Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.…
If we regard prayer meetings merely as expedients appointed by men and having no sanction from the Word of God, we may, perhaps, be disposed to treat them lightly. And it is very much to be feared that this is the view taken by many of prayer meetings, because —
1. They are generally so thinly attended.
2. They are so disparaged — "It is only a prayer meeting." Let us show, then —
I. THAT PRAYER MEETINGS ARE SCRIPTURAL. We find here that when those who gladly received the Word had been baptized, they "continued stedfastly," not once or twice or occasionally, "in prayers," in fact as stedfast as in "doctrine," etc. Social prayer is placed on a level in point of importance with apostolic doctrine and the Lord's Supper. Why, then, should the one be comparatively lost sight of by the churches, whilst the others are regarded as essential to the profession of Christianity? Those who neglected "the assembling of themselves together" were denounced by the apostle, and the continuance of fellowship is here associated with continuance in prayer. Now if we look at any other part of the Word of God, we shall find the same thing uniformly brought before us as the practice of the Church. In Acts 1:14-15 we find that such was the practice before the outpouring of the Spirit. We come next to chap. Acts 4., and after Peter and John had been dismissed we find, in ver. 33, they reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. Then there was a prayer meeting, and the prayers offered were honoured with a remarkable reply from heaven (ver. 31). In chap. Acts 12. Peter was apprehended and kept in prison. The Church, however, had prayer meetings on his behalf. And the prayer was granted before the prayer meeting was broken up. I have not quoted passages in the Epistles where supplication and prayer are enjoined on the churches, but, glancing generally at these exhortations, are you to suppose that they ask for the prayers merely of individuals as such? When they call upon the Church to do anything, do they not call upon the Church to do it as a public body, and in a public way? Taking this view of the matter, you will find all the apostolic exhortations to supplication bearing upon the apostolic practice, and then the evidence that prayer meetings, properly so called, were a part of the practice of the apostolic churches will be found to be complete.
II. WHAT BENEFIT WILL ACCRUE FROM SUCH MEETINGS.
1. Union of feeling must arise in the Church. When the same minds are before the same throne of grace; when the same acknowledgment is made of common transgressions, and the same faith is exercised in a common Saviour; and when the whole mind of a combined people is consecrated by the solemnity of their common supplications, surely there must be the elements of a union far surpassing any other that can exist. It is this very circumstance that frequently leads people to think highly of unions by no means scriptural in their character.
2. As that united feeling becomes sanctified prayer meetings will also tend to strengthen spiritual devotion in the Church. Devotion may be regarded as an ardent feeling in connection with religious matters; with or without scriptural light and authority the latter may be created in a variety of ways. The solemnities of high mass create that feeling in the Church of Rome. The splendour of its statuary and its paintings; the richness of its structures; the grandeur of its rites; the elevating influence of its music, all will be found having a tendency to create an ardent feeling in connection with religious matters. But this is not religious feeling accompanied with scriptural light and scriptural sobriety. In the midst of the thrilling influences to which they are subject, remind them that these structures were raised by a system that destroyed the souls of men, and took away liberty as regarded their bodies. Tell them to observe that such places were never intended for instruction. Let them afterwards look at the plainer structures which were evidently intended for instruction. It is very clear that the feeling I have described is not to be found there; but at the same time the light of scriptural truth will be found operating, and the calm and practical influence of genuine Christianity will be found to have superseded the feeling of excitement and religious awe. Now, if we look at devotional feeling in both these points of view, where are we to find that which is really scriptural so clearly exhibited as in prayer meetings? Go to the humble prayer meeting; let there be no influence there but the influence of heaven: let there be no power but the power of the Spirit of God; let the mind be directed by scriptural light and by scriptural desires, expressed in scriptural petitions, and you have there the exhibition of a plain and practical Christianity, which, while it has fellowship with the Father and with His Son, exercises a sufficient command over the physical economy to prevent that extravagance which deludes in the manner that I have described.
3. Prayer meetings are calculated to promote the spread of God's glory in the Church. We know that they bring the glory of God before the supplicants with a degree of spirituality and power unknown in any other circumstances, and that therefore they are best fitted, best armed, for the field in which God calls upon them to act when they have received common refreshment at the footstool of the Majesty on high.
4. Prayer meetings are calculated to raise the Church above the secular influence and spirit by which churches are often divided. If individuals belonging to a Christian Church are habitually separated from one another; if they know little or nothing about one another; when any question arises in that Church, how ill provided are they to treat it in the spirit of Christian devotion. In such a state of things every man feels that he has to seek his own will in reference to the question, and there is likely to be a conflagration of feeling in the Church. But let them come from the throne where they have often asked for that help by which they may work together in the spirit of Christian charity; let them come from the place where God has often been felt to be present; and let something them be suggested that may for a moment lead to debate, and you will see the whole Christian brotherhood acting as those who know what it is to feel together the sanctifying influence of devotion. The peace of the Church, therefore, is involved in prayer meetings.
5. When prayer meetings are conducted spiritually, the Church itself will be found to exhibit to the world more of the spirit by which the Church must be actuated before the gospel can triumph. If the Saviour prayed that His people might be one, as He was one with the Father, in order "that the world might believe that He had sent Him"; i.e., made their union evidence of the truth of Christianity; and if the Saviour, at the same time, held up His people as a praying people, and promised that whatever they should ask in His name He would bestow; the world finding all this laid down in our statute book, will look to see how far it. is carried out in our practice. Let them see, then, that prayer meetings are duly attended; and they will be ready to acknowledge that God is "among you of a truth" (1 Corinthians 14:24).
III. WHAT ARE THE REAL OBJECTIONS? The only objection that I know is that people cannot give two evenings in the week. You have, then, to take the prayer meeting and the meeting for public assembly, and to ask which is the more important of the two; or you have to compare the two meetings with your other employments, and to determine to which you shall give the preference. Is the business to which you have to attend on the two evenings, or on one of them, more important than the assembly or the prayer meeting; then attend to that business. The very same remark will apply to the Sabbath day.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.