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importunity in pleading with God with many arguments, we put ourselves more directly under the promise that is made to importunate petitioners; and we become fitter to receive the mercies we seek.
Yet in the last place, I would answer by way of concession: If we have the scheme and substance of several prayers ready composed, and well suited to all the most usual cases and concerns of life and religion, and if one or other of these be daily used with seriousness, interposing new expressions wherever the soul is drawn out to farther breathings after God, or where it finds occasion for new matter from some present providences: This is much rather to be approved than a neglect of all prayer, or a dwelling upon a single form or two; and it will be more edifying to those who join with us, than a perpetual confusion of thought, and endless dishonourable attempts in the mere extemporary way.
But I speak this by way of indulgence to persons of weaker gifts, or when the natural spirits are low, or the mind much indisposed for duty: And in these cases the way of addressing God, which is called mixed prayer, will be so far from confining the pious soul to a dead form of worship, that it will sometimes prove a sweet enlargement and release to the spirit under its own darkness and confinement. It will furnish it with spiritual matter, and awaken it to a longer and more lively converse with God in its own language: And, if I may use a plain comparison, it will be like pouring a little water into a pump, whereby a much greater quantity will be raised from the spring when it lies low in the earth.
Objection. If any christian on the other hand should forbid all use of such compositions, as supposing them utterly unlawful, and quenching the Spirit: Answer. I would humbly reply, there is no danger of that, while we do not rest in them, as our designed end, but use them only as means to help us to pray, and never once confine ourselves to them without liberty of alteration. It is the saying of a great divine, "Though set forms made by others, be as a crutch or help of our insufficiency, yet those which we compose ourselves, are a fruit of our sufficiency And that a man ought not to be so confined by any premeditated form, as to neglect any special infusion; he should so prepare himself, as if he expected no assistance: And he should so depend upon divine assistance, as if he had made no preparation."
Here, if I might obtain leave of my fathers in the ministry, I would say this to younger students: That if in their private years of study, they pursued such a course once a week, as I have here described, I am persuaded their gifts would be richly improved; their ministerial labours would be more universally
acceptable to the world: their talents would be attractive of multitudes to their place of worship; the hearers would be raised in their spirits while the preacher prays with a regular and divine eloquence; and they would receive those sermons with double influence and success, which are attended with such prayers.
VI. The last attempt I shall make to convince christians of the necessity of seeking this gift, shall be merely by representing the ill consequences of the neglect of it. If you take no pains to learn to pray, you will unavoidably fall into one of these three evils Either first, you will drag on heavily in the work of prayer all your days, even in your closets as well as your family, and be liable to so many imperfections in the performance, as will rob your own soul of a great part of the benefit and the delight of this sweet duty, and give neither pleasure nor profit to them that hear you: The ignorant part of your household will sleep under you, while the more knowing are in pain for you. And perhaps you will sometimes think to make amends for the dulness of the devotion, by increasing the length of it: But this is to add one error to another, and lay more burdens upon them that are weary.
Or secondly, If you find that you cannot carry on the constancy of this duty with tolerable satisfaction, you will give yourself up to a morning and evening form, and rest in them from year to year. Now though it may be possible for some persons to use a form without deadness and formality of spirit, yet such as from a mere principle of sloth, neglect to learn to pray, are most likely to fall into formality and slothfulness in the use of forms, and the power of religion will be lost.
Or, in the last place, if you have been bred up with an universal hatred of all forms of psayer, and yet know not how to pray without them, you will grow first inconstant in the discharge of this duty; every little hindrance will put you by; and at last perhaps you will leave it off entirely, and your house and your closet too in time will be without prayer. Christians, which of these three evils will ye chuse? Can ye be satisfied to drudge on to your life's end, among improprieties and indecencies; and thus expose prayer to contempt? Or will your minds beeasy to be confined for ever to a form or two of slothful devotion? Or shall prayer be banished out of your houses, and all appearance of religion be lost among you? Parents, which of these evils do ye chuse for your children? you charge them to pray daily, you tell them the sin and danger of dwelling all upon prayer-books, and yet you scarce ever give them any regular instructions how to perform this duty. How can ye expect they should maintain religion honourably in their families, and avoid the things you forbid? But whatsoever ill consequences
attend them hereafter, consider what share of the guilt will fie at the door of those who never took any pains to shew them to pray.
While I am persuading christians with so much earnestness to seek the gift of prayer, surely none will be so weak as to imagine the grace and spirit of prayer may be neglected. Without some degrees of common influence from the blessed Spirit, the gift is not to be attained. And without the exercise of grace in this duty, the prayer will never reach heaven, nor prevail with God. He is not taken with the brightest forms of worship, if the heart be not there. Be the thoughts never so divine, the expressions never so sprightly and delivered with all the sweet and moving accents of speech, it is all in his esteem but a fair carcase without a soul: It is a mere picture of prayer, a dead picture which cannot charm; a lifeless offering, which the living God will never accept; nor will our great High-priest ever present it to the Father.
But these things do not fall directly under my present design. I would therefore recommend my readers to those treatises that enforce the necessity of spiritual worship, and describe the glory of inward devotion above the best outward performances. Then shall they learn the perfection of beauty in this part of worship, when the gift and grace of prayer are happily joined in the secret pleasure and success of it, and appear before men in its full loveliness, and attractive power. Then shall religion look like itself, divine and heavenly, and shine in all the lustre it is capable of here upon earth.
