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"He saw the boundless scheme dilate,
In star and blossom, sky and clod;
O God our Father, who dost exhort us to pray, and who dost grant what we ask, if only, when we ask, we live a better life; hear me, who am trembling in this darkness, and stretch forth Thy hand unto me; hold forth Thy light before me; recall me from my wanderings; and, Thou being my Guide, may I be restored to myself and to Thee, through Jesus Christ. Amen.-St. Augustine (354-430).
Sixth Day, Sixth Week
-Habakkuk 3:17, 18.
We have noted five effects that knowledge of the reign of law has on modern minds : it pushes God away off; pushes him away back; makes his special help seem impossible; suggests that any providential aid would involve a miracle; and finally makes our immature, childish ideas of him inadequate. But now supposing that all of these were overcome, and that like Habakkuk, a man believed thoroughly in the providential control of a living God in his world—note the lack of presumption with which he uses his faith. The forces of nature are in the hands of God, but the prophet does not immodestly demand that they shall be used in accordance with human desire. It may even be that they bring dire trouble on him, as the seventeenth verse pictures; yet he does not doubt the guidance of God in the world. Consider the importance of this attitude for prayer. Belief in God's providence is not to be confused with the arrogant assumption that that providence must be exercised as wish. One summer in England when the clergy were ve
hemently praying for dry weather, Charles Kingsley refused to do so. “How do we know," he said in a sermon, "that in praying God to take away these rains, we are not asking him to send the cholera in the year to come? I am of opinion that we are ... Now, perhaps you may understand better why I said that I was afraid of being presumptuous in praying for fine weather.”
O Thou, who givest liberally unto all men and upbraidest not, give to this, Thy servant, the desire of his heart. Thou knowest his inward and outward state. Whatever it be that holds him back from self-surrender unto Thee, grant that it may be taken out of the way, that there may be a free and open intercourse between him and Thee. May he be willing to trust where he cannot prove; willing to believe his better moments in spite of all that contradicts them. Open his eyes to see Thee as Thou art, infinitely real, infinitely gracious, infinitely good. Speak to him in the daily witness of earth and sky; in the goodness and tender mercy of human hearts; above all, in the words and works of Thy perfect Son in whom Thou hast spoken the “everlasting yea” that puts to flight our every care. Take from him all dread of evils that may never happen. Grant him the victory over every besetting doubt; and patience while any darkness remains, that he may glorify Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.-Samuel McComb.
Seventh Day, Sixth Week
I will give thee thanks with my whole heart:
and for thy truth:
me; Thou wilt stretch forth thy hand against the wrath of
mine enemies, And thy right hand will save me.
Jehovah will perfect that which concerneth me:
-Psalm 138: 1-3, 7, 8.
Note the joyful certainty with which this Psalmist testifies to the effect of prayer on his own life. With all the puzzles that perplex our thought when we try to pray that God will change outward circumstances, this inward realm where prayer is continually efficacious remains undisturbed. Read thoughtfully this testimony from Henry M. Stanley, the African explorer: “To relate a little of the instances in my life wherein I have been grateful for the delicate monitions of an inner voice, recalling me, as it were, to 'my true self,' it would be difficult for me to do their importance justice. I, for one, must not, dare not, say that prayers are inefficacious. Where I have been earnest, I have been answered. ... In the conduct of the various expeditions into Africa, prayer for patience has enabled me to view my savage opponents in a humorous light; sometimes with infinite compassion for their madness. ... Without prayer for it, I doubt that I could have endured the flourish of the spears when they were but half-a-dozen paces off. ... On all my expeditions prayer made me stronger, morally and mentally, than any of my non-praying companions. It did not blind my eyes, or dull my mind, or close my ears; but, on the contrary, it gave me confidence. It did more; it gave me joy and pride in my work, and lifted me hopefully over the one thousand five hundred miles of forest tracks, eager to face the day's perils and fatigues.”
