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direction as to when, where, and how to labor; and they looked that before him "every valley should be exalted, and every mountain and hill should be made low.” To men with such convictions, prayer must stand first. There can be no test more unerring of the faith
. we have in Christ's presence in his church than the place we assign to prayer.
But prayer was with the apostles primary and vital, because of
2. Their profound conviction that nothing is done effectually for Christ that is not done under his guidance and by his grace. On this subject our Lord had given them the most explicit instructions in his last interview, under the figure of the vine. He taught them their absolute dependence upon himself for all real fruit; and that, while they should abide in him and he in them, they should bring forth much fruit, but "severed from him” they could do nothing. Nor was this a new doctrine, though receiving at this time a new application. God has always reserved to himself the initiative in every good work. This is the divine prerogative, and this " glory he will not give to another.”
When Israel journeyed in the wilderness, it came to pass " when the cloud abode from even until the morning, and the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed; whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed; or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not; but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses.” (Numbers ix. 21-23.) It was said of David, as a ruler, “I have found a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.” (Acts xiii. 32.) Perhaps the chief contrast between his administration and Saul's was, that while Saul lived a life of personal independence, and conducted his government on principles of expediency and human policy, David governed under divine direction, seeking guidance even in battle as to both the time and method of attack; and so it was said to him, “When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, then thou shalt bestir thyself; for then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.” (2 Sam. v. 24.)
The disciples had received a similar direction. “Tarry ye in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” (Luke xxiv. 49.) To mention the instances in which they enjoyed this divine guidance
and girding of divine power, would be to quote a large portion both of their Acts and their Epistles. When Paul makes mention of his intense labor to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, he adds, “Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working that worketh in me mightily." (Col. i. 29.) In their view, all that originated in mere human wisdom, and was wrought by mere human skill and policy and strength, would ultimately perish, and that which came down from heaven would alone abide; that all holy desires and plans, all holy efforts and attainments were divine gifts, and dependent upon divine communication. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God." So that when at last his people shall be gathered in glory, it will be seen that every thing connected with their salvation, from its first inception through to its final consummation, not only for the race as a whole, but for each believer individually, has been of free, abundant grace; that literally, “without him nothing has been done"; and then “shall he be glorified in his saints and admired in all them that believe."
With such views of all true labor and efficiency, human reason and policy and wisdom would appear to the apostles as nothing, and they would instinctively feel that their first, holiest, most necessary duty was prayer. A sure test of the degree in which we really depend on the grace
of God, is the place we assign to prayer. But they gave prayer the first place
3. Because it was the place assigned to it by Christ himself. It is impossible to overrate the importance which Christ attached to prayer as an instrumentality in building up his kingdom. Not to mention his numerous instructions to his disciples all through his ministry, he devoted special attention to it in his last interview. He did not conceal from them the terrible opposition they would encounter, and yet he denied to them all weapons except “all-prayer" and the "sword of the Spirit.” “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done to you.” “Ask and receive, that your joy may be full."
" (John xiv, xv, xvi.)
Great had been the triumphs of prayer in past ages. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, stand forth as "princes that had power with God, and prevailed "'; who, through the prayer of faith, “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, etc. (Heb. xi. 33, 34.) But it was our Saviour's design that these victories of prayer should be far exceeded under the New Dispensation. Were not the character and love of God to be more clearly revealed ? Was not the great Intercessor to be on the throne? Was not the Comforter, the great Inspirer of Prayer, to dwell with and in believers ? And therefore the achievements of Christ's servants, through prayer, should eclipse all the achievements of patriarchs and prophets. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father;" immediately adding the promises about prayer, and giving them to understand that the mightier works of the future should be wrought chiefly through prayer. Shall we wonder, then, that to prayer they assigned the first place ? That when they were left alone, they gave themselves at once to earnest prayer, and won a triumph thereby on the day of Pentecost, which eclipsed at once the achievements of all former times? When the rulers forbade them to speak in the name of Jesus, they returned to their own company, and, pouring out their hearts in prayer, the place was shaken, and new power came on them to preach the gospel. This was ever the favorite weapon they employed. By it they broke up Jewish traditions and prejudices, cast down Gentile idolatries, and changed the face of the world. And then, when other instrumentalities failed—when they were shut out from other spheres of activity, as was Paul at Rome—they took the churches they had planted, and from whom cruel persecution had separated them, and, lifting them in the arms of prayer to God, gave proof that "all things are possible to him that believeth.”
