Imatges de pàgina


Befolutions, than when they entered on them? If this be unin telligible to those who themtelves have long disused them, we muft return to the surer proof of a good life, and the more eminent degrees of righteousness prevailing amongft those, wha fanctify and improve the common duties of their station by regular returns to this hely intercourfe with their Maker.

« Now this one obfervation removes the grounds of every difficulty that can be raised concerning the fuccess of prayer, or its influence and prevalence with the Deity. For though God fees and knows our wants without our telling Him, tho' he is disposed to relieve them without being wearied into charity by our importunity, and though all his counsels are immutable, and not liable to be changed by the earnest requests of others ; yet our prayers having such an influence and effect upon ourselves, may make us the proper objects of the divine favour ; which otherwise we should not have been ; and may thereby entitle us to the divine promises; which without this method we should have forfeited. We do not therefore in these cafes pray to God to change his mind; but we pray that we may attain those qualifications, which, according to his eternal and immutable purpofe, are the necefiary conditions of his fa

It is a inoft undoubted truth, that He grants favours of many kinds to men upon their earnest


which He would not have granted without them ; but where is the change in fuch a case? In ourselves most certainly, if we attentively confider the matter, and not in our Maker, His design was always the same, to receive and hear and assist such as come to Him with real fincerity of heart, with humble confession of mouth, and with suitable holiness of life. These are the terms which alone can entitle us to his favour ; and when we have fulfilled them ; when a fincere desire. of obedience has led us to devotion; and devotion has excited us to and confirmed us in righteousness, then we may reasonably expect mercies from our Maker through the merits of our Redeemer ; which we had no pretensions to expect before. God is still the same, but we ourselves are now different persons, and by devotion, contrition and amendment are now become objects