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polishing, and many a sharp angle is to be rubbed off, before it will be fit for the Holy of Holies. What is the whole process of our regeneration and sanctification, all our trials and all our comforts, but a process to make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light ? So again, on Lebanon, the “hewers in the mountains”. have many a severe day's toil before the goodliest cedar is prepared for its allotted uses in the celestial edifice ; for not a pin or stake must there be wanting, and each must be fitted to its place before it is carried into the inner temple. The brightest gold must be dug in the dark mountains of Ophir, or the mines of Parvaim; and “the vessels of bright brass" must be molten in the plains of Jordan, and cast to the heavenly pattern in the furnace of the clay-grounds of Succoth. All these processes require much time and care, and the result is often scarcely discernible amidst the din and smoke and apparent confusion of the mingled scene. The workmen who are employed in the various offices too frequently quarrel among themselves; and Hiram's labourers mix among them; and I may add, that their services are sometimes permitted in these subordinate offices, though they are not themselves qualified to enter into the finished temple ; a fearful warning to all, who, aiding works of Christian mercy, neglect their own salvation. Much of the time which ought to be spent in the king's service is wasted in deciding who is the best workman, or disputing about the final end and superstructure of the whole edifice ; of which each sees so little a part, chiefly the portion of work allotted to himself, that none of us are very competent judges of the whole. All this is very perplexing and afflicting : but there is one consolation, that this is but the preparation of the materials; the plan is fixed; the proportions of the building are all perfect; and each finished material will fall at last into its right place without noise or tumult. The prophet said, Can these dry bones live ? and the Christian may say, Can such untractable and unsightly materials as those which form the visible church ever compose a celestial temple ? But all is in the hands of Him who is the wonderful Counsellor; Him who can educe good out of evil ; Him who can make even the wrath of man to praise him : we cannot put every thing in order, but He can ; we cannot see how order, and harmony, and a noiseless fabric, are to arise amidst the din and confusion of terrestrial strivings : but He sees the end from the beginning, directs the whole with unerring precision, and directs all according to the mighty working of his own infinite will. The sin and the folly are ours, and ours the punishment; but amidst all, the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth; and, oppose who may, the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever, King of kings, and Lord of lords. Halleluiah. Amen!
LETTER VIII. Having, in the conclusion of my last letter, risen to the heights of Pisgah, it is with reluctance that I delve again into the quarry, or repair with axe and har ner to the cedars of Lebanon, or attempt to smelt the gold from the dross in the furnaces of the valley of Jordan. But these processes are necessary, and I will endeavour to perform my noisome task with as little of dust and clangor as possible.
I approach, my lord, what is to my mind the most painful of all the pending questions respecting the Bible Society, that of the adoption of oral prayer at its committee meetings and public assemblies. I call it painful; not because I do not, under all the circumstances of the case, see the path of duty, as it appears to me, clearly marked out; but because this is one of those questions which is calculated, particularly under a strong and denouncing representation, to distress many pious and tender spirits : and it would be deeply afllicting to me, if any thing I should urge might by any possibility of mistake be construed into an undervaluing of the privilege of prayer, or setting worldly expediency against simple faith and duty. I am so conscious, however, of my own feelings on this subject, that I will not be deterred by any dread of misrepresentation from stating what appear to me the words of truth and soberness respecting it; and this, I can truly add, not without earnest supplication that the Father of lights would not allow me to be misled in so serious an inquiry.
Now, my lord, in the present question there is no difference of opinion as to the duty, the importance, or the blessedness of prayer. The command-and that command is an unspeakable privilege—is, Pray always, pray without ceasing; in every thing by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God. But when I come to ask practically in what manner this duty is to be fulfilled, whether it is meant that the whole of human life, without interval or cessation, is to be spent in the direct act of prayer, the very absurdity of the supposition is its own answer. If I appeal to the church of Christ in all ages, if I consult the most holy and devout expositors of Scripture, if I look at the conduct of the most faithful servants of God, or even the immaculate example of our blessed Lord himself, I find the same answer given to my inquiry; that such passages mean that we are to live in the spirit of prayer at all times, and to perform the outward act of prayer on all meet occasions. What those occasions are, must be a matter of conscientious consideration as they arise; they cannot be determined upon before hand; but it is worthy of notice that almost every spiritually-minded annotator, in commenting upon such passages as the above, speaks of ejaculatory prayer as peculiarly fulfilling the injunction of praying always. Social prayer must have special seasons; but holy ejaculations and the breathings of the soul may be put forth at all times, and thus the Christian may be said to pray without ceasing, even amidst the busiest intercourse of life.
