PREACHED IN ALBION STREET CHURCH,
ON THE EVENING OF THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1839.
DELIVERED AND PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE
GLASGOW CORRESPONDING SOCIETY FOR PRAYER.
PUBLISHED BY ALEX. GARDNER.
“Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”—MATT. xviii. 19.
THESE are the words of Christ; and when we assemble in his name to speak and hear his truths, let us place ourselves at his feet, and endeavour to realize his presence. With all humility and reverence, all simplicity and docility of mind, let us listen to his word, that we may believe and obey. And may the Holy Spirit awaken and maintain our attention, and impress our hearts, that the word preached may profit!
The disciple of Jesus can scarcely fail to recognise, in the very manner of these words, the glory of his One Master. He spake as never man spake, his enemies themselves being judges; and much more his friends. While he presents himself to us in all lowly condescension, and speaks to us as a brother, there is at the same time a majesty, an authority, which betokens his divine character. “Again I SAY unto you:” we have here the simplicity of a child, and the majesty of a God. This is not the tone of assumed and affected authority, but the native majesty of God. Of this it must be said, not in idolatrous adulation, but in felt conviction, “it is the voice of a God, and not of a man.” They have never heard profitably the voice of Christ, who have not heard it to be the voice of God, powerful and full of majesty, and who cannot distinguish it from the tongues of men and of angels, and from the voice of every stranger.
The subject of which the Saviour speaks is prayer, expressed by the word ask; an all-important privilege; an all-obligatory duty, exemplified, commanded, directed, encouraged by Jesus; an all-vital exercise in the Christian life. But it is not personal secret prayer, enjoined by Christ in his sermon on the mount, of which he here speaks. It is obviously social prayer, “if two of you:” not the prayer of a large assembly, but of two or three gathered together in the name of Christ.—Of this prayer it is supposed to be united and harmonious, the prayer of persons taught by one Spirit to desire the same thing.—And you may observe the vast amplitude, the unlimited range of this prayer, “touching anything.” It is like the promise of Christ, “whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do,” comprehending all things pertaining to life and godliness, in agreeableness to the revealed will of heaven.—And there is the assurance of the success of such prayer, “it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus says in the above promise, whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do; thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, as the hearer of prayer, and yet putting this honour upon the Father, “It shall be done for them of my Father.”—This assurance is confirmed by the promise in the following verse, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The amount of the whole, then, is a promise of the special success of social prayer, of two or three agreeing to ask God touching any thing. In their spirit, the words appear to intimate, that while the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, the united prayer of two or three will even avail more.
To reach the full and proper meaning of these words, it is necessary to mark the connection in which they stand. They relate to the adjusting of offences among brethren, or the removing of scandals. According to an ancient exposition, they have been supposed to refer to the offended and injurious persons, spoken of in the context, being reconciled, and uniting in prayer. But the general expression, any thing, carries the meaning beyond this application, as does the spirit of the passage. Some have considered the words as referring extraordinarily to the Apostles, giving them an assurance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in every thing connected with their apostolical functions, and have supposed there is a particular reference to miracles being wrought in answer to prayer. But the words, though admitting of an application to the Apostles, must not be restricted to the confirmation of their doctrine and decisions by miracles, but extended to everything connected with the propagation of religion, and the salvation of souls, then, and in all subsequent ages. Others, again, view the words as referring to the adjustment of offences, and removal of scandals in the church. There is apparent allusion to the Jewish synagogue, and the expression, “two or three,” favours the practice of conducting such affairs by representatives, and authorised office-bearers. Among the Jews, ten persons were reckoned necessary to constitute a synagogue. They considered that the Divine Majesty would not dwell with less than ten; whereas, in opposition to this view, Christ says, “if two of you shall agree,” and “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” giving thus a more exalted view of the divine condescension. If the passage is interpreted as having a primary reference to judicial ecclesiastical procedure, I am satisfied that whether you consider the allusion to the practice of the synagogue, the scope of the passage, the specification two or three, or the meaning of the word church, the conclusion is in favour of a representative, not a popular assembly. But I am not to enter upon this controversy. Whether you view the words as referring to the extraordinary circumstances of the Apostles, or, as they justly may, to the conducting of the discipline of the church, they must not be restricted to these things. They supply a principle of general and extensive application. They will apply to the public worship of God, and to more private social worship. They have been often presented to God in prayer, in opening private social worship, and have been realized in their precious import, in the blessed experience of the people of God. I have selected this text not merely as a motto, or a happy verbal accommodation to my subject, but as making a specification of prayer distinct from that of the closet, the family, or the public assembly. We come now to our subject. We are to speak—not of secret personal prayer—nor of domestic prayer in the Christian household—nor of prayer conducted by the ministers of religion in public assemblies—but of private social prayer. And when we speak of this, we do not confine ourselves to prayer, but connect with it praise, reading the Holy Scriptures, and Christian, conference on the things of God. The words of the Saviour now before us give warrant, direction, and encouragement, to small select societies for prayer, and kindred religious exercises.
I. Social prayer is not peremptorily and expressly commanded in the words of the Saviour now before us; but it is implied, and, in this way, virtually inculcated. In whatever connection you view the words, whether as referring to Apostolical gifts, ecclesiastical procedure in offences, public worship, or private social religious exercises, prayer is equally supposed. The duty is one of moral-natural obligation, and not of that positive character, which is wholly to be resolved into the divine will; and it is not, therefore, necessary to establish its obligation, that we have a positive enactment, as in the case of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Let us notice some things by which the practice of social prayer is warranted.
