« AnteriorContinuar »
farther, That frequency and fervency of prayer prove effectual to procure of God the things prayed for, upon no other account but as they are acts of dependence upon God; which dependence we have already proved to be that thing essentially included in prayer, for which God has been pleased to make prayer the conlition upon which he determines to grant men such things as they need and duly apply to him for. So that still there is nothing of persuasion in the case.
And thus having shewn (and I hope fully and clearly) how prayer operates towards the obtaining of the divine blessings; namely, as a condition appointed by God for that purpose, and no otherwise; and withal, for what reason it is singled out of all other acts of a rational nature, to be this condition; namely, because it is the grand instance of such a nature's dependence upon God; we shall now from the same principle infer also, upon what account the highest reverence of God is so indispensably required of us in prayer, and all sort of irreverence so diametrically opposite to, and destructive of, the very nature of it. And it will appear to be upon this, that in what degree any one lays aside his reverence of God, in the same he also quits his dependence upon him; forasmuch as in every irreverent act, a man treats God as if he had indeed no need of him, and behaves himself as if he stood upon his own bottom, absolute and self-sufficient. This is the natural language, the true signification and import, of all irre
Now, in all addresses, either to God or man, by speech, our reverence to them must consist of, and shew itself in these two things,
First, A careful regulation of our thoughts, that are to dictate and to govern our words; which is done by premeditation; and, secondly, a due ordering of our words, that are to proceed from, and to express our thoughts; which is done by pertinence and brevity of expression.
David, directing his prayer to God, joins these two together as the two great integral parts of it, (Psalm xix. 14,) "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord." So that it seems his prayer adequately and entirely consisted of those two things, meditation and expression, as it were the matter and form of that noble composure, there being no mention at all of distortion of face, sanctified grimace, solemn wink, or foaming at the mouth, and the like, all which are circumstances of prayer of a later date, and brought into request by those fantastic zealots, who had a way of praying, as astonishing to the eyes, as to the ears, of those that heard them. Well then, the first ingredient of a pious and reverential prayer, is a previous regulation of the thoughts, as the text ex
presses it most emphatically; "Let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God," that is, in other words, let it not venture to throw out its crude, extemporary, sudden, and misshapen conceptions in the face of infinite perfection. Let not thy heart conceive and bring forth together; this is monstrous and unnatural. All abortion is from infirmity and defect. And time is required to form the issue of the mind as well as that of the body. The fitness or unfitness of the first thoughts, cannot be judged of but by reflection of the second; and be the invention never so fruitful, yet in the mind, as in the earth, that which is cast into it must lie hid and covered for a while, before it can be fit to shoot forth. These are the methods of nature, and it is seldom but the acts of religion conform to them.
He who is to pray, would he seriously judge of the work that is before him, has more to consider of, than either his heart can hold, or his head well turn itself to. Prayer is one of the greatest and the hardest works that a man has to do in this world; and was ever any thing difficult or glorious achieved by a sudden cast of a thought? a flying stricture of the imagination? Presence of mind is indeed good, but haste is not so. And therefore, let this be concluded upon, that in the business of prayer, to pretend to reverence when there is no premeditation, is both impudence and contradiction.
Now, this premeditation ought to respect these three things,-1. The person whom we pray to; 2. The matter of our prayers; and 3. The order and disposition of them.
1. And first, for the person whom we pray to. The same is to employ, who must needs also nonplus and astonish thy meditations, and be made the object of thy thoughts, who infinitely transcends them. For all the knowing and reasoning faculties of the soul are utterly baffled and at a loss, when they offer at any idea of the great God. Nevertheless, since it is hard, if not impossible, to imprint an awe upon the affections, without suitable notions first formed in the apprehensions; we must in our prayers endeavour, at least, to bring these as near to God as we can, by considering such of his divine perfections as have, by their effects, in a great measure, manifested themselves to our senses, and, in a much greater, to the discourses of our reason.
As first; consider with thyself, how great and glorious a Being that must needs be, that raised so vast and beautiful a fabric as this world out of nothing, with the breath of his mouth, and can, and will, with the same, reduce it to nothing again; and then consider, that this is that high, amazing, incomprehensible Being, whom thou addressest thy pitiful self to in prayer.
