LESSONS IN THE SCHOOL OF PRAYER
AS TAUGHT BY
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself
Arranged and classified
with reference to their
ARTHUR T. PIERSON
The genesis of this book is very simple. Having occasion to prepare a special address on “Prayer,” it occurred to me to collate and compare all the words spoken by our Lord himself upon the great theme, as it had often been found that His teachings upon any given subject, when so combined, constitute a consistent and harmonious whole—a body of doctrine, singularly comprehensive, and symmetrically complete.
In order to present His teachings, as to Prayer, most fully and satisfactorily, three things seemed essential: First, to gather them all together, for the sake of completeness; secondly, to classify them under appropriate divisions, for the sake of analysis and synthesis; and, thirdly, to arrange them as far as possible in chronological order, for the sake of discovering and disclosing any progress of doctrine which they might exhibit.
The result of these studies has proved so surprising and so satisfactory, that it is given to all devout students of the Scriptures, in the confidence that others will find here some such help, instruction, and comfort, as the writer has found. Perhaps even the imperfection of the work, here embodied, may incite other pupils of the Great Master to a more successful search into the wonderful words of Him who spake as never man spake.
ARTHUR T. PIERSON.
1127 Dean St., Brooklyn, New York.
WHEN THOU PRAYEST,
Thou shalt not be As the hypocrites are;
For they love to pray, Standing in the synagogues,
And in the corners of the streets;
That they may be seen of men: Verily I say unto you,
They have their reward.
When thou prayest,
ENTER INTO THY CLOSET;
And, when thou hast shut thy door,
Pray to thy Father,
Who is in Secret And thy Father,
Who seeth in secret,
Shall reward thee openly
But, when ye pray,
USE NOT VAIN REPETITIONS,
As the heathen do;
For they think That they shall be heard,
For their much speaking-:
Be not ye, therefore, like unto them;
For your Father knoweth What things ye have need of,
Before ye ask Him.
After this manner, Therefore, Pray Ye:
Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come
Thy Will be done,
(On Earth, As it is in Heaven).
Give us, this day,
Our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors; And lead us,
Not into Temptation;
But deliver us From evil;
For Thine is
And the Power,
And the Glory,)
And, when ye stand praying,
If ye have aught against any;
That your Father also,
Which is in Heaven,
May forgive you your trespasses.
Love your enemies;
Bless them That curse you;
Do good to them
That hate you;
And pray for them
That despitefully use you,
And persecute you.
HAVE FAITH IN GOD.
Verily I say unto you:
If ye have faith,
As a grain of mustard-seed,
Ye might say unto this sycamine-tree.
Be thou plucked up by the roots,
And be thou planted in the sea,
And it should obey you.
If ye have faith,
And doubt not,
Ye shall not only do this,
Which is done to the fig-tree,
Whosoever shall say to this mountain,
Be thou removed,
And be thou cast into the sea;
And shall not doubt in his heart,
But shall believe
That those things which he saith
Shall come to pass,
He shall have whatsoever he saith.
And nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Therefore, I say unto you,
Whatsoever things ye desire,
When ye pray,
Believe that ye receive them,
And ye shall have them.
And all things,
Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer,
Ye shall receive.
And He spake a parable unto them,
To this end,
THAT MEN OUGHT ALWAYS TO PRAY
AND NOT TO FAINT,
There was, in a city, a Judge,
Which feared not God,
Neither regarded man;
And there was a widow in that city,
And she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary!
And he would not, for a while;
But, afterward, he said, within himself,
Though I fear not God,
Nor regard man;
Yet, because this widow troubleth me,
I will avenge her;
Lest, by her continual coming,
She weary me.
And the Lord said:
Hear what the unjust Judge saith:
And shall not God avenge His own elect,
Which cry day and night unto Him;
Though He bear long with them?
I tell you, that He will avenge them speedily.
When the Son of man cometh,
Shall He find faith on the earth?
And He said unto them:
Which of you shall have a friend,
And shall go unto him, at midnight,
And say unto him,
Friend, lend me three loaves,
For a friend of mine, in his journey,
Is come to me,
And I have nothing to set before him;
And he, from within shall answer and say,
Trouble me not;
The door is now shut,
And my children are with me in bed;
I cannot rise and give thee:
I say unto you,
Though he will not rise and give him,
Because he is his friend;
Yet, because of his importunity,
He will rise, and give him
As many as he needeth.
