The Gospel narratives show that our Lord accounted times of solitude essential to thespiritual life. He planned resolutely to secure hours when He should be apart from even the most intimate of His friends. The Scripture describes His withdrawal into the wilderness when He needed to shape the methods of His ministry, and resist temptations to misuse His powers. In the wilderness He gained the fixity of purpose and composure of mind which characterised Him through all the subsequent strain of daily work among the excited multitudes. When, again, He was to choose the Apostles—a choice critical for the future transmission of His message—He spent the previous night in solitude. Once more, after a Sabbath in Capernaum more than usually crowded with teaching and works of mercy, "a great while before day, He rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed."
Only by such means could He be alone. "When thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut the door, pray" was counsel which He who gave it can Himself have been but seldom able to follow. Yet, at whatever cost, and whatever demands upon Him of the disciples or the multitude, He must find opportunities for being alone. He joined in the synagogue and Temple services, He encouraged His followers to meet in His name for united prayer. So far from being a recluse, He loved companionship, and chose to have friends at His side both on the mount of transfiguration and in the garden of agony. None the less did He set aside intervals of solitude, for prayer, for contemplation, for making decisions which involved the future of the human race in their scope.
The habit of the Master has a special significance for those who try to be His disciples in the days when solitude is generally disliked, and not seldom dreaded. This is an attitude which has marked reaction upon religious outlook. Under its influence, too often the average man first disuses and then loses his capacity for serious thought. His creed, instead of being derived from his own faith and verified by his own experience, becomes merely a product of mass suggestion.
We are all apt at times to imagine that corporate worship and some share in organised Church activities can replace that deeply personal religion which requires not only intense effort, but periods of solitary reflection for its development. Each individual has to face the eternal issues for himself, and to make up his mind about them. Without that his creed may have all possible orthodoxy, but it will have no real vitality. There is a wise saying in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 37.13-14 which deserves to be remembered: "Make the counsel of thy heart to stand; for there is none more faithful to thee than it. For a man's soul is sometime wont to bring him tidings, more than seven watchmen that sit high on a watch-tower." The Christian will read into those words a meaning—which the example of His Master supplies. When a decision has to be made, though not only then, he will resort to solitude and prayer. So in the quiet he will hear not merely "the counsel of his heart," but speaking through and shaping that counsel, the authentic voice of God.
BSM, September 1945