Prayer The words generally used in the O.T. are תּחַנָּה, tchinnah (from the root חָנִן, "to incline," "to be gracious," whence in Hithp. "to entreat grace or mercy;" Sept. generally, δέησις; Vulg. deprecatio), and ' תּפַלָּה, tephillah (from the root פָּלִל, "to judge," whence in Hithp. "to seek judgment;" Sept. προσευχή; Vulg. oratio). The latter is also used to express intercessory prayer. The two words point to the two chief objects sought in prayer, viz. the prevalence of right and truth, and the gift of mercy. A very frequent formula for prayer in the O.T. is the phrase קָרָא בשֵׁם יהוָֹה,. to call upon the name of Jehovah. The usual Greek term is εὔχομαι, which originally signified only a wish; but δέομαι, to beg (properly to want), is a frequent expression for prayer.
I. Scriptural History of the Subject. —
1. That prayer was coeval with the fallen race we cannot doubt, and it was in all probability associated with the first sacrifice. The first definite account of its public observance occurs in the remarkable expression recorded in the lifetime of Enos, the son of Seth: "Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord" (Ge 4:26). From that time a life of prayer evidently marked the distinction between the pious and the wicked. The habit was maintained in the chosen family of Abraham, as is evident from frequent instances in the history of the Hebrew patriarchs. Moses, however, gave no specific commands with reference to this part of religious service (comp. Spanheim, Ad Callimach. Pallad. p. 139; Creuzer, Symbol. 1, 164 sq.), and prayer was not by law interwoven with the public worship of God among the Hebrews (but comp. Dent. 26:10, 13, and the prayer of atonement offered by the high-priest, Le 16:21). We do not know whether, before the exile, prayer was customarily joined with sacrificial offerings (Iliad, 1, 450 sq.; Odys. 14:423; Lucian, Dea Syr. 57; Curtius, 4:13, 15; Pliny, H. N. 28, 3; see Iamblich, Myster. 5, 26). Yet, at least in morning and evening worship, those present perhaps joined in prayer, either silently or with united voices (see Lu 1; Lu 10). About the time of the exile our records begin of the custom of the Levites reciting prayers and leading others (1Ch 23:30; comp. Ne 11:17; Berach. 26, 1; see Otho, Lex. Rab. p. 164). An extraordinary instance of public prayer occurs in 1Ki 8:22. We see that prayer as a religious exercise, in the outer court of the sanctuary, though not expressly commanded, was yet supposed and expected. (Ps 141:2; Re 8:3-4, seem to indicate that incense was a symbol of prayer; but see Baihr, Symbolik, 1, 461 sq.) As private devotion prayer was always in general use (comp. Isa 1; Isa 15; Credner, On Joel, p. 192, supposes from Joe 2:16, and Mt 18:3; Mt 19:14; Ps 8:3, that especial virtue was ascribed to the prayers of innocent children; but without ground). After the time of the exile prayer came gradually to be viewed as a meritorious work, an opus operatun. Prayer and fasting were considered the two great divisions of personal piety (Tob. 12:9; Judith 4:12). It was customary to offer prayer before every great undertaking (Judith 13:7; comp. Ac 9:40; Iliad, 9:172; 24, 308; Pythag. Carmen Aur. 48); as in war before a battle (1 Mace. 5, 33; 11:71; 2 Mace. 15:26; comp. 8:29). Three times a day was prayer repeated (Da 6:11; comp. Ps 4:8; Tanchaum, 9, 4, in Schöttgen, Hor. Hebr. 1, 419): namely, at the third hour (9 A.M., Ac 2; Ac 15, the time of the morning sacrifice in the Temple); at mid-day, the sixth hour (12 M., 10:9); and in the afternoon, at the ninth hour (3 P.M., the time of the evening sacrifice in the Temple; comp. Da 9:21; Josephus, Ant. 14:4, 3; see also Ac 3; Ac 1; Ac 10:30; Thilo, Apocr. 1, 352; Schöttgen, Op. cit. p. 418 sq.; Wetstein, 2, 471). Compare the three or four fold repetition of songs of praise by the Egyptian priests each day (Porphyr. Abstin. 4, 8). The Moharnmedans, too, are well known to have daily hours of prayer. It was usual, too, before and after eating to utter a form of prayer or thanks (Mt 15:36; Joh 6:11; Ac 27:35; Philo, Opp. 2, 481; Porphyr. Abstinen. 4, 12; see Kuinol, De precum ante et post cibum up. Judeos et Christ. faciendarum genere, antiquitate, etc. [Lips. 1764]). The Pharisees and Essenes especially ascribed great importance to prayer. The former, indeed, made a display of this form of devotion (Mt 6:5), and humored their own conceit by making their prayers very long. SEE PHARISEE. Permanent forms of prayer were already customary in the time of Christ (Lu 11:1), perhaps chiefly the same which are contained in the Mishna, Berachoth (comp. Pirke Aboth, 2, 13). The Lord's Prayer, too, has several, though not very important, agreements with the forms in the Talmud (see Schöttgen, 1, 160 sq.; Vitringa, De Synag. Vet. p. 962; Otho, Lex. Rab. p. 539; Tholuck, Berypredigt, p. 337 sq.). Private prayer was practiced by the Israelites chiefly in retired chambers in their houses (Mt 6:6), especially in the "upper room" (Da 6:11; Judith 8. 