Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Hidden Life of Prayer

This book review appears in the August edition of the Record (monthly magazine of the Free Church of Scotland).

What does Malcolm Maclean have in common with John Piper, Wayne Grudem and Geoffrey Thomas? ‘Not very much,’ I hear a few of you say. ‘Nothing at all,’ I hear most of you say. Both groups are wrong because the four of us have all been influenced by a little book called The Hidden Life of Prayer, written by David McIntyre, and first published almost a century ago.

It is probably best to let you know what the three well-known Christian leaders have to say about the book. Wayne Grudem says, ‘I have read The Hidden Life of Prayer again and again since Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia first gave it to me when I visited there as a prospective student forty years ago. Every time I read this book, the Lord uses it to deepen my prayer life and encourage my faith. I strongly recommend it.’

Geoffrey Thomas first read the book in 1971. He writes, ‘Every time I read it I discover something fresh, convicting and helpful. The book does not make you afraid of prayer.’

According to John Piper, ‘God brings books at their appointed times. The Hidden Life of Prayer arrived late but well-timed. This little jewel-strewn tapestry has done for me at 64 what Bounds’ Power Through Prayer did at 34. I could be ashamed that I need inspiration for the highest privilege. But I choose to be thankful.’

The author, David McIntyre, was born in Monikie, Angus, in 1859, into the family of the local Free Church minister, Malcolm McIntyre. David was converted when young and thereafter lived in the sunshine of God’s love. He summarised his life, from his conversion onwards, in these words: ‘Immediately, without an instant’s delay, I rested my soul on Christ, and was at peace. Since that time I have never doubted that my Lord has undertaken on my behalf. There was very little difference in my outward life after this; but the inward change was very great. Now I began to rejoice in God my Saviour, and I have never lost the comfort of that good hour. Though I mourn when I recall the disappointments with which I must often have touched the heart of the Redeemer, yet during almost the space of a lifetime, God has been the “gladness of my joy”, and I trust I shall come to the Eternal Summer with the Spring-time of my first love unspent.’

David dedicated himself to the service of Christ and trained for the ministry. His first charge was in London, where he was for five years, before moving to Glasgow in 1891 to become the colleague and successor of Andrew Bonar (who died just over a year later), whose daughter David married in 1894. In the church at Finnieston, McIntyre developed his pulpit style. According to a biographer, he was not ‘a sparkling orator or popular star. Indeed, he never attempted such flights. His values were elsewhere. His forte lay in the devotional exposition of the living Word. His springs were ever fresh and deep. His delivery was quiet and even in tone, but the sincerity of both mind and spirit was unmistakable. He shot his well-polished shaft home, where many a more ornate preacher failed.’ The same person says of McIntyre, ‘His parish was the Bible, and he walked the length and breadth with reverent and scholarly stride.’

So it was not surprising when, in 1913, McIntyre became Principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, where he was to work for the rest of his life, while remaining the honorary senior minister of Finnieston. Over 1,000 students went through the College during his time, most of whom went abroad in missionary service for Christ.

His fifty years in the ministry was marked by a special service in 1936. After listening to the many tributes and receiving an appropriate financial gift in appreciation of his work, he made a speech in reply. He closed his address by summarising his outlook as an aged servant of Christ: ‘My ministry must now be nearing its close. I have entered that region which lies along the frontier of the King’s country, where as John Bunyan tells us, the contract between the Bride and the Bridegroom is oft-times renewed. It is a covenant of free grace: not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us. On his word, and on his completed work, I rest.’

McIntyre died in March, 1938. During his lifetime, in addition to his work as pastor and as principal of Bible Training Institute, he wrote many books. Some of them are on complex doctrines, yet he always wrote in a devotional style. Although in some ways his style is antiquated, I have never read anything by him without feeling the better for having done so. His books on the Saviour (Christ the Lord and The Prayer Life of Jesus) reveal a man whose love for his Master was strong and that surely is the basic requirement for anyone who ventures to write about him. But it is his book called The Hidden Life of Prayer that has remained in constant print and influenced thousands of people in addition to the four gentlemen referred to at the beginning of this article.

What can be said in its praise? First, it is short. The current edition in print is only about 120 pages in length. I recently re-read it, in a Kindle edition, on a journey (a couple of hours on a train and just over an hour on the flight between London and Inverness). Furthermore, each chapter is short. Within the book there are eight chapters, so it is not difficult time-wise to read a chapter at a sitting. Indeed Geoffrey Thomas says that he has often read it through aloud during a week of morning meetings with his assistants and deacons before they started work.

Second, it contains lots of real-life stories. The obvious benefit of such a story is that it is real. What the person describes truly happened. Indeed this is why McIntyre said he wrote the book: ‘Books on secret prayer are without number; but it seems to me that there is still room for one in which an appeal may be taken, steadily, and from every point, to life – to the experience of God’s saints. In these pages no attempt has been made to explain the mysteries of intercourse with God and commerce with heaven. What is here offered is a simple enumeration of some things which the Lord’s remembrancers have found to be helpful in the practice of prayer. The great Bengel explained that if he desired the most perfect intimacy with real Christians on one account rather than another, it was “for the sake of learning how they manage in secret to keep up their communion with God”.’

Third, it is scriptural. In a sense, the book is an explanation of Matthew 6:6: ‘But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ McIntyre proceeds to take the reader through various aspects of that activity, basing each of them on the Bible. In this manner he explores, a chapter at a time, the life of prayer, the equipment for prayer (a quiet place, a quiet period of time, a quiet heart), the focus of the mind in prayer (realisation of the presence of God, honesty with God, faith in God), the actual activity of prayer (worship, confession and request), the hidden riches of the secret place (serenity, submission to the will of God), and the open recompense (answered prayer).

Fourth, it is stimulating. Obviously this is a subjective response. But the author’s style does not crush the reader, even although he probably suspected that many readers would have confessed their inadequacies in prayer. Reading his examples of men and women who prayed, in a wide variety of circumstances, and received clear answers from God makes one long to experience the same blessing. Behind the selected examples one also senses the spirituality of the author. It was said of him, that he ‘was conspicuously a man of prayer. He walked and talked with God.’ And in this short book, he made it clear that his heart’s desire was that God’s people would experience answers to their own prayers, and therefore he wrote in an encouraging manner to stimulate them to persevere in a spiritual activity which at times can be hard to do.

I mentioned above how the book had challenged me many years ago. In saying this, I am not claiming to have achieved a great deal in my prayer life, nor would anyone who has taken seriously the message of the book. But one thing I can say is that, since reading this book, I am aware of what can be achieved through prayer. And that, at least, is a good start. Because, as McIntyre would have admitted, we can only ever be learners in the school of prayer.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Thank you for commending the book so warmly. I am working my way through it at present for the second time. It really is an encouraging book. Your comment that the "style does not crush the reader" is so accurate. It is one of the elements of the book that makes it a pleasure to read. Every Blessing!