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

V. The Proper Object of Worship

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in the Heavens.” — Matthew vi. 9

In the preceding verses which we have already considered, our Lord has taught us what motives and methods to avoid in prayer, when and how to offer our petitions, and He has given us the assurance, if we follow these directions, of a full and open reward. He offers every encouragement to come freely to the “Father who seeth in secret,” and open our inmost desires to Him. He seeks to win our confidence, and with paternal kindness He asks us to make known to Him our wants, our sorrows, and our joys. He sympathizes with us in all our difficulties, labors, and temptations; helps us in every struggle with evil, and rejoices with us in every victory over our selfish and worldly desires. If we could realize, even in a remote degree, how forbearing, how patient, how gentle, how kind He is, how deeply He desires to help and bless us, we should not be so reluctant and formal in going to Him for sympathy and guidance, and pouring into His compassionate ear the sorrows and the joys of our hearts. We all need help; we all long for sympathy. There is no greater comfort in this cold and selfish world, no treasure more precious than a friend who fully appreciates us, and to whom we can unbosom ourselves with the perfect assurance of being understood, and from whom we can get the wisest counsel and the deepest consolation. The Lord is such a friend, though infinitely wiser, tenderer, truer, and more considerate than any earthly friend,—than the wisest father, the most loving mother. These qualities will appear more clearly as we enter into the deep and genuine import of the prayer He has taught us.

“After this manner therefore pray ye.” We are not to understand by this direction that we are to limit our petitions to these words. The Lord gives us the manner, the spirit, the scope of our prayers. We must pray in this simple, direct, and unostentatious way. We may make our prayers as specific as we please. Sometimes one want will press upon us and absorb our whole thought. We are in distress, in the agony of some conflict; we are overwhelmed by some great sorrow and we can only say, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” We are in despair; we seem to be deserted by men and forsaken by the Lord, and we can only cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!” Then, again, we have met with some great deliverance by which the soul is filled with peace and rest, and our lips can but feebly express the gratitude and praise which thrills our hearts. But every want which we can feel, every desire of which the heart is capable, every good it is possible for the human mind to conceive, or the lips to ask, is comprehended in the few brief petitions of this prayer, and the more fully we enter into its infinite depths, the more clearly we shall see that it comprises all our needs, from the lowest to the highest.

First, the Lord teaches us to whom we must offer our prayers, and how we are to conceive of Him. “Our Father.” We are to think of Him as our father. There is nothing more simple, tender, and kind than this. Every child can understand it. The Lord does not ask us to conceive of the inconceivable, to think of Him as He is in Himself; that no finite being can do. He does not ask us to know the unknowable, to comprehend an infinite essence. He comes to us in what we know. He comes to us in the simplest and most familiar form. The relation of father is one of the first conceptions by which the little child distinguishes one man from another. There is a class of learned men at the present day who call themselves agnostics, or spiritual know-nothings. They do not deny that there may be a God, and a spiritual world, and a life after the death of the body, but they have no belief upon these subjects, because they do not know anything about them, and they conceive all knowledge of them in our present state to be impossible. They cannot conceive of an infinite Being, and, therefore, they do not believe in one. The principle which lies at the root of their denial seems to be, disbelief in what we cannot fully comprehend; but, if this principle was made of universal application, we should not believe in anything, for we cannot fully comprehend the simplest things. The most profound scientist cannot comprehend how we see or hear; how a blade of grass grows. He may know much of the means by which these effects are produced; but why they produce them he cannot tell. We only look upon the surface of things. The most learned man is as ignorant of inmost causes as the little child. We cannot fully comprehend one another; but we can know something, and know that with certainty. A little child knows but little about its father; but it knows enough to initiate and define its relations to him. As its understanding and affections become enlarged, it will know more. The little serves the present purpose and leads to more.

