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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.
I 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 you may not otherwise observe sufficiently. To this I shall now proceed, following the order of the book.
But it will be proper first to take notice of the laudable custom, that every one, who comes to join in the devotions of our Church, should perform, at his entrance into his place, a short preparatory act of worship in private. Now this, as well as every thing else, ought to be done with understanding: not to be an unmeaning formality, in ignorant compliance with common practice; but a serious address to God, that he would enable and incline us to attend in such manner to what we are about to hear, and say, and do, that we may honour and please him, edify our fellow-worshippers, benefit and finally save our own souls. For which purpose, either these very words, which I have mentioned, may be used ; or
l any others of the like import, chosen by ourselves; or, as perhaps is more usual, those expressive and excellent ones, that conclude the 19th Psalm: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Only whatever our expressions are, we should be extremely careful not to make so very bad a beginning, as to put up this previous request either thoughtlessly or insincerely. And the same care should employ our minds throughout the whole. For that end, we should avoid, as much as we can, all needless, but absolutely all light and ludicrous conversation, even before the service begins. And after it is begun, the fewer of the more transient intercourses of civility are exchanged, the better. For surely they make a very unsuitable mixture with the awful words which we are hearing, or perhaps repeating, at the same time: and must in some degree take off our attention from them. Nor will it
be a less hindrance of our devotion, to remark over curiously, what other persons are present, what appearance they make, or how they behave. Let not these directions, I entreat you, either give offence, or be despised. Very good people, I fear the best of us all, transgress them inadvertently, more or less. But a moment's reflection will shew any one, that there is great propriety in observing them : and they will experience more advantage from it, than perhaps they expect.
Our service begins, as did that of the primitive Church, with a preface, to dispose more completely the minds of the congregation to a reverent performance of the duty, on which they are entering : according to that precept of the son of Sirach, Before thou prayest, prepare thyself t. And this preface is composed of sentences of Scripture, with an exhortation grounded upon them. Nothing can so effectually awaken us to a pious frame of soul as the words of God, speaking to us. And the words here used, are very prudently selected. They all relate to repentance and confession of sins : which naturally stands first in the devotions of guilty creatures, as we all are. Till we feel a genuine sorrow for having offended God, and come to intreat earnestly the pardon, which is offered us through Christ, he cannot accept us: and when we do, that will qualify us for every other part of his worship.
In these texts, (you may turn to them in your prayer-books, and go through them along with me) we are plainly taught the nature of true penitence : that the wicked must both turn away from his wickedness, and do that, which the law enjoins as right, to
• Sacerdos, ante Orationem, Præfatione præmissa parat Fratrum, mentes. Cypr, de Orat. Dom.
+ Ecclus. xvii. 23.
save his soul alive: that we must not only acknowledge our transgressions with our tongues, but have them ever before the eyes of our minds, to keep us humble and cautious; on which we may pray, in faith of being heard, that God will treat us with the same kindness, as if he hid his face from seeing our sins, or blotted them out from his memory: that he requires from us, neither the fanciful sacrifices of super
, stition, nor the expensive ones of the Mosaic dispensation ; but that of a spirit contrite with filial sorrow,
l and broken to universal obedience; not outward expressions of vehement passion, as rending the garments, but a heart rent and penetrated with a just sense of what we have done amiss : that on such a change within we shall find him, not only slow to anger for what is past, and ready to repent him of the evil which he was bringing upon us, but bountiful and gracious for the time to come; though we have deliberately rebelled against him heretofore, and still too often inconsiderately neglect to obey his voice, and walk in his laws: that we have cause to be willing, and even desirous, that he should correct us, when he sees it expedient; but to beg he would do it with that mild and merciful judgment, which he exercises to wards his children, not with anger, as his enemies, which would bring us to final destruction; that repentance is absolutely and immediately necessary for us; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand; the hour, when we shall, each of us, be admitted into it or excluded out of it for ever, draws very near, and how near we know not : that therefore we must resolve to arise and go to our heavenly Father without delay and acknowledge our unworthiness to be called his sons: that whatever we may be in our own eyes, or the opinion of our fellow-creatures, were we to un