ON BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
Be filled with the Spirit. - Ephesians 5:18.
Several of my Lectures have been on the subject of Prayer, and the importance of having the spirit of prayer - of the intercession of the Holy Ghost. Whenever the necessity and importance of the Spirit's influences are held forth, there can be no doubt that persons are in danger of abusing the doctrine, and perverting it to their own injury. For instance: when you tell sinners that without the Holy Spirit they never will repent, they are very liable to pervert the truth, and understand by it that they cannot repent, and therefore are under no obligation to do it until they feel the Spirit. It is often difficult to make them see that all the "cannot" consists in their unwillingness, and not in their inability. So again, when we tell Christians that they need the Spirit's aid in prayer, they are very apt to think they are under no obligation to pray the prayer of faith until they feel the influences of the Spirit. They overlook their obligation to be filled with the Spirit, and wait for the spirit of prayer to come upon them without asking, and thus they tempt God.
Before we come to consider the other department of means for promoting a revival - that is, the means to be used with sinners - I wish to show that, if you live without the Spirit, you are without excuse. Obligation to perform duty never rests on the condition that we shall have the influence of the Spirit, but on the powers of moral agency. We, as moral agents, have the power to obey God, and are perfectly bound to obey; and the reason that we do not is, that we are unwilling. The influences of the Spirit are wholly a matter of grace. If they were indispensable to enable us to perform duty, the bestowment of them would not be a gracious act, but a mere matter of common justice. Sinners are not bound to repent because they have the Spirit's influence, or because they can obtain it, but because they are moral agents, and have the powers which God requires them to exercise. So in the case of Christians. They are not bound to pray in faith because they have the Spirit (except in those cases where His influences in begetting the desire constitute the evidence that it is God's will to grant the object of desire), but because they have evidence. They are not bound to pray in faith at all, except when they have evidence as the foundation of their faith. They must have evidence from promises, or principles, or prophecy, or providence. And where they have evidence independent of His influences, they are bound to exercise faith, whether they have the Spirit's influence or not. They are bound to see the evidence, and to believe. The Spirit is given, not to enable them to see or believe, but because without the Spirit they will not look, or feel, or act, as they ought.
I purpose to show, from the text:
I. That Christians may be filled with the Spirit of God
II. That it is their duty to be filled with the Spirit.
III. Why they are not filled with the Spirit.
IV. The guilt of those who have not the Spirit of God, to lead their minds in duty and prayer.
V. The consequence that will follow if they are filled with the Spirit.
VI. The consequences if they are not.
I. YOU MAY HAVE THE SPIRIT.
Not because it is a matter of justice for God to give you His Spirit, but because He has promised to give His Spirit to those that ask. "If ye then, 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?" (Luke 11:13) If you ask for the Holy Spirit, God has promised to answer.
But again, God has commanded you to have the Spirit. He says in the text: "Be filled with the Spirit." When God commands us to do a thing, it is the highest possible evidence that we can do it. For God to command is equivalent to an oath that we can do it. He has no right to command, unless we have power to obey. There is no stopping short of the conclusion that God is tyrannical, if He commands that which is impracticable.
II. IT IS YOUR DUTY TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.
1. It is your duty because you have a promise of it.
2. Because God has commanded it.
3. It is essential to your own growth in grace that you should be filled with the Spirit.
4. It is as important as it is that you should be sanctified.
5. It is as necessary as it is that you should be useful and do good in the world.
6. If you do not have the Spirit of God in you, you will dishonor God, disgrace the Church, and be lost.
III. WHY MANY DO NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT.
There are some, even professors of religion, who will say: "I do not know anything about all this, I never had any such experience; either it is not true, or I am all wrong." No doubt you are all wrong, if you know nothing about the influence of the Spirit. I want to present you with a few of the reasons that may prevent you from being filled with the Spirit.
1. It may be that you live a hypocritical life. Your prayers are not earnest and sincere. Not only is your religion a mere outside show, without any heart, but you are insincere in your intercourse with others. Thus you do many things to grieve the Spirit, so that He cannot dwell with you.
A minister was once boarding in a certain family, and the lady of the house was constantly complaining that she did not "enjoy" religion, and nothing seemed to help her. One day some ladies called to see her, and, protesting that she was very much offended because they had not called before, she pressed them to stay and spend the day, and declared she could not consent to let them go. They excused themselves, and left the house; and as soon as they were gone she told her servant that she wondered these people had so little sense as to be always troubling her and taking up her time! The minister heard it, and immediately rebuked her, and told her she ought to see why she did not "enjoy" religion. It was because she was in the daily habit of insincerity that amounted to downright lying. And the Spirit of Truth could not dwell in such a heart.
2. Others have so much levity that the Spirit will not dwell with them.
The Spirit of God is solemn, and serious, and will not dwell with those who give way to thoughtless levity.
3. Others are so proud that they cannot have the Spirit. They are so fond of dress, high life, equipage, fashion, etc., that it is no wonder they are not filled with the Spirit. And yet such persons will pretend to be at a loss to know why it is that they do not "enjoy" religion!
4. Some are so worldly minded, love property so well, and are trying so hard to get rich, that they cannot have the Spirit. How can He dwell with them when all their thoughts are on things of the world, and all their powers absorbed in procuring wealth? And when they get money they are pained if pressed by conscience to do something with it for the conversion of the world. They show how much they love the world in all their intercourse with others. Little things show it. They will screw down a poor man, who is doing a little piece of work for them, to the lowest penny. If they are dealing on a large scale, very likely they will be liberal and fair, because it is for their advantage. But if it is a person they care not about a laborer, or a mechanic, or a servant - they will grind him down to the last fraction, no matter what the work is really worth; and they actually pretend to make it a matter of conscience, that they cannot possibly give any more. Now, they would be ashamed to deal so with people of their own rank, because it would be known and injure their reputation; but God knows it, and has it all written down, that they are covetous and unfair in their dealings, and will not do right, only when it is for their interest. Now, how can such professors have the Spirit of God? It is impossible.
There are multitudes of such things, by which the Spirit of God is grieved. People call them "little" sins, but God will not call them little. I was struck with this thought, when I saw a little notice in The Evangelist. The publishers stated that they had many thousands of dollars in the hands of subscribers, which sums were justly due, but that it would cost them as much as it was worth to send an agent to collect the money. I suppose it is so with other religious papers, that subscribers either put the publisher to the trouble and expense of sending an agent to collect his due, or else they cheat him out of it. There is, doubtless, a large amount of money held back in this way by professors of religion, just because it is in such small sums, or because they are so far off that they cannot be sued. And yet these people will pray, and appear very pious, and wonder why they do not "enjoy" religion, and have the Spirit of God! It is this looseness of moral principle, this want of conscience about little matters, that grieves away the Holy Ghost.
5. Others do not fully confess and forsake their sins, and so cannot enjoy the Spirit's presence. They will confess their sins in general terms, perhaps, and are ready always to acknowledge that they are sinners. Or they will confess partially some particular sins. But they do it reservedly, proudly, guardedly, as if they were afraid they should say a little more than is necessary; that is, when they confess to men. They do it in a way which shows that, instead of bursting forth from an ingenuous heart, the confession is wrung from them, by conscience gripping them. If they have injured any one, they will make a partial recantation, which is hard-hearted, cruel, and hypocritical, and then they will ask: "Now, brother, are you satisfied?" We know that it is very difficult for a person who has been wronged to say, in such a case, that he is not satisfied even if the confession is cold and heartless. But I tell you, God is not satisfied.
