-regulated minds turn the goodness of God into an occasion of impious rejection. "Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us." The distortions of the evil mind pervert the goodness of God into -
I. AN OCCASION OF IMPIOUS DESPIAL OF THE DIVINE NAME. They refuse to know God. They shut out the knowledge of God from their hearts. With a wicked "Depart!" they resist the Holy One. They have no aspiration after a holy corn reunion, or the vision of the pure. The Lord is abhorrent to them. Their tastes are corrupt; their preferences are for evil. Truly they pervert and reverse all good things. They put darkness for light, and light for darkness. They put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. The very call to adoration and praise they turn into an occasion of despisal and rejection.
II. In their perversions they make the Divine goodness AN OCCASION FOR A DESPISAL OF THE DIVINE WAYS. This is always the danger of them who have abundance and yet lack the fear of God. This is the basis of a teaching long afterwards touchingly taught concerning the rich, to whom it is so "hard" to "enter into the kingdom of heaven." The satisfied man becomes the self-satisfied, even though indebted to another for his possessions. Then the spirit of independence becomes a spirit of revulsion against all authority that might be raised over it. So they who "spend their days in wealth" say," We desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
III. This same spirit ripens into AN ABSOLUTE REFUSAL TO SUBMIT TO THE DIVINE AUTHORITY. "What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?" So far is the goodness of God from leading him to repentance who is evil in spirit. Wickedness is the fruit of an ill-directed judgment, and it tends to impair the judgment more and more. It distorts all the moral sensibilities, and therefore all the moral processes. If the judgment were accurately to decide in favour of the Divine Law and its obligatory character, the perverted preferences of the mind would reject the testimony, and by a rude rebellion within would prevent a right decision from being arrived at. Even the check and restraint of the enlightened judgment becomes a signal for resistance. Its goad is kicked against; its repressions refused; its warning unheeded; its plain path, narrow and difficult to follow, is rejected, and a broad and easy way, in which the foolish heart finds its pleasure, chosen in preference. So the Divine authority is rejected and despised. The ill effects of rejecting the Divine authority are seen:
1. In the loss of the guidance of the supreme wisdom.
2. In the inevitable injuries resulting from following a false and erroneous judgment.
3. In the demoralization of the life.
4. In the final vindication of the Divine authority. - R.G.
I. OBJECTIONS URGED AGAINST THE DUTY OF PRAYER.
What profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?
I. Now, in order to give any answer to the question, WE MUST BE ABLE TO SAY TO WHOM WE PRAY, and must have some clear idea of what we mean by prayer. Let us address ourselves to these questions first. When we speak of prayer, to whom do we pray? Now it is quite plain that prayer can only be addressed to a personal Being. If we resolve God into an inexorable fate, from the relentless grip of which escape is impossible, then the question of our text is meaningless. Fate implies an inevitable destiny which can in no way be altered. Or if we resolve God into a mere force or energy or tendency, which works mechanically and blindly without thought or feeling or will, the question is equally meaningless. It is simply an absurdity to pray to a force, an energy, or a tendency. Or if God is an unknown God, of whom and of whose character we cannot speak with any certainty, then in no full Christian sense of the word can we pray unto Him. Or, if whilst ascribing such attributes as omnipotence and omniscience to Him, we think of Him as far removed from this world, having delegated its affairs to certain forces which, quite apart from Him, work according to certain laws, as we say, laws which He has established, but with which He has no further connection, then it is simply absurd to pray. Or if we think of Him as arbitrarily working out His own will, that will having nothing whatever to do with the welfare of His creatures, it is manifestly absurd to pray. Now all will admit that such conceptions, so current amongst us, are as contrary as they can be to what Jesus taught us about God. But whilst we may reject them, does our conception of God rise to the level of what Jesus taught us? To many the central thought about God is that which underlies the expression, to many perhaps the most common of all, and that commonness to which we owe, perhaps, more to the influence of the Prayer book than to any other cause, the expression "Almighty God." A power which cannot be limited, a pressure from which there is no escape, a nature which knows no change, are the main elements of the conception which many entertain about God. But such physical attributes lay no sufficient basis for prayer. They may exist, to a large extent, in combination with other attributes which render prayer an absurdity. And even if we add intellectual attributes, such as infinite knowledge, a wisdom which cannot possibly