OBJECTIONS TO PRAYER
If then I must next, as you have urged, set forth in the first place the arguments of those who told that nothing is accomplished as a result of prayers and therefore allege that prayer is superfluous, I shall not hesitate to do that also according to my ability -- the term prayer being now used in its more common and general sense. In such disrepute indeed is the view and to such a degree has it failed to obtain champions of distinction that, among those who admit a Providence and set a God over the universe, not a soul can be found who does not believe in prayer.
The opinion (sentiment) belongs either to utter atheists who deny the existence of God, or assume a God, as far as the name goes, but deprive Him of providence. Already, it must be said, the adverse inworking, with intent to wrap the most impious of opinions around the name of Christ and around the teaching of the Son of God, has made some converts on the needlessness of prayer -- a sentiment which find champions in those who by every means do away with outward forms, eschewing baptism and eucharist alike, misrepresenting the Scriptures as not actually meaning this that we call prayer but as teaching something quite different from it.
Those who reject prayers, while, that is to say, setting a God over the universe and affirming Providence -- for it is not my present task to consider the statements of those who by every means do away with a God or Providence -- might reason as follows: God knows all things before they come to be. There is nothing that upon its entrance into existence is then first known by Him as previously unknown. What need to send up prayer to One who, even before we pray, knows what things we have need of? For the heavenly Father knows what things we have need of before we ask Him.
It is reasonable to believe that as Father and Artificer of the universe who loves all things that are and abhors nothing that He has made, quite apart from prayer He safely manages the affairs of each like a father who champions his infant children without awaiting their entreaty when they are either utterly incapable of asking or through ignorance often desirous of getting the opposite of what is to their profit and advantage. We men come further short of God even than the merest children of the intelligence of their parents. And in all likelihood the things that are to be are not only foreknown but prearranged by God, and nothing takes place contrary to His prearrangement. Were anyone to pray for sunrise he would be thought a simpleton for entreating through prayer for the occurrence of what was to take place quite apart from his prayer: In like manner a man would be a fool to believe that his prayer was responsible for the occurrence of what was to take place in any case even had he never prayed.
And again, as it is the height of madness to imagine that, because one suffers discomfort and fever under the sun at Summer Solstice, the Sun is through prayer to be transferred to the Springtime Zodiac, in order that one may have the benefit of temperate air, so it would be the height of infatuation to imagine that by reason of prayer one would not experience the misfortunes that meet the race of men by necessity. Moreover, if it be true that sinners are estranged from birth and the righteous man has been set apart from his mother's womb, and if, while as yet they are unborn and have done neither good nor evil, it is said the elder shall serve the younger, that the elective purpose of God may stand based not on works but on the Caller, it is in vain that we entreat for forgiveness of sins or to receive a spirit of strength to the end that, Christ empowering us, we may have strength for all things.
If we are sinners, we are estranged from birth: if on the other hand we were set apart from our mother's womb, the best of things will come our way even though we do not pray. It is prophesied before his birth that Jacob shall be over Esau and that his brother shall serve him: what has prayer to do with that? Of what impiety is Esau guilty that he is hated before his birth? To what purpose does Moses pray, as is found in the ninetieth psalm, if God is his refuge since before the mountains were settled and the earth and world were formed. Besides, of all that are to be saved, it is recorded in the Epistle to Ephesians that the Father elected them in Him, in Christ, before the world's foundation, that they should be holy and blameless before Him, preordaining them unto adoption as His sons through Christ.
Either, therefore, a man is elect, of the number of those who are so since before the world's foundation, and can by no means fall from his election in which case he has therefore no need of prayer; or he is not elect nor yet preordained, in which case he prays in vain, since, though he should pray ten thousand times, he will not be listened to. For whom God foreknew, them He also preordained to conformity with the image of His Son's glory; and whom He preordained, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.
Why is Josiah distressed, or why has he anxiety as to whether or not he will be listened to in prayer, when, many generations before, he was prophesied by name and his future action not only foreknown but foretold in the hearing of many. To what purpose, too, does Judas pray with the result that even his prayer turned to sin, when from David's times it is pre-announced that he will lose his overseership, another receiving it in his stead.
It is self-evidently absurd, God being unchangeable and having pre-comprehended all things and adhering to His prearrangements, to pray in the belief that through prayer one will change His purpose, or, as though He had not already prearranged but awaited each individual's prayer, to make intercession that He may arrange what suits the supplicant by reason of his prayer, there and then appointing what He approves as reasonable though He has previously not contemplated it. At this point the propositions you formulated in your letter to me may be set down word for word thus: Firstly, if God is foreknower of the future and it must come to pass, prayer is vain. Secondly, if all things come to pass by virtue of God's will, and His decrees are fixed, and nothing that He wills can be changed, prayer is vain. Towards a solution of the difficulties which benumb the instinct of prayer, the following, as I believe, helpful considerations may be advanced.