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second is, that unless the desire of the heart goes before it, it is not prayer at all. Prayer is the utterance of desire, and without desire is bereft of all its significancy. The virtue does not lie in the
, articulation—but altogether in the wish which precedes, or rather which prompts it. Prayer is an act of the soul; and the bodily organ is but the instrument and not the agent of this service. The soul which thinks and wills and places its hopes or its affections on any given object-this and this alone is the agent in prayer. Insomuch that although not one word should have been framed by the lips, or emitted in language from the mouth—the man might substantially be praying. It is thus that he might pray without ceasing. In company, or in business, or in any scene whatever whether of duty or of discipline, there might at least be a prayerful heart apart from the formalities of prayer—a sup
plicatory, a kneeling attitude, on the part of his inner man, and to which he is bowed down continually by an aspiring earnestness on the one hand to be and to do at all times as he ought; and by a lowly sense on the other hand of his native insufficiency and dependence on a higher power than his own, for being constantly upholden in the way of rectitude. This will be sustained as prayer by Him who weigheth the secrets of the spirit; and, on the contrary, all expression disjoined from this will be dealt with as an affronting mockery of Hea
It is true that in the case of prayer, God has committed Himself to the amplest promises of fulfil
ment; and all nature and providence would be at our command, if the mere verbality of a petition upon our part were to bring upon God the literal obligation of these promises. But He is not pledged to the accomplishment of any prayer where the desire of the heart does not originate the utterance of the mouth. The want of such desire nullifies the prayer; and to imagine otherwise would be to revive the superstition of other days—when a religious service, instead of being held as a community of thought and spirit between the creature and the Creator, consisted in the mere handiwork of a certain and stated ceremonial. And be assured that neither the counting of beads nor the conning of Pater-nosters is at all more irrational, than are those devotions, whether of the closet or the sanctuary, which the heart does not emanate, or the heart does not go along with.
This remark, obvious although it be, should be urged more especially on the coming round of every great religious anniversary. Although Popery in respect of denomination may have gone conclusively forth of our borders—yet in respect of spirit and character
it still abide in the land, and be as inveterately rooted as ever in the hearts of our population. Even long after that the creed of these realms has been purified of all that is erroneous in the dogmata of Catholics, might the conscience, be infected with a certain Catholic imagination, which in truth forms by far the most misleading heresy of the Church of Rome. It consists in the charm which is ascribed to mere handiwork, to performance separate from principle, to that bodily exercise whereof the apostle saith that without godliness which is a thing of soul and sentiment altogether it profiteth little. Their delusion is that it profiteth much; and we fear it is a delusion which has left deep and enduring traces behind it, even among a people who have abjured the communion of Popery, and would treat its disciples with intolerance. Under all the disguises of our Protestantism, the inveteracy of the olden spirit breaks forth at sacraments. And when we behold of many who breathe the element of irreligion through the year, how at the proclamation of this great religious festival they come forth in families—how although on any other Sabbath the ordinary services of the house of God should be honoured with but half a congregation or with half an attendance, yet on the Sabbath and the service extraordinary, the place should teem to an overflow with worshippers--how an importance so visible should be given to this solemnity, and by those who have not habitually in their hearts any solemn reverence for the things or obligations of sacredness—We cannot but recognise somewhat like the dregs of our ancient superstition in this great periodical homage, founded as it often is on a sort of magical or mystic spell which is ascribed to sacrainents.
Be assured of this and of every other ordinance of Christianity, that, unless impregnated with life and meaning, it is but a skeleton or framework—a
body without a soul--a mere service of bone and muscle—which the hand can perform, but which the heart with all its high functions of thought and sensibility has no share in. It stands in the same relation of inferiority to genuine religion, that the drudgery of an animal does to the devotion of a seraph. This is not the service which God who is a Spirit requires of His worshippers—who, to worship Him acceptably, must do it in spirit and in truth. Religion is no doubt the homage of creatures who are immeasurably beneath the Sovereign whom they address: but still it is the homage of intelligent creatures—the homage of the subordi
— nate to the Supreme intelligence-of beings, therefore, who look with the eye of their mind towards Him who sits in presiding authority over the universe which He has made; and who at the same time are conscious, that they are looked upon with the eye of a Mind that discerns all and that judges all. In one word, if in the doing of any ordinance there be not the intercourse of mind with mind, there substantially is nothing; and yet we fear it to be just such a nothingness as is yielded by many who are regular in prayer, and who walk with decency
, and order through the rounds of a sacrament. In this wretched drivelling, both superstition and hypocrisy appear to be blended-a vain confidence in the efficacy of forms, and at the same time a willing substitution of them for the purer but more arduous services of a moral and spiritual obedience. It is this last alone which availeth. Your sacrament is
vain, if the dedication of the whole life to God do not come after it. Your prayer is vain, if, unlike the apostle's in the text, the desire of the whole heart have not gone before it.
But let us now attend to the subject of the prayer --even that Israel might be saved. And here we may remark that although desire be a constituent part of prayer and therefore essential both to its reality and to its acceptance-yet it is not all desire thus lifted
from earth that will meet with acceptance in heaven. It were an attempt much too unwieldy at present, yet none more interesting, to specify what all the desiresare of creatures here below which are sure of welcome and of a willing response in the sanctuary above. It is not every random desire that will meet with such a reception for the same scripture which holds out the promise of “ask and ye
shall receive," has also held out the warning that many ask and receive not “because they ask amiss, that they may consume it upon their lusts." Still, believing as we do, that Scripture does furnish the principles by which to discriminate the warrantable from the unwarrantable—and so, if I
thus speak, to classify the topics of prayer—we know not any exposition of greater practical importance, than what those things are which we may confidently seek at the hand of God even till we have obtained them; and what those other things on the seeking after which the Bible lays such discouragement, that we dare not or rather cannot though we would pray for them in faith, or pray for them in