Perfect Prayer, by Chauncey Giles

from Chauncey Giles Perfect Prayer. How Offered: How Answered  (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1903)

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Perfect Prayer.
How Offered: How Answered

by Chauncey Giles

XII. Deliverance from Evil; How to Pray for It, How to Obtain It

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” — Matthew vi. 1

It was the purpose of the discourse upon the first clause of this petition to show what temptations are, what causes them, and what purpose they serve in our regeneration. We found them to be combats between the internal and the external man, or between evil spirits and angels who operate upon these planes of man’s nature for the possession of his soul. They are caused by their efforts to take possession of our wills and intellectual faculties, and bind us to them and to the societies with which they are associated by those spiritual ties which are stronger than any natural or material bonds. Temptation is not a conflict of words, or arguments, or personal strength, but of power over those who are tempted. The evil spirits act upon our worldly and selfish affections; they excite our appetites and inflame our passions; they seek to immerse our whole nature in vile and corrupting influences. The angels, on the other hand, act upon all that is innocent, true, and good in us. They call up truths from the memory and present them bright and clear to our awakened attention; they breathe warmth and life into our languid spiritual affections, and by the attractions of their love they lift us up and draw us toward heaven and the Lord.

These opposing forces take effect upon us and draw us in two opposite directions; they come to our consciousness as distinctly as do opposing forces acting upon the body, and seem to us to spring up spontaneously within us and to be our own in their causes as well as in their effects. They are felt as doubts and fears, as anxieties and pains of conscience and stings of remorse. When these opposing forces which are struggling for dominion are powerful, and the theatre of the conflict is the more interior and sensitive planes of our nature, the pain is intense; we become distracted, literally drawn asunder; we are in agony, and fall into despair. Such was the experience of our Lord in Gethsemane and upon Calvary. This conflict and all the pain of it is caused wholly by evil, or by the evil spirits who seek to gain possession of our souls. They are the cause of all our pain, suffering, and sorrow of every kind. There is no abstract evil; there are no abstract causes. Evil is not a vague, indefinite, and unsubstantial entity. It has its origin in personal beings; it has no existence separate from them. There can be no murder without a murderer; there can be no theft without a thief; there can be no drunkenness without drunkards; there can be no envy, malice, pride, hatred, cruelty, or vice of any kind without human beings who exercise these evils. So there can be no temptation without personal and intelligent beings who tempt. Whenever we feel the movements of any desire to think falsely, or to act wickedly, if we attributed it to the influence of some evil being who was near us, inciting us to sin, we should regard the temptation in a very different manner from what we do when we think of it as a spontaneous action of the soul. If a man or woman met us on the street and openly solicited us to do what sometimes comes to us in inclination and thought, we should shrink with horror from the tempter. But the inclination and thought is as surely due to personal influence by personal beings, by men or women who have put off the garment of the material body and can now approach us directly on the spiritual side of our nature, as the temptations which come from human beings in a material body. They are all due to evil spirits, though in one case they are clothed in a material body, and in the other they are not.

With this idea of the personal nature of sin we can see the force of the petition, “Deliver us from evil.” We do not look off into vacuity for some vague and incomprehensible help for deliverance from some abstract enemy. We go to a personal Being and implore help to rescue us from the power of personal enemies. There is something tangible, substantial, and definite for the thought to rest upon. If your little son or daughter had been stolen from you and carried into some den of infamy and cruelty, where it would become polluted and destroyed body and soul, your prayer for that child would not be a mere formality for its deliverance from some vague and imaginary danger. You would not be content to offer a petition in a cold and formal manner to some abstract power called the state, or the police. You would go to persons who are the embodiment of the power you invoke. Our sons and daughters are beset by spiritual enemies who are seeking to decoy them from their Father’s house, to rob them of their inheritance of heavenly possessions, and make them the miserable slaves of sin. If we believed this, should we not pray in a more direct and effective manner for their deliverance from the power of these enemies?

