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THE SWEETNESS OF PRAYER.
patriotism, and fidelity; and that in the history of hea thenism, we meet with moving examples of all that is pure and lovely, in the midst of abominations. .
Where, then, is the desperate wickedness, which the Bible speaks of as apper- ,, taining to all ? That wickedness consists in the universal forgetfulness of God. Sensibility may shed her tears, and friendship open her heart, and liberality distribute her stores, and patriotism glow in his breast, and honour beam in his eye, and all the softness of amiable feeling gather into one bright effulgence in the character of him, who devotes not a thought to God; and is therefore as reprehensible, in this respect, as the most abandoned of his kind. We see the same thing in animals. Some have better instincts than others; but in the best there is no sense of God. There is, indeed, this one distinction, which aggravates the guilt of man ; the possession of understanding. Go to a planet, where the allegiance is unbroken; where temper and inclination are various, but all controlled by subjection to the will of God; and where the ebullitions of anger are checked in the very moment of their threatened operation. Do away this allegiance, and that world would become what ours is ; and every disposition would run wild. But should there still gleam forth some indications of the loveliest and most gratifying nature, could this justify the possessor in forsaking that God, who bestowed those dispositions ? Shall the splendour of His gifts, do away the guilt of disloyalty to the Giver ? Fasten on that foundation, while you admit the possession of many amiable qualities. Go to the man of honour, whose pulse beats high with virtuous feeling, and say that God is not in all his thoughts ; go to the man of sensibility, and while you bend over him with delight, tell him, that God, who framed him with those amiable sympathies, is forgotten; that He who poured so abundantly into his bosom the milk of human kindness, is disowned; and that were the Judge to address to him the question, “ What hast thou done for Me?”' he would stand be. fore him a naked victim, without a plea and without an argument.
We propose to notice under this head, from month to month, the most interesting of the contents of the religious magazines, reviews and newspapers. Few persons see all these publications; and such selected extracts will, we think, be of value, as presentirg a view of the state and progress of this department of Christian literature. Our own remarks, when any occur to us, we shall probably place in the form of notes, in order not to interfere with the quotation. We will begin with some articles on
I. THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. The Eclectic Review for November 1840 opens with an article on this subject. After an introductory promise to “respect the piety' “ more than despise the weakness” of sincere worshippers in clinging to “useless and frivolous” ceremomonies and “superstitions,” the Reviewer observes, that the Prayer Book was compiled in 1548 by Commissioners appointed by the Crown, revised in 1551, and finally sanctioned by Parliament in 1552: upon which he remarks
“ The Book of Common Prayer now in use is, with the exception of some prayers relating to events of more recent occurrence, and a few unimportant alterations, the same with that which received the imprimatur of parliament 288 years ago. Who can sufficiently admire the wisdom of the ecclesiastics and senators, who just emerging from the densest darkness themselves, could so amply and exactly provide for the wants of coming centuries, and produce a book, to all and every thing contained in which a hundred and fifty thousand clergymen have since declared their unfeigned assent and consent!"*
Passing next to the propriety of forms of prayer, the Reviewer informs us, in a note, that we have no certain account older than the fourth century concerning the use of liturgies in the Church; he then proceeds thus :-
“Most Dissenters (by no means all of them) would object to the Prayer-book, simply as a form of prayer. Were that form free from error, and greatly varied, still would they deern it a poor substitute for the pouring out of the heart. Prayer is the utterance of our wants and desires before God; and our wants are so infinitely diversified and so perpetually varying, that no petitions prepared for general and constant use can possibly answer the purposes of prayer : very much of the worth and efficacy of which depends on its being exactly and even minutely pertinent. He who will consult the dictates of common sense, or the prayers of Paul, recorded in most of his Epistles, will perceive how cold and chilling must be set forms used on all occasions, as compared with supplications which receive their peculiar character from our immediate exigencies. Every devout man knows that the doctrines of our religion, though ever the same, yet so blend themselves with all the changes and chances of this inortal life, as to produce the greatest variety of religious feeling; and as the disciple of Christ is in all things to give thanks, so, we may add, is he in all things to pray. His prayers, therefore, and his praises, though always substantially the same, will yet in their complexion be ever varying, as the incidents of his own life, or the events of Providence occurring around him, call into exercise his faith and piety. And as the Christian in his own retirement will thus find his devotions marked by a natural and most interesting variety, so will it be, at least so it ought to be, with Christian congregations. The varying state of the particular church, and of the neighbourhood in
* This seems hardly so wonderful as is here supposed. “The wants of coming centuries” do not appear to be materially different from the wants of the era here referred to. No donbt, the forms of expression then e...ployed, like those of our translation of the Bible, are somewhat antiquated; but that is no great matter. Prayer “is not eloquence, but earnestness." No ciergyman subscribes to the bok as perfect or inspired, but as a formulary of worship which taking it with its merits and its infirmities he feels in his conscience he can properly use ; and was not the age of the Reformers bikely to produce such a book ?