5; Tob. 3, 12; Ac 1; Ac 13; Ac 10:9), and on the roof. If in the open air, an eminence was sought for (Mt 14:23; Mr 6:46; Lu 6:12; comp. 1Ki 18:42). The inhabitants of Jerusalem were fondest of going to the court of the Temple (Lu 18:10; Ac 3:1; comp. Isa 56:7; see Arnob. Adv. Gent. 6, 4; Lakealacher, Antiq. Gr. Sacr. p. 425). He, however, who was surprised by the hour of prayer in the street stood there and said his prayer on the spot. In every case the face was turned towards the holy hill of the Temple (Da 6:11; 2Ch 6:34; 2Ch 3 Esdr. 4:58; Mishna, Berach. 4, 5), hut by the Samaritans to Gerizim. In the court of the Temple the face was turned to the Temple itself (1Ki 8:38), to the Holy of Holies (Ps 5; Ps 8; see Thilo, Apocr. 1, 20). Thus the Jews praying then faced the west, while the modern Jews in Europe and America face the east in prayer. It was an early custom among Christians, too, to turn the face towards the east in praying (Origen, Ho2n. 5, in Num., in Op. 2, 284; Clem. Alex. Strom. 7, 724; comp. Tertul. Apol. 16). The Mohammedans turn the face towards Mecca (Rosenmüller, Morgenl. 4, 361). The usual posture in prayer was standing (1Sa 1; 1Sa 26; 1Ki 8:22; Da 9:20; Mt 6:5; Mr 11:25; Lu 18:11 comp. Iliad, 24:306 sq.; Martial, 12:77, 2; Al Koran, 5, 8; Mishna, Berach. 5, 1; Philo. Opp. 2, 481; Wetstein, 1, 321). But in earnest devotion, bending the knee, or actual kneeling, was practiced (2Ch 6:13; 1Ki 8:54; Esdr. 9:5; Da 6:10; Lu 22:41; Ac 9:40), or the body was even thrown to the ground (Ge 24:26; Ne 8:6; Judith 9:1; Mt 26:39). The hands before prayer must be made clean. Says the Mishna, He that prays with unclean hands commits deadly sin (Sohar Deuteronomy f. 101, 427; comp. 1Ti 2:8; Odys. 2, 261; Clem. Alex. Strom. 4, 531; Chrysost. Hona. 43, in 1 Corinthians). The hands were then, in standing, often lifted up towards heaven (1Ki 8:22; Ne 8:7; Lamentations 2, 19; 3, 41; Ps 28:2; Ps 134:2; Ps 2 Macc. 3, 20; 1 Timothy 2, 8; Philo, Opp. 2. 481, 534; Iliad, 1, 450; Virgil, En. 1, 93; Horace, Od. 3, 23, 1; Plutarch, Alex. p. 682; Aristotle, Mund. 6; Seneca, Ep. 41; Wetstein, 2, 323; Doughtoei Analect. 2 135); sometimes were spread out (Isa 1; Isa 15; Ezr 9:5); and in humble prayers of penitence were laid meekly on the breast, or sometimes the breast was struck with them (Lu 18:13). A posture peculiar to prayer was dropping the head upon the breast (Ps 35:13), or between the knees (1Ki 18:42). This was done in great sorrow. The former is still customary among the Mohammedans (see the figs. in Reland's De Relig. Muh. p. 87). SEE ATTITUDES. Extensive treatises on the kinds of prayer, and their order andrconduct, are given in the Mishna (treatise Berachoth) and the double Gemara (in German by Rabe [Halle, 1777]; see also Otho, Lex. Rab. p. 537 sq.). One species of prayer was intercession. Almost infallible virtue was ascribed to it when offered by a holy person (see James 5, 16; comp. Diod. Sic. 4, 61; Apollod. 3, 12, 6; Ge 20:7,17; Ex 32:11 sq.; 1Ki 17:20 sq.; Josephus, Ant. 14, 2, 1; 2Co 1:11; 1Ti 2; 1Ti 1 sq.; Php 1:19). Hence it was common to request the prayers of others (1 Thessalonians 5, 25; 2Th 3; 2Th 1; Heb 13:18; comp. Deyling, Observ. 2, 587 sq.). See Jonath. On Genesis 26:27; and esp. Suicer, Observ. Sacr. p. 149 sq.; Schroder, Diss. de Precib. Hebrseorum [Marb. 1717]; Saubert, De Precibuts Heb.; and Poleman, De situ praecandi vet. Heb., both in Ugolini Thesaur. vol. 21; Carpzov, Appar. p. 322 sq.; Baur, Gottesd. Veuf. 1, 357 sq.; Rehm, Historia Precum Biblica (Götting. 1814); Hartmann, Verbind. d. A. u. N.T. p. 236 sq., 286 sq.; and on the whole subject, Brover, de Niedek, De populor. vet. et recent. Adorationib. (Amsterd. 1713). The Homeric prayers are treated in Naegelsbach's Homer. Theol. p. 185 sq. SEE PROSEUCHE; SEE SYNAGOGUE.
2. The only form of prayer given for perpetual use in the O.T. is the one in Denlt. 26, 5-15, connected with the offering of tithes and first-fruits, and containing in simple form the important elements of prayer. acknowledgment of God's mercy, self-dedication, and prayer for future blessing. To this may perhaps be added the threefold blessing of Nu 6:24-26, couched as it is in a precatory form; and the short prayers of Moses (Nu 10:35-36) at the moving and resting of the cloud, the former of which was the germ of the 68th Psalm.