Every human being must desire to be delivered from evil, but there is the widest diversity of opinions concerning what evil is. Every one judges from his own point of view, and that point of view is his dominant love, or principle of action. Everything which opposes this love, or the essential end for which he lives, he regards as evil, and every being who stands in the way of the attainment of that end he regards as an enemy. We cannot, therefore, make any human standard the absolute criterion of good or evil; we must have a universal and immutable and perfect rule. Such a standard can only be found in the Lord, who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” “I am the Lord; I change not.” Let us then regard the subject, as far as possible, from a Divine point of view as revealed in the Sacred Scriptures, and in the doctrines of the New Church which are derived from them. So far as we can do this we shall come to just conclusions.

As the Lord is infinite love and wisdom, His final end in the creation of the material universe and of intelligent beings, must be the communication of happiness to them in the largest measures and the most excellent forms. Love could have no other end and wisdom could provide no other means than those which would conduce in the most direct and efficient manner to its accomplishment. The human mind must be organized to receive the good the Lord desires to communicate, and every material and spiritual substance and form must be created and perfectly adapted to be an instrument in communicating it. There must be a perfect order according to which all things and beings are related, and a perfect method according to which they act and react upon each other. Everything which stands in this order, and acts according to the method prescribed in the Divine mind, is good; everything which is contrary to this order, and tends in any way to oppose and prevent the Divine purpose, is evil. Evil, therefore, is disorder in the relations and activities of the human and Divine forces; it is discord in their action and reaction upon one another; it is the inversion and perversion of the forms of the human mind which was created to receive life and power from the Lord. Its organic forms are distorted, and the influx of life from the Lord is obstructed. Instead of flowing on in smooth and orderly currents, filling every organic form of the mind with power, life, and delight, they are turned out of their course, the inmost forms of the affections obstruct them, react against them, and this collision of opposing forces causes disease, misery, and spiritual death.

Evil in the mind is caused in the same way as disease in the body. The mind or spirit is a body in the human form; it contains in distinct order all the organic forms within and without which belong to the material body. Life is not a mere idea or an emotion; it is a substance and force flowing into the arteries and nerves and veins of the spiritual body as the nervous fluid and the blood flow through the channels of the nerves and arteries of the material body. Disease, which is evil in the physical plane of man’s being, is caused by the derangement, obstruction, or excessive and abnormal action of some of the organic forms of the body The result is pain and weakness, and unless the normal order which we call health is restored, the body becomes wholly incapable of performing its functions, and the spiritual body throws it off as we do a worn-out garment. Moral and spiritual evil is of exactly the same nature in the spiritual plane of our being, with only this difference in the results. Spiritual death is not the actual dissolution of the spiritual body. It is only such a change in its organization that it does not act in harmony with the forces of life which operate upon it. It is like a weak or inflamed nerve, or a congested muscle, or a constricted blood-vessel, or an ulcerated fibre. The forces of life still press upon every part of the spirit, as the light upon the eye or the atmosphere upon the lungs. As the spiritual body is diseased, the forces which give it life and preserve its existence, so far as they gain entrance, are opposed, turned out of their course; the vessels of the mind do not act in harmony with them, and the result is spiritual weakness, blindness, fear, sorrow, and those insane hallucinations which flow from the supreme love of self and the world, and lead us to regard the dust of sensual delights and the transitory possessions of natural life as more precious than heavenly and imperishable treasures. The faculties of the mind become so deranged that one wars upon another, and there is discord, confusion, distraction, and the wildest conflict; or indifference, stupidity, and unconsciousness of the most excellent and distinctly human qualities of our nature. We even lose the noblest and most beautiful features of the human form, and become debased into reptiles and beasts.

