« НазадПродовжити »
sweep across the sky. If, on account of the fixedness of law, it is absurd to pray for rain, it is for the same reason equally absurd to pray that the divine spirit may illuminate our minds and guide our thoughts. If, then, God may answer prayer for spiritual gifts, he may, in spite of the unchangeableness of law, answer prayer for physical blessings.
But we also suggest that the position which we combat is probably untenable, on the ground that these able scientists do not, in stating their objections to prayer, use the term law with that precision of meaning that is requisite in scientific discussion. Sometimes they personify it. It seems clothed with personality, as when they tell us that the laws of nature do this and that. They often deify it, ascribing to it attributes which the devout theist ascribes only to God. This is the method of poetry rather than of science. Every thinker knows that the term law has several distinct meanings. It will be sufficient for our purpose to note barely two. We call attention to the first simply because of its diversity from the second, so that by the contrast we may add to the vividness of the second meaning, on which we propose to comment. First, we speak of moral law. It is distinguished by oughtness. We are so made that we discern a distinction be tween right and wrong; we know intuitively that they are opposites. Men universally recognizing this distinction feel that they ought to do the right and shun the wrong. This ought is mightier than all other forces which impel men to action. This distinction of right from wrong, and the oughtness which presses a man, as with the superincumbent weight of a mountain, to do the right, constitute the essence of moral law. Bentham, in his utilitarian argument in reference to morals, was so troubled with this element of oughtness that he declared that the word ought “ought to be banished from the vocabulary of morals.” From the inexorable necessities of his own being he could not say it in any other way.
Now, when we come to talk of the laws of the material universe, we have in mind a very different conception. No oughtness appears. We mean simply the processes of nature,— the ways in which things, so far as the observation of men has extended, come to pass. When the cold reaches a given degree of intensity, water freezes; we say that that is a material law. When the higher temperature of spring comes, the ice melts and vegetation starts; we call these processes laws. When vapor freezes, it takes the forms of crystals; and this process we call a material law. The profoundest scientist cannot carry his analysis any further. He knows more than a clown or a child only because, by study and extended observation, he has seen more of the processes of nature, and has generalized and grouped them. In any single example, he can only see what the ignorant may see,—that a law of nature is simply the way in which a thing, in the material world or in the world of mind, is done.
Now, since in these varied laws of nature we see that certain useful ends are met, the suggestion inevitably comes that intelligence established these laws or now works out these varied and beneficent processes. Since a law of nature is nothing more than the way in which a certain thing is accomplished, it is certainly not contrary to anything which science has discovered to consider the laws of nature simply as God's methods of doing things. Such a supposition does no violence to scientific method, while it provides a suitable cause for the beneficent element in these laws. If it is asked why these processes, or laws of nature, on the supposition that they are God's ways of working, are fixed, invariable, we find a ready answer in the biblical revelation of God's nature and character. Being absolutely perfect, when, for the first time, he did anything, he did it with absolute perfection. When a thing is perfect, there can be no change for the better, since nothing can be any more than perfect; but God cannot change, in these processes of nature, to that which would be in any sense imperfect, since that would be a contradiction of his own absolute perfection. So we find in the character of God, as presented to us in the Bible, the sufficient reason for the immutability of natural laws, when we regard them as simply his methods of acting. So when David sang, “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the highest gave his voice," he may not even in his imaginative song have uttered anything opposed to the strictest science; it may be that in such diction, poetry and science met together and kissed each other. But if these processes of nature may, without the slightest conflict with science, be considered simply the act ings of God immanent in his own creation, it is not impossible that, working by these unchangeable processes, he may answer the prayers of his children.
And it will not be difficult for us to discover by analogy how, in perfect harmony with the fact of the immutability of natural laws, God may do this. The perfect confidence of men in the fixity of natural laws underlies all their acts. Without such confidence they could not construct or work the simplest machinery. They would not dare to sail lake or ocean, lest by a change of natural laws their vessel should suddenly sink rather than float. But because they know these laws to be immutable, they use them with confidence in all their manifold activities. Now, from analogy, we are able to see how the immutability of natural laws, instead of being an obstacle standing in the way of God's answering prayer, may become rather the very means by which he answers every prayer of faith. Men, because these natural laws are unchangeable, are able by the adjustment to each other of even a very few of them to secure the most wonderful results. The adjustment to each other of a few immutable laws gives us the steam-engine, which moves most of the machinery of the civilized nations. The adjustment of a few immutable laws drives our great merchant ships around the globe. The bird which darts upward into the air and onward through it with such great velocity, instinctively adjusts a few unchangeable laws to bring about this surprising result. If men, with their limited knowledge, and the birds of the air by instinct, can use unchangeable laws to reach such marvelous and varied results, can not God, who established these laws, so adjust them to each other as to answer every true prayer breathed into his ear? Immutability of law, then, does not make prayer even for physical blessings a folly, but rather suggests to us how God, because of this very immutability, may answer every true petition.
