The Secret Walk with God (ii).
He that would to others give
Let him take from Jesus still;
They who deepest in Him live
Flow furthest at His will.

I resume the rich subject of Secret Devotion, Secret Communion with God. Not that I wish to enter in detail on either the theory or the practice of prayer in secret; as I have attempted to do already in a little book which I may venture here to mention, Secret Prayer. My aim at present, as I talk to my younger Brethren in the Ministry, is far rather to lay all possible stress on the vital importance of the habit, however it may prove best in individual experience to order it in practice. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" [Prov. xxiii.7.]; and as a life worketh in its heart, so is it. And the heart of a Christian Minister's life is the man's Secret Communion with God.

Let us Clergymen take as one of our mottoes that deeply suggestive word of the Lord by Malachi, where the ideal Levi is depicted: "He walked with Me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity." [Mal. ii.6.]


Remember with what a heavenly brightness that principle was glorified in the recorded life on earth of "the great Shepherd of the sheep," [SN: Heb. xiii.20.] who in this also "left us an example, that we should follow His steps." [1 Pet. ii.22.] Never did man walk more genuinely with men than the Son of Man, whether it was among the needy and wistful crowds in streets or on hill-sides, or at the dinner-table of the Pharisee, or in the homes of Nazareth, Cana, and Bethany. No Christian was ever so "practical" as Jesus Christ. No disciple ever so directly and sympathetically "served his own generation by the will of God" [Acts xiii.36.] as did the blessed Master. But all the while "His soul dwelt apart" in the Father's presence, and there continually rested and was refreshed, [John iv.32, 34.] and there found the "meat" in the strength of which He travelled that great pilgrimage by way of the Cross to the Throne. Jesus Christ, our Exemplar as well as our Life, did indeed live behind His work, behind His ministry, behind His ministerial character, in the region of a Filial Communion in which His Father was His all in all for peace and joy, His law of action and His eternal secret of life. And observe, this habitual communion in the midst of active service did not at all supersede in His blessed experience the stated and definite work of worship and petition before and after the busy hours of service. "He was alone, praying" [John vi.57.]; "He continued all night in prayer to God"; and at last, "He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down and prayed." [Luke ix.18; vi.12; xxii.41.]

All this is not only matter for wondering notice, as we read our New Testament. It is example, it is model. The Head is thus showing His members the way, the only way, to maintain a life among men and for men which shall be full of good for them, because itself ever filled with the life and presence of God.


From a leaflet which came long ago into my hands, I quote the experience of a German Christian, eminently successful in spiritual work; a passage which will illustrate and bring home my appeal in this whole matter: --

"When Lucius von Machtholf was asked how he carried on religious intercourse with individuals, he wrote: -- 'I know no other tactics than first of all to be heartily satisfied with my God, even if He should favour me with no sensible visible blessing in my vocation. Also to remember that preaching and conversation are not so much my work as the outcome of the love and joy of the Holy Ghost in my heart, and, afterwards, on my lips. Further, that I must never depend upon any previous fervour or prayers of mine, but upon God's mercy and Christ's dearly-purchased rights and holy intercession; and cherishing a burning love to Christ and to souls, I must constantly seek for wisdom and gentleness.... Finally, I would guard myself from imagining that I know beforehand what I should say, but go to Christ for every good word I have to speak, even to a child, and submit myself to the Holy Spirit, as the Searcher of hearts, who, knowing the individuals I have to do with, will guide and teach me when, where, and how to speak.

"'Be always following, never going before. It were better to be sick in a tent under a burning sun, and Jesus sitting at the tent door, than to be enchanting a thousand listeners where Jesus was not. Be as a day-labourer only in God's harvest-field, ready to be first among the reapers in the tall corn, or just to sit and sharpen another's sickle. Have an eye to God's honour, and have no honour of your own to have an eye to. Lay it in the dust and leave it there. Never let your inner life get low in your search for the lives of others.'"

I dare to say that this quotation contains no mere "counsels of perfection," but principles which are indispensable for the Minister of Jesus Christ who would be not only reputable, popular, and in the superficial sense of the word successful, but -- what his dear Master would have him be for His work. And the blessed spirit it suggests and exemplifies is a thing which cometh not in "but by prayer" and by at least such fasting as takes the shape of a most watchful secret self-discipline. When von Machtholf speaks of "never depending on previous prayers" it is obvious what he means; not that prayer should not precede work, but that nothing should satisfy the worker short of a living and present trust in a living and present Lord. But that trust is the very thing which is developed, and prepared, and matured, in the life of genuine secret intercourse, in which the Lord is dealt with as man dealeth with his friend, and gazed upon and (I may reverently say) studied in His revealed Character, till the disciple does indeed "know whom he has believed," "who He is that he should believe on Him." "My soul shall be satisfied ... when I remember Thee, when I meditate on Thee, in the night watches," [2 Tim. i.12; John ix.36; Ps. lxiii.5, 6.] aye, and in the Morning Watch also.


