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“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word,” Acts 6:4.
PART 1. 1. ATTENTION to, and fidelity in the exercise of, the duty of prayer, is not one of those obligations which are peculiar to the ministry of the gospel. It is one of the most essential duties of Christianity. Every real Christian is a man of prayer: his views, his desires, his hopes, his affections, yea, even his conversation, are all in heaven. Every Christian is a citizen of the world to come, and a stranger here below: all exterior objects which here surround him should be to him only so many ties and obstacles, which, retarding his course and prolonging his banishment, ought to increase and inflame his desire after his country: all the temptations which the world offers or throws it his way, all his secret conflicts with his passions — all these should lead him to lift up his eyes continually to heaven; there to send up his sighs and prayers, and to address himself in secret, and in every place, to that faithful, heavenly, invisible witness of all his dangers, and all his troubles, from whose protection alone he expects his consolation and his strength. Every Christian, then, is a man of prayer; and he who lives not in the exercise and spirit of prayer, is a man without God, without divine worship, without religion, without hope; and if this be an incontestable truth, what instructions are not due to the people, to animate them to the love and exercise of prayer. 2. But, my brethren, if the spirit of prayer be the soul of Christianity; if that homage of love which we render to God in publishing his greatness and loving kindness, or in soliciting his mercies and succors — if all other ordinances of the gospel are only helps and assistants to this spirit of prayer; if all external worship be established only to form of the simple believer the man of devotion, the man of prayer; if he who calls himself a Christian, and possesses not this spirit, and of course lives not in the exercise of it, be without religion, without God, without hope; what a monster must be the minister of this religion, an interpreter of its laws, an expounder of its doctrines, a dispenser of its graces, a public intercessor before God for the faithful, if he himself be not a man of prayer; if he be not faithful to this essential duty! O, my brethren, if there be any among you who do not feel the full power of these truths, what cause have we to lament on your account, before that holy dove, that true source of the spirit of prayer, who groans and prays incessantly in the hearts and by the mouths of his ministers! 3. St. Peter went up upon the housetop to pray, Acts 10:9. In our text we are informed, that all the apostles were resolved to give themselves continually to prayer: and from the gospels we find that our Lord himself spent whole nights in prayer, on mountains, and in other secret places, Matthew 14:23, etc. And shall any of us presume to live in the omission of the frequent and habitual exercise of this supporting, nourishing, quickening, indispensable duty? But I have known many of you, my brethren, for years; and am confident that one of the most leading features of your character is the exercise of this holy duty in its spirit and power. I therefore chiefly desire to stir up your pure minds to remembrance: and O that I may be the means, under divine grace, by this little mite of love, of confirming you in your present spirit: yea, of animating you to still greater fidelity and to higher degrees of fervor in this blessed conversation with Heaven. 4. We are called to be the lights of those who are in darkness: but it is prayer and study, always accompanied to the sincere minister of the gospel with the divine light, which truly renders us lights to the people. Prayer may be termed the science of the heart, that alone renders useful those studies which form the science of the mind. 5. It was the indubitable and experimental conviction of this truth, confirmed to them by the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, which induced the college of apostles to come to the determination in my text, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word:” not that they did not before live in the exercise, and spirit, and very life of prayer; but they were determined now to lay aside every weight which duty could dispense with, and give themselves up more entirely than ever to this holy communion with God. 6. It is probable that, like Moses of old, the apostles had, from motives of pure love, taken an active share in all the minutest parts of the temporal affairs of the church: but a murmuring arising between the Grecians (that is to say, such converted Jews as had been dispersed abroad among the Greeks) and the Hebrews, in respect to the distribution of the church’s money among their widows respectively, the apostles embrace this opportunity of shaking off that heavy burden, which so intruded upon the more important parts of their ministerial and apostolic functions; declaring that they would give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” 7. We must here observe to prevent mistakes, that though the apostles delivered up the management of the poor, and other inferior points, to the direction of subordinate officers of the church, they still reserved in themselves the ultimate power of decision in all matters which they judged of sufficient importance to call for their interference: this is evidently clear from the following chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. But we proceed to show how indispensably necessary the duty of constant prayer, which the apostles themselves could by no means dispense with, is for every minister of the gospel; having already enlarged upon the other subject, of the ministry of the word, in my former discourses. 8. In considering the present subject, we shall, first, show the necessity of continual prayer, as it respects ourselves, particularly considered in our ministerial capacity; and then, secondly, as it respects our flocks.
