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Hints suggested for furnishing young persons with a
scheme of prayer.
HOSE who are aware of the inestimable val. ue of prayer themselves, will natirally be anxious not on. ly that this duty should be earnestly inculcated on their children, but that they should be taught it in the best manner; and such parents need little persuasion or coun. sel on the subject. Yet children of decent and orderly (I will not say of strictly religious) families are often so superficially instructed in this important business, that it is not unusual, when they are asked what prayers they use, to answer, the Lord's Prayer and the Creed." And even some who are better taught, are not always made to understand with sufficient clearness the specific distinction between the two ; that the one is the confes.
sion of their faith, and the other the model for their į supplications. By this confused and indistinct beginning,
they set out with a perplexity in their ideas, which is not always completely disentangled in more advanced life.
An intelligent mother will seize the first occasion which the child's opening understanding shall allow, for making a little course of lectures on the Lord's Prayer, taking every division or short sentence separately; for each furnishes valuable materials for a distinct lecture. The child should be led gradually through every part of this divine composition; she should be taught to break it into all the regular divisions, into which indeed it so naturally resolves itself. She should be made to com. A ju
prehend one by one each of its short but weighty sentences; to amplify and spread them out for the purpose of better understanding them, not in their most extensive and critical, but in their most simple and obvious mean. ing. For in those condensed and substantial expressions, every word is an ingot, and will bear beating out; so that the teacher's difficulty will not so much be what she shall say as what she shall suppress ; so abundant is the expository matter which this succinct pattern suggests.
When the child has a pretty good conception of the meaning of each division, she should then be made to observe the connexion, relation, and dependence of the several parts of this prayer one upon another; for there is great method and connexion in it. We pray that the " kingdom of God may come,” as the best means to “hallow his name;" and that by us, the obedient sub. jects of this kingdom, “his will may be done.” dicious interpreter will observe how logically and consequently one clause grows out of another, though she will use neither the word logical nor consequence: for all ex. planations should be made in the most plain and familiar terms, it being words, and not things, which commonly perplex children, if, as it sometimes happens, the teach. er, though not wanting sense, want perspicuity and simplicity.
The young person, from being made a complete mis. tress of this short composition, (which as it is to be her guide and model through life, too much pains cannot be bestowed on it,) will have a clearer conception, not only of its individual contents, but of prayer in general, than many ever attain, though their memory has been perhaps loaded with long and unexplained forms, which they have been accustomed to swallow in the lump without scrutiny. Prayer should not be so swallowed. It is a regular prescription, which should stand analysis and examination : it is not a charm, the Successful operation of which depends on your blindly taking it, without knowing what is in it, and in which the good you receive is promoted by your ignorance of
I would have it understood that by these little com. ments, I do not mean that the child should be put to learn dry, and to her, unintelligible, expositions ; and here I must remark in general, that the teacher is some. times apt to relieve herself at the child's expense, by loading the memory of a little creature on occasions in which far other faculties should be put in exercise. The child herself should be made to furnish a good part of the commentary by her answers ; in which answers she will be much assisted by the judgment the teacher usos in her manner of questioning. And the youthful understanding, when its powers are properly set at work, will soon strengthen by exercise so as to furnish reasonable if pot very correct answers.
Written forms of prayer are not only useful and prop. er, but indispensably necessary.
But I will hazard the remark, that if children are thrown exclusively on the best forms, if they are made to commit them to memory like a copy of verses, and to repeat them in a dry, cus. tomary way, they will produce little effect on their minds. They will not understand what they repeat, if we do not early open to them the important scheme of prayer. Without such an elementary introduction to this duty, they will afterwards be either ignorant or en. thusiasts, or both. We should give them knowledge before we can expect them to make much progress in piety, and as a due preparative to it : Christian instruction in this resembling the sun, who, in the course of his communications, gives light before he gives heat. And to excite a spirit of devotion without ipfusing that knowl. edge out of which it is to grow, is practically reviving the popish maxim, that Ignorance is the mother of Devotion, and virtually adopting the popish rule, of praying in an unknown tongue.
Children, let me again observe, will not attend to their prayers if they do not understand them; and they will not understand them, if they are not taught to analyse, to dissect them, to know their component parts, and to methodise them,
It is not enough to teach them to consider prayer un. der the general idea that it is an application to God for
what they want, and an acknowledgment for what they have. This, though true in the gross, is not sofficiently precise and correct. They should learn to define and to arrange all the different parts of prayer.
And as preparative to prayer itself, they should be impressed with as clear an idea as the nature of the subject admits, of “Him with whom they have to do.” His omnipresence is perhaps, of all his attributes, that of which we may make the first practical use. Every head of prayer is founded on some great scriptural truths, which truths the little analysis here suggested will materially assist to fix in their minds.
On the knowledge that “God is,” that he is an infi. nitely holy being, and that he is the rewarder of all “ them that diligently seek him,” will be grounded the first part of prayer, which is adoration. The creature devoting itself to the Creator, or self-dedication, next pre. sents itself. And if they are first taught that impor. tant truth, that as needy creatures they want help, which may be done by some easy analogy, they will easily be led to understand how naturally petition forms a most considerable branch of prayer : and divine grace being amung the things for which they are to petition, this naturally suggests to the mind the doctrine of the influen. ces of the Spirit. And when to this is added the con. viction, which will be readily worked into an ingenuous mind, that as otlending creatures they want pardon, the necessity of confession will easily be made intelligible to them. But they should be brought to understand that'it must not be such a general and rague confession' as awakens no sense of personal bumiliation, as excites no recollection of their own more peculiar and individual faults. But it must be a confession founded on self. knowledge, which is itself to arise out of the practice of self-examination : for want of this sort of discriminating habit, a well-meaning but ill-instructed girl may catch herself confessing the sins of some other person, and omit. ting those which are more especially her own.
On the gladness of heart natural to youth, it will be less difli. cult to impress the delightful duty of thanksgiving, which
forms so considerable a branch of prayer. In this they should be habituated to recapitulate not only their general, but to enumerate their peculiar, daily, and inciden. tal mercies, in the same specific manner as they should have been taught to detail their wants in the petitionary, and their faults in the confessional part. The same warmth of feeling which will more readily dispose them to express their gratitude to God in thanksgiving, will also lead them more gladly to express their love to their parents and friends, by adopting another indispensable, and to an affectionate heart, pleasing part of prayer, which is intercession.
When they have been made, by a plain and perspicuons mode of instruction, fully to understand the different nature of all these ; and when they clearly comprehend that adoration, self-dedication, confession, petition, thanksgiving, and intercession, are distinct heads, which must not be involved in each other, you may exemplify the rules by pointing out to them these successive branch. es in any well written form. And they will easily dis. cern, that ascription of glory to that God to whom we owe so much, and on whom we so entirely depend, is the conclusion into which a Christian's prayer will natural. ly resolve it. It is hardly needful to remind the teacher that our truly Scriptural Liturgy invariably furnishes the example of presenting every request in the name of the great Mediator. In the Liturgy too they will meet with the best exemplifications of prayers, exhibiting separate specimens of each of the distinct heads we have been suggesting
But in order that the minds of young persons may, without labour or difficulty, be gradually brought into such a state of preparation as to be benefited by such a little course of lectures as we have recommended; they should, from the time when they were first able to read, have been employing themselves at their leisure hours, in laying in a store of provision for their present de. mands. And here the memory may be employed to good purpose; for being the first faculty which is ripened, and which is indeed perfected when the others are