Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven:
I. HEART AND HANDS ARE LIFTED IN PENITENCE AND CONFESSION. It seems to this exercise that the prophet here admonishes and invites. The heart has been engrossed by earthly pursuits and pleasures; and these it now quits, directing its contrite sighs to heaven, and lifting with it the clasped hands of penitence.
II. HEART AND HANDS ARE LIFTED IN EARNEST ENTREATY. In its anguish, in its conscious helplessness, the heart seeks mercy and acceptance with God; the hands are raised as in supplication, to give expression to the imploring petitions.
III. HEART AND HANDS ARE LIFTED IN BELIEVING CONFIDENCE. There is encouragement to trust in the Lord. The repenting and confiding Church of the Redeemer is ever lifting holy hands to heaven, in expression of that sentiment which is the condition of all blessing. It is the attitude of hope. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help." And as the eyes of faith behold the God of grace upon the throne of power, they draw the heart upwards; the hands follow, and the posture of the spiritual nature is becoming to man and honouring to God. - T.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
I. THE SUBLIMEST BOOKS EXISTING ARE THOSE FROM WHICH WE LEARN OUR FAITH. The writings of the inspired penmen abound with passages for which no parallel can be found in the productions of mere genius. Rousseau once exclaimed, "The majesty of the Scriptures fills me with astonishment; the holiness of the Gospel speaks to my very heart. Behold the books of the philosophers, with all their pomp, how little are they in comparison! Is it possible that a book at once so wise and so sublime should have been the production of mere men?"
II. SOME OF THE SITUATIONS OF REAL LIFE PROVE THE INTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN DEVOTION AND THE SOURCES OF SUBLIME FEELING.
1. In studying the character of God and the works of nature.
2. In the changing circumstances of life, in adversity or prosperity, the proper operation of religious thought is to call up sublime and fervent feelings.
III. CONSIDER THE SUBJECT OF ADORATION — GOD, WHETHER WORSHIPPED IN PRIVATE OR IN PUBLIC. If it be objected that in such an account of the effects of devout feeling, we place religion too much under the dominion of the imagination, it may be answered that though the abuse of a thing is dangerous, we are not therefore to relinquish its use. It is the soul that truly feels; imagination is the effort of the soul to rise above mortality. Imagination as well as reason is frequently appealed to in Scripture.
I. THE THRONE OF GOD. Those things which you look upon as trivial, have been subjects of eternal thought, and of eternal purpose. Some men lay stress entirely upon the decrees of God with respect to their conversion and their salvation. But the right view of the Divine decrees is, to connect them with everything — not merely with your conversion, and with your salvation, but with the time of your birth, and the day of your death; with the hours of your sickness, and the seasons of health; with the gain of your property, and with the loss of your property; with the lives of those that are dear to you, and with the deaths of those whom you love: even with the falling of sparrows.
II. THE PERSONAL PROVIDENCE OF GOD AND THE ACTUAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. For the superintendence of our affairs is not committed by God to some deputy. This must be the case with all human rulers, with all creature governors; but while God employs instruments, He personally superintends, not only the instruments, but those for whom those instruments work, He Himself provides, and He Himself rules.
III. THE CHARACTER OF GOD. Think of His complete knowledge. Think of His consummate wisdom. He never fails in anything, He never can fail, He sees the end from the beginning, He counts all the steps between the beginning and the end, and He can adjust every movement, every instrument, every influence. He can make angels and devils, good men and bad men, things material, and things spiritual, earth, hell, and heaven — He can make all work together for some ultimate good.
IV. THE PATERNITY OF GOD. I say paternity; and would include in this idea, not only fatherhood but motherhood: for God is as really mother as He is father. And the Scriptures do not fail to represent this fact to us. While God has all the masculine strength of the father, He has also the tenderness of the mother.
V. GOD'S PROVISION FOR OUR FULL RECONCILIATION TO HIMSELF. For God is by Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. He has provided for us a propitiatory, where we may meet, and where He ever stands waiting to be gracious; and His invitation is, "Come nigh." He is not satisfied with our standing afar off; His invitation ceaselessly is, "Come nigh." In the degree of your discipleship will grow your consciousness of sonship: and just as you say in your heart, "I am a disciple of Christ," so will you say in your heart, "I am a son of God."
