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our complaints of wandering and distraction, and unseasonable thoughts, and unconsciousness of God's presence.? Would they wonder that it is so with us? I trow not. Should we not hear: “In the evening, and morning, and at noonday will I pray, and that instantly, and He shall hear my voice,” “ Seven times a day do I praise Thee, because of Thy righteous judgments.” “ Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might be occupied in Thy law.”
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: yea, I say, more than they that watch for the morning.” “My voice shalt Thou hear betimes, o Lord: early in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up.” “At midnight will I rise to give thanks unto Thee, because of Thy righteous judgments." “ I have thought upon Thy name in the night season, and have kept Thy law."'*
I will add only two remarks, and then conclude.
1. First, it is plain that there can be no exact measure of time fixed for our prayers. If any were fixed, we should be in great danger of forming a mechanical habit, and of resting in it when mechanically fulfilled. It is the very character of our trial that we are under a law of liberty. It were easier to many to recite a prescribed number of prayers in a prescribed space of time, than to say one prayer
with devotion. This is a wholesome and necessary admonition to those who have the blessing of the daily prayers of the Church. The salt which alone can keep the daily service from corruption is increased prayer in private. If this “ have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted ?” In such frequent, prolonged, public, and, I may say, familiar approaches to God, there is great danger of forming a hard, business-like insensibility in the very act
* Psalm lv. 17; cxix. 164, 148 ; cxxx. 6 ; cxix. 62, 55.
of praying. No time, then, can be exactly prescribed. The end alone can measure what is needful. And that end is, the fellowship of a wakeful and collected mind with God. No time that fails to attain this, be it short or long, is enough. But though no measure of time can be fixed for all, yet one thing it is safe to say: we ought all of us to be longer on our knees before God than we are at present. And longer we should be, if we truly knew our own state, or if we had so much as a moment's clear perception of the awfulness of God's presence, or of the bliss of perfect prayer. This at least may be said, that to hurry suddenly into His presence, and to hurry out of it again, is no sign of our so much as understanding the first idea of worship. There is something irreverent in these sudden transitions ; as if our minds were always meet to approach Him, and there were nothing needed but a momentary act of our will. Our
prayers cannot fail to be full of distraction, if we enter upon them without first setting ourselves, by acts of conscious recollection, in His presence. What, after all, is the key of our distractions, but the fact that we so faintly realize the presence of God when we are upon our knees ? Another practical rule is this: we may be sure that we do not give time enough to prayer, so long as either the ordinary habits of our life continue to thrust themselves in upon our devotions, or our habits of devotion fail to check and sanctify the ordinary habits of our life. Till we reach this point, we shall be in no danger of giving too much time to our prayers; and that is a sufficient and a safe practical answer, and a good rule to go by.
2. The other remark I would make is, that there are peculiar difficulties and temptations attending a habit of prayer, by which people are often greatly distressed. The more they endeavor to prolong their acts of prayer, the more
sensible they become of the instability and levity of their minds. Many feel this in respect to the prayers of the Church, especially when the Holy communion is administered. But perhaps the commonest form of this trial is in the daily service. Really earnest people, who delight in being, day by day, before the altar, and would not forfeit the prayers of morning and evening for any inducement, do nevertheless sometimes go through the whole service with a perfectly absent mind. At the beginning of every prayer they resolve to unite their desires to it throughout, and at the end come to themselves again, and perceive that all has been a blank before them. This is very disquieting, and fills them with painful and mistrustful thoughts. It is indeed a matter for compunction and humiliation. It is a token of their great spiritual infirmity. But it is a good thing to be made painfully aware of it. And this is one of the benefits resulting from the length of the prayers, and from the habit of daily service. It acts as a detector to test and exhibit their true internal state. With shorter and less frequent services they might have gone on for ever without finding out their secret indevotion; and all the while it would be no less real, though undiscovered. It is good to be convicted, lest we deceive ourselves. And the use we should make of the offices of the Church when we cannot follow them is, to chastise our indevotion by them, and to strengthen the habits of silence, reverence, and attention, which are the basis of a devout spirit. Even though, through our weakness or our sin, we fail to sustain our conscious and direct prayers, yet frequent and stated returns to God's presence lay the foundations of obedience, and obedience is the very source of fervent prayer. In the relaxed state of our spiritual discipline, it is good to have this undesigned, though somewhat austere rule. There is
another part of our public worship, which, though not intended, supplies a highly beneficial practice of devotion. I mean, the great length of time while the Holy Sacrament is being distributed to communicants.
Some people strongly and inconsiderately complain of this. But it is a blessed and wholesome thing to be so encompassed, as it were, by the presence of God, that for a while we cara employ ourselves in nothing but prayer and meditation. In our busy, excited, intellectual, distracted life, it is a good thing to have even our mental activity for a while forcibly suspended, and our minds left wholly without support or stay, except in the thought of God. It is good to have even religious books withdrawn for a time; for manuals of devotion often divert the mind from its own personal acts, and substitute the thought of devotion for the reality. While the Body and Blood of Christ are being given to His people at the altar, we can do nothing but turn inwardly upon our own consciousness of His presence with us, and of our actual state before Him. Let us, then, look upon all trials and difficulties in prayer as no more than we must meet in the discipline of every part of a holy life. And let us be thankful that we are in any way brought to know how far we are fallen from God, how unmeet for the inheritance of the saints in light, whose ministry of love and worship has no intermission; only let the consciousness of our distractions in prayer make us pray oftener, and more; for by prayer alone can they be overcome. There is no other
Let us, in spite of all, cleave to this, and we shall find all well at last, when we shall no longer worship Him under the veil of His unseen Presence, but before the Throne, where our "eyes shall behold the King in His beauty.”
SERMON XIX. .
THE LONGSUFFERING OF CHRIST,
St. Matthew xviii. 21, 22. “ Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother
sin against me, and I forgive him ? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
In St. Luke's Gospel this same answer is given with a change of expression which makes it even more emphatic : “ Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."* In St. Matthew's Gospel, the parable of the two servants who owed, the one ten thousand talents, and the other an hundred pence, immediately follows. It is therefore evident, that the great law of mutual forgiveness is founded both on the law of nature, and on the fact of the still greater forgiveness which we have received at God's hand. If He have forgiven us so much, what is there that we shall not forgive our brother? if He have forgiven us so
* St. Luke xvii. 3, 4.