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expressions of a person skilful in this duty? How sweet a refreshment have ye found under inward burdens of mind, or outward afflictions, when in broken language you have told them to your minister, and he hath spread them before God, and that in such words as hath spoke your whole souls and your sorrows! And you have experienced a sweet serenity and calm of spirits; you have risen up from your knees with your countenance no more sad and have ye not wished for the same gift yourselves, that ye might be able upon all occasions thus to address the throne of grace, and pour out all your hearts in this manner before your God? But what a sad inconvenience is it to live in such a world as this, where we are liable daily to so many new troubles and temptations, and not be able to express them to God in prayer; unless we find them written in the words of a form! and how bard is it to find any form suited to all our new wants and new sorrows!
At other times what divine impressions of holiness have ye felt in public worship in the congregation, where this duty hath been performed with holy skilf and fervency! and in that prayer you have received more solid edification than from the whole sermon. How dead have ye been to all sinful temptations, and how much devoted to God! And do ye not long to be able to pray thus in your households and in your own closet? Would it not be a pleasure for men to be thus able to entertain their whole families daily? Aud for christians thus to entertain one another, when they meet to pray to their common God and Father? and to help one another at this rate onward to the world of praise? When the disciples had just been witnesses of the devotion of our Lord; Luke xi. 1. who spake as never man spake, their hearts grew warm under the words of that blessed Worshipper, and one of them, in the name of the rest, cried out, Lord, teach us to pray too.
Thus a good attainment of this gift is made a happy instrument of sanctification as well as comfort, by the co-working power of the blessed Spirit. But on the other hand, hath not your painful experience sometimes taught you, that zeal and devotion hath been cooled, and almost quenched by the vain repetitions or weak and wandering thoughts of some fellow christian that leads the worship? And at another time a wellframed prayer of beautiful order and language hath been rendered disagreeable by some unhappy tones and gestures, so that you have been ready to long for the conclusion, and have been weary of attendance. Who then would willingly remain ignorant of such an attainment, which is so sweet and successful an instrument to advance religion in the powers and pleasures of it in their own hearts, and the hearts of all men that are round about them?
IV. The honour of God, and the credit of religion in the world, will afford me another spring of arguments to excite you to attain this skill of prayer. The great God esteems himself dishonoured, when we do not pay him the best worship we are capable of. The work of the Lord must not be done negligently. It is highly for his honour, that we be furnished with the best talents for his service, and that we employ them in the best manner. This discovers to the world the inward high esteem and veneration we have for our Maker: This gives him glory in the eyes of men. But to neglect utterly this gift of prayer, and to serve him daily with a few sudden thoughts, with rude and improper expressions, that never cost us any thing but the labour of our lips while we speak, this is not the way to sanctify his name among men.
There is a sinful sloth and indifference in religion, that hath tempted some men to believe that God is no curious and exact enquirer into outward things: And if they can but persuade themselves their intentions are right, they imagine that for the substance and form of their sacrifice, any thing will serve: And as though he were not a God of order, they address him often in confusion. Because the heart is the chief thing in divine worship, like some foolish Israelite, they are regardless what beast they offer him, so it hath but a heart. But the prophet Malachi thunders with divine indignation and jealousy against such worshippers. Ye have brought that which was torn and lame, and and the sick, should I accept this at your hand? I am a great king, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful; Mal. i. 13, 14. He upbraids us with sharp resentment, and bids us offer it to our governor, and asks, if he will be pleased with it? Now our consciences sufficiently inform us, how careful we are when we make an address to an earthly governor, to have our thoughts well ordered, and words well chosen, as well as to tender it with a loyal beart: And may not our supreme Governor ia heaven expect a due care in ordering our thoughts, and chusing our words, so far at least as to answer all the designs of prayer, and so far as is consistent with the necessity of so frequent addresses to him, and our other christian duties?
The credit of religion in the world is much concerned in the honourable discharge of the duty of prayer. There is an inward beauty in divine worship that consists in the devout temper of the worshippers, and the lively exercise of holy affections: but of this, God only is witness who sees the heart.There is also an outward beauty that arises from a decent and acceptable performance of all the parts of it that come within the notice of our fellow-creatures; that those that observe us may be forced to acknowledge the excellency of religion in our practice of it.
Where worship is performed by immediate inspiration, a natural order of things, and a becoming behaviour is required in him especially who leads the worship. This is the design of the apostle in his advice to the Corinthians; 1 Cor. xiv. 40.Let all things be done decently and in order, i. e. Let such a prudent conduct, such a regular and rational management in all the parts of worship be found among you, as gives a natural beauty to human actions, and will give a visible glory to the acts of religion. Where this advice is followed, if the unlearned and unbeliever, i. e. ignorant and profane, come into the assembly, they will fall down und worship God, and report God is in you of a truth; ver. 25. But if ye are guilty of disorder in speaking, and break the rules of natural light and reason in uttering your inspirations, the unlearned and unbelievers will say, ye are mad, though your words may be the dictates of the holy Spirit.
Much more is this applicable to our common and ordinary performance of worship. When an unskilful person speaks in prayer with a heaviness and penury of thought, with mean and improper language, with a false and offensive tone of voice, or accompanies his words with aukward motions, what slanders are thrown upon our practice? A whole party of christians is ridiculed, and the scoffer saith, we are mad. But when a minister or master of a family, with a fluency of devout sentiments and language, offers his petitions and praises to God in the name of all that are present, and observes all the rules of natural decency in his voice and gesture; how much credit is done to our profession hereby, even in the opinion of those who have no kindness for our way of worship? And how effectually doth such a performance confute the pretended necessity of imposing forms? How gloriously doth it triumph over the slanders of the adversary, and force a conviction upon the mind, that there is something divine and heavenly among us?
