Luk_11:1. And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his Disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his Disciples.
SCARCELY any thing can more strongly mark our defection from God, than our inability to pray. It might well be supposed, that, considering how many sins we have to be forgiven, how many wants to be supplied, and how many blessings to be acknowledged, that we should never be at a loss for matter in our addresses at the throne of grace, or for a suitable frame in drawing nigh to God. But the truth is, that there is no duty more difficult than that of prayer: for as, on the one hand, “we know not what to pray for as we ought;” so neither, on the other hand, are we able to plead with God as we ought, unless “the Holy Spirit help our infirmities, and assist us in relation to every part of this duty [Note: Rom_8:26.].” The Apostles themselves felt their need of instruction upon this head, and received from their Divine Master a form of prayer fitted for the use of the Church in all ages. From this circumstance, I shall take occasion to shew,
The importance of sound formularies of instruction and prayer, for the use of the Church of Christ—
Every society has some ground of mutual agreement, and some principle on which the members are formed into one collective body. Now the Church of Christ is a society collected out of the world, and united in one common sentiment of adherence to Christ, as their only Lord and Saviour. There have been minor differences between the different parts of this body; and different societies have been formed, to confirm in their respective views the members attached to each. But on the subject of these differences I have at present no call to speak: my purpose, in this part of my discourse, being simply to shew, that, by the common consent of all, certain formularies have been judged expedient, for the marking and perpetuating of their respective sentiments. Some, indeed, have limited their formularies to a statement of principles; others have extended them to forms of prayer: and it is of these latter that I intend more especially to speak. I mean not to condemn those who differ in this respect; but only to vindicate those who, in addition to a statement of their principles, have also adopted a form of prayer.
A statement of principles is good—
[It forms a bond of union between the members of the same Church. Doubtless, if the principles themselves be false, the record that contains them cannot be good: but, supposing the principles to be sound, the forming of them into an accredited and unchanging standard cannot but be a signal benefit to the Church that is governed by them. Such a statement is a great preservative from error; it strengthens the hands of the faithful members, and is a witness against those who are unfaithful; and it serves, in perpetuity, as a rallying point, both for those who adhere to truth and those who have departed from it.]
A form of prayer is good also—
[That there are persons capable of conducting public worship in a truly edifying manner without a form, is readily acknowledged. But the great mass of those who lead the devotions of the people (I mean not to offend any, but only to “speak the truth in love,”) are far from equal to the task: and even those whose gifts are sufficient, find themselves too often destitute of the grace of prayer. They can utter words, perhaps, with fluency: but their words betray the absence of the heart: and the barrenness felt by those who speak, is diffused over all who hear. I grant that there may also be a hardness and barrenness in one who uses a pre-conceived form: but still, if that form express all that a devout spirit could wish, the persons who join in it may themselves, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, supply the unction, which the minister has failed to manifest.
In family devotions, a pre-conceived form is not only useful, but necessary, for the generality of Christians. In ministers, a kind of official fluency is obtained by habit: but in others, even in men of learning and of great intelligence, who can deliver themselves with ease in a popular harangue, there is a straitness, both of conception and expression, when they come before God in prayer; and if they had not somewhat of a form prepared for them, they must abandon the use of family prayer altogether.
As to the lawfulness of such forms, I conceive that to be placed beyond a doubt, by the answer which our Lord gave to the request made to him in our text. His Disciples desired him to teach them to pray, as John had taught his Disciples: and our Lord gave them a prayer, which they were directed to use, either in form or substance, whenever they drew nigh to God at the throne of grace: a clear proof that forms are good; and that in the use of them we may “worship God in spirit and in truth.”]