And I say unto you:
And it shall be given you;
And ye shall find;
And it shall be opened unto you.
If A SON shall ask bread
Of any of you that is A FATHER,
Will he give him a stone;
Or, if he ask a fish,
Will he, for a fish, give him a serpent;
Or, if he shall ask an egg,
Will he offer him a scorpion?
If ye then, being evil,
Know how to give good gifts
Unto your children,
How much more
Shall your heavenly father
Give the Holy Spirit
To them that ask Him!
And He spake this parable,
Unto certain which trusted in themselves
That they were righteous,
And despised others.
Two men went up into the
Temple, To pray:
The one, a Pharisee,
And the other, a Publican.
The Pharisee stood,
And prayed thus with himself:
God, I thank Thee
That I am not
As other men are:
Extortioners, unjust, adulterers,
Or even as this Publican:
I fast twice in the week;
I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off,
Would not lift so much as his eyes unto heaven,
But smote upon his breast, saying:
God, be merciful unto me,
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified,
Rather than the other;
For every one that exalteth himself
Shall be abased;
But HE THAT HUMBLETH HIMSELF
SHALL BE EXALTED.
Again, I say unto you,
IF two of you shall agree, on earth,
As touching anything that they shall ask,
It shall be done for them,
Of my Father which is in Heaven;
For where two or three are gathered together,
IN my name,
There am I,
In the midst of them.
The Harvest is great,
And the laborers are few;
Pray ye therefore
The Lord of the Harvest,
That He would send forth laborers,
Into His Harvest.
Whatsoever ye shall ask
IN my name
That will I do,
That the Father may be glorified
In the Son.
If ye shall ask anything,
IN MY NAME,
I will do it.
If ye abide in Me,
And my words abide in you,
Ye shall ask what ye will,
And it shall be done unto you.
Ye have not chosen me,
But I have chosen you;
And ordained you;
That ye should go and bring forth fruit,
And that your fruit should remain:
That whatsoever ye shall ask the Father,
IN MY NAME,
He may give it you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father,
IN my name,
He will give it you.
HITHERTO have ye asked nothing,
IN my name,
And ye shall receive;
That your joy may be full.
At that day ye shall ask IN my name;
And I say not unto you
That I will pray the Father for you;
For the Father Himself loveth you,
Because ye have loved Me,
And have believed
That I came out from God.
The combined Testimony of the Four Gospel narratives is thus first presented, arranged as nearly as may be ascertained, in the order of utterance.
For the sake of exhibiting the mutual relations of all the members in this body of doctrine, regard is had to an obvious law of parallelism, which pervades it, and which helps to the apprehension of the minute beauty and symmetry of Christ’s words; and hence the arrangement of parallel clauses as into the lines and stanzas of a poem, for there is a rhyme and rhythm of thought, as well as of words. That which appears to be the central lesson of each group is put in small capitals, to aid in fixing it in the mind; while words or phrases plainly intended to be in juxtaposition, as apposite or opposite to each other, are indicated by italics.
Thus, combining and arranging our Lord’s own utterances and teachings on the subject of prayer, and, for the most part, in the actual order of their utterance so far as we can approximate to that order, we find that there is here a system of teaching: these scattered fragments, put together as they belong, form a mosaic. Moreover, they fall easily and naturally into ten groups, and a distinct process and progress of doctrine is perceptible, which will be the more apparent as these utterances are studied more closely.
We have sought to ascertain and exhibit their chronological order, because, so arranged, they reveal also a logical order, representing regular stages of advance, each lesson preparing the way for those which follow.
The central and controlling thought or theme in each of these ten groups, about which all the rest in that group crystallizes, may be expressed somewhat as follows:
Group I.—SECRECY WITH GOD, versus DISPLAY BEFORE MEN.
II.—QUALITY versus QUANTITY, as a standard of value.
III. —MATTER AND MANNER IN PRAYER.
- — FORGIVENESS VINDICTIVENESS TOWARD MAN.
V.—FAITH versus UNBELIEF TOWARD GOD.
VI.—IMPORTUNITY versus FAINTING, as to object sought.
VII.—FILIAL SPIRIT AND DIVINE FATHERHOOD.
VIII.—HUMILITY: SELF-ABASEMENT versus SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS.
