Copyright
William Boyd Carpenter.

Thoughts on prayer online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryWilliam Boyd CarpenterThoughts on prayer → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


'-?



A



\






/



C>r/^eN^



Thoughts on Prayer.



, BY THE

REV. W. BOYD CARPENTER, M.A.



For what are men better than sheep or goats.
That nourish a blind hfe within the brain,
If, knowing God, they Hft not hands of prayer.
Both for themselves and those who call them friend ?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of gold."

Tennyson.



A NEW EDITION.



NEW YORK: E. P. BUTTON & Co.,
Church JJutiiishcrs,

713, BROADWAY.

I88I.



/^J



!



Ithe kew yorkI
I PHBLIC LIBRARY'

, ..44244

A6T0R, LENOX ANO j
TiLDfrN FOUNDATiONft. I



TO THE MEMBERS



\ THESE

5 *'Thclghts on Prayer"



AKE DEDICATED



IN LOVE.



-^^^-^



CONTENTS.



I.

PAGE

Necessity of Prayer 9



II.

Times Adverse to Prayer ... 17

III.
Heart-work in Prayer .... 29

IV.

Reality of Answers to Prayer . . 45

V.

Efficacy of Prayer 57



vi Contents,

VI.

Unanswered Prayer

vir.

Barrenness in Prayer

VIII.
Regularity in Prayer

IX.

Meditations and Prayers

X.

Suggestive Outlines



PAGE
67



91



ro5



119



I.



' O when the heart is full — when bitter thought
Come crowding up lor utterance ;
And the poor common words of courtesy
Arc such a very mockery— how much
The bursting heart may pour itself in prnyer.'



(~\ God, the strength of all them that put their
trust in Thee, mercifully accept our prayers ;
and because through the weakness of our mortal
nature we can do no good thing without Thee, grant
us the help of Thy grace, that in keeping of Thy
commandments we may please Thee, both in will
and deed ; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amm.



Necessity of Prayer.






^RAYER is natural to men. The know-
I ledge of our own weakness is soon
forced upon us ; but with this convic-
tion there comes another, the sense of
dependence on One great, loving, and Avise.
Out of these springs the necessity of prayer,
which is the language of the frail to the
mighty— the confession of need, and the
instinct of trust.

Every known religion attests this irresistible
impulse to pray. Though under the most
degraded forms, or lost sight of in the most
splendid ceremonial, — the rudest and most
revolting Fetichism to the most gorgeous
ritual, — the instinct of prayer is found the
inspiring impulse of every kind of religious
worship.

B



10 Thoughts on Prayer.

Men, indeed, will be found to deny, or to
undervalue the evidence of this instinct of
prayer; but there are times which wring
prayer from prayerless lips ; times of danger,
when all classes find prayer the most appro-
priate and natural utterance of their lips, and
like the sailors in the story of Jonah, cry
every man to his God ; times of heart-fear,
when the whole spirit sends up from the
depths of confusion and darkness an exceed-
ing bitter cry, wherein terror and doubt
mingle with the unquenchable instinct of
prayer ; times when, perhaps, death is
approaching, and the dark, unexplored con-
lines of the other world begin to loom vast
and vague upon an awakening conscience,
and the firm citadel of stoutly maintained un-
belief is swept away, and prayer rushes forth
in such a despairing shriek as burst from the
lips of Thistlewood : — " O God, it there be a
God, save my soul, if I have a soul !"

It is not the approach of danger or the
feeling of fear only which calls forth prayer.



Necessity of Prayer. 1 1

The irresistible disposition is experienced
under the influence of feelings widely difter-
ent from fear. The contemplation of the
universe, and the incomprehensible Being
who embraces all things, so wrought upon
the mind of Rousseau that, in the restless-
ness of his transports, he would exclaim, " O
great Being ! O great Being !" The majesty
and splendour of nature, brightening and
kindling under the beams of the sun, rising
upon the rocky heights of Jura, and circling
the sky with flame, filled the soul of Voltaire
with such awe that he uncovered his head,
and, kneehng, he cried, " I beUeve — I believe
in Thee ! O mighty God, I believe !"