In the degree that the organization of the mind becomes deranged and departs from the perfection of its original order, all its relations to other human beings and to the outward world are disturbed. Here again the analogy between the spiritual body and the material body is perfect. When the eye is inflamed, the light becomes a torment to it; when its various parts are diseased, or so deranged that they cannot act in harmony, the vision becomes dim, the images of objects are no longer seen in their true form, and all relations to the outward world are disturbed. Analogous results take place when the understanding, which is the spiritual eye, becomes diseased. When it is inflamed by passion, all the laws of the Divine order appear distorted. The Lord who is love and mercy appears as the direst enemy. It cannot bear the clear light of truth; it can only see its shadows in distorted forms. It cannot see in man a brother who is to be loved and helped, and whose interests are to be regarded and cherished as our own. He appears as an enemy, rather, whom we are to assail and subject to our own will. Hence arise the gigantic evils of war which have stained the earth with blood, filled nations with widows and orphans, with famine and pestilence, with desolation and woe. All social strife, the fierce competition between labor and capital, the destructive rivalries in every employment and phase of human action originate in these insanities, and cause such misery that men of cultivated minds seriously discuss the question whether life, which the Lord intended to be full of contentment, peace, and joy, is worth living. The mind is so darkened that it cannot see the higher uses and loveliest forms of the material world, and the affections have become so torpid that they are unconscious of the finer attractions and harmonies which pervade nature, and which were intended to lift us above the material plane of life and win our souls to a higher knowledge, to purer more exquisite joys.

All evil of every degree and form is, in its cause, a departure from the Divine order into which man and the universe were created. You cannot conceive of a physical or a spiritual evil which it is possible for a human being to suffer which did not originate, and whose existence is not continued, by a violation of the Divine order organized and embodied in man. There is not a domestic or social evil, a corrupt influence, a foolish or wicked custom or practice which is not caused by some derangement and violation of domestic and social life. Labor is a weariness, a slavery, and a curse, because selfishness and worldliness make it so. Civil life has been the theatre of ambition, rivalry, hatred, cruelty, and deadly conflict from the love of power and glory; and even the church has been corrupt, ignorant, contentious, domineering, worldly, and neglectful of her high mission. The fiercest of human passions have found refuge and full scope for their exercise within her fold. Every human relation has been the subject of evil, and become so by a violation of those laws of the Divine order which, obeyed, would have made them ministers of good. Such is the nature of evil when regarded from the point of view of the Divine order.

But this is not the point of view of the natural, unregenerate man. Every human being has a supreme, dominant love, which is the centre of his life. That love is the end which he seeks, and to which he makes every possession, force, and circumstance bend; it is his watch-tower from which he observes everything within his horizon; it is his oracle which he consults in every undertaking; it is the standard by which he measures every value, and determines every relation. Everything is good which favors that love, every obstacle to its attainment is a misfortune; every man, woman, spirit, angel, and even the Lord Himself, is regarded as an enemy who opposes it. That love is the god we worship, and bow down to, and to whom we delight to sacrifice all that we possess. This prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” is the constant aspiration of every man, woman, and child; of every devil and angel. He who loves himself supremely offers it with devout and sincere devotion. He is not content with the prayer of the lips; he enters into his closet, and shuts the door upon every other motive, and prays in secret. The fire of self-love is constantly burning upon his altar. But he not only prays with his lips and his heart; he prays with his hands, and with every physical and intellectual faculty. Those who love the world supremely are equally loyal to their god, and devout in their worship. They observe no dead formalities, they employ no obsolete and useless rituals; they do not pray as the hypocrites except when they come into the churches; they do not expect to be heard for much speaking. Their hopes are based upon vigorous action.

But there is a fatal principle in their worship. They regard every being, possession, and relation from a wrong point of view; they estimate all values by a false standard which reverses the order, the quality, and use of every being and thing in the universe. They make the instrumental primary, as though a mechanic should worship his tools instead of using them to do his work; they mistake the shadow for the substance; they invert the Divine order in the universe and in the human mind, regarding that as first which the Lord made to be last; they esteem that the lowest which He intended to be highest, the most precious that which, weighed in the balances of infinite wisdom, is the least valuable. They mistake the fleeting appearances and the wild illusions of the senses for the most substantial realities and genuine wisdom. In a word, they put darkness for light and light for darkness; error for truth and truth for error; evil for good and good for evil. They pray for that which, if obtained, will be their ruin, and ask to be delivered from the means and conditions which will secure their eternal joy and blessedness.

