The Ministers and Messengers of the SHAFTSBURY ASSOCIATION to the Churches they represent, send Christian Salutation:
Among the rich variety of subjects, both doctrinal and practical, which have constituted the matter of our annual addresses to you, we do not recollect that Prayer has been distinctly named. If no idea entirely new should be started upon the subject, yet something profitable may be observed, both on the nature and benefit of prayer.
Breath and speech are not more certain signs of life, than prayer is an evidence of a renewed soul. It was said of Paul, "Behold, he prayeth." The same may be said in every instance of spiritual life. Prayer is the breath of the new creature -- the language of the heaven-born soul with God. It is the native expression of holy desires: and where it is wanting, there such desires have no place.
Once more: Prayer is the uttering of our heart's desire to the throne of grace, in the name of Jesus Christ, for that help, and for those blessings we need, in such words (if it be vocal) as are suitably adapted to express the same. That "God has no still-born children," is a common maxim. As crying or praying to God, is an evidence of being born again, so where this evidence is wanting, the claim to that honorable title "Child of God," has no existence.
The subject before us, in every view of it, we are sensible, opens a very beautiful and wide extended field, which the proper bounds of a circular letter forbid us cultivating in all its parts. We must therefore pass in silence many things, such as the several parts of Prayer, Invocation, Adoration, Confession, Petition, Profession, Thanksgiving and Blessing: also a distinction of the spirit and gift of prayer; "f which we cannot now speak particularly." It is difficult to conceive, and more difficult to describe, the great and extensive benefits which result from prayer. When the chequered scene of Divine Providence shall be opened in Heaven, then will the saints clearer see, and better know the worth of prayer. God early designed and made provision, that among the ruins of the fall, the souls of many should be made to love him. He knew they would desire an increasing enjoyment of the infinite object of their love: hence he made provision to meet those desires. He has not seen fit to consummate, at once, the work of grace in his people; but they are desiring and receiving new discoveries in divine things, and new supplies of grace. Prayer is an appointed mean of receiving these supplies. It contracts a blessed familiarity with that all-glorious Being, whose favor is better than life, and whose frown is worse than death. It is a heart-strengthening employment. By this mean we shall obtain patience to bear the ills of life, strength to resist the allurements of the world, and courage to look death itself in the face without dismay. Communion with God in duties is enjoyed, and spiritual blessings are conferred in answer to prayer. Not that prayer is meritorious, or inconsistent with the immutability of God. If it then should be asked, To what purpose is Prayer? the answer is -- Prayer is a way and mean God has appointed for the communication of the blessings of his goodness to his people. Although be has purposed, provided and promised them, yet be will be sought unto, for
their actual bestowment. It is their duty and privilege to ask them of him. When they are blessed with the spirit of prayer, it forbodes well, and looks as if God intends to bestow the good things they ask. However, they should always ask in submission to the will of God, saying, not my will, but thine be done. It therefore appears that prayer is an appointed way of receiving; hence, it ranks high in the order of means. It is a labour which instantly brings its own reward, and its full fruit shall be enjoyed in Heaven. It is like the faithful spies, who brought of the fruit of the goodly land. Suffice it to say, by prayer mercies are sanctified, afflictions are alleviated, holy dispositions are invigorated, corrupt passions weakened, and temptations resisted. Right praying begins at home, but does not end there. Relations and neighbors, friends and enemies, fellow-professors, and the Church of God in general, the state of the heathen, and the extensive glory of the Redeemer, are all remembered by proper supplicants in prayer. Pray for thyself -- pray for Zion -- pray for the whole Earth. Brethren, if any of you are destitute of the stated ministry of the word, and are so locally situated that you cannot join and attend where the word and ordinances are administered, then pray the Lord of the harvest, that he would thrust you forth a laborer, by raising up or sending some one of the sons of Zion, to lead you into the green and rich pastures of his word and ordinances, and feed you with knowledge and understanding. God's purposes of grace, his promises and the predictions of his word, are all fulfilled in answer to prayer. What is the travail of Zion but the effectual fervent prayer of the saints, when they resemble Jacob, wrestling with the angel?
Ministers, in their administrations, come to their people in the fulness of gospel blessings, and have utterance, freedom and boldness in preaching, when their people, by prayer, supply the place of Aaron and Hur. "Having hope," saith the Apostle, "when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you, according to our rule, abundantly, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you." The Apostle had hope, that while he was jeoparding his life among the heathen, in preaching the Cross of Christ, his Brethren would observe this rule and pray for him. Blessed be God that this rule was not confined to the apostolic age. We exhort you, Brethren, with ourselves, that you carefully observe it. Then you will be profitable hearers of the word, and more profitable than otherwise you can possibly be, to those who administer it.
