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How Offered: How Answered
by Chauncey Giles
IV. Conditions and Nature of Genuine Prayer
“But when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast
shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father
which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” — Matthew vi. 6.
In these words the Lord, our infinitely wise teacher and unchanging friend, instructs us concerning the conditions and nature of sincere, genuine, effective prayer. He teaches us where we must offer it, what precautions we must use to guard against the disturbance of our thoughts and affections while we are engaged in it, and to whom we must direct it. He tells us where to find our Heavenly Father, how to get access to Him, and encourages us to look into the infinite secrets of the Divine love and wisdom, with the assurance that the Lord will reward us openly for every step we take in the knowledge of Divine truth, and the life of the Divine love.
As the Lord is infinitely wise, this instruction must be given in an infinitely wise way; it must be adapted to all states of progress from the first steps of spiritual discipleship to the wisdom of the highest angels. It must be adapted to all times and adequate to all wants. A part of the natural directions are simple and easily understood. A child knows what it is to enter a closet and shut the door and pray to the Father, but the wisest may not fully comprehend what is meant by the Father in secret, by His seeing in secret, and how He will reward us openly. When we penetrate beneath the surface of the natural meaning, we come into the wide realm of causes. We pass out of the shadows and illusions of the material world into the light of the permanent and the real. Taking the doctrines of spiritual truth for our guide and light, let us see to what secret treasures of love and wisdom they will lead us, and what rewards they will openly reveal to us.
1. First let us find the closet we are directed to enter. The word translated “closet” means an inner chamber, or a treasury where the most precious things are kept. It is the most retired and secret room in the house, where its occupants are hidden from outward observation. Such a closet is to a house as the heart, or the will and the affections, are to the human mind. The heart is the treasury of the soul. There are deposited all our most precious treasures; there are the ends and motives of life which are the standards by which we measure all values,— “out of the heart are the issues of life.” There we have laid up our treasures of money and lands, of knowledge and position. There are all whom we love. Enter and look around. You will see their faces, though some may be in other lands and some in other worlds. There, also, and only there can we find the Lord. The kingdom of God is within us. The Lord can only dwell in His own kingdom, in the love and wisdom which are akin to His own nature and which are from Himself. The closet into which we are directed to enter is formed by our inmost affections, the primary ends of life. There our Heavenly Father dwells in secret.
2. How do we enter that inner, secret chamber of the soul? By a severe scrutiny of the real ends we seek in prayer. The hypocrite does not enter the closet; he stands in the synagogue or in the corners of the streets. He is not seeking the Father in secret, but the popular ear without. Those who pray in a merely formal and mechanical manner do not pass into the inner chamber of the soul; they stand without in the memory or doctrine alone and pray to empty space. Those only enter the closet who go down to the inmost recesses of their motives; who form some distinct idea of what they desire; of the august and glorious Being whom they have come to meet, and whose forgiveness and blessing they desire to implore. Search the motives which lead you to pray. When you enter the closet take the Divine truth with you as a light. Let it reveal your worldly and selfish affections; let it throw its pure and searching light into every corner and hiding-place of your most hidden motives. In thought, guided by the light of Divine truth, we enter the closet.
3. “And when thou hast shut thy door.” What door? The door of entrance into the closet, the door which separates the inmost recesses of the soul from the more external principles of our nature. Truth is a door because it gives us access to the principles, laws, and order of the causes and substances to which it relates. Love is a door which admits us into the secret and most exquisite blessings of life. Every false principle and evil desire is a door which opens into the realms of darkness, sorrow, and death. To enter the chamber and shut the door is directly contrary to the practice of the hypocrite, or of those who think they will be heard for their much speaking. It consists in acting without regard to the opinions, the censure, or the applause of men. The hypocrite prays to be seen of men: the true Christian to be seen of the Lord. We are naturally in evils and false principles which lead us to look outwardly to men and to ourselves for the gratification of our selfish and worldly desires. These desires will struggle to keep possession of our thoughts and affections, and when we shut the door against them they will clamor for admission. The door is formed by truths which reveal their true character, and we must be faithful and resolute in shutting it.
