Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter 3: Of the Duty and Efficacy of Prayer as Represented in Scripture - The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Chapter 3: Of the Duty and Efficacy of Prayer as Represented in Scripture - William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Foreword by D.L. Le Mahieu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of the Duty and Efficacy of Prayer as Represented in Scripture
The reader will have observed, that the reflections stated in the preceding chapter, whatever truth and weight they may be allowed to contain, rise many of them no higher than to negative arguments in favour of the propriety of addressing prayer to God. To prove that the efficacy of prayers is not inconsistent with the attributes of the Deity, does not prove that prayers are actually efficacious: and in the want of that unequivocal testimony, which experience alone could afford to this point (but which we do not possess, and have seen good reason why we are not to expect), the light of nature leaves us to controverted probabilities, drawn from the impulse by which mankind have been almost universally prompted to devotion, and from some beneficial purposes, which, it is conceived, may be better answered by the audience of prayer than by any other mode of communicating the same blessings. The revelations which we deem authentic, completely supply this defect of natural religion. They require prayer to God as a duty; and they contain positive assurance of its efficacy and acceptance. We could have no reasonable motive for the exercise of prayer, without believing that it may avail to the relief of our wants. This belief can only be founded, either in a sensible experience of the effect of prayer, or in promises of acceptance signified by Divine authority. Our knowledge would have come to us in the former way, less capable indeed of doubt, but subjected to the abuses and inconveniences briefly described above; in the latter way, that is, by authorised significations of God’s general disposition to hear and answer the devout supplications of his creatures, we are encouraged to pray, but not to place such a dependence upon prayer as might relax other obligations, or confound the order of events and of human expectations.
The Scriptures not only affirm the propriety of prayer in general, but furnish precepts or examples which justify some topics and some modes of prayer that have been thought exceptionable. And as the whole subject rests so much upon the foundation of Scripture, I shall put down at length texts applicable to the five following heads: to the duty and efficacy of prayer in general; of prayer for particular favours by name; for public national blessings; of intercession for others; of the repetition of unsuccessful prayers.
1. Texts enjoining prayer in general: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find—If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?”—“Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all those things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”—“Serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer.”—“Be careful for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”—“I will, therefore, that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.”—“Pray without ceasing.” Matt. vii. 7. 11; Luke xxi. 36; Rom. xii. 12; Philipp. iv. 6; 1 Thess. v. 17; 1 Tim. ii. 8. Add to these, that Christ’s reproof of the ostentation and prolixity of pharisaical prayers, and his recommendation to his disciples, of retirement and simplicity in theirs, together with his dictating a particular form of prayer, all presuppose prayer to be an acceptable and availing service.
2. Examples of prayer for particular favours by name: “For this thing” (to wit, some bodily infirmity, which he calls ‘a thorn given him in the flesh’) “I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”—“Night and day praying exceedingly, that we might see your face, and perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” 2 Cor. xii. 8; 1 Thess. iii. 10.
3. Directions to pray for national or public blessings: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”—“Ask ye of the Lord rain, in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.”—“I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.” Psalm cxxii. 6; Zech. x. 1; 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2, 3.
4. Examples of intercession, and exhortations to intercede for others: “And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people? Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”—“Peter, therefore, was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” “For God is my witness, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.”—“Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me, in your prayers for me.”—“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed: the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Exod. xxxii. 11; Acts xii. 5; Rom. i. 9, xv. 30; James v. 16.
5. Declarations and examples authorising the repetition of unsuccessful prayer: “And he spake a parable unto them, to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”—“And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.”—“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” Luke xviii. 1; Matt. xxvi. 44; 2 Cor. xii. 8.*
[* ]The reformed Churches of Christendom, sticking close in this article to their guide, have laid aside prayers for the dead, as authorised by no precept or precedent found in Scripture. For the same reason they properly reject the invocation of saints; as also because such invocations suppose, in the saints whom they address, a knowledge which can perceive what passes in different regions of the earth at the same time. And they deem it too much to take for granted, without the smallest intimation of such a thing in Scripture, that any created being possesses a faculty little short of that omniscience and omnipresence which they ascribe to the Deity.