Consider next, his infinite, all-searching knowledge, which looks through and through
the most secret of our thoughts, ransacks every corner of the heart, ponders the most inward designs and ends of the soul in all a man's actions. And then consider, that this is the God whom thou hast to deal with in prayer; the God who observes the postures, the frame, and motion of thy mind in all thy approaches to him, and whose piercing eye it is impossible to elude or escape, by all the tricks and arts of the subtilest and most refined hypocrisy. And lastly, consider the great, the fiery, and the implacable jealousy that he has for his honour; and that he has no other use of the whole creation but to serve the ends of it; and, above all, that he will, in a most peculiar manner, "be honoured of those who draw near to him ;" and will by no means suffer himself to be mocked and affronted, under a pretence of being worshipped; nor endure that a wretched, contemptible, sinful creature, who is but a piece of living dirt at best, should at the same time bend the knee to him, and spit in his face. And now consider, that this is the God whom thou prayest to, and whom thon usest with such intolerable indignity in every unworthy prayer thou puttest up to him; every bold, saucy, and familiar word (that upon confidence of being one of God's elect) thou presumest to debase so great a majesty with; and for an instance of the dreadful curse that attends such a daring irreverence, consider how God used Nadab and Abihu for venturing to offer " strange fire before him;" and then know, that every unhallowed, unfitting prayer is a strange fire; a fire that will be sure to destroy the offering, though mercy should spare the offerer. Consider these things seriously, deeply, and severely, till the consideration of them affects thy heart, and humbles thy spirit, with such awful apprehensions of thy Maker, and such abject reflections upon thyself, as may lay thee in the dust before him; and know, that the lower thou fallest, the higher will thy prayer rebound; and thou art never so fit to pray to God, as when a sense of thy own unworthiness makes thee ashamed even to speak to him.
2. The second object of our premeditation is, the matter of our prayers. For, as we are to consider whom we are to pray to, so are we to consider also, what we are to pray for, and this requires no ordinary application of thonght to distinguish or judge of. Men's prayers are generally dictated by their desires, and their desires are the issues of their affections, and their affections are, for the most part, influenced by their corruptions. The first constituent principle of a well conceived prayer is, to know what not to pray for, which the Scripture assures us that some do not, while they "pray for what they may spend upon their lusts," (James, iv. 3,) asking such things as it is a contumely to God to hear, and dam
nation to themselves to receive. No man is to pray for any thing either sinful, or directly tending to sin. No man is to pray for a temptation, and much less to desire God to be his tempter, which he would certainly be, should he, at the instance of any man's prayer, administer fuel to his sinful or absurd appetites. Nor is any one to ask of God things mean and trivial, and beneath the majesty of heaven to be concerned about, or solemnly addressed to for. Nor, lastly, is any one to admit into his petitions things superfluous or extravagant, such as wealth, greatness, and honour, which we are so far from being warranted to beg of God, that we are to beg his grace to despise and undervalue them; and it were much, if the same things should be the proper objects both of our self-denial and of our prayers too; and that we should be allowed to solicit the satisfaction, and enjoined to endeavour the mortification, of the same desires
The things that we are to pray for are either, 1st, Things of absolute necessity; or, 2dly, Things of unquestionable charity. Of the first sort are all spiritual graces required in us as the indispensable conditions of our salvation, such as are repentance, faith, hope, charity, temperance, and all other virtues that are either the parts or principles of a pious life. These are to be the prime subject matter of our prayers; and we shall find, that nothing comes this way so easily from heaven as those things that will assuredly bring us to it. The Spirit dictates all such petitions, and God himself is first the author, and then the fulfiller of them; owning and accepting them, both as our duty and his own production. The other sort of things that may allowably be prayed for, are things of manifest, unquestionable charity; such as are a competent measure of the innocent comforts of life, as health, peace, maintenance, and a success of our honest labours; and yet even these but conditionally, and with perfect resignation to the will and wisdom of the sovereign disposer of all that belongs to us, who (if he finds it more for his honour to have us serve him with sick, crazy, languishing bodies, with poverty and extreme want of all things, and lastly, with our country all in a flame about our ears) ought, in all this and much more, to overrule our prayers and desires into an absolute acquiescence in his all-wise disposal of things, and to convince us that our prayers are sometimes best answered when our desires are most opposed.
