Edwards wrote this book in 1746 after seeing two remarkable movements of the Spirit of God, one during 1734-35 and the other in 1740-42.
He was convinced that Christian prayers for revival released the power of God's Spirit and resulted in converts and would bring worldwide revival .
Furthermore he believed that Christians had a positive duty to pray for this. In this treatise he employs all his powers of reason and Scripture knowledge to support his plea for more dedicated and organised prayer for revival.
There had been a 'Memorial' circulated throughout English-speaking Christendom, particularly in Great Britain, written by certain Scottish ministers, calling for special or 'extraordinary' prayer. Edwards endorses their suggestions of such prayer on 'Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings and the first Tuesday of each quarter, for an initial period of seven years.' Although there was not another widespread awakening in the English-speaking world until the 1770's, and another in the 1790's, this book has fired many an intercessor to lay hold of God for a breakthough of divine power.
We have included part 1 of the 3 parts.
1. The Text Opened, and an Account Given of the Affair Proposed in the Memorial from Scotland.
ZECHARIAH 8:20, 21, 22.
"Thus saith the Lord, of hosts, It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: 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. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD."
THE TEXT OPENED, AND AN ACCOUNT GIVEN OF THE AFFAIR PROPOSED IN THE MEMORIAL FROM SCOTLAND.
Explanatory Introduction. In this chapter we have a prophecy of a future glorious advancement of the church of God; wherein it is evident, that something further is intended than ever was fulfilled to the Jewish nation under the Old Testament. For here are plain prophecies of such things as never were fulfilled before the coming of the Messiah: particularly, what is said in the two last verses in the chapter, of many and strong nations worshipping and seeking the true God; and of so great an accession of Gentile nations to the church of God, that by far the greater part of the visible worshippers should consist of this new accession, so that they should be to the other as ten to one. A certain number for an uncertain. There never happened any thing, from the time of the prophet Zechariah to the coming of Christ, to answer this prophecy: and it can have no fulfilment, but either, in the calling of the Gentiles, in and after the days of the apostles; or, in the future glorious enlargement of the church of God in the latter ages of the world, so often foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament, and by the prophet Zechariah in particular, in the latter part of his prophecy. It is most probable, that what the Spirit of God has chiefly respect to, is that last and greatest enlargement and most glorious advancement of the church of God on earth; in the benefits of which especially the Jewish nation were to have a share, a very eminent and distinguished share.
There is a great agreement between what is here said, and other prophecies that must manifestly have respect to the church's latter-day glory: As Isa 60:2-4. "The Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be upon thee: and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee." That whole chapter, beyond all dispute, has respect to the most glorious state of the church of God on earth. So chapter 66:8. "Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Shall a nation be born at once?" ver 10. "Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her." ver 12. "I will extent peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles a flowing stream." Micah 4:1, & etc. "But in the last day it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains and it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it; and many nations shall come, and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob. -- And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." See also Isa 2 at the beginning. -- There has been nothing yet brought to pass, in any measure, to answer these prophecies. And as the prophecy in my text, and the following verse, agrees with them, so there is reason to think it has a respect to the same times. And indeed there is a remarkable agreement in the description given throughout the chapter, with the representations made of those times elsewhere in the prophets. So that however the prophet, in some parts of this chapter, may have respect to future smiles of heaven on the Jewish nation, lately returned from the Babylonish captivity, and resettled in the land of Canaan, in a great increase of their numbers and wealth, and the return of more captives from Chaldea and other countries, & etc. yet the Spirit of God has doubtless respect to things far greater than these, and of which these were but faint resemblances.
We find it common in the prophecies of the Old Testament, that when the prophets are speaking of divine favours and blessings on the Jews, attending or following their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Spirit of God takes occasion from thence to speak of the incomparably greater blessings on the church, that shall attend and follow her deliverance from the spiritual or mystical Babylon, of which those were a type, and then speaks almost wholly of these latter and lastly greater things, so as to seem to forget the former. And whereas the prophet, in this chapter, speaks of God bringing his people again from the east and west to Jerusalem, (ver. 7, 8.) and multitudes of all nations taking hold of the skirts of the Jews; so far as this means literally that nation of the posterity of Jacob, it cannot chiefly respect any return of the Jews from Babylon and other countries, in those ancient times before Christ, for no such things attended any such return. It must therefore have respect to the great calling and gathering of the Jews into the fold of Christ, and their being received to the blessings of his kingdom, after the fall of antichrist, or the destruction of mystical Babylon.
Observations on the text. IN the text we have an account how this future glorious advancement of the church of God should be introduced; viz. By great multitudes in different towns and countries taking up a joint resolution, and coming into an express and visible agreement, that they will, by united and extraordinary prayer, seek to God, that he would come and manifest himself, and grant the tokens and fruits of his gracious presence. - Particularly we may observe,
From the whole we may infer, that it is a very suitable thing, and well-pleasing to God, for many people, in different parts of the world, by express agreement, to come into a visible union in extraordinary, speedy, fervent, and constant prayer, for those great effusions of the Holy Spirit, which shall bring on that advancement of Christ's church and kingdom, that God has so often promised shall be in the latter age of the world. And so from hence I would infer the duty of God's people, with regard to the Memorial lately sent over into America from Scotland, by a number of ministers there, proposing a method for such an union as has been spoken of, in extraordinary prayer, for this great mercy. And it being the special design of this discourse, to persuade such as are friends to the interests of Christ's kingdom, to a compliance with the proposal and request made in that Memorial, I shall, First, give a short historical account of the affair to which it relates, from letters, papers, and pamphlets, that have come over from Scotland. Secondly, I shall annex the Memorial itself. And then, I shall offer some arguments and motives, tending to induce the friends of religion to fall in with what is proposed; and lastly, make answer to some objections that may possibly be made against it.
An historical account of the concert to which the Memorial relates. 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 upon 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 favour 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. Consulting one another on the subject, they looked upon 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 endeavour 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. 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 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. Not that any should make 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 of 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 - to which persons might be liable, through the prevalence of indolence and listlessness - to excuse themselves on trivial occasions, it was proposed, that those who united 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 indeed 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 be well 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 memory, 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 a 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 maintaining and keeping up, amongst the people of God, the great Christian duty of prayerfulness for the coming of Christ's kingdom. Those things to which we are too little inclined, through sloth, carnality, or a fulness of our own worldly and private concerns - and which are to be attended to at some seasons or other, but 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 a day. But when we fix on certain seasons, which 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, 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 they also 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 method, and certain circumstances of managing 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 judgement and experience, and for such as were disposed to unite in an affair of such a nature, in distant places, mutually to communicate their sentiments on the subject. The way which those who first projected, and came into this agreement, thought best for giving notice of it, and proposing it to others, was not by 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 improvements, 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 utmost, 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 preferable method at the beginning. Accordingly, they proposed, and endeavoured 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 who 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 which 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 in the continuance of this method of united prayer, and endeavoring to promote it. Copies of which Memorial have lately been sent over to New England, (to the number of near 500,) directed to be distributed in almost every country 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. Most of these, I suppose, 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. SECTION 4 A MEMORIAL from several ministers in Scotland, to their brethren in different places, for continuing a Concert for Prayer, first entered into in the year 1744.
N. B. The minister in Boston afore-mentioned 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 concerning the proposal, in a letter, The motions seem to come from above, and to be wonderfully spreading in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, and in North America.
Preface by a Former English Editor
Preface by the American Editors
Part I. The Text Opened, and an Account Given of the Affair Proposed in the Memorial from Scotland.
Part 2. Motives to a Compliance with What is Proposed in the Memorial.
Part 3. Objections Answered