By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
PREVAILING PRAYER AND ITS REWARDS
By E. E. Shelhamer and Others
"When God inclines the heart to pray,
He hath an ear to hear."
Who can tell the outcome of a prolonged season of wrestling with God in prayer? We should court and invite such seasons, rather than neglect or relegate them to a more convenient time. God knows His business and generally draws the soul out in prayer, either to bring about some glorious end, or to frustrate some hellish design. The devil knows this and will enlist feebleness, interruptions, wandering thoughts, perplexing cares and a multitude of other things to sidetrack the prevailer from persistently following the line of thought upon which God is pleased to answer. But everything must stand aside! More than millions are at stake! No small victory is sufficient, when God is anxious "to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." There is this double advantage in taking time to "pray through." Though the soul may hardly be able to say definitely what special answer has been given, yet sometimes one season of getting through to God may embrace and cover a number of things, some of which are more important than the one particular thing that rested upon the mind while in prayer.
We here give the result of one season of Prevailing Prayer, by Charles G. Finney, while on shipboard:
"My soul was in utter agony. I spent the entire day in prayer in my stateroom, or walking the deck in intense agony. In fact, I felt crushed with the burden that was on my soul. There was no one on board to whom I could open my mind or say a word. It was the spirit of prayer that was upon me; that which I had often experienced in kind, but perhaps never before to such a degree, for so long a time. I besought the Lord to go on with His work, and to provide Himself with such instrumentalities as were necessary. It was a long summer day in the early part of July. After a day of unspeakable wrestling and agony of soul, just at midnight the subject cleared up to my mind. The Spirit led me to believe that all would come out right, and that God had yet a work for me to do; that I might be at rest; that the Lord would go forward with His work, and give me the strength to take any part in it that He desired. But I had not the least idea what course His providence would take."
That agony of prayer on the ship, and the following prayer in New York, probably led to the most effective work for the kingdom of Christ that Finney ever did. After a day or two, Finney proposed to deliver a series of lectures on revivals. He began the course of lectures immediately, and continued them through the whole winter, preaching one each week. The lectures were wholly extemporaneous, and averaged about one hour and three quarters in length.
Finney wrote: "These lectures were afterwards published in a book and called 'Finney's Lectures on Revivals.' Twelve thousand copies of them were sold as fast as they could be printed; and here, for the glory of Christ, I would say that they have been reprinted in England and France; they were translated into Welsh, and on the Continent were translated into French and German, and were extensively circulated throughout Europe and the colonies of Great Britain. They were, I presume, to be found wherever the English language was spoken. After they had been printed in Welsh, the Congregational ministers of the Principality of Wales, at one of their public meetings, appointed a committee to inform me of the great revival that had resulted from the translation of those lectures into the Welsh language. This they did by letter. One publisher in London informed me that his father had published eighty thousand volumes of them. These revival lectures, meager as was the report of them, and feeble as they were in themselves, have been instrumental, as I have learned, in promoting revivals in England and Scotland and Wales, on the Continent, in Canada, in Nova Scotia, all over the United States, and in the islands of the sea.
"But this was not of man's wisdom. Let the reader remember that long day of agony and prayer at sea that God would do something to forward the work of revivals, and enable me, if He desired to do it, to take such a course as to help forward the work. I felt certain that my prayers would be answered, and I have regarded all that I have since been able to accomplish as, in a very important sense, an answer to the prayers of that day. The spirit of prayer came upon me as a sovereign grace bestowed on me, without the least merit. He pressed my soul in prayer until I was enabled to prevail, and through infinite riches in grace in Christ Jesus I have been many years witnessing the wonderful results of that day of wrestling with God. In answer to that day's agony He has continued to give me the spirit of prayer."