VI. THE DIVINE PRECEPTS, INVITATIONS, AND PROMISES. "Call upon Me," said God, "' in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." "Thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob," said God. "Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel." Might not God bring this charge against some of you? Might He not say to some of you, "Thou hast been weary of Me. Thou hast not called upon Me"?
VII. OURSELVES. This alone will keep the heart and mind in peace; this is the chief means of deliverance from evil; this renders other means effective; this carries out our principles; and this will keep us from the use of sinful means.
VIII. EACH OTHER. In common affairs, for example, how can we really help each other, unless we pray for each other?
1. Do our petitions, as a matter of fact, reach the throne, or is it more likely that they die away upon the sir, never get beyond wall or roof; or, if spoken out of doors, go no further heavenward than the carrying power of the speaker's voice avails to press them? Doubts of this sort might perplex us, fairly enough, were we tied to the child's notion of a God only to be really found by going up and up and up in space. But this is not the true Christian conception of the mode of the Divine presence. The King of heaven is indeed what one of the prophets has called Him — a God that hideth Himself — but HIS hiding place is close at hand, not far away. Even the heathen, for all their dimness of spiritual vision, seem to have had some perception of this truth. Smoke was their chosen symbol of prayer. Sometimes it went up from the burning sacrifice upon the altar, sometimes from the swinging censer; but whether the savour that it carried was that of the flesh of beasts or of sweet incense, they had the satisfaction of watching it melt away into nothingness. It has gone out of the world visible, they said, this offering of ours, it has gone out of the world visible into the world invisible, and has reached the waiting God for whom we meant it. Modern discovery, instead of dulling our belief that prayer may find a hearing, ought singularly to warm and quicken it. Only consider the wonderful enlargement that has taken place of late in our notions of what is possible in the way of transmitting intelligence from one mind to another mind! It is within the memory of living men that instruments have been invented to do for speech what long ago the telescope and the microscope did for sight, namely, to extend its range. There is little reason to doubt that a time will come, and that before very long, when our present means, of communicating sound — marvellous, nay, almost miraculous as they seem — will be superseded by adjustments and contrivances even more wonderful in their effects. And shall we say of Him who has thus empowered us indefinitely to extend the reach of the faculty of hearing, supplementing His original gift of the sense itself with so generous an endowment, shall we say of Him that of necessity eternal deafness is His portion? He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? Consider what speech is. A word is an embodied thought. When this word has been articulated and made audible, we call it spoken. So then speech is thought going forth upon its travels. But midway between the thought just born and the audible utterance of the lips, comes the as yet unspoken word. It has left the mind, we will suppose. It has not yet reached the lips. Now who can tell upon what other undulations besides those of the material atmosphere that thought just now clothed upon with a word may not be going forth? For man's benefit and that it may accomplish its earthly errand, it is committed to the waves of the air; but how know we that there is no more subtle medium still on which simultaneously it is borne to the auditorium of Almighty God? Human hearing is dependent, at least under the conditions of this life present is dependent, on the bodily organ of hearing, the ear; but Divine hearing may be just as real as ours without any such dependence. There is good and sober reason to believe that some of the brute creatures hear sounds that are wholly inaudible to us, the instrument of hearing having in their case been differently adjusted. But is there no intelligence, think you, anywhere in the universe to which all sound is audible? I cannot easily believe it; but, were I forced to do so, I should still hold fast my faith that to the spoken word of man Divine audience would be lent, and should still keep on praying my prayers to Him unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?
