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ceasing of the church unto God for him.' When Herod would have brought him forth for execution, the same night he was delivered by angelic ministration: 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.'* These were extraordinary cases and yet like facts have occurred in recent times. I shall adduce an example, as told, to the best of my recollection, by Mr Reed, one of the missionaries connected with the London Missionary Society in Africa:-He was labouring in Caffraria while the colony belonged to Holland. The Dutch government became jealous of the British missionaries, and sent for them to come to Cape Town, without giving them any intimation of the design of the summons. On reaching the seat of rule, they were told that their labours must be discontinued, and that they must not revisit their flocks, even to bid them farewell. The missionaries held a conferenceso they intended it to be; but when they were met, one of them said, 'What can we confer about? to deliberate is useless, where we have no power to decide: let us rather pray.' The suggestion was adopted, and the missionaries successively addressed a throne of grace, continuing 'instant in prayer.' They were yet devoting themselves to this exercise when a rumour reached them that a squadron was visible at sea. It was a British fleet, having for its destination the capture of the colony, and it was speedily in con* Acts xii, 12.
flict with the Dutch navy. The flames and smoke of battle could be seen from the land, and the cannon's thunders were distinctly audible. In a few minutes the fight was over, and the colony belonged to Great Britain. On a representation to the new authorities, the missionaries were empowered to return to their mission stations. When Mr Reed went back to the people of his charge, they received him with rival surprise and joy. Having learned that they were to be deprived of their instructor, they had assembled to consider what should be done; and the question was raised among the taught, as it had been among the teachers, What can we do but pray? They engaged and persevered in prayer; and Mr Reed's restoration to them, in God's own way and God's own time, was the subject of supplication when he presented himself in their assembly!
In many of the darkest periods of the church's history, when the pulpit has emitted only such instruction as causeth to err, devotion has been very principally cherished and preserved in prayer meetings; and it is certain that when a season of revival and reformation comes, these excellent institutions are the invariable cause or effect of such 'newness of life.'An able writer says:-'Where the spirit of prayer is dull, the "first love has been left." It must be so, both with the individual and with the church. There is then declension. And the return of the spirit of prayer is revival. The criterion is sure. It is an unfailing spiritual thermometer. Where prayer is cold, the heart is cold; and as the heart warms,
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prayer warms. Where there is life in the personal, there will be corresponding life in the domestic exercises. And in proportion as there is life in both, there will be life too in the prayers of the fellowship meeting and of the church. A praying spirit in the closet and in the family will take delight in the private coteries of christian conference and devotion; and it will come in its full force to the sanctuary. Are prayer meetings, then, on the increase among you? Why should there be a neighbourhood in which brethren reside, without one? I know not a more pleasing symptom of a reviving and thriving church, than the multiplication of these, and their spirited attendance.**
To augment the interest of such meetings, some associate with prayer the reading of missionary intelligence, others the exposition of a part of scripture, and others the discussion of some important article of faith. Any of these adjuncts may be so regulated as to do great good, and where it is so, I would be sorry to disturb the arrangement. But they may be perverted into an occasion of personal display and party strife, and very great evil may result from such abuses. So far as my knowledge extends, prayer meetings are generally most successful when their nature is most in accordance with their name-when the exercises are throughout spiritual and devotional-when the assembled worshippers find ample materials of occupation and delight in reading God's word, celebrating is praise, and supplicating his throne. While reli*Reviva of Religion,' by R. Wardlaw, D.D., pp. 38, 39.
gious associations are so conducted, they are among the best indices of congregational prosperity, and surest fountains of future and overflowing good. It is desirable, however, that none of the services be unseasonably prolonged; for those who wish to attend may have little time at their command, and in any circumstances piety is not likely to be advanced where strength and patience are exhausted. These remarks have respect only to the mode of conducting prayer meetings, and do not invalidate the importance of holding them. They are of high and holy consequence. Scripture, and history, and present facts, unite in attesting their value. Let every elder form them who can; and if the attendance be small, and he labour in vain to enlarge it, let him not be discouraged, while the numbers fulfil the stipulation of the promise: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.'*
DUTIES OF ELDERS VIEWED COLLECTIVELY-FREQUENCY OF MEETING -MINUTES CONGREGATIONAL LIST APPORTIONING OF THE CONGREGATION-ADMISSION OF MEMBERS DISCIPLINE- MEASURES AFFECTING PUBLIC WORSHIP, ETC.-GENERAL ENCOURAGEMENT TO BENEFICENT INSTITUTIONS-CONCLUSION.
I HAVE now to consider the duties of elders viewed collectively, or in session assembled.
*Matt. xviii. 20.
on this department of the subject have been offered in treating of the former; and it may be necessary sometimes to revert to the former in treating of this, as it is scarcely possible to keep them wholly distinct. Still, advantage results from considering them, on the whole, separately.
SECT. 1.-A session should meet with due frequency. If elders be called together only at distant intervals, and perhaps even then at no stated time, but casually and irregularly, the superintendence of the congregation must be in a ruinous state. The reason cannot be, that there is no duty for the session to perform: the only explanation is, that the performance of it is neglected. In ordinary circumstances, a session should not meet seldomer than once a month for its regular business; and it is greatly to be wished that another monthly meeting should be held, punctually, for devotional exercises. It would be to no purpose that the session was convoked, if its members did not attend; and the regular attendance of all the members is quite indispensable to the spirited and successful discharge of sessional business. No elder can say, beforehand, how much is to depend in the guidance of any cause on the information which he may have to furnish, or how much the interests of his own particular district may be involved in the discussions which shall arise; and, therefore, an elder, by unnecessarily absenting himself, not only deserts his own duty, but perils the usefulness of his brethren, who are more faithful than himself. In all respects the