That your prayers be not hindered. — i Peter iii. 7. St. Peter is here enforcing the observance of some of the less conspicuous, less stately, less public, but by no means less obligatory and important duties of social and domestic life. And as an incidental inducement to their observance, he urges that it would secure the Christian converts whom he is addressing against that hindrance, that obstruction, that embarrassment, that detrimental effect upon their prayers, which the neglect of those more private duties and the commission of corresponding errors would infallibly occasion. * These things observe,' says the Apostle, remember these more obscure, unostentatious duties, *that your prayers be not hindered ; ' a somewhat singular expression to which for the few moments allotted to me here, I shall invite attention. One specialty to be observed in the phrase is this : it treats prayer not as a duty to be enforced, but as a habit to be taken for granted. The apostle does not enjoin or even recommend prayer as a profitable practice, he assumes it as an imperative and indispensable necessity. He seems to consider prayer as inseparable from spiritual life, just as the air we breathe is

88 THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. inseparable from material life ; and therefore instead of advocating prayer he presupposes it. A physician does not prescribe breathing as a remedial experiment ; but

he advises you to adopt every expedient that may promote respiration, and to abandon every practice that may damage it. And so St. Peter here does not enforce prayer as a duty, but he urges the avoidance of everything that can obstruct it. But it may claim a few moments* preliminary Consideration how much is comprised in the word prayer. The meaning of that word can hardly be confined to its common and colloquial sense of kneeling down and asking favours. If it were so — if prayer consisted only in soliciting those advantages which we think would be convenient, or which all men would be glad of, it would be difficult to perceive how such a mere exercise of the instinct of acquisition, could be attended with such purifying and exalting tendencies as are ascribed to it. If prayqr were nothing more but asking for advantages — still more if nothing nobler than asking for material and secular advantages ; preservation from accident to life or limb, a well-filled basket, and a heaped-up store — that to-morrow may be as this day, and more abundant ; it would be difficult to see how such solicitations could have any specially elevating or refining tendency ; and it becomes us to remember the great model of petitions namely the Lord's Prayer, and how very small a portion of it refers to material favours, and that only extending to daily bread and for the day that is passing over us. But when we extend the meaning of the word prayer, to every legitimate and reverential intercourse with the spiritual world and with the Father of Spirits ;

THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. 89 whether in petition, homage, or mere contemplation ; when we consider that it consists not only in the more palpable, visible, audible forms of ritual — whether public, solitary, or domestic, but that it recognises also the occasional and momentary ejaculation ; every meditation upon heavenly things ; every pure wish — the transient

aspiration of a yearning heart, struggling like buoyant substances held down in water to get upwards; every sentiment, expressed or unexpressed, of heavenly elevation, of praise and gratitude, of filial trust and adoration. When we consider all these heavenward motions as of the nature of prayer, then it becomes intelligible why such inestimable and in fact infinite results should be assigned to that exercise ; and how, fixed and prescribed times, places, modes, and forms of prayer for giving salutary vent and exercise to this inherent instinct of necessitous humanity, should be amongst the appointed means of sustaining the spiritual and nobler life within us. Accepting the word prayer then, in this comprehensive spiritual sense, we may partly see how, in one or other or in all these modifications, it must be indispensable to the maintenance of any affinity between ourselves and that world of Spirit, by which this material world is closely surrounded, as by an atmosphere ; and why therefore such texts as" that before us should take for granted the indispensable nature of prayer as a truth that needs no demonstration. All similitudes, all analogies are imperfect ; but by a combination of them we may obtain some proximate illustration of the necessity for such intercourses with Heaven as are represented by the word

90 THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. prayer. We may imagine an exile m a land far off, separated by wide oceans from his home, his birthright, and his relatives. If he by negligence or by mishap forego or long suspend all intercourse and correspondence with his distant friends, he will lose by degrees his fellow-feeling, his affinities, his sense of relationship with them ; and even if he were by some unexpected chance suddenly restored to them, he might find himself a stranger among .<!trangers ; ignorant of their laws, their

ways, their customs— perhaps even alienated from their sympathies ; with no community of taste — impatient of their company, hankering after more congenial associates. Therefore it is that absence is ever prone to compensate and repair its losses by correspondence, mutual presents, affectionate messages, flattering reminiscences, and fond memorials ; and every recurrence of such intercourse re-cnlivens the attachment of the exile towards the absent, and towards the home which he is expecting to regain. Or again, we have read of . unhappy victims of oppression, immured in dungeons or bastiles where they have remained secluded from all intercourse with their fellow men, till the very language of less unfortunate citizens became dead to them, and their manners strange — nay the very light of day intolerable — so that freedom had lost every charm, and captivity had become a preference ; and all for want, you will not fail to observe, of occasional intercourse and communication with that world from which they had become estranged. Or again, as a still closer illustration of the necessity of prayer, we may imagine a Slave — one of those Oriental

THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED, 91 Divers, compelled by the necessities of his life to crawl and grope in the recesses of the ocean for pearls and other treasures of the deep. We need not ask what would be the fate of one engaged in this perilous employment, if he neglected at short and frequent intervals to visit the atmosphere abovei, and to inhale anew the breath of heaven to sustain him in his singular and dangerous toil. Such illustrations, I repeat, must necessarily be very faint and partial. And it would be the mere affectation of spirituality — an affectation bordering very closely on

hypocrisy, to pretend that this world, in which God, and not the enemy of God, has placed us, is no better than an unmitigated state of slavish toil — such as we have been imagining — a dark captivity or a miserable exile. But such similitudes may serve to remind us how, on the very best, and most temperate and candid estimate of the amiable and unamiable elements of this present life— so many are its choking cares, its stifling influences, its depressing anxieties, its debasing maxims, its lowering examples, its sordid instincts, its downward tendencies ; that we peremptorily require the frequent purification, exhilaration, and refreshment of a more elevated atmosphere ; not only to sustain us in the inevitable struggle with the adverse influences by which we are environed here below, but also to maintain within us such affinity and familiarity with the more exalted state of being which awaits the just, as may make the transition when death comes, a blessing and not the reverse. And this refreshment, this breathing, this renewal is found in that varied kind of communion with

