by C. H. Spurgeon, being a sermon delivered on Lord’s Day Morning 20th April, 1873

at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

Part 1 of 2

[Ed. Note: I read this sermon some time ago, and considered printing it, but hesitated for a number of reasons. Among the reasons is the fear that it may discourage rather than encourage many of us. We live, after all, in a different time and circumstance from Spurgeon. And we do not have the draw of Spurgeon to give us the extra push when we are tempted by tiredness and other reasons from coming to the means.

But a couple of weeks ago, someone pointed out this sermon to me again. I was set rethinking. God’s truth does not change. Each one of us is accountable to God for what we do with what we hear. And moreover, this church does not belong to me or to the elders. It belongs to Christ. Let each one of us therefore answer to the Lord for what we do or do not do with His worship. No man can accuse us of sin without facing the displeasure of God if we miss the means for righteous reasons.

This sermon is as such printed with very little editing apart from the sub-titles which I have inserted. Included are also a few portions which I have some reservations about, but have decided to leave them intact that we may ‘hear’ the herald Spurgeon as he had spoken.

—JJ Lim]

"And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also" (Zechariah 8:21).

This prophecy may relate to the Jews literally, and it is by their learned doctors referred to the days of the Messiah. We believe, also, that it refers to the days of the Messiah, and we look for times when again the Holy Land shall be fully inhabited, and the people shall rejoice to meet together to worship the Lord their God. We do not see however, that this prophecy has yet been accomplished, and we look for it to be fulfilled in the latter days. Spiritually it teaches just this, that when God returns to bless his church there are certain signs and marks of his return. Just as the coming back of the sun when he advances north of the Equator, and again cheers us with his warmth, is marked by the up springing of flowers and the singing of birds so the return of God’s Holy Spirit to bless his church is marked by certain signs and tokens. The text tells us what those signs and tokens are, but before I mention them let me suggest that every believer should pray that these cheering indications may be manifest in our midst, that in these our days the Lord may return unto his Jerusalem, and be jealous for her with a great jealousy, that we may see glad seasons such as our fathers have told us of, which happened in their days and in the old time before them. As far as shall lie in the ability of any one of us, may we help towards such revivals by our prayers, by our efforts and by our consistent obedience to the gospel, and may the Lord visit us according to the desire of our hearts.

Great Interest in Divine Worship

I. One of the first signs of God’s presence among a people is that THEY TAKE GREAT INTEREST IN DIVINE WORSHIP. "The inhabitants of one City shall go to another, saying, let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts." It is clear from this that they no longer despise assemblies for worship, and no longer count divine service to be a weariness; but, on the contrary, they begin to value the means of grace, and desire to make good use thereof.

The first solemn assembly mentioned here is the prayer-meeting, and certainly one of the surest tokens of a visitation of God’s Spirit to a community, is their delighting to meet for prayer. The first cry of the people mentioned in our text was, "Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord." It is no statement of mine, suggested by unreasonable zeal, but it is the result of long-continued observation, when I assert that the condition of a church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer-meetings. If the spirit of prayer be not with the people, the minister may preach like an angel, but he cannot expect success. If there be not the spirit of prayer in a church there may be wealth, there may be talent, there may be a measure of effort, there may be an extensive machinery, but the Lord is not there. It is as sure evidence of the presence of God that men pray as the rising of the thermometer is an evidence of the increase of the temperature. As the Nilometer measures the rising of the water in the Nile, and so foretells the amount of harvest in Egypt; so is the prayer-meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church it must pray; and if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be slothfulness in prayer.

God’s people by their saying one to another, "Let us go speedily to pray," manifest that they have a sense of their needs; they feel that they want much, much that nature cannot yield them; they feel their need of grace, their need of quickening, their need of God’s help if sinners are to be converted, their need of his help if even those who are saved are to be steadfast, their need of the Holy Spirit that they may grow in grace and glorify God. He who never prays surely does not know his own needs, and how can he be taught of the Lord at all? God’s people are a people sensible of their wants, and hence the absence of a sense of poverty is a sad token.

