« ZurückWeiter »
prayer? The consequence must necessarily be, that it can neper be known how far, or in what respect others join with them in extraordinary prayer, or whether they do it at all; and not so much as one circumstance of extraordinary prayer will be visible; and indeed nothing will be visible about it. So that I think any body that well considers the matter, will see that he who determines to oppose such a method as is proposed to us in the memorial, and all others equivalent to it, is, in effect, determined to oppose there ever being any such thing at all, as an agreed and visibly united, extraordinary prayer, in the church of God, for a general outpouring of the Spirit.
3. Though it would not be reasonable to suppose that merely such a circumstance, as many people praying at the same time, will directly have any prevalence with God; yet such a circumstance may reasonably be supposed to have influence on the minds of men. Will any deny, that it has any reasonable tendency to encourage, animate, or in any respect to help the mind of a christian in serving God in any duty of religion, to join with a christian congregation, and to see an assembly of his dear brethren around him, at the same time engaged with him in the same duty ? And supposing one in this assembly of saints is blind, but has ground of satisfaction that there is present a multitude of God's people united with him in the same service; will any deny, that his supposing this, and being satisfied of it, can have any reasonable influence upon his mind to excite and encourage him, or in any respect to assist him, in his worship? The encouragement that one has in worship, by others being united with him, is not merely by the external senses, but by the knowledge the mind has of that union, or the satisfaction the understanding has that others, at that time, have their minds engaged with him in the same service; which may be, when those unitedly engaged are at a distance one from another, as well as when they are present. If one be present in a worshipping assembly, and sees their external behaviour; their union with him in worship he does not see; and what he sees, encourages him in worship, only as an evidence of that union and concurrence which is out of sight. And persons may have such evidence of this, concerning absent worshippers, as may give him satisfaction of their union with him, no less than if they were present. And therefore the consideration of others being at the same time engaged with him in worship, though absent, may as reasonably animate and encourage him in his worship, as if they were present.
There is no wisdom in finding fault with human nature, as God has made it. Things that exist now, are in themselves
no more important, than the like things in time past, or in time to come: yet it is evident that the consideration of things being present, at least in most cases, especially affects human nature. For instance, if a man could be certainly informed that his dear child at a distance, was now under some extreme suffering; or that an absent most dear friend was at this time thinking of him, and in the exercise of great affection towards him, or in the performance of some great deed of friendship ; or, if a pious parent should know that now his child was in the act of some enormous wickedness; or that, on the contrary, he was now in some eminent exercise of grace, and in the performance of an extraordinary deed of virtue and piety; would not those things be more affecting to human nature, for being considered as things at the present time, than if considered as at some distance of time, either past or future? Hundreds of other instances might be mentioned wherein it is no less plain, that the consideration of the present existence of things, gives them advantage to affect the minds of men. Yea, it is undoubtedly so with things in general, that take any hold at all of our affections, and towards which we are not indifferent. And if the mind of a particular child of God is disposed to be affected by the consideration of the religion of other saints, and of their union and concurrence with him in any particular duty or act of religion, I can see no reason why the human mind should not be more moved by the object of its affection, when considered as present, as well in this case, as in any other case : yea, I think, we may on good grounds determine there is none.
Nor may we look upon it as an instance of the peculiar weakness of human nature, that men are more affected with things considered as present, than those that are distant: but it seems to be a thing common to finite minds, and so to all. created intelligent beings. Thus, the angels in heaven have peculiar joy on occasion of the conversion of a sinner, when recent, beyond what they have in that which has been long past. If any therefore shall call it silly and whimsical in any, to value and regard such a circumstance, in things of religion, as their existing at the present time, so as to be the more affected with them for that; they must call the host of angels in heaven a parcel of silly and whimsical beings.
I remember the Spectator (whom none will call a whimsical author) somewhere speaking of different ways of dear friends mutually expressing their affection, and maintaining a kind of intercourse, in absence one from another, mentions such an instance as this, with much approbation, viz. That two friends, who were greatly endeared one to another, when about to part, and to be for a considerable time necessarily absent, that they might have the comfort of the enjoy.
ment of daily mutual expressions of friendship in their absence ; agreed that they would, every day, precisely at such an hour, retire from all company and business, to pray for one another. Which agreement they so valued and so strictly observed, that when the hour came, scarce any thing would hinder them. And rather than miss this opportunity, they would suddenly break off conversation, and abruptly leave company they were engaged with.-If this be a desirable way of intercourse of particular friends, is it not a desirable and amiable way of maintaining intercourse and fellowship between brethren in Christ Jesus, and the various members of the holy family of God, in different parts of the world, to come into an agreement, that they will set apart certain times, which they will spend with one accord, in extraordinary prayer to their heavenly Father, for the advancement of the kingdom, and the glory of their common dear Lord and Saviour, and for each other's prosperity and happiness, and the greatest good of all their fellow creatures through the world?
