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suitably, in unpremeditated words of their own: which they think ought not be restrained by appointing forms, even for the public use of congregations. And sometimes the text is quoted in support of this opinion. But plainly, so far as it relates to words, it relates to words inspired; to which in the strict sense, but few of these persons themselves lay any claim : for indeed it would be equalling their own compositions to the holy Scripture. And excepting this miraculous gift of inspired prayer, the word of God mentions no gift of ready expression in prayer: nor have we the least ground to consider it as coming from above, any otherwise than as every good gift, every natural ability, which God had conferred upon us, and every improvement, which he qualifies us to
, make by our own industry, is from above *. For evidently this talent is one of that sort : depending partly on the fluency of speech, to which people are born, partly on the art and diligence, which they use to increase it; and varying as their health and spirits vary. Nor therefore is there any more harm in restraining this faculty if good reasons require it, than in restraining any other. Even the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, you have seen, were frequently put under some restraints : much more then may one of our ordinary powers. And they who call it limiting and stinting the Spirit, have no Scripture warrant, either for the phrase, or the thing which they understand by it. Nay supposing the Holy Ghost did ever so peculiarly assist in directing the words of prayer, why should we not think him as likely to have assisted in the drawing up of the established forms, as in the extempore performances of those who reject forms, and trust to the sudden dictates of their own fancy?
* James i, 17.
The spirit of prayer and praying in or by the spirit, are indeed Scripture terms: but so far as they belong to the present age, they signify, not being furnished with variety of phrases in prayer, but a much more valuable blessing, having religious affections breathed into us by the Holy Ghost for the exercise of this duty. And quenching the spirit *, in the only sense, which can be applied to us, means extinguishing such affections by indulging sin, or suffering them to die away through negligence. God is no more delighted with change of expressions, than with a repetition of the same : nor will ever be weary of a devout soul, for want of new language. Common reason pronounces this : and the Bible confirms it. We find several forms of prayer, prescribed on several occasions in the law of Moses t. We find afterwards a whole book of forms, the Psalms of David. We find our Saviour frequenting the Jewish synagogue, which constantly used a form, and a very mean one. We find him enjoining his Disciples a form of his own composing for them: When ye pray, say, Our Father I, and so on. Nay, at the very time, when the gift of inspired prayer was common, there is a strong appearance in the fourth chapter of the Acts, that the Apostles and their followers used a form, there set down. For how else could they lift up their voice, and say it with one accord, as ver. 24 assures us they did ? Probably the very next age after them practised this method of public worship, at least in a good measure: and for more than 1400 years past it hath been without question almost universally the only one. There is not at this day a Christian Church in the world, but what uses in part of their service, if not throughout it,
+ Numb. vi. 22, 23, &c. x. 35, 36. Deut. xxi. 7, 8. xxvi. 23. I Luke xi. 2.
1 Thess. v. 19.
forms of human composition ; excepting that of Scotland, which had one immediately upon the reformation, though it afterwards fell into disuse; and the dissenters from our own, who, notwithstanding, many of them sing in their assemblies hymns that are forms of human composition, without scruple. Yet if ex. tempore prayers be required, extempore praises are too. For it is equally said, I will pray with the spirit, and I will sing with the spirit.
It may be replied indeed, that supposing forms of prayer lawful, they are not however expedient. But if that be all, so long as the vastly greater, and the ruling part think otherwise, ought not the rest to acquiesce? Is it not much less expedient to make a separation and division in the church, when Christ and his Apostles have so strongly prescribed unity and submission ?
But why are forms of prayer inexpedient ? It is argued, that they cannot be altered according to circumstances, which extempore prayers may. And, with respect to private devotion, the argument is so far of weight, that though even in this, forms well chosen are excellent directions, yet no one should confine himself closely to them, when his condition, spiritual or temporal, requires him to depart from them: but should omit, or add, or vary, as he perceives occasion; in which he may well hope, that God's Holy Spirit will guide him, so far as is needful. But the circumstances of whole congregations, taken together, are in the main almost always the same: and therefore may be expressed in the same words. Besides, public offices make a stated provision for the more usual accidents that happen: and public authority provides for the rest occasionally, from time to time. Indeed an established liturgy doth not allow
the cases of private persons or families, or the situation, real or supposed, of national affairs, to be enlarged on to God, at the discretion of the minister : a thing never necessary, and seldom proper. It is very sufficient, that they who desire the rest of the assembly to join with them in petitions or thanksgivings on fit subjects, relating to themselves, have opportunity afforded them of signifying their desire : and that general expressions in the service may be applied more especially to particular purposes by each member in his own mind, as he conceives there is need. If these things be carefully done, forms of prayer will be found not so often defective perhaps in the matter of uncommon and extraordinary wants or mercies, as extempore prayers in what is far more necessary, expressing common and ordinary ones.
But some insist, that whatever may be said, they experience, that forms do not edify, and excite devotion. And this may be true, while they are unaccustomed to them, and come with prejudice against them. But would they make trial of them for some time, with a serious endeavour of receiving benefit from them, they would not fail to find that true spirit of piety raised by them in their own hearts, of which we hope they would see many instances in their fellow-worshippers. It is true, a form doth not afford the entertainment of novelty. But that hath nothing to do with devotion. The hearer may be highly delighted, the speaker highly admired : and all this may be mere amusement of the fancy, and no prayer in reality, offered up by him, who is best pleased with it. What alone deserves that name, is a reverent application to God, from a deep sense of our necessities and blessings, and his power and goodness : which a form deliberately precomposed by the joint counsels
of a number of persons, whom the public wisdom hath chosen for that end, is surely more likely both to excite, and to express fitly, than the hasty produce of each private minister's invention : especially as he is expected by his people to vary even this continually, though it be for the worse.
One man will doubtless excel another in this way: and some perhaps may, really or seemingly, surpass at some times the public forms. But what multitudes would there be, who through inability, carelessness, want of memory, diffidence, or imprudence, would fall vastly short of them, were every minister in the nation, to use, every time he officiates, a new prayer of his own devising upon the spot ? How often doth it happen, were we to know the truth, amongst the small number of our dissenters, that the person praying hesitates and is at a loss, omits things necessary or useful, expresses himself obscurely, improperly, irreverently, works himself into gestures and accents by no means edifying, not to say worse ? All which must grievously hurt the devotion of those, who desire to pay God a reasonable service*; and bring thoughts into their minds, extremely unsuitable to the work in which they are engaged. Then what danger is there in this way, that men may fill their public addresses to Heaven, with their own private, it may be absurd and pernicious, notions and opinions : that national prayers may change, like fashions and fancies, and the faith of Christians change along with them, which the weight and authority of an established liturgy greatly contributes to keep stedfast, and preserve from noxious errors? What danger is there also, that persons, either by ill design, or ill judging zeal, may mix their interests, their passions, their
* Rom. xii. 1.