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do not with their grandeur rivet the minds of all with admiration, as nothing at all. But if we could but see and duly conceive of the authority and greatness of the Man here praying, and the majesty of him who is prayed to, together with the importance of the things prayed for, we should not look upon them as so trifling and worthless, but should find, in the plain proofs of felt experience, how much power and consolation these simple words contain.
For, Christ is here himself a diligent observer of his own rule, which he has delivered to us concerning our prayers, that there is no necessity for using long and pompous words, but, that simple words coming forth from the heart are the most effectual. Wherefore, let no one be offended at this prayer, nor let him through sleepy unconcern negligently disregard it, nor pass it by without heed, as containing words that are useless, or commonly spoken by men. For it may appear to any one, that he could make a much better prayer; whereas, if he were to attempt it, he would soon feel that the matter, the words, and the manner would fail him.
But the sum and cause of this introductory head is to shew, that a good prayer ought to follow a good sermon or discourse: that is, that, after the Word is sown among the people, we are to groan and humbly beg of God, that the Word heard might be effectual, and might bring forth fruit. For when Christ had discharged his office, and had consoled and refreshed his disciples with a long sermon, and had taken his leave of them, it remained for him to pray both for his disciples and for all Christians; in order that he might in all things fulfil his office as our high and only Priest, and might leave nothing unfinished that was necessary for their confirmation and support; since he was to leave them in the world behind him. And hence I have ever sedulously testified, how necessary Christian prayer is; without which, faith cannot subsist and endure.
For, those who teach, or hear, or know the Word, and yet pray not, sufficiently declare, that they are yet secure and presumptuous, and are as though they needed
not divine grace, and see not their necessities and perils, but think that all their affairs shall be established, and that they have enough and an abundance of all that they want. And then it comes to pass, that the devil creeps on them slily and overturns them before they are aware. It is for this reason, that Christ by his own example, in his office of teaching and prayer, instructs us to take heed that the Word be not preached without fruits. But what power and virtue there is in this prayer, I fear I shall never be able sufficiently to set forth for the more simple the words are in which it is clothed, in the more deep, rich, and full mysteries does it abound so that no one can fully enter into its contents. First of all, when the Evangelist says
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to: heaven and said,
He gives an honour to the using of external gestures in prayer whereby he stops the mouths of fanatical praters, who affirm that these external things are of no moment. But in this place, you plainly perceive that Christ himself not only prayed with his mouth for his disciples to hear him, but used certain gestures, which persons in prayer are wont to use, of whom some pray with bended knees, some fall on their face to the ground, some stand and lift up their eyes to heaven: and these three forms or manners of praying are all exemplified in the scripture. For how King David fell on the earth and prayed for his son seven days, is recorded 2 Sam. xii. And Christ himself prayed both on his knees and on the earth in the garden. And Peter with many others cast themselves down at the feet of the Lord. Again, Luke xviii. speaks of standing.
But it matters not much, whether we stand, or bend our knees, or fall on the ground: for they are external forms that are neither rejected, nor commanded as being necessary to be observed; and there are many other forms of the same kind, such as lifting up the head and eyes to heaven, folding the hands, and striking the breast, &c. which indeed are not to be
condemned, since Christ approvest of them. Therefore Paul to the Ephesians, speaks of his prayer thus, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." And to Timothy, i. 2, "I will therefore, that men pray every where lifting up holy hands," &c. Although I should, not think it wrong if a person prayed unto God even while picking up sticks, if it were but from the heart.
This however is most certainly true, that if there be only an acting like a stage-player, consisting of murmuring and vociferation, just as we have hitherto stood in the churches, day and night counting the grains of rosaries, (as they call it) turning over the leaves, and howling in the choir like wolves, that is certainly no prayer at all. For such prayers as these are without the heart and the soul, nor does any one who prays in this manner ever once think of asking or obtaining any thing from God. But where these gestures are used in praying, speaking, singing, or reading, with a view to rouse the spirit that it might feel a pleasure and devotion in praying, then they are good and useful. For it is to this end, that the Psalms are appointed to be sung and read daily among Christians, that by the Word heard or used bodily, the devotion may be raised to speak forth or sigh in prayer.
