Praying with Handley Moule
Handley C.G. Moule, principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge (1881-1899), then Professor of Divinity at Cambridge (1899-1901), before becoming Bishop of Durham (1901-1920), was a giant in his day and one of the leaders of conservative evangelicals. B.B. Warfield said of Moule, ‘listen devoutly to the words of one of the richest writers on experimental religion of our generation.’
To that end we are going to take a few lessons from Moule on prayer. The world in Moule’s day was incredulous about prayer and many saw it as an act of superstition and human immaturity. However, the fact that Jesus prayed and the contents of his praying should give us encouragement to pray.
So, firstly, against the de-mythologizing age Moule encouraged people to pray by bringing together Christology and example. As we see the Son himself pray in scripture, we know that prayer is not in vain and that for us ‘the expression of our longings, the explanation of our fears, the confession of our sins, is what God looks for and approves.’ Since the Son, who knows the Father and comes from his side, is confident in his Father’s power and goodness, we should be too. Thus, in Matthew 9:35-38, seeing with complete clarity the desperate need of Israel as a barren spiritual wilderness and feeling great personal agony, Jesus is utterly confident in the Father and able to say ‘pray’. He knows this is no waste of time or empty action. The Son, with all his knowledge and power of the problem, calmly counters this with his knowledge of the Father and says ‘pray’.
Secondly, we get our prayer life from the theology of the Son. In John 17 Jesus prays as no mere supplicant, but one who shared the throne of God in eternity. And he calls him ‘righteous Father’ in 17:25. So, when the Son looks above and says ‘Father’ we know that ‘the Eternal and Ultimate is Personal.’ Jesus shows us that the one who is eternally Father of the Son, delights to be approached as the Father of the Son. Knowing the Father as Father, the inner ‘void of our ignorance’ is transformed, as is all our ‘knowledge’ of God. We speak to one in Christ who is ‘no mere abstract Cause, no blind Tendency, no soulless Nature personified and deified by fancy or by wish, but One who knows, wills, and loves, unspeakably and with a tenderness that cannot be imagined.’ Being eternally the ‘righteous’ Father he is perfect in intimacy, life and generosity. Therefore, pray – you could not go to a superior source of love and kindness and generosity.
Thirdly, see union with Christ as an encouragement to pray. When we grasp with Paul in Galatians 2:20 that our union with Christ is so close that we live with his life, we have a contact with the Father in the Son that is indescribably close. Being placed in the Son by the Father who eternally loves the Son, what must we not be to the Father? So, tell him all, and in telling him all we experientially abide in him and rest in him who loves us.
Fourthly, family prayer is critical to catechising the next generation. Moule said, the decline of family prayer ‘is a very evil omen for English religion, and for the English home.’ Family prayer is key because by it the family lives around the Lord Jesus and maintains in his presence ‘the sacredness of their relations to one another in the home.’ Family prayer, morning and evening, sanctifies the family as a unit gathered around Christ, living before Christ, by his grace. Moule wanted people to see that it brought all our changing circumstances and time into direct contact with the one who overrules in eternity with unchanging mercy.
Fifthly, disciplining oneself to pray is vital as Christ is our only source of strength for godliness. Moule set out real nose-to-the-grindstone discipline and effort in prayer. Jesus gives rest and 'Thank God for that blessed rest, that comes not after labour but in it, under it, around it. It is a glorious reality. I speak of it only as a beginner at best; but let me bear humble witness that rest in God is a divine reality, amidst the stress of work and thought, amidst the complications and claims of daily life.' However, to enjoy this rest means ‘taking pains to engage with God’, 'take pains, that you may rest. Do not mistake indolence and dreams, to ‘resting faith.’’ He wanted people to ‘take pains’ for making time to be with God in quiet solitude. ‘Take pains’ to cultivate fellowship with Gods full of deep submission to God, with penitence running right through it. For Moule this meant serious time set aside for morning prayer, a short confession and seeking of strength in the afternoon, and a humble searching of oneself before God in confession and thanks for forgiving grace in the evening.
So, five lessons from Moule. Expound prayer in the context of the Trinity and Christology. Encourage prayer by looking at the theology of the Son as presented in scripture. Relate prayer to our union with Christ. Make prayer central to family life. Expect prayer to be hard and to require us to ‘take