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Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter
By Rev. Burgiss Allison,

The elders and messengers of the Philadelphia Baptist Association,
To the churches they represent, send Christian salutation.
Dearly beloved in the Lord, — It is with gratitude to the Supreme Head of the church, through whose superintending providence we have been favored with another interview in an associated capacity, that we have the happiness in announcing to you the general harmony which has subsisted among us during our deliberations.

For information respecting the prosperity of Zion, in the enlargement of her borders, by additions to our churches within the last year, we refer you to our minutes hereto annexed.

From year to year you have been addressed upon subjects of the highest importance by our letters; and as we feel no less anxious now than formerly to promote the spiritual welfare of the churches with whom we are connected, in particular, as well as the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom in general, we have been solicitous to select a subject which has been less frequently discussed, though not less important than many others upon which you have been addressed in the course of our epistolary correspondence with you. We know that no means can become effectual without the blessing of God; but, with the benign influence of his grace, the smallest effort will be crowned with success. Important are the doctrines of grace with which it behoves you to be acquainted; various are the divine truths necessary to be exhibited to the Christian's view, and many are the duties requisite to be inculcated and warmly recommended to practice. As occasion and circumstances occur, andas the unerring Spirit of wisdom directs, we should press one and another of those doctrines and duties upon your notice, that we may stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance.

The subject to which we would invite your. serious attention at this time, is Prayer. That we may be the more fully able to perform this incumbent duty with acceptance to God, and comfort to ourselves, and that we way learn rightly to appreciate its exalted worth, and blessed effects, we shall endeavor to consider,

First, the nature of prayer.
Secondly, the seasons for prayer.
Thirdly, the importance of prayer, and
Lastly, the incentives to prayer.

In defining the NATURE OF PRAYER, taken in a religious point of view, we would call it an intercourse between God and man, or an address from the needy creature to the independent and bountiful Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, respecting what the creature hath either received, or whatever he may need for time or eternity -- for grace or glory.

As prayer is addressed to the Omniscient Jehovah, who is the searcher of hearts and trier of reins, (Psalm vii:9; Jeremiah xi:28;) who looketh not at the outside appearance, but at the heart, (1 Samuel xvi:7;) so it is the language of the heart which is to be addressed to God in prayer. Nevertheless, prayer is not always to be confined to the secret elevation of the soul in ejaculations; but our mental exercises are to be at proper seasons expressed in an audible language: and that language should be framed with propriety, decorum, and reverence. Propriety of language should be adopted, both as it regards the dignity. of the Being addressed, and the comprehension of those who unite in this duty, when one becomes a mouth for the rest.

But let it be remembered, that a prayer, composed of the best form of words and most elegant diction, which is not accompanied by true internal devotion, is less acceptable to a prayer-hearing God, than the humble groan or fervent desire of a broken and contrite heart, though expressed in language the most plain and unadorned. Hence our Lord accuseth the hypocritical Pharisees, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouths, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me," Matthew xv:8. Let no one, then, be discouraged from attempting the performance of this duty, from a conscious deficiency in point of diction, or apprehension of inability to express himself inappropriate language: for if that humble address of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner," is put up in sincerity, it will ascend to heaven as an incense of sweeter savour than the boasted perfection of the Pharisee, decorated in all the flowers of rhetoric. Propriety of language, however, iscommendable, and is what we should endeavor to attain, especially in imitating the example given us in God's word, where the aspirations of his people are recorded, and furnish us with a specimen of that style of address which doubtless meets the divine approbation; the Holy Ghost having inspired it, and influenced the writers thereof to leave it on record for our imitation.

Although we address God in specific language, we do not infer from hence that he is unacquainted with our wants: on the contrary, he knoweth what we need before we ask; yea, he is perfectly acquainted with each particular of our address, before it is conceived in our minds or uttered with our lips; yet he saith he will be sought unto by the house of Israel for all these things. He whose eyes are over the whole earth, and who is omnipotent as well as omniscient, can assuredly supply all the wants of his people unasked, and bestow his benefits unsought: but this is not the method of his grace. He hath annexed a blessing to even the means of attaining the end sought: for we should not be in a suitable disposition for receiving his favors, were we not in a praying frame and temper of mind: and hence we experience a sweetness in performing the duty.