The Christian law of love is not, like the Jewish law of ordinances, fixed to invariable seasons and ceremonies; and even under the Jewish dispensation, prayer was not thus straitened ; it was silent or oral, premeditated or written, in the chamber or in the temple, as circumstances might require. The spirit of prayer is every where visible in the sacred story; but the direct act of prayer is not always mentioned, even on important occasions where we might naturally have expected to hear of it; as, for example, before St. Peter's pentecostal sermon, or our Lord's own Sermon on the Mount, and on numerous occasions mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.
I apply these facts to the Bible Society. There is much in Scripture to shew us the prayerful spirit in which all its business should be conducted; but no text to prove that its meetings ought of necessity to open with a direct act of oral prayer, except we take those universal passages, which if applied literally to every transaction of life, would be inapplicable from the duty being wholly impracticable. At the same time, the meetings, private or public, of religious institutions, partake so much of a solemn character, that every spiritually-minded person must feel a peculiar delight in engrafting upon them, where seasonable, a direct public act of praise, intercession, and supplication, It is not, on the one side or the other, so much a question of lawfulness, as of privilege; and should practical difficulties arise, which seem to perplex the path of duty, the enlightened Christian mind will feel that the liberty of our brother is not to be judged by our conscience, but each is to be fully persuaded in his own mind.
The question then is, Are there any circumstances in the present case which may lead a conscientious and scripturally-instructed mind to come to the conclusion, that it were more for the glory of God on this particular occasion not to enjoin upon the assembled brethren, as an indispensable duty, the act of social prayer; in fact, to wave a delightful privilege on account of those conflictions of feeling which even among the faithful servants of Christ-such, alas ! is human frailty even in the regenerate-might clog its performance, and cause our prayers to be hindered. The turning point of the whole question, and that which involves its scriptural solution, is, on what ground is the act of sncial prayer on such occusions omitted ? If it were, as the opposers of the Bible Society would insinuate, to please Socinians, to conciliate the worldly-minded, to shun the offence of the Cross, the omission would be an act of treason against the supremacy of our Divine Master, and the blackest ingratitude for his redeeming love. Oh no; in such a case bonds, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, and death itself ought rather to be embraced as the alternative, than the omission of our public and avowed homage to our heavenly Lord. But this is not the question; and it is utterly unfair so to represent it. It is not a question between the friends and the enemies of Christ, but between his friends themselves; not a traitorous parley with the common foe, but a point of adjustment between the companies of the same regiment. I am to yield nothing to the opposers of the Cross of my Redeemer: I am to yield much, and every thing but conscience, to the feelings and scruples, as they may appear to me, of my weak brother; as a stronger brother ought, in return, to mine. It is much such a question as that of the mutilation of the Scriptures for the popular education in Ireland. A pious parent or instructor has no difficulty in occasionally using scriptural extracts for convenience, or necessary economy, because this involves no principle, and yields no ground to the opposer of truth; but propose the very same manual as a compromise, say that it is composed in deference to those who forbid the popular use of the Scriptures as God gave them, and the case is instantly altered, so that to substitute the excerpts for the volume would be to incur the curse denounced against those who add to or take from the book of life.
Now that the circumstance of social vocal prayer not being used in the sessions of the British and Foreign Bible Society is not a concession to the Socinian, is proved by the fact that no Socinian was ever on the committee. The projectors of the Society were men of orthodox doctrine and evangelical spirit, who entertained not the slightest idea that in not proposing a direct act of oral prayer at their meetings they could be considered as violating a sacred duty. Mr. Owen relates with much simplicity the wonder he felt when he attended the meeting for the formation of the Society to find himself sitting side by side with Quakers ; but he never mentions Socinians. For such widely severed parties to meet, even to distribute Bibles, was a novelty that excited the astonishment of all present : but a direct act of Divine worship would have been wholly out of the question ; nor would it, under all the circumstances, have been for the use of edifying. There was, however, no studied omission ; nor any of that carnal policy which we are told
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dictated the omission; for in truth it is only very recently that any of our large societies have introduced prayer at their public meetings, and yet it cannot be said that there had been previously any intention to set lightly by the privilege. The present practice of the Bible Society grew up, not by any specific rule, but under the actual circumstances of the case; no person ever entertaining the slightest notion of doing, as we are told, despite to the Spirit of God. Had Socinians been excluded from the first, the practice would have been just the same; were they excluded now, the question would not be one step nearer adjustment: neither one test nor fifty tests would of necessity effect it: it stands on other grounds; it is a matter involving private judgment and personal conscience; and, whether right or wrong, ought not to be represented as a sinful compromise. The founders of the Trinitarian Society said again and again, in speech and in print, that nothing was wanting but the ejection of Socinians to make them all of one spirit in prayer ; yet no sooner were they organized than they turned out their own chairman, Mr. Perceval, because he had been prayed for in a manner they disapproved of. If, instead of asking Mr. Thelwall to open the Trinitarian meeting with prayer, the chairman had happened to ask the reverend friend whom some of the committee so. much objected to, or many other reverend friends, there would have been instantly a clashing; and as neither party would give way, there must have been issued just such an advertisement as has since appeared; the stronger party denouncing the heretical prayers of the weaker. The friends of the so-called Trinitarian Society have never, I am informed, suffered any person who is not known to be a Calvinist of a somewhat high class to express their wants before God: but are there no pious Arminians? and, to say nothing of members of our own church, is it right that the whole body of Wesleyan Methodists should be tacitly shut out, as in effect they are? These evils must in time necessarily arise, if a chairman, or a few leading committeemen, are to select one individual among many sects to speak the feelings of all. In choosing the speakers, there is no such difficulty: the individual delivers but his own sentiments; and if he outrage the feelings of others, he can be cut short, or called to order, or refuted: but not so in prayer : there all are supposed to be of one mind, and to agree together, touching the things they ask for: if they do not, there is no true prayer : besides which the individual who officiates cannot be stopped or contradicted, and the impression goes forth that his prayer was the general sentiment, though many might have wholly disapproved of the sentiments he uttered. The only remedy for this is, that the persons who unite in prayer should agree in the main in doctrine also; but this in a Bible Society is impossible, unless we at once convert it into a church.
I would ask, my lord, is it in every case unlawful for spirituallyminded and conscientious men of different persuasions to meet together for the discharge of an office of Christian mercy and beneficence, for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind, though they cannot, consistently with their respective scruples, unite in a direct act of social religious worship? Is not this done every day in cases in which there is no stumbling block of Socinianism or other grievous heresy, but only such points of controverted doctrine, or church discipline, as may arise, in this state of infirmity, among the faithful servants of the same Divine Master. I have known some clergymen attend the anniversaries of the “ Peace Society” at the Friends' meeting-house, who would likely enough have quitted the assembly if some worthy Friend
had insisted upon converting the proceedings into an act of Quaker (I do not use the word disrespectfully) worship; and more especially if a woman had risen to pray or exhort. I remember, when an undergraduate, happening casually to meet with a very good man, a Baptist minister, at a watering-place, who with a warm heart, but not the best judgment, taking me by the hand, asked me if I would“ give his congregation a word next Sabbath-day?" In reply, I gravely asked him whether, if I did so, he would admit me afterwards to the Lord's Supper? The affectionate old man was a little embarrassed, but at length stammered out that, as he did not acknowledge the validity of my baptism, he could not consistently ask me to sit down to the Lord's table with his flock. Here then was a case in which an excellent man seriously asked another to preach for him, and was willing to entrust to him the spiritual edification of his flock, though he considered him unbaptized and not qualified to approach the holy communion. It is nothing to the purpose to say that such anomalies ought not to exist ; for exist they do; and the only question is, whether, although they forbid any thing approaching to church union, they ought also to forbid a common effort for the neutral, unsectarian, and not-to-be-perverted object of circulating the word of God. We are told by some of our Sackville-street friends, that persons cannot be Christians who cannot pray together. I might ask, whether persons can be Christians who cannot approach the table of the Lord together. The early Christians continued in “ breaking of bread and prayer;" our friends say, that at a Bible-society meeting it is lawful to dispense with the breaking of bread, but not with prayer. But if I were to push their own principles to their fair conclusion, I could prove that you ought not to join any man in a religious act with whom you cannot sit down at the Lord's table; and that to omit that holy commemoration at the meeting of the members of a religious institution is an act of spiritual treachery, of treason to Christ our Lord. Our friends may reply, that the circumstances are quite different; that it is not a church-meeting ; that it has not been usual to administer the Lord's Supper on such occasions; that there are grave objections to so doing; and that, were there no other objection, the varieties of opinion among good men would forbid it. I do not deny all this ; I feel its force; and I should be sorry to see it advertised that a public meeting at Freemasons' Tavern, or Exeter Hall, was to begin or conclude with the administration of the holy communion; but then every word of the argument applies in its spirit quite as forcibly to the question of oral prayer. We no more intend to deny Christ by not opening all our Bible-society meetings with this specific observance, than our friends do by not “ breaking bread” at theirs. The plain truth is, that any direct act of worship renders the meeting so far a church union, and the various denominations of Christians, true Christians I mean, are not sufficiently of one mind always to adopt such a practice, so as for it to conduce to mutual edification. It is our sin and shame, that it is so, and we ought each one of us to pray that the visible church of Christ may become more united; but it is nevertheless a fact. The Archbishop of Tuam, who has laid down a rule that all public meetings, at which he presides, shall commence with prayer, incidentally recognizes this principle ; for he adds, that the prayer shall be taken from the Anglican Liturgy, and be offered up by a clergyman. I find no fault with this practice, considered in itself: on the contrary, it is much to be commended; but, as applied to the Bible Society, it confines it to one class of persons, one church, and takes away that brotherly reciprocity