The Lord takes the simple, universal relation of fatherhood, and by means of it leads us to Himself; instructs us to think of Him as a father. We can form no idea of God except by means of what we know of men. If there is no likeness, no inherent and essential relation between the Lord and man, we can gain no idea of Him. What do we know of love, or mercy, or wisdom, or of any of the attributes we ascribe to the Lord, but from what we have learned of their nature as they exist in ourselves, or as we have seen them manifested in others? Nothing. To ascribe these qualities to Him, therefore, unless they are of the same nature as they are in us, conveys no idea of Him. They do not apply to Him; they are an empty sound signifying nothing; they are worse: they are misleading; they deceive us. In our thought we attribute to the Lord qualities which do not belong to Him. All that we can say or think of Him is simply a delusion.

But if man was made in the image and after the likeness of God, if the Divine nature was finited in man, then human qualities give us a hint of Divine qualities; human relations give us a true idea of our relations to the Lord, and by means of them the Lord can instruct us in Divine knowledge, and lead us to know Him “whom to know aright is life everlasting.” In this Divine prayer He instructs us to think of Him as a father, to pray to Him as a father, to trust Him as a father, and we must give to the word, father, its genuine meaning. If we begin by divesting it of all the forms, qualities, and relations which belong to a human father, we vacate it of all meaning. Let us take this human relationship, then, and follow its essential qualities to their legitimate conclusions. If we do we must find the Being to whom we are to direct our prayers.

A father is a personal being in the human form. He is one being in one person. The Father in the heavens must be one Being in one Divine Person, and that Person must be in the human form. It is impossible to conceive of a father in any other form, or as a mere abstract essence. The father of a human being must be a man, and a man without the human form is impossible. The Father whom we are to love, and whom we are to meet in prayer in the inner chamber of the soul, must be in the human form, and He has revealed Himself to us in that form in Jesus Christ.

By the Father is generally understood Jehovah, the Divine Being as He is in Himself.
Consequently Christians generally address their prayers to Him. But the human mind is incapable of forming any idea of Jehovah, as He is in Himself. We cannot approach Him in thought or affection. There is no access to Him possible except through His Divine Humanity. Jehovah as He is in Himself is above the heavens, above all created and finite forms, beyond all human conception. We must keep in mind that prayer is not merely a matter of words. One may repeat all the words ever addressed to the Lord, and not offer a prayer. Prayer is real communion of the human soul with the Lord; it is the opening of the affections to the reception of the forces of life from Him. There must, therefore, be conjunction of mind with mind. To effect this there must be adaptation and adjustment. But there can be no direct contact between the Divine as it is in itself and any finite form. Even the sun, as it is in itself, cannot come in direct contact with the plant in a way to produce vegetable growth. It must be modified and adapted; its rays must be tempered by atmospheres and by the earth, before they take effect upon the seed and cause it to grow. How much more impossible it must be for man to approach and to receive into himself the awful forces of the Divine life!

We cannot approach or conceive of a human being as he is in himself. We can only form some idea of men and women as to their inmost and essential character as it is revealed to us through the medium of the material body. How much less can we form any conception of the uncreated Divine life as it is in itself? We cannot gain any conception of the nature of a fruit even as it exists in the seed. The inmost forms must clothe themselves with the flesh and blood, the pulp and juices of the fruit, before we can tell whether they are sweet or sour, good or harmful. If we cannot judge of the essential qualities of the lowest things until they clothe themselves with a proper medium by which they can act upon our senses, and in that way reveal themselves to us, how much less can the infinite First Cause of the creation and of all created beings, reveal Himself to our consciousness without appropriate mediums?

No. When we look at the subject as it is, we can see that we cannot pray to Jehovah, the Father above the heavens. We can use words; we can say Jehovah, God, but the words are not the prayer. The prayer is the process which goes on in the closet; the internal turning and opening of the affections, and the perception, the thought, the idea which results from the entrance of the Lord into the closet.

We can form some idea of Jehovah as He has revealed Himself to us in the human nature which He assumed and made Divine. Jesus Christ is the Father in a human form, adapted to human conception. The Father and Son are one person, as the soul and body are one man. The Father and Son are not the same plane or degree of the Divine personality, as the soul and body are not the same plane or degree of our personality. It requires many degrees and forms to make a man. Look at the material body for example. It is composed of many bodies in the human form. The bones, the arteries and veins, the nerves, are all the human form. Each one constitutes a body by itself. But it requires them all to make the human body. And besides these material forms, it requires the soul and the spiritual body to make a man. All these different spiritual degrees and organic forms are parts of the one being.