92 THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. God which is called prayer : and it is this indispensable function and the peremptory necessity for its discharge which the apostle brings into the foreground as a stimulus to the observance of the every-day practical moralities of life. ' Observe these precepts ; that prayer, the breath of spiritual life, may undergo no obstruction.' Much as though a physician should say, 'Avoid this food that your circulation may not become embarrassed ; remove yourself from that climate, that your breathing may not be impeded ; adopt exercise and temperate habits that every vital function may not be deranged.' So * observe the divine precepts ; — that your prayers be not hindered.* These words then, suggest what to some of us may

be a novel, and to all of us an important incitement to obey the dictates of conscience, whether in the discharge of duty or the avoidance of misdemeanour — the incitement, namely, that we shall otherwise place in jeopardy that process— that privilege, that communion with Heaven which is the appointed means of preserving spiritual life within us. It docs sometimes occur to people's minds that such and such misconduct may at .some distant time incur, if the Divine code be rigidly enforced, .some ultimate retribution ; but that result, they are prone to think, is at all events remote ; some favourable change may take place before then, or the Divine compassion may prove stronger than the Divine denunciation, and so the effect of that consideration is suffered to evaporate. But I am mistaken if it often occurs to us, particularly in the minor and less conspicuous predicaments of life, that every misfeasance,

THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. 93 yes every misfeasance — from the pettiest manifestation of petulance, to such deeds of revolting cruelty and wickedness as now and then throw all the civilised world into an attitude of horror and amazement — in its degree, I say and according to its magnitude, is even now, in the very act of doing it, counteracting, hindering (I don't in the case of the more venial errors say entirely neutralising), but at all events embarrassing and repressing prayer, which is the breath of spiritual life. It seldom, perhaps, occurs to a person who is tempted to one of what pass for the more trivial delinquencies of life, that even that foible (as it would probably be called) is even in the very act or neglect, in some degree impairing his communion with God. Still seldomer, very likely, does it occur to one who deliberately persists in crime that between himself and God he is actually cancelling the bond of prayer, and closing up the only channel of communication between himself and the

source of spiritual life and light ; and that this takes place not at some remote period, not under circumstances disregarded in the haze of distance ; but that now^ at the very moment and in the very act of dereliction, the intercourse with Heaven is interrupted, the means of grace more or less obstructed, and spiritual life, the life of the soul, enfeebled, debilitated, or absolutely suspended. And even if the words of Scripture did not point directly to this inference, it would stand to reason that it must be so. If prayer were no more than a mechanical process, a thing of words and evolutions, it might perfiaps be otherwise. But since prayer is an exercise of the

94 THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. Spirit, of the heart as well as of the lips, it follows that whatever clogs that heart with a consciousness of alienation from God, and whatever charges and loads that ethereal spirit with elements earthly, material, and gross, must press down that spirit, must encumber that heart to the great hindrance of its heavenward aspirations. Who does not know in merely human intercourses, how they are embarrassed on either side by a consciousness of having done anything adverse to the interests or good name of the other? Who cannot tell in the downcast eyelid of a child, the unfixed and timid look, the aspect of shame and mistrust, that something is amiss ? Who does not know that amongst those of less tender years, if one has done a wrongful deed the very last person he would desire to meet would be the one whom he had injured ? And thus if we have been allowing ourselves in anything irrcconcileable with the principles of Christ, it is impossible — impossible with the stain of that misconduct still upon it, that the spirit of a man should naturally and cheerfully and spontaneously seek to consort and hold communion

with that Spirit which is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. This then is the main notion which it is desired on this occasion to fix upon our minds, namely, that in any temptation, however trivial, to depart from the dictates of conscience — which is God's oracle within us, as His word is His oracle without — we should remember that yielding to that inclination (besides contingent consequences, at all events and whatever else may happen), hinders prayer, discourages all heavenward aspirations,

THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE OT HI DERED. 95 • Stints what would raise us above the gross atmosphere of the world ; obstructs the breath of spiritual life, and so puts spiritual life in jeopardy. Let us apply this to the inducements which are incessantly presenting themselves, to foiget not only the great cardinal obligations of Christian morality, but its smaller restraints, its more obscure prohibitions, its comparatively trivial and domestic precepts. Let us apply it when we feel tempted to speak insincerely, affectedly, disloyally, ungenerously ; to act with petty selfishness, to elevate or aggrandise ourselves at another person's expense ; to take up and needlessly repeat a reproachful rumour against our neighbour; to depart from our word, to take an unfair advantage, in short to commit any of those unworthinesses not really little, but which the world does not consider scandalous, and to which the pushing and selfish habits of the world are offering such perpetual example and inducement ; and let us in such moments of unguardedness remember that every such act is hindering prayer, not only by diminishing our appetancy for it, but also by diminishing the probability of its acceptance ; that every dereliction of duty, and still more any positive delinquency, trivial or heinous, is in its degree obstructing spiritual respiration ; and

that in neglecting or tampering with that function, which in material life will survive but a few moments* suspension, you are in effect tampering with spiritual life and death. Be careful, says the Apostle, in what the world counts obscure and trivial duties, 'that your prayers be not hindered.*



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