"The inwrought fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James v. 16, R.V.).
All great soul-winners have been men of much and mighty prayer, and all great revivals have been preceded and carried out by persevering, prevailing knee-work in the closet. Before Jesus began His ministry, when great multitudes followed Him, He spent forty days and nights in secret prayer and fasting (Matt. iv. 1-11).
Paul prayed without ceasing. Day and night his prayers and pleadings and intercessions went up to God (Acts xvi. 25; Phil. i. 3-11; Col. i. 3, 9-11).
The Pentecostal baptism of the Spirit and the three thousand conversions in one day were preceded by ten days of prayer and praise and heart-searching and Bible-searching. And they continued in prayer until, on another day, five thousand were converted, and "a great company of the priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts ii. 4-6; iv. 4; vi. 4-7).
Luther used to pray three hours a day, and he broke the spell of ages and set captive nations free.
John Knox used to spend nights in prayer, and cry to God, saying, "Give me Scotland, or I die!" and God gave him Scotland.
Baxter stained the walls of his study with praying breath, and sent a tide of salvation through all the land.
Over and over again, Mr. Wesley in his Journals -- which, for lively interest, are next to the Acts of the Apostles -- tells us of half, and whole, nights of prayer, in which God drew near and blessed people beyond expectation, and then he and his helpers were empowered to rescue England from paganism and send a revival of pure, aggressive religion throughout the whole earth.
David Brainerd used to lie on the frozen ground at night, wrapped in a bear's skin, and spit blood, and cry to God to save the Indians; and God heard him, and converted and sanctified the poor, ignorant, heathenish, quarrelsome, drunken beings by the scores and hundreds.
The night before Jonathan Edwards preached the wonderful sermon that started the revival which convulsed New England, he and some others spent the night in prayer.
A young man named Livingstone, in Scotland, was appointed to preach at one of the great assemblies. Feeling his own utter weakness, he spent the night in prayer, and next day preached a sermon, and five hundred people were converted. Glory to God! Oh, my Lord, raise up some praying people!
Mr. Finney used to pray till whole communities were put under the spell of the Spirit of God and men could not resist the mighty influence. At one time, he was so prostrated by his labors that his friends sent him on a voyage of rest to the Mediterranean Sea. But he was so intent upon the salvation of men that he could not rest, and, on his return, he got into an agony of soul for the evangelization of the world. At last, the earnestness and agony of his soul became so great that he prayed all day, till in the evening he got a restful assurance that God would carry on the work. On reaching New York, he delivered his "Revival Lectures," which were published at home and abroad, and resulted in revivals all over the world. Then his writings fell into the hands of Catherine Booth and mightily influenced her; so that The Salvation Army is in part God's answer to that man's agonizing, pleading, prevailing prayer that God would glorify His own name and save the world.
There is a young evangelist in America who was saved from Roman Catholicism. Everywhere he goes a "revival tornado" strikes the place and hundreds of people are converted. I wondered wherein lay the secret of his power, till a lady at whose house he stopped said he prayed all the time. She could hardly get him to his meals from his mighty wrestlings with God.
Before joining The Salvation Army, I was one day talking with Dr. Cullis, of Boston, that man of simple, wonder-working faith. He was showing me some photographs, and among them was one of Bramwell Booth, our Chief of the Staff.
"There," said the doctor, "that man leads the mightiest holiness meetings in all England."
He then told me about those famous Whitechapel meetings. When I went to England, I determined, if possible, to find out the secret of them.
"For one thing," said an officer, "Mr. Bramwell used to conduct young men's meetings at headquarters at that time, and he used to ask each saved young fellow to spend five minutes alone with God every day, wherever they could get it, praying for those Friday night meetings. One, who is a Brigadier now and was then employed in a large warehouse, had to squeeze himself into a great wicker packing-case to get a chance to pray for five minutes."
God has not changed. He waits to do the will of praying men.
Mr. Finney tells of a church in which there was a continuous revival for thirteen years. At last the revival stopped, and everybody feared and questioned why, till on day a tearful man arose and told how for thirteen years he had prayed every Saturday night till after midnight for God to glorify Himself and save the people. But two weeks before, he had stopped this praying, and then the revival had stopped. If God will answer prayer like that, what a tremendous responsibility rests on us all to pray!
Oh, for a holy soldier in every corps and a believing member in every church, who would spend half of every Saturday night in prayer! Here is work for resting officers, and for people who cannot go into Salvation Army work because of insurmountable difficulties. You can do some needed knee-work.
But let no one imagine that this is easy work. It is difficult and amounts sometimes to an agony, but it will turn to an agony of joy in union and fellowship with Jesus. How Jesus prayed!
The other day a Captain, who prays an hour or more each morning and half an hour before his evening meeting, and who is very successful in getting souls saved, was lamenting to me that he often has to force himself to secret prayer. But in this he is tempted and tried like his brethren. All men of much prayer have suffered the same. The Rev. Wm. Bramwell, who used to see hundreds of people converted and sanctified everywhere he went, prayed six hours a day, and yet he said he always went to secret prayer reluctantly. He had to pull himself up to it. And after he began to pray, he would often have dry seasons, but he persevered in faith, and the heavens would open, and he would wrestle with God until the victory came. Then, when he preached, the clouds would break and rain down blessings on the people.
One man asked another the reason why Mr. Bramwell was able to say such new and wonderful things, that brought blessings to so many people. "Because he lives so near the Throne that God tells him His secrets, and then he tells them to us," said the other.
The Rev. John Smith, whose life, William Booth once told me, had been a marvelous inspiration to him, like Bramwell, always spent much time in prayer. He always found it hard to begin, and then got so blessed that it was hard to stop. Everywhere he went, mighty revival waves went also with him.
This reluctance to secret prayer may arise from one or more of several causes:
1. From wicked spirits. I imagine the devil does not care much to see the majority of cold-hearted people on their knees in public, for he knows they do it simply because it is proper and the fashion. But he hates to see one on his knees in secret, for that man means business, and, if he perseveres in faith, is bound to move God and all Heaven in the interests he represents. So the devils oppose that man.
2. From the sluggishness of the body and mind, caused by sickness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, or overeating, which unduly taxes the digestive organs, clogs the blood, and dulls all the higher and nobler powers of the soul.
3. From a failure to respond quickly when we feel led by the Spirit to go to secret prayer. If; when we feel we should pray, we hesitate longer than is necessary and continue reading or talking when we could just as well be praying, the spirit of prayer will be quenched.
We should cultivate gladness at the thought of getting alone with Jesus in secret communion and prayer, as much as lovers expect pleasure and joy in each other's society.
We should promptly respond to the inward call to prayer. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you," and, "Keep our bodies under, lest after having preached to others we ourselves should be castaways."
Jesus said, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke xviii. 1); and Paul said, "Pray without ceasing" (I Thess. v. 17).
One dare-devil, praying, believing man can get the victory for a whole city or nation sometimes. Elijah did on Mount Carmel. Moses did for backsliding Israel; Daniel did in Babylon. But if a number of people can be led to pray in this way, the victory will be all the more sweeping. Let no one imagine, in a wicked heart of unbelief; that God is grudging and unwilling to answer prayer. He is more willing to answer those whose hearts are right with Him than parents are to give bread to their children. When Abraham prayed for Sodom, God answered till Abraham stopped asking (Gen. xviii. 22-33). And is He not often angry with us because we ask so timidly, and for such small blessings, just as the prophet Elisha was angry with the king who smote but thrice when he should have smitten five or six times? (2 Kings xiii. 18, 19).
Let us come boldly to the Throne of Grace and ask largely, that our joy may be full! (Heb. iv. 16).
The soul-winner must have the power of spiritual leadership, and spiritual leadership is a thing of the Spirit, and not of birth, or rank, or title, or education, or circumstances. Here is the secret of the power of humble Salvation Army officers from the lowly walks of life.
