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Reading Classics Together

June 21, 2012

The sexual relationship within marriage is powerful and beautiful, but it can only be described to a certain extent; eventually it must be experienced to be understood. The young soon-to-be-married man imagining the sexual relationship with his wife-to-be can really only guess at what it will be like; the bit he understands about it brings about a good and pure longing in his heart to actually experience it. The same is true of so many of the beautiful things in life; beauty calls to be experienced.

Worship is much the same. I love reading about worship, but it is always ultimately dissatisfying because it stirs up the desire to experience worship. This longing to experience beauty is part of the great hope of every Christian—the desire to experience the beauty of worshipping God face-to-face. While we love worship in this world, it is always stained by sin and it is always mediated, and for these reasons we long for the real thing, the fullest thing.

I thought about beauty and the beauty of worship as I read this week’s chapter in The Hidden Life of Prayer. When I was a child I was taught the ACTS acronym to help me distinguish between the different kinds of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Christians use different terms for these things; some combine them into fewer categories and some add a couple. What is consistent, though, is that there are different ways to pray. At times prayer is full of praise and thanksgiving, at times prayer focuses on confession of sin, while at other times it is full of pleas for the Lord’s help and guidance.

In The Hidden Life of Prayer, David McIntyre speaks of worship, confession and request as the three components of prayer. This week’s Reading Classics Together brought us to his chapter titled “The Engagement: Worship.” Here he gives three ways in which “the tribute of praise which the saints are instructed to render to the Lord may arise,” which is to say, three reasons for which we ought to express worship in prayer: in acknowledgement of daily mercies; in thanksgiving for the great redemption; and in contemplation of the Divine perfection.

Returning to my earlier analogy, I wonder if we are approaching the point in these discussions of prayer where there is really only so much that can be said without simply turning to prayer. As much as I enjoyed this chapter, it felt like something that would be far better experienced than described. I am glad to hear of how a man offers prayers of thanksgiving for his redemption, but I would far rather offer prayer for my own redemption. I suppose that is the ultimate purpose of any book on prayer—to make us pray. Later on in the book McIntyre will quote John Laidlaw who says this: “The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! Do it!” In good Baptist style I’ll add an “amen!” to that.

June 14, 2012

If in all the world there is a place that ought to be void of pretense, it is the place of prayer. What value can there be in anything less than complete honesty when speaking to the one who knows our thoughts and hearts and motives far better than we do ourselves? If we are less than honest, we are doing nothing but hindering relationship, we are lying to God, acting as if he cannot see beyond the surface.

In The Hidden Life of Prayer David McIntyre discusses the direction of the mind in prayer and he includes a powerful call to honesty. “In our address to God we like to speak of Him as we think we ought to speak, and there are times when our words far outrun our feelings. But it is best that we should be perfectly frank before Him. He will allow us to say anything we will, so long as we say it to Himself.”

Can we bring even our complaints to God? What would be the purpose? McIntrye answers:

It is possible that some who read these words may have a complaint against God. A controversy of long standing has come between your soul and His grace. If you were to utter the word that is trembling on your lips, you would say to him, “Why hast Thou dealt thus with me?” Then dare to say, with reverence and with boldness, all that is in your heart. “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob” (Isa. 41.21). Carry your grievance into the light of His countenance; charge your complaint home. Then listen to His answer. For surely, in gentleness and truth, He will clear Himself of the charge of unkindness that you bring against Him. And in His light you shall see light. 

This is not grumbling against God in a sinful way, but simply being respectfully honest, expressing your lack of understanding, your lack of agreement with what God has brought, all the while acknowledging your own lack of understanding. And in prayer the Lord will begin to give you understanding, or at least, to give you himself.

But he also offers an important warning:

June 07, 2012

A Christian cannot have a powerful prayer life unless he takes advantage of the equipment for prayer the Lord offers to him. In The Hidden Life of Prayer David McIntyre says this equipment “is simple, if not always easily secured. It consists particularly of a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.” Let me quote what he says about each of these:

A Quiet Place. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seculstion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” McIntrye goes on to show that Jesus himself grew up in a home with what may have been no less than nine people, and yet commanded private “closet” prayer.

