Imatges de pàgina
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tion to forbid the use of all other prayers but this short and comprehensive one; yet, undoubtedly, by prescribing a form to his disciples, he signified his preference of such prayers as were previously composed. Besides, the word of direction, translated in St. Matthew "after this manner pray ye,” signifies, in the original, "thus," " in these words," and is so elsewhere translated.* Our Saviour then enjoined that prayer as a form for perpetual use, according to the phraseology with which the evangelist St. Luke represents him as introducing it— "When ye pray, say."

'It is to be observed, that the disciples asked our Lord to teach them to pray. If he had meant to recommend extempore or unpremeditated prayers, instead of giving them a form, would he not have confined himself to directions merely as to the matter and style of their prayers? Indeed, if he designed that his ministers, in succeeding ages, should trust to the impulse of the occasion, or to the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, when assembled for the purpose of prayer, where was the necessity of any directions, since, in the former case they would not be attended to, and in the latter would be superseded by divine influence? It must be evident that the disciples in asking, and our Saviour in prescribing a prayer which was not only to be a form of standing obligation, but a model, according to which other prayers should be constructed, signified the importance of the greatest care and attention to the matter and the style of our prayers, and gave the sanction of their authority to set forms, which, being precomposed,

Matt. ii. 5; vi. 9,

will ensure that propriety of sentiment, and that dignity and purity of expression, so necessary in addresses to Almighty God. Accordingly, in all the instances in Scripture of joint or public prayer, there is every reason to believe that set forms were used.

In the first chapter of the Acts, when the apostles were assembled for the purpose of supplying the place of Judas, it is said that they prayed-and the prayer is recorded-which circumstance, as well as there being no mention of any leading voice, would lead us to suppose that it was a form in which they all audibly joined. In the fourth chapter of the Acts it is stated that Peter and John, on their return from prison, went to their company and "reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord." Now that the prayer which they used, and which is recorded, was previously composed, is evident from the expression, "they lifted up their voice with one accord;" which implies that they all audibly joined in the prayer; and this they could not have done, unless it had been precomposed. But if we pass from Scripture to the

II. Practice of the primitive church

We shall find that forms of prayers were in general use among the early Christians; and this circumstance indicates their apostolic prescription. In the writings of the ancient fathers of the church, the public prayers are styled "common prayers," "solemn prayers," "constituted prayers," which titles denote that they were set forms. The Heathen historian Pliny, in his letter to the emperor

giving an account of the Christians, uses an expression which is quoted as proof of their acknowledging the divinity of Christ, but shows also that they used a form of prayer-" They meet together to sing a hymn to Christ as God;" or, as the original may be translated, to "say a form of prayer to God;" and the latter translation is to be preferred, as more completely designating the object for which Christians met together, which surely was more than merely to sing a hymn. Many of the prayers used at an early period in the celebration of the holy eucharist, have been handed down to the present, and are incorporated in the office of our church for the administration of this holy sacrament. Set forms of prayer having thus universally prevailed in the primitive church, without any record of the precise time of their introduction, their institution must be referred to the apostolic age, and must be coeval with the existence of the Christian church. On the contrary, we ascertain the precise time when extempore prayers were introduced. No instances of their use in public worship occurs until the period of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, when the intemperate zeal of some of the reformers, which led them to depart as far as possible from the church of Rome, swept away liturgical services, as the rubbish of papal ignorance and superstition. In the heat of their zeal, they did not consider that forms of prayer were used in the primitive church, before its worship was alloyed by the corruptions of popery.

If the worship of the church had been originally conducted in the extempore mode, it is unreasonable to suppose that so remarkable a change as

that to a set form, would have been introduced without great opposition, and without a particular record of the change. The universal prevalence of forms of prayer at an early period, without any evidence of their being an innovation, proves their apostolic origin.

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Forms of prayer, thus authorized by Scripture and antiquity, are further recommended by their intrinsic advantages. To enforce them on the ground of their

III. Superior excellencies-was the third point proposed.

1. Forms of prayer will be more intelligible than extempore prayers.

It is essential to sincere devotion that the prayers should be intelligible to the congregation: they must pray with the understanding, or they will not offer an enlightened and acceptable devotion. In extempore prayers there cannot be the same security for perspicuity and propriety as in precomposed forms. If the minister trusts entirely to the impulse of the occasion, he must use those words which come first into his mind, for he has no time to consider and make a choice. And if he previously compose his prayers and commit them to memory, the congregation hear a form as much as when it is read to them from a book. But, even in this case, with all his care and attention, it is hardly to be supposed that all the expressions in his prayers will be understood by all his congregation immediately on hearing them: the mind then being occupied with ascertaining the meaning of some doubtful expression while the minister goes on with his prayer, the devotion of the wor

shipper is interrupted, and the fervour of his pious feeling is chilled. This inconvenience may not be felt by those who pass over any unintelligible expression and go on with the minister; but it can hardly be said that such persons "pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also." Here then is the great advantage of forms of prayer : they are composed, not by one man, but by a collection of men most eminent for their talents, learning, and piety. The greatest simplicity and plainness, consistent with the sublimity and solemnity so indispensable to public prayers, can thus be attained. If there should be expressions obscure or difficult, these may be carefully studied at leisure, and those whose duty it is to give information may be consulted. The meaning once ascertained, no new difficulty arises, and the people are not troubled with ascertaining the import of the novel expressions that may occur in extempore prayers. A set form of prayer it is in the power of every Christian individual frequently to read over with serious attention, and thus fully to ascertain its meaning, and thus to be impressed with its force and propriety, and to imbibe its spirit. He thus can come to public worship fully informed in the prayers that are to be used: his understanding and his heart have been previously affected with their simplicity, sublimity, and excellence. He is thus prepared cordially and sincerely to join in them-to offer unto God a reasonable and devout service-to pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also."

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2. There is a further advantage in forms of prayer: they secure a correct devotion, by excluding all improper expressions, which lessen

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