THE PRAYER OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH. BY REV.

WILLIAM ARNOT

" And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, than art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the month of thy servant Da vid hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things ? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered to gether against the Lord, and against his Christ, for of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed; both Herod , and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak tliv word. ACTS IV. 24-29.

PETER and John, providentially delivered from the hands of the persecutors, plunged into a meeting of their fellow-disciples, and forthwith reported all that had happened. The company as soon as they heard of the danger that had threatened, and the deliverance that had been wrought, forthwith "lifted up their voice to God " and prayed. They were neither cast down nor uplifted. They did not propose to try this meth od or that method of improving their circumstances. They proposed no plan. They lacked wisdom and strength, and in their need applied to God by prayer. Prayer is not the origin of a movement. It is the result of one that preceded. You stand on the mar-

92 The Church in tJic House. gin of a Highland lake, and hear a mysterious but dis tinctly articulate sound coming from the dead wall of a gray, ruined castle that stands on a miniature island not far from the shore. The sound, however, was not generated in that ruin. It could not generate a voice. The words of a living man on the shore, wafted over

the still water, struck the old silent keep, and its wall gave back the echo. If that living voice had not struck the wall, the wall would have remained dumb. Prayer man s cry to God is the second of a series of vibrations. The voice of prayer, on earth, is an echo awakened in ruined, dumb humanity, by God s sweet promise coming down from heaven. In general, prayer is the echo of a promise; in particular, we may discover the specific promise to which this prayer replies (Isa. xl. 26, 27). What a sublime position these suppliants occupy ! They are admitted into the Divine counsel. " The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." They knew that all these events were foreseen, and would be overruled for good. They were able to mark in the Scrip tures the precise spot they had reached in the scheme of Providence, as a shipmaster marks his latitude on his chart. In the quiet confidence of faith they realize and confess that the combination of princes and peoples of Jews and Gentiles to put to death the holy child Jesus, only accomplished the gracious purpose of God. These principalities and powers of the world imagined that they were quenching the kingdom of Christ in its infancy; whereas they were the unconscious instruments of laying its foundations deep, and spreading its influ ence through the world. Now, in verse 29th, comes the most important of all their requests. Petitions sent to Parliament are sometimes of considerable length. There may be a narrative of facts, long and intricate; there may be the citation of precedents; there may be arguments and pleas; but it is common to pass over all these when the document is presented, and read only what is de nominated " the prayer of the petition" that is, the clause at the end which declares articulately what the petitioners want what they wish to be done for them, or given to them. Verse 29th contains the prayer of

The Prayer of the Primitive Clnirch. 93 the petition. It expresses what the petitioners desire what they would be at, if they had their will. It is most interesting and instructive to mark what they really crave. Not a word of vengeance upon their en emies. In the recital they have clearly described the cruel injustice of their adversaries; but they do not fol low up that recital by a request for punishment. Neither do they plead for immunity from danger for themselves. There is a recital of their danger; but not a petition for safety. The request is, not that they may be shielded from persecution, but that they may have grace to be faithful under it. " Grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word." It is a beautiful example of distrust of themselves and confidence in God combined. They feared lest the danger which threatened their persons should in timidate them in their work. Their anxiety was lest their natural shrinking from suffering should tempt them to conceal the pungent parts of their testimony in order to shield themselves from persecution. They were jeal ous over themselves with a godly jealousy. They were conscious that nature within them shrank instinctively from pain and shame. They knew that to proclaim the whole counsel of God would gall the men who had the power of life and death in their hands. They feared, accordingly, lest they should be tempted to make the gospel more pleasant for the sake of peace. The application of this Scriptural example to our own circumstances is attended with some difficulty; and yet it may be made with certainty and success. It is difficult to clear our way here, but not impossible.