Some perhaps may suppose, that it looks too much like Pharisaism, when persons engage in any such extraordinary religious excrcises, beyond what is appointed by express insti. tution, for them thus designedly to make it manifest abroad in the world, and so openly to distinguish themselves from others. But all open engagement in extraordinary exercises of religion, not expressly enjoined by institution, is not Pharisaism, nor has ever been so reputed in the Christian church. As when a particular church or congregation of Christians agree together to keep a day of fasting and prayer, on some special occasion ; or when public days of fasting and thanksgiving are kept, throughout a Christian province or country: and though it be ordinarily the manner for the civil magistrate to lead in setting apart such days; yet that alters not the case: if it be Pharisaism in the society openly to agree in such extraordinary exercises of religion, it is not less Pharisaism, for the heads of the society leading in the affair. And if the civil magistrate was not of the society of Christians, nor concerned himself in their affairs ; yet this would not render it the less suitable for Christians, on proper occasions, jointly, and visibly one to another, to engage in such extraordinary exercises of religion, and to keep days of fasting and thanksgiving by agreement.
It cannot be objected against what is proposed in the memorial, that it would look like affecting singularity, aud open distinction from others in extraordinary religion, like the Pharisees of old : because it is evident, the very design of the memorial, is not to promote singularity and distinction, but as much as possible to avoid and prevent it. The end of the memorial is not to limit the thing proposed, that it may be practised only by a few, in distinction from the generality ; but on the contrary to make it as general among professing Christians as possible. Some had complied with the extraordinary duty proposed, and therein had been distinguished from others, for two years, before the memorial was published; and they were more distinguished than they desired ; and therefore sent abroad this memorial, that the practice might be more spread, and become more general, that they might be less distinguished. What they evidently seek, is to bring to pass as general a compliance as possible of Christians of all denominations, intreating, that the desire, of concurrence and assistance, contained in the memorial, may by no means be understood, as restricting to any particular denomination or party, or those who are of such or such opinions about any former instances of remarkable religious concern; but to be extended to all, who shall vouchsafe any attention to the proposal, and have at heart the interest of vital christianity, and the power of godliness : and who, however differing about other things, are convinced of the importance of fervent prayer, to promote that common interest, and of scripture persuasives, to promote such prayer.
That such Agreement is premature, answered.
Another objection, very likely to arise in the minds of many against such extraordinary prayer for the speedy coming of Christ's kingdom, is, that we have no reason to expect it, till there first come a time of most extreme calamity to the church, and a prevalence of her antichristian enemies against her; even that which is represented in Rev. xi, by the slaying of the witnesses; but have reason to determine the contrary.
It is indeed an opinion that seems pretty much to have obtained, that before the fulfilment of the promises relating to the church's latter-day glory, there must come a most terrible time, a time of extreme suffering, and dreadful persecution of the church of Christ; wherein Satan and Antichrist are to obtain their greatest victory over her, and she is to be brought lower than ever by her enemies. This opinion has chiefly risen from the manner of interpreting and applying the forementioned prophecy of the slaying of the witnesses ; and must needs be a great hindrance, with regard to such an affair as is proposed to us in the memorial. If persons expect no other, than that the more the glorious times of Christ's kingdom are hastened, the sooner will come this dreadful time, wherein the generality of God's people must suffer so extremely, and the church of Christ be almost extinguished, and blotted out from under heaven; how can it be otherwise, than a great damp to
their hope, their courage and activity, in praying for, and reaching after the speedy introduction of those glorious promised times? As long as this opinion is retained, it will undoubt. edly ever have this unhappy influence on the minds of those that wish well to Zion. It will tend to damp, and keep down joyful expectation in prayer; and even in great measure to prevent all earnest, animated and encouraged prayer, in God's people for this mercy, at any time before it is actually fulfilled. For they who proceed on this hypothesis in their prayers, must, at the same time that they pray for this glorious day, naturally conclude within themselves, that they shall never live to see on earth any dawning of it, but only the dismal time that shall precede it; in which the far greater part of God's people who shall live till then, shall die under the extreme cruelties of their persecutors. And the more they expect that God will answer their prayers, by speedily bringing on the promised glorious day, the more must they expect themselves to have a share in those dreadful things, that nature shrinks at, and also expect to see what a renewed nature dreads; even the prevailing of God's enemies, and the almost total extinction of true religion in the world. And on this hypothesis, these discouragements are like to attend the prayers of God's people, till that dismal time be actually come: and when that is come, those who have been prophesying and praying in sackcloth, shall generally be slain; and after that time is over, then the glorious day shall immediately commence. So that this notion tends to discourage all earnest prayer in the church of God for that glorious coming of Christ's kingdom, till it be actually come; and that is to hinder its ever being at all.
This opinion being of such hurtful tendency, it is a thousand pities it should be retained, if truly there be no good ground for it. Therefore in answer to this objection, I would, with all humility and modesty, examine the foundation of that opinion, of such a dreadful time of victory of antichrist over the church, yet to be expected : and particularly shall endeavour to shew that the slaying of the witnesses, foretold, Rev. xi. 7-10. is not an event that remains yet to be fulfilled. To this end, I would propose the following things to consideration.
1. The time wherein the witnesses lie dead in the streets of the great city, doubtless, signifies the time wherein the true church of Christ is lowest of all, most of all prevailed against by antichrist, and nearest to an utter extinction; the time wherein there is left the least visibility of the church of Christ yet subsisting in the world, least remains of any thing appertaining to true religion, whence a revival of it can be expected, and wherein all means of it are most abolished, and the state of the church is in all respects furthest from any hopes of