TOPICS OF THE DAY.
which it is placed ; unusual occurrences in the course of Divine Providence; inteiligence relating either to the civil or religious condition of other parts of the world : these, and many other cauzes, will perpetually operate, where the worshippers are not enslaved by a liturgy, and give a tone to the services of the sanctuary. The occasional prayers and thanksgivings, introduced into the Prayer-book, recognize the principle we have explained; but these forms for occasional use, though now and then enlarged by a scrap of prayer from the palace at Lambeth, for the use of the poor clergy (who having been educated at the universities, cannot be trusted in their own words to pray that God would avert the cholera, or give thanks for the preservation of the life of the supreme governor of their church), are a very lame attempt to reduce that principle to practice. If extemporaneous prayer were freely used, in conjunction with liturgical forms, the objection to the Prayer-book, which has now been advanced, would be at an end.*
Advancing now a step further, the Reviewer proceeds to argue, that “if a PrayerBook is to be used, most assuredly the one now in use is open to valid and fatal objections."
He first complains of its acknowledgment of the supremacy of the king or queen in ecclesiastical matters; a point into which we shall not travel, because it involves the whole question of Church Establislıments. But as it has been thought, that a clergyman of the Church of England cannot lawfully introduce even a short extempore prayer before sermon, we subjoin the language of the act of the 1st of Elizabeth :
“ That all ministers shall say and use the matins, even-song, celebration of the Lord's Supper, and administration of each of the Sacraments, and all other common and open prayer, in such order and form as is mentioned in the said book; and if any refuse to use the said common prayer, or wiltully or obstinately use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating the Lord's supper, openly or privily, or other open prayers, than is mentioned and set forth in the said book, he shall for the first offence forfeit one year's income of his benefice and be imprisoned six months, and for the second offence be imprisoned a year and deprived of all his spiritual promotions, and for the third offence imprisoned for life.”
Clearly enough therefore every clergyman is to use the Liturgy ; but does this Act go so far as to prohibit him, after this has been done, from adding (before or after the sermon) an extempore prayer? It seems doubtful.
The Reviewer next objects, that some parts of the book of Ezekiel, Revelation, &c. and the whole of the Canticles, are omitted from the list of Lessons : but as the omitted parts are such as are scarcely adapted for advantageous use in public worship, we will go on to his next topic :
“Every clergyman of the Church of England is, to the present day, compelled when reading the prayers to be dressed in white. The practice of men putting on a white gown to read the Athanasian creed, and then changing it for a black one in order to read a homily, is unmeaning and ludicrous, and altogether at variance with the dignity and simplicity of the Christian religion. Nothing but custom can have reconciled us to such follies. If the dress were more convenient than any other, or had any typical import, it might be admissible or even obligatory; but wanting such recommendation, it would much better befit the mountebank than the Christian minister.”
We now come to the Order for Morning and Evening Prayer throughout the year ; and here we must extract rather copiously. The Reviewer writes thus:
“ Let it be cheerfully acknowledged, that some of the formularies which the order
- This impression probably induced Lady Huntingdon, and Wesley and Whitefield, to retain the Prayer-Book and introduce estemporaneous prayer after the reading of the Liturgy. It is, however, to be lamented, that in a vast majority of the cases where this system is adopted, it is found imprac. ticable to secure the same early and devout attendance, as in the Established Church.
On the subject of the comparative advantages of extemporaneous prayer and a form of prayer in public, the reader will find Mr. Mr. M'Neile's sentiments in our Number for April 1810.
for prayer contains are scriptural and beautiful. The thought is delightful, indeed, that thousands of devout men and women do every week, with a pure heart and humble voice, accompany the minister to the throne of the heavenly grace, using the prescribed language of prayer and praise. Imperfect and objectionable—very imperfect and objectionable as we deem the Praver-book, God forbid that we should ever fail to respect and love those of our fellow Christians who by means of it draw near unto God. But when that book is spoken of in terms of the highest eulogy, and placed almost on a par with the Bible, it is high time to express dissent, and to show that these forms of prayer are meagre, not always free from great faults of style, disfigured by tautology and abrupt transitions, contradictory in point of doctrine, and further and especially, that they suppress one of the most important doctrines of the New Testament, and by this means are lulling thousands of impenitent men into fatal repose. Few things would tend more to the to the increase of true religion in this kingdom than the universal abandonment of this idolized and dangerous book.
“Let any Christian look to the Gospel according to John, or the epistle to the Ephesians, or that to the Hebrews, and then turn to the order for morning or evening prayer daily throughout the year, and he will be sensible of a great want of evangelical sentiment. The prayers are such as would have befitted the days of Daniel or Solomon, with the addition of some Christian phrases. The peculiar doctrines of the new covenant are not infused into the prayers, but rather appended to them. Those doctrines do not appear there as a soul animating the body, but rather resemble the charmed scraps of parchment with scriptural sentences written on them, which in some parts of the Greek church are placed in the coffin with the dead body, to serve as a passport at heaven's gate. The mind of the devout worshipper will, it is freely admitted, impart its own unction to these sterile forms, but let such worshippers candidly examine what hitherto they have perhaps received with unenquiring admiration, and they will be amazed at the attachment they have felt for the pauperized formularies of the Prayer-book. A slight alteration only would be required to adapt this code of devotion to the use of Socinians. The experiment, indeed, has been tried.* Of course the parts affirming the divinity of the Son of God are left out, as also are the creeds; but the substance of the forms usually employed has been adopted.