So the Father and the Son are not two persons, two beings; nor is one a Divine being and the other simply a human being. Both make one Divine Being. This our Lord Himself declares in the most positive manner. “I and my Father are one.” One what? One God? If they are one man, then there is no God. If they are one God, then we have a God who is the centre and source of life, in His inmost nature entirely above all human conception, but who has also a human nature in which He reveals Himself to human consciousness, in which He comes down to human apprehension. “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father. How then sayest thou, Show us the Father.” This is the same as to say, Where will you look for Him except in me? In what form do you expect to find Him except in the one in which He has appeared to you? “Believe in me,” He says; “I am in the Father, and the Father in me.” The Divine and the human interpenetrate each other in my person, as the soul and body interpenetrate each other in every man. The soul, as we all acknowledge, is in the body. So our Lord’s soul, which is called by the name Father, dwelt in His body. A man’s body is in his soul, also, though not in precisely the same sense as the soul is in the body. The body is not in the soul, as water is in a vessel, as blood is in the arteries. It is in the sphere of its active forces. It is in it as a plant is in the heat of the sun, and the heat of the sun is in it. It is penetrated, infilled, suffused with it. So the Human nature was penetrated, infilled, suffused, glorified, and became one with the Divine nature: and both together, each within the other, make one Divine Being. “Our Father in the Heavens” is this glorified Humanity, in which the infinite First Cause, the incomprehensible and primal Source of all being, comes out from His infinity and manifests Himself to His children in a personal, glorious, Divine, human form.

We are not, then, to think of the Father to whom we pray as a diffused essence, as an omnipresent force; but as a glorious Divine Man in the human form; as the same Being who was incarnated, who healed human diseases, who instructed the ignorant, who as to His human nature suffered, and was crucified. When He dwelt in a material body He was our Father on the earth. Now He is risen and glorified, He is our Father in the heavens. The necessity for having a distinct object, a distinct personal form in our minds when we pray, is vastly more important than we generally suppose. It is for the want of this that prayer is so unmeaning and ineffectual. As Swedenborg has said, there can be no conjunction with an invisible, abstract essence. The thought has nothing to rest upon. It passes off into empty space, like the light which does not reach any recipient object. Think of a child asking help, or a blessing, from the abstract qualities of a father! In what a different state of mind we ask a favor of a man from that in which we ask blessings of the Lord! If we have a distinct personal being in our minds of whom we know something, to whom we are related, who possesses what we want, whose character we know, whom we know where to find, and how to address, the way is clear before us, and our praying will have some purpose.

All these requisites to genuine prayer we have, when we go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and think of Him alone, without any mental reservations, or any effort to go behind Him, and to think of some being distinct from Him. We can fix our thoughts upon Him, as He appeared to Peter, James, and John when he was transfigured before them, when “His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.”

Having gained a clear and distinct idea of the personal Being whom we are to address in prayer, the next of inquiry which demands our attention is, what paternal qualities we shall attribute to Him. Father is not a general term implying no more than that the Lord is the creator of the human race. Every word of Scripture has a universal meaning; that is, it applies to every particular
to which it relates; to the least things as well as to the greatest. It is not limited by time or place or special relation. We are to take the term Father in its universal sense; we are to infill it with all the qualities, and with the highest qualities of fatherhood we can conceive, and when we have done that, we shall fall infinitely short of the reality. But let us particularize:

1. Our natural fathers are only instruments in the Lord’s hands to perpetuate and enlarge the creation of human beings. In this respect, as in all acts of natural creation, we are merely instrumental means. In the production of our harvests, the husbandman is only one link in the vast chain of causes and effects by which the end is reached. The Lord is the Creator and Father of every form of vegetable and of animal life. If, therefore, we take the lowest idea of fatherhood, the Lord is our primary and real father, our father upon the earth.