If we would fill up our ministry with fidelity, we must wholly devote ourselves to it; we must sacrifice our ease, our rest, to fill up its various calls; we cannot dispose of our time as we please: it is a holy servitude, which makes us no longer our own, but wholly the people’s: we must be able to say with the apostle, that heat and cold, fatigue, difficult roads, hunger and thirst, are some of the fruits of our ministry, and signs of our apostleship. We even often labor among the ungrateful: our pains are often recompensed with indifference, unteachableness, and murmurs; yea, they sometimes draw upon us the aversion of those whose salvation we seek.
When we are under these trials, we have reason to guard against disgust and discouragement. We are ready, perhaps, to throw up the great work in which we are engaged, when we see not the end of it, and but little of the fruits. On such occasions, self-love, unsupported by the wished for success, reclaims its rights, and secretly insinuates, that such painful and apparently almost useless cares cannot be our duties. Now how can we possibly support ourselves under such temptations to disgust as these are, which are dangerous, and so frequent in the course of a long and laborious ministry, if we do not continually renew our strength at the feet of Jesus Christ — If we have not the consolation of continually drawing near to him to open to him all our sorrows and discouragements, as to the great Shepherd whose place we occupy. It is there we shall be confounded before him, for making any account of the light troubles of our functions, when compared to those of the first propagators of Christianity, who sacrificed their lives for the truth: it is there we shall blush to have indulged a temptation to lay down our arms almost before we had begun the combat, and to have been disheartened and discouraged by labors so light; when those holy ministers of God had defied tribulations, anguish, hunger, nakedness, persecution, fires, gibbets, and all the fury of tyrants, who would have separated them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord: it is from thence, my brethren, that we should always return with a new taste for all the functions of our office — with a new zeal for the salvation of souls: returning from thence, what before appeared burdensome and painful, would now become light, yea, delightful to us; and the fatigues and contradictions of sinners, inseparable from the duties of our office, would be to us a most comfortable proof of our calling to the ministry of the word.
Let none of us, my brethren, deceive ourselves: without the constant exercise and life of prayer, we continually feel every thing which is disagreeable and distressing in our ministry: we draw in a yoke which overpowers us: we bear with reluctance the burden and heat of the day. But by prayer all is sweetened: the yoke is no more heavy: the labors increase; but the pain, the disgust, the discouragements, vanish away. You sometimes, my brethren, perhaps, are ready to complain of the oppression and weariness of Spirit which the multitude and difficulties of your avocations bring upon you, and of your inability to fulfill your duties: but if you address yourselves constantly to him who changes our weakness into strength. If you be faithful to the duty of prayer, these difficulties will disappear; the mountains will become plains; you will find your selves new men; and you will no longer complain, but that you have not labored or suffered enough for Jesus Christ. 2. IF PRAYER ALONE CAN SWEETEN ALL THE PAINS AND DISCOURAGEMENTS ATTENDANT ON THE EXERCISE OF OUR SACRED FUNCTIONS, IT ALONE CAN PREVENT, OR DELIVER US FROM, ALL THE DANGERS TO WHICH THEY EXPOSE US. 1. As there is nothing, perhaps, more dangerous in our situation than the dissipation of mind which is, almost unavoidably, more or less produced by the constant administration of exterior duties, I will venture to assert that the exercise and spirit of prayer can alone preserve us from its bad effects.