Indeed, the forms given, evidently with a view to preservation and constant use, are rather hymns or songs than prayers properly so called, although they often contain supplication. Scattered through the historical books we have the Song of Moses taught to the children of Israel (De 32:1-43); his less important songs after the passage of the Red Sea (Ex 15:1-19) and at the springing out of the water (Nu 21:17-18); the Song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5); the Song of Hannah in 1Sa 2:1-10 (the effect of which is seen by reference to the Magnificat); and the Song of David (Psalm 18), singled out in 2 Samuel 22. But after David's time the existence and use of the Psalms, and the poetical form of the prophetic books, and of the prayers which they contain, must have tended to fix this psalmic character on all Jewish prayer.
The effect is seen plainly in the form of Hezekiah's prayers in 2Ki 19:15-19; Isa 38:9-20.
But of the prayers recorded in the O.T. the two most remarkable are those of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple (1Ki 8:23-53) and of Joshua the high-priest and his colleagues after the captivity (Ne 9:5-38). The former is a prayer for God's presence with his people in time of national defeat (Ne 9:33-34), famine or pestilence (Ne 9:35-37), war (Ne 9:38,38), and captivity (Ne 9:38), and with each individual Jew and stranger (Ne 9:38) who may worship in the Temple. The latter contains a recital of all God's blessings to the children of Israel from Abraham to the captivity, a confession of their continual sins, and a fresh dedication of themselves to the covenant. It is clear that both are likely to have exercised a strong liturgical influence, and accordingly we find that the public prayer in the Temple, already referred to, had in our Lord's time grown into a kind of liturgy. Before and during the sacrifice there was a prayer that God would put it into their hearts to love and fear him; then a repeating of the Ten Commandments, and of the passages written on their phylacteries. SEE FRONTLETS; next, three or four prayers and ascriptions of glory to God; and the blessing from Nu 6:24-26, "The Lord bless thee," etc., closed this service. Afterwards, at the offering of the meat-offering, there followed the singing of psalms, regularly fixed for each day of the week, or specially appointed for the great festivals (see Bingham, bk. 13:ch. 5, § 4). A somewhat similar liturgy formed a regular part of the synagogue worship, in which there was a regular minister, as the leader of prayer (שׁלַיח הִצַּבּוּר, legatus ecclesiae), and public prayer, as well as private, was the special object of the Proseuchie. It appears, also, from the question of the disciples in Lu 11:1, and from Jewish tradition, that the chief teachers of the day gave special forms of prayer to their disciples, as the badge of their discipleship and the best fruits of their learning. SEE FORMS OF PRAYER.
All Christian prayer is, of course, based on the Lord's Prayer; but its spirit is also guided by that of his prayer in Gethsemane, and of the prayer recorded by St. John (John 17), the beginning of his great work of intercession. The first is the comprehensive type of the simplest and most universal prayer; the second justifies prayers for special blessings of this life, while it limits them by perfect resignation to God's will; the last, dwelling as it does on the knowledge and glorification of God, and the communion of man with him, as the one object of prayer and life, is the type of the highest and most spiritual devotion. The Lord's Prayer has given the form and tone of all ordinary Christian prayer; it has fixed, as its leading principles, simplicity and confidence in our Father, community of sympathy with all men, and practical reference to our own life; it has shown, as its true objects, first the glory of God, and next the needs of man. To the intercessory prayer we may trace up its transcendental element, its desire of that communion through love with the nature of God which is the secret of all individual holiness and of all community with men.
The influence of these prayers is more distinctly traced in the prayers contained in the Epistles (see Eph 3:14-21; Ro 16:25-27; Php 1:3-11; Col 1:9-15; Heb 13:20-21; 1Pe 5:10-11, etc.) than in those recorded in the Acts. The public prayer, which from the beginning became the principle of life and unity in the Church (see Acts 2, 42; and comp. 1, 24, 25; 4:24-30; 6:6; 12:5; 13:2, 3; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5), probably in the first instance took much of its form and style from the prayers of the synagogues. The only form given (besides the very short one of Ac 1:24-25), dwelling as it does (Ac 4:24-30) on the Scriptures of the O.T. in their application to our Lord, seems to mark this connection. It was probably by degrees that they assumed the distinctively Christian character.
3. In the record of prayers accepted and granted by God, we observe, as always. a special adaptation to the period of his dispensation to which they belong. In the patriarchal period they have the simple and childlike tone of domestic supplication for the simple and apparently trivial incidents of domestic life. Such are the prayers of Abraham for children (Ge 15:2-3); for Ishmael (Ge 15:17-18); of Isaac for Rebekah (Ge 15:21,21); of Abraham's servant in Mesopotamia (Ge 15:21,12-14); although sometimes they take a wider range in intercession, as with Abraham for Sodom (Ge 18:23-32), and for Abimelech (Ge 18:20,7,17). In the Mosaic period they assume a more solemn tone and a national bearing, chiefly that of direct intercession for the chosen people, as by Moses (Nu 11:2; Nu 12:13; Nu 21:7); by Samuel (1Sa 7:5; 1Sa 12:19,23); by David (2Sa 24:17-18); by Hezekiah (2Ki 19:15-19); by Isaiah (2Ki 19:4; 2Ch 32:20); by Daniel (Da 9:20-21): or of prayer for national victory, as by Asa (2Ch 14:11); Jehoshaphat (2Ch 20:6-12), More rarely are they for individuals, as in the prayer of Hannah (1Sa 1; 1Sa 12); in that of Hezekiah in his sickness (2Ki 20:2); the intercession of Samuel for Saul (1Sa 15:11,35), etc. A special class are those which precede and refer to the exercise of miraculous power, as by Moses (Ex 8:12,30; Ex 15:25); by Elijah at Zarephath (1Ki 17:20) and Carmel (1Ki 18:36-37); by Elisha at Shunem (2Ki 4:33) and Dothan (6, 17, 18); by Isaiah (2Ki 20:11); by St. Peter for Tabitha (Ac 9:40); by the elders of the Church (James 5, 14-16). In the New Testament they have a more directly spiritual bearing, such as the prayer of the Church for protection and grace (Ac 4:24-30); of the Apostles for their Samaritan converts (Ac 8:15); of Cornelius for guidance (Ac 10:4,31); of the Church of St. Peter (Ac 12:5); of St. Paul at Philippi (Ac 16:25); of St. Paul against the thorn in the flesh answered, although not granted (2Co 12:7-9), etc. It would seem the intention of Holy Scripture to encourage all prayer, more especially intercession, in all relations and for all righteous objects. SEE PRAYER.
