Rev Horton

It has sometimes seemed to me that God does not intend the faith in

prayer to rest upon an induction of instances. The answers, however

explicit, are not of the kind to bear down an aggressive criticism. Your

Christian lives a life which is an unbroken chain of prayers offered and

prayers answered; from his inward view the demonstration is

overwhelming. But do you ask for the evidences, and do you propose to

begin to p
ay if the facts are convincing, and to refuse the practice if

they are not? Then you may find the evidences evanescent as an evening

cloud, and the facts all susceptible of a simple rationalistic

explanation. "Prayer," says an old Jewish mystic, "is the moment when

heaven and earth kiss each other." It is futile as well as indelicate to

disturb that rapturous meeting; and nothing can be brought away from

such an intrusion, nothing of any value except the resolve to make trial

for oneself of the "mystic sweet communion."

I confess, therefore, that I read examples of answers to prayer without

any great interest, and refer to those I have experienced myself with

the utmost diffidence. Nay, I say frankly beforehand, "If you are

concerned to disprove my statement, and to show that what I take for the

hand of God is merely the cold operation of natural law, I shall only

smile. My own conviction will be unchanged. I do not make that great

distinction between the hand of God and natural law, and I have no wish

to induce you to pray by an accumulation of facts--to commend to you the

mighty secret by showing that it would be profitable to you, a kind of

Aladdin's lamp for fulfilling wayward desires. Natural law, the hand of

God! Yes! I unquestioningly admit that the answers to prayer come

generally along lines which we recognise as natural law, and would

perhaps always be found along those lines if our knowledge of natural

law were complete. Prayer is to me the quick and instant recognition

that all law is God's will, and all nature is in God's hand, and that

all our welfare lies in linking ourselves with His will and placing

ourselves in His hand through all the operations of the world and life

and time."

Yet I will mention a few "answers to prayer," striking enough to me. One

Sunday morning a message came to me before the service from an agonised

mother: "Pray for my child: the doctor has been and gives no hope." We

prayed, the church prayed, with the mother's agony, and with the faith

in a present Christ, mighty to save. Next day, I learned that the doctor

who had given the message of despair in the morning had returned, after

the service, and said at once, "A remarkable change has taken place."

The child recovered and still lives.

On another occasion, I was summoned from my study to see a girl who was

dying of acute peritonitis. I hurried away to the chamber of death. The

doctor said that he could do nothing more. The mother stood there

weeping. The girl had passed beyond the point of recognition. But as I

entered the room, a conviction seized me that the sentence of death had

not gone out against her. I proposed that we should kneel down and pray.

I asked definitely that she should be restored. I left the home, and

learned afterwards that she began to amend almost, at once, and entirely

recovered; she is now quite strong and well, and doing her share of

service for our Lord.

And on yet another occasion I was hastily called from my study to see an

elderly man, who had always been delicate since I knew him; now he was

prostrated with bronchitis, and the doctor did not think that he could

live. It chanced that I had just been studying the passage which

contains the prayer of Hezekiah and the promise made to him of fourteen

additional years of life. I went to the sick man and told him that I had

just been reading this, and asked if it might not be a ground for

definite prayer. He assented, and we entreated our God for His mercy in

the matter. The man was restored and is living still.

These are only typical instances of what I have frequently seen. Many

times, no doubt, I have prayed for the recovery of the sick and the

prayer has not been answered. And you, dear and skeptical reader, may

say if you will that this is proof positive that the instances of

answered prayers are mere coincidences. You may say it and, if you will,

prove it, but you will not in the least alter my quiet conviction; for

the answers were given to me. I do not know that even the subjects of

these recoveries recognise the agency which was at work. To me all this

is immaterial. The subjective evidence is all that was designed, and

that is sufficient, and to the writer conclusive.

With reference to money for Christian work, I have laboured to induce my

own church to adopt the simple view that we should ask not men, but in

the first instance God, the owner of it all, for what we want. I am

thankful to say that some of them now believe this, and bring our needs

to Him very simply and trustfully. I could name many instances of the

following kind: there is a threatened deficit in the funds of the

mission, or an extension is needed and we have not the money. The sound

of misgiving is heard; we have not the givers; the givers have given all

they can. "Why not trust God?" I have urged. "Why not pray openly and

unitedly--and believe?" The black cloud of debt has been dissipated, or

the necessary extension has been made.

Oddly enough, some people have said to me, "Ah, yours is a rich church,"

as if to imply one can very safely ask God for money when one has the

people at hand who can give it. But surely this is a question of degree.

My church is not rich enough to give one-tenth of what it gives, if we

did not first ask God for it. And there are churches which could give

ten times what they do give, if only the plan were adopted of first

asking God instead of going to the few wealthy people and trusting to


But this is a matter of statistics and a little wearisome. I confess I

am unsatisfied with answers to prayer when the prayer is only for these

carnal and visible things, which are often, in boundless love and pity,

withheld. The constant and proper things to pray for are precisely

those the advent of which cannot be observed or tabulated; that the

kingdom may come, that they who have sinned, not unto death, may be

forgiven, that the eyes of Christian men may be enlightened, and their

hearts expanded to the measure of the love of Christ. Such prayers are

answered, but the answers are not unveiled. I remember a strange

instance of this. I was staying with a gentleman in a great town, where

the town council, of which he was a member, had just decided to close a

music-hall which was exercising a pernicious influence. The decision

was most unexpected, because a strong party in the council were directly

interested in the hall. But to my friend's amazement the men who had

threatened opposition came in and quietly voted for withdrawing the

licence. Next day we were speaking about modern miracles; he, the best

of men, expressed the opinion that miracles were confined to Bible

times. His wife then happened to mention how, on the day of that council

meeting, she and some other good women of the city had met and continued

in prayer that the licence might be withdrawn. I ventured to ask my

friend whether this was not the explanation of what he had confessed to

be an amazing change of front on the part of the opposition. And,

strange to say, it had not occurred to him--though an avowed believer in

prayer--to connect the praying women and that beneficent vote.