It is in reality but too true, that the inward man weakens, and the life of God decays in the soul, in the midst of all the public exercises and constant activity which our ministerial office requires, if we do not continually give ourselves to prayer. We are real losers ourselves, while we give up ourselves incessantly to the wants of others; we lose the secret and hidden life of faith, in which consists the whole soul and life of piety: we accustom ourselves to be all outward, always from home, and never within our own hearts: we at last appear before the people to perform the public duties of our office with dissipated spirits, divided by a variety of foreign and tumultuous images which occupy them; and we no more experience the silence of the senses and of the imagination, in respect to every thing but the great and solemn work on which we are entering, which is so necessary to call us back to a holy recollection, and to a secret consciousness of our utter unworthiness and incapacity of ourselves to stand between the living and the dead. Alas! we are no more acquainted with these things! Thus, in laboring always for others, and hardly ever for ourselves, the spiritual strength of the soul wears out we live entirely out of ourselves; we give ourselves up to this life of hurry and agitation; and we at last become incapable of any profitable communion with ourselves or with God; we even seek for occasions and pious pretexts to fly from retirement; we cannot be in any wise comfortable without the company of others, and are immediately tired with God alone. 2. Now, this conduct and disposition of mind, which have nothing blameable in them in the judgment of the world, appear in a very different light in the sight of God. Alas! we quite exhaust our spiritual strength, if we be not continually repairing it at the footstool of the throne of grace; all our cares and solicitudes are confined to external things; we act and stir outwardly for God, but we do not commune and wrestle privately with him, though true love thinks all hours too short in communing with its Beloved. We run, but we run alone: the Lord, whom we neglect to call to our assistance, leaves us to our own weakness; and our ordinary humor, temper, vivacity, vanity, and love of popularity, rule us, rather than the genuine love of our duty, and the love of son Is. 3. There is nothing but faithfulness in the exercise of prayer, which can save us from these rocks: and, without neglecting in the least degree the necessary functions of our ministry, we may live in this blessed exercise; we may continually carry with us that spirit of piety and recollection, which moderates, regulates, and sanctifies all our external duties, and even makes them so many preparations for returning with still greater advantage to retirement, recollection, and communion with God. It is for these reasons, that we are repeatedly informed in the gospels, that our Lord warned his disciples to watch and pray, that they might not enter into temptation, Matthew 26:41. In St. Luke he says,” Watch ye, therefore, and pray always;” Luke 21:36. And in St. Mark, “Take ye heed, watch and pray,” Mark 11:33. 3. OUR NECESSARY INTERCOURSE WITH THE WORLD MAKES THE CONSTANT EXERCISE OF PRAYER AN INDISPENSABLE DUTY. 1. Though the exercise, the spirit, the very life of prayer, are absolutely necessary for the salvation of every private Christian, we ministers, more than others, have continually need of the help of prayer. The more our duties lead us into the midst of the world, the more do they expose us to its vanity and seductions, if they be not supported by the spirit of prayer. It is not sufficient, that we are not infected or debilitated by the contagious air which we must there breathe; we are required to appear among men, clothed with more strength, more modesty, more virtue, more holiness, than the generality of professors themselves, in the midst of whom we must daily be: we ought everywhere to be the sweet savor of Jesus Christ. But how difficult must it be for a minister, if the habit of prayer has not established in him a certain solidity of virtue, to find himself continually in the midst of the abuses and dissipations of a vain world, to hear daily the apologies which the world makes for itself and not be shaken or weakened in the spiritual life thereby! He carries with him a heart void of all those deep sentiments of religion which the habit of prayer alone can engrave upon the soul, and influenced by all those inclinations which can render the world amiable to him! There are but too few among believers, who do not, sometimes, feel themselves inwardly seduced and shaken by the objects which surround them: what then can that minister do, who carries with him but his weakness and his frailties? And though decency may keep him within certain bounds; yet still the world is in his heart; he adopts it for his own; and there is nothing now to be observed, even in his public administrations, of that firmness and becoming majesty which announce the minister and ambassador of God: he is now like salt which has lost its savor; and which is not only unable to preserve other things from corruption, but is itself changed into rottenness and putrefaction. 