As we all are in some degree in this unregenerate state, and subject to these natural illusions, it is a question of vital importance how to gain the true point of view, and offer the effective prayer for deliverance from evil. We must know what evil is when measured by the Divine standards, and how to escape from it. We can only gain the right point of view and secure a perfect criterion of judgment by a knowledge of Divine truth. We cannot find it in our own understanding for that has become perverted, its vision impaired, its judgment warped by the influence of a depraved will. We cannot find it in our natural desires and affections, for they are the offspring of the same blind and corrupt parent as the understanding. We cannot find it in ourselves; we must go out of ourselves; we must rise above ourselves; we must deny ourselves; we must distrust our own judgment; we must go contrary to our natural desires. We must go to the Lord and put our trust in Him. We must learn Divine truth from Him, and then we must make it the guide of our lives.

This is old and trite advice, it may be said: Can you give no other? No. There is no other. Divine truth is the sum and substance of the Divine order; it is the law of the creation. Its principles are organized in the human mind; it is the Divine method of bestowing happiness upon man; it is the embodiment of the Divine harmonies; it has its origin in the Divine nature; it is the form of the Divine love and the embodiment of every principle of order and harmony; it is the path and the only path that leads to heaven and the Lord. What other directions can be given? There are no other that can be trusted. So far as our wills and affections become subject to the Divine truth they come into harmony with the Divine will, and our hearts beat in harmony with the Divine heart. We are in the currents of the Divine order and we are lifted up and carried on in them toward the infinite ocean of Divine love.

We must, therefore, learn the Divine truth from the lips of the Lord as He has spoken it in the Sacred Scriptures? Have you ever thought of it in this simple, practical way? Have you ever seriously reflected upon the comforting truth that the sure way and the only way of gaining deliverance from every evil is clearly revealed in the Bible? Are you not indulging the secret hope, almost unknown to yourself, perhaps, that there is some other way?—that you can regulate your affections and guide your actions by false principles, and yet escape their consequences? The natural degree of the mind is the embodiment of false principles, it is immersed in evils and inflamed by them, and there is no hope of deliverance in any other way than that pointed out by Divine truth. We are spiritually blind; the truth alone can restore our sight. We have wandered from the true path, and are lost in the mazes of error; the truth alone can show us the way, because it is the way. We are wearied with labor; we are distracted by conflicting desires; our hearts are full of unsatisfied aspirations; we are sick and dying; the truth will lift our burdens, appease our longings, heal our diseases, and raise us up from the grave. Truth is the way that leads from confusion to order; truth is the light that shines with clear and steady radiance upon the way. Truth is power adequate to all our wants. Truth is freedom and health. Divine truth is order, and leads to every possible good. If, then, we desire to be delivered from evil, we must learn the way of deliverance, and that way is revealed to us in the commandments. It is a way so plain that “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”

But, it may be said, there are so many conflicting opinions, theories, and doctrines concerning sin and salvation that we do not know which to believe. There is such a complicated maze of paths each of which is declared to be the only true one, that we are lost in our efforts to find the way. But the Lord does not require us to adopt any special theory of salvation. He does not say that we must conform to any special ritual. The splendid and complicated offices of the Roman Catholic Church and the hard and naked forms of the Quakers are alike powerless to deliver us from evil. The Lord has given us a few simple rules which every one can understand, and He tells us to follow them. He does not ask us to form opinions or construct theories, but simply to do what He commands. He says to every one of us, “If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments;” “Cease to do evil, learn to do well,” and “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool.”

Here then is the practical way to offer this prayer. We must learn the truths which show us what our evils are, give us weapons to combat them, and then we must do what the truths teach us. This is so self-evident that it seems almost absurd to say it; and yet it is necessary to say it, and if it could be said in a way to awaken attention and lead to action, it would move the world to its centre. “The children of this world,” our Lord has told us, “are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” If we desire to see how men who really believe in their religion pray to be delivered from evil, we have only to look around us, or to reflect upon our own motives, and the efforts we make to gain deliverance from evils which hinder the attainment of the ends we seek. Look at those who seek to excel in physical strength, the pugilist, the runner, the oarsman. How severe the training to which they submit! How diligently they practice! How rigid in their diet! How vigilant in guarding against every evil which may endanger their success! and how almost superhuman their efforts for victory. Think of those who excel in art or song, or stand foremost in the world as musical performers. The excellence they reach is only gained by years of constant devotion and practice. They put themselves under the direction of the best masters; they shun the evils they point out, they follow the directions they give. They do not wrangle about opinions, they do not complain that the lessons are difficult; they do not expect to gain perfection by one effort. They are content if they find some advance from month to month. Look at those who seek for place or power, the devotees of fashion and pleasure! How they labor! what sacrifices they make! what devotion they practice! How loyal they are to the god they worship!

