« السابقةمتابعة »
TO" A GUIDE TO PRAYER."
THE duty of prayer is so great and necessary a part of religion, that
every degree of assistance toward the discharge of it will be always acceptable to pious minds. The inward and spiritual performance of this worship is taught us in many excellent discourses, but a regular scheme of prayer as a christian exercise or a piece of holy skill, has been much neglected. The form, method, and expression, together with other attendants of it, such as voice and gesture, have been so little treated of, that few christians have any clear or distinct knowledge of them: and yet all these have too powerful an influence upon the soul in its most spiritual exercises; and they properly fall under various directions of nature and scripture. Now while institutions of logic and rhetoric abound, that teaches us to reason aright, and to speak well among men, why should the rules of speaking to God be so much untaught?
It is a glory to our profession that there is a great number of ministers in our day and nation, who are happy in the gift of prayer, and exercise it continually in an honourable and useful manner. Yet they have been contented to direct others to this attainment merely by the influence of a good example. Thus we are taught to pray, as some profess to teach French and Latin, i. e. by rote. Whereas those that learn by rule, as well as by imitation, acquire a greater readiness of just and proper expression in speaking those languages upon every occasion.
I am persuaded that one reason of this neglect has been the angry zeal for parties among us, which has discouraged men of sober and moderate principles from attempting much on this subject, while the zealots have been betrayed into two extremes. Some contend earnestly for precomposed set forms of prayer, and will worship God no other way. These have little need of any other instructions but to be taught to read well, since the words, matter, and method of their prayers are already appointed. Other violent men, in extreme opposition to them, have indulged the irregular wanderings of thought and expression, lest by a confinement to rules they should seem to restrain the Spirit, and return to carnal ordinances.
But if the leaders of one party had spent as much in learning to pray, as they have done in reading liturgies, and vindicating their imposition; and if the warm writers of the other side, together with their just cautions against quenching the spirit, had more cultivated this divine skill themselves, and taught christians regularly, how to pray; I believe the practice of free prayer had been more universally approved, and the fire of this controversy had never raged to the destruction of so much charity.
My design in this treatise has been to write a prayer-book without forms. And I have sought to maintain the middle way between the distant mistakes of contending christians.
In describing the nature of the duty of prayer, though I have not enlarged much on each particular, nor multiplied subdivisions; yet I have endeavoured with the utmost care and exactness to divide the duty into all it
necessary parts, that the memory of younger christians might be always furnished with some proper matter and method for their addresses to God.
The gift, grace, and spirit of prayer, have of late years been made the subject of plentiful ridicule; and while some have utterly abandoned all pretences to them, and turned the very terms to jest and reproach, it must be confessed that others have given too just occasion for such scandal, by explaining all these words in so exalted a sense, as befits nothing but divine inspiration. I have endeavoured therefore to reduce these terms to their more proper and rational meaning, and explain them in such a way as the wisest and best men of all persuasions, who have not been warmed with party-zeal, have generally allowed. And I bave had this design in my view, that plainer christians among the dissenters, might understand what they themselves mean when they speak of praying by a gift, and praying by the spirit; that they might not expose themselves to the censure of talking without a meaning, not be charged with enthusiasm by their conforming neighbours.
In discoursing of the gift or ability to pray, I have been large and particular, both in directions to attain it, and describing the mistakes, and indecencies that persons may be in danger of committing in this duty; being well assured that we learn to avoid what is culpable, by a plain representation of faults and follies, much better than a bare proposal of the best rules and directions.
But here I am prest between a double difficulty, and already feel the pain of displeasing some of my readers. If I should describe these improprieties of speech and action in a moderate degree, scoffers would reproach a whole party of christians, and say that I had copied all from the life; while my friends would be ready to suspect that I had published some of the errors of weaker brethren. On the other hand, if I should represent these faults in their utmost degree of offensiveness, the adversary indeed could scarce have malice enough to believe any preacher in our day was guilty of them: but my friends would tell me, I had played at impertinencies, by exposing such faults as no body practises.
