Posted by: stpowen | August 30, 2013

John Sutcliff and the Concert of Prayer

Joel 2:12. ‘Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing-room. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should reign over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”’

Acts 4:24-26. ‘So, when they heard that, they raised their voices to God with one accord, and said, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said, ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and His Christ.’”’

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I have a particular desire to see the people of God coming together in prayer. It has been the subject of several of my articles. Especially, I have encouraged readers to take part in the Concert of Prayer, which is a gathering of evangelical Christians once a quarter, in churches throughout the country, to pray prayers of repentance and to beseech God to visit the nation once again with revival. I have to say that, so far as I know, my encouragements seem to have fallen largely upon deaf ears. In my own church we have had a reasonable turnout of our own people on each occasion, but only one or two dear folk from other churches have troubled to turn up.

There has now been a letter printed in Evangelical Times, which is perhaps the most popular periodical among conservative evangelicals, suggesting that a list of churches hosting the Concert of Prayer be compiled, and this will be published (DV) in the October edition, which should come out at the end of September, in time for the next Concert on October 5th.

As soon as this list of churches is published in E.T., I will post it here. May I call upon all my British readers to make every effort to attend. As for readers from abroad, why not organize your own? Anyone asking for a Biblical mandate for such an event need only look at the two Scriptures quoted above, though there is no shortage of others. 2 Chronicles 20 and Nehemiah 9 come to mind.

Nor is the idea of a Concert of Prayer a modern innovation within the Christian church. I recently purchased a copy of Ardent Love for Jesus by Michael Haykin (Bryntirion Press. ISBN 978 1 85049 248 1), a most excellent account of the fellowship among some of the 18th Century Particular Baptists, and especially surrounding the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society. Haykin quotes a call to prayer made by John Sutcliffe, Pastor of Olney Baptist Church in 1784 in a circular letter on behalf of the Northamptonshire Association of Particular Baptist Churches. I reproduce it below:

Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottingham, respecting meetings for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion, and earnestly implore a revival of our churches, and of the general cause of our Redeemer, and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of His Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously RESOLVED, to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday of every calendar month.

We hereby solemnly exhort all the churches in our connection, to engage heartily and perseveringly in the prosecution of this plan. And as it may be well to endeavour to keep the same hour, as a token of our unity herein, it is supposed the following scheme may suit many congregations, viz. To meet on the first Monday evening in May, June and July…………Nevertheless if this hour, or even the particular evening should not suit in particular places, we wish our brethren to fix on one more convenient to themselves.

We hope also, that as many of our brethren who live at a distance from our places of worship may not be able to attend there, that as many as are conveniently situated in a village or neighbourhood, will unite with us in small societies at the same time. And if any single individual should be so situated as not to be able to attend to this duty in society with others, let him retire at the appointed hour, to unite the breath of prayer in private with those who are engaged in a more public manner.

The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interests of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. At the same time, remember we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies [i.e. churches]; or to your own immediate connection [i.e. denomination]; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the Gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own or other denominations will unite with us, and do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.

Who can tell what the consequences of such a united effort in prayer may be? Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of His Word, which relate to the future success of His gospel. He has said, ‘I will yet for this be enquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them, I will surely increase them with men like a flock.’ Ezek. xxxvi.37. Surely we have love enough for Zion to set apart on hour at a time, twelve times in a year, to seek her welfare?

The current aim of the Concert of Prayer is even less ambitious than that of John Sutcliff and his associates. We aim to spend two hours in prayer between the hours of 10-00am and 12 noon once a Quarter on the first Saturdays of January, April, July and October. It is my great hope that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the meetings will quickly become monthly and then weekly, but that (DV) is for the future. For now, let us mark October 5th in our diaries, and wait to see where the nearest participating church may be. If there is not one nearby, then why not start your own? If no one will join with you, then pray by yourself. But whatever your situation, Pray! It is God who has given this nation over at the present time to her own wicked foolishness; it is He who must restore us.

Three years ago, I wrote a series of four articles entitled Looking to God for Revival. They are based on 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, and the first one can be found here:
https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/looking-to-god-for-revival-1/
It should then be an easy matter to find the others. I will only observe here that humbling ourselves has to come before prayer. We need to come before God in a humble, repentant state of mind if we expect Him to hear us. We also need to be persistent; if the Lord does not answer us at first let us not lose heart but continue, ever more insistently until He responds (Luke 18:1).

‘I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD. Do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.’

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Responses

  1. Dear Brother Martin,

    I very much recognize with you the need for a world-wide concert of prayer integrating and uniting all Christians wherever they may be. This must be a regular matter.

    I would like, however, to correct a small matter which may mislead some. It is usual claimed by Baptists that Carey’s and Sutcliffe’s call for prayer of 1784 was a pioneer activity. This was far from being the case as these brethren and those in company with them were very worried that they would be the last to join this project. Indeed, it was William Romaine and James Hervey, both Church of England Reformed Evangelicals who called all the churches to concerts of prayer throughout the 1750s. However, these men of a generation previously had obviously caught the spark which was spreading through our Continental leaders of the Great Awakening at the time. This Continental spark, Whitfield was moved to take up as we know from his letters. The Continental movement was, however, encouraged by English calls to prayer for North Africa during the Reformation. And so we can trace this project back to the time of the Great Commission.

    These early calls to prayer were used by God to promote missionary activity world-wide. You will remember Carey telling Fuller, however, that he feared the British Baptists were the last to take the gospel to foreign lands and they needed to follow especially their Anglican, Dutch, Danish and German brethren. Sutcliffe and Carey worked hand in hand, even arm in arm, with the Church of England Evangelicals like Newton, Richmond and Scott, the latter having led Carey to Christ. I trust we all shall have the spirit to continue in such inter-Protestant fellowship as you and I do today.

    It was great to see you at the PRS conference and also that we had speakers from the major Protestant denominations.

    Yours in Grace,

    George


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