PRAYER is a high duty towards God. It expresses a dependent and obedient spirit. The instinct which moves the rational conscience to a belief in God suggests also the motion of prayer.
In revelation, the unfolder of truth as regards God and His dealings with man His creature, abundant examples of prayer are given, and the experience of the Church of God in all ages proves both its power and its blessing.
Prayer is an appointed agency in the moral government of God. It would seem unnecessary did we argue only from our own reasoning. Our reason would say God is all-wise--He knows what is good for us and the time for granting what is good. God is unchangeable--is it likely He will be turned from His purposes by any supplication of short-sighted man? Yet so it is--God has ordered, that, although His wisdom can tell all our wants, and their remedy, far better than we can; and although in other matters He ordains, fixes, and carries out His designs according to His unchangeable purpose: [3/4] it is, nevertheless, part of His design, that prayer should operate forcibly upon the circumstances which affect mankind, so as even to change and supersede what would otherwise have happened in the common course of things. Prayer then is not only a sacrifice and homage offered up to God, but is ordained to be one of the moving causes of man's lot and destiny; so that man is not only endowed with mental superiority, and placed far above the rest of creation, but has an instrument in his hands of a most interesting, wonderful, and powerful kind.
Prayer is not only power, it is also blessing. It is communion with God. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Christ has invested it with singular majesty in being Himself the Mediator to present our prayer to God. "I am the way." "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." "If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." This access, through Christ, removes fear, and gives confidence and love. The consciousness of unworthiness and guilt is no longer a depressing burden, but is changed into a sense of penitent love and confidence. This looking unto Jesus reflects His likeness upon our souls. As communion with God lighted up the face of Moses, so the Christian soul is lighted up by communion with Jesus; and the use of faithful prayer causes the face of the soul to shine, and the warm heart to glow with fervent love: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
This instrument of power and blessing the Apostle Paul and his companions earnestly desire should be used in their behalf by the Christians of Thessalonica: "Brethren, pray for us."
Prayer for the success of the Gospel is directed both by the precept and example of Christ and His Apostles. Our blessed Saviour looked upon the fainting multitudes as sheep [4/5] scattered without a shepherd, and as He sent His disciples forth, two and two, exhorted them to "pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest." The work of man's restoration is spiritual. His conversion and regeneration is from above; it is a new creation: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." "Your heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." Our Lord Himself prayed for effect to follow the word: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
How frequently do the Apostolic writings bear witness to the anxiety for prayers in behalf of the work of grace. "Continue in prayer; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak." "Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified." And not only for spiritual success, but for protection; for it is added, "and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men." Further, we know that when St. Peter was in prison for the truth's sake, "prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him."
I am fully justified, then, brethren, by such considerations in addressing to you to-day this scriptural and necessary exhortation, "Brethren, pray for us." Scriptural I have shown it to be--necessary indeed it is; for if the Saviour Himself and inspired Apostles demanded it for their work, how much more must we need it now! "Brethren, pray for us." We go forth to proclaim the Gospel tidings, to minister to the souls of men of varied race and tongue the manifold grace of God. We go from the bosom of the Church of England, which our God has blest for so many generations, to reproduce, in another soil, what heavenly mercy has planted and fostered here. We carry forth the blessed institutions of the Church, and the holy doctrines we have received. With the open Bible we are sent to make Christ known in far distant lands, as He [5/6] may be known of all, thanks be to God, here in happy England, our own dear home--the home of some of us no more.
"Brethren, pray for us." What mean we by this exhortation? Judging from the discouragement often cast in the way of those desiring to go forth, from the low estimation in which the missionary work is too often held, we should expect many to suppose our application for your prayers implies, that we look for some commiseration to be mingled with your prayers. Far from it. We ask you not to pity us; no, that is not to enter into your prayers. We ask you to pray for us for far higher reasons. We affect not to deny that there are crosses in our paths, or that ties to be broken are strong, or that country and friends are dear, very dear. We are flesh and blood, and are not insensible to all these things, but we remember to our joy that great is our gain.
We gain safety. There is more safety in the life we must lead. Here in England you have ease, and luxury, and prestige, and flattery, and wealth. These are sad snares in the ministerial path; and many, alas! are, it is to be feared, caught in the world's net in this artificial age, and so perish. The missionary's life must necessarily be one of more exposure, and hardship, and loneliness, and watching; but that is a safer life, and has louder calls to depend upon God, and follow Him who bore His Cross, and had not where to lay His head.
Again, rewards are ours in a special manner. "Though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel; for if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward." The reward of the Apostle, which he accounted vast, was the happiness of bringing the Gospel of Christ freely to the people he visited. But our blessed Lord declared, not only to His disciples, but, generally, to the faithful of all ages, "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, [6/7] shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."
We reap honours. Shall professions of this world alone have honours for hardship and enterprise? Shall the warrior, private soldier or general, be loaded with praise, decked with stars, and covered with laurel, because he bravely faces the enemy, and counts not his life dear for his country's sake; and shall the minister of Christ be less honoured, when called to the battle's front against the legions of darkness? It is not in the settled and orderly society of a Christian land that the minister of the Gospel has full scope for this honourable warfare. He gladly hails the call to a hardier lot, where he may render himself more entirely to the service of his Lord, and count not his life dear unto himself, so that he may finish his course with joy, and the ministry he has received of the Lord Jesus to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. When it was necessary to make comparison with others, St. Paul claimed the more abundant honour for the dangers he had gone through. "Are they ministers of Christ? I am more: in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft."
