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And laid thy hand upon me.
In contrast with this Psalmist's sense of God's immediate presence, the reign of law not only seems to push God away off; it pushes him away back into history. He becomes nothing more than a hypothesis to explain how the universe happened to exist in the first place. In President Faunce's figure, men think of God as an engineer who started this locomotive of a world, pulled the throttle wide open, and then leaped from the cab; and the world has been running its own unguided course ever since on the rails of law.
This does not simply make impossible the spiritual faith which glows in our Scripture passage; it violates every canon of sound thinking. It is childish. It is on a par with the belief of the Piedmontese peasant, of whom Benjamin Constant tells. He thought that the world was made by a God who had died before his work was completed. Consider whether your prayers have been hindered by the subtle influence of this idea of God. Before men can really pray, God must be seen as the present living God-whose ways of action we partially have plotted and called laws.
O Lord, our God, we desire to feel Thee near us in spirit and in body at this time. We know that in Thee we live and move and have our being, but we are cast down and easily disquieted, and we wander in many a sad wilderness where we lose the conscious experience of Thy presence. Yet the deepest yearning of our hearts is unto Thee. As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so pant our souls after Thee, O God. Nothing less than Thyself can still the hunger, or quench the thirst with which Thou hast inspired. us. Power of our souls! enter Thou into them and fit them for Thyself, making them pure with Christ's purity, loving and lovable with His love. Samuel McComb.
Third Day, Sixth Week
And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:26-28.
Note the connection of thought here between prayer, and belief in the controlling providence of God that makes all things work together for good to those that love him. Is not this connection vital? Unless God's providence does control, so that he is now at work in the world shaping events and moulding men, what is the use of praying? But just here is one of our modern perplexities. The reign of law seems to rule out the activity of Providence. When we were children, many of us doubtless prayed as Florence Nightingale said she did. “When I was young,” she writes, “I could not understand what people meant by their thoughts wandering in prayer.' I asked for what I really wished, and really wished for what I asked. And my thoughts wandered no more than those of a mother would wander, who was supplicating her Sovereign for her son's reprieve from execution. . . . I liked the morning service much better than the afternoon, because we asked for more things. ... I was always miserable if I was not at church when the Litany was said. How ill-natured it is, if you believe in prayer, not to ask for everybody what they want. ... I could not pray for George IV. I thought the people very good who prayed for him, and wondered whether he could have been much worse if he had not been prayed for. William IV I prayed for a little. But when Victoria came to the throne, I prayed for her in a rapture of feeling and my thoughts never wandered."
What is it that has changed this childlike spirit in our prayers? Is it not our increasing knowledge of the reign of natural law ? So Miss Nightingale came to say in contrast with her childhood's point of view, “God's scheme for us is not that he should give us what we ask for, but that mankind should obtain it for mankind." Consider the people
whom you know who have altogether given up praying for this same reason.
Almighty God, of Thy fulness grant to us who need so much, who lack so much, who have so little, wisdom and strength. Bring our wills unto Thine. Lift our understandings into Thy heavenly light; that we thereby beholding those things which are right, and being drawn by Thy love, may bring our will and our understanding together to Thy service, until at last, body and soul and spirit may be all Thine, and Thou be our Father and our Eternal Friend. Amen.-George Dawson (1821-1876).
Fourth Day, Sixth Week
Read the entire Psalm, a glowing expression of faith in the controlling presence of God in his world. Now in our day many are troubled in their endeavor to share such a
faith, because the reign of law suggests that any help from God would involve a miracle, an intervention in the regular, natural order. How can God shape the course of nature and human history without interfering with law? But consider that what we call a miracle need not involve at all a break in any law. Plant a pebble and a seed side by side. The law of the pebble is to lie dead; the law of the seed is to grow. If therefore the pebble could see seed sprouting, how certainly it would lift its pebble hands in astonishment and cry, “A miracle !” But no law is broken there. There and everywhere else, what is called miracle is not a rupture of law; it is the fulfilling of a larger and higher law than we have yet understood. God's providence never has and never does involve breaking his laws; it means that we are as little acquainted with all the resources of the spiritual universe as a pebble is with the resources of a plant, and that God guides the course of events by means of laws, some of which are known to us and some unknown. Remember that natural law is nothing but man's statement of how things regularly happen, so far as he has been able to observe them. What looks like a miracle to man is no miracle to God. To him it is as natural as sunrise.
O Lord God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, open our eyes that we may behold Thy Fatherly presence ever about us. Draw our hearts to Thee with the power of Thy love. Teach us to be anxious for nothing, and when we have done what Thou hast given us to do, help us, O God our Saviour, to leave the issue to Thy wisdom. Take from us all doubt and mistrust. Lift our thoughts up to Thee in heaven, and make us to know that all things are possible to us through Thy Son our Redeemer. Amen. -Bishop Westcott.
Fifth Day, Sixth Week
It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; that bringeth princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they have not been planted; yea, they have not been sown; yea, their stock hath not taken root in the earth:
moreover he bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these, that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and for that he is strong in power, not one is lacking.—Isaiah 40: 22-26.
The central trouble in the religious thinking of many people lies here: the new knowledge of the universe has made their childish thoughts of God inadequate, and instead of getting a worthier and larger idea of God to meet the new need, they give up all vital thought about God whatso
We can feel Isaiah in this fortieth chapter reaching out for as great a conception of God as he can compass, because the situation demands it. Our modern situation calls for the same outreach of mind. This is the truth behind Sam Foss's poem:
"A boy was born 'mid little things,
Between a little world and sky,
'Round which the circling planets fly.
"He lived in little works and thoughts,
Where little ventures grow and plod,
And prayed unto his little God.
"But, as the mighty system grew,
His faith grew faint with many scars;
But God was lost among his stars.
"Another boy in lowly days,
As he, to little things was born,
And from the glory of the morn.
"As wider skies broke on his view,
God greatened in his growing mind;