Our address should be performed also with DECORUM. In order to attend to a due decorum in our addresses to God, it is proper that some attention should be paid to the order thereof. That which has been more generally adopted by many eminently pious children of God, in something like the following, viz: Adoration, Confession, Petition, and Thanksgiving.

Prayer, literally speaking, is undoubtedly confined to petition ut as we have considered it, in a theological and scriptural view, to be an intercourse between the Creator and creature, or an address from man to God in a general sense, it may with propriety comprise the parts assigned to it. In our addresses to God, adoration is unquestionably the most suitable exordium. With what profound reverence, with what humble adoration should a worm of the earth approach the great I AM; should a being of yesterday, whose foundation is in the dust, draw near the eternal Jehovah, the exalted majesty of heaven!

Let us, then, approach him with expressions of admiration and reverential awe: with acknowledgments of his uncreated excellencies and boundless perfections. By such reflections and such acknowledged sentiments of the attributes and perfections of the ever-blessed God, we shall acquire a reverence of sentiment, a solemnity of mind and humility of soul, more suited to the character which we justly sustain of guilty and self-condemned criminals, at the footstool of an offended Judge, ready to make a confession of our guilt. It is true, the omniscient Jehovah is fully acquainted with our most secret sins before we acknowledge them; for he knoweth our out-going and our in-coming, our up-rising, and our down-sitting; he compasseth our path about,and is fully acquainted with all our ways: none can conceal his offences under the cover of night or a mantle of secrecy, for darkness and light are both alike to him. Yet a soul under a sense of guilt, and conscious of the aggravation of his transgressions, feels a relief in unbosoming himself to his God, and in pouring out his soul in confession of his iniquities. Such ingenuous and unreserved acknowledgments are also acceptable to God, -- as Proverbs xxviii:13, Psalm xxxii:5, -- besides which passages, there are many examples in the sacred Scriptures of the confession of God's people, recorded for our sakes, both as an argument in favor of the propriety and necessity of, this part of our address, and as an incitement to our imitation. Confession may not only be said to include self-accusation of guilt, but also an acknowledgment of our helpless and needy condition; each of which paves the way to a deprecation of divine displeasure on account of sin, and to an earnest request for a supply of needful blessings; both comprised in that part denominated petition.

Under what we call petition, may properly be included deprecation of the anger of God against our sins, and punishment as the just demerit thereof, inasmuch as this is included in our petition for mercy. Hence a soul approaching God in prayer, after a humble confession, will earnestly plead for the pardon of his sins, so offensive to God, and which appear so heinous in his own eyes, and will supplicate a deliverance from that punishment which he knows they have justly merited. As all the miseries, to which in this life we are liable, are the consequences of sin, so in deprecating sin with its effects, we shall pray to be delivered from the reigning power, and even inheritance of sin; the darkness of our minds and the temptations of Satan.

Added to these are other petitions for mercies and benefits which we know we need from his hand, in which are included the comforts and blessings pertaining to this life, all which should be requested with becoming deference to the divine will. Blessings of a spiritual nature, as the sanctifying influence of his Spirit to fit us for the enjoyment of God in glory, are such as the knowledge and feelings of the Christian will dictate to him. Some are in the habit of particularizing, and entering into the minutiae of every want, every circumstance, and every concern; but such extreme minuteness does not seem necessary, nor is it enjoined in the word of God.

Although we do not deem it indispensable at all times to follow verbatim, that form which our Lord gave his disciples, provided we include in our addresses the substance of it; yet we think it exhibits so much of the nature of prayer, as to inform us, that neither a particular enumeration of every want, or petition of every desire is requisite; and that the protraction of our prayer to an immoderate length, is not sanctioned by that comprehensive, concise form. Our Lord, indeed, expressly condemns the Pharisees for their long prayers, and mistaken supposition that they would be heard for their much speaking. We would, however, be delicate on this subject, and avoid the other extreme, lest we quench the Spirit by a suppression of holy desires, where the spirit of prayer is poured out in an extraordinary manner.

With all our wants, all our deficiencies, which so amply furnish us with matter for petition, we have also received much from the Lord’s hand, for which we are bound to be thankful: so that the surplusage of our enjoyments is far above our sufferings. We shall, therefore, consider thanksgiving as a necessary part of our address to God.

