by Gardiner Spring
Such is the importance of the Christian ministry, that we are constrained to entreat for it one particular favor. It is a request in which we feel a very deep personal concern, Pray for us! “Pray for us”, pleads the Apostle in I Thessalonians 5:25; pray for us is the hearty response from every Christian pulpit in the land, and in the wide world. If the prayers of good men were entreated by such a man as Paul; and if, with his giant intellect, his eminent spirituality, and his intimate communion with God and things unseen, this holy man needed this encouragement and impulse in his work, who will not say “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified!” (II Thessalonians 3:1).
It is a delightful thought to a young man entering upon the ministry of reconciliation that, unworthy as he is, the prayers of thousands of God’s people are continually going up, on his behalf, to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God. He seems to hear the church of God saying to him, We cannot go to this sacred work, but we will follow you with our prayers! He seems to hear many a Christian parent say to him, “We have no son to send to this hallowed vocation; but you go to it, and you shall not lack an interest in our prayers!” Not a few of the churches of this land have enjoyed the high privilege of sending forth into the spiritual harvest a considerable number of beloved youth from their own more immediate family. And it has been the practice of such churches, to an extent that is gratefully remembered, to assemble for the more special service of commending their young brethren to the care and faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God. How fitting, in every way, is such a service! How full of encouragement to the heart that trembles under a view of the responsibilities of the sacred office! how delightful this spiritual stimulus to a mind almost ready to sink under its own conscious infirmities! And how unspeakably precious the thought to all who labor in this great work, whether in youthful, or riper years, that they are thus habitually remembered in the prayers of the churches! Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be very much such a minister as their prayers may make him. If nothing short of Omnipotent grace can make a Christian, nothing less than this can make a faithful and successful minister of the Gospel!
We entreat the churches to regard with a more deliberate and devout mind the great work itself to which their ministers are devoted. To explain the doctrines and enforce the duties of genuine Christianity; to defend the truth against all the subtlety and the versatility of error; to sustain within their own minds that sense of God’s presence, and of those moral sanctions which are revealed in His Word. And to experience that deep and tender impression of the things that are unseen and eternal, that are necessary to give earnestness to their preaching, as well as that consistent life and bearing that are necessary to give power to their preaching; to do this in a way that shall adapt itself to different times, places, occasions and characters, and without being disheartened by difficulties, overwhelmed by enemies, and weary of the yoke which they have taken upon themselves, is no ordinary work! If a people are looking for rich sermons from their minister, their prayers must supply him with the needed material; if they seek for faithful sermons, their prayers must urge him, by a full and uncompromising manifestation of the truth, to commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (see II Corinthians 4:2). If God’s people are going to expect powerful and successful sermons, their prayers must make him a blessing to the souls of men! Would they have him come to them in the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel of peace, with a pounding heart, a burning eye, and a glowing tongue, and with sermons bathed in tears and filled with prayer? If so, their prayers must urge him to pray, and their tears inspire his thrilling heart with the strong yearnings of Christian affection. It is in their own closets that the people of God most effectively challenge their beloved ministers to take heed to the ministry they have received from the Lord Jesus (see Acts 20:24).
And who and what are ministers themselves? Frail men, fallible, sinning men, exposed to every snare, to temptation in every form; and, from the very post of observation they occupy, they are an easier target for the fiery darts of the foe. They are not trite victims the great Adversary is seeking, when he would wound and cripple Christ’s ministers. One such victim is worth more to the kingdom of darkness than a number of common men; and for this very reason their temptations are probably more subtle and severe than those encountered by ordinary Christians. If this subtle Deceiver fails to destroy them, he cunningly aims at neutralizing their influence by quenching the fervor of their piety, lulling them into negligence, and doing all in his power to render their work burdensome. How perilous is the condition of that minister then, whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people! It is not in his own closet and on his own knees alone, that he finds security and comfort, and ennobling, humbling, and purifying thoughts and joys; but it is when they also seek them in his behalf, that he becomes a better and happier man, and a more useful minister of the everlasting Gospel!
Nothing gives a people so much interest in their minister, and interest of the best kind, as to pray for him. They will love him more, respect him more, attend more cheerfully and gain more profit from his ministry, the more they commend him to God in their prayers. They feel a deeper interest in his work the more they pray for him; and their children feel a deeper interest both in him and in his preaching, when they regularly listen to supplications that affectionately commend him to the throne of the heavenly grace.
The results of a preached Gospel are associated with the most interesting realities in the universe. In fact, they form no small part in affecting the realities themselves. There are no such bright and radiant exhibitions of the ever-blessed and adorable God-head, as are made where a preached Gospel has free course and is glorified. That wondrous exhibition of the Divine nature, that progressive development which is in itself so desirable, and in its consequences so endeared to every holy mind, never shines forth with such impressive distinctness and subduing luster, as when the hearers of His truth and grace, proclaimed from lips of clay, indicate that appearing of His great glory. Had the people of God on the earth minds as pure as the angelic intellect around the throne, with what deep concern, anxiety and prayer, would they watch the progress and follow the labors of the humble and faithful ambassadors of the cross, as they proclaim this glorious Gospel, and as the effects of their preaching reveal new and lasting exhibitions of the manifested Deity! The effects of their preaching upon the souls of men are nothing less than the savor of life unto life in them that are saved, and in them that perish of death unto death (II Cor. 2:15,16). The same light and motives that are the means of fitting some for heaven, when abused and perverted, only fit others for hell.
