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And there are other instances of the same sort which compel every clergyman to be a praying-machine. We all know what is the result of such repetitions. The formula uttered in such routine loses reality-degenerates into an incantation among the ignorant, into cant among the educated.
But there are many Christians around us who have rejected these formulas and repetitions of the Church. They are not indeed entirely guiltless of this great vice of the Roman and Anglican Churches, however, for they repeat certain incantations in their prayers,—such as “Amen,” and “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and other stock phrases which they tell over and over again like the beads of a rosary.
But there is superstition embodied in the praying-machine which all sects share alike; one which is inherent in the very nature of prayer. It is the belief implied that the benefits of this universe are to be secured by the perfunctory lip-service or barrel-service of human beings. It is impossible to think of one of those orientals turning his praying machine otherwise than as some poor fellow in the street grinding over and over again on his barrel-organ a wellknown stock of dismal tunes in hope of an occasional penny from the heavenly windows. And the man of the machine may describe in the same way the tedious routine of Christian prayers, beseeching God to throw out a mercy or two from His abundance. Nay, he might well claim that his plan of doing this sort of thing by machinery is the best of the two, since it leaves the man free to sit in silent meditation, which is of some value, while his wheel is turning. And if the interpretation of the mysterious phrase so multiplied in the barrel which was given to the Jesuit father, “God thou knowest," be the popular oneit is not the right one—why then our popular appeals to God for this and that thing are by no means so elevated as the submissive sentence of the Buddhist.
It is not denied that the system of prayer was once real. The Buddhist wheel was once a great reality. Buddha himself was once a great reality. But as in the progress of the world the oriental symbol and the religion have lost spontaneity, and at last meaning, and now remain only in fossils-interesting for study, but useless for their original purpose—so it is certain that the discoveries of universal law have reduced prayer among us to an anachronism. It makes no difference whatever whether the prayer be for a moral, or an intellectual, or a physical benefit. If it is absurd for a man to set himself to acquire a fortune by praying for it, it is equally absurd for students to try and pass their examination by prayer instead of study-an absurdity which protestants can see when for such help priests invite students to visit the fountain of Lourdes; but neither is more absurd than to pray for morality, for character, for virtue or religion, all of which are equally dependent on the invariable laws of cause and effect.
There were high moments in the lives of the apostles when they rose above such current superstitions, and warned men that spiritual were no less certain and invariable than physical laws. “Be not deceived,” said one,
“that which a man soweth he shall reap." « Be
not deceived,” cried another, “he that doeth righteousness is righteous." They who said these things were not Christians. The term Christianity-which means an attempt to substitute the virtue of Christ for our virtue, and the task of the year one for the work of 1877—that sectarian term by which a living heart was prisoned in a machine, creed-machine, praying-machine-was not yet invented. But that solemn warning, “Be not deceived !” was speedily lost. Christianity came, and still is with us, proclaiming, “That which a man soweth he shall escape reaping by prayer;" "he that doeth righteousness is not righteous, unless he prays; he will go to hell no matter what good he does, unless he prays.” This idea that the great moral laws depend on the breath of our lips is a sad declension from the heights of ancient faith and knowledge. There is a notion abroad that the perception of the essential superstitiousness of prayer is a modern opinon. Some people appear to think that the movement against prayer originated with our English men of science. But it is nearer the truth to say that every great religious soul in the far past contributed something to that profounder reverence, that deeper sense of the eternal laws, which have shown prayer to be a presumptuous, albeit unconscious attempt to cajole the universe. The ancient testimonies of prophets and sages against the whole theory of prayer, and even its form, are innumerable—nowhere more so than as recorded in the Bible. “ The Lord said unto Moses, wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward."-(Ex. 14.) In all the
wanderings of Israel in Egypt this seems to have been the only time Moses prayed, and then his strong conscience rebuked him for asking a god to do his work. Among the Ten Commandments he brought down from Sinai not one commanded men to pray,—though there is one about taking the name of Jehovah in vain, which millions of prayers are violating this day. It is true that Moses is said to have instituted sacrifices, and these are of the nature of prayers ; it is pretty certain that the sacrifices which his name labelled are the invention of a late priesthood, and that Moses never commanded people wandering in a wilderness to offer their god flocks and herds, doves and lambs, which they did not possess; but, even were it so, it would only show that he had not outgrown at all points the superstitions in which he was trained. But what do we find among the great prophets who followed him ? Denunciations of sacrifice, burntofferings, and the prayers uttered with them. · Bring no more vain oblations,”—such was the still small voice as Isaiah heard it; “incense is an abomination to me; even so are your sabbaths; when you stretch forth your hands I see not; when ye pray I hear not.
Learn to do well. Seek justice. Redress wrongs. Help the poor.” Such utterances are to be found in the Bible by hundreds. Who can ever read without feeling its rebuke to the ceremonies of Christendom that sublime summing up of true worship by the prophet Micah,—“What doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?” Parallel to those prophetic rebukes of all formularies was the sweep
ing rebuke by Christ of all public prayer whatever, prayers in street or synagogue. Jesus may not indeed have seen that prayer is irrational in itself, though it is certain he never uttered the prayers put by reporters in his mouth : he died young, and did not outgrow all the superstitions around him ; but one thing is clear, he would respect no prayer uttered outside of the closet, and that is enough to rebuke all our litanies, kneelings, grace-mutterings at table, and every other performance of the European praying machine. If a doubtful chapter be founded on true tradition, Jesus seemed indeed to be near to the higher truth when he told his friends he would not pray for them, since that might imply that God required some suggestion or intercession in order to love them. Paul seemed to feel the inconsistency of prayer when he said, “We know not how to pray for anything as we ought," and that this must be left to the deep spirit within, whose pleadings cannot, he says, be uttered in words.
In the great regenerating epochs of other nations, in which their religions were born, we find a similar repugnance to this cheap sentimental way of supplicating God, when great work is to done. We do not find that Buddha or Confucius ever prayed, and Zoroaster sang happy hymns and invocations, but offered no petitions. Mahomet's terrible Allah did indeed command prayer, but even Mahomet desired his followers to attend prayer chiefly during the night, so that the day might be devoted to work. All such testimonies against praying are mixed : these men lived among uncivilised people, amid myriad