An Address to a Church in a Low Condition
James Smith, 1864
PRAYER. For this object you meet together, and it is almost impossible to over estimate its importance. There is great power in real prayer. It "avails much." I have great faith in prayer, and am persuaded, that if we did but pray more — things would be very different with us, and with our churches. Nothing would make us doubt of success, if we enjoy a spirit of prayer, and feel drawn together on purpose to plead with God for his presence ana blessing.
Beloved Friends, I greet you in his holy name, who is our life, our wisdom, our righteousness, and our all. Grace be with you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Though I shall not be present with you, when you are met together for prayer — yet allow me for a few moments, to address unto you the word of exhortation.
There are two subjects which I wish to bring before you, and impress upon your minds. Your welfare is connected with your attention to them, and I pray God, that my remarks may be made a blessing to you. O God, you alone can render human instrumentality efficient; put life, power, and unction, into what I now write; that your name may be glorified, your people benefitted, and your cause raised up from its low estate!
The first point to which I would call your attention is
A few right-hearted believers may do wonders, like
Gideon's three hundred soldiers, if only banded together in the fear of God,
and frequently meeting to wrestle with the Most High. The prayer of faith
is all but omnipotent. "Whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall
receive." Real prayer . . .
engages God on our side,
brings down the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit,
touches the hidden springs of man's nature,
and alarms and conquers Satan.
Hence said the Savior, "Whatever you shall ask of the Father; in my name, he will give it to you."
Pray then, and pray for your pastor. Pray that his sanctification may be deepened, that his abilities for his work may be increased, that his love to souls may abound more and more, that his zeal for God may be greatly augmented, and that he may wisely feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. Yes, that he may travail in birth for souls — until Christ is formed in them.
Pray also for yourselves. That you may put away
from among you — all anger, wrath, and prejudice. That you may be filled
with holy love — united together in the strongest bonds, for the best
purposes — strong in faith giving glory to God, and clad with zeal as a
cloak. O my brethren, we need . . .
more entire consecration to God,
more thorough devotedness to his cause,
more singleness of eye to his glory, and
more holy industry in bringing sinners under the sound of his word!
What we need — we should pray for, and while we ask for it in the name of Jesus, we should believe that our heavenly Father is willing to bestow it. He will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly.
Pray for lost sinners. Alas! they pray not for themselves. We as believers in Jesus are to intercede for all men. Pray for the immediate conversion of those who attend with you, and by whom you are surrounded. Pray for them, so that if any one of them should come into your prayer meeting, he may see and feel from the very manner of your praying for him, that you wish him to be saved. Pray as if the salvation of sinners depended on your prayers! Pray as if you could have no peace, without sinners being converted to God. Pray as if you felt like Paul did when he said, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh." Go to the Lord as if you had special business with him, and that business was to beseech him to save souls; and to save souls among you.
I am persuaded that we have not half love enough to the souls of men. We have not half faith enough in the power of prayer. We are not half earnest enough with God. We do not pray as if we felt that souls are immortal, that immortal souls are perishing, that there is no help for them but in God, and that God has said to us, "I will be inquired of by you, to do these things for them." O if we did but realize this subject aright, exercise faith in God's promise aright, pray for God's blessing aright, and act in God's work aright — he would send down his Holy Spirit to work wonders in our midst!
His arm is not shortened, that he cannot save;
neither is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear;
nor his Spirit straitened, that he cannot work;
nor his love diminished, that it cannot sympathize;
nor has his faithfulness to his word failed —
but we "have not, because we ask not; or because we ask amiss." O let us arouse, ourselves, shake off our sloth, and stir up ourselves to take hold upon God! He is not reluctant to bless — but he will have us cultivate proper dispositions of mind, and manifest that we are really in earnest in his cause.
Pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. All our confidence, all our hope — is in the presence, power, and operation of the Holy Spirit. Our preaching will be ineffectual, your efforts will fail — unless the Holy Spirit is poured upon us from on high. If we do not honor the Holy Spirit, by pleading for him, by pleading with him, and by depending upon him — he will not honor us. For one of the immutable principles of the divine government is, "Those who honor me — I will honor; but those who despise me — shall be lightly esteemed."
Dear friends, let us honor the Holy and ever blessed Spirit. Let us plead with the Father, the promise which Jesus has given us, that he will send the Comforter, to work for us, to work in us, and to work by us! Pray for the Holy Spirit in every prayer, and pray until the Lord opens the windows of leaven, and pours out this blessing upon you.
