By Richard Watson
THE DUTIES WE OWE TO GOD.
THE duties we owe to God are in Scripture summed up in the word "godliness," the foundation of which, and of duties of every other kind, is that entire
SUBMISSION TO GOD, which springs from a due sense of that relation in which we stand to him, as creatures.
We have just seen that the right of an absolute sovereignty over us must, in the reason of the case, exist exclusively in Him that made us; and it is the perception and recognition of this, as a practical habit of the mind, which renders outward acts of obedience sincere and religious. The will of God is the only rule to man, in every thing on which that will has declared itself; and as it lays its injunctions upon the heart as well as the life, the rule is equally in force when it directs our opinions, our motives, and affections, as when it enjoins or prohibits external acts We are his because he made us; and to this is added the confirmation of this right by our redemption: "Ye are not your own, but bought with a price; wherefore glorify God in your bodies and spirits which are his." These ideas of absolute right to command on the part of God, and of absolute obligation to universal obedience on the part of man, are united in the profession of St. Paul, "Whose I am and whom I serve;" and form the grand fundamental principle of "godliness" both in the Old and New Testament; the will of God being laid down in each, both as the highest reason and the most powerful motive to obedience. The application of this principle so established by the Scriptures will show how greatly superior is the ground on which Christianity places moral virtue to that of any other system. For,
1. The will of God, which is the rule of duty, is authenticated by the whole of that stupendous evidence which proves the Scriptures to be of Divine original.
2. That will at once defines and enforces every branch of inward and outward purity, rectitude, and benevolence.
3. It annuls by its authority every other rule of conduct contrary to itself, whether it arise from custom, or from the example, persuasion, or opinions of others.
4. It is a rule which admits not of being lowered to the weak and fallen state of human nature; but, connecting itself with a gracious dispensation of supernatural help, it directs the morally imbecile to that remedy, and holds every one guilty of the violation of all that he is by nature and habit unable to perform, if that remedy be neglected.
5. It accommodates not itself to the interests or even safety of men; but requires that interest, honour, liberty, and life, should be surrendered, rather than it should sustain any violation.
6. It admits no exceptions in obedience; but requires it whole and entire; so that outward virtue cannot be taken in the place of that which has its seat in the heart; and it allows no acts to be really virtuous, but those which spring from a willing and submissive mind, and are done upon the vital principle of a distinct recognition of our rightful subjection to God.
LOVE TO GOD. To serve and obey God on the conviction that it is right to serve and obey him, is in Christianity joined with that love to God which gives life and animation to service, and renders it the means of exalting our pleasures, at the same time that it accords with our convictions. The supreme love of God is the chief, therefore, of what have been called our theopathetic affections. It is the sum and the end of law; and though lost by us in Adam, is restored to us by Christ. When it regards God absolutely, and in himself; as a being of infinite and harmonious perfections and moral beauties, it is that movement of the soul toward him which is produced by admiration, approval, and delight. When it regards him relatively, it fixes upon the ceaseless emanations of his goodness to us in the continuance of the existence which he at first bestowed; the circumstances which render that existence felicitous; and, above all, upon that "great love wherewith he loved us," manifested in the gift of his Son for our redemption, and in saving us by his grace; or, in the forcible language of St. Paul, upon "the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness to us through Christ Jesus." Under all these views an unbounded gratitude overflows the heart which is influenced by this spiritual affection. But the love of God is more than a sentiment of gratitude. It rejoices in his perfections and glories, and devoutly contemplates them as the highest and most interesting subjects of thought; it keeps the idea of this supremely beloved object constantly present to the mind; it turns to it with adoring ardour from the business and distractions of life; it connects it with every scene of majesty and beauty in nature, and with every event of general and particular providence; it brings the soul into fellowship with God, real and sensible, because vital; it moulds the other affections into conformity with what God himself wills or prohibits, loves or hates; it produces an unbounded desire to please him, and to be accepted of him in all things; it is jealous of his honour, unwearied in his service, quick to prompt to every sacrifice in the cause of his truth and his Church; and it renders all such sacrifices, even when carried to the extent of suffering and death, unreluctant and cheerful. It chooses God as the chief good of the soul, the enjoyment of which assures its perfect and eternal interest and happiness. "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee," is the language of every heart, when its love of God is true in principle and supreme in degree.
If, then, the will of God is the perfect rule of morals; and if supreme and perfect love to God must produce a prompt, an unwearied, a delightful subjection to his will, or rather, an entire and most free choice of it as the rule of all our principles, affections, and actions; the importance of this affection in securing that obedience to the law of God, in which true morality consists, is manifest; and we clearly perceive:, the reason why an inspired writer has affirmed, that "love is the fulfilling of the law." The necessity of keeping this subject before us under those views in which it is placed in the Christian system, and of not surrendering it to mere philosophy, is, however, an important consideration. With the philosopher the love of God may be the mere approval of the intellect; or a sentiment which results from the contemplation of infinite perfection, manifesting itself in acts of power and goodness. In the Scriptures it is much more than either, and is produced and maintained by a different process. We are there taught that "the carnal mind is enmity to God;" and is not of course capable of loving God. Yet this carnal mind may consist with deep attainments in philosophy, and with strongly impassioned poetic sentiment. The mere approval of the understanding; and the susceptibility of being impressed with feelings of admiration, awe, and even pleasure, when the character of God is manifested in his works, as both may be found in the carnal mind which is enmity to God, are not there fore the love of God. They are principles which enter into that love, since it cannot exist without them; but they may exist without this affection itself, and be found in a vicious and unchanged nature. The love of God is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; that is, it is implanted by him only in the souls which lie has regenerated; and, as that which excites its exercise is chiefly, and in the first place, a sense of the benefits bestowed by the grace of God in our redemption, and a well-grounded persuasion of our personal interest in those benefits, it necessarily presupposes our personal reconciliation to God through faith in the atonement of Christ, and that attestation of it to the heart by the Spirit of adoption of which we have before spoken. We here see, then, another proof of the necessary connection of Christian morals with Christian doctrine, and how imperfect and deceptive every system must be which separates them. Love is essential to true obedience; for when the apostle declares love to be "the fulfilling of the law," he declares, in effect, that the law cannot be fulfilled without love; and that every action which has not this for its principle, however virtuous in its show, fails of accomplishing the precepts which are obligatory upon us. But this love to God cannot be felt so long as we are sensible of his wrath, and are in dread of his judgments. These feelings are incompatible with each other, and we must be assured of his reconciliation to us, before we are capable of loving him. Thus the very existence of the love of God implies the doctrines of the atonement, repentance, faith, and the gift of the Spirit of adoption to believers; and unless it be taught in this connection, and through this process of experience, it will be exhibited only as a bright and beauteous object to which man has no access; or a fictitious and imitative sentimentalism will be substituted for it, to the delusion of the souls of men.