err in thought or deed, we are far from having reached the central conception of God as Jesus revealed Him to us. His avowed object in coming into the world being, as He repeatedly assured us, to reveal God, surely the fact is full of significance that He never emphasised these attributes, which we put into the forefront, such attributes as infinity, unchangeableness, eternity, omnipotence, and so on? The great question is, Who is He to whom such attributes belong? To speak of God as the Almighty One, the Eternal One, the Unchangeable One, in inquiring who God is, is about as accurate and full of meaning as if in defining the rose, we were to speak of it as "the sweet" or "the red." We want to know who it is who is infinite, who it is who is eternal, who it is who is omniscient, who it is who is unchangeable. And this is the question which Christ answers. He reveals to us God's nature, not merely His attributes. He tells us who it is who is almighty, who it is who is unchangeable, and so on. And there is no uncertainty whatever in what He taught. Fatherliness is no mere attribute of God. Father is the one and only word which sets forth His nature; He of whom all these attributes are affirmed is the righteous Father, the Holy Father, the ideal Father. It is the Father, then, who is at the helm of the universe, over all and in all, constrained in everything He does by no law whatever save and except the law of His holy will. It is He to whom the welfare of everyone, without exception, is unspeakably dear, dearer than the welfare of your beloved child is to you.
II. Now let us ask WHAT WE MEAN BY PRAYER. As used in a general and less exact sense, it often includes all that is comprehended in communion with God — adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession. In its narrower and more exact sense, it means simply asking, as when our Lord said, "Ask, and ye shall receive." The best definition I ever saw of prayer is by the late T.H. Green, of Oxford, when he says, "Prayer is a wish referred to God." Now, manifestly, what we ask from God must be regulated largely by what we think about Him. And if we pray to the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, there are certain thoughts about Him which will never be absent when we ask anything from Him. The first is that the Father can grant anything we ask. Here is the true place for omnipotence. His power is not hemmed in by any bounds at all, excepting only those of physical or moral impossibilities. No force limits, for there is no force in which He is not. Force is merely the mode of His working. No law limits Him, for law is simply a term which we use to express what we have learned in apparently the inviolable mode of His action. There is no entity, no being with nature which is outside of Him which controls Him in any measure. Apart, then, from that which is physically and morally impossible, God can do everything. It is not a thing incredible that He should raise the dead. There is no sickness which He cannot heal. There is no calamity which He cannot avert. "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think." Again, there is no limit on the side of God's willingness to give us what we desire to have. This is simply an axiom if the great central truth of Christianity is conceded. But all this seems to be completely at issue with the facts which stare us in the face. It seems to be denied point blank by the experiences of life. With unutterable anguish written on uplifted face, and the body bathed in bloody sweat, the cry is extorted from us at all times, "Oh, Father, do take this cup away," but it has to be drunk to its very dregs. The breadwinner in some dependent family, who has hardly known an idle hour, who has spent his little all, both of means and strength, on the small country farm he has tilled, obliged to sell everything that he might retain the honesty of his name, drifts into some metropolitan centre. Early and late, week after week, he strives to find employment by which to keep the wolf away from his home, but in vain. As he returns home at night he sees hunger and despair printed on the countenance he loves far better than life. What intensity does the agony of love give to his prayer. But no hand is outstretched, and he dies of a broken heart. If there is no limit on the side of the Father's willingness to answer prayer, then why, oh! why does He not answer prayers such as these, and save His children from such crushing sorrows? Thomas Erskine, who, being before his age, was of course misunderstood, somewhere asks, "If it has taken God untold ages to make a piece of old red sandstone, how long will it take Him to perfect a human soul?" Elsewhere he writes, "The depth of our misery now is an earnest of the immensity of that blessing which is to make all this worth while." I know of no standpoint whatever, save the one contained in such words as those, from which any light whatever can be seen playing upon the darkness. Nothing can dispel that entirely. It belongs to the primal fact of human freedom. But if it be true that the present life is but the mere tiniest fragment of a fragment in the life of any of us; if it be true that life is unending, that God's education of us will never cease in any case until we are perfect, then there is no