‘At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved.’ Daniel 9:23
Suggested Further Reading: Luke 18:1–8
To multiply expressions such as ‘O Lord! O Lord! O Lord!’ may not always be right. There may be much sin in such repetitions, amounting to taking God’s name in vain. But it is not so with Daniel. His repetitions are forced from the depths of his soul, ‘O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do.’ These are the volcanic eruptions of a soul on fire, heaving terribly. It is just the man’s soul wanting relief. Jesus himself, when he prayed most vehemently, prayed three times, using the same words. Variety of expression sometimes shows that the mind is not altogether absorbed in the object, but is still able to consider the mode of its utterance; but when the heart becomes entirely swallowed up in the desire it cannot stay to polish and fashion its words, it seizes upon any expressions nearest to hand, and with these it continues its entreaties. So long as God understands it, the troubled mind has no anxiety about its modes of speech. Daniel here, with what the old divines would have called multiplied ingeminations [repetitions], groans himself upward till he gains the summit of his desires. To what shall I liken the pleadings of the man greatly beloved? It seems to me as though he thundered and lightened at the gate of heaven. He stood there before God and said to him, ‘O thou Most High, thou hast brought me to this river Ulai [see Daniel 8:2,16] as thou didst Jacob to the Jabbok, and with thee all night I mean to stay and wrestle till the break of day. I cannot, will not let thee go except thou bless me.’ No prayer is at all likely to bring down an immediate answer if it be not a fervent prayer. ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much;’ but if it be not fervent we cannot expect to find it effectual or prevalent. We must get rid of the icicles that hang about our lips.
For meditation: Repetition in prayer is not wrong in itself. What we must avoid is vain repetition (Matthew 6:7). Contrast the wild and vain repetition of the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:26–29) with the meaningful and heartfelt repetition of Elijah’s brief prayer which God answered (1 Kings 18:36–39).
Sermon no. 734
10 February (1867)