2. But before we can enter the kingdom of heaven we must be born again, born from above; the spiritual degrees of the mind must be formed; the new heavens and the new earth must be created; and this is effected without any special, direct intervention of others. In the formation of this heavenly mind, the Lord is more especially our Father; we are born of God. In this degree of our being we are created into His image and likeness; we bear the impress of His form and character which show our lineage we become His children and heirs of His infinite riches. Oh that we could gain such a clear conception of this glorious truth that it would seem to us to be as it is, a most positive reality! How proud men are of noble descent! How delighted they are to know that they have blue blood in their veins! We do not see so much of this ancestral
worship as is found in those countries where a titled nobility exists. But the principle is native to the human heart. And there are just grounds for it. It is fortunate to be well born. Blood tells. The virtues as well as the iniquities of the fathers descend to the children.

Now apply this law of the Divine Order to the case before us. The Lord teaches us to call Him “our Father,” and what He directs us to call Him He seeks to become. Here open to us the grand possibilities of our being. Let us not pass the subject by as an unmeaning one, or the possession as unattainable. The Lord is our Father! We can claim our descent from Him. We can become the finite forms of His love. That love which is the infinite source of all life can become our life, the germinal principle of our characters; our hearts can beat responsive to it, our affections can be animated with its warmth, imbued with its purity, our understanding can be molded into the form of the Divine wisdom, become the embodiment of His beauty, and illuminated with His truth. Our whole spiritual forms can be so impressed with the infinite perfections of the Divine Character that our parentage will be evident to every beholder. It can be seen in the clear and lovely lines of the face. It can be proclaimed in pure tones in the voice. It can be discerned in every motion of the body swayed to grace and dignity by the indwelling spirit hereditarily derived from our Father in the Heavens.

There can be no nobler birth than this. What is the ancestry of kings and emperors compared with this? If it is a cause for gratitude and joy to be able to look back through a long line of progenitors and find in it great and wise men, pure and lovely women, how much greater cause
have we to rejoice that we can claim the Lord for our Father, and become heirs to the everlasting and ever-increasing glory and blessedness which He delights to bestow upon His children; and which He does bestow upon them, just in the degree that they become His children and are able to receive His blessings!

Having thus gained a distinct idea that the Lord is our Father, essentially the Father of our bodies and natural minds, and specifically the Father of our souls, if we have “been born from above,” let us try to fill that term with all the perfections of the paternal relation possible to our conception. We shall find them all in Him, and infinitely more.

1. A good father will provide according to the best of his ability for the support and physical comfort of his children. Has not our Heavenly Father done this? He has the world with substances for the support of the body; for its sustenance, clothing, and comfort. The harvests of the world are His gifts. In what lovely forms He presents these provisions of His love! He is not content to give us the substance alone in a shapeless mass: He gathers His gifts into purple clusters; He moulds them into beautiful fruits; He dyes them with lovely colors; He fills them with delicate aromas; He makes them savory, and sweet. In supplying one want He gratifies every sense; He makes every step of their creation beautiful. The stem which bears them is beautiful in form, and then He clothes it with a garniture of green, glorifies it with the beauty of blossoms, and crowns it with a diadem of fruit. Is He not a provident and bountiful Father?

2. A good father will provide for the instruction of his children. Our Heavenly Father has so arranged His provisions for our natural support that they shall be the constant means of intellectual and moral cultivation. All our industrial, domestic, social, and civil relations are means of developing our affections and enlarging our understandings. Our best lessons are learned in the school of the family, in the school of labor, and in the school of society. But, besides these schools and teachers, He has given us His prophets, and He has come Himself to teach us the lessons we could not learn from nature and from which each other. He has left nothing untried or undone which it was possible for infinite love and wisdom to do to teach us our true nature and destiny and the best means of obtaining it. Does He not, therefore, possess this paternal excellence in the highest degree?