Joseph was a youthful prisoner in an Egyptian dungeon, but he walked with God, and was "a prosperous man," for God was with him, and one day he reached his rightful place next to Pharaoh's throne (Gen. 39 and 40.)
Paul was a prisoner under Roman guards on board ship, hastening to Caesar's judgment bar; but one day God's winds made the sea to boil, and winds and waves smote the ship, and when men's hearts failed them for fear, Paul, by right of spiritual kingship, became the master of all on board. (Acts 27.)
I knew a Lieutenant, a quiet, modest, thoughtful, prayerful, faithful, humble, holy lad, of moderate ability, stationed with an Ensign, at whose feet the Ensign and his wife sat for spiritual counsel, though the Lieutenant knew it not. They hung on his God-wise words, and remembered his example, and treasured his spirit, and talked to me about his saintliness and Christlikeness long after he, as Captain, had left them for a corps by himself.
They commanded the corps, but he held spiritual supremacy because he walked with God. and God was with him and in him.
Spiritual leadership is not won nor established by promotion, but by many prayers, tears and confessions of sin and heart-searchings and humblings before God, and self-surrender and a courageous sacrifice of every idol and a bold and deathless, and uncompromising and uncomplaining embrace of the Cross and an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified. It is not gained by seeking great things for our selves (Jer. 45:5), but rather, like Paul, by counting those things that were gain, loss for Christ. Hear him: "What things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ. (Phil. 3:7, 8.)
That is a great price, but it must be unflinchingly paid by him who would be not merely a nominal, but a real spiritual leader of men -- a leader whose power is recognized by three worlds and felt in heaven, earth and hell. Moses gained this spiritual leadership among Pharaoh's palace halls and Sinai's solitudes and fastnesses, when he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt."
Spiritual leaders are not made by man, nor any combination of men. Neither conferences, nor synods, nor councils can make them, but only God.
Spiritual power is the outcome of spiritual life, and all life, from that of the moss and lichen on the wall to that of the archangel before the Throne, is from God. Therefore let those who aspire to this leadership pay the price, and seek it from God.
Who made Elijah and John the Baptist -- hairy, uncouth men of the wilderness and desert -- prophets who awed kings and swayed nations? God.
Who took Moses from the universities of Egypt and the palaces of Pharaoh and after drilling him among flocks of sheep on the back side of the desert for forty years, made him the meek, but unconquerable leader of two millions of slaves, and the lawgiver and fountainhead of jurisprudence for all time? God.
Who took the baby Samuel and put into his mouth prophetic words to the aged priest Eli, and made him spiritual leader of Israel? God
Who took the boy David, trained to feed harmless, patient sheep, and put courage into his heart, and nerved his arm to fight the lion and the bear and the giant, and gave him skill to lead Israel's armies, so that the women sang: "Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands," while the elders, after the death of Saul, came to him, saying, "In time past, when Saul was king over us, thou wast he that leddest out and broughtest in Israel, and the Lord said to thee, thou shalt be a captain over Israel?" God.
And why did God single them out and distinguish them, and give them this power above other men? Because God was to them the supreme Fact.
They believed God, sought God, feared and trusted and obeyed God. Read the Psalms and see how God fills the whole heaven of David's thought, desire and affection, and you will cease to wonder at his leadership. It was based on spiritual life, power and fellowship with God.
This spiritual leadership, once attained, can be maintained. Witness Moses, Elijah, Paul, Fox, Wesley, Finney and General Booth, and ten thousand leaders in humbler spheres who still bear "fruit in old age," and continue "fat and flourishing;" like a white-haired old saint of eighty years, on whom I called, who, after I had prayed, burst into prayer, and said: "O Father, I testify to Thee, and the angels, and these young brothers, that old age is not a time of dotage and second childhood but the springtime of eternal youth."
