Imágenes de páginas

thousands. Israel, at the base of Sinai and in view of the dreadful tokens of Jehovah's presence, is guilty of defection from His service and bows down in worship to a calf of gold. The anger of God is kindled and threatened judgment hurtles like a storm over the guilty camp. Moses throws himself into the breach, prays for the pardon of his people, and the Almighty hand is arrested which was about to discharge the bolts of retributive justice upon an idolatrous and apostate


There are other passages, still, in which the case is even more clearly made out. I allude to those in which we are directed to pray for temporal blessings, and the promise extended that we shall be heard. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer thee." In this and similar passages we are directed to pray for deliverance from temporal evil, and the assurance is given that God will, in answer to prayer, accomplish it for us. In the words immediately preceding the text the apostle directs that, in the case of one who is sick, the elders of the church should be sent for to offer prayer for his recovery, and the declaration is made that the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him. It would seem superfluous to say that it is inconceivable that an influence which is merely internal to ourselves can deliver us from evil, or restore us to health. For if it be conceded that it is not our prayers, but the power of God which accomplishes these results, the theory of a subjective influence is confessedly relinquished, as the Scriptures assure us that that power is exerted in answer to prayer.

Joshua, the great leader of Israel, in the midst of conflict with their foes, prays that the sun and moon

might stand still, and the day pauses in its course that ample time might be furnished to reap the fruits of victory. David prays to God that his afflicted people might be spared from the ravages of the pestilence that was mowing them down by thousands, and the destroying angel stops in his path of desolation, closes his baleful wings and sheathes his devouring sword. Hezekiah, the sick king of Judah, turns his face to the wall and with weeping prays for his recovery. At the entreaty of the prophet Isaiah the shadow on the dialplate goes backward ten degrees in attestation of the fact that God had heard his prayer, and fifteen years are added to his life. Elijah stretches himself upon the corpse of the widow's son, and cries unto the Lord: "O Lord, my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again”; the disembodied spirit returns. He takes the child alive in his arms, brings him down from the chamber of death, and places him in the bosom of his astonished and enraptured mother. The glorious prophet prays again. Single-handed and alone he copes with the banded prophets of Baal in the presence of his idolatrous countrymen. He calls upon the living God, and fire flashes from mid-heaven, rushes down upon the victim on the altar, and licks up the running water in the trenches. Once more he prays. On the top of Carmel he bows his head between his knees. He pleads for rain upon a parched and dying country; and the brazen heavens pour down the grateful floods, the iron earth drinks in the descending waters. Well may the apostle exclaim, in the words of the text, in referring to this illustrious instance of successful prayer, the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of

three years and six months; and he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. Jonah, from the bosom of the great deep, cries to God for deliverance, and is cast out upon dry land; and the wicked city of Nineveh, alarmed by his stern proclamation of her impending doom, prostrates herself before God in prayer, and averts the threatening ruin. Peter is cast into prison, bound with chains and watched by the vigils of a Roman guard. Prayer is made for him without ceasing by the assembled church. An angel descends into the dungeon, strikes off the chains from the prisoner's limbs, opens the prison-doors, and sends the liberated apostle to surprise the throng of suppliants with the answer to their prayers.

Such are some of the instances, my brethren, which the Scriptures furnish to illustrate the positive and productive efficacy of prayer, and to vindicate it from the representations of professed friends who would cripple its heavenly power by degrading it into an influence which is merely subjective and internal. And let us not be told that all that is proved by these cases is that there is a concurrence, a coincidence between prayer and these outward results. We might be content with such an admission, for it is fatal to the theory which has been considered. If the concurrence is that of an appointed antecedence and sequence, then prayer is not simply experimental. It is tied by divine appointment to the objective and outward result. It is necessary to its occurrence. It is that without which the outward result would not take place. So God has ordained and as He has been pleased to require prayer of us in order to His bestowal of blessings upon ourselves and others, and has declared that when effectual and fervent it availeth much, we accept His testimony, let the wise men of this world philosophize as they may.



James v: 16. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

In bringing the present series of discourses to a conclusion, I would today invite your attention, my friends, to the consideration of a specious objection, professing to be grounded in philosophical principles, which has frequently been urged against the utility, the efficacy, and even the possibility of prayer. It is contended that the world is governed by general laws which are fixed and uniform in their operation, and that, therefore, it is idle if not absurd to suppose that any emotions which we may experience, or any prayers which may be dictated by our desires, can exercise an influence upon the undeviating course of nature. No exceptions can be supposed to arise in favor of individuals. They must be content to have their lot assigned them under the general and impartial system of law. This objection to prayer has been forcibly and ingeniously expressed by Pope in his Essay on Man.

[ocr errors]

NOTE.—This sermon was also used as the basis of a baccalaureate discourse at Washington College, in 1869, during the presidency of General Robert E. Lee. The sermon was not preached as written, for in addition to the earnestness and spiritual fervor that always characterized Dr. Girardeau's preaching, on this occasion his heart was so stirred by his return to the State where, as chaplain, he had prayed and preached and suffered; the attendance of a large audience containing not only college students and professors, but also many distinguished visitors; and the presence of the former commander of the armies of the Confederacy, that he soon forgot his manuscript and preached with the same freedom and power that had so often thrilled the soldiers of the South. General Lee was among those who made no effort to control their emotions.

“Think we, like some weak prince, the Eternal Cause,
Prone for his favorites to reverse his laws?
Shall burning Etna, if a sage requires,
Forget to thunder, and recall her fires;
On air or sea new motions be imprest,
O blameless Bethel, to relieve thy breast;
When the loose mountain trembles from on high,
Shall gravitation cease, if you go by?"

This is the difficulty which I propose to examine; and it must be admitted that it possesses an apparent justification in the discoveries of science which gives it a certain weight with minds not thoroughly imbued with the doctrines of Scripture, or not convinced by their own actual experience of the incontestable benefits of prayer. I venture, however, to express the hope that an inquiry into the theory on which the objection is based will show that it lacks the support even from reason which at first it appears to furnish.

I. Let it now, in the first place, for the sake of argument, be assumed, what, however, I am not willing to concede as a fact, that the world of nature is governed simply and purely by general laws. The first question, in the way of definition, which would arise for settlement is, What is nature, what does it include? What is that which is stated to be the subject of this government of law? Evidently there is comprehended in the term both departments of what is called nature, the material and the spiritual, or, if that phraseology be objected to, matter and mind. In the position that the world is controlled by general laws it must be meant that the world of matter and the world of mind are alike under the operation of this system of rule. If it be contended that mind is but matter of a finer texture

« AnteriorContinuar »