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Lord's Prayer: which, though it occurs several times in the several services of the morning, occurs but once in this; and cannot easily be recited too often, provided it be with attention and affection.
Hitherto the Litany hath dwelt on no single subject of prayer long; but comprehended a surprising variety of the most needful articles in a very narrow compass. The remainder is of a different nature. It considers our state here, very justly, as furnishing perpetual ground of sad reflection to every thoughtful mind : and applies itself wholly to express to our heavenly Father the sentiments required in such a condition. The seemingly happiest persons in the world are very inconsiderate, if they do not discern a great deal to mourn over, in others and themselves. Yet at the same time, the most afflicted are to blame, if they sink under, either what they see or feel. But the common duty of both is, in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to make their requests known unto God*. And therefore this part of the Litany, though first introduced on occasion of extraordinary distresses, lying heavy on Christendom 11 or 1200 years ago, will be too seasonable in every age, till one of truer piety and more tranquillity shall come, than hath yet been known, or is likely soon to take place.
As the transgressions, by which we offend God, are the cause of our sufferings, these our supplications begin very properly, with intreating, in Scripture words, that on humbling ourselves before him, he would not deal with us after our sins, neither reward us after our iniquities f. Next to this follows, as is repeated in the sequel, an exhortation, Let us pray: which may appear somewhat strange, considering Phil. iv, 6.
+ Psalm ciii. x.
that prayers immediately precede in both places. But they are short ejaculations, not continued forms, like those which follow. And besides, this redoubled admonition, towards the conclusion of the office, will very usefully remind those, who may possibly be growing languid and inattentive, in how important a work they are engaged. Something there was of this kind, even in the heathen devotions. But in the old liturgies of Christian Greece, Let us pray, let US pray earnestly, let us pray more earnestly, often returns.
And the succeeding prayer, which is of ancient use in the Western Church, deserves our utmost earnest
It begs of him, who, as the Psalmist assures us, will not despise a broken and contrite heart, (which phrase I have already explained to you,) that in all our troubles he will both assist us to make our prayers before him as we ought, and graciously hear us: that so the designs of our enemies, visible and invisible, may be disappointed, and we may feel and express a just gratitude for our deliverance. To this the congregation answer, not as usual, Amen: but in a short form of Scripture words *, more strongly expressive of pious fervency. The minister instantly returns another Scriptural address † to God; pleading with him, and suggesting to us, the noble works, done by him for his Church and people in general, and many good persons in particular, which, if we have not seen with our eyes, we have heard with our ears: holy Writ and other history hath related them: or our fathers have declared them to us, partly as performed in their days, partly in the old time before them. And since his arm is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor his ear become heavy, that it cannot hear I; the congregation again petition him, in the same words as before; (only changing one for another, still more pathetic;) that he would arise, help and deliver them for the honour of his name : not for our merits, but his own glorious perfections, and the instruction of his creatures; that we and all men may learn to love and praise and serve him. Yet to this we are indispensably bound, even while the painfullest view of our sorrows and wants is before our eyes : and therefore in the midst of our supplications we proceed immediately to ascribe that glory to the sacred Three, which ever hath been, is, and will be, their due; whether infinite wisdom allots to us prosperity or adversity. Nor is the mixture of doxologies with complaints less common in acts of worship, than it is reasonable. The Book of Psalms uses it frequently: the old Latin and Greek liturgies use it on this very occasion : and surely in our private devotions, even when most afflicted, we still give praise to God.
; * Numb. x. 35. Psalm lxxix. 9. † Psalm xliv. I. Is. lix. 1.
But though we own it our duty to glorify him in the severest sufferings, if it be his will that we should undergo them: yet conscious of our weakness, we go on to beg his protection against them, or deliverance of us from them, in mutual ejaculations of the utmost warmth: not that moving expressions will any otherwise incline him to grant mercy, than as they fit us to receive it, by imprinting on us a just sense of our dependence; which, if used with sincerity, they naturally do.
Then we close this part of the Litany with a more continued form of address to our merciful Father; composed originally above 1100 years ago; corrupted indeed afterwards, by intreating God to turn from us all evils for the sake of the intercession of his Saints; but reformed in our liturgy, not only by leaving out that addition, but by inserting for completer security a new clause: Grant, that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy. And thus it is, that we borrow from the Church of Rome. By this prayer, so amended, we humbly confess our infirmities and unworthiness : yet beg, that notwithstanding both, we may, if God sees it proper, escape the afflictions, which we fear; but if not, that being still assured of his goodness to us, we may, with Job, though he slay us, trust in him*: and that for proof of this, we may as faithfully do our duty under the heaviest pressures, as the highest exaltation; and evermore serve him in holiness and pureness of living, to Iris honour and glory; saying with Job again, shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil t? The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord I.
What remains of the Litany is the same with the conclusion of the morning and evening prayer : and therefore needs no separate explanation. May God give us grace to use these and all our devotions in so right a manner, that from praying to him amidst the troubles and sorrows of this world, we may be taken, in his good time, to praise him for ever amidst the joys of the next, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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.
Once more I entreat your attention to the subject, on which I have so often discoursed from these words. The part of it, which remains, is the Communion Service. But as that service is almost every where separated, and very properly, from the preceding one, by the singing of a Psalm, I would first say a little concerning that much disregarded branch of worship
As singing is capable of expressing strongly every state, in which the mind can be towards every
object; so there never was perhaps any one nation upon earth, civilized or barbarous, that did not make this a part of the honour paid by them to the God, whom they adored. We find in the Old Testament, it was practised by the Jews, before the law was given, as well as after *. The book of Psalms consists wholly of religious songs: and directs the Saints of the Lord, to sing unto him, and give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness t: to sing unto the honour of his name, and make his praise glorious I; to sing praises unto our God, while we have our being . The Prophets foretel, that, in the Gospel times, men shall sing for • Exod. xv. 1, &c.
+ Psalm xxx. 4. * Psalm lxvi. 2.
is Psalm cxlvi. 2.