“ The style in which the prayer book is composed has been lauded greatly ; nor without reason. It is simple, nervous and majestic; admirably adapted to both the illiterate and the learned ; and fitted alike for the expression of humble and devout feeling, and for the communication of knowledge to the many. But this eulogy must be confined to those parts of the Prayer Book which are translated from the Latin. The portions of the service which are strictly speaking Protestant, do not deserve such commendation. The opening address, for example, would expose a ty o in a lecture room to a severe castigation. The Scripture moveth us to acknowledge and confess our sins and wickedness, and that we should not dissemble nor clouk them, but confess them with an humble and lowly heart, especially when we assemble and meet together to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, wherefore, adds the minister, I pray and beseech you, &c. This wordiness would hardly be endured in the extemporaneous effusions, of an untaught local preacher,t but in forms prepared for the use of learned deacons, priests, and bishops, who pass to the desk, the pulpit, and the throne, from Oxford and Cambridge, it is insufferable. The absolution which follows the general confession, besides being open to similar criticism, is open also to another objection. A second nominative case is very awkwardly introduced in the middle of the sentence, a fault which we should not have mentioned had it not appeared to arise from a greater fault. The sentiment is hobbling and disjointed, and seems to have occasioned the defect in the style.
“ Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the
* Devotional Services, selected from the Book or Common Prayer, revised and arranged for public Worship, as used at the Old Meeting House, Birmingham. Sold by Alen, Birmingham.
+ Few persons are aware of (or observe the tautology and wordiness necessarily incidental to un written discourse ; on this point the reviewer is mistaken.
TOPICS OF THE DAY.
death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live; and hath given power to His ministers to declare and pronounce to His people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins : He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel. Wherefore let us beseech Him to grant us true repentance, &c.'
“ That part of the preamble about ministers having the power to absolve, leads to no conclusion. It is a mere incumbrance, and a very clumsy one too; and the whole paragraph might lead a stranger, hearing it for the first time, to the suspicion that the priest repented of his design when in the midst of his lesson, and had not the presumption to complete what he had the vanity to commence.”
“Amongst the most obvious faults of the English Prayer Book, are its vain repetitions. The same sentences are uttered in the same service, again, and again, and again. Four times during the ordinary morning service is the Lord's Prayer repeated. Eight, nine, or ten tiines are these sentences iterated, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.' And against what can the command of our Lord, that we should shun vain repetitions, be designed to guard us, unless against such flippant sentences as are found in the Litany?"
“As though it were not sufficient that the order for morning prayer daily throughout the year should be disfigured by such wearisome and irreverent tautologies, the order for evening prayer daily throughout the year consists of a repetition of prayers used in the morning !!”
" The abrupt transitions of the service are a further and very serious defect. For example, the prayers immediately after the Apostles' creed, are thrown together without any regard, or with the slightest regard to continuity. They are an assemblage, rather than a collection of prayers. The transitions are sudden and painful; and the worshipper proceeds not easily, but by jerks, and violent ones too. Habit may have reconciled devout Episcopalians to this jumble of petitionary sentences. Taught to use the Prayer-book in the days of youth, all their religious feelings are associated with it; and they are not in circumstances to exercise an unbiassed judgment on its merits, or its faults. The Laplander thinks his train oil the greatest delicacy which the universe supplies. The Episcopalian, from the same cause, viz., custom, thinks the Prayer-book the ne plus ultra of devotional forms. Would he, without prejudice, reconsider the subject, he would be astonished beyond measure at the extravagant value he has set upon this miserable compilation ; be convinced that Calvin spake the truth when he described it as the leavings of Popish dregs; and long, with that great reformer, for something more, filed from rust and purer.”
Passing now to the Creeds, it is objected that they “omit the two doctrines, through which alone all that they contain is of any use or interest to us as sinners, viz., justification by faith and the new birth.” Further :
" The Nicene creed contains not merely the avowal of belief in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, but an explanation of the relationship subsisting between the Father and the Son, and between both and the Holy Ghost. It teaches, that the Son, being Divine, derives His existence from the Father by generation; and that the Holy Ghost, being Divine, derives His existence from the Father and the Son, not by generation, but by procession. The reader not already conversant with the history and consequences of this latter tenet, will observe that two points are here introduced: first, that the Holy Spirit exists by procession ; secondly, that that procession is from both the Father and the Son. The former of these two, is a tenet common to both the eastern and western churches, though it rests only on a dubious interpretation of this one passage of Scripture,
When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.' Now, our Lord repeatedly reminded His hearers that the works which He did were not His own only, but His Father's also : and in the passage just quoted, having promised His followers that He himself would send unto them the Spirit from the Father, He seems to have added the words 'who proceedeth from the Father,' to teach them that this great gift came both from Him and His Father