« PreviousContinue »
Psalmist, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem : that is, the Church at large. Ps. cxxii. 6.
The second is in Jer. xxix. 7, Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it.
In all these passages, (the whole number of those, in which the subject is mentioned, until after the period of the last, which has been quoted, there are four instances in which prayer may be said to be commanded. In the two first, individuals are required to pray for individuals, on single and peculiar occasions. In the third, Saints are commanded, or rather exhorted, when assembled for public worship, to pray for the peace of the Church. In the fourth, prayer is enjoined upon the Jewish Captives, for the peace of the city, whither they were to be carried. All the other passages are merely circumstantial accounts of the subject.
The first injunction of this duty, the terms of which regard il, as in any sense generally obligatory, was given, when the world was about three thousand years old; and the Jewish Church about right hundred. The second about two hundred years afterwards.
From these facts I conclude, that it was not the intention of the Scriptures to institute this duty, anew, in any passage whatcver: there being no passage, in which it is thus instituted. They took up this subject in the only way, which was natural, or proper. Men had always prayed from the beginning; and on all occasions confessed prayer to be a duty. Nothing more, therefore, was necessary, natural, or proper, than to regulate it as a duty already begun, acknowledged, and practised by mankind. The state of facts demanded only, that the Scriptures should teach the manner, the times, the spirit, the constancy, and the universality, of prayer. Nothing more was necessary : and this is done in the happiest, and most effectual, manner con. ceivable.
From this account of the manner, in which prayer is treated in the Scriptures, it appears evident, at least to me, that original, and particular, directions concerning the three divisions of this duty, customarily made in modern times, viz. secret, family, and public prayer, ought never to have been expected. The circumnstances, in which the subject is taken up, and the manner in which it is exhibited, forbid every expectation of this nature. The question, whether prayer in secret, in the family, or in public, is a duty of man, was probably never asked, nor the obligation to perform it in either case doubted, during the whole period, from the beginning of the world to the completion of the Scriptural Canon. Men always prayed on every solemn and proper occasion ; in public, in private, and in secret. When one man had wants of his own, which he wished to spread before God, or blessings, which he wished to ask; he performed this duty in secret. When two, twenty, a hundred, or a thousand, had common wants, and wished for common blessings; they united in their devotions; and thus formed a greater, or smaller religious assembly. Thus families, thus Churches, and thus nations, met together for social prayer and praise, as well as for the purpose of offering social sacrifices.
To this origin are to be referred the family sacrifices of Elkanah and Jesse; and, among the heathen nations, the existence of household gods, and domestic libations. Such gods, derived from the same source, were in all probability the Teraphim, which Rachel took from Laban. Abraham's family plainly worshipped together : so did the family of Job: so did Christ and his Apostles : so did the Apostles after his ascension. There were little religious assemblies, also, in the houses of Aquila, and of Nymphas; consisting, probably, of their own households, and of such others, as were occasionally present. The whole congre gation of Israel, also, assembled at the times, specified in the law of Moses, from the days of that lawgiver to the latest period of their national existence. In the same manner, worshipped the Christian Churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and other places.
The truth unquestionably is; prayer was instituted by divine appointment from the creation of man; and was traditionarily spread through all nations, as a duty, evident to common sense, and acknowledged by the universal voice of mankind. The Gentiles practised it in every form, as did the Patriarchs, Jeros, and Christians. It was performed by one, few, or many: that
is, by all, who were interested in the wants felt, and the blessings supplicated; and secretly, privately, or publicly, just as the occasion required.
On this scheme is the text formed : Pray always with all prayer : that is, pray on every proper occasion, with prayer, suited to that occasion : if the occasion be your own, with the prayer suited to it; viz. secret prayer: if your own and that of others also, be they few or many; with prayer, suited to every such occasion.
Families are always together at least twice every day; and every day furnishes at least two occasions to all the members for communion in prayer. All the members, therefore, are required by this precept unitedly to spread their common wants before their Maker, and to ask for blessings, in which they have a common interest.
In the same manner, are both secret and public prayer enjoined. Neither of these duties is enjoined originally. All the precepts, relating to them, are employed in regulating the disposition with which, the manner in which, the times at which, they are to be performed; or the modification, or other circumstances pertaining to the performance. Neither of these duties is any where in the Scriptures instituted ancw; but both are always spoken of as already existing.
