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.

George Gillespie's prayer request for America

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Students of Presbyterian church history are well acquainted with the Scottish minister George Gillespie (1613-1648) who served at the Westminster Assembly. But students of the American Presbyterian church history should take note of another noteworthy minister of the same name. Also born in Scotland, George Gillespie (1683-1760) emigrated to America in 1713, and was installed as the first pastor of the Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church near Newark, Delaware. It is here that his earthly remains were laid to rest, after a long tenure of service. Dr. Francis Alison referred to him as “that pious saint of God.”

In a 1723 letter to a Scottish minister reporting on the state of affairs among the Presbyterian Church in America, we may get a glimpse of Gillespie’s heartfelt desire for the good of his adopted homeland. May his prayer request for the American Church in the early 18th century be an encouragement to us today in our prayers for the body of Christ in 21st century America, and beyond.

Glorious Christ hath great designs in America…Revd Sr be mindfull in your prayers of the Infant church of Christ in America, and that the Lord would purifie the sons of Levi. May the faithfull God hasten the time when he will fulfill his promise in Isa: 59.19 That they shall fear his name from the West.

D.H. Hill on the Three Cardinal Graces

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“We have men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” — General Omar Bradley, Armistice Day Speech, 1948

Military men, confronted with issues of conscience, have often been at the forefront of addressing matters of ethics. One example of this is found in the religious writings of Daniel Harvey Hill, best known for his military service for the United States in the Mexican War and later as a Confederate general, who also served a professor of mathematics at the Presbyterian college of Davidson, in North Carolina, and was a devout Presbyterian. In 1858, he authored A Consideration of the Sermon on the Mount.

It is from this remarkable volume, discoursing on the Beatitudes, that we can read what a mighty man of war has to say about what it means to love one’s enemies. Further on, speaking of the Lord’s Prayer, he again takes up the subject of love, or charity, in conjunction with “the three cardinal graces of the Christian character.”

The prayer, too, in its very language presupposes the existence in the heart of the utterer, of the three cardinal graces of the Christian character — Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Faith. For he says “Our Father.” “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi. 6.

Hope. For he uses the language of expectation, “May thy kingdom with all its blessings come. May my daily food be given,” &c.

Charity — Love to God and love to man. For he uses a sublime ascription of praise to the Triune God, and he asks only for pardon from God, upon condition of his own universal good-will to his fellow-creatures. “Forgive me my debts, as I forgive my debtors.”

The graces spoken of by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13 are well-known. But here Hill connects them specifically to the Lord’s Prayer, and in so doing, he reminds us to exercise these graces in our prayers, as well as to seek for the grace to exemplify them in our lives. Consider these thoughts today from Hill, who, although he was a man of war at times during his life, or perhaps because of that, understood that these are the virtues that should shine in every Christian — and “these greatest of these is charity.”

Sinners are Called to the Lord's Supper: Samuel Bayard

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Are you preparing to observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Preparation is a good thing because communicants are called to examine themselves first and so to “worthily partake” of the Supper (Westminster Shorter Catechism #97). But, it may be asked, who can adequately prepare for such a service? The Westminster Larger Catechism addresses this concern head-on:

Q172: May one who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord’s supper?

A172: One who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof; and in God’s account hath it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved; and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.

Judge Samuel Bayard, Esq., of French Huguenot descent, served as a ruling elder of the First (Nassau) Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey for 33 years. His Letters on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (1822) also responds to the common anxiety shared by believers who feel that they are not in a position to come to the Table. Bayard offers these words of encouragement to those who so doubt of themselves:

My Dear Friend —

You acknowledge the weight of the obligation, and motives to obedience, stated in the preceding letters. You admit that Christians are obviously deficient in respect and gratitude to their Redeemer, if they willfully neglect to comply with his injunction, or abstain from institutions of his appointment. Still however you excuse your own delay in coming to his table, by alledging your unprepared state for this solemnity.

On this subject it is of great importance to form a correct opinion. Have you then ascertained, on scriptural grounds what is the preparation that is indispensible to a worthy communion? Do you imagine that nothing short of a state of sinless perfection, will authorize an attendance on the Lord's Supper; if so, you may indeed despair of ever being suitably prepared. — We are assured on the highest authority that “there is no one who liveth and sinneth not." — (Eccles. 7) In the heart of the holiest saint, how much indwelling corruption still exists! — No my friend, you must be content to come just as you are. The Lord Jesus ''came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." You must come in the exercise of faith, and of repentance, and relying on the assistance of Divine grace; with a fixed resolution to conform in your life and conversation with the rules of the gospel. Availing yourself of all the aids prescribed for advancing in holiness; — namely, of prayer — of meditation — study of the sacred Scriptures, and self examination, you have no ground for apprehension that the blessing of Heaven will be withheld from the use of these appointed means.