I hear comparatively young men complaining and expressing. fear that when they get old they will be set aside and superseded by younger and more virile men without a tithe of their experience, forgetting that it is not long service and experience that makes spiritual leaders, but vigorous spiritual life, and that if set aside, it will be because they have not kept step with God, but have neglected the divine life, the Holy Ghost in them, Neither conferences. nor synods, nor councils, nor commanders, can make a man acceptable to the people, however long his service and varied his experience, if he has lost the spirit of prayer and faith and fiery-hearted love, and the sweet simplicity and trustfulness and self-sacrifice of his youth, and is now living on past victories and revelations and blessings. But fresh anointings of the Spirit and present-day experiences will make him acceptable, though his eye be dim and. his back bent, and his voice husky with age. It was with Finney, and Whitefield and Wesley, and so it may be with you, O my brother!
There have been ministers who in their prime fought holiness and refused the baptism of the Holy Ghost, or who, having received the baptism, neglected and lost it, who filled big pulpits and drew fat salaries, but whose influence gradually waned and whose old age was full of complainings and disappointments and bitterness and jealousies, and whose sun went down behind clouds, if not into a starless night, because they neglected God
And I know men -- old men -- full of God, who were persecuted in their prime for Jesus' sake, but who had salt in themselves and kept sweet and delighted themselves in the Lord, whose bow abides in strength, whose sun is shining in fullness of splendor, and who are filling the world with divine messages that men are eager to hear. Know this: that not long service and experience will save you from becoming a back number, but God in you will. God is always up to date. It is God men want.
What service had they performed, and what experience had Moses, and David, and Daniel, and Paul, when God set them up as leaders? None. But they were in touch with God; they were pliable to His will, teachable, trustful, obedient, courageous and uncomplaining.
They were full of God. And know this, you who fear the time is coming when your services will no longer be appreciated or wanted, and you will be thrust into a corner, that a man full of God cannot be thrust aside. If he is put into a desert place, then all the countryside and Jerusalem will flock to the desert place, as they did to Jesus and John the Baptist; and if he is thrust into a corner, then the world will stop and bend its ear to his corner to hear his latest message from God. They thrust Paul into prison, but he spoke and wrote words of life and power that burn with unquenchable fire of the Holy Ghost, and are doing more to direct the thought, inspire the faith and inflame the affections of men today than ever before. The Jews and Romans thought they had done with him when they cut off his head as that of a dog, but, after two millenniums his influence still increases, and forever will.
And so they thought to silence Madam Guyon in the Bastile, and John Bunyan in the filthy Bedford jail. But who can silence the thunder of God's power, or hush His "still small voice," when He chooses a man to speak through him? Their silent prisons but become public telephone stations, connected with the skies.
The other day, in one of our great cities, died an old man, long since past three score years and ten, a minister, who at the age of forty-seven, broke down so utterly in health from overwork, that for five years he never read a chapter from a book, not even from the Bible, but he held fast his faith in both God and man, kept his love all aglow, and at last died full of years and was mourned by hundreds in all parts of the globe who had been saved, sanctified, inspired and qualified for service by his words and life, and the agencies he set in motion for the sanctification of the church and the salvation of the world. And, by odds, his greatest work was accomplished after he had passed three score years. God was with him.
But while this spiritual power and leadership may be maintained, yet it is a subtle thing that may be lost forevermore.
When Saul was little in his own sight, he was made king, but, when lifted up he became disobedient, his kingdom was rent from him and given to another. And is it not this we are warned against in the words: "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown?" The bishopric of Judas was given to another. The one talent was taken from the "wicked and slothful servant," and given to him that had ten.
I know a Christian worker surrounded by a number of other bright, earnest, teachable, spiritually ambitious young workers, who looked to him for direction and guidance. He invited them to his home for an evening, and when they waited for soul food, coffee and cake were brought out; and when they expected prayer and counsel the chessboard was produced, and the opportunity of the evening slipped away, and the strong bonds that united them in God were relaxed and weakened, if not in one or two cases broken, and while his official and titular leadership was recognized his commanding spiritual leadership was gone, alas! I fear forever.
As electric wires, in order to carry the subtle current, must be insulated, so must men who hold spiritual leadership and who would transmit to their fellows spiritual power and life.
"But ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life..... Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 20:25.)