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Perhaps it is more to the want of this feeling, than to any other cause, that christians ought to attribute their temporary, and in many instances their total, failures in accomplishing objects for which they pray and labor. Where it exists in the proper degree, more can be accomplished by that short prayer-LORD, HELP ME—than by all the apparatus of means and instruments, which can be brought to bear upon any object.
After what has been said, no one will suspect us of a design in these remarks, to depreciate that instrumentality which God himself has appointed; or to encourage the neglect of those means by which he is pleased to work in accomplishing his purposes of mercy. We might as well think of setting aside those causes by which he is accustomed to work in the material world, and then of depending upon him to produce the effects in some other way. There is a perfect consistency between the most diligent use of the wisest and best adapted means, and that dependence upon God which the scriptures inculcate. We have no doubt that this subject is in general far better understood by those who are most laborious in the employment of means for the conversion of sinners, and who are often varying their measures for this purpose, so as to excite attention and to bring the minds of men into contact with the truth; than by those who are so much afraid of departing from established usages, and of "helping the Lord too much.” Since the beginning of the world it was never heard, that any man could cut as much wood with a dull axe as with a sharp one. And if any instrument has been used until it has become dull, common sense would dictate the propriety of laying it aside, and using one which would be more effective. When this is done in reference to the means employed for the conversion of sinners, why may we not depend upon God for his blessing upon the sharp, as well as upon the dull instrument? This subject will be better understood hereafter.
We would now invite the reader's attention to some inferences from the truths, which we have endeavored to establish in the preceding discussion.
1. The great importance of studying the scriptures. God alone can teach us how to pray, and for what to pray. Without a knowledge of his word, we can have no intelligent confidence that we are asking for things agreeable to his will, or that we are performing the conditions upon which alone, his favors are promised. And the extent of our success in prayer, will depend much upon the correctness of our views of the Divine purposes, respecting the conversion of men. If God has promised to do new things, and greater things than the church has ever yet seen, christians ought to be prepared for these developements of his plan; and their
prayers should be directed to the promises which relate to these
future blessings, as those of the first disciples were directed to the : Savior's promise respecting the effusion of the Spirit. It is still
true of men, that he cannot do many mighty works among them, - because of their unbelief. He still acts upon the principle, “ Ac
cording to your faith be it unto you.” If christians expect and attempt little, they will accomplish but little; if they expect and attempt great things, because they see that such things are promised, and in reliance upon the promises, God will doubtless bear them out, and do exceeding abundantly above all they can ask or think.
2. It is obvious that the view which has been given of this subjeet, furnishes the strongest motives to obedience ;-to the active performance of duty, and to the cultivation of all those feelings rhich constitute a high degree of personal piety. No motives could be stronger than those which arise from the assurance of habitual communion with God, the light of his countenance, the acceptance of our prayers, the Divine blessing upon our labors; of glorifying the Savior by advancing his kingdom; of being made instrumental in turning many to righteousness, and of shining at last, as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars, forever and ever.
All this, we have seen, may be realized by the diligent and faithful disciple of Christ. What good thing, which it is in his power to bestow, will an affectionate father withhold from an affectionate, obedient child ? “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" He delighteth in mercy; he rejoices over his people to do them good; he taketh pleasure in the prosperity of his servants; he will bless every work they set their hands unto, while they walk in his ways, and are obedient to his commandments. To such, moreover, these promises are given. “Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, here I am.” “Thy light shall rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day. And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee, shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations.” If the reader will examine the whole chapter from which these promises are quoted, the lviii. of Isaiah, he will see that it represents obedience as connected not only with the acceptance of our prayers, and the prosperity of our souls, but with our usefulness as the instruments of extending the influence of religion. This seems to be implied in building the old waste places, and raising up the foundations of many generations. “They that shall be of thee;" i. e. they that
hair that shall like a sprine bones; aadly, and"
as connecter lviii. of Isaiah, chapter from whirations." "If the thou
shall be like thee-persons of this character—shall be the instru ments whom God will employ in changing the moral condition o this wretched world. It seems to be implied also, that the poster ity of such, whose character shall be formed after the same mode and possessing the same spirit, shall prosecute the same work unt the desolations of sin shall be seen no more, and the earth shall b full of the knowledge and glory of the Lord.
