an absolute necessity

Private, personal, secret prayer is a work of absolute necessity, says Thomas Brooks:

Private prayer is a work of absolute necessity, both to the bringing of the heart into a good frame, and to the keeping of the heart in a good frame. It is of absolute necessity, both for the discovery of sin, and for the preventing of sin, and for the purging away of sin. It is of absolute necessity, both for the discovery of grace, and for a full exercise of grace, and for an eminent increase of grace. It is of absolute necessity to arm us, both against inward and outward temptations, afflictions, and sufferings. It is of absolute necessity to fit us for all other duties and services.

For a man to glorify God, to save his own soul, and to further his own everlasting happiness, is a work of the greatest necessity. Now private prayer is such a work …

Thomas Brooks, The Secret Key to Heaven. Banner of Truth edition 2006, p97-98. First published 1665.

13 thoughts on “an absolute necessity

  1. Mother Teresa said “We must never forget that we are bound to perfection and should aim ceaselessly for it. The practice of mental prayer is necessary to reach that goal. Because it is the breath of life for our soul, holiness is impossible without it.”


  2. “for different reasons” …? (confusion)

    It’s a straightforward question. Obviously there is some similarity in what they are saying – and indeed between lots of the stuff quoted on that Holdfast blog, and lots of straight-down-the-line pre-Ref classics and post-Ref Catholic ones (more the latter, of course, because the general psychological climate changed).

    There will be many points of identity. Be honest, kind, modest, straightforward, regular in your habits, kindly, put aside time for prayer, etc etc. Here prods and papists mean the same thing by the same words, or the same thing by different words.

    Then there are passages like the ones we’ve quoted here. Let’s take “necessary for an increase of grace”. Mother Teresa would sign this statement (we could quibble about “absoutely” necessary, because obviously God can do whatever He likes, etc, but let’s take that qualification as read). However, you and Brooks don’t think grace does what Mother Teresa believed and I believe it does. Here I think one could say we mean things that are analogous. Similarly for the universal vocation to sanctity – you guys believe as much as I do, I suppose, that God wants every Christian to strive for holiness. But your idea of holiness is different.

    From an experiential point of view, subjective, then (don’t have time to formulate this with as much care as I should like, so I hope I get it right!) I expect we use the same words in the same way, since you can’t feel grace. And the supernatural and natural components of the spiritual life are in any case so intimately connected that one cannot really untangle them. Though always with this completely different understanding of sanctity in the background, making our comments more or less different depending how much we are in fact referring to it.

    That last paragraph I need to straighten out, but the rest – does it make sense?

    I am often very touched reading the earnest exhortations that go up on that Holdfast blog – touched as in moved in the usual sense, because the chaps are sometimes so very attached to Our Lord, and touched as in “ouch, yes, um, better do better in that regard, oh dear”.


  3. Well I suppose things are very similar to the extent that we both read our bibles and see that our duty is perfect holiness and we take steps to conscientiously try and be more holy. But the experience must be different, i think – at first glance I’d have said it was the biggest difference, not the biggest similarity – I really do think you can (and ideally should) feel grace, eg ? :?

    (Or maybe I’m just jumping on this point because it feeds back into that other question about whether/how we can ‘know’ God in this life – I could be completely misunderstanding you here.)

    I also wonder if the two sides even mean the same thing by prayer and praying ? For Thomas Brooks it would presumably have been addressed to God only, and he’d have seen Christ as the only mediator and intercessor, and various other things which are in the back of my mind as significant potential differences but which may of course only be misperceptions on my part!

    I have been known to say in the past tho that it can be strangely easier to feel closer to some hardline Catholics than people on the Reformed side of the division, although where that feeling comes from is anyone’s guess i suppose :)


  4. about the feeling – yes, this isn’t a doctrinal difference, this is a difference of metaphysics and anthropology and stuff of that kind. I mean, what organ do you think you sense the grace *with*?! A special grace-organ that grows in Christians? :-)

    [This might just be the way the sentence comes over – does Thomas Brooks not think that Christ is God? And would he not ask people to pray for him, and not pray for other people? In which case is he not an intercessor?]


  5. and what would you be feeling anyway? Smell and taste work a bit like touch – the actual substance comes in contact with your body, hearing is the waggling of that long thing inside your ear as some fluid moves about after your eardrum is made to move in and out by airpressure, sight is somehow light (whatever that is) making the nerves in your eyes go “ping” (when I say “is” in these, I mean “the physical stiumuls of the sensation). Likewise happy and sad and so on – whatever the reason for you being happy is, the “sensation” is of the chemically changes. So what is “grace”, that you would be able to feel it?


  6. Well, in one sense grace-organs sound as fictitious and spurious and unfalsifiable as language-organs, but in another sense i think it would be fair to say that what senses grace is the regenerated soul? An unregenerate soul, still sunk in corruption and devoted to sin, is obviously impervious to grace and ignorant of it, no ears to hear, no heart to understand, no eyes to see the beauty of the King in the land that is very far off. Regeneration is a supernatural work that makes people alive to spiritual realities – the reality of the bitterness of sin, the reality of the knowledge of the love of Christ that passes knowledge (Eph 3), the reality of the tasting and seeing that God is good. Estrangement from God and lack of acquaintance with his grace are the key things which the gospel offer of reconciliation is specifically targeted towards fixing, i’d have thought? (i’m understanding the fact of reconciliation between God and sinners as the outcome of free grace btw)

    [Preliminary thoughts, may qualify later!]


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