A Quiet Hour. “For most of us it may be harder to find a quiet hour. I do not mean an ‘hour’ of exactly sixty minutes, but a portion of time withdrawn from the engagements of the day, fenced round from the encroachments of business or pleasure, and dedicated to God. The ‘world’s gray fathers’ might linger in the fields in meditation on the covenant-name until darkness wrapt them round. But we who live with the clang of machinery and the roar of traffic always in our ears, whose crowding obligations jostle against each other as the hours fly on, are often tempted to withdraw to other uses those moments which we ought to hold sacred to communion with heaven. … Certainly, if we are to have a quiet hour set down in the midst of a hurry of duties, and kept sacred, we must exercise both forethought and self-denial. We must be prepared to forgo many things that are pleasant, and some things that are profitable. We shall have to redeem time, it may be from recreation, or from social interaction, or from study, or from works of benevolence, if we are to find leisure daily to enter into our closet, and having shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in secret.”

A Quiet Heart. “For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart. … Stephen Gurnall acknowledges that it is far more difficult to hang up the big bell than it is to ring it when it has been hung. Mc’Cheyne used to say that very much of his prayer time was spent in preparing to pray. A new England Puritan writes: ‘While I was at the Word, I saw I had a wild heart, which was as hard to stand and abide before the presence of God in an ordinance, as a bird before any man.’ And Bunyan remarks from his own deep experience: ‘O ! the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God.’”

May 31, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we begin reading a new Christian classic together—David McIntyre’s The Hidden Life of Prayer. If you would like to read along with us, consult this post where you’ll find instructions on downloading the free audio book or the $0.99 Kindle book and find some places where you can purchase the printed book.

As is my habit, I will begin with a couple of brief thoughts on this week’s reading (chapter 1) and then keep comments open so anyone else who has read along can tell us what value or questions or concerns or applications they found.

Discussion

The Hidden Life of Prayer is a book of short chapters, which I believe is ideal for our purposes. The short chapters mean we can read them early in the week and then work on application. I doubt there is any area of the Christian life which requires as much practice as prayer; neither is there any area of the Christian life in which we are prone to give up so easily.

I found several challenges and encouragements in the first chapter and the foremost was this: prayer is hard work. There is something so liberating about that. I find prayer a difficult, difficult task. Not only are there always hundreds of other things competing for my time and attention—things that either keep me from even attempting to pray or things that attempt to distract me while I pray—but even the act of communicating with God can be very difficult. It is often hard to believe that prayer matters or that my prayers matter. Many days it feels like they must be rising no higher than the ceiling. Other days it feels like I have nothing to say to God and there is nothing God would want to hear from me.

To all of this McIntyre says, “Prayer is hard work.”

Prayer is the most sublime energy of which the spirit of man is capable. It is in one aspect glory and blessedness; in another, it is toil and travail, battle and agony. Uplifted hands grow tremulous long before the field is won; straining sinews and panting breath proclaim the exhaustion of the “heavenly footman.” The weight that falls upon an aching heart fills the brow with anguish, even when the midnight air is chill.

May 24, 2012

Read on and you will be able to download a free audiobook. That’s a teaser, of sorts. Before we get there, I want to remind you of the new Reading Classics Together project that will begin next week.

John Piper once said, “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.” For all the great classics we’ve read as part of the Reading Classics Together program, none of them have focused exclusively on prayer. For that reason, and based on its history and acclaim, we will turn next to The Hidden Life of Prayer. Already hundreds of you have agreed to read along.

The format is simple: Beginning next Thursday will read one chapter of the book each week and then gather here to discuss it. If you want to participate, all you need to do is get a copy of the book and start reading. For next Thursday just read any introductory matter along with chapter one. 

There are many ways you can get a copy of the book, some of which are free and some of which will require just a few dollars.

  • Westminster Books has kindly discounted a print edition to just $5.49. Click the link to take advantage.
  • The Kindle edition is available for just $0.99.
  • Chapel Library has the PDF for no charge.
  • Granted Ministries has a nice new edition that also includes The Prayer-Life of Our Lord, a sequel of sorts. The cost is just $7.50.
  • A Google search will turn up many online editions.

After I announced that we would be reading this classic, ChristianAudio got in touch with me and said that they would like to record and then give away the audio version of the book. They recorded it earlier this week and it has now been added to their catalog.

  • Click here to take advantage. Simply add the book to your cart and apply the coupon code HLOP12. That will reduce the price to $0.00. Then follow the checkout procedure and you will be all set. It won’t cost you a dime.

Finally, a word about The Hidden Life of Prayer:

The Hidden Life of Prayer

This classic was written by David McIntyre (sometimes spelled M’Intyre) who lived from 1859 to 1938. McIntyre was a Scottish preacher who succeeded Andrew Bonar as minister in Finnieston and later served as principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow from 1913 to 1938. His book was first published in 1913. He describes the book’s purpose in his preface: “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.”