darkness here which may not intensify the brightness to come. So that the one and only answer, and the only limit to God's answer to prayer is that implied in the words, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification"; or, in the words which you have in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "For our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." Now let us in the light of these truths, remembering to whom we pray, remembering that the only limit to His answers to our prayer is not inability or unwillingness to answer, but the purpose of His holy love to make us perfect as He is perfect, let us in the light of these truths consider the question, "What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?" It is perfectly plain from what has been said, that if prayer is true prayer, let it be for what it may, it will have attached to it, if not in word, at any rate in spirit, "Not what I will but what Thou wilt." It cannot be otherwise if we have any worthy conception of Him to whom we pray. If that limit is attached to our prayer, there is nothing at all we cannot appropriately make the subject of prayer. Then are we to pray for success in our worldly calling, that God would bless us in our basket add in our store? By all means; only let it be remembered that success in the form in which we should choose it would very probably be about the worst thing for us, and certainly we shall not have it if it would. Are we to pray for restoration to health, when it seems as though life were about to be brought to a premature close, or when someone intensely loved by us seems to be withering away? By all means; only even then we must not forget that in all that is baffling medical skill, God is probably preparing us for the blow, which, just because He is love, He must let fall upon us. The supreme prayer is "Thy will be done." Any prayer that overlaps the limits there laid down is the prayer of presumption, not the prayer of true faith. I have not spoken, nor is it needful, of prayer for what are commonly called spiritual blessings. We pray, and properly so, for growth in grace, for purity of life, for joyousness of heart, for control of self, that we may be delivered from uncharitableness, envy, evil speaking, covetousness, that we may be transparently truthful, that we may be patient, generous, brave and strong. But even here we must not forget that the answer to prayer may come just as certainly through failure as through success. It may come through the revelation of evil that is in us, as well as through the subjugation of such evil — that the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation," can only be fully answered when we have passed through experiences such that we count it all joy when we fall into direst temptations. That there is profit in such prayer who can doubt, especially for people who have passed the meridian of life, and I trust younger people will realise it by and by. I say that there is profit in such prayer. We may not get the very thing we ask for, undoubtedly often shall not, but is there no profit? If when a father is obliged to say "no" to his child, he looks with love into that child's eyes, and lays his hand affectionately upon that child's head, is there no profit? We may feel most sensibly the Divine touch, and we may see most clearly the Divine face when the Divine love says "no." Some one has said, "The man who does all his praying on his knees does not pray enough." Undoubtedly. The Apostolic injunction is, "Pray without ceasing." "What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?" It will be in a tone of gratitude which becomes deeper and deeper until the end. In that may each of us ask the question we have been considering this morning.
(Caleb Scott, D. D.)
1. Does not the Omniscient God know our wants and desires much better than we do ourselves? Answer — Is not prayer an acknowledgment of our dependence upon God for life, and breath, and all things? Every intelligent creature ought to acknowledge his dependence. Self-sufficiency is not the property of any created being.
2. Another objection is drawn from the immutability of the Divine nature. No petitions of ours, it has been said, can ever change Him. Answer — Though prayer produces no change in God, it may, through the promised influences of His grace, change the temper and dispositions of our minds, and prepare us for the reception of those blessings which He has promised to those who call upon Him in sincerity and truth. The change, then, is not in God, but in ourselves.
3. Another objection — As every event is foreordained, it is vain for us to imagine that God's eternal purposes can be reversed; or that He will depart from His system in the government of the universe, in order to gratify our desires. Answer — Apply this mode of reasoning to the ordinary affairs of life, and its fallacy will at once appear. The great duties of personal religion rest on a ground of obligation similar to that of all the ordinary duties of life. On the same principle on which the farmer acts, when he ploughs his ground and sows his seed, we are morally obliged to improve all the means and ordinances of religion. Prayer is not inconsistent with the Divine decrees; it is one of the means leading to their accomplishment.