Then we are never to forget that at the best we know but little. La Place is reported to have said, just before he died, “What we do not know is enormous.” We have discovered, by centuries of toil, a few natural laws. As the circle of our knowledge has widened, we have become aware of a still greater circle just beyond that no human mind has ever explored. And in the future, as our knowledge extends, we shall ever grow more and more keenly alive to the infinite reaches of being and of law which we do not know. What we know of the laws of the material universe compared with what we do not know, is like the handful of sand in the hour-glass compared with the vast Sahara. If man, with his very limited knowledge of unchange able laws, can by their adjustment to each other achieve so much,
ayer as bought not to no theorthing
who shall limit in his achievements Him who understands all laws, and who, by the simple act of his will, can adjust these myriads of laws to each other so as to satisfy the cry of every one of his creatures ? • Moreover, those who have arrayed science and prayer against each other have sometimes complacently sneered at those who still believe that God answers prayer as being honest enough, but pitiably unscientific. Now, such men ought not to complain, if we demand in them what they demand in others. No theory designed to account for any class of phenomena is worth anything unless it takes into consideration all the known facts and makes suitable provision for them. Those who contend that, on the basis of the immutability of natural laws, it is folly to pray, have never in their theory made full provision for the entire contents of the fact of prayer. If one thing in reference to man has been established beyond every other, it is the fact that he has distinctively a religious nature. Wherever found, be he savage or civilized, he is religious. He universally has his places of worship, rude or artistic; he has his shrines and altars, and offers to his god or gods sacrifices bloody or unbloody. Heathen, Mohammedan, and Christian alike pray. Even men who declare themselves atheists will sometimes pray, when they get into a pinch; and in their highest and best moods will utter words of praise to Him whom they declare not to exist. Now, a fact so universal as prayer must be in some way accounted for. Does it not carry the evidence in itself that there is an answer to it! We find it to be a general law of our being that satisfaction is provided for every natural and right desire. We hunger,— without us are manifold harvests and barns bursting with plenty; we thirst, without us are lakes, bubbling fountains and purling brooks; we long for the beautiful,— without us in myriads of objects is beauty more subtle and delicate than was ever expressed by the brush of the painter or the pen of the poet; we crave the sublime, ---and cataract, and mountain, and heaving ocean, and the awful storm, answer the inward desire. As, in these cases, the hunger, the thirst, the longing, and the craving are evidences within us of the satisfaction without us, so prayer, the deep longing or craving of man's religious nature, carries with it the decisive evidence that there is without an answer which will meet and satisfy it. If this be not so, then for our physical and intellectual cravings answers beautiful and complete have been provided, while the cravings of our higher religious nature have been left uncared for and unsatisfied. This a school-boy could not fail to stamp as the rankest absurdity. Prayer is either answered, or else those desires which impel man to come into communion with God are, of all the desires of his being, alone a mockery. Is any one credulous enough to believe that?
Any sound theory of prayer must also take into account another fact, namely, that of testimony. Men affirm that God has heard their prayers. From the number of witnesses let us exclude all those who might reasonably be accused of fanaticism; yet we have failed to see why the testimony of a fanatical Christian is not just as trustworthy as that of a fanatical skeptic. We will exclude, too, all witnesses who may be reasonably suspected of having had collusion with each other. Then we will sift the testimony of the clear-headed, unbiased witnesses, striking out every statement which may, with the slightest show of reason, be considered as an illusion of honest but mistaken men. Even then, the testimony gathered from the witnesses of all time that would remain, all bearing on this one point, would, if printed in books, make a vast library. Can any just theory in reference to prayer omit a fact of such magnitude? Would it be scientific to ignore all this testimony of the purest and best men that ever lived? If their testimony is declared fanatical, would that not prove too much, if mere assertion ever proves anything? Would it not show that the fanaticism of the ages has contained within itself the godliness, the purity, the virtue of the ages ? No, there is no way in which we can scientifically thrust such testimony out of sight. It stands as solid as granite, as clear as crystal, and he who would be scientific in handling the fact of prayer must take it up into his theory and account for it.
If it should be said that prayer and its supposed answer is simply a happy coincidence, we might grant that in one, or two, or three cases it may be, and do no despite to science. But take fifty cases, or five hundred, or ten thousand, and declare in every case that we have only a lucky coincidence, and such a number of coincidences would tax our credulity far more than to admit that God in reality answered the prayers : so large a number of coincidences would be a thousand-fold more mysterious than the fact that these men cried unto the Lord, and that he, in mercy and love, heard their cries and satisfied their wants. By no device can we, with a strict scientific spirit and method,