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Oh ! how humbled and ashamed ought we to feel, my brethren, when we are reminded of this spirit and zeal in prayer of the first Christians. How different is it now in our Christian communities. How many have unlearned prayer, and consider it something superfluous; how many are weary, and cold, and slow to pray; how many, lastly, have distorted, false, or inadequate views of prayer! 0, let us learn of Christian antiquity ; let us take to our hearts the apostolic man

pray without ceasing ;" let us pray that God will of his mercy richly pour out on us the spirit of prayer,

for with it rich blessings will come among us ! « The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," says the scripture ; and this leads us in conclusion to eonsider,

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II. What power and effect the early Christians ascribed to prayer. In this they faithfully believed the promise of the Lord, “ Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” No one who believes this promise can consider prayer as a thing useless and ineffectual ; to him it is rather a divine power, which must be accompanied by divine workings. Of this, too, those Christians had a lively conviction. Tertullian thus speaks of the power

of Christian

prayer: 66 What

may

God not have granted to prayer coming from the spirit and in truth, seeing that he has required such prayer? The prayer of the old covenant saved from fire, from the jaws of wild beasts, and from hunger, but Christ had not as yet regulated its use. How much stronger will the prayer of Christians be now after that God's

grace has been bestowed on them through Christ? It does not, indeed, prevent us from feeling sorrow; but it arms the sorrowing, who feel the pain, with strength to bear it; it turns away the anger of God, it watches for enemies, it prays for the persecutors, it expiates sins, it drives away temptations, it comforts the poor in spirit, it leads the wanderer, calms the waves, feeds the poor, guides the rich, raises the fallen, sustains the falling, strengthens them that do stand. It is the wall of faith; our full and perfect armour against the foes that environ us on every side. Wherefore never let us enter the conflict without the armour of prayer.” Origen says:

How much might each one of us tell of the workings of prayer, would he but thankfully call to mind the benefits he has received from God. Souls which had been long unfruitful, and had known their unfruitfulness, have been made fruitful by the Holy Spirit by their constant prayer. What vast powers of our enemies which threatened to destroy our divine faith have been brought to shame by prayer! Our enemies trusted in chariots and horses, but we called on the name of the Lord, and found that, indeed, ' an horse is a vain thing for safety.' The power of splendid and seeming wisdom which has terrified many of those who passed for Christians, has often been conquered by the confidence of those who prayed. How many have escaped unhurt from the most grievous temptations through the power of prayer? And what shall I say farther? How many who have been given up to beasts raging against them, to wicked spirits and cruel men, quieted them all by prayer, so that their teeth could not injure us who are members of Christ ? We know, too, that such as had transgressed the commandments of the Lord, and were already in the valley of death, were saved by the prayer of repentance.”

The Christians expected, and not without reason, a higher blessing on united prayer, and from the conviction that it had double power and effect, urged each other on to it. “ Let us,” says Clement of Rome, a disciple of the apostles, “ collected together in one body, share the promises of the Lord, and cry to him urgently and sincerely with one mouth.” And Ignatius, also a disciple of the apostles, and Bishop of Antioch, writes : “ Come all of ye together for prayer ; let it be one prayer, one mind, one hope in unspotted love and joy, for Christ is here, and none is more precious than he. And Tertullian exhorts : “ Let us all come together to

the honour of our God, that we may weary him into compliance by our incessant prayers and entreaties, for this violence is pleasing unto him.”

More particularly were the early Christians convinced of the blessed effect of prayer, as regarded the knowledge of divine truth. They considered rightly that prayer was the best and most necessary means towards understanding the sacred scriptures, for they were convinced that divine things could only be known in the light of the divine Spirit, and that the fountains of heavenly wisdom were opened to men by prayer. The aids of human knowledge did not therefore suffice the most enlightened and best teachers of the church, although they by no means despised them, but they pressed on with all earnestness in zealous unceasing prayer, and saw in it the surest way to understand the divine word. Whilst Origen exhorts his pupil Gregory diligently to seek and inquire into the Holy Scriptures, he writes at the same time : “ It must not suffice thee to knock and to seek, in order to learn to understand divine things, and rightly to enter into the meaning of holy scripture, nothing is more needful than prayer.

To

urge us to this, not only did our Saviour say: Knock, and it shall be opened to you; seek, and ye

shall find ;' but also pray, and it shall be given you.

In every relation, then, Christians in those first ages of the church expected the richest blessings from prayer, and they proved in their hearts and lives that their conviction had a firm foundation. Should not this be our belief, too, my brethren ? Assuredly there are not wanting many amongst us who can, from their own experience, bear witness to the effectual power of prayer, to whom it has ofttimes proved a full fountain of comfort, peace, wisdom, and strength, and who will with their whole hearts confirm what the Psalmist declares from his own experience : “ The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him ; he also will hear their cry, and save them.” It is on this account

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that we are so often and so urgently called upon in the scriptures to pray; and prayer is represented to us as the surest means to obtain the grace of God, and to become partakers of heavenly goods. And how much is it to be lamented that so many Christians wish to know 80 little of prayer, and prefer to quarrel and contend about its utility, to being convinced of its power, and the blessings attending it by the exercise of prayer itself. “ All angels pray,” says Tertullian, “ all creatures pray, the Lord himself prayed;" only we men, we Christians, we must add to it, are often so over wise and so foolish in our fancied wisdom, as to omit and be ashamed of prayer, to declare it useless and ridiculous. O make the attempt in earnest, my brethren, to approach God in prayer! Do distresses press upon your spirits, do crosses and afflictions oppress you, hear what the Lord

says: “ Call upon me in the time of trouble and I will deliver thee, so shalt thou praise me?" Divine aid is promised to prayer, and if it does not shew its power in working a miracle to deliver us out of our distresses, yet it makes us strong to bear our troubles with peaceful and calm resignation. Does the weight of your sins bow you down, and does your whole soul long for grace and peace, hear the holy

promise of your God, “ Of them that seek me with their whole heart I will be found.” Seek, therefore, the pardoning grace of God in prayer, looking with faith to the Redeemer, ye shall not seek in vain ; what ye ask shall be given you. Do you desire wisdom and understanding in divine things, which concern your salvation, take courage at what St James saith :

any

of
you

lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." And if ye stand already in faith and love, O be not weary

in

prayer, that the Lord would daily increase your strength, and keep you to the end in his grace and fellowship. Only let there be more zeal in prayer and all things will go better with us; for the more zealously we deal with God, with Jesus Christ, and his holy word, in prayer, the more will the power of the

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world and sin over us be weakened and broken, the more certainly shall we attain to eternal salvation and our heavenly goal; for prayer brings the Holy Spirit unto our hearts and lives, who will enlighten and sanctify us, and, by Jesus Christ, keep us in the one true faith, that we may in him have peace and eternal blessedness. Let us then pray zealously, like those first Christians, that we, like them, may share that heavenly blessing which is promised to Christian prayers. Help us in this, O Jesus! Teach us thyself to pray, and urge us on powerfully by thy Holy Spirit, so that our whole life may

and

one fixed looking to thee, one unbroken walk with thee. O give us daily a rich share of thy precious aid, and fit our souls ever to look to thee out of distress and misery. Amen.

be one prayer,

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