2. A minister, therefore, who lives without the habit of prayer, without fidelity to that sacred and indispensable means of grace, however irreprehensible he may otherwise be in the eyes of men, is but the shadow of a minister; he is but a bare representation of a pastor of the flock of Christ: he has not the soul, the reality of that holy vocation; and his whole ministry has nothing in it but an empty title; which neither binds him to God, with whom he has no communication, nor to the church of God, to which he is of no manner of use. 3. When I speak of the necessity of prayer for a minister of the gospel, I do not mean that this holy exercise should occupy the greatest part of the day: he owes himself to his flock, and his public duties ought never to suffer by the length of his prayers. But I understand hereby that prayer should always precede his public duties, and sanctify them; I mean, also, that the spirit of prayer should accompany him throughout; that he should in every thing, even in the most indifferent of his actions, show forth that “inward man, which is renewed” through prayer, “day by day,” 2 Corinthians 4:16, — that secret commerce with God, wherein consists the essence of religion and piety; that he render his ministry in all places respectable, and make his very presence alone an instruction to all those who approach him. Behold what I understand by the spirit of prayer, so essential for a minister of the church of God. 4. We are, my brethren, divinely appointed to combat the vices and unruly passions of the world, to destroy the empire of the devil among men, and to establish and to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Our ministry snatches us from external repose, and clothes us with armor: but our arms are only prayer and faith working by love. It is from these divine arms, under grace, that all our instructions, all our labors, and all our efforts, derive their whole strength and success: without these, we are but weak, rash men, exposed without defense in the midst of enemies, with whom we ought to have been prepared to fight; and soon become the miserable sport of their seductions, and of the snares which they continually throw in our way: that is to say, we soon ourselves become like to them, whom we ought to have converted to God and gained for Jesus Christ. Like minister, like people!
Would to God my observations were never verified. But, alas! from long experience in the ministry of the word, I am indubitably convinced, that a minister, without the spirit of prayer and habitual recollection, cannot long be supported in the divine life; he becomes dissipated; he neglects his duties, especially where a cross accompanies them; or he performs them without piety, without any of that deep inward sentiment of true religion, and often without that respect and holy dignity which the world itself expects: till at last he becomes a stumbling-block and an offense to the flock, and sometimes even a public reproach to the church to which he belongs.
II. I now proceed to the second head of my discourse; namely, to show the necessity of our living in the constant exercise and spirit of prayer, as it respects the interests of our flocks. 1. THE EXERCISE, SPIRIT, AND LIFE OF PRAYER, Are necessary, not only to preserve us from disgust and discouragement in our duties, and from all the dangers with which we are surrounded in all our pastoral engagements, in our intercourse with the world, and otherwise; but also to assure fruit and success to our ministry. 1. It is not sufficient that we run no hazard of losing our own souls; (if that were possible, in respect to any prayerless person;) it is still more necessary for the church of God that we be useful to others. Now, you well know, my brethren, that we may cultivate the ground, we may plant and water, but it is God alone who gives the increase 1 Corinthians 3:6. But how can we expect it if we be not faithful in asking it — if we do not, by our fervent and continual prayers, draw down from heaven those blessings on our labors which alone can make them fruitful? Too many labor without fruit, without success, because they labor all alone, and as if the success depended only on themselves. They expect it from their own gifts, their own cares, and the improvement of their own understandings. They call not Him to their assistance, who alone can give the blessing to all their toils, and render them useful. 2. I repeat it, my brethren, the little usefulness of many ministers, even when they fill up all the public parts of their office, is entirely owing to the want of living in the spirit of prayer. They think they have discharged every thing required, when they have fulfilled all the external duties of their ministry; and never infer from the little fruit of their labors that there is some secret vice or essential neglect which renders them useless. Thus, while they engage not God by their prayers in the success of their undertakings; while they begin them without solemnly and earnestly addressing themselves to him, that he himself would prepare the hearts of those they are going to instruct — they spend their days, as at one time did the apostles, in casting their nets and taking nothing. They live, perhaps, a long and painful life, (if they do not entirely plunge into the world,) and at last die, with having done little, if any thing at all, in the gaining of immortal souls for Jesus Christ. 2. THE CONSTANT EXERCISE AND SPIRIT OF PRAYER ARE INDISPENSABLY NECESSARY TO OBTAIN DIVINE UNCTION. 1. What success can that minister promise himself; on Scripture grounds, who accustoms not himself to live within the veil — who comes not constantly to the throne of grace, there to fill himself with the love of those truths which he is about to declare, and with that spirit of unction which alone can render them lovely and profitable to the people — to draw from thence that affecting zeal, that grace, that strength, which is irresistible?
