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OF THE DUTY AND OF THE EFFICACY
OF PRAYER, SO FAR AS THE SAME · APPEAR FROM THE LIGHT OF NATURE.
W H EN one man desires to obtain any thing
of another, he betakes himself to intreaty: and this may be observed of mankind in all ages and countries of the world. Now what is universal, may be called natural; and it seems probable, that God, as our fupreme governor, should expect that towards himself, which, by a natural impulse, or by the irresistible order of our constitution, he has prompted us to pay to every other being on whom we de
The same may be faid of thanksgiving.
Again, prayer is necessary to keep up in the minds of mankind a sense of God's agency in the universe, and of their own dependency upon him.
But after all, the duty of prayer depends upon its efficacy: for I confefs myself unable to
conceive, how any man can pray, or be obliged to pray, who expects nothing from his prayers ; but who is persuaded at the time he utters his, request, that it cannot possibly produce the smallest impression upon the being to whom it is addressed, or advantage to himself. Now the efficacy of prayer imports, that we obtain something in consequence of praying, which we should not have received without prayer; against all expectation of which, the following objection has been often and seriously alleged. “ If “ it be most agreeable to perfect wisdom and jus“ tice, that we should receive what we desire, “God, as perfectly wise and just, will give it “ to us without asking: if it be not agreeable “ to these attributes of his nature, our intreaties “cannot move him to give it us ; and it were “ impious to expect they should.” În fewer. words, thus ; “ If what we request be fit for us, “ we shall have it without praying; if it be not “ fit for us, we cannot obtain it by praying." This objection admits but of one answer, namely, that it may be agreeable to perfect wisdom, to grant that to our prayers, which it would not have been agreeable to the same wisdom to have given us without praying for. But what virtue, you will ask, is there in prayer, which should make
a favour consistent with wisdom, which would not have been so without it? To this question, which contains the whole difficulty attending the subject, the following possibilities are offered in reply.
1. A favour granted to prayer may be more apt, on that very account, to produce good effects upon the person obliged. It may hold in the divine bounty, what experience has raised into a proverb in the collation of human benefits, that what is obtained without asking, is ofttimes received without gratitude.
2. It may be consistent with the wisdom of the Deity to withhold his favours till they be asked for, as an expedient to encourage devotion in his rational creation, in order thereby to keep up and circulate a knowledge and sense of their
dependency upon him. :- 3. Prayer has a natural tendency to amend the
petitioner himself; and thus to bring him within the rules, which the wisdom of the Deity has prescribed to the dispensation of his favours.
If these, or any other allignable suppositions, serve to remove the apparent repugnancy between the success of prayer and the character of the Deity, it is enough ; for the question with the petitioner is not from which, out of many moVOL. II.
tives, God may grant his petition, or in what particular manner he is moved by the supplications of his creatures ; but whether it be consistent with his nature to be moved at all, and whether there be any conceivable motives, which may dispose the divine will to grant the petitioner what he wants, in consequence of his praying for it. It is sufficient for the petitioner, that he gain his end. It is not neceffary to devotion, perhaps not very consistent with it, that the circuit of causes, by which his prayers prevail, should be known to the petitioner, much less that they should be present to his imagination at the time. All that is necessary is, that there be no impossibility apprehended in the matter.
Thus much must be conceded to the objection; that prayer cannot reasonably be offered to God with all the same views, with which we oftentimes address our intreaties to men (views which are not commonly or easily separated from it), viz. to inform them of our wants or desires ; to tease them out by importunity; to work upon their indolence or compaffion, in order to persuade them to do what they ought to have done before, or ought not to do at all.
But suppose there existed a prince, who was known by his subjects to act, of his own accord, always and invariably for the best; the situation of a petitioner, who solicited a favour or pardon from such a prince, would sufficiently resemble ours: and the question with him, as with us, would be, whether, the character of the prince being considered, there remained any chance that he should obtain from him by prayer, what he would not have received without it. I do not conceive, that the character of such a prince would necessarily exclude the effect of his subjects' prayers ; for when that prince reflected, that the earnestness and humility of the supplication had generated in the suppliant a frame of mind, upon which the pardon or favour asked, would produce a permanent and active sense of gratitude; that the granting of it to prayer would put others upon praying to him, and by that means preserve the love and submission of his subjects, upon which love and submission, their own happiness, as well as his glory, depended; that, beside that the memory of the particular kindness would be heightened and prolonged by the anxiety with which it had been sued for, prayer had in other respects fo disposed and prepared the mind of the petitioner, as to