PREACHER AND PRAYER
Edward McKendree (E. M.) Bounds
We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods,
new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure
enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a
tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or
organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than
of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better
methods; God is looking for better men. “There was a man sent from God
whose name was John.” The dispensation that heralded and prepared the
way for Christ was bound up in that man John. “Unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given.” The world’s salvation comes out of that cradled
Son. When Paul appeals to the personal character of the men who rooted
the gospel in the world, he solves the mystery of their success. The glory
and efficiency of the gospel is staked on the men who proclaim it.
When God declares that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the
whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is
perfect toward him,” he declares the necessity of men and his dependence
on them as a channel through which to exert his power upon the world.
This vital, urgent truth is one that this age of machinery is apt to forget.
The forgetting of it is as baneful on the work of God as would be the
striking of the sun from his sphere. Darkness, confusion, and death would
What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new
organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost
can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does
not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on
machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of
An eminent historian has said that the accidents of personal character have
more to do with the revolutions of nations than either philosophic
historians or democratic politicians will allow. This truth has its
application in full to the gospel of Christ, the character and conduct of the
followers of Christ — Christianize the world, transfigure nations and
individuals. Of the preachers of the gospel it is eminently true.
The character as well as the fortunes of the gospel is committed to the
preacher. He makes or mars the message from God to man. The preacher is
the golden pipe through which the divine oil flows. The pipe must not
only be golden, but open and flawless, that the oil may have a full,
unhindered, unwasted flow.
The man makes the preacher. God must make the man. The messenger is,
if possible, more than the message. The preacher is more than the sermon.
The preacher makes the sermon. As the life-giving milk from the mother’s
bosom is but the mother’s life, so all the preacher says is tinctured,
impregnated by what the preacher is. The treasure is in earthen vessels,
and the taste of the vessel impregnates and may discolor. The man, the
whole man, lies behind the sermon. Preaching is not the performance of an
hour. It is the outflow of a life. It takes twenty years to make a sermon,
because it takes twenty years to make the man. The true sermon is a thing
of life. The sermon grows because the man grows. The sermon is forceful
because the man is forceful. The Sermon is holy because the man is holy.
The sermon is full of the divine unction because the man is full of the
Paul termed it “My gospel;” not that he had degraded it by his personal
eccentricities or diverted it by selfish appropriation, but the gospel was
put into the heart and lifeblood of the man Paul, as a personal trust to be
executed by his Pauline traits, to be set aflame and empowered by the
fiery energy of his fiery soul. Paul’s sermons — what were they? Where
are they? Skeletons, scattered fragments, afloat on the sea of inspiration!
But the man Paul, greater than his sermons, lives forever, in full form,
feature and stature, with his molding hand on the Church. The preaching is
but a voice. The voice in silence dies, the text is forgotten, the sermon
fades from memory; the preacher lives.
The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men
give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the
spiritual character of the preacher. Under the Jewish dispensation the high
priest had inscribed in jeweled letters on a golden frontlet: “Holiness to the
Lord.” So every preacher in Christ’s ministry must be molded into and
mastered by this same holy motto. It is a crying shame for the Christian
ministry to fall lower in holiness of character and holiness of aim than the
Jewish priesthood. Jonathan Edwards said: “I went on with my eager
pursuit after more holiness and conformity to Christ. The heaven I desired
was a heaven of holiness.” The gospel of Christ does not move by popular
waves. It has no self-propagating power. It moves as the men who have
charge of it move. The preacher must impersonate the gospel. Its divine,
most distinctive features must be embodied in him.
The constraining power of love must be in the preacher as a projecting, eccentric,
an all commanding, self-oblivious force. The energy of self-denial must be his
being, his heart and blood and bones. He must go forth as a man among
men, clothed with humility, abiding in meekness, wise as a serpent,
harmless as a dove; the bonds of a servant with the spirit of a king, a king
in high, royal, independent bearing, with the simplicity and sweetness of a
child. The preacher must throw himself, with all the abandon of a perfect,
self-emptying faith and a self-consuming zeal, into his work for the
salvation of men. Hearty, heroic, compassionate, fearless martyrs must the
men be who take hold of and shape a generation for God. If they be timid
timeservers, place seekers, if they be men pleasers or men fearers, if their
faith has a weak hold on God or his Word, if their denial he broken by any
phase of self or the world, they cannot take hold of the Church nor the
world for God.