Now when two evils lie before me, I would chuse the least. It is better to be impertinent than a publisher of folly; and therefore I have set forth those indecencies in their very worst appearance, that they might never be practised. Upon this account, I have been forced to borrow instances of improper expressions from antiquated writers; and several of the descriptions of irregular voices and gesture from some obscure persons of the last age, whose talent of assurance was almost the only qualification that made them speakers in public: and this I was constrained to do, because my observations of the prayers I have heard could never have supplied my design.
Besides, had I described some tolerable follies, perhaps weak men might have been ready to vindicate them, because they did not see deformity enough to be blamed. But now the instances I have given appear so disagreeable and ridiculous, that all men must be convinced they ought to be avoided: and younger christians when they learn to pray, will keep at the greatest distance from all such examples.
But it is a hard matter to attempt reformation in any kind without giving offence.--I have also added one short chapter of the grace of prayer, that the work might not appear too imperfect, though that has been abundantly and happily pursued in many treatises, and is the subject of daily sermons.
In speaking of the spirit of prayer, I have tried to obviate all controversies that have arisen to trouble the church, by giving what appeared to me the most natural exposition of the chief scriptures that refer to this matter; and superadding a reasonable and intelligible account of what hand the Spirit of God may be supposed to have in assisting his people in this part of worship. At the end of these chapters l'have laid down many rules borrowed from reason, observation, and holy scripture, how every christiau may in some degree attain these desirable blessings; and I have concluded the whole, with a bearty persuasive to covet the best gifts, and seek after the most excellent way of the performance of this duty.
Perhaps some persons may wonder, that in a treatise that professes to teach the skill of prayer, I should not once recommend the prayer that our Lord taught his disciples as a perfect pattern for all christians. But it is my opinion, that divine wisdom gave it for other purposes; and if this treatise meet with acceptance in the world, I may hereafter venture to expose my sentiments on the Lord's-prayer, if God-shall ever give me health to review and finish them, with a short essay or two on the personal ministry of Christ upon earth, which are proper to be joined with them.
These institutions were at first composed for the use of a private society of younger men, who were desirous to learn to pray, and this may excuse the stile and way of address in some parts of the discourse. It has lain silent by me several years, and resisted many a call to appear in public, in hopes of being more polished before its first appearance. But when I shall have health and leisure to dress all my thoughts to the best advantage, that God only knows, whose hand has long confined me. I am convinced at last, that. it is better for me to do something for God, though it be attended with imperfections, than be guilty of perpetual delays in hopes of better pleasing myself.
After all the care I have taken to avoid controversy, and express myself in such a way as might not be justly offensive to any sober christains; yet if I should prove so unhappy, as to say any thing disagreeable to the sentiments of some of my younger readers. I must entreat them not to throw away the whole treatise, and deprive themselves of all the benefit they might obtain by other parts of it. Nor should they load the whole book with reproaches and censures, lest thereby they prevent others from reaping those advantages toward converse with God, which the more inoffensive pages might convey, An unwary censure, or a rash and hasty word thrown upon a discourse, or a sermon, a preacher, or a writer, hath sometimes done more disservice to religion, than could ever be recompensed by many recantations. Permit therefore the little book, that has an honest design to teach creatures to hold correspondence with their God, permit it to do all the service that it can.
Had I found any treatise that had answered my design, I had never given myself the trouble of writing this at first, nor ventured to expose it now. There are indeed several well-composed forms of devotion in the world, written by ministers of the conformist, and nonconformist persuasion, and these are of excellent use to instruct us in the matter and language of prayer, if we maintain our holy liberty, and do not tie our thoughts down to the words of men. Mr. Henry's method of prayer is a judicious collection of scriptures, proper to the several parts of that duty. Mr. Murrey has composed a volume of addresses to God, which he calls Closet Devotions on the Principal Heads of Divinity, in the Expressions of Scripture. Both these, if rightly used, will afford happy assistance to the humble and serious worship