It is comprehended in Christian liberty. Access to God in prayer is an important privilege in the glorious liberty of the children of God. “Through him we both have an access by one Spirit to the Father. In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him,” Eph. ii. 18; and iii. 12. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” Heb. iv. 16. And we find the social character of prayer recognised in the form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples; for in the very invocation, “Our Father which art in heaven,” we are taught to “pray with and for others,” as well as by and for ourselves. The reconciliation of brethren, the thing to which our text specially refers, is implied in the language of the fifth petition. No person will venture to say, that it is unlawful for a few Christians to join in prayer, and that such would be an act of will-worship. Would not a church be condemned as acting a most wicked part, were she to interdict the saints from such an exercise? and would it not be persecution on the part of civil authority, to prohibit exercises of this kind, as has sometimes been done? Christ has commanded Christians to exhort one another, to teach and admonish one another, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs; and surely prayer is implied in such injunctions. No individual will presume to say social prayer is unlawful, is sinful, is a thing in which a Christian should never engage. And when we read such injunctions as those just quoted, social prayer appears to be more than a thing within the bounds of the Christian’s liberty: it is something not only that he may do, but that he should do. And if left to casual intercourse, it is questionable whether this part of the Redeemer’s will shall be ever done.
But private social prayer is prompted by Christian principle. There is in man a social propensity, and the Christian principle does not crush it, but gives it new scope and impulse. “He that is born again loveth God, and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” This principle is marked and strong in the renewed mind, and must incline to seek communion with saints, in confidential converse and unrestrained prayer. General acquaintance, and mere juxta-position in the pews of a place of worship, will not satisfy one who has drunk deep in the Christian spirit, and desires to be the companion of them that fear God, and to communicate with them on “the secret of God, which is with them that fear him.” Mutually drawn to one another, when brought by the providence of God within the proper sphere of this attraction, shall they not pray and praise together, while their hearts rise to him that is lifted up to draw all men after him?
Again, private social prayer is dictated by Christian wisdom. Besides that knowledge of which a Christian is possessed, he has also a wisdom that is profitable to direct, by which he is enabled to avail himself of opportunities and advantages for promoting his spiritual interests and the divine glory. The children of this world are wise in their generation to improve time and opportunities, and to avail themselves of access to society, in prosecuting their respective favourite pursuits. Why should not the children of light be also wise to increase their knowledge, confirm their faith, reciprocate counsels, communicate their fears and hopes, and sympathize in the joys and griefs of one another? The humble mechanic, the laborious husbandman, the ingenious artist, the enterprising merchant, the plodding philosopher, and the elegant scholar, have their particular associates, and derive profit and pleasure from intercourse with them; and shall not the disciples of Christ avail themselves of association, for mutual excitement to love and good works? There is nothing in religion to proscribe, but every thing to encourage, the use of wellregulated association to promote its high and special interests.
The same thing is suggested from Christian necessities. While the Christian is prompted by the animating principle of his renewed nature in the ordinary tenor of his life, and feels the dreariness and the peril of being alone, there are circumstances in which he is made deeply sensible of his need of counsel and of sympathy. While he looks up to God, he also casts his eye to the saints, who are sometimes the honoured channels of communicating the divine goodness; and he frequently experiences a special satisfaction in their communion. Burdened with necessary cares, he appreciates the preciousness of the precept in which divine mercy has anticipated his necessity: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Perplexed with practical difficulty in certain parts of the Christian life, he feels his need of counsel; and how often has the wholesome counsel, the word in season, extorted from him the grateful acknowledgement, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent thee this day to meet me. And blessed be thy advice!” Is the Christian brought into trying affliction? He feels the need of comfort, and exclaims, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.” In such circumstances, Christians confess their faults one to another, and pray one for another, that they may be healed. There are times of overwhelming grief, when the wounded spirit shuns consolation, and Christians are called to “exhort, and to comfort one another.” And there are seasons of special joy, when the heart requires one to rejoice with it. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” It is not difficult to perceive that select Christian societies provide for the varied necessities of the Christian life, and give opportunity for those duties which are so fitted to relieve, and comfort, and establish, and quicken Christians, while on their pilgrimage heavenward.
It is important to remark that social prayer is sanctioned by godly example. It has long been, and still is the practice of the saints of God, to consort with one another for prayer. Daniel and his companions in bondage exemplified this duty, and found it to avail much. On a special emergency, Daniel made known the thing to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven; and agreeing touching the thing which they asked, it was done for them. In the degenerate times in which Malachi prophesied, “The fearers of the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” Of them the Lord said, “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels, and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” It were not difficult to shew that exercises of this kind were not peculiar to times of special difficulty. From the earliest erection of the church, down to the days of Moses; and from that time to the captivity; and after that, when synagogues were erected, social prayer and conference were chief means of promoting knowledge and piety. The proseuchae, or oratories, of the Jews, appear to have been places not only for private personal, but social prayer.