A third leading duty is, TRUST IN GOD. All creatures are dependent upon God for being and for well being. Inanimate and irrational beings hold their existence and the benefits which may accompany it, independently of any conditions to be performed on their part. Rational creatures are placed under another rule, and their felicity rests only upon their obedience. Whether, as to those intelligences who have never sinned, specific exercises of trust are required as a duty comprehended in their general obedience, we know not. But as to men, the whole Scripture shows, that faith or trust is a duty of the first class, and that they "stand only by faith." Whether the reason of this may be the importance to themselves of being continually impressed with their 'dependence upon God, so that they may fly to him at all times, and escape the disappointments of self confidence, and creature reliances; or that as all good actually comes from God, he ought to be recognized as its source, so that all creatures may glorify him; or whether other and more secret reasons may also be included; the fact that this duty is solemnly enjoined as an essential part of true religion, cannot be doubted. Nor can the connection of this habit of devoutly confiding in God with our peace of mind be overlooked. We have so many proofs of the weakness both of our intellectual arid physical powers, and see ourselves so liable to the influence of combinations of circumstances which we cannot control, and of accidents which we cannot resist, that, unless we had assurances of being guided, upheld, and defended by a Supreme Power, we might become, and that not unreasonably, a prey to constant apprehensions, and the sport of the most saddening anticipations of the imagination Our sole remedy from these would, in fact, only be found in insensibility and thoughtlessness; for to a reflecting and awakened mind, nothing can shut out uneasy fears but faith in God. In all ages therefore this has been the resource of devout men: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will we not fear," &c, Psalm xlvi, 1. "Our fathers trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them; they cried unto thee, and were delivered; they trusted in thee and were not confounded." And from our Lord's sermon on the mount it is clear, that one end of his teaching was to deliver men from the piercing anxieties which the perplexities of this life are apt to produce, by encouraging them to confide in the care and bounty of their "heavenly Father."
Our trust in God is enjoined in as many respects as he has been pleased to give us assurances of help, and promises of favour, in his own word. Beyond that, trust would be presumption, as not having authority; and to the full extent in which his gracious purposes toward us are manifested, it becomes a duty. And here too the same connection of this duty with the leading doctrines of our redemption, which we have remarked under the last particular, also displays itself. If morals be taught independent of religion, either affiance in God must be excluded from the list of duties toward God, or otherwise it will be inculcated without effect. A man who is conscious of unremitted sins, and who must therefore regard the administration of the Ruler of the world, as to him punitive and vengeful, can find no ground on which to rest his trust. All that he can do is to hope that his relations to this Being may in future become more favourable; but, for the present, his fears must prevent the exercise of his faith. What course then lies before him, but in the first instance to seek the restoration of the favour of his offended God, in that method which lie has prescribed, namely, by repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ? Till' a Scriptural assurance is obtained of that change in his relations to God which is effected by the free and gracious act of forgiveness, all the reasons of general trust in the care, benediction, and guidance of God, are vain as to him, because they are not applicable to his case. But when friendship is restored between the parties, faith, however unlimited, has the highest reason. It is then "a sure confidence in the mercy of God through Christ," as that mercy manifests itself in all the promises which God has been pleased to make to his children, and in all those condescending relations with which he has been pleased to invest himself, that under such manifestations he might win and secure our reliance. It is then the confidence not merely of creatures in a beneficent Creator, or of subjects in a gracious Sovereign, but of children in a Parent. It respects the supply of every want, temporal and eternal; the wise and gracious ordering of our concerns; the warding off, or the mitigation of calamities and afflictions; our preservation from all that can upon the whole be injurious to us; our guidance through life; our hope in death; and our future felicity in another world. This trust is a duty because it is a subject of command; and also because, after such demonstrations of kindness, distrust would imply a dishonourable denial of the love and faithfulness of God, and often also a criminal dependence upon the creature. It is a habit essential to piety. On that condition we "obtain promises," by waking them the subjects of prayer; by its influence anxieties destructive to that calm contemplative habit of which true religion is both the offspring and the nurse, are expelled from the heart; a spiritual character is thus given to man, who walks as seeing "Him who is invisible;" and a noble and cheerful courage is infused into the soul, which elevates it above all cowardly shrinking from difficulty, suffering, pain, and death, and affords a practical exemplification of the exhortation of one who had tried the value of this grace in a great variety of exigencies: "Wait upon the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, upon the Lord."
Tan FEAR OF GOD is associated with love, and trust, in every part of Holy Scripture; and is enjoined upon us as another of our leading duties.
This, however, is not a servile passion; for then it could not consist with love to God, and with delight and affiance in him. It is true that "the fear which hath torment;" that which is accompanied with painful apprehensions of his displeasure arising from a just conviction of our personal liability to it, is enjoined upon the careless and the impious. To produce this, the word of God fulminates in threatenings, and his judgments march through the earth exhibiting terrible examples of vengeance against one nation or individual for the admonition of others. But that fear of God which arises from apprehension of personal punishment, is not designed to be the habit of the mind; nor is it included in the frequent phrase, "the fear of the Lord," when that is used to express the whole of practical religion, or its leading principles. In that case its nature is, in part, expressed by the term "reverence," which is a due and humbling sense of the Divine majesty, produced and maintained in a mind regenerated by the Holy Spirit, by devout meditations upon the perfections of his infinite nature, his eternity and omniscience, his constant presence with us in every place, the depths of his counsels, the might of his power, the holiness, truth, and justice of his moral character; and on the manifestations of these glories in the works of that mighty visible nature with which we are surrounded, in the government of angels, devils, and men, and in the revelations of his inspired word.
With this deeply reverential awe of God, is, however, constantly joined in Scripture, a persuasion of our conditional liability to his dis. pleasure. For since all who have obtained his mercy and favour by Christ, receive those blessings through an atonement, which itself demonstrates that we are under a righteous administration, and that neither is the law of God repealed, nor does his justice sleep; and farther, since the saving benefits of that atonement are conditional, and we ourselves have the power to turn aside the benefit of its interposition from us, or to forfeit it when once received, in whole or in part, it is clear that while there is a full provision for our deliverance from the "spirit of bondage unto fear ;" there is sufficient reason why we ought to be so impressed with our spiritual dangers, as to produce in us that cautionary fear of the holiness, justice, and power of God, which shall deter us from offending, and lead us often to view, with a restraining and salutary dread, those consequences of unfaithfulness and disobedience to which, at least while we remain on earth, we are liable. Powerful, therefore, as are the reasons by which the Scriptural revelation of the mercy and benevolence -of God enforces a firm affiance in him, it exhorts us not to be "high-minded," but to "fear;" to "fear" lest we "come short" of the "promise" of entering "into his rest ;" to be in "the fear of the Lord all the day long ;" and to pass the whole time of our "sojourning" here "in fear."
This Scriptural view of the fear of God, as combining both reverence of the Divine majesty, and a suitable apprehension of our conditional liability to his displeasure, is of large practical influence.
It restrains our faith from degenerating into presumption; our love into familiarity; our joy into carelessness. It nurtures humility, watchfulness, arid the spirit of prayer. It induces a reverent habit of thinking and speaking of God, and gives solemnity to the exercises of devotion. It presents sin to us under its true aspect, as dangerous, as well as corrupting to the soul; as darkening our prospects in a future life, as well as injurious to our peace in the present and it gives strength and efficacy to that most important practical moral principle, the constant reference of our inward habits of thought and feeling, and our outward actions, to the approbation of God.
Upon these internal principles that moral habit and state, which is often expressed by the term HOLINESS, rests. Separate from these principles, it can only consist in visible acts, imperfect in themselves, because not vital, and however commended by men, abominable to God who trieth the heart. But when such acts proceed from these sources, they are proportioned to the strength and purity of the principle which originates them, except as in some cases they may be influenced and deteriorated by an uninformed or weak judgment. An entire submission to God; a "perfect love" to him; firm affiance in his covenant engagements; and that fear which abases time spirit before God, and departs even from "the appearance of evil," when joined with a right understanding of the word of God, render "the man of God perfect," and 'thoroughly furnish him to every good work."