When this Apostle was preaching the gospel and planting churches where Christ was not named, he was very solicitous for the prayers of his brethren. This was a means by which the strong holds of Satan were demolished, grace reigned, and the truth rode in triumph. He calculated more on their prayers, than upon their silver and gold. Faithful Ministers had rather be cut short in the latter than in the former; yet silver and gold have their proper connection and use in propagating the gospel, as we shall presently show.
BRETHREN, shall our prayers be confined to ourselves, and to the places of our residence? Shall Christendom, or even the bounds of civilization, limit the
extent of our desires? O no, say you; we have often prayed that the gospel may have a more universal spread, and know no other bounds than the habitable parts of the earth. The words of David have often been in our mouths, and we think in our hearts too: -- "Let the whole earth be filled with his glory." We thought, Brethren, this was the case. Now we exhort you to act consistently with such desires, and prove them sincere. We firmly believe that the heathen will be given to Jesus, for his inheritance, and that he will possess the uttermost parts of the earth. Shall the certainty of this event relax our exertions, or stimulate them? The latter, surely. How shall they (the benighted heathen) call on him in whom they have not believed; and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard; and how shall they hear without a preacher; and how shall they preach except they be sent? Shall we at this day look for miracles to send ministers, like Philip's flight from the Ethiopian? To indulge the thought is sin. Missionaries must be sent in another way to them, and these missionaries must be supported. They have personal and relative wants, which our prayers alone will not supply, for they are yet in the body. By liberal prayers and suitable efforts, genuine christianity is manifested, and the glory of the Redeemer highly advanced. If our prayers for the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom be sincere and earnest, we shall act according to our sphere, ability and opportunity, in saying and doing what in us lies, for that end. Brethren, what are our riches? Are they our staff or our burden? Do we possess them, or do they possess us?
We have reason to believe that the latter-day glory is soon to be ushered in; when Zion shall have an open deliverance from all her enemies, whether Pagan, Papal, or Mahometan. The prophecies relating to the progress of the gospel, in some degree, have been fulfilling in every period since the Christian era commenced. Yea, in a sense from their earliest date, and are eminently fulfilling now. The scriptures assure us that great convulsions in earthly kingdoms, and the reign of Antichrist, shall precede the remarkable diffusion of gospel light. The nations are shaking in a degree, perhaps unexampled; and the convulsions of empires are like the pangs of dissolving nature. We believe that Antichrist is consuming, and will ere long, with his whole system, sink into his burning grave. Rejoice, for the Lord Omnipotent reigneth. To him all obstacles are less than a straw beneath the arm of a giant. Let therefore no difficulties, improbabilities, nor apparent impossibilities, weaken our faith nor slacken our exertions in prayer.
BRETHREN, you should always pray and not faint. If at any time you think of fainting in this duty, remember Daniel -- the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge -- the deliverance of Peter from prison, and the prayer of Elias. O! consider how many are engaged in this blessed employ. Grace produces a family likeness among the children of God, and they all have one language in prayer. Amid the diversities which obtain among Christians, there is in their sentiments and language in prayer a happy uniformity. When the godly, in their united and fervent supplications, rise and spread like a cloud, we may expect copious showers of blessings. The strong voice of prayer is "
the sound of an abundant rain." The Northamptonshire Baptist Association, in England, have established a prayer meeting, for the spread of the gospel and for the success of missions. It has been greatly blessed. Sing, O Heavens, for the Lord reigns and doeth wonders. While prayer, Brethren, is your chief solace, amid the duties, disappointments and distresses of life, shew yourselves deeply concerned for the poor heathen. Their ignorance, their guilt and their misery, cry louder than a thousand tongues. It is the dumb eloquence of the dying. Brethren, shall we wait Rnd let them come to us? This, not more than one out of a hundred can do. The great commission says, go to them. Let us, therefore, send them the news of a Saviour, who willingly redeems from destruction, and freely gives eternal life to those who are ready to perish. In saving sinners of every tribe, he fills the earth with his glory; and Heaven shall in the end be replenished with the peaceful triumphs of his Cross and Crown. Thus, dear Brethren, concludes our epistle to you. Receive it as a token of love; it may be the last to many of you, and also the last from some of us. But sure we are, if we live and die praying, we shall hereafter meet praising, never more to part.
"O glorious work! O blest abode!
We shall be near and like our God."
N. KENDRICK, Clerk.
I. WEBB, Moderator.
[Stephen Wright, History of the Shaftsbury Baptist Association, 1853, pp. 92-96. -- jrd]
Return to Vermont Circulars
Return to American Circular Letters
Return to HOME Page