And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark…
It was a great wonder that the infant Church of Christ was not destroyed. She was like a lone lamb in the midst of furious wolves. With what weapons did she protect herself? The answer is — prayer. Whatever may be the danger of the times, and each age has its own peculiar hazard, our defence is of God, and we may avail ourselves of it by prayer. But this is not all: the newborn Church not only escaped, but it multiplied. What made it grow? The answer is that on all occasions "many were gathered together praying"; and if our Churches are to live and grow they must be watered from the self-same source. We have heard a great deal of talk in certain sections of the Church about going back to primitive times; but unfortunately what they call the early Church is not early enough. If we must have the early Church let us have the earliest Church of all. Notice —
I. THE IMPORTANCE WHICH THE EARLY CHURCH ATTRIBUTED TO PRAYER MEETINGS.
1. As soon as we begin to read in the Acts, and continually as we read on we note that meetings for prayer had become a standing institution in the Church. They were not met to hear a sermon, although that is proper, but praying was the business on hand. The eminent speaking brethren seem to have been all away, and perhaps the Church was too much engrossed in intercession. There is a serious flaw in the arrangements of a Church when such gatherings are omitted or placed in a secondary position. The private Christian will read, and hear, and meditate, but none of these can be a substitute for prayer: the same truth holds good upon the larger scale.
2. It appears, however, that while prayer meetings were a regular institution, the prayer was sometimes made special. It adds greatly to the interest and fervency of prayer when there is some great object to pray for. Here the special object was Peter. They prized the man, for they saw what wonders God had wrought by his ministry, and they could not let him die if prayer would save him. Why not pray for a certain missionary, or some chosen district, or class of persons, or order of agencies? We should do well to turn the grand artillery of supplication against some special point of the enemy's walls.
3. These friends fully believed that there was power in prayer; for, Peter being in prison, they did not meet together to arrange a plan for getting him out. It looked as if they could do nothing, but they felt they could do everything by prayer. They thought little of the fact that sixteen soldiers had him in charge. If there had been sixteen thousand these believing men and women would still have prayed Peter out. Let it never be insinuated in the Christian Church that prayer is a good and useful exercise to ourselves, but that it would be superstition to suppose that it affects the mind of God. As surely as any law of nature can be proven, we know both by observation and experiment that God assuredly hears prayer.
4. This prayer was industriously continued. As soon as Herod had put Peter into prison the Church began to pray. As in times of war, when two armies lie near each other they both set their sentries, so in this case Herod had his sentries, and the church had its pickets too. As soon as one little company were compelled to separate they were relieved by another, and when some were forced to take rest in sleep, others were ready to take up the work. Some mercies are not given to us except in answer to importunate prayer. There are blessings which, like ripe fruit, drop into your hand the moment you touch the bough; but there are others which require you to shake the tree again and again, until you make it rock with the vehemence of your exercise, for then only will the fruit fall down. I would pause here, and urge my brethren to attach as much importance to prayer as the early Church did. Some prize active agencies, but prayer is the steam engine which makes the wheels revolve, and really does the work, and therefore we cannot do without it. Suppose a foreman were employed by some great builder to manage works at a distance. He has to pay the men their wages weekly, but he forgets to write for cash to go on with. Is this wise? Keep up a constant communication with heaven, or your communications with earth will be of little worth. You may go on preaching and teaching, and giving away tracts, and what you like, but nothing can possibly come of it when the power of Almighty God has ceased to be with you.
II. THE NUMBER ASSEMBLED.
1. This is a rebuke to some here present. The text says, "Many were gathered." Somebody said that two or three thousand people had no more power in prayer than two or three. That is a grave mistake in many ways; but clearly so in reference to each other; for have you never noticed that when many meet together praying, warmth of desire and glow of earnestness are greatly increased. Have you not observed how one brother suggests to another to increase his petition, and so the petitions grow by the mingling of heart with heart, and the communion of spirit with spirit? Besides, faith is a cumulative force. "According to thy faith so be it done unto thee" is true to one, to two, to twenty, to twenty thousand.
2. This is not a very common occurrence, and why is it that so many prayer meetings are so very thin? Gentlemen who do not get home from the city and have their dinner till seven o'clock, cannot be expected to go out to a prayer meeting. They work all the day, so much harder than working men. Some of you who have your delightful villas are very careful of your health, and never venture out into the evening air at prayer meetings, though I rather suspect that your parties and soirees are still kept up. After all, this is a personal matter. How are we to increase the number? Not by complaining of those who stay away, but by coming yourself. The largest numbers are made up of units.
3. I am not sure that quite so many would have been gathered together that night if it had not been that Peter was in prison. Ministers laid aside by illness find their people pray better, and perhaps one reason for his being afflicted was God's desire to stir the hearts of His people to intercede. Now, the best way to do good to your pastor is to pray to be kept in a right condition, and not need his sickness as a stimulus to prayer.
III. THE PLACE OF ASSEMBLY. A private house, and I want to urge my brethren to consecrate their houses by frequently using them for prayer meetings. There was a meetness in their meeting in this particular house, for the family stood in a very dear relationship to Peter. Peter in his First Epistle refers to "Marcus, my son." Mark would be sure to pray for his spiritual father. There is sure to be prayer for the pastor in the house where the pastor has been blessed to the family. Mark was not all we should like him to have been, but he might have been a useless Christian, and never have used his graphic pen for the Lord had not the good people come to his house. The house received a blessing, and so will you, too, if your house shall be every now and then opened for special prayer. Prayer meetings at private houses are very useful, because friends who would be afraid to pray before a large assembly are able to feel free and easy in a smaller company in a private house. Sometimes, too, the social element is consecrated by God to promote a greater warmth and fervour, so that prayer will often burn in the family when perhaps it might have declined in the public assembly.
IV. THE TIME OF THIS PRAYER MEETING. At dead of night. Now, if the time for prayer meetings be an inconvenient hour, and I should think the dead of night was rather inconvenient, nevertheless go. Better hold prayer meetings at twelve o'clock at night than not at all. But the dead of the night was chosen for safety. Let the time fixed for modern prayer meetings be an hour suited to the habits of the people.
V. THE SUCCESS OF THE PRAYER MEETINGS AS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO US. The answer came so speedily that they were themselves surprised. It has sometimes been said that their astonishment was the result of unbelief. I doubt that, for their prayer did set Peter free, and therefore it could not have been unbelieving prayer. I trace their surprise to their probable expectation that Peter would be delivered at a different time and manner. And God can send us surprises quite as great as this. We may pray for some sinner, and while we are yet praying we may hear him cry, "What must I do to be saved?" We may offer our prayers for the sleeping Church, and while we pray it may be answered.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.