One publisher’s introduction to the book says this: “Upon the foundation of biblical teaching, M’Intyre piles example after example of what has been helpful and effective in the prayer lives of many Christians, from Augustine to Spurgeon. The result is a handbook for prayer based both on Scripture and on the time-tested wisdom of God’s people through the centuries. Reading this book will, therefore, give you an abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) to help you toward a victorious prayer life.” 

May 17, 2012

Reading Classics Together
John Piper once said, “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.” For all the great classics we’ve read as part of the Reading Classics Together program, none of them have focused exclusively on prayer. For that reason, and based on its history and acclaim, we will turn next to The Hidden Life of Prayer.

It was back in 2007 that I had an idea that genuinely changed my life. I wanted to read some of the classics of the Christian faith, but I knew that without some measure of accountability I would never have the self-discipline to make it happen. I realized that this accountability could come by reading classics together in community. I decided to launch a reading program called Reading Classics Together. It was simple: We would choose a classic work and read it at a pace of one chapter per week until it was complete; along the way we would “gather” here at the blog for discussion.

The Hidden Life of PrayerIn the years since this program began we’ve read some amazing classics from years gone by and from the present time. These include titles like Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, and, most recently, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. These books and others like them have benefited me immensely and I know the same is true of those who have read along with me. I am sure that The Hidden Life of Prayer will be a good fit in this program.

This classic was written by David McIntyre (sometimes spelled M’Intyre) who lived from 1859 to 1938. McIntyre was a Scottish preacher who succeeded Andrew Bonar as minister in Finnieston and later served as principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow from 1913 to 1938. His book was first published in 1913. He describes the book’s purpose in his preface: “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.”

One publisher’s introduction to the book says this: “Upon the foundation of biblical teaching, M’Intyre piles example after example of what has been helpful and effective in the prayer lives of many Christians, from Augustine to Spurgeon. The result is a handbook for prayer based both on Scripture and on the time-tested wisdom of God’s people through the centuries. Reading this book will, therefore, give you an abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) to help you toward a victorious prayer life.” 

There are many ways you can get a copy of the book, some of which are free and some of which will require just a few dollars.

  • Westminster Books has kindly discounted a print edition to just $5.49. Click the link to take advantage.
  • The Kindle edition is available for just $0.99.
  • Chapel Library has the PDF for no charge.
  • Granted Ministries has a nice new edition that also includes The Prayer-Life of Our Lord, a sequel of sorts. The cost is just $7.50.
  • A Google search will turn up many online editions.

My plan is to begin discussing this book on May 31. That gives you two weeks to secure a copy and read the first chapter along with any introductory matter. Then you simply need to visit this site and we can discuss it together. We will read one chapter per week until it is complete. The chapters are short, but will require time and reflection in order to apply, so this seems like a good and manageable pace.

Will you read it with me? If so, get a copy of the book and visit the blog on May 31 so we can discuss it together. In the meantime, leave a comment to let me know that you’ll be reading along.

May 10, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we come to the final chapter of John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress. Last week Christian and Hopeful endured an encounter with Athiest and a journey across the Enchanted Ground. This week they finally arrive at their destination, but not without some drama.

Discussion

The tenth and final stage of Christian’s journey combines dramatic narrative with some rather dense didactic components. We have seen throughout the book, and especially in the later stages, that when Bunyan wants to teach truth but finds no easy means of fitting it into the narrative, he simply squeezes it in by having Christian and Hopeful engage in dialog. It’s quite ordered dialog too, where the men are able to form well-ordered lists of information. For example, Christian lists three marks of true or right fear of the Lord. Then he comes up with a list of four ways that the ignorant stifle godly conviction (or fear). These are worth pausing to read once more:

1. They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God,) and thinking so, they resist them, as things that directly tend to their overthrow. 2. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith; when, alas for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all; and therefore they harden their hearts against them. 3. They presume they ought not to fear, and therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident. 4. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.

It may not be the smoothest dialog we’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction, but it’s at least clear and orderly! Hopeful goes on to present a list of four reasons that men may backslide to which Christian responds with nine of the ways in which men do this. It’s all very neat and clean and helpful, even if it doesn’t do a whole lot to advance the narrative.

