A Prayer for New Orleans by Sylvester Larned

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“The first pastor of the first Presbyterian church in New Orleans,” Sylvester Larned (1796-1820), was Massachusetts-born, but after his Princeton education and 1817 ordination, he was appointed as a missionary to the “Old Southwest.” The city of New Orleans captured his heart, and in 1818, when he arrived, there was very limited knowledge of the gospel in this mostly Roman Catholic city. He coordinated outreach efforts for a time with the local Episcopalian minister (who, after his death, presided over his funeral). The cornerstone for the First Presbyterian Church was laid on January 8, 1819 and was dedicated on July 4, 1819 (two hundred years ago this month). Rev. Larned’s ministry to the people of New Orleans lasted but a short while before he succumbed to yellow fever on August 31, 1820 at the age of 24.

Ralph Randolph Gurley, a Presbyterian chaplain to the US House of Representatives and a founder of the American Colonization Society, wrote a biographical sketch of Larned along with a compilation of his sermons: Life and Eloquence of the Rev. Sylvester Larned: First Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans (1844). Along with that material is included a prayer by Larned found in manuscript form. Part of that prayer is reproduced here because it shows his heart’s desire for his adopted city, a place which has endured great suffering over the years, as well as recent flooding even this month. It is a prayer that begins with a general exaltation of the God of the universe, and which descends into the particulars that were on his heart.

Look down in mercy on this favored land, to which Thou hast already extended so much kindness and care. Dwell in our public councils. May the Congress of these United States, now assembled, be directed to such measures as Thou shalt own and bless. May all our civil and religious liberties be secured. May every form of infidelity, vice, and error be done away. May we cherish a lively sense of Thy rich and bountiful blessings which we enjoy, while so many other countries are consigned to ignorance, to oppression, or to captivity. May we witness the universal effusion of Thy Spirit, and the multiplied trophies of Thy grace and mercy, till we can confidently appropriate the benediction of that happy people whose God is the Lord. Especially, O our heavenly Father, do we implore Thy smiles on this city. Here, may the Redeemer appear in the greatness of his power, and gather many sons and daughters unto glory. Here, may the Holy One of Israel be seen repairing the desolations of Zion, and visiting Jerusalem with peace. Here, may that religion be revived which Jesus Christ has given to men as the medium of forgiveness and joy to all who are governed by its principles. Pour out Thy Spirit, we beseech Thee, on Thy servants in this place, who are appointed to proclaim the truth and dispense the consolations of the Gospel. May their responsibility be faithfully discharged. May their labors be rewarded in the efficacy and success in which Thou art able, amidst all their trials, to make them rejoice. Smile, we pray Thee, on the children of Thy grace, and strengthen them to perform the duties of their profession. O may they feel, in all its emphasis, the impressive declaration of Thy word, that they are as a city set on an hill, — that by their fidelity and exertions, and prayers, the visitations of mercy in this place may be instrumentally accelerated…

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Do we pray not only for our nation, but also for the particular place in which we live? Do we pray for the gospel to go forth and accomplish great things for the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in the city or town or county in which we reside, and work, and study, and worship? May our hearts be so affected by the spiritual needs of our home, adopted or otherwise, that we pray as Sylvester Larned did for the city of New Orleans.