The preacher’s sharpest and strongest preaching should be
to himself. His most difficult, delicate, laborious, and thorough work must
he with himself. The training of the twelve was the great, difficult, and
enduring work of Christ. Preachers are not sermon makers, but men
makers and saint makers, and he only is well-trained for this business who
has made himself a man and a saint. It is not great talents nor great learning
nor great preachers that God needs, but men great in holiness, great in
faith, great in love, great in fidelity, great for God — men always preaching
by holy sermons in the pulpit, by holy lives out of it. These can mold a
generation for God.
After this order, the early Christians were formed. Men they were of solid
mold, preachers after the heavenly type — heroic, stalwart, soldierly,
saintly. Preaching with them meant self-denying, self-crucifying, serious,
toilsome, martyr business. They applied themselves to it in a way that
told on their generation, and formed in its womb a generation yet unborn
for God. The preaching man is to be the praying man. Prayer is the
preacher’s mightiest weapon. An almighty force in itself, it gives life and
force to all.
The real sermon is made in the closet. The man — God’s man — is made
in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his
secret communion with God. The burdened and tearful agony of his spirit,
his weightiest and sweetest messages were got when alone with God.
Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the
The pulpit of this day is weak in praying. The pride of learning is against
the dependent humility of prayer. Prayer is with the pulpit too often only
official — a performance for the routine of service. Prayer is not to the
modern pulpit the mighty force it was in Paul’s life or Paul’s ministry.
Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life
and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project
God’s cause in this world.
The preaching that kills may be, and often is, orthodox — dogmatically,
inviolably orthodox. We love orthodoxy. It is good. It is the best. It is the
clean, clear-cut teaching of God’s Word, the trophies won by truth in its
conflict with error, the levees which faith has raised against the desolating
floods of honest or reckless misbelief or unbelief; but orthodoxy, clear and
hard as crystal, suspicious and militant, may be but the letter well-shaped,
well-named, and well-learned, the letter which kills. Nothing is so dead as a
dead orthodoxy, too dead to speculate, too dead to think, to study, or to
The preaching that kills may have insight and grasp of principles, may be
scholarly and critical in taste, may have every minutiae of the derivation
and grammar of the letter, may be able to trim the letter into its perfect
pattern, and illume it as Plato and Cicero may be illumined, may study it
as a lawyer studies his text-books to form his brief or to defend his case,
and yet be like a frost, a killing frost. Letter preaching may be eloquent,
enameled with poetry and rhetoric, sprinkled with prayer, spiced with
sensation, illumined by genius, and yet these be but the massive or chaste,
costly mountings, the rare and beautiful flowers which coffin the corpse.
The preaching which kills may he without scholarship, unmarked by any
freshness of thought or feeling, clothed in tasteless generalities or vapid
specialties, with style irregular, slovenly, savoring neither of closet nor of
study, graced neither by thought, expression, or prayer. Under such
preaching how wide and utter the desolation! how profound the spiritual
This letter-preaching deals with the surface and shadow of things, and not
the things themselves. It does not penetrate the inner part. It has no deep
insight into, no strong grasp of, the hidden life of God’s Word. It is true to
the outside, but the outside is the hull which must be broken and
penetrated for the kernel. The letter may be dressed so as to attract and be
fashionable, but the attraction is not toward God nor is the fashion for
heaven. The failure is in the preacher. God has not made him. He has never
been in the hands of God like clay in the hands of the potter.
He has been busy about the sermon, its thought and finish, its drawing and impressive
forces; but the deep things of God have never been sought, studied,
fathomed, experienced by him. He has never stood before “the throne high
and lifted up,” never heard the seraphim song, never seen the vision nor
felt the rush of that awful holiness, and cried out in utter abandon and
despair under the sense of weakness and guilt, and had his life renewed, his
heart touched, purged, inflamed by the live coal from God’s altar.