II. Christian Doctrine on the Subject. —
1. Prayer is a request or petition for mercies; or it is "an offering-up of our desires to God, for things agreeable to his will, il the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." Nothing can be more rational or consistent than the exercise of this duty. It is a divine injunction that men should always pray, and not faint (Lu 18:1). It is highly proper we should acknowledge the obligations we are under to the Divine Being, and supplicate his throne for the blessings we stand in need of. It is essential to our peace and felicity, and is the happy means of our carrying on and enjoying fellowship with God. It has an influence on our tempers and conduct, and evinces our subjection and obedience to God.
2. The object of prayer is God alone, through Jesus Christ as the Mediator. All supplications, therefore, to saints or angels are not only useless, but blasphemous. All worship of the creature, however exalted that creature is, is idolatry, and is strictly prohibited in the sacred law of God. Nor are we to pray to the Trinity as three distinct Gods; for though the Father. Son, and Holy Ghost be addressed in various parts of the Scripture (2Co 13:14; 2Th 2:16-17), yet never as three Gods, for that would lead us directly to the doctrine of polytheism: the more ordinary mode the Scripture points out is to address the Father through the Son, depending on the Spirit to help our infirmities (Eph 2:18; Ro 8:26).
3. As to the nature of this duty, it must be observed that it does not consist in the elevation of the voice, the posture of the body, the use of a form, or the mere extemporary use of words, nor, properly speaking, in anything of an exterior nature; but simply the offering up of our desires to God (Mt 15:8). (See the definition above.) It has generally been divided into adoration, by which we express our sense of the goodness and greatness of God (Da 4:34-35); confession, by which we acknowledge our unworthiness (1 John 1, 9); supplication, by which we pray for pardon, grace, or any blessing we want (Mt 7:7); intercession, by which we pray for others (James 5, 16); and thanksgiving, by which we express our gratitude to God (Php 4:6). To these some add invocation, a making mention of one or more of the names of God; pleading, arguing our case with God in a humble and fervent manner; dedication, or surrendering ourselves to God; deprecation, by which we desire that evils may be averted; blessing, in which we express our joy in God, and gratitude for his mercies; but as all these appear to be included in the first five parts of prayer, they need not be insisted on.
4. The different kinds of prayer are,
(1.) Ejaculatory, by which the mind is directed to God on any emergency. It is derived from the word ejaculor, to dart or shoot out suddenly, and is therefore appropriated to describe this kind of prayer, which is made up of short sentences, spontaneously springing from the mind. The Scriptures afford us many instances of ejaculatory prayer (Ex 14:15; 1Sa 1; 1Sa 13; Ro 7:24-25; Ge 43:29; Jg 16:28; Lu 23:42-43). It is one of the principal excellences of this kind of prayer that it can be practiced at all times, and in all places; in the public ordinances of religion; in all our ordinary and extraordinary undertakings; in times of affliction, temptation, and danger; in seasons of social intercourse; in worldly business; in traveling; in sickness and pain. In fact, everything around us, and every event that transpires, may afford us matter for ejaculation. It is worthy, therefore, of our practice, especially when we consider that it is a species of devotion that can receive no impediment from any external circumstances, that it has a tendency to support the mind, and keep it in a happy frame; fortifies us against the temptations of the world; elevates our affections to God; directs the mind into a spiritual channel; and has a tendency to excite trust and dependence on Divine Providence.
(2.) Secret or closet prayer is another kind of prayer to which we should attend. It has its name from the manner in which Christ recommended it (Mt 6:6). He himself set us an example of it (Lu 6:12); and it has been the practice of the saints in every age (Ge 28:22; Da 6:10; Ac 10:9). There are some particular occasions when this duty may be practiced to advantage, as when we are entering into any important situation; undertaking anything of consequence; before we go into the world; when calamities surround us (Isa 26:20); or when ease and prosperity attend us. As closet prayer is calculated to inspire us with peace, defend us from our spiritual enemies, excite us to obedience, and promote our real happiness, we should be watchful lest the stupidity of our frame, the intrusion of company, the cares of the world, the insinuations of Satan, or the indulgence of sensual objects, prevent us from the constant exercise of this necessary and important duty.