He knows whether you have gone to the full length of honest confession, and taken all the blame that belongs to you. If your confessions have been constrained and wrung from you, do you suppose you can cheat God?
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but who so confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11). Unless you come quite down, and confess your sins honestly, and remunerate where you have done injury, you have no right to expect the spirit of prayer.
6. Others are neglecting some known duty, and that is the reason why they have not the Spirit. One does not pray in his family, though he knows he ought to do so, and yet he is trying to get the spirit of prayer!
There is many a young man who feels in his heart he ought to prepare for the ministry, but who has not the spirit of prayer because he has some worldly object in view which prevents his devoting himself to the work.
He has known his duty, refuses to do it, and yet is praying for direction from the Spirit of God! He cannot have it.
Another has neglected to make a profession of religion. He knows his duty, but he refuses to join the Church. He once had the spirit of prayer, but, neglecting his duty, he grieved the Spirit away. And now he thinks, if he could once more enjoy the light of God's countenance, and have his evidences renewed, he would do his duty, and join the Church. And so he is trying to bring God over to his terms, to grant him His presence. He need not expect it. You will live and die in darkness, unless you are willing first to do your duty, before God manifests Himself as reconciled to you.
It is in vain to say, you will come forward if God will first show you the light of His countenance. He never will do it as long as you live; He will let you die without it, if you refuse to do your duty.
I have known women who felt that they ought to talk to their unconverted husbands, and pray with them; but they neglected it, and so they got into the dark. They knew their duty and refused to do it; they "went round it," and there they lost the spirit of prayer.
If you have neglected any known duty, and thus lost the spirit of prayer, you must yield first. God has a controversy with you; you have refused obedience to God, and you must retract. You may have forgotten it, but God has not, and you must set yourself to recall it to mind and repent.
God never will yield or grant you His Spirit, till you repent. Had I an omniscient eye now, I could call the names of the individuals in this congregation, who have neglected some known duty, or committed some sin, that they have not repented of, and now they are praying for the spirit of prayer, but they cannot succeed in obtaining it.
To illustrate this I will relate a case. A good man - an elder in the western part of this State, had been a long time an earnest Christian, and he used to talk to the sleepy Church with which he was connected. Presently the Church grew offended and got out of patience, so that many told him they wished he would let them alone, and that they did not think he could do them any good. He took them at their word, and they all "went to sleep"
together, remaining so two or three years. Then a minister came among them, and a revival commenced; but this elder seemed to have lost his spirituality. He who used to be forward in a good work now held back.
Everybody thought it unaccountable. Finally, as he was going home one night, the truth of his situation flashed upon his mind, and, for a few minutes, he went into absolute despair. At length his thoughts were directed back to that sinful resolution to let the Church alone in her sins.
He felt that no language could describe the blackness of that sin. He realized at that moment what it was to be lost, and to find that God had a controversy with him. He saw that it was a bad spirit which had led him to that weak resolution; the same that caused Moses to say: "Ye rebels"
(Numbers 20:10). He humbled himself on the spot, and God poured out His Spirit on him. Perhaps some of you are just in this situation. You have said something provoking or unkind to some person. Perhaps it was peevishness to a servant who was a Christian. Or perhaps it was speaking censoriously of a minister or some other person. Perhaps you have been angry because your opinions have not been taken, or your dignity has been encroached upon. Search thoroughly, and see if you cannot find out the sin. Perhaps you have forgotten it. But God has not forgotten it, and never will forgive your unchristian conduct until you repent. God cannot overlook it. What good would it do to forgive while the sin is rankling in your heart?
7. Perhaps you have resisted the Spirit of God. Perhaps you are in the habit of resisting the Spirit. You resist conviction. In preaching, when something has been said that reached your case, your heart has risen up against it. Many are willing to hear plain and searching preaching, so long as they can apply it all to other people; a misanthropic spirit makes them take a satisfaction in hearing others searched and rebuked; but, if the truth touches them, they directly cry out that the preaching is "personal" and "abusive." Is this your case?
8. The fact is that you do not, on the whole, desire the Spirit. This is true in every case in which you do not have the Spirit. Let me not be mistaken here. I want that you should carefully discriminate. Nothing is more common than for people to desire a thing on some accounts, which they do not choose on the whole. A person may see, in a shop window, an article which he desires to purchase; accordingly he goes in and asks the price, and thinks of it a little, yet on the whole concludes not to purchase it. He desires the article, but does not like the price, or does not like to be at the expense, so that, upon the whole, he prefers not to purchase it. So, persons may on some accounts desire the Spirit of God; from a regard to the comfort and joy of heart which He brings. If you know what it is by former experience to commune with God, and how sweet it is to dissolve in penitence and to be filled with the Spirit, you cannot but desire a return of those joys. And you may set yourself to pray earnestly for it, and to pray for a revival of religion. But, on the whole, you are unwilling it should come. You have so much to do that you cannot attend to it. Or it will require so many sacrifices that you cannot bear to have it. There are some things you are not willing to give up. You find that if you wish to have the Spirit of God dwell with you, you must lead a different life; you must give up the world; you must make sacrifices; you must break off from your worldly associates, and make confession of your sins. And so, on the whole, you do not wish to have the Spirit come, unless He will consent to dwell with you and let you live as you please. But that He will never do.
9. Perhaps you do not pray for the Spirit; or you pray and use no other means, or pray and do not act consistently with your prayers. Or you use means calculated to resist them. Or you ask, and as soon as He comes and begins to affect your mind, you grieve Him right away, and will not walk with Him.
IV. THE GREAT GUILT OF NOT HAVING THE SPIRIT.
1. Your guilt is just as great as the authority of God is great, which commands you: "Be filled with the Spirit. God commands it, and it is just as much a disobedience of God's commands, as it would be to swear profanely, or steal, or commit adultery, or break the Sabbath. Think of that. And yet there are many people who do not blame themselves at all for not having the Spirit. They even think themselves quite pious Christians, because they go to prayer meetings, and partake of the sacrament, and all that, though they live year after year without the Spirit of God. Now you see that the same God who says: "Do not get drunk," says also: "Be filled with the Spirit."
You all say, if a man is a habitual murderer, or a thief, he is no Christian.
Why? Because he lives in habitual disobedience to God. So, if he swears, you have no charity for him. You will not allow him to plead that his heart is right, and that words are nothing; that God does not care anything about words. You would think it outrageous to have such a man in the Church, or to have a company of such people pretend to call themselves a Christian Church. And yet they are not a whit more absolutely living in disobedience to God than you are, who live without the spirit of prayer and without the presence of God.
2. Your guilt is equal to all the good you might do if you were possessed by the Spirit of God in as great a measure as it is your duty to be, and as you might be. You, elders of this Church, how much good might you do if you had the Spirit! And you, Sunday school teachers, how much good you might do; and you, Church members, too, if you were filled with the Spirit you might do vast good, infinite good. Well, your guilt is just as great.