4. How can we shut this door? Evidently by ceasing to think falsely and to act wickedly. A truth or falsity is shut when we cease to acknowledge it, or to think of it. A good or evil affection is shut when we cease to act according to it. The mind, like the material body, is a series of organic spiritual forms. They open or close according to the influences which act upon them. They are under the control of the will, like the eye, and we can open or shut them at our pleasure. When we enter our closets to pray we should shut the door against all worldly and selfish considerations. This means more than at first may appear. It implies that we exclude worldly and selfish motives from our prayers; that we ask primarily only for spiritual and heavenly blessings, and that we desire natural blessings only so far as they can be kept subordinate to our regeneration and the development of a heavenly character.
These directions are not limited to formal and stated prayer, though they apply specifically to it. They apply to the whole of life. We carry this inner chamber with us into all our business, into our recreations and pleasures. Our real prayer is the motives from which we act. From those motives arise constant aspirations. We really “pray without ceasing.” The lovers of self and the world are more devout and assiduous in their devotions than Christians. They enter their closets and shut their door against the light of truth, against their neighbor, against the Lord, and open it wide to every breath of influence which favors their selfish and worldly designs. If we desire to gain heaven and win the blessings of eternal life, we must be as careful to shut the door against evil and falsity; we must exclude the desire to be seen of men, and we must open the door wide to the Lord, to our neighbors, and to every heavenly influence. It must be our highest and habitual aspiration to be useful to others in whatever station or employment we may be placed, to be obedient to the Divine truths, and submissive to the Divine will.
5. “And when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret.” We have entered the inner chamber of the soul and shut the door. We have shut out our natural thoughts and affections; we have left the labor and the strife, the vain ambitions and foolish vanities of the world; we have ceased to think how men will regard us; we have shut the door behind us, and we are alone. No, not alone. There is a veiled presence filling the chamber with all the light and love we can bear. Who is He? He is not an inconceivable and infinite Being of whom we can form no conception. He is not a stern, majestic, and awful Sovereign, impatient with our ignorance, wearied with our follies, and burning with fierce indignation against us for our sins. He is not an inexorable judge demanding vengeance upon us as enemies, and exacting the uttermost farthing for our transgressions. Who, then, is He? He is our Father. Father! —a name which even with our earthly imperfections, embodies the tenderest and noblest qualities of human nature. Our father watched over us in infancy and childhood; labored from day to day and year to year to provide us with food and clothing and a comfortable and pleasant home; rejoiced at every indication of awakening intelligence; his heart trembled with fear at every danger which threatened our life; he mourned over our waywardness and youthful follies; he provided us with teachers, and freely gave care, time, and money to prepare us to perform the duties and to gain the rewards of life. There is no other name, unless it be that of mother,—and the Divine Fatherhood combines all the qualities of both father and mother,—which embodies so much kindness, patience, forbearance, and devotion; so much tenderness, wise care, efficient service, unselfish affection, and unchanging love. But the most perfect human father is but a faint shadow, a hint of the infinite perfections of the Father we enter the closet to meet.
6. “Pray to thy Father in secret.” If we have followed our Lord's directions we have shut the door against all selfish, worldly, and merely natural considerations; we have excluded all desire to be seen of men; we have entered into the most secret and hidden motives of our life, into the centre and source of our actions. In those and according to those secret desires we must pray. The attitude and the words, and the outer courts of memory and intelligence, are regarded only as means of expression. The prayer is in the secret purpose. It is an internal speech. “Prayer,” says Swedenborg, “considered in itself is speaking with God, and at such time there is a certain internal intuition of those things which are the objects of prayer, to which corresponds something like influx into the perception or thought of him who prays, so that there is a kind of opening of man's internals towards God.” When we consider that all our life is a constant gift from the Lord, and that it flows into the soul in ceaseless currents from the fountain of life as the warmth of the sun into the secret germs of the seed, we can see something of the nature of genuine prayer, and how it becomes the means of refreshing and vitalizing all our spiritual faculties; we can understand why our Lord spent so much of His time in prayer. When we pray in secret there is an opening of the most interior organic vessels of the will and the affections to the reception of life influent from the Lord. The germ-vessels which when formed become affections, understanding, thought, and act, and all the intellectual and moral faculties which constitute the human mind, open to the Lord and become penetrated, imbued, and quickened with finer qualities and more potent forces of life. It is an enlargement of the vessels which first receive and then conduct the currents of life.