When we reflect upon God as the self-sufficient and self-dependent Jehovah, who needeth not the services or praises of his creatures to make him happy: that no essential glory can be added to him who is glorious in holiness and fearful in praises, who is the very abstract of perfection and essence of glory; it would seem as though the ascriptions of praise from our polluted lips were an indignity offered to the High and Holy One: but that we may not be discouraged from engaging in this important duty, we are exhorted in God’s word to praise him, and to render thanksgiving to his great and holy name, Psalm ciii:1, 2: as also in various other passages.

Although we cannot add to the essential glory of God, it is our indispensable duty, declaratively to glorify him. By such exercises we excite each other to those sentiments of gratitude, acknowledgment of our obligations, and grateful sensibilities for favors received, as will burst forth in pathetic expressions of thankfulness. There is no Christian, but who, upon the least reflection, or under the exercise of gracious affections, must ever glow with gratitude to the Omniscient and Bountiful Giver of every good and perfect gift, for the loving-kindness and tender mercies wherewith he hath crowned our lives, both in the dispensations of his grace toward us, in mercies unsought by us, early provided in the covenant of grace, and in answers to our petitions.

Although in the preceding remarks we have in general considered prayer as addressed to the most high God; yet it may not be improper to treat more particularly the OBJECT of prayer.

The only and proper object of prayer is God the Father, Son, and Spirit, the ever adorable Trinity.

The mode of address which is more generally adopted in the Scriptures, is to the Father, through the Son, and by the aid of the Spirit. We know that in our sinful condemned state, as outcasts from God, we cannot approach him as an absolute God: that there is no medium of access but one, and that is through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord says, expressly, "no man can come unto the Father but by me." He hath opened the way to the throne of grace, in which we may approach with humble boldness and our prayers.ascend as an acceptable sacrifice, perfumed with the incense of the New Testament Altar. But it doth not appear, that all our addresses are to be confined to the Father personally, as we are furnished with examples of personal addresses to the Son. There have been some, who strenuously opposed the propriety of making our addresses to any but the Father in particular; but if the martyr Stephen, when filled With the Holy Ghost, when he saw the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, could call upon our Lord, saying, "Lord Jesus receive my Spirit," we ought not to be scrupulous, or fearful of following such an illustrious example. That in the primitive church it was customary to call on the name of the Lord Jesus, we learn from Acts ix:14; iv:24; xxix:30; Revelation xxii:20.

From the many instances afforded in the holy Scriptures of prayer offered to the second Person in the adorable Trinity, we infer that the Spirit, the third Person, the same in essence with the Father and the Son, equal in power and glory, and equally concerned in the work of Redemption, is an, object of religious worship: and that occasional invocations of the divine Paraclete are admissible. If in our doxologies we offer distinct adoration to the holy Spirit, we may with the same propriety offer to him occasional petitions. In following, however, our sacred guide, the word of God, we shall be led to imitate the examples therein, of more generally addressing the Father, for the sake of the Son, through the influence of the Spirit, and thus worship the Triune God.

In farther illustrating the nature of prayer, we may consider the qualifications requisite in the petitioner to enable him to pray with profit.

By qualifications, we do not mean inherent qualities or personal merit, to entitle us to an answer to our prayers, since all our answers must come through the merit of Christ alone; but such qualifications as are imparted by the Holy Spirit: — A knowledge of God and ourselves — a knowledge of God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself — a knowledge of God, as willing to receive and hear all that come to him by Christ — a knowledge of God as one who is mighty to save, even to the uttermost — a knowledge of ourselves, as poor, sinful, hell-deserving creatures — of ourselves as needy, helpless and dependent creatures.

Another requisite qualification is a trust in God, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us," &c., 1 John v:14, 15. This trust must be grounded on the promises contained in the word, and encouragement given therein. Another excellent qualification is the spirit of prayer, by which, we not only mean a readiness of conception and aptness of expression in prayer, but alsothose gracious aids of the Spirit, by which we are enabled to approach God in a becoming manner, and with comfort to our own souls. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered," Romans viii:26.

Prayer, to be acceptable to God, must be made with submission to his will, i.e. according to his word. In our petitions for a supply of our many wants, especially in such things as are of a temporal nature, we ought not to be peremptory, as we know not what will be for our advantage, as it is said, "Ye ask and ye receive not, because ye ask amiss." As God is infinitely wise and knows what will promote our real good, we should always ask with submission to his holy will. In such things as tend to his own glory, we may be more importunate, as they are always according to his will: which comprehends whatsoever is contained in his promises, and expressed in his requirements. We cannot be too earnest in our supplications, for a greater abhorrence of sin, for a more ardent love to God, a more fervent desire after holiness, and a growing conformity to his image: far more of a submissive acquiescence in all the dispensations of his providence, and a firm reliance on his word.

