« PreviousContinue »
flight the armies of the aliens! The history of the prayermeeting is itself a series of illustrations of the power of concerted prayer, and of the advantages of the prayer-meeting, as a divine ordinance, appointed as an instrumentality employed for the accomplishment of the divine purposes.
8. The prayer-meeting largely compensates for the lack of a regular gospel ministry.
Many of the Psalms give us the key to the practical application of the principle, and furnish an illustration of the advantages of this ordinance under the circumstances here stated. The Psalmist would not supplant the Tabernacle or Temple service by waiting on the private worship of social prayer. He well understood the principle underlying the statement that God delighted more in the gates of Zion than in the dwellings of Jacob. When he had access to the public worship represented by the "gates of Zion," he went with the multitude that kept the solemn, holy days. But when under different circumstances, he pursued a different course. In all his banishments, and in all his desert wanderings, on the mountains or in the caves, when deprived of the regular ministrations of the sanctuary, administered according to God's appointment, he resorted to the fellowship meeting with kindred spirits, where he could say very familiarly—"Come, hear, I will declare what God hath done for my soul.” When beyond the Jordan, on silent Sabbaths, he repaired to the Hill next precious to Zion, to which only he had access -the “ Mizor," or, little hill—to the prayer-meeting, and there worshipped his God.
The psalms penned in the wilderness of Judah, during the flight from Saul's persecution, indicate the circumstances and the use to which first applied in the lonely prayer-meetings of the mountains and the caves. There
the Psalmist and his wandering companions felt largely compensated for their lack of access to the Ark, around which clustered the affections of every pious Hebrew.
The captives in Babylon found the only proximate compensation for the lost privilege of their Temple worship in their resorting to the river side for prayer, praise and conference.
The disciples of Christ were, after his death, for a time destitute of the regular administration of divinely appointed public worship. The typical service of the Temple was abolished. The time for entering upon the official work to which they had been called had not yet come. They were commanded to stay at Jerusalem till the promise of the Father should be fulfilled, and they endued with power from on high. Till then they could not enter upon their public ministry. During this destitution of public ordinances, they, on successive Sabbaths, each eighth day, met together with the women-in their upper rooms—the doors being shut, where they enjoyed the compensatory prayer-meeting till the day of pentecost.
The persecuted Christians, true, indeed, to the example of all the persecuted before them from the beginning, wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth, making them vocal with their prayers and praises in their prayer-meetings. This practice held together the Waldenses for ages. It formed the rallying point of the Bohemian churches, and the faithful Huguenots in their trials. It was the refuge of our Scottish ancestors when “the killing time” blocked up the way to the sanctuary, and silenced the voices of their beloved Shepherds.
The Cameronians in Scotland, after twenty-eight years of terrible persecution, and during eighteen years of destitution of a single minister on whose ministrations they
could wait, found their societies the common bond that preserved their ecclesiastical organization from a complete disintegration. And to this day their adherents, good and true to the spirit of their fathers, in all the countries where they are scattered, are preserved in compact organization, by the observance of the prayer-meeting, always and everywhere, Sabbath day and week day. Without this compensating ordinance, preserved in its integrity, that people would have been scattered to the four winds, and must have become extinct generations ago.
John Wesley organized his followers distinctly on the principle of the prayer-meeting's compensatory place in the absence of the gospel ministry. The discipline under which they were trained, required their assembling together in their Societies every Lord's day, with or without the regular ministrations of the word by their ordained ministry. Here lies the secret of the wonderful early and compact growth of that church, and its wonderful success in securing a firm foothold wherever its people have settled, and wherever its missionaries have gone.
So, in the new settlements of the wide West, embryo churches have grown up and stood out against surrounding trials that put weak organizations to test, just in proportion as they acted upon this scriptural and common sense principle. The prayer-meeting largely compensates for the lack of a regular gospel ministry.
PRINCIPLES AND RULES FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF THE
we may distinguish the ordinary prayermeeting, from the voluntary, or independent. One forms a constituent and elementary part of every well organized congregation. The other is outside of any ecclesiastical relation or control. The ordinary prayermeeting is under the supervision of pastoral care and the control of ecclesiastical rule.
A congregation without a prayer-meeting is essentially defective in its organization, and so must be limited in its efficiency. Every congregation is expected to have its prayer-meetings, and consequently the prayer-meeting, as a divine ordinance, is common to all the congregations of the church, and the common privilege of all the membership. It may be subjected to standing rules, common to all the social meetings of all the congregations of the whole church, just as the public worship of all the congregations may be subjected to the same general principles and rules of directory for the sake of order and uniformity.
Besides this, the institution of social prayer contemplates all the exigencies of Christian social life, and all events of providence that may pass over the church, and over Christian communities, suggesting a call, and opening a door for social prayer, in the application of the divine rule, "pray always." Circumstances must determine much, as also Christian prudence, in conducting all kinds of independent meetings.
Rules of directory for worship must be founded on principles contained in the word of God, the only rule of faith and worship. The church may apply Bible principles to matters relating to worship, but never usurp prerogative of giving rule, or law, to the free conscience of the moral agent accountable to God, and under a law to Him by which the creature must be judged. Rules here should be nothing more than deductions from principles, and so arranged as to be easily applied in the observance of an ordinance of worship. The principles of the Bible are often very general, and their application very natural and easy. Nature itself will often teach and supply what may seem to be wanting in a general principle, as, “Let everything be done decently and in order." The law of the prayer-meeting is positive. It is a divine ordinance. The forms, or order, that inay be preserved in the observance of this institution of worship, is the matter to which rules are to be applied.
For the ordinary prayer-meeting of the congregation, the following Rules may be observed :
1. In every congregation, whose numbers and locality will justify, there should be several social prayer-meetings organized. And to this end the families should be divided into districts, or quarters, and, if convenient, under the care of some particular ruling elder residing in the district. Every family and every member should know to what society, or prayer meeting, each belongs, and where each should be recognized and be expected to attend. Every society should know its own members, and every member should recognize his privileges and his obligations.
Still farther-upon the same principle, and for similar reasons, in every case, in small organized congregations, in