THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER.
[TO THE EDITOlt OF THE "SPECTATOR-1
SIR,—The thanks of one so obscure as myself can be of very little importance to you for your recent able and interesting article in the controversy touching the efficacy of prayer, but they are due, not merely from me, but from hundreds of others, and you must allow me, as I am sure you will, judging from your well-known courtesy to correspondents, to tender them, in my own name, and in the names of many of your readers with whom I have conversed on the subject. Your arguments are complete and strongly com- pact so far as they go, and I can hardly hope to strengthen them, but concurrent lines of thought are like parallel streams when they meet, and swell the volume and increase the force. On this principle, I would submit for consideration the following sugges- tions, which 1 think are not foreign to the point : - 1. The opponents to the belief in the efficacy of prayer assume that there is a promise that all prayers shall be answered. From whence do they get this assumption ? Possibly they would answer, from the words which we regard as divine,—" Ask and ye shall have," &c. But surely such a promise as this must be fenced and limited. This may be illustrated by the relation of parent and child. We encourage our children to give us their confidence, and to make known to us their wants. But a want made known is not necessarily a want supplied, though it may be quite in our
power to grant it, and this because, in our superior intelligence and farther-seeing wisdom, we know that the petition granted would bring with it mischievous or useless consequences, We withhold, not because we are unable to grant ; we refuse the petition not in indifference, but with the truest interest. The child sees not that now, but in after-life, when the man comes to reflect, he understands and appre- ciates. May not all this apply to the Divine Fatherhood of God? By the aide of His intelligence and age, the most cultured, the most experienced, and the most advanced in age are but the veriest children ; and even more, some of us, as we look back, can see that the withholding the coveted gift by the Divine Hand was the truest kindness and the best answer to our prayer ; and as we advance another stage, by a reasoning which we have a perfect right to use, we may expect, that " what we know not now, we shall hereafter."
2. And if the words of the Master must be limited in the matter of the promise of the fulfilment of solicitations from the Divine Hand, His life teaches exactly the same lesson. We, who accept the teaching of the New Testament, always speak of its Author's life as one of constant communion with the Father. But He asked for that which at times was denied Him, though He said, " I know that Thou hearest me always." Two memorable instances stand out : the Garden of Gethsemane was the scene of the one, and the hour that of the intense mental agony. Thrice was the prayer repeated, "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me," but it was not removed : it was drained to its last deadly drop. But in another way it was answered :—" And there appeared an angel from heaven, strength- ening him." The other was the case of St. Peter :—" Behold, Satan bath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." But his faith did fail, and then came the oath, the cowardice, and the lie. Directly, the Master's prayer was unanswered ; indirectly, in another way, it was answered,—in the repentant, experienced, and more powerful man. I do not waste space in applying ; the application is too obvious.
8. You rightly quote instances and give historical facts in illus- tration of your arguments for the truth and reality of prayer, that belief which is so dear to tens of thousands. You might have gone to biography, if you had chosen. Allow me to give you an illustration : —It was my happiness to know, near the scene of his labours, John Coleridge Patteson, whose apparently untimely death we are all lamenting. His was not a feeble intellect, or a superstitious nature, or a conventional phrase-making tongue. He was a man of excellent parts in every way, and a believer in and a practiser of prayer. Above all things, he asked those who were inter- ested in his mission to pray for its success, and his own life was forti- fied by it. The following incident in his life will illustrate what I mean :—Some years ago he landed on an island, for the second time, which he was seeking to Christianise and civilise. He desired after landing to reach the chief's hut, and to this end he asked some natives, whom he saw on the beach, to guide him thereto. They con- sented, but as he followed their leading the idea came upon him that they meant treachery, as indicated by their vehement speech, gesticulations, and angry backward glances. Uneasiness took possession of the Bishop, and he feared for his life. Presently he came to an abandoned hut, and for a few minutes he left his guides, and those moments he employed on his knees in prayer. The effect, he used to relate, bf thus commanding himself to his Divine Father—soul and body— was wonderful ; all fear left him, and he came out of that but regardless of consequences ; and upon his treacherous guides the effect was no less wonderful,—they gradually ceased to plot, and at last one of them turned, confessed the treachery, and offered to lead him back to his boat in safety. Was this the superstitious feelings of a weak mind, or the deep realities of the supernatural in answer to prayer ?—I am, Sir, &c., A STLEY COOPER.