A Call to United Prayer
By arrangement of the Committee of the Dublin Christian Convention, this day has been set apart for special prayer, and for conference on a subject vital to the interests of Christ’s kingdom. We are on the eve of the twentieth century; three months will bring us to the threshold; and the question is—the question of questions, I call it—What do the Churches need most for the new times, with their solemn and urgent demands, and their vast opportunities? The question I put to Church leaders; I put it to ecclesiastical assemblies; I put it to all gatherings of Christian men; I put it to you—What is to ﬁt the Churches for their mission and work in the great and pregnant days so near at hand, and the epoch so soon to be inaugurated? Are the Churches equal, as they are now, to their mission and work? No one will afﬁrm it; no one can truthfully afﬁrm it. What then, is to make them equal?
Several of the Protestant Evangelical denominations are setting themselves to raise large sums of money-Twentieth Century Funds. Money is a necessity, for it supplies the material of our evangelism; it is part of the sinews of the holy war; and one rejoices at the generosity—the liberality—that is being displayed. But money is not the ﬁrst and the all-important thing. The power of the Holy Ghost is the ﬁrst and all-important thing; and only as the Churches are ﬁlled with Him will they be equipped and prepared for the “Forward Movement”—the glorious Forward Movement—that is to spread the knowledge of salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth. It has been said—and the whole philosophy of the matter is in the words—that before there can be any Forward Movement of consequence—any Forward Movement, mighty, and universal in its sweep—there must be an Inward Movement, full, deep, strong, penetrating, all-pervasive, all transforming; the Forward Movement, the outcome of that Inward Movement; and the Inward Movement, the purging of the Churches of all that corrupts and weakens them, and the ﬁlling of them with the Holy Ghost
Brethren, if God has burned any conviction into my soul, He has burned this conviction into it—that the supreme want of the times is genuine spiritual revival within the Church: Within the Church! I have been made to see and feel, until it is my burden from the Lord, that before there can be salvation for the world, on any comprehensive and effective scale, there must be a regenerated, sanctiﬁed, God-ﬁlled Church. “The heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I am sanctiﬁed in you before their eyes!” Bring back Pentecost into the Church, and you solve all the Church’s problems—her problems at home, and her problems in the foreign mission ﬁeld. Bring back Pentecost into the Church, and you go a long, long way towards solving the problems of modern society; you will reconstruct the social fabric; you will re-organize the social system on the right ethical basis, substituting the basis of love, with its beautiful and beneﬁcient altruisms, for the basis of selﬁsh lies, with its cruel competitions and abnormal excrescences, miscalled “civilizations.” Bring back Pentecost into the Church, and you will realize the Divine order; you will build up a commonwealth fairer, larger, grander, stabler than any dreamt of by political genius or social reformer. You will establish the kingdom of God among men. “They were all ﬁlled with the Holy Ghost” And what then? “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common and great grace was upon them all. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the Apostles’ feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”
I have a suggestion, brethren, to offer for your consideration—a deﬁnite proposal to make on what is to me distinctly a message from God; and I earnestly trust the result of our prayerful deliberations will be the adoption of some practical resolution embodying that proposal.
Let me preface my proposal by a brief review, historical in the main.