Eternal God, lead us into the blessedness of the mystery of communion with Thee. Bow our spirits in deepest reverence before Thee, yet uplift us into a sense of kinship. Send the spirit of Thy Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father," that all unworthy fear may be banished by the gladness of Thy perfect love. Thy love is like the luminous heaven, receiving only to purify the foulest breath of earth. Thy gentleness is like the sun, seeking to cheer and warm the chilled hearts of men. Touch us, o our Father, with a feeling of Thy great realities, for though our thought about Thee is better than our words, our experience of Thee is better than our thought.-Samuel McComb.
COMMENT FOR THE WEEK
I One element in communion with God has so far been kept in the background of our discussion. Prayer is conversation, but generally it is not merely conversation for conversation's sake. Sometimes we talk with our friends for the sheer joy of talking, but sometimes we talk because we want something. So communion with God is commonly motived by desire; the element of petition belongs by nature to the tendency which has led all men to pray. Now, as soon as petition enters into a man's prayers, he is likely to run against an obstacle that seems very formidable. He comes face to face with the reign of law, as modern knowledge has revealed it.
In a world where there is a cause for every effect and an effect for every cause, where each event is intermeshed with every other and all move by inevitable consequence from what has gone before, it seems absurd to expect God to change anything in answer to our call. Men feel this when they consider the vastness of the universe throughout which the unbroken reign of law obtains. If the ring upon a girl's finger be taken as the orbit of the earth, 180,000,000 miles in diameter, the nearest star is one and a half miles away; the mass of the heavenly bodies scores of hundreds of miles beyond that, and throughout the whole expanse law is absolute. Or if one looks at near-by things to rest his thought from such iron regularity, he finds no comfort there. Of all snow-crystals that ever fell, there have been no angles of crystallization in their filaments except 60° and 120°. The wind is as obedient to law as is a falling stone; the temperature of the air is as much a creature of cause and effect as is the rising sun; and the rays of radium, infinitesimally minute and so swift that one could encompass the earth thrice in a single second and still have time to spare, are as regular in their law-abiding ways as an eclipse.
Indeed, if one look within himself, in hope of evading law, he fails. The mind's operations too are controlled by laws, and the psychologists are plotting them with increasing accuracy. The conviction irresistibly claims our assent that nothing happens anywhere contrary to law. The conditions which cause an Aurora Borealis are not fully known, but no one doubts that the conditions exist, and that if they fail by the least degree an Aurora cannot be conjured up by all the prayers of all the saints on earth. Definite petition to God in such a world seems absurd. 10 many even communion with God grows difficult, so lost is he in the maze of law. Job's cry gains strength a thousand fold today—“O that I knew where I might find him!” (Job 23:3). As for the demand that we continue to pray without understanding, self-respect rebels. Otway's words in “Venice Preserved,” though written in 1682, have a contemporary ring in them:
“You want to lead My reason blindfold like a hampered lion, Check'd of his noble vigour—then, when baited Down to obedient tameness, may it couch And show strange tricks which you call signs of faith.”
In this special difficulty men are often disappointed because the Bible does not directly help. Dr. McFadyen clearly states the truth of the matter—“Just as the Bible assumes the existence of God, so it also assumes the naturalness of prayer. It does not answer, and, for the most part does not even raise the problems which bear so heavily upon educated men today.” In the Bible there is no difficulty in the way of fleece on the same night becoming both wet and dry (Judges 6:37ff); the sun may stop or proceed (Josh. 10:13), the shadow on the sun dial go forwards or backwards (Isaiah 38:8); the axe head may sink or float (II Kings 6:5ff); and the prison doors may open without human help (Acts 5:19). Like all people of the generations during which the Bible was being written, the writers of Scripture for the most part described events in terms of miracle and not of law.
But this biblical assumption that prayer is entirely natural, and this description of the results of prayer in terms of miracle, rather increase than allay the perplexity of many Christians. “This world of the Bible is not our world,” they cry in doubt. "Show us a single place in the world in which we live, where we cannot depend for certain on nature's regularity. We predict sunrise and sunset to the second and they never fail. We plot the course of the planets and they are never late. The achievements of our modern world rest on the discovery that we can rely on the same things happening under the same conditions, always and