IX.—UNITY IN THE SPIRIT: AGREEMENT IN PRAYER.
X.—IN THE NAME OF CHRIST: IDENTITY WITH HIM.
There is thus one initial fundamental lesson on Secret Communion with God; then, two lessons on language, one cautioning against vain words, and the other, enjoining well-ordered words; then, three lessons on conditions of acceptable approach, such as a forgiving temper, faith in God’s promise, and persistence in pleading; and, then, follow four lessons, on the higher secrets of prevailing power, such as a filial spirit toward the Father in Heaven, a self-abasing sense of sin, and dependence on grace, and identity with the Son of God, such as makes possible both individual and united prayer in His name.
In what follows,—remembering the importance of studying each group in its relations to what is manifestly its center of unity, namely, the thought which is meant to be controlling,—we shall seek simply to examine each word of our Lord, and discover its exact purport and purpose, as bearing upon the highest of all the arts of holy living, power to prevail in prayer. And, at the outset, let the reader join the writer, in supplicating the God of Prayer to illumine the mind for such devout and reverent study as shall disclose the hidden things of the Inspired Word:
“Unveil Thou mine eyes,
That I may behold wondrous things,
Out of Thy Law.”—PSALM 119. 18.
We are now prepared to study these lessons on prayer, in their order, and we must begin at the beginning; for in the school of Christ no second lesson is ever learned until the first has been. We ascend, as on the rungs of a ladder, one by one: to neglect or pass over one step forfeits progress.
When thou prayest,
ENTER INTO THY CLOSET.”
This lesson of closet communion is the first taught, because in the order of time, of experience, of importance, it belongs first. Until this is thoroughly learned no other can be; and, in proportion as this is mastered, every subsequent teaching can and will be apprehended and appreciated. If therefore a disproportionate space seems to be assigned to this primary lesson, in our studies, it is because we find here the very foundation for all that follows.
Three things stand out prominently in this brief injunction, Enter into thy closet: first, the individual approach to God; second, the secret place of communion; third, the specific object, prayer.
The word, ‘closet,’ is unusual. The original Greek word, tamelon, is found but four times in the New Testament, in one place being rendered, ‘secret chambers,’ (Matt. 24.26) and in another, ‘storehouse.’ (Luke 12. 24) The words here used seem undoubtedly adapted from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 26. 20: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee.”
There is also a marked emphasis on the singular number of the second personal pronoun. In the quotation from Isaiah, the opening call is plural, or collective, “Come, my people,” but it immediately changes to the singular, “Enter thou into thy chambers”; and so, in our Lord’s adaptation of these words, conspicuous stress is laid on the singular, “thou.” Presently he adds a caution, perhaps as to prayers in which others publicly join, and says, “When pray”; but here how intensely individual: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door pray to thy Father, who is in secret, and thy Father shall reward thee openly.” Eight times, in these few words, is the singular pronoun used, and surely for some purpose.
How important, first of all, that we enter into the secret chambers of the divine meaning. What do these four words suggest: “Enter into thy closet”? The closet is simply a close, a closed place, shut in for privacy, shut out from intrusion and interruption. Christ was speaking to a Jewish audience and what would such language naturally suggest to such hearers? To the Hebrew mind there was one place that was preeminently a secret chamber: it was that in-most court of the Tabernacle and Temple, where God specially dwelt, and which was known as the Holy of Holies.
That was pre-eminently a secret chamber, a closed place. It had neither door nor window; unlike many an Oriental court which is open to the sky, it was roofed in and without skylight. It was never open: a door which we open, as we enter a room, we must close behind us; but, when the holiest of all was entered, the veil, raised as the High Priest went in, automatically fell back to its place as soon as it was released, and so kept the secrecies of God’s chamber from mortal eyes.
Here then was one place, peculiarly marked by silence, secrecy, solitude and separation. Only one person ever entered here, at a time: “the High Priest, once every year, alone.” Two persons were never known to meet there save himself and God. It was, in a unique sense, the place of which God could say, “Thou and I.” It was the one great closet, shut-in place, secret chamber— the meeting place of one man and his Maker.
And, moreover, the one conspicuous, solitary article of furniture, there found, was the Mercy-Seat, the appointed meeting place, the basis of communion between the suppliant sinner and the merciful Hearer of Prayer. And thus the three conditions, suggested by the in-junction, ‘Enter in thy closet,’ met here as nowhere else: there was the secret chamber, the individual approach, and the mercy-seat for prayerful communion.