If the language of prayer is thus natural to
all men, and forced at times from reluctant
lips, it is natural with an inexpressible sweet-
ness to hearts accustomed to communion
with God. Tne cultivated instinct becomes
a rich enjoyment, and an unutterable relief.
The high duty becomes the highest privilege.
Among all the exquisite pleasures of God's
praying children, there is not one they would



12 Thoughts on Prayer,

not forfeit to retain the joy of heart-converse
with their Father. Sweeter than the glad
moment when he welcomed Rebekah, was
the hour of evening meditation to Isaac.
Better than the thrill of triumph which shot
through the heart of Moses when he heard
the thousands of Israel raise their paean of
victory over the vanquished Egyptians, were
the days when he beheld the similitude of
the Lord, and communed with Him as a
man with his friend (Ex. xxxiii. ii). More
heart-rejoicing than the loyal acclamations
and rivalling enthusiasm of Judah and Israel
(2 Sam. xix.), was the time when David's
heart talked with God (Ps. xxvii. 4 — 8), and
gathered a gladness more than the increase
of corn and wine and oil could afford (Ps.
iv. 7). Dearer to Daniel than the lofty titles
of Babylon, the gratitude of the king, and the
homage of the profoundest Chaldeans, were
the intervals when he could open his window
toward Jerusalem, and pour out his heart to
God's ever-listening ear.

To such prayer was as natural and neces-



Necessity of Prayer. 13

sary as the taking of food. On their knees
they found strength and wisdom, the courage
and patience for all their toil, the relief of all
their burdens, and the happiest moments of
their lives. Prayer is necessary to heart-
growth, and natural because necessary. As
the brisk fresh air brings bloom to the cheeks,
and brightness to the eyes, so the atmosphere
of prayer exhilarates the spirit, and gladdens
the heart. To neglect it is not simply to
lose enjoyment, it is to impoverish the soul.
Let us be convinced of its necessity, and in
its exercise we shall find proof that it is
natural and healthful to us ; while at times
we shall rise into the clearer heights of com-
munion with God, w^here clouds seldom
come, and its rapt enjoyment is unbroken
by a doubt, and unsaddened by a care. As
a little one lying in undisturbed peace upon
its mother's breast, so shall we suck and be
satisfied with the breasts of consolation. In
prayer we shall find the natural satisfaction
of all heart-longings ; and in the realization
of God with us, the highest natural enjoyment



14 Thoughts en Prayer.

of which the spirit of man is capable ; for in
His presence is fulness of joy.

There are times when prayer is natural to
the most careless ; but there are also times
when all things tend to deaden the spirit of
prayer in the most thoughtful and prayerful
of God's children. Such times are times of
great and extensive activity, when pleasure
is busy, and even enjoyments are fall of toil.
In the ceaseless industry of business and
gaiety, amusement becomes hard work.
Hard woik brings weariness, and weariness
is followed by an indisposition for any exer-
tion of the spirit. Such, too, are times of
a wide-spread feeling of uneasiness, when a
vague apprehension seems to have seized
hold upon the minds of all classes, and a
strange sense of insecurity begets an unrea-
soning and universally felt fear. Such are
times of noisy religionism and demonstrative
piety, when the minds of men are galvanized
into an unnatural activity through the spirit
of an unwholesome rivalry; when convic-
tions are degraded into opinions, and toil



Necessity of Prayer. 1 5

dwindles into talk, and organised Christian
effort is strangled in discussion ; when an
impracticable tenacity of trifles and a stupen-
dous disregard of principles throws the ap-
pearance of vitality over a degenerate and
dead pietism. In such times the lulling
influences of a strained activity, an undefined
terror, and a self-asserting, heart-distracting
zealotism steal over the spirits of the most
watchful of Christ's servants, and often dimi-
nish insensibly their vigilance and earnestness
in prayer.

A convergence of such times into one
period Christ described, and on the descrip-
tion He founded His warning that men
ought always to pray. He pictured to His
disciples times like the days of Noah and of
Lot, when the stream of commercial enter-
prise and prosperity was full and brimming
over when the enjoyments of Hfe were seized
upon with eagerness, and pleasure varied by
industrious inventiveness, and pursued with
unflagging diligence ; when there was a great
deal of religious talk, much ventilating of



1 6 Thoughts on Prayer.

new opinions, and a good deal of positive-
ness and dogmatism abroad, and rival sects
and new-formed philosophies all claimed the
possession of the Christ, — times when amidst
so much hurrying to and fro, and so much
loud-tongued religion and angry-voiced con-
troversy, the humble, but tried followers of
Christ, bewildered and despairing, would
yearn for but a glimpse of the gone-by days,
when Christ was among men, but would
yearn in vain. In times such as these, the
spirit of activity would tend to stifle the spirit
of prayer, and the sound of conflict and the
alarms of coming danger impede its progress
and stagger its perseverance. Our Master,
foreseeing these times and these dangers,
warns His disciples of the tendency and
temptation to relax their continuousness in
prayer, and speaks to them the parable to
this end, that " 7nen ou^ht always to pray^
and not to faint y



II.



