This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series: ‘Theology of Prayer’ (Palmer)
Some time ago, I introduced B.M. Palmer’s book Theology of Prayer. I now begin a series of posts summarising this ‘neglected masterpiece’ chapter by chapter.
Chapter 1 is entitled, Prayer: Its Nature.
Combining the wording of the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms gives the following definition of prayer:-
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for all things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, bu the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.
More briefly, prayer is ‘the language of creaturely dependence’ upon God.
We are accustomed to think of the dignity of man, and his noble achievements an discoveries (by way of science) of the works of God. But ‘man is still a creature locked up within limits which he cannot pass.’ And, ‘in the very answers which nature returns to our questioning lie deeper secrets to be explored.’ We find ourselves dependent upon Another; and that dependence finds its only full expression in prayer.
We were made to pray:
‘In his intelligence man dimly reflects the divine wisdom; in his affections, the divine benevolence; in his conscience, the divine rectitude; in his will, the divine power. Such a being finds his true sphere only in God.’
‘To this end was man invested with “dominion over the works of God’s hands,” that, as the priest of nature, he might walk through the aisles of her vast cathedral, and lead the whole choir of earth in chants of thanksgiving and joy. It is his office to gather the inarticulate praises of this dumb world into his censer, investing them with his own intelligence and thought, and lighting them at the fire of his own devotion; and then, as the voice of nature, to pour forth the flood of praise forever upon him who has created all for his own glory.’
‘Man’s mental and moral structure adapts him to htis majestic function. His reason, which can hold discourse of God; his heart, which glows with the ardor of a seraph;…his memory and hope, which bind together the past and the future like two vast continents; his instinct of ambition and longing for immortality, which turn wearily away from sensual rewards to the prizes of eternity; the conscience, which sits upon its hidden throne, the arbiter of right; the depths of reverence and awe within him resounding with the echoes of the spiritual and divine: all thse make him a worshiper.’
The attitude of prayer is that of humility: acknowledging God’s glory and our feebleness.
But for man as fallen and sinful, prayer becomes the language of guilt. ‘This is prayer: not simply asking for blessings which shall fill the measure of its need, but bewailing the sin which is strangling the soul with its serpent coil, and seeking deliverance from its hideous embrace.’
Prayer, then, is the language of
- creaturely dependence
- adoration and worship
This analysis of prayer:-
1. provides a place for prayer under every form of religion, natural or revealed. Man has a duty to pray as a creature, let alone as a sinner.
Even the redeemed in heaven and the angels must pray, as the expression of their creaturely dependence.
Praying is first an attitude, and only secondly the articulate expression of that attitude. ‘Many a prayer does not form itself into speech at all. The real prayer lies back of the utterance in the thought, in the desire, in the constant and quiet attitude of the spirit towards God.
2. Yields all the parts of prayer in their natural and logical development.
‘Prayer, as the language of worship, divides easily into adoration and praise; as the language of dependence, it breaks into petition and thanksgiving; as the language of guilt, it gives both confession and supplication. There remains only intercession, the seventh of these prismatic rays; and this springs from all these conjoined.’
3. establishes the imperative and universal obligation to prayer. Prayer is the natural language of creaturely dependence; therefore, to forsake prayer is to commit apostasy from ourselves, as well as from God.
4. shows that prayer can be addressed only to a personal God standing in immediate relation with the subjects whom he rules. Prayer
‘is no apostrophe to bald and lawless force, nor to blind and impersonal fate. Neither has it any significance if the God to whom it appeals is locked up behind the bars of nature, with no power to control the movement of the mighty machinery. Prayer is a protest against every phase of Pantheism, which wars against the essential personality of the Deity. It is equally a remonstrance against the Naturalism which renders that personality useless by sundering the ties which bind him to the creatures he has made. It is an infinite personal God alone, to whom finite and dependent beings can approach as to a Father providing for his own. It is only to him who is the God of all grace the guilty can come, pleading for the forgiveness of sin. It is only he who is “glorious in holiness” that can receive the homage of true worship.’