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God in the private social meeting, with select ones—the upright, and of kindred spirit--for prayer, and to praise Him.
The internal evidence of the One hundred and thirtyseventh Psalm bears, at least, suggestive testimony to the prayer-meeting. The pious among the captives, in their solitude and in their sorrow, sat down by the river's side, the place of the proseucha of their fathers, where prayer was wont to be made. There they remembered Zion. Bitter and tearful remembrance! There they conferred of Jerusalem and her desolations. There was the prayer-meeting, for there they prayed, “Remember, O Lord.” There, amid the defection and afflictions of the times, a few of those “who feared the Lord, and thought upon his name, spake one to another," in retired privacy, and engaged in devotional services appropriate to the prayer-meeting.
We might multiply references to the Psalms. This specimen must suffice. The argument from this devotional book may be thus stated : The Psalms are a book of praises prepared for the church of God in all ages as a manual of worship. Whatever form of worship they suggest-as individual, family, social, or public-either from the history of the penmen, or the complexion of their subject matter, that suggested form, and the adaptation of the matter of the Psalm to such form of worship would intimate three things. First, that the penman was familiar with that form of worship for which he was called to prepare devotional songs. Second, that the people, for whose worship devotional praises were prepared, were familiar with and practised that form of worship. And, Third, that the form of worship recognized in this manual of praise, in everything not local, not typical, not abolished, has the sanction of the Head of the Church, and is an institution moral, unalterable, and for the church in all ages. Such
is the prayer
meeting; and such is its recognition in the book of the church's praises.
The prophets speak in regard to social prayer in a way confirmatory of the teachings of the Psalms in their devotional allusions. Daniel acknowledges the neglect of prayer as a reason of the evils of the captivity and other chastisements. “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us; yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquity, and understand thy truth. Therefore, hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us.' Dan. ix. 13, 14. Jeremiah predicts social prayer as a means of revival and reform in connection with the return from the captivity.
“ Then shall
upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And
ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of
saith the Lord; and I will turn away your captivity.” Jer. xxix. 12–14. This had its fulfilment in the prayer-meeting held by the river Ahava on the return of the captives. Ezra viii. 21–23. The principle of the prayer-meeting is referred to in Song vi. 1,“ Whither is thy beloved turned aside ? that we may seek him with thee.” And in Mal. iii. 16, we have the application in social conference and prayers of the pious, in a time of great decline. “ Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” That Malachi refers to the prayer-meeting, observed by the few pious Jews of those times, is suggested by the following points prominent in the passage: First. “They spake often one to another." Here is conference, reciprocal and mutual, inapplicable to any kind of public, or temple official service. It was inapplicable to family worship, never spoken of as a conference meeting where there is speaking one to another. It can be applied to social conference, as in the prayer-meeting, where alone reciprocal conference, admonition, and exhortation, are admissible. Secondly. There was evidently prayer, for the Lord hearkened and heard it-heard and answered prayer, of which the language and circumstances are suggestive. Thirdly. The Lord unequivocally marked these meetings and their observance with Divine approbation. To such conference meeting the Psalmist invites the fearers of the Lord. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.'
From these references, it may be seen that social prayermeetings had a distinct place among the institutions of divine worship, from the earliest history of the church down through the successive dispensations till the apostles' times.
In subsequent references to the passages already noticed from the Old Testament, and in other connections, the argument deduced will gather strength as we proceed.
4. The practice of Christ and his apostles makes clear the divine appointment of the prayer-meeting.
Much of Christ's life is for the example of every Christian-much of it for the example of the ministers of religion. He often sought retirement alone. He, with his disciples, often retired from the multitudes for conference and prayer. After preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and feeding the multitudes, it was his manner to retire with his disciples, the better to instruct them, for prayer and for the exposition of his parables and sermons.
“As he was alone praying, his disciples were with him.” Luke ix. 18. “And when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples." Mark iv. 34. Such advantages no men ever
enjoyed as these disciples, in private special conferences for the expounding of his public instructions delivered to the multitudes in parables, often dark and not understood by the disciples themselves.
If Christ, as a public Teacher, practised social prayer while he was with his disciples, and thus exemplified the prayer-meeting; and, especially, if, in this connection, he taught them so to pray, the authority for the prayermeeting is established. It is, therefore, worthy of special notice, that when Christ taught his disciples the duty of secret prayer, he so particularly uses the singular, “ But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Matt. vi. 6. Here we have, beyond doubt, plain and express warrant for secret prayer. The very terms dissipate all shadow of doubt here. Then, immediately following, and in juxtaposition, yet clearly distinct, and as a new subject of exhortation, he changes the terms accordingly. Now he turns to social prayer, and with characteristic precision, says: “ But when ye pray, after this manner, therefore, pray ye: 'Our Father-Give us.'' Matt. vi. 7-11. As the principle of secret prayer, its divine institution, and imperative obligation, are clearly stated here, so the principle of social prayer, its divine institution and imperative obligation as a divine ordinance, are as clearly taught.
The closing incidents in the life and history of Christ and his disciples, as recorded in the evangelists, are certainly very suggestive, as confirmatory of the truth in regard to their social and religious life during the period of Christ's public ministry. They formed a religious community--a social organism-a church fellowship. They, together and exclusively, sat down around the sacramental
table. And they, certainly, often prayed together. Their habit was to resort often to the Mount of Olives for conference and prayer.
This was well known to Judas Iscariot. Though he had deserted Jesus, and left the fellowship of the other disciples at the passover and first communion-supper, he knew where to find them an hour after. Luke records thus: “And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples also followed him." John also records: “ When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place; for Jesus oftentimes resorted thither with his disciples." Hallowed grove! Blessed group in that High Place! What grove since Abraham's in Beersheba so redolent with heaven-inspired prayer, as that on Olivet's side and in Gethsemane's Garden !
Now, the question arises, and is justly deserving of an answer, For what did Christ and his disciples, so often and so regularly, as to form a custom wont to be observed, resort alone, and in the night, to that grove of thick, shady Olives, if not for prayer and conference? They did hold prayer-meeting there. They did confer there of heavenly and sacred things. Beyond the appropriate exercises of a prayer-meeting what did they there? What but these filled up the dark and sombre hours? This conclusion is strengthened by the practice of the disciples from the time of Christ's death, and forward, so long as habits formed under the power of his life and society would retain their influence upon the minds and habits of his followers. So, on the evening of the First day of the week, the evening of the day of Christ's resurrection, the evening of the First Christian Sabbath, and about the evening hour of the Mount Olivet prayer-meeting, the disciples grouped to