Page images
PDF
EPUB

horted them : “ If we do good only to those who are ours, what do we more than the publicans and heathens ! But if we are the children of that God who causes the sun to shine, and the rain to fall, on both the just and the unjust, who extends his blessings not only to those who are his, but also to those who are far from him in their thoughts, we must show it in our deeds, by striving to be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven, by blessing those who curse us, and doing good to those who persecute us." And his admonitions were not unheeded. Rich and poor quickly put their hands to the work, to give aid in the general need, and it was to be ascribed to the active love of the Christians that the pestilence did not spread farther, and cause still deeper misery.

Thus, my brethren, did the spirit of love work in those days in the church of God. Thus zealous were the Christians of all ranks and places to fulfil the command of Jesus Christ, and to prove themselves his disciples by the most hearty brotherly love. What can I add to the instances I have adduced ? I add, “ go ye, and do likewise.” Walk in love! It is the fairest fruit, the surest proof of faith. There is no faith where there is no love, where men are not inspired with love of their brethren, where they do not comfort, help, do good to, bless, and even requite with good, the evil of slanderers and persecutors. And “ he who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen. Wherefore let this example of the early Christians rouse us to emulation, that we may love and bless, and do good, and faint not, from heartfelt gratitude to Him who “ hath loved us even unto death,” and to make us eternally happy, and let us, none of us, forget what he hath said": “ Verily, verily I

you,
inasmuch as ye

have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Amen.

6 Go ye,”

say unto

SERMON IV.

THE ZEAL IN PRAYER OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS.

Let the words of my lips, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.

At our last meeting, my brethren, we considered the life of Christians, in the first ages of the church, as a life in love. They were so penetrated with love one for another, that the selfish heathens could not sufficiently wonder at it, and they did not confine their manifestations of it to the brethren, they had been taught to bless, and to do good, even to their enemies and persecutors.' And thus it was clear that the Spirit of the Lord dwelt in them, that Christ was their life, that they had received into their hearts the declaration of our divine Redeemer, “ Hereby will all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” And this love was the necessary fruit of their belief in the gospel. For, by the light of the gospel, they knew the unsearchable riches of the love, the grace, and

mercy of God and Jesus Christ, and then no other result could have followed ; they must have been inspired with heartfelt' gratitude to the Lord,--they must have dedicated their whole hearts and lives to him in love,—they must have called one to another, with St John : “ Let us love one another, for he first loved us !" And how could this love to God and their Redeemer be better exhibited : how more clearly and more nobly than by the most sincere and heartfelt love for their brethren? It has always been found thus among believers, my brethren. Where faith in the Redeemer, to whom we owe all salvation and blessedness, is strong and living in the heart, its fairest fruit, love, is sure to be its reflection in the walk of the disciple; and this love is the surest and least deceptive mark of their communion with the Lord ; is the incontrovertible proof, “ that they have passed from death into life.”

But love is a fire which must soon become extinct in the heart if it be not fed and supported with the utmost care, for there is, indeed, much in the world by which it is damped. We all know too well, from our own and often frequent experience, how much ingratitude and wickedness are to be found among men; and no answer is more frequent, when men are called on to love and do good, than this: “ He is not worth it, he does not deserve one's doing him any good.” Especially difficult is it to fulfil the command,“ love your enemies;" and we see, alas, too often how ill it is fulfilled by those who pride themselves on being Christians. Verily, it is not nature, it is grace, if we walk constant in love, and are not wearied or caused to wander by aught,and it is for this grace we must continually ask of him, “ who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” As, then, love has its root in faith, so is it supported, strengthened, and nourished by prayer, which we must never fail to consider the soul of the whole Christian life. Where men do not pray, or do not pray aright, the inward life can never prosper, as little as a plant can prosper

and

grow in a hard dry soil, where it has no nourishment. As a lamp which has no oil to support the flame must be extinguished, so must the holy fire of faith and love be extinguished in the heart, if it do not continually receive new nourishment from prayer.

We shall see that the early Christians were deeply impressed and penetrated with this truth, and therefore prayer was the element in which they lived. In this, then, let us take them, my brethren, as our pattern and example. For what reason can there be that so little working and living faith is found in Christian churches of these days, that love daily waxes colder in men's hearts, that a Christian life rarely appears in all its freshness and purity among us; to what can we ascribe this, but to the fact, that men are so lamentably deficient in zeal in prayer, that they are so indifferent about church and family edification, for God requires to be asked before he will give; he demands that we should cry unto him if we would live, and through him mightily prevail over our sins, over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our purpose this day, my brethren, shall be to urge each other on to the practice of so holy a duty, while we direct our attention to the Christians of earlier times, and remember their zeal in prayer; and may the Lord bless us in this our task. Amen.

Text. Pray without ceasing.-1 Thess. v. 17.

This, my brethren, is a short exhortation, but one of the utmost importance, and worthy to be laid to the hearts of all of you. It will encourage us, and urge us onward, to see how conscientiously the early Christians fulfilled this duty. The zeal in prayer of the Christians of the first centuries shall therefore be the subject of this day's meditations, and we may divide our subject into two heads, shewing,

1st, How they understood the apostolic exhortation. 2d, What blessed effects they ascribed to prayer.

Holy Father, sanctify us with thy truth ; thy word is truth.

1

I. What prayer really is, numberless Christians are far from rightly understanding; and therefore the command of the apostle, “ Pray without ceasing," seems to them strange and foolish. 6 How can we do so?” is their constant demand. “ Who can always pray? Have we nothing else to do? Our occupations and calling demand the greatest portion of our time, and we need also now and then rest and refreshment, that we may gather new strength to work cheerfully in our vocation and duty. How, then, can it be required of us to pray without ceasing? Is it not enough that we pray at

stated times and seasons, that we make our morning and evening petitions, and on Sundays attend the appointed service of God in the Church ?” This is, indeed, strange language, manifesting great ignorance of Christian matters, and which no real Christian could hold; for he knows that the apostolic injunction, “ Pray without ceasing,” demands something far different from standing and pronouncing prayers with the lips, or reading from books, or even uttering them from the heart. The expression “ prayer,” means rather in holy scripture that especial, constant, uninterrupted direction of the soul to that which is heavenly, and above the senses, the lifting up of the heart to that which is invisible and eternal, the inward life with Christ in God, the deep living knowledge of God accompanying us everywhere ;“ for in him we live and move, and have our being.” And this is still the peculiarity of the true Christian, that thoughts of God never leave him ; that he “ has God always before his eyes, and in his heart;" that he has the eye of his soul steadily fixed on him in all his works, in all his pleasures, his joys, his conflicts, his sufferings. God is everywhere with him; in every place he feels his hallowing presence;

6 The Father leaveth me not alone,” he exclaims with his Redeemer, and therefore is his desire always with him. Nothing can interrupt his communion with God; and it is to this ever-during communion with God that the apostolic precept points, “ Pray without ceasing."

In this way, my brethren, was it understood by the first Christians, over whom the spirit of prayer was poured out so exceeding abundantly. Prayer was to them the breath of life. Prayer,” says Št Clement of Alexandria,“ is a walk with God. Do we whisper, nay, do we without opening our lips speak in silence to God? Then we cry, indeed, to God from our inmost soul, for God always hears the full and complete inward turning to him.” He, therefore, who thinks that he prays then only when he, either in retirement and solitude, or in society with others, utters certain fixed forms of prayer, that man has not yet understood the peculiar

« PreviousContinue »