His ministry may draw people to him, to the Church, to the form and
ceremony; but no true drawings to God, no sweet, holy, divine
communion induced. The Church has been frescoed but not edified,
pleased but not sanctified. Life is suppressed; a chill is on the summer air;
the soil is baked. The city of our God becomes the city of the dead; the
Church a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled;
worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching have helped sin, not
holiness; peopled hell, not heaven.
Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer the preacher
creates death, and not life. The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in
life-giving forces. The preacher who has retired prayer as a conspicuous
and largely prevailing element in his own character has shorn his preaching
of its distinctive life-giving power. Professional praying there is and will
be, but professional praying helps the preaching to its deadly work.
Professional praying chills and kills both preaching and praying. Much of
the lax devotion and lazy, irreverent attitudes in congregational praying are
attributable to professional praying in the pulpit. Long, discursive, dry,
and inane are the prayers in many pulpits. Without unction or heart, they
fall like a killing frost on all the graces of worship. Death-dealing prayers
they are. Every vestige of devotion has perished under their breath. The
deader they are the longer they grow. A plea for short praying, live
praying, real heart praying, praying by the Holy Spirit — direct, specific,
ardent, simple, unctuous in the pulpit — is in order. A school to teach
preachers how to pray, as God counts praying, would be more beneficial
to true piety, true worship, and true preaching than all theological schools.
Stop! Pause! Consider! Where are we? Preaching to kill? Praying to God!
the great God, the Maker of all worlds, the Judge of all men! What
reverence! what simplicity! what sincerity! what truth in the inward parts
is demanded! How real we must be! How hearty! Prayer to God the
noblest exercise, the loftiest effort of man, the most real thing! Shall we
not discard forever accursed preaching that kills and prayer that kills, and
do the real thing, the mightiest thing — prayerful praying, life-creating
preaching, bring the mightiest force to bear on heaven and earth and draw
Never was there greater need for saintly men and women; more imperative
still is the call for saintly, God-devoted preachers. The world moves with
gigantic strides. Satan has his hold and rule on the world, and labors to
make all its movements subserve his ends. Religion must do its best work,
present its most attractive and perfect models. By every means, modern
sainthood must he inspired by the loftiest ideals and by the largest
possibilities through the Spirit. Paul lived on his knees, that the Ephesian
Church might measure the heights, breadths, and depths of an
unmeasurable saintliness, and “be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Epaphras laid himself out with the exhaustive toil and strenuous conflict
of fervent prayer, that the Colossian Church might “stand perfect and
complete in all the will of God.” Everywhere, everything in apostolic
times was on the stretch that the people of God might each and “all come
in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a
perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” No
premium was given to dwarfs; no encouragement to an old babyhood. The
babies were to grow; the old, instead of feebleness and infirmities, were to
bear fruit in old age, and be fat and flourishing. The divinest thing in
religion is holy men and holy women.
No amount of money, genius, or culture can move things for God.
Holiness energizing the soul, the whole man aflame with love, with desire
for more faith, more prayer, more zeal, more consecration — this is the
secret of power. These we need and must have, and men must be the
incarnation of this God-inflamed devotedness. God’s advance has been
stayed, his cause crippled, his name dishonored for their lack. Genius
(though the loftiest and most gifted), education (though the most learned
and refined), position, dignity, place, honored names, high ecclesiastics
cannot move this chariot of our God. It is a fiery one, and fiery forces only
can move it. The genius of a Milton fails. The imperial strength of a Leo
fails. Brainerd’s spirit can move it. Brainerd’s spirit was on fire for God,
on fire for souls. Nothing earthly, worldly, selfish came in to abate in the
least the intensity of this all-impelling and all-consuming force and flame.
Prayer is the creator as well as the channel of devotion. The spirit of
devotion is the spirit of prayer. Prayer and devotion are united as soul and
body are united, as life and the heart are united. There is no real prayer
without devotion, no devotion without prayer. The preacher must be
surrendered to God in the holiest devotion. He is not a professional man,
his ministry is not a profession; it is a divine institution, a divine devotion.