What dryness in his discourses! He announces truths; but they come from his mouth, and not from his heart; nor are they those which the Father has revealed to him in secret. He instructs with spirit; but it is with the spirit of man, and not with the Spirit of God. He shows forth the truth; but he does not make it amiable. Those external actions which he gives himself in order to persuade, do not even appear to persuade, to touch, to penetrate himself.
A spiritual person easily perceives that he speaks a strange language, which is not drawn from the bottom of his heart. Solomon, from the language of the two women, quickly discovered the true mother. It is very easy for a truly spiritual person to distinguish between a true and a false shepherd, from their language and discourses — to determine which is the true father of the flock; which is he who speaks the language of paternal love, who bears his children on his heart; who is continually employed before God in their behalf, and who is abundantly more jealous of their safety and salvation than of his own titles of shepherd, minister, or ambassador of Christ. And I appeal to you, my brethren, for the truth of my observation — that a holy minister, a man of prayer, with only moderate talents, will be more successful, will leave his congregation more affected and influenced by his discourse, than many others whose talents are vastly superior, but who have not by prayer drawn down that unction, that tender taste of piety, which alone knows how to speak to the heart. A minister speaks very differently the truths he loves, and which he is accustomed to meditate upon, and taste all his days, at the feet of Jesus Christ! The heart has a language which nothing can imitate. In vain does a minister thunder from the pulpit, and put his studied actions and forced clamors in the place of zeal and piety. We may always perceive the man: we may always feel that it is a fire which descends not from heaven. All that vehement and forced noise in the preacher never announces the descent of the Spirit of God upon the hearts of those who are assembled to hear. I am not now speaking of the genuine cries of sinners and mourners in Zion, when struck and humbled under the word. I well know that thousands, in these lands, can refer, under grace, their conviction or conversion to those times of weeping, of melting, of crying, of apparent confusion in the sight of the world, but of blessed order in the sight of God. I speak only against the substituting, on the one hand, of human wisdom and human art, or, on the other, of noise and clamor, for the unction of the Holy One of Israel. 2. I cannot, my brethren, help dwelling on this important subject. I must repeat the question — what success can our discourses produce, if the habit, and life, and spirit of prayer draw not down upon them that grace, that unction, which alone makes them useful to those who hear? Without this, the whole is but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. The preacher speaks only to the ears of his audience, or at best to their understandings, merely because the Spirit of God speaks not by his mouth. The spirit by which he speaks, and which animates his tongue, is not that spirit of unction, of force, of fire, which, as it formerly moved on the face of the waters, so now moves upon the passions of the heart quiet in its sins, troubles it, agitates it, and then separates and clears up the chaos. It is in vain for him to thunder or borrow his zeal from without — throughout the whole, he only, as the apostle speaks, beats the air: his language is as cold, as barren, as insipid as his heart; and the ministry of the word is no longer to him but a forced duty, which disgusts him, which overwhelms him, and from the labor of which he excuses himself as much as possible; or otherwise it is a theater of vanity, where he rather seeks for the vile commendations of those that hear him than for their conversion and salvation. 3. How can that minister make the people taste the sweetness and power of the truths of God, who has never tasted them himself, or does not at least now taste them at the footstool of the throne? How can he ever inspire the people with a love of prayer, or a conviction of the necessity of it, who experiences not the consolations, nor feels the wants, which make the habit of prayer so essential to every true believer? How can he form real Christians, that is to say, spiritual men, “whose life is hid with Christ in God,” — he, whose whole life is a life out of himself and out of God, and whom the life of prayer does not cause to enter into himself, and into an examination of his own heart? No, my brethren! Take from a minister the spirit of prayer, and you take from him his soul, his strength, his life: he is no more than a dead carcass, which quickly infects those who approach it. 3. MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL “ARE AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST, TO PRAY THE PEOPLE TO BE RECONCILED TO GOD,” 2 Corinthians 5:20, and not only so, but to plead with God, through the great atonement, in their behalf. 