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meetings are to be congregational, held in the church, conducted by the pastor, who is expected at every meeting to address the people, as a part of his pastoral labors, by either a studied lecture, or extempore remarks, how long shall it be before we shall have prayer-meetings among the youth, or among the women, or among the people at all? We must first educate the people up to the principle that the prayer meeting is a divine ordinance
for them appointed, by them to be controlled, and by them to be administered—an ordinance for the benefit of all the people, to be enjoyed by them all and by their children. It is a remarkable historic fact, that genuine revivals of religion have always broken in upon these dead and formal, ministerial and official prayer
meetings, and have excited among the people a demand for something more-a demand for the people's social private prayer-meeting-a demand for the meeting in the upper, or the private room ---a demand for the meeting for the young men, and for the women, too, where ministerial presence, or the presence of superiors, cannot suppress the gushing spirit of prayer, often like groanings that cannot be uttered.
Edwards, in the close of his work, gives us, in connection with interesting historical facts, some very instructive reflections. He says:
“Before the first great outpouring of the Spirit of God on the Christian church, which began at Jerusalem, the church of God gave themselves to incessant prayer. The inhabitants of our towns are now divided into particular praying Societies; most of the people, young and old, have voluntarily associated themselves in distinct companies for mutual assistance in social worship in private houses; what I intend, therefore, is, that days of prayer should be spent partly in these distinct praying companies. Such a method of keeping a fast as this has several times been
proved: in the forenoon, after the duties of the family and closet, as early as might be, all the people of the congregation have gathered in their particular religious Societies; companies of men by themselves, and companies of women by themselves; young men by themselves, and young women by themselves, and companies of children in all parts of the town by themselves, as many as were capable of social religious exercises; the boys by themselves, and the girls by themselves; and about the middle of the day, at an appointed hour, all have met together in the house of God to offer up public prayers, and to hear a sermon suited to the occasion; and they have retired from the house of God again into their private Societies, and spent the remaining part of the day in praying together there."
Again, he says:
“There has been of late a great increase of preaching the word, and a great increase of social prayer.”
Thus far the unbroken current of historic evidence goes to establish the doctrine we have previously presented on this subject :
First, the divine appointment of the Prayer-meeting as an ordinance of religious worship, indicated by the spirit of true reformation and revival of religion, turning God's people with renewed earnestness, faith, and delight, to social prayer, in which the divine presence is pledged and enjoyed.
Second, that general prayer-meetings, of entire congregations, or masses of the people, never satisfy a living church, or a revived people; but more is demanded, and more is always attained in revival-always the social private fellowship meeting of kindred spirits, where one can speak to another-where any one can say, “Come, hear, I'll tell what he did for my soul.”
FROM THE PERIOD OF GENERAL DECLINE, TOWARD THE
CLOSE OF THE LAST CENTURY, TILL NEAR THE MIDDLE
OF THE PRESENT.
Causes of Decline-Reign of Infidelity--Making common cause with
civil and religious liberty--Evangelical Christians alarmed and awakened Counter influences, though silent and hidden--Church Unions and Divisions-Age of the Organization of Benevolent AssociationsBible, Missionary, Tract Societies—Inscrutible providences—Bible and Missionary effort a harbinger of Revival and Prayer-Revivals toward the close of the last century and beginning of this—Dr. Sprague's Lectures-Revival in the Eastern States—In the South and West-College Prayer-Meetings-Hamden-Sidney College Incidents—Prayer-Meeting Lessons Jefferson College Prayer-Meetings, in 1823—Their LessonsCollege at Princeton, New Jersey-Lessons and Reflections.
after the Cambuslang Revival, and the extensive revivals that quickly followed, spreading over many parts of Europe-in England, Wales, Ireland, and in the American Colonies, the churches, almost everywhere, suffered, for a period of half a century, a gradual and mournful decline. With a few exceptions of local and temporary awakenings, a whole generation passed away without any remarkable revivals of religion, or any marked interest in the prayer-meeting, or indeed in the cause of vital religion.
This half century period embraced the reign of terror which drenched France in blood, and shook, as with an earthquake, every throne of Europe. This was the period of the American and French Revolutions—the period of political agitations and the surging of empires--the period of skilfully directed attacks of open and covert infidelity, threatening to crush out, over all Europe and in this country, Christianity itself. It was during this period that the file-leader of the legions of infidelity, mustering the hosts for the conflict, adopted the characteristic Voltairean motto, and inscribed upon his banner, "Crush the Wretch.” It was during this period that the vulgar Pamphleteer, Tom Paine, threw broadcast, over this land, his vulgar issues against the Bible and Christianity.
During this reign of infidelity, and raid of the “Pale horse-Death and Hell following” in train over Continental Europe, perhaps no combination of influences pressed so hard, or could have pressed so hard, upon the vital power of Bible Christianity as the strange and masterly alliance of Infidelity with the cause of human liberty, civil and religious; and at a time, too, when slavery was receiving its strongest defence from the popular churches of both Continents. Could revival of religion and social prayer prevail against such damaging currents without a more than ordinary revealing of the Divine arm?
Still, during this long gloom, and especially toward the close of the last century, the records show some bright spots upon the dark page of those historic times. There were occasional revivals of religion, and revivals of the prayermeeting. During that same long period of comparative barrenness of revivals, those staid churches, not so subject to changes in doctrine, worship, and forms of religion, and not so subject to spasmodic excitements, still preserved their forms and practice of social prayer. Among most Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians especially, prayermeetings were still observed as denominational forms of religious worship; and cherished, too, as precious divine institutions by which the people of God were preserved in their ecclesiastical organizations, edified and consecrated as a seed to serve God, and to perpetuate his cause in the world. The Reformed Presbyterian could no more dispense with his Social Fellowship Prayer meeting than with his Family worship, or his public gospel ordinances. The honest Methodist in those days could scarcely easier dispense with his Class-meeting than with his beloved circuit rider, or his endeared Camp-meeting, with its annual heart-stirrings. These denominations, which have incorporated the prayer-meetina made it a part of their authorized organic worship, have always more steadily preserved its observance, and reaped more largely of its rich fruits.
And here it may be remarked, that for a century the Reformed Presbyterian and Episcopal Methodist churches, in the midst of all the unions, and divisions, and changes, and extinctions of sects, have maintained the principles and practices, with most of the distinctive features of their fathers, as few, if any, of the other churches have done, whose observance of the prayer-meeting has depended so much more upon the forces of ever-changing circumstances. The prayer-meeting has never failed, when observed in the true spirit of its institution, to operate as a bond, binding together in unity of faith and affection.
HOW INSCRUTABLE IS DIVINE PROVIDENCE!
That God, who makes the very wrath of man to praise him, and who causes all things to work together for good, caused that dark storm-cloud of revolution that passed over most of Christendom during the latter part of the last century, and that deathful march of the pale horse, infidelity, with death directing his course, and hell following in his pathway, to wake up the slumbering churches, and to usher in a new Epoch, the most remarkable of all that has been evolved in the historic Cycles of the Ages. To roll back the floods threatening the very existence of