He is devoted to God. His aim, aspirations, ambition are for God and to
God, and to such prayer is as essential as food is to life.
The preacher, above everything else, must be devoted to God. The
preacher’s relations to God are the insignia and credentials of his ministry.
These must be clear, conclusive, unmistakable. No common, surface type
of piety must be his. If he does not excel in grace, he does not excel at all.
If he does not preach by life, character, conduct, he does not preach at all.
If his piety be light, his preaching may be as soft and as sweet as music, as
gifted as Apollo, yet its weight will be a feather’s weight, visionary,
fleeting as the morning cloud or the early dew. Devotion to God — there is
no substitute for this in the preacher’s character and conduct. Devotion to
a Church, to opinions, to an organization to orthodoxy — these are paltry,
misleading, and vain when they become the source of inspiration, the
animus of a call. God must be the mainspring of the preacher’s effort, the
fountain and crown of all his toil. The name and honor of Jesus Christ, the
advance of his cause, must be all in all. The preacher must have no
inspiration but the name of Jesus Christ, no ambition but to have him
glorified, no toil but for him. Then prayer will be a source of his
illuminations, the means of perpetual advance, the gauge of his success.
The perpetual aim, the only ambition, the preacher can cherish is to have
God with him.
Never did the cause of God need perfect illustrations of the possibilities of
prayer more than in this age. No age, no person, will be ensamples of the
gospel power except the ages or persons of deep and earnest prayer. A
prayerless age will have but scant models of divine power.
Prayerless hearts will never rise to these Alpine heights. The age may be a better age
than the past, but there is an infinite distance between the betterment of an
age by the force of an advancing civilization and its betterment by the
increase of holiness and Christlikeness by the energy of prayer. The Jews
were much better when Christ came than in the ages before. It was the
golden age of their Pharisaic religion. Their golden religious age crucified
Christ. Never more praying, never less praying; never more sacrifices,
never less sacrifice; never less idolatry, never more idolatry; never more of
temple worship, never less of God worship; never more of lip service,
never less of heart service (God worshipped by lips whose hearts and
hands crucified God’s Son!); never more of churchgoers, never less of
It is prayer-force which makes saints. Holy characters are formed by the
power of real praying. The more of true saints, the more of praying; the
Prayer, with its manifold and many-sided forces, helps the mouth to utter
the truth in its fullness and freedom. The preacher is to be prayed for, the
preacher is made by prayer. The preacher’s mouth is to be prayed for; his
mouth is to be opened and filled by prayer. A holy mouth is made by
praying, by much praying; a brave mouth is made by praying, by much
praying. The Church and the world, God and heaven, owe much to Paul’s
mouth; Paul’s mouth owed its power to prayer. How manifold, illimitable,
valuable, and helpful prayer is to the preacher in so many ways, at so
many points, in every way! One great value is, it helps his heart.
Praying makes the preacher a heart preacher. Prayer puts the preacher’s
heart into the preacher’s sermon; prayer puts the preacher’s sermon into
the preacher’s heart.
The heart makes the preacher. Men of great hearts are great preachers.
Men of bad hearts may do a measure of good, but this is rare. The hireling
and the stranger may help the sheep at some points, but it is the good
shepherd with the good shepherd’s heart who will bless the sheep and
answer the full measure of the shepherd’s place.
We have emphasized sermon-preparation until we have lost sight of the
important thing to be prepared — the heart. A prepared heart is much
better than a prepared sermon. A prepared heart will make a prepared
Volumes have been written laying down the mechanics and taste of
sermon-making, until we have become possessed with the idea that this
scaffolding is the building. The young preacher has been taught to lay out
all his strength on the form, taste, and beauty of his sermon as a
mechanical and intellectual product. We have thereby cultivated a vicious
taste among the people and raised the clamor for talent instead of grace,
eloquence instead of piety, rhetoric instead of revelation, reputation and
brilliancy instead of holiness. By it we have lost the true idea of preaching,
lost preaching power, lost pungent conviction for sin, lost the rich
experience and elevated Christian character, lost the authority over
consciences and lives which always results from genuine preaching.