(3.) Family prayer is also another part not to be neglected. It is true there is no absolute command for this in God's Word; yet, from hints, allusions, and examples we may learn that it was the practice of ancient saints— Abraham (Ge 18:19), David (2Sa 6:20), Solomon (Pr 22:6), Job (Job 1:4-5), Joshua (Jos 24:15). (See also Eph 6:4; Pr 6:20; Jer 10:25; Ac 10:2,30; Ac 16:15.) Family prayer, indeed, may not be essential to the character of a true Christian, but it is surely no honor to heads of families to have it said that they have no religion in their houses. If we consider what a blessing it is likely to prove to our children and our domestics; what comfort it must afford to ourselves; of what utility it may prove to the community at large; how it sanctifies domestic comforts and crosses; and what a tendency it has to promote order, decency, sobriety, and religion in general, we must at once see the propriety of attending to it. The objection often made to family prayer is want of time; but this is a very frivolous excuse, since the time allotted for this purpose need be but short, and may easily be redeemed from sleep or business. Others say they have no gifts; where this is the case, a form may soon be procured and used, but it should be remembered that gifts increase by exercise, and no man can properly decide unless he make repeated trials. Others are deterred through shame, or the fear of man: in answer to such, we refer them to the declarations of our Lord (Mt 10:37-38; Mr 8:38). As to the season for family prayer, every family must determine for itself; but before breakfast every morning, and before supper at night, seems most proper: perhaps a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes may be sufficient as to the time.
(4.) Social prayer is another kind Christians are called upon to attend to. It is denominated social because it is offered by a society of Christians in their collective capacity, convened for that particular purpose, either on some peculiar and extraordinary occasions, or at stated and regular seasons. Special prayer-meetings are such as are held at the meeting and parting of intimate friends, especially churches and ministers: when the Church is in a state of unusual deadness and barrenness; when ministers are sick, or taken away by death; in times of public calamity and distress, etc. Stated meetings for social prayer are such as are held weekly in some places which have a special regard to the state of the nation and churches; missionary prayer meetings for the spread of the Gospel; weekly meetings held in most of the congregations, which have a more particular reference to their own churches, ministers, the sick, feeble, and weak of the flock. Christians are greatly encouraged to this kind of prayer from the consideration of the promise (Mt 18:20), the benefit of mutual supplications, from the example of the most eminent primitive saints (Mal 3:16; Ac 12:12), the answers given to prayer (Ac 12:1-12; Jos 10; Isa 37:etc.), and the signal blessing they are to the churches (Php 1:19; 2Co 1:11). These meetings should be attended with regularity; those who engage should study simplicity, brevity, Scripture language, seriousness of spirit, and everything that has a tendency to edification. We now come, lastly, to take notice of public prayer, or that in which the whole congregation is engaged, either in repeating a set form or acquiescing with the prayer of the minister who leads their devotions. This is both an ancient and important part of religious exercise; it was a part of the patriarchal worship (Ge 4:26); it was also carried on by the Jews (Ex 29:43; Lu 1:10). It was a part of the Temple-service (Isa 56:7; 1Ki 8:59). Jesus Christ recommended it both by his example and instruction (Mt 18:20; Lu 4:16). The disciples also attended to it (Ac 2:41-42), and the Scriptures in many places countenance it (Ex 20:24; Ps 63:1-2; Ps 84:11; Ps 27:4). See Wilkins, Henry, Watts, On Prayer; Townsend, Nine Sermons on Prayer; Paley, Moral Philosophy, 2, 31; Mather, Student and Pastor, p. 87; Wollaston, Religion of Nature, p. 122, 123; Hannah More, On Education, vol. 2, ch. 1;
Barrow, Works, vol. 1, ser. 6; Smith, System of Prayer; Scamp, Sermon on Family Religion; Walford, On Prayer. SEE WORSHIP.
III. Philosophical Diffculties. —
1. Scripture does not give any theoretical explanation of the mystery which attaches to prayer. The difficulty of understanding its real efficacy arises chiefly from two sources: from the belief that mall lives under general laws, which in all cases must be fulfilled unalterably; and the opposing belief that he is master of his own destiny, and need pray for no external blessing. The first difficulty is even increased when we substitute the belief in a personal God for the sense of an impersonal destiny; since not only does the predestination of God seem to render prayer useless, but his wisdom and love, giving freely to man all that is good for him, appear to make it needless.
The difficulty is familiar to all philosophy, the former element being far the more important: the logical inference from it is the belief in the absolute uselessness of prayer. But the universal instinct of prayer, being too strong for such reasoning, generally exacted as a compromise the use of prayer for good in the abstract (the "mens sana in corpora sano"); a compromise theoretically liable to the same difficulties, but wholesome in its practical effect. A far more dangerous compromise was that adopted by some philosophers, rather than by mankind at large, which separated internal spiritual growth from the external circumstances that give scope thereto, and claimed the former as belonging entirely to man, while allowing the latter to be gifts of the gods, and therefore to be fit objects of prayer.
The most obvious escape from these difficulties is to fall back on the mere subjective effect of prayer, and to suppose that its only object is to produce on the mind that consciousness of dependence which leads to faith, and that sense of God's protection and mercy which fosters love. These being the conditions of receiving, or at least of rightly entering into, God's blessings, it is thought that in its encouragement of them the entire use and efficacy of prayer consist.
