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ON MINISTERIAL QUALIFICATION FOR PUBLIC PRAYER.
CONGREGATIONAL dissenters are not inferior to any section of the Christian church, in their scriptural intelligence, and in their stedfast adherence to evangelical truth. On these points there is reason for gratitude to God, as well as for a sober confidence in reference to the future ; there is none, however, to justify sectarian gratulation, or to make us presumptuously heedless of the dangers existing around us : for error more frequently spreads like an insidious disease, than gains its conquests on the open field of combat. Should we permit ourselves to utter one trumpet-note of self-praise, its tones of pride may scarcely have died away, before we should discover reasons to clothe ourselves with sackcloth, and to utter bitter lamentations. The aspect of the Christian world, at the present time, might reasonably cause the wise to feel perplexed, the firm to tremble, and the passionless to weep.
While it is satisfactory that our congregations are distinguished by scriptural knowledge, and enlightened principle, we cannot conceal our impression, that they are deficient in devotional fervour and power. Their interest in public worship, is confined too exclusively to the sermon. They come to hear rather than to pray; and are more correct theologians than devout worshippers. External circumstances are often indicative of the state of the heart; and we think that the habit of sitting during prayer, -50 general in our places of worship,-indicates the absence of deep devotional feeling. Such a practice we consider indecorous and irreverent.* We know it may
* The Editor is happy to say, that his impressions do not accord with those of his friend the writer, that the habit of sitting during prayer is general in our places of worship. Still, it must be confessed, that many do, and some, it may be supposed, through a false interpretation of a passage of Scripture. In 1 Chron. xvii. 16, we read that " David the king came and sat before the Lord,” and in that posture uttered a most touching prayer to God. “ Those unacquainted with Eastern manners," says Mr. Kitto, “ are surprised at this. But there is a mode of sitting in the East which is highly respectful, and even reverential. It is that which occurs in the Moslem forms of worship. The person first kneels, and then sits back upon his heels. Attention is also paid to the position of the hands, which they cross, fold, or hide in the opposite sleeves.” In the same article he also remarks—" Standing in public prayer is still the practice of the Jews. This posture was adopted from the synagogue by the primitive Christians, and is still maintained by the Oriental churches. This appears, from their monuments, to have been the custom amongst the ancient Persians and Egyptians, although the latter certainly sometimes kneeled before their gods. In the Moslem worship, four of the nine positions are standing ones; and that posture which is repeated in three out of the four instances, may be pointed out as the proper Ori. ental posture of reverential standing, with folded hands. It is the posture in which people stand before great men and kings.”—Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature, article Attitudes, p. 256.
be said, that the spirit of prayer has no necessary connexion with the position of the body. Admitting the doctrine, that its most lowly prostration would not, in itself, constitute spiritual and acceptable worship to be sound; still, earnest devotional affections would dispose the worshipper to adopt the most reverential posture of the body. As a matter of fact, it may be noticed, that the eminently devout persons in a congregation usually stand or kneel; while the majority remain seated. Our blessed Lord, in his approaches to the Father, “kneeled down,” and in his agony, “he fell on his face and prayed,”—the depth of his anguish inducing a more profound prostration of the body. His example amounts to an authoritative declaration, that God ought to be worshipped in a becoming posture of the body, as well as with sincerity of mind. To attribute intrinsic efficacy to external form, is a serious error; but to be regardless it, is to err in the opposite direction : and when it is justified by a zeal for spirituality of worship, the reasoning is as inconclusive as the practical influence is injurious. A studied and ceremonial civility of manner is demanded by good society, as giving grace and propriety to social intercourse; is it not then an irrational anomaly, to banish it from our most sacred approaches to God?
Our conviction that the devotional spirit, among Congregationalists, is below par, does not rest exclusively on this fact. The manner in which they think and speak on the subject; the inferior estimation in which the devotional parts of Divine service are practically held ; the absence of impression, of tears, and of joy, in connexion with them, furnish evidence of the fact. Such is not a satisfactory or a healthy state of things ; and it may be useful to inquire, what are the causes to which it is attributable? Can we trace it to a want of depth and fervour in the prayers offered by our ministers ? has it its source in the spirit and temper of the age? is it chargeable on our distinctive prin. ciples and polity ? and how far may it arise from any one, or all these causes? We shall confine our remarks to the first of these queries; and wish to be understood, as suggesting inquiry, and not as affirming that such is the case.