Here is a blessing promised, and you can have it by doing your duty. You are entirely responsible to the Church and to God for all this good that you might do. A man is responsible for all the good he can do.
3. Your guilt is further measured by all the evil which you do in consequence of not having the Spirit. You are a dishonor to religion. You are a stumbling block to the Church, and to the world; and your guilt is enhanced by all the various influences you exert. And it will prove so in the Day of Judgment.
V. THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING THE SPIRIT.
1. You will be called eccentric; and probably you will deserve it. Probably you will really be eccentric. I never knew a person who was filled with the Spirit that was not called eccentric. And the reason is that such people are unlike other folk. There is therefore the best of reasons why such persons should appear eccentric. They act under different influences, take different views, are moved by different motives, led by a different spirit. You are to expect such remarks. How often I have heard the remark respecting such-and-such persons: "He is a good man - but he is rather eccentric." I have sometimes asked for the particulars; in what does his eccentricity consist? I hear the catalogue, and it amounts to this, that he is spiritual.
Make up your mind for this, to be "eccentric." There is such a thing as affected eccentricity. Horrible! But there is such a thing as being so deeply imbued with the Spirit of God that you must and will act so as to appear strange and eccentric, to those who cannot understand the reasons of your conduct.
2. If you have much of the Spirit of God, it is not unlikely you will be thought deranged, by many. We judge men to be deranged when they act differently from what we think to be according to prudence and common sense, and when they come to conclusions for which we can see no good reasons. Paul was accused of being deranged by those who did not understand the views of things under which he acted. No doubt Festus thought the man was crazy, that "much learning had made him mad." But Paul said: "I am not mad, most noble Festus" (Acts 26:24, 25). His conduct was so strange, so novel, that Festus thought it must be insanity.
But the truth simply was, he saw the subject so clearly that he threw his whole soul into it. Festus and the rest were entirely in the dark in respect to the motive by which he was actuated. This is by no means uncommon.
Multitudes have appeared, to those who had no spirituality, as if they were deranged. Yet they saw good reasons for doing as they did. God was leading their minds to act in such a way that those who were not spiritual could not see the reasons. You must make up your mind to this, and so much the more, as you live the more above the world and walk with God.
3. If you have the Spirit of God, you must expect to feel great distress in view of the condition of the Church and of the world. Some spiritual epicures ask for the Spirit because they think He will make them so perfectly happy. Some people think that spiritual Christians are always free from sorrow. There never was a greater mistake. Read your Bibles, and see how the prophets and apostles were always groaning and distressed, in view of the state of the Church and of the world. The apostle Paul says he was "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (2 Corinthians 4:10). "I protest," says he, "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31). You will know what it is to sympathize with the Lord Jesus Christ, and be baptized with the baptism that He was baptized with. Oh, how He agonized in view of the state of sinners! How He travailed in soul for their salvation! The more you have of His spirit, the more clearly will you see the state of sinners, and the more deeply you will be distressed about them. Many times you will feel as if you could not live in view of their situation; your distress will be unutterable.
4. You will be often grieved with the state of the ministry. Some years since I met a woman belonging to one of the Churches in this city. I inquired of her the state of religion here. She seemed unwilling to say much about it, made some general remarks, and then choked, and her eyes filled, and she said: "Oh, our minister's mind seems to be very dark!" Spiritual Christians often feel like this, and often weep over it. I have seen much of it, having often found Christians who wept and groaned in secret, to see the darkness in the minds of ministers in regard to religion, the earthliness, and fear of man; but they dared not speak of it lest they should be denounced and threatened, and perhaps turned out of the Church. I do not say these things censoriously, to reproach my brethren, but because they are true. And ministers ought to know that nothing is more common than for spiritual Christians to feel burdened and distressed at the state of the ministry. I would not wake up any wrong feelings towards ministers, but it is time it should be known that Christians do often get spiritual views of things, and their souls are kindled up, and then they find that their minister does not enter into their feelings, that he is far below the Standard of what he ought to be, and in spirituality is far below some of the members of his Church.
This is one of the most prominent and deeply-to-be-deplored evils of the present day. The piety of the ministry, though real, is so superficial, in many instances, that the spiritual people of the Church feel that ministers do not, cannot, sympathize with them, The preaching does not meet their wants; it does not feed them. The ministers have not depth enough of religious experience to know how to search and wake up the Church; how to help those under temptation, to support the weak, to direct the strong.
When a minister has gone with a Church as far as his experience in spiritual exercises goes, there he stops; and until he has a renewed experience, until he is reconverted, his heart broken up afresh, and he set forward in the Divine life and Christian experience, he will help them no more. He may preach sound doctrine, and so may an unconverted minister; but, after all, his preaching will want that searching pungency, that practical bearing, that unction which alone will reach the case of a spiritually minded Christian. It is a fact over which the Church is groaning, that the piety of young men suffers so much in the course of their education, that when they enter the ministry, however much intellectual furniture they may possess, they are in a state of spiritual babyhood.
They want nursing; they need rather to be fed, than to undertake to feed the Church of God.
5. If you have much of the Spirit of God, you must make up your mind to have much opposition, both in the Church and the world. Very likely the leading men in the Church will oppose you. There has always been opposition in the Church. So it was when Christ was on earth. If you are far above their state of feeling, Church members will oppose you. If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he must expect persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Often the elders and even the minister will oppose you, if you are filled with the Spirit of God.
6. You must expect very frequent and agonizing conflicts with Satan. Satan has very little trouble with those Christians who are not spiritual, but lukewarm, and slothful, and worldly-minded. And such do not understand what is said about spiritual conflicts. Perhaps they will smile when such things are mentioned. And so the devil lets them alone. They do not disturb him, nor he them. But spiritual Christians, he understands very well, are doing him a vast injury, and therefore he sets himself against them. Such Christians often have terrible conflicts. They have temptations that they never thought of before: blasphemous thoughts, atheism, suggestions to do deeds of wickedness, to destroy their own lives, and the like. And if you are spiritual you may expect these terrible conflicts.
7. You will have greater conflicts with yourself than you ever thought of.
You will sometimes find your own corruptions making strange headway against the Spirit. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17). Such a Christian is often thrown into consternation at the power of his own corruptions. One of the Commodores in the United States Navy was, as I have been told, a spiritual man; his pastor told me he had known that man lie on the floor and groan a great part of the night, in conflict with his own corruptions, and to cry to God, in agony, that He would break the power of the temptation. It seemed as if the devil was determined to ruin him, and his own heart, for the time being, was almost in league with the devil.
8. But, you will have peace with God. If the Church, and sinners, and the devil, oppose you, there will be One with whom you will have peace. Let you who are called to these trials. and conflicts. and temptations, and who groan, and pray, and weep, and break your hearts, remember this consideration: your peace, so far as your feelings towards God are concerned, will flow like a river.
9. You will likewise have peace of conscience, if you are led by the Spirit.
You will not be constantly goaded and kept on the rack by a guilty conscience. Your conscience will be calm and quiet, unruffled as the summer's lake.
