« PreviousContinue »
considered better Christians if they had perpetrated a little less of the robbery, rape and murder for which they rendered themselves notorious in France. A loss of such religion would have improved their Christianity. In truth, in a description con amore of the wars which followed the French Revolution, the less there is said of Christianity, the better.
In conclusion, it seems to us that, as a military and political writer, Mr. Alison deserves credit for general ability, though frequently incorrect; but, as a moralist and Christian philosopher, he is utterly unsound — looking at his work as a whole ; for what is unexceptionable in this department of his work, is more than neutralized by that which is of decidedly evil tendency. As a historian and geographer, he has been severely criticised, and it appears to us, justly; and, unless his last edition is truly a “revised and corrected” one, “ Alison's History of Europe" is far from being sufficiently near perfection to insure it an immortality of fifty years. Its bodily form may cumber the shelves of libraries for centuries, but the early editions, at least, will be looked upon, by all future historians, as untrustworthy, dead for all the purposes of history. Nevertheless, we desire distinctly to admit that much of this work perhaps the greater part of it, counting by pages is worthy, taken separately, of admiration and praise ; and, had it not been that with this there was so much contradictory and erroneous matter mingled, we should have been engaged in the pleasant task of quoting from, and commending the former, instead of the less agreeable one of noticing a very small portion of the latter.
ART. II. - ON THE RELUCTANCE TO PRAY.
The remark has been frequently made by thoughtful observers, that there is in our modern world a decline from the ritual devotion of former days. There was far more of visible devotion among the Greeks and Romans than is to be seen in our Christian communities. The same comparison may be made between the Catholics and the Protest
ants, and between the Puritans and their successors. There is a reaction from the old formalism. The very disappearance of the altar from our Protestant forms, not to say of sacrifices altogether from our Christian usages, is symbolical of the change.
But we must go deeper, if we would describe the entire defect or the whole difficulty. There is a reluctance to pray; not Pagan nor Mahommedan, nor Catholic nor Protestant; it is human. That is, it appertains, in a certain condition of mind, to all men. And so common is this condition, that it may be said of most men, they do not love to pray or to offer praise to God. It is not agreeable to them, in the morning or at evening, to kneel down, or in any attitude, no matter what, to gather up their thoughts into a reverential and solemn mood, and to offer up humble and grateful homage to their Maker.
Now, into the causes and remedies for this state of mind, we propose to inquire. And first, into the causes of it.
That human nature is imperfect, erring and depraved, that the spiritual faculties in most men are not duly cultivated, that most men are worldly and are drawn with the strongest attraction to worldly objects; all this is evident. And yet this is not true to such an extent, that nothing is left in them of reverence or enthusiasm for what is venerable and lovely. We cannot admit that humanity is so completely severed from Divinity, that there is between them no bond whatever. It is not in consistency with such a presumption, that Heaven speaks to men. It appeals to a conscience, a sense of right, a feeling capable of rendering homage to infinite excellence. Its rebuke of impiety, its condemnation of sin, could have no meaning, if there were not such a feeling.
Nor is this estrangement from God, or this specific indisposition to pray, grateful or welcome to many who feel it. We have seen the most bitter tears shed over the confession of this reluctance. We have seldom witnessed greater mental distress than this confession has cost many persons with whom we have conversed. “I am not altogether bad,” such an one has said to us; “I do not hate my Maker, horrible thought! I am not altogether insensible to his goodness; I am sometimes overcome with it; I wish to cherish the sense of it; but I do not love to pray or to offer praise, at a certain hour, in a certain manner; I almost despair of it; I fear that I shall never love to pray.”
Now why is all this? What is this difficulty ? Let us consider it calmly and kindly. We have no desire to cast reproaches upon any one. Our purpose is not to lay down rigid tests of piety. We would persuade to prayer, rather than exact it. Rationally and patiently let us consider what are the difficulties.
Let us observe, then, in the first place, that prayer is a great, a stupendous act of the mind. To address our thoughts to God, is the most overawing, the most overwhelming exercise to which our faculties can be put. It is not strange that our weakness sometimes shrinks from it. Dr. Johnson once said, in a weak and low state of mind, concerning a companion* with whom he was accustomed to have a keen encounter of wits, “If I were to meet him now, it would kill me." How well then might one of old say, “Lo! I have taken upon me to speak unto God, who am but dust; oh! let not the Lord be angry and I will speak!” How justly says the divine Milton, “May I express thee unblamed ! Prayer is easier to children; because they less feel what it is. Prayer, for this reason, is easier to the infancy of the world. The more form, and the less feeling there was in it, the less did it awe and overcome the mind. Prayer, for a similar reason, is easier in a company and crowd of worshippers. It seems, as it were, to divide the burthen. The individual approach to God more distinctly summons the faculties of a man to their loftiest employment. Not always, nor easily, is the mind ready for that action; and therefore meditation should accompany and precede it. We would not fail of that sublimity of thought, of aspiration ; we would not fail of that great resort; but sometimes we shrink in awe from its grandeur.