In fine, to state the whole matter of our prayers in one word, nothing can be fit for us to pray for, but what is fit and honourable for our great mediator and master of requests, Jesus Christ himself, to intercede for. This is to be the unchangeable rule and measure of all our petitions. And then, if Christ is to convey these our petitions to his Father, cau
any one dare to make him, who was holiness and purity itself, an advocate and solicitor for his lusts? Him, who was nothing but meekness, and lowliness, and humility, his providetore for such things as can only feed his pride and flush his ambition? No, certainly; when we come as suppliants to the throne of grace, where Christ sits as intercessor at God's right hand, nothing can be fit to proceed out of our mouth but what is fit to pass through his.
3dly, The third and last thing that calls for a previous meditation to our prayers is, the order and disposition of them; for though God does not command us to set off our prayers with dress and artifice, to flourish it in trope and metaphor, to beg our daily bread in blank verse, or to shew any thing of the poet in our devotions, but indigence and want; I say, though God is far from requiring such things of us in our prayers, yet he requires that we should manage them with sense and reason. Fineness is not expected, but decency is; and though we cannot declaim as orators, yet he will have us speak like men, and tender him the results of that understanding and judgment, that essentially constitute a rational nature.
But I shall briefly cast what I have to say upon this particular into these following
1st, That nothing can express our reverence to God in prayer, that would pass for irreverence towards a great man. Let any subject tender his prince a petition fraught with nonsense and incoherence, confusion and impertinence, and can he expect, that majesty should answer it with any thing but a deaf ear, a frowning eye, or (at best) vouchsafe it any other reward, but, by a gracious oblivion, to forgive the person, and forget the petition?
2dly, Nothing absurd and irrational, and such as a wise man would despise, can be acceptable to God in prayer. Solomon expressly tells us, (Eccles. v. 4,) that "God has no pleasure in fools;" nor is it possible that an infinite wisdom should. The Scripture all along expresses sin and wickedness by the name of folly and therefore certainly folly is too near of kin to it, to find any approbation from God in so great a duty: it is the simplicity of the heart, and not of the head, that is the best inditer of our petitions. That which proceeds from the latter is undoubtedly the sacrifice of fools; and God is never more weary of sacrifice, than when a fool is the priest, and folly the oblation.
3dly and lastly, Nothing rude, slight, and careless, or indeed less than the very best that a man can offer, can be acceptable or pleasing to God in prayer: "If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? If ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer it now to thy governor, and see whether he will be
pleased with thee, or accept thy person, saith the Lord of hosts," (Mal. i. 8.) God rigidly expects a return of his own gifts; and where he has given ability, will be served by acts proportionable to it. And he who has parts to raise and propagate his own honour by, but none to employ in the worship of him that gave them, does (as I may so express it) refuse to wear God's livery in his own service, adds sacrilege to profaneness, strips and starves his devotions, and, in a word, falls directly under the dint of that curse denounced in the last verse of the first of Malachi, "Cursed be the deceiver, that hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth to the Lord a corrupt thing." The same is here, both the deceiver and the deceived too; for God very well knows what he gives men, and why; and where he has bestowed judgment, learning, and utterance, will not endure that men should be accurate in their discourse, and loose in their devotions; or think that the great "author of every good and perfect gift" will be put off with ramble and confused talk, babble and tautology.
And thus much for the order and disposition of our prayers, which certainly requires precedent thought and meditation. God has declared himself the God of order in all things, and will have it observed in what he commands others, as well as in what he does himself. Order is the great rule or art by which God made the world, by which he still governs it: nay, the world itself is nothing else; and all this glorious system of things is but the chaos put into order: and how then can God, who has so eminently owned himself concerned for this excellent thing, brook such absurdity and confusion, as the slovenly and profane negligence of some treats him with in their most solemn addresses to him? All which is the natural, unavoidable consequent of unpreparedness and want of premeditation, without which, whosoever presumes to pray, cannot be so properly said to approach to, as to break in upon God. And surely he who is so hardy as to do so, has no reason in the earth to expect that the success which follows his prayers should be greater than the preparation that goes before them.