That there is a connexion between the prayers offered in public worship, and the devout feelings of the people, cannot be doubted. If not related as cause and effect, the relation is still very intimate. It cannot, therefore, be a vain inquiry, how Congregational ministers may become thoroughly prepared to conduct the devotions of the sanctuary. We reject the use of liturgies, from the conviction that extemporaneous prayer is more adapted to excite spiritual affections, than pre-arranged forms, however beautiful, evangelical, or devotional. In thus relinquishing the aids which holy and able men of other generations have bequeathed to the church, it is incumbent on those who minister at the altar, to give to free prayer the depth and compre
hensiveness,--the pathos and solemnity,--of which it is susceptible. It is not, per se, excellent; it may be cold, barren, formal, and powerless. But it may possess a very high degree of excellence, and communicate a spiritual unction, beyond what has been obtained in the exclusive use of liturgical forms. In justification of our practice, we can satisfactorily show, that in the primitive age, free prayer was used in public worship; but we must remember, that apostolic institutions require for their efficacy an apostolic spirit. In maintaining a usage so highly sanctioned, consistency demands, that we sustain that inspiring spirit of devotion, which then gave to extempore prayer its wondrous efficacy.
Are, then, the devotional parts of public worship among us interesting and effective as they are capable of being made? We think they are not; and that to this fact may be traced the absence of deeptoned piety in so many professors of religion, as well as other evils which afflict our churches. Correct theological opinion alone, never made men apostles in zeal, or martyrs in spirit ; and the church most displayed the strength of her principles and her resistless energy, in those times when her public worship was solemn and subduing, and when she felt within her soul, the deep spiritual passion of her suffering Lord. Nor will the Congregational churches fulfil their high destiny, until, as they are distinguished by a scriptural creed, they possess also a thrilling devotion. The claims of the world on them are recognised; but they feel not that “Divine infection” of their Master's spirit, requisite for the great enterprises, the lofty achievements, the moral heroism, and the self-oblivion of the religion of the
Ministerial qualification for public prayer will spring,
The rarest jewels are found embedded in the earth, having incrustations which conceal their brilliant beauties. So our mental nature originally possesses the elements of our intellectual existence; but it is dependent on learning and discipline, to develope its powers, and to disclose its indestructible lustre. And the more complete the cultivation which the mind receives, the more acute and profound does it become ; and the more refined are those mental tastes and habits which give to character the beauties for which a coronet would be an impoverishing exchange. Analogous benefits accrue from a wise culture of the moral faculty ; which is, indeed, of the first necessity, to fit men to discharge the trusts Providence reposes in them, and to act well their part on the great theatre of human life. A special discipline, also, is required to produce such habits of thought, as will adapt the mind to the subject on which it is to be chiefly employed through life. For instance, a severe mathematical training is necessary to one destined to burn out the lamp of life, in exploring and deciphering the
N. S. VOL. VII.
mysteries, which still are uninterpreted in the nebulous depths of space ; while an extensive and accurate acquaintance with language, and an elaborate knowledge of its principles, must be attained by him who would employ this beautiful instrument of thought, to charm and subdue the reason of his fellow-men. So is there a spiritual training, which will
prepare the mind to conduct the devotional worship of the Christian temple; and contribute power and effect to this department of ministerial service. We will mention some things which we think are calculated to produce such mental adaptation ; without professing to include every topic the subject might suggest.
The mind should have a comprehensive acquaintance with Dirine truth. Truth is to the mind what light is to the eye, the medium by which it becomes acquainted with intellectual things. And we can be conversant with the physical, the intellectual, or the invisible world, only to the extent of our knowledge. For instance, there may be richer gems in the unfathomed ocean, than any pearl which has been found beneath the azure waves ; but as we have never seen them, we cannot analyze their properties, nor derive pleasure from their beauty. Many generations of the human race have lived and died, but we can have converse with them only in proportion as we make ourselves acquainted with the surviving monuments of their genius and power. So our fellowship with God must stop; first, at the point where revelation terminates; and secondly, at the point of our utmost acquaintance with that revelation. The devotional worship of a Bechuana, recently converted, would be necessarily limited to a few ideas, though it might possess great force in his own breast, derived from the gleams of poetic fire, or the purer flame of heavenly love. On the other hand, a mind profoundly acquainted with Divine truth, will have richer and more comprehensive views of the Divine nature and character, and will offer a nobler worship, and richer sacrifices ; as a seraph owes his sublime adoration to the illimitable vision of God, which he ever contemplates. Divine truth being the medium of communion with God, that mind cannot be fully adapted to become the “chariot of fire,” to a worshiping assembly, which has but a poor and contracted knowledge of the Supreme Majesty. The prophets rose to an ecstacy of devotion, when privileged to gaze on some glorious symbol of the Deity: Isaiah felt a convulsive and penitential agony, when he saw the Lord filling the temple. When God was on Sinai, the calm meek spirit of Moses feared and trembled. Those who serve in the sanctuary, therefore, should constantly turn their ear to the Holy Oracle, and with minds undistracted by the world, and undisturbed by passion, listen to its “still small voice,” treasuring up every particle of truth so received, with greater care than they would hoard up grains of gold. Thus they will become possessors of copious materials of devout thought, and familiar with pleas which God never hears in vain.
Such knowledge of God is further beneficial because it produces, in the sanctified mind, a holy admiration and delight in God. consequence, the faculties will have unrestrained play in the seasons of devotion ; and the mind will neither be depressed by fear, nor confused by terror. Holy serenity of soul in the most solemn hours of communion with God, will prepare it to receive the reflected lines of spiritual glory ; as the deep repose of some embowered lake, fits it to reflect, in unbroken images, the landscape it has borrowed from earth
A mind that has been exercised with strong temptations. The soldier who has never seen an enemy, is a different man to the veteran who has struggled on a hundred battle-fields. And he cannot be thoroughly qualified to lead on the army of the faithful, who has never stood in the breach, nor borne the heat of sore and fiery trials. Temptations throw new light upon truth, as dark bodies reflect the light of the sun, and give it greater force, and a more striking application. They develope the latent evils of the heart; in the first instance, they often revive corruptions, discover weakness, exasperate passion, show the power of unbelief, perplex the mind, and distress the soul. It is in such seasons that we learn really and earnestly to pray. Then we wrestle as did Jacob, until we obtain power with God. Then the mind, no longer motionless, is refreshed by the tempest which disturbs it; and the heart is warmed by the fires, which test its principles, and purify its virtues. It was prayer, in such a season, that drew forth the Saviour's bloody sweat, "for being in an agony he prayed the more earnestly.” If we would learn to pray with this exhausting energy, we must be content to know the anguish which excited it. If we dare not desire such a baptism, and the eye rests more calmly on humbler examples, in those we shall also learn the same truth,--that the spirit of prayer has become ardent, when the bitterness of soul has been intense. The pastor who would ask for the devotional sublimity of Paul, not only must petition for his heavenly visions, but be willing, at least, to endure his weakness and sorrow, his stripes and bonds.
A frame of mind habitually penitent. The reader will not require ns to justify the position, that there is reason for the Christian, ever to feel the assuasive sorrow of true penitence. These remarks must only notice its connexion with the subject before us. Contrite grief gives tenderness and pathos to devotional feeling. Some of the most beautiful prayers recorded in Scripture, are those which express the emotions of penitent minds. The harp of David never gave out deeper melody, than when its heaven-toned music was in unison with the godly sor. row of his heart. Under its influence, the soul turns to the mercy-seat as surely as if attracted by a law of its spiritual nature. General experience will instruct us, that the hour of penitence has been the season of fervent and effectual prayer : in such an hour it was said of