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The steamer is an advance on the sailing vessel. And so the man in whose soul God kindles a fire of love, which burns on night and day, and moves him against tide and storm, is no doubt an advance on the man who can pray indeed occasionally for help, but has no constant fire of love in his heart. God comes in the inward fire no less than in the outward wind. He sends us motives from within as from above. We use occasional prayers, but God teaches us to pray without ceasing by a constant life of love to him and his creatures. Then we feel God near us all the day. Then we do not hoist our sails and take them in again, but we are driven forward by the steady, undying love of God in our hearts.
By this I mean that if we are inwardly at peace with God, full of his love, and steadfastly doing his will, it is not necessary to pray merely as a duty, or a form, or a custom.
We do not pray to God in order to please him, but to be helped and blessed. Just as the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, so prayer was made for man, and not man for prayer. Prayer is not a duty, but a privilege, an opportunity. It is food when we are hungry, water when we are thirsty. When we are not hungry it is not our duty to eat, nor to drink when we have no thirst. Never look on prayer as a form which you ought to go through with, never as a ceremony by which God is pleased and pacified. No, it is the happy talk of a child
with its mother; the cry for comfort, and love, and help, which, if it be only sincere, God will always an
But does God answer the prayer of form? By this illustration of a ship we see in what human power consists, and what are its limitations. The sailor has no power over the vessel to make it different from what it is; he has no power over the currents or the winds to make them different from what they are; he has no power over the geography of land or sea to make it different. But he can study his chart to find out how to sail, he can steer his vessel by his compass according to its course, he can set his sails to the wind; and if he does all this aright, he is able, by obeying law, to become free. He is free to accomplish his work only as he continues to obey divine law.
Nor has man any power over his organization of mind or of body to make them different from what they are; no power over the circumstances in which he is placed. But he can obey the laws of God, or disobey them; he can seek for truth, or neglect it. Happy is he who is steering somewhere, who is not drifting purposeless through life. The most unhappy of men are those who have nothing to do.
Happier he whose purpose is a good and generous one; who lives in order to find more truth, do more good, accomplish something of real value in the world. Happiest of all he who is doing this with the consciousness that he is a fellow-worker with God, who is working with the love of God and Christ in his heart, and so making this earthly life at one with the life in heaven. He only can pray the Lord's prayer with full conviction, and say, “ Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.” He knows what is the object of his voyage; he has the chart of his Master's life by which to steer, the unvarying compass of conscience as his daily guide, and the spirit of God, the divine breath of love, to urge him forward.
Over ten thousand miles of pathless ocean
The ship moves on its steadfast course each day,
And anchors safe within the expected bay.
O ship of God! with voyage more sublime
O human soul ! in thine appointed hour,
In calms more fatal, storms of madder power
Sail on! and trust the compass in thy breast,
Trust the diviner heavens that round thee bend,
Trust, most of all, in thine Eternal Friend.