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how proper soever it may be to have some form, they, who dissent from us, apprehend there are such great imperfections and faults in the established form, that if they must pray with the Spirit and with the understanding, they must not pray by that. Now imperfections will be found in every thing human: and if these be a sufficient objection against our prayers, it will hold against their own and all prayers, excepting that of our blessed Lord. From every thing unlawful we are ready to prove that our service book is intirely free. But the faults of extempore devotions, which are different in every congregation, and every time of meeting in the same congregation, easily escape the notice of such as are prejudiced in their favour, who alone hear them: and when observed, it is only by a few, and they are soon forgotten: while those that are charged on a public printed liturgy, lie open constantly, year after year, to the censure of every one. And were it possible, that the several prayers offered up, in any one day, in the several dissenting assemblies of this kingdom, could be written down; and examined half so narrowly for a short space, as ours have been for two centuries together: can it be imagined, that many times more and worse omissions and improprieties would not be found in almost every one of them, than they have pretended to find in our Common Prayer? Still we are far from saying, it is incapable of any alteration for the better. Yet this we must say, that most of the alterations, proposed by some persons, have been thought by others, every way their equals, if not superiors, by no means to be amendments. And as eminent a nonconformist, as ever was, Mr. Baxter, hath long since owned, that almost every church on earth hath a worse liturgy, than ours.
There hath indeed been a railing accusation*, even of Popery, brought against it: though it was first compiled, then reviewed and approved, by confessors and martyrs for the Protestant cause; and several articles of Popery are as flatly contradicted in it, as can be. Some parts of it, we acknowledge, were in the Romish offices before: but not one-tenth of the whole, as a very diligent person hath computed †. Most of this tenth part also was in much ancienter offices, before the Romish corruptions were introduced. And had it not; as even these prayers are intirely free from those corruptions, where can be the harm of using them? Had our reformers rejected them, they would have been in reality never the farther distant from the Papists. And by retaining them, they had a prospect of bringing many of the Papists over to themselves: by shewing, that they did not act from passion and prejudice, but reason and consideration; that they respected the ancient offices and usages of the purer ages of the Church, and departed only from modern abuses and errors.
It hath also been alledged, that we wear the habits of the Papists in offering up these prayers. But indeed, though it were no way material if we did, ours are very different from theirs. And if wearing any, which are not in common use, be condemned, what cause is there for it? why may not sacred, as well as civil offices of dignity and importance, be made somewhat more solemn by vestments appropriated to them? The fitness of it hath been confessed by the constant practice of mankind, and particularly of the Christian Church in early ages, and indeed of our Dissenting Ministers themselves; who change their dress a little, when they officiate. And where is the
* Jude, ver. 9. + Dr. Bennet on the Common Prayer, App. 1.
harm, if we change ours a little more? Though after all, if the wearing of such garments by us of the clergy were a fault, it would be intirely our own fault: and seeing us wear them could surely hurt nobody.
But besides these general objections, there are several made against particular passages, which ought to be confuted. This therefore I purpose, God willing, to do in a proper number of discourses, on all the stated offices of our Liturgy and not only to vindicate what is blamed, but explain also what too many may possibly not understand, and direct your notice to what may not be sufficiently observed. All these things will very well come under the head, of which I promised at first to treat,
II. That we should be very solicitous rightly to apprehend the sense and fitness of what we say and do in God's presence. For though censuring without reason is worse, yet esteeming without reason is not the part of wise men. And some perhaps are mighty zealous for our liturgy, who yet know but very imperfectly, what good reason they have to be zealous for it. Indeed amongst many advantages of public forms of prayer, there seems to be one disadvantage; that the words of them being in the main continually the same, and thus becoming well known and familiar, we often hear them, and even speak our share of them, with scarce any attention to them. But then it is equally true, that we often hear sermons, though they are new to us, with just as little regard; and therefore should be likely very soon to hear extempore prayers also with no less negligence: which fault our liturgy is in several respects peculiarly calculated to prevent, as I shall hereafter shew you. But still the danger is great enough, to demand our utmost care to guard against it. For
however good our public offices are in themselves, they convey no good to us, farther than we comprehend the import of them, and mind it: which, the better they are, the more they deserve from us. And on the other hand, were they ever so mean, this would be no excuse for omitting to get all the benefit we could from them; but a powerful motive, though a very unhappy one, to endeavour it most earnestly. Yet thinking them defective and blameable where they are not, or to a degree in which they are not, as multitudes have done, will naturally discompose, or deaden at least, our minds in the use of them: and therefore should be avoided, as far as it can. Now persons may indeed by their own private consideration enter very competently, both into the meaning and the grounds of most things contained in the liturgy. They, who are able to purchase a few books, may likewise receive much additional information from the several very useful paraphrases and commentaries upon it, that are extant. And they are much to blame, if they wilfully neglect either of these things. But still many cannot, and others are not likely to do them. To such therefore I shall attempt to give some instruction concerning the service, in which we join so often. The fewer need it, the better: but those who do, it is of importance to assist. For with the more understanding we pray, with the more pleasure and earnestness we shall pray. And as on our praying, as we ought, depends our obtaining God's grace and blessing; so on that depends our only true comfort in this world, and our eternal happiness in the next.
1 COR. XIV. 15.
-I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
FROM these words I have proposed to discourse on the two following subjects.
I. That good Christians are assisted by the Holy Ghost, in offering up their petitions and praises to God. I will pray with the spirit: I will sing with the spirit.
II. That we should be very solicitous rightly to apprehend the sense and fitness of what we say and do in his presence. I will pray, I will sing, with the understanding also.
The former of these heads I have finished: and after proving its truth, I made it my chief endeavour, to prove further, that this aid from above is not such, as to afford any argument against using public forms of prayer; of which I shewed you both the lawfulness and the expediency: answering, at the same time, some general objections against our own established form; but reserving the more particular ones for the second head: under which I promised to vindicate the principal things, which have been blamed in the stated offices of our liturgy; to explain such as may seem hard to understand, or liable to be misunderstood; and direct your attention to such, as