But beware, lest while you pray for the Spirit, you
grieve that Holy Spirit, and keep him from among you. Pride,
envy, prejudice, selfishness, covetousness, worldly-mindedness, or carnality
will do it. Unless you . . .
cultivate love to all saints,
pity and desire to benefit all sinners,
live above the present world, and
act as those that are risen with Christ —
you have no scriptural warrant to expect that God will confer this great, this invaluable blessing upon you. You will learn out in the school of bitter experience, the truth of the psalmist's words, "If I regard iniquity in my heart — the Lord will not hear my prayer!" If you hate whom the Lord loves, despise whom the Lord honors, keep apart from those whom the Lord admits to the closest communion with himself, simply because of some disagreement, or difference of opinion — then you have no right to expect any great blessing to crown your efforts.
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:12-15
Secondly,BE ACTIVE. Your pastor will be able to do little without you — but with you, though you are few and feeble, he may do much. If you have large hearts — to love the many; warm hearts — to love fervently; and strong hearts — to love in spite of infirmities; then you will be an honor to God's cause, a comfort to your pastor, and a blessing to all around you. Unless your minister can point to you and say, "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody;" and unless all men can read in your tempers, conduct, and conversation, the genuine effects of the gospel of Christ — little will be done. But if you are liberal, courteous, humble, diligent, persevering, and devoted to God — great things may be accomplished.
By courtesy, by kindness, by evident devotedness to God — you may win over, and bring into fellowship with you, all true Christians around you, who have no settled home; and bring back into fellowship any who may have withdrawn from you. Such reunions are often very delightful; and the bone once broken, if well set, seldom breaks again in the same place.
Seek to promote to the utmost of your power, the cause of God among you. Try every means you can command, to crowd your place of worship with immortal souls. Invite strangers and sinners of every class, to come and hear the gospel with you. Go to those who neglect public worship altogether, and to those who only occasionally attend, on purpose to invite them to come with you. Go more than once, if you do not succeed the first time. Promise them a comfortable seat, and see that they have one if they come. Let them see that you feel a genuine interest in them, that you wish to do them good, that you aim at their salvation. Be not discouraged if some refuse — but make up your mind that the house of prayer is to be filled, to be filled soon, and to be kept full: do your utmost to accomplish so desirable an object.
Let every member try how many he can induce to attend, and when they attend, offer up special prayer for their immediate salvation. While the servant of Christ is preaching the word — the prayers of the Lord's people should be ascending, that the Eternal Spirit may descend, and apply the truth with invincible power to the hearts of all who hear.
No one can tell what he can do, until he tries; or say how useful God may make him. He often uses the weak things, to prove that his word is still true which says, "Not by might, nor by power — but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty." It is quite certain, that it is time that the Lord's church arose and shook herself from the dust, that every member tried to do some thing; to do more than he has been accustomed to do. Satan is doing all he can, papists an doing all they can, infidels are doing all they can; and shall WE sit still?" Shall we say, "May I be excused?" Surely not! Every one should be ambitious to do his part. No one can be excused, nor should any one wish to be.
Brethren, the time is short, souls are perishing all around you, Jesus bids you to work in his vineyard, and the "night will soon come in which no man can work." Think of what God has given you, of what Jesus has done for you, of what the Holy Spirit has promised you in his blessed word, and of the grace that is to be brought unto you at the appearing of Jesus Christ; and let these things stimulate you to activity, and to entire devotedness to God. Act for God, and plead with God; this is the way to succeed in the cause of God.
Let some portion of each day be set apart, purposely to pray for the Lord's blessing on his cause; and be assured that you will not, cannot, be losers by such a course. Remember, "The Lord turned the captivity of Job — when he prayed for his friends." Our heavenly Father loves to see us come to him, to ask for his blessing on his own cause; and to hear us pray for others. It shows that we are of one mind with him, that we sympathize with his purpose, believe his promises, and desire to carry out his precepts.
If therefore we would please God,
if we would obey the Savior,
if we would honor the Holy Spirit,
if we would fulfill our duties to the church,
if we would be a real blessing to the world,
and if we would prosper in our own souls —
we must pray, work, and contribute, with a view to the increase and establishment of God's beloved church!
Let us then listen to our God who says, "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion." Let us imitate the apostle Paul, who said, "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." And let us be stimulated by the language of the apostle James, who closed his loving epistle to the saints, by saying of the brother who aimed at the conversion of souls, "Let him know, that he which converts a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
And is it possible, that we poor, feeble, and
imperfect as we are — may be used in so glorious, so godlike a work? It is,
and more than possible, it is certain.
If our hearts are set upon it,
if we cannot be satisfied without it,
if we prayerfully aim at it,
if we diligently pursue it —
we shall never be disappointed — but shall be honored to perform it.
Spirit of God, stir up your people to realize their responsibilities, to perceive the honor that is set before them, and distinguish themselves as the disciples of him, "who went about doing good;" and "who gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify us to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works!"
Beloved, let us meditate on these things, let us pray over them, let us endeavor to practice them — and "May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace!"