I cannot represent this in a better manner than is done by an ingenious author of the last age, who being a courtier in the reigns of the two brothers, Charles and James the second, can never lie under the suspicion of being a dissenter; and that is the late Marquis of Halifax. This noble writer in a little book under a borrowed character, gives his own sentiments of things. He tells us that, "He is far from relishing the impertinent wanderings of those, who pour out long prayers upon the congregation, and all from their own stock; a barren soil, which produces weeds instead of flowers; and by this means they expose religion itself, rather than promote men's devotions. On the other side, there may be too great restraint put upon men, whom God and nature have distinguished from their fellow-labourers, by blessing them with a happier talent, and by giving them not only good
sense, but a powerful utterance too, has enabled them to gush out upon the attentive auditory, with a mighty stream of devout and unaffected eloquence. When a man so qualified, endued with learning too, and above all, adorned with a good life, breaks out into a warm and well delivered prayer before his sermon, it has the appearance of a divine rapture; he raises and leads the hearts of his assembly in another manner than the most composed or best-studied form of set words can ever do: And the pray we's, who serve up all their sermons with the same garnishing, would look like so many statues, or men of straw in the pulpit, compared with those that speak with such a powerful zeal, that men are tempted at the moment to believe heaven itself has dictated their words to them."
V. A fifth persuasive to seek the gift of prayer, shall be drawn from the easiness of attaining it, with the common assistance of the holy Spirit. Easy I call it, in comparison of the long toil and difficulty that men go through, in order to acquire a common knowledge in arts, sciences or trades in this world; though it is not to be expected without some pains and diligence. Some young persons may be so foolish and unhappy, as to make two or three bold attempts to pray in company, before they have well learned to pray in secret; and finding themselves much at a loss and bewildered in their thoughts, or confounded for want of presence of mind, they have abandoned all hopes, and contented themselves with saying, it is impossible: And as they have tempted God, by rashly venturing upon such an act of worship without any due care and preparation, so they have afterward thrown the blame of their own sloth upon God himself, and cried, it is a mere gift of heaven, but God hath not bestowed it upon me. This is as if a youth who had just begun to read logic, should attempt immediately to dispute in a public school, and finding himself baffled and confounded, should cast away his book, renounce his studies, and say, I shall never learn it, it is impossible. Whereas when we seek any attainment, we must begin regularly, and go on gradually toward perfection with patience and labour: Let but the rules recommended in the second chapter of this treatise, for acquiring the gift of prayer, be duly followed, and I doubt not but a christian of ordinary capacity may in time gain so much of this skill, as to answer the demands of his duty and his station.
Rather than I would be utterly destitute of this gift of prayer, I would make such an experiment as this. Once a month I would draw up a new prayer for myself in writing, for morning and evening, and for the Lord's-day, according to all parts of this duty described in the first chapter of this book, or out of the scriptures that Mr. Henry hath collected in his method of prayer, which book I would recommend to all christians. I
would use it constantly all that month, yet never confining myself all along to those very words, but giving myself a liberty to put in or leave out, or enlarge according to the present workings of my heart, or occurrences of providence. Thus by degrees I would write less and less, at last setting down little more than heads or hints of thought or expression; just as ministers learn by degrees to leave off their sermon notes in preaching. I would try whether a year or two of this practice would not furnish me with an ability in some measure to pray without this help; always making it one of my petitions that God would pour more of his Spirit upon me, and teach me the skill of praying. And by such short abstracts and general heads of prayer, well drawn up for children, according to their years and knowledge, they may be taught to pray by degrees, and begin before they are six years old.
Objection. If any christian that loves his ease should abuse this proposal, and say, "If I may use this prayer of my own framing for a month together, why may I not use it all my life; and so give myself no farther trouble about learning to pray."
Answer 1. I would first desire such a man to read over again the great inconveniences mentioned in the second chapter, that arise from a perpetual use of forms, and the danger of confinement to them.-2. I would say in the second place, The matter of prayer is almost infinite: It extends to every thing we can have to transact with our Maker, and it is impossible, in a few pages, to mention particularly one-tenth part of the subjects of our converse with God. But in drawing up new prayers every month, in time we may run through a great part of those subjects, and grow by degrees to be habitually furnished for converse with him on all occasions whatsoever: Which can never be done by dwelling always upon one form or two. As children that learn to read at school, daily take out new lessons, that they may be able at last to read every thing, which they would not well attain, if they always dwelt on the same lesson.-3. Besides, there is a blessed variety of expressions in scripture, to represent our wants, and sorrows, and dangers: The glory, power, and grace of God, his promises and covenants, our hopes and discouragements; and sometimes one expression, sometimes another, may best suit our present turn of thought and temper of our minds. It is good therefore to have as large a furniture of this kind, as possible, that we might never be at a loss to express the inward sentiments of our soul, and clothe our desires and wishes in such words as are most exactly fitted to them.-4. Though God is not the more affected with variety of words and arguments in prayer, for be acts upon other principles borrowed from - himself, yet our natures are more affected with such a variety. Our graces are drawn into more vigorous exercise, and by our