Assuming that sound formularies are good, I proceed to point out,
The peculiar excellence of those which are used and sanctioned by the Church of England—
The Articles, the Homilies, and the Liturgy, are the standard of Divine truth, as embraced and professed by our Established Church. Now,
The Articles are peculiarly excellent, both as to the soundness of their principles, and the moderation of their statement—
[They have evidently been drawn up with a view to comprehend all persons whose views, upon the whole, are right. The Calvinist and the Arminian meet upon the ground there stated, each being satisfied that his own sentiments are contained in them. And this, considering how unqualified the Scriptural expressions, on which their respective creeds are founded, often are, is very desirable. They are articles of peace, and not of war: and they serve to combine in one Church all that is truly good, whilst they repudiate those only who deny some fundamental truth of Christianity.]
The Homilies are a pattern of simplicity and godly sincerity—
[Never was truth more plainly stated than in them. The language in which they are written is indeed antiquated; in consequence of which, the use of them has been discontinued: but, in their mode of stating divine truth, and enforcing it upon the conscience, they never have been excelled by any composition whatever. It were well if they were more regarded as a pattern for popular addresses at this day: for, in comparison of them, the great mass of public addresses, if viewed with candour and with Apostolic zeal, would be found, it is to be feared, exceedingly defective, both in energy and in scriptural instruction.]
As for the Liturgy, no commendation can be too great for it—
[Being of human composition, it must, of necessity, partake of human infirmity. But, taken all together, it comes nearer to inspiration than any book that ever was composed. Only let a person be humbled as a sinner before God, and he will not find in the whole universe any prayers so suited to his taste. They express exactly what a broken-hearted penitent before God would desire to express: yet is there in them nothing of extravagance or of cant: all is sober, chaste, judicious; so minute, as to comprehend every thing which the largest assembly of suppliants could wish to utter; and at the same time so general, as not to involve any one to a greater extent than his own experience sanctions and approves. Throughout the whole, the suppliant is made to stand on the only true foundation, and to urge every request in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, his atoning Saviour, his all-prevailing Advocate. Throughout the whole, also, is the Holy Spirit’s influence acknowledged as the only source of light and life, and implored as the gift of God to sinners for Christ’s sake. In point of devotion, whether prayer or praise be offered, nothing can exceed the Liturgy, either in urgency of petition or in fervour of thanksgiving. In truth, if a whole assembly were addressing God in the spirit of the Liturgy, as well as in the word there would be nothing to compare with such a spectacle upon the face of the earth: it would approximate more to heaven than any thing of the kind that was ever yet seen in this world.
Taking, then, the formularies of our Church in a collective view, I must say, that we have unbounded reason for thankfulness to Almighty God for the provision which has been made for the instruction of our minds, and the assistance that has been given us for our advancement in the divine life.]
Now, then, let me state to you,
The claim which the Prayer-book and Homily Society has upon us in this particular view—
[Here a summary view was given of the services rendered by that Society to the world. And they were shewn to be such as to deserve the countenance and support of every pious man. Its having translated our Liturgy into so many languages, renders it an institution of far greater importance than would, at first sight, be supposed: for, if Bible Societies and Mission Societes are useful in gathering Churches, this is useful in confirming, establishing, comforting, and edifying all who are so united — — —]
Let me then recommend,
That these formularies be duly estimated by yourselves—
[The Homilies are too much laid aside at this time. It is well that the attention of the world is now more called to them than it has been for the last hundred years. I would recommend you all to read them for your own edification, and to circulate them for the edification of others. The Liturgy, also, is too much used as a form, without a suitable endeavour to enter into the spirit of it. But if we will, from time to time, compare our own frame of mind in prayer with the words which are provided for our use, we shall see how exceedingly defective we are in every thing that is good; and how much we need a supply of the Spirit of God to bring us to any measure of that experience which we are bound, as Christians to attain — — —]
That your regard for them be shewn by your endeavours to circulate them throughout the world—
[From the records of that society, you will see that nothing but a want of funds has prevented a still greater extension of their labours than has yet taken place. If the generosity of the Christian public enable them to proceed according to their wishes, there will not be a country under heaven that will not, in due time, be blessed with the same advantages as we enjoy.]