Despite Gaskell being a lifelong Unitarian and married to a Unitarian minister, her works are free from overt preaching. She really did let the story stand alone for what it was--whether an exposure of the plight of the working poor in Mary Barton or a sympathetic look at an unwed mother in Ruth, to note the two novels of hers that are the most starkly social-problem novels.
So, I really noticed a passage in Sylvia's Lovers where I think Gaskell, the author and Unitarian, takes over from the narrator and inserts her religious beliefs.
The passage is in Chapter 15, where Philip Henshaw is feeling that his prospects and chances of ultimately marrying Sylvia are looking up, despite Charley Kinraid ruining his time at the Corney's New Years Eve party:
So this night his prayers were more than the mere form that they had
been the night before; they were a vehement expression of gratitude to God for having, as it were, interfered on his behalf, to grant him the desire of his eyes and the lust of his heart. He was like too many of us, he did not place his future life in the hands of God, and only ask for grace to do His will in whatever circumstances might arise; but he yearned in that terrible way after a blessing which, when granted under such circumstances, too often turns out to be equivalent to a curse. And that spirit brings with it the material and earthly idea that all events that favour our wishes are answers to our prayer; and so they are in one sense, but they need prayer in a deeper and higher spirit to keep us from the temptation to evil which such events invariably bring with them.
Despite my general dislike of authors preaching via their novels, I rather like what Gaskell is saying about prayer here. I think the best bit I've read about prayer in a novel is from Chapter 48 of Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. As Grandpa, aka E. Rucker Blakeslee says, "Jesus meant us to ast God to hep us stand the pain, not beg Him to take the pain away. We can ast for comfort and hope and patience and courage, and to be gracious when thangs ain't goin' our way, and we'll git what we ast for. They ain't no gar'ntee thet we ain't go'n have no troubles and ain't go'n die. But shore as frogs croak and cows bellow, God'll forgive us if'n we ast Him to."
I prefer characters to make these observations as Burns had Rucker do rather than as Gaskell let herself do via her narrator, but perhaps she didn't have a character whom she felt could communicate her feelings on prayer.