Beside these inward principles and affections, there are, however, several other habits and acts, a public performance of which, as well as heir more secret exercises, have been termed by divines our EXTERNAL DUTIES toward God; the term "external" being, however, so used as not to exclude those exercises of the heart from which they must all spring if acceptable to God. The first is,
PRAYER. which is a solemn addressing of our minds to God, as the Fountain of being and happiness, the Ruler of the world, and the Father of the family of man. It includes in it the acknowledgment of the Divine perfections and sovereignty; thankfulness for the mercies we have received; penitential confession of our sins; and an earnest entreaty of blessings, both for ourselves and others. When vocal it is an external act, but supposes the correspondence of the will and affection; Vet it may be purely mental, all the acts of which it is composed being often conceived in the mind, when not clothed in words.
That the practice of prayer is enjoined upon us in Scripture, is sufficiently proved by a few quotations: "Ask, and it shall be given you; eek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened," Matt. vii, 7. Watch ye therefore and pray always," Luke xxi, 36. "Be careful for nothing; but, in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God," Phil. iv, 6. "Pray without ceasing," 1 Thess. v, 17. That prayer necessarily includes earnestness, and that perseverance which is inspired by strong desire, is evident from the Jews being so severely reproved for "drawing near to God with their lips, while their hearts were far from him :"-from the general rule of our Lord laid down in his conversation with the woman of Sychar:" God is a Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth," John iv, 24,-and, from Romans xii, 12, "Continuing instant in prayer." Here the term, wroscarterounte~, is very energetic, amid denotes, as Chrysostom observes, "fervent, persevering, and earnest prayer." Our Lord also delivered a parable to teach us that we ought "to pray and not faint;" and we have examples of the success of reiterating our petitions, when for sonic time they appear disregarded. One of these is afforded in the case of the woman of Canaan, a first and a second time repulsed by our Lord; and another occurs in 2 Cor. xii, 8, 9, "For this I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from me; and he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee," &c. This passage also affords an instance of praying distinctly for particular blessings, a practice which accords also with the direction in Phil. iv, 6, to make our "requests known unto God," which includes not only our desires for good generally; but also those particular requests which are suggested by special circumstances directions to pray for national and public blessings occur in Psalm cxxii, 6, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee :" in Zech. x, 1, "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds," (or lightnings,) "and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field :" in 1 Tim. ii, 1-3, "I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty; for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour," &c. More particular intercession for others is also authorized and enjoined: "Peter was therefore kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him," Acts xii, 5. "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea," &c, Rom. xv, 30. "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed," James v, 16.
It follows, therefore, from these Scriptural passages, that prayer is a duty; that it is made a condition of our receiving good at the hand of God; that every case of personal pressure, or need, may be made the subject of prayer; that we are to intercede for all immediately connected with us, for the Church, for our country, and for all mankind; that both temporal and spiritual blessings may be the subject of our supplications; and that these great and solemn exercises are to be accompanied with grateful thanksgivings to God as the author of all blessings already bestowed, and the benevolent object of our hope as to future interpositions and supplies. Prayer, in its particular Christian view, is briefly and well defined in the Westminster Catechism,-" Prayer is the offering of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and a thankful acknowledgment of his mercies."
The REASON on which this great and efficacious duty rests has been a subject of some debate. On this point, however, we have nothing explicitly stated in the Scriptures. From them we learn only, that God has appointed it; that he enjoins it to be offered in faith, that is, faith in Christ, whose atonement is the meritorious and procuring cause of all the blessings to which our desires can be directed; and that prayer so offered is an indispensable condition of our obtaining the blessings for which we ask. As a matter of inference, however, we may discover some glimpses of the reason in the Divine mind on which its appointment rests. That reason has sometimes been said to be the moral preparation and state of fitness produced in the soul for the reception of the Divine mercies which the act, and, more especially, the habit of prayer, must induce. Against this stands the strong and, in a Scriptural view, the fatal objection, that an efficiency is thus ascribed to the mere act of a creature to produce those great, and in many respects, radical changes in the character of man, which we are taught, by inspired authority, to refer to the direct influences of the Holy Spirit. What is it that fits man for forgiveness, but simply repentance? Yet that is expressly said to be the "gift" of Christ, and supposes strong operations of the illuminating and convincing Spirit of truth, the Lord and Giver of spiritual life; and if the mere acts and habit of prayer had efficiency enough to produce a Scriptural repentance, then every formalist, attending with ordinary seriousness to his devotions, must, in consequence, become a penitent. Again, if we pray for spiritual blessings aright, that is, with an earnestness of desire which arises from a due apprehension of their importance, and a preference of them to all earthly good, who does not see that this implies such a deliverance from the earthly and carnal disposition which characterizes our degenerate nature, that an agency far above our own, however we may employ it, must be supposed; or else, if our own prayers could be efficient up to this point, we might, by the continual application of this instrument, complete our regeneration, independent of that grace of God, which, after all, this theory brings in. It may indeed be said that the grace of God operates by our prayers to produce in us a state of moral fitness to receive the blessings we ask. But this gives up the point contended for, the moral efficiency of prayer; and refers the efficiency to another agent working by our prayers as an instrument. Still, however, it may be affirmed, that the Scriptures nowhere represent prayer as an instrument for improving our moral state, though in the hands of Divine grace, in any other way than as the means of bringing into the soul new supplies of spiritual life and strength. It is therefore more properly to be Considered as a condition of our obtaining that grace by which such effects are wrought, than as the instrument by which it effects them. In fact, all genuine acts of prayer depend upon a grace previously bestowed, and from which alone the disposition and the power to pray proceed. So it was said of Saul of Tarsus, "Behold he prayeth!" He prayed in fact then for the first time; but that was in consequence of the illumination of his mind as to his spiritual danger effected by the miracle on the way to Damascus, and the grace of God which accompanied the miracle. Nor does the miraculous character of the means by which conviction was produced in his mind, affect the relevancy of this to ordinary cases. By whatever means God may be pleased to fasten the Conviction of our spiritual danger upon our minds, and to awaken us out of the long sleep of sin, that conviction must precede real prayer, and comes from the influence of his grace, rendering the means of conviction effectual. Thus it is not the prayer which produces the conviction, but the conviction which gives birth to the prayer; and if we pursue the matter into its subsequent stages, we shall come to the same result. We pray for what we feel we want; that is, for something not in our possession; we obtain this either by impartation from God, to whom we look up as the only Being able to bestow the good for which we ask him; or else we obtain it, according to this theory, by some moral efficiency being given to the exercise of praying to work it in us. Now, the latter hypothesis is in many cases manifestly absurd. We ask for pardon of sin, for instance; but that is an act of God done for us, quite distinct from any moral change which prayer may be said to produce in us, whatever efficiency we may ascribe to it; for no such change in us can be pardon, since that must proceed from the party offended. We ask for increase of spiritual strength; and prayer is the expression of that want. But if it supply this want by its own moral efficiency, it must supply it in proportion to its intensity and earnestness; which intensity and earnestness can only be called forth by the degree in which the want is felt, so that the case supposed is contradictory and absurd, as it makes the sense of want to be in proportion to the supply which ought to abate or remove it. And if it be urged, that prayer at least produces in us a fitness for the supply of spiritual strength, because it is excited by a sense of our wants, the answer is, that the fitness contended for consists in that sense of want itself, which must be produced in us by the previous agency of grace, or we should never pray for supplies. There is, in fact, nothing in prayer simply which appears to have any adaptation, as an instrument, to effect a moral change in man, although it should be supposed to be made use of by time influence of the Holy Spirit. The word of Gods is properly an instrument, because it contains the doctrine which that Spirit explains and applies, and the motives to faith and obedience which he enforces upon the conscience and affections; and though prayer brings these truths and motives before us, prayer cannot properly be said to be an instrument of our regeneration, because that which is thus brought by prayer to bear upon our case is the word of God itself introduced into our prayers, which derive their sole influence in that respect from that circumstance. Prayer simply is the application of an insufficient to a sufficient Being for the good which the former cannot otherwise obtain, and which the latter only can supply; and as that supply is dependent upon prayer, and in the nature of the thing consequent, prayer can in no good sense be said to be the instrument of supplying our wants, or fitting us for their supply, except relatively, as a mere condition appointed by the donor.
