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N the worship of God, whether public or private,
two things are required, " the spirit and the understanding,” (1 Cor. xiv. 15.) the reasoning faculties of the mind and the sensibilities of the heart. And unless both the understanding and affections are engaged in Divine service, an essential requisite to its acceptableness is wanting.
For the exercise both of the understanding and of the heart the church of England has provided in her inimitable forms. The simplicity of her language is such as to be adapted to the meanest capacity, and the ardour of the devotional spirit which she breathes is calculated to warm the coldest heart. But though our reformers have done all that men could do for the great end of promoting and perpetuating a spirituality of worship in the church of England to the latest generations, yet the labour of her successive ministers in the work of explication and application is not rendered superfluous. It is their duty to assist the people in understanding the prayers and praises in which they engage, and to try if they can fan the languid spark of devotion into a flame.
The author of these pages has these important objects in view, while he submits to the eye of the public the substance of a course of lectures on the Collects of our church. A few years ago he published a volume on the morning and evening services, which obtained a very favourable reception. He has been importuned by his
friends to prosecute the plan; and at length, amidst the huununerable and almost hourly avocations of a very large and populous parish, he has done what he could in compliance with their request. He is conscious of manifold imperfections in his execution of the undertaking; and therefore it is with earnest prayer to God for the pardon of defects and for his blessing on the work, and with a deprecation of severe criticism, that he sends his sheets to the press. The author takes the liberty of adopting the words of the pious Mr. Nelson in his preface to the “ Companion to the Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England,” by saying that he is “ not much concerned for those just censures the world “ may fix upon the meanness of this performance; the
design of it will, with good people, apologise for
many imperfections. Besides, a man of moderate “ attainments may be serviceable to those that have “ lesser degrees of knowledge; as also to such who, “ though they may have capacity, yet have not leisure “ nicely to inquire into these matters. And provided “ he can, but in the least manner, promote a sense of “ religion among those that want it, or contribute to “ the increase of it where it is already entertained, he " will be much better pleased than to deserve the praises ss of the most accomplished critic.”
The author chose that part of the liturgy which these pages are designed to elucidate for the subject of his meditation, because he considered it to be untrodden ground. For he is not conscious that the collects have been before discussed in an extended practical way. Comber, whose work on the liturgy is a most valuable composition, has but slightly touched on these short
prayers ; two folio pages being all that he has allotted to them, in which he has only defined the name, pointed out their general mode of construction, and given a table of reference to their several subjects. “Some judge,” he says, “that they take their name from being collected out of those portions of holy writ which are annexed to them under the title of epistles and gospels. But if we regard the use of the word in the Scriptures and the fathers, they may rather seem to be denominated from the collection and gathering together of the people into religious assemblies, among whom (so collected) these prayers were to be used. * For which cause, though they be short, yet all that any need ask for is comprehended in them, and collected into a small epitome. Therefore let the whole congregation join most unanimously in them, and apply them to their own and their brethren's known necessities. And observe, that they are all directed to the Father through the Son, who liveth and loveth us, and so will hear us; and who reigneth in heaven, and therefore can help us. The beginning is commonly the ground on which we are induced to ask; and after the petition made, it is commonly backed with some motive taken from the glory of God for our benefit, which we believe will be the effect of our being heard.”+
* May not the name collect be rather derived from the pithy and comprehensive nature of these short forms ? Collecta, quæ ex plurimis locis in unum lecta est. Varro de L. L. Dicta collectanea, Suet. Cæsar. 56. Apophthegms, or notes.
+ Comber's Companion lo the Temple; or, Help to Devotion in the Use of the Book of Common Prayer, fol. edit. p. 153. It seems a pity that the Clarendon press, which has lately reprinted some other valuable works, should not he employed in giving to the public a new edition of this. It is much wanted, and might be of great use.
" That most of our collects are very antient, appears by their conformity to the epistles and gospels which are thought to have been collected by St. Jerom, and put into the Lectionary by him: for which reason many believe that the collects also were first framed by him. It is certain that Gelasius, who was bishop of Rome, A.D. 492, ranged the collects which were then used into order, and added some new ones of his own; which office was again corrected by Pope Gregory the Great in the year 600, whose sacramentary contains most of the collects we now use. But our Reformers observing that some of these collects were afterwards corrupted by superstitious alterations and additions, and that others were quite left out of the Roman Missals, and entire new ones, relating to their present innovations, added in their room; they therefore examined every collect strictly, and where they found any of them corrupted, there they corrected them ; where any new ones had been inserted, they restored the old ones; and lastly, at the restoration, every collect was again reviewed, when whatsoever was deficient, was supplied, and all that was but improperly expressed, rectified."*
Of the piety of Gregory I. Mr. Milner has produced the most indisputable evidence in his Ecclesiastical History. Concerning his liturgical labours, Mr. Milner says (vol. iii. p. 96), “ The church of England is not only indebted to Gregory for the Litany. In his Sacramentary he embodied the collects of the antient church, and improved old or made new ones. Gelasius, before him, had appointed public prayers composed by himself
* Wheatly. Oxford edit. p. 185.
or others. These were all placed in the offices by Gregory. And by a comparison of our Book of Common Prayer with his Sacramentary, it is evident that almost all the collects for Sundays and the principal festivals in the church of England were taken out of the latter. To me it appears to be an advantage, that our Reformers followed antiquity so much in the work. The purification of the antient services from the corrupt and idolatrous mixtures of Popery was as strong an indication of their judgment as the composition of prayers altogether new could have been ; which, however, they scrupled not to introduce in various parts of the liturgy. From the brief account I have given, it appears that the service of the church is far more antient than the Roman Missal, properly speaking. And whoever has attended to the superlative simplicity, fervor, and energy of the prayers, will have no hesitation in concluding that they must, the collects particularly, have been composed in a time of true evangelical light and Godliness. It is impossible, indeed, to say how early some parts of the liturgy were written, but doubtless they are of very high antiquity. Many persons in dark times, and under the disadvantage of slothful ignorant pastors, have been enlightened and nourished through their medium; and not a few, I trust, of my readers can justly confess with me, how much their devotion has been assisted by the public use of them. Let any unprejudiced person compare with the liturgy several forms of prayer composed in modern times, and he will find an unction to attend the former, of which the latter are destitute. The present age is certainly much tinctured, in general, with a sceptical, philosophical spirit, which in its nature is not favourable to the production of devotional compositions."