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I thank you for your good wishes and prayers; and am with the greatest esteem and affection,
Ir has often, and, I think, very justly, been said, that prayer is the breath of spiritual life. No time is so important as that which is spent in intercourse with God: in no other engagement is the manner in which our minds are employed of equal consequence. It is necessary to keep this in remembrance, when we converse in secret with our heavenly Father; it is not less so, when we join with fellow Christians in public, domestic, or occasional devotion. A great majority of your readers, I trust, are often called to unite in that kind of worship which is conducted by one among them for the profit of the rest. Those of them who, in public prayer, are accustomed to the form of sound words prescribed by the religious establishment of this country, are nevertheless, probably, used, in familyworship, to follow the effusions of the heart, offered up by those who are charged, not only with supplying their temporal wants, but likewise, in a great measure, with the care of their souls. Many of your readers are, doubtless, almost strangers to any other social prayer than that which is conducted, without a premeditated form, by one person, in the name of others present.
Being myself favoured with frequent opportunities, both of leading and of following others in united prayer, I have been convinced, by experience, that it is far more difficult to worship spiritually in the latter case, than in the former. When speaking in prayer, the necessity of fixed and connected thought affords a help to devotion; for want of which, the mind, when committed to the guidance of another, is often wandering or listless. In conversation with friends, I have learned that this was their experience also; and such a degree of observation, as cannot easily be avoided in dissenting congregations, is sufficient to excite an apprehension, that the defect is too general. However spiritual and well qualified the minister may We for conducting the devotions of an assembly. it is obvious, that many present are rather inattentive hearers than fervent fellow-worshippers.
I have never met with a publication in which the spiritual improvement of social worship is more profitably treated, thanone on public prayer, published by Buckland in 1766; which is now, I believe, very scarce. A portion of it, which relates to the proper actings of the soul in those who join public prayer, has been peculiarly useful to me, and to others with whom I have conversed on the subject. At the desire of one of those friends, who hoped it might be of general benefit, E inclose to you the following extracts. The authors (for I understand it to have been the joint composition of two respectable ministers) recommend,
"1st, To fix or engage our thoughts in such a manner, as to go along with the prayer of the common speaker. A roving mind, or faucy, in full chace after vain and carnal things, utterly mars the best worded prayer; yea, renders it a heap of shameful absurdities and prophaneness in the eye and esteem of the heart-searching God."- Some instances are then produced, of the manner in which a rambling imagination may. distort and pervert a leading expression of the speaker, by connecting it with worldly and trifling objects; and the writer proceeds, "What a ridiculous profane medley is prayer, when intermingled with such carnal thoughts as these! Who durst offer up such a prayer to God, if the whole of it were clothed in werds? But does not every carnal worshipper bring as absurd a medley-offering as this before God, in almost every prayer he joins in? God grant this familiar representation may make ns ashamed of every thing like it, and for ever deter us
"But how much sooner may an evil of this sort be seen and disapproved, than redressed! In nothing is the corruption and weakness of the human nature more lamentably experienced, than in depravity aud ungovernableness of the thoughts in devotional exercises. When the soul should rise to God in prayer, how often doth it send forth swarms of vain thoughts, which, like locusts out of the bottomless pit, hang in clusters upon each praying request! To expel them effectually, is a more difficult task than Abraham undertook, in driving away those numerous flocks of prey which darted down upon his sacrifices; but it must be done, if we would not have those holy offerings which we bring to God's altar devoured before our very faces, by these vermin offspring of the heart. Let our Christian zeal, therefore, arm itself with the utmost resolution and watchfulness against these sacrilegious enemies, which would at once rob God of his due, and our own souls of all edification and benefit by prayer. When we find our hearts overpowered by these intruders, let us lift up a secret cry to Heaven, and call Omnipotence to our help :-O Lord, I am oppressed; midertake for me!"
"At the beginning of every praying exercise, let us endea vour, after such an awful sense of the omnipresence and omniscience of the divine Majesty, that our hearts may not dare to play the fool before Him. In the process of this duty, persons of weak capacities will find it a singular help to fix their thoughts, and keep up their attention through every part of the exercise, if they follow each word in the speaker's prayer with the silent language of their lips. Again, In order to render prayer a delightful, profitable, or even practicable service, the heart must be previously tinctured with a spirit of true piety and devotion. For how can spiritual thoughts flow from a carnal heart?" Doth a fountain send forth, at the same place, sweet water and bitter?" 'Finally, If we would more easily and effectually fasten our thoughts to spiritual things in our public devotions, we must habituate ourselves to a spiritual train of thinking in common life. If vain, worldly, sensual thoughts (Oh! dreadful consideration!) fill our whole minds all the six days, it will almost be impossible to clear the room all at once, and find it filled with such contrary guests as holy and spiritual thoughts in God's house of prayer."
