Alexander Campbell Tracts for the People--No. XXXI: Prayer (1849)





M I L L E N I A L   H A R B I N G E R


A.   C A M P B E L L, Proprietor;




      I saw another messenger flying through the midst of heaven, having everlasting good news to proclaim to the inhabitants of the earth, even to every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice Fear God, and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgments is come; and worship Him who made heaven, and earth, and sea, and the fountains of water.--JOHN.

      Great is the Truth, and mighty above all things, and will prevail!



P R I N T E D   B Y   A.   C A M P B E L L.

P R E F A C E.


      AMONGST the numerous and greatly diversified evidences, internal and external, of an early and direct communication from God to man, found in the world as well as in the Bible, prayer occupies a broad and a lofty place. Man's speaking to God is, to my mind, a demonstration that God had first spoken to man. No human being ever spoke who was not first spoken to. That God first spoke to Adam is just as certain as that Adam spoke to Eve, or as certain as their children spoke to one another, and since continue to speak.

      But there is more in prayer than speaking to God. There is more in prayer than a simple recognition of the divine existence. This, alone is, indeed, a great point; but it is subordinate to another point of greater value to us. It implies a knowledge of the attributes of God. It indicates an the part of him that calls upon God, that he has been taught that the being whom he addresses is an omnipresent God--that wherever he is, God is;--and, more than this, that God hears the voice of man; not merely the vehement, impassioned, and loud appeal, but the almost inaudible whisper of a contrite, fainting, dying heart. Nay, that God reads what man himself cannot read--the superscription upon his own groanings, his inarticulate aspirations and desires. Oh! what language, what dialect of man, can express the eloquence of a sigh, a groan, a breathing of the human soul pleading, wrestling, prevailing with God!

      Prayer, therefore, implies much more than we have yet expressed, nay, much more than we can express. It implies, not only that God hears our, to human ears, inaudible whispers, but that he reads what we ourselves cannot read--the language of our agonies and unutterable sighs and emotions. What a consolation to those who agonize to obtain they know not what, but which not obtained, they feel wretched and undone.

      It farther implies that God takes an interest in our happiness;--who could think of calling upon a being for aid, of whose existence he may have no doubt, but of whose benevolence and mercy he knows nothing. No one prays for anything, Jew or Gentile, Athenian, or Barbarian, merely because he admits-there is a God, but because he has some idea, from some source, written or unwritten, that God takes [3] some interest in man, nay, has a care for him, a merciful regard for his condition and circumstances.

      And farther still, a man upon, his knees, in the dust prostrate before the God of the whole earth, acknowledges not merely that there is a God--an omnipresent God--but that there is a God who listens and hears--that sees, and looks upon man, and who reads the language of his heart--a God, humane and condescending, who takes an interest in man, who can be importuned, and who is merciful and kind to those who betake themselves to his mercy.

      The omnipresence of this idea in all the systems of religion from

      ---------------"Where first the sun
Gilds Indian mountains, or his setting beam
Flames on the Atlantic isles,"

proves to a candid and uncommitted mind the glorious truth, that in the beginning of time, while yet one single family contained an embryo world--the human race within itself--God made himself known to man as a God that heareth prayer, and attends to the wants and wishes of his friends. This most gracious and enrapturing idea--this most sublime and ennobling fact, once imparted to the human ear, pronounced in human language, never could be defaced from the tablet of his memory, never could be annihilated; and, therefore, there is no speech nor language, living or dead, in the annals of the world, in which the word prayer, or a term equivalent to it is not found.--Wherever, then, we see any one engaged in prayer, no inference is more in accordance with fact, than that he has faith in the being, and in at least some of the perfections of God, made certain to the Christian in the writings of Prophets and Apostles.

      But we may advance a step farther, and affirm the conviction that wherever there is social prayer, or where the idea of one person interceding for another obtains, or is manifest in the practices of a people, there has been, antecedent to it, more or less apprehended, the tradition, that some have more power with God than others, or at least, that any plurality is more efficacious with God than simple unity.