II. THE NATURE OF ACCEPTABLE PRAYER.
1. Prayer must be the desires of the heart.
2. Prayers must be for such things only as God hath promised to give.
3. They must be fervent and persevering.
4. They must be offered in faith. We must believe that God is able and willing to grant our requests.
III. POINT OUT SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES OF PRAYER.
1. Its fixing the heart upon God, the true centre of its happiness.
2. By fixing the heart on God, prayer prepares it for the reception of His richest blessings.
3. The benefit of prayer is particularly felt in the hour of affliction and distress, and in the immediate prospect of death. In order to give a full and satisfactory answer to the question in the text, consider man in his social, as well as his individual capacity, in social and family worship.
(James Ross, D. D.)
1. In a trifling, impertinent manner.
2. In an unbelieving manner.
3. In a spirit of utter impiety.
4. As a grave and proper inquiry.
1. In a trifling manner; just as if a man should say, "Don't trouble me! What you say may be very true; but at present I feel no concern about it."
2. In a spirit of unbelief, not exactly that of an atheist.
3. In a spirit of daring impiety. There are spirits that can turn full on the Almighty with a frown of dislike, and can turn away from all appeals to their consciences respecting the claims of God, and the glory of Christ.
4. But we suppose this question asked in great simplicity. "Tell us (we might say to the inquirer), have you been long making this inquiry? How long? If only lately, it is very wonderful. How has it happened that you have deferred it so long? How did it not come among your first inquiries?" Let those persons who have not made the inquiry, think how strange it is that they have neglected it, while God has sustained them every moment till now, amidst all the manifestations of mercy.
The Evangelist.Men are averse to call upon God.
I. EXPOSE AND REPROVE THE UNWORTHY, ERRONEOUS, AND CARNAL NOTIONS SOME ENTERTAIN OF PRAYER.
1. They wish to make it subservient only to their temporal interest — pray only for health, prosperity, long life, and yet imagine themselves religious people.
2. Some scorn it altogether, because they do not find it answer this low purpose.
3. Some enter their prayers in heaven only as a sort of debtor and creditor account against their sins.
4. Others view prayer as only intended to be their last resource. When they are "at their wit's end, then they cry unto the Lord." The iron hand of adversity, but nothing else bends their stubborn knees.
II. THERE IS A HIGHER KIND OF PROFIT IN PRAYER.
1. Right prayers shall obtain the forgiveness of sin.
2. A new heart is another essential blessing to be obtained by prayer.
3. Another invaluable blessing is the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.
4. Prayer may obtain His delivering grace in all exigencies, or support under them.
5. Prayer shall gain the kingdom of heaven.
III. THE GROUND ON WHICH THOSE WHO PRAY ARIGHT ARE ASSURED OF ATTAINING ALL THIS PROFIT.
1. The revealed character of God.
2. The express promises of God are our security. The work and office of Christ form another most important ground of security. He is our intercessor to plead for us, to present our prayers, and enforce them by His own merit.
Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.I. THE EXERCISE ASSUMED. "If we pray unto Him." Prayer implies —
1. A consciousness of want. Man is a needy creature. Destitution is his inheritance. They are best qualified to pray who know most of themselves.
2. Prayer supposes a Being capable of supplying our wants. This Being must know our necessities, and possess sufficient benevolence and power to supply them. Such is the Almighty. Prayers to saints or angels are impious, as they transfer the homage from the Creator to the creature; and absurd, as angels are as dependent as men.
3. Prayer implies an approach towards the Almighty. Man is an alien from God; far gone from original righteousness. When he begins to pray, his mind turns towards God. Hence prayer is called feeling after God, looking to Him, seeking His face, and pouring out the heart before Him.
4. Prayer includes an expression of our wants. We may express our wants fully; we should do it humbly and importunately. We should pray in faith.