The Lord dwells within us; it is from within that He gets access to us, and builds up His kingdom. Here the work of regeneration begins; we are born from above or within. He stands at every door in this inner chamber of the soul, and knocks for admission. When we open the door by sincere and earnest prayer, He comes in and sups with us and we with Him; that is, He communicates the life of His love to us, and we receive it and reciprocate it. This inner chamber is the large upper room where the Lord directs us to make ready that He may eat the Passover with us. Here we commune with the Lord. Here we eat the bread which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world; here we drink of that water which becomes in us a well of water springing up into eternal life. The Lord dwells in a region of the soul entirely above our consciousness. There the transfer of the forces of life from the Lord to us takes place; there His love becomes our love, His wisdom our wisdom, His good our good. The work which is done in these secret chambers of the soul, therefore, is of more importance to our spiritual growth and happiness than all outward attainment and possessions. If the doors of this inner chamber are open to the Lord He can flood the soul with the quickening forces of His life. If they are closed He can only reach us in a roundabout external way, and with forces far weaker and containing less of the pure elements of life. Let us heed the Divine directions, and pray to the Father in secret.
7. But “in secret” applies to the Lord as well as to man. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God.” There are infinite treasures of love and wisdom in Him of which we know nothing, and can know nothing except so far as they are revealed to us, and they can only be revealed to us as we come into a state to receive them. We are surrounded with secrets and mysteries on every side. The wisest have penetrated but little beneath the surface of things. How little we know of the secret processes which are going on in ceaseless order and harmony within our material bodies! How much less of the still more complex and wonderful movements in our mental organism, by which we are able too love and know, to increase in knowledge, and preserve a consciousness of our being!
When we begin our existence we know nothing of the peace and rest, the keen and thrilling ecstasy of the joys which are hidden in the secret qualities of love. We catch glimpses of it in the blessings we enjoy, it brightens our understandings and rejoices our hearts. But there are infinite treasures of it in the secret chambers of the Divine nature, which the Lord desires to bestow upon His children, and which He does bestow upon all in as large and rich measures as they can receive. We enter into the secrets of knowledge by learning, and there are no limits to the worlds of truth which lie before us and whose secrets it will be a joy to explore. We enter into the secrets of the Divine love by receiving that love into our hearts and passing it on in kind and useful deeds to men. The more unselfishly, purely, ardently we love, the more fully and deeply we shall enter into the secrets of the Divine love and taste of its blessedness.
8. “And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” “Who seeth in secret." The quality and efficacy of every prayer is measured by the degree that it is offered in secret. The Lord is present in the secret chambers of the soul which, as I have said, are the essential ends and motives of all our actions. The Lord looks to the motive, and sees in it all the effects which will result from carrying it into operation. He does not listen to the words uttered, whether they be few or many; whether they flow in eloquent periods, or are stammered forth in broken sentences from the ignorant publican, or the lisping lips of infancy. His ear is in the secret chambers, and He hears only what is uttered there. He does not hear the affected tone. He does not see the deferential air, the bowed head, the bended knee, the prescribed forms. He is looking in the heart, and He sees only what takes place there. Even the angels who are attendant upon man to guard him from evil and lead him to good do not hear his words or see his deeds or know his thoughts. They act only upon his affections, they see only his purposes, and seek to guide him by them. How much more must this be true of the Lord who dwells in the inmost and first principles of thought and deed, and by purifying and elevating the ends of life, and imbuing them with heavenly love, seeks to lead man into heavenly happiness!
