April 28: Austin Phelps: Faith in Prayer!

By 1890, this book was translated into six languages and over 200,000 copies. Charles Spurgeon even recommended it!

What profit should we have if we pray unto him?

Job 21:15

The great majority of us have little faith in prayer. This is one of those causes which may produce a habit of mind in devotion, resembling that of impenitent prayer, and yet distinguishable from it, and coexistent, often, with some degree of genuine piety. Christians often have little faith in prayer as a power in real life. They do not embrace cordially, in feeling as well as in theory, the truth which underlies the entire scriptural conception and illustration of prayer, that is literally, actually, positively, effectually, a means of power….

It has, and God has determined that it should have, a positive and an appreciable influence in directing the course of a human life. It is, and God has purposed that it should be, a link of connection between human mind and Divine mind, by which, through His infinite condescension, we may actually move His will. It is, and God has decreed that it should be, a power in the universe, as distinct, as real, and as uniform, as the power of gravitation, or of light, or of electricity. A man may use it, as trustingly and as soberly as he would use either of these. It is as truly the dictate of good sense, that a man should expect to achieve something by praying, as it is that he should expect to achieve something by a telescope, or the mariner’s compass, or the electric telegraph….

The want of trust in this scriptural ideal of prayer, often neutralizes it, even in the experience of a Christian….

If we suffer our faith to drop down from the loft conception of prayer as having a lodgment in the very counsels of God, by which the universe is swayed, the plain practicalness of prayer as the Scriptures teach it, and as prophets and apostles and our Lord himself performed it, drops proportionately; and in that proportion, our motive to prayer dwindles. Of necessity, then, our devotions become spiritless.

April 27: Austin Phelps – Absence of Piety

What is the hope of the hypocrite? Will God hear his cry?

Job 27:8-9

An impenitent sinner never prays. In an inquiry after the causes of joylessness in the forms of prayer, the very first which meets us in some instances, is the absence of piety. It is useless to search behind or beneath such a cause as this for a more recondite explanation of the evil. This is doubtless, often all the interpretation that can be honestly given to a man’s experience in addressing God. Other reasons for the lifelessness of his soul in prayer are rooted in this, – that he is not a Christian.

If the heart is not right with God, enjoyment of communion with God is impossible. That communion itself is impossible. I repeat, an impenitent sinner never prays. Impenitence involves not one of the elements of a spirit of prayer. Holy desire, holy love, holy fear, holy trust – not one of these can the sinner find within himself.

He has, therefore, none of that artless spontaneity, in calling upon God, which David exhibited when he said, ‘Thy servant hath found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee.’ An impenitent sinner finds no such thing in his heart. He finds there no intelligent wish to enjoy God’s friendship. The whole atmosphere of prayer, therefore, is foreign to his tastes. If he drives himself into it for a time, by forcing upon his soul the forms of devotion, he cannot stay there. He is like one gasping in a vacuum.

One of the most impressive mysteries of the condition of man on this earth, is his deprivation of all visible and audible representations of God. We seem to be living in a state of seclusion from the rest of the universe, and from that peculiar presence of God in which angels dwell, and in which departed saints serve Him day and night.

We do not see Him in the fire; we do not hear Him in the wind; we do not feel Him in the darkness. But a more awful concealment of God from the unregenerate soul exists by the very law of an unregenerate state. The eye of such a soul is closed even upon the spiritual manifestations of God in all but their retributive aspects…. Such a soul does not enjoy God, for it does not see God with an eye of faith – that is, as a living God, living close to itself, and in vital relations to its own destiny – except as a retributive power.

April 26: Austin Phelps on Prayer – The Absence of God

“A sweet little book, which I would commend to the attention of all of you, written by an American author who seems to truly and completely know the power of prayer, and to whom I am indebted for many good things—a little book called The Still Hour, [Austin Phelps, 1820-1890].

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Oh that I knew where I might find him!

Job 23:3

‘If God had not said, ‘Blessed are those that hunger, I know not what could keep weak Christians from sinking in despair. Many times, all I can do is to complain that I want Him, and wish to recover Him.’

Bishop Hall, in uttering this lament, two centuries and a half ago, only echoed the wail which had come down, through living hearts, from the patriarch, whose story is the oldest known literature in any language. A consciousness of the absence of God is one of the standing incidents of religious life. Even when the forms of devotion are observed conscientiously, the sense of the presence of God, as an invisible Friend, whose society is a joy, is by no means unintermittent.

The truth of this will not be questioned by one who is familiar with those phases of religious experience which are so often the burden of Christian confession. In no single feature of ‘inner life,’ probably, is the experience of many minds less satisfactory to them than in this. They seem to themselves, in prayer, to have little, if any, effluent emotion. They can speak of little in their devotional life that seems to them like life; of little that appears like the communion of a living soul with a living God….

Such experiences in prayer are often startling in the contrast with those of certain Christians, whose communion with God, as the hints of it are recorded in their biographies, seems to realize, in actual being, the scriptural conception of a life which is hid with Christ in God.

We read of Payson, that his mind, at times, almost lost its sense of the external world, in the ineffable thoughts of God’s glory, which rolled like a sea of light around him, at the throne of grace….

We read of one of the Tennents, that on one occasion, when he was engaged in secret devotion, so overpowering was the revelation of God which opened upon his soul, and with augmenting intensity of effulgence as he prayed, that at length he recoiled from the intolerable joy as from a pain, and besought God to withhold from him further manifestations of his glory. He said, ‘Shall Thy servant see Thee and live?’….

In the view of an honest conscience, it is not the vernacular speech of their experience. As compared with the joy which such language indicates, prayer is, in all that they know of it, a dull duty…. It is a duty which, they cannot deny, is often uninviting, even irksome….

There are very few that feel the relish, and are enticed with the deliciousness, and refreshed with the comforts, and acquainted with the secrets, of a holy prayer.’ Yet, who is it that has said, ‘I will make them joyful in my house of prayer?’

Excerpted from The Still Hour by Austin Phelps.