The Still Hour
Ch. 7: The Temperment of Prayer
Key Thought: "We need habits of feeling, disciplined indeed, not effervescent, not mystic, but, on the other hand, not crushed, not fearful of outflow, not bereaved of speech. We need a sensitiveness to the objects of our faith, which shall create desire for the objects of prayer, not passionate, not devoid of self-possession, but fluent and self-forgetful in its earnestness, so that it shall have more of the grace of a child in its outgoings."
The disciple whom Jesus loved. John 21:7
The Temperment of Prayer
Some Christians do not cultivate the temperament of prayer. Devout joy is more facile to some temperaments than to others; yet, in all, it is susceptible of culture. Especially is it true, that prayer is in its nature emotive. It is an expression of feeling; not necessarily of tumultuous feeling, but naturally of profound and fluent feeling, and, in its most perfect type, of habitual feeling. To enjoy prayer, we must be used to it. Therefore, we must be used to the sensibility of which it is the expression. Devotion should spring up spontaneously from an emotive state, rather than be forced out in jets of sensibility, on great occasions.
The necessity of this is often overlooked by Christians, whose lives, in other respects, are not visibly defective. They do not possess desires which may very naturally be expressed in prayer. They have no deep subsoil of feeling from which prayer would be a natural growth. The religion of some of us — whatever may be true of our opposites in temperament — is not sufficiently a religion of emotion. We have not sufficiently cherished our Christian sensibilities. We have not cultivated habits of religious desire, which are buoyant in their working. We have not so trained our hearts, that a certain emotive current is always ebullient, welling up from the depths of the soul, like the springs of the deepest sea. We think more than we believe. We believe more than we have faith. Our faith is too calm, too cool, too sluggish. Our theory of the Christian life is that of a clear, erect, inflexible head, not of a great heart in which deep calleth unto deep. This clear-headed type of piety has invaluable uses, if it be tempered with meekness, with gentleness, with 'bowels of mercies.' But we must confess that it does not always bear well the drill which the world gives it in selfish usage. It too often grows hard, solid, icy. It reminds one of the man with a ‘cold heart,' whose blood never ran warm, whose eye was always glassy, whose touch was always clammy, and whose breath was always like an east wind. Such a religious temperament as this, will never do for the foundation of a life of joy in communion with God. We must have more of the earnest nature of the loved disciple, more of the spirit of the visions of Patmos.
Our Northern and Occidental constitution often needs to be restrained from an excess of phlegmatic wisdom. I must think, that we have something to learn from the more impulsive working of the Southern and the Oriental mind. I must believe that it was not without a wise forecast of the world's necessities, and an insight into human nature all around, that God ordained that the Bible, which should contain our best models of sanctified culture, should be constructed in the East, and by the inspiration of minds of an Eastern stock and discipline; whose imaginative faculty could conceive such a poem as the Song of Solomon; and whose emotive nature could be broken up like the fountains of a great deep. I must anticipate, that an improved symmetry of character will be imparted to the experience of the church, and more of the beauty of holiness will adorn her courts, when the Oriental world shall be converted to Christ, and Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God. Our unimpassioned, taciturn, and often cloudy temperament in religion, does need an infusion of the piety which will grow up in those lands of the sun.
Such an infusion of the Oriental life-blood into the stock of our Christian experience, would bring us into closer sympathy with the types of sanctification represented in the Scriptures. It would be like streams from Lebanon to our culture. We need it, to render the Psalms of David, for instance, a natural expression of our devotions. We need a culture of sensibility which shall demand these Psalms as a medium of utterance.
We need habits of feeling, disciplined indeed, not effervescent, not mystic, but, on the other hand, not crushed, not fearful of outflow, not bereaved of speech. We need a sensitiveness to the objects of our faith, which shall create desire for the objects of prayer, not passionate, not devoid of self-possession, but fluent and self-forgetful in its earnestness, so that it shall have more of the grace of a child in its outgoings.
Of such an experience, intercourse with God in prayer would be the necessary expression. It could find no other so fit. Joy in that intercourse would be like the swellings of Jordan.