By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
THE WEEPING PROPHET
By E. E. Shelhamer and Others
When we speak of soul travail or burden for the lost, many preachers do not know by experience what we mean. This is sad indeed and proof that such ministers have never, with David, felt the "pains of hell" over their own condition, much less over those around them.
"And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin, and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sins. And Moses returned unto the Lord and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me I pray thee out of Thy book which Thou hast written. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach."
We quote from Rev. R. C. Horner, on the value and power of "Tears." Psalm 126:5, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
"God has said, 'He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.'
"There is nothing that tells so much as the tears, in Christian work. You see a man praying, the tears rolling to the ground. See a man weeping over his children, until you would think his heart would break. You are moved looking at him. Everybody that sees it is moved, and to the extent that we are moved to pity and compassion for the people, they are moved toward God, but when your tears are dried up, the people may perish and die, and go to hell around you and you don't seem to know it.
"Every man who has religion is sowing in tears. He is reaping in joy. The man that does one does the other. God says so. You can get thawed out, and softened up, and your heart so melted that you feel you are running into liquid, and would melt away with sorrow for souls, with love and compassion for the lost ones.
"A young man got upon the platform to tell his experience. He laughed and cried, and cried and shouted and told that God had mercy on him, and that he wanted everybody to come. That would move anybody. it moved me. Oh, brother, it's the tears. It's the burden and the compassion about it, the tender feeling we have for the people. It's the sorrow we have because men are not saved. It's the heavy burden we feel, and we get no vent from it only by tears, and in active service, to 'rescue the perishing, and care for the dying, and snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.
"When you have the real flaming love of Jesus, you want everybody saved. You feel you could die for the people who are not saved."
"If all the people help you, you will have a revival. If nobody does, you will have a revival anyway."
The fruitfulness of prevailing prayer is illustrated by the following incident which was related to us while on the island of Ceylon.
A certain missionary in the interior of India became weary of toiling with scarcely any results, except the education of the heathen, so betook himself to earnest prayer. So great was his desire for the salvation of souls that he refused to eat even when his meals were brought to his room. Mail was left untouched and unopened which his wife laid beside him. His co-laborers, becoming alarmed at his actions, and somewhat displeased because his missionary work was left undone, wrote home to the board desiring his recall. The board was considering the complaint when another letter came, asking pardon and requesting that he remain -- that his prevailing prayer had accomplished more than the combined efforts of them all. The heathen came to the mission home day after day inquiring the way of salvation, but always asking for the "praying brother." This continued until the other workers began to feel slighted. The result of this brother's intercession was the conversion of over four hundred heathen. -- Mrs. E. E. S.
It is said of Wm. McDermott that "he used to spend whole nights in prayer with John Smith before those memorable seasons of revival, in which multitudes of sinners were won to Christ. In an agony of prayer with broken hearts and weeping eyes, and the pleading of faith, they wrestled with the Angel of the Covenant until they knew that they had taken hold of the strength of God. It was said of John Smith, that when he came downstairs in the morning, his eyes were sometimes well-nigh swollen up with weeping. He himself used to say that prayer need not have been so protracted if they had had stronger faith."
Fleming, in his Fulfillment of Scripture, mentions John Welsh, "who often in the coldest winter nights was found weeping on the ground, and wrestling with the Lord on account of his people, and saying to his wife when she pressed him for an explanation of his distress, 'O woman! I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, while I know not how it is with many of them.'"
Said Matthew Henry: "I would think it a greater happiness to gain one soul to Christ than mountains of silver and gold to myself. If I do not gain souls I shall enjoy all other gains with very little satisfaction, and would rather beg my bread from door to door than undertake this great work."
Doddridge, writing to a friend, remarked, "I long for the conversion of souls more sensibly than for anything besides. Methinks I could not only labor but die for it with pleasure."
When the attendants around the dying bed of David Stoner thought that his spirit had taken its flight, he raised himself up in bed and cried, "O Lord, save sinners! Save them by scores! Save them by hundreds! Save them by thousands!" And his work on earth was finished. The ruling passion was strong in death.
Two days before Ralph Waller's death he called his faithful wife to his side, and said: "I do not wish to boast, but at Liverpool and Boston I appropriated one hour each day to pray for souls, and frequently spent that time prostrate on my study floor; in addition to which, at Boston, I held something like night vigils, arising to pray each night at 12 o'clock. I do not say it to boast, but it appears plain to me that the secret of success in the conversion of souls is prayer."
Brainerd could say of himself on more than one occasion: "I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls to Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I waked the first thing I thought of was this great work; all my desire was for the conversion of the heathen, and all my hope was in God."
"John Hunt possessed this master passion for souls. He left parents and country in the freshness and vigor of youth, with locks as yet black as a raven's wing, soon to become white and hoary with labor. His career was short but glorious. He crowded the work of a lifetime into ten short years. The fire of love within him burned itself, in spite of every obstruction, into the heart of the heathen, subduing the cruelties of cannibalism, and winning gospel triumphs the most distinguished in missionary enterprise. His heart was set on three things: 'The conversion of Fijians, the translation of the Scriptures, the revival of scriptural holiness.' John Hunt's prospect in death was unclouded brightness. He had safely committed his last treasures, his wife and children, in God's keeping. But there was something that hung about his heart more closely than these. That object to which all the energies of his great soul had been devoted was the last to be left. He was observed to weep, to keep on silently weeping. His emotion was increased, and he sobbed as though in acute distress. Then, when the pent-up feelings could no longer be withheld, he cried out, 'Lord, save Fiji.' This master passion of love for the souls of the Fijians had become identified with his very life." -- Remarkable Narratives, by A. Sims.
Charles G. Finney relates the following incident which magnifies the power of prayer:
"In a certain town there had been no revival for many years; the church was nearly run out, the youth were all unconverted and desolation reigned unbroken. There lived in a retired part of the town an aged man, a blacksmith by trade, and of so stammering a tongue that it was painful to hear him speak. On one Friday, as he was at work in his shop, alone, his mind became greatly exercised about the state of the church and of the impenitent. His agony became so great that he was induced to lay aside his work, lock the shop door and spend the afternoon in prayer.
"He prevailed, and on the Lord's day called on the minister and desired him to appoint a conference meeting. After some hesitation, the minister consented, observing, however, that he feared but few would attend. He appointed it the same evening at a large private house.
"The people gathered from far and near, doubtless to the surprise of the unbelieving and faint-hearted. A solemn sense of the presence of God seemed to oppress the assembly, and feelings too deep for speech were welling up in many hearts. All was silent for a time until one sinner broke out in tears and said if anyone could pray, he begged him to pray for him. Another followed and still another, until it was found that persons from every quarter of the town were under deep conviction. And what was remarkable was that they all dated their conviction at the hour when the old man was praying in his shop. A powerful revival followed. Thus this old stammering man prevailed, and, as a prince, had power with God." -- Records of Prevailing Prayer
"The Rev. John Smith, a Wesleyan minister of England, who died in 1831, had a passion for souls which led him to do many strange things in the eyes of the world. It is said of him that one time during a Manchester conference, he accompanied, by invitation, some ministers into the suburbs to dine. While dinner was in progress Mr. Smith was observed to be reticent and prayerful; he had ascertained that a young lady present was unconverted. To Mr. Smith an unsaved soul was invested with no ordinary interest; its immediate value, its unending duration, its purchase by the blood of Christ, its capacity of endless happiness. its danger of eternal woe, and a lost opportunity which can never be recalled, impressed him. Before the ministers returned to conference there was only time for one of two things -- a dessert, or prayer. Mr. Smith asked the ministers to forego the former, and unite with him in prayer for the conversion of the young lady.
"The young lady became very angry and said that Mr. Smith had singled her out for an onslaught, that was both unchristian and ungentlemanly. Yet, the next morning found her saved and ready for the Master's work. For six weeks she worked faithfully for God, and was used in His hands in the salvation of many souls. Then she was taken with a fever, and in a state of unconsciousness passed home to glory.
"Constant communion with God was the foundation of Mr. Smith's great usefulness. In this he was surpassed by none of any age. Whole nights were often given up to prayer, and always, when in anything like moderate health -- often, too, when wasted by painful disease -- he arose at four o'clock in the morning and throwing himself before the mercy seat, for three hours wrestled with God in mighty prayer. In the coldest winter morning he could be heard at that hour with suppressed voice pleading with God while his groans have revealed the intensity of his feelings. Immediately after breakfast and family worship be would again retire with his Bible into his study and spend until near noon in the same hallowed employment. Here, unquestionably, was the great secret of his power in public prayer and preaching -- the Lord, who seeth in secret, rewarding him openly. Every sermon was thus sanctified by prayer.
"On one occasion, when at a country appointment, the time for commencing the service had elapsed and Mr. Smith did not make his appearance. He had left the house where he was a guest about half an hour before, after being some time in his closet. At length he was found in an adjoining barn, wrestling in prayer for a blessing upon the approaching service, having retired thither that, unobserved, he might pour out his full soul before his heavenly Father. He arose, briefly expressed his regret at not having observed the lapse of time, and on the way to the chapel relapsed into silent prayer.
"During the sermon that evening the fervent prayer of the righteous man proved effectual. The Spirit of God descended upon the congregation; the deep attentive silence observed at the commencement of the discourse was soon interrupted by sobs and moans and these ere long were followed by loud and piercing cries for mercy, as one after another the hearers were pricked to the heart and the strongholds of Satan were beaten down until so universal was the cry of the broken-hearted that Mr. Smith found it necessary to desist from preaching and descend into the altar. The meeting was continued until midnight. Mr. Smith was the last to retire from the scene of the Redeemer's triumphs." -- Sketches of Wesleyan Preachers