Secondly: Having touched upon some of the important points connected with the nature of prayer, we proceed to consider the SEASONS OF PRAYER.

Although we are exhorted to "pray without ceasing," yet we conceive there are some seasons more peculiarly adapted to this duty.

The first which we shall notice, are public seasons, in the great congregation, or when people are assembled for public worship, (Zechariah viii:20, 21; Luke xxiv:53.) At such seasons all are not to pray audibly, or express their feelings indiscriminately; for this would produce confusion and tumult: but the minister, whose duty it is to officiate on the occasion, should be a mouth for the people to. God, with whom they may join mentally. For the minister to address the throne of grace previous to his commencing his discourse, is both a duty and a privilege, as it respects not only himself, but the people also: that he may receive assistance, and a blessing attend the word, — which part of worship has a tendency to promote a solemnity of mind in the audience, and to fit them to hear the word with profit. Nor is it less a duty to subjoin an address at the conclusion of the discourse.

Another season for prayer is when the church of Christ is convened, or in an assembly of the saints in social worship, (Acts i:14; ii:42.) In such societies it appears a duty for the different male members to exercise their gifts in prayer alternately, as this tends greatly to promote a growth in grace, andimprovement in the gift of prayer, and to discover to the church such gifts as may be likely to become useful in the ministry.

Domestic worship, or family prayer, is likewise a duty which ought to be performed in the families of all such as have professed to put on Christ. Many arguments might be adduced to enforce this duty; but suffice it to say, that the good example and salutary influence of such a practice, should be a sufficient inducement. Every Christian to whom the Lord hath given children, has, no doubt, a fervent desire that they should be brought to a saving acquaintance with the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. What influence their example may have in an uniform attendance on the duties of family worship they cannot tell, but have great reason to hope for a happy result: as the first soul exercises of many young people have had their rise under the influence of domestic devotion.

Public prayer, however, is not to be considered as a substitute for private or closet devotion: this is an important part of the Christian's exercise, "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 will reward thee openly," Matthew vi:6. Here the Christian can unrestrainedly pour out his soul before his God; here he can confess his sins, and plead for forgiveness through the merits of Christ. This, indeed, is a great and precious privilege, but such devotions should in reality be in secret, agreeably to our Lord's directions; to enter into the closet and shut the door; not to go on the house top, or in an exposed apartment; not to elevate the voice in such manner as to become audible to the neighborhood, as this savors too much of hypocrisy, and the practice of the Pharisees which our Lord condemns.

Those seasons for prayer which the examples in the Scripture more particularly sanction, and which the nature of the duty seems to point out, are, on the Lord's day, and other stated periods of worship; in the performance of domestic prayer, the morning and the evening seem proper, to which David also adds the noon, "In the evening and morning and noon will I pray and call aloud, and he shall hear my voice," Psalm l:17. The evening calls for thankfulness for protection through the day, and supplication for support through the night. The morning again renews our obligations for protecting providence through the silent watches, while nature demands the refreshment of sleep for our bodies, whilst our senses are locked up, and the vigilant eye closed in darkness. When we consider our proneness to neglect, and forgetfulness of our duties, the neglect, advantage of having stated periods for the performance of them, that thus impressed, our memories may not let them slip, is obvious to every reflecting mind.

But our stated periods for public devotion or private retirement for prayer, ought not to interfere with occasional duties. There are many occurrences, many exercises or peculiar circumstances, which may call for our special application at the throne of grace. Besides the actual retirement to our closets, that there we may in more humble position, or energetic effusions, pour out our desires before God, we also enjoy the privilege of frequently raising our souls to God in secret ejaculations, even whilst engaged in our common occupations or secular concerns, and whilst surrounded by our follow-creatures; without their notice or observation.

The IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER, which we proposed also to consider, will appear from various considerations, amongst which, that of our great need is worthy of attention. We are in a moral sense, poor and blind, and naked, and destitute. Grace hath provided a rich store of every thing requisite to supply our deficiencies; and prayer is the instrument by which we may obtain the needful supply. We are hungry, and prayer supplies the heavenly manna as food for the soul: we are sick, and prayer administers the never-failing restorative, prepared and furnished by the best of physicians. Its consequence will be enhanced in our apprehension, when by faith we behold the inexhaustible store of sacred treasure deposited in Christ for us, notwithstanding our utter unworthiness, and abject debasement by reason of sin. Again, prayer is the most effectual means of delivering the Christian from darkness of mind and deadness in the exercise of duties. Though the dejected child of God approaches the throne of grace with scarcely a sensible evidence of his right so to do, and almost without a desire of so doing, he frequently becomes animated with a participation of divine love, and a spirit of prayer, whilst thus lowly bowing at the footstool of divine mercy; so that before he is aware, his soul is made like to the chariot of Aminadab. Indeed, the gracious soul never goes quite empty away, though insensible of any additional supplies, or actual blessing derived from his late intercourse with God.

We derive another argument in favor of the importance of prayer, from the blessing frequently attendant on the united prayers of God's people, in times of declension in vital piety, and a general deadness in religion. When the people of God say to each other, "O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker," Psalm xcv:6; when we see them forming concert in prayer, and uniting in the petition for a revival, a revival generally follows. Hence our Lord says, "Where two or three of you shall agree touching any thing; and ye shall ask it, I will do it."

Lastly, In speaking of the INCENTIVES TO PRAYER, or encouragement to the performance of this duty, we would observe, that this part of the subject has in a great measure been anticipated in the preceding observations, as many incentives to prayer have been comprised therein; but we would bring to yourrecollection a few more, and particularly some, which are comprised in various passages of holy writ, which exhibit the blessed effects of prayer in the answers returned, and hold out, encouragement to the performance thereof.

Our Lord, in speaking of the intercourse between God and his people, in order to strengthen our confidence and encourage us to expect returns to our petitions, calls our attention to the endearing relation subsisting between a father and son, and towards the natural result of a petition offered by filial affection to paternal regard: "If," says he, "a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?" — and draws that heart-cheering inference from it, that if we, who are sinful creatures, are influenced by parental feelings to administer good to our children, much more shall our heavenly Father, who is all perfection and goodness, make bountiful returns to his beloved children. Hence we may approach as children to a father, who is both ready and able to help, and who is the powerful and bountiful rewarder of all such as diligently seek him. The believer may always derive encouragement from the constant success which attends the prayer offered up in faith, (1 John v:14, 15; Romans x:12; John ix:31.) Also, from the promises which God hath given of hearing and returning answers of peace, (Psalm cxlv:18, 19;) that he will hear them, (Isaiah xlv:11-19;) that he will answer them, (Matthew vii:7, 8.) As he hears our prayers, so he directs all things by his providence, that they shall eventually accomplish his will in returning answers to them. If immediate answers are withheld, it is only for a little season, until in the course of providence they may be given in a way more suited to our case, and more for his own glory. The various examples on record of the successful prayers of God's ancient people, afford ample encouragement, as Abraham, (Genesis xx:17;) Isaac, (Genesis xxv:21;) Jacob, (Genesis xxxii:9-12, 24-26; and xxxiii:4;) of Moses, (Exodus xxxii:11-14;) David, (2 Samuel vii:17-29;) Solomon, (1 Kings iii:5-13;) Hezekiah, (2 Chronicles xxxii:24;) Daniel, (Daniel ii:17-19;) of Peter, (Acts xii:5;) Paul, (Acts xx:36;) the apostles united, (Acts i:14, and ii:42;) besides a multitude more.

Seeing, therefore, we have such a cloud of witnesses, let us take heed that we let not this duty slip, or omit it on any account. Should no other argument be offered, this one alone is sufficient, that God has made it our duty to pray, by his command: to which also we shall add, that he has made it our privilege, by the pleasure which he takes in accepting our offerings. We are informed that the prayers of the saints ascended up to the, throne of God as a sweet incense, holy and acceptable. The odours which were contained in the golden vials of the elders, were the prayers of the saints, (Revelation v:8.) Also, the incense that ascended from the golden censer of the angel, was offered up with the prayers of all the saints.

That the God of all grace may endue you with the grace and spirit of prayer, by the instrumentality of which, you may enjoy much of his presence and live more to his glory, is the prayer of yours in the Lord.
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1804, — jrd]

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