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raneous prayer, if it have been premeditated, is a set form, as to the matter and the manner, though not perhaps as to the precise words. If it have been composed beforehand, it becomes clearly a set form even to the minister who utters it, as well as to the congregation; but, whether premeditated or perfectly extemporaneous and unprepared, every prayer delivered by an individual in a public assembly is in reality a set form to the hearers. They must join in it, and adopt it exactly as it is; to them it is essentially a prescribed prayer; and only so far differs from a public liturgy, that it is prescribed instanter, and by a single minister. The point at issue, then, is not whether a set form of prayer is to be used in divine worship, for such it must be to the congregation; but whether it is to be precomposed and publicly authorized; in other words, whether the church has a Scriptural right to prescribe a liturgy for public worship?
No express precept is adduced from the sacred writings, either in support of free prayer or in opposition to a liturgical service; but a preference of the former is sometimes grounded upon certain texts, in which the gift of prayer is promised to the faithful, as Zech. xii. 10; 1 Cor. xiv. 15; and especially Rom. viii. 26; “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities ; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." That we can neither
pray aright nor do any good thing without God's Spirit, is most true ; but it consists not in a miraculous and immediate infusion of powers and abilities. The Spirit only aids and assists; and this assistance may be expected as well in the composition of a liturgy, as in the utterance of an extemporaneous prayer; while in either case, it will be given to those who join with fervour and sincerity. From the admonition also, - Quench not the Spirit," 1 Thess. v. 19, it is inferred that there is a gift of prayer, which should not be restrained by pre-composed forms. But it is derogatory to the Divine Majesty, to suppose that it can make any difference as to quenching the Spirit, either to the minister or the hearers, whether the prayers are extemporary or after a prescribed model 1. So little can be alleged from the Scriptures against the use of liturgies, that their lawfulness is generally allowed by separatists, who, for the most part, content themselves with resting their preference of extemporaneous prayers on the ground that they are equally, if not more accordant with the spirit of the Gospel, and more edifying? On this ground, however, the church has the same right, if she sees fit, to prescribe a public formulary of prayer; for which also a Scriptural warrant is claimed.
See Bennet, Disc. 'on the Gift of Prayer; Bp. Jer. Taylor, on Liturgies, in vol. vii.; Bp. Wilkins, on Prayer. Dissenters sometimes appeal to 1 Cor. xiv., particularly ver. 14–17; but though the chapter is of difficult interpretation, there is nothing in it, as far as the writer of these pages can perceive, opposed to the use of a liturgy.
2 The concessions of the older Non-conformists may be seen in
The public worship of God consists of Confession, Supplication, Intercession, Profession of Faith, Thanksgiving, and Praise. It is evidently possible for some of these parts to be performed according to a liturgical model, and others according to the fancy or discretion of the minister; but they are parts of one whole; they all equally belong to one service; and the model which befits one part can scarcely be unfit for the rest. If it be said that the duties of confession, supplication, and intercession, may be more advantageously performed in an extemporary manner, in order to adapt them to times, and incidents, and specific circumstances, the answer is—as that alone is public worship in which all can join, the subject matter of all its parts should be applicable to the aggregate body of worshippers, not merely to private individuals and peculiar cases; and, being general, may well be expressed in pre-composed terms. In the house of God the pious are assembled for one common purpose, to unite in one common service to the great Creator; and if it can be shown to be right and lawful to use a liturgy in one part, can it be wrong to conduct the whole service, with all its parts and divisions, after a prescribed form ? If we may praise the Lord in a psalm of David, or in a hymn of modern composition, why should it be thought less proper to supplicate his mercy in liturgical prayers ?
the Lond. Cases, vol. i. or Bennet's Answer, cap. iii. It may be proper to add a few references to some more modern Dissenters who do not deny the lawfulness of set forms ; as Peirce, Vind. p. 398; Doddridge, Lect. Prop. 148 ; Dwight, Theol. Serm. 144; James, Christian Fel. p. 13; Address, p. 31 ; Scales, Principles, p. 238.
— But there is direct evidence for the affirmative.
1. In the sacred writings, we meet with set forms, appointed to be used in the public services of religion. In Exod. xv. l. et seq. is a song of thanksgiving, composed by Moses, after the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, and the destruction of their enemies, which was sung by Moses and the children of Israel, while Miriam with the women accompanied it with timbrels and dances. They could not have joined, unless they had previously learnt it by heart; and that it is a form of prayer addressed to God, is evident from its language and contents; it is, consequently, an instance of a pre-composed form of prayer. In the book of Numbers, Aaron and his sons are commanded to observe a stated form of words in blessing the people: “On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel; saying unto them, The Lord bless thee and keep thee,” &c. ch. vi. 23—26. In the expiation of an uncertain murder, the elders of the city which is next to the slain were to use conjointly the following form of deprecation :-“ Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it,” &c. Deut. xxi. 7, 8. Again, in ch. xxvi. 5, 13, forms of prayer are appointed for those who offered their firstfruits and tithes. So also God, by the prophet Hosea, enjoins his people of Israel to take words and turn unto the Lord, and say, “ Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously,” &c. Hosea xiv. 2, 3. And by the prophet Joel he commands the priests to weep between the porch and the altar, and to say, “Spare thy people, O Lord,” &c. Joel ii. 15—17.
The book of Psalms was appointed by Divine inspiration for the joint use of the congregation in the Levitical service, as appears by the titles of many of them, as well as from their being delivered by David into the hands of Asaph and his brethren, as forms for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, 1 Chron. xvi. 7; and Hezekiah commanded the Levites to make use of them, 2 Chron. xxix. 30. The same ordinance was renewed by Ezra, ch. iii. 10, 1l; and by Nehemiah, ch. xii. 24. That many of these divine compositions are precative is certain, for they are expressly called prayers. To several this title is prefixed “ A Prayer of David;" the 90th is called the “ Prayer of Moses, the Man of God;" the 102d is entitled “A Prayer of the Afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before God ;” and at the end of the 72d psalm it is added, 66 The