3. We here learn why there are comparatively so few conver sions, and so few revivals of religion, and why christianity has mad so little progress in the world. There is but little of the true spin of prayer, and of consistent, active, elevated piety in the churches In primitive times, when ministers gave themselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word; and when christians continued in praya er with one accord, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, the churches were multiplied. So it must and will be again. It is humbly submitted, whether ministers would not be likely to succeed better in winning souls to Christ, and be more useful to one another, and experience far more liber ty and enjoyment in their work, if they would spend more of their time, when together, in prayer, and be more solicitous to get their hearts warmed, and their souls elevated to God, and thus to secure his presence and blessing, before they engage in their public duties, than by spending their time in unedifying conversation, or by laying out all their strength in merely intellectual preparation. It is not supposed, that any one who deserves the name of a minister of Christ, entirely neglects prayer as a part of preparation for preaching ; but it will probably be admitted by those who are least : faulty in this respect, that they have not given to this duty that proportion of time and mental energy, which its importance demands. And when we look among private christians, how few comparatively seem to understand their responsibility in relation to intercessory prayer! And how little of the true spirit of prayer is manifested! There are not wanting those who can make long prayers, and elo : quent prayers, and orthodox prayers. But where is the spirit of . grace and of supplication ? the spirit which says, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me?” The spirit which, while prostrate in the dust, and pleading for the honor of God's great name, arrested his uplifted hand, and turned away his wrath, which was ready to burst out and to consume his people in a moment? The spirit which shuts and opens heaven, controls the : elements, and moves the hand that moves the world? Alas! how little of this spirit is to be found in the very best and purest churches, at the present day. Even on special occasions, during protracted meetings, and when, at other times and by other means, efforts are made to promote revivals, how difficult it is to engage churches
in prayer! How difficult to tear them away from the world! And when they come to the social prayer-meeting, or the sanctuary, during the business days and evenings of the week, they seem to have left their hearts behind; and often, it is to be feared, they have nothing to present as an offering to the Lord, but the wornout exbaustion of a mind and body devoted to worldly pursuits. Instead of praying with one accord, until they seem by faith to lay hold on the arm of Omnipotence; instead of crying day and night unto God, feeling that they must obtain his blessing, many scarcely fiod time to pray at all, much less to make any active personal efforts to help on the cause ; and actually feel far less concern about the success of that cause, than they do about some little temporal interest which they have at stake! And yet they will pretend to lament that so little is accomplished, and appear to feel disappointed when special means are not attended with much success! The writer once heard a good man say, with a sorrowful heart, during a protracted meeting, which in the day time, was very thinly attended, that there were men in his church who, he believed, would rather prosecute their worldly business, if they could make only hly cents a day by it, than to suspend it for the purpose of praying and laboring for the salvation of a soul! Such professors of religion sometimes, though rarely, experience a sort of second conversion, in which they are awakened to new views, and to a different state of feeling; and one of their first convictions, when the light of truth is let into their dark minds, is, that while they have been professing to be the disciples and servants of Christ, and indebted to him for all their hopes, and for the very life of their souls, they have done nothing to honor him, or to promote bis cause! Changes like these, sometimes take place in the views and feelings of christians during the progress of a protracted meeting, and while they weep over their former remissness and criminal unfaithfulness, they begin to pray and to labor in earnest. The effect is immediately visible, and proves the truth of the divine declaration. “Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear.” The work which had been dragging on heavily, now advances with power. “ The Lord rends the heavens and comes down, and the mountains flow down at his presence.” Infidelity gives way; the truth appears great and prevails; the most thoughtless are awakened, the most vicious are reclaimed, the bands of wickedness are burst asunder, and “the word of the Lord has free course and is glorified.” Similar effects will be witnessed on a scale as large as the world, when the subject of intercessory prayer comes to be understood by the whole church, and when the spirit of prayer shall so prevail, that it may be truly said, Zion travails. Yes; when this shall come to pass, she will bring forth her children with such rapidity, that a nation shall be born at once. Her gates shall not be shut day nor night, they shall be open continually for the reception of those who will fly to her " as clouds and as doves to their windows.” “The glory of the Gentiles shall come into her like a flowing stream,” and this staie of things shall continue, until the dark and cruel empire of Satan shall be utterly destroyed, and the king of Zion shall reign over the hearts of a willing people, from the rising to the setting sun. All this shall take place in answer to prayer. God himself has appointed the instrumentality, and he is ready to bestow every blessing promised in his word, as soon as his people are prepared to seek for these blessings in the manner he has directed
The reader's attention will now be invited to a few facts which illustrate the efficacy of prayer, and the waking up of christians to the performance of neglected duties. That eminent woman, the wife of President Edwards, during her residence at Northampton, was deeply affected in view of the low state of piety in ber soul. She felt that she “needed more holiness ;" and she set herself to seek it with intense desires. She devoted several days at different times, to fasting and prayer, and to a renewal of her covenant with God. The result was, the most extraordinary manifestation of the divine favor, and such feelings and enjoyments as at times quite overpowered her physical frame. It seems that other members of the church had similar exercises of mind about the same time; and this was followed by one of the most remarkable and extensive revivals of religion in this country. This will probably call up in the reader's mind, the following passage. “ Restore unto me the joys of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit; then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”
The next fact to which we refer is the great work of God at the kirk of Shotts in Scotland, in the year 1630. Under one sermon, about five hundred souls were hopefully converted. This was on Monday, after a communion season, and after a whole night spent in prayer by christians. Mr. Whitefield speaks of a similar engagedness in prayer, as attending the great revival which took place in Scotland under his ministry. At some places where meetings were held, they were followed by nights of prayer; and he remarks that on one occasion, he could scarcely walk out in any direction at a late hour of the night, without stumbling over some one engaged in prayer.
In a revival which occurred in the State of New-York during the last year, it was stated in a religious periodical, that while chris