1. But how can they who are not known or acknowledged of God plead with God for the people, when the want of the spirit of prayer has shut up all access to his throne; when they have not contracted, by their fidelity in the exercise of prayer, that holy familiarity with him which authorizes them to lay before him with confidence the wants of their flocks, and to bring down into the hearts of the penitent the blessings of pardoning love, and into those of believers the blessings of establishing grace, strength against temptation, and the perfect love of God; in a word, to use a sacred violence to the mercy of God in Christ, and to speak to him all the language of tenderness, pity, faith, and zeal in behalf of their flocks that language which the constant habit of prayer alone can teach us? 2. “Howbeit,” says our Lord, speaking of bodily diabolical possessions, “this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting,” Matthew 17:21. And can we imagine that less prayer is necessary to overturn the kingdom, the power, yea, the very nature of the devil in the souls of men? What is then sufficient for this? I answer, faith and prayer, with the promises and blessings annexed thereto. “Verily, I say unto you,” says Christ to his disciples, “if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree; but also, if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,” Matthew 21:21,22.
O that we had all of us but faith and piety sufficient to give full credit to the word of God! then should we know and be astonished at the truth of those words of our Savior, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do, shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father: and whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it,” John 14:12,14.
Accordingly, the great apostle, that close copier of the life of Christ, writes to the Colossians, “We do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” Colossians 1:9, etc.; and to the Thessalonians, “What thanks can we render to God again for you, etc., night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith,” 1 Thessalonians 3:9,10.
And we may be assured that the apostle would never have prayed so continually and exceedingly for his flocks, if he had not been certain that his prayers would be heard for many of them in a glorious manner. 4. IF PRAYER WERE NOT SO INDISPENSABLE FOR OURSELVES IN PARTICULAR AS IT IS, WE OWE IT TO OUR PEOPLE. 1. Are we not charged, by our character of pastor and minister, to pray for them without ceasing? Is it not a duty incumbent on us to lay before God the wants of our flocks, and to solicit for them the riches of his mercy?
Should we not groan before him by reason of the vices with which too many of our hearers among whom we labor are infected; and which all our cares and all our zeal are not able to correct? Are we not bound to ask at the throne strength for the weak, compunction for hard-hearted sinners, and perseverance for the righteous? The more numerous the wants of our people, the more earnest and frequent should be our prayers. We should never appear before God, but, like the high-priest of the law, bearing before the Most High the names of the tribes written on our hearts; that is to say, the names of the people intrusted to our care: this should always be a principal subject of our prayers. Such is the order of the dispensation of grace. Though every genuine Christian is a king and priest to God and the Father, ministers especially are the public conduit-pipes, through which the divine grace and blessings run to the people: they form the grand public resource, by the instrumentality of which the goodness of God in Christ corrects the disorders which reign among men. 2. You see, then, my brethren, on the whole, that prayer is the most intimate and inseparable duty of a gospel minister: it is, if I may so speak, the soul of his office: it is, under the grace of God, his only safety. This alone sweetens all the distastes and discouragements he meets with: this alone guards him from all the dangers with which he is surrounded from his intercourse with the world, or from the spirit of professors themselves: this alone, under grace, assures success to his ministry; alone imparts the divine unction to his discourses; alone enables him to give a taste of the divine truths to the people, having first tasted them himself in communion with his God; alone qualifies him to plead successfully with God in behalf of his flock; and therefore is an absolutely indispensable debt which he owes to his people.
