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them subject to contrivance through endless cycles of design. How imperious they are, yet how submissive! How they reign, yet how they serve!”
This word law, therefore, is not such a bugbear as it looks. It does not prevent us from accomplishing our purposes and plans; and if we can frustrate the natural tendency of natural forces by the introduction of other forces, why cannot God do the same ? Between law and prayer there is not the slightest incompatibility. Answers to prayer would be impossible in a lawless chaos, but they are perfectly natural, or at any rate conceivably possible, in a universe governed by unchanging laws. In so far as God's knowledge and power are greater than our own, He will be able to achieve what it is impossible for us to effect. Well, then, supposing we are in any trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or other adversity, from which we are unable to extricate ourselves, God could perhaps deliver us from it, without any violation or violent rupture of the laws of nature, but merely in virtue of His superior knowledge of those laws, and His superior power of wielding, combining, and adapting them.
But further—and this is the point I want you
specially to notice: The end and use of prayer is not to bring God's will into harmony with ours; it is to bring our wills into harmony with God's. When we pray for the good things of this life, we know not what we ask. We may be praying for what cannot possibly be granted, consistently with the welfare of others, or even with our own. Juvenal said to the Romans, in one of his Satires, “You pray for money and children and long life, forgetting that you may unknowingly be praying for curses instead of blessings. Why do you not, he asks, “pray the gods to give you what they see to be best ?” The old Roman satirist had more faith in heaven than most of us. We say often enough, “Thy will be done;" but we do not mean it. And it is not words that constitute prayer. “My words fly up” (says the King in ‘Hamlet')
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;
Words, without thoughts, never to heaven go.” “The peculiar significance of prayer,” says Principal Caird, “lies in this, that therein we rise above ourselves; we leave behind the interests that belong to us as creatures of time; we enter into that sphere in which all the discords and evils of the world possess no more reality than the passing cloud-shadows that lie beneath our feet.” Do you know what it means, “ Thy will be done”? It means this: Send me wealth or poverty, friends or enemies, health or sickness, success or failure, bliss or anguish, life or death, as seemeth best unto Thy godly wisdom. Is there one of us who has ever said that in his heart of hearts? Is there one of us who could honestly kneel down and say it now? Yet that is what we ought to feel, that is what we ought to mean, every time we say “Thy will be done.”
This view as to the true purpose of prayer is brought out strikingly in our text. The apostle does not say, “Let your requests be made known unto God, and your requests will be granted;” but, “ Let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds.”
Here lies the answer to Professor Tyndall and others, who some time ago proposed to test the efficacy of prayer by a series of scientific experiments. A hospital was to be taken and divided into two sections: the one was to contain patients who prayed and were prayed for; the other was to be restricted to patients for whom no prayer was offered; and then it was to be noticed whether or not the recoveries were more numerous in the former case. But those who made
this proposal forgot that prayer may be answered by mental peace as well as by bodily health, by a translation to heaven as well as by a prolongation of life. If all those who prayed died, and all those who did not pray recovered, the efficacy of prayer would not be disproved. Hezekiah prayed to be restored to health, and “there were added to his life fifteen years.” Solomon prayed for wisdom, and he became wise. St Paul prayed thrice that his thorn in the flesh might be removed, but the answer he received was, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” And he was perfectly satisfied. “Most gladly, therefore,” he says, “will I glory, in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
We find it so difficult nowadays to believe in anything unless it can be seen or touched or weighed. But before we venture to say that a man's prayer has been unavailing, we should be quite sure of one thing, that there has not come to him, in answer to it, a divine, ineffable peace, which passeth all understanding, and therefore passeth all your scientific tests. I have known men and women pray year after year for blessings which they never received; but I have never known them pray without receiving the answer of peace. This is the only answer to
prayer which the Bible always and under all circumstances guarantees; and it is an answer that will not always be detected by the curious experimenter. We read of men, ay, and even women, who were seen to smile amid their martyr flames
“ And lift their raptured looks on high,
As though it were a joy to die.” To a superficial observer they may have appeared to be in a sorry plight; but they were in the enjoyment of a peace which they would not have exchanged for all that the world calls good.
The apostle says we should make known our requests “in everything,” or upon every occasion, unto God. The life we are obliged to live may sometimes appear to us paltry and contemptible. But since it is the life which God has ordained for us, there must be a sublimity in it after all, such as to render it worthy of His regard. It is the ever-recurring little troubles that do most to mar our happiness; and these, therefore, are preeminently fit subjects for prayer. But let us try and remember that the Great Father knows far better than we do what we really need,—what we should really desire if we saw things as He alone can see them. We look at our lives from the low standpoint of to-day, and we consequently get