1 Thessalonians 5:25

1 Thessalonians 5:25
Brethren, pray for us.
Preached at Olney on Sunday afternoon 23 June 1776:

'I thank thee my Lord, for helping me the forenoon; the afternoon service approaches, the subject I hope thou hast brought upon my mind. Do thou give me wisdom and a blessing. There is great cause for humiliation and prayer amongst us. In vain shall I try to touch their hearts, unless thou art pleased to work.'
The Apostle, though eminent in grace and experience, often entreats the prayers of the Lord’s people.  His dependence was upon the Lord himself, but he knew He who has promised to do great things has said, I will be enquired of to do them, [1] and therefore expected success in proportion as prayer should be engaged.  Good reason then have succeeding Ministers to make the like request.  If you pray for us you will strengthen our hands, and thereby draw down blessings on yourselves.
This entreaty can only be effectually complied with, by those whose hearts are in some measure alive and earnest for Gospel cause.  To pray for Ministers, the people must be able:
1. to love them
  1.2 principally and chiefly as his Ministers.  If they have a just sense of the importance of the Gospel message, they will love and pray for the messengers.  This kindness they owe to them all.
  1.2 Stated Ministers, if they really value their people’s prayers, will endeavour to deserve a personal and peculiar affection.  Next to the supports and comforts they receive immediately from the Lord, they find their chief consolation in the affections of their people, and the most interesting proof of this is their prayers.  There are who will sometimes plead and dispute and almost fight for their Minister, and labour to set him above others.  But they are the best friends who strive most earnestly in prayer for them.
2. To pity them
  Here there is a difference.  We know most of your exercises, because we share them with you in common.  But you are not proper judges of ours.  You do not stand in our place, we must tell you what we feel to engage your pity, but we can never tell you all. I need your prayers.  And to engage them, I am desirous at this time a little to open my mind to you, upon the subject of our trials.
As to myself, if I had only to get through an hour in the pulpit, though I should prize your love and your prayers, I should have no very strong claim to your compassion.  My outward trials are neither many or heavy, considering the usual lot of human life.  But preaching is not all, and even in preaching, if the Lord has given us a love to our work and to our hearers, we have often when we seem to speak with liberty, very painful feelings.
Had we this desirable liberty always, and nothing painful mixed with it, we should soon forget ourselves.  This the Lord knows, and finds ways to make us remember what we are, which though necessary are often very sharp.  And though we are supported for public service, and some persons may be ready to think we lead happy lives, we could (at least I could) often address you in the words of Job, Have pity upon me, O my friends, for the hand of God has touched me. [2]
  2.1 We are tried in private
I should be happy indeed if I always felt the comforts of those truths, which I trust at times comfort many of you when I set them forth here.  But if any of you know what it is to groan under the power of unbelief and indwelling sin, deadness in prayer, and even unwillingness to pray, coldness and confusion in reading the Scripture, be assured, that preaching with some earnestness, and apparent pleasure at times, does by no means secure us from these groanings.  One of my greatest trials is the difference between what I may seem to be in public, and what I feel myself to be in private, which has made me often ready to compare myself to a player on a stage.
  2.2 Tried in the pulpit
A consciousness of the weakness and unskillfulness of our best attempts, the evils that beset us in our most solemn services, a conviction how far we fall short ourselves of what we propose to you, and sometimes a straitness and dryness of spirit when we must speak, though we know not what we can say.  If private believers are not in frame to speak they may keep silence, but Ministers are like post horses: when the hour comes they must set out, whatever disadvantages attend the journey.
  2.3 We are, we must be, sharply tried by the cases of our hearers
With respect to the congregations at large, I must have a heart like a stone, if I could look seriously round this congregation, without being affected.  To see so many who are stumbling in the broad day, still under the power of sin, after long enjoying such uncommon advantages, as the Lord has been pleased to favour this town with.  To see them from week to week, from year to year, still careless and hardening under the means of grace.  If I were sure I were clear of your blood, still I should mourn over you.  But often I shrink at the thought lest I am unfaithful.  I fear I am not faithful, earnest or importunate enough, though I seem not to know how to be more so.
    I am a debtor to all, I bear a love to every soul that hears me.  But there are among you a number who not only hear but profess the truth; to these I bear a more immediate relation, I am more acquainted with them, I feel more for them.  I may say without boasting, the Lord has given me at least in a little measure the heart of a shepherd.  I feel:
    2.3.1 for the distresses of many
As I am much among the people, I know a good deal of their personal and their family troubles.  My heart sinks at the trials of some here before me, and of others whose afflictions detain them at home. [3]  Perhaps no-one in the parish knows so much of these things as I do.  And I could relate cases which would, I am persuaded, draw tears from many eyes.  I know likewise something of the spiritual distresses of those whom I endeavour to comfort but cannot.  Were I always happy in my concerns, I must feel some distress as long as I love the people, and as long as I live in Olney.
    2.3.2 for the declensions of many
I will lay no stress upon my own personal concern.  It is trying to flesh and blood, to see any who once professed a warm regard, look shy and cold, and when one loves and studies to show it, to be misapprehended and misrepresented.  Blessed be the Lord if I have something of this kind to complain of, the instances are not many.  And were it not for the cause, the effect would sit light upon me.  But how many do I know who have carried it unkindly to the Lord if not to me.  O where is their zeal, where is their first love, where is the value they once put upon ordinances, where is that Gospel conversation they once aimed at?  Once they loved to assemble with the Lord’s people, now they may be often seen with the drunkards.  Brethren, pray for me.  I fear lest the Lord should be displeased.  Would it be believed, if I should tell it in London where I am going, that in such a place as they suppose Olney to be, and where there are so many people, and where the Gospel has [been] so many years, it should sometimes be difficult to find one man present to set the Psalm before sermon on a Thursday evening.  But alas, I have assigned the reason.  It is because the Gospel has been preached so many years, for I well remember when it was far otherwise.
    2.3.3 for their heart-burnings and grudgings one towards another
Alas, when a little word inadvertently spoken shall be sufficient foundation for a quarrel.  When there is a readiness to give offence, a readiness to take offence, a backwardness to reconciliation, etc.  These things throw two discouragements in a Minister’s way.  He cannot but consider them as a sign that grace is low, and a means of keeping it so.  That to such persons he is little useful at present, and unless the Lord interpose, he has but a poor hope of being more so.
Some or other of these trials are always present to my mind, and of late they have brought another troublesome thought upon me.  I had not been a month in Olney, before the Lord gave me such a regard for the people, that it has ever since been the place of my choice.  I have ever laboured to decline and avoid what the world calls advantageous offers, and at this moment, you are upon my heart to live and die with you if the Lord please.  But I am not my own master.  And if the Gospel should come to be greatly neglected and slighted, and a form of godliness take place of that power which once was known here, [4] will there not be reason to fear lest the Lord should show his displeasure by removing it?
Brethren, pray for us, pray for me, and for yourselves – that the Lord may take away our iniquities, pour a fresh anointing upon Minister and people.  That I may be strengthened and owned in the work, and you may know and prize and improve the privileges you enjoy.

1. Ezekiel 36:37 Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock.
Matthew 7:7, 8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
2. Job 19:21 Have pity upon me, O my friends, for the hand of God has touched me.
3. e.g. William Cowper, whose severe depression kept him from attending church from 1773 to the end of his life in 1800.
4. 2 Timothy 3:5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

Cowper & Newton Museum, ms 714(14), N35

Marylynn Rouse, 30/04/2019