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single drop of water, or breath of air is never annihilated, still less is the faintest aspiration of prayer uttered in vain that ascends from a fervent heart to the throne of grace.
And now, in reply to your difficulty, I affirm that God answers our prayers in one of two ways, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes He grants us the direct and specified object of our petitions; sometimes He denies us what we particularly ask for, but He grants us something equivalent to, or even better than that for which we seek. Just as a prudent father withholds from his child a dangerous toy, and bestows on him, instead, something harmless or useful, so our Heavenly Father gives what to Him seems best, and our wisdom is but folly compared with the wisdom of God.
First. In regard to the President: If God, in response to our prayers, did not save his life, He has done more, He has saved the life and preserved the peace of the nation, and the life of the nation is of more value than the life of any individual.
Secondly. He was pleased to prolong the President's life for nearly three months after he had received the fatal wound. Had he died immediately from the wound, what terrible consequences might have ensued! So intense at the moment was public feeling; so strong (though most unjust) was the suspicion aroused against the leaders of a certain political party; so bitter was the animosity engendered by those suspicions, that, if the President had immediately succumbed, it would have needed but a spark
to ignite the flame. The first assassination might have been followed by others, and anarchy and confusion and sedition might, for a time, have reigned
But God mercifully prolonged his life till the excitement subsided, when cool reason could regain her throne, and men could plainly see that the crime was the work of one man alone, having no collusion with others.
Thirdly. As another fruit of our prayers, God inspired the country with a more intense abhorrence of assassination, and a greater reverence for the Chief Magistrate of the nation.
Fourthly. As another result of our prayers, during the trying ordeal through which we were passing, party spirit yielded to the nobler and healthier sentiment of patriotism and love of country. Men forgot, for the time being, that they were Stalwarts or Conservatives, Republicans or Democrats, Administration or Anti-Administration partisans. They remembered only that they were Americans, and citizens of a common country, children of the same mother, and they came together to shed a tear of sorrow by the sick-bed of their ruling brother.
Is not this a satisfactory answer to your difficulty? Did not God hearken to our petitions by sparing the life and saving the peace of the Republic, by prolonging the President's life till public feeling was quieted, and by inspiring men with a greater abhorrence of the crime of assassination and a deeper love for our country and its institutions? And have not
our prayers been profitable, also, in another sense? Have they not been an eloquent rebuke to atheism and infidelity, and a solemn and national profession of faith in God's existence, in His power and wisdom, and in His superintending Providence? Let us remember that the chief object of prayer is not to ask and receive favors from God-that would be a narrow and selfish consideration. God forbid that
He should always grant us according to the desires of our heart! This would be abandoning us to our own folly, and the withdrawal of His Providence from us, as happened to the Jews when they importuned God for a king. We are always safe in leaving the result of our prayers to His discretion. The primary motive of prayer is to acknowledge our filial dependence on God and His Fatherly care of us.
Hence, we may judge how inconclusive and revolting to our religious instincts was the prayer-test of Mr. Tyndall, who proposed that the virtue of prayer should be tried by placing in two different wards of a hospital an equal number of patients, afflicted in the same degree with similar maladies, and that the inmates of one ward should pray for their recovery, while those in the other should make no appeal to heaven.
Besides tempting God, the chief fault of the prayertest lies in the false assumption that prayer is useless, unless the express object of the petition is granted. For my part, while protesting against the blasphemy involved in doubting the efficacy of prayer for tem
poral blessings, I would infinitely prefer to be a patient in the praying ward through a painful and lingering illness, even though death were to follow, than to be an indevout patient in the other ward, though I were to be restored to health. For I would be placing myself in the loving arms of my Father: "Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him," 1 and I would expire in the blessed assurance that His mercy would follow me beyond the grave. Immeasurably sweeter to me would be the spiritual consolation, the blissful hope, the solid peace, and the friendship of my Heavenly Father, than the possession of a healthy frame, animated by a soul without God in this world, or the hope of Him in the life to come.
7th. But I may be met here at the end of the discussion by a more subtle objection. I have prayed, you will say, for a spiritual blessing,-the conversion of a friend or relative, or the moral reformation of a wayward son, and my prayer seems to have been thrown away. For what more legitimate blessing could I ask?
I answer, in the first place, that you will very probably obtain the object of your petition, if you pray with perseverance. It was only after sixteen years of earnest entreaty that Monica obtained the conversion of her cherished son Augustine. It was only after persistent solicitations that the Canaanite woman procured the recovery of her
1 Job XIII., 15.
daughter's health;1 and St. Francis de Sales obtained the mastery over his temper only after a prayerful struggle of twenty years.
Secondly. But, perhaps, your friend for whom you constantly prayed, died without manifesting any certain signs of grace and repentance. Be it so. Did God make manifest to you the condition of your friend's soul at the moment of his demise? He may have sanctified that soul by a sudden ray of grace in the moment of dissolution, and concealed from you, for your present humiliation, the blissful fruit of your entreaties, that your joy may be full on the day of the Lord. He may, also, have concealed the conversion of your friend from all who knew him, that they might fully realize the necessity of an early conversion to their Creator, and of securing a happy death by a holy life. Even at the last moment, there is, indeed, hope of salvation; but, then, true conversion of heart after a long life of neglected duties, requires a miracle of grace Of the conversion of the good thief, St. Augustine said: "One was converted at the hour of death, that you might not despair; only one was converted, that you might not presume." God's unrevealed mercies are over all His works. Who would have imagined the salvation of the dying thief, if the Evangelist had not recorded the expiring words of our Saviour: "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise!" 2
But, lastly, even admitting that your friend gave
1 Matt. XV., 22-28. 2 Luke XXIII., 43.