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without which all the knowledge the wisest can throw on the subject will be in vain, and towards nur present and eternal happiness, useless and unprofitable. If by the aid of Him, without whose blessing we can neither think, nor speak, nor do what is good, I shall be enabled to assist any of my fellow worshippers in forming the habit described by the Apostle Paul in the text, the habit of "praying with the spirit, and praying with the understanding also," I shall say heartily, The Lord make me thankful. A more essential service no minister needs desire to be the instrument of conveying to God's people when assembled in the house of prayer.
The field, we cannot but be aware is very wide, almost unbounded before us; and, doubtless, different teachers might select for themselves different plans, equally beneficial and edifying. It is, unquestionably, more profitable to enter upon such a subject with a specific plan before our mind, to avoid confusion and to secure simplicity. The plan which I have prescribed to myself, in the present course of lectures, will, I trust, lead us safely and satisfactorily to the end we have in view. I purpose to enter upon an examination of the great solemn prayer of the Church called for distinction and pre-eminence, Tub Litany. The words in the Greek language mean precisely this—a solemn supplication. That most beautiful and spiritual prayer will suggest to us all we can need to know on this paramount Christian duty. It teaches us to whom we must pray; it teaches us for what we must pray; and it teaches us in what spirit and form of mind we must pray. May God open and prepare our hearts to receive and profit by the instruction it is calculated to convey.
Now, my brethren, had we this morning, for the first time, been present at the public worship of a congregation in a foreign land, of whom we had never heard before any thing of the tenets and religious character, and had we heard the minister utter with a loud voice, and in the humblest attitude of prayer, " O God the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners"—and were we then to hear echoed from every part and corner of the temple, by the whole assembly on
their bended knees, the same solemn and humble supplication—" O God the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners"—I would ask, should we not have been much struck and affected by this scene? Should we not say, Surely this people are entering upon a pure and holy service; they know whom to address, and they know for what they ought to pray: surely God is with them of a truth? My brethren, shall we value this prayer the less, because it is our own? Shall we be less struck with its excellence, because it is offered in our own Church i Shall we admire it the less, because our fathers, and our father's fathers, for many generations, have employed these words in their solemn approaches to the throne of grace? The fact is, a more sublime and awful and spiritual form of prayer is not to be found than the opening of our Church Litany.
But it is not only in the opening that this holy prayer will supply us with meditation fit for Christians, for Christian pilgrims on their way to God; the whole Litany, from beginning to end, deserves, and will amply repay, our best and closest examination into its character and expressions. This evening we would confine ourselves to a few preliminary observations on the first and opening clause of the address to God the Most High, the Father of earth, and the Father of Christ.'
Some, perhaps, in this congregation may not be aware, that there were many Litanies used in the Church before the Reformation, which may still be seen in any Mass book of the Roman Catholic Church. These Litanies had been grossly corrupted by the Church of Rome by the introduction of prayers in them to saints and angels, especially to the Virgin Mary; but to this we must again refer before we close this course of Lectures. At the Reformation all these abuses were detected, and our prayers were addressed to the one only God. We may also observe, it appears from clear evidence, that originally the Litany was a prayer intended for a separate service. The people used to meet early for the morning prayer, as they still do in one or two churches in this kingdom; and then again, on certain days, at a later hour, for the- purpose of petitioning God's mercy for themselves and those who were absent, in the words of our Litany. At present the Litany is directed to be used on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, in every week; and in one of the Church Canons, every housekeeper is desired to be present, or, at least, send one of the household, to join in prayer, whenever the Litany is appointed to be used.
I cannot leave this point, brethren, without expressing my deep and sincere sorrow, that the house of God is now so much deserted on week days. There seems an unwillingness to come to Church for worship; there seems an unwillingness to meet in the house of prayer, unless there be a sermon; whereas the prayers are far more important than a discourse from the pulpit: for in the morning and evening service of the Church, we address God in prayer and praise, or God addresses us by his own holy word; whereas in the sermon, it is only one man addressing his fellow-sinners. It was an observation of a celebrated foreign divine, many years back, that he thought, he believed, and he hoped, that the Church of England would remain and flourish (it is thereason assigned which I direct your attention to,) because it was a praying Church, rather than a preaching Church. Allow me to urge those fathers and mothers of families, who can be spared from their homes, to attend the Church when the bell calls to prayer on week days, and especially on the days commemorative of the saints of Christ, if it be only once a week. One hour given to God in his temple will not interfere with your occupations, and will, after you have formed the habit, be a source of comfort to yourselves, and blessing to your families.
Let us proceed now to examine the prayer appointed. "O God the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners." There are three points of enquiry here suggested. First, The great Being to whom the prayer is made. Secondly, The persons who offer the prayer. And Thirdly, The blessing for which we pray.
We will attend now to the first point.
To WHOM WAS THB PRAYER OFFERED?
To God only. The Christian who joins our congregation must offer his prayer to no other being, on earth or in heaven, than God alone. In the Roman
Church, as we alluded to before, among their many sad corruptions this perhaps is one of the worst, the most contrary to the Gospel—that they offer their prayers to the Virgin Mary, to the Apostles and Angels, to men and women who lived long since our Saviour's time. That Church has pretended to canonize as Saints, men and women who are waiting now, like other sons and daughters of Adam, for the general resurrection of the last day; and of whose salvation even, no one can pronounce but God only: the condition of their souls is hidden from man. In one Litany, which I examined myself, in the Roman Catholic Prayer Book now in use, whilst there are only fifteen supplications addressed to God, there are upwards of forty addressed to the Virgin Mary. And in another of their Litanies, there are no less than fifty-two different persons addressed in solemn prayer: of these the Virgin Mary is the chief, the three archangels come next, and the others are men and women who lived and died since our Saviour's birth; some of whose names many of us Protestants have never heard of. Among the many blessings conferred on Christians in England by our happy Reformation was, a full emancipation and deliverance from also these superstitions : and grateful indeed ought we to be to heaven for such a restoration of light and truth. 'Not in a single word in our Church Service from beginning to end, is a prayer breathed to any other being than the God of heaven only. He alone is able to relieve our wants, and to show us mercy; and to him alone are our prayers for mercy addressed.
But not only does the opening of the Litany remind us, that, when we lift up our hands and our hearts, we must lift them up only to the Lord our God; it opens to us, most clearly and most powerfully, the nature of that great and good and wise and mighty Being; and it instructs us, beyond all chance of doubt and error, in the deep and high doctrines of our most holy faith. The opening of the Litany teaches us to address God in his Triune character, as God the Father of heaven, who made us and all the world—as God the Son, who redeemed us and all mankind by his precious blood—as God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifies and comforts and strengthens and purifies us, and makes us fit to be partakers with the saints in light—as that holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three pel sons and one God, who hath begun and perfected the redemption of our souls, the giver of every good and perfect gift, the well-spring of every blessing, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the God who heareth prayer.
The first solemn supplication to which alone we can direct our thoughts more immediately to-night is addressed to the Father—" O God the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners." Now, my brethren, we ought to bear in mind, when we use this expression, that in Scripture God is called the Father chiefly for three reasons. First, as he is the Creator and maker of all things. Secondly, as he is the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thirdly, as he is our own Father by adoption and grace, the Father of Christians because we are his own sons in Christ.
First, we address God as our Father because he made us. We are his creation, the work of his hands. Scripture besides has represented him as feeling the same love towards us, which a father has for his own children. Even the very heathens themselves, as the remains of their poets testify, the very heathens called the Supreme God their Father; but they mingled with their worship all that the God of truth and mercy and purity abhors. The Bible has rescued us from these gross views of our Maker and his service; and when we come to his throne of grace, we must come with heart and mind prepared to do his will. Thus God is addressed as the Father, because he is the Creator and Guardian of all mankind.
But, Secondly, he is in a more especial manner called the Father, to distinguish him from the two other persons of the blessed Trinity, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus himself calls him his own Father again and again; and again and again does God the Father declare Jesus to be his own only Son. When our blessed Lord came up from the water at John's baptism, you all remember the testimony borne then—" Lo, a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved
Son in whom I am well pleased." And here, my brethren, what a new and strong light is shed on. this prayer. If we would call on God because he is the Father of all men, with a much greater certainty of being heard may we approach him as the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The argument of the Apostle is plain, forcible, and conclusive, "God that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things':" As Christians, then, we call on God the Father for the sake of his ever-blessed Son; and this prayer he will in no wise cast out.
But, Thirdly, as Christians, we address ourselves to God the Father, because he is our Father, and we are his sons and daughters, by adoption and grace. He having made us his own children, through Jesus Christ, we are sons of God, not only because he created us, but because he hath sent us his only begotten Son. He having made us heirs of eternal life, we are children of God in an especial and peculiar sense; and in that sense we address him thus, " O God, the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners." We are thy children; we are thy sons and daughters; we beseech thee, for Jesus Christ's sake, to bless us with thy Fatherly love, and to have mercy on us.
Now, brethren, when we approach this great, and mighty, and holy Being, what manner of men ought we to be? Can we dare to fall before him on our bended knees, when our hearts are far from him? Can we dare to offer him the prayer of our lips, when our minds are full of the world and of the flesh? If this be the frame of our minds when we come with prayer to God, our offering is the sacrifice of fools, and no favourable answer can be made: we sow to the wind, and we shall reap the whirlwind. God never answers favourably with mercy the prayers of the hypocrite. Still he does feel compassion for our infirmities in prayer, as in the performance of all our other duties; but we must be sincere and hearty before him, or he will neither have mercy nor help us. Then let us look to our own conduct. We our own selves despise and reject a fellow mortal who flatters us with his tongue.
