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American Initarian Association
Auxilia: ies to the American Unitarian Association
Liberality of ferling the fruit of Knowledge
THERE are few subjects in Christian Theology so ill understood as that of prayer; none, perhaps, concerning which more crude and erroneous notions are entertained ; none more encumbered with gross and injurious misconceptions. Often, the very foundation on which it rests, seems almost wholly misapprehended; and, in consequence of this misapprehension, both its obligation and propriety are by many disallowed. In this case, as in many others, false views of the divine character and of the relations between man and his Maker, lead, according to the different temperament of men's minds, to fanaticisrn on the one hand, or to infidelity on the other. And even among those who in the lain are sober and devout, who escape both extremes and habitually cultivate the essential virtues of the christian character, even among these, it is believed, that in consequence of vague or inadequate views of
its true nature and obligations, prayer often fails to afford the satisfaction and improvement that it is capable of producing, and actually does produce when properly performed. To this cause we are to attribute much of the coldness and misgiving, which attend its performance, and all the disappointment and repining which follow what is termed unanswered prayer.
It is, therefore, of much importance that this subject should be better understood ; that men should entertain clearer views of its nature, its obligations, its end and design; that they should cease to expect from it what it is not adapted and was never intended to procure for them, and learn to look for those results alone to which true prayer—prayer with the spirit and with the understanding also,' invariably conduces. It is important, I say, that this subject should be better understood; for it is not one of curious or doubtful speculation. It is of practical and every day concernment ; it comes home to the business and the bosorn' of the Christian ; it lies at the very foundation of a devout and holy life. I do not propose to enter into a thorough description of the subject. But perhaps a few general remarks, by way of hints or suggestions, may be of some service to the interests of rational piety in these days of extravagance and delusion.
What, then, is prayer? In what does it essentially consist?
I answer, in the first place, prayer is the aspiration of the soul after spiritual good. It is that craving of the spiritual appetite for its appropriate nutriment, which our Lord denominates ' hungering and thirsting after righteousness. This is its essence. There can be no
true prayer where this is not. The language of the lips, however eloquent and impressive, is not prayer. It is, at best, only the medium by which the exercise of prayer is made sensible to others; only the material drapery thrown round the spiritual and immortal form. Prayer is the communion of the soul with God; of a finite spirit—weak, erring and sinful, perhaps, but still bearing the impress of divinity, and lighted with the fire of heaven, with the infinite and eternal One. And, to this communion, words or symbols are not necessary
be carried on, and it often is carried on, in the unbroken silence of the soul. Thoughts and emotions rise up in the mind, when it is thrown open to the full influence of the pure and plastic light of heaven—when the breath of the divine spirit passes over its faculties—which seek for no outward expression, because none adequate can be found. And these thoughts and emotions are prayer. These longings which cannot be uttered, are often the most intense and ardent prayer. The human soul is an emanation from the all-perfect mind; and it is drawn by a mysterious and immortal sympathy to its source. There are few, it is believed, whose experience at some time or other of their lives, will not bear witness to the truth of this representation. Ignorance, error and sin may have gathered in thick and palpable darkness over the immortal spirit; still there are times, when, in some blessed moment, the light of heaven penetrates the clouds, she becomes intimately conscious of her immortal nature, and feels her relation to the unseen God with an intenseness which enkindles all her powers; and she takes her upward flight as on the wings
of an eagle towards the source and centre of her being. And this is prayer. It is impossible to cherish any just and clear apprehensions of God's character, without awakening in the mind reverence and awe of his majesty, admiration of his wisdom, confidence in his rectitude, and love and gratitude for his untiring, benefi
And these are the elements of prayer. All these are sentiments and dispositions essential to true devotion. The soul, when oppressed with a sense of its own weakness, will naturally lean on the Almighty arm that is proffered for its stay. When the dark clouds of sorrow, doubt, or fear gather around it, it will spontaneously raise its eye to the undying light that beams from the throne of God. And this is prayer. Reliance on a Father's care, submission of our wills to his, and confidence in his love, are of the very spirit of prayer. There can be no true prayer where these are not.
Prayer, then, is the natural expression of the wants and desires of the soul—the natural intercourse of the child with the parent-of the created with the uncreated mind.
This is the nature of prayer; and this view of its nature illustrates, at once, and enforces its obligation. It is not a matter of arbitrary injunction, which, were it rot enjoined, would cease to be obligatory. It springs out of the relations which subsist between man and his Maker; and its obligations are as permanent and as solemn as these relations. The duty of prayer results from the capacities and powers of man; from his affections, his weakness and his wants. It results from his capacities and powers; for these are formed for ev