The circumstances of our place and time seem to be so diverse from those of the first preachers, that no di rect lesson from their experience can be transferred to ours. No persecutor dare raise a hand against a min ister here and now, to prevent him from declaring the Gospel in all its fullness. We are free: and yet the pressure which tempts to timid unfaithfulness is only removed from one side and applied to another. The fear of man bringeth a snare; and ever since Peter said, " I know not the man," the feet of even true witnesses have, in all generations, been often entangled miser ably in its toils. But snares are not all of one shape

94 The Church in the House. or of one material either the bodily snares of the fowler, or the snares set for the spirit by the wiles of the wicked one. They may be of iron or of silk. They may be varied indefinitely in matter, form, and position, ac cording to the character of the victim, and the oppor tunities of the ensnarer. A force that is diffused and soft, may exercise a greater pressure than one that is sharp and hard, as the atmosphere over a man s body lies heavier on him than any other burden he ever bore. . To threaten a witness for Christ with the prison or the scaffold is one way of turning him aside from faith fulness; to set before him the favor of a polished but worldly circle is another. You may, if you please, pro nounce that the man who should weakly yield to these soft seducements is a far less noble specimen of human ity than those men who quailed before a scaffold, and held their peace to save their lives; although, even here, something might be said on the other side. But the distinction is of no practical importance. If the se ductions of modern society do, in point of fact, deflect the compass of the witness as far aside as the ancient persecutions, the difference in the character of the in strument makes nothing in the result.

If two ships are lost at sea by the false pointing of their compasses, it will make no difference either as to the loss of property or the loss of life, that the compass of the one ship was prevented from pointing truly by a nail that fastened it to the deck, and the compass of the other ship secretly drawn aside by a mass of iron concealed in the hold. In both cases, and in both alike, the compass failed to declare the truth, and that faithlessness caused the loss of the ships. Thus an an cient minister of the gospel who held back the truth for fear of the dungeon, and a modern minister who softens and disguises the truth because a gay, worldly, critical congregation listen to the Word, must stand side by side, repenting and pleading for the pardon of their unfaithfulness. On the other hand, an ancient minister who proclaimed the whole truth with a halter round his neck, and a modern minister who, fearing God and having no other fear, declares the whole counsel of God to every class and every character, will stand together at the great account to hear the approving sentence,

The Prayer of the Primitive Church. 95 "Well done, good and faithful servants: enter ye into the joy of your Lord." The request is simple, specific, and full: " Grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word." i. That they may speak, and not be dumb. Speech is a chief gift of God, a chief prerogative of man. Where there is a living spring, it finds or makes a channel through which it may flow; and where there is a living soul, it finds or makes an avenue of egress. A soul can not be imprisoned in a body of flesh, as a spring cannot be imprisoned among the mountains. Either life, ac

cording to its nature, must have a means of outflow. On the other hand, where there is no spring, no chan nel is needed, and none is found. Among living crea tures, accordingly, where there is not a soul, there is not speech; but in that one creature who was made in the image of God into whom God breathed a living soul there is speech, the open channel for its forthgoing. Reverence human speech. It is the mark of a being who has been made, and may be re-made, a child of God. Reverence human speech, for it is a divinely formed capacity for a divinely prescribed use. Dread false speech, proud speech, impure speech, profane speech, for these are the bright weapons with which the King has accoutred us wielded against the King. High treason ! "That they may speak;" for why should they be silent who have tasted that the Lord is gracious ? Let them tell to all who are willing to listen what the Lord hath done for their souls. Let the compressed love which glows in renewed hearts find utterance in spoken praise. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits ! In another aspect it behoves all who hear to speak. Silence is sin, if your cry might prevent a neighbor from stumbling over a precipice. Silence is sin, if neighbors are treading the broad path that leadeth to destruction, and your word might lead their steps into the way of life. Silence is sin, if a believing brother is sliding back, while your loving reproof might become to him a healing balm. Silence is sin, if a believing brother is oppressed with doubts and fears, while your

