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importance, in the view of those, who have worshipped, publicly, with extemporary prayer.
In the long periods throughout which, and among the numerous millions by whom, this mode of worship has been adopted, no complaint of any magnitude has ever arisen concerning this subject. It will not be asserted, and with decency cannot, that these persons bave been less serious, less scrupulous about their worship, or less anxious to perform the duties of religion aright, than an equal number of their fellow-christians. Experience, therefore, is wholly against both of these objections: and experience is the only evidence, or umpire, in the case.
The advocates for forms of prayer admit, that they are attended by some disadvantages. Among these, Dr. Paley considers the two following as the principal.
1. That forms of prayer, composed in one age, become unfit for another, by the unavoidable change of language, circumstances, and opinions.
This objection must, doubtless, be allowed to have some degree of force. I do not, however, think it necessarily of very serious importance. To make frequent alterations in so solemn a service would, certainly, be dangerous. Nor ought they ever to be made without extreme caution. Yet when they are plainly demanded by existing circumstances, it can hardly be supposed, that a collection of Christians would refuse their consent to safe and reasonable changes : especially after the evil had become considerable.
2. That the perpetual repetition of the same form of words produces weariness, and inattentiveness, in the congregation.
This I esteem a more serious difficulty than the former ; so far as such a repetition exists : while I readily acknowledge, that its existence appears to me unnecessary. For this evil, Dr. Paley observes, “ Devotion may supply a remedy." I admit that it may; and doubt not that in individual minds it does ; at least in a considerable measure. Still the objection is far from being removed. Every mode of worship ought to be so formed, as to awaken devotion, always too languid; and not so as to diminish a flame, which is scarcely perceptible. It is the nature of all re
. petition, as well as of continued sameness, soon to weary minds, Vol. V.
formed, like ours, with an inherent love of change and novelty. This, in every other case, is perceived, and acknowledged. No reason appears, why it should not be acknowledged in this. Deyotion easily languishes in the most pious minds; and ought therefore to be assisted, not repressed. The best men complain often, and justly, of lukewarın affections, and wandering thoughts. What, then, shall be said of others ? Certainly the fervour of devotion, referred to, must be unsafely relied on, to remedy the evils of a wearisome service in the minds of a congregation at Jarge.
To obviate the force of these remarks, it may be said, that psalms and hymns are sung in frequent repetition. I reply, that these are rarely repeated, when compared with repetitions in forms of prayer. Yet even these, when sung several times within a short period, become obviously tiresome.
But besides that, the psalms are given us in Scripture, and are therefore regarded with a reverence, which can be claimed by no human composition, both psalms and hymns are always sung ; and are, therefore, recommended to the hearer by the powerful aid of music. This is an advantage, which nothing else can boast; and counterbalances whatever tediousness would otherwise be found in any necessary or proper repetition. These, therefore, may be fairly laid aside, as being without the debate.
3. To these objections ought to be added another; That the Mode of uttering the forms of prayer, in actual use, is unhappy.
This mode, as is well known, is the audible union of a whole Congregation in reading each prayer, throughout a considerable part of the service. The effect of this practice, so far as I can judge from my own experience, is, in a greater or less degree, to disturb the attention, and confound the thoughts, of the several suppliants. How far the power of habit may go towards lessening, or removing, these evils, it is impossible for me, without more experience of the effects of this mode of worship, to judge. But, independently of this consideration, so many voices, set by nature to so many different keys, and directed in so many different methods of modulation, are certainly an embarrassment of that quietness and steadiness of thought, that entire self-possession, so desirable during the time of religious worship. Sounds,
which are very numerous, are, when uttered at the same moment, almost of course perplexing. Discordant sounds are necessarily unpleasant: and no circumstances can prevent this effect on the mind.
4. Forms of prayer must necessarily be General : whereas the nature of prayer demands, that our petitions should in a great measure be parlicular.
It is no part of the design of prayer to change the purposes, or conduct, of the CREATOR. Its whole import consists in exciting our obedience to him, and the amendment of ourselves. By awakening in our minds a sense of our guilt, dangers, necessities, helplessness, dependence, and indebtedness ; of our own littleness, and the greatness, wisdom, and goodness, of our MAKER; we are improved in our moral character, and fitted to receive the blessings, wbich we need. The more these emotions are excited, the more effectually are these ends accomplished. Of course, the most advantageous means should always be used for this purpose.
Hence it will be easily seen, that prayer ought, as far as may be, to consist of petitions, confessions, thanksgiving, and adoration, formed in particular, not in general, thoughts and expressions. General declarations, and images, of all kinds, except when eminently important, are feeble and unimpressive. Particular ones, on the contrary, are deeply, and alone, impressive.