" And if by prayer
Incessant, I could hope to change the will
Of Him who all things can, I would not cease
To weary Him with my assiduous cries."



T ET Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the
prayers of Thy humble servants ; and that they
may obtain their petitions make them to ask such
things as shall please Thee ; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.




Times Adverse to Prayer.

5he parable in which our Lord seeks
to stimulate His followers in the
duty of prayer, may at first sight
seem so conceived as rather to deter than to
encourage. He sketches a woman in cir-
cumstances in which it seemed more than
hopeless to expect success. She is a widow
who is bereft alike of the power to enforce
her claims, or of the means to win her cause
with a bribe. The man she has to deal with
is drawn as unmoved by any of the motives
which touch, even the worst of our race.

There is a rude sense of right in most
men's breasts ; and the appeal of outraged
helplessness is not often made in vain. But
this judge was in his very nature incapable
of understanding or feeling the force of such



iO Thoughts 071 Prayer.

an appeal : he was an unjust judge. Again,
even in cases where men have no natural
and conscientious sympathy with righteous-
ness, the instinct of retribution frequently
arouses a fear of God, which impels them to
acts of justice ; but in the case of the unjust
judge there seemed no avenue for the ap-
proach of such a feeling : he feared not God.
Nor was he moved by that which, as a last
motive, is powerful in the most debased
natures, the regard for the opinion of other
men. He was of that cold, hardened, and
unaccommodating character that he neither
feared God nor regarded man. There was
not a glimpse of light or softness in such a
qharacter as this ; where there was neither
sympathy, nor the sense of right, nor the
apprehensions of just judgment, nor the
meaner motive of a desire to stand well
with the world; and as these several hard
features of this hard character became mani-
fest, all hope for the success of her plea
would die out of the widow's heart.



Times Adverse to Prayer. 2\

What did our Master intend by thus
sketching the judge ? Does He mean to
represent God in any degree- as such ? Is
not the whole portrait framed on conditions
of character the very reverse of our best and
noblest conceptions of the Divine Father ?
Do we not expect to find in Him the highest
justice linked with the tenderest readiness to
stoop to the cry of the distressed and for-
saken ? In no sense can this harsh character
represent God in His relation to man. But
as there must be some point of correspond-
ence between the sketch and the condition
of Christ's people, this must be sought not in
any actual indifference of God to the cries
and prayers of His people, but rather in the
state of His people at the particular era
Christ has been describing. The unjust
judge is not the portrait of what God is, but
of what, owing to circumstances of trial,
and misrepresentations of unreasonable and
wicked men, the suffering, waiting people ot
Christ will be almost tempted to think Him.



22 Thoughts oil Prayer.

To them, in an era of heartless worldliness,
shallow religionism, and noisy dogmatism, it
might appear that God was absent from
them. The cry would be no new one which
complained, "Wherefore art Thou absent
from us so long ? Thou art a God that hid-
est Thyself;" till the climax doubt rose like
the wild note of the storm-bird hovering on
the dreary waste of tossing seas, — " Hath
God forgotten to be gracious?" All about
them they hear a language which haunts
them with hideous dread ; the voice of the
enemy and the blasphemer are heard whisper-
ing, "Is there knowledge in the Most High?
He will never regard it /' or deepening into
the hoarse utterance of half wish, half fear, —
" There is no God !" More, more dogmati-
cally than the voice of the narrowest bigot,
Providence is declared to be an unscientific
conception, and the notion of prayer com-
pletely at variance with the understood and
fundamental axioms of a higher philosophy —
" All things continue as they are." At length,



Times Adverse to Prayer. 23

some bolder in speech than the rest, because
feebler in scientific knowledge, take up the
words of a taunting proverb against Christ's
waiting, praying Church ; and cry, " Where
is thy God? He will not interfere. He
who is the eternal God of unerring wisdom
is too wise to err in His pre-arranged plan of
law, and, therefore, will not acknowledge
mistake by interfering at your request to
change His unalterable purpose. Why rend
the sky with useless plaints to a God whose
cold, unchanging laws work evermore towards
the great end He has in view, and will not
deviate a hair's breadth for all the swelling
murmurs of little-witted men ? The true and
philosophical conception of God is of one
absolute and infinite, and unmoved by earthly
passions ; incapable of pity, which is a
weakness, or of change, which is a folly."
And this dreary deity, which is, be it noted,
the true portrait of the unjust judaic trans-
ferred to God the Almighty, the suffering and
praying children of God are advised to



24 Thoughts on Prayer.

accept as the pure scientific exposition of
the mighty Father of spirits.

