The fifth objection is that prayer leads to fanaticism and mysticism.
This objection states, ‘that the claim to such personal and intimate communion with the Divine #Being open the door to the dreamiest mysticism or the wildest fanaticism.’
The objection is shallow, in that it overlooks the important checks thrown around prayer, guarding against such a result.
1. ‘All true prayer is bounded within the limits of God’s sovereign will.’ Worship must be governed, both in its matter and its method, by the word of God. Creaturely dependence is bound to seek only those blessings which are in accordance with the divine will. Confession and pentience can only be exercised when from the sacred record we learn of its possibility and its terms.
The distinctive feature of fanaticism is its claim to private revelations.
2. ‘The self-examination required as to the spirit and temper of our prayers, forms another protection against fanacitism.’ Prayer is vitiated by a dictatorial, or irreverent, or impatient, or unsubmissive, or presumptive, or selfish spirit.
3. ‘Prayer brings into exercise the full complement of all the faculties, and that too in their due and original subordination.’
If all the powers of the moral and intellectual nature are brought into operation in prayer, and that in a state of grace, then security is afforded for the right action of the whole.
‘No proof is needed that all the powers of the soul are exercised in prayer, beyond the simply enumeration of them in the several functions they fulfill. The understanding – how is it employed in apprehending the realtions we sustain to Jehovah, and the various disclosures of himself in the word! The judgement – how needful the scales in which it weights the obligations under which we lie, and the value of the blessings for which we sue in prayer! The conscience – how constantly must it interpret for us the divine law, that we may embrace the right ahd shun the wrong! The affections – how they are stirred up when God is seen in the loveliness of his beling, the supreme object of worship and desire! The will – how indispensible its decisions in translating our thoughts and purposes into the acts which make up the history of human life! Can one of these fail to render its quota of service when man bows in worship before that God, whose dim, dark shadow he himself is?’
‘Let it be remembered that the order in which these faculties originally stood has been disturbed by sin. The mind was intended to be the directing or leading power, going before with its headlight to explore the path to be trodden. What the reason approves as true the conscience endorses as right, and the affections embrace as good. When these faculties unite in their proper subordination, the will, as the executive faculty, carries through its determinations into concrete act. Such is the order between them in the constitution which God, in the first instance, established. In man’s fallen condition, however, temptation addresses itself to the fancy or taste, and the affections are first ensanred. Then the understanding is seduced by a special pleading, through which its perceptions are obscured; and finally the will is drawn into the foul conspiracy, as the blind agent to execute what is thus decreed.’
‘Were every suggestion offered first to the reason and the conscience, and their unbiased decision obtained before its submission to the affections of the heart, a bulwark would be raised behind which human virtue would be far more safe. As it is, man is drawn into evil through a fraud constantly practised upon his intelligence. He becomes the victim of a conspiracy in which reason is dethroned and conscience is paralysed.’
Fanaticism depends for its success on an inversion of our faculties: entrance is gained through the appetites and passions, then reason is invoked to justify the surrender, and finally the wills submits.
The work of grace resotres the original order: ‘the darkend mind is enlightened through the truth; the accusing conscience is sprinkled with the blood and purged of guilt; the estranged affections are won back to their ancient allegience; the enslaved will is delivered from its bondage, and made free to serve the living God.’
‘So far, then, is prayer from increasing the tendency to fanaticism, it is one of the surest defences against it. It brings man before God in the original symetry of his nature, to use all his powers in their true relations to each other.’
4. ‘A severe check is imposed upon fanaticism in that we approach God in prayer by an appointed way, and succeed in our petitions solely through the merit of anothers.’ The spirit of prayerful humility utterly contradicts the spirit of fanaticism.
5. ‘God guards his own supremacy in the answers to prayer, which is an important check to fanaticism.’ In the wide region of the contingent, we are obliged to depend solely upon “the good pleasure of his will”. ‘In this steady dependence upon the divine promise and power, we cannot assume the high prerogative and haughty bearing which are characteristic of the fanatic.’
B.M Palmer, Theology of Prayer, ch 9