In the city of Nottingham, where I reside, there is a small Baptist Chapel, now disused, converted into a kind of store; but I seldom pass it—and I am often that way—without being impressed and moved, sometimes unconsciously uncovering my head; for it was there William Carey, under the inspiration of God, preached the famous sermon in which the words occur, “Attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God!” Not often has an audience been affected as that audience was affected that day; and it was an audience composed chieﬂy of ministers and denominational leaders and representatives, not a few of whom had entertained strong prejudices against Carey’s missionary projects. The place, before the preacher had ﬁnished, became a Bochim. Comparison has been made between the two most distinguished orators of antiquity, Cicero and Demosthenes, naturally and properly to the placing of the former on a level lower than that of the latter. When Cicero reasoned and declaimed in the forum at Rome, it was the accomplished orator who was admired and praised; but then Demosthenes, aﬂame with the ﬁres of patriotism, delivered his “Philippics” in the assemblies of Greece, the cry was raised, “Lead us forth against Philip of Macedon, the enemy of our country!” The effect of William Carey’s sermon was akin to that, yet different too; higher, and more wonderful. It was an epoch-making sermon; it made and marked a great beginning; it was revolutionary in a holy and Divine sense; it was a prophet’s message, and for the Churches an inspired and inspiring battle-cry. Out of that sermon came the Baptist Missionary Society, the ﬁrst of the Protestant Evangelical Missionary Societies. And that sermon, and the Baptist Missionary Society-and let this be specially noted—were the fruit and issue of a Prayer Union. For eight years the Baptist ministers of the Midland counties of England had been praying for spiritual revival in their Churches, and for the extension of Christ’s kingdom. They had entered into a covenant of prayer, agreeing upon a certain season for prayer; and the covenant they had faithfully kept, and the faithful God heard and answered their believing, earnest supplications and intercessions. Oh, does He not always hear and answer when praying ones plead so—”stirring themselves up, and taking hold on God”? “If the whole,” says John Foster (and perhaps the great essayist was thinking of his Baptist brethren) “or the greater number of the disciples of Christianity were, with an earnest, unfailing resolution of each, to combine, that Heaven should not withhold one single inﬂuence which the very utmost effort of conspiring and persevering supplication would obtain, it would be the sign of a revolution of the world being at hand!”
But that Prayer Union among the Baptist ministers—and let this also be specially noted—was the revival of a Prayer Union that was formed in Scotland some forty or ﬁfty years before, and had been advocated and promoted, and made memorable, by the saintly and illustrious Jonathan Edwards, of America. Jonathan Edwards wrote and published a remarkable treatise commending the Union, and enforcing it by Scriptural argument, and by prophecy and promise; and the consequence was many, both in America and in the British Isles, joined. And the Union had very much to do with the Evangelical Revival of the last century, under Wesley and Whitﬁeld, and their coadjutors. The Evangelical Revival was linked with that Union, and conditioned by it. If the Union did not exactly kindle the ﬁre, it fed it, at least, and fanned the ﬂames. One thing is certain: the Evangelical Revival originated in prayer; and another thing is certain: the mighty force by which it was borne along came through prayer.
But there is another link to the chain. Out of that Prayer Union, which the Baptist ministers revived, and made their model—other inﬂuences, of course, co-operating-came not only the Baptist Missionary Society, but other Missionary Societies, and the British arid Foreign Bible Society, the Religious Tract Society, and numerous philanthropies, humanitarianisms, social liberations, ameliorations, and reforms. It is all historically and philosophically traceable.
I now ask—Is the time not ripe for a renewal of the covenant of prayer, with wider inclusions? Do not all things point in the direction, and proclaim the duty—the spiritual condition of the Churches, and the needs of a world providentially prepared and open in all its regions to the Gospel? Is not the call to prayer the loudest of God’s calls today? Oh, what things would happen were there union among God’s people everywhere in prayer at the end of this century, and at the beginning of the next! What a power of God would come upon and into the Churches! And how the mighty evils that abound, and that bafﬂe and defy us now, would be conquered and cast out, and the evangelization of the nations of the earth, in a little while, become an accomplished fact!
Last year I went up, by invitation, to Edinburgh, and took part in the formation of a Prayer Union among the ministers of the Free Church of Scotland. In every Presbytery in Scotland there is a branch of that Union, and in hundreds of manses, from John O’Groats to the Solway, special prayer goes up to God every Saturday night, for the revival of His work. The ancient Prayer Union, whose history is so remarkable, is just resuscitated; and already blessing is coming to many in that favored land.
Of other Prayer Unions I am a member. Thirty years ago a number of us in the Congregational ministry in England entered into a concert of prayer; and the pledge we have kept; and any success that may have attended our labors we attribute largely to that concert.
Ten or twelve years ago I joined what is called “The Worcester Prayer Union”—a Union initiated and promoted by a devoted clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. Henry Law Harkness, rector of St Swithin’s, Worcester. That Union has now a membership of over 110,000.