I know not how to get away from this subject; not only because of its intense connexion with the most blissful experiences of the believing soul, but because of its unspeakably important bearing on the work of the Ministry, the Ministry of our own time and of my reader's own generation. Never was there a period when the cry for enterprize and practical energy was louder; and God knows there is occasion enough for the cry, and for the answering resolve. But never was there a time when the need was greater to distinguish true from false secrets of energy, and to be content with nothing short of the deepest and most divine as our ultimate secret. Do you not well know what I mean? Is there not far and wide in the "Christian world" -- I do not speak now of the exterior regions of avowed scepticism or indifference -- a tendency to merge the whole idea of religion in that of philanthropic benevolence, and thereby to draw inevitably the idea of philanthropy downward in the end into its least noble manifestations? Is it not a fashionable thing to regard the Christian Ministry, for example, as a useful and ready mechanism with which to work out the social and sanitary amelioration of the lives of the multitude, and so to take him to be the best qualified Clergyman who is, perhaps, the most "muscular" of Christians, or the cleverest at the invention or superintendence of recreations on a large scale, or the quickest student and exponent of the principles or theories of political economy, or possibly of socialistic enterprize? But all this may leave entirely out the very life-blood of what the New Testament means by the Gospel of the grace of God; and in many, many cases it does entirely leave it out.


A conception of "Church work" is widely entertained, and thought to be adequate, out of which is practically dropped all the mystery, and all the mercy; above all, the work and message of the atoning Cross and the dying Lamb; and the need of the sovereign grace of the Holy Ghost to begin and carry out the Regeneration of the soul; and the depth of our Fall; and the offered greatness and splendour of our New Creation; and "that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." [Tit. ii.13.] It is just one wave of the great anti-supernatural tide of our time. Christian work is viewed as much as possible as man's work for man in this present world, under the example, doubtless, of the beneficent life of our Lord, but not under the shadow of Calvary, nor in the light of Pentecost, nor in the definite prospect of an immortality of holy glory.


To counteract this tendency, and to do so in the right way, is one of the very noblest tasks set before the younger Clergy of the English Church in our time. It is for them, under God, in a pre-eminent degree, to find out the secret, and then to live it out, how to be at once the perfectly genuine man, devoted to the service of men, carrying what he is and what he believes into the actual surroundings of modern life, not allowing illusions and poetic day-dreams to come between him and facts; and also the convinced, unwavering, spiritual Christian, conversant with his own soul, and with his living Lord and Saviour, and with that sacred, unalterable written Word which that Saviour put into His people's hands, never to be taken out of them. Nothing is more wanted at present in the sphere of "Church life and work," unless I am greatly mistaken, than a generation of young Clergymen (soon to be seniors) who shall conspicuously combine the best forms of practicality with an unmistakable chastened personal spirituality which is seen to be "the pulse of" their busy "machine." And if the spirituality is to be indeed genuine (away with it if it is anything but genuine to the centre), if it is to be quite different on the one hand from a thing of artificial phrases, and on the other from merely formulated and regulated devoutness, I am deeply sure that its only secret and preservative is a fully-maintained secret walk with God.


"I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." [SN: Rev. iii.17.] Such was the thought and word of the Laodicean long ago. Is it not in effect the thought, if not the word, of not a few hard workers and energetic enterprizers now? "What do I want with the dialect of 'Christian experience'? What have I, with all these irons in the fire, and a strong hammer and a strong hand with which to strike them, what have I to do with 'old-world faiths' about sin and salvation, about grace and conversion, about pardon and justification? What have I so pressingly to do with much prayer, save in the form of much work? God, I thank Thee that I am a worker; let it be for others to dive into spiritual secrets, if it is good for them to do so."


I would not overdraw the picture. And the words I have put into a possible mouth are words which, if I heard, I hope I should hear with every wish to judge them fairly and to see where any truth lay in them. But none the less I am sure that those words not unjustly represent a type of thought widely prevalent among even ministerial workers, and that it is a type of thought pregnant with disaster for Christian work. "Thou knowest not that thou art poor"; "I counsel thee, to buy of Me"; "I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with Me." [Rev. iii.17, 18, 20.] So said Jesus Christ to the Laodicean. And though it may seem paradoxical to compare a man involved in the rush of modern "Church work" with the Laodicean, the comparison may not be always far astray, nor the words of the Lord in Rev. iii.18 out of place accordingly. To be "neither cold nor hot" towards Him is all too possible for us, alas, even when "the irons in the fire" are most numerous, and even when they are being most briskly hammered.