We may learn from them how to offer this petition and seek deliverance from the evils of sin and error. The mere utterance of the words has no power. We must learn what our specific evils are one by one. A general acknowledgment that they do exist will not save us. We must put our finger upon one and another, and avoid it. We must fight against it and try to overcome it as we would strive to overcome any false method or evil practice in our natural work. We must watch the tendencies of our affections and desires, the currents of thought into which we easily glide and delight to indulge. If we find them selfish, worldly, or evil in any of their tendencies or forms, we must change them. They are the effects of our spiritual enemies, who are constantly on the watch to work our ruin, and they are near us and their presence affects us because they find something in our natures which is congenial to them. They have found their way into the citadel of life, and we ought to take alarm at once and vigorously resist them. We must watch against them, and when discovered we should drive them away with the scourge of Divine truths as our Lord drove those out of the temple who made it a house of merchandise.

Especially should we guard against giving form and permanence to any evil suggestions by word or deed. We cannot prevent evil thoughts and affections from entering the mind, but we can reject them when they do come, and refuse to act according to them. When we accept an evil affection or a false thought as our own and act according to it, we make it our own; we adopt it, and it becomes a part of our being, as the food we have digested and assimilated becomes a part of our material bodies. We have built a home for evil spirits to dwell in, a citadel in which they intrench themselves, and from which they sally forth to renew their attacks upon us. A wicked deed is not a simple and single thing by itself. It is the concretion and embodiment of innumerable evil forces which lie behind it and dwell in it. As a plant or a mineral contains myriads of forms and forces, and by the finer laws which interpenetrate all things and bind them together, is connected with all other material objects, so a false thought or a wicked deed is the embodiment of myriads of evil forces and evil beings, and it conjoins us with them. When we commit an evil deed we open the doors to a myriad of evil influences and permit them to become anchored in our natures. On the other hand, when we shun a wicked act, we shun, we reject, and repel the hosts of wicked spirits and evil influences which were the cause of it. When we do this we pray in a most effectual manner to be delivered from evil.

Man in and of himself has no power to resist the evil spirits who are seeking to destroy him. They can refute his arguments; they can draw him on into sin by allurement which he has no desire to resist; they can approve his scruples by convincing him for the moment that there is no harm in the evil they solicit him to commit; they can quiet his fears by keeping his attention fixed on the immediate delight, and concealing from him the more remote but inevitable consequences. Good resolutions, formed in our own strength, are no barrier to their power.

What then can we do? Must we remain passive? By no means. We must do what we would if we were in the presence of natural enemies who were too powerful for us. We must avoid the outward occasions of their influence. We must shun the companions who are their instruments; we must avoid the sights and sounds which they use to beguile us. We must fortify and arm ourselves with those Divine truths which take effect upon them. And when they make an assault upon us, we must call upon the Lord to protect and defend us. But we must not rely upon our own strength; if we do we shall utterly fail.

Our doctrines teach us that when we shun an evil in outward act, the Lord can remove the myriads of evils which lay behind it. When we shun evil we put ourselves into the Lord’s hands; He can bring His Divine power to bear upon our spiritual enemies, and He can deliver us. But He can only work this deliverance for us as we cooperate with Him. When we do our part He will not fail to do His. It is a work on which hangs our eternal destiny. All other gains, all other deliverances are nothing. As we are cleansed from evil good will take its place. All the influences which disturb our peace and cause us pain will be removed. We shall be “delivered from the hands of our enemies and all who hate us,” the angels will draw near to us, and we shall come more fully into the light, the joy, and the peace of heaven.

To Chapter 13