The Divine Rule of Prayer – Br. James Koester

Matthew 6:7-15

One of Father Benson’s less well-known books is a small volume entitled The Divine Rule of Prayer or Considerations upon the Lord’s Prayer. It was published in 1866, the same year he, Father Grafton, and Father O’Neill made their professions as the first members of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.

What is fascinating, in part, about this book, is that in two short chapters, both about 2500 words long, he lays before the reader his understanding of the nature and purpose of prayer. He does this by constantly rooting himself in Lord’s Prayer, of which he says as prayer is the great work of life, so the Lord’s Prayer is the great form and model of [all] prayer.[1]

Many of the themes which Father Benson introduces to his audience in this book, he picks up repeatedly over the course of his life, in his other writings. Reading things published many years after The Divine Rule we hear echoes of what he says within it, perhaps reminding us that most, including it would seem Father Benson, have only one or two things worth saying, and we spend the rest of our lives saying them in different ways.

However, no matter the context, Father Benson’s insight into prayer, and specifically the Lord’s Prayer, is well worth mulling over, so that we can savour its nourishment, and find life in its words. And what words! Quoting from Tertullian,[2] Father Benson begins by reminding us that in the compass of a few words, how many utterances of prophets, evangelists, apostles; how many discourses of Christ, how many parables, examples, precepts, are all indicated! How many duties are effected at once – honour paid to God by the appellation of Father, the authority of faith corroborated by His Name, the offering of obedience in the submission of will, the avowal of hope in the desire of the kingdom, the prayer for life in the mention of bread, the confessions of sins in the deprecation of punishment, the avoidance of temptation in the request for guardianship! God alone could teach us that He desired for us to pray to Him, and the prayer enjoined upon us from Him, and by His Spirit proceeding out of the Divine mouth, rises to heaven, quickened with its own special power, commending to the Father what the Son has taught.[3]

How often do we, how often do I, move to autopilot the moment I hear the words Our Father? How often is my mind miles away, when I hear in the gospels the words, pray then in this way?[4] How often do I ask myself if we have said the Lord Prayer yet, when we have just finished it and said Amen.How often is this prayer just empty words, at least to me? And into this lethargy, Father Benson is like a cold shower. How can we tire of saying the Lord’s Prayer? he asks… the voice of Christ speaks within us when we say the Lord’s Prayer?[5]

He returned to this same theme thirty years later when he wrote:

We pray as being really exalted to the throne of God along with Jesus, the source of our sonship, whose members we are. We are not, then, to think that we need Christ’s supplication on our behalf as an external Intercessor. He intercedes for us by communicating to us the glory of His own exalted life. He does not intercede as one separate from those for whom he intercedes, but they are, as it were, so many mouths to Himself; and as they pray for themselves, His voice fills their utterance with the authority and claim belonging to Himself.[6]

All prayer, but the Lord’s Prayer in particular then, is not an individual activity where we pray for our own needs, and those of the world, as we see it. It is not, in Father Benson’s words, a mere accumulation of individual prayers, but the utterance of a Divine breath, speaking through every member of the Body of Christ by the dictation of the one Divine Heart, which communicates its holy impulses to all, in one harmonious effort.[7] As such we are taught to pray as with one voice.[8] As we pray, it is the voice of Christ, not simply speaking in us, but through us, binding us one to another, and all to Christ who [binds] us all together in the contemplation of things Divine…and who binds us all together in our yearnings after the Divine life. It is the Lord’s Prayer, Father Benson tells us, that in a particular way, binds us to one another, and all to Christ, as members all of one Body, and all quickened by unity under one Head. Amidst all peculiarities of individual temperament and specialty of inner experiences,[9] we come together before the throne of grace as sisters and brothers, children of the same Lord. There before the throne of grace, the words which He Himself dictated to us are uttered by our lips, and He Who intercedes for us upon the throne of God calls us to take part in His intercession, putting the words into our mouth by which we may best be heard. This is the prayer given to us by Him Who is our only Mediator, our Divine Intercessor, in Whose strength alone we can pray so as to be heard.[10]

Bound together, and praying with one voice, we discover anew the outward expression of our union… and know that we have life individually only as being collectively one.[11] Only when we know ourselves thus bound, do we have the courage to pray Our Father … give us … forgive us … save us … deliver us.

Knowing who is praying within us, and the power of that prayer, not simply to bind us to others, but to bind us to Christ, whose body we are, we come before the throne of God clothed with all the virtue of Christ, and with the claim of Divine identification,[12] as we say, Our Father.

Those words, uttered by saints, and given to us by Christ himself, should not thoughtlessly slip from our tongues. We should tremble as we speak them. We should cover our mouths, lest we profane them. We should take off our shoes, for we stand on holy ground. Yet we should speak them boldly. We should say them confidently. We should proclaim them assuredly. For these are words we can speak with a perfect … confidence. They are good. They comprise all good. They bring our minds into harmony with the Divine will. They bring the will of God into operation towards ourselves in the integrity of its manifold goodness for the sanctification to us of all things temporal and our attainment of everlasting glory. [13]

This is the prayer that Jesus taught us; whose words by it have been put into our mouths; whose strength we know when we say it; whose life we share when we speak it; and whose love we proclaim when we recite it. This prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is His prayer in us; and ours in Him, and when we say it, we reign with Him in glory. So let us pray, not simply as our Saviour taught us, but as our Saviour who speaks within and through us, each time we say, Our Father in heaven….

[1] Benson, Richard Meux, The Divine Rule of Prayer, London, Bell and Daldy, 1866, Page 1

[2] c. 155 AD – c. 220 AD) was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He was the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism. Tertullian has been called “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology”.

[3] Tertullian, Letter on Prayer, chapter 9

[4] Matthew 6: 9

[5] Page 5

[6] Benson, Richard Meux, The Final Passover, volume II, part II, London, Longmans, Green, and Co., page 307

[7] Benson, Divine Rule, Page 5

[8] Ibid., Page 4

[9] Ibid., Page 3 and 4

[10] Ibid., page 3

[11] Ibid., page 5

[12] See The Final Passover, volume II, part II, page 308

[13] Divine Rule, page 13 and 14

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