It may not be irrelevant here, to refer to a class of private transactions between Christ and his special disciples, as in some degree illustrative of the duties of which we speak. I refer to cases, where besides waiting upon him in his public instructions, his disciples had recourse to him in private. Thus it is said, “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves into a desert place, and rest a while; for there were many coming and going, and they had not leisure so much as to eat; and they departed into a desert place by ship privately,” Mark vi. 31,-32. It is clearly intimated in this passage, that there was necessity for more private intercourse with Christ than his public ministry admitted. Of the nature of this private intercourse we have illustrations in particular cases. Thus, “Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house; and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field,” Mat. xiii. 36. “And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?” Mark ix. 28. “And as he sat on the mount of Olives, over against the temple, Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, asked him privately, Tell us when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” Mark xiii. 3, 4. In these cases, we have private social application to Christ for instruction in the meaning of his public discourses, for explanation of a difficulty in their experience, and for further information respecting the interests of his kingdom. The ready condescension of Christ to meet their familiar inquiries, is beautifully brought out in the simple gospel narrative: “And when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples,” Mark iv. 34. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father, and no man knoweth who the Son is but the Father, and who the Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him. And he turned unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see,” &c. Luke x. 21—23. Yes, Christ manifests himself unto his disciples, and not unto the world. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant. And private Christian prayer is a precious means of realizing in experience these blessed privileges. Our Saviour had much private fellowship with his disciples; and after his death, they met together for prayer, for praise, and for religious conference. In illustration of this, we might refer you to the evening of the first Christian sabbath; and to the meeting which was held after eight days; and to the upper room in Jerusalem, when the disciples continued with one accord in prayer and supplication; and to the house of Mary, where the disciples were gathered together praying, when Peter was cast into prison; and to the river side, without the city of Philippi, where prayer was wont to be made. And let the manifestation of Christ to the ten, on the evening of the first Christian sabbath, his blessing of peace, and his breathing upon them, and saying, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost;” let the conviction of Thomas, and the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost, and the deliverance of Peter, and the conversion of Lydia, bear testimony to the much availing of effectual fervent social prayer. It were easy to adduce illustrations of the same thing, from the history of the church in other countries; from the practice of the saints in every age; from the affecting story of our fathers in the days of persecution and trial; from the times of refreshing vouchsafed to the church in our land; and from the history of your own city, once distinguished in this very particular. But I cannot wait on this. If there be any argument in enforcing a Christian duty from the example of the saints, there is argument here.
And we may add another argument, taken from Christian experience. The saints have found it good for them in this way to draw near to God, and have had the witness within themselves of its utility and pleasure. You know what experience is in the common affairs of life, and its influence upon conduct. “I have learned by experience,” said the worldly Laban to Jacob, “that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.” And this same Jacob had religious and godly experience at Luz, when he could say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not; How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,” Gen. xxviii. 16, 17. The disciples of Jesus had the testimony of experience, when they said one to another, after their Lord had vanished out of their sight, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” Luke xxiv. 32. We make, therefore, an appeal to a legitimate and acknowledged argument, when we refer to Christian experience. In fellowship societies, Christians have often had the secret witness in their own bosoms that the Lord was in the midst of them, both in the ordinary circumstances of the Christian life, in times of special trial, and on occasions of happy revival. The sympathy of Christian love, the blessed familiarity of unrestrained confidential converse, the radiation of celestial light when the word was being read and spoken of the enlarged effusions of heart in prayer, the elevation of the mind in praise, and the heavenliness of views, of desires, or of joy, have sometimes made these occasions memorable in recollection, and they have shed a lustre on the darker moments of the Christian’s life. And even when not attended with high excitement of feeling, there has been experience of a sweet tranquillity, a holy calm, which has soothed the spirit amidst the bustle and turmoil of the occupations of life. The night of the fellowship meeting has often been anticipated with longings, and remembered with peculiar delight; and when removed by distance, or by infirmities, from such opportunities, the saints have felt refreshment in calling to remembrance the happy moments they have thus enjoyed; and when their companions have been removed from them into another world, death, instead of breaking their fellowship, appears rather to have endeared and exalted it, while those left behind look at things unseen, and come to “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
In behalf of private social prayer, I appeal to the words of the Saviour now before us, and, in corroboration, I have further appealed to Christian liberty, principle, wisdom, necessity, example, and experience. I proceed now to say a few things on the objects of social prayer.
II. The text gives direction to social prayer, and presents a warrant of unlimited amplitude. “Touching any thing they shall ask.” Extensive as is this range, it must, like the corresponding promises, “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing,” and “whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, he will give it you,” be limited according to the words of the Spirit of God by John, 1 Epis. v. 4, “This is the confidence, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” Even with this limitation the range is vast, embracing the entire of our interests, the interests of the church of Christ, and the concerns of the divine glory. Connected as it is with ecclesiastical process and judgment, it comprehends every thing calculated to give effect to what is done in adjusting offences, removing scandal, and promoting the interests of the church. In its application to private social prayer, the compass is extensive. Who can tell the range and course which scripture reading, Christian converse and spiritual prayer shall take, when the children of God assemble in the holy familiarities of private fellowship? Let us specify a few things suggested from the passage before us.
We begin with Christ and the lost soul. Christ is the speaker, and he came to our world to save that which was lost. Christ, in his person, and his office, and incarnation, and work, and character, and grace, is an all-fruitful topic of converse, and of prayer. “My heart is in diting a good matter, I speak of the things which I have made touching the king. My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men. Grace is poured into thy lips. Therefore God hath blessed thee for ever. Come and see. Come and see a man that hath told me all things that ever I did, Is not this the Christ?” The inestimable worth of the soul, its dreadful loss, and its very precious redemption will be the themes of converse, of prayer, and of praise, to sinners saved, and to sinners seeking salvation. “I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify thy name for evermore; for great is thy mercy toward me. And thou hast delivered me from the lowest hell. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord and he heard me, and delivered me from my fears. This poor man cried and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” The needed, the great, the free, the perfect, the everlasting salvation, in which the divine glory is made great, should be an all-engrossing theme of converse and prayer on earth, as it will be of everlasting praise in heaven.
But Christ and the Father are brought to view in the text. “My Father which is in heaven.” The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father; and, though distinct, they can never be known apart. “He that hath seen Christ, hath seen the Father.” In this connection, the all-wondrous love of the Father in the mission and gift of the Son, will be brought under review; and the all-wondrous love of the Son in the undertaking of our salvation, and in the gift of himself. The covenant concert between the Father and the Son for the redemption of sinners, and the arduous stipulation of the Son, in engaging his heart to approach unto the Lord, will often come into view, as the stream of blessings are traced up to their originating fountain. Ever recurring on the sacred pages, they must become the subject matter of converse, and prayer, and praise. Did not Christ pray, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was ! Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me maybe in them, and I in them,” John xvii. 5, 23, 26. These are mysteries hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes; and converse and prayer are blessed means of mutual enlightenment and persuasion. The divine love is a theme for prayer and praise. “Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people! O visit me with thy salvation, that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance. Blessed be the Lord, for he hath showed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests to God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever, Amen. Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb.” It is delightful to trace the comnexion between the Father and the Son in the work of our salvation, and the above passages show that in the prayers and praises of the saints they are conjoined.