      In this opinion, however weakly cherished, there is a conviction of the need, or of the virtue of a mediator or intercessor. Now, as this idea is found, more or less legible, in all the Pagan traditions, from the days of Abraham's pleadings with God for devoted Sodom, or from the days of Seth, when men began to call themselves by, as well as upon the name of the Lord in social companies, we may conclude that from the beginning of the human family, the necessity of an intercessor or a mediator was revealed or suggested to man. Hence, [4] as far back as all written memorials reach, in all the superstitions of the East and of the West, there existed the conception of a priest, and of the importance of his functions to the success of our plea with God.

      But it was in the Jews' religion only, that this idea was fully and and grandly developed. It was in the tabernacle service first, and then in that of the temple, that men followed the High Priest when he entered the sanctuary and looked to heaven along the blood-sprinkled path in which he approached the THRONE OF GRACE. Hence, like holy Daniel, when far from the holy mount, the saints looked towards heaven, via Jerusalem, when they supplicated the tender mercies of God.

      But it is not to dwell on one view of prayer as an indestructible and a glorious proof of an ancient oral revelation of God bestowed on the whole human race, which no revolution or apostacy of man could ever efface from the memory of the species, though in this single point of view it is worth more than all the mines of earth--more than all the learning of man; but to invite the special attention of the reader--whether Gentile or Jew, whether saint or sinner--to the whole subject of prayer, personal, and social, private and public--prayer in the closet, in the family, in the church--prayer, ejaculatory or extemporaneous--prayer, spoken or written.

      On all hands it is confessed that a sublimer prospect is rarely seen, than that of a good man "in audience with the Deity."

"Even satan trembles when he sees,
The weakest saint upon his knees."

But to see a true Israelite, like his father Jacob, wrestling with God in prayer, importuning him for a blessing, and vowing never to desist until he obtained it, might make an angel, had he tears of sympathy to shed, pour them out with a joy as pure as the crystal firmament on which he stands before the throne of God, waiting for a message, for an errand to bless the humble, pious, and persevering suppliant, to whose plea and earnestness he is a living witness.

      But, strange to tell, the Christian profession of the present age is not distinguished for that scriptural, pure, and persevering practice and enjoyment of this most gracious institution, which would seem to comport with the zeal and the attainments of the age, in doctrinal precision and zeal.

      The spirit of prayer appears much more wanting than the form of prayer, and the duty of prayer is much more inculcated than the pleasure of prayer. The Bible, the whole Bible, patriarchal, [5] Jewish, and Christian, is full of the importance, value, blessedness, and potency of prayer--prayer, secret and public, personal and social.--But first of all, the spirit of prayer is that subject which primarily claims our attention.

      By the spirit of prayer I mean a proper sense and feeling of its nature, necessity, and importance--a proper appreciation of the value of this form of communion and converse with God. It presupposes, indeed, an intelligent and firm faith in God--a taste, an ardent thirst, a supreme, desire for the inspiration and inhabitation of the Spirit of God in the temple of our heart.

      "Without faith," and that knowledge which is essential to it, "it is impossible to please God;" for he that cometh to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. This faith specially terminates on the promises of God. It is encouraged by them, and therefore pleads them. Indeed, the rule and measure of our expectations must be the promises of God. When our Saviour encourages his disciples to "ask," "seek," and "knock" at the door of the Divine Mercy, he annexes to each a promise; but the things asked, sought, and vehemently desired, must be such as God had promised to bestow.

      Now there are some things promised provisionally or conditionally; others are absolutely and explicitly tendered on the simple condition of asking for them. It is worthy of remark that whatever is essential to sanctification and salvation is unconditionally tendered to him that asks; but other requests that may or may not be expedient for us to receive or to enjoy, the possession of which is neither essential to our salvation nor to our happiness, may not be specially answered or answered at all. Our heavenly Father has sometimes refused his most beloved and faithful servants some matters of this kind. Paul thrice besought the Lord to be delivered from a certain burthen which he was ill able to bear; yet the Lord did not remove it, but merely imparted to him more strength to bear it. But the good Spirit of our God and the good things of the Reign of Grace are freely and unconditionally tendered to every one that sincerely desires, them. "If you, being evil, know how to give good things to your children that ask you, how much more will your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit"--"give good things to them that ask him?" A kind parent very promptly and benevolently gives his son bread when he asks it; but he does not give him a sword or a golden toy when he asks it. There is more kindness in withholding than in giving some things, though vehemently, desired. In all cases pertaining to the life to come, we may ask not conditionally, but [6] absolutely and with all perseverance; because, without them, we cannot be saved; and because God has unconditionally promised them to those who ask in faith. "Believe," says he, "that you shall receive them, and you shall have them." Or, "whatsoever you ask," of this class, "believingly, you shall receive."

