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1 Cor. xiv. 15. I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with
the Understanding alsoa.
THE essential characteristics of Prayer are very comprehensively expressed in these words of the Apostle. To “pray with the
Spirit,” is to pray with faith, with attention, with fervour, and a certain elevation of soul, towards the great object of our devotions. To“ pray with the Understanding,” is to pray in a clear and intelligible manner, with a composed frame of mind, with a due regard to the nature of our petitions, and with a right apprehension of the relation that subsists between God and ourselves.
Whoever has observed the mistakes, into which men are apt to fall, respecting the true nature of Prayer, will perceive how important it is to insist
upon these requisites. The opa Written and printed in 1797, revised and enlarged in
posite extremes of Lukewarmness and Enthusiasm would be avoided, by duly attending to the rule here laid down by St. Paul for the regulation of his own devotions. Enthusiasm is the error of those who do not pray “ with the Understanding ;” who imagine that devotion consists in certain vehement effusions of the Spirit, poured forth with unpremeditated ardour, dictated by internal feelings only, and yielding implicitly to the impressions of a heated imagination. Lukewarmness is the error of those who deem it essential to the character of rational worshippers, to suppress, as much as possible, every emotion of the heart; and to approach the Almighty with cold and phlegmatic apathy, or with the familiar ease of colloquial intercourse, rather than with the deep sentiments of contrition and awe, due from sinful creatures to an offended Creator. These are they who pray not “with the Spirit;" reducing faith, piety, penitence, and gratitude, to a mere abstract sense of moral duty, uninfluenced by that genuine personal interest in the performance of it, which characterizes the humble and devout suppliant at the throne
Both these errors betray a weakness of judgment, incapable of discerning the union that ought to subsist between the Spirit and the Understanding, in the performance of every religious service. Enthusiasm exposes the mind to the delusions of passion and imagination : Lukewarmness deadens those feelings of the heart, which were given us for the wisest purposes, and which can never be more usefully or laudably called into action, than in the service of our Creator. In either case, the true purpose of Divine Worship is lost. Prayer without the Spirit, is lifeless and vain. Prayer without the Understanding, is unmeaning rant and extravagance.
Of the pernicious effects consequent upon either of these extremes, when it becomes generally prevalent in a Christian community, the history of our own country affords very striking examples. In the era of Popish darkness, the evils of superstitious Enthusiasm were severely felt. The performance of public Worship in a language not understood by the people, tended to keep them in gross ignorance; and as the Scriptures were neither suffered to be read but under most discouraging restrictions, nor were even translated by authority into the vernacular language, that ignorance became almost invincible. Deplorable errors, both in Faith and Practice, were the natural, if not necessary, consequence. Doctrines were engrafted upon the Christian Faith, unauthorized by Holy Writ, and irreconcilable with its plainest declarations. Superstitious, and even idolatrous ceremonies were supposed to atone for the worst moral depravities; and the life and substance of pure Religion were sacrificed to an ostentatious, Pharisaical system of outward observances.
Another instance of the evils of Enthusiasm is recorded in our annals, of an aspect exceedingly different from this. In that unfortunate period, when the pure and moderate spirit of our Reformed Church was overpowered, for a time, by republican fanaticism and intolerance, effects no less to be deprecated rapidly overspread the nation.
The Scriptures, it is true, were in the hands of every one. But the perversion of them to purposes of licentiousness, disobedience, schism, and rapine, shewed the fatal consequences of propagating a spirit of religious ardour, without discretion, and without understanding.
To this period a reign succeeded, which no less strongly exemplified the evils of the opposite error. A general Lukewarmness, or rather an utter indifference to Religion, followed close upon Enthusiasm. The ridicule which banished the one, introduced the other. Indifference led the way to Infidelity: and, the spirit of Religion once extinguished, a cold, philosophical Scepticism usurped its place. Similar dispositions are also apparent in our own times ; and many of those who are themselves most remarkable for such dispositions, and most industrious to instil them into others, direct their endeavours towards damping the true spirit of piety, and especially that part of it which regards Public Worship; well knowing, that one of the most probable means to effect the destruction of Religion itself, is to give men a distaste for its devotional services.
Nor can we fail to perceive their policy in this respect, when we reflect how intimately the duties both of Private Prayer and of Public Worship are connected with our religious conduct in general. For, as the neglect or observance of these will, for the most part, be accompanied with the omission or performance of other Christian duties; so the manner in which their devotions are performed, will, in general, discover the complexion of men's religious characters. If they are hurried into excesses by a rapturous, ardent spirit, their prayers will be tinctured with the same spirit: if they are careless and