But we must not omit Christ and the Holy Spirit. The saints of old looked, and prayed, for the coming of the Redeemer. They looked for redemption, and cried, “O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion l” Christ is now come, and gone away to his Father, and has left behind him the promise of the Spirit. The Old Testament saints enjoyed, no doubt, the good Spirit, but we have now the promise in greater abundance. And this promise is to be enjoyed in answer to prayer; “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes. I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Ghost to them that ask him,” Ezek. xxxvi; Mat. vii. 1 1. The personality of the blessed Spirit in the eternal godhead; his love and counsels in the work of redemption; his office and work in the application of redemption, are vital doctrines in the Christian system. The revelation made by him of Christ, the work he performed in the incarnation of Christ, the unction of the humanity of Christ, the endowment of the apostles, and the conversion of souls, suggest important topics of discourse. It is not enough that we contemplate salvation in the love in which it has taken its rise, or in the cross where it was meritoriously obtained. What will all this avail if we are strangers to it as brought near to us, and wrought within us, by the influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart? In this connection, for themselves and others, Christ and the Holy Spirit must be the subject of prayer. “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me; restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit,” Psal. li. 11, 12. “Thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness,” Psal. clxiii. 10. There can be no doubt, not only from the comprehensive phrase in the text, “touching any thing,” but from the scope of the passage, viewed in connection with others, that the Spirit is particularly contemplated in our text. At a subsequent part of the Saviour’s ministry, the promise of the Spirit was reiterated, again and again, as the chief consolation of the church, when He would be gone to heaven. Let us appreciate the promise, and help one another to plead for the fulfilment of it in our happy experience.
Christ and spiritual blessings, in and from him, will furnish ample matter for holy converse and prayer. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” Psal, ciii. 2; Eph. i. 3. How beautifully do Old and New Testament saints harmonize P “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his.” But he that has the Spirit of Christ, has the witness in himself, the earnest of all good. He is the author of that spiritual change, without which a man cannot see the kingdom of God. He quickens together in Christ those that are dead in sins; he produces precious faith; he joins the soul in intimate union to the person of Christ; he intimates pardon to the conscience; he inspires with filial liberty and love to the children of God; he admits into precious intimacy with Jehovah; and he is the efficient agent in advancing holiness, and growing meetness for heaven. Spiritual blessings in Christ, the living Head in heaven, are communicated to the members on earth, and out of his fulness they receive, and grace for grace. Prayer is a blessed means of drawing from the fulness that is in Christ. And the saints of God, blessed in Christ, are by prayer made a blessing unto one another.
Christ and the church must not be overlooked here. This will form an ever-recurring topic of converse, and constant subject of prayer. The church is the building of which Christ is the foundation and chief corner-stone; the body of which he is the Head; the spouse of which he is the Husband; the kingdom of which he is the sole Monarch. The church, in the sense of the word as comprehending all the redeemed and sanctified of God, is the interest dearest to Christ, and that in which the divine glory is to be made great. Besides comprehending our own personal interest, it includes that of unnumbered thousands and millions, and all the glory accruing from them to Christ and to God. Her visible concerns, viewed in their subordination to the divine glory and spiritual interests of men, assume the highest relative importance, and must awaken the affections, and kindle the zeal of those that are Christ’s, and pray as he has taught, “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee; ye that make mention of the Lord, (ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers,) keep not silence, and give him no rest till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” And in this connection, two or three gathered in the name of Jesus will direct their views and prayers particularly to
Christ and the prospects of his kingdom. The saints take a special view of providence, they regard all things as in the hands of their Saviour, and as conducted by him for good to them that love God, and are called according to his purpose. They will thus take a special interest in the divine dispensations to one another, and aid one another in marking, adoring, submitting to, and improving the providence which has them in charge, and in crying unto God who performs all things for them, and will perfect that which concerneth them. However intricate and dark the divine movements appear, they will perceive upon the likeness of the throne that is directing the whole, the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so will be the appearance of the brightness round about. Ezek. i. 26. Christ will present himself to them in the cloud, and upon the troubled waters, and say, “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.” And while they mark and improve the providence of the Redeemer, about themselves, and around them, they will have their eyes upon the prospects of the kingdom of Christ. The signs of the times, they will discern, in this connection, and sympathise with the interests of true religion and the kingdom of Christ, whether prosperous or adverse. This is the supreme and ultimate interest to which every thing will be referred in the movements of nations, and the revolutions of kingdoms. “All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power.” It is impossible to tell the secret connection which subsists between the prayers of saints and the issues of providence, as affecting the interests of the Church. We have this brought into view, in that passage in the Apocalypse in which the seven angels with the seven trumpets stand before God. “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Rev. viii. 2–5. Besides furnishing an instructive view of prayer, this passage illustrates the connection which the prayers of saints have with the great movements of providence. The Angel, after offering incense with the prayers of saints, filled the censer with the fire of the altar, and the seven angels prepared themselves to sound. Who can tell the influence which hidden ones, Israels, persons having power with God, exert upon the affairs of the world, and what power they have over the nations? Christians by their converse will instruct and comfort one another; and viewing things in a higher light than the merchant, the politician, or the philanthropist who regards only the temporal happiness of man, they will instruct and confirm, and excite one another while they agree to pray, Thy kingdom come. “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.”
