« PreviousContinue »
derable portion of time to pass by, in a neglect of this duty.
But what principally endows it with importance, is the need of it for the keeping of the commandments of God. This need is the result of the weakness and the corruption of human nature; in consequence of which, all its powers are continually in danger of drawing off from God, and of leading to sin and misery. Against this, the best resolutions are an ineffectual preparation, without the grace of God; which can be obtained only by prayer. It is in respect to this, and not to any temporal blessings, that we have the encouragement * Ask and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you:"* Implying on the other hand,“ that without asking, there will be no receiving."
But it may be demanded-In what sense does the Church here make use of the words special grace? And does it not favour the theory of those, who advocate the doctrine concerning saving grace in general, that it is not offered to all, but made the privilege of an elected few? To this I shall give two answers: the first negative, as rejecting that interpretation; and the other positive, as what I conceive to be the meaning.
First; it cannot have been here used in that narrow sense; because the catecumen, in the preceding part of the Catechism, had been already taught to consider himself as “called to a state of salvation, although needing grace for a continuance in it;” and as having been made by baptism—"a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven:” The force of which expressions, was considered in the first lecture. Besides; the property of grace here denied, is stated to be attended by irresistibility. This supposes it to have taken hold on the mind, before prayer can
Matt. yii. 7.
be worthily made; and therefore whenever Christian prayer is put up, it cannot consistently be for grace, under the character of special, connected with irresistible.
But secondly; I take the proper meaning of it to arise, first from considering "special" as opposed to general;” and then, from considering the specialty spoken of, as adapted to the character and the circumstances of the party. The state to which he was admitted by baptism, he held in common with all who have been received into the Church of Christ, by that appointed rite. But he had need of grace, accommodated to the peculiar circumstances in which he then was, or might hereafter be. This was, “special grace”-that is special in regard to himself, but not exclusive, as being denied to others. *
The catecumen, being desired to repeat the Lord's Prayer, proceeds with that well known form, the different articles of which, are to be explained as we go along.
“ Our Father, who art in heaven.” This is the invocation, or introductory part of the prayer; and like the prayers generally throughout the scriptures, short but comprehensive. Among the many excellences of the prayers of our Church; perhaps there is none more striking, than their likeness to the scriptural model in this respect; and especially in the suitableness of the invocation of every prayer, to the substance of it which is to follow. * As to the opening of the prayer before us; there is a dis. play of the majestick greatness of the character of God, in his being addressed as in heaven, which he fills with his essential presence; but at the same time a softening of the attribute, in his being acknowledged in the parental character also: The former is fruitful of awe; but this is intended to temper it with affection.
* The interpretation may be strengthened by reference to the Latin copy. The expression ism." Singulari gratia.” The adjective is frequently so used, as denotes a peculiar association of the matter spoken of, with an individual person or subject.
There is but one more instance, in which this Church has used the terms “ special grace." It is in the Collect for Eas. ter Sunday. The petition is that as by thy special grace preventing us, thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help, we may bring the same to good effect.” This distinction between preventing and cooperating grace is familiar in the institutions of this church; but the terms are discountenanced by the system, which affirms a grade that is exclusive and irresistible.
The character of “ Father," as applied to God in relation to mankind, is founded primarily on the act of his creative power, taken in connexion with what is said in Gen. i. 27:-/" So God created man in his own image; in the image of God, created he him." Accordingly, the recognising of this relation, independently on our respective standing in regard to rectitude, may be justified by sundry places in scripture; of which there shall be named only one from the Old Testament, and another from the New. The former is in Is. Ixiv. 8; where the prophet styles the Almighty, the Father of those in whose favour he was invoking him, simply on the following ground"For we are all the work of thy hand." The latter place alluded to, is in Heb. xi. 9; in which “ God is called the father of our spirits:" which gives the measure of the extent of the relation.
There is another ground of it, in our being the objects of his providential care. We are led to de.
• The property of the Liturgy here remarked on, may be instanced in the two forms, called A Prayer for alt Conditions of Men” and “A General Thanksgiving." The former begins with, “ O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind;” and the latter with O God, the father of all mercies." If these introductory invocations should be transpos. ed each of them to the other prayer, it would very material. ly affect the merits of the two compositions. The remark might be illustrated generally, throughout the service.
scribe God in the character here the subject, by that poverty of language, which makes it necessary to transfer to our relation towards him, what the most resembles it among the relations in which we stand to one another. Since therefore he is said to “ deal with us as with sons in chastisements;*" and may therefore more eminently be so considered in "his mercies, which are “over all his works;” | being showered down even on the unthankful and the evil; there must be ground, in these his providential dealings towards us, to address him as a father.
But there is a peculiar sense, in which God ought to be known to us in the character in question. It is, as a reconciled father in Jesus Christ. On the ground of our natural condition, we are estranged from God; having no right to immortality; and further, liable to the penalty attached to transgression, in our own persons. The effect of God's mercy in redemption, is that “we who were afar off, are brought nigh by the blood of Christ.”I And as the former circumstance is descriptive of all by nature; the latter belongs to all, who are duly brought within the pale of Christ's church by baptism. This is “the spirit of adoption,” spoken of by St. Paul,—“whereby we cry Abba, Father:", And another apostle refers to it where he says—“Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon uş, that we should be called the sons of God.”'ll
We ought not to leave this view of the paternal character of God, without being suitably impressed by the practical results of it. We are hereby admonished to walk worthily of so high a privilege: since it may well be demanded—“If I am a father, where is my honour?” It also encourages us to implore of God in prayer, whatever is needful for our souls or for our bodies; or, as is said " to draw near,"'** not indeed without “a true heart;" yet
*Heb. xii. 8. Ps. cxlv. 9. Eph. ii. 13. Rom. viii. 17. Il John, iii, 1. 1.Mat. i. 6. ** Heb. x. 22.
“ in full assurance of faith.” And in all events, it may elevate above despair; since whatever may be the load of sin, yet if conscience feel the pressure of the weight, and the spirit be humbled under the sense of it, the contemplated character may allure us back to our offended Father, with the penitent con. fession of having sinned against him; yet with hope in the mercy which dictated the gracious declaration, that “ he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."*
It has been already intimated, that the Almighty Father is invoked as in heaven; in order to denote an alliance of his greatness with his goodness. The sentiment ought not to be understood, as limiting the divine essence to space: For while we read concerning his immensity“ Heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him;”+ it is said in another place, not only—“ If I go up into heaven, thou art there;” but also—“ If I go down to hell thou art there also;" and—“ If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall thy hand find me." It is scriptural to believe, that there is a portion of the immense domain of the universe, in which the glory of its great Lord is the most of all effulgent. This is the idea conveyed to us under the name of heaven: of which the less is to be said, because it is that, not only “ which the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard;" but also “ of which the heart hath not conceived.'s Of this however we are assured, that although God is in heaven and we on earth, yet is he called “ the hearer of prayer.”'l And this is fruitful of encouragement; since, as we cannot be in any portion of space, to which his sceptre does not extend; so, neither can we be
where, from whence our prayers will not be heard.
There is still, in this invocation, a weighty sense to be drawn from the circumstance, that we are
* 2 Pet. iii. 9. Si Cor. ii, 9.
+ 1 Ki. viii. 27. Ps lxv. 2.
| Ps. cxxxix. 8, 9.