10. If filled with the Spirit, you will be useful. You cannot help being useful. Even if you were sick and unable to go out of your room, or to converse, and saw nobody, you would be ten times more useful than a hundred of those common sort of Christians who have no spirituality. To give you an idea of this, I will relate an anecdote. A pious man in the western part of this State, was suffering from consumption. He was a poor man, and was ill for years. An unconverted merchant in the place, who had a kind heart, used to send him now and then some things for his comfort, or for his family. He felt grateful for the kindness, but could make no return, as he wanted to do. At length he determined that the best return he could make would be to pray for the man's salvation. So he began to pray, and his soul kindled, and he got hold of God. No revival was taking place there, but, by and by, to the astonishment of everybody, this merchant came right out on the Lord's side. The fire kindled all over the place; a powerful revival followed, and multitudes were converted.
This poor man lingered in this way for several years, and died. After his death, I visited the place, and his widow put into my hands his diary.
Among other entries was this: "I am acquainted with about thirty ministers and Churches." He then went on to set apart certain hours in the day and week to pray for each of these ministers and Churches, and also certain seasons for praying for different missionary stations. Then followed, under different dates, such facts as these: "Today I have been enabled to offer what I call the prayer of faith for the outpouring of the Spirit on - Church, and I trust in God there will soon be a revival there."
Under another date he had written: "I have today been able to offer what I call the prayer of faith for - Church, and trust there will soon be a revival there." Thus he had gone over a great number of Churches, recording the fact that he had prayed for them in faith that a revival might soon prevail among them.
Of the missionary stations, if I recollect right, he mentioned in particular one at Ceylon. I believe the last place mentioned in his diary, for which he offered the prayer of faith, was the place in which he lived. Not long after, the revival commenced, and went over the region of country, nearly, I believe, if not quite, in the order in which the places had been mentioned in his diary; and in due time news came from Ceylon that there was a revival of religion there. The revival in his own town did not commence till after his death. Its commencement was at the time when his widow put into my hands the document to which I have referred. She told me that he was so exercised in prayer during his sickness, that she often feared he would "pray himself to death." The revival was exceedingly great and powerful in all the region, and the fact that it was about to prevail had not been hidden from this servant of the Lord. According to His Word, "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Psalm 25:14). Thus, this man, too feeble in body to go out of his house, was yet more useful to the world and the Church of God than all the heartless professors in the country. Standing between God and the desolations of Zion, and pouring out his heart in believing prayer, "as a prince he had power with God and with men, and prevailed" (Genesis 32:28).
11. If you are filled with the Spirit, you will not find yourselves distressed, and galled, and worried, when people speak against you. When
I find people irritated and fretting at any little thing that touches them, I am sure they have not the Spirit of Christ. Jesus Christ could have everything said against Him that malice could invent, and yet not be in the least disturbed by it. If you mean to be meek under persecution, and exemplify the temper of the Savior, and honor religion in this way, you need to be filled with the Spirit.
12. You will be wise in using means for the conversion of sinners. If the Spirit of God is in you, He will lead you to use means wisely, in a way adapted to the end, and to avoid doing hurt. 29 No man who is not filled with the Spirit of God is fit to be employed in directing the measures adopted in a revival. His hands will be "all thumbs," unable to take hold, and he will act as if he had not common sense. But a man who is led by the Spirit of God will know how to time his measures aright, and how to apportion Divine truth so as to make it tell to the best advantage.
13. You will be calm under affliction; not thrown into confusion or consternation when you see the storm coming over you. People around will be astonished at your calmness and cheerfulness under heavy trials, not knowing the inward supports of those who are filled with the Spirit.
14. You will be resigned in death; you will always feel prepared to die, and not afraid to die; and after death you will be proportionately more happy for ever in heaven.
VI. THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT.
1. You will often doubt, in such a case, and reasonably so whether you are a Christian. You will have doubts, and you ought to have them, for the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God, and if you are not led by the Spirit, what reason have you to think that you are a son? You will try to make a little evidence go a great way to bolster up your hopes; but you cannot do it, unless your conscience is seared as with a hot iron. You cannot help being plunged often into painful doubt about your state (Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 13:5).
2. You will always be unsettled in your views about the prayer of faith.
The prayer of faith is something so spiritual, so much a matter of experience and not of speculation, that unless you are spiritual yourselves you will not understand it fully. You may talk a great deal about the prayer of faith, and for the time get thoroughly convinced regarding it. But you will never feel so settled on it as to retain the same position of mind concerning it, and in a little while you will be all uncertainty again. I knew a curious instance in a brother minister. He told me: "When I have the Spirit of God and enjoy His presence, I believe firmly in the prayer of faith; but when I have Him not, I find myself doubting whether there is any such thing, and my mind is full of objections." I know, from my own experience, what this is, and when I hear persons raising objections to that view of prayer which I have presented in these Lectures, I understand very well what their difficulty is, and have often found it impossible to satisfy their minds, while they are so far from God; when, at the same time, they would understand it themselves without argument, whenever they experienced it.
3. If you have not the Spirit, you will be very apt to stumble at those who have. You will doubt the propriety of their conduct. If they seem to feel a good deal more than yourself, you will be likely to call it "animal feeling."
You will perhaps doubt their sincerity when they say they have such feelings You will say: "I don't know what to make of Brother Such-a-one; he seems to be very pious, but I do not understand him, I think he has a great deal of animal feeling." Thus you will be trying to censure them, for the purpose of justifying yourself.
4. You will be had in reputation with the impenitent, and with carnal professors. They will praise you, as "a rational, orthodox, consistent Christian." You will be just in the frame of mind to walk with them, because you are agreed.
5. You will be much troubled with fears about fanaticism. Whenever there are revivals, you will see in them "a strong tendency to fanaticism," and will be full of fears and anxiety.
6. You will be much disturbed by the measures that are used in revivals. If any measures are adopted, that are decided and direct, you will think they are all "new," and will stumble at them just in proportion to your want of spirituality. You do not see their appropriateness. You will stand and cavil at the measures, because you are so blind that you cannot see their adaptedness, while all heaven is rejoicing in them as the means of saving souls.
7. You will be a reproach to religion. The impenitent will sometimes praise you because you are so much like themselves, and sometimes laugh about you because you are such a hypocrite.
8. You will know but little about the Bible.
9. If you die without the Spirit, you will fall into hell. There can be no doubt about this. Without the Spirit you will never be prepared for heaven.
1. Christians are as guilty for not having the Spirit, as sinners are for not repenting.
2. They are even more so. As they have more light, they are so much the more guilty.
3. All beings have a right to complain of Christians who have not the Spirit. You are not doing work for God, and He has a right to complain. He has placed His Spirit at your disposal, and if you have not the Spirit, God has a right to look to you and to hold you responsible for all the good you might otherwise do. You are sinning against all heaven, for you ought to be adding to the happy ranks of the redeemed. Sinners, the Church, and ministers, all have a right to complain.
4. You are an obstacle in the way of the work of the Lord. It is in vain for a minister to try to work over your head. Ministers often groan and struggle, and wear themselves out in vain, trying to do good where there is a people who live so that they do not have the Spirit of God. If the Spirit is poured out at any time, the Church will grieve Him right away. Thus, you may tie the hands and break the heart of your minister, and break him down, and perhaps kill him, because you will not be filled with the Spirit.