If we mistake not, we have now the key to this first lesson of our Lord on Prayer. The closet is the Holy of Holies where the suppliant soul meets God alone and communes with Him at the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat.
The highest act of prayer is impossible, unless and until the human suppliant deliberately seeks to meet God absolutely alone. To secure such aloneness with God we are bidden to ‘enter into the closet,’ to find some place and time where we may shut ourselves in with Him. This is so important that it is made emphatic by repeating the thought in another form: as though the word, closet, were not enough, Christ adds, “And when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, who is in secret” — a second word, meaning essentially the same as closet—a secret place.
Every praying soul needs some place and time for prayer, free from needless interruption and intrusion. The eye is mercifully furnished with an eyelid which instantly drops over the organ of vision, shutting out all external objects; and, if the ear were similarly supplied with an eyelid, which could be used to shut out all sounds, as the eyelid does all sights, a closet could be instantly found and entered even in the midst of a throng, and the spirit might secretly commune with God, in the crowded streets or assemblies.
But, in the absence of any such natural provision for such complete seclusion and exclusion, our Lord counsels us, when we pray, to get somehow, somewhere, a silent, secret communing place with God, as the very basis of prayer, not only, but of all the holy living which is built upon prayer. The more completely we can separate ourselves from all other persons, all worldly pursuits and pleasures, all distracting cares or diverting thoughts, shutting out all else but God, the more perfect is the fitness of the hour and place to their purpose. And those who know how needful and helpful such secret times and places for prayer are, will secure, at any cost, the silent season even though, like the psalmist, it be found necessary to rise before others wake, and “prevent the dawning of the morning.”
Yes, every praying soul needs to meet God absolutely alone. There are secrets of soul and spirit which no other human being however intimate ought to know, or indeed can know. (Psalm 119. 147).
“The heart knoweth his own bitterness;
And a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.” (Proverbs 14. 10)
We turn ourselves inside out to no other person, though it be a bosom friend: we would not if we could, we could not if we would. To the inmost secret chambers there is no open door; they are locked and sealed; words supply no key to them, and the seal of silence and secrecy is inviolable. But “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”; and therefore the closet, where we meet God alone and God only, is the one place for all such secrets. Nothing else will supply its place. The public service of worship, the more secluded ‘family altar,’ or the yet more private prayer in which only the husband and wife bow before God,—none of these can take the place of the solitary closet. There is at least one respect in which they, who are as ‘one flesh,’ are still ‘twain’; for neither can ever fully know the other. But while, to our dearest and most intimate friend, we cannot reveal everything, from God, we can conceal nothing. His omniscient eye pierces to the secret chambers, despite the lock which no man can pick, the seal which no man dares break. God reads the thoughts which are yet “afar off,” like forms faintly seen in the dim distance, and hears the word yet unspoken “ in the tongue.” And it is about these secret things which must be brought to the light in His presence, exposed, confessed, renounced, corrected before Him, that the closet is meant to give facility and freedom for converse with God. Hence this initial command to cultivate habitual aloneness with God. Like Jacob at Peniel, each suppliant must be “left alone” at times: the “thou” must be absolute and not the “ye,” when the closet is entered.
Why now is such heavy stress laid, in our Lord’s primary lesson on prayer, upon this shutting out of all else, and closing in of the suppliant with God?
Is it not, first of all, in order to what, as his “third instrument of Holy Living” Jeremy Taylor calls, The Practice of the Presence of God?
Nothing else has so marvelous an effect upon character and conduct, as this sense of God’s Presence; and nothing is so difficult, nay impossible of attainment, so long as we neglect God’s appointed means.
God is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in the spirit. Invisible to the eye, inaudible to the ear, intangible to the touch, He cannot be tested by the senses. They utterly fail us as channels of impression or communication. His subtle essence evades all carnal approach or analysis. He must be otherwise known, if at all: the spirit alone has the higher senses which, being exercised to discern good and evil, can enable us to perceive God and hold communication with Him. Hence, to those who live a sinful or even a worldly life, and are carnally minded, even the reality and verity of His existence become matters of practical, if not theoretical, doubt. There is a great deal of virtual atheism in mere unbelief. It is possible to recite the creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” and yet never have had for one moment a real, true sense of the presence of God. Many may not deny that God is, but do they know that He is?