If we must inquire into the reason of the appointment of prayer, and it can scarcely be considered as a purely arbitrary institution, that reason seems to be, the preservation in the minds of men of a solemn and impressive sense of God's agency in the world, and the dependence of all creatures upon him. Perfectly pure and glorified beings, no longer in a state of probation, and therefore exposed to no temptations, may not need this institution; but men in their fallen state are constantly prone to forget God; to rest in the agency of second causes; and to build upon a sufficiency in themselves. This is at once a denial to God of the glory which he rightly claims, and a destructive delusion to creatures, who, in forsaking God as the object of their constant affiance, trust but in broken reeds, and attempt to drink from "broken cisterns which can hold no water." It is then equally in mercy to us, as in respect to his own honour and acknowledgment, that the Divine Being has suspended so many of his blessings, and those of the highest necessity to us, upon the exercise of prayer; an act which acknowledges his uncontrollable agency, and the dependence of all creatures upon him; our insufficiency, and his fulness; and lays the foundation of that habit of gratitude and thanksgiving, which is at once so ameliorating to our own feelings, and so conducive to a cheerful obedience to the will of God. And if this reason for the injunction of prayer is nowhere in Scripture stated in so many words, it is a principle uniformly supposed as the foundation of the whole scheme of religion which they have revealed.
To this duty objections have been sometimes offered, at which it may be well at least to glance.
One has been grounded upon a supposed predestination of all things which come to pass; and the argument is, that as this established predetermination of all things cannot be altered, prayer, which supposes that God will depart from it, is vain and useless. The answer which a pious predestinarian would give to this objection is, That the argument drawn from the predestination of God lies with the same force against every other human effort, as against prayer; and that as God's predetermination to give food to man does not render the cultivation of the earth useless and impertinent, so neither does the predestination of things shut out the necessity and efficacy of prayer. It would also be urged, that God has ordained the means as well as the end; and although he is an unchangeable Being, it is a part of the unchangeable system which he has established, that prayer shall be heard and accepted.
Those who have not these views of predestination will answer the objection differently; for if the premises of such a predestination as is assumed by the objection, and conceded in the answer, be allowed, the answer is unsatisfactory. The Scriptures represent God, for instance, as purposing to inflict a judgment upon an individual or a nation, which purpose is often changed by prayer. In this case either God's purpose must be denied, and then his threatenings are reduced to words without meaning; or the purpose must be allowed, in which case either prayer breaks in upon predestination, if understood absolutely, or it is vain and useless. To the objection so drawn out it is clear that no answer is given by saying that the means as well as the end are predestinated, since prayer in such cases is not a means to the end, but an instrument of thwarting it; or is a means to one end in opposition to another end, which, if equally predestinated with the same absoluteness, is a contradiction.
The true answer is, that although God has absolutely predetermined some things, there are others, which respect his government of free and accountable agents, which he has but conditionally predetermined.- The true immutability of God we have already showed, (part ii, chap. 28,) consists, not in his adherence to his purposes, but in his never changing the principles of his administration; and he may therefore in perfect accordance with his preordination of things, and the immutability of his nature, purpose to do, under certain conditions dependent upon the free agency of man, what he will not do under others; and for this reason, that an immutable adherence to the principles of a wise, just, and gracious government, requires it. Prayer is in Scripture made one of these conditions; and if God has established it as one of the principles of his moral government to accept prayer, in every case in which he has given us authority to ask, he has not, we may be assured, entangled his actual government of the world with the bonds of such an eternal predestination of particular events, as either to reduce prayer to a mere form of words, or not to be able himself, consistently with his decrees, to answer it, whenever it is encouraged by his express engagements.
A second objection is, that as God is infinitely wise and good, his wisdom and justice will lead him to bestow "whatever is fit for us without praying; and if any thing be not fit for us, we cannot obtain it by praying." To this Dr. Paley very well replies, (Moral Philosophy,) "That it may be agreeable to perfect wisdom to grant that to our prayers which it would not have been agreeable to the same wisdom to have given us without praying for." This, independent of the question of the authority of the Scriptures which explicitly enjoin prayer, is the best answer which can be given to the objection; and it is no small confirmation of it, that it is obvious to every reflecting man, that for God to withhold favours till asked for, "tends," as the same writer observes, "to encourage devotion among his rational creatures, and to keep up and circulate a knowledge and sense of their dependency upon HIM."
But it is urged, "God will always do what is best from the moral perfection of his nature, whether we pray or not." This objection, however, supposes, that there is but one mode of acting for the best, and that the Divine will is necessarily determined to that mode only "both which positions," says Paley, "presume a knowledge of universal nature, much beyond what we are capable of attaining." It is, indeed, a very unsatisfactory mode of speaking, to say, God will always do what is best, since we can conceive him capable in all cases of doing what is still better for the creature, and also that the creature is capable of receiving more and more from his infinite fulness for ever. All that can be rationally meant by such a phrase is, that in the circumstances of the case, God will always do what is most consistent with his own wisdom, holiness, and goodness; but then the disposition to pray, and the act of praying, add a new circumstance to every case, and often bring many other new circumstances along with them. It supposes humility, contrition, and trust, on the part of the creature; and an acknowledgment of the power and compassion of God, and of the merit of the atonement of Christ: all which are manifestly new positions, so to speak, of the circumstances of the creature, which, upon the very principle of the objection, rationally understood, must be taken into consideration.
But if the efficacy of prayer as to ourselves be granted, its influence upon the case of others is said to be more difficult to conceive. This may be allowed without at all affecting the duty. Those who bow to the authority of the Scriptures will see, that the duty of praying for ourselves and for others rests upon the same Divine appointment; and to those who ask for the reason of such intercession in behalf of others, it is sufficient to reply, that the efficacy of prayer being established in one case, there is the same reason to conclude that our prayers may benefit others, as any other effort we may use. It can only be by Divine appointment that one creature is made dependent upon another for any advantage, since it was doubtless in the power of the Creator to have rendered each independent of all but himself. Whatever, reason, therefore, might lead him to connect and interweave interests of the one man with the benevolence of another, will be the leading reason for that kind of mutual dependence which is implied in the benefit of mutual prayer. Were it only that a previous sympathy, charity, and good will, are implied in the duty, and must, indeed, be cultivated in order to it, and be strengthened by it, the wisdom and benevolence of the institution would, it is presumed, be apparent to every well constituted mind. That all prayer for others must proceed upon a less perfect knowledge of them than we have of ourselves, is certain: that all our petitions must be, even in our own mind, more conditional than those which respect ourselves, though many of these must be subjected to the principles of a general administration, which we but partially apprehend; and that all spiritual influences upon others, when they are the subject of our prayers, will be understood by us as liable to the control of their free agency, must also be conceded; and, therefore, when others are concerned, our prayers may often be partially or wholly fruitless. He who believes the Scriptures will, however, be encouraged by the declaration, that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man," for his fellow creatures, "availeth much;" and he who demands something beyond mere authoritative declaration, as he cannot deny that prayer is one of those instruments by which another may be benefited, must acknowledge that, like the giving of counsel, it may be of great utility in some cases, although it should fail in others; and that as no man can tell how much good counsel may influence another, or in many cases say whether it has ultimately failed or not, so it is with prayer. It is a part of the Divine plan, as revealed in his word, to give many blessings to man independent of his own prayers, leaving the subsequent improvement of them to himself. They are given in honour of the intercession of Christ, man's great "Advocate;" and they are given, subordinately, in acceptance of the prayers of Christ's Church, and of righteous individuals. And when many, or few, devout individuals become thus the instruments of good to communities, or to whole nations, there is no greater mystery in this than in the obvious fact, that the happiness or misery of large masses of mankind is often greatly affected by the wisdom or the errors, the skill or the incompetence, the good or the bad conduct of a few persons, and often of one.