So let us listen, making a pause to do so. Perhaps just now the knock may be audible, and certain articulate sounds may come from outside, saying that a PERSON waits for readmission to HIS place in our busy, multifarious life, and that HE can be content with nothing short of heart-intimacy with us, and that we, if we would not forsake our own mercy, must be content with nothing short of heart-intimacy with HIM.

"I counsel thee to buy of Me." Let us do it; let us pay over, at His feet, our poor fancied wealth of self's energies and undertakings (as regards our own good opinion of them), receiving from Him the heavenly "gold" of His own glorious grace and peace, and the "white robe" of a living and loving conformity to His likeness, and the "eye-salve" of His illumination, in which we see things as He sees them. It is better, as von Machtholf says it is, to have Him within the heart's chamber, at once as Guest and as Host, in that blessed inter-communion, than to be apparently the most successful of organizers or of toilers, strong in ourselves, but without the secret of the Presence of the Lord.

It is scarcely needful, I trust, to explain what I do not mean. My very last intention is to speak slightingly of devoted work and self-sacrificing endeavours, whether or no they take the line which most approves itself to me. A faineant in the English Ministry to-day is something worse than even a cumberer of the ground; he is, I dare to say, like a upas upon it, blighting where he throws his shadow, so conspicuous and so deadly must be the example of such a life in the Minister of such a Gospel. But what I mean, again and again, is this, that the days demand, along with a thoroughgoing while prudent practicality, more and more also of a profound reality of spiritual knowledge of the Lord in those who labour in His Name. With the growing stress of our time we must have not less but more of this, in those who are called to meet that stress. This is vital, if we would not be stifled and succumb as Christians altogether.

So this is my plea, dear Brother in the Ministry, now making your first essays in some great city parish, or wherever it may be: cultivate, as for your life, secret intercourse with God.


And with this view, I now say specially, cultivate such intercourse laying His holy Word open before you. I spoke in the previous Chapter of the Bible spread open by the evening lamp, the Bible marked with signs of diligent search. With all my heart I mean to press that thought. It will be best to reserve for another Chapter certain suggestions on methods of Bible study. But I may, and I will at once, offer a few words on the subject in general. It is a subject which lies near my heart, and of the urgent importance of which I am very sure.


Above all then I would entreat you to be a Bible student at whatever cost of other religious reading. It is a very common thing to substitute, practically, for the Bible a little library of livres de piete, as the French would call them, small "good books." Not very long ago, in the course of an ordination examination, I came across an instructive instance. In answer to a question in a "Pastoral Paper" for candidates for Priest's Orders, a thoughtful young Clergyman stated incidentally that he used every day with great profit certain devotional books, and that about twice a week he took for definite meditation and prayer a passage from the Gospels. It struck me that here was a strange and sad inversion of the right order of proportion; devotional books daily, and the New Testament (in any sense of earnest meditative study) about twice a week! Very different, I thought, is the view and teaching of the Church of England in this matter of the spiritual reading of her Ministers. What does the Church say, through the Bishop, when the Deacon is ordained Presbyter? "Seeing that you cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures.... We have good hope that you will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry."

And I need not go about to prove that the Church does not mean such daily "reading and weighing" to wait till the young man is actually ordained Priest. We should scarcely have had the First Homily of the First Book written, if such had been her mind. Have you ever read over that "Voice of the Church"?


A remarkable confirmation of my present contention comes to us from an unexpected quarter. I refer to the Preface prefixed by that ardent Roman Catholic, M. Henri Lasserre, to his remarkable French translation of the Four Gospels, the book which, December 4, 1886, received the cordial benediction of Leo XIII., but within a twelvemonth, such is "the power behind the Pope," was placed on the Index Expurgatorius. Probably such passages as the following had much to do with this strange and sudden self-reversal of the judgment of the Vatican.

"A timid school," after the crisis of the Reformation, which finds, of course, little favour with M. Lasserre, and on which, very unjustly, he lays much of the blame of the practical prohibition of the Bible within "the Catholic Church," "a timid school tended thenceforth to strike from the hands of believers the divine Book which makes the foundation of our faith, and laboured to substitute for it by degrees a pious literature, intended to furnish hearts and minds with a nourishment suited to their weakness, a diet without danger. Some of these books, we own without hesitation, are excellent in themselves, and have contributed to the sanctification of many souls. However, this is the exception. In the majority of these works, where, alas, the sugar of devotion takes the place of the salt of wisdom, the eternal truths and the genuine teachings of the Gospel were soon diluted, and, as it were, lost in strange waters.... One and all, the better specimens and the deplorable (les lamentables) alike, they are another thing altogether, yes, absolutely another thing, than the Gospel, whose apostolic mission they have noiselessly usurped by an invasion insensible, I had almost called it clandestine.... The general ignorance of the Gospels has been the one cause in France, these twenty years, of the success of the scandalous romance which appeared under the title of La Vie de Jesus. Among a people moderately familiar with the narratives of St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, and St John ... there would have been no need to refute it. Every one would have seen, without assistance, its flagrant falsifications, its gross sophisms, its absolute emptiness. This deep-seated and complex evil, this enervation of the Christian spirit, this anaemia (cette anemie) of so many among us, are an object of sorrowful anxiety (preoccupation) for the Catholic thinker" (pp. x, xxv).