But you object — "After using the means, how shall I ascertain with any certainty that I am qualified for an admission to this solemn ordinance? I see many attend it without scruple, whose lives are in truth a libel on the profession they make. They must be grossly deceived in regard to their own state, — and I ask myself, may not this in like manner be the case with myself."

My brother, while we avoid presumption we should study not to err from excess of caution. lf all Christians were to reason thus, how thin would the ranks of openly professed followers of the Lord Jesus, then be!

Though your life is below the standard of the gospel; it is stained by no crime. You are not grossly ignorant. You are not an unbeliever in Divine Revelation. You do not willfully indulge in any known sin. Come then, not rashly, but with humility, and with a firm resolution, (aided by strength from above,) that in obedience to your Saviour’s dying command, you will commemorate his death, by a frequent attendance on this consolatory ordinance.

“There are many truly devout persons, who deal more seriously with themselves than with any one else, and from dejection or mistaken notions of duty some are disposed to render this Sacrament a mean of melancholy and discouragement instead of consolation and thanksgiving — they consider themselves as the chief of sinners, though they cannot fix on any great crime of which they have been guilty; and in consequence of this impression lose that cheerfulness of mind, and those pleasures which the gospel is calculated to impart.''

To such persons we may say — if men had been perfect the death of Christ would have been unnecessary. The means of grace are appointed for our advancement in holiness — the best of men have their infirmities; but the infirmities and weaknesses to which pious persons are exposed are their grief, against which they zealously contend. This ordinance is appointed to establish their faith, and to subdue every sin; such persons Christ affectionately invites to come to him for relief. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Consider these words of encouragement, and remember that the Lord’s Supper is not an ordinance in which only the perfect may partake, but a means of grace to establish the faith of sinners who know they are such. Read more of Samuel Bayard’s Letters here.

The Poetic Prayers of John Craig

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The 1769 autobiography of the Rev. John Craig (1709-1774), the Irish-American pioneer Presbyterian pastor who ministered in Augusta County, Virginia and elsewhere was originally titled “A Preacher Preaching to Himself From a Long Text of No Less Than 60 Years: On Review of Past Life.” The full text of this manuscript was included in Lillian Kennerly Craig’s Reverend John Craig, 1709-1774: His Descendants and Allied Families (1963), a valuable genealogical history, which was recently made available to the public domain via the Internet Archive, and recently added to Log College Press. It is a rich treasury of material, historical and devotional in nature, including Craig’s 1764 Farewell Sermon addressed to the congregation at Tinkling Spring of Fisherville, Virginia..

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The editor has noted that Craig’s recorded prayers are poetic in nature.

Not intended by him to be blank verse, but that is what his beautiful prose really is. Reverend Craig was a gifted writer. I suggest that you rewrite aIl of his prayers in the form of blank verse.

Two particular prayers were rendered in blank verse by the editor.

O my God,
Perfect what Thou hast early begun in me.
Oh, let me lean upon Thee! Thou, Thou alone art the only
beloved of my Soul!
Keep my love stead to Thee,
and be Thou ever near me.
Drive away all my fears; give me true and saving faith in Thee,
and in Thy promises.
Strengthen, help and uphold me in life, and thro Death,
by the right hand of Thy Righteousness.
Forsake me not, or I am undone forever!
Save me or I perish! Oh grant these to me
for Christ’s sake.

And another:

Eternal and Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe,
who rules and over rules all the events therein,
Thou art my God by creation, and by dedication,
by preservation, and by personal covenant relation.
Make me Thine by renovation and sanctification.
And thro faith in Christ, make me one of Thy children,
precious in Thy sight.
Oh Heavenly Father in Christ,
I now praise Thee with all my heart!
Thou early won my love, and Thou hast been
the Guide of my youth. Thy love, care and bounty
never failed. And as a loving and tender parent,
Thou took notice of my pride, vice and folly,
chastised and corrected me, yet took not
Thy loving kindness from me. Ye delivered me
from the Gates of Death, from the grave’s cruel
and devouring mouth. Thou sanctify’d the corrections,
and brought me to a sense of sin. Thou humbled me
in mine own sight, brought me to repentance
and to a cheerful resignation to Thy will.