The general duty of prayer is usually distributed into four branches, -Ejaculatory, private, social, and public; each of which is of such importance as to require a separate consideration.
EJACULATORY PRAYER 1S the term given to those secret and frequent aspirations of the heart to God for general or particular blessings, by which a just sense of our habitual dependence upon God, and of our wants and dangers, may be expressed, at those intervals when the thoughts can detach themselves from the affairs of life, though but for a moment, while we are still employed in them. It includes, too, all those short and occasional effusions of gratitude, and silent ascriptions of praise, which the remembrance of God's mercies will excite in a devotional spirit, under the same circumstances. Both, however, presuppose what divines have called, "the spirit of prayer," which springs from a sense of our dependence upon God, and is a breathing of the desires after intercourse of thought and affection with him, accompanied with a reverential and encouraging sense of his constant presence with us. The cultivation of this spirit is clearly enjoined upon us as a duty by the Apostle Paul, who exhorts us to "pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks;" and also to "set our affections upon things above;"-exhortations which imply a holy and devotional frame and temper of mind, and not merely acts of prayer performed at intervals.
The high and unspeakable advantages of this habit, are, that it induces a watchful and guarded mind; prevents religion from deteriorating into form without life; unites the soul to God, its light and strength; induces continual supplies of Divine influence; and opposes an effectual barrier, by the grace thus acquired, against the encroachments of worldly anxieties, and the force of temptations. The existence of this spirit of prayer and thanksgiving is one of the grand distinctions between nominal and real Christians; and by it the measure of vital and effective Christianity enjoyed by any individual may ordinarily be determined.
PRIVATE PRAYER. This, as a duty, rests upon the examples of good men in Scripture; upon several passages of an injunctive character in the Old Testament; and, in the New, upon the express words of our Lord, which, while they suppose the practice of individual prayer to have been generally acknowledged as obligatory, enjoin that it should be strictly private. "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." In this respect, also, Christ has himself placed us under the obligation of his own example; the evangelists having been inspired to put on record several instances of his retirement into absolute privacy that he might "pray." The reason for this institution of private devotion appears to have been to incite us to a friendly and confiding intercourse with God in all those particular cases which most concern our feelings and our interests; and it is a most affecting instance of the condescension and sympathy of God, that we are thus allowed to use a freedom with him, in "pouring out our hearts," which we could not do with our best and dearest friends. It is also most worthy of our notice, that when this duty is enjoined upon us by our Lord, he presents the Divine Being before us under a relation most of all adapted to inspire that unlimited confidence with which he would have us to approach him :-" Pray to thy FATHER which is in secret." Thus is the dread of his omniscience, indicated by his "seeing in secret," and of those other overwhelming attributes which omnipresence and omniscience cannot fail to suggest, mitigated, or only employed to inspire greater freedom, and a stronger affiance.
FAMILY PRAYER. Paley states the peculiar use of family prayer to consist in its influence upon servants and children, whose attention may be more easily commanded by this than by public worship. "The example and authority of a master and father act, also, in this way with greater force; and the ardour of devotion is better supported, and the sympathy more easily propagated through a small assembly, connected by the affections of domestic society, than in the presence of a mixed congregation." There is, doubtless, weight in these remarks; but they are defective, both in not stating the obligation of this important duty, and in not fully exhibiting its advantages.
The absence of an express precept for family worship has, it is true, been urged against its obligation even by some who have still considered it as a prudential and useful ordinance. But the strict obligation of so important a duty is not to be conceded for a moment, since it so plainly arises out of the very constitution of a family; and is confirmed by the earliest examples of the Church of God. On the first of these points the following observations, from a very able and interesting work, (Anderson on the Domestic Constitution,) are of great weight
"The disposition of some men, professing Christianity, to ask peremptorily for a particular precept in all cases of incumbent moral duty, is one which every Christian would do well to examine; not only that he may never be troubled with it himself, but that he may be at no loss in answering such a man, if he is called to converse with him. The particular duty to which he refers,-.say, for example, family worship,-is comparatively of small account. His question itself is indicative not merely of great ignorance; it is symptomatic of the want of religious principle. When a man says that he can only be bound to such a duty, a moral duty, by a positive and particular precept, I am satisfied that he could not perform it, in obedience to any precept whatever; nor could he even now, though he were to try. The truth is, that this man has' no disposition toward such worship, and he rather requires to be informed of the grounds of all such obligation.
"The duty of family devotion, therefore, let it be remembered, though it had been minutely enjoined as to both substance and season, would not, after all, have been founded only on such injunctions. I want the reader thoroughly to understand the character of a Christian, the constitution of the family; and out of this character and that constitution, be will and certain duties to arise necessarily; that is, they are essential to the continuance and well being of himself as a Christian parent, and of the constitution over which he is set. In this case there can be no question as to their obligation, and for a precept there is no necessity. The Almighty, in his word, has not only said nothing in vain, but nothing except what is necessary. Now, as to family worship, for a particular precept I have no wish; no, not even for the sake of others, because I am persuaded that the Christian, in his sober senses, will naturally obey and no other can.
"To apply, however, this request for a precise precept to some other branches of family duty :-What would be thought of me, were I to demand an express precept to enforce my obligation to feed my children, and another to oblige me to clothe them? one to express my obligation to teach them the use of letters, and another to secure my training them to lawful or creditable professions or employments? 'All this,' very properly you might reply, 'is absurd in the highest degree; your obligation rests on much higher ground; nay, doth not nature itself teach you in this, and much more than this?' 'Very true,' I reply; 'and is renewed nature, then, not to teach me far more still? To what other nature are such words as these addressed ?-Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.'
"Independently, however, of all this evidence with any rational Christian parent, I may confirm and establish his mind on much higher ground than even that which these pointed examples afford. To such a parent I might say, 'Without hesitation, you will admit that your obligations to your family are to be measured now, and on the day of final account, by your capacity,-as a man by your natural, as a Christian by your spiritual capacity? and, however you may feel conscious of falling short daily, that you are under obligation to honour God to the utmost limit of this capacity? You will also allow that, standing where you do, you are not now, like a solitary orphan without relatives, to be regarded only as a single individual. God himself, your Creator, your Saviour, and your Judge, regards you as the head of a family; and, therefore, in possession of t sacred trust; you have the care of souls? Now if you really do measure obligation by capacity, then you will also at once allow, that you must do what you can, that he may, from your family, have as much honour as possible.
"'Without hesitation you will also allow that God daily preserves you? And does he not also preserve your family? But if he preserves, he has a right of property in each and all under your roof. Shall he not, therefore, have from you acknowledgment of this? If daily he preserves, shall he not be daily acknowledged? And if acknowledged at all, how ought he to be so, if not upon your knees? And how can they know this if they do not hear it?
"'Without hesitation you will also allow that you are a social as well as a reasonable being? And often have you, therefore, felt how much the soothing influence of their sweet society has sustained you under your cares and trials, and grief itself. O! surely then, as a social being, you owe to them social worship; nor should you ever forget, that, in ancient days, there was social worship here before it could be any where else.'"