Christ and heaven will furnish lofty and inspiring topics, for the converse and prayer of the saints gathered in his name. While the text supposes the two, agreeing touching any thing, to be on earth, it directs their view to the Father who is in heaven. Heaven is opened, and communication with it obtains through the Son of man. The saints of God have their conversation in heaven, and their voice is heard, and their prayer “comes up to his holy dwelling place, even into heaven.” This is their Father’s house, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for them in it, and their affections are set on things above. They remember the Redeemer’s promise, “I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye maybe also.” Permitted, as they are, to carry all the concerns they have on earth to the Divine throne, how delightful is the exercise of talking, and praising, and praying together of the city of habitation, to which they are journeying, the place concerning which God has said, “I will give it you!” They scrutinize their titles, they study growing meetness for the inheritance of the saints, and this one thing they do, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, they press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God, in Christ Jesus.” Waiving curious speculations about the place, they will grow in the knowledge of it by the study of holiness, by the experience of communion with God, and in the enjoyment of the sweet fellowship of saints. By their heavenward faces they encourage one another onward; by their scriptural converse, they quicken the steps of one another; by their prayers, they obtain that help by which they are kept from fainting, and strengthened in their way; and by their songs, as pilgrims and strangers on the earth, they speed their way, and have foretastes of fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore, when their prayers shall be ended, and praise shall be their everlasting employment and delight.
But it were endless to attempt to specify the objects of social prayer and Christian converse. Christ and the lost soul, Christ and the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit, Christ and spiritual blessings, Christ and the Church, Christ and the prospects of his kingdom, and Christ and heaven, are only a few of the things in the “any thing” in which two may agree to ask of their Father, who is in heaven. It is time that I say a few things on the encouragement, “It shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.”
III. Here it is supposed of course that what is asked is agreeable to the divine will, that it is asked in faith in the name of Christ, and that it is asked for the divine glory. “The sacrifice, or prayer, of the wicked, is an abomination to the Lord.” “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed: for let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts,” James i. 6, 7. iv. 3. Many considerations secure the answer of believing prayer. There is, in the first place, the ability of God. It were absurd to pray to one who was unable to do what was asked of him. But God is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” With God all things are possible. Prayer is thus a reasonable duty, for God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye always have all-sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. But in the second place, God is propitiated. His anger is turned away. He is in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them. He is waiting to be gracious, he is exalted that he may have mercy, and we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. And there is again, the Divine faithfulness. God has promised, “it shall be done for them.” He is faithful that has promised. He abideth faithful, he cannot deny himself. “He is not man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” And, withal, there is the intercession of Christ. He prays for his people, to the Father. He stands at the altar, having a golden censer; and there is given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which is before the throne. Prayers thus presented cannot fail to be accepted. The Father heareth him always, and gives him the desires of his heart.—And think on the relations between Christ and the Father. This is brought to view in the words of the Lord, “It shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” The Father loveth the Son, and has proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And the Son has said, “I ascend to my Father, and your Father, my God and your God.” The interest of the Son in the Father, secures the interest of those that are Christ’s in the Father, and gives a guarantee for the fulfilment of their prayers. How does Christ himself pray? “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; and the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
Such is the gracious encouragement, the divine assurance, that social prayer shall be heard. This promise is not, indeed, exclusive in its application to private social prayer. The prayer of faith in the closet, in the family, and in the sanctuary, will be heard. But it has pleased the Redeemer to give the promise, in connection with two on earth agreeing to ask any thing, thus holding out special encouragement to social prayer. How carefully ought Christians with all lowliness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, that their social prayers be not prevented, or marred in their success!
There is, sometimes, a difficulty connected with knowing the answer of prayer. For wise and holy ends, God may delay the answer of the prayers which he has heard. In this way he may elicit stronger actings of faith, teach submission, exercise patience, awaken more earnest desire, and prepare the supplicant for receiving the blessings which have been asked. Time, and manner, must be left with infinite wisdom. Some prayers may be of such a nature that it is most fit they should not be answered immediately, but at a future time. Prayers may not be answered in their very letter, but by something more for our good; and God may be answering our prayers, by accomplishing the great ends of them, though not in the way we thought. “By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation.” We cannot enter fully into the divine designs. It is but a portion of his way, and a part of his secret that we can know. By influence on themselves, on the church of Christ, and even on the affairs of the world, the prayers of the saints are answered, when they know it not. And when our prayers are not answered, let us challenge our faith, accuse our unbelief, be jealous of our views, but not entertain suspicions of the divine faithfulness.
And, O, what encouragement to social prayer may be derived from the promise following our text! “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” There is peculiar beauty in these words. Observe the paucity of the number, two or three; a small society, small from necessity, or small from choice, the least of all societies; but it is convened in the name of Christ, by his authority, in faith in his name, to call upon his name, in his holy cause, in his strength, and for his glory. “There am I in the midst of you.” Jesus is the omnipresent deity. And this glory appears in the declaration before us; for while it expresses particularly his gracious presence by his Holy Spirit, it declares the Saviour’s readiness to impart this presence, and his delight in manifesting himself. We see at once in these words, the omnipresent God, and the all-gracious Saviour. “There am I in the midst of them,” the centre of their union, the one object of their individual and united contemplation, the witness of their procedure, presiding in their little assembly, ruling in their hearts, directing their counsels, animating and regulating their spirits, helping them in all they do, confirming what they do in my name, and imparting to them my rich and irreversible blessing. This is an ancient promise, renewed and enlarged, “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” Exod. xx. 24. This privilege was enjoyed by the disciples after the resurrection; “Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith, Peace be unto you. Then the same evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you; and when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” And may not this be realized yet by the disciples of Jesus, though he be gone to heaven? Has he not promised? “Lo, I am with you always.” It is the privilege of the church: “Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.” It is the privilege of the redeemed in heaven. “The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water.” And this is the promised privilege of two or three, gathered together in the name of Christ on earth.—But I hasten to bring my discourse to a conclusion.