Moreover, we have not a few examples of this way of praying, and of these external incitements in the scripture as that of the prophet Elisha, 2 Kings iii. whose custom it was, as we read, when he found that he was not sufficiently devout, ready, and alive, that he caused a minstrel to be sent to him, at the sound of whose harp he was revived and roused to prophecy. How powerful others are in the Spirit, I for my part cannot tell, but as for myself, when I am without the Word, or do not remember it, or am not speaking from it, I find Christ no where, see him no where, and have lost all my devotion and spiritual mind too. But as soon as ever I propose to myself, any one of the Psalms, or any sentence of the scripture, then by its light my heart is quickened, and immediately another mind and
another feeling are begotten in me: and I know that every one experiences the same in himself daily.
And the cause of this is, that which we all find in qurselves,—that our ideas and thoughts are so slippery and unstable, that although we begin to offer up any serious prayer or enter upon any meditation concerning God, without the Word and the scripture, we generally find that before we can look around us, our mind has run away from our first thought above six hundred miles. Let any one try this if he will, and then tell me how long he can remain fixed in one thought. Or choose out any one hour of thy life, and promise to tell me all thy thoughts during that hour. I will be bound to venture any pledge, that thou wilt be ashamed of thyself, and wilt be afraid to speak out those things which have happened unto thee, and that men would think thee worse than a mad dog while uttering the whole, and such as should be bound in chains: and this has often been my experience even when engaged in the best of meditations:-so shattered and depraved a thing is the human heart, that it is evident that no water or wind is so moveable and unstable.
I may as well give an example of this. It is read concerning St. Bernard, who continually experienced this, that at a certain time he complained to a particular friend of the difficulty that he found in praying rightly, and that he could not say the Lord's Prayer once over without wandering thoughts. Which thing filled his friend with the greatest wonder, who thought it to be a matter of no such trouble and difficulty. St. Bernard began to say, that he would offer as a pledge a highbred horse, if he would make the trial, and would agree to tell him the truth of the result. His friend refused not the offer, hoping that he should without difficulty accomplish the matter, and therefore he begins to pray, 'Our Father,' &c.: but, before he had got through the first petition, a thought came into his mind,- But, if I win the horse I shall have the bridle and saddle along with him!' And in a short time, he found himself wandered away so widely, that he was obliged to leave
off on a sudden, and declare that St. Bernard had gained his point, and was right.
And, in a word, if thou art able to repeat the Lord's Prayer without any wandering thoughts, then I will adjudge thee a perfect master in this matter. I, for my part, cannot do it: nay, I am truly glad, if the interrupting thoughts even go away as they came.
I have mentioned these things, that we may not pass by this text negligently, as the fanatical spirits do, but may rather learn how much those external words and gestures serve and profit, as tending to assist in collecting the thoughts of the heart that are scattered and dispersed, that it might not slip away and be taken with other things, and that we might not stray from our proper thoughts and wander out of the way; even as we take hold of a tree or a wall with our hands to support ourselves from falling. And this is where our fanatical spirits fail. They think that all is then excellently well with them, when they are enrapt in their sublime and spiritual thoughts; but they see not that they are without the Word, and wandering entirely out of the way. Wherefore, beware of such high-flying thoughts, and be assured within thyself, that nothing can be transacted with God without the external word and prayer. Nevertheless, a right distinction is to be made; that is, that the prayer be not altogether external, wherein nothing else but the work itself is sought after, and where it is believed, that if the prayer be only said or read it is an excellent prayer, although the heart may not have once felt what the mouth was speaking, or have thought what was going on-but, prayer must so be offered up, that the heart may begin, and then the words follow, accompanied with suitable gestures. And, in a word, the prayer that comes forth from the heart is good and effectual, with whatever gestures it may be accompanied.
Father, the hour is come: glorify thy Son.
Here we see the virtues of the prayer. First, there are in this prayer three principal things: and especially,