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Not to recur to the primitive times, when evangelists, who far exceeded this feeble description, spread the gospel through the nations ; Schwartz, Eliot, Brainerd, and many among the Moravians and others, stand as demonstrations that the Lord of the harvest is still able to send forth such labourers.
Yet all this is so contrary to human nature, and to the education and habits of men in civilized regions, and especially in such an affluent and luxurious country as Britain; that at first view one is almost apt to despond, and to conclude it impracticable to obtain missionaries of this stamp and character.
Sanguine adventurers, indeed, may at any time be found, ready to volunteer their services almost in any cause: but where shall men of this eminence and excellence be found ?" With man it is im"possible, but with God all things are possible."
Call to mind, my brethren, the case before stated, at the opening of our subject. Where, at the time when the Saviour expired on the cross, were (the preachers who soon after carried his gospel through the extent of the then known world? Where were they who so laboured and prospered, that, had others trodden in their steps, it might seem as if our exertions would scarcely have been wanted? All these, almost, were at that time proud and selfish Jews, or blind idolaters: and the rest were prejudiced, disheartened, and cowardly disciples. "Is then the Lord's arm shortened, that he cannot "save?" Out of these stones he can raise up, not only "children unto Abraham," but genuine successors to the primitive missionaries. Nor is there
a scoffer, a profligate, an opposer, a coward, or a man buried in the pursuit of worldly riches, in this congregation, that he could not endue with all the zeal, and love, and courage, and wisdom of an apostle. He need only speak with power, and say, as he did to Matthew the publican at the seat of custom, "Arise, and follow me," and he would "leave all and follow him." Oh, "pray ye there"fore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send "forth labourers into his harvest."
Observe again, my brethren, that this is an aid, though of primary importance, in which the poor, the unlearned, and the obscure, may concur as effectually as the wealthy, the learned, and the eminent. All cannot give, though inclined to do it; but every one can pray, whose heart is so disposed: and every one may beg of God to give him " the "Spirit of grace and supplication," of fervent zeal and expansive philanthropy. And he who prays constantly and earnestly for the success of missionary designs, and that the Lord would furnish the missionaries, and prosper their labours, will be found a more valuable friend to the cause, than he who gives his money or his time, nay, than he who preaches sermons, and writes books to promote it, if he do not also unite with them his fervent prayers.
It may be thought, as the cause is that of God, he will accomplish his own purpose for his own name's sake, whether we pray or not. But let any impartial person simply regard the sacred oracles, and the outlines of ecclesiastical history, and ask himself, whether a fervent spirit of prayer, by the remnant of believers, has not always preceded great revivals in religion, and gracious interpositions of God for his church?
Reasonings against scriptural instruction and undeniable fact mustjbe false and vain, however specious. Nothing can be more enlarged and unencumbered, than the promises of God to Israel by Ezekiel; but, after all, it is subjoined, "I will yet "for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to "do it for them."1 Thus also Jeremiah, or rather God by him: "I know the thoughts that I think "towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace "and not of evil, to give you an expected end. "Then shall ye call upon me, and shall go and "pray unto me; and I will hearken unto you ; and "ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search "for me with all your heart." 2
Accordingly Daniel (as did doubtless many others,) set himself to seek the Lord by fasting and prayer, just before the Jews were restored from captivity.
We have seen that the apostles and disciples continued instant in prayer, before the Holy Spirit was poured out at the day of Pentecost. The church of Antioch was fasting and praying, when Saul and Barnabas were called forth to go and preach to the gentiles,—eventually to Europeans; whence we Britons have received our marvellous light, and invaluable advantages.
Prayer especially honours God, and God honours prayer: it brings the soul into a humble, dependent, waiting, expecting frame, and prepares the way for thanksgiving: and therefore it is proper, both in our private concerns and in public undertakings, that prayer, fervent persevering prayer, should precede every important success.
1 Ezek. xxxvi. 24,37. "' Jer. xxix. 10, 13.
My brethren, allow me to make a remark thus publicly, which I have often inade more privately; namely, that there is in general too small a proportion by far of supplication or intercession, in the devotions of Christians of the present day. Selfishness seems even to infect our religion: we seek comfort, and perhaps sanctification, for ourselves, the company, and our particular circle: but, except on special occasions, we are not apt to enlarge, to multiply our petitions and fill our mouths with arguments, in pleading for our fellow Christians and fellow sinners throughout the world; or even for our own country, and the church of God that is amongst us.
A number of Christians sometimes agree, on a particular emergency, to unite at certain times in some special requests; or meetings for prayer are appointed for such purposes: and doubtless this is highly proper, and conducive to much good. Yet prayer, thus called forth, seems to resemble the forced productions of the hot-bed, rather than the natural growth of the soil: they are raised indeed, as water from a deep well, but do not flow spontaneously, like streams from a fountain. A disposition, without any effort, to unite and enlarge in our families, our social meetings, and, of course, in our closets, as well as in public worship, or at particular seasons, for the purity, peace, and enlargement of the church; for the illumination and sanctification, and prosperity of all her ministers; for the conversion of Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics; for the sending forth of labourers into the harvest: I say, such a disposition for prayer, in these and similar respects, does not seem so congenial to the minds of Christians in general, as one would suppose it must be, from the principles on which they rest all their hope and confidence.
My sphere of observation is contracted: and, if any say, I have not found it so among my friends and brethren, I congratulate him: but this, I confess, is the impression that I have received duringthe years of my acquaintance with evangelical persons.
Indeed it is my decided opinion, that nothing could so effectually promote the cause, not only of missions, but of Christianity in all respects,, as a general concern among all Christians; not only on some special days or hours, but constantly, whenever they prayed, to remember, either more generally, or fully, the case of unconverted sinners, of the heathen and the poor Jews, with that of missions and missionaries, and the sending forth of labourers; in particular, the raising up of missionaries and ministers among the natives of those countries which we attempt to evangelize; as this alone can give a prospect of enlarged and permanent success. This indeed would be well calculated to excite a missionary spirit: but it is especially urged from a full conviction that it will be the introduction, when God is about to "fill the earth "with his glory, as the waters cover the sea."
An early acquaintance with the writings of president Edwards, Brainerd, and the New England divines, gave my mind a peculiar turn to this subject. The nations unacquainted with Christ have ever since lain near my heart: and I never thought