Let us admit, in the next place, that there is a certain irksomeness in formality. Feeling does not love form ; unless it be occasionally, unless it be in a certain mood, unless it be very strong. The patriot, burning with zeal, in some emergency might feel impelled to swear fidelity on his country's altar. His whole soul might leap into that act. But with our feelings this is not the ordinary mood. We love our families, our friends. But if every morning we met together to express that affection formally and at some length, this would not be grateful.* Why, then, it may be asked, do you recommend formalities in religion? We answer, that we would take heed that there should not be too much form; we would that meditation and reading should mingle largely with private devotion; and that the devotion itself should not be too much confined to any specific act or attitude. But why insist upon it at all? Because we do not believe that the deep impression upon the heart, of the Infinite and Unseen Reality, is likely ever to be made in any other way. Man we meet in a visible form ; but to feel the presence of an invisible Being requires that we meditate upon him and strive to draw near to him. Because, also, there is a fitness and beauty in such offerings. And because God in his wisdom has been pleased to appoint prayers to be offered; and our Saviour has counselled us to make them to a certain extent private, saying, “ Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret."
* Mr. Burke.
We would not construe this precept into painful constraint, into any necessarily irksome formality. There may be those, who many times a day fulfil the precept in spirit, without literally retiring to any solitary place. They pray in a crowd, on the mart, in the warehouse and countingroom, in the field and by the way. In the secresy of their souls they pray. Blessed are those who thus hallow the world with prayer. But if it be otherwise with us; if the world sweeps away from us, in its business or cares or pleasures, all thoughts of God; if day after day passes without any reverent communion with the Unseen Spirit; then we say, it is meet that we should bring our thoughts to a solemn stand and charge them not to forget God, our Maker, our Sustainer, our Benefactor, our Infinite Friend. It is a brutish thing to live without learning aught of the Infinite Glory and Goodness that surround us. Better it be learned with pain, with painful formalities, with set and severe determination, than not be learned at all. So are many things learned — languages, sciences, arts; and so, if it be possible no otherwise, should we study to know the Infinite, the All-wise, and All-beautiful. So, if we would cultivate an art, should we resort to a Gallery to study; even though it were with some inconvenience, even though some of the processes were irksome. We might indolently prefer that high accomplishment were breathed into us from the air, or were an endowment of natural genius; but lofty attainment does not come so in anything.
* It would not be grateful, partly because it would be in bad taste, and because it would wear an air of profession; considerations which do not apply to the secret approach of man to his Maker.
In the third place, we must observe that the common associations with prayer are not attractive. If prayer had always stood upon the earth with lofty attitude, with up ard gaze, with a countenance kindling with joy, with a mien and brow of angel majesty, then might it have appeared to men as a glorious and blessed employment. But now, cloaked with gloom, and bowed to the earth, and bathed in tears, does it often appear; and that is not an attractive picture. All this, no doubt, is often proper ; but it has been too exclusively the character of prayer; and we have not learned what a glorious, sublime and beatific thing
We are not, indeed, to discard or neglect either the social or religious nature; but we believe a wise man would say, “Let me be confined in a dungeon far from all human intercourse, rather than be shut out from communion with my Maker!'
In fine, there are two methods of approach to the Supreme Being; the one is the way of mere ritual, the other is the way of reflection. To childhood, to the world's infancy, to ignorance, to blind acquiescence, mere ritual may be more tolerable. But as the mind advances in culture, mere ritual, without reflection, becomes painful. If prayer is regarded solely as a duty, as something commanded, as something necessary to salvation, to escape from hell, it will engage in fact some of our noblest affections against it. There must be reflection, then. When we have talked with persons in that painful state of mind, instead of directly combating it, we have sometimes engaged with them in conversation upon the infinite goodness of God, upon his infinite love and kindness to us, upon the infinite beauty and glory of his nature; and such an one has said, “Now all is changed to me; now I could pray,
it is to pray: