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THERE are, it may be, “so many voices in the world, and none of them are without signification.” The lion roareth in the forest because he hath no prey, and the young eagles seek their meat from God. Each voice is intelligible to the ear of the Creator, but the most welcome must be the voice of petition from his children, conveyed through the ever-welcome Intercessor. How simple are the words, “ Ask and ye shall receive!” Every child understands, and acts upon them daily, in reference to its earthly parents. Yet how difficult for the heart to adopt and act upon them with perfect simplicity in reference to our Father in heaven. It is a great thing to say, “I sought the Lord, and he heard me,” or to point to an afflicted neighbour and say, “ This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his trouble ;” but this ought to be, and might be, the experience of every praying heart, were it not for lurking unbelief.
In some of our Scottish prayer-meetings, I have
felt a degree of distraction of purpose, and want of defined object, which seemed to eat the soul out of the petition. Perhaps an address on some passage of Scripture diverted the mind of the leader, so that the object of the meeting seemed rather to be instruction than petition; and thus a multitude of vague confessions and requests, which did not fix the heart, destroyed the idea of a union for prayer. It is true, our wants are numerous and varied, and each petition might be suited to the necessities of some one; but the mind gathers strength by fixing on some special subject, and avoids distraction by grasping at no more than it is able to embrace at once.
We cannot forget the solemn meetings of two or three brethren at once to plead for direction, or the mighty outpourings of some hundreds, so frequent before the wrench was made which severed the Free Church of Scotland from the Church of its habitual attachment. We were in earnest then, and knew distinctly what we wanted, and that put life into our petitions. And so it is ever.
Defined wants produce defined prayers.
I have attended many prayer-meetings in the United States, and been refreshed by the ready outpouring of heart of elders in various churches. At times the home sensibilities have received a lively touch, by hearing the tones and method of approach of a father from Scotland; differing from his brethren in style, yet the same in aim, for there are
many kinds of voices in the world, but none of them are without signification,” and all are intelligible to the ear of mercy.
The association for prayer, of which I wish to give a minute detail, without the help of anything except the strong impression on memory, was held in the city of Boston, in the lecture-room of the Old South Church.
That “Old South”-hallowed as the only lighthouse which at one period held up the true lamp of salvation to that city! The “Old South”where so many pilgrims have been guided, and so many new-born souls have made their first dedication to Christ! My heart was glad, when a lady to whom I carried a letter of introduction, told me of her morning engagement, and most kindly offered to introduce us to that little quiet assembly.
Eight was the hour of meeting, and three quarters of an hour the time allowed, as the numerous merchants and clerks who were present must be in their offices at nine. More than once we enjoyed the privilege of attending, but it is the incidents of one morning which are presented as a specimen of true simplicity and mingling of sympathy. The gentleman who occupied the chair was a layman, who we heard was then only present for the second time. He selected for singing two or three stanzas of a hymn, and then prayed with fervour and fluency for the great and leading object of this meeting, viz., the renewing and refreshing influences of the Holy
Spirit on the churches in Boston, and on the city in general. He then read a portion of a chapter in the Acts. At the close of reading, he made some sensible remarks on the minute guidings of Providence, which we often follow without perceiving them, in consequence of our unwatchfulness; and which, when perceived, can never be neglected with impunity. His reason for choosing the passage he had read was, that he awoke that morning with the last verses on his mind; and that, some thirty, or it might be forty, years since, when in the city of Portland, he heard the sermon on those verses which was the means of awakening spiritual life in him. He had not heard the clergyman before or since, nor seen him with his bodily eye again till this morning, but had good reason to remember him and the time with gratitude. He then stated, as another reason for addressing them, that he had good news in which all would rejoice. He had heard a report four months since of the conversion of an eminent lawyer of that same city ; but when he considered that the man was a keen politician, occupied in party warfare, writing pamphlets on his favourite questions, and mingled up with all the elections, he dared not credit the good news, and had kept silence. Now, however, he could, on undoubted anthority, invite the sympathetic congratulations of the meeting on the sound conversion to God of Mr John - whose standing in society, whose noble mental powers, and whose extensive interest, were now all enlisted in the cause nearest our hearts.
You should have felt the sentiment that throbbed from breast to breast as the true-hearted man sat down. There was no articulate sound, but the tear drawn quietly from the cheek, the little movement like the rustling among the leaves in autumn, indicating that the breeze is there, and then the long breath like an exhalation of thanksgiving, betrayed the universal sentiment. After a brief pause, an aged man arose, whose trembling hand had carefully turned his ear-trumpet to the chairman during his address. He expressed gratitude and joy that he had been permitted to hear what he had just listened to. He was the clergyman who remembered well having preached on that passage at Portland all those long years ago, and here was one rich fruit of that sermon, which he joyfully gave thanks for, for the first time, to-day. Again the little sympathetic rustle breathed through the community, and we feasted our eyes on the tall, thin, bending-over pastor, and the glad, grateful, spiritual son, who gazed on the venerable man through tears. He went on to set his seal to what had been already said of the wisdom of following small indications of Providence ; saying, that if his friend had not awaked with that passage on his mind, he might never have heard the news so calculated to cheer him towards the close of his pilgrimage. He had, however, still another coincidence to point out, as he had borrowed