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TO THE READER.
RELIGION is so much the business of our lives, and the worship of God so much the business of our religion, that what hath a sincere intention and probable tendency to promote and assist the acts of religious worship, I think, cannot be unacceptable to any that wish well to the interests of God's kingdom among men ; for if we have spiritual senses exercised, true devotion, that aspiring fame of pious affections to God, as far as in a judgment of charity we discern it in others (though in different shapes and dresses, which may seem uncouth to one another) cannot but appear beautiful and amiable, and as far as we feel it in our own breasts, cannot but be found very pleasant and comfortable.
Prayer is a principal branch of religious worship, which we are moved to by the very light of nature, and obliged by some of its fundamental laws. Pythagoras's golden verses begin with this precept, . Whatever men make a God of they pray to ;' Deliver me, for thou art my God, Isa. xliv. 17. Nay, whatever they pray to, they make a God of,-Deos qui rogat ille fecit. 'Tis a piece of respect and homage so exactly consonant to the natural ideas, which all men have of God, that it is certain, those that live without prayer, live without God in the world.
Prayer is the solemn and religious offering of devout acknowledgments and desires to God, or a sincere representation of holy affections, with a design to give unto God the glory due unto his name thereby, and to obtain from him promised favours, and both through the Mediator. Our English word Prayer is too strait, that properly signifies petition or request; whereas humble adoration of God and thanksgivings to him, are as necessary in prayer as any other part of it. The Greek word proseuche, from Euche, is a vow directed to God. The Latin word Votum is used for prayer; Fonah's mariners with their
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ourselves, not to move and oblige God: Clem. Alexandrinus, Strom. 7. p. 722 Edit. Colon. calls prayer (with an excuse for the boldness of the expression) Homila pros ton Theon, 'tis conversing with God. And it is the scope of a discourse of his there, to show that his ho gnosticos ; i. e. his believer (for faith is called knowledge, and p. 719 he makes his companions to be hoi homoioos pepisteucotes, those that have in like manner believed) lives a life of communion with God, and so is praying always; that he studies by his prayers continually to
converse with God. Some (saith he) have their stated hours of prayer, but he para holon euchetai ton bion, prays all his life long. The scripture describes prayer to be our drawing near to God, litting up our souls to him, pouring out our hearts before him,
This is the life and soul of prayer; but this soul in the present state must have a body, and that must be such as becomes the soul, and is suited and adapted to it. Some words there must be, of the mind at least, in which, as in the smoke, this incense mast ascend; not that God may understand us, for our thoughts afar off are known to him ; but that we may the better understand ourselves.
A golden thread of heart-prayer must run through the web of the whole Christian life ; we must be frequently addressing ourselves to God in short and sudden e. jaculations, by which we must keep up our communion with God in providences and common actions, as well as ordinances and religious services. Thus prayer must be sparsim (a sprinkling of it) in every duty, and our eyes must be ever towards the Lord.
In mental prayer thoughts are words; and they are the firstborn of the soul, which are to be consecrated to God. But if when we pray alone, we see cause, for better fixing of our minds and exciting of our devotion, to clothe our conceptions with words ; if the conceptions be the genuine products of a new nature, we would think words should not be far to seek: Verbaque prævisam rem non invita sequuntur. Nay, if the groanings be such as cannot be uttered, he that searcheth the heart knows them to be the mind of the spirit, and will accept of them, and answer the voice of our breathing, Lam. iii. 56. Yet through the infirmity of the flesh, and the aptaess of our hearts
to wander and trifle, it is often necessary that words should go first, and be kept in mind for the directing and exciting of devout affections, and in order thereunto, the assistance here offered, I hope, will be of some use,
When we join with others in prayer, who are our mouth to God, our minds must attend them, by an intelligent, believing concurrence with what is the sense, scope, and substance of what they say, and affections working in us suitable thereunto; and this the scripture directs us to signify, by saying Amen mentally, if not vocally, at their giving of thanks, 1 Cor. xiv. 16. And, as far as our joining with them will permit, we may intermix pious ejaculations of our own with their addresses, provided they be pertinent, that not the least fragment of praying time may be lost.
But he that is the mouth of others in prayer, whether in public or in private, and therein useth that. parrosia, that freedom of speech, that holy liberty of prayer which is allowed us, and which we are sure many good Christians have
found by experience to be very comfortable and advantageous in this duty, ought not only to consult the workings of his own heart, (through them principally as putting most life and spirit into the performance, but the edification also of those that join with him ; and both in matter and 'words should have an eye to that; and for service in that case, I principally design this endeavour.
That bright ornament of the church, the learned Dr,' Wilkins, bishop of Chester, has left us an excellent performance, much of the same nature with this, in his discourse concerning the gift of prayer ; which some may thiok, makes this of mine unnecessary; but the multiplying of books of devotion is what few serious Christians will complain of ; and as on the one hand, I am sure those that have this poor essay of mine will still find great advantage by that, so on the other hand, I think those who have that, may yet find so he farther assistance by this.
It is desirable that our prayers should be copious and full: our burdens, cares, and wants, are many, so are our sins and mercies. The promises are numerous and very rich ; our God gives liberally, and hath bid us open our mouths wide and he will fill them, will satisfy them
with good things. We are not straitened in him, why then should we be stinted or straitened in our bosoms ? Christ had taught his disciples the Lord's prayer, and yet tells them, John, xvi. 24, that hitherto they had asked nothing ; i. e. nothing in comparison with what they should ask when the spirit should be poured out, to abide with the church forever ; nd they should see greater things than these. Then ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full, we are encouraged to be particular in prayer, and in every thing make our request known to God, as we ought also to be particular in the adoration of the divine perfections, in the confession of our sins, and our thankful acknowledgment of God's mercies.
But since at the same time, we cannot go over the tenth part of the particulars fit to be the matter of prayer, without making the duty burdensome to the flesh, which. is weak, even where the spirit is willing (an extreme which ought carefully to be avoided) and without danger of entrenching upon other religious exercises, it will be requisite that what is but briefly touched upon at one time, should be enlarged upon at another time: and here. in this storehouse of materials for prayer may be of use to put us in remembrance of our several errands at the throne of grace, that none mav be quite forgotten,
And it is requisite to the decent performance of the duty, that some proper method be observed, not only that what is said be good, but that it be said in its proper place and time ; and that we offer not any thing to the glorious Majesty of heaven and earth which is confused, impertinent and indigested. Care must be taken then, more than
that we be not rash with our mouth, nor hasty to utter any thing before God; that we say not what comes uppermost, nor use such repetitions as evidenoe not the fervency, but the barrenness and slightness of our spirits ; but that the matters we are dealing with God about, being of such vast importance, we observe a decorum in our words, that they be well chosen, well weighed, and well placed.
And as it is good to be methodical in prayer, so it is to be sententious: the Lord's prayer is remarkably so; and David's psalms, and many of St. Paul's prayers, whicla
we have in his epistles: we must consider that the
greatest part of those that join with us in prayer will be in danger of losing or mistaking the sense, if the period be long, and the parenthesis many; and in this, as in other things, they who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. Jacob must lead, as the children and focks can follow,
As to the words and expressions we use in prayer, though I have here in my enlargements upon the several heads of prayer confined myself almost wholly to scripture language, because I would give an instance of the sufficiency of the scripture to furnish us for every good work, yet I am far from thinking but that it is convenient and often necessary to use other expressions in prayer, besides those that are purely scriptural ; only I would advise that the sacred dialect be most used, and made familiar to us and others in our dealing about sacred things ; that language, Christian people are most accustomed to, most affected with, and will most readily agree to ; and where the scriptures are opened and explained to the people in the ministry of the word, scripture language will be most intelligible, and the sense of it best apprehended. This is sound speech that cannot be condemned ; and thosc that are able to do it, may do well to enlarge by way of descant or paraphrase upon the scriptures they make use of; still speaking according to that rule, and comparing spiritual things with spiritual, that they may illustrate each other.
And it is not to be reckoned a perverting of scripture, but it is agreeable to the usage of many divines, especialdy the Fathers, and I think is warranted by divers quotations in the New Testament out of the Old, to allude to a scripture phrase, and to make use of it by way of accommodation to another sense, than what was the first intendment of it, provided it agree with the analogy of faith. As for instance these words, Ps. lxxxvii. 7, All my springs are in thee-may very fitly be applied to God, though there it appears by the feminine article in the original, to be meant of Zion; nor has it ever been thought any wrong to the scripture phrase, to pray for the blessings of the upper springs, and the nether springs, though the expression from which it is borrowed,