Now from what has been hitherto discoursed of, this first and grand qualification of a pious and devout prayer, to wit, premeditation of thought, what can be so naturally and so usefully inferred, as the high expediency, or rather the absolute necessity of a set form of prayer to guide our devotions by? We have lived in an age that has despised, contradicted, and counteracted all the principles and practices of the primitive Christians, in taking the measures of their duty both to God and man, and of their behaviour both in matters civil and religious; but in nothing more scandal
ously, than in their vile abuse of the great duty of prayer; concerning which, though it may with the clearest truth be affirmed, that there has been no church yet of any account in the Christian world, but what has governed its public worship of God by a liturgy or set form of prayer; yet these enthusiastic innovators, the bold and blind reformers of all antiquity, and wiser than the whole catholic church besides, introduced into the room of it
that they have as little cause to father their prayers, as their practices, upon the Spirit of God.
These two things are certain, and I do particularly recommend them to your observation,-One, That this way of praying by the Spirit, as they call it, was begun and first brought into use here in England in Queen Elizabeth's days, by a Popish priest and Dominican friar, one Faithful Commin by
ing to God, affirming, that this was a praying by the Spirit; and that the use of all set forms was stinting of the Spirit. A pretence, I confess, popular and plausible enough with such idiots as take the sound of words for the sense of them. But for the full confutation of it, (which, I hope, shall be done both easily and briefly too,) I shall advance this one assertion in direct contradiction to that; namely,
a saucy, senseless, extemporary way of speak-name, who counterfeiting himself a Protestant, and a zealot of the highest form, set up this new spiritual way of praying, with a design to bring the people first to a contempt, and from thence to an utter hatred and disuse of our Common Prayer, which he still reviled as only a translation of the mass, thereby to distract men's minds, and to divide our church. And this he did with such success, that we have lived to see the effects of his labours in the utter subversion of church and state. Which hellish negotiation, when this malicious hypocrite came to Rome to give the Pope an account of, he received of him, (as so notable a service well deserved,) besides a thousand thanks, two thousand ducats for his rains. So that now you see here the original of this extempore way of praying by the Spirit. The other thing that I would observe to you is, that in the neighbour nation of Scotland, one of the greatest* monsters of men that I believe ever lived, and actually in league with the devil, was yet, by the confession of all that heard him, the most excellent at this extempore way of praying by the Spirit of any man in his time; none was able to come near him, or to compare with him. But surely now, he who shall venture to ascribe the prayers of such a wretch, made up of adulteries, incest, witchcraft, and other villainies, not to be named, to the Spirit of God, may as well strike in with the Pharisees, and ascribe the miracles of Christ to the devil. And thus having shewn, both what ought to be meant by praying by the Spirit, and what ought not, cannot be meant by it; let us now see whether a set form, or this extemporary way, be the greater hinderer and stinter of it: in order to which, I shall lay down these three assertions.
1st, That the soul or mind of man is but of a limited nature in all its workings, and consequently cannot supply two distinct faculties at the same time, to the same height of operation.
That the praying by a set form, is not a stinting of the Spirit; and the praying extempore truly and properly is so.
For the proving and making out of which, we will first consider, what it is to pray by the Spirit a thing much talked of, but not so convenient for the talkers of it, and pretenders to it, to have it rightly stated and understood. In short, it includes in it these two things,
1st, A praying with the heart, which is sometimes called the spirit, or inward man; and so it is properly opposed to hypocritical lip-devotions, in which the heart or spirit does not go along with a man's words.
2dly, It includes in it also a praying according to the rules prescribed by God's Holy Spirit, and held forth to us in his revealed word, which word was both dictated and confirmed by this Spirit; and so it is opposed to the praying unlawfully, or unwarrantably; and that either in respect of the matter or manner of our prayers. As, when we desire of God such things, or in such a way, as the Spirit of God, speaking in his holy word, does by no means warrant or approve of. So that to pray by the Spirit, signifies neither more nor less but to pray knowingly, heartily, and affectionately for such things, and in such a manner, as the Holy Ghost in Scripture either commands or allows of. As for any other kind of praying by the Spirit, upon the best inquiry that I can make into these matters, I can find none. And if some say, (as I know they both impudently and blasphemously do,) that to pray by the Spirit, is to have the Spirit immediately inspiring them, and by such inspiration speaking within them, and so dictating their prayers to them, let them either produce plain Scripture, or do a miracle to prove this by. But till then, he who shall consider what kind of prayers these pretenders to the Spirit have been notable for, will find
2dly, That the finding words and expressions for prayer, is the proper business of the brain and the invention; and that the finding devotion and affection to accompany and go along with those expressions, is properly the work and business of the heart. 3dly, That this devotion and affection is
Major John Weir. See Ravaillac Rediviv.
indispensably required in prayer, as the principal and most essential part of it, and that in which the spirituality of it does most properly consist.
