Learning to pray through the Psalms: Francis J. Grimké

Francis James Grimké on the value of learning to pray through the Psalms:

In studying the psalms we get a pretty good idea of what prayer is. It is talking to God; telling him all about ourselves, our cares, our anxieties, our troubles, vexations, disappointments, in a word, unbosoming ourselves to him as we would to a confidential friend. We not only learn what prayer is, but also the comforting assurance that God wants us to come to him, wants us to confide in him, to roll our burdens upon him. We need never hesitate therefore about going to him at all times and under all circumstances.

This devotional thought comes from The Works of Francis J. Grimké, Vol. 3: Stray Thoughts and Meditations (p. 3), which is a real treasure. This volume is full of references to the Book of Psalms, which were both an inspiration and a comfort to Rev. Grimké, especially during a particularly reflective period of his life. If you appreciate his devotional work as well as his pastoral ministry, be sure to also check his Meditations on Preaching, available at Log College Press here.

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Charles Hodge on Meditation as a Means of Grace

In the context of discussing a recurring theme in sermons by Charles Hodge dealing with the importance of meditation in the life of the Christian believer, Andrew Hoffecker writes:

In a conference sermon on the subject “Meditation as a Means of Grace,” Hodge pointed out the main distinction between meditation and mere intellectual consideration of an idea. The object of the latter is merely to understand intellectually while the object of meditation is to experience the power of God’s Word. He outlines suggestions to aid in this exercise. Believers ought to purpose to do this faithfully, setting aside times when it might be regularly performed. It should be done concomitantly with prayer, i.e., “not only in the formal sense of the word, but also as meaning converse with God.” (W. Andrew Hoffecker, Piety and the Princeton Theologians, pp. 82-83)

Here is the text briefly and directly from Hodge:

Meditation as a Means of Grace

I. What is meditation?
It is the serious, prolonged, devout contemplation of divine things. 1. This is distinguished from mere intellectual examination or consideration. It has a different object. The object of the one is to understand, of the other to experience the power. 2. It is distinguished from casual devout thought and aspiration.

II. It is a means of grace. By means of grace is meant a divinely appointed instrumentality for promoting holiness in the soul. That meditation is such a means is proved, 1. From its being frequently enjoined in Scripture for this end. 2. From the example of the saint as recorded in Scripture. 3. From the experience of the people of God in all ages.

III. Why is it thus salutary? 1. Because God has appointed his truth as the great means of sanctification. 2. Because the truth, to produce its effect, must be present to the mind. "God is not in all his thoughts," it is said of the wicked. "Estranged from God," is the description of the ungodly. 3. The intimate relation between knowledge and feeling, between the cognition and recognition, the … (knowing), and the … (acknowledgment) of divine truth. 4. Because all unholy feelings are subdued in the presence of God, unsound principles are corrected in the light of divine truth. We become conformed to the things with which we are familiar.

IV. Subjects on which we should meditate, are, God, — his law, — his Son, — the plan of salvation, — our own state as sinners, — heaven, etc.

V. Difficulties in the way of this duty. 1. The difficulty of continuous thought. 2. Preoccupation with other things. 3. Indisposition to holding communion with God. 4. Want of method and purpose.

VI. Directions for the performance of the duty. 1. Form the purpose to be faithful in its discharge, from a sense of duty and conviction of its importance. 2. Have a time and place sacred to the duty. 3. Connect it with prayer, not only in the formal sense of the word, but also as meaning converse with God. 4. Connect it with the reading of the Scriptures. Meditate on the word. Read it slowly, with self-application, and pondering its import. 5. Cultivate the habit application, and pondering its import. 5. Cultivate the habit of controlling your thoughts. Do not let them be governed by accident or fortuitous association. Keep the rudder always in your hand. 6. Do not be discouraged by frequent failure; and do not suppose that the excitement of feeling is the measure of advantage. There may be much learned, and much strength gained when there is little emotion. 7. Consecrate the hours especially of social and public worship to this work. Let the mind be filled with God while in his house. (Charles Hodge, sermon preached on Oct. 28, 1855 in Princeton Sermons, pp. 298-299 and Conference Papers, pp. 298-299)

Plumer and Prime on the Power of Prayer

We have noted previously that James Waddel Alexander wrote a wonderful memorial of the Fulton Street prayer meeting and revival of 1857-1858. But the theme of the power of prayer stirred up by this revival was especially the province of Samuel Irenaeus Prime, who authored four volumes on this topic over the years:

  • The Power of Prayer, Illustrated in the Wonderful Displays of Divine Grace at the Fulton Street and Other Meetings in New York and Elsewhere, in 1857 and 1858 (1858, 1859);

  • Five Years of Prayer, With the Answers (1864);

  • Fifteen Years of Prayer in the Fulton Street Meeting (1872); and

  • Prayer and Its Answer: Illustrated in the First Twenty-Five Years of the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting (1882).

Prime was above all a man of prayer, and deeply impressed with both its necessity in the life of the believer, and its efficacy. In the last volume (p. 147), he shared this thought about prayer’s power:

In the Christian life and in Christian labor prayer is all powerful, for in prayer we lay hold of God's omnipotence. A minister said he had been deeply impressed with the thought that power comes from God. In the battle of Waterloo, some of the English troops were ordered to fall on their faces for a time, so as to let the deadly fire of the French artillery go over them. At the right moment the command came to spring to their feet and show fight. So it was suggested, as the soldiers of the Lord, we need often to fall flat upon our faces before Him in humiliation of heart, and wait until He calls on us for action.

In Prime’s first record of the 1857-1858 revival, several chapters are included from other contributors, such as William Swan Plumer on the efficacy of prayer. This chapter is a real gem. Plumer writes (p. 350) a truth that we do well to remember:

It is not possible to over-estimate the value of prayer. For more than thirty-five years I have had much intercourse with dying saints and sinners of various ages and conditions. In all that time I have not heard one express regret that he had spent too much time in prayer; I have heard many mourn that they had so seldom visited a throne of grace.