“He sees in secret.” He sees all the effects and consequences which must follow from every inmost principle of life. All effects are stored up in their causes. The ends, purposes, motives of action, are the closets or treasuries in which all the good we shall ever enjoy, or the sorrows and torments we shall ever suffer, are stored up, and the Lord sees them there. They are there as a tree with its leaves, blossoms and fruit are in the seed. From one grain of wheat all the harvests in the world could be produced. Some of the lower and microscopic forms of animal life are remarkably rapid in their propagation. But the germs of spiritual fruits, whether they are good or evil, are much more prolific, and they multiply to eternity. They combine with other causes to purify or corrupt them, and their effects become varied and multiplied without end. These results, whether good or evil, are not effected by any arbitrary or mechanical action. They are not bestowed as rewards nor inflicted as punishments. They are orderly and necessary effects from legitimate causes. They grow out of them as the plant out of the seed, according to immutable law. We know that there is something in the secret closets of every seed which determines the kind of fruit it will bear. So there is in every affection or purpose of the will the germs of deeds, the causes of joys or sorrows, which can be multiplied without limit.
We cannot see even natural fruit in the germ. We learn from observation and experience that like produces like in the vegetable and animal kingdoms. But give to the most learned scientist a seed wholly unlike any one he has ever seen or heard of before, and he cannot tell you what fruit it will bear. He may weigh it, analyze it, decompose it, examine it with the most powerful microscope, but he cannot discover the form of the plant which will grow out of it, or the quality of the fruit it will produce. Much less can we see all the results which will flow from cherishing any affection in the inner chambers of the soul. We look at effects; we judge by appearances, and consequently we are subject to constant illusions.
But the Lord “sees in secret.” He sees in every innocent and heavenly principle the forms and forces and causes of all the pure and lovely affections, all the sweet and fragrant influences, all the bright joys and blissful rest which will grow out of it. Take, for example, love to Him as a motive of action in all the duties and relations of life. He sees in it the germs of every good it is possible for a finite being to possess and enjoy. He sees in it openness to reception of life from Himself; He sees in it the essential principles of heavenly order; He sees in it conjunction and communion with Himself, a readiness to yield to the Divine attractions of His own love, by which we are drawn into more intimate and vital relations with Him and closer to His infinite heart; He sees in it beauty of person such as mortal eyes have never beheld, power of which we have never dreamed, intelligence of which the highest angel has no knowledge, joys beyond all human power to conceive, an order, a harmony, a rest, a peace, a blessedness which surpasses all human vision or capacity of hope. He sees infinite blessings of which we have no idea and no name; delights which cannot be expressed in human language. They are secrets to us which we can only penetrate as we receive that love, and according to the measure of our ability embody it in deeds. But they are all clear in the light of His infinite intelligence. Oh, that we were not so blind, stupid, and inexpressibly foolish as to close our hearts against that love which contains in its very substance and nature the promise and potency of all the good which it is possible for infinite love and wisdom to give, or man with his limitless possibilities to receive!
9. “And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” There is a profounder meaning and a richer promise embodied in the words, “shall reward thee openly” than appears upon the surface. The word our Lord used and which is translated “reward” means much more than compensation for a service arbitrarily bestowed. It means to make a complete and adequate return; to grant all that is claimed or looked for; and when spoken in relation to the Lord it means to give all that is asked and hoped for; all that it is possible for the suppliant to receive in the present and in the future. When we go into our closets, shut the door to self and the world and open them to the Lord, we bring ourselves into vital conjunction with Him, and the currents of His life begin to flow into the organic forms of our natures. We may be able to receive but a small measure of that life at first. But it is essentially creative in its nature; it enlarges the vessels which receive it, and makes them more capacious to receive larger measures of life. It tends to perfect the quality of the inmost forms of our being and give them the power of receiving finer forms of life. Consequently the reward is constantly increasing, and it will continue to do so forever. Suppose you ask in humble and heartfelt sincerity that the Lord’s kingdom may come in you, and that His will may be done on the earth of your natural mind as it is in the heaven of the spiritual mind; you place yourself in such relations to the Lord that He can begin to answer the prayer. He answers it according to the measure of your ability to receive the answer. It may take Him all your life to answer it fully, even according to your own expectations. It will take Him to eternity to answer it according to His. But He begins the answer; He makes a full return of all you ask; but in making it He gives you power to ask and to receive more. And this process will continue to eternity. We always receive as much as we ask. I do not mean as much as we ask in words. Millions of prayers are offered every day with the lips for the sanctification of the heart and the regeneration of humanity. But very few are offered in the closet, and those that are offered there are answered in the degree that man can receive the answer.