It would not do to say that preachers study too much. Some of them do
not study at all; others do not study enough. Numbers do not study the
right way to show themselves workmen approved of God. But our great
lack is not in head culture, but in heart culture; not lack of knowledge but
lack of holiness is our sad and telling defect — not that we know too
much, but that we do not meditate on God and his word and watch and
fast and pray enough. The heart is the great hindrance to our preaching.
Words pregnant with divine truth find in our hearts nonconductors;
arrested, they fall shorn and powerless.
Can ambition, that lusts after praise and place, preach the gospel of Him
who made himself of no reputation and took on Him the form of a
servant? Can the proud, the vain, the egotistical preach the gospel of him
who was meek and lowly? Can the bad-tempered, passionate, selfish,
hard, worldly man preach the system which teems with long-suffering,
self-denial, tenderness, which imperatively demands separation from
enmity and crucifixion to the world? Can the hireling official, heartless,
perfunctory, preach the gospel which demands the shepherd to give his
life for the sheep? Can the covetous man, who counts salary and money,
preach the gospel till he has gleaned his heart and can say in the spirit of
Christ and Paul in the words of Wesley:
“I count it dung and dross; I
trample it under my feet; I (yet not I, but the grace of God in me) esteem it
just as the mire of the streets, I desire it not, I seek it not?”
God’s revelation does not need the light of human genius, the polish
and strength of human culture , the brilliancy of human thought, the force
of human brains to adorn or enforce it; but it does demand the simplicity, the
docility, humility, and faith of a child’s heart.
It was this surrender and subordination of intellect and genius to the divine
and spiritual forces which made Paul peerless among the apostles. It was
this which gave Wesley his power and radicated his labors in the history
of humanity. This gave to Loyola the strength to arrest the retreating
forces of Catholicism.
Our great need is heart-preparation. Luther held it as an axiom: “He who
has prayed well has studied well.” We do not say that men are not to think
and use their intellects; but he will use his intellect best who cultivates his
heart most. We do not say that preachers should not be students; but we
do say that their great study should be the Bible, and he studies the Bible
best who has kept his heart with diligence. We do not say that the
preacher should not know men, but he will be the greater adept in human
nature who has fathomed the depths and intricacies of his own heart.
We do say that while the channel of preaching is the mind, its fountain is the
heart; you may broaden and deepen the channel, but if you do not look
well to the purity and depth of the fountain, you will have a dry or
polluted channel. We do say that almost any man of common intelligence
has sense enough to preach the gospel, but very few have grace enough to
do so. We do say that he who has struggled with his own heart and
conquered it; who has taught it humility, faith, love, truth, mercy,
sympathy, courage; who can pour the rich treasures of the heart thus
trained, through a manly intellect, all surcharged with the power of the
gospel on the consciences of his hearers — such a one will be the truest,
Unction is that indefinable, indescribable something which an old,
renowned Scotch preacher describes thus: “There is sometimes somewhat
in preaching that cannot be ascribed either to matter or expression, and
cannot be described what it is, or from whence it cometh, but with a sweet
violence it pierceth into the heart and affections and comes immediately
from the Lord; but if there be any way to obtain such a thing, it is by the
heavenly disposition of the speaker.”
We call it unction. It is this unction which makes the word of God “quick
and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the
dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a
discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is this unction which
gives the words of the preacher such point, sharpness, and power, and
which creates such friction and stir in many a dead congregation. The same
truths have been told in the strictness of the letter, smooth as human oil
could make them: but no signs of life, not a pulse throb; all as peaceful as
the grave and as dead. The same preacher in the meanwhile receives a
baptism of this unction, the divine afflatus is on him, the letter of the
Word has been embellished and fired by this mysterious power, and the
throbbings of life begin — life which receives or life which resists. The
unction pervades and convicts the conscience and breaks the heart.