When this discussion finally comes to a close, the chapter is half gone and the men come to Beulah, a land of peace and tranquility where they are beyond the danger of the Enchanted Grounds and Giant Despair. Here he presents his vision of godly maturity, where the initial doubts and concerns have been put to rest.

But one great challenge remains. As the men come to the end of their pilgrimage, they find that they must still cross the River of Death. This is probably the most powerful and dramatic element of the final stage. There is no way to the Celestial City except through this, the last enemy. As Christian faces the inevitability of death he begins to be overwhelmed by fear. 

May 03, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue to read through John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we come to the ninth stage of Christian’s journey. You may remember that in the last stage Christian and his friend Hopeful encountered the shepherds at the Delectable Mountains. And now they journey on.

Discussion

A lot happened in this week’s rather long reading—far too much to summarize in any substantial way—so I will pick just a couple of the things I found most interesting and helpful.

One of the things that struck me was that the arguments and attitude of atheists has apparently remained largely unchanged since Bunyan’s day (though I suspect that in that day the outspoken atheists were a little harder to come by). Here is a small piece of the dialog between Christian and Atheist.

Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.
Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.
Christian: What’s the meaning of your laughter?
Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and yet are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.
Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?
Atheist: Received! There is not such a place as you dream of in all this world.

When Christian tells Atheist that they are journeying toward the Celestial City, he breaks out into laughter. He catches himself and after he is finished mocking, he insists that he has sincerely sought that city and not been able to find it. It is his supposed sincerity that stood out to me. Though he can’t refrain from his laughter, he quickly reigns in the mockery and then shows this false and condescending sympathy. “I was like you once, but I did the work, I did the research, and I can tell you that you are misguided.” Atheists have not changed a whole lot. So many continue to act as if they have had a long and sincere spiritual journey in which they truly sought God only to find that he did not exist. Of course the Bible teaches us otherwise.

Another thing that stood out to me is the value of spiritual friendship. Bunyan portrays a deep and meaningful friendship between Christian and Hopeful. It is not a friendship revolving around nachos and football games, but a friendship based on co-laboring, on true spiritual companionship through life’s joys and trials. Time and again one man catches the other and prevents him from falling away or wandering astray; they continually exhort, encourage and rebuke one another.

April 26, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue to read through John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the eighth stage of his journey. This week Christian and Hopeful journey on and come to the Delectable Mountains. This is a chapter that required me to re-read it (or really to listen to it and then to read it).

Discussion

If my understanding is correct, Bunyan uses the Delectable Mountains to point to the place and the power of the local church in the life of the Christian. It is a place of rest, a place of feeding and a place to be warned of error, all under the care and oversight of loving shepherds. In this case the shepherds are called Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere.

You can see the care Bunyan used in welcoming people into his own church. He was obviously a man who highly valued church membership and sought to extend it only to those who were truly converted.

I saw also in my dream, that when the shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, (to which they made answer as in other places,) as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? for but few of them that begin to come hither, do show their face on these mountains. But when the shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.

You can also see a plurality of elders here, with different character qualities of an elder displayed in each of these men. Having concluded that Christian and Hopeful are genuine in their pilgrimage, they now act in unity: “Then said the shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the farthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom.” They proceed to teach them about error, to caution them about going astray, to give them a glance into hell, and to provide them with a glimpse of the Celestial City. 

April 19, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the seventh stage of his journey. Last week Christian’s friend Faithful was martyred while passing through Vanity Fair. This week he meets up with Hopeful and the two journey on.

Discussion

This portion of the book was quite a bit longer than those that came before. It roughly divides into three parts; first Christian and Hopeful encounter a man named By-Ends and then his friends Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. I will leave it to someone else to explain what this is all about as I found it kind of confusing. I can say, though, that this is one of those places where you can see the depth of Bunyan’s theology as he presents a back-and-forth argument where Christian argues against using religion for pragmatic purposes. By-Ends and his friends are suggesting that it is wise to be religious for the sake of worldly gain. Part of Christian’s response includes these words:

[T]hat man who takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

Having moved on from that conversation, Christian and Hopeful come across a man named Demas, obviously a reference to the Demas mentioned by the Apostle Paul, a man once involved in ministry but who forsook it all because he loved the things of this world. In this story Demas tries to woo the pilgrims off the narrow path with the promise of riches. Or maybe it isn’t the promise as much as the hint or suggestion. “Won’t you just come and take a look?” But those who come and look stumble and fall as the ground around is shaky and unstable.

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