At the same time, several passages of Scripture, beside those already mentioned, refer to this subject in a manner, too evident to leave a reasonable doubt, that family worship was their immediate object. When Joshua informs the children of Israel, that as for him and his house, they will serve the Lord; he teaches us directly, that they united, and had customarily united, in this service. The Lord's Prayer, after the manner of which we are directed by Christ to pray, is a social prayer; and seems plainly to have been intended, not for an individual, not for the closet, not for the Church; but for the Family and the fire-side. In this prayer we are directed to ask for our daily bread, on the day, in which the prayer is used. As, therefore, we need, and are bound to ask for, our daily bread, every day, it was plainly designed to be a daily prayer; and could not, therefore, be intended for the Church: since mankind are not, and cannot be, present in the Church, every day. That it was not intended for the closet is obvious from the fact, that it is addressed to God by more persons than one. That it may with propriety be used both in the Church, and in the closet, as to its substance, I readily acknowledge: but it was, I think, plainly intended principally for the household. " What a live coal,” says Dr. Hunter beautifully," is applied to devotion, when the solitary my Father and my God, is changed into the social our Father, and our God!" How delightful, let me add, how interesting, how animating, how encouraging, to every amiable and virtuous emotion, for the pair, thus united, to be able to say, and actually to say, “ Behold here are we, and the children whom thou hast given us !"
In Zechariah x. 10, the prophet informs us, that, as a commencement of the Millennial glory and happiness, the people of Israel shall worship God with peculiar earnestness and devotion, as it is expressed in the Hebrew, families by families. In other words he teaches us, that there shall be a wonderful prevalence of family worship. This, also, he exhibits as followed by remarkable testimonies of the divine favour, and as crowned with blessings, new in their degree, and eminently glorious in their nature. It is difficult to conceive how God could testify in a more affecting manner the peculiar favour, with which he regards family religion.
2. Diffidence and Timidity are often alleged as serious objections to the performance of this duty.
This certainly is a very unhappy excuse for neglecting this duty, and very unfortunately alleged. I should feel myself bound to ask the author of it, “ Are you too diffident to perform your customary business? Are you too diffident to pursue customary amusements? Are you too diffident to commit sin? Does the bashfulness, which hinders you from family prayer, hinder you also from censuring, and laughing at, others, who practise it? Does it prevent you from using the language of profaneness? Why should you be timid, only concerning the duties of religion? Is there any thing in the nature of this subject, which can reasonably excite shame, or which can fairly excuse you in indulging it? Is it not true, that religion itself is the thing, of which you are ashamed ???
Remember, I beseech you, the awful declaration of Christ concerning this subject. Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he shall come in his glory. Family worship, presented in the name of Christ, is as real a confession of this divine person, as the participation of the Sacramental Supper.
3. Inabilily to pray, lo devise proper thoughts, and to find proper expressions, is also no unfrequent objection against the performance of this duty.
To him, who alleges it, I would say, “ Have you not wants to be supplied, woes to be relieved, sins to be forgiven, and blessings to be supplicated? Can you not confess your sins, recite your wants, and distresses, and mention the blessings which you need? Do you ordinarily find any difficulty in conferring with an earthly friend, or in soliciting aid from an earthly benefactor ? Have you, when in earnest, ever found any serious embarrassment in telling others what you needed, or what you desired ???
Wherever Religion gains possession of the heart, regular experience proves, that all these difficulties vanish. Nay, where serious conviction of guilt and danger is entertained by the mind, every man, who is the subject of it, forgets at once both his inability and bashfulness. Is it not evident, then, that the true reason, why these things have such unhappy influence over you, is, that you have no proper regard for religion, and no just sense either of your guilt, or your need of forgiveness?
At the same time, these difliculties are incomparably more formidable in prospect, than in reality. As you approach them, they vanish. Thousands and millions, originally neither wiser nor better than you, neither less timid nor less embarrassed, have got over them all. Certainly, then, you may achieve the same victory.
4. Multitudes allege, also, as a serious objection to the performance of this duty, that they shall meet from their families nothing but opposition, censure, and ridicule.
To the author of this objection I should answer, that it is