Still Hour Ch. 02: Unhallowed Prayer

Austin Phelps

Key Thought: "The uniform absence of joy in prayer is one of the threatening signs in respect of our religious state. It is one of the legitimate intimations of estrangement from God."

Unhallowed Prayer

What is the Hope of the Hypocrite? Will God Hear His Cry? John 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. Then 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 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. These are all that it feels. These are all the thoughts of God which it has faith in. 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.

The only thing that forbids life, in any of its experiences, to be a life of retribution to an impenitent sinner, is a dead sleep of moral sensibility. And this sleep cannot be disturbed while he remains impenitent, otherwise than by disclosures of God as a consuming fire. His experience, therefore, in the forms of devotion, while he abides in impenitence, can only vibrate between the extremes of weariness and of terror. Quell his fear of God, and prayer becomes irksome; stimulate his indifference to God, and prayer becomes a torment.

The notes of a flute are sometimes a torture to the ears of idiots, like the blare of a trumpet. The reason has been conjectured to be, that melodious sound unlocks the tomb of idiotic mind by the suggestion of conceptions, dim, but startling, like a revelation of a higher life, with which that mind has certain crushed affinities, but with which it feels no willing sympathy; so that its own degradation, disclosed to it by the contrast, is seated upon the consciousness of idiocy like a nightmare. Such a stimulant only to suffering, may the form of prayer be in the experience of sin. Impenitent prayer can only grovel in stagnant sensibility, or agonize in remorseful torture, or oscillate from one to the other. There is no point of joy between to which it can gravitate, and there rest.

It is not wise that even we, who profess to be followers of Christ, should close our eyes to this truth, that the uniform absence of joy in prayer is one of the threatening signs in respect of our religious state. It is one of the legitimate intimations of that estrangement from God, which sin induces in one who has not experienced God’s renewing grace. A searching of ourselves with an honest desire to know the truth, and the whole of it, may disclose to us other kindred facts, with which this feature of our condition becomes reasonable evidence, which it will be the loss of our souls to neglect, that we are self-deluded in our Christian hope. An apostle might number us among the ‘many,’ of whom he would say, ‘I now tell you, even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.’