10. But the Lord not only promises to reward the sincere prayer, but to do it openly. You will observe that there is a parallelism and contrast between hypocritical and genuine prayer. The prayer of the hypocrite is made in the most conspicuous places, to be seen of men, and the reward is expected from them. The genuine prayer is made in the closet, to the Heavenly Father, and the promise is an open reward. The vain prayer is made with many words, with the hope of being heard for much speaking. The sincere prayer is made in secret; may not be voiced; may be a mute appeal, a despairing cry, an internal effort to turn to the Lord, an aspiration of the heart for a higher life, a more intimate communion with Him. Both have their reward. One comes from without, and gives a momentary delight which turns in the end to a curse. The other comes from within, from perennial sources, and increases in richness and fullness forever. But you may desire to know in what way the Lord rewards us openly. He does it according to an immutable law of His divine order, a law which we see in our own lives in everything we do. All the forces of life, all the causes of our joys and sorrows, come from within. Every deed is first an affection, then a thought, then a natural act. The springs of conduct rise in the secret closets of the soul as the streams which refresh and beautify the earth gush forth from the secret chambers of the hills. When we open the affections to the Lord in sincere prayer, He imbues them with new and finer qualities; He enlarges and purifies them, and they flow down through all the degrees of the mind, enriching and enlarging them. They give delicacy, acuteness, and perception to the understanding. Thought is affection formed, affection brought out into distinct consciousness. Every thought which passes through our minds is the form of some affection to which it gives body and existence. The affection dwells in the thought or in truth, and uses it to come out more openly into speech and deeds. When our affections become enlarged and purified, we gain a new degree of vital power; and the new purpose gives a new direction and a new quality to our deeds. A heavenly affection gives tone to the voice, beauty to the face, loveliness to our actions, and a new charm to every faculty of mind and body. You cannot go into your closet and shut the door and offer a sincere prayer to the Lord for any heavenly good, and conceal from your friends the reward you will receive. Your face will begin to shine as the face of Moses did when he came down from the mount. You have been in the mount with the Lord. You will be more earnest and unselfish in purpose; you will have wider and more tender sympathies with every form of human suffering; you will be more devoted to your friends; more faithful in your employments; wiser and more generous in your charities; and your influence on all around you will be purer and more elevating.
We can see many beautiful effects in this life of the transfiguring power of these spiritual and Divine influences. But while we are clothed in the garments of clay we can see but little more than the shadow of them. Their harmonies come faintly to our dulled ears, and their lovely forms are seen but dimly through the clouds of sense. But when we are released from this imprisonment in the material body and rise into the clear light of the spiritual world, then every heavenly affection which we had made our own by life, and which is stored up in the secret chambers of the soul, will come out into open manifestation. These secret communings with our Heavenly Father will determine the heaven we enter, the society which will welcome us to its association, the friends who will greet us, and the home we shall dwell in forever. A new influx of the Divine love, which enters our souls when we open their secret chambers in prayer, will continue to work in us and come out openly without and around us forever. It will add force to the attraction which draws us to the pure and good, and which conjoins us with the Lord; it will be a new light in our sky, a new beauty in our home, a new charm in every object which adorns it, and it will endow us with a finer and more delicate sense, with a keener perception and a larger capacity for enjoyment. It will be a deeper peace, a brighter joy, a sweeter communion, a more blissful rest.