This divine unction is the feature which separates and distinguishes true
gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting the truth, and which
creates a wide spiritual chasm between the preacher who has it and the one
who has it not. It backs and impregnates revealed truth with all the energy
of God. Unction is simply putting God in his own word and on his own
preacher. By mighty and great prayerfulness and by continual
prayerfulness, it is all potential and personal to the preacher; it inspires
and clarifies his intellect, gives insight and grasp and projecting power; it
gives to the preacher heart power, which is greater than head power; and
tenderness, purity, force flow from the heart by it. Enlargement, freedom,
fullness of thought, directness and simplicity of utterance are the fruits of
Often earnestness is mistaken for this unction. He who has the divine
unction will be earnest in the very spiritual nature of things, but there may
be a vast deal of earnestness without the least mixture of unction.
Earnestness and unction look alike from some points of view. Earnestness
may be readily and without detection substituted or mistaken for unction.
It requires a spiritual eye and a spiritual taste to discriminate.
Earnestness may be sincere, serious, ardent, and persevering. It goes at a
thing with good will, pursues it with perseverance, and urges it with ardor;
puts force in it. But all these forces do not rise higher than the mere
human. The man is in it — the whole man, with all that he has of will and
heart, of brain and genius, of planning and working and talking.
He has set himself to some purpose which has mastered him, and he pursues to
master it. There may be none of God in it. There may be little of God in it,
because there is so much of the man in it. He may present pleas in
advocacy of his earnest purpose which please or touch and move or
overwhelm with conviction of their importance; and in all this earnestness
may move along earthly ways, being propelled by human forces only, its
altar made by earthly hands and its fire kindled by earthly flames.
It is said of a rather famous preacher of gifts, whose construction of Scripture
was to his fancy or purpose, that he “grew very eloquent over his own
exegesis.” So men grow exceeding earnest over their own plans or
movements. Earnestness may be selfishness simulated.
What of unction? It is the indefinable in preaching which makes it
preaching. It is that which distinguishes and separates preaching from all
mere human addresses. It is the divine in preaching. It makes the preaching
sharp to those who need sharpness. It distills as the dew to those who
need to be refreshed. It is well described as:
“a two-edged sword
Of heavenly temper keen,
And double were the wounds it made
Where’er it glanced between.
‘Twas death to sin; ‘twas life
To all who mourned for sin.
It kindled and it silenced strife,
Made war and peace within.”
This unction comes to the preacher not in the study but in the closet. It is
heaven’s distillation in answer to prayer. It is the sweetest exhalation of
the Holy Spirit. It impregnates, suffuses, softens, percolates, cuts, and
soothes. It carries the Word like dynamite, like salt, like sugar; makes the
Word a soother, an arraigner, a revealer, a searcher; makes the hearer a
culprit or a saint, makes him weep like a child and live like a giant; opens
his heart and his purse as gently, yet as strongly as the spring opens the
leaves. This unction is not the gift of genius. It is not found in the halls of
learning. No eloquence can woo it. No industry can win it. No prelatical
hands can confer it. It is the gift of God — the signet set to his own
messengers. It is heaven’s knighthood given to the chosen true and brave
ones who have sought this anointed honor through many an hour of
tearful, wrestling prayer.
Earnestness is good and impressive; genius is gifted and great. Thought
kindles and inspires, but it takes a diviner endowment, a more powerful
energy than earnestness or genius or thought to break the chains of sin, to
win estranged and depraved hearts to God, to repair the breaches and
restore the Church to her old ways of purity and power. Nothing but this
Somehow the practice of praying in particular for the preacher has fallen
into disuse or become discounted. Occasionally have we heard the practice
arraigned as a disparagement of the ministry, being a public declaration by
those who do it of the inefficiency of the ministry. It offends the pride of
learning and self-sufficiency, perhaps, and these ought to be offended and
rebuked in a ministry that is so derelict to allow them to exist.
Prayer, to the preacher, is not simply the duty of his profession, a
privilege, but it is a necessity. Air is not more necessary to the lungs than
prayer is to the preacher. It is absolutely necessary for the preacher to
pray. It is an absolute necessity that the preacher be prayed for. These
two propositions are wedded into a union which ought never to know any
divorce: the preacher must pray; the preacher must be prayed for. It will
take all the praying he can do, and all the praying he can get done, to meet
the fearful responsibilities and gain the largest, truest success in his great
work. The true preacher, next to the cultivation of the spirit and fact of
prayer in himself, in their intensest form, covets with a great covetousness
the prayers of God’s people.