I shall now conclude the whole with a few general deductions from what has been advanced. 1. A minister, who lives not in the spirit and exercise of prayer, who prays only in a formal manner at set seasons, to satisfy a hardened conscience, is no pastor; he is a stranger, who is nowise interested by the wants of his flock: the people who are intrusted to his care are not his children; they are poor orphans without a father; his heart, his bowels, say nothing in their behalf; he loves the title which puts them under his direction, but he loves not that which is a grand means of their conversion and salvation: he loves not the office of a shepherd he loves not the flock: for if he loved it, could he omit any essential duty in behalf of the faithful, the mourners, or the sinners, intrusted to his care, to the end that none of those whom the Father had given him might perish? What say you, my brethren? A pastor, who lives not in the exercise of prayer for his people, not only loves them not, but deprives them of that which they have a right to exact from him: in depriving them of his prayers he deprives them of a resource to which God is always pleased to adjoin many graces, many blessings: he fills the place of a holy shepherd, whose prayers would have drawn down a thousand blessings on the poor flock, and is absolutely guilty, in a great degree, of all the crimes which the prayers of that holy man would have prevented.
Examine, therefore, if you be faithful in representing to God all the wants of your people; if you be solicitous, importunate, to draw down upon them the gracious regard of a good God. O, brethren, the fervent prayers of a faithful pastor are rarely useless. That God, who has charged us to pray for our people, has also promised to hear us. 2 . May I venture, without offense, to urge the following objection (conscious how inapplicable it is to most, if not all of you, my brethren) — “How can a traveling preacher have much leisure for prayer, in the midst of the vast multiplicity of business which a circuit requires?” Alas! In the midst of all our labors and cares, how many vacant, unemployed moments have we? Can a pastor, an ambassador of Christ to mankind, God’s minister, charged with the important office of presenting the wishes and prayers of the congregation before the throne, not have time to present his own — a dispenser of the doctrines and graces of the gospel not hold constant intercourse with Him who has intrusted to him this glorious ministry, and in the name of whom he speaks and acts — never render an account to God of the gifts and celestial riches with which he has been intrusted! The royal psalmist says of himself, “I give myself unto prayer,” <19A904> Psalm 109:4. And again, “Evening and morning and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice,” Psalm 55:17.
O that the Lord would now pour out upon us all, more abundantly than ever, the spirit of grace and supplication! 3 . It is not, my brethren, the devotion of a part of your lives in the exercise of prayer which we so much press upon you, as the privilege and consolation of those souls, retired into themselves, who are occupied in meditating on the wonders of the law and grace of God; and who taste, far from the world, and in the secret places of his tabernacle, what happiness they enjoy who love nothing in comparison to him, and who hold communion incessantly with him. That which is essential to us, is the spirit of prayer, which we ought to carry with us continually and into all our duties: that which is particularly requisite for us, is, before we enter on our public offices, always to go to the feet of Jesus Christ, there to fill ourselves with that spirit which enables us to perform our duties holily for ourselves, and usefully for others: it is, when we have finished our public duties, to go for some precious moments to refresh ourselves before God, and there to recover fresh strength to begin them again with new zeal: it is, to accustom ourselves to this secret and almost perpetual intercourse with God; to find him everywhere; to find ourselves always with him; and in every place, and every thing, to find occasion to raise ourselves up to him.