The same excellent writer has not, in his subsequent arguments given to the last remark in the above quotation all the force which it demands; for that social worship existed before worship more properly called public, that is worship in indiscriminate assemblies, is the point, which, when followed out, most fully establishes the obligation. A great part, least, of the worship of the patriarchal times was domestic. The worship of God was observed in the families of Abraham, Jacob, and Job; nay, the highest species of worship, the offering of sacrifices, which it could not have been without Divine appointment. It arose, therefore, out of the original constitution of a family, that the father and natural head was invested with a sacred and religious character, and that with reference to his family; and if this has never been revoked by subsequent prohibition; but on the contrary, if its continuance has been subsequently recognized; then the family priesthood continues in force, and stands on the same ground as several other religious obligations, which have passed from one dispensation of revealed religion to another, without express re-enactment.
Let us then inquire, whether any such revocation of this office, as originally vested in the father of a family, took place after the appointment of a particular order of priests under the Mosaic economy. It is the that national sacrifices were offered by the Aaronical priests, and perhaps some of those consuetudinary sacrifices, which, in the patriarchal ages, were offered by the heads of families, and bad reference specially to the general dispensation of religion under which every family was equally placed; yet the passover was a solemn religious act the domestic nature of which is plainly marked, and it was to be an ordinance for ever, and therefore was not taken out of the hands of the heads of families by the institution of the Aaronical priesthood, although' the ceremony comprehended several direct acts of worship. The solemn instruction of the family is also in the law of Moses enjoined upon the father, "Thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children and he was also directed to teach them the import of the different festivals, and other commemorative institutions. Thus the original relation of the father to his family, which existed in the patriarchal age, is seen still in existence, though changed in some of its circumstances by the law. He is still the religious teacher; still he offers prayers for them to God; and still "blesses,"-an act which imports both prayer, praise, and official benediction. So the family of Jesse had a yearly sacrifice, 1 Sam. zx, 6. So David, although not a priest, returned to "bless his household;" and our Lord filled the office of the master of a family, as appears from his eating the passover with his disciples, and presiding an such over the whole rite: and although the passage, "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen, and upon the families which call not upon thy name," Jer. x, 25, does not perhaps decidedly refer to acts of domestic worship, yet it is probable that the phraseology was influenced by that practice among the pious Jews themselves ;-neither did the heathen nationally, nor in their families, acknowledge God. Nor is it a trifling confirmation of the ancient practice of a formal and visible domestic religion, that in paganism, which corrupted the forms of the true religion, and especially those of the patriarchal dispensation, we see the signs of a family as well as a public idolatry, as exhibited in their private "chambers of imagery," their household deities; and the religious ceremonies which it was incumbent upon the head of every house to perform.
The sacred character and office of the father and master of a household passed from Judaism into Christianity; for here, also, we find nothing which revokes and repeals it. A duty so well understood both among Jews and even heathens, as that the head of the house ought to influence its religious character, needed no special injunction. The father or master who believed was baptized, and all his "house;" the first religious societies were chiefly domestic; and the antiquity of domestic religious services among Christians, leaves it unquestionable, that when the number of Christians increased so as to require a separate assembly in some common room or church, the domestic worship was not superseded. But for the division of verses in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians, it would scarcely have been suspected that the first and second verses contained two distinct and unconnected precepts,-" Masters give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven; continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving ;" a collocation of persons and duties which seems to intimate that the sense of the apostle was, that the "servant," the shave should partake of the benefit of those continual prayers and daily thanksgivings which it is enjoined upon the master to offer.
As the obligation to this branch of devotion is passed over by Paley, so the advantages of family worship are but very imperfectly stated by him. The offering of prayer to God in a family cannot but lay the ground of a special regard to its interests and concerns on the part of him, who is thus constantly acknowledged; and the advantage, therefore, is more than a mere sentimental one; and more than that of giving effect to the "master's example." The blessings of providence and of grace; defence against evil, or peculiar supports under it, may thus be expected from Him, who has said, " In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths;" and that when two or three are met in his name, he is "in the midst of them." The family is a "Church in a house;" and its ministrations, as they are acceptable to God, cannot but be followed by his direct blessing.
PUBLIC PRAYER, under which we include the assembling of ourselves together for every branch of public worship.
The Scriptural obligation of this is partly founded upon example, and partly upon precept; so that no person who admits that authority, can question this great duty without manifest and criminal inconsistency. The institution of public worship under the law; the practice of synagogue worship among the Jews, from at least the time of Ezra, cannot be questioned; both which were sanctioned by the practice of our Lord and his apostles. The course of the synagogue worship became indeed the model of that of the Christian Church. It consisted in prayer, reading and explaining the Scriptures, and singing of psalms; and thus one of the most important means of instructing nations, and of spreading and maintaining the influence of morals and religion among a people, passed from the Jews into all Christian countries.
The preceptive authority for our regular attendance upon public worship, is either inferential or direct. The command to publish the Gospel includes the obligation of assembling to hear it; the name by which a Christian society is designated in Scripture, is a Church; which signifies an "assembly" for the transaction of some business; and, in the case of a Christian assembly, the business must be necessarily spiritual, mind include the sacred exercises of prayer, praise, and hearing the Scriptures. But we have more direct precepts, although the practice was obviously continued from Judaism, and was therefore consuetudinary some of the epistles of Paul are commanded to be read in the Churches. The singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, is enjoined as an act of solemn worship, "to the Lord;" and St. Paul cautions thee Hebrews that they "forsake not the assembling of themselves together." The practice of the primitive age is also manifest from the epistles of St. Paul. The Lord's Supper was celebrated by the body of believers collectively; and this apostle prescribes to the Corinthians regulations for the exercises of prayer and prophesyings, "when they came together in the Church," -the assembly. The statedness and order of these "holy offices" in the primitive Church, appears also from the apostolical epistle of St. Clement: "We ought also, looking into the depths of the Divine knowledge, to do all things in order, whatsoever THE LORD hath commanded to be done. We ought to make our oblations, and perform our holy offices, at their appointed seasons; for these he hath commanded to be done, not irregularly or by chance, but at determinate times and hours; as be hath likewise ordained by his supreme will, where, and by what persons, they shall be performed; that so all things being done according to his pleasure, may be acceptable in his sight." This passage is remarkable for urging a Divine authority for the public services of the Church, by which St. Clement, no doubt, means the authority of the inspired directions of the apostles.
The ends of the institution of public worship are of such obvious importance, that it must ever be considered as one of the most condescending and gracious dispensations of God to man. By this his Church confesses his name before the world; by this the public teaching of his word is associated with acts calculated to affect the mind with that solemnity which is the best preparation for hearing it to edification. It is thus that the ignorant and vicious are collected together, and instructed and warned; the invitations of mercy are published to the guilty, and the sorrowful and afflicted are comforted. In these assemblies God, by his Holy Spirit, diffuses his vital and sanctifying influence, and takes the devout into a fellowship with himself, from which they derive strength to do and to suffer his will in the various scenes of life, while he thus affords them a foretaste of the deep and hallowed pleasures which are reserved for them at "his right hand for evermore." Prayers and intercessions are here heard for national and public interests; and while the benefit of these exercises descends upon a country, all are kept sensible of the dependence of every public and personal interest upon God. Praise calls forth the grateful emotions, and gives cheerfulness to piety; and that "instruction in righteousness," which is so perpetually repeated, diffuses the principles of morality and religion throughout society; enlightens and gives activity to conscience; raises the standard of morals; attaches shame to vice, and praise to virtue; and thus exerts a powerfully purifying influence upon mankind. Laws thus receive a force, which, in other circumstances, they could not acquire, even were they enacted in as great perfection; and the administration of justice is aided by the strongest possible obligation and sanction being given to legal oaths. The domestic relations are rendered more strong and interesting by the very habit of the attendance of families upon the sacred services of the sanctuary of the Lord; and the rich and the poor meeting together there, and standing on tine same common ground of sinners before God, equally dependent upon him, and equally suing for his mercy, has a powerful, though often an insensible, influence in humbling the pride which is nourished by superior rank, and in raising the lower Classes above abjectness of spirit, without injuring their humility. Piety, benevolence, and patriotism, are equally dependent for their purity and vigour upon the regular and devout worship of God in the simplicity of the Christian dispensation.