Thou brought me to serve Thee
how, when, and where Thou pleas’d to call me —
with a firm dependence on Thy promise of the Holy Spirit
to guide, support and comfort me.
Glory in the highest to my God!
who not withstanding all my shortcomings and backslidings
from Thee, hast not left me to myself,
but by various chastisements and kind restraints;
with many comfortable providence, and constant striving
of the Holy Spirit still calling after me,
”This day return, my backsliding child,
I will heal thy backslidings!”
O my God, for Christ’s sake, give, O give me a heart to say
”Behold I come unto Thee, for Thou art the Lord,
Thou art my God!”

Oh leave me not now when old age steals in upon me,
but hold me up with the right hand
of Thy Righteousness.
Wean my heart from the world and all its sensual pleasures!
Dearest Lord,
Arm me to meet the king of terrors with courage;
he is Thy captive, and Thy messenger.
Let his sting and terror be taken away;
let him be the welcome messenger at Thy command
to call me from a world of misery
to Thy kingdom of Glory, purchased by Thy Blood —
for all that believe in Thy Name!
There I shall be one monument of Thy richest mercy,
to the eternal Glory of Thy free Grace,
of Thy unmerited Grace to sinners of whom I, even I
am Chief. But yet I am Thine!
O, Save me for Thy Glory’s Sake

The present writer has taken it upon himself to follow the editor’s precedent and to put another of Rev. Craig’s prayers into blank verse (without changing the spelling) as follows:

O Father of Mercy,
ye Foundain of all Good, make me truly thankful to thee
for that mercy, goodness, and care thou hast taken of me --
especially in my days of foolish childhood and youthful vanity.
O remember not the errors of my youth,
but forgive them all for Christ’s sake, and in Him now
accept me a poor, guilty sinner.
Oh give strength and courage now, when Nature fails,
to fight the good fight of faith and to finish my course with joy;
not fearing even the King of Terrors thro Christ his Conqueror,
the Captain of my Salvation, the foundation of all my hopes,
and the Purchaser of present comfort and future joy and Glory for me,
and for all that truly believe in his name!
Make me faithful unto death so that I may truly expect life from thee!
And to ye, Three-in-one, thro Christ,
be all Glory, now and thro Endless Eternity.

Further editing of the poetic prayers of John Craig might result in a devotional work not unlike the Valley of Vision on a smaller scale. For now, this brief introduction to Craig’s personal writings — indeed, the soliloquy of a soul crying out to God — may serve to whet the appetite of those who share Craig’s spiritual hunger for his beloved Christ.

Learning to pray through the Psalms: Francis J. Grimké

Francis James Grimké on the value of learning to pray through the Psalms:

In studying the psalms we get a pretty good idea of what prayer is. It is talking to God; telling him all about ourselves, our cares, our anxieties, our troubles, vexations, disappointments, in a word, unbosoming ourselves to him as we would to a confidential friend. We not only learn what prayer is, but also the comforting assurance that God wants us to come to him, wants us to confide in him, to roll our burdens upon him. We need never hesitate therefore about going to him at all times and under all circumstances.

This devotional thought comes from The Works of Francis J. Grimké, Vol. 3: Stray Thoughts and Meditations (p. 3), which is a real treasure. This volume is full of references to the Book of Psalms, which were both an inspiration and a comfort to Rev. Grimké, especially during a particularly reflective period of his life. If you appreciate his devotional work as well as his pastoral ministry, be sure to also check his Meditations on Preaching, available at Log College Press here.

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Charles Hodge on Meditation as a Means of Grace

In the context of discussing a recurring theme in sermons by Charles Hodge dealing with the importance of meditation in the life of the Christian believer, Andrew Hoffecker writes:

In a conference sermon on the subject “Meditation as a Means of Grace,” Hodge pointed out the main distinction between meditation and mere intellectual consideration of an idea. The object of the latter is merely to understand intellectually while the object of meditation is to experience the power of God’s Word. He outlines suggestions to aid in this exercise. Believers ought to purpose to do this faithfully, setting aside times when it might be regularly performed. It should be done concomitantly with prayer, i.e., “not only in the formal sense of the word, but also as meaning converse with God.” (W. Andrew Hoffecker, Piety and the Princeton Theologians, pp. 82-83)

Here is the text briefly and directly from Hodge:

Meditation as a Means of Grace

I. What is meditation?
It is the serious, prolonged, devout contemplation of divine things. 1. This is distinguished from mere intellectual examination or consideration. It has a different object. The object of the one is to understand, of the other to experience the power. 2. It is distinguished from casual devout thought and aspiration.