5. You see the reason why Christians need the Spirit, and the degree of their dependence upon Him.
6. Do not tempt God by "waiting" for His Spirit, while using no means to procure His presence.
7. If you mean to have the Spirit, you must be childlike, and yield to His influences - just as yielding as air. If He is drawing you to prayer, you must quit everything to yield to His gentle strivings. No doubt you have sometimes felt a desire to pray for some object, and you have put it off and resisted, until God left you. If you wish Him to remain, you must yield to His softest leadings, watch to learn what He would have you do and yield yourself up to His guidance.
8. Christians ought to be willing to make any sacrifice to enjoy the presence of the Spirit. Said a woman in high life (a professor of religion): "I must either give up hearing such-and-such a minister [naming him] preach, or I must give up my gay company." She gave up the preaching and stayed away. How different from another case - that of a woman in the same rank of life - who heard the same minister preach, and went home resolved to abandon her gay and worldly manner of life. She changed her whole mode of dress, of equipage, of living, and of conversation; so that her gay and worldly friends were soon willing to leave her to the enjoyment of communion with God, and free to spend her time in doing good.
9. You see from this, that it must be very difficult for those in fashionable life to go to heaven. What a calamity to be in such circles! Who can enjoy the presence of God in them?
10. See how crazy those are who are scrambling to get up to these circles, enlarging their houses, changing their style of living, their dress, and their furniture. It is like climbing up to the mast-head to be thrown off into the ocean. To enjoy God, you must come down, not go up there. God is not there, among all the starch and flattery of high life.
11. Many professors of religion are as ignorant of spirituality as Nicodemus was of the New Birth. They are ignorant, and I fear unconverted. If anybody talks to them about the spirit of prayer, it is all algebra to them. The case of such professors is awful. How different was the character of the apostles! Read the history of their lives, read their letters, and you will see that they were always spiritual, and walked daily with God. But now how little is there of such religion! "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8.) Set some of these professors to work in a revival, and they do not know what to do, for they have no energy, no skills and make no impression. When will professors of religion set themselves to work, filled with the Spirit? If I could see this Church filled with the Spirit, I would ask nothing more to move this whole mighty mass of minds around us. Not two weeks would pass before the revival would spread all over this city.
MEETINGS FOR PRAYER
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that these shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 18:19.
HITHERTO , in treating of the subject of PRAYER, I have confined my remarks to secret prayer. I am now to speak of social prayer, or prayer offered in company, where two or more are united in praying. Such meetings have been common from the time of Christ, and it is probable that God's people have always been in the habit of making united supplication, whenever they had the privilege. The propriety of the practice will not be questioned here. I need not dwell now on the duty of social prayer. Nor is it my design to discuss the question, whether any two Christians agreeing to ask any blessing, will be sure to obtain it. My object is to make some remarks on Meetings for Prayer, noting:
I. The design of prayer meetings.
II. The manner of conducting them.
III. Several things that will defeat the design of holding them.
I. THE DESIGNS OF PRAYER MEETINGS.
1. One design of assembling several persons together for united prayer, is to promote union among Christians. Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other's hearts in prayer. Their spirituality begets a feeling of union and confidence, highly important to the prosperity of the Church. It is doubtful whether Christians can ever be otherwise than united, if they are in the habit of really praying together. And where they have had hard feelings and differences among themselves, these are all done away by uniting in prayer. The great object is gained, if you can bring them really to unite in prayer; if this can be done, the difficulties vanish.
2. To extend the spirit of prayer. God has so constituted us, and such is the economy of His grace, that we are sympathetic beings, and communicate our feelings to one another. A minister, for instance, will often, as it were, breathe his own feelings into his congregation. The Spirit of God that inspires his soul, makes use of his feelings to influence his hearers, just as much as He makes use of the words he preaches. So He makes use of the feelings of Christians. Nothing is more calculated to beget a spirit of prayer than to unite in social prayer with one who has the spirit himself; unless this one should be so far ahead that his prayer will repel the rest. His prayer will awaken them, if they are not so far behind as to revolt at it and resist it. If they are anywhere near the standard of his feelings, his spirit will kindle, and burn, and spread all around. One individual who obtains the spirit of prayer will often arouse a whole Church, and extend the same spirit through the whole, so that a general revival follows.
3. Another grand design of social prayer, is to move God. Not that it changes the mind and feelings of God. When we speak of "moving" God, as I have said in a former Lecture, we do not mean that prayer alters the will of God. But when the right kind of prayer is offered by Christians, they are in such a state of mind that it becomes proper for God to bestow a blessing. They are then prepared to receive it, and He gives because He is always the same, and always ready and happy to show mercy. When Christians are united, and praying as they ought, God opens the windows of heaven, and pours out His blessing till there is not room to receive it (Malachi 3:10). 31
4. Another important design of prayer meetings is the conviction and conversion of sinners. When properly conducted, they are eminently calculated to produce this effect. Sinners are apt to be solemn when they hear Christians pray. Where there is a spirit of prayer, sinners must feel.
An ungodly man (a universalist) once said respecting a certain minister: "I can bear his preaching very well; but when he prays, I feel awfully - as if God were coming down upon me." Sinners are often convicted by hearing prayer. A young man of distinguished talents said, concerning a certain minister to whom, before his conversion, he had been very much opposed:
"As soon as he began to pray, I began to be convicted; and if he had continued to pray much longer, I should not have been able to hold myself back from Christ." Just as soon as Christians begin to pray as they ought, sinners then know that they pray, and begin to feel awfully. They do not understand what spirituality is, because they have no experience of it. But when such prayer is offered, they know there is something in it; they know God is in it, and it brings them near to God; it makes them feel awfully solemn, and they cannot bear it. And not only is it calculated to impress the minds of sinners, but when Christians pray in faith, the Spirit of God is poured out, and sinners are melted down and converted on the spot.
II. THE MANNER OF CONDUCTING PRAYER MEETINGS.
1. It is often well to open a prayer meeting by reading a short portion of the Word of God, especially if the person who takes the lead of the meeting, can call to mind any portion that will be applicable to the object or occasion, and that is impressive, and to the point. If he has no passage that is applicable, he had better not read any at all. Do not drag in the Word of God to make up part of the meeting as a mere matter of form.
This is an insult to God. It is not well to read any more than is applicable to the subject before the meeting or the occasion. Some people think it always necessary to read a whole chapter, though it may be ever so long, and have a variety of subjects. It is just as impressive and judicious to read a whole chapter as it would be for a minister to take a whole chapter for his text, when his object was to make some particular truth bear on the minds of his audience. The design of a prayer meeting should be to bring Christians to the point, to pray for a definite object. Wandering over a large field hinders and destroys this design.
2. It is proper that the person who leads should make some short and appropriate remarks, calculated to explain the nature of prayer, and the encouragements we have to pray, and to bring the object to be prayed for directly before the minds of the people.
A man can no more pray without having his thoughts concentrated than he can do anything else. The person leading should therefore see to this, by bringing up before their minds the object for which they came to pray. If they came to pray for any object, he can do this. And if they did not, they had better go home. It is of no use to stay there and mock God by pretending to pray when they have nothing on earth to pray for.
