Arthur Middleton on The Rev Richard Hele and True Devotion
Richard Hele is the author of Select Offices of Private Devotion. For Fifty years he was Master of the Grammar School in the Cathedral Close of Salisbury where he was known and respected in the West of England as an Instructor of youth. My copy originally belonged to Susanna Frere that was given to her by her godmother Jane Frere in 1866. Susanna was the sister of Fr Walter Frere, co-founder and former Superior of the Community of the Resurrection.
In his Select Offices Hele claims that without a good life there can be no true devotion. An unholy life is a plain demonstration that our prayers are not holy. These cannot be pure as long as that is defiled. He whose life is a continual affront to God whom he claims to adore cannot be holy. It is morally impossible he should worship God aright who does not conscientiously obey him.
Can we think him really in earnest when he prays for the pardon of his sins and the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, who obstinately persists in such a wicked course of life, as he very well knows utterly incapacitates him for either?
Can he, be thought sincerely, or to have any value for that inestimable crown of glory which God has promised to those that serve him faithfully, who is so far from making it the constant employment of his whole life to work out his salvation , that he can hardly ever afford himself leisure so much as to ask himself that short but most necessary question, what shall I do that I may be saved? So far from being willing to sell all that he hath in order to buy the pearl of great price, that he is ready every hour of the day to sell the invaluable privileges of his Christian birth-right for any of the most worthless trifle; and to sacrifice all his hopes of eternal happiness to the transient gratification of a sinful appetite, and the momentary enjoyment of a forbidden pleasure? A very small consideration will convince us that such practices as these are so entirely inconsistent with these pretences, that it is impossible that they should ever be reconciled, unless it can be proved that if we can be truly said to worship God without an inward veneration of his adorable excellences, to pray to him without a hearty desire of the things we pray for, and worthily to lament our offences against him without being grieved for those sins whereby we have offended him.
Our Saviour has declared that whatever we ask in his name he will give it but the only way of entitling ourselves to these promises is by obedience to his doctrines and commands. If we abide in him and his words abide in us we may ask what we will and it will be given us. But our confidence in receiving what we ask depends upon our obedience to what he commands. It is the effectual prayer of the righteous man not that prayer of any man nor the prayer of every man that fulfils these promises. St John and St James both agree on this. Only such prayer can bring from heaven such a blessing, the prayers of such persons as are sincerely good, and only such prayers of such persons as are sincerely good and are offered up with a becoming zeal and fervency.
God has been pleased of his own free grace and bounty to declare himself willing to bestow many inestimable blessings upon us but in return he requires from us the practice of several duties and will suspend our entitlement to the blessings upon our faithfulness in the performance of such duties. And is it not highly reasonable, is it not absolutely necessary for us, to set ourselves seriously the doing of what we are commanded, before we expect to be put in possession of what we are promised? When God has expressly acquainted us with the terms upon which alone he will be gracious unto us, shall we be so foolishly presumptuous as to feed ourselves with hopes that we may find favour in his sight without ever complying with the terms he has proposed? And shall we dare go solemnly to him; and pray directly to him to act contrary to his own declaration. This, surely, is a manifest mockery of the Divine Majesty: and yet this is what every impenitent sinner does, as often as he prays for the forgiveness of his sins, the graces of God’s Spirit, or the final salvation of his own soul.