O it is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. The consequence of neglecting this duty is seen and felt in the spiritual declension of the churches, and it will be seen and felt in the everlasting perdition of men; while the consequence of regarding it would be the ingathering of multitudes into the kingdom of God, and new glories to the Lamb that was slain!
On his behalf therefore, and on the behalf of his beloved and respected brethren in the ministry, the writer would crave an interest in the prayers of all who love the Savior and the souls of men. We are the dispensers of God’s truth and at best fall far below our mighty theme. The duties of our calling return upon us with every returning week and day. They often come upon us with many and conflicting demands. They sometimes put a demand upon all our thoughts, and at the very time when we have lost the power of thinking; and sometimes they call for all the intensity and strength of our affections, just at the time we are the least capable of expressing them. There is also associated with these demands that pressing distress, and decaying anxiety, which exhausts our vigor, cripples our courage, and drinks up our spirits. And then, in addition to all this, there are so many disappointments in our work, that we desperately need the sympathy and comfort of the prayers of God’s faithful people!
Our spirit is sometimes stirred within us, and we go forth to our people flooded with the hope of rescuing them from everlasting burnings; and in some unfortunate hour of self-sufficiency, we vainly imagine the work and triumph are our own. We are ready in season, and out of season (II Tim. 4:2); we make a business of preparing for the conflict, sometimes polishing our arrows and sometimes leaving them rough and barbed. We put on our armor, and enter the field with the determination to lay out all our strength, and with the confident assurance that we must complete our assigned task. But what a lesson of self-abasement! We cannot convert a single soul. “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament” (Matthew 11:17). We press home the Divine commands, and they trample upon His authority; we press home His threatenings, and they despise His justice; we speak tenderly of His promises, they heed not His faithfulness; of His Beloved Son, and they tread Him under their feet; of His patience and long-suffering, but their impenitence and obstinacy are proof against them all. We reason and plead with them, until the obstacles to their conversion seem to us to rise higher by every effort we make to overcome them; until, finally, we sink in dejection, and cry out, “What mighty power can break these granite-like hearts? What omnipotent grasp can rescue these perishing men from everlasting burnings?” O you blood-bought churches, your ministers need your prayers, for the exceeding greatness of that power which God worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead (Eph. 1:19,20).
We have a concert of prayer for the heathen, another for Sunday Schools, and yet another for the blessing of God upon the distribution of religious tracts. Why should we overlook the great means of God’s own appointment for the salvation of men? May there not be something in the form of a concert of prayer for the ministers of the Gospel? If nothing better can be suggested, why may there not be a general understanding among Christian men, and Christian families, to set apart the morning of every Lord’s Day, for this great and special object? This was the practice in the family of my venerable father, and it has long been my own as well. And it is a most precious privilege. The time is a very appropriate one; and such a ministry of prayer would not fail to exert a delightful influence on the privileges of the sanctuary. “Before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). Should God be pleased to give to the churches the spirit of prayer for their ministers, it would be with the purpose of answering it. “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (Psalm 102:17; cf. Nehemiah 1:5,6). It is written, that “on every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, He will create a fire and smoke” (Isaiah 4:5); nor will the altar be profaned, nor the incense less fragrant, if those words of hope are more often upon the lips of those who offer it, “Clothe Your priests with salvation, that Your saints may shout aloud for joy!” (Psalm 132:16). Nor is this all! Let the ministers of the Gospel have an habitual remembrance at the domestic altar every day. “It is no small thing”, says a modern writer of our own city, “for any congregation to have daily cries for God’s blessing ascending from a hundred firesides. What a spring of refreshment to a pastor! The family devotions of praying Kidderminster, no doubt, made Richard Baxter a better minister, and a happier man; and it is possible we are reaping the fruits of them in his books “The Saints Everlasting Rest’ and “Dying Thoughts”.*
You then, who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest (Isa. 62:6,7). When the churches cease to pray for ministers, ministers will no longer be a blessing to the churches. Brethren, pray for us, that we may be kept from sin; that we may walk carefully, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16); that our hearts may be more devoted to God, and our lives a more impressive example of the Gospel we preach; that we may be more completely furnished for our work and our conflicts, and put on the whole armor of God; that we may be more faithful and wise to win souls, and that we may discipline our body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others, we ourselves be cast away (1st Cor. 9:27). When we turn our thoughts toward barren ordinances and a fruitless ministry, our hearts sink within us, and we would gladly throw ourselves at the feet of the churches and implore a remembrance in their prayers. If you ever enter into the “secret place” of the Most High, and get near the heart of Him whom your souls love, plead earnestly that His own power may attend the stated ministries of His Gospel. If you ever lie on Jesus’ bosom, please remember us! Open your desires; tell your Immanuel of His costly sacrifice and wonderful love; tell Him of His power and our weakness; speak to Him of the unutterable glory, and the interminable anguish beyond the grave. With tears of solicitude press home your plea, and tell Him that He has committed the treasure of the glorious Gospel to earthen vessels, in order that the excellency of the power may be all of God!
“Brethren, pray for us!” AMEN!
* Thoughts on Family Worship, by J. W. Alexander. No family should lack this most valuable, seasonable, and beautiful volume.