II. THE INQUIRY INSTITUTED. "What profit should we have," etc. Selfishness is universally prevalent in the world. Wicked men are invariably selfish men. Because prayer is deemed unprofitable, therefore it is neglected. There is no exercise under heaven attended with so much profit as prayer.
1. Prayer contributes to the removal of evil. Of moral evil. Of natural evil — affliction and oppression.
2. Prayer is instrumental in procuring good. All good, for body and soul, for time and eternity.
(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)1. The pleasure and satisfaction immediately attending the several acts and instances of a devout temper
2. Prayer by a natural influence calms our passions and makes Us considerate and wise.
3. Prayer establishes our integrity and virtue against temptations; thus makes us happy in ourselves, and gains us the esteem and confidence of others, which are of the utmost advantage in life.
4. Prayer will produce a noble joy and confidence in God, and a permanent cheerfulness and tranquillity, amidst all the uncertainty of events.
5. If we can trust to the clearest dictates of reason, or to the most express promises of revelation, a religious temper and conduct will certainly procure for us peculiar guidance, assistances, and supplies from an ever-present God, though we cannot always distinctly know and assign them.
6. Prayer is the best relief in all distress, and especially when death approaches.
1. Doubts arise as to the use of prayer in the minds of men who have no feeling of need.
2. By men who disrelish prayer.
3. By men who have regard to the uniformity of nature.
4. Doubts also arise from the fact that multitudes of prayers seem unanswered.
(D. G. Watt, M. A.)
1. There is a certain relief to our overcharged feelings procured by means of prayer to the Almighty. A striking passage occurs in the celebrated paper by Tyndall, proposing a plan by which the efficacy of prayer should be put to the test. While he distinctly denies to prayer the power of effecting objective results, or results outside of us, Tyndall admits that the exercise is not altogether vain and valueless. It does some good. His words are, "There is a yearning of the heart, a craving for help it knows not whence. Certainly from no source it sees. Of a similar kind is the bitter cry of the hare when the greyhound is almost upon her. She abandons hope through her own efforts, and screams. It is a voice convulsively sent out into space, whose utterance is a physical relief." Prayer is a physical relief. Herein is its value, In moments of distress the soul is relieved by giving vocal expression to its anguish. The doom is not averted by the prayer — It can have no possible result of that kind — but the prayer dominates the pain with which the soul anticipates calamity.
2. Prayer is valuable as an intellectual drill. As the mental faculties are brought into exercise by this approach to the Deity, the mind is benefited by prayer in the same way that the beefy is benefited by a turn at gymnastics. The profoundest and noblest themes engage us in our addresses to God; and expressing our thoughts usually in words, we have the additional advantage of being compelled to clearness and definiteness in our conceptions.
3. According to this theory, prayer is valuable in respect of what it does for our moral and spiritual nature. The emotional part of our being is quickened by this Divine exercise. You can at once see how humility, patience, resignation, and suchlike qualities are developed in our hearts by this means. Contact with a Being infinitely holy will also stimulate our admiration and desire for what is pure and good and noble. If I cannot benefit another by my prayers, I can, at least, by the intercourse and fellowship I have with God in them, secure for myself moral impulse and moral tone. Prayer is a means of grace, not in that it secures for our sanctification any supernatural good, but in that it brings us into communication and close converse with a Holy Being.
(A. F. Forrest.)I. THE EXERCISE ASSUMED. "If we pray," etc. Prayer implies four things -
1. A consciousness of want. Man is a needy creature. They are best qualified to pray who know most of themselves.
2. Prayer supposes an object capable of supplying our wants. This Being must know our necessities, and possess sufficient benevolence and power to supply them. Such is the Almighty, who is considered in this verse as the object of prayer. Prayers to saints of angels are impious, as they transfer the homage from the Creator to the creature; and absurd, as angels are as dependent as men.
II. THE INQUIRY INSTITUTED. "What profit should we have?" etc. Selfishness is universally prevalent in the world. There is no exercise under heaven attended with so much profit as prayer.
