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SHORT DEVOTIONS A HINDRANCE TO PRAYER.
ST. LUKE vi. 12.
“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain
to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”
We are not to suppose, because we read this only once in the Gospels, that it was only this once in His life that our blessed Lord spent all the night in prayer. The history of His words and deeds, as it is written by the Evangelists, does not profess to give all that He said or did. Indeed, St. John expressly declares, “ There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."* We have but a small part in the four Gospels; and yet that part is so recorded as to contain, imply, and extend over' all the rest. If we may reverently use a phrase of so critical a sound, it may be said that they contain the perfect idea and outline of His character, together with such instances as express the whole habit and principle of His life. Therefore these words of St. Luke inay be taken to imply, not
* St. John xxi. 25.
only that He passed that particular night alone in prayer, or in an oratory* on the mountain, as the words may mean, but that such was His wont; that long retirement and protracted communing with God were habitual to Him. Now the point I would notice is, the great length of time He thus gave to prayer; and we will consider how far it has the force of an example or precept to us. Many people will say, that it applies to us, if at all, in a very remote and restricted way; and the arguments they bring are not without a show of reason. But a little deeper thought will convince us that the reverse is true. We will, however, take the chief objections, and weigh them one by one.
1. It is commonly said, that such prolonged acts of prayer issued from the perfection of His divine Person ; that they were, so to speak, attributes of One who was without sin, and in unbroken fellowship with God. It cannot be denied that there is truth in this. We know that angels, who "excel in strength,” serve God without intermission : and the heavenly hosts, in their adoration, “ rest not day and night.” In fact, it may be said that sustained devotion is a perfection—an endowment of those who are delivered from the power of sin. And a powerful argument comes in aid of this, from the sensible fact of our distraction and weariness in prayer, which seem to be universal, and to cleave to us, even to the best of men, to the end of life. But does not this objection put out of sight the
. most important truth of all? It is indeed most true, that the sustained and blissful communion which He held with His Father—a converse without the wandering of a desire or thought, a fellowship of consolation, strength, and peace -that this, indeed, is beyond our reach. Few attain, even
* εν τη προσευχή του Θεού.
in kind, an approach to it; and they seldom; and many never. They who enjoy it are admitted to it only for a while and at seasons; with long intervals and uncertain returns. In this, indeed, the example of our Master finds but a restricted counterpart in us. Yet it does not take off the force of it. His prayers were blissful as He was perfect; but ours are necessary because of our imperfections. We must not, however, suppose that His prayers were only adorations, because from one who stands in need of nothing. It is a mystery of faith, how He that filleth all should pray
а as if needing of another’s fullness; yet it is only the mystery of the Incarnation in its consequences. It is akin to His temptation and His agony, in which He was ministered to and strengthened by angels. And we are expressly told that He prayed “ with strong crying and tears,” “and was heard in that He feared."* His prayers were uttered out
"' of the depths of His sinless infirmities, and had their answers from on high ; but in what way we know not, nor shall do well too curiously to seek. This brings His example nearer to us. His nights of prayer, then, were not simple exercises of His exceeding spiritual strength; they were also the earnest cleaving of man to God. And if the infirmities of a sinless being drew Him so mightily to God, how much more ought the sin that is in us to drive us to the Divine Presence for healing and for strength! The contrast of our weakness with His perfection gives us no discharge from His example : rather, it adds a greater force. It brings out a farther and deeper reason, which makes the law of prayer to us the very condition of life. If we do not pray, we perish. It is no answer to say we are weak, and cannot continue in prayer as He. That very weakness is in itself the necessity which forces us to
* Heb v. 7.
pray. His perfect prayers are only the standard we must aim at-the pattern of what our prayers should be. If ours are unlike His, so much the greater need to give ourselves to greater devotion : the more unlike, the more need there is to pray. All that can be made of this objection, then, is this: Such is our sinful and weak state, that His perfect devotions are beyond our strength. And the conclusion that follows is, therefore, not that we may contentedly aim at a lower rule, but that we ought all the more to humble, and train ourselves upon a discipline which leads to His perfection. In a word, the very objection which pleads the difficulty of following His example, proves the necessity which constrains us to follow it.
2. Again, it is often said, “ There can be no doubt that more time ought to be given by us all to the duty of prayer. Well were it if we were able to follow, in all things, the example of our Lord; but this is plainly impossible. We are entangled in the world, burdened by its duties and its employments; our time is not our own; it is very hard to get an unbroken hour. There is always something demanding our whole attention : business, labor, the claims of others, the harmless usages of society, the charities of life, the cares of home, the service of the sick and poor, the instruction of children, and the like. In a word, it is impossible for those who live an active and a busy life to find time for long private devotions."
From the tone in which some people speak, one would think that our blessed Master had lived a leisurely and unimpeded life; that He had nothing else to do but to live alone in retirement and solitude, in prayer and contemplation: and this of One, whose whole life was toil, amid crowds and multitudes, hungry and wayworn, full of calls and interruptions. Certainly the life of our Lord exhibits to us the most perfect example of constant employments. If anything in it be prominent, it is the multitude of works, the never-ending service of all that came or sent for Him, in sick chambers, in homes of sorrow, in synagogues, in Pharisees' houses, in the Temple, in the mid-stream of men. It were rather true to say, that hardly any man's life was ever yet so broken in upon, and taken from Him by labor, and care, and the importunity of others, as His; and yet He is to us the perfect example of devotion. It was the toil of the day that turned His night into a vigil. That which we plead as excuse was the very cause why “He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” In which He teaches us, that whatever else we forego, we may not forego our prayers; whatever else is at our will to give up, this is not ; however necessary we may think other things, this is the thing needful above all; our work must be done, and yet our devotions must not be left undone. Our Lord's example in this is especially pointed and instructive to those who are wont to plead their worldly duties in excuse. He has abolished this plea beforehand ; He has exposed its untruth by anticipation; and, moreover, He has taught us that here again the very reverse of this excuse is the truth. They who live in the world are so far from being released from stricter habits of private devotion, that they, above all, need them most. The busier their daily thoughts, the greater need of recollection at night. The more closely the world presses upon them all day long, the more need is there for them to break loose from it, and to give themselves up again to God, when the day is done. What else remains to them? If the world has indeed the dominion of their days; if so long as light lasts, their whole activity and all its powers must be given to trade, or merchandise,