More recently I joined a Prayer Union organized by another devoted clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. J. O. West, Vicar of Rowington, Warwick. The members of the ﬁrst of these two Unions pray “daily” for the Holy Ghost. The members of the second set apart “the ﬁrst day of every month” for special prayer for the Holy Ghost.
I have connection also with what is called “The Pentecostal League,” an inter-denominational Prayer Union that has inscribed on its banner, with distinctness and deﬁniteness, “The Evangelization of the World through a revived .Church.”
Then there is the Prayer Union of the Evangelical Alliance, not the least important of the organizations of that great Christian and [interfaith] association. At the beginning of every year, in the ﬁrst week of January, “the whole round earth is bound by golden chains about the feet of God!”
I am very glad to be connected with every one of these Prayer Unions. Their object is the same, if they differ in matters of detail. My holiest, happiest, and most proﬁtable moments are spent in the realization of these communions, and their spiritual [interfaith] brotherhood. More than anything else these Prayer Unions, I am convinced, point the way to, and furnish the method of the fulﬁllment of the Savior’s prayer, “That they all may be one!” The appointed and hallowed seasons I never need reminding of; they are always anticipated; and in them for me there is delightful experience of enlargement as I pray for and with brethren I have never seen in the ﬂesh, and who belong to various sections of the Church of Christ, and as I add my petitions to the vast volume that is ascending to God, for “the times of refreshing from His presence,” so much and so manifestly needed.
A month or two ago an appeal, signed by a large number of ministers in Nottingham, was addressed to the National Free Church Council in London, urging that body to take steps to form a league of prayer among the Churches it represents, as the ﬁtting inaugural of the new century, and in preparation for the united simultaneous evangelistic mission that is to be held throughout England. An effort is being made to bring America also, and the Colonies, into the bond, as in the days of old! I am here, brethren, to interest you; but you are interested. What gracious movements Protestant Ireland has been the scene of! Have you not had blessed “revival times,” and rich harvestings of souls? The rain has fallen upon you before it has fallen on us. The visitations of the Spirit have spread from you to us. We come now to you, and ask you to enter this great [interfaith] bond, that, with one consent, with one heart and mind and purpose, we may gather at the throne, and plead the promise that has fulﬁllments vaster, grander, more glorious than any yet known—”It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all ﬂesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and upon my servants and handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. . . . And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Could there be anything, think you, that would cause greater joy to the heart of Jesus, or that would strike a deeper, darker dismay into the hosts of hell, or that would be more full of hope for this sin-blighted world, than such a federation for prayer?
These Prayer Unions, brethren, that are multiplying so, are of God. Oh, do not doubt it; and they mean something. He means something by them; He means a great deal by them. They are due to the inspiration and working of His Spirit; and that is our encouragement and hope. They are phenomenal; they are signs and symptoms; they are prophecies of some great saving manifestation of God—prophecies that will not be falsiﬁed—that cannot be falsiﬁed. God will not disappoint the expectations He raises. True prayer, in one of its aspects, is an echo of the Divine decrees—an echo of the sure counsels of God. Depend upon it, we are on the eve of “revival times”—”seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favor her; yea, the set time, is come.” “Behold the ﬁg-tree, and all the trees! When they shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all be fulﬁlled!”
God is simply waiting for us, and waiting, not passively, but actively, wooing and stimulating and helping us in all possible ways. When He can pour out the fullness of His blessing, He will; when every requisite condition is present. He will descend into and ﬁll His Church, and send her forth to achieve the ﬁnal triumphs of the Cross; His arm will be made bare in the sight of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see His salvation.
This, then, is the conclusion—the sum of our duty; the whole argument is here; and God is enforcing it, and all things are enforcing it, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse; . . . . and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it!”
This address was delivered by William Crosbie of Nottingham at the Dublin Christian Convention on September 28, 1900, and later published at the request of the attendees.
Read more on the same subject:
Gerhard Tersteegen: Praying for the Holy Spirit