Takeaway: There is something unique about the authors on Prayer in the late 19th and early 20th century.
I found this as a free audiobook somewhere (I think it was christianaudio.com but I cannot find a free copy right now.) So when I was looking for something short to listen to while driving around this week I decided to listen to it.
It is short (most paper versions are 60 to 80 pages). But it is a very good book on prayer. It is dated in feel. The scripture quotes are mostly King James or Revised Standard Version. There is a section on smoking and dancing and going to the theater that really dates the book.
But the basics are very good. I am also reading another book on prayer of the same generation, The Meaning of Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick. These two authors could not be more dissimilar. Torrey was the first president of Moody Bible Institute and clearly a conservative in his outlook. Fosdick was the pastor several well known churches in New York City and an opponent to Fundamentalism. But both take prayer very seriously and it is clear from both that they had real and intimate relationships with God.
One of the main questions I have reading Torrey is about his writing on the role of faith. He very much insists that we should not add qualifiers like “if it be God’s will” to our prayers. He wants us to pray in faith that it will happen. He is not saying everything that we pray for will happen. He spends a good deal of time talking about why God does not answer our prayers (sin and lack of obedience are the main issues he talks about here). This is not early Prosperity Gospel. Torrey is clear that our prayers should be intercession for others and seeking to know God.
There is something tangibly different in this era of writing about Prayer. Andrew Murray, EM Bounds, George Muller, Hudson Taylor and others all were writing about prayer in a 20 or 30 year period right around the turn of the 20th century. Many of them speak openly about the problems of sin and culture as a hinderence to prayer. Torrey is clear that he is not sure that theater and dance, etc are sinful, but that they may be hindering us from seeking after God more fully. I am sure if he were writing today, he would be saying TV and internet and cultural relevance are not sinful of themselves, but that the time we spend on them could be better spent seeking after God and in prayer.
The other main difference in prayer that I see with these authors are the focus on God as the real worker. I know that many modern authors also say that we have to depend on God to do the real work. But many modern authors are really saying that we need to pray that God will empower us to do the work of building the church or reaching people through evangelism, etc. Torrey, Bounds and others do not say that. They say that prayer itself is the work and that God will accomplish on his own things we would never dream of. I really do think that this is a loss. We are so successful at building churches and doing the work of God that I do think that we sometimes forget that it is God that does the work.