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Upon Strength and Length in Prayer

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When Cicero was asked which Demonsthenes’ orations he thought best, he wittily replied, “The longest.”

But if the question should be, which prayers are bets, the answer must not be longest but strongest; not the prayer that exceeds in quantity but that which excels in quality.

In moral actions, the manner of working is a swaying circumstance: a man may sin in doing goo, but not in doing well. How few then are there which manage this duty of holy prayer aright?

Some mistake the language of prayer, and think it consists of nothing else than clothing their meaning in apt expressions with a tuneable delivery of it. Others presume that it necessarily must have put an edge upon their requests and stirred up some passions of self-love, that they cannot fail of acceptance. Others agains put much in the length of their prayers, measuring by the time which is spent, rather than by the intention which is exercised in them.

But alas, how wide are all such apprehensions from the truth. And how fruitless will such duties be to those that are not otherwise busied in them.

The prayer, which is as delightful music in God’s ears, is not that which has the quaint notes of the Nightingale, but that which has the mournful tones of the dove. Broken sighs and groans the best eloquence with God, and become prayer, just as unexpected stops and rests (made by musicians) do grace the music with a kind of harmonical ellipsis and apostrophe. It is not the prayer that indigency and natural desires do sharpen, but that which the Spirit does enliven that prevails with God. The one is the cry of the young ravens, the other is as the voice of children who are taught to cry Abba, Father. It is not the many words of the proud Pharisee that obtained the blessing, but the pithy and short confession of a penitent Publican — who was sent away justified.

Ah Father! may sometimes be more effectual with God, who searches the heart and knows the mind of the Spirit, than a prayer that is stretched forth like an evening shadow to wonderful length. The one, though short, may like a small figure in a number stand for much; and the other, though great, may like a string of zeros mean nothing.

Let therefore such who are frequent in the duty of prayer, especially young converts, who are apt to think above what is meet for their own enlargements, endeavor to turn length into strength, and to remember that there is a wide difference between the gift and grace of prayer; that it one thing to have commerce with God in duties and another to communion with him: the one is such as strangers have in their mutual traffic, but the other is proper to friends, who are knit together in love.