« PreviousContinue »
tivity, we find mention made in the Jewish and other histories of places built purposely for prayer, and resorted to only for that end, called Proseucha or Oratories. It appears that in heathen countries they were erected in sequestered retreats, commonly on the banks of rivers, or on the sea shore. The Proseucha or Oratory at Philippi, where the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, was by the river side, (Acts xvi.) Josephus has preserved the decree of the city of Halicarnassus, permitting the Jews to erect oratories, part of which is in these following terms: 'We ordain, that the Jews who are willing, both man and woman, do observe the Sabbaths, and perform sacred rites according to the Jewish law, and build proseucha by the sea side, according to the custom of their country, and if any man, whether magistrate or private person, give them any hindrance or disturbance, he shall pay a fine to the city.'
“Calmet, Drs. Prideaux and Hammond, and others have distinguished between these two sorts of buildings, and have shown that though they were nearly the same, and were sometimes compounded by Philo and Josephus, yet that there was a real difference between them-the synagogues being in cities, while the proseuchæ were without the walls, in sequestered spots, and usually erected on the banks of rivers,” etc.
Brown, of Haddington, in his Dictionary of the Bible, says:
Synagogue, the place where the Jews met for their public worship on ordinary occasions, as we do in our churches. As most of the Jews from the beginning of their settlement attended the tabernacle or temple only at the three solemn feasts, it is probable they had a kind of synagogue, or schools, or proseucha, or prayer places, in one of which last our Saviour prayed all night. Luke vi. 12. These differed from synagogues, as in them every one prayed for himself. They were in retired places, as by river sides, (Acts xvi.) and were uncovered, like groves; whereas, synagogues were in elevated places, were covered with a roof, and one prayed as the mouth of the rest. Perhaps it was the proseucha that were the mohede' (synagogues) or meeting places, burnt up by the Chaldeans." Psalms lxxiv. 8.
To the Proseucha, and not synagogue, there seems, very evidently, to be reference in Luke vi. 12, where it is said, " Jesus went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer”_"en te proseucha tou Theou." "In a proseucha of God”-a place of prayer. So in Acts xvi. 13, it is "proseucha," a place “where prayer was wont to be made”-out of the city, by the river side, where the women resorted.
From these references it may be seen that the prayermeeting had a distinct place among the institutions of divine worship, from the earliest history of the church down through the patriarchal dispensation, to the institution of the synagogue, and ever after, as distinct from that form of worship, answering to our ordinary public worship of the Sabbath in the ministration of the word by the ordained ministry.
3. The prayer-meeting formed a part of the divinely appointed worship during the whole period of the Levitical economy, distinct from Tabernacle or Temple, and from the synagogue worship.
In the giving of the law by Moses, the Hebrews received their written constitutions, both as a church and as a nation. Many provisions in both constitutions were original, peculiar to that dispensation, and radical, designed to introduce radical change in the state of society, civil and ecclesiastical. The patriarchal state was abolished. A national organism was formed, and a more complete eecle
siastical organization was effected. Many of the precious institutions with which that people were favored were first given them in the wilderness, and incorporated in their new constitutions and laws. On the other hand, many of the provisions of the ecclesiastical and civil constitutions then given were modifications, or regulations merely, of institutions already existing under the patriarchal dispensation-institutions carried over from the one into the other, so that by the change of dispensation, or revolution of the form of polity, no blessing or privilege was either lost or even abridged. Circumcision, the Sabbath, social worship, etc., were all preserved intact, and incorporated with the new order of things, and now regulated by written statute law. Here we find the place of the social prayer-meeting recognized and regulated by the constitutional law of the last form of the Old Testament dispensation.
Abraham had planted his grove in Beersheba, and there enjoyed the private social conference with brethren, and communion with God in social prayer. Isaac, Jacob, and other faithful patriarchs long preserved their Proseucha distinct from the sacrificial altar. The Divine testimony assures us that the father of the faithful commanded the obedience of his children and household after him. The worship of the grove was not unknown to Moses. To preserve for the new dispensation the ordinances of the grove and the altar intact, and to guard against confounding the worship peculiar to each, God charged Moses to incorporate a prohibitory statute with the Levitical code: “Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord thy God, which thou shalt make thee." Deut. xvi. 21. In later periods of the history of the Hebrews, in violation of this law, God's worship was corrupted by erecting altars under every green tree, and in the groves, and on the high-places. There, in the days of Ahab and
other wicked kings, they offered sacrifices. This persistent violation of law, in the corruption of divinely appointed worship, was at length arrested by the captivity of Israel and Judah. After the return, idolatry never again became the prevailing sin of the Jews; nor have we any account of the worship of the altar being blended with the social worship of the proseucha among the groves, or on highplaces.
Two sources and forms of instruction, in addition to the law of Moses, will furnish us some pleasing and conclusive evidence of the existence of the prayer-meeting during the whole period of the typical economy. From the time of Moses to near the close of the Old Testament canon, the Book of Psalms was being composed and compiled. These Psalms are full of evidence bearing upon our subject. And the prophets speak a language confirming the devotional allusions of the Psalter. We select but a few of the many Psalms from which we might draw argument.
First, the Thirty-fourth: This Psalm, as will be seen from its title, and from First Samuel, the twenty-first chapter, from the tenth verse forward, was penned by David when banished far from the enjoyment of the sanctuary and public worship. In his flight from Saul he had the company of some good men. These, in his solitude, he called around him, and in the language of the third verse, invites to social worship thus, “Extol the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” Many of the Psalms, like this one, were composed and sung amid the forests, and mountains, and caves of the south of Judah, by David and his fugitive companions, in their lonely prayer-meetings. Passing the 42d, the 63d, and many others penned under similar circumstances, and first sung in the prayer
meeting, we notice the Sixty-sixth. Here is the familiar language of prayer-meeting conference, verse sixteenth, "All that fear
God, come, hear, I'll tell what he did for my soul.” Could ever such language have been used by a man, by a heart unused to the social prayer-meeting? Could it have been understood by any religious people to whom the prayermeeting was unknown ? Just here, in the prayer-nieeting, is the appropriate the perfectly appropriate and appointed --place for carrying out the spirit and letter of this heartwarming conference among kindred spirits.
Again, in the One hundred and eleventh Psalm, first verse, we have, in terms, clear testimony to the social and private worship of the fellowship meeting. The Psalmist engages to worship God, using these significant words, “I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.” Two assemblies are here specified. The one composed of select and distinguished characters, the upright ones. The other is here distinguished from the assembly of the upright by every rule of interpretation, from the meaning of the words as well as from their connection. “The congregation” here means the great assembly of the people, of all classes, the unjust and the upright-the mingled masses of the people assembled together for public worship. “The assembly of the upright," is the private meeting of such select ones for private social worship. The word“ assembly” here, in the original, means secret-shut in, within doors-a secret assembly. Corresponding to this idea, we have the familiar expression, “ The doors being shut,” used where the application is made positively to the prayer-meeting. Jno. XX.
" When the doors were shut.” And verse 26, “And after eight days, again his disciples were within." “Then came Jesus, the doors being shut.” The coincidence is remarkable. Christ's prayer-meetings with his disciples and the pious women, were held in the upper rooms, “the doors being shut.” So, here, the Psalmist engages to worship