Supplication and sacrifice are comprehended in prayer, which, according to S. John, is "an incense, the smoke whereof ascendeth unto God;" therefore it is said in the Apocalypse that "unto the Angel was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all Saints'' (Chap. viii.3).
Prayer is the effusion of the heart in the Presence of God: "I have poured out my soul before God" saith the mother of Samuel. (1 Sam. i.15) The prayer of the wise men at the feet of Christ in the stable of Bethlehem, was signified by the incense they offered: for prayer being the energy and fire of love, melting, dissolving, and sublimating the soul, and causing it to ascend unto God; therefore, in proportion as the soul is melted and dissolved, in like proportion do odours issue from it; and these odours proceed from the intense fire of love within.
This is illustrated in the Canticles (i.11) where the spouse saith, "While the King sitteth on his couch, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof." The couch is the ground or centre of the soul; and when God is there, and we know how to dwell with Him, and abide in His Presence, the sacred power and influence thereof gradually dissolves the obduration of the soul, and, as it melteth, odours issue forth: hence it is, that the Beloved saith of His spouse, in seeing her soul melt when He spake, "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness, like pillars of smoke perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?" ( Cant. v.6 -- and iii.6).
Thus doth the soul ascend unto God, by giving up self to the destroying and annihilating power of Divine Love: this, indeed, is a most essential and necessary sacrifice in the Christian religion, and that alone by which we pay true homage to the sovereignty of God; as it is written, "The power of the Lord is great, and he is honoured only by the humble" (Eccles. iii.20). By the destruction of the existence of self within us, we truly acknowledge the supreme existence of our God; for unless we cease to exist in self, the Spirit of the Eternal Word cannot exist in us: now it is by the giving up of our own life, that we give place for His coming; and "in dying to ourselves, He liveth and abideth in us."
We should, indeed, surrender our whole being unto Christ Jesus: and cease to live any longer in ourselves, that He may become our life; "that being dead, our life may be hid with Christ in God" (Col. iii.3). "Pass ye into me," saith God, "all ye who earnestly seek after me" (Eccles. xxiv.16). But how is it we pass into God? We leave and forsake ourselves, that we may be lost in Him; and this can be effected only by annihilation; which being the true prayer of adoration, renders unto God alone, all "Blessing, honour, glory and power, for ever and ever" (Rev. v.13).
This is the prayer of truth; "It is worshipping God in spirit and in truth" (John iv.23). "In spirit," because we enter into the purity of that Spirit which prayeth within us, and are drawn forth and freed from our own carnal and corrupt manner of praying; "In truth" because we are thereby placed in the great Truth of the All of God, and the Nothing of the creature.
There are but these two truths, the All, and the Nothing; everything else is falsehood. We can pay due honour to the All of God, only in our own annihilation, which is no sooner accomplished, than He, who never suffers a void in nature, instantly fills us with Himself.
Did we but know the virtue and the blessings which the soul derives from this prayer, we should willingly be employed therein without ceasing. "It is the pearl of great price: it is the hidden treasure" (Matt. xiii.44, 45), which, whoever findeth, selleth freely all that he hath to purchase it: "It is the well of living water, which springeth up unto everlasting life": It is the adoration of God "in spirit and in truth" (John iv.14-23), and it is the full performance of the purest evangelical precepts.
Jesus Christ assureth us, that the "Kingdom of God is within us" (Luke xvii.21), and this is true in two senses: First, when God becometh so fully the Master and Lord in us, that nothing resisteth His dominion; then is our interior His kingdom: And again, when we possess God, who is the Supreme Good, we possess His kingdom also, wherein there is fullness of joy, and where we attain the end of our creation: thus it is said, "to serve God, is to reign." The end of our creation, indeed, is to enjoy our God, even in this life; but alas! how few there are who think of this seriously.