Most of us have heard of William Ewart Gladstone, one of the greatest Prime Ministers of Britain. Gladstone held the office of Prime Minister four times in the reign of Queen Victoria. He occupied Number 10 Downing Street for a total period of some 13 years. He is remembered today as a great politician.
But here is an interesting thing: that isn't the way that his friends and enemies thought of Gladstone in his own day. To them the outstanding thing about William Gladstone was his faith. Gladstone's successor as leader of the Liberal party, Lord Rosebery, said this of Gladstone:
“The world thought of Gladstone as a politician. To those of us who were privileged to enjoy his friendship, his politics seems but the least part of him. Indeed, I sometimes doubt whether his natural bent was towards politics at all. The predominating part, to which all else was subordinated, was his religion. An intimate and vital religious experience was the essence, the savour, and the motive power of his whole life.”
And at the end of Gladstone's life, his friend Archbishop Wordsworth of St Andrews said this:
“I knelt by his deathbed and received his parting benediction. As I turned away, I felt that I had been on the Mount of transfiguration and had seen a glimpse of paradise.”
The thing that really shone out about Gladstone to those who knew him was not his politics, but his faith. “All that I think,” he said, “all that I write, all that I am, is based on the divinity of Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ, and without Christ there is no Christianity.”
One day, after a long conversation, one of Gladstone's friends handed him a book. He asked Gladstone to write in it a favourite quotation - some saying or motto that was particularly meaningful to him. Gladstone didn't hesitate for a moment. He took the book, picked up a pen, and wrote:
“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings.”
Those are the words of Psalm 17:8. Gladstone's motto was a prayer. He was a great man sustained by prayer to a great God. Through prayer, he found himself to be the apple of God's eye; through prayer, he found protection from life's storms, like a young bird hiding beneath its mother's wings. Have we experienced prayer and its blessings as Gladstone did?
“As Jesus was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1)