The truth is, all the threads of good which run across our chequered

society, all the impulses upward and onward, all the invisible growths

in goodness and grace, are answered prayers. For our prayers for the

kingdom are not uttered on the housetops; and the kingdom itself cometh

not with observation.

But if it were not too delicate a subject I could recite instances, to

me the most remarkable answers to prayer in my experience, of changed

character and enlarged Christian life, resulting from definite

intercession. It is an experiment which any loving and humble soul can

easily make. Take your friends, or better still the members of the

church to which you belong, and set yourself systematically to pray for

them. Leave alone those futile and often misguided petitions for

temporal blessings, or even for success in their work, and plead with

your God in the terms of that prayer with which Saint Paul bowed his

knees for the Ephesians. Ask that this person, or these persons, known

to you, may have the enlightenment and expansion of the Spirit, the

quickened love and zeal, the vision of God, the profound sympathy with

Christ, which form the true Christian life. Pray and watch, and as you

watch, still pray. And you will see a miracle, marvellous as the

springing of the flowers in April, or the far-off regular rise and

setting of the planets,--a miracle proceeding before your eyes, a plain

answer to your prayer, and yet without any intervention of your voice or

hand. You will see the mysterious power of God at work upon these souls

for which you pray. And by the subtle movements of the Spirit it is as

likely as not that they will come to tell you of the divine blessings

which have come to them in reply to your unknown prayers.

But there are some whose eyes are not yet open to these invisible things

of the Spirit, which are indeed the real things. The measure of faith is

not yet given them, and they do not recognise that web,--the only web

which will last when the loom of the world is broken,--the web of which

the warp is the will of God, and the woof the prayers of men. For these,

to speak of the whole as answered prayer is as good as to say that no

prayer is answered at all. If they are to recognise an answer it must be

some tiny pattern, a sprig of flower, or an ammonite figure on the

fabric. Let me close, therefore, by recounting a very simple answer to

prayer,--simple, and yet, I think I can show, significant.

Last summer I was in Norway, and one of the party was a lady who was too

delicate to attempt great mountain excursions, but found an infinite

compensation in rowing along those fringed shores of the fjord, and

exploring those interminable brakes, which escape the notice of the

passengers on board the steamer. One day we had followed a narrow fjord,

which winds into the folds of the mountains, to its head. There we had

landed and pushed our way through the brush of birch and alder, lost in

the mimic glades, emerging to climb miniature mountains, and fording

innumerable small rivers, which rushed down from the perpetual snows.

Moving slowly over the ground--veritable explorers of a virgin

forest--plucking the ruby bunches of wild raspberry, or the bilberries

and whortleberries, delicate in bloom, we made a devious track which it

was hard or impossible to retrace. Suddenly my companion found that her

golosh was gone. That might seem a slight loss and easily replaced; not

at all. It was as vital to her as his snowshoes were to Nansen on the

Polar drift; for it could not be replaced until we were back in Bergen

at the end of our tour. And to be without it meant an end of all the

delightful rambles in the spongy mosses and across the lilliputian

streams, which for one at least meant half the charm and the benefit of

the holiday. With the utmost diligence, therefore, we searched the

brake, retraced our steps, recalled each precipitous descent of

heather-covered rock, and every sapling of silver birch by which we had

steadied our steps. We plunged deep into all the apparently bottomless

crannies, and beat the brushwood along all our course. But neither the

owner's eyes, which are keen as needles, nor mine, which are not, could

discover any sign of the missing shoe. With woeful countenances we had

to give it up and start on our three miles' row along the fjord to the

hotel. But in the afternoon the idea came to me, "And why not ask our

gracious Father for guidance in this trifle as well as for all the

weightier things which we are constantly committing to His care? If the

hairs of our head are all numbered, why not also the shoes of our feet?"

I therefore asked Him that we might recover this lost golosh. And then I

proposed that we should row back to the place. How magnificent the

precipitous mountains and the far snow-fields looked that afternoon! How

insignificant our shallop, and our own imperceptible selves in that

majestic amphitheatre, and how trifling the whole episode might seem to

God! But the place was one where we had enjoyed many singular proofs of

the divine love which shaped the mountains but has also a particular

care for the emmets which nestle at their feet. And I was ashamed of

myself for ever doubting the particular care of an infinite love. When

we reached the end of the fjord and had lashed the boat to the shore, I

sprang on the rocks and went, I know not how or why, to one spot, not

far from the water, a spot which I should have said we had searched

again and again in the morning, and there lay the shoe before my eyes,

obvious, as if it had fallen from heaven!

I think I hear the cold laugh of prayerless men: "And that is the kind

of thing on which you rest your belief in prayer; a happy accident.

Well, if you are superstitious enough to attach any importance to that,

you would swallow anything!" And with a smile, not, I trust, scornful or

impatient, but full of quiet joy, I would reply: "Yes, if you will, that

is the kind of thing; a trifle rising to the surface from the depths of

a Father's love and compassion--those depths of God which you will not

sound contain marvels greater it is true; they are, however, ineffable,

for the things of the Spirit will only be known to men of the Spirit.

These trifles are all that can be uttered to those who will not search

and see; trifles indeed, for no sign shall be given to this generation;

which, if it will not prove the power of prayer by praying, shall not be

convinced by marshalled instances of the answers of prayer."