Whenever the end of what we speak, or write, is to interest either the imagination, or the heart; it is a rule of every Rhetorical writer, and ordinarily the practice of every man who follows nature, to use particular images and expressions. No reason appears, why this rule, founded in the native character of man, may not be applied to the present case with the same propriety as to any other.
The principal end of prayer is, not to teach, but to move, the heart. The more this rule is followed, the more will the end be attained. In all the warrantable means of quickening the affections, prayer ought plainly to abound. Both the sentiments, and language, ought to be simple, artless, apparently the result of no labour, derived from the occasion, and springing directly from the heart. To this scheme, the confessions, petitions, and thanksgivings, should, I think, be generally conformed, wherever it is intended to be made deeply impressive.
This is a purpose, which no form of prayer, however admirably composed, can successfully accomplish. Designed for so many persons, occasions, and ages, it must of necessity be, to a great extent, general; and so far defective. The mind, deeply interested by the occasion, must be disappointed of what it naturally expects; and displeased, when it finds the strain of sentiment falling short of its own feelings. In this degree, therefore, it will fail of being edified. The emotions, which it wishes to have excited, and which the occasion demands, and awakens, are either faintly excited, or suffered to sleep. If persons, accustomed to the use of a Liturgy find, as they think, those difficulties in extemporary prayer, which are alleged by Dr. Paley ; such, as are accustomed to prayer of this nature, complain with not less feeling, and as they apprehend with not less reason, of the general, unimpressive character of forms; and their want of a perceptible adaptation to the particular circumstances of the suppliants.
Almost every prayer, recorded in the Scriptures, sprang out of the case which prompted it; and expresses its particular, important, and most affecting circumstances. Such are Abraham's for Ishmael, Gen. xvii. ; Abraham's for Sodom, Gen. xviii.; Lot's for himself, Gen. xix. ; Isaac's for Jacob and Esau, Gen. xxvii. ; Jacob's for himself, Gen. xxviii. ; Those of Moses for Israel, Exod. xxxii, and xxxiii. ; Gideon's, Judges vi.; Samson's, Judges
Hannah's, 1 Sam. ii.; David's, 2 Sam. vii.; Solomon's, 1 Kings viii. ; Jehoshaphat's for Judah, 2 Chron. XX. ; Hezekiah's for Israel, 2 Kings xix. ; Hezekiah's for himself, 2 Kings xx.; Ezra's for Judah, Ezra is. ; the prayer of the Levites for Judah, Neh. ix. ; those of Jeremiah and Daniel ; that of Josiah; those recorded of Christ; and those recorded of the Apostles.
In all these, and several other, instances; particularly, many contained in the Psalms; the prayer is chiefly directed to the occasion in hand, whether a public or private one: for it is to be remembered, that several of them were prayers of the most public nature; and, although uttered chiefly by individuals,
were uttered in the midst of great assemblies, and offered up in their name. Nor is there, so far as I remember, a single prayer recorded in the Scriptures, (the text being here laid out of the question,) which has at all the aspect of having been a form, or a part of a standing Liturgy.
From these observations, it will be seen, that prayer is no other than the thoughts of a devotional mind, ascending silently to God, or audibly expressed. What these thoughts are in the mind, the prayer of the voice ought ever to be. Hence, as the thoughts will vary, so the prayer will also vary, according to the numberless cases of suppliants; the cares, wants, fears, distresses, supplies, hopes, and joys. In this manner, the Prophets, Apostles, and our Saviour himself, prayed. Thus the Spirit of God directed those, who alone were under his express direction. Whatever infirmities we, who are uninspired, may labour under, the same Spirit may with humble confidence be expected to help, so far as shall be necessary for us, as he helped theirs. Their example he has recorded both for our instruction and encouragement. As their circumstances gave birth both to their thoughts and expressions; no reason appears, why our prayers should not arise also out of our circumstances. The difficulties, supposed to attend this manner of worshipping God, will, it is believed, vanish, if our hearts are engaged in our services.
Such are the views, which have occurred to me concerning this subject. Still, I have no controversy with those, who think forms of prayer most edifying to themselves. They undoubtedly must be their own judges. Particularly, as their experience concerning this side of the question has been far greater than mine; I cannot controvert the decisions of this experience, so far as they are to respect themselves only. Very many unquestionable, and excellent, Christians have worshipped in both these methods. In both these methods, therefore, men may be excellent Christians, and worship God in an acceptable manner. On this subject, whether considered as a subject of speculation, or of practice, no debate ought ever to arise, except that, which is entirely catholic, and friendly; and no feelings, beside those, which are of the most charitable nature. Zeal, however como mendable it may be in some cases, seems here out of place.