Such sense of the Divine Existence, such realization of the Divine Presence may be cultivated. God has appointed two means, and when used jointly they never fail: first a meditative reading of Holy Scripture, and secondly a habitual communion with Him in the closet. These two are in fact so closely related, that they are not only mutually helpful, but they operate upon us in ways almost precisely alike. Both introduce us into God’s secret chambers.
When a devout disciple takes God’s Word in his hands, for studious and thoughtful meditation, he naturally lifts his heart to Him who alone can unveil the eyes of his understanding to behold wondrous things out of His law. (Psalm 119. 18). As he reads and searches, meditating therein, the same Spirit who first inspired the Word, illumines his mind. New light is thrown upon the sacred page, so that what was obscure or hidden, becomes visible and legible; and new clearness of sight and insight is given to the spiritual organ of vision, so that it becomes more capable of seeing, more keen sighted and far-sighted.
Let those who have felt this double effect of the Spirit’s teaching bear witness to the marvelous result. The Bible becomes a transformed book. It was before the best of all books, but it is now the Book of God—a chamber of disclosed mysteries—a house of many mansions, in which new doors constantly open into new apartments, massive and magnificent, God’s art galleries, museums of curious things, treasuries of celestial gems. The devout student is filled with wonder, transported with delight. Words open with new meanings until we look through them into depths and heights, breadths and lengths, that are infinite. We are looking at a firmament which was before clouded—but the clouds are parting and heavenly constellations are visible. Meanwhile the eye has become telescopic, and where before we saw a few scattered stars, and an indistinct nebulous cloud, everything is ablaze with the glories of countless and many colored lights. When the Author of the Word becomes Instructor? And Interpreter of His own text-book, we read Heaven’s great Classic with the notes and comments of the divine Author himself. And so he who devoutly searches the Scriptures, finds in them both eternal life and the testimony of Jesus; the reverent, searching, prayerful study of the Word of God is the cure of all honest doubt as to its divine origin, and the all-convincing proof of its plenary inspiration.
But, as the first Psalm teaches, he who would find such delight in the Law of the Lord, must meditate therein day and night. He must be a sort of sacramental tree of life, planted by the rivers of water. Mark the instructive, emphatic metaphor. The tree is permanently planted in the soil. Its roots are fixed organs of nutrition, constantly subordinate to the double purpose of growth and fruitfulness. Through the sponge lets at their extremities, the tree takes up the moisture of the river into itself, transmuting the water into sap, which deposits woody fiber in the branches and becomes juice in the fruit. The disciple is planted by the River of God,—the Word which goeth forth out of His mouth; he takes up into himself the very water of life, transmuting truth into character, and precepts and promises into practice. And so he who reads God’s Word and, like the cattle that chew the cud, ruminates upon it, comes to know God through His Word, as we come to know men through their candid and self-revealing utterances. To meditate on God’s words introduces us to the secret chambers of God’s thoughts, and imparts insight into God’s character. He becomes sure there is a God, who sees Him unveiled in the Scriptures, hears His still small voice in their audience chambers, traces His glorious footprints on their golden pavements; and, in times of temptation, trial, sorrow, doubt or any other need, God’s words are so brought to his remembrance, and applied by the Spirit to his needs, that they become to such a reader, individually, God’s words to him. He consults Holy Scripture as the oracles of God, and the oracles give answer. This is one of the closed mysteries, a stumbling-block of mysticism, or the foolishness of fanaticism, to the unbelieving; but, to him whose experience has been enriched by it, an open mystery, a fact as indisputable as anything in the realm of matter.
The other method of the practice of the Presence of God is communion with Him in the closet. And how like to the other is the process whereby prayer introduces us to His Fellowship! It implies meditation; it opens the secret chambers and reveals God; it discloses marvels and unlocks mysteries; it makes one sure that God “is and is a rewarded of them that diligently seek Him,” (Hebrews 11. 6) which is the divinely declared condition of all acceptable, prevailing approach!
Upon this method of cultivating acquaintance with God, the great Teacher just now would fix our attention, as His primary lesson on Prayer. Let us seek to enter into the secret philosophy of this injunction: “Enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret.”
