Robert Young, 1796 – 1865, was a Methodist minister who wrote another book reproduced by the Revival Library entitled ‘Showers of Blessing.’ Obviously he was a friend of revival, and, as this book reveals, seasons of revival power attended his ministry.
From the Preface: ‘As many pious persons are prejudiced against what are generally termed revival prayer meetings, and as others say they know not how to conduct them with advantage, the author of the following pages has humbly attempted to remove the prejudices of the former, and to offer suggestions for the direction of the latter. For several years he has been in the habit of holding such meetings, and is fully persuaded of their great utility when properly conducted. He has chosen to express his sentiments in a series of conversations, rather than in an essay, believing that this mode of communicating information on such a subject is much more likely to interest than the other. ‘
We have included 3 of the 7 'Conversations.'
Hearer. I AM one of your occasional hearers, and was present last sabbath evening at the prayer meeting held immediately after the public service; and as there were several things connected with that meeting which I did not understand, I have taken the liberty of waiting upon you this morning to make a few inquiries on the subject.
Minister. I shall be happy to answer any inquiry you propose, as far as the Lord may give me ability, provided your object be to gain information. But if it be to cavil, or to treat the subject with ridicule and levity, I shall decline doing so; for its sacred character requires that it be approached with solemn and devotional feeling.
H. I hope, sir, you do not think me so rile a person as to be capable of treating a subject so important in the way you mention. It is, indeed, true that, as respects religion, I am exceedingly deficient; but I assure you that, with all my faults, I am neither an infidel nor a blasphemer.
M. I do not think you are; but I lament to say, that some professors of religion treat with ridicule what are called revival prayer meetings, and by facetious remarks, and ludicrous anecdotes, excite unholy merriment in the family or social circle, at the expense of those who take a part in them.
H. Such conduct, in my opinion, is highly improper.
M. Undoubtedly it is; for such meetings are either right or wrong:—if they be wrong, they should not be tolerated, but put down by Scriptural arguments; and if right, they plight to be encouraged and supported by the professed disciples of Christ. But now for your inquiries.
H. My inquiries will principally refer to the professed conversions which took place. I think upward of thirty persons professed to be converted in that meeting; or, in other words to obtain the forgiveness of their sins.
M. And what was there in that which you did not comprehend?
H. Why, in the first place, I did not see how those persons could be assured of their having received that inestimable blessing.
M. You, of course, believe that the Lord has promised forgiveness to “all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe;” and that it is impossible to become the children of God, and heirs of heaven, without that blessing.
H. Certainly I do. My objection does not lie against its attainment, as I am fully persuaded sin must be pardoned or punished; but against that knowledge of it which those persons last sabbath evening professed to receive.
M. But if a man be not assured of his acceptance with God, how is it possible for him to be happy? Religion is certainly intended to make him happy; but if it bring not with it the evidence of the divine approbation, but leave him in doubt and perplexity as to his state, it must fail to do so. He cannot claim its promises, and enjoy its present consolations, any more than he can anticipate its future rewards, without knowing that he is in possession of it. Besides, the Scriptures on this point are full and unequivocal:—Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous; God testifying of his gifts;” and Enoch “had this testimony, that he pleased God.” David said, “I confessed my transgression, and thou, Lord, forgavest the iniquity of my sin;” and Isaiah exclaimed, “In that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.” If New Testament witnesses be wanted on the subject, we have them at hand; for St. Paul says, “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God; a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens:” and St. John declares, “We know that we are of God;” and, “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” I might easily multiply passages; but as these are sufficiently explicit, and fully substantiate the delightful truth to which those persons last sabbath evening bore testimony, I deem it unnecessary to add more.
H. I do not deny the possibility of a man knowing that he is a child of God, and, of course, that his sins are forgiven; but such knowledge, I conceive, must be derived from a source of evidence which the persons in question could not have. The Scriptures describe, in a variety of particulars, the character of the children of God; and if, on close examination, a man is fully convinced that his feelings and conduct accord with that description, he may then humbly infer that he is of the happy number.
M. The evidence you mention is certainly legitimate and important; but there is another kind of evidence mentioned in the Scriptures which you appear to overlook. St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, says, “ Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Here you perceive two witnesses mentioned; the witness of God’s Spirit, and the witness of our own spirit. The one is direct, and the other inferential: the former is an “inward impression on the souls of believers, whereby the Spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are children of God.” The latter is the result of reason, or reflection on what they feel in their souls and perceive in their lives; and is, in fact, the evidence to which you have already alluded.