The holier a man is, the more does he estimate prayer; the clearer does he
see that God gives himself to the praying ones, and that the measure of
God’s revelation to the soul is the measure of the soul’s longing,
importunate prayer for God. Salvation never finds its way to a prayerless
heart. The Holy Spirit never abides in a prayerless spirit. Preaching never
edifies a prayerless soul. Christ knows nothing of prayerless Christians.
The gospel cannot be projected by a prayerless preacher. Gifts, talents,
education, eloquence, God’s call, cannot abate the demand of prayer, but
only intensify the necessity for the preacher to pray and to be prayed for.
The more the preacher’s eyes are opened to the nature, responsibility, and
difficulties in his work, the more will he see, and if he be a true preacher
the more will he feel, the necessity of prayer; not only the Increasing
demand to pray himself, but to call on others to help him by their prayers.
Paul is an illustration of this. If any man could project the gospel by dint
of personal force, by brain power, by culture, by personal grace, by God’s
apostolic commission, God’s extraordinary call, that man was Paul. That
the preacher must be a man given to prayer, Paul is an eminent example.
That the true apostolic preacher must have the prayers of other good
people to give to his ministry its full quota of success, Paul is a
preeminent example. He asks, he covets, he pleads in an impassioned way
for the help of all God’s saints. He knew that in the spiritual realm, as
elsewhere, in union there is strength; that the concentration and aggregation
of faith, desire, and prayer increased the volume of spiritual force until it
became overwhelming and irresistible in its power. Units of prayer
combined, like drops of water, make an ocean which defies resistance.
So Paul, with his clear and full apprehension of spiritual dynamics,
determined to make his ministry as impressive, as eternal, as irresistible as
the ocean, by gathering all the scattered units of prayer and precipitating
them on his ministry. May not the solution of Paul’s preeminence in
labors and results, and impress on the Church and the world, be found in
this fact that he was able to center on himself and his ministry more of
prayer than others? To his brethren at Rome he wrote:
“Now I beseech
you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the
Spirit, that ye strive together with me in prayers to God for me.”
To the Ephesians he says: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in
the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication
for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may
open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” To
the Colossians he emphasizes: “Withal praying also for us, that God
would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ,
for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest as I ought to
speak.” To the Thessalonians he says sharply, strongly:
“Brethren, pray for us.”
Paul calls on the Corinthian Church to help him:
“Ye also helping together by prayer for us.”
This was to be part of their work. They were
to lay to the helping hand of prayer. He in an additional and closing charge
to the Thessalonian Church about the importance and necessity of their
prayers says: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord
may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we
may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.” He impresses the
Philippians that all his trials and opposition can be made subservient to
the spread of the gospel by the efficiency of their prayers for him.
Philemon was to prepare a lodging for him, for through Philemon’s prayer
Paul was to be his guest.
Paul’s attitude on this question illustrates his humility and his deep insight
into the spiritual forces which project the gospel. More than this, it
teaches a lesson for all times, that if Paul was so dependent on the prayers
of God’s saints to give his ministry success, how much greater the
necessity that the prayers of God’s saints be centered on the ministry of
Paul did not feel that this urgent plea for prayer was to lower his dignity,
lessen his influence, or depreciate his piety. What if it did? Let dignity go,
let influence be destroyed, let his reputation be marred — he must have
their prayers. Called, commissioned, chief of the Apostles as he was, all
his equipment was imperfect without the prayers of his people. He wrote
letters everywhere, urging them to pray for him. Do you pray for your
preacher? Do you pray for him in secret? Public prayers are of little worth
unless they are founded on or followed up by private praying. The
praying ones are to the preacher as Aaron and Hur were to Moses. They
hold up his hands and decide the issue that is so fiercely raging around
The plea and purpose of the apostles were to put the Church to praying.
They did not ignore the grace of cheerful giving. They were not ignorant of
the place which religious activity and work occupied in the spiritual life;
but not one nor all of these, in apostolic estimate or urgency, could at all
compare in necessity and importance with prayer. The most sacred and
urgent pleas were used, the most fervid exhortations, the most
comprehensive and arousing words were uttered to enforce the all important
obligation and necessity of prayer.