All other presence hinders the practice of the Presence of God. All thought of human auditors or observers is a hindrance to the closest approach and to the highest power in prayer. At the very moment when the supreme need is that all the faculties and activities of the being shall be gathered up, converged and concentrated, centralized and focalized as are scattered rays of light by a concave speculum or a convex lens, the mind is diverted and distracted, and the attention divided, by the thought that another human being hears or sees me. Any such divided attention must hinder the realization of the presence of the unseen God. Let us ask the reason why.
That profound lesson, taught to the Samaritan woman on the general subject of worship, includes prayer as one of the highest forms or acts of worship. God being a Spirit must be worshipped as such, and can be approached only by what is spiritual in man. There is such a thing among men as bodily contact and communion, as when hand joins hand, eye looks into eye, or words spoken by one’s mouth reach another’s ear. But, as God can neither be seen, heard nor touched, there can be no such contact between man and God. Being a Spirit, He can be approached only spiritually, that is by contact between our spirits and His.
In order to such contact, and in order that it may be real, recognized and conscious, all our spiritual faculties need to be active, on the alert; and all diversions or distractions of mind must be avoided which make impossible exclusive attention to the divine object of thought. But we are so constituted as to be unable to really fix attention on more than one thing at a time. Hence, in God’s economy of Nature, many necessary acts are so provided for as to be half automatic, like the act of walking, and so only half conscious and semi-voluntary; for, were it necessary to concentrate all attention upon every step we take, we could, while walking, give heed to nothing else.
Moreover we find that we cannot fully exercise any one sense while the rest, or any one of them, is fully exercised and occupied: there is room for but one thorough sense-impression at a time. We cannot at the same moment fix our eyes upon a picture so as to study its effects in drawing and coloring, and yet give our ears to the hearing of a masterpiece of music, so as to observe critically its melody and harmony. Especially do we find that, to occupy the physical senses is so far to divert the mind from purely intellectual processes however simple.
For instance, in the late Harvard experiments in Psychology, where the test was made, how far an observer, watching rapid changes of color, could detect the delicate transitions from one shade to another, it was found that if, while so engaged, the simplest exercise in mental arithmetic were attempted, though it were only the addition or multiplication table, the power to discern these gradual changes of color was arrested. Man is so constituted that he can properly and thoroughly do but one thing at once.
Acquaintance with the unseen God is the first of all acquisitions. To attain the closest approach to Him, to get the most vivid sense of His presence, and so, the greatest power and blessing at the mercy-seat, all thought of men and of this world must be shut out, and all interruptions avoided that come through the senses or the imagination. So far only as we learn the art of thinking only of God, will this great lesson of closet prayer be learned, for, on the measure of our realization of the unseen Presence, all else must depend.
Our Lord’s first lesson on prayer gives another hint of great value, though it is rather implied than openly expressed, for the more this injunction is studied the more it reveals of hidden meaning, itself a secret chamber whose mysteries are unveiled only to devout and persistent meditation.
He tells us that the Father who is in secret, or in the secret place, and who sees in the darkness of the soul’s Holy of Holies, rewards the suppliant openly— ‘in the open.’ Here again we are reminded of the High Priest’s approach to the mercy-seat. When he went into the holiest of all, with blood of atonement, it is neither recorded nor intimated that he was there wont to offer up supplication; certainly the element of petition is nowhere prominent. He seems to have gone in thither, rather to ‘appear before God’—simply to present himself, with the blood, before the mercy-seat,—his presence constituting his plea; and the blood of atonement, both the sign of his obedience and the pledge of his acceptance. There he seems to have waited before God, not so much to offer up prayers and supplications, as to receive from God impressions and revelations.
The yet unexplained mystery of the Urim and Thummim may have some connection with this revealing of God’s mind and will. The most plausible interpretation of this mystery is perhaps that which suggests that the Light of the Shekinah fire, shining on the breast-plate of the High Priest, made successive letters, of the names with which its stones were graven, to stand out conspicuous, so that he could in characters of light spell out the divine message. And it is a curious fact that the twelve names with which the sacred stones were marked, taken together, contain almost every letter of the Hebrew Alphabet!
However this be, the Mercy-Seat was to the High Priest mainly a place, not of petition but of communication, of impartation from God, of divine revelation. He waited there, for a message which he bore back to the people in benediction.