( Originally Published 1879 )
PRAYER is an action of likeness to the Holy Ghost, the spirit of gentleness and dove-like simplicity; an imitation of the holy Jesus, whose spirit is meek, up to the greatness of the biggest example; and a conformity to God, whose anger is always just, and marches slowly, and is without transportation, and often hindered, and never hasty, and is full of mercy. Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts; it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness; and he that prays to God with an angry, that is, with a troubled and discomposed spirit, is like him that retires into a battle to meditate, and sets up his closet in the out-quarters of an army, and chooses a frontier garrison to be wise in. Anger is a perfect . alienation of the mind from prayer, and therefore is contrary to that attention which presents our prayers in a right line to God. For so have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring upward, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest than it could recover by the libration and frequent weighing of his wings; till the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the air about his minis-tries here below: so is the prayer of a good man: when his affairs have required business, and his business was matter of discipline, and his discipline was to pass upon a sinning person, or had a design of charity, his duty met with the infirmities of a man, and anger was its instrument, and the instrument became stronger than the prime agent, and raised a tempest, and overruled the man; and then his prayer was broken, and his thoughts were troubled, and his words went up toward a cloud, and his thoughts pulled them back again, and made them without intention, and the good man sighs for his infirmity, but must be content to lose the prayer, and he must recover it when his anger is removed, and his spirit is becalmed, made even as the brow of Jesus, and smooth like the heart of God; and then it ascends to heaven upon the wings of the holy dove, and dwells with God, till it returns, like the useful bee, laden with a blessing and the dew of heaven.
God respecteth not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how neat they are; nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they are; nor the music of our prayers, how melodious they are; nor the logic of our prayers, how methodical they are—but the divinity of our prayers, how heart-sprung they are. Not gifts, but graces, prevail in prayer. Perfect prayers, without a spot or blemish, though not one word be spoken, and no phrases known to mankind be tampered with, always pluck the heart out of the earth and move it softly like a censer, to and fro, beneath the face of heaven.
Prayer is a constant source of invigoration to self-discipline; not the thoughtless praying, which is a thing of custom, but that which is sincere, intense, watchful. Let a man ask himself whether he really would have the thing he prays for ; let him think, while he is praying for a spirit of forgiveness, whether, even at that moment, he is disposed to give up the luxury of anger. If not, what a horrible mockery it is ! Do not say you have no convenient place to pray in. Any man can find a place private enough, if he is disposed. Our Lord prayed on a mountain, Peter on the house-top, Isaac in the field, Nathaniel under the fig-tree, Jonah in the whale's belly. Any place may become a closet, an oratory, and a Bethel, and be to us the presence of God.
To present a petition is one thing; to prosecute a suit is another. Most prayers answer to the former; but successful prayer corresponds to the latter. God's people frequently lodge their petition in the court of heaven, and there they let it lie. They do not press their suit. They do not employ other means of furthering it beyond the presenting of it. The whole of prayer does not consist in taking hold of God. The main matter is holding on. How many are induced by the slightest appearance of repulse to let go, as Jacob did not! We have been struck with the manner in which petitions are usually concluded—"And your petitioners will ever pray." So "men ought always pray (to God) and never faint." Payson says, " The promise of God is not to the act, but to the habit of prayer."
Though prayer should be the key of the day, and the lock of the night, yet we hold it more needful in the morning, than when our bodies do take their repose. For howsoever sleep be the image or shadow of death—and when the shadow is so near, the substance cannot be far—yet a man at rest in his chamber is like a sheep impenned in the fold; subject only to the unavoidable and more immediate hand of God: whereas in the day, when he roves abroad in the open and wide pastures, he is then exposed to many more unthought-of accidents, that contingently and casually occur in the way : retiredness is more safe than business: who believes not a ship securer in the bay than in the midst of the boiling ocean? Besides, the morning to the day, is as youth to the life of a man: if that be begun well, commonly his age is virtuous : other-wise, God accepts not the latter service, when his enemy joys in the first dish. Why should God take the dry bones, when the devil bath sucked the marrow out?
Not a few, too, owe their escape from skepticism and infidelity to its sacred influence. Said the noted John Randolph, "I once took the French side in politics; and I should have been a French atheist, if it had not been for one recollection; and that was the memory of the time when my departed mother used to take my little hands in hers, and cause me on my knees to say, ` Our Father, who art in heaven."
"The parents pair their secret homage,