3. A good father is patient and gentle, kind and wise. He will withhold as well as give; he will restrain and guide. The Lord is infinitely kind and gentle and patient. “His mercy is forever.” “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” He waits for us with an infinite patience; He loves us with an infinite love; He watches over us with an omniscient eye, and omits no occasion to confer upon every one of His children the greatest blessings He can persuade them to receive. Take any parental quality you choose and exalt it to the greatest excellence you can conceive, and our Father in the Heavens is all that and infinitely more. There is no quality which could entitle Him to the name of Father which He does not possess.

But there is one respect in which He is entitled to the claim in an eminent degree. Our earthly parents become less our parents as we advance in life. Children become less dependent upon them. Parents can do less for them. The ties which bind them together grow weaker, and parent and child grow away from each other. But our Father in the Heavens will become more and more our Father to eternity. We shall be growing into His likeness; we shall become more fully His children. He will continually create us anew. The marks of our lineage will become more distinct. We shall become larger embodiments of His love, and continually advance into the beauty of His image and the glory of His wisdom. There is no other hope so grand; no other possibility of attainment so blessed as this.

Our Father.” The Lord does not teach us to say my Father, but our Father. There is a grand significance in this. It sweeps away human distinctions and reverses human judgments. When we offer this prayer, we place ourselves on the level of a common parentage, we confess a common humanity. The king in his palace, clothed in rich attire and surrounded with elegance and beauty and abundant means to minister to every desire, kneels at a cushioned altar and says, “Our Father.” The peasant in his hut, clad in coarse and soiled garments, sheltered from storms only by rough and naked walls, in the midst of rude and scanty furniture, clasps hands hardened by toil and utters the same words, “Our Father.” The most learned scientist, the most skilful artist, the genius, the hero, whose name is upon all lips, and the little child whose eyes are just opening to the wonders of the universe, or the most unlettered laborer, must address the same Being in the same words: they must say, “Our Father.” The rich and the poor, however widely separated by external conditions, must ignore them all when they enter the closet or kneel in the house of worship. They must utter the words which confess a common parentage, a common nature, and fraternal relations. The artificial and merely natural distinctions which men and women estimate so highly, and on the possession of which they assume so much superiority, do not appear before the Lord. He looks only upon the heart, and estimates us by what He sees there. We are His children; we are brethren and nobly born, in the degree that we are created in His likeness and partake of His nature. In the light of this truth, how all merely natural distinctions fade away! Can you pray this prayer? You can say the words with your lips. Can you enter the closet, and shut the door against all natural and artificial distinctions and say, with the understanding and from the heart, “Our Father”? Only in the degree you come into this state do you pray “after this manner.”

“Our Father who art in the Heavens.” Why, heavens? Because there is more than one heaven, and we can only pray to the Father in the heaven in which we are. Every human being has in possibility three planes, or degrees of his spiritual nature, entirely distinct from one another. These degrees of the mind constitute the heavens within him. The one which becomes opened and formed is the one in which the Lord dwells; it is the one in which we think, in which we love and live. The heaven we shall consciously enter when we throw aside the veil of flesh will correspond with the one which has become formed within us. It is in the heavens within us that the Lord becomes our Father. As these heavens are formed by learning the truth and living according to it, He comes in and dwells with us and we with Him. Our real worship consists in the opening and creation of one of these degrees of the spiritual mind. There He builds the mansions in which we are to dwell with Him forever. If only the lowest degree is opened, we shall enter the corresponding heaven. We shall find our home there, and the Lord will be our Father there, according to the measure of our knowledge and love. If the second degree of the mind is opened, we shall rise into the light and glory of the second heaven and live and love and worship our Father as He can manifest Himself to us in that degree. If the inmost degree is opened, we shall live in that, and enter into the fullest and most blissful joys it is possible for a finite being to experience.

It is not, therefore, without a meaning specifically applicable to us that our Lord teaches us to address Him as Our Father in the Heavens. It is an acknowledgment of His Fatherhood by everyone in the degree he is becoming regenerated. Every angel can use it with special application to himself. It is also a prayer that we may become His children; that we may become more innocent, more childlike, more pliant to the brooding power of His love; that we may become gentler in spirit, stronger in affection, nobler in action, purer in life, and in all respects more like our Father in the Heavens, into whose image and likeness He is in the constant effort to create us.

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