1. Prayer con. tributes to the removal of evil. Of moral evil. Jabez prayed that God would keep him from evil; and God granted him that which he requested. David said, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Of natural evil. Affliction. "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray." "Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them," etc. (Psalm 107:6). Hezekiah prayed, and wept in his affliction, and God said, "Behold, I will heal thee" (1 Kings 20:5). Sorrow. "I found," said David, "trouble and sorrow: then called I upon the name of the Lord," etc. (Psalm 116:1-4).
2. Prayer is instrumental in procuring good. All good, for body and soul, for time and eternity, is promised to prayer. And the profit of prayer infinitely outweighs all other profit. It is Divine. Worldly profit consists in flocks, herds, money, etc. This, in faith, grace, love, happiness, etc. It is mental. Worldly profit is sensual, all for the outward man; but he who prays is enriched inwardly; all his intellectual powers are profited. It is comprehensive. Worldly profit is circumscribed and bounded by time; the profit of prayer illimitable. It is universal. Worldly profit affects us partially; this, in body, and soul, and substance.And the profit arising from prayer is secured without risk, and retained without any fears of deprivation.
1. The conduct of the wicked is impious. They not only live without prayer, but live as if God had no right to exact this duty of them.
2. The conduct of the wicked is erroneous. They consider prayer a profitless exercise, and therefore neglect it. But this calculation is totally unfounded. Prayer avails much.
3. The conduct of the wicked is ruinous. Without prayer salvation is unattainable (Proverbs 1:24-31).
1. That because God has not yet regarded our prayers, therefore for the future He will not.
2. That because God has not regarded some prayers, therefore He will regard none.
3. That because God does not answer the particular requests of such as pray to Him, therefore He does not regard their prayers. As the contrary of all these is true, the argument of the objector is a bad one. Prayer is so weighty, so necessary, and so advantageous a duty, that we cannot take too much pains to establish it upon the firmest grounds, and to settle it upon its true foundations. Note the chief of those qualities which are most essential to a valid and effectual prayer.
1. Trust in Him to whom we pray.
2. Attention of mind whilst we pray.
3. A fervent desire of that for which we pray.
4. The deepest humility of soul and body in the act of praying.Argue the following points —(1) The same prayers repeated may be of some force; so that God's disregard of our first prayers is no good reason why we should desist from renewing our petitions.(2) Other prayers substituted in the room of those which have not been heard, may be answered; so that God's disregard of some sort of prayers is no reason for our intermission of all.(3) Though God does not grant the particular requests of such as pray unto Him, He may yet regard their prayers; so that God's absolute and peremptory denial of our requests is no good argument against praying unto Him.
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.)
I. WHAT IS RELIGION? WHAT DO WE MEAN BY SERVICE? Religion is not an observance, but a life; it is the conscious union of the soul with God, manifesting itself in conduct, and uplifting itself in speech. It is the carrying of the Divine principles of integrity, honesty, charity, love, peacefulness, and goodwill, into the daily rounds and daily duties of our common life. Serving God is the unforced obedience of love; the fulfilling of the will of God in every sphere of life to which it shall please God to call us; to work and act and think as those whose aim is to carry out the purposes of God. If you would know how to serve God, learn how to serve humanity by living for it in loving ministrations, and, if needs be, by dying for it. God is neither served nor flattered by words, or postures, or gesticulations, or the observance of days and times. He who serves his brother, Ms neighbour, even in the humblest spheres, and by the humblest means, serves God. "They also serve who only stand and wait."
II. WHAT WILL BE THE RESULT OF ALL THIS? What rewards does God offer? Should I be far wrong if I were to say, None? God has no system of conferring favours. He does not pay for service with Caesar's coin. So far as the world goes, religion pure and undefiled is not a stepping stone to its most valued things. It was once the stepping stone to a Cross. Serving God is not incompatible with worldly wealth; righteousness and religion need not be barriers in the way of worldly progress. But God does not pay men for service in that way. Let me point out what my conceptions of the results of serving God are.
1. It links us to the Infinite and the Eternal. It stamps this poor, imperfect life with the Divine insignia. It touches the sordid things of earth into sanctities and sacrednesses.
