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ON THE LITURGY.
1 CORINTHIANS xiv. 15.
I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.
IT had become common in the church of the Corinthians, among many of their teachers, who were endowed with the miraculous gifts of speaking different languages, to deliver their instructions in a language not understood by the congregation whom they addressed. Even the prayers in which it was expected that the people should join, were offered up in an unknown tongue. This they did from a principle of ostentation, to magnify themselves by displaying their gift of speaking different languages. This custom, so repugnant to the design of instruction and public worship, the apostle condemns and exposes in the chapter from which my text is taken-" I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also."
In reference to the particular occasion on which these words were used, their meaning is :-I will not only pray according to the miraculous gifts of the spirit, but in a language intelligible to those who hear me.
Considering these words, however, as a standing direction to the church, they enjoin that the public worship should be conducted in a way best calcu
lated to be understood by the people, and to answer the purposes of devotion.
Among Christians, at the present day, two opposite modes of celebrating public worship prevail. Some denominations of Christians prohibit in their public worship all set forms, and direct the minister to deliver only what are called extempore prayers, those which, if not in a great measure unpremeditated, contain such sentiments, and are clothed in such language, as the officiating minister may think proper and thus the public prayers vary according to the varying talents, dispositions, and views of different ministers. But, in other denominations of Christians, the important duty of regulating public worship is taken from individual ministers, and a form of prayer or liturgy is settled by the authority of the church, and made binding on the clergy and people; and in their assemblies for worship, no other prayers are allowed than those which have been thus previously composed and prescribed.
Brethren, we are called by the good providence of God to be members of a church which, forbidding all extempore and unpremeditated praying, has adopted for her public services a liturgy, or form of prayer. It is of consequence, therefore, that we should be well informed in those reasons which induce a preference of a form of prayer for public worship, in exclusion of every other. This information is necessary, that our attachment to the forms of our own church may not be the result of education merely, but of sound examination and reflection; and that, being thus fortified, we may be able to give an answer to those who object to the mode of worship which prevails among us, and
to rescue our liturgy from the imputations which may be cast upon it. And I am particularly induced to call your attention to this subject at this time, because, having recently insisted on the dispositions and views with which we should hear the word of God read or preached, the investigation now proposed will naturally lead to some remarks on the manner in which we should discharge that principal and most important duty in our assembling together-the worship of God.
Let me therefore claim your attention while I lay before you-not with a view to censure others, but to justify ourselves-briefly and plainly the arguments-familiar perhaps indeed to many of you, but not therefore less necessary to be insisted on-which justify a preference of forms of prayer for the public service of the church.
These arguments may be drawn
From the reason of the case.
I. The arguments in favour of forms of prayer may be drawn from Scripture.
All the acts of public worship recorded in the Old Testament, were conducted according to a set form. In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus is recorded a solemn prayer or thanksgiving, used by Moses and the children of Israel, for the miraculous destruction of Pharaoh and his host, who were overwhelmed in the Red Sea. Let it be observed, this was not sung by Moses alone: all the children of Israel, and Miriam the prophetess, and the people that were with her, audibly joined in this solemn act of homage and thanksgiving. It VOL. II. 23
could not therefore have been an extempore, or unpremeditated effusion; unless we suppose that all the children of Israel, as well as Moses, were inspired, and all miraculously burst forth in the same expressions of praise and worship. This hymn of praise, therefore, must have been composed by Moses, and taught to the congregation of Israel. Here, therefore, in the first example of public worship recorded in Scripture, a set form was used.
In proceeding on through the Old Testament, we find, in the sixth chapter of Numbers and twentysecond verse, a form of blessing was prescribed to Aaron and his sons, which they were to use whenever they blessed the children of Israel. In the tenth chapter of Numbers and thirty-fifth verse, a form of address is inserted which Moses always used when the ark of the Lord was taken up to go forward, and when it rested. In the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy and seventh and eighth verses, is set down a form of prayer which the elders of a city, near to which a person should be found murdered, the murderer being unknown, were to use as a prayer of expiation for the murder. At the offering of the first fruits, mentioned in the twenty-sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, a set form of prayer, most solemn and affecting, was prescribed by God. Many of the psalms were composed for the service of the temple at Jerusalem; and the worship of the Jewish synagogue always has been, and is still, conducted according to precomposed forms.
From these facts the following questions naturally arise. If set forms of prayer were displeasing to God, would he thus have enjoined them on his
people Israel? If they were, as they are sometimes odiously styled, lip service, offensive to the Almighty, would he not have reproved his people for using them, as he did for every abuse of his service? If unpremeditated or extempore prayers were more acceptable to God, how does it happen that we find no examples of them in the customary offices of the Jewish worship?
It may be said that these examples are all from the Old Testament; and that, as the Jewish worship was an external ceremonial institution, examples from it cannot have any force with Christians under the more spiritual dispensation of the Gospel. Let us see, therefore, whether the New Testament does not give countenance to forms of prayer.
Our blessed Lord, without doubt, attended the service of the Jewish temple and synagogues. Among the many charges which his implacable enemies, the scribes and Pharisees, alleged against him, we do not find that of a neglect of public worship. Disposed as he was to fulfil all righteousness, and bound, in his character as surety for man, to obey the whole law, it cannot be supposed that he would have neglected the sacred duty of worshipping God. By thus joining in the Jewish worship, in which set forms were used, he proved at least that they were not displeasing to him.
We have, however, unequivocal testimony that he preferred and enjoined them.
When his disciples (Matthew vi. and Luke xi.) requested him to teach them to pray, as John also taught his disciples, he prescribed to them that remarkable form which has obtained the name of the Lord's Prayer. It certainly was not his inten