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.

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