Now, Scripture, while, by the doctrine of spiritual influence, it entirely disposes of the latter difficulty, does not so entirely solve that part of the mystery which depends on the nature of God. It places it clearly before us, and emphasizes most strongly those doctrines on which the difficulty turns. The reference of all events and actions to the will or permission of God, and of all blessings to his free grace, is indeed the leading idea of all its parts, historical, prophetic, and doctrinal; and this general idea is expressly dwelt upon in its application to the subject of prayer. The principle that our "Heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask him" is not only enunciated in plain terms by our Lord, but is at all times implied in the very form and nature of all Scriptural prayers; and, moreover, the ignorance of man, who "knows not what to pray for as he ought," and his consequent need of the divine guidance in prayer, are dwelt upon with equal earnestness. Yet, while this is so, on the other hand the instinct of prayer is solemnly sanctioned and enforced in every page. Not only is its subjective effect asserted, but its real objective efficacy, as a means appointed by God for obtaining blessing, is both implied and expressed in the plainest terms. As we are bidden to pray for general spiritual blessings-in which instance it might seem as if prayer were simply a means of preparing the heart, and so making it capable of receiving them- so also are we encouraged to ask special blessings, both spiritual and temporal, in hope that thus (and thus only) we may obtain them, and to use intercession for others, equally special and confident, in trust that an effect, which in this case cannot possibly be subjective to ourselves, will be granted to our prayers: The command is enforced by direct promises, such as that in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:7-8), of the clearest and most comprehensive character; by the example of all saints and of our Lord himself; and by historical records of such effect as granted to prayer again and again.
Thus, as usual in the case of such mysteries, the two apparently opposite truths are emphasized, because they are needful to man's conception of his relation to God; their reconcilement is not, perhaps cannot be, fully revealed; for, in fact, it is involved in that inscrutable mystery which attends the conception of any free action of man as necessary for the working out of the general laws of God's unchangeable will.
At the same time it is clearly implied that such a reconcilement exists, and that all the apparently isolated and independent exertions of man's spirit in prayer are in some way perfectly subordinated to the one supreme will of God, so as to form a part of his scheme of providence. This follows from the condition, expressed or understood in every prayer, "Not my will, but thine be done." It is seen in the distinction between the granting of our petitions (which is not absolutely promised) and the certain answer of blessing to all faithful prayer; a distinction exemplified in the case of Paul's prayer against the "thorn in the flesh," and of our Lord's own agony in Gethsemane. It is distinctly enunciated by John (1Jo 5:14-15): "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." It is also implied that the key to the mystery lies in the fact of man's spiritual unity with God in Christ, and of the consequent gift of the Holy Spirit. All true and prevailing prayer is to be offered "in the name of Christ" (Joh 14:13; Joh 15:16; Joh 16:23-27), that is, not only for the sake of his atonement, but also in dependence on his intercession; which is therefore as a central influence, acting on all prayers offered, to throw off whatever in them is evil, and give efficacy to all that is in accordance with the divine will. So also is it said of the spiritual influence of the Holy Ghost oil each individual mind, that while "we know not what to pray for," the indwelling "Spirit makes intercession for the saints, according to the will of God" (Ro 8:26-27). Here, as probably in all other cases, the action of the Holy Spirit on the soul is to free agents what the laws of nature are to things inanimate, and is the power which harmonizes free individual action with the universal will of God. The mystery of prayer, therefore, like all others, is seen to be resolved into that great central mystery of the Gospel, the communion of man with God in the incarnation of Christ. Beyond this we cannot go. SEE PROVIDENCE.
2. The discussion provoked by Prof. Tyndall's so-called "Prayer-test" (q.v.) has given a fresh interest to the question, How far are we entitled to expect the divine interference with the ordinary course of nature in answer to prayer? The question practically resolves itself into another and simpler one, Have miracles ceased in the present age of the Church? This latter is properly a question of fact; and it is very generally answered in the affirmative. The modern instances of miracle working are too few and uncertain to warrant any other conclusion. All those who of late years have come forward with claims to the power have sooner or later proved themselves miserable pretenders, and hence the world has justly abandoned all hope in this direction. Whether the power of working miracles was intended to be only a temporary grant to the apostolic age, and whether therefore it need have been lost out of the Church, is an entirely different question. For aught we can see, there is no limit set in the N.T. for its possession and exercise, save the implied one of its necessity; and whether this condition has yet wholly passed away admits of grave doubt, especially in view of the fact that large portions of the earth are yet un-christianized. But it would be of little avail to argue this abstract question. Unless we can bring recent and well authenticated cases of miracles wrought publicly and indubitably, few, if any, will believe that we have now the right to look for them. This, we apprehend, is really the settled and universal conviction of Christian people of the present day-of Protestants at least. Hence to Prof. Tyndall's challenge that we should test the efficacy of prayer by a miraculous answer, we simply reply that we do not expect any such thing, nor do we feel ourselves authorized to pray for it. This is not now the legitimate scope or province of Christian prayer.