96 T)ie Church in the House. lips might pour the consolations of God into his weary heart.

The prayer points mainly to a public ministry, and yet nothing is said about sermons nothing said even about preaching: " Grant unto thy servants that they may speak." Whether the address be long or short, whether the audience be many or few, whether the style be eloquent or stammering, the pith and marrow of the whole matter is, that one man, hoping in Christ and loving his neighbor, speaks to that neighbor about Christ s redeeming love. All preaching may be re duced to this. Out of this, as the germ, all true preaching springs. If its whole mass were by some chemical process reduced to its elements, this would be found the essential residuum remaining indestructi ble after all ornaments and accessories had been melted away. I suppose Philip preached pretty fully to the anxious Ethiopian in the desert; but the Spirit in the Word performs that chemical analysis which we have imagined, and retains only that ultimate and inde structible essence of the discourse, which is small in bulk and easy of transmission Philip "preached unto him yes us." 2. The prayer of these primitive Christians is " that they may speak thy word The word of God supplies alike the authority and the material of preaching. The seed is the word: the sower need not scatter any other in his field. This alone is vital this alone will grow. 3. Their ambition is to speak the word of God " with boldness" Let no man assume too readily that he has attained this qualification of a witness. In this department, all is not gold that glitters. Beware of counterfeits in these payments, for a considerable quan tity of base coin is in circulation. To rasp like a file on other people s tender points, because you have no ten der points of your own, is not the boldness for which these disciples prayed. In that species* of courage some of the inferior creatures greatly excel us.

An essential constituent of courage is tenderness. In feudal times, when military valor held the supreme place in universal opinion, the prevailing conception, although disfigured by some foolish and grotesque fea-

The Prayer of tJie Primitive Church. 97 tures, contained a basis of truth. Battle courage was held to be only one half of a knightly bearing; the other half consisted of a tenderness, in some cases al most feminine. Tenderness is as essential to spiritual as to secular heroism. The boldness of speech which costs the speaker nothing is neither beautiful in itself nor successful in its object. It is like a stroke on hol low wood; instead of penetrating the beam, it rebounds in the face of the operator. Paul was a bold man, but he was not an unfeeling one. It was a bold word that he addressed to certain professors at Philippi, and he spoke it once and again " Ye are enemies of the cross of Christ;" but he wept as he spoke. These tears did more to make a way for the reproving word into the joints and marrow of the cul prits than all the sharpness of the reproof itself. Ob serve a mechanic boring through a bar of iron. He has OO a properly-formed instrument of steel. . This he turns quickly round, under a strong pressure, upon the bar which he desires to perforate. But this is not enough. If only on the hard beam of iron a harder point of steel were pressed and turned, they would set each other on fire. But the skilful operator quietly drops oil on the point of contact, while he plies his task. This anointing keeps the instrument from heating, and carries it through. These tears of Paul served the same purpose for the Phil-

ippian backsliders that the mechanic s oil-drops served for the iron beam. Human tenderness baptized by the Spirit poured on the point of contact, when the sharp sword of the Word is pressed against a brother s heart, prevents the pressure from begetting a burning heat, and carries the weapon home. To my mind there is hardly a more melancholy spec tacle in this world than that of a man, orthodox in faith but coarse in the natural grain, who rattles out his censures on all and sundry who differ from himself without an effort and without a pang; looking down, meanwhile, with contempt on men of greater modesty as unfaithful to the truth. The stream of words that condemns a neighbor, without scalding the speaker s own skin as it flows, is like the clack of a windmill set up to frighten birds as hard and as wearisome, and as powerless. The greater the boldness any man ventures

98 The Church in the House. to exercise, the greater tenderness he needs to attain. The boldness which those primitive confessors asked and obtained was saturated with a sanctified human tenderness; and this was the secret of their power. 4. In their eagerness for effective work, they desire to speak with all boldness. Even courage maybe partial and one-sided. This virtue vanishes whenever it begins to show respect of persons. That is not true courage which is severe to the poor but quails before the rich. As the water of a reservoir will be completely lost unless the circle of its lip be kept whole on all sides, all the dignity and power of boldness vanishes when it fails on one point. Perhaps the weakest point of all the circle for every man is himself. If courage is needed to speak the truth

to a neighbor, it is still more needed in dealing with ourselves. A surgeon needs firmness. If he faint at the sight of blood, he has mistaken his profession. He needs a stout heart when he is called to operate on other men; but he is much more liable to flinch if he need to operate upon himself. Alas ! we lack courage to press the sword of the Spirit home to the root of the ailment when it is seated in our own souls. Strike, and spare not for the patient s crying. This old prayer is a word in season still: grant unto thy servants boldness. Nerve this arm to strike this blow. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000

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