II. It is a means of grace. By means of grace is meant a divinely appointed instrumentality for promoting holiness in the soul. That meditation is such a means is proved, 1. From its being frequently enjoined in Scripture for this end. 2. From the example of the saint as recorded in Scripture. 3. From the experience of the people of God in all ages.

III. Why is it thus salutary? 1. Because God has appointed his truth as the great means of sanctification. 2. Because the truth, to produce its effect, must be present to the mind. "God is not in all his thoughts," it is said of the wicked. "Estranged from God," is the description of the ungodly. 3. The intimate relation between knowledge and feeling, between the cognition and recognition, the … (knowing), and the … (acknowledgment) of divine truth. 4. Because all unholy feelings are subdued in the presence of God, unsound principles are corrected in the light of divine truth. We become conformed to the things with which we are familiar.

IV. Subjects on which we should meditate, are, God, — his law, — his Son, — the plan of salvation, — our own state as sinners, — heaven, etc.

V. Difficulties in the way of this duty. 1. The difficulty of continuous thought. 2. Preoccupation with other things. 3. Indisposition to holding communion with God. 4. Want of method and purpose.

VI. Directions for the performance of the duty. 1. Form the purpose to be faithful in its discharge, from a sense of duty and conviction of its importance. 2. Have a time and place sacred to the duty. 3. Connect it with prayer, not only in the formal sense of the word, but also as meaning converse with God. 4. Connect it with the reading of the Scriptures. Meditate on the word. Read it slowly, with self-application, and pondering its import. 5. Cultivate the habit application, and pondering its import. 5. Cultivate the habit of controlling your thoughts. Do not let them be governed by accident or fortuitous association. Keep the rudder always in your hand. 6. Do not be discouraged by frequent failure; and do not suppose that the excitement of feeling is the measure of advantage. There may be much learned, and much strength gained when there is little emotion. 7. Consecrate the hours especially of social and public worship to this work. Let the mind be filled with God while in his house. (Charles Hodge, sermon preached on Oct. 28, 1855 in Princeton Sermons, pp. 298-299 and Conference Papers, pp. 298-299)

Plumer and Prime on the Power of Prayer

We have noted previously that James Waddel Alexander wrote a wonderful memorial of the Fulton Street prayer meeting and revival of 1857-1858. But the theme of the power of prayer stirred up by this revival was especially the province of Samuel Irenaeus Prime, who authored four volumes on this topic over the years:

  • The Power of Prayer, Illustrated in the Wonderful Displays of Divine Grace at the Fulton Street and Other Meetings in New York and Elsewhere, in 1857 and 1858 (1858, 1859);

  • Five Years of Prayer, With the Answers (1864);

  • Fifteen Years of Prayer in the Fulton Street Meeting (1872); and

  • Prayer and Its Answer: Illustrated in the First Twenty-Five Years of the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting (1882).

Prime was above all a man of prayer, and deeply impressed with both its necessity in the life of the believer, and its efficacy. In the last volume (p. 147), he shared this thought about prayer’s power:

In the Christian life and in Christian labor prayer is all powerful, for in prayer we lay hold of God's omnipotence. A minister said he had been deeply impressed with the thought that power comes from God. In the battle of Waterloo, some of the English troops were ordered to fall on their faces for a time, so as to let the deadly fire of the French artillery go over them. At the right moment the command came to spring to their feet and show fight. So it was suggested, as the soldiers of the Lord, we need often to fall flat upon our faces before Him in humiliation of heart, and wait until He calls on us for action.

In Prime’s first record of the 1857-1858 revival, several chapters are included from other contributors, such as William Swan Plumer on the efficacy of prayer. This chapter is a real gem. Plumer writes (p. 350) a truth that we do well to remember:

It is not possible to over-estimate the value of prayer. For more than thirty-five years I have had much intercourse with dying saints and sinners of various ages and conditions. In all that time I have not heard one express regret that he had spent too much time in prayer; I have heard many mourn that they had so seldom visited a throne of grace.