Page images

gether--not in the Temple, not in the synagogue-but in a private room. And for what? Happily, we are, in subsequent historic record, informed, “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were' shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” Jno. xx. 19. Then, again, on the evening of the second eighth day-just as before not at the hour of the temple service, nor time of the synagogue worship, but in the evening, and time of the prayer-meeting. "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them; then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.” Jno. xx. 26. What a coincidence here in circumstances, suggesting the same train of thought as in the One hundred and eleventh Psalm ! The doors being shut!“ In the secret assembly of the upright.” As the church of the fathers had their well-known private assemblies for the select social worship of select upright ones, as distinct from temple and synagogue service, so here, Christ and his disciples, week after week--and oftener, for it was but the third night after the Mount Olivet prayer-meeting, till the evening of the First day of the week prayermeeting, in the upper room, the doors being shut-held their private social meetings for prayer and conference. And we are assured that they continued in these evening prayer-meeting observances during the succeeding five or six weeks, till after Christ's ascension, and till the day of Pentecost. The record confirms this truth. After the disciples had stood gazing from Mount Olivet upon their ascending Lord, they, according to their custom, returned to Jerusalem, to their upper room prayer-meeting. Hear the record: “ Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, and when they were come in, they went up into an upper room where abode both Peter and James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."

Here we may notice, as the key to the argument establishing the divine right of the prayer-meeting, First, the meetings held continuously for “ prayer and supplication with the women,” were not in the temple or in the synagogue, or in any other place where public worship was ever held; but in a room, in an upper room of a private dwelling, where Peter and others abode. We have here the appropriate place for the prayer meeting. Secondly, this meeting was pursuant to well known former meetings of like kind, forming series of meetings held by Christ and his disciples, one of which was the Garden meeting; and among them were these evening meetings, on the evenings of the first day of the week, “the doors being shut.Thirdly, the specified object and exercises of these meetings settle their character and establish the prayer-meeting as a divine ordinance of religious worship.

« These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. These views are the more confirmed by the following: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Acts ii.42.

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were together, according to their custom, for prayer and conference, waiting the fulfilment of the promise of the Father concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They were still continuing in prayer and supplication with the women, "in the house where they were sitting,” whether in an upper room or a lower, we are not here informed. Nor is it said whether the doors were shut; for details of this morning meeting are not given. But while in the house, perhaps at the beginning of the services of their prayer-meeting certainly

before the third hour, or nine o'clock, the Spirit descended upon the apostles with a sound as of a mighty rushing wind, and in cloven tongues, like as of fire. This miraculous outpouring of the Spirit upon a prayer-meeting, unitedly by concert pleading that thing promised, produced that commotion which attracted the multitudes without, which were then gathered at Jerusalem ; and soon the masses were congregated around in a confused, promiscuous crowd, amazed at the supernatural displays, eliciting the severe criticism of those not anticipating an answer to the promise on which the apostles were waiting.

This prayer-meeting, so distinguished by the fulfilment of the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and converted into an extraordinary mass-meeting of awakened, earnest sinners, and unawakened, ignorant mockers, called out the first great apostolic sermon, brought Peter to his feet, and opened his mouth in giving utterance to that powerful, impromptu discourse, crowned with the first fruits of the apostolic gospel harvest--the conversion and baptism of three thousand souls.

The mind instinctively follows those thousands, the new converts of that memorable day, so summarily inducted into the new faith, and new fellowship of the apostles. A very interesting ir.quiry is suggested here. Were they reliable converts ? Could they, indeed, be steadfast in the faith and practice of those praying men, and followers of the man of prayer, who taught his disciples how to pray? We are not left to conjecture here. We have a very distinct and decisive answer: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine." They heard the word, received, believed, and practised the gospel as preached by the apostles. "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' fellowship.“ They were added to the church.” They, being called, came out from the world, entered the communion of the church, just recently organized, and continued to observe faithfully the conditions of that fellowship, here called “the breaking of bread.” Nor were these all. “They continued steadfastly in prayers." This last is distinct from the other conditions of fellowship in the apostolic church, as settling apostolic, Christian practice. If apostles' doctrine have a divine authority; if apostles' fellowship or communion of saints have a divine appointment; if the breaking of bread or the Lord's Supper be a divine ordinance, then how can prayers, as practised by Christ and his apostles, or the prayer-meeting be otherwise than a divine ordinance of religious worship? How, since placed in the same category with ordinances unquestionably divine?

Besides faithfully fulfilling all the other conditions of the new organic communion, these new converts observed their meetings for prayer, as certainly and as faithfully as they observed the preaching of the word or the communion of the Supper, and as Christ with his disciples did, and as the apostles certainly did in their upper rooms, "the doors being shut,” with the women, in the evenings when temple and synagogue services were closed, or at the morning dawn before public services were opened. Instant in season and out of season were the apostles and the first Christians in their prayer-meetings, till defection in doctrine, and spiritual decline in vital godliness crept in among them, when the manner of some was to forsake the assembling of themselves together in the prayer-meetings.

In confirmation of these conclusions we have examples of prayer-meetings unequivocal, and clearly establishing the early practice of the Christian church. On that night, in which Peter lay in chains in prison between two Roman soldiers, “Prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” Acts xii. 5. By miracle his chains fell off, and the prison doors opened; and he walked at large through the streets of the city while its inhabitants were wrapped in slumbers and security, except the anxious little bands grouped together in different houses, in different parts of the city, holding prayer-meetings. Their eyes, like Peter's, now opened, knew no sleeping. Mary's house was, at that hour of the night, a house of prayer, “where many were gathered together praying." Acts xii. 12. Thither Peter went, and with some difficulty gained admittance among the astonished brethren and sisters assembled for their humble and earnest night prayer-meeting. Not content with visiting that one surprised prayer-meeting, he sends messengers to James and other brethren, in another place, and in like manner engaged—for the whole church, now numbering many thousands, was engaged in prayers that night--and then himself sets out for still another place, doubtless where was another group, of the many thousands, of wakeful, praying Christians, whose hearts were in unison with the little praying circle in Mary's house. These apostolic Christians knew the prayermeeting.

There are some prominent and important points here. First. “The church,” the whole church, or the church generally, were engaged, by an understood arrangement, in prayer on the same evening. Secondly. They were all collected in small groups in different places, and in the private houses of the members of the church. Thirdly. They met at night, the ordinary time for week-day prayermeeting, when all could conveniently meet in neighboring contiguous houses, and when unoccupied with the labors of the day. Fourthly. Though they met in many places, and though there must have been at that time in the church tens of thousands of members, they were all united, by concert, in one special object of prayer. “But prayer

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »