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Duties of a Minister 4

28 Jun
DISCOURSE 4
 

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer,

and to the ministry of the word,” <440604>Acts 6:4.

PART 1.

1. ATTENTION to, and fidelity in the exercise of, the duty of prayer, is not

one of those obligations which are peculiar to the ministry of the gospel. It

is one of the most essential duties of Christianity. Every real Christian is a

man of prayer: his views, his desires, his hopes, his affections, yea, even

his conversation, are all in heaven. Every Christian is a citizen of the world

to come, and a stranger here below: all exterior objects which here surround

him should be to him only so many ties and obstacles, which, retarding his

course and prolonging his banishment, ought to increase and inflame his

desire after his country: all the temptations which the world offers or throws

it his way, all his secret conflicts with his passions —

all these should lead

him to lift up his eyes continually to heaven; there to send up his sighs and

prayers, and to address himself in secret, and in every place, to that faithful,

heavenly, invisible witness of all his dangers, and all his troubles, from

whose protection alone he expects his consolation and his strength. Every

Christian, then, is a man of prayer; and he who lives not in the exercise and

spirit of prayer, is a man without God, without divine worship, without

religion, without hope; and if this be an incontestable truth, what

instructions are not due to the people, to animate them to the love and

exercise of prayer.

2. But, my brethren, if the spirit of prayer be the soul of Christianity; if that

homage of love which we render to God in publishing his greatness and

loving kindness, or in soliciting his mercies and succors — if all other

ordinances of the gospel are only helps and assistants to this spirit of

prayer; if all external worship be established only to form of the simple

believer the man of devotion, the man of prayer; if he who calls himself a

Christian, and possesses not this spirit, and of course lives not in the

exercise of it, be without religion, without God, without hope; what a

monster must be the minister of this religion, an interpreter of its laws, an

expounder of its doctrines, a dispenser of its graces, a public intercessor

before God for the faithful, if he himself be not a man of prayer; if he be not

faithful to this essential duty! O, my brethren, if there be any among you

who do not feel the full power of these truths, what cause have we to

lament on your account, before that holy dove, that true source of the spirit

of prayer, who groans and prays incessantly in the hearts and by the

mouths of his ministers!

3. St. Peter went up upon the housetop to pray, <441009>Acts 10:9. In our text

we are informed, that all the apostles were resolved to give themselves

continually to prayer: and from the gospels we find that our Lord himself

spent whole nights in prayer, on mountains, and in other secret places,

<401423>Matthew 14:23, etc. And shall any of us presume to live in the omission

of the frequent and habitual exercise of this supporting, nourishing,

quickening, indispensable duty? But I have known many of you, my

brethren, for years; and am confident that one of the most leading features

of your character is the exercise of this holy duty in its spirit and power. I

therefore chiefly desire to stir up your pure minds to remembrance: and O

that I may be the means, under divine grace, by this little mite of love, of

confirming you in your present spirit: yea, of animating you to still greater

fidelity and to higher degrees of fervor in this blessed conversation with

Heaven.

4. We are called to be the lights of those who are in darkness: but it is

prayer and study, always accompanied to the sincere minister of the gospel

with the divine light, which truly renders us lights to the people. Prayer

may be termed the science of the heart, that alone renders useful those

studies which form the science of the mind.

5. It was the indubitable and experimental conviction of this truth,

confirmed to them by the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God,

which induced the college of apostles to come to the determination in my

text, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of

the word:” not that they did not before live in the exercise, and spirit, and

very life of prayer; but they were determined now to lay aside every weight

which duty could dispense with, and give themselves up more entirely than

ever to this holy communion with God.

6. It is probable that, like Moses of old, the apostles had, from motives of

pure love, taken an active share in all the minutest parts of the temporal

affairs of the church: but a murmuring arising between the Grecians (that is

to say, such converted Jews as had been dispersed abroad among the

Greeks) and the Hebrews, in respect to the distribution of the church’s

money among their widows respectively, the apostles embrace this

opportunity of shaking off that heavy burden, which so intruded upon the

more important parts of their ministerial and apostolic functions; declaring

that they would give themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry

of the word”

7. We must here observe to prevent mistakes, that though the apostles

delivered up the management of the poor, and other inferior points, to the

direction of subordinate officers of the church, they still reserved in

themselves the ultimate power of decision in all matters which they judged

of sufficient importance to call for their interference: this is evidently clear

from the following chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. But we proceed to

show how indispensably necessary the duty of constant prayer, which the

apostles themselves could by no means dispense with, is for every minister

of the gospel; having already enlarged upon the other subject, of the

ministry of the word, in my former discourses.

8. In considering the present subject, we shall, first, show the necessity of

continual prayer, as it respects ourselves, particularly considered in our

ministerial capacity; and then, secondly, as it respects our flocks.

I. FIRST, AS IT RESPECTS OURSELVES.

1. The temptations we meet with, to distaste and weariness in our duties,

can only be overcome by the exercise and life of prayer.

If we would fill up our ministry with fidelity, we must wholly devote

ourselves to it; we must sacrifice our ease, our rest, to fill up its various

calls; we cannot dispose of our time as we please: it is a holy servitude,

which makes us no longer our own, but wholly the people’s: we must be

able to say with the apostle, that heat and cold, fatigue, difficult roads,

hunger and thirst, are some of the fruits of our ministry, and signs of our

apostleship. We even often labor among the ungrateful: our pains are often

recompensed with indifference, unteachableness, and murmurs; yea, they

sometimes draw upon us the aversion of those whose salvation we seek.

When we are under these trials, we have reason to guard against disgust

and discouragement. We are ready, perhaps, to throw up the great work in

which we are engaged, when we see not the end of it, and but little of the

fruits. On such occasions, self-love, unsupported by the wished for

success, reclaims its rights, and secretly insinuates, that such painful and

apparently almost useless cares cannot be our duties. Now how can we

possibly support ourselves under such temptations to disgust as these are,

which are dangerous, and so frequent in the course of a long and laborious

ministry, if we do not continually renew our strength at the feet of Jesus

Christ — If we have not the consolation of continually drawing near to him

to open to him all our sorrows and discouragements, as to the great

Shepherd whose place we occupy. It is there we shall be confounded before

him, for making any account of the light troubles of our functions, when

compared to those of the first propagators of Christianity, who sacrificed

their lives for the truth: it is there we shall blush to have indulged a

temptation to lay down our arms almost before we had begun the combat,

and to have been disheartened and discouraged by labors so light; when

those holy ministers of God had defied tribulations, anguish, hunger,

nakedness, persecution, fires, gibbets, and all the fury of tyrants, who

would have separated them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord:

it is from thence, my brethren, that we should always return with a new

taste for all the functions of our office — with a new zeal for the salvation

of souls: returning from thence, what before appeared burdensome and

painful, would now become light, yea, delightful to us; and the fatigues and

contradictions of sinners, inseparable from the duties of our office, would

be to us a most comfortable proof of our calling to the ministry of the word.

Let none of us, my brethren, deceive ourselves: without the constant

exercise and life of prayer, we continually feel every thing which is

disagreeable and distressing in our ministry: we draw in a yoke which

overpowers us: we bear with reluctance the burden and heat of the day. But

by prayer all is sweetened: the yoke is no more heavy: the labors increase;

but the pain, the disgust, the discouragements, vanish away.

You

sometimes, my brethren, perhaps, are ready to complain of the oppression

and weariness of Spirit which the multitude and difficulties of your

avocations bring upon you, and of your inability to fulfill your duties: but if

you address yourselves constantly to him who changes our weakness into

strength. If you be faithful to the duty of prayer, these difficulties will

disappear; the mountains will become plains; you will find your selves new

men; and you will no longer complain, but that you have not labored or

suffered enough for Jesus Christ.

2. IF PRAYER ALONE CAN SWEETEN ALL THE PAINS AND

DISCOURAGEMENTS ATTENDANT ON THE EXERCISE OF

OUR SACRED FUNCTIONS, IT ALONE CAN PREVENT, OR

DELIVER US FROM, ALL THE DANGERS TO WHICH THEY

EXPOSE US.

1. As there is nothing, perhaps, more dangerous in our situation than the

dissipation of mind which is, almost unavoidably, more or less produced

by the constant administration of exterior duties, I will venture to assert that

the exercise and spirit of prayer can alone preserve us from its bad effects.

It is in reality but too true, that the inward man weakens, and the life of God

decays in the soul, in the midst of all the public exercises and constant

activity which our ministerial office requires, if we do not continually give

ourselves to prayer. We are real losers ourselves, while we give up

ourselves incessantly to the wants of others; we lose the secret and hidden

life of faith, in which consists the whole soul and life of piety: we accustom

ourselves to be all outward, always from home, and never within our own

hearts: we at last appear before the people to perform the public duties of

our office with dissipated spirits, divided by a variety of foreign and

tumultuous images which occupy them; and we no more experience the

silence of the senses and of the imagination, in respect to every thing but the

great and solemn work on which we are entering, which is so necessary to

call us back to a holy recollection, and to a secret consciousness of our utter

unworthiness and incapacity of ourselves to stand between the living and

the dead. Alas! we are no more acquainted with these things!

Thus, in

laboring always for others, and hardly ever for ourselves, the spiritual

strength of the soul wears out we live entirely out of ourselves; we give

ourselves up to this life of hurry and agitation; and we at last become

incapable of any profitable communion with ourselves or with God; we

even seek for occasions and pious pretexts to fly from retirement; we cannot

be in any wise comfortable without the company of others, and are

immediately tired with God alone.

2. Now, this conduct and disposition of mind, which have nothing

blameable in them in the judgment of the world, appear in a very different

light in the sight of God. Alas! we quite exhaust our spiritual strength, if we

be not continually repairing it at the footstool of the throne of grace; all our

cares and solicitudes are confined to external things; we act and stir

outwardly for God, but we do not commune and wrestle privately with

him, though true love thinks all hours too short in communing with its

Beloved. We run, but we run alone: the Lord, whom we neglect to call to

our assistance, leaves us to our own weakness; and our ordinary humor,

temper, vivacity, vanity, and love of popularity, rule us, rather than the

genuine love of our duty, and the love of son Is.

3. There is nothing but faithfulness in the exercise of prayer, which can

save us from these rocks: and, without neglecting in the least degree the

necessary functions of our ministry, we may live in this blessed exercise;

we may continually carry with us that spirit of piety and recollection, which

moderates, regulates, and sanctifies all our external duties, and even makes

them so many preparations for returning with still greater advantage to

retirement, recollection, and communion with God. It is for these reasons,

that we are repeatedly informed in the gospels, that our Lord warned his

disciples to watch and pray, that they might not enter into temptation,

<402641>Matthew 26:41. In St. Luke he says,” Watch ye, therefore, and pray

always;” <422136>Luke 21:36. And in St. Mark, “Take ye heed, watch and pray,”

<411133>Mark 11:33.

3. OUR NECESSARY INTERCOURSE WITH THE WORLD

MAKES THE CONSTANT EXERCISE OF PRAYER

AN INDISPENSABLE DUTY.

1. Though the exercise, the spirit, the very life of prayer, are absolutely

necessary for the salvation of every private Christian, we ministers, more

than others, have continually need of the help of prayer. The more our

duties lead us into the midst of the world, the more do they expose us to its

vanity and seductions, if they be not supported by the spirit of prayer. It is

not sufficient, that we are not infected or debilitated by the contagious air

which we must there breathe; we are required to appear among men, clothed

with more strength, more modesty, more virtue, more holiness, than the

generality of professors themselves, in the midst of whom we must daily

be: we ought everywhere to be the sweet savor of Jesus Christ.

But how

difficult must it be for a minister, if the habit of prayer has not established in

him a certain solidity of virtue, to find himself continually in the midst of

the abuses and dissipations of a vain world, to hear daily the apologies

which the world makes for itself and not be shaken or weakened in the

spiritual life thereby! He carries with him a heart void of all those deep

sentiments of religion which the habit of prayer alone can engrave upon the

soul, and influenced by all those inclinations which can render the world

amiable to him! There are but too few among believers, who do not,

sometimes, feel themselves inwardly seduced and shaken by the objects

which surround them: what then can that minister do, who carries with him

but his weakness and his frailties? And though decency may keep him

within certain bounds; yet still the world is in his heart;

he adopts it for his

own; and there is nothing now to be observed, even in his public

administrations, of that firmness and becoming majesty which announce the

minister and ambassador of God: he is now like salt which has lost its

savor; and which is not only unable to preserve other things from

corruption, but is itself changed into rottenness and putrefaction.

2. A minister, therefore, who lives without the habit of prayer, without

fidelity to that sacred and indispensable means of grace, however

irreprehensible he may otherwise be in the eyes of men, is but the shadow

of a minister; he is but a bare representation of a pastor of the flock of

Christ: he has not the soul, the reality of that holy vocation; and his whole

ministry has nothing in it but an empty title; which neither binds him to

God, with whom he has no communication, nor to the church of God, to

which he is of no manner of use.

3. When I speak of the necessity of prayer for a minister of the gospel, I do

not mean that this holy exercise should occupy the greatest part of the day:

he owes himself to his flock, and his public duties ought never to suffer by

the length of his prayers. But I understand hereby that prayer should always

precede his public duties, and sanctify them; I mean, also, that the spirit of

prayer should accompany him throughout; that he should in every thing,

even in the most indifferent of his actions, show forth that “inward man,

which is renewed” through prayer, “day by day,” <470416>2 Corinthians 4:16, —

that secret commerce with God, wherein consists the essence of religion

and piety; that he render his ministry in all places respectable, and make his

very presence alone an instruction to all those who approach him. Behold

what I understand by the spirit of prayer, so essential for a minister of the

church of God.

4. We are, my brethren, divinely appointed to combat the vices and unruly

passions of the world, to destroy the empire of the devil among men, and to

establish and to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Our ministry snatches

us from external repose, and clothes us with armor: but our arms are only

prayer and faith working by love. It is from these divine arms, under grace,

that all our instructions, all our labors, and all our efforts, derive their

whole strength and success: without these, we are but weak, rash men,

exposed without defense in the midst of enemies, with whom we ought to

have been prepared to fight; and soon become the miserable sport of their

seductions, and of the snares which they continually throw in our way: that

is to say, we soon ourselves become like to them, whom we ought to have

converted to God and gained for Jesus Christ. Like minister, like people!

Would to God my observations were never verified. But, alas! from long

experience in the ministry of the word, I am indubitably convinced, that a

minister, without the spirit of prayer and habitual recollection, cannot long

be supported in the divine life; he becomes dissipated; he neglects his

duties, especially where a cross accompanies them; or he performs them

without piety, without any of that deep inward sentiment of true religion,

and often without that respect and holy dignity which the world itself

expects: till at last he becomes a stumbling-block and an offense to the

flock, and sometimes even a public reproach to the church to which he

belongs.

PART 2.

II. I now proceed to the second head of my discourse; namely, to show the

necessity of our living in the constant exercise and spirit of prayer, as it

respects the interests of our flocks.

1. THE EXERCISE, SPIRIT, AND LIFE OF PRAYER,

Are necessary, not only to preserve us from disgust and discouragement in

our duties, and from all the dangers with which we are surrounded in all

our pastoral engagements, in our intercourse with the world, and otherwise;

but also to assure fruit and success to our ministry.

1. It is not sufficient that we run no hazard of losing our own souls; (if that

were possible, in respect to any prayerless person;) it is still more necessary

for the church of God that we be useful to others. Now, you well know,

my brethren, that we may cultivate the ground, we may plant and water, but

it is God alone who gives the increase <460306>1 Corinthians 3:6. But how can

we expect it if we be not faithful in asking it — if we do not, by our fervent

and continual prayers, draw down from heaven those blessings on our

labors which alone can make them fruitful? Too many labor without fruit,

without success, because they labor all alone, and as if the success

depended only on themselves. They expect it from their own gifts, their

own cares, and the improvement of their own understandings. They call not

Him to their assistance, who alone can give the blessing to all their toils,

and render them useful.

2. I repeat it, my brethren, the little usefulness of many ministers, even

when they fill up all the public parts of their office, is entirely owing to the

want of living in the spirit of prayer. They think they have discharged every

thing required, when they have fulfilled all the external duties of their

ministry; and never infer from the little fruit of their labors that there is some

secret vice or essential neglect which renders them useless. Thus, while

they engage not God by their prayers in the success of their undertakings;

while they begin them without solemnly and earnestly addressing

themselves to him, that he himself would prepare the hearts of those they

are going to instruct — they spend their days, as at one time did the

apostles, in casting their nets and taking nothing. They live, perhaps, a long

and painful life, (if they do not entirely plunge into the world,) and at last

die, with having done little, if any thing at all, in the gaining of immortal

souls for Jesus Christ.

2. THE CONSTANT EXERCISE AND SPIRIT OF PRAYER

ARE INDISPENSABLY NECESSARY TO OBTAIN DIVINE

UNCTION.

1. What success can that minister promise himself; on Scripture grounds,

who accustoms not himself to live within the veil — who comes not

constantly to the throne of grace, there to fill himself with the love of those

truths which he is about to declare, and with that spirit of unction which

alone can render them lovely and profitable to the people — to draw from

thence that affecting zeal, that grace, that strength, which is irresistible?

What success, I say, can he possibly promise himself, who comes to

address his audience as from God, who yet never himself speaks to God?

What dryness in his discourses! He announces truths; but they come from

his mouth, and not from his heart; nor are they those which the Father has

revealed to him in secret. He instructs with spirit; but it is with the spirit of

man, and not with the Spirit of God. He shows forth the truth; but he does

not make it amiable. Those external actions which he gives himself in order

to persuade, do not even appear to persuade, to touch, to penetrate himself.

A spiritual person easily perceives that he speaks a strange language, which

is not drawn from the bottom of his heart. Solomon, from the language of

the two women, quickly discovered the true mother. It is very easy for a

truly spiritual person to distinguish between a true and a false shepherd,

from their language and discourses — to determine which is the true father

of the flock; which is he who speaks the language of paternal love, who

bears his children on his heart; who is continually employed before God in

their behalf, and who is abundantly more jealous of their safety and

salvation than of his own titles of shepherd, minister, or ambassador of

Christ.

And I appeal to you, my brethren, for the truth of my observation

— that a holy minister, a man of prayer, with only moderate talents, will be

more successful, will leave his congregation more affected and influenced

by his discourse, than many others whose talents are vastly superior, but

who have not by prayer drawn down that unction, that tender taste of piety,

which alone knows how to speak to the heart. A minister speaks very

differently the truths he loves, and which he is accustomed to meditate

upon, and taste all his days, at the feet of Jesus Christ!

The heart has a

language which nothing can imitate. In vain does a minister thunder from

the pulpit, and put his studied actions and forced clamors in the place of zeal

and piety. We may always perceive the man: we may always feel that it is a

fire which descends not from heaven. All that vehement and forced noise in

the preacher never announces the descent of the Spirit of God upon the

hearts of those who are assembled to hear. I am not now speaking of the

genuine cries of sinners and mourners in Zion, when struck and humbled

under the word. I well know that thousands, in these lands, can refer,

under grace, their conviction or conversion to those times of weeping, of

melting, of crying, of apparent confusion in the sight of the world, but of

blessed order in the sight of God. I speak only against the substituting, on

the one hand, of human wisdom and human art, or, on the other, of noise

and clamor, for the unction of the Holy One of Israel.

2. I cannot, my brethren, help dwelling on this important subject. I must

repeat the question — what success can our discourses produce, if the

habit, and life, and spirit of prayer draw not down upon them that grace,

that unction, which alone makes them useful to those who hear? Without

this, the whole is but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. The preacher

speaks only to the ears of his audience, or at best to their understandings,

merely because the Spirit of God speaks not by his mouth.

The spirit by

which he speaks, and which animates his tongue, is not that spirit of

unction, of force, of fire, which, as it formerly moved on the face of the

waters, so now moves upon the passions of the heart quiet in its sins,

troubles it, agitates it, and then separates and clears up the chaos. It is in

vain for him to thunder or borrow his zeal from without — throughout the

whole, he only, as the apostle speaks, beats the air: his language is as cold,

as barren, as insipid as his heart; and the ministry of the word is no longer

to him but a forced duty, which disgusts him, which overwhelms him, and

from the labor of which he excuses himself as much as possible; or

otherwise it is a theater of vanity, where he rather seeks for the vile

commendations of those that hear him than for their conversion and

salvation.

3. How can that minister make the people taste the sweetness and power of

the truths of God, who has never tasted them himself, or does not at least

now taste them at the footstool of the throne? How can he ever inspire the

people with a love of prayer, or a conviction of the necessity of it, who

experiences not the consolations, nor feels the wants, which make the habit

of prayer so essential to every true believer? How can he form real

Christians, that is to say, spiritual men, “whose life is hid with Christ in

God,” — he, whose whole life is a life out of himself and out of God, and

whom the life of prayer does not cause to enter into himself, and into an

examination of his own heart? No, my brethren! Take from a minister the

spirit of prayer, and you take from him his soul, his strength, his life: he is

no more than a dead carcass, which quickly infects those who approach it.

3. MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL “ARE AMBASSADORS FOR

CHRIST, TO PRAY THE PEOPLE TO BE RECONCILED TO

GOD,”

<470520>2 Corinthians 5:20, and not only so, but to plead with God, through the

great atonement, in their behalf.

1. But how can they who are not known or acknowledged of God plead

with God for the people, when the want of the spirit of prayer has shut up

all access to his throne; when they have not contracted, by their fidelity in

the exercise of prayer, that holy familiarity with him which authorizes them

to lay before him with confidence the wants of their flocks, and to bring

down into the hearts of the penitent the blessings of pardoning love, and

into those of believers the blessings of establishing grace, strength against

temptation, and the perfect love of God; in a word, to use a sacred violence

to the mercy of God in Christ, and to speak to him all the language of

tenderness, pity, faith, and zeal in behalf of their flocks that language which

the constant habit of prayer alone can teach us?

2. “Howbeit,” says our Lord, speaking of bodily diabolical possessions,

“this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting,” <401721>Matthew 17:21. And

can we imagine that less prayer is necessary to overturn the kingdom, the

power, yea, the very nature of the devil in the souls of men? What is then

sufficient for this? I answer, faith and prayer, with the promises and

blessings annexed thereto. “Verily, I say unto you,” says Christ to his

disciples,

“if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is

done to the fig-tree; but also, if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be

thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all

things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall

receive,” <402121>Matthew 21:21, 22.

O that we had all of us but faith and piety sufficient to give full credit to the

word of God! then should we know and be astonished at the truth of those

words of our Savior,

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works

that I do, shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do,

because I go unto my Father: and whatsoever ye shall ask in my

name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If

ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it,” <431412>John 14:12,14.

Accordingly, the great apostle, that close copier of the life of Christ, writes

to the Colossians,

“We do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that you might be

filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual

understanding,” <510109>Colossians 1:9, etc.;

and to the Thessalonians,

“What thanks can we render to God again for you, etc., night and

day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might

perfect that which is lacking in your faith,” <520309>1 Thessalonians

3:9,10.

And we may be assured that the apostle would never have prayed so

continually and exceedingly for his flocks, if he had not been certain that his

prayers would be heard for many of them in a glorious manner.

4. IF PRAYER WERE NOT SO INDISPENSABLE FOR

OURSELVES

IN PARTICULAR AS IT IS, WE OWE IT TO OUR PEOPLE.

1. Are we not charged, by our character of pastor and minister, to pray for

them without ceasing? Is it not a duty incumbent on us to lay before God

the wants of our flocks, and to solicit for them the riches of his mercy?

Should we not groan before him by reason of the vices with which too

many of our hearers among whom we labor are infected; and which all our

cares and all our zeal are not able to correct? Are we not bound to ask at the

throne strength for the weak, compunction for hard-hearted sinners, and

perseverance for the righteous? The more numerous the wants of our

people, the more earnest and frequent should be our prayers. We should

never appear before God, but, like the high-priest of the law, bearing before

the Most High the names of the tribes written on our hearts; that is to say,

the names of the people intrusted to our care: this should always be a

principal subject of our prayers. Such is the order of the dispensation of

grace. Though every genuine Christian is a king and priest to God and the

Father, ministers especially are the public conduit-pipes, through which the

divine grace and blessings run to the people: they form the grand public

resource, by the instrumentality of which the goodness of God in Christ

corrects the disorders which reign among men.

2. You see, then, my brethren, on the whole, that prayer is the most

intimate and inseparable duty of a gospel minister: it is, if I may so speak,

the soul of his office: it is, under the grace of God, his only safety. This

alone sweetens all the distastes and discouragements he meets with: this

alone guards him from all the dangers with which he is surrounded from his

intercourse with the world, or from the spirit of professors themselves: this

alone, under grace, assures success to his ministry; alone imparts the divine

unction to his discourses; alone enables him to give a taste of the divine

truths to the people, having first tasted them himself in communion with his

God; alone qualifies him to plead successfully with God in behalf of his

flock; and therefore is an absolutely indispensable debt which he owes to

his people.

I shall now conclude the whole with a few general deductions from what

has been advanced.

1. A minister, who lives not in the spirit and exercise of prayer, who prays

only in a formal manner at set seasons, to satisfy a hardened conscience, is

no pastor; he is a stranger, who is nowise interested by the wants of his

flock: the people who are intrusted to his care are not his children; they are

poor orphans without a father; his heart, his bowels, say nothing in their

behalf; he loves the title which puts them under his direction, but he loves

not that which is a grand means of their conversion and salvation: he loves

not the office of a shepherd he loves not the flock: for if he loved it, could

he omit any essential duty in behalf of the faithful, the mourners, or the

sinners, intrusted to his care, to the end that none of those whom the Father

had given him might perish? What say you, my brethren?

A pastor, who

lives not in the exercise of prayer for his people, not only loves them not,

but deprives them of that which they have a right to exact from him: in

depriving them of his prayers he deprives them of a resource to which God

is always pleased to adjoin many graces, many blessings: he fills the place

of a holy shepherd, whose prayers would have drawn down a thousand

blessings on the poor flock, and is absolutely guilty, in a great degree, of all

the crimes which the prayers of that holy man would have prevented.

Examine, therefore, if you be faithful in representing to God all the wants

of your people; if you be solicitous, importunate, to draw down upon them

the gracious regard of a good God. O, brethren, the fervent prayers of a

faithful pastor are rarely useless. That God, who has charged us to pray for

our people, has also promised to hear us.

2 . May I venture, without offense, to urge the following objection

(conscious how inapplicable it is to most, if not all of you, my brethren) —

“How can a traveling preacher have much leisure for prayer, in the midst of

the vast multiplicity of business which a circuit requires?”

Alas! In the midst

of all our labors and cares, how many vacant, unemployed moments have

we? Can a pastor, an ambassador of Christ to mankind, God’s minister,

charged with the important office of presenting the wishes and prayers of

the congregation before the throne, not have time to present his own — a

dispenser of the doctrines and graces of the gospel not hold constant

intercourse with Him who has intrusted to him this glorious ministry, and

in the name of whom he speaks and acts — never render an account to God

of the gifts and celestial riches with which he has been intrusted! The royal

psalmist says of himself, “I give myself unto prayer,” <19A904>Psalm 109:4. And

again,

“Evening and morning and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud:

and he shall hear my voice,” <195517>Psalm 55:17.

And once more, “Seven times a day do I praise thee,” <19B9104>Psalm 119:104.

Now, can any of us imagine that the concerns of a mighty empire, which

lay on the mind of the royal psalmist, were less than the care of a circuit?

Again, the Scripture informs us that Daniel, when prime minister of the

greatest kingdom in the world,

“kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed

and gave thanks before God,” <270610>Daniel 6:10.

O that the Lord would now pour out upon us all, more abundantly than

ever, the spirit of grace and supplication!

3 . It is not, my brethren, the devotion of a part of your lives in the exercise

of prayer which we so much press upon you, as the privilege and

consolation of those souls, retired into themselves, who are occupied in

meditating on the wonders of the law and grace of God; and who taste, far

from the world, and in the secret places of his tabernacle, what happiness

they enjoy who love nothing in comparison to him, and who hold

communion incessantly with him. That which is essential to us, is the spirit

of prayer, which we ought to carry with us continually and into all our

duties: that which is particularly requisite for us, is, before we enter on our

public offices, always to go to the feet of Jesus Christ, there to fill

ourselves with that spirit which enables us to perform our duties holily for

ourselves, and usefully for others: it is, when we have finished our public

duties, to go for some precious moments to refresh ourselves before God,

and there to recover fresh strength to begin them again with new zeal: it is,

to accustom ourselves to this secret and almost perpetual intercourse with

God; to find him everywhere; to find ourselves always with him; and in

every place, and every thing, to find occasion to raise ourselves up to him.

Behold in what sense a minister of the gospel should be a man of prayer. O,

my brethren, if this spirit of prayer animate not all our duties, we shall have

much reason to complain while we are performing all that is painful in

them, and omitting the only thing which can soften them, support us under

them, and give them, under God, the wished-for success.

4. What a misfortune then is it, for a people to have over them a prayerless

pastor; I mean one who does not live in the life, and spirit, and exercise of

prayer; one who is governed by a spirit of dissipation, destitute of the spirit

of prayer and recollection; who is kept only by the fear of man from falling

into scandalous disorders! What assistance can this unfortunate people

promise themselves from such a minister! Can he administer to them those

words of piety, unction, and consolation, which can only be received from

Him “in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells for the church which

is his body?” Can he successfully oppose the vices and public disorders

which surround him? O! to be properly affected by these, he must be filled

by that zeal which is the flame of love; he must feel the value of the souls

among which he labors: but, to have a heart susceptible of this zeal and this

sympathy, he must be often softened and melted down at the foot of the

cross, in meditating on the price which these souls have cost our adorable

Redeemer. I therefore once more say, in what a miserable state is that

unfortunate people who are cursed with a prayerless minister!

He should

have been like a salubrious cloud, placed between the heavens and the

precious field confided to his care. He should, by the habitual exercise of

prayer, have received from on high those holy influences with which he

should incessantly have watered, enriched, and rendered fruitful, that land

which he is charged to cultivate. But, having no communication with

heaven by prayer, he is only one of those “clouds without water, carried

about of wind,” <650112>Jude 12. No heavenly dew flows from his bosom; he

imparts nothing, because he receives nothing: or, if he do impart any thing,

it is only some dreadful rumor, a stench and a public noise of his scandal

and fall!

5. Let us, my brethren, lay to heart these sacred truths. Let us never lose

sight of them through the course of our lives. The spirit of prayer is the

essential spirit of Christianity: but IT IS THE SOUL, THE SUBSTANCE, THE LIFE

OF A GOSPEL MINISTRY. Every thing in our exterior duties tends to unite us

to God — To raise us up to him: and shall our spirit and our heart only be

unmoved, in the midst of so many sacred employments, which call us back

to him: in the midst of so many graces and lovingkindnesses as we are

continually endeavoring to dispense in the ministry of the word, and which

flow from him alone: in the midst of so many errors, disorders, and vices,

which we daily see increasing among the people who surround us, and

which call so loud upon us to implore his pity, and to have recourse to Him

alone who can correct them? All these things considered is it possible for

any one of us to regard a secret and constant intercourse with God as a pain

and a cross; and in respect to present the experience, be obliged to consider

him as the people did formerly in the midst of Athens, AN UNKNOWN GOD!

6. In short, a real minister of the gospel is a man of prayer. Prayer is his

grand employment, his safety, his first and perpetual duty; and, I may add,

is, under grace, the grand source of his consolation. Our instructions will

be always barren, if they be not watered with our tears and prayers. Even if

our gifts be small, but we support them by our prayers, our defects will be

in a great measure supplied ,and divine unction become the blessed

substitute.

7. Therefore I once more, for all, repeat it again, a minister who prays not,

who is not in love with prayer, is not a minister of the church of God: he is

a dry tree, which occupies in vain a place in Christ’s garden: he is an

enemy, and not a father, of the people, he is a stranger, who has taken the

place of the the shepherd, and to whom the salvation of the flock is an

indifferent thing. Be then, my brethren, faithful in prayer, and your

ministry will be more and more useful; your labors will be more and more

delightful to you; and the evils of the church of Christ, and of the world in

general, will the daily diminish.

“O my God, give to all the ministers of thy gospel a tender and

paternal heart toward their people; then will they always know how

to address thee in their behalf; then will their zealous spirits be one

continual prayer, speaking to thee for the souls which lie so near to

their hearts! But, more particularly, bless the preachers of our

connection, throughout Europe and America, with the abundance of

thy grace, and of this spirit of prayer. Glory be given to thee, thou

hast already bestowed much of it upon them: O! preserve it, increase

it, enflame it, till their very life be one constant sacrifice to thee; till,

by being daily stamped with brighter and brighter characters of

thyself, they continually bring down, like thy servant Moses, a

bright shining from the Mount.”

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