“Put the saints everywhere to praying” is the burden of the apostolic
effort and the keynote of apostolic success. Jesus Christ had striven to do
this in the days of his personal ministry. As he was moved by infinite
compassion at the ripened fields of earth perishing for lack of laborers —
and pausing in his own praying — he tries to awaken the stupid
sensibilities of his disciples to the duty of prayer as he charges them,
“Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth laborers into his
harvest.” “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought
Only glimpses of the great importance of prayer could the apostles get
before Pentecost. But the Spirit coming and filling on Pentecost elevated
prayer to its vital and all-commanding position in the gospel of Christ.
The call now of prayer to every saint is the Spirit’s loudest and most
exigent call. Sainthood’s piety is made, refined, perfected, by prayer. The
gospel moves with slow and timid pace when the saints are not at their
prayers early and late and long.
Where are the Christly leaders who can teach the modern saints how to
pray and put them at it? Do we know we are raising up a prayerless set of
saints? Where are the apostolic leaders who can put God’s people to
praying? Let them come to the front and do the work, and it will be the
greatest work which can be done. An increase of educational facilities and a
great increase of money force will be the direst curse to religion if they are
not sanctified by more and better praying than we are doing. More praying
will not come as a matter of course. The campaign for the twentieth or
thirtieth century fund will not help our praying but hinder if we are not
careful, Nothing but a specific effort from a praying leadership will avail.
The chief ones must lead in the apostolic effort to radicate the vital
importance and fact of prayer in the heart and life of the Church. None but
praying leaders can have praying followers. Praying apostles will beget
praying saints. A praying pulpit will beget praying pews. We do greatly
need somebody who can set the saints to this business of praying. We are
not a generation of praying saints. Nonpraying saints are a beggarly gang
of saints who have neither the ardor nor the beauty nor the power of
saints. Who will restore this breach? The greatest will he be of reformers
and apostles, who can set the Church to praying.
We put it as our most sober judgment that the great need of the Church in
this and all ages is men of such commanding faith, of such unsullied
holiness, of such marked spiritual vigor and consuming zeal, that their
prayers, faith, lives, and ministry will be of such a radical and aggressive
form as to work spiritual revolutions which will form eras in individual
and Church life.
We do not mean men who get up sensational stirs by novel devices, nor
those who attract by a pleasing entertainment; but men who can stir
things, and work revolutions by the preaching of God’s Word and by the
power of the Holy Ghost, revolutions which change the whole current of
Natural ability and educational advantages do not figure as factors in this
matter; but capacity for faith, the ability to pray, the power of thorough
consecration, the ability of self-littleness, an absolute losing of one’s self
in God’s glory, and an ever-present and insatiable yearning and seeking
after all the fullness of God — men who can set the Church ablaze for
God; not in a noisy, showy way, but with an intense and quiet heat that
melts and moves everything for God.
God can work wonders if he can get a suitable man. Men can work
wonders if they can get God to lead them. The full endowment of the
spirit that turned the world upside down would be eminently useful in
these latter days. Men who can stir things mightily for God, whose
spiritual revolutions change the whole aspect of things, are the universal
need of the Church.
The Church has never been without these men; they adorn its history;
they are the standing miracles of the divinity of the Church; their example
and history are an unfailing inspiration and blessing. An increase in their
number and power should be our prayer.
That which has been done in spiritual matters can be done again, and be
better done. This was Christ’s view. He said: “Verily, verily, I say unto
you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall be do also; and
greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” The
past has not exhausted the possibilities nor the demands for doing great
things for God. The Church that is dependent on its past history for its
miracles of power and grace is a fallen Church.
God wants elect men — men out of whom self and the world have gone by
a severe crucifixion, by a bankruptcy which has so totally ruined self and
the world that there is neither hope nor desire of recovery; men who by
this insolvency and crucifixion have turned toward God perfect hearts. Let
us pray ardently that God’s promise to prayer may be more than realized.