We are well aware that a certain class of well-attested and indeed not infrequent facts is commonly appealed to in order to maintain at least the vestiges of this power as still extant in the Church. Most striking, perhaps, among these occurrences are the remarkable cases of recovery from anl apparently incurable sickness, some of which have transpired within the knowledge of almost every one. These have sometimes taken place in a very marked manner in answer to the prayers of friends and congregations. Far be it from us to deny the efficacy of prayer in such cases, or to say a word that would discourage prayer in other like cases. But none of these cases-we mean those of which we have sufficient details and full authentication-at all come up to the idea and definition of a proper miracle. They all lack at least three of the essential circumstances of such an event: 1st. They are not obvious, palpable, direct, and instantaneous reversals of the established laws of nature. Many persons have been raised from a seeming bed of death as low as any of these, when all hopes and means of restoration had been abandoned, and yet no one thought of a miracle; perhaps no one had even prayed for recovery. The cases are not clearly supernatural. 2nd. These cures are not effected by any individual consciously and avowedly authorized to exercise the divine power in the case. In a miracle there must be no misgiving, no hesitation, no shifting of responsibility on the part of the operator. He must positively know and explicitly assert that he is "the finger of God;" otherwise his act becomes the most blasphemous assumption. 3d. Genuine miracles have only been wrought as an ocular demonstration of the commission of a divine messenger or teacher; they have in all instances been resorted to solely in personal attestation of sacred truth. No new doctrine or fresh communication from Heaven purports to be made in connection with the remarkable cases under consideration. The cures are besought as a personal favor, out of regard for private feeling or public usefulness. But these were not the motives which induced our Lord or his apostles to work miracles. They simply wrought them to prove the truth of Christianity. Just here, if anywhere, may doubtless be discovered the reason why miracles have not been perpetuated. There remains no longer any fresh revelation of God's will to man; no new dispensation or even agencies are to be established on the divine part; and therefore no such special credentials are issued from the court of heaven. Its ambassadors have only the common seal of the Gospel-the fruits of their ministry.
The same kind of argument disposes of all the other special providences often cited in proof of a divine intervention in answer to prayer. These likewise are not miracles, nor are they commonly so regarded. There is, however, thus much of valuable truth in the assumption of their pertinency here, namely, that they are really and purposely interferences of God on behalf of those interested, and at the request of the petitioners. That God is able to introduce himself at any and every point in mundane affairs, whether great or small, is one of the clearest doctrines of the Bible; in fact, it is a necessary supposition in any religion. But that he is able to do this without disturbing the order usually styled "the laws of nature" is with equal certainty his prerogative as Creator and Preserver of all. To argue otherwise is either to dethrone him from the dominion of the universe, or to confound government with revolution. Providence is not miraculous; it may be special, or even extraordinary, but it is not therefore out of or contrary to fixed rule. Just here, on the other hand, we must be permitted to enter our protest against the specious reasoning in Bushnell's Nature and the Supernatural, which, in our judgment, virtually does away with all miracle by reducing it to an imaginary, higher, and hitherto unknown law of divine establishment, called "moral," so as to save it from the odium of conflict with nature. A miracle, by its very definition, must be a supersedure-or a temporary violation, if you please of a well-known and fixed law of nature. It is upon precisely this point that its whole significance depends. Eliminate this element, and you destroy its entire moral force. That the laws of physical nature are administered in ultimate subservience to those of the moral universe is the economy approved no less by reason than by Scripture. But these must not be merged the one in the other, even if they should be imagined in any case to collide. Especially must we not assume the intrusion of a superior moral law into the domain of nature, supplanting it in that sphere, and so divesting a miracle of its real miraculousness. When God works a miracle he sets aside, we must suppose, a certain law or series of laws of nature for the time being, and in that particular respect, by virtue of his own superior right as creator. It is not merely the spontaneous supervention of a mightier countervailing law up to that time held in abeyance for such conjunctions. The latter assumption is only an insidious form of modern rationalism, which would fain, at all hazard, divest the miracles of the Bible of their supernatural, character. We must never forget that a miracle is a physical fact, but one in its very nature abnormal from a scientific point of view.
Nor do we overlook the argument derived from the moral change effected by the Holy Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. These are often claimed as miracles of grace. That they are supernatural, in the sense of being wrought by a power beyond and superior to human nature, is certainly true; but the fact that they are specially, or even immediately, the work of God does not prove them to be properly miraculous. For, in the first place, in this respect they are merely analogous to any act of particular divine providence, and in like manner they lack all the essential characteristics of a miracle, namely, a point-blank contradiction of natural law, the authoritative behest of an operator and a moral truth to be sanctioned. They are answers to prayer which await the divine pleasure, on the performance of certain well-known and universally fixed conditions. They are in no sense special or arbitrary. On the contrary, they are most fully under the dominion of law, and can be counted upon with the most invariable certainty. They are as sure to follow the diligent use of the appointed means as any other effect is to flow from its appropriate cause. Indeed, all the healthful and legitimate influences of the Spirit are normal and in the regular line of our own mental action (Joh 3:8). Even the afflatus of inspiration is no exception to this rule (1Co 14:32). But, in the second place, the spiritual character of the revolution at conversion places it altogether outside the category of miraculous events. These latter always have reference, more or less intimately, to the realm of physics; they appeal to the senses; they must be susceptible of ocular, audible, tangible proof. This is their only security against imposition or self-delusion. If in any case, as in the instance of the miraculous "gift of unknown tongues" in the early Church, and the expulsion of demons from the possessed, they have their seat in the mind yet they exhibit palpable evidences through the organs and acts of the body, namely, the language of the endowed, and the rational behavior of the dispossessed. In short, miracles are material evidences of a supernatural authority.