Bishop C. H. Fowler says:
"We know of a preacher, still living, who was appointed to the charge of a church in Springfield, Ill. The church seemed very much depressed. Its life was at a low ebb. It was in the midst of the harvest in the hot weather when things seemed most depressed. The pastor, a holy man of God, announced on Sabbath evening to a small congregation of a score or two of persons, 'There will be a prayer meeting in this church tomorrow morning at sunrise for a revival of the work of God and for the conversion of sinners.' The people wondered at the notice and went home. The pastor went up into his study which was in the parsonage by the side of the church and gave that night to prayer. Just as the east began to lighten up a little with the coming day he had the assurance that his prayer was answered and cast himself down on a sofa for a little rest.
"Presently he awoke suddenly to see the sun shining on the wall over his head. He sprang up and looked out of the window to see how late it was when he saw the sun just rising above the horizon. Looking down into the yard by the church, he was overjoyed to see the church crowded with people and the yard full and teams crowding into the street for a long distance. God had heard his prayer and had sent out His Spirit into the community and there had been no sleeping in Springfield that night. People in the country who knew nothing of the appointment got up in the night and drove into town and to the church to find out what the matter was. A good man had taken hold of God. The prayer meeting began and was closed that night at 11 o'clock. Several souls were converted. A gracious work broke out and the community was greatly blessed. The foregoing we certify to on the highest authority, having it from the lips of the man himself, whom everybody knowing him believes as soon as anything outside the Bible. We greatly need earnest, persevering, believing prayer. One night of such prayer kept by all the church would startle the nation."
"In 1868 Mrs. Maggie Newton Van Cott held a revival meeting at Stone Ridge, Ulster County, N. Y. At the opening of the meeting she announced, under the gracious influence of the Spirit, as she believed, that there would be a glorious revival and that two hundred souls would be converted. Some were shocked at the prediction and some of the very best people in the church were grieved for they felt certain that she was doomed to disappointment. She labored for more than a week with little fruit. Her strength began to give way. Her warmest co-workers began to tremble for her. One morning she remarked to the lady at whose residence she was staying, 'I am going into the parlor to settle this church matter with the dear Master. Please do not allow anyone to come near me. If I do not come out in time for dinner, do not call me. If I am not with you in time for the afternoon meeting, you may call in the friends. I shall, in the name of God, this day have victory or death.'
"It was a bitter cold day in February and no fire had been kindled in that room all winter and the frost was thick on the window panes. She wrapped a large shawl around her and bowed before God and presented the promises covered with the blood of the Savior; and in them there could be no failure. 'Ask, and you shall receive,' stood before her as in the characters of living fire. Also, "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.' 'Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.' An hour passed -- another followed -- she had grappled in with God's Word and in the anguish of her spirit, as she afterward declared, she could in a certain degree understand the Scripture where it describes the Master's agony in the garden where He sweat great drops of blood. In those hours of the most intense struggle of spirit, the great drops of sweat rolled from her brow. The tempter suggested: 'Give it up, God will not give the answer today.'
"'Then today, on this spot, I die,' was her answer. The agony increased. The prayer became a struggle for life. 'I will not let Thee go. Thy Word is truth. Thou hast said, Now is the time, O God, now send the answer; now, my Father, hear me for the sake of souls -- for the two hundred. Christ has paid the price of their redemption. I plead His merits -- I will not let go my hold -- Thou canst not turn me away. Behold Thine own dear Son pleads -- the Spirit intercedes. Give, oh, give the answer.' That moment a sweet ripple of peace floated over her soul and soon shouts of rapture flooded her spirit. That night twenty seekers bowed at the altar of prayer. In less than five weeks two hundred and thirty-five persons professed faith in Christ.
"Prayer has divided seas, rolled up flowing rivers, made flinty rocks gush forth into fountains, quenched flames of fire, muzzled lions, disarmed vipers and poisons, marshaled the stars against the wicked, stopped the course of the moon, arrested the rapid sun in its great race, burst open iron gates, recalled souls from eternity, conquered the strongest devils, commanded legions of angels down from heaven. Prayer has bridled and changed the raging passions of man, and destroyed vast armies of proud, daring, blustering atheists. Prayer has brought one man from the bottom of the sea, and carried another in a chariot of fire to heaven; and what has not prayer done? LET US PRAY."