But with the pastor, prayer should occupy the first place
4. Because of the federal system in which man is placed. God has seen fit to place man in a system of federation, as distinguished frem the angelic system of independent creation. Adam was not merely an individual creation, but also the head of a race-his acts having a direct influence upon all his descendants.
This system operates in the parental relation, making the character and acts of parents affect the character and destiny of the children. It operates in the governmental relation, by which the character and acts of rulers affect the character and destiny of nations; it operates, too, in the pastoral relation, which combines some features of both the parental and governmental.
Because we associate with this system the terrible evils originating with the fall of Adam, and so often see its power in the family and the nation perverted and cursed by sin, we are in danger of over
looking its wonderful adaptation to bless and elevate the world. It is designed as an advance on the system of independent creation; and though, like any system of moral government, necessarily open to abuse, is yet adapted to become the channel of infinite blessing. Here, as elsewhere, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." If through it comes the fearful threat, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate God," we owe to it also the declaration, “He is a faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.” If we owe to it that inheritance of woe which has come down from Adam, we owe to it also the blessings of the covenants with Noah and Abraham, and, best of all, our recovery in Christ Jesus; "for as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." We owe to it also all spiritual life. Through it we shall reach that glorious destiny for which Christ prayed, “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one," etc. And the grand consummation of all things shall be realized only through this system, into which the angels themselves shall be brought. “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him.” (Eph. i. 10.) It is in this system we find the key to the power of prayer in the parental, governmental, and pastoral relations. To it is due the power which Moses had, by his uplifted arms, to turn the battle against the Amalekites; and when Israel had sinned, and the anger of the Lord waxed hot against them, his single prayer prevailed to save them from destruction. To this system is due the power of Joshua to stay the sun in his course; of Samuel to intercede for the people; of Elijah to stay the heavens from rain, and to turn the hearts of the people back to Jehovah; of Daniel, whose earnest supplication broke the yoke of captivity, and set the nation free.
Through Christ this power is indefinitely increased. How he exhibited it himself, when in his last prayer by a single petition he lifted “the number which no man could number" up before God, and sought and obtained the highest blessings for every one; thus giving us a conception of how wide-spread and far-reaching may become the influence of a single prayer. It was in this spirit Paul bore " the care of all the churches " which he had planted, “making mention of them in his prayers;" and so constant were his efforts in this direction, that much as he accomplished by his labors, it will probably be seen at the last day he accomplished even more by his prayers.
Wherever the pastoral relation is sustained, there is placed within the reach of the pastor this power by his single voice in prayer to affect the characters and guide the destinies of his people; whether it is used, and to what extent, will depend upon the measure of his personal consecration. Sometimes, alas! the official head of the church is not its spiritual head, but that honor is reserved for some obscurer soul. Spurgeon says:
A legend there is to this effect: a certain preacher, whose sermons converted men by scores, received a revelation from heaven that not one of the conversions was owing to his talents or eloquence, but all to the prayers of an illiterate lay brother, who sat on the pulpit stairs, pleading all the time for the success of the sermon. It may, in the all-revealing day, be so with us. We may discover, after having labored long and wearily in preaching, that all the honor belongs to another builder whose prayers were gold, silver, and precious stones,” while our sermonizings, being apart from prayer, were but “hay and stubble."
Let us " take heed that no man take our crown.'
Viewed Scripturally, the relation of prayer to pastoral efficiency is thus seen to be primary and vital. Could we now look at it historically, from the days of the apostles until now, we should find abundant confirmation in the lives of the early Christians, of Jerome, Augustine, of Luther, and Knox, and Edwards, and Brainerd; but we must hasten to consider our subject
II. Practically. The practical influence of prayer on the pastor's efficiency is seen on
1. The pastor himself. Every great worker is himself greater than his work, and a pastor's greatest efficiency lies in his own personal character. “Ye are the light of the world," said the Saviour to his disciples; not sermons, not plans, not exhortations, but persons are the light. Our success depends upon being more than doing. Prayer affects the pastor personally, and thus promotes his efficiency in two ways—intellectually and spiritually.
(1) It stimulates and regulates intellectual activity. To learn from an enemy is wise; and so we should not allow ourselves to forget that the ministry is commonly charged with dulness. It comes, perhaps, in part from “the accuser of the brethren;" in part springs from human rivalry; in part from that disrelish for spiritual truth which marks the unrenewed mind; and yet in part it may be true; at least we cannot afford to disregard it. We are indeed in constant danger of overlooking the revolution through which modern society