while his feelings and inward sentiments are estranged from us. We think such a man hollow, and unworthy of confidence, not fit to be trusted, more dangerous than an open foe. And if this be our conduct towards our fellow-creatures, can we hope that God will accept the insincere worship of the lip—the knee service of one whose heart is elsewhere— whose heart is filled with lust and ambition and worldly mindedness? It cannot be. No, my brethren; when we approach God our Father in heaven, we must come before him with a pure heart and with a right mind; we must worship him in spirit and in truth. Whether we are in our chamber, or
on our bed, or within the walls of his holy temple, the same frame of soul is required; love to God and love to our fellow- creature is indispensable. But then, comfort is it to the humblest Christian soul, if we do pour out our hearts before him as believers in his blessed Son, as chil dren of his love, as souls whose treasure is in heaven, and whose anchor is steadfastly fixed at the foot of the Redeemer's cross. We may then pray, brethren, and we shall —there is not a shadow of doubt in it—we shall be heard, and we shall be accepted, and we shall be blessed, when we pray, " O God the Father of heaven, have mercy upon us miserable sinners."
DELIVERED BY THE REV. H. HOWARTH,
AT BEDFORD CHAPEL, BEDFORD SQUARE, JANUARY 23, 1831.
1 Peter, v. 7.—" Casting all your care upon him, for he carethfor you.'
The description of the particular providence of God forms the most interesting features in the Christian revelation. By his particular, as opposed to his general providence, is to be understood that fatherly regard which he bestows on every minute portion of his creation; and especially, upon every individual of those intelligent beings with which his goodness has made it to abound.
In the exercise of his general providence, his Spirit is abroad over the mighty compass of the universe: he is every where watchful for the preservation of its order and harmony. The
tokens of this are abundantly manifest within the compass of our own knowledge, both by the continued operations of the great laws of nature, with which we are acquainted, and by the permanency of those gracious provisions which he has made for the wants and welfare of his rational creatures. By his command the sun goeth forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course. The moon also knoweth her appointed seasons; and the stars in their course confess the hand that guides them. "While the earth remaineth, saith the Lord, seed-time
and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease;" and hitherto we behold that it is so. Nor is his general providence less conspicuous in those awful visitations to which mankind are subject, and which, although arising out of natural causes, do yet, oftentimes, speak themselves the ministers of Almighty wrath. When, for example, we are witnesses of some great and overwhelming calamity, as pestilence, or famine, or earthquake, or flood, can we look upon such things as happening only by accident, or do not our thoughts rather return with awful regard to that Providence, at whose command the ministering angel goes forth, and who, when his pleasure has been fulfilled, saith, It is enough, stay now thine hand?
Once more, the general providence of God is illustrated equally in the moral, as in the natural universe; for he is the governor of both. From subjection to his controul proceed all those mighty effects which are produceable, through the operation of j the wills and passions of intelligent I beings. When, for instance, we read of the rise and fall of states and empires; or peruse the record of national convulsion, where anarchy alone for a time seemed to predominate; or at times when we meditate on the vast variety of changes which history has transmitted to our time, which had their origin solely or principally in moral causes, what reader is so supine and inattentive as not to be struck with the works of a controlling providence, guiding with an almighty, although an invisible hand, the tempestuous whirlwind which the human passions have raised.
Let it be remembered, that these are some of the ways in which God's general providence is made to appear; and they are mentioned here, principally for the sake of illustrating by contrast, that particular providence of which we are now to speak. Wherein this consists has been already intimated; but to help our conception of its exact meaning or character, our Saviour himself shall state it to us in the utmost force and simplicity which language can bestow. "Are not two sparrows," saith he, "sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall to
the ground without your Father's leave." With what a wonderful strength of inference does he then draw his conclusion as it respects intelligent beings. "The very hairs of your head," he adds, "are all numbered." Of such a doctrine, prior to its being revealed, many were not likely to form any just or suitable ideas; for the right conception of God's particular providence argues a far more perfect knowledge of his being and attributes, than any which reason alone has ever been able to attain. Reason has done much, when she has conceived of the Supreme Being as exercising a general superintendance over the affairs of the universe; when she has pictured Him as seated far above created matter, His all-seeing eye surveying the universe at his feet, and watching unceasingly over the safety and welfare of the whole. Much further than this, reason is not likely to go. It is beyond the compass of her power, to conceive of the great God of the universe, as individually present in the obscure corners of creation, as immediately interested in whatever falls out in its most insignificant parts. She might penetrate the operation of his hands in those large and striking appearances which mark his general providence, but she would hardly attain to see, that when a sparrow falls on the ground the Majesty of heaven is concerned in the occurrence.
Nay, on the contrary, we know that the consideration of the meanest of God's works, and the objects about which his providence is employed, is apt to impress the mind with an undue sense of the utter insignificance of any single individual, however excellent the species to which he may belong. Take, it has often been said, but one from the human species, let him be the greatest, the wisest, and the most celebrated of mankind, yet, after all, what space does he fill in the vast compass of animate and inanimate objects? While he lives, how far io his existence felt? When he dies, who sees the little void that is left? Even by his fellow creatures he is viewed as a speck in creation, and his existence is soon forgotten; how then shall he be an object of particular regard to a being whose eyes comprize every thing in the regions of unbounded