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the dignity, solemnity, and fervour of public worship.
It is of the highest importance that, in addresses to Almighty God, the Maker and Ruler of heaven and of earth, the greatest propriety of language should be preserved. All quaint and familiar phrases, all low or common figures, all swelling and pompous epithets, and all other expressions that may offend the correct taste or judgment, or excite irreverent emotions, should be carefully excluded. The style of public prayers should be plain, indeed, but dignified, simple, yet sublime. Is it probable that an individual minister, if left to form his own prayers, will never offend in any of these particulars? Or whatever may be his talents, his judgment, his taste, and his piety, is it probable that his prayers will be equally excellent with those that are the productions of the united talents and care of the most eminent, learned, and pious clergy of the church? To compose prayers that are suited to the general and particular exigencies of Christian people, which, while they are intelligible to the humblest capacity, are calculated to engage and gratify a cultivated taste and feeling, and especially such as are fit to be offered up to the awful Majesty of heaven, is not a task of easy performance. This, then, is a highly important advantage of set forms of prayer. Being carefully and deliberately composed by the authority of the church, all those extravagancies and improprieties of sentiment and language are excluded that destroy the dignity, sublimity, and fervour of public worship.
3. It is another important advantage of forms of prayer, that they prevent the particular opinions VOL. II.
and views of the minister from entering into the prayers of the congregation.
Public prayers should be suited to the state and circumstances of Christians generally, and should not therefore express the peculiar views and opinions of individuals. But is it to be supposed that prayers composed by an individual minister will not receive a colouring from his peculiar sentiments and feelings? Will he not, indeed, deem it his duty to mould his prayers according to those religious sentiments which he has embraced? According to one system of religious doctrine, his public devotions will exhibit God principally as a Sovereign, electing a portion of mankind for his glory to everlasting life, and dooming others to eternal death; and while his prayers insist strongly on the guilt and corruption of human nature, they will magnify that irresistible grace by which the elect are efficaciously converted, and their salvation placed beyond all contingency. But if the minister who conducts the devotions of the people have embraced a contrary extreme of religious opinions, maintaining the purity of human nature, and the ability of man, by his unassisted strength, to work out his salvation-rejecting the divinity and atonement of the Saviour, through whom we receive forgiveness, and by whose grace we are sanctified, and enabled to perform good works— his prayers will accord with his religious creed, and thus contaminate and frustrate the devotions of the congregation.
The particular disposition and state of feeling of the minister will also affect his public prayers. If his temper be grave and melancholy, he will exhibit in his devotions the majesty and justice of
God; if it be lively and cheerful, he will dwell only on the divine goodness and compassion. Sometimes, under a deep sense of his peculiar sins and infirmities, he may express himself in terms of abasing contrition that are not suited to the general state of the congregation; and at other times, elevated by his own ardent emotions, he may burst forth in strains of fervid devotion, in which the more sober feelings of others cannot accompany him. In all these cases, where either the particular opinions of the minister, or his peculiar disposition or state of mind, affect his public prayers, the whole congregation may not be able cordially to unite with him, and thus the great object of public worship will be in part defeated. But, in prescribed devotions, all these inconveniences may be avoided. They may be composed with such judgment and care, as to exhibit those general exercises of piety in which all should partake, and thus enable all to "pray with the spirit, and with the understanding also."
4. It is another excellence of forms of prayer, that they unite the people with the minister in the performance of the service.
In the extempore mode of worship, the people never audibly unite in the public service, not so much as to say amen to the prayers offered up in their behalf. How much more rational, interesting, and edifying is public worship, when both minister and people prostrate themselves before the throne of grace in contrite confession of their sins, unitedly rehearse their belief in the great truths of their common salvation, invoke by alternate supplications the Divine favour and blessing, and in respon
sive strains recount the praises of their God and Saviour!
5. Lastly. It should not be omitted as a distinguishing excellence of forms of prayer, that they ensure sound doctrine, they secure the devotions of the people from heretical opinions, and thus constitute a safeguard to their faith.
When forms of prayer recognise the great truths of the Gospel, the people are assured of always offering a pure and acceptable worship. Heresy may taint the sermon, but, while the minister is controlled by a pure form of prayer, it can never corrupt the worship of the people. A preacher in the pulpit disguising, concealing, or denying those sacred truths which, in all the simplicity, and force, and tenderness of language, he has previously held forth, as the leader of the devotions of the congregation, in the services of the desk, exposes himself to the charge of an impious inconsistency which few can have the hardihood to encounter, and the guilt of which none can contemplate without dismay. Wo to the declining church, it has been well said, and it may well be said, that is destitute of a liturgy; for then the devotions of the people, as well as their instructions, are infected by the poison of heresy; and they must yield to its corrupting influence, or cease to pray as well as to hear in the assemblies of worship. What an invaluable safeguard to your faith, brethren, is that inestimable liturgy, which, drawn from the pure fountain of inspiration, presents those divine truths of redemption, in the love of God the Father through the mediation of his eternal Son Jesus Christ, for which confessors sustained persecutions, and mar
tyrs death, with a simplicity, force, and pathos which, engaging the conviction of your understanding and the interest of your affections, will lead you to resist the solicitations of heresy, however insinuating the form in which it may allure you!
Finally, then, brethren, remember that though to hear the word of God with those humble, holy, reverential, and obedient dispositions which its sacred and interesting nature demands, is an important object for which you appear in this sacred temple, to offer to the God who made and redeemed you, the homage of your hearts, in its prayers and praises, is a duty, for which no attention, however earnest, to the word here read in preached sermons, will be accepted as a commutation. That infinite and eternal Being who is the source of all excellence and glory, requires our homage, not as necessary to his all-perfect happiness, but because it promotes the perfection and happiness of our own natures. With the services of his church, the mean and pledge of his covenanted mercy and grace to our sinful race, he hath connected our advancement in holiness and virtue, and our preparation for his heavenly kingdom. Vain is our hope of ever taking part in the praises of heaven, if we do not delight in the worship of God on earth. And what will avail us all the enjoyments of the present life, if, at the awful close of it, our souls, destitute of devout affections, must be banished from the presence of God? Let us then be persuaded to omit no opportunity of uniting with holy sincerity in the services of the church, and those graces and virtues will be quickened and strengthened in our souls, by which we shall be prepared for enjoying the ineffable and everlasting bliss of the