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Adam Clarke on Prayer

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

“PRAYER has been defined, ‘an offering of our desire to God for things needful, with an humble confidence to obtain them through the alone merits of Christ, to the praise of the mercy, truth, and power of God.’ And ‘its parts are said to be invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, dedication, thanksgiving, and blessing.’ Though the definition be imperfect, yet, as far as it goes, it is not objectionable; but the parts of prayer, as they are called, (except the word petition,) have scarcely anything to do with the nature of prayer. They are, in general, separate acts of devotion; and attention to them in what is termed ‘praying,’ will entirely mar it, and destroy its efficacy.

“It was by following this division, that long prayers have been introduced among Christian congregations, by means of which the spirit of devotion has been lost: for, where such prevail most, listlessness and deadness are the principal characteristics of the religious services of such people; and these have often engendered formality, and frequently total indifference to religion. Long prayers prevent kneeling, for it is utterly impossible for man or woman to keep on their knees during the time such last; where these prevail, the people either stand or sit. Technical prayers, I have no doubt, are odious in the sight of God; for no man can be in the spirit of devotion who uses such: it is a drawing nigh to God with the lips, while the heart is, almost necessarily, far from him.

prayer4“A proper idea of prayer is, ‘the pouring out the soul before God, with the hand of faith placed on the head of the sacrificial offering; imploring mercy, and presenting itself a free-will offering unto God; giving up body, soul, and spirit, to be guided and governed as may seem good to his heavenly wisdom, desiring only perfectly to love him, and serve him with all its powers, at all times, while he has a being.’

“It is not merely to tell God our wants, or to show him our state, that we are to pray; (for he knows this state and these wants much better than ourselves;) but to get a suitable feeling of the pressure of these wants, and the necessity of having them supplied: and this we obtain by looking into our own hearts and lives; for here, particularly, the eye affects the heart, and, from the urgency of the necessity, we feel excited to pray earnestly to God for his mercy; and our confessing them before him affects us still more deeply; induces us to be more fervent; and shows us that none but God can save and defend.

“Prayer is not designed to inform God, but to give man a sight of his misery; to humble his heart, to excite his desire, to inflame his faith, to animate his hope, to raise his soul from earth to heaven, and to put him in mind that there is his Father, his country, and inheritance.

“Prayer is the most secret intercourse of the soul with God, and, as it were, the conversation of one heart with another.

“Prayer is the language of dependence; he who prays not is endeavoring to live independently of God; this was the first curse, and continues to be the great curse of mankind.

prayer3“Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue. The eloquence of prayer consists in the fervency of desire and the simplicity of faith. The abundance of fine thoughts, studied and vehement motions, and the order and politeness of the expressions, are things which compose mere human harangue, not an humble and Christian prayer. Our trust and confidence should proceed from that which God is able to do in us, and not from what we say to him.

“Unmeaning words, useless repetitions, and complimentary phrases in prayer, are, in general, the result of heathenism, hypocrisy, or ignorance.

“A fluency in prayer is not essential to praying: a man may pray most powerfully, in the estimation of God, who is not able to utter even one word. The unutterable groan is big with meaning, and God understands it, because it contains the language of his own Spirit. Some desires are too mighty to be expressed; there is no language expressive enough to give them proper form and distinct vocal sound: such desires show that they come from God; and as they come from him, so they express what God is disposed to do, and what he has purposed to do.”

— Adam Clarke, “Prayer” Christian Theology (edited by Samuel Dunn).

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