Now from these three things put together, this must naturally and necessarily follow, that as spiritual prayer, or praying by the Spirit, taken in the right sense of the word, consists properly in that affection and devotion, that the heart exercises and employs in the work of prayer; so, whatsoever gives the soul scope and liberty to exercise and employ this affection and devotion, that does most effectually help and enlarge the spirit of prayer; and whatsoever diverts the soul from employing such affection and devotion, that does most directly stint and hinder it. Accordingly let this now be our rule whereby to judge of the efficacy of a set form, and of the extemporary way in the present business. As for a set form, in which the words are ready prepared to our hands, the soul has nothing to do but to attend to the work of raising the affections and devotions, to go along with those words; so that all the powers of the soul are took up in applying the heart to this great duty; and it is the exercise of the heart (as has been already shewn) that is truly and properly a praying by the Spirit. On the contrary, in all extempore prayer, the powers and faculties of the soul are called off from dealing with the heart and the affections; and that both in the speaker and in the hearer-both in him who makes, and in him who is to join in such prayers.
And first, for the minister who makes and utters such extempore prayers. He is wholly employing his invention, both to conceive matter, and to find words and expressions to clothe it in; this is certainly the work which takes up his mind in this exercise; and since the nature of man's mind is such, that it cannot with the same vigour, at the same time, attend the work of invention, and that of raising the affections also, nor measure out the same supply of spirits and intention for the carrying on the operations of the head, and those of the heart too; it is certain, that while the head is so much employed, the heart must be idle and very little employed, and perhaps not at all: and consequently, if to pray by the Spirit, be to pray with the heart and the affections, it is also as certain, that while a man prays extempore, he does not pray by the Spirit; nay, the very truth of it is, that while he is so doing, he is not praying at all, but he is studying, he is beating his brain, while he should be drawing out his affections.
And then for the people that are to hear and join with him in such prayers; it is manifest that they, not knowing beforehand what the minister will say, must, as soon as they do hear him, presently busy and bestir
their minds both to apprehend and understand the meaning of what they hear; and withal, to judge whether it be of such a nature, as to be fit for them to join and concur with him in. So that the people also are, by this course, put to study, and to employ their apprehending and judging faculties, while they should be exerting their affections and devotions; and consequently, by this means, the spirit of prayer is stinted, as well in the congregation that follows, as in the minister who first conceives a prayer after their extempore way; which is a truth so clear, and indeed selfevident, that it is impossible that it should need any farther argument to demonstrate or make it out.
The sum of all this is, that since a set form of prayer leaves the soul wholly free to employ its affections and devotions, in which the spirit of prayer does most properly consist, it follows, that the spirit of prayer is thereby, in a singular manner, helped, promoted, and enlarged; and since, on the other hand, the extempore way withdraws and takes off the soul from employing its affections, and engages it chiefly, if not wholly, about the use of its invention, it as plainly follows, that the spirit of prayer is by this means unavoidably cramped and hindered, and (to use their own word) stinted which was the proposition that I undertook to prove. But there are two things, I confess, that are extremely hindered and stinted by a set form of prayer, and equally farthered and enlarged by the extempore way, which, without all doubt, is the true cause why the former is so much decried, and the latter so much extolled, by the men whom we are now pleading with. The first of which is pride and ostentation; the other, faction and sedition. 1. And first for pride. I do not in the least question, but the chief design of such as use the extempore way, is to amuse the unthinking rabble with an admiration of their gifts; their whole devotion proceeding from no other principle, but only a love to hear themselves talk. And I believe it would put Lucifer himself hard to it to outvie the pride of one of those fellows pouring out his extempore stuff amongst his ignorant, whining, factious followers, listening to, and applauding his copious flow and cant, with the ridiculous accents of their impertinent groans. And the truth is, extempore prayer, even when best and most dexterously performed, is nothing else but a business of invention and wit, (such as it is,) and requires no more to it, but a teeming imagination, a bold front, and a ready expression; and deserves much the same commendation (were it not in a matter too serious to be sudden upon) which is due to extempore verses, only with this difference, that there is necessary to these latter a competent measure of wit and learning,