[In the 19th century, from the 1840’s to 1870’s, Scotland saw great blessing through the ministries of John, Andrew, and Horatius Bonar, and others such as Robert Murray M’Cheyne and John Milne. Those men attributed God’s blessing on their gospel labors to one thing primarily–real and consistent prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Horatius and Andrew Bonar and Milne expressed their views and thoughts regarding this in their writings. – MT]
We surely do not err in ascribing much of the blessing of these years to the many ‘concerts for prayer’ of various kinds, both public and private, composed of lesser or larger circles, which then existed. The streams that turn the great mill-wheels of our factories have their source in the far-up quiet valleys of our land; and so the great power of these times was to be found in the closet prayer meetings, there to set in motion the divine machinery by which the real good was done in the earth.
There was in this work of prayer something quite different from mere ministry work. The work of the ministry was the pipe, but the pipe could not fill itself. The best laid system of pipes could not create the water. That must come from another place. The men laboring were only the ‘wires’, but the electricity must come from heaven, and without it, the most complete array of ‘wires’ was useless. In the constant and combined prayer then made, there was the recognition of power beyond all human agency, something supernatural, without which the best organizations were useless.
When brought face to face with human evil, we feel our helplessness. It is too great for us. Outward remedies do not reach the seat of the disease of sin. Laws restrain it; walls hide it; prisons silence it; civilization refines it, and education teaches to keep it within bounds. But we are helpless before the evil of ‘this present evil world’.
So we fall back upon God. We ask Him to energize the word, to clothe the preacher of it with superhuman power, to do the work which He alone can do, and for the doing of which He will be entreated by us. Sword, spear, and armor have been in vain. But we still have the sling and stone!
– Horatius Bonar
This past Sabbath, I preached on Acts 1:8,14: ‘Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you . . . These all continued in prayer.’ What constitutes the power of the ministry? It is not personal qualifications. This the apostles had in a good degree somewhat. They knew the facts of Christ’s history; they had understanding of the Old Testament; they had the determination to go on with their work; they had a commission and authority from Christ; they had a pledge of divine guidance and help, ‘Lo, I am with you.’ And yet, after all this, Jesus said, ‘You shall receive power.’ What is this? The enabling or ability to actually accomplish the ends of the ministry in converting sinners and edifying saints.
I suspect that much of the religion you meet with has more of the flesh that of the Spirit, more of self than of Christ, more of the world than of the prayer closet, more of working than waiting upon the Lord. Perhaps working is more dangerous than waiting, though both have their snares.
– John Milne
What John Milne felt so strongly, both at this time and afterwards, was the need of the Holy Spirit for the ministry and the minister, and the certain failure of all work in the church without Him. He felt the uselessness of the best of organizations and of congregational machinery, or even pastoral work, apart from the direct divine energy of that mighty Spirit that worked wonders at Pentecost, and is ready still to work wonders as great in these latter days. ‘Wells without water’ will furnish no refreshment, and lamps without oil with give out no light. The church’s danger has ever been to substitute a ministry that is intellectual for the ministry of the Spirit, to confide in the human instead of the superhuman. She can do with less prayer now than formerly because of the progress of our times, an age which is supposed not to require the supernatural help that other times had.
– Jonathan Watson
It was power that he sought, power with God for the sake of men. He desired divine influence, but it was influence with God, and as a result, influence with the souls of men. Other power and other influences he cared not for. Milne prayed, ‘I feel the lack of power to speak to men as sinners, to convince them of their lost estate. O, Lord, let not my ministry be a useless and ineffectual one! I see that useful power in dealing with souls can only be through the Holy Ghost operating upon them. O Peace of our peace, Life of our life, Light of our light, be with me!’
– Horatius Bonar, commenting on John Milne’s life and ministry