By Charles J. Fowler
Spiritual life, if it be maintained and developed, demands stated private prayer. It may be thought well-nigh strange that we should emphasize such a condition as this; one which has so much to do with the very beginnings of spiritual life. It is possible that apology or reason enough may appear as we proceed.
Prayer is the language of love, loyalty and dependence. If one loves another he naturally seeks communion with that one; one finds his heart going out in genuine loyalty, and finds also that this person in the affections is no inconsiderable factor in the life.
One of the figures of the scriptures emphasizing the mutual relation between Christ and his church, is that of betrothal and marriage. If a young couple have any call to get married, the things we have mentioned as elements of love will be noticeably present. We make no apology for employing this figure, and dwelling upon this tender experience of real love.
These young people, genuinely loving each other, want and should want to be much alone, with no company present save themselves.
We are dwelling upon true affection as it exists among the true and the pure. These, whose lives are mutually enwrapped, find out that the bustling world, the care of business or even the presence of the family circle to be in their way. They are a world within themselves, and this great fact that lies rooted in the very nature must have recognition with all concerned, even as it has natural expression with these beautiful young lives. We pity, exceedingly, any whose experiences in life have been so unfortunate or worse, that these words seem to be suggestive of romance or of sin. A young couple came under our notice who though looking toward marriage with each other, seemed not to care to be alone; they sought rather to be in the society of others constantly when together, and seemed restive if not. Our fears were aroused because of the unnaturalness of this situation, and to one whom we dared and in whom we had rights we expressed our alarm. This pair of unmatched people were united in marriage only to seek the divorce court inside of three months.
Love demands the quiet and even the secrecy of one heart; conversation must be had, though pure, in the privacy of two fond hearts; if other ears are open conversation must be in whisper; this is the demand of true love.
And a genuine loyalty has place here in an element of natural affection. Who that is a gadder, or a flirt, has any call to join in life's sacred and lofty privileges and obligations such as the holy relation of marriage carries? What a pity it is that a dear and devoted life should be sacrificed with such an apology for the thing called a man or a woman. Love that is true is filled with this attribute of loyalty, and however bright another might be in person, prospect or position there is but one in the whole world to him or her whose heart beats in true love. These lives are so one in all that is noble, natural and divine, that they are mutually dependent; the one, under right limitations, lives in and for the other. Let these facts be with us and the divorce courts have gone from us forever.
The heart that carries love for the divine Bridegroom demands the quiet and the secrecy of private prayer. "Jacob was left alone" because he sought it. His may have been the exigency of fear, but nothing save the quiet of the night-time by Jabbok's ford could meet the demands of that soul of his.
If our love for and our practice of private prayer be a measure of our love to Christ, how do we fare in the presence of this test?
Family and social prayer are not private prayer. We do not believe that holiness people are lacking in these things. One, we think, will go far and long to find a holiness man, or even a woman, who does not practice family prayer or its equivalent, and as to social prayer -- prayer in the prayer circle of the church -- they are hardly at fault here. But, when it comes to closet prayer we are forced to the conclusion that great fault lies at our door.
"In the closet the battle is lost or won." The battle, alas! too frequently seems to be lost. Who but grieves that so many need to come up to our meetings for repairs. Do not misunderstand us. We are not deploring this coming if there is a demand for it; but that the demand exists. This repair-business is so prevalent, that our minds have been occupied with a study of the secrets of this situation, and we are forced to the conviction we are stating.
As astounding as the statement may seem to some, we are forced to make it, that the holiness people, in general, do not practice secret prayer; and that is a secret, if not the secret of the failure in personal experience and incompetence in Christian service.
We do not mean that there is nothing that passes for this kind of prayer; there is a saying-prayers -- like at the bedside at night or at some hurried, well-nigh begrudged time in the day, but it does not have value that warrants its being called private prayer; such exercises are hurried and brief and finally become formal. There will be excuses enough for this spiritual misdemeanor and some of them may seem for the time to be reasonable, but the end is weakness if not death.
Not a few people who read these lines will read themselves into them, and know that painful as it is, we are stating the truth. If causes are many and increasing, it simply means that the need for stated prayer-seasons is the greater; that person who keeps up the private altar and waits before God, finds that the ashes of his camp fires are not found twice in the same place -- he is farther in the land of Canaan possession each time the sun sinks in the west.
That God is no respecter of persons is as familiar as it is true; but God has great respect for conditions. He would give great grace and that constantly, to all, but does not; and because He cannot. Isaiah's declaration is not sentiment or poetry when he asserts that "they that wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." Do we covet such strength? Then let us not forget it is given to those "that wait upon the Lord."
But does some tempted but misled heart ask, "Is not this strenuous? Is not this making the life of holiness a task and a burden?" Yes, if love knows such a thing! Did the true hearts find the evening ride too long, or the chat at the front gate a burden, or the considerable time given to plans for the future a drudge? Then is Christian love overtaxed in time given to prayer -- talking with God?