Behold in what sense a minister of the gospel should be a man of prayer. O, my brethren, if this spirit of prayer animate not all our duties, we shall have much reason to complain while we are performing all that is painful in them, and omitting the only thing which can soften them, support us under them, and give them, under God, the wished-for success. 4. What a misfortune then is it, for a people to have over them a prayerless pastor; I mean one who does not live in the life, and spirit, and exercise of prayer; one who is governed by a spirit of dissipation, destitute of the spirit of prayer and recollection; who is kept only by the fear of man from falling into scandalous disorders! What assistance can this unfortunate people promise themselves from such a minister! Can he administer to them those words of piety, unction, and consolation, which can only be received from Him “in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells for the church which is his body?” Can he successfully oppose the vices and public disorders which surround him? O! to be properly affected by these, he must be filled by that zeal which is the flame of love; he must feel the value of the souls among which he labors: but, to have a heart susceptible of this zeal and this sympathy, he must be often softened and melted down at the foot of the cross, in meditating on the price which these souls have cost our adorable Redeemer. I therefore once more say, in what a miserable state is that unfortunate people who are cursed with a prayerless minister! He should have been like a salubrious cloud, placed between the heavens and the precious field confided to his care. He should, by the habitual exercise of prayer, have received from on high those holy influences with which he should incessantly have watered, enriched, and rendered fruitful, that land which he is charged to cultivate. But, having no communication with heaven by prayer, he is only one of those “clouds without water, carried about of wind,” Jude 12. No heavenly dew flows from his bosom; he imparts nothing, because he receives nothing: or, if he do impart any thing, it is only some dreadful rumor, a stench and a public noise of his scandal and fall! 5. Let us, my brethren, lay to heart these sacred truths. Let us never lose sight of them through the course of our lives. The spirit of prayer is the essential spirit of Christianity: butIT IS THE SOUL,THE SUBSTANCE,THE LIFE OF AGOSPEL MINISTRY. Every thing in our exterior duties tends to unite us to God — To raise us up to him: and shall our spirit and our heart only be unmoved, in the midst of so many sacred employments, which call us back to him: in the midst of so many graces and lovingkindnesses as we are continually endeavoring to dispense in the ministry of the word, and which flow from him alone: in the midst of so many errors, disorders, and vices, which we daily see increasing among the people who surround us, and which call so loud upon us to implore his pity, and to have recourse to Him alone who can correct them? All these things considered is it possible for any one of us to regard a secret and constant intercourse with God as a pain and a cross; and in respect to present the experience, be obliged to consider him as the people did formerly in the midst of Athens,AN UNKNOWN GOD! 6. In short, a real minister of the gospel is a man of prayer. Prayer is his grand employment, his safety, his first and perpetual duty; and, I may add, is, under grace, the grand source of his consolation. Our instructions will be always barren, if they be not watered with our tears and prayers. Even if our gifts be small, but we support them by our prayers, our defects will be in a great measure supplied ,and divine unction become the blessed substitute. 7. Therefore I once more, for all, repeat it again, a minister who prays not, who is not in love with prayer, is not a minister of the church of God: he is a dry tree, which occupies in vain a place in Christ’s garden: he is an enemy, and not a father, of the people, he is a stranger, who has taken the place of the the shepherd, and to whom the salvation of the flock is an indifferent thing. Be then, my brethren, faithful in prayer, and your ministry will be more and more useful; your labors will be more and more delightful to you; and the evils of the church of Christ, and of the world in general, will the daily diminish. “O my God, give to all the ministers of thy gospel a tender and paternal heart toward their people; then will they always know how to address thee in their behalf; then will their zealous spirits be one continual prayer, speaking to thee for the souls which lie so near to their hearts! But, more particularly, bless the preachers of our connection, throughout Europe and America, with the abundance of thy grace, and of this spirit of prayer. Glory be given to thee, thou hast already bestowed much of it upon them: O! preserve it, increase it, enflame it, till their very life be one constant sacrifice to thee; till, by being daily stamped with brighter and brighter characters of thyself, they continually bring down, like thy servant Moses, a bright shining from the Mount.”