      This is our encouragement to pray--and to pray with perseverance. Our heavenly Father is fond of the company of his beloved children, and, therefore, occasions them to call on him very frequently for something before he answers them. Even Paul made three visits to the throne of grace before he indirectly obtained his wish. "For all these things," said he once, "I will be inquired of by the house of Israel." "To be inquired of," intimates not an occasional, but a persevering application.

      Now in these delays to answer, there is much profit: often more profit than in an immediate response. It is an honor often to appear in the presence of a king, of a great and most accomplished prince. We are not only pleased with the contemplation of his greatness and grandeur; but we acquire a taste for courtly manners, and for the company of the great and exalted of our kind. Much more does this feeling rise, and this taste grow, by being often called into the presence of the King of kings, and by holding protracted and earnest interviews with the Father of eternity, in whom meet, and from whom radiate all the moral beauties of the universe.

      The Christian's life is, indeed, but one protracted communion with God, through his works of creation, providence, moral government and redemption. He sees, admires, and glorifies God in all these. Hence, his constant ejaculatory prayers and praises in the contemplation of all these manifestations of divine glory and beauty.

      Still, the Christian must have his stated seasons of prayer, as he has his stated meals. He must also have seasons of preparation for the enjoyment of them. We cannot profitably and reverently rush into the presence of God, as the horse rushes into battle., We must have time for self-examination; we must ask ourselves what we want, and how we expect to obtain it. We must enter into our closet and shut the door, and converse with ourselves and with our God by abstracting ourselves from the world in all its forms, its cares, its pleasures, and pursuits. This is essential to any spiritual advantage or profit in our communings with God.

      But prayer is not only secret and personal, but also public and social. Christians live in families, and in churches, and as such they must approach together the mercy seat, and there unite, and thus strengthen and aid one another. True, our children may not all, no [7] always unite with us. Still, Christian parents may pray and worship together in their presence, and bear them up as an offering to the Lord. They may, and they should bring them up in the nurture, as well as in the admonition of the Lord. They must teach and train them by example, as well as by precept and by doctrine. We might as rationally withhold from them the Bible, as the throne of grace; and our precepts as our example in the work and worship of the Lord.

      But, alas! what a delinquency amongst the professors of this generation in the use and enjoyment of prayer. How many apparently prayerless persons and families are said to be members of all professing communities. Every subject and every theme can find acceptance, and a place in family conversation, and in our social intercourse with one another, except social prayer, praise, and devotion.

      How others may reason on these subjects, from what premises and to what conclusions I know not; but how to reconcile such a prayerless profession of Christianity with the doctrine, precepts, and example of our Saviour and his followers, or with the teachings and examples of Patriarchs, Prophets, and Saints of all ages, as presented to us in the Living Oracles, I know not. I would as soon undertake to demonstrate that a terrestrial animal could live without breathing, as a Christian without praying--without "praying daily with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." Instead of ceasing to pray, Paul commands Christians "to pray without ceasing," and in every thing "to give thanks to God," for mercies received, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you."

      These things premised, I hasten to the object of this essay; to offer a few suggestions in favor of private and family prayer; and, first, of personal and private prayer. The advantages of private prayer are three:--

      1. We can be more fully absorbed in communion with God, and in opening our hearts to him, than in social and public prayer.

      2. We can continue for a longer time in converse with God while alone, than in company with others.

      3. We can rise to a higher degree of abstraction from the world, and to a more sublime pleasure in the divine presence when in perfect seclusion from every ear, in communion with God alone.

      These are great advantages. They are, too, so obvious that little proof or illustration is required. But, for form's sake, we my note as follows--

      1. There is a pleasure in secret communion with God, more easily [8] realized than explained. The thought that God alone hears us, and that he does hear us with pleasure, is most elevating and exhilarating. We express ourselves in a language free and natural without pausing to select, or even thinking of selecting, a word, or a phrase, for any human ear. There is also an unhampered freedom from apprehension that other ears may not exactly understand us; or if they do, that they may not altogether unite with us in all our desires and supplications. There is a free and full unburthening of ourselves, and of expressing all our secret faults and errors, which is of great relief and comfort to us. We do this not to inform him of any thing unknown to him, but to relieve ourselves by a full expression of them as a means of pardon and of deliverance both from the power and guilt of sin.

      2. Under the second head we would place that great benefit which we derive from being long in the divine presence, expressed in the phrase assimilation to the divine character. Every human being assumes more or less the character of those with whom he most intimately and frequently associates. Now this is eminently true in our communion with God, provided only it is sincere, enlightened, frequent, and protracted. Prayer cannot be always long protracted in company with others. The major part of most praying communities soon become wearied either in their position, or jaded in keeping their minds fixed upon what is said. This apprehension also often occurs to him who leads in the prayer of a family or of a public assembly, and embarrasses him more or less in this most interesting exercise of his heart upon God.

      There is no company like that with God in private prayer. It elevates and transforms the soul and assimilates it to God. As the natural face of Moses shone when forty days alone in the mount with God, so the moral face and character of every saint brightens as he long communes with God in private prayer and praise.

      3. And, therefore, as indicated in our third item, we rise to a higher abstraction from earth, and to a purer and more sublime pleasure in secret prayer, in all these favorable aspects under which we contemplate it, than we could in any public or social communion with persons not known to us as they are to God and to themselves.--Next to the beatific vision of God in his own glorious heaven, there is nothing on earth to compare with the pleasures of a soul-absorbing protracted interview in prayer with God; or in the celebration of the Lord's supper in the solemn silence of a sincerely pious and well informed Christian community, while in abstract devotion all unite, each in his own bosom, in adoring him who so loved us, "dead [9] in trespasses and sins," as to send his Son, his only begotten and dearly beloved Son, to expiate our sins and to redeem us to himself by the sacrifice of himself, symbolized and set forth in this hallowed institution. Assuredly one such interview in God's own house is worth a thousand with the sons of men in the affairs of earth and time.

      The first dispensation of religion was family worship. There was a family before there was a tribe, a nation, or a church. Hence the first families on earth had their altars for God as they had their tables for themselves. This fact explains why Cain and Abel made their first appearance in the Bible at the altar, each bringing his offering to the Lord. Noah, too, kindled his first fire on the newly baptized earth, on God's altar, and gathered his family around that, while he offered his redeemed fatlings to the Lord. And of Abraham God said, "I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." Hence his sons wherever they pitched their tents erected their altars to the Lord. In the dwellings of the righteous, said David, is heard the melody of praise. Hence the pious Cornelius, when but initiated into the Jews' religion, "worshipped God with all his family;" and hence Christian parents were taught so to conduct themselves "that their prayers be not hindered," and "to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

      With this documentary evidence before him, derived from Patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian times and dispensations, what Christian parent can be insensible to his duties and privileges, thus ordained both in the letter and spirit of God's remedial institutions, in all ages of the world! Can any Christian demonstrate the possibility of bringing up his children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord, who seldom or never gathers them round his knees and allows them to hear him invoke for them the blessings of God, temporal, spiritual, and eternal? We should be pleased to hear some one in the neglect of this duty and privilege attempt his own defence, if defence he can make. Till then, we shall regard it as a privilege and an honor bestowed on all heads of households in Christ's church to make their families Bethels and to gather them around the Bible morning and evening to hear God speak to them through Prophets and Apostles, and their parents speak for them to God; and thus by precept and example imbue their minds with the [10] fear of God and with that love to God which his love to them constrains from every sensitive and grateful heart.

      I need not quote that malediction of Israel's gifted bard, when, in a bold and burning zeal, he asked Jehovah to "pour out his fury on the families that called not on his name"--because some might say that these were heathen tribes that invoked their idol gods and honored not the Living and the True. But I will ask, how can a Christian parent show his love to God, or to his own dear children, who gives to the idol Mammon, or to the false divinities worshipped by the votaries of fashion and carnal pleasures, the honors and sacrifices due to the souls and eternal destiny of his own dear offspring, and yet himself pretend to be a child of God and a follower of the Lamb?

      But what scene on earth more transcendently interesting than a whole household gathered around the Family Bible and the paternal hearth, to listen to the living word of the living God; and after the oral instruction of a Christian parent, male or female, and the hymn of thanksgiving, falling down upon their knees before the Lord of earth and heaven; while from the hallowed lips of a kind and pious parent ascend to heaven prayers, supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings for them all, in language appropriate, importunate, and devotional? Surely the destiny of such a family, both in time and to eternity, may be expected to differ much from that of a family left, without such parental care and tenderness, to follow their own impulses or the customs of an apostate world.

      As a means of sanctification and comfort, prayer holds a very high place. The very attitude of prayer, the humble presentation of ourselves in the divine presence has a very happy influence upon our temper and behaviour; while the mere confession of our wants and infirmities is a sort of relief and deliverance from them. But beyond all this, there is the positive and the immediate blessing imparted in answer to the prayer of faith. This is as certainly obtained as it is sincerely sought; for our heavenly Father presses no one to invoke his blessing for the sake of sending him away empty. If he commands us to ask, it is that we may receive the blessing.

      We cannot, then, but earnestly press upon the attention of our brethren the unspeakable benefits and blessings which our heavenly Father has vouchsafed to man, as he now is, in conferring upon him the right of petition, and the liberty of coming into his presence through a mediator, with the assurance of a gracious acceptance, and answer in all things that he may ask, according to the promises of God. If, then, any one be straitened in himself, or dissatisfied with [11] his condition, he may find relief and an abundant supply of spiritual aid and comfort on making a personal application to the throne of grace, to him "that giveth liberally and upbraideth not;" only let him "ask in faith," believing that God is both faithful and able to supply him with every good and perfect gift, necessary to his real comfort and salvation, and that he will do it to every one that sincerely asks him.

      Of what pure and elevated pleasure, then, do those professors deprive themselves and their families who neglect the morning and the evening worship in the midst of their households! What can compensate for this great neglect! It is all loss and no gain.

      Households trained in the fear of God are more intelligent, more elevated, more refined, more honorable, and more happy, every thing else being equal, than those trained without it. A Christian man, faithful and zealous in the discharge of his personal and social duties--punctual in the closet, in the family, and in the church--will always be more active, more successful, and more happy in any lawful calling or pursuit, than he that neglects these aids and comforts.

      A man of prayer has more power with God and man than he who neglects and disdains it; and certain it is, he enjoys himself incomparably more. He will say with the Royal Psalmist--"One day in thy courts is better than a thousand." "I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the palaces of pride."-"O God, thou art my God. Earnestly will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee: my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and weary land where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live; I will lift up my hands in thy name; my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips; when I remember thee upon my bed and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been I my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." Ps. lxiii.

      To conclude, in the language of Apostles--"If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for let not the wavering man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord." "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Therefore, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you; for he that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."--Therefore, knock, knock, knock.

A. C. [12]      

[The Millennial Harbinger, Third Series, 6 (January 1849): 3-12.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Tracts for the People--No. XXXI: Prayer" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, Third Series, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1849. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1849), pp. 3-12.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. Inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and typography have been retained; however, corrections have been offered for misspellings and other accidental corruptions. Emendations are as follows:

            Printed Text [ Electronic Text
 p. 5:      wtitten memorials [ written memorials
 p. 11:     transcendantly [ transcendently

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 22 February 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Tracts for the People--No. XXXI: Prayer (1849)

Back to Alexander Campbell Page
Back to Restoration Movement Texts Page