1. Be instructed in the duty and privilege of prayer. This is supposed in the particular view taken of it in our text. Precious prayer! God the object, Christ the medium, the Scriptures the rule and argument, the Holy Spirit the help! “Ask and ye shall receive.” Prayer is the reasonable duty of the dependent creature; it is the usual, and almost instinctive, recourse of the soul in temporal danger; it is the warranted duty of sinners, and it has often, in its believing ejaculations, been graciously heard. “God be merciful to me a sinner;” “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me,” “Remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom,” “This poor man cried, the Lord heard, and God saved him out of his troubles.” The bitter cry of felt necessity, lifted up in faith, is heard. “Arise, and go into the street, which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas, for one named Saul of Tarsus; for behold he prayeth.” Mark the particular knowledge, and regards, of Him that dwells on high. Amidst the multitude of inhabitants, and various occupations and bustle of a great city, a praying soul is the object of special notice. The street, and the house where he prays, are specified, and an answer of peace is sent. O sinner, dost thou pray? They are the proud, the wicked, and the dead, who do not call upon God. O hearer, what does thy closet witness on this subject? Does He who sees and hears in secret, see a bended knee, and hear a cry, a groan, a moan, or a sigh, from thy closet? O parent, what do thy children and domestics, and the God of all the families of Israel, witness of thee? I speak to those who acknowledge the obligation, attempt the performance, and have felt the privilege of prayer, when I urge the special performance of it. I expect not a hearing from these nominal Christians, who have no business with God in secret, and who call not on the name of God in their families; nor could I call such into the retirements of a special fellowship, in which they could not participate.
2. Let me exhort you, Christians, to the duty of private social prayer. Need I do more than repeat the words of my text? “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that ye shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.” Who uttered this promise? Are they spoken to the disciples? And would ye also be disciples? I have appealed to the liberty, principles, wisdom, necessities, example, and experience of Christians. And can you, in the face of all this, live in the neglect of social prayer? You will not venture to say that those who engage in these exercises are sinning, are violating the law of Christ; you will even express your approbation of the exercise, and yet manage to find excuses for your own neglect.—Do you say, “We have other means of religion in great abundance; we have sound, talented, and eloquent ministers; we have excellent books, and opportunities of the best society.” Be it so. Privileges do not supersede duties, nor does one duty supersede another. Your ministers will not be the less useful to you, that you pray together for them; nor your books less instructive that you converse over their contents.—You need not, surely, many of you say, “We have not time.” Excepting where you are altogether under the will of others, this will not apply; and even in this case, Christian wisdom may often succeed in finding an opportunity. What unnecessary eagerness in the pursuit of what is called business; another name, too often, for the world, mammon, riches ! Should not glorifying God, and preparation for heaven, be the Christian’s business? And what time is found for entertainments, and protracted evening parties, distinguished, often, more by their absolute frivolity, than their rationality and utility? What time is devoted to the newspapers, to scientific studies, and to political discussions? Could not a little time be redeemed, for what is acknowledged to be the highest of all objects? I shall not suppose that Christians on whom I would urge this duty, are to be found in the seats of a theatre; but there is reason to apprehend that by many persons, who would be offended if denied the Christian name, much time is wasted, and worse than wasted, in this depraving amusement. And the fact may serve to show, that when there is a heart for any exercise, persons find means and time. Let us fear lest, under this apology, there lurk much heartlessness, and aversion to the thing itself—Do you say, “We have not gifts for social prayer?” If there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not. Gifts are improved by exercising them. The exercises to which we call you, are not designed for displaying gifts, but for exercising grace. Might not our question as safely turn on the subject of grace, as on that of gifts? Some may express their fear of ostentation; and, imputing this to others, excuse themselves. But under all this, there may lie hid a most deceitful pride, and a spurious shame, aggravating, not palliating the neglect.—Some plead the example of those who do not observe those duties. This shows the danger of a bad example, while at the same time it only proves the imperfection of Christian character. We should follow others, as they are followers of Christ. Let those who live in the neglect of this duty, not have it in their power to plead your example, in the way you plead theirs.—But you say, is there not a danger of enthusiasm in these things? It may be replied, Is there no danger of coldhearted indifference and formality in religion? There is such a thing as following imaginations and feelings, apart from a scriptural enlightenment of the understanding, and making appeals to inward suggestions instead of the word of God. These things must be condemned, and watched against. But the solemn truths of the gospel call for seriousness of mind, and its privileges, duties, and hopes, give scope for the affections. Men affect to be afraid of enthusiasm in religious things, when they are only seeking escape from serious and becoming thoughtfulness. It has been justly said, that “the wildest enthusiasm is more rational in religion than indifference.” And it were not difficult to show, that the societies of which we speak, are fitted, by the opportunity they afford of confidential conference and explanation, to place a check upon the extravagancies which may sometimes be produced by popular eloquence, and the sympathy circulating through an excited assembly. But let us beware of trying to find an escape from seriousness of mind and religious feeling, by designating every thing of this kind enthusiasm.