Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Prayer and the Uniformity of Nature
By Thomas Chalmers (17801847)
WHEN the sigh of the midnight storm sends fearful agitation into a mothers heart, as she thinks of her sailor boy now exposed to its fury on the waters of a distant ocean, these stern disciples of a hard and stern infidelity would, on this notion of a rigid and impracticable constancy in nature, forbid her prayers, holding them to be as impotent and vain, though addressed to the God who has all the elements in His hand, as if lifted up with senseless importunity to the raving elements themselves. Yet nature would strongly prompt the aspiration; and if there be truth in our argument, there is nothing in the constitution of the universe to forbid its accomplishment. God might answer her prayer, not by unsettling the order of secondary causes, not by reversing any of the wonted successions that are known to have taken place in the ever-restless, ever-heaving atmosphere, not by sensible miracle among those nearer footsteps which the philosopher has traced,but by the touch of an immediate hand among the deep recesses of materialism, which are beyond the ken of all His instruments. It is thence that the Sovereign of nature might bid the wild uproar of the elements into silence. It is there that the virtue comes out of Him, which passes like a winged messenger from the invisible to the visible; and, at the threshold of separation between these two regions, impresses the direction of the Almightys will on the remotest cause which science can mount her way to. From this point in the series, the path of descent along the line of nearer and proximate causes may be rigidly invariable; and in respect of the order, the precise undeviating order, wherewith they follow each other, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. The heat, and the vapour, and the atmospherical precipitates, and the consequent moving forces by which either to raise a new tempest, or to lay an old one, all these may proceed, and without one hair-breadth of deviation, according to the successions of our established philosophy, yet each be but the obedient messenger of that voice, which gave forth its command at the fountain head of the whole operation; which commissioned the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth, and made lightnings for the rain, and brought the wind out of his treasuries. These are the palpable steps of the process; but an unseen influence, behind the farthest limit of mans boasted discoveries, may have set them agoing. And that influence may have been accorded to prayerthe power that moves Him who moves the universe; and who, without violence to the known regularities of nature, can either send forth the hurricane over the face of the deep, or recall it at His pleasure. Such is the joyful persuasion of faith, and proud philosophy cannot disprove it. A womans feeble cry may have over-ruled the elemental war, and hushed into silence this wild frenzy of the winds and the waves, and evoked the gentler breezes from the cave of their slumbers, and wafted the vessel of her dearest hopes, and which held the first and fondest of her earthly treasures, to its desired haven.