2. But supposing it conceded that God is able to listen to our prayers, can we think of Him as having also the ability to answer them? As a matter of fact, we see and know that hundreds, thousands, millions of requests that are made to God by the children of men, and made fervently, go ungranted. A mother prays, with all the earnestness of which a mother's heart is capable, for the recovery of a sick child, — the child dies. But the pathetic thing, the convincing thing, is that in spite of it all, great numbers of men, and they by no means the least intelligent of their kind, keep on praying, keep on making known their requests unto God. What inspires this unquenchable determination to continue hoping against hope, this dogged resolve to believe in God's ability not merely to hear, but also, if He will, to accede to the petitions His children bring? It is, I think, the conviction lying deep down in the mind, and fast rooted there, that God is a person, not a mere force, like magnetism or heat or attraction, but a being possessed of what we know among ourselves as reason, and will, and loving kindness, one capable of forming a purpose and working out a plan. We are often told that it argues a downright puerility to suppose that God either can or will answer our requests, because nature is clearly and beyond all question an intricately contrived machine, no more able to alter its motions and change its bearings in compliance with a spoken word of request, than a steam engine or a clock or a loom. This would be an unanswerable argument in favour of fatalism, and against the potency of prayer, were nature a machine of which we could see the whole, but it is not. There is a background of mystery, a region none of our senses can penetrate, and there, wholly out of sight, lie the beginnings of power. It may be that behind the veil which sunders the seen from the unseen, the hand which keeps the wheel work all in motion, is turned this way rather than that, or that way rather than this, because two or three believing souls have agreed on earth touching some blessing they desire to have, some work they would see done.
3. There remains the question, Ought He always and invariably to answer it, in the sense of never refusing to any petitioner any earnest request? To this a sober-minded faith will assuredly answer, No. Fatherhood involves governance, and governance involves the exercise of judgment, discrimination. The life of a well-ordered family is full of what we may call earthly prayer. The children ask the parents questions of many sorts, and bring to them requests of widely variant character; is it any argument against the efficacy of this which I have called earthly prayer, that some of the questions go unanswered, and not a few of the requests ungranted? No, the father remembers what his responsibility with respect to the whole family is, and certain of the favours the children ask he grants not, because he ought not. And yet, who will deny that in the life of that household the right of petition is a real thing, or that the exercise of it produces real results? So with our Father in heaven and His family on earth. Possibly in the clearer light of the heavenly life, should it be granted us to enter there, we shall find ourselves thanking Him with greater fervency for withholding our heart's desire, than we could possibly have thanked Him for conceding it. Moreover, God forbid that we should confine our definition of prayer to the men begging for favours. Prayer is more than petition, it is communion, intercourse, exchange of confidences. The confiding to God the whole story of our troubles, of our disappointments, of our failures, of our well-meant endeavours, and last, not least, of our sins, — is there nothing of value in all this that we should leave it wholly out of view in estimating the efficacy of prayer? Or again, think of how much a grateful heart has to tell. Is it nothing that the soul should have the opportunity given her to pour out before her Maker a glad offering of thanks? Intercourse with a character richer and better than our own is commonly held to be a great privilege. We can all of us recall friends to whom we have, as we say, owed a great deal on the score of helpful influence. But is it supposable that God has permitted personal intercourse between man and man to be such a potent instrument in the building up of character, and yet has made all intercourse with Himself impossible? If the spirit of man can, through the power of influence and sympathy, bless and uplift the spirit of his fellow man, much more, a thousand-fold more, shall God, who, be it remembered, is a Spirit also, aid by intercourse and influence the creature spirit whom He permits to call himself His child. Wherefore, let us pray.
(W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
(J. Trapp.)1. True repentance worketh in us most earnest and hearty prayer.(1) Because we see our misery in ourselves, and what need we have to seek to God for help.(2) It assureth us of God's love to us, and readiness to hear us.(3) It encourageth us to call upon the Lord, who in our conversion hath given us experience of His unspeakable mercies.
2. Prayer to God consisteth not in words, but in the fervent and faithful lifting up of the heart.(1) God is a Spirit, and regardeth not the outward action in His worship.(2) Divers have prayed aright, that have uttered no words (Genesis 24:63; Exodus 14:15).
3. We may use all outward means, that have warrant in the Word, to stir up our affections to be more fervent in prayer.(1) Because we are naturally dull in it.(2) Our hearts are often moved with the things that our outward senses do apprehend.
5. The prayer of the faithful must never rest upon anything in this world, but look unto the mighty God, the author of all things.
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