—Some may plausibly plead, that the number of public meetings is so great, that they require all their time. Far be it from me to depreciate public meetings for promoting the humane, benevolent, and Christian objects to which so many of them are directed. The present age is bringing into operation the social principle, and illustrating the superior effect of united and associated operation, above that of individual and insulated effort. But it may be remarked, that while the Christian mind will regard all benevolent and Christian associations with interest, it will in general be preferable for individuals to associate themselves intimately with a few institutions which suit their inclinations and opportunities, and to devote to them their time, services, and energies. By this means they will put forth a greater efficiency, and do a greater amount of good, than by dissipating their interest and efforts over a wider field. But let none of these interfere with an institution so fitted to keep the Christian’s eye upon himself and his Saviour; and to give, and preserve, and renew, a gracious impulse in every department of Christian activity. And while there are occasions when meetings for prayer, upon an extensive scale, are particularly required, in the more ordinary state of things, the private meetings for which we plead have special advantages. In public and large assemblies, the prayers and addresses must devolve upon a few more talented individuals, and cannot circulate with the frequency of a more select meeting. Nor can there be that unrestrained, confidential, converse in a public assembly, which the other admits. The business must be confined to a few; and there is even a danger of being carried away, in the current of a general sympathy, without a due amount of information, and the calm exercise of the understanding. There is reason to apprehend, that, in many cases, the multitude, and variety, and excitement, of public meetings, have occupied the minds and conversation of Christians too exclusively, diverting them from themselves, and diminishing that relish for retirement with God, and spiritual converse with one another, of which they take away the opportunity. Every one who is acquainted with his own heart, knows how fruitful and deceitful it is in the matter of excuse from duty. And we ought to be on our guard against self-deception, when urging objections against the performance of a duty so commendable and beneficial, or indulging ourselves in excuses for its continued procrastination and omission. It has been justly remarked, “Two things go to prove that professors of religion have become in a great degree strangers to heavenly desires: first, the rareness of religious conversation in their occasional discourse; and, secondly, the falling off of meetings for prayer and religious converse. Our fathers grudged not to abridge their hours of labour, and their hours of rest—they scrupled not to travel with the light of the moon and the stars, and to spend hours in a smoky hovel, that they might enjoy the foretaste of heaven upon earth; while we, with every accommodation and facility, will not go out of our houses, or cross a street, to enjoy the privilege. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. To what can we ascribe them but to earthliness of affection, distrust of God, and want of brotherly love.” How many professing Christians in this city, with finely paved and lighted streets, and comfortable accommodations, forsake this assembling of themselves, because they have no heart to it!
3. Let Christians who wait on these societies, be encouraged in their good work. You have before you the example of the saints, and the special commendation of the public servants of Christ, who have regarded these associations, as their most valuable auxiliaries in the work of the Lord. M’Laurin, and Gillies, and Balfour, and Love, and others, being dead, yet speak to this city on this subject. Be exhorted, from your great privileges, not to weary in this well-doing. For the sake of your own souls, and for the good of others, forsake not the assembling of yourselves together in private fellowship. We are pleased to observe the synagogues of God multiplying in your city, not chiefly as ornaments by their elegance, but as providing, by their use, for your best prosperity. If you expect your city yet to “flourish by the preaching of the word,” call in the aid of private meetings for prayer. Unobtrusive and concealed as may be the places where prayer is wont to be made, where two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, they have a charm to the Christian eye, far exceeding that of your highest orders of architecture; and the eye of God is upon them with special delight, and his ear is open to the cry proceeding from them. Watching, every one over his own soul, and teaching and admonishing one another, let Jerusalem come into your mind. Let me exhort you by the “signs of the times,” to persevere in these holy duties. Popery lifts its head among you; its votaries, attracted by your manufactures and your commerce, crowd into your city, and fascinating lures are presented to the young and the curious. Prelacy, against which such a noble stand was once made in your city, as you have been lately commemorating, attract attention by its imposing ceremonies. Pernicious heresies are propagated with ability and zeal, and dangerous enthusiasms are disseminated with unabating industry. Religious animosity and political strife agitate society, while daring infidelity and unblushing immorality address themselves to the unbelief and evil propensities of the heart. Let us not despondingly ask, What can we do? but gather together to pray to Him who can do above all we can ask or think. It may be profitable to call up to remembrance what God has done in answer to prayer.—The Lord smote the firstborn of Egypt, and divided the Red Sea, in answer to prayer. The Israelites cried unto the Lord.—The yoke of Babylon was broken, in answer to prayer. Daniel set his face to seek the Lord by prayer and supplication.—The incarnation of the Son of God, in the fulness of the times, was in answer to prayer. The few, the very few, that looked for redemption in Jerusalem, continued in prayer night and day.—The Spirit was poured down on the day of Pentecost, in answer to prayer. The disciples united with one accord in prayer in the upper-room, and the Lord wrought wonders among them. Consider what deliverances have been wrought in the church, in subsequent periods, in answer to prayer. The Lord’s hand is not shortened. What he has done is a pledge of what he will yet do; and we may, thus, come to his seat, and fill our mouths with arguments. “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep, and hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?”—Reflect on the connection in which the duty, of which I speak, stands with revivals which the Lord has vouchsafed in past and later times. After contributing their part in obtaining those divine influences by which they had been produced, private meetings for prayer have themselves received fresh animation, and have been greatly multiplied. Let us pray always, and not faint, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Arise, O God, plead thine own cause. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear to thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.” Let two agree, touching those things, to ask them in faith, and they shall be done for them.