Harassed by doubts, wounded and terri-
fied by the oft-reiterated assaults and asser-
tions of her enemies, driven to despair at the
seeming unbroken stillness of the unanswer-
ing heavens, the Church of Christ is as the
lone helpless widow, powerless and poverty-
stricken. But she is mighty. Though this
hideous portraiture of grim and impassive
godhead is thrust upon her, she will have
none of it. She will not abandon her plea,
or accept the description. With this picture
of hard, inexorable justice before her, she
will not abandon her plea. If it be so — that
she is thus weak and poor, and dealing with
one whom no cries for pity, or claims for
justice, can arouse, and no aspect of misery
touch and soften ; then nothing remains for
her but the might of her weakness in its
unceasing supplications, which will take no
denial, nothing remains but to weary him
out into compliance.



Times Adverse to Prayer. 25

So neither do Christ's people, wearied and
dispirited, abandon their praying. They will
not yield. They refuse to accept the por-
traiture. When the power, or the energy to
argue against the suggestions of the enemy
has forsaken them, they will still persevere
in their cry^ " We cannot fail, we must beat
in at length ; or if we perish in the cold
cheerless Godhead you describe, yet better
perish so labouring, battling, crying for the
light, than be false to the nobler instincts
and unquenchable convictions of our higher
nature, or silence the sweetest music in the
book of God."

Then, when their firm resolve is taken, the
mist is taken away. Christ's loving hand
removes the soul-freezing portraiture, and
brings in the much-loved features. The un-
just judge fades from view, and God, our ow7i
God, is there once more. " Shall not God''
he says, bringing back the true idea of per-
sonal, righteous, loving, and watchful rule,
" shall not God avenge His own elect which
c



26 Thoughts on Prayer.

cry day and night unto Him ? I tell you He
will avenge them speedily."

The cheerless thought of stern machine-
like divinity gives way to the warm bright
picture of personal and almighty rule.
Fixity and permanence, indeed, is there, but
not that of cold necessity, but of providential
appointment, based on, and ever observant
of, the eternal law of righteousness. This
law He stands up to defend, and will avenge
every breach of it, — rooting out ungodliness,
and answering the cry of His pleading people,
who, through myriad doubts and fears, have
clung to Him.

The lesson Christ enforces is one — men
ought always to pray. Let the times be
unfavourable, the current of public thought
against it, and the scientific conceptions of
the day seemingly at variance with the very
idea of it, — still let them pray. The answer
of prayer will be the reconciliation of all
conflicting opinions, and the harmonizing of
all difficulties ; and even though the prayer be



Times Adverse to Prayer. ly

long unheeded, and the tumult of those that
trouble us mcrease ever more and more, yet
this itself may be God's way of mercy, clos-
ing up every door, and hedging about all
avenues, that we may be compelled to go
forward to the gate of His love, and knock
in the confessed hopelessness of grief, and
the strength of utter helplessness, till He
opens the gate, and draws us in. Go and
take your struggling prayers, like fragrant
blossoms,- wet with your tears, and plant
them at His threshold —

*' That if they can they there may bloom ;
Or dying, there at least may die."

But even dying there they will not be lost —
perchance, it is even in thus dying they may
find a higher life and truer answer. The
prayer which loses its life, like the true-
hearted Christian who breathes it, may find
it. The precious seed will be met with after
many days ; no longer a parched and de-
caying thing, but a bright, and strong, and
cfolden sheaf in the wheat-fields of God's



28 Though fs on Prayer.

glorious harvest yet to come. " Behold, the
husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of
the earth, and hath long patience for it, until
he receive the early and latter rain. Be
patient therefore, brethren; stablish your
hearts : for the coming of the Lord draweth
nigh " (James v. 7, 8).



III.



Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.
Which we ascribe to Heaven : the fated sky
Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.'



r\ Lord, we beseech Thee mercifully to hear us ;
and grant that we, to whom Thou hast given an
hearty desire to pray, may, by Thy mighty aid, be
defended and comforted in all dangers and adversi-
ties ; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.






j^EART-WORK IN PrAYER.