A few words on liturgies or forms of prayer may lucre have a proper place.
The necessity of adhering to the simplicity of the first age of the Church, as to worship, need scarcely be defended by argument. If no liberty were intended to be given to accommodate the modes of worship to the circumstances of different people and times, we should, no doubt, have had some express directory on the subject in Scripture; but in the exercise of this liberty steady regard is to be paid to the spirit and genius and simple character of Christianity, and a respectful deference to the practice of the apostles and their immediate successors. Without these, formality and superstition, to both of which human nature is very liable, are apt to be induced; and when once they enter they increase, as the history of the Church sufficiently shows, indefinitely, until true religion is buried beneath the mass of observances which have been introduced her aids and handmaids. Our Lord's own words are here directly applicable and important: "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth." The worship must be adapted the spiritual nature of God, and to his revealed perfections. To such a Being the number of prayers, the quantity of worship so to speak, to which corrupt Churches have attached so much importance, can be of no value. As a Spirit, he seeks the worship of the spirit of man; and regards nothing external in that worship but as it is the expression of those emotions of humility, faith, gratitude, and hope, which are the principles he condescendingly approves in man. "True" worship, we are also taught by these words, is the worship of the heart; it springs from humility, faith, gratitude, and hope; and its final cause, or end, is to better man, by bringing upon his affections the sanctifying and cormforting influence of grace. The modes of worship which best promote this end, and most effectually call these principles into exercise, are those therefore which best accord with our Lord's rule: and if in the apostolic age we see this end of worship most directly accomplished, and these emotions most vigorously and with greatest purity excited, the novelties of human invention can add nothing to the effect, and for that very reason have greatly diminished it. In the Latin and Greek Churches we see a striking conformity in the vestments, the processions, the pictures, and images, and other parts of a complex and gorgeous ceremonial, to the Jewish typical worship, and to that of the Gentiles, which was an imitation of it without typical meaning. But it is not even pretended that in these circumstances it is founded upon primitive practice; or, if pretended, this is obviously an impudent assumption.
Liturgies, or forms of service, do not certainly come under this censure, except when they contain superstitious acts of devotion to saints, or are so complicated, numerous, and lengthened, that the only principle to which they can be referred is the common, but unworthy notion, that the Divine Being is rendered placable by continued service; or that the wearisome exercise of vocal prayers, continued for long periods, and in painful postures, is a necessary penance to man, and, as such, acceptable to God. In those Reformed Churches of Christendom in which they are used, they have been greatly abridged, as well as purified from the corruptions of the middle ages. In some they are more copious than in others, while many religious societies have rejected their use altogether; and in a few they are so used as to afford competent space also for extempore devotion.
The advocates and opponents of the use of forms of prayer in public worship have both run into great extremes, and attempted generally to prove too much against each other.
If the use of forms of prayer in prose be objected to, their use in verse ought to be rejected on the same principle; and extemporaneous psalms and hymns must, for consistency's sake, be required of a minister, as well as extemporaneous prayers; or the practice of singing, as a part of God's worship, must be given up. Again: If the objection to the use of a form of prayer be not in its matter; but merely as it contains petitions not composed by ourselves, or by the officiating minister on the occasion; the same objection would lie to our using any petitions found in the Psalms or other devotional parts of Scripture, although adapted to our case, and expressed in words far more fitting than our own. If we think precomposed prayers incompatible with devotion, we make it essential to devotion that we should frame our desires into our own words; whereas nothing can be more plain, than that whoever has composed the words, if they correspond with our desires, they become the prayer of our hearts, and are, as such, acceptable to God. The objection to petitionary forms composed by others, supposes also that we know the things which it is proper for us to ask without the assistance of others. This may be sometimes the case; but as we must be taught what to pray for by the Holy Scriptures, so, in proportion as we understand what we are authorized to pray for by those Scriptures, our prayers become more varied, and distinct, and comprehensive, and, therefore, edifying. But all helps to the understanding of the Scriptures, as to what they encourage us to ask of God, is a help to us in prayer. Thus the exposition of Christian privileges and blessings from the pulpit, affords us this assistance; thus the public extempore prayers we hear offered by ministers and enlightened Christians, assist us in the same respect; and the written and recorded prayers of the wise and pious in different ages, fulfil the same office, and to so great an extent, that scarcely any who offer extempore prayer escape falling into phrases and terms of expression, or even entire petitions, which have been originally derived from liturgies. Even in extempore services, the child accustomed to the modes of precatory expression used by the parent, and the people to those of their ministers, imitate them unconsciously; finding the desires of their hearts already embodied in suitable and impressive words.
The objection, therefore, to the use of forms of prayer, when absolute, is absurd, and involves principles which no one acts upon, or can act upon. It also disregards example and antiquity. The high priest of the Jews pronounced yearly a form of benediction. The Psalms of David, and other inspired Hebrew poets, whether chanted or read makes no difference, were composed for the use of the sanctuary, and formed a part of the regular devotions of the people. Forms of prayer were used in time synagogue service of the Jews, which, though multiplied in subsequent times, so as to render time service tedious and superstitious, had among them some that were jam use between the return from the captivity and the Christian era, amid were therefore sanctioned by the practice of our Lord and his apostles. (Prideaux's Connection. Fol. edit. vol. i, p. 304.) John Baptist appears also to have given a form of prayer to his disciples, in which he was followed by our Lord. The latter has indeed been questioned, and were it to be argued that our Lord intended that form of prayer alone to be used, too much would be proved by the advocates of forms. On the other hand, although the words, "after this manner pray ye," intimate that the Lord's prayer was given as a model of prayer, so the words in another evangelist, "when ye pray, say," as fully indicate an intention to prescribe a form. It seems, therefore, fair, to consider the Lord's prayer as intended both as a models and a form; and he must be very fastidious who, though he uses it as the model of his own prayers, by paraphrasing its petitions in his own words, should scruple to use it in its native simplicity and force as a form. That its use as a form, though not its exclusive use, was originally intended by our Lord, appears, I think, very clearly, from the disciples desiring to be taught to pray, "as John taught his disciples." If, as it has been alleged, the Jewish rabbis, at so early a period, were in the custom of giving short forms of prayer to their disciples, to be used in the form given, or to be enlarged upon by the pupil at his pleasure, this would fully explain the request of the disciples. However, without laying much stress upon the antiquity of this practice, we may urge, that if John Baptist gave a form of prayer to his followers, the conduct of our Lord in teaching his disciples to pray, by what is manifestly a regularly connected series of petitions, is accordant with their request; but if the Baptist only taught what topics ought to be introduced in prayer, and the disciples of Jesus wished to be instructed in like manner, it is difficult to account for their request being granted, not by his giving directions as to the topics of prayer, but by his uttering a regular prayer itself. That our Lord intended that prayer to be used as adapted to that period of his dispensation; and that the petitions in that form are admirably applicable to every period of Christianity, and may be used profitably; and that its use implies a devout respect to the words of Him "who spake as never man spake;" are points from which there does not appear any reasonable ground of dissent.
