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As to the first of these things, viz., an historical account of the concert, which the memorial relates to, the following observations may give a sufficient view of that affair.
In October, A. D. 1744, a number of ministers in Scotland, taking into consideration the state of God's church, and of the world of mankind, judged that the providence of God, at such a day, did loudly call such as were concerned for the welfare of Zion, to united, extraordinary applications to the God of all grace, suitably acknowledging Him as the fountain of all the spiritual benefits and blessings of his church, and earnestly praying to Him, that he would appear in his glory, and favor Zion, and manifest his compassion to the world of mankind, by an abundant effusion of his Holy Spirit on all the churches, and the whole habitable earth, to revive true religion in all parts of Christendom, and to deliver all nations from their great and manifold spiritual calamities and miseries, and bless them with the unspeakable benefits of the kingdom of our glorious Redeemer, and fill the whole earth with His glory. And consulting one another on the subject, they looked on themselves, for their own part, obliged to engage in this duty; and, as far as in them lay, to persuade others to the same: and to endeavor to find out and fix on some method, that should most effectually tend to promote and uphold such extraordinary application to heaven among God's people. And after seeking to God by prayer for direction, they determined on the following method, as what they would conform to in their own practice, and propose to be practised by others, for the two years next following, viz., to set apart some time on Saturday evening and Sabbath morning, every week, for the purpose aforesaid, as other duties would allow to every one respectively; and more solemnly, the first Tuesday of each quarter (beginning with the first Tuesday of November then next ensuing), either the whole day, or a part of the day, as persons find themselves disposed, or think their circumstances will allow: the time to be spent either in private praying societies, or in public meetings, or alone in secret, as shall be found most practicable, or judged most convenient, by such as are willing, in some way or other, to join in this affair: but not that any should make any promises, or be looked upon as under strict bonds in any respect, constantly and without fail to observe every one of these days, whatever their circumstances should be, or however other duties and necessary affairs might interfere; or that persons should look upon themselves bound with regard to these days in any wise as though the time were holy, or the setting them apart for religious purposes were established by sacred authority: but yet, as a proper guard against negligence and unsteadiness, and a prudent preservative from yielding to a disposition, that persons might be liable to, through the prevalence of indolence and listlessness, to excuse themselves on trivial occasions, it was proposed, that those that unite in this affair, should resolve with themselves, that if, by urgent business, or otherwise, they were hindered from joining with others, on the very day agreed on, yet they would not wholly neglect bearing their part in the duty proposed, but would take the first convenient day following, for that purpose.
The reason why Saturday evening and Lord's day morning were judged most convenient for the weekly seasons, was, that these times being so near the time of dispensing gospel ordinances through the Christian world, which are the great means, in the use of which God is wont to grant his Spirit to mankind, and the principal means that the Spirit of God makes use of to carry on his work of grace, it may well be supposed that the minds of Christians in general will at these seasons be especially disengaged from secular affairs, and disposed to pious meditations and the duties of devotion, and more naturally led to seek
the communications of the Holy Spirit, and success of the means of grace. And as to the quarterly times, it was thought helpful to menory, that they should be on one or other of the first days of each quarter ; Tuesday was preferred to Monday, because in some places people might have public prayers and sermon on the stated day, which might not be so convenient on Monday, as on some day at a greater distance from the Sabbath.
It was reckoned a chief use of such an agreement and method as this, that it would be a good expedient for the maintaining and keeping up, amongst the people of God, that great Christian duty of prayerfulness for the coming of Christ's kingdom, in general, which Christ has directed his followers to be so much in, that it may not be out of mind, and in a great measure sunk. Things, that we are too little inclined to, through sloth, carnality, or a fulness of our own worldly and private concerns, and that are to be attended at some seasons or other, and have no special seasons stated for them, are apt to be forgotten, or put off from time to time, and as it were adjourned without day; and so, if not wholly neglected, yet too little attended. But when we fix certain seasons, that we resolve, unless extraordinarily hindered, to devote to the duty, it tends to prevent forgetfulness, and a settled negligence of it. The certain returns of the season will naturally refresh the memory; will tend to put us in mind of the precept of Christ, and the obligations that lie on all his followers, to abound in such a duty, and renewedly engage us to the consideration of the importance and necessity and unspeakable value of the mercy sought; and so, by frequent renovation, to keep alive the consideration and sense of these things at all times. Thus the first promoters of this agreement judged, that it would be subservient to more abundant prayerfulness for effusions of the Holy Spirit, at all times through the year, both in secret and social worship; particularly as to this last, in congregations, families, and other praying societies. And then they alsó judged, that such an agreed union would tend to animate and encourage God's people in the duty proposed ; and that particular persons and societies, knowing that great multitudes of their fellow Christians, in so many distant places, were at the same time (as a token of the union of their hearts with them in this affair) by agreement engaged in the same holy exercise, would naturally be enlivened in the duty by such a consideration.
It was not thought best, to propose at first a longer time for the continuance of this precise method, than two years: it being considered, that it is not possible, before any trial, so well to judge of the expedience of a particular methol and certain circumstances of the managing and ordering such an affair, as after some time of experience. And it was not known, but that after long consideration, and some trial, it might be thought best to alter some circumstances; or whether others, that had not yet been consulted, might not propose a better method. The time first agreed on, though but short, was thought sufficient to give opportunity for judgment and experience, and for such as were disposed to union in an affair of such a nature, in distant places, mutually to communicate their sentiments on the subject.
The way, in which those that first projected and came into this agreement thought best for the giving notice of it and proposing it to others, was not by any thing published from the press ; but by personal conversation with such as they could conveniently have immediate access to, and by private correspondence with others at a distance. At first it was intended, that some formal paper, proposing the matter, should be sent about for proper amendments and improrements, and then concurrence: but on more mature deliberation, it was considered how this might give a handle to objections ( which they thought it best, to the ut
most, to avoid in the infancy of the affair), and how practicable it was, without any such formality, to spread the substance of the proposal by private letters, together with a request to their correspondents, mutually to communicate their thoughts. Therefore this was fixed on, as the method that was preferable at the beginning. Accordingly, they proposed and endeavored to promote the affair in this way; and with such success, that great numbers in Scotland and England fell in with the proposal, and some in North America. As to Scotland, it was complied with by numbers in the four chief towns, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee, and many country towns and congregations in various parts of the land: one of the ministers, that was primarily concerned in this affair, in a letter to one of his correspondents, speaks of an explicit declaration of the concurrence of the praying societies in Edinburgh, which they had made in a letter. The number of the praying societies in that city is very considerable: Mr. Robe of Kilsyth (in a letter to Mr. Prince of Boston, dated Nov. 3, 1743), says, there were then above thirty societies of young people there newly erected, some of whom consisted of upwards of thirty members. As to Glasgow, this union was unanimously agreed to by about forty-five praying societies there; as an eminent minister in that city informs, in a letter.
The two years, first agreed on, ended last November. A little before this time expired, a number of ministers in Scotland agreed on a memorial to be printed, and sent abroad to their brethren in various parts, proposing to them and requesting of them to join with them in the continuance of this method of united prayer, and in endeavors to promote it.—Copies of which memorial have lately been sent over into New England, to the number of near five hundred, directed to be distributed in almost every county in this province of the Massachusetts Bay, and also in several parts of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New-York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Carolina, and Georgia.—The most (I suppose) of these were sent to one of the congregational ministers in Boston, with a letter subscribed by twelve ministers in Scotland, about the affair: many of them to another of the said ministers of Boston; and some to a minister in Connecticut. It being short, I shall here insert a copy of it at length. It is as follows:
FROM SEVERAL MINISTERS IN SCOTLAND, TO THEIR BRETHREN IN DIFFERENT PLACES,
OR CONTINUING A CONCERT FOR PRAYER, FIRST ENTERED INTO IN THE YEAR 1744.
Whereas it was the chief scope of this Concert, to promote more abundant application to a duty that is perpetually binding, prayer that our Lord's kingdom may come, joined with praises : and it contained some circumstantial expedients, apprehended to be very subservient to that design, relating to stated times for such exercises, so far as this would not interfere with other duties; particularly a part of Saturday evening, and Sabbath morning, every week; and more solemnly of some one of the first days of each of the four great divisions of the year, that is, of each quarter; as the first Tuesday, or first convenient day after : and the concert, as to this circumstance, was extended only to two years; it being intended, that before these expired, persons engaged in the concert should reciprocally communicate their sentiments and inclinations, as to the prolonging of the time, with or without alteration, as to the circumstance mentioned : and it was intended by the first promoters, that others at a distance should propose such circumstantial amendments or improvements, as they
should find proper : it is hereby earnestly entreated, that such would communicate their sentiments accordingly, now that the time first proposed is near expiring.
II. To induce those already engaged to adhere, and others to accede to this concert ; it seems of importance to observe, that declarations of concurrence, the communicating and spreading of which are so evidently useful, are to be understood in such a latitude, as to keep at the greatest distance from entangling men's minds: not as binding men to set apart any stated days from secular affairs, or even to fix on any part of such and such precise days, whether it be convenient or not; nor as absolute promises in any respect : but as friendly, harmonious resolutions, with liberty to alter circumstances as shall be found expedient. On account of all which latitude, and that the circumstantial part ex. tends only to a few years, it is apprehended, the concert cannot be liable to the objections against periodical religious times of human appointment.
III. It is also humbly offered to the consideration of ministers, and others furnished with gifts for the most public instructions, whether it might not be of great use, by the blessing of God, if short and nervous scriptural persuasives and directions to the duty in view, were composed and published (either by particular authors, or several joining together ; which last way might sometimes have peculiar advantages), and that from time to time, without too great intervals; the better to keep alive on men's minds a just sense of the obligations to a duty so important in itself, and in which many may be in danger to faint and turn remiss, without such repeated incitements : and whether it would not also be of great use, if ministers would be pleased to preach frequently on the importance and necessity of prayer for the coming of our Lord's kingdom ; particularly near the quarterly days, or on these days themselves, where there is public worship at that time.
IV. They who have found it incumbent on them to publish this memorial at this time, having peculiar advantages for spreading it, do entreat that the desire of concurrence and assistance contained in it, may by no means be understood as restricted to any particular denomination or party, or to those who are of such or such opinions about any former instances of remarkable religious concern; but to be extended to all, who shall vouchsafe
attention to this paper, and have at heart the interest of vital Christianity, and the power of Godliness; and who, however differing about other things, are convinced of the importance of fervent prayer, to promote that common interest, and Scripture persuasives to promote such prayer.
V. As the first printed account of this concert was not a proposal of it, as a thing then to begin, but a narration of it, as a design already set on foot, which had been brought about with much harmony, by means of private letters; so the farther continuance, and, it is hoped, the farther spreading of it seems in a promising way of being promoted by the same means; as importunate desires of the renewing the concert have been transmitted already from a very distant corner abroad, where the regard to it has of late increased : but notwithstanding of what may be done by private letters, it is humbly expected, that a memorial spread in this manner, may, by God's blessing, farther promote the good ends in view; as it may be usefully referred to in letters, and may reach where they will not.
VI. Whereas in a valuable letter, from the corner just now mentioned as a place where regard to the concert has lately increased, it is proposed, that it should be continued for seven years, or at least for a much longer time than what was specified in the first agreement; those concerned in this memorial,
who would wish rather to receive and spread directions and proposals on this head, than to be the first authors of any, apprehend no inconvenience, for their part, in agreeing to the seven years, with the latitude above described, which reserves liberty to make such circumstantial alterations, as may be hereafter found expedient : on the contrary it seems of importance, that the labor of spreading a concert, which has already extended to so distant parts, and may, it is hoped, extend farther, may not need to be renewed sooner, at least much sooner; as it is uncertain but that may endanger the dropping of it; and it seems probable, there will be less zeal in spreading of it, if the time proposed for its continuance be too inconsiderable. Meantime declarations of concurrence for a less number of years may greatly promote the good ends in view : though it seems very expedient, that it should exceed what was first agreed on; seeing it is found on trial, that that time, instead of being too long, was much too short.
VII. If persons who formerly agreed to this concert, should now discontinue it; would it not look too like that fainting in prayer, against which we are so expressly warned in Scripture? And would not this be the more unsuitable at this time, in any within the British dominions, when they have the united calls of such public chastisements and deliverances, to more concern than ever about public reformation, and consequently about that which is the source of all thorough reformation, the regenerating and sanctifying influence of the Almighty Spirit of God? August 26, 1746.
The minister in Boston forementioned (to whom most of the copies of this memorial were sent) who, I suppose, has had later and more full intelligence than I have had says, concerning the proposal, in a letter : The motion seems to come from above, and to be wonderfully spreading in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, and North America.
Motives to a Compliance with what is proposed in the Memorial.
I now proceed to the second thing intended in this discourse, viz., to offer to consideration some things, which may tend to induce the people of God to comply with the proposal and request, made to them in the memorial.
And I desire that the following things may be considered.
1. It is evident from the Scripture, that there is yet remaining a great advancement of the interest of religion and the kingdom of Christ in this world, by an abundant outpouring of the Spirit of God, far greater and more extensive than ever yet has been. It is certain, that many things, which are spoken concerning a glorious time of the church's enlargement and prosperity in the latter days, have never yet been fulfilled. There has never yet been any propagation and prevailing of religion, in any wise, of that extent und universality, which the prophecies represent. It is often foretold and signified, in a great variety of strong expressions, that there should a time come, when all nations through the whole habitable world, should embrace the true religion, and be brought into the church of God. It was often promised to the Patriarchs, that in their seed all the nations, or (as it is sometimes expressed all the families of the earth should be blessed. (See Gen. xü. 3, xviii. 18, xxii. 18, xxvi. 4, and xxviii. 14.) Agreeably to this, it is said of the Messiah, Psal. lxxii. 11,