After stating the object, he should bring up some promise or some principle, as the ground of encouragement to expect an answer to their prayers. If there is any indication of Providence, or any promise, or any principle in the Divine government, that affords a ground of faith, let him call it to mind, and not let them be talking out of their own hearts at random, without knowing any solid reason for expecting an answer. One reason why prayer meetings mostly accomplish so little, is because there is so little common sense exercised about them. Instead of looking round for some solid footing on which to repose their faith, people come together and pour forth words, and neither know nor care whether they have any reason to expect an answer. If they are going to pray about anything concerning which there can be any doubt or any mistake, in regard to the ground of faith, they should be shown the reason there is for believing that their prayers will be heard and answered. It is easy to see that, unless something like this is done, three-fourths of them will have no idea of what they are doing, or of the ground on which they should expect to receive what they pray for.
3. In calling on persons to pray it is always desirable to let things take their own course, wherever it is safe. If it can be left so with safety, let those pray who are most inclined to pray. It sometimes happens that even those who are ordinarily the most spiritual, and most proper to be called on, are not, at the time, in a suitable frame; they may be cold and worldly, and only freeze the meeting. But if you let those pray who desire to pray, you avoid this. But often this cannot be done with safety, especially in large cities, where a prayer meeting might be liable to be interrupted by those who have no business to pray; some fanatic or crazy person, some hypocrite or enemy, who would only make a noise. In most places, however, the course may be taken with perfect safety. Give up the meeting to the Spirit of God. Those who desire to pray, let them pray. If the leader sees anything that needs to be set right, let him remark, freely and kindly, and put it right, and then go on again. Only he should be careful to time his remarks, so as not to interrupt the flow of feeling, or to chill the meeting, or to turn the thoughts of the people from the proper subject.
4. If it is necessary to name the individuals who are to pray, it is best to call first on those who are most spiritual; and, if you do not know who they are, then choose those whom you would naturally suppose to be most "alive." If they pray at the outset, they will be likely to spread the spirit of prayer through the meeting, and elevate the tone of the whole.
Otherwise, if you call on those who are cold and lifeless, they will be likely to diffuse a chill. The only hope of having an efficient prayer meeting is when at least a part of the Church is spiritual, and infuses its spirit into the rest. This is the very reason why it is often best to let things take their course, for then those who have the most feeling are apt to pray first, and give character to the meeting.
5. The prayers should always be very short. When individuals suffer themselves to pray long they forget that they are only the mouth of the congregation, and that the congregation cannot be expected to sympathize with them, so as to feel united in prayer, if they are long and tedious, and go all around the world, and pray for everything they can think of.
Commonly, those who pray long in a meeting do so, not because they have the spirit of prayer, but because they have not. Some men will spin out a long prayer in telling God who and what He is, or they pray out a whole system of divinity. Some preach; others exhort the people - till everybody wishes they would stop, and God wishes so, too, most undoubtedly. They should keep to the point, and pray for what they came to pray for, and not follow the imagination of their own foolish hearts all over the universe.
6. Each one should pray for some one object. It is well for every individual to have one object for prayer; two or more may pray for the same thing, or each for a separate object. If the meeting is convened to pray for some specific thing, let them all pray for that. If its object is more general, let them select their subjects, according as they feel interested. If one feels particularly disposed to pray for the Church, let him do it. If the next feels disposed to pray for the Church, he may do so, too. Perhaps the next will feel inclined to pray for sinners; let him do it, and as soon as he has got through let him stop. Whenever a man has deep feeling, he always feels on some particular point, and if he prays about that, he will speak out of the abundance of his heart, and then he will naturally stop when he is done.
7. If, in the progress of the meeting, it becomes necessary to change the object of prayer, let the leader state the fact, and explain it in a few words.
If the object is to pray for the Church, or for backsliders, or sinners, or the heathen, let him state it plainly, and then turn it over and hold it up before them, till he brings them to think and feel deeply before they pray. Then he should state to them the grounds on which they may repose their faith in regard to obtaining the blessings for which they pray, if any such statement is needed, and so lead them right up to the Throne, and let them take hold of the hand of God. This is according to the philosophy of the mind. People always do it for themselves when they pray in secret, if they really mean to pray to any purpose. And so it should be in prayer meetings.
8. It is important that the time should be fully occupied, so as not to leave long seasons of silence, which make a bad impression, and chill the meeting. I know that sometimes Churches have seasons of silent prayer.
But in those cases they should be specially requested to pray in silence, so that all may know why they are silent. This often has a most powerful effect, where a few moments are spent by a whole congregation in silence, while all lift up their thoughts to God. This is very different from having long intervals of silence because there is nobody to pray. Every one feels that such a silence is like the cold damp of death over the meeting.
9. It is exceedingly important that he who leads the meeting should press sinners who may be present to immediate repentance. He should earnestly urge the Christians who are present, to pray in such a way as to make sinners feel that they are expected to repent immediately. This tends to inspire Christians with compassion and love for souls. The remarks made to sinners are often like pouring fire upon the hearts of Christians, to awaken them to prayer and effort for the conversion of the unsaved. Let them see and feel the guilt and danger of sinners right among them, and then they will pray.
III. THINGS WHICH MAY DEFEAT THE PRAYER MEETING.
1. When there is an unhappy want of confidence in the leader, there is no hope of any good. Whatever may be the cause, whether he is to blame or not, the very fact that he leads the meeting will cast a damp over it, and prevent all good. I have witnessed it in Churches, where there was some offensive elder or deacon (perhaps justly deemed offensive; perhaps not) set to lead, and the meeting would die under his influence. If there is a want of confidence in regard to his piety, or in his ability, or in his judgment, or in anything connected with the meeting, everything he says or does will fall to the ground. The same thing often takes place where the Church has lost confidence in the minister.
2. Where the leader lacks spirituality, there will be a dryness and coldness in his remarks and prayers; everything will indicate his want of unction, and his whole influence will be the very reverse of what it ought to be. I have known Churches where a prayer meeting could not be sustained, and the reason was not obvious, but those who understood the state of things knew that the leader was so notorious for his want of spirituality that he would inevitably freeze a prayer meeting to death. In many Churches the elders are so far from being spiritual men that they always freeze a prayer meeting. And at the same time they are often amazingly jealous for their dignity, and cannot bear to have anybody else lead the meeting. If any member that is spiritual takes the lead, they will take him to task for it, saying: "Why, you are not an elder; you ought not to lead a prayer meeting in the presence of an elder!" And thus they stand in the way, while the whole Church is suffering under their blighting influence.
A man who knows he is not in a spiritual frame of mind has no business to conduct a prayer meeting - he will kill it. There are two reasons. First, he will have no spiritual discernment, and will know neither what to do, nor when to do it. A person who is spiritual can see the movements of Providence, and can feel the Spirit of God, and understand what He is leading them to pray for, so as to time his subjects, and take advantage of the state of feeling among Christians. He will not overthrow all the feeling in a meeting by introducing things that are incongruous or ill-timed. He has spiritual discernment to understand the leadings of the Spirit, and His workings on those who pray; and to follow on as the Spirit leads. Suppose an individual leads who is not spiritual, that there are two or three prayers, and the spirit of prayer arises, but the leader, having no spiritual discernment to see it, makes some remarks on another point, or reads a piece out of some book that is as far from the feeling of the meeting as the North Pole! What they are called to pray for may be just as evident to the praying people present as if the Son of God Himself had come into the meeting and named the subject; but the leader will overthrow it all, because he is so stupid that he does not know the indications of the meeting.