The practice of the primitive Church may also be urged in favour of liturgies. Founded as the early worship of Christians was, upon the model of the synagogue, the use of short forms of prayer, or collects by them, is at least probable. It must indeed be granted that extended and regular liturgies were of a later date; and that extempore prayers were constantly offered in their assemblies for public worship. This appears clear enough from several passages in St. Paul's epistles, and the writings of the fathers; so that no liturgical service can be so framed as entirely to shut out, or not to leave convenient space for, extempore prayer by the minister without departing from the earliest models. But the Lord's prayer appears to have been in frequent use in the earliest times, and a series of collects; which seems allowed even by Lord King, although he proves that the practice for the minister to pray "according to his ability," that is, to use his gifts in extempore prayer, was a constant part of the public worship in the first ages.
Much, therefore, is evidently left to wisdom amid prudence in a case where we have no explicit direction in the Scriptures; and as a general rule to be modified by circumstances, we may perhaps with safety affirm, that the best mode of public worship is that which unites a brief Scriptural liturgy with extempore prayers by the minister. This will more clearly appear if we consider the exceedingly futile character of those objections which have been reciprocally employed by the opponents and advocates of forms, when they have carried their views to an extreme.
To public liturgies it has been objected, that "forms of prayer composed in one age become unfit for another, by time unavoidable change of language, circumstances, and opinions." To this it may be answered, 1. That whatever weight there may be in the objection, it can only apply to cases where the form is, in all its parts, made imperative upon the officiating minister; or where the Church imposing it, neglects to accommodate the liturgy to meet all such changes, when innocent. 2. That the general language of no form of prayer among ourselves, has become obsolete in point of fact; a few expressions only being, according to modern notions, uncouth, or unusual. 3. That the petitions they Contain are suited, more or less, to all men at all times, whatever may be their "circumstances;" and that as to "opinions," if they so change in a Church as to become unscriptural, it is an advantage arising out of a public form, that it is auxiliary to the Scriptures in bearing testimony against them; that a natural reverence for ancient forms tends to Preserve their use, after opinions have become lax; and that they are sometimes the means of recovering a Church from error.
Another objection is, that the perpetual repetition of the same form of words produces weariness and inattentiveness in the congregation.
There is some truth in this; but it is often carried much too far. A devotional mind will not weary in the repetition of a Scriptural and well arranged liturgy, if not too long to be sustained by the infirmity of the body. Whether forms are used, or extempore prayer be practised, effort and application of mind are necessary in the hearer to enter into the spirit of the words; and each mode is wearisome to the careless and indevout, though not, we grant, in equal degrees. The objection, as far as it has any weight, would be reduced to nothing, were the liturgy repeated only at one service on the Sabbath, so that at the others the minister might be left at liberty to pray with more direct reference to the special circumstances of the people, the Church, and the world.
The general character which all forms of prayer must take, is a third objection; but this is not true absolutely of any liturgy, and much less of that of the Church of England. All prayer must, and ought to be, general, because we ask for blessings which all others need as much as ourselves; but that particularity which goes into the different parts of a Christian's religious experience and conflicts, dangers and duties; is found very forcibly and feelingly expressed in that liturgy That greater particularity is often needed than this excellent form of prayer contains, must, however, be allowed; and this, as well as prayer suited to occasional circumstances, might be supplied by the more frequent use of extempore prayer, without displacing the liturgy itself. The objection, therefore, has no force, except when extempore prayer is excluded, or confined within too narrow a limit.
On the other hand, the indiscriminate advocates of liturgies have carried their objections to extempore prayer to a very absurd extreme. Without a liturgy the folly and enthusiasm of many, they say, is in danger of producing extravagant or impious addresses to God; that a congregation is confused between their attention to the minister, and their own devotion, being ignorant of each petition before they hear it; and to this they add the labouring recollection or tumultuous delivery of many extempore speakers. The first and third of these objections can have force only where foolish, enthusiastic, and incompetent ministers are employees; and so the evil, which can but rarely exist, is easily remedied. The second objection lay as forcibly against the inspired prayers of the Scriptures at the time they were first uttered, as again extempore prayers now; and it would lie against the use of the collects, and occasional unfamiliar forms of prayer introduced into the regular liturgy, in the case of all who are not able to read, or who happen not to have prayer books. We may also observe, that if evils of so serious a kind are the necessary results of extempore praying; if devotion is hindered, and pain and confusion of mind produced; and impiety and enthusiasm promoted; it is rather singular that extempore prayer should have been so constantly practised in the primitive Church, and that it should not have been wholly prohibited to the clergy on all occasions, in later times. The facts, however, of our own age prove that there is, to say the least, an equal degree of devotion, an equal absence of confusedness of thought in the worshippers, where no liturgy is used, as where extempore prayer is unknown. Instances of folly and enthusiasm are also but few in the ministry of Such Churches; and when they occur they have a better remedy than entirely to exclude extempore prayers by liturgies, and thus to shut out the great benefits of that mode of worship, for the loss of which no exclusive form of service can atone.
The whole, we think, comes to this,-that there are advantages in each mode of worship; and that, when combined prudently, the public service of the sanctuary has its most perfect constitution. Much, however, in the practice of Churches is to be regulated by due respect to differences of opinion, and even to prejudice, on a point upon which we are left at liberty by the Scriptures, and which must therefore be ranked among things prudential. Here, as in many other things, Christians must give place to each other, and do all things " in charity."
PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING are implied in prayer, and included indeed in our definition of that duty, as given above. But beside those ascriptions of praise and expressions of gratitude, which are to be mingled with the precatory part of our devotions, solemn psalms and hymns of praise, to be sung with the voice, and accompanied with the melody of the heart, are of apostolic injunction, and form an important and exhilarating part of the worship of God, whether public or social. It is thus that God is publicly acknowledged as the great source of all good, and the end to which all good ought again to tend in love and obedience; and the practice of stirring up our hearts to a thankful remembrance of his goodness, is equally important in its moral influence Upon our feelings now, and as it tends to prepare us for our eternal enjoyment hereafter. "Prayer," says a divine of the English Church, "awakens in us a sorrowful sense of wants and imperfections, and confession induces a sad remembrance of our guilt and miscarriages; but thanksgiving has nothing in it but a warm sense of the mightiest love, and the most endearing goodness, as it is the overflow of a heart full of love, the free sally and emission of soul, that is captivated and endeared by kindness. To laud and magnify the Lord is the end for which we were born, and the heaven for which we were designed; and when we are arrived to such a vigorous sense of Divine love as the blessed inhabitants of heaven have attained, we shall need no other pleasure or enjoyment to make us for ever happy, but only to sing eternal praises to God and the Lamb; the vigorous relish of whose unspeakable goodness to us will so inflame our love, and animate our gratitude, that to eternal ages we shall never be able to refrain from breaking out into new songs of praise, and then every new song will create a new pleasure, and every new pleasure create a new song." (Dr. Scott.)
1] Ei~ ro tameeion. Kuinoel observes, that the word "answers to the Hebrew hylg, an upper room set apart for retirement and prayer, among the orientals."
 Some writers contend that synagogues were as old as the ceremonial law.
That they were ancient is proved from Acts xv, 21,-"Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day."
 This expression occurs in Justin Martyr's Second Apology, where he particularly describes the mode of primitive worship.