Thus praise and prayer are accepted in preference to every form of offering which it was possible for the Jew to present before the Lord. Why is this?
First of all I would answer, real prayer is far better than mere ritual, because there is meaning in it, and when grace is absent, there is no meaning in ritual; it is as senseless as an idiot's game....
The glorious God cares nothing for pomp and show; but when you call upon him in the day of trouble, and ask him to deliver you, there is meaning in your groan of anguish. This is no empty form; there is heart in it, is there not? ... God prefers the prayer of a broken heart to the finest service that ever was performed by priests and choirs. There is meaning in the soul's bitter cry, and there is no meaning in the pompous ceremony. ...
Ah! you may bid the organ peal forth its sweetest and its loudest notes, but what is the meaning of mere wind passing through pipes? A child cries, and there is meaning in that. A man standing up in yonder corner groans out, "O God, my heart will break!" There is more force in his moan than in a thousand of the biggest trumpets, drums, cymbals, tambourines, or any other instruments of music wherewith men seek to please God nowadays. What madness to think that God cares for musical sounds, or ordered marchings, or variegated garments! In a tear, or a sob, or a cry, there is meaning, but in mere sound there is no sense, and God cares not for the meaningless....
But when a poor soul gets away into its chamber, and bows its knee and cries, "God, be merciful to me! God save me! God help me in this day of trouble!" there is spiritual life in such a cry and therefore God approves it and answers it! Spiritual worship is that what he wants.... "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." He has abolished the ceremonial law, destroyed the one altar at Jerusalem, burned the Temple... and ended for ever all ritualistic performance; for he seeks only true worshippers, who worship him in spirit and in truth.
Further, the Lord loves the cry of the broken heart because it distinctly recognizes Him as the living God.... From much of outward devotion God is absent. But how we mock God when we do not discern him as present, and do not come nigh unto his very self! When the heart, the mind, the soul, breaks through itself to get to its God, then it is that God is glorified, but not by any bodily exercises in which he is forgotten. Oh, how real God is to a man who is perishing, and feels that only God can save him! He believes that God is, or else he would not make so piteous a prayer to him.
...there is sincerity in it. I am afraid that in the hour of our mirth and the day of our prosperity many of our prayers and our thanksgivings are hypocrisy.... A life of ease breeds hosts of falsehoods and pretences, which would soon vanish in the presence of painful trials. Many a man has been converted to God in the bush of Australia by hunger, and weariness, and loneliness, who, when he was a wealthy man, surrounded by gay flatterers, never thought of God at all....
We may go through a highly brilliant performance of religion, after the rites of some gaudy church; or we may go through our own rites, which are as simple as they can be; and we may be all the while saying to ourselves, "This is very nicely done." The preacher may be thinking, "Am I not preaching well?" The brother at the prayer-meeting may feel within himself, "How delightfully fluent I am! Whenever there is that spirit in us, God cannot accept our worship. Worship is not acceptable if it be devoid of humility.
Now, when in the day of trouble a man goes to God, and says, "Lord, help me! I cannot help myself, but do you interpose for me," there is humility in that confession and cry, and hence the Lord takes delight in them. You, poor woman over here, deserted by your husband, and ready to wish that you could die, I exhort you to call upon God in the day of trouble, for I know that you will pray a humble prayer. You, poor trembler over yonder; you have done very wrong, and are likely to be found out and disgraced for it, but I charge you to cry to God in prayer, for I am sure there will be no pride about your petition. You will be broken in spirit, and humble before God, and "a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you wilt not despise."
Once more, the Lord loves such pleadings because there is a measure of faith in them. When the man in trouble cries, "Lord deliver me!" he is looking away from himself.... He cannot find hope or help on earth, and therefore he looks towards heaven. Perhaps he has been to friends, and they have failed him, and therefore, in sheer despair, he seeks his truest Friend....
Oh, dear heart, where art you? Art you torn with anguish? Art you sore distressed? Art you lonely? Art you cast away? Then cry to God. None else can help you; now art you shut up to him. Blessed shutting up! Cry to him, for he can help you; and your cry will be a pure and true worship, such as God desires, far more than the slaughter of ten thousand bulls.... The groan of a burdened spirit is among the sweetest sounds that are ever heard by the ear of the Most High. Plaintive cries are anthems with him, to whom all mere arrangements of sound must be as child's-play.
See then, poor, weeping, and distracted ones, that it is not Ritualism; it is not the performance of pompous ceremonies, it is not bowing and scraping, it is not using sacred words; but it is crying to God in the hour of your trouble; which is the most acceptable sacrifice your spirit can bring before the throne of God.
Intended for reading on Lord's-Day, December 27th,
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