H. Does the witness of God’s Spirit, as you have explained it, precede the other evidence of salvation, and which you call the witness of our own spirit? M. It does: for in the very nature of things the testimony of God’s Spirit must be antecedent to the testimony of our own spirit. This, I think, is evident from the following considerations:—”We must be holy in heart, and holy in life, before we can be conscious that we are so; before we can have the testimony of our own spirit that we are inwardly and outwardly holy. But we must love God before we can be holy at all; this being the root of all holiness. Now, we cannot love God till we know he loves us: ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’ And we cannot know his pardoning love to us till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit. Since, therefore, this testimony of his Spirit must precede our love of God and all holiness, of consequence it must precede our inward consciousness thereof, or the testimony of our own spirit concerning them.”
H. And does every man enjoy the same direct testimony of acceptance with God on his believing in Christ?
M. In every case it may not be equally clear. The Scriptures speak of degrees of faith; of “weak faith,” and of “strong faith;” and I conceive the witness of the Spirit will be more or less clear, according to the strength of the faith exercised. And not only so, but some persons under conviction of sin are in greater anguish than others; and when “the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto them,” the change is of course more sensibly felt; the internal impression is deeper, and the witness in general much more clear, than in the case of those who have not been so powerfully wrought upon. The clearness of this witness may also be affected in some measure by the character of a man’s mind, as well as by the degree of Scriptural knowledge he may possess at the period of his conversion. The most of those who professed to find peace with God last sabbath evening, appeared to receive a very clear witness; and some of them on obtaining it were completely overpowered. The young man who, on finding mercy, immediately inquired for the man who was his enemy, reminded me of a most interesting scene which I had the pleasure of witnessing some years ago. Two men who were proverbial for their hating one another, met one evening at the house of God; and being both awakened under the sermon, they, unknown to each other, remained in the prayer meeting which was held after the regular service. They were in deep anguish of mind; but after wrestling in prayer for some time, both obtained peace through believing; and no sooner did they recognise each other in the chapel, than, yielding to the impulse of their new nature, they rushed through the crowd between them, fell upon each other’s neck, and loudly wept before the whole congregation.
H. But is not the doctrine of the direct witness of the Spirit peculiar to the Wesleyan denomination of Christians ?
M. Certainly not. Bishop Hooper says, “Blessed is that man in whose heart God’s Spirit beareth record that he is the son of God.” Calvin says, that “our mind of itself, independently of the preceding testimony of the Spirit, could not produce this persuasion, that we are the sons of God.” Witsius says, “There is a certain instinct immediately assuring God’s beloved people of their adoption.” Bishop Andrews says, that “the Spirit puts his teste,” (witness ;) “ and if we have his teste, we may go our way in peace.” Hooker says, “The Spirit which God giveth us is to assure us that we are the sons of God, and to enable us to call upon him as our Father.” Bishop Brownrigg says, “It is one great office of the Holy Spirit to ratify and seal up to us the forgiveness of sins.” Bishop Pearson says,
“It is the office of the Holy Ghost to assure us of the adoption of sons; to create in us a sense of the paternal love of God, and to give us an earnest of our everlasting inheritance.” Archbishop Usher says, “From adoption flows all Christian joy; for the Spirit of adoption is, first, a witness; second, a seal; third, the pledge and earnest of our inheritance, setting a holy security upon the soul, whereby it rejoiceth, even in affliction, in hope of glory.” Dr. Barrow says, “ This is the Spirit of adop-tion, which constitutes us the sons of God, certifying us that we are so, and causing us by a free instinct to cry, “Abba, Father.” Dr. Owen says, “The Spirit worketh joy in the heart of believers immediately by himself, without the consideration of any other acts or works of his, or the interpositions of any reasonings, or deductions, or conclusions. This does not arise from any reflex consideration of the love of God, but rather gives occasion thereto.” Case says, “Another office of the Spirit is that which our divines call immediate ; and it is a bright irradiation of the Holy Ghost beaming out upon the soul; not only giving it a clear and distinct discerning of its own graces, but immediately witnessing to the soul its adoption by Jesus Christ, and right and title to the kingdom of God; wherein God speaks to the soul in some such language as this: ‘I am thy salvation: I have blotted out thy trans-gressions; thy sins are forgiven thee.’” Caryll says, “The Spirit gives a distinct witness of his own, which is his immediate work; and is, in a way of peculiarity and transcendency, called the witness of the Spirit.” Dr. S. Clarke says, “The Spirit of God, without consideration of, or reflecting upon, any of those gracious qualifications he hath wrought in the soul, does by his own immediate power imprint this persuasion upon the heart, ‘Thou art a child of God;’ and by an inward and secret, yet powerful voice, doth say to the soul, ‘Thou art a believer; thy sins are pardoned.’ “Matthew Pool says, “The Spirit of adoption doth, by an inward and secret suggestion, raise our hearts to this persuasion, that God is our Father, and we are his children. This is not the testimony of the graces and operations of the Spirit, but of the Spirit itself.” O. Heywood says, “It is likewise the office of the Holy Spirit to dwell in real Christians as the Spirit of adoption, enabling them to address God as their Father, through Jesus Christ, with boldness, liberty, and confidence.” Howe says, “There is an effectual, overpowering communication of the Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the love of God, that may be had.” And Dr. Watts says, “There is an extraordinary witness of the Spirit; and that is, where in an immediate and powerful manner the Holy Spirit impresses the soul with an assurance of divine love, and gives the heart of a saint such a full discovery of his adoption, without the more slow and argumentative method of comparing the dispositions of their souls with some special characters of the children of God in the Scriptures.” The sentiments embodied and variously expressed in these extracts, from the works of respectable theologians, of different countries, periods, and religious denominations, are precisely the same as those held by Mr. Wesley; and all delightfully accord with the privilege of the children of God, as described by St. Paul: “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
H. Will you explain the manner in which the Spirit thus assures a believer of his acceptance with God?
M. That I pretend not to do. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. “The wind bloweth where it listeth; and thou nearest the sound thereof; but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” A fact may be certain, while the manner in which it takes place may, from its very nature, be inexplicable. Nor should it be forgotten, that to be able to comprehend and explain a blessing, in all its parts and modes of operation, is not essential to our enjoying it. For instance: we behold the sun, rejoice in the light, breathe in the atmosphere, and feed upon the fruits of the earth, and thus enjoy these various blessings of our Maker, without being able fully to comprehend any one of them. Nor is the sun less warming, the light less cheering, the atmosphere less invigorating, or the fruits of the earth less nutritious, because there is mystery connected with them. You do not deny that the Holy Ghost “ convinceth the world of sin,” and frequently witnesses to the spirit of a wicked man, that he is guilty before God, and in danger of perishing; and will you entertain doubts relative to the fact of his bearing witness to the spirit of a believer that his sins are forgiven? You can no more comprehend and explain the mode of operation in the one case than you can in the other.
H. Have any persons of respectability and education, not connected with the Wesleyan denomination, professed to be in possession of the direct witness of the Spirit?
M. Yes, many.
H. Then I should like to hear from themselves a description of their feelings on becoming the recipients of so great a blessing.
M. Your desire may very easily be gratified; for if you read Sidney’s Life of Sir Richard Hill, you will find the following account of Sir Richard’s conversion, written by himself:— “On Saturday, February 17th, 1758, to the best of my remembrance, the night before the sacrament, it pleased the Lord, after having given me for a few days before some tastes of his love first, to bring me into a composed state of mind, and then to convey such a thorough sense of his pardoning grace and mercy to my soul, that I, who was just before trembling upon the brink of despair, did now rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. The love of God was shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost given unto me, even that perfect love which casteth out fear; and the Spirit itself bore witness with my spirit that I was a child of God. O how great a change was this in so short a time! How surpassing all apprehension was the difference! I, who but a few nights ago could scarcely suffer my eyes to slumber, or mine eyelids to take any rest, through the despairing agonies with which I was overwhelmed, could not now, during the beginning of the night at least, get to sleep on account of the ecstatic comforts in which my soul was as it were absorbed. Yea, so exceedingly great were those joys, that my body could hardly support them. They in a manner: overpowered me, and I was ready to cry out, ‘Lord, hold thy hand, for I can bear no more.’ O how delightful were now the thoughts of death, when my soul should be delivered front the clog of clay, and, instead of partaking of the streams below, should go and drink freely at the fountain of bliss and love!” And if you examine the Life of the celebrated poet Cowper, you will find a beautiful description: of his feelings at the time of his receiving the Spirit, of adoption. He observes, “Unless the Almighty arm had been under me I think I should have been overwhelmed with, gratitude and joy. My eyes fifed with tears, and my voice choked with transport. I could only look to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder. But the, work of the Holy Spirit is best described in his own words:
it is ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ “Many more cases of a similar description might be adduced; but these, I conceive, will be quite satisfactory.
Hearer. IT is but ingenuous to confess that what you have said has much impressed my mind; and I shall certainly attend more seriously to the important subject in future than I have hitherto done. But the knowledge of salvation which the persons last sabbath evening professed to enjoy, was not the only thing that appeared inexplicable; for I was as much puzzled to account for the suddenness of some of the conversions that took place, as I was for the assurance with which they seemed to be attended.
Minister. But if you understood the way of salvation by faith, you will perceive, on duly considering the subject, that in a very short period the soul may pass through that process which the Scriptures declare essential to salvation. The truth is presented to the mind; the Holy Ghost applies it; the sinner feels deep sorrow of heart; goes as a penitent to the foot of the cross; believes on Him that justifies the ungodly; and at once obtains peace with God. Now all this may certainly take place under a sermon, or in a prayer meeting.
H. But are not conversions much more sound when they are gradual rather than instantaneous?
M. Conversion, as comprising the forgiveness of sin, and regeneration of man’s nature, is either sound, or it is no conversion at all. The sinner is either forgiven and born again, or he is guilty and unregenerate; there being no medium state: and it cannot but be instantaneous whenever it takes place; for as soon as the penitent believes he is forgiven, and that instantaneously; as the word of God, the experience of believers, and the work itself, sufficiently testify.
H. Of course, conversion, considered as an act of pardon, and the regeneration of the heart, must be instantaneous. But what I mean is this,—a person should take time to think seriously about the matter, and deliberately “count the cost.”; M. If that be your meaning, I am of the same opinion. The only difference between us then is the question of time. How long would you have the sinner occupied in counting the cost? A year? He may be dead and in hell long before the termination of that period. Do you then say six months? one month? one week? one day? one hour? But who can assure him that he shall live until the smallest of these portions of time has elapsed? He has no certainty of tomorrow; for he knows not what a day, or even a minute, may bring forth. Nor should it be forgotten, that counting the cost is a state of suspense; and yet, if I may judge from what you say, you apparently consider that the longer a man remains in such a state, the more genuine his conversion is likely to be. Now, the simple state of the case is this:—Life and death are set before the sinner, and he is exhorted to choose life, that he may live. His mind is impressed, and he begins to count the cost; thus reasoning: “If I accept the terms of life proposed in the gospel, I shall be saved; if not, I shall be damned.” Now I ask, what but the world, the flesh, or the devil, is to prevent his doing this at once, and immediately making choice of life by simple faith in Jesus? Surely it does not require years, or months, or days, for a man to make up his mind whether he will be saved or lost!
H. But if conversions which take place without much previous deliberation be genuine, how is it that so many who are the professed subjects of them “fall away?”
M. If you mean that more of them fall away in proportion than of those who have been converted after a long period of deliberation, you assume, perhaps, what you cannot prove. Conversion is always in itself the same thing, whether it be preceded by a year’s consideration, or only that of an hour; and the stability of its subjects, in both cases, will very much depend upon the instructions they afterward receive. Perhaps those who have been suddenly brought to God require at first more nursing than others; and your opinion of such converts may be correct in those cases where that nursing is neglected. Or if they fall into the hands of those who are opposed to revivals, and who, instead of gently feeding them with the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby, act the part of inquisitors, with the view of confounding them, or even ridicule and condemn the means by which they have been brought to God, you need not wonder if in these circumstances they should be discouraged, and if in such a time of temptation they should fall away. But many of the persons you saw on sabbath evening, who professed to find forgiveness, had been concerned about their souls for some time ; and not more than five or six had been awakened under the sermon; but certainly the conversion of the latter was as clear and as satisfactory as the former. Some time ago, when I was stationed in a northern seaport town, I was waited upon by a gentleman and lady; when the former, after apologizing for their intrusion, gave the following account of himself:—” Sir,” said he, “you may be a little surprised on hearing what I am about to relate. I am a merchant from America, and have accumulated considerable property; but some months ago my wife left my in consequence of my gay and dissipated habits. I then determined never to seek after her, but to continue, without restraint, my course of wickedness. I did so; but being called to Scotland on business, I arrived here! on Friday last, on my way to that country, and resolved to remain over the sabbath, that I might see the place. On sabbath evening, as I went down P—— street, I was induced by the sound of a fine organ to enter a chapel, and led to remain during the service by an influence which I could not account for. The preacher lad not proceeded far in his discourse before I imagined that every word was intended for me. At first I felt very uneasy, and at last indescribably miserable. In fact, I was deeply convinced of sin; and felt that, without a change, I must certainly perish. I remained in the prayer meeting; knelt with the penitents seeking mercy; and in about an hour happily found salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The moment I felt that God had pardoned me, the cry of my heart was, ‘O my wife.’ O that I could find my wife!’ I went to my lodgings with mingled feelings. I was filled with love and gratitude to God, for what he had done for me; I was lost in astonishment at the glorious and sudden change which I had experienced; I was deeply grieved that I had not been a kind and thoughtful husband; and full of anxiety to find my wife, that I might ask her forgiveness, and if possible lead her to the enjoyment of the same blessing which God had conferred upon me. I accordingly went next morning to the residence of a captain who sails to America, and with whom I am acquainted, thinking it possible that he might be able to give me some tidings of her. After great search I found his house; and judge of my surprise, sir, when the person who answered the door was my own dear wife; and here she is!” The scene which ensued I shall not attempt to describe. Suffice it to say, that some months after the gentleman again called at my house, on the eve of his return to America, and was then living com-fortably with his wife, and holding fast his confidence in the Lord.
H. Your narrative is very affecting; but where do you find in the Scriptures any account of such sudden conversions as you contend for?
M. In many places. Read the Acts of the Apostles, and you will find that conversions were ordinarily sudden under their ministry. The three thousand conversions on the day of Pentecost appear all to have taken place during the sittings of one assembly; and all the subsequent outpourings of the Spirit, with which the first age of Christianity was blessed, seem to have been characterized by conversions of this sort. It is true that Saul of Tarsus was three days in seeking the Lord before he obtained comfort; yet the jailer of Philippi and all his house were converted in one hour. And we have reason to believe that such conversions were every day taking place under the ministry of the apostles.
H. But was there not a miraculous agency concerned in producing those conversions?
M. There were miracles wrought in connection with many of them, although not in every case; but there was no greater miracle in the actual conversion of any of those sinners, than there is in the conversion of any other sinners. Conversion is in all cases the very same work, and accomplished by the agency of the Holy Ghost, however the circumstances of it may differ. So far from miracles being the means of producing sudden conversions, they on many occasions failed to produce any salutary impression whatever. If raising the dead could have converted the soul, the Jews, on witnessing the resurrection of Lazarus, would not have taken “counsel together from that day forth to put Jesus to death;” and if casting out devils could have converted the soul, the Philippians would not have thrust Paul and Silas into the inner prison for having dispossessed a damsel of an evil spirit.
H. I think I have read somewhere that we are not to be guided so much by any insulated passage of Scripture as by the general spirit of the Bible. Now do you think that the spirit of the Bible is favourable to sudden conversion?
M. I do; for the Bible calls upon men to repent and turn to the Lord now. It does not instruct them to adopt a course of action preparatory to their doing so at some future period, but allows of no delay. Its language is, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The ministers of the gospel are to “go into the highways and hedges; and as many as they find they are to bid to the marriage,” saying, “Come, for all things are now ready.” They are directed to offer a present salvation; as must appear to all who have paid any attention to the Scriptures. Now, the Lord surely is sincere. He does not say one thing and mean another. He does not instruct his ambassadors to tell sinners they may now be saved, while he intends they shall not, but must wait weeks, months, or perhaps years, before they shall have salvation.
H. If sudden conversions be according to the Scriptures, why do they not take place more frequently?
M. In addition to the reluctance of human nature to yield immediate submission to the plan of salvation, one reason probably is, that this feature of the gospel is not rendered sufficiently prominent in the ministrations of the sanctuary, and that sinners are not urged at once to give themselves to God. But perhaps they have been, and still are, more frequent in the church than you imagine. In the sixteen century, during the period of the Reformation many sudden conversions took place in Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark the Low Countries, and Britain. In the beginning of the seventeenth century many persons were suddenly brought to a knowledge of the truth in different parts of Scotland and Ireland: and in the former country we are told, on the best authority, that under a sermon preached at the kirk of Shotts, by Mr. Levingston, [sic] on June 21st, 1630, not fewer than five hundred souls were awakened and saved. If you read the Rev. John Wesley’s Journals, you will learn that in the course of his effective ministry some thousands of persons were suddenly converted; many of whom were convinced and brought to God in the course of one religious service. In the great revival of religion which took place in America under the ministry of President Edwards and his contemporaries, it was estimated that there were not fewer than thirty thousand conversions; and it is stated by Mr. Finney, that but recently, in the same country, one hundred thousand persons obtained salvation in the course of one year; and in both cases a large proportion were suddenly brought into a state of reconciliation. So lately as 1834, some thousands were led to their Saviour in the Friendly Isles ; and a missionary who watched the progress of the gracious work, informs us, in one of his communications, that a thousand persons were converted in one day; and not merely from paganism to Christianity, but, as far as he was able to ascertain, from Satan to God. I might refer to many other revivals of religion, which have been marked by large numbers of sudden conversions to God; but I hope that you are now satisfied that such conversions are neither unphilosophical, unscriptural, nor unusual.
Hearer. THERE is another thing connected with what occurred last sabbath evening which to me appears mysterious. I do not understand how it was that those persons found salvation in the prayer meeting rather than under the sermon, when we are told it is by. “the foolishness of preaching the Lord saves then that believe;” and also that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Minister. I see no difficulty in accounting for that. Some had been awakened under the word, and others more deeply impressed with the importance of eternal things than they had previously been; and their conversion was the result of the ministry of the truth. Nor should you forget that three or four short and pointed addresses were delivered during the prayer meeting, in which sinners were urged to an immediate surrender of themselves to God, and penitents directed and encouraged to accept of Christ as proposed to them in the gospel; so that the word of reconciliation was as fully preached during that religious service as it had been in the more formal way of a sermon.
H. But as you advanced no new truths in the prayer meeting, I do not yet see why they appeared to be more effective in that service than during the sermon.
M. An agency in the conversion of souls was brought into exercise in the prayer meeting which did not operate during the ministration of the word. I mean social prayer.
H. And do you think social intercessory prayer has an influence with God?
M. I do; for he commands us to “pray one for another,”—to “pray for them that despitefully use us,”—to pray that “ the Lord would send forth labourers into his vineyard,”—to pray that the kingdom of Christ may come,— to pray that the Spirit be poured out from on high; and, in fact, to “pray for all men.” Now, most assuredly he does not intend us to ask for blessings upon others, which he has determined shall not be granted. The apostle believed in the influence of intercessory prayer, when his “heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel” was, “that they might be saved;” and when “without ceasing he made mention of the churches in his prayers;” yea, “night and day prayed exceedingly,” that they might “increase and abound in love,” and have their “hearts unblamable in holiness.” And although the apostle was divinely called to the work of the ministry, and qualified by sundry gifts and graces for the discharge of its duties, yet he exhorted the church to pray for him, “that the word of the Lord might have free course, and run, and be glorified;” and earnestly besought its members to “strive with him, in their prayers to God for him,” that he might discharge with fidelity and effect the various duties devolving upon him as an ambassador of Christ. The prayer of Abraham was heard for Abimelech; and in answer to his fervent supplications the Lord promised to spare Sodom, if but ten righteous persons were found in it. The prayer of Moses was heard for Israel,—the prayer of Job for Eliphaz and his two friends,— the prayer of Samuel at Mizpah for the people of his charge,—the prayer of Elijah at Mount Carmel for blessings upon a most rebellious nation,—the prayer of the Canaanitish woman for her daughter,—the prayer of the centurion for his servant; and many other instances of the influence of intercessory prayer might be mentioned.
“O wondrous power of faithful prayer!
What tongue can tell the Almighty grace?
God’s hands or bound, or open are,
As Moses or Elijah prays:
Let Moses in the Spirit groan,
And God cries out, ‘ Let me alone !
“‘Let me alone, that all my wrath
May rise, the wicked to consume !
While justice hears thy praying faith,
It cannot seal the sinner’s doom:
My Son is in my servant’s prayer,
And Jesus forces me to spare.’”
St. James tells us that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much ; that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” And as respects social prayer, our Lord says, that “if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching any thing they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”
H. To what extent do you suppose the salvation of souls may be influenced by the united and fervent prayers of God’s people?
M. I think a larger measure of divine influence, than otherwise they would receive, may be obtained for sinners in answer to believing prayer. They will not be saved without personal repentance and faith; for no man can repent or believe for another; yet they may be led to the possession of these blessings under the direction of that influence which has been granted in answer to prayer.
H. But if the prayers of God’s people be so availing, why are not more of those for whom they pray, even among their own relatives, made the partakers of salvation?
M. Perhaps the conduct of the petitioners does not correspond with their prayers; or the prayers offered are defective; or the influence obtained is resisted by those to whom it is communicated. Religious instruction, as they may have ability to impart it, must be given by the Lord’s servants to those for whose conversion they intercede; for if that be withheld, when it is in their power to give it, there will be a discrepancy between their conduct and their prayers; and they can no more hope for success, than the husbandman who prays for his daily bread, while he neglects to cultivate his fields and sow his seed. And their prayers must not be a few cold wishes offered to God as a matter of couse, [sic] or expressed at the conclusion of their devotions, merely for the sake of making a good finish; but the humble, fervent, agonizing, and believing intercession of souls travailing in birth for the salvation of sinners, and which will not let God rest until he “establish Jerusalem, and make her a praise in the earth.” But if the conduct and intercessions of Christian believers be consistent with the Scriptures, and so effective as to secure the outpouring of the Spirit upon any number of persons, it does not necessarily follow that they must be saved. It will certainly place them in very favourable circumstances for obtaining salvation; but it will not place them under any irresistible influence, as that would be inconsistent with their condition as moral agents.
H. Then, after all you have said, it appears a doubtful case that souls will be saved in answer to the prayers of others.
M. Not so; for let Christians feel their individual responsibility in reference to the souls of their fellow-creatures, and let them live, and labour, and speak, and pray for their conversion, and the desire of their hearts will, I have no doubt, in some degree at least, be granted. If some resist the influence brought upon them by the prayers of the faithful, others will yield to it, and glorify God in the day of their visitation. It is a deeply interesting and encouraging fact, which I have taken some trouble to ascertain, that, from the period when the disciples at Jerusalem, in obedience to the commands of their Lord, “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” for “the promise of the Father,” to the present time, every revival with which the church has been blessed has been preceded by the spirit of special and earnest prayer for the influence of the Holy Ghost, and the conversion of sinners; and individual conversions are continually occurring, which may be distinctly traced to the influence of intercessory prayer.
H. Will you favour me with the recital of a few cases?
M. Most readily. The extraordinary work which began in Scotland on June 21st, 1630, already referred to, was evidently granted in answer to prayer. The day preceding was the sabbath, on which the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered; and many of the communicants, being convinced of the necessity of a revival of God’s work, did not that evening retire to rest, but joined in little companies, and spent the whole night in devotional exercises, especially for the out-pouring of the Spirit. The Lord heard their prayer, and gave a signal answer the very next day, in the conversion of five hundred souls under the preaching of Mr. Levingston. In the Friendly Isles a revival, perhaps never surpassed since the days of the apostles, was obtained in answer to prayer. The Rev. Peter Turner, one of the missionaries who witnessed the interesting visitation, says, “We all agreed to meet in private at the throne of grace every day at noon, to pray for a copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On Tuesday, July 23d, 1834, the Lord answered our prayers in an unexpected manner. While a local preacher was preaching at a village called Utui, on the compassion of Christ toward Jerusalem, many felt the spirit of deep conviction, and cried aloud for the disquietude of their souls. This soon became universal. They continued in prayer most of the night; during which time many found mercy. I and brother Cargill went to give them some instruction, and to encourage the blessed work. The sabbath following a similar work commenced at Feleton, where there are five hundred persons; and all, from the least to the greatest, were earnestly seeking salvation. Soon it spread to every place in Vavou, and also to the smaller islands which form this group, on which there are inhabitants. On July 27th, we believe that not fewer than one thousand souls were converted to God; not now from dumb idols only, but from sin to righteousness, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Now, this glorious revival, the blessed fruits of which are still remaining, was manifestly given in answer to prayer. The following interesting instance of prevailing intercessory prayer is given by an American minister. He says, “In a certain town there had been no revival for many years; the church was nearly run out; the youth were all unconverted, and desolation reigned unbroken. There lived in a retired part of the town an aged man, a blacksmith by trade, and of so stammering, a tongue, that it was painful to hear him speak. On one Friday, as he was at work in his shop alone, his mind became greatly exercised about the state of the church, and of the impenitent. His agony became so great, that he was induced to lay by his work, lock the shop door, and spend the afternoon in prayer. He prevailed; and called upon the minister on the sabbath, and desired him to appoint a conference meeting. After some hesitation, the minister consented; observing, however, that he feared but few would attend. He appointed it the same evening, at a large private house. When evening came, more assembled than could be accommodated in the house. All was silent for a time; until one sinner broke out in tears, and said, if any one could pray, he begged him to pray for him. Another followed, and another, and still another; until it was found that persons from every quarter of the town were under deep conviction; and, what was very remarkable, they all dated their conviction from the hour when the old man was praying in his shop. A powerful revival followed; and thus an old stammering man prevailed, and as a prince had power with God.” Many other cases of a similar nature might be mentioned.
H. But can, you mention any individual cases of conversion which have taken place in answer to intercessory prayer?
M. I could mention several; but perhaps two will suffice. I was present at a prayer meeting in Yorkshire, some years ago, in which an excellent man engaged in prayer, and was led to wrestle for some time with amazing energy for those persons who were then desecrating the sabbath at the alehouse; and he appeared as if, like Jacob, he would receive no denial. Not long after he had risen from his knees a stranger entered the chapel, evidently in distress; and, in the course of the meeting, cried aloud for mercy. He was directed to the sin-ner’s Friend; and, by simple faith in the atonement, he obtained peace with God, and was made very happy. He now told us that he had been spending nearly the whole day at a neighbouring tavern with some of his pot companions ; but had in a moment received such a view of his sin, wretchedness, and danger, that he, lest the wrath of God should fall upon him, literally ran out of the house, and hastened to the chapel, with the view of seeking to be saved. Surely this was an answer to prayer. Another case was that of a youth of eighteen, who was much disposed to ridicule religion, and mock the servants of God. He went one Saturday evening, with several of his trifling companions, to hear a Methodist preacher in a cottage, with the view of disturbing the congregation which might be assembled. On entering the cottage, he took his stand behind the door; and immediately a large number of per-sons crowded in, filling not only the house, but the porch also, and so completely shutting him into a corner, behind the door, that it was im-possible for him either to execute his wicked purpose, or to escape from his imprisonment. Here the word of the Lord reached his heart; and here, for the first time in his life, did he sincerely and penitently cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” His conviction issued in conversion; and being called to the work of the ministry, he offered himself for missionary services; and, after spending about ten years in the foreign field, and being in “deaths oft,” he returned to the land of his birth, where he now preaches the gospel. He often wondered at the powerful influence which so suddenly descended upon him, while a prisoner behind the door of the humble cottage; but his wonder ceased when he ascertained that his pious mother had set apart that evening for special prayer on his behalf; and that at the very time when he was awakened was she agonizing with God to save his soul. “The promise is to you and to your children,” was her plea at the throne of grace. God saw her anguish, heard her cry, honoured her faith, saved her son; and that son is he who now converses with you.
H. Your views of intercessory prayer involve a mystery which I cannot unravel; for if God communicate a larger measure of divine influence in answer to prayer than he would otherwise bestow upon transgressors, it would seem to prove that his people who earnestly pray have more love for sinners than himself, inasmuch as they obtain from him blessings which he would not bestow but for their benevolent interference.
M. You might as well say that the surgeon who saves the life of his patient is more ‘benevolent than God, who gives him skill, and blesses the means employed for the accomplishment of that end. The fact is, that God employs means in the spiritual as well as in the physical world for the fulfillment of his purposes of wisdom and love; and intercessory prayer is one of those means. The benevolence which dictates such prayer is derived from God himself; the fire of zeal which animates the bosom of the petitioner is obtained from his altar; and, in fact, all the influences which, prompt the effectual intercessory prayer have their origin in the love of God which is shed abroad in the heart of the true believer. Moses never- would have cried unto God in the anguish of his soul, and said, “If thou wilt not forgive their sins, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written,” had he not been in audience with the Deity; nor would the apostle have said, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,” had not the love of Christ constrained him.