And then, if the leader is not spiritual, he will very likely be dull and dry in his remarks, and in all his exercises. He will give out a long hymn in a dreamy manner, and then read a long passage of Scripture, in a tone so cold that he will spread a wintry pall over the meeting, and it will be dull, as long as his cold heart is placed in front of the whole thing.
3. A want of suitable talents in the leader. If he is wanting in the talents which are fitted to make a meeting useful, if he can say nothing, or if his remarks are so out of the way as to produce levity or contempt, or if they have nothing in them that will impress the mind, or are not guided by good sense, or are not appropriate, he will injure the meeting. A man may be pious, but so weak that his prayers do not edify, but rather disgust. When this is so, he had better keep silence.
4. Sometimes the benefit of a prayer meeting is defeated by a bad Spirit in the leader. For instance, where there is a revival, and great opposition, if a leader gets up in a prayer meeting and speaks of instances of opposition, and comments upon them, and thus diverts the meeting away from the object, he knows not what spirit he is of. Its effect is always ruinous to a prayer meeting. Let a minister in a revival come out and preach against the opposition, and he will infallibly destroy the revival, and turn the hearts of Christians away from their proper object. Let the man who is set to lead the Church be careful to guard his own spirit, lest he should mislead the Church, and diffuse a wrong temper. The same will be true, if any one who is called upon to speak or pray, introduces in his remarks or prayers anything controversial, impertinent, unreasonable, unscriptural, ridiculous, or irrelevant. Any of these things will quench the tender breathings of the spirit of prayer, and destroy the meeting.
5. Persons coming late to the meeting. This is a very great hindrance. When people have begun to pray, and their attention is fixed, and they have shut their eyes and closed their ears, to keep out everything from their minds, in the midst of a prayer somebody will come bolting in and walk through the room. Some will look up, and all have their minds interrupted for the moment. Then they all get fixed again, and another comes in, and so on. I suppose the devil would not care how many Christians went to a prayer meeting, if they would only go after the meeting had begun. He would be glad to have ever so many go "scattering along" in such a way, dodging in very piously and distractingly.
6. When persons make cold prayers and cold confessions of sin, they are sure to quench the spirit of prayer. When the influences of the Spirit are enjoyed, in the midst of the warm expressions that are flowing forth, let an individual come in who is cold, and pour out his cold breath like the damp of death, and it will make every Christian who has any feeling want to get out of the meeting.
7. In some places it is common to begin a prayer meeting by reading a tong portion of Scripture. Then the deacon or elder gives out a long hymn.
Next, they sing it. Then he prays a long prayer, praying for the Jews, and the fullness of the Gentiles, and many other objects that have nothing to do with the occasion of the meeting. After that perhaps he reads a long extract from some book or magazine. Then they have another long hymn and another long prayer, and then they go home.
I once heard an elder say that a Church had kept up a prayer meeting so many years, and yet had experienced no revival. The truth was, that the officers of the Church had been accustomed to carry on the meetings in just such a dignified way, and their dignity would not allow anything to be altered. No wonder there was no revival! Such prayer meetings are enough to hinder a revival. 32 And if ever so many revivals should commence, the prayer meeting would destroy them. There was a prayer meeting once in this city, as I have been told, where there appeared to be some feeling, and some one every reasonably proposed that they should have two or three prayers in succession, without rising from their knees. One dignified man present opposed it, and said that they never had done so, and he hoped there would be no innovations! He did not approve of innovations. That was the last of the revival! Such persons have their prayer meetings stereotyped, and are determined not to turn out of their track, whether they receive blessing or not. To allow any such thing would be "a new measure," and they never like "new measures"!
8. A great deal of singing often injures a prayer meeting. The agonizing spirit of prayer does not lead people to sing. There is a time for everything; a time to sing, and a time to pray. But if I know what it is to travail in birth for souls, Christians never feel less like singing than when they have the spirit of prayer for sinners.
When singing is introduced in a prayer meeting, the hymns should be short, and so selected as to bring out something solemn; some striking words, such as the Judgment Hymn, and others calculated to produce an effect on sinners; or something that will produce a deep impression on the minds of Christians; but not that joyful kind of singing that makes everybody feel comfortable, and turns off the mind from the object of the prayer meeting.
I once heard a celebrated organist produce a remarkable effect in a protracted meeting. The organ was a powerful one, and the double bass pipes were like unto thunder. The hymn was given out that had these lines:
See the storm of vengeance gathering over the path you dare to tread; Hear the awful thunder rolling, Loud and louder over your head.
When he came to these words, we first heard the distant roar of thunder; then it grew nearer and louder, till at the word "louder," there was a crash that seemed almost to overpower the congregation. Such things in their proper place do good. But common singing dissipates feeling. It should always be such as will not take away feeling, but deepen it.
Often a prayer meeting is injured by calling on the young converts to sing joyful hymns. This is highly improper in a prayer meeting. It is no time for them to let feeling flow away in joyful singing, while so many sinners around them, and their own former companions, are going down to hell. A revival is often put down by the Church and the minister giving themselves up to singing with young converts. Thus, by stopping to rejoice when they ought to feel more and more deeply for sinners, they grieve away the Spirit of God, and they soon find that their agony and travail of soul are gone.
9. Introducing subjects of controversy into prayer will defeat a prayer meeting. Nothing of a controversial nature should be introduced into prayer, unless it is the object of the meeting to settle that thing.
Otherwise, let Christians come together in their prayer meetings, on the broad ground of offering united prayer for a common object. And let controversies be settled somewhere else.
10. Great pains should be taken, both by the leader and others, to watch narrowly the leadings of the Spirit of God. Let them not quench the Spirit for the sake of praying according to the regular custom. Avoid everything calculated to divert attention away from the object. All affectation of feeling should be particularly guarded against. If there is an affectation of feeling, most commonly others see and feel that it is affectation, not reality. At any rate, the Spirit of God knows it, and will be grieved. On the other hand, all resistance to the Spirit will equally destroy the meeting.
Not infrequently it happens that there are some so cold that if any one should break out in the spirit of prayer, they would call it fanaticism, and perhaps display opposition.
11. If individuals refuse to pray when they are called upon, it injures a prayer meeting. There are some people who always pretend they have no gift. Women sometimes refuse to take their turn in prayer, and pretend they have not ability to pray. But if any one else should say so, they would be offended! Suppose they should learn that any other person had made such a remark as this: "Do not ask her to pray, she cannot pray, she has not talent enough": would they like it? So with a man who pretends he has no gift; let any one else report that "he has not talent enough to make a decent prayer," and see if he will like it. The pretense is not sincere; it is all a sham.
Some say they cannot pray in their families; they have no gift. But a person could not offend one of them more than to say: "He cannot pray a decent prayer before his own family." The retort would be: "Why, So-and-so talks as if he thought nobody else had any gifts but himself."
People are not apt to have such a low opinion of themselves. I have often seen the curse of God follow such professors. They have no excuse. God will take none. The man has got a tongue to talk to his neighbors, and he can talk to God if he has any heart for it. You will see their children unconverted: their son has a curse; their daughter - tongue cannot tell.
God says He will pour out His fury on the families that call not on His name. I could mention a host of facts to show that God MARKS with His disapprobation and curse those who refuse to pray when they ought.