4. Let Christians be exhorted to use endeavours to revive, and to multiply, societies for prayer and Christian fellowship. In some places where they have been in operation, they languish, and require, by a greater activity and punctuality, to be revived. And in many districts, these associations are nearly, if not altogether, unknown. The great influence which they exert upon the spirituality of Christians, upon the prosperity of congregations, and upon the public interests of the kingdom of Christ, call for diligent efforts to organize them, and bring them into more extensive operation. Diffuse intelligence respecting their nature and design, instruct in their warrantableness, circulate information on their exemplification and usefulness, aid and direct in their erection, and cherish them. We call in the aid of the ministers of the gospel, in their pulpit instruction, and in their private exhortation and influence. We cannot surely conceive of ministers of the presbyterian church, as entertaining those ideas of clerical dignity, which would prevent them from associating with their people in these familiar fellowships. Ministers are not greater than their Master, to whose example we have appealed; nor are they greater than many faithful servants of the Redeemer, who have waited on these institutions, acknowledged themselves instructed, excited, and comforted by them, and who have found themselves better prepared for their more public duties, by the opportunities, thus enjoyed, of witnessing the Christian knowledge, the gifts, the graces, and varieties of character, in the family of Christ. Ministers are expected to do their duty here, and may find these associations contributing, in no small degree, to the success of their labours. We look for the help of the elders of the church. In their more frequent intercourse with the members of the church, they have much in their power, and by their suggestions, counsels, and influence, they may contribute to this good work, and thus profit themselves. and profit others; and by maintaining a more perfect sympathy, between the members of the church and those over them in the Lord, they may promote, with greater efficiency, the objects of their office. And we invite to join them, in this work of Christian love, the members of the church themselves. There are persons whose talents, dispositions, and opportunities, greatly fit them for usefulness here; and they may in this way contribute more effectually to the true prosperity of the church of Christ, than by offices of greater notoriety, and more highly lauded. We cannot, of course, expect these services from persons who do not attend these associations themselves; and we lament that the number of this class is so great. There is the worldly-minded Christian, devoting his time and his strength to the acquisition of wealth; his desires increasing with his possessions. He has not time, he has not heart, for such associations; but we entreat him not to forget to lay up treasure in heaven. There is the gay and fashionable Christian. He professes a Master who calls his people out of the world, and who forbids to be conformed to it, but he strains every nerve to equal and excel others in everything that is fine and showy, in the elegance of his accommodations, in the richness of his attire, the luxuries of his table, the splendour of his entertainments, and the round of his amusements. The formalities of religion may not be altogether omitted, but the heart is otherwise occupied, and time is wasted, spiritual relish lost, and God practically forgotten. Such persons find little attraction in a meeting for prayer, and cannot be expected to lend their aid in erecting or cherishing it. There is also the proud and lofty professor, who may reckon it beneath him to consort with Christians in the ordinary walks of life. Inflated with his worldly prosperity, proud of his descent and connections, vain of his access to the higher ranks of society, he is shy to associate with persons poor in this world, though rich in faith and heirs of a heavenly kingdom. Let the lowly character of Christ, let the precepts of Christ, let the principles of the gospel, and the graces of the Christian character, be remembered to rebuke this deceitful pride. Those who would not be ashamed of Christ, must not be ashamed of any of his little ones. What will become of this pride in the hour of death, and before the judgment-seat of Christ? O that such were to form closer associations with those whom Christ has received, and with whom they would desire to stand when He shall sit on his great white throne. Nor do we expect assistance from the political Christian. The interests of man, and of country, and of nations, occupy a due place in the regard of Christians; but there are professors whose minds are so constantly and exclusively occupied with the affairs of state, who are so absorbed in political partizanships and strifes, that they have no time, and little relish, for the things of God. Time can be found, in no small measure, for favourite companionships and discussions, while there is none to confer with the fearers of God, when they speak to one another, on the things which are Christ’s. Happier they who, while attending to present duties, “have their citizenship in heaven!” There is also the indolent Christian. He professes to approve of our associations, but he does nothing for them, by personal attendance, or active usefulness. He wishes, he resolves, he promises, but procrastinates from day to day, and his desire is that of the slothful, it killeth him, for his hands refuse to labour. Let persons of this description awake to activity for themselves, and for the good of others. Come and see whether it be not good to draw nigh to God in these institutions, and prove whether it be true, that, when two or three are gathered together in his name, Christ is in the midst of them. It is impossible to specify all the variety of ways by which professing Christians excuse themselves in these duties, and withhold that influence which they might exert in promoting them. We would remind those professors, and others who forsake the assembling of themselves in private social prayer, of their duty and their privilege, and of their loss and their danger. There are others to whom we look with better expectations. Exemplary themselves, they will provoke others, and by their suggestions and counsels, may originate and greatly encourage the institutions of which we speak. You patronise institutions of humanity and benevolence, institutions of education, of science and literature; institutions to promote the useful and the elegant arts; and you give your support to the various associations for promoting the interests of religion; do not overlook the unobtrusive and vital associations of social prayer. Religion—not wealthy not refinement, not literature, not freedom, not improved public institutions—spiritual religion, such as cherished in these institutions, will prove the prosperity of the church, the safety and glory of our land, and the happiness of the world.
In a word, be exhorted to pray always, with all prayer. After taking a view of private social prayer by itself, let us contemplate it in connection with the other kinds of prayer, and let those who know tell, whether it has not furnished material and quickening for the supplications of the closet, of the family, and of the great congregation. We plead that it may have a place among other kinds of prayer, not that it may be a substitute for any of them. Let us abound in this duty with thanksgiving. Remember Him who spake the words of our text, and whose Spirit has committed them to the written record. He abounded in prayer, by himself alone, and with his few disciples. He was inaugurated into his public ministry, praying—he commissioned his apostles, after solemn prayer—he was transformed upon the mount, praying—he took his leave of his disciples after the supper, praying—he agonized in the garden, praying—he died on the cross, praying. Let us follow his example, and let us pray always and not faint. In a little our prayers shall be ended. But prayer shall give place to praises that shall never end. And these praises shall be, not of two agreeing, but of an innumerable company, a multitude that no man can number, united in view and in heart; the Lamb in the midst of the throne, being the centre of their union, and the object of their enraptured delight and adoration.
 Sermons by the late Dr. M’Crie, p, 374.