For the Protestant thinker too, within a Church which has now for centuries, in every possible official way, pressed home the reading of the Bible upon her every member, and of course upon her every Minister, there is material for similar anxieties, mutatis mutandis. Bible study, such as our Lord and the Apostles enjoined and encouraged, is not on the increase amongst us, to say the least of it; certainly the ignorance of the blessed Book even among candidates for holy Orders is sometimes, is not seldom, very great indeed. Nay more, there is sometimes, however rarely as yet, an ominous disposition even in clerical circles to shelve the Bible. Quite lately I heard, on excellent authority, that a certain large Clerical Society, revising its rules, deliberately decided that the meetings shall not in future be begun with the reading of Scripture. My friend and Brother, do not swim even on the edges of such a current. Swim with all your might, in your Master's might, against it.


Then lastly I put in my plea, as I sought to do when we were considering the matter of secret prayer, for such a secret study of the Word of God as shall be unprofessional, unclerical, and simply Christian. Resolve to "read, mark, and inwardly digest" so that not now the flock but the shepherd, that is to say you, "may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life." It will be all the better for the flock. Forget sometimes, in the name of Jesus Christ, the pulpit, the mission-room, the Bible-class; open the Bible as simply as if you were on Crusoe's island, and were destined to live and die there, alone with God. You will be all the fresher, all the more sympathetic and to the point, when you do come to speak to the listening people about the Book. The discoveries which we make in it for our own souls are just the things which we cannot help reporting so as to interest and attract our brethren; as least, that is the sure tendency of things.


Let me write out a slightly abbreviated extract from a golden book, unhappily no longer in print, The Christian Ministry, by that diligent student, loving and laborious Pastor, and heavenly-minded man, the remembrance of whom shines on me like a ray reflected from the Chief Shepherd's face, the late Rev. Charles Bridges.[2]

[2] He died at Hinton Martell, in Dorset, 1869.

"The maxim, Bonus textuarius est bonus theologus, marks a grand ministerial qualification -- 'mighty in the Scriptures.' The importance of this is beautifully expressed by Witsius: 'Let the theologian ascend from the lower school of natural study to the higher department of Scripture, and sitting at the feet of God as his teacher, learn from His mouth the hidden mysteries of salvation, which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, which none of the princes of this world knew; which the most accurate reason cannot search out; which the heavenly chorus of angels, though always beholding the face of God, desire to look into. In the hidden book of Scripture, and nowhere else, are opened the secrets of the most sacred wisdom. Let the theologian delight in these sacred Oracles; let him exercise himself in them day and night; let him meditate in them; let him live in them; let him draw all his wisdom from them; let him compare all his thoughts with them; let him embrace nothing in religion which he does not find there. The attentive study of the Scriptures has a sort of constraining power. It fills the mind with the most splendid form of heavenly truth. It soothes the mind with an inexpressible sweetness; it satisfies the sacred hunger and thirst for knowledge; ... it imprints its own testimony so firmly on the mind, that the believing soul rests on it with the same security as if it had been carried up into the third heaven and heard it from God's own mouth; it touches all the affections, and breathes the sweetest fragrance of holiness upon the pious reader, even though he may not perhaps comprehend the full extent of his reading.... We ought to draw our views of divine truths immediately from the Scriptures themselves, and to make no other use of human writings than as indices marking those chief points of theology from which we may be instructed in the mind of the Lord'" (pp.79, 80, ed.1830).

* * * * *


"In thy Orchard, Pembroke Hall," wrote Nicholas Ridley within a few days of his fiery martyrdom, "(the wals, buts, and trees, if they could speake, would beare me witnes), I learned without booke almost all Paules epistles, yea, and I weene all the Canonicall epistles, save only the Apocalyps. Of which study, although in time a great part did depart from me, yet the sweete smell thereof I trust I shall cary with me into heaven; for the profite thereof I thinke I have felt in all my lyfe tyme ever after."

And so shall it be with us also, if we go and do likewise in our "lyfe tyme," our period, not at present of martyrdom but, God knoweth it, of need.

chapter i the secret walk
Top of Page
Top of Page