Until professors of religion will repent of this sin, and take up this cross (if they choose to call praying "a cross"), they need not expect a blessing.
12. Prayer meetings are often too long. They should always be dismissed while Christians have feeling, and not be spun out until all feeling is exhausted, and the spirit of prayer is gone.
13. Heartless confessions injure a meeting. People confess their sins but do not forsake them. Every week they will make the same confession. Why, they have no intention to forsake their sins! It shows plainly that they do not mean to reform. All their religion consists in these confessions. Instead of getting a blessing from God thereby they will get only a curse.
14. Injury is also done when Christians spend all the time in praying for themselves. They should have done this in their own homes. When they come to a prayer meeting, they should be prepared to offer effectual intercessions for others. If Christians pray at home as they ought, they will feel like praying for sinners. If, however, their private prayers are exclusively for themselves, they will not get the spirit of prayer. I have known men shut themselves up for days to pray for themselves, and never get any life, because their prayers were all selfish. But if such people will just forget themselves, and throw their hearts abroad, and pray for others, it will wake up such a feeling, that they will be able to pour forth their hearts in prayer. And then they can go to work for souls. I knew an individual in a revival, who shut himself up seventeen days, and prayed as if he would have God come to his terms; but it would not do, and therefore he went out to work, and immediately he had the Spirit of God in his soul.
It is well for Christians to pray for themselves, and confess their sins, and then throw their hearts abroad, till they feel as they ought.
15. Prayer meetings are often defeated by the want of appropriate remarks. The things are not said which are calculated to lead them to pray.
Perhaps the leader has not prepared himself; or perhaps he has not the requisite talents to lead the Church out in prayer, or he does not lead their minds to dwell on the appropriate topics of prayer.
16. It is a hindrance, when individuals who are justly obnoxious are forward in speaking and praying. Such persons are sometimes very much set upon taking part. They say it is their duty to get up and testify for God on all occasions. They will say, they know they are not able to edify the Church, but nobody else can do their duty, and they wish to testify.
Perhaps the only place they ever did testify for God was in a prayer meeting; their lives, out of the meeting, testify against God. They had better keep still.
17. When persons take part whose illiteracy is so pronounced as to cause disgust among people of taste and intelligence, attention is diverted. I do not mean to imply that it is necessary that a person should have a liberal education, in order to lead in prayer. All persons of common education, especially if they are in the habit of praying, can lead in prayer, if they have the spirit of prayer. But there are some persons who use expressions so absurd and illiterate as to disgust every intelligent mind. The feeling of disgust is an involuntary thing, and when a disgusting object is before the mind, the feeling is irresistible. Piety will not keep a person from feeling it. The only way is to take away the object. Such persons may feel grieved at not being called upon to take part, but it is better that they should be kindly told the reason, than that the prayer meeting should be regularly injured, and rendered ridiculous.
18. A want of union in prayer mars the meeting; that is, when one leads, but the others do not follow, for they are thinking of something else. Their hearts do not unite, do not say: "Amen." It is as bad as if one person should make a petition and another remonstrate against it. It is as though one asks God to do a thing, and the others ask Him not to do it, or to do something else.
19. Neglect of secret prayer is yet another hindrance. Christians who do not pray in secret cannot unite with power in a prayer meeting, and cannot have the spirit of prayer.
1. A badly conducted prayer meeting often does more hurt than good. In many Churches, the general manner of conducting prayer meetings is such that Christians have not the least idea of the design or the power of such meetings. It is such as tends to keep down rather than to promote pious feeling and the spirit of prayer.
2. A prayer meeting is an index to the state of religion in a Church. 33 If the prayer meeting is neglected, or the spirit of prayer is not manifested, you know of course that religion is in a low condition. Let me go into the prayer meeting, and I can always see the state of religion which prevails in the Church.
3. Every minister ought to know that if the prayer meetings are neglected, all his labors are in vain. unless he can get Christians to attend the prayer meetings, all else that he can do will not improve the state of religion.
4. A great responsibility rests on him who leads a prayer meeting. If the meeting be not what it ought to be, if it does not elevate the state of religion, he should go seriously to work and see what is the matter, and get the spirit of prayer, and prepare himself to make such remarks as are calculated to do good and set things right. A leader has no business to lead prayer meetings, if he is not prepared, both in head and heart, to do this.
5. Prayer meetings are the most difficult meetings to sustain - as, indeed, they ought to be. They are so spiritual that unless the leader be peculiarly prepared, both in heart and mind, they will dwindle. It is in vain for the leader to complain that members of the Church do not attend. In nine cases out of ten it is the leader's fault that they do not attend. If he felt as he ought, they would find the meeting so interesting that they would attend as a matter of course. If he is so cold, and dull, and lacking in spirituality, as to freeze everything, no wonder people do not come to the meeting.
Church officers often complain and scold because people do not come to the prayer meeting, when the truth is, they themselves are so cold that they freeze to death everybody who does come.
6. Prayer meetings are most important meetings for the Church. It is highly important for Christians to sustain the prayer meetings, in order to
(a) promote union, (b) increase brotherly love, cultivate Christian confidence, (d) promote their own growth in grace, and (e) cherish and advance spirituality.
7. Prayer meetings should be so numerous in the Church, and be so arranged, as to exercise the gifts of every member - man or woman. Every one should have the opportunity to pray, and to express the feelings of his heart. The sectional prayer meetings are designed to do this. And if they are too large to allow of it, let them be divided, so as to bring the entire mass into the work, to exercise all gifts, and diffuse union, confidence, and brotherly love, through the whole.
8. It is important that impenitent sinners should attend prayer meetings. If none come of their own accord, go out and invite them. Christians ought to take great pains to induce their impenitent friends and neighbors to come to prayer meetings. They can pray better for impenitent sinners when they have them right before their eyes. I have known women's prayer meetings exclude sinners from the meetings. And the reason was, they were so proud that they were ashamed to pray before sinners. What a spirit! Such prayers will do no good. They insult God. You have not done enough, by any means, when you have gone to the prayer meeting yourself. You cannot pray if you have invited no sinner to go. If all the members have neglected their duty so, and have gone to the prayer meeting, and taken no sinners along with them, no subjects of prayer -what have they come for?
9. The great object of all the means of grace is to aim directly at the conversion of sinners. You should pray that they may be converted there.
Do not pray that they may be merely awakened and convicted, but that they may be converted on the spot. No one should either pray or make any remarks, as if he expected a single sinner would go away without giving his heart to God. You should all make the impression on his mind, that NOW he must submit. And if you do this, while you are yet speaking God will hear.
If Christians made it manifest that they had really set
their hearts on the conversion of sinners, and were bent upon it, and prayed
as they ought, there would rarely be a prayer meeting held without souls
being converted; and sometimes every sinner in the room. That is the very
time, if ever, that sinners should be converted in answer to those prayers.
I do not doubt but that you may have sinners converted in every sectional
prayer meeting, if you do your duty. Take them there, take your families,
your friends, or your neighbors there with that design; give them the proper
instruction, if they need instruction, and pray for them as you ought,
and you will save their souls. Rely upon it, if you do your duty, in a
right manner, God will not keep back His blessing, but the work will be
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