Then are not our joys special? Is there not a pleasure in bringing relief to the poor? Who would not go far to restore, if possible, the light of day to the dark eyeballs of the groping blind? Who, that has sat by the bedside of the afflicted and agonized, would not give any thing to calm that quivering frame and ease that restless body? It is a real and a special joy to be the means of soothing and restoring the oppressed. And is not this our high privilege? Are we not about to stand amidst our fellow-immortals, who are utterly blind, ignorant of God and all true happiness, catching not even a distant glimpse of the blessed work of an atoning Saviour? Our joy it is to go forth, in the name of our Master, and declare the message of His love and salvation; to open the eyes of the blind, and let in the light of the knowledge of a Saviour who died for them; to bring to them [7/8] the power of the Holy Spirit, that they may be cleansed from the awful superstitions in which they are now sunk, and by which their dark habitations are full of cruelties. If our health be spared, we shall see something of the power of these means; the wilderness will begin to burst forth with refreshing streams, and the desert to blossom as the rose. True, it may not please God to let this be seen in our day. Some day it will be seen; for the word of the Lord shall not go forth and return unto Him void, but shall accomplish that which He pleases, and prosper in the thing whereto He sends it. Other generations at least shall praise His name, Christ shall be magnified by them.
What joy can be equal to this? To have part in the deliverance of whole nations from the power of Satan, and from ignorance, to the knowledge of the true God and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent--a work in which we are instruments filling the courts of heaven with happy occupants, whose blissful portion shall not be taken from them for ever and ever.
Surely our cry will be, "Thanks be to God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place." Surely our lot will indeed be a happy one. The pain of parting from the home of childhood, and scenes of friendship, and from country, is as nothing, utterly nothing, compared with all this honour, this reward, this safety, this joy in the missionary life. Oh! that I could touch a chord in the hearts of some here present that they might respond to the call of Christ, and to the cry of the millions for whom He died, but to whom the Gospel has not yet come, and that many a one would say, "Here am I, send me."
We ask your prayers, then, Christian brethren, the prayers of the whole Church of England, not as though we are objects of your friendly pity; but rather that you may take your proper part in this work of the Gospel of Christ. Your part is to pray for us. You may thus be fellow-workers with us. [8/9] Begin on this day of triumph. It is a triumphant day when a missionary takes leave of home, and breaks some earthly tie, and is weaned something more from this short life. Rejoice with us, that we are counted worthy of the honour given us; and, with the Church, that at the Saviour's bidding, and for Him, She can go forth, plant the Cross, and spread the tidings of salvation. Stand around us, and sympathize with our happy lot, and with our joy.
We ask your prayers, not only because it is your appointed part; but because of the importance of the work, and the weakness of the instruments employed in it.
How can the importance of the work of saving souls be over-estimated? What is all the world, which is to pass away, compared with one immortal soul, that is to live on for ever and ever? The whole result is of God. Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God gives the increase. To Him, then, must supplication ascend, that He may bless and prosper the undertaking--that He may so order events, as that His Word may have free course, and be glorified, and that His Church may be established on high, and all nations be gathered into it.
How much too do we, the weak instruments, need the Spirit of God in our hearts! If we lack the Spirit of Christ we are none of His, and must by our cold example impair the blessed work. Our sufficiency is of God alone, through whom only can we be made able ministers of the New Testament. From above must we look for that love of souls, without which no pastor's labour can be successful. In the words of an honoured Missionary must we ever say, "I long to be as a flame of fire, continually glowing in the divine service, setting forth Christ's kingdom to my latest, my dying hour."
We need the gift of wisdom, that we may be wise master builders. There will be strange trials in the task we are set to do, calling for wisdom, forbearance and charity; while, at the same time, we must not shun to [9/10] declare all the counsel of God. The difficulties, which must occur, will indeed require on our part faith and hopefulness, patience and self-denial. These are all gifts from above, and for them we need that you, brethren, should pray for us.
Above all, we need the special help of God to be kept in faith and holiness, that we may have within us the constant motive to a devoted life. We must be personally holy; our prayers must ever ascend; it must be manifest that we have been with Jesus. Our own union with Christ--entire and humble trust in Him--our love springing out of our own deep sense of what God has wrought for us in Christ, must ever fill our souls with gushing fervour, so that we may account any service for Him a delight, and long only to see Him, and to be with Him for ever.
Brethren, pray for us, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in us, and we in Him; and that by His Church speedily may be made known the manifold wisdom of Christ.
All these blessings and aids your prayers may accomplish for us. Oh render us this help. Be thus united to us in true fellowship. We shall thus be one--one in Christ--one Holy Church--one in prayers and labours for the same one work. Time and space do not separate the people of God. It is only sin that really separates us from one another, and from God. We may be one in Christ by a living faith. We, who are seemingly at a distance, shall be near--in the services of the sanctuary, and in holy labours, and in communion with Jesus, we shall be knit together more and more, and so prepared for the day of triumph, when all earthly barriers shall be removed, and the whole body of the Church be seen gathered, of all ages and nations; sowers of one day, reapers of another; prayers and workers rejoicing together. The weary and harassed labourers will be at rest for ever, and the faithful children of prayer be lifting up unceasing praises, and wondering with never-ending admiration, at the vast effects of their petitions offered when on earth before the throne of grace. [10/11] Then will be seen Indian and Chinese, New Zealander and Dyak, rejoicing as one with those in Christ before them; and bearing witness to the power of prayer and the labour of love. Oh! hasten Thy day, blessed Jesus. Quicken our hearts by Thy Spirit in prayers, and offerings, and labours. Let Thy Gospel be preached for a witness to all nations. Make us faithful instruments in this blessed work; and then, Come, Lord Jesus! Come in Thy glory, with Thy holy angels, and Thy saints, and gather in Thine elect from the four winds; and count us meet, through Thy cleansing blood, whether our part has been chiefly prayer, or chiefly labour, to share in Thy victory over Death and Satan, and to reign with Thee in perfect joy for ever and ever!