Page images

mission stations, or wherever a few families, or a few individuals, members of the church, are so located together that they can conveniently meet together, they should do so weekly, or more or less frequently, according to circumstances. The end in all cases being the same, and the principle the same, namely: that every family and every member of the church may enjoy the advantages of the prayer-meeting.

The principle here stated, and the rule suggested, have advantages over all other arrangements for the prayermeeting. Because,

First, they harmonize more with the spirit and design of the institution as taught in the word of God. They correspond better with the practice of Christ and his disciples, and of the early Christians who continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine, fellowship and prayers. Here we have the nearest resemblance to the prayer-meeting in the upper room with the women, in the evening, and the doors being shut. Here we have really, in the true sense, “the church in the house”-the assembly—“ecclesiagathered from several households into one private room, dwelling, where Christians can “speak one to another”

admonish one another -can “exhort one another,” as in no other form of meeting.

Secondly, the prayer-meeting, according to the principle and rule suggested, is less liable to the serious defects of the meeting held in the church, professing to be for the whole congregation, and conducted by the pastor. To this kind of meeting we do not here object on principleonly as on the assumption that such a meeting is the prayer-meeting. It is really neither the prayer-meeting nor public worship. It is rather a blending of both. We object to this meeting when it usurps the place of the prayer-meeting of the Bible, and cuts the people off from its privileges. Comparatively few ever pretend, or dare



pretend, to take part in the conference to "speak," or “admonish,” or “exhort one another.” Comparatively few of the members, and sometimes even of the elders, lead in such meeting. Comparatively few take any active part, but ordinarily sit, mute spectators, as in the public worship conducted ministerially by the pastor. And stih a greater defect obtains here--comparatively few of the members of the congregation give a regular attendance to the prayer-meeting at all. Unless under some spasmodic excitement, it is the exception, not the rule, that a full meeting of all the families, and all the members, old and young, of the congregation can be secured.

Now, what are the facts in regard to principles here, and the forms, the rules and directories for applying them? In congregations where the Scriptural form of the prayer-meeting is observed, where they are carefully and judiciously divided into prayer-meeting districts, we know the result, the average attendance on the prayer-meetings, is nearly equal to the Sabbath day attendance of members on public worship. On the other hand, congregationsand particularly large city congregations, whose members are from three to eight hundred—not so districted, but enjoying the Wednesday evening lecture, or meeting, in the basement, conducted by the pastor, fail here, lamentably fail. See, over there, that large congregation of six hundred communing members-fifty persons meet with the pastor on Wednesday evening. Forty of these are women. None of these, of course, are expected to lead, or pray, or speak here. Of the ten males, five may, perhaps, when called on by the pastor, lead in prayer. This is no fancy picture. We know it is not universal, and may not be general in its application. Still, this state of things is too common. It should never be; it need never be in any congregation. On what principle will one-twelfth only of the members of a congregation enjoy the privilege of the prayermeeting and only about one out of twenty-five of the whole congregation worshipping on the Sabbath ? On no principle, or principles, but these-the Scriptural prayermeeting is ignored. Then, consequently, the state of religion is low, and the prayer-meeting is a name merely. There is not power to make it a vitality. Should not the Lord's people be trained to something better? Should they not be brought to taste something better, since our kind Master has, in his word, prepared something better? His prayer-meeting is for all, and all should enjoy it.

One aim-from principle-should be ever before a congregation in organizing and in conducting a prayer-meeting: That system which will bring the greatest numberand that number most-under all the influences of all the advantages of the prayer-meeting.

2. In cities, and wherever congregations are sufficiently compact, meetings should be held in the evening. They should, also, be held weekly; and, so far as can be conveniently arranged, go from house to house. To secure, as much as possible, the visits of pastor and elders, the several meetings should be held on different evenings of the week.

There are several obvious reasons suggesting the propriety of some such arrangements, beside the presence of the pastor and some of the eldership occasionally. Many of the business and laboring classes, from their engagements, find it difficult to secure leisure so as to attend without distraction at any other time than evening. Some are aged or infirm. Some may be indolent. Women and children may not at all times be able to leave home. These evening alternations will bring the prayer

meeting into most of the houses, and will tend, as a stimulant, to bring many weak ones out, who would otherwise very seldom, if ever, attend a prayer-meeting. Such arrangements will

open the

way for every member to take a proper part in the exercises and duties of the meeting; will remove occasion for excuse for absence from every one disposed to frame excuses; will open the way to the eldership for personal and more intimate acquaintance with every family and every member of the congregation; and, through the eldership, will make the way much easier to the pastor to form a personal acquaintance with his whole flock, and, especially, will make the way easier to every sick bed, to the heart of the sick and dying, and to every anxiouslyinquiring sinner. Here, too, is the pastoral high-way to the acquaintance and the affections of every youth and child of the church. Many young and weak members can be induced not only to attend prayer-meetings, but to lead in prayer, and to speak on subjects of conference, and in this way called out to early training for usefulness in the church.

These arrangements, with many other subordinate details that may grow out of them, will in no way interfere with monthly prayer-meetings for the whole congregation, conducted by the pastor, and to give opportunity for sessional consultations. Nor need they interfere with the Sabbath evening lecture, or prayer-meeting, or any other form of religious service for Sabbath or week-day.

These evening prayer-meetings should be visited by the pastor as often as possible, and frequently by the elders. Here they can find the most convenient and happy way of forming acquaintance with a class in greatest need of attention, the extremely diffident, who need to be taken by the hand and led forward in Christian duty and in Christian work. There can be no better stand-point from which the pastor may inspect the condition and wants of his charge than in such prayer-meeting.

Every member of the church, male and female, old and young, should conscientiously study and practice constancy and punctuality--that is, to be always there, and always there on time. If Christians understand and believe the Scripture teaching and the Scripture obligation in relation to this institution, they must feel the importance of its faithful observance. If Christians were rightly indoctrinated and trained here, how could they, as in many congregations they do, by hundreds, neglect the prayermeeting altogether? Every member should be present at the hour of opening the meeting, and the exercises should be commenced promptly at the time appointed.

There is a good faith-a compliance with express or implied engagements, which as a band holds together every reasonable society. If this lose its power, disintegration, partial or complete, will be the result. Confidence will be weakened, and the ends of organization frustrated. Without sufficient cause no member should be absent from the prayer-meeting, or late in attendance. In case of continued absence, absentees should be visited kindly by a committee of one or two members appointed by the society, or by the ruling elder. This need in no way interfere with visits from either pastor, or elder, or any other member. If it be understood that absence is an evidence of sickness or some other providential intervention, then this would furnish a proper occasion for a voluntary visit, not likely to be offensive; for any person will receive with friendly feeling a paternal call of inquiry in relation to health and welfare. This rule, practised in kindness, would operate as a powerful stimulant to faithfulness in duty. Besides its good influences in many other respects, it will, at the same time, operate as a system by which all sickness and affliction and need of members may be known by elders and pastor.

4. In conducting the exercises members should, as near

« PreviousContinue »