« PreviousContinue »
THE Author begs leave to offer a few words, on the execution of the work itself, here submitted to public attention.
Family prayers ought to be short, especially, where reading the scripture makes a part of the service-and it ought always to make a part. Hence the prayers for the week-days, may be read in five or six minutes: those for the sabbath are commonly a little longer, as families have then more leisure, and are more united: those for particular occasions, as they rarely return, and the events are remarkable, are the longest of all.
A prayer is distinguishable from the repetition of a creed; or the annunciation of a system of theology; how much more from the sparring and reflections of controversy! A tincture of the Author's own particular sentiments, was hardly avoidable: but he has sought after nothing, that would be offensive to christians, who differ from him. And as religious persons accord much more when kneeling, than sitting; he ventures to think, no one will be unable to join in these forms, who believes in the fall of man, the redemption of the cross, justification by faith, the necessity of divine influence, and of that holiness, without which we cannot see the Lord. The Author braves the suspicion of those, who are illiberal enough to guage a man's orthodoxy, by the use of an invariable doxology; in the words too, which man's wisdom teacheth. Not that he thinks it wrong to close a prayer with a scriptural meaning in human terms; but he prefers the words which the Holy Ghost useth; and where they afford a diversity, why should he be afraid
to avail himself of it? In this respect, the sacred writers would not bear the ordeal of some system-critics.
The Author thinks no one can blame him, for using so much of the language of the scripture: there is a sacredness in it; and it is well known: much of it too has been used devotionally and contains the adorations, con:.. fessions, supplications, and thanksgivings uttered by men of God before us, while kneeling at a throne of grace.
Besides being scriptural in the diction, he has endeavoured to be very plain and simple. There is a great difference between addressing men, and addressing God. The least artificial mode of uttering our thoughts in prayer is the best. Prayer admits of no brilliancies; every studied ornament it rejects with disdain. He who feels interested in prayer, will forget all critical and elaborate phraseology. And it is an infelicity to be deplored, rather than an excellency to be admired, when ingenuity of thought, or surprisingness of expression, catches and keeps off the attention, from devotion. There are young divines, who not only err in preaching-by substituting finery for elegance, and the affectation of art for the eloquence of feeling; but in their devotional exercises too-showing off their tawdrinesses, even in the presence of God, and praying in a strained, inflated style, unintelligible to the ignorant, lamented by the pious, and contemned by the wise. The greatest men have always been distinguished by the plainness and simplicity of their devotional language. What a difference is there between the other compositions of Johnson, and his prayers? No hard word, no elaborate sentence, no classical, no metaphorical allusion is to be found in any of the few forms of devotion which he has left us. The same excellency pervades the liturgy. And it is worthy of remark, that in no prayer recorded in the Bible, is any fig ure employed, unless as familiar as the literal expres sion.
This, however, does not forbid the use of sentences not directly of the nature of petition. Prayer is designed, not only as an homage to God, but as a moral exercise to affect ourselves: and to accomplish this purpose, we must be informed, or reminded. What, therefore, tends
to make us feel the things we implore, is not to be considered, as some call it, a preaching or talking in prayer. Read all the prayers given us in the scripture; there is not one of them which does not contain expressions of enlargement, not immediately petitionary-yet conducive to the design.
With regard to appropriateness, Jenks has observed, "That we may as well expect to find a shoe that will fit every foot, as a form of prayer to suit every purpose." Family prayers must be necessarily general, or adapted to the state of a household, devoid of its peculiarities. No form can be made to include every particular circumstance, or occurrence: the very things that would render it suitable to one family, would even hinder the use of it by another. The Author fears, whether in two or three instances, he has not forgotten this.
Yet events and circumstances are perpetually arising, and it is of great importance to notice them devotionally. Almost every prayer in the scriptures arose out of particular occurrences, and was designed to improve them. Here is a difficuly, which there is only one way of removing. It is by adding some short addresses, applicable to certain events and circumstances; and which the reader may insert, in their proper place, in the prayer; or use at the end of it. Many of these, therefore, the Author has supplied in the close of the volume. Many more might have been added, had the prayers been designed for personal and private use.
In seventy forms of the same kind, it was not easy to maintain so much diversity as some would wish. Family devotion in itself, admits of less variety, than either private or public worship. But though similarity will be sometimes found, sameness, he believes, with a few very trifling exceptions, has been avoided. This does not extend however to the repetition of the same scripture
The Author has felt what a difference there is be tween offering, and writing a prayer: but he endeav oured, as much as possible, when he retired to compose, to place himself by thought, in the situation of performance and followed the same mode in writing, which he
has always found the best, in praying, to exclude formality, and to gain variety, viz. to yield to the present feeling of the mind, whether it leads to indulge principally in confession, or in thanksgiving, petition, or intercession.
Some things must be always expressed: others can only be admitted occasionally. Yet these should not be forgotten. Cases of affliction; the state of public affairs; the nation; the cause of God in the world: these and other things, though not particularized in every exercise, must be noticed so frequently, as to keep the mind alive to them.
With regard to the prayers for particular occasionssuch as pertain to days of mourning, fasting, or thanksgiving; and those which respect the beginning and end of the year, will draw forth no objection. But as to those which regard religious festivals, some will probably condemn the Author on the ground of consistency. On that ground he is willing to be tried. Consistency refers to professed principles: and he avows principles, which raise him above any particular body of christians, while yet he deems it his honor to belong to one of them in preference to all others.
But his attachment to his regiment, does not make him an enemy to the army of which it is a part. Let every one of us, says the Apostle, please his neighbour, for his good to edification. Why should not the Author wish to be serviceable to members of other communions, as well as to those of his own?
Dr. Watts, though a firm Pedobaptist, has yet composed and inserted in his excellent book, several Hymns, adapted to the convictions of those, who practise adult baptism, by immersion only.
And the late Mr. Newton, though an Episcopalian, made no scruple, when desired, to draw up a plan for a dissenting academy.
Let us stand in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not, judge him that eateth, for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or faileth. One man esteemeth one day above
another, another esteemeth every day alike. man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day to the Lord, he doth not regard it. Here every thing non-essential is left, where it ought to be left, to individual conviction and candor.
Upon these principles, the Author thinks, a dissenter, without superstition, may use these forms, on these very days especially as he is under no compulsion, and he has nothing to do with the day, but as a season of leisure, and as reminding him of some important truth. ‹
A christian, however, if he disregards the seasons, must love the subjects connected with them and at some time or other, he may wish more expressly to notice them and this he can do, by means of these forms, with the omission of a few words.
It is comparatively easy to be long and diffuse, but to be select, and yet full, brief, and yet comprehensive-this is the trial.
The Author could have composed a single prayer, far superior to any of these but the difficulty lay in the number; and the work must be judged of as a whole.
It is hardly necessary to observe, that with a slight alteration, and the substitution of the singular number for the plural, most of these prayers will serve for the closet, as well as the family.