2. Add the inward peace and satisfaction which comes from the consciousness of being identified with the Infinite and the Eternal; the consciousness that we are fulfilling the highest end of our being, and that, come life, or come death, God is the strength of our life, and our portion forever. Some will ask, Does not God reward service with heaven? No; service is heaven, here and hereafter. Heaven will be the result of character — developed, ripened, sanctified to the service of God. There can be no heaven for the man who has not learned to do the will of God.
(W. J. Hocking.)
I. THE EXISTENCE AND NATURE OF GOD. The being of a God is not an idle, fanciful notion, but a sacred and eternal truth, witnessed by the whole universe; so that we may as reasonably doubt whether anything at all is, as whether there be a God, who is the cause of all other things. God's working everywhere is a plain proof of His presence everywhere. The same God, whose presence, power, and knowledge are infinite, is likewise most holy, just, good, merciful, faithful and true, and in all these attributes is "without variableness, or shadow of turning." Religion must be a reasonable service, being founded in the existence and nature of this Almighty Being.
II. THE NATURE OF MAN. It is therefore reasonable. Creatures that are part bodies and part souls. Our bodies surrounded with innumerable dangers, and naturally weak and defenceless; subject to manifold wants, passions, and diseases. Our souls of a rank and order much advanced above our bodies; possessed of powers and faculties excellent in their nature, but that may become the foundation of our guilt and shame, and the means of our greater torment and misery. Religion only can preserve the peace of the mind, or restore it when lost. It is not peace alone that religion bestows, but pleasures too. The soul lives when our body dies.
III. RELIGION IS FOUNDED IN THE RELATION BETWIXT GOD AND MAN. I am related to God as the author of my being, and all belonging to it. God is the fountain of happiness, the object as well as the author of it. Reflections —
1. How thankful we should be for the Gospel of our blessed Saviour, and how very highly should we value it.
2. Christianity is wonderfully suited to the nature of man as a fallen creature.
3. Appeal to every man's conscience, whether it be not a plain case what his choice ought to be?
I. CONSIDER THESE MOTIVES WHICH OUGHT TO INDUCE US TO SERVE GOD, DRAWN FROM HIS CHARACTER AND RELATIONS. Service supposes superiority; for the greater is served by the lesser; also a right to our services, and an ability to reward them. We therefore assert as motives to the service of God —
1. The justice of His claims, grounded on His sovereign greatness; grounded on the end of our creation; grounded on His providential goodness. Consider how His claims receive additional strength from the doctrine of the Gospel, by which we are declared His purchase. At what a price did He redeem us!
2. The rewards He gives to His servants. In the present life He gives peace of mind; the supply of every want; protection from danger. In the future — what?
II. IMPROVE THE SUBJECT.
1. Think of the pleasure of serving God.
2. Think of the improvement of all our powers — for all the advantage is ours.
3. Think, by contrast, that if you do not serve God, you serve the god of this world. Think of the future rewards of ungodly service!
(J. Walker, D. D.)
I. ALMIGHTY WILL MAKE IT RIGHT HEREAFTER. But —
1. This narrow range of prayer must have help now.
2. There is no other world here or nowhere is whole fact, i.e., no different administration hereafter. Justice is sovereign here and now.
3. No force with Job and his friends; knew little about hereafter, of rewards and punishments. They inclined to think God's service paid here. Answer —
II. GOD'S SERVICE IS RICH IN REWARD, HERE AND NOW.
1. God's service is compliance with His laws, which always pays.
2. Servant of God makes best use of what he has. Lord's poor better off than the devil's poor.
3. His service pays in character; makes a man unselfish.
4. Pays in spiritual rest and joy.
5. Pays to pray to God, for He answers prayer. Indirectly. Don't always get what is asked for, but something better. Directly. Often get very thing asked. Scepticism says, "Would have got it, anyhow." Faith answers, "God, not 'anyhow,' heard me." Almighty is not then a blind force, not a chemical affinity. Almighty is a Sovereign whose it is to say whether He shall answer prayer at all, and when and how. "Jehovah God," who "shall reign forever and ever."
(John S. Plumer.)
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