PARENTS AND GOVERNORS OF FAMILIES
BELONGING TO THE
Congregation which usually Assembles for Worship in BerryStreet, London.
Christian friends, beloved in our Lord,
INCE you make a solemn profession of the religion of Christ, and build your hopes of a happy eternity upon it, I am well persuaded it is the desire of your souls that your families should be trained up in the practice of the same religion, and become heirs of eternal happiness together with yourselves. For this end you engage their attendance on public worship; but your ministers have little hope of obtaining this end by all their public labours, unless you join to assist them with your private instructions and prayers. Even when we address our discourses to the young, we can do it but in general language; but you have some special advantages with regard to those of your own house: There are many opportunities which you may seize to promote this pious work; many tender moments of address wherein you may apply yourselves in a more particular manner to the understandings and to the consciences of your children, in order to fix the great doctrines and duties of christianity upon their memory and their heart.
I need not inform you, for you are well apprized of this great truth, that the foundation of all religion is laid in knowledge. We must not worship an unknown God, nor pay him service without understanding. I presume therefore that you take due care and pains to instruct your children in their early years in the chief principles of our holy religion, and I would hope that while you make them learn that full and comprehensive form of instruction called the Assembly's Shorter Catechism, you endeavour to inform them of the meaning of every sentence, that they may not learn words by rote without knowing what they mean.
And yet I beg leave to enquire of you, my friends, after all your labours, whether you can find that your children take in the sense of those questions and answers in the years of infancy and childhood, when you impress the words upon their memory? Do they pronounce the answers in such a manner as though they understood the meaning of them? May I be permitted yet further to enquire concerning yourselves when you learned this catechism in your younger years? Did you understand all those sentences and expressions, when perhaps you could readily repeat them by heart? I am persuaded you have made some observations upon your own experience, both in learning and in teaching the things of God: Surely you are convinced it is far better that children should be instructed in the important principles of their duty and happiness, in such a way, as may lead them to understand the words which they learn to pronounce. Have not many of you often wished for some easier and shorter forins of knowledge, whereby your children might have some sense of divine things, and early religion let into their minds in a way more suited to their feeble capacities.
Far be it from me to take out of your hands that valuable catechism of the assembly of divines: I am not going to persuade you to lay aside the use of it in your families; but only to render the work of instructing your children and servants more easy and more successful. I would fain propose
to you a method whereby children who cannot understand the answers of tirat catechism, may yet have their tender minds furnished and impressed with the things of God and their salvation betimes, and that they may be better prepared for using that catechism with greater advantage when they are farther advanced in age and knowledge, and when their minds are better fitted to receive the deeper sense therein contained. This is what a multitude of private christians have desired, and that not only for the use of their children, but of their servants also, and for the first instruction of any of the inore ignorant parts of mankind. This is what many ministers have attempted even since the Assembly's Catechism was written: This is what I have been often solicited to undertake these twenty years by several ministers and private christians: And this, my friends, is the business and design of the little book which I bere present you. Though I will not pretend or presume to write catechisms for the world, yet I think I do not extend my studies and cares beyond my proper province, when I take pains to assist you in the instruction of your families. It any other christian families think proper to make use of these plain forms of instruction, I heartily wish they may find all the desired success.
If it should be enquired how I came to set about this work now, after so long solicitations and delays, will tell you freely, that while I was writing the Treatise of Education which I promised the world some time ago, I found this work of catechising came in necessarily as a part of it: And finding it grow too large for a chapter in that treatise, I separated it from the rest, and have thus prepared it to be published by itself before the other is finished. I believe you will heartily agree to do me so much justice, as not to impute this work to any principle of ambition, or to suppose that a vain design of glory amongst men has tempted me to frame an A B C for children. I well know that some of my particular friends imagine my time is employed in too mean a service while I write for babes: I own my obligations to them for their good opinion of any of my other writings: But I content myself with this thought, that nothing is too mean for a servant of Christ to engage in, if he can thereby most effectually promote the kingdom of his blessed Master. If the God whom I serve will bless my labours to sow the seeds of religion in the understandings and hearts of children, I shall hope there will arise a fair harvest of the fruits of holiness in the succeeding generation, and some revenue of glory to my Creator and Redeemer.
Perhaps it is not proper for me to say, and the world will hardly believe, what pains have been taken in composing these catechismus, especially the first and second of them; with what care I have endeavoured to select the most easy and necessary parts of religion, in order to propose them to the memory of children according to their ages; what laborious diligence has been used to seek out all the plainest and most familiar forms of speech, that the great things of God and the mysteries of the gospel might be brought down to the capacities of children. It is not for me to say how many hours, and days, and weeks, have been spent in reviewing and examining every word and expression, that, if possible, nothing might be inserted which might give just occasion of offence to pious persons and families, that nothing might be left out which was necessary for children to know in that tender age; and that no word, phrase, or sentiment, if possible, might be admitted which could not be brought in some measure within the reach of a child's understanding.
I am well aware that both my younger catechisms will be thought defective, in that I have not therein warned children more particularly of some sins of which they are in continual danger. But I was much afraid to make these early forms of instructions too burthensome and tedious. Besides, whatsoever is wanting either of the mention of duties, or of sans relating to God or man, may be found in the explication of the ten commandinents in the Assembly's Catechism, or in my Preservative from the Sins and Follies