^^RiDE and distrustful over-humbleness
are two great adversaries to prayer.
Pride suggests to us that prayer is
very easy, — that we have only to ask, and
we can do that at any time. Over-humble-
ness puts away from herself all encourage-
ments, and refuses the consolations from the
examples of the men of God, who asked and
received. These, the over -humble heart
whispers to herself, were heroes of God,
favoured with special powers, to which she
can never aspire.

These two are adversaries to prayer ; and,
though inconsistent with one another, are
often found both influencing the same breast.
St. James touches on both of these. When
over-humbleness would plead that the ex-



$2 Thoughts on Prayer.

amples of successful and earnest prayer are
not for her, the apostle answers, " Elias was
a man subject to like passions as we are."
When pride would fondly whisper that it is
easy to pray, we call to mind that it was
with earnest wrestling that the " prophet ot
fire " won his petitions from the Most High.
The example thus given is a most helpful
one ; for no man in the Old Testament story
seemed to have so completely at command
the powers and energies of nature. Opposed
by the court, plotted against, living a life of
almost complete isolation, and feeling him-
self the lonely witness for God in an age
of degeneracy and idolatry, he seems able
with a word of prayer to draw down alike
the flames and the showers of Heaven.
"There shall not be dew nor rain these
years, but according to my word." It sounds
simple and easy; but St. James shows us
that it was not so. That elevation of noble
and unswerving faith was not reached with-
out efforts, aye, agonizing efforts, of prayer :



Heart-ioork in Prayer. 33

" He prayed earnestly that it might not rain."
The highest reaches of faith are not attained
without struggling, AvrestUng prayer.

There is, indeed, no reason, but that which
pride, or its pale shadow of over-humbleness,
suggests, why we regard a spiritual process
like that of prayer, to be easy. Nature
about us might have taught us how foolish
was this belief. The fields are not reaped
without toil ; and the golden grain of
autumn, while it is the proof of God's
goodness, is a witness of the toil of man,
which has ploughed, prepared, and sowed.
The grandest feats of human courage and
ingenuity look simple in completion, but
the story of their accomplishment is that ot
much vicissitude : hope battling with unex-
pected difficulties — new obstacles calling
forth fresh energy, intelligence, and patience
— till, at last, out of a chaos of constant care,
frequent failures, many disappointments, and
much anxious thought and toil, has emerged
in grand simplicity a monument of genius



34 Thoughts on Prayer.

which excites the wonder of mankind. And
this is true of, all the really worthy achieve-
ments of men. It is true of the engineer,
who tunnels the mountain or spans the
flood. It is true of the philosopher, who
charms listening nations as he unfolds to
them, in simple words, the discovery of
some hidden principle, which, after long
patience, and oft-renewed and often wearied
thought, he has wooed and won from coyly
ambushed nature. It is true of the man
of letters, and even of the man of song,
their undying, soul-rousing words are kindled
on no easy -smoking altar, but are beaten
forth into brightness amid flames hard to
keep aglow.

And it is not otherwise of things spiritual.
It is very easy indeed to say words on our
knees ; but it is not easy to pray — to reacji
that spirit of realized want, intense faith, and
vehement desire out of which true prayer
springs forth — this is not to be attained by
simply falling into an attitude of reverence.



Heart-work in Prayer. 35

and languidly repeating perhaps routine ex-
pressions which have lost their meaning. All
the witness of Scripture harmonizes with the
testimony of facts in nature, that it is not an
easy task to pray aright.

" We know not what we should pray for as
we ought," is the language of St. Paul ; and
so far short did the apostles feel themselves ot
the true spirit of prayer, that they prayed to
be taught to pray : " Lord, teach us to pray."

And in the prayers often used in public
worship, we confess the same. We ac-
knowledge our ignorance in asking ; we speak
of the difficulties which beset us in praying,
and of the things which from our unworthi-
ness we dare not, and from our blindness we
cannot ask, and we bewail the listlessness of
our hearts, when we plead with Him who is
more ready to hear than we to pray. These
difficulties, which all those who have prayed
the most have felt the keenest, make real
prayer hard work, and serve to call our at-
tention to the strenuous efforts which God's



36 Thoughts 071 Prayer.

praying servants have ever put forth in their
supplications. Jacob became a prince in


1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryWilliam Boyd CarpenterThoughts on prayer → online text (page 1 of 6)