In the discussion of this whole question we would do well to see what Scripture says on the subject. There is a large class of passages, chiefly in the words of our Lord Jesus himself, which seem to give the believer the broadest privilege in this respect. For example, he said to his disciples on one occasion, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you" (Mt 17:20); and on another occasion he told them, "If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do that which is done to the fig-tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done; and all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive" (Mt 21:21-22). Elsewhere he adds another condition to this grant: "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it" (Joh 14:13-14); and again, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you" (Joh 16:23). The force of these declarations is usually parried, as to the question under consideration, by the explanation that they were addressed to the apostles as such, and intended to apply in their full sense only to them in their official capacity or at furthest only to Christian teachers in the apostolic age. It is true there is nothing in the language that thus limits them, but it is claimed that the fact of the cessation of the miracle working power proves that such was the intention of the Grantor. We suggest the query whether this very interpretation has not clipped the wings of that faith upon which the believer is here authorized to soar into the higher region of Christian privilege. For aught that legitimately appears to the contrary, if the grant has been revoked, it has been precisely and solely in consequence of unbelief in these identical promises. But, be that as it may, in point of fact, we repeat, few it any sane and orthodox Christians nowadays profess to have the requisite faith to venture upon such acts; and therefore the question is narrowed down, whether rightly or wrongly, to the commonplace sphere of nonmiraculous subjects of prayer.
There is one passage of Scripture, however, that appears to have escaped the general attention of writers and speakers on this topic, but which is. as it seems to us, peculiarly apposite, if not conclusive of the whole ground of controversy. It is as follows in the ordinary English version: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas 5:16). The context shows that this language bears most appropriately on the points we have been discussing. The apostle had just been speaking of the prayer of the united Church on behalf of the sick, assuring them that these would be efficacious; and he goes on immediately to speak of the miracle-working prayers of Elias, taking care to observe that this noted prophet was after all only "a man subject to like passions as we are," and hence obviously inferring that prayer was still as available as it had been in his case. Unfortunately the common rendering of the passage as above has confused, if not wholly perverted, its real meaning. As it now stands, it contains a palpable tautology, for "effectual prayer," of course, "availeth much." and the epithet "fervent" likewise thus becomes superfluous, as well as the qualification "of a righteous man." The single Greek word translated by "effectual fervent" (ἐνεργούμενος) literally means inwrought. The only question among interpreters is whether it may not be reflexive (middle voice), and thus signify in working itself, that is, operative or effective. This was evidently the view of our authorized translators, and they have been followed by many scholars, including Robinson (Lexicon of the N.T.) and Alford (Greek Test.), the latter of whom renders the passage after the order of the Greek words, "'The supplication of the righteous man availeth much in its working," that is, as he explains it from Huther, "The prayer of the righteous can do much in its energy." But this leaves the tautology about the same. Lange's note (Commentary, ad loc.), after reviewing the other instances of the use of the word in the N.T., approaches the true idea, "The full tension of the praying spirit under its absolute yielding to the divine impulse;" but Mombert's gloss (in the American edition), "Absolute submission to the will of God," completely neutralizes its meaning. The passire sense of the participle is required by its grammatical form, and is justified by every passage where this form occurs: e.g.sinful passions are inwrought (Ro 7:5); salvation is inwrought by endurance (2Co 1:6); death is in wrought (2Co 4:12); faith is inwrought by love (Ga 5:6); God's power is inwrought (Eph 3:20, precisely parallel with our text, as also in Colossians 1, 29), and similarly his word (1Th 2:13), and on the other hand the "mystery of iniquity" (2Th 2:7). The thought of the apostle James, therefore, is, as Michaelis (after the Greek fathers) interprets, that the saint's prayer prevails when its earnestness is divinely inspired. To this sense the illustration of Elijah is most apt, as we may see by referring especially to the history alluded to (1Ki 18:42-45). The scene is graphically described by Stanley (Lectures on Jewish History, 2d series, p. 337, Amer. ed.), but as usual he misses the spiritual import. The seven-times bent form of the prophet, with his head between his knees, was not merely "the Oriental attitude of entire abstraction;" it denoted the intense struggle of his soul after the boon which Jehovah inwardly urged him to crave. It was an agony of prayer that would not be denied, similar, though less exhaustive to that of our Savior in the garden, which we learn (Heb 5:7) was effectual as to its main object (Lu 22:43). Another example of the same energized prayer for which Elijah is adduced by the apostle occurs earlier in the account of the raising to life of the son of the widow of Zerephath, where the praying prophet "stretched himself upon the child three times" (1Ki 17:21), as if he would infuse his own ardent soul into the lifeless form (compare the more detailed narrative in the parallel case of Elisha and the Shunammite's son, 2Ki 4:34). He has had a very shallow experience of "the deep things of God" (2Co 3:10, the passage having reference to this very point) who has not felt "the Spirit itself making intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Ro 8:26). At such times the veil between the natural and the miraculous becomes thin indeed. See Cocker, Theism (N. Y. 1876, 12mo); Dawson, Nature and the Bible, p. 59, 66; Farrar, (Crit. Fist. of Free Thought, p. 395; Blackwood's Magazine, June, 1867, p. 680; Meth. Quar. Rev. Oct. 1854, p. 526; New Enlander, Oct. 1873, art. 1; Ch. Monthly, June, 1866, p. 330; Lond. Quar. Rev. Oct. 1854, p. 32; Presb. Rev. April, 1870; Bapt. Quar. Oct. 1873, art. 4; Brit. and Foe. Ev. Quar. Rev. Oct. 1873, art. 3; Theol. Medium, Jan. 1874, art. 3; Bibl. Sacra, Jan. 1870, p. 199; Jan. 1875, art. 5; Contenp. Rev. July, Aug., Oct. 1872; South. Quar. Rev. April, 1875, art. 4. Comp. SEE MIRACLE.