Half a century ago, the writer was accustomed to frequent places of worship where the houses were situated in a grove, or rather in the midst of the trees of a dense forest, and far from any human habitation. Although the meeting-houses, as they were then called, were frequently unfurnished—a mere shell without ceiling—yet there was a solemnity in these places of worship which was better adapted to promote devotion, than all the most splendid achievements of architecture. No somber light let in through painted windows ever affected my mind like the solemn shade and stillness of the natural growth of the forest.
On a certain occasion, when the Lord’s supper was about to be solemnized in one of these humble churches, I went early, that I might avoid the conversation and dust of the multitude on the road, and might have an opportunity of solitary meditation under the venerable trees which encompassed the house of prayer. I thought surely that I should be first on the ground; but I was mistaken. I saw an elderly gentleman, who had just secured his horse to a bough of a tree, coming towards the house to meet me; and upon his nearing me, I recognized an old acquaintance, at whose house I had lodged in my journeyings more than once. He had formerly been an elder in a Presbyterian church of some note, but had removed into a neighborhood where there were then scarcely any Presbyterians. Traveling ministers, however, often called upon him and preached in his house, or at some place in his vicinity. As I believed him to be a very pious man, well informed and zealous for the truth, I was pleased to meet with him and hold communion with him.
After some general remarks, we got upon the subject of the efficacy of prayer; and as I was young, and he was aged and experienced, I was glad to throw the burden of the conversation on him, and he was not unwilling to speak on a subject which seemed to lie near his heart. In the course of conversation, he related to me a piece of his own experience. He said that his oldest son, who was a lawyer of some eminence, had as unblemished a moral character as any man in the land; and yet, though respectful to religion, he never had manifested any serious concern about his own salvation. “But,” said he, “I have had such nearness to God, and such liberty in prayer for his conversion, that I believe those prayers will be answered in due time, whether I live to see it or not. Indeed,” said he, “on one occasion I am persuaded that God gave me an assurance that my prayer in his behalf would be answered.”
This, I confess, appeared to me somewhat like enthusiasm, but I made no reply; and soon our conversation was terminated by the gathering of the people. I thought, however, that I would remember this matter, and from time to time make inquiry respecting the person whose conversion was so confidently expected by his father. Soon after this, the old elder was gathered to his fathers, and died in faith and peace. But residing far from his abode, I know not the particular exercises of his mind as he approached the borders of the other world. For some years I forgot the conversation, and made no inquiry; but some person who was acquainted with the family, informed me that after his father’s death, this son fell into habits of intemperance; that, in fact, he became a mere drunkard, remaining at home and stupefying himself with alcoholic drinks every day. Such a case appeared to me nearly hopeless. I had seldom known a man thus brought under the power of strong drink to recover himself. I now thought that the good old father had been deluded by a lively imagination. And for many years every report respecting the son seemed to render the case more hopeless.
But behold the truth and faithfulness of a prayer-hearing God. See an example of the efficacy of fervent and importunate prayer, though the answer was long deferred. This man, after continuing in intemperate habits until the age of seventy or more, has recently been completely reclaimed, and not only delivered from that vice, but soundly converted to God. He not only gives evidence of a change, but appears to be eminent in the practice of piety. If now living, and I have not heard of his decease, he must be about eighty years of age. How wonderful are the ways of God. His faithfulness never fails; it reaches unto the clouds. “Your faithfulness is unto all generations.” “O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.” “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Hab. 2:3.
Let pious parents learn never to give over praying for their unconverted children, however hopeless the case may seem to be, for God will in faithfulness hear their supplications, and answer them sooner or later in one way or another.
Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) was an American Reformed Presbyterian theologian. He was the first professor and principal, from 1812-1840, at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. He was staunchly orthodox and a true man of God
(Article credit: Grace Gems)