It is obvious, that the tenor of our daily thoughts will have a proportionate influence on domestic devotion. The limits of your Magazine can only admit an abstract from the substance of what remains. The writer inculcates, 2dly, The necessity of an exercise of spiritual affections in prayer. To understand, and to accompany with our thoughts, the prayer we hear another offer up, is not praying, except it be attended with the fervent desires of our hearts. Thus the breathings, the pantings, the pourings out of the heart and soul before the Lord, are exemplified in the Scriptures. "The heart of him who silently joins in prayer, should be in as much active motion as the lips of the speaker. When he offers adoration to God, we should not only think of the Divine Being and attributes, but be affected with admiration and reverence. When sin is confessed, our hearts should be filled with humiliation and grief; and in thanksgiving, with love, hope, and joy."
Sdly, There is a language of the soul requisite to internal prayer. "It consists not only in making the several expressions of the common speaker their own, but in yielding an assent at the conclusion of each sentence;" till then, we cannot be certain of its full import. Short ejaculations, or even a fervent amen! silently uttered (to avoid disturbing the devotion of fellow-worshippers) should second cach affecting clause. To fix our own attention and excite our affections, we may imitate Hannah, whose "lips moved, though her voice was not heard" even to whisper.
After recommending a dependence on the influence of the Holy Spirit, not upon the correctness or eloquence of words;
and on the intercession of our glorious High Priest, instead of the acceptance of the speaker, before God, the writer closes with a direction, that "social prayer should be always attended with social dispositions." Our views must not terminate in ourselves, when joining in prayer with others. The design of social worship is, to draw our hearts nearer to each other, as well as to God. "A harmony of hearts is more necessary in public prayer, than a harmony of voices in public praise." When Christians join in worship, they should cherish mutual peace, brotherly love, and sympathy. "If we feel not for each other as for ourselves; if we do not cordially desire the welfare of all our fellow-worshippers as we do our own, we cannot sincerely join in putting up one general prayer, in which we request the very same favours for them that we do for ourselves."
If the preceding extracts are acceptable, I may, perhaps, in future add, from the same work, some advice to those who conduct social prayer, for the performance of that duty, in such a manner as may be best adapted to the profit of persons who join with them in worship. RABKASHER.
QUERIES AND OBSERVATIONS
ON THE PERMISSION OF SIN.
Is it to be supposed, that the first and chief Being is bound to do all he possibly can to prevent the existence of evil, both natural and moral?
If so, then, since evil docs exist, we must suppose, either that he was not almighty, or not infinitely wise, and so could not have prevented its existence; or else that, through a defect of goodness, he forbore to exert himself to prevent its existence, when he was well able to have hindered it from taking place.
Yea, if it be supposed that the Supreme Being is absolutely bound to prevent the existence of moral evil, then (unless we admit that it may have taken place altogether against his will) there can be no such thing as moral government: for, by the supposition, no being can be under law but the Supreme Being; forasmuch as, it is supposed, that, if any being does amiss, it must be his fault to let him do it.
But, if the Supreme Being be not bound to prevent the exist ence of evil, then surely it is infinitely better for him to regulate, and set exact limits to the whole business, than for it to be un→ der no control, or to be under the controul of inferior beings.
Let me appeal to any intelligent being who has the least conEdense is the wisdom and goodness of the Most High,-- Since
you find evil does exist, what supposition would afford you the most satisfaction?
That it exists altogether against the will of God, through his not having power or wisdom sufficient to prevent it? and that, now it does exist, he can only do his best to check and restrain, and at length to conquer it; in which he will, it is hoped, succeed at last?
Or, that it exists by his wise permission, and under his abso lute controul; and will, contrary to its own natural tendency, and to the intention and design of all sinners, eventually be made subservient to the divine glory in all things.
If it be no blemish in the divine character to permit sin, then it was no blemish in the divine character to purpose or intend to permit it *. If all that God does is right, it could not be wrong to resolve to do so; God could not intend doing well too
If God does perinit sin, and decreed to permit it, no doubt he had wise and good ends in so doing: and as he has wonderfully united his interest, not only with the interest of his obedient creatures, who never fell, but also with the interest of the redeemed from among men, we may conclude, that the plan which he has actually chosen to adopt, shall not only promote his own glory more than any other which could possibly have been chosen; but shall also, on the whole, promote creaturehappiness more than any other supposable method of regulating the universe.
Some, however, seem strangely shocked at this! as if they could be better satisfied if we would admit that God had chosen a worse plan than he might have chosen, than they can be with our supposing that he has chosen the best! Their feelings are to me incomprehensible.
God has chosen to conduct the universe according to the plan which actually is executing. This they admit.
The plan God has adopted is the wisest and the best: it will advance his glory more than any other; it will produce a greater sum of happiness than any other. At this they marvel, and are shocked!"
I also marvel at them! and can go
See Edwards's Remarks on Important Theol. Controversies, p. 147.
RESIGNATION TO THE WILL OF GOD.
CHRISTIAN Resignation is the act of giving up our own will, in submission to the will of God. It is founded on the knowledge and love of God, and in a coufidence in the faithful care of Providence over our individual happiness; not in dis