Moreover, the love which God’s people have for prayer shows their desire after heavenly things. Those who frequently meet together for importunate, wrestling prayer, practically show that they desire to see the Lord’s Kingdom come; they are not so taken up with their own business that they cannot afford time to think of God’s business, they are not so occupied with the world’s pleasures that they take no pleasure in the things of God. Believers in a right state of heart value the prosperity of the church, and, seeing that it can only be promoted by God’s own hand, they cry mightily unto the Lord of hosts to stretch out his hand of mercy and to be favorable to his church and cause. Church members who never pray for the good of the church, have no love for it; if they do not plead for sinners they have no love for the Savior, and how can they be truly converted persons? Such as habitually forsake the assembling of themselves together for prayer may well suspect the genuine character of their piety. I am not, of course, alluding to those who are debarred by circumstances, but I allude to those who, from frivolous excuses, absent themselves from the praying assemblies. How dwelleth the love of God in them? Are they not dead branches of the vine? May they not expect to be taken away ere long? Earnest meetings for prayer, indeed, not only prove our sense of need and our desire for spiritual blessings, but they manifest most our faith in the living God, and our belief that he hears prayer; for men will not continue in supplication if they do not believe that God hears them: sensible men would soon cease their prayers if they were not convinced that there is an ear which hears their petitions. Who would persevere in a vain exercise? Our united prayers prove that we know that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. We know that the Lord is able to work according to our desires, and that he is willing to be entreated of us. I have never known a thirsty man by a well, who would not use the bucket which was there ready to hand, unless indeed he was of opinion that the well was dry. I have never known a man who wanted wealth, and had a good trade at his foot, who would not exercise his trade; and so I have never known a man who believed prayer to be really effectual, and felt his great needs, who did not engage in prayer. It is an ill token to any community of Christians when prayer is at a low ebb, for it is clear evidence that they do not know their own need, they are not anxious about spiritual things, neither do they believe that God will enrich them in answer to their petitions.

Beloved, may we never as a church deserve censure for neglecting prayer. Our meetings for prayer have excited general astonishment by their number, but they are not all they might be. I shall put it to the conscience of each one to say whether you are as prayerful as you should be. Did you ever hear of a church member who had not attended a prayer-meeting for a month? Do you know of church members who never assemble with the brethren so much as once in a quarter of a year? Do you know of any who have not been to the prayer meeting in this place for the last six months? Do you know such? I will not say I know any such; I will do no more than hint that such people may exist; but if you know them will you give them my Christian love, and say that nothing depresses the pastor’s spirit like the absence of church members from the public assemblies of prayer, and that if anything could make him strong in the Lord, and give him courage to go forward in the Lord’s work, it would be if all of you were to make the prayer meeting your special delight. I shall be satisfied when I see our prayer meetings as crowded as the services for preaching, and it strikes me if ever we be fully baptized into God’s Spirit, we shall arrive at that point. A vastly larger amount of prayer ought to be among us than at present, and if the Lord visits us graciously he will set us praying without ceasing.

But next, these people also took an interest in meetings for instruction. I find that the Chaldee translates the second sentence, "Let us seek the doctrine of Jehovah of Hosts." The Lord’s coming near to any people will be sure to excite in them a longing to hear the word. God sends impulses of enquiry over men’s minds, and suddenly places of worship become crowded which were half empty before; preachers also who were cold and dead become quickened, and speak with earnestness and life. No doubt waves of religious movement pass over nations and peoples, and when God comes to a people the crest of that wave will be seen in this form, that the kingdom of heaven becomes an object of interest and men press unto it. During the revival under John the Baptist, the people went in crowds into the wilderness to hear the strange preacher who bade them repent. The revival under the apostles was marked by their everywhere preaching the word, and the people listening thereto. This was the great token of the Reformation; meetings were held under Gospel Oaks, out upon the commons and away in lone houses; and in glens and woods men thronged to listen to the Word of God. The professionals of popery were forsaken for the simple preaching of the truth. This also marked the last grand revival of religion in our own country under Whitfield and Wesley. The word of the Lord was precious in those days; and whether the gospel was preached among the colliers of Kingswood or the rabble of Kennington Common, tens of thousands were awakened, and rejoiced in the joyful notes of free grace. Men loved to hear the word: they said one to another, "Let us seek the Lord." It is said that Moorfields would be full of light on a dark winter’s morning at five o’clock when Mr. Whitfield was to preach, because so many people would be finding their way to the rendezvous, each one carrying a lantern: and so also over there in Zoar Street, in Southwark, when Mr. John Bunyan was out of prison and was going to preach, a couple of thousand would be assembled at five o’clock in the morning to enjoy his honest testimony. It is a token for good when people press to hear the word. I think we have in a measure the first token, — a love for prayer, but we want it far more; as for the second token, namely, an earnest love for listening to the word of God, we have that in abundance. See ye not how the crowds rush in like a mighty torrent as soon as the doors are open to them.

Patting the two together, it seems that both these forms of meeting were loved by the people because they sought salvation therein, or as the margin has it, they "entreated the face of the Lord." They came to pray with a view to be saved; they came to hear preachings with a view to divine favor; they wanted reconciliation with God; they had wandered from him, but now they sought him; they wanted fellowship with God: they had said to God, "Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways:" but now they said, "Reveal thyself unto us, O God, as thou dost not unto the world." They longed to promote God’s glory, even as before they dishonored him. Yes, when prayer-meetings and preaching-meetings shall be attended with this end and object, — that we may get near to God, and that we may glorify God, there shall be happy days indeed for us. Master Fox in his "Acts and Monuments," speaking of the time when the Reformation was breaking out, uses language something to this effect: "It was lovely to see their travels, earnest seekings, burning zeal, Bible readings, watchings, sweet assemblies, resort of one neighbor to another for conference and mutual confirmation" and, he adds, "all which may make us now to blush for shame in these our days of free profession." We may take the good man’s hint, and feel shame for neglected opportunities, cold devotions, and disregard of the word of God. Our fathers loved to meet for prayer, and to hear the preaching of the truth; and when they came together it was with an intensely earnest desire to obtain the divine blessing. To get this they risked life and liberty, meeting even when fine and imprisonment, or perhaps the gallows might be their reward. O to see the like earnestness among ourselves as to the means of grace! May the Lord Jesus send it to us by the working of his Holy Spirit.

Encouragements to Attend the Means of Grace

II. Another sign of God’s visiting a people in mercy is that THEY STIR EACH OTHER UP TO ATTEND UPON THE MEANS OF GRACE, for "the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, let us go speedily to pray before the Lord; "that is to say, they did not merely ask one another to go if they casually met; they did not bring in the subject accidentally if they could do so readily in common conversation; but the inhabitants of one city went to another on purpose to exhort them. They made a journey about it. As men go to market, from town to town, so did these people try to open a market for Christ; and not only one messenger, but many of the inhabitants of one city went on purpose all the way to another city, with set design, to induce them to join in worship, saying, "Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord." They put themselves out of the way to do it. They had such a desire that great numbers might come together to worship the Most High that they took much trouble to invite their neighbors.

God will be with us, indeed, if each one of us shall be anxious to bring others to Jesus, and to that end shall try to bring them to hearken to the word of God. Why were these men so earnest? The reply will be, they persuaded others to come to the meetings for worship, out of love to God’s house, to God’s cause, and to God’s self. God’s house is honored and beautified when great numbers come together. The ways of Zion do mourn and languish when but few assemble for prayer. Christ has promised to be where two or three are met together in his name; still it is not helpful to comfortable fellowship for a mere handful to meet in a large house. We feel like sparrows alone on the house-top when such is the case. A great space and only a sprinkling of people to occupy it is like a big barn with only one bundle of straw in it, the winds howl in and out of it very miserably.

I am sure if any of you attend a place of worship where there are very few beside yourselves, you must feel unhappy; and if you do not, why surely your hearts cannot be in the right place. Warm hearts are not easily kept alive among empty pews. A coal must be very lively to burn alone, but many glowing coals laid together help to keep each other alight.

No one can doubt, moreover, that full houses give opportunity to the preacher to glorify God. It is hopeful work to throw the net where there are great shoals of fish. Where men are hearing, we may hope that God will be blessing, and hence earnest Christians love to see the aisles and seats crowded. Besides, God is glorified when great numbers come together with earnest minds to celebrate his worship.

In early days, in the Jewish Church, the men of Israel did not come by twos and threes and meet together in scant numbers, but from all parts of Judea’s land, north, south, east, and west, they came together in companies, singing through the glades of the forest, singing through the dells, and singing over the hills; and when they reached the city of Jerusalem in their hundreds of thousands, their praise was a great shout, like the voice of thunder, and the smoke of their sacrifices rose up in clouds to heaven. Those were grand days. Does not David seem to relish the service of the Lord his God all the more because of the multitude that kept holy day? Hence, the saints love to see many come to pray and to listen to the word, because the multitude honors the house, and God thus honors God himself.

O brethren, we think the cause is sadly declining when hearers are like the gleanings of the vintage, when service time comes and sees vacant seats by the score, because professors shrink at the weather, or hunt up an excuse for staying at home, being too idle, too indifferent to cross the threshold of their houses, unless some eloquent preacher or fresh comer shall attract them; but we reckon that God’s cause prospers when the people come joyfully in their bands to listen to the truth, and God’s Spirit applies it to their hearts with power, leading them to prayer and praise.

Moreover, believers love to bring others to the House of God, because they wish to do good to them. Did you ever notice how the little birds, when they find a heap of corn, begin to chatter and twitter as if they would call all the other birds to come and feast also? Grace is generous, and is never akin to churlish Nabal. Misers would fain keep all their wealth to themselves, but a man who is rich in faith, feels his happiness increased when others have faith too. As soon as we drink of the water of life, a sacred instinct within us bids us cry, "Come." "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." He knows not the grace of God who has no desire that others should know it also. Thou wilt assuredly long for the souls of others if God has saved thy soul. Natural humanity, let alone our alliance to the divine nature, leads us to bid others come to Christ.

Besides, the love of company in the Christian makes him invite his neighbors to gospel worship. Believers are like sheep in this among other things, namely, that they are gregarious. A man who loves to keep his religion to himself, must surely be a stranger to the religion of Christ. Communion is one of the sweetest joys of the spirit. Fellowship with saints above will be one jewel of our everlasting crown, and fellowship with saints below is one of the sweetest cordials of our mortal cares. "I went to the House of God in company," saith David, as if it made the house so much the sweeter to go in company with others who went there. "I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the House of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day." For the sake of communion we long to see many going upon the heavenly pilgrimage.

Observe in our text, there does not appear to have been any minister or missionary employed to go from one city to another, and to say, "Let us go and pray," but the inhabitants themselves undertook the duty of invitation and persuasion, and said, "Let us go and pray unto the Lord." The people themselves attended to mutual provocation to love and to good works. How I wish they did so now! They did not wait for the exhortations of one specially set apart to be a prompter, and a remembrances; but their own hearts were so warm that they did it spontaneously among themselves.

My brethren, may you thus be pastors to one another; there are far too many of you for me to look after personally, therefore I pray you be stirrers of one another up to every good word and work. I believe that when a man stirs others up it is good for himself, for a man cannot in common decency be very cold himself who bids others be warm; he cannot surely, unless he be an arrant hypocrite, be negligent of those duties which he bids others attend to.

Beloved, I commit this charge to you, and then I have done with this point. This morning I ask you to visit one another, and to say, "Come, let us not as a church lose the presence of God after nearly twenty years’ enjoyment of it: let not our minister’s hands grow weak by our neglect of prayer; let not the work of the church flag through our indifference; but let us make a brotherly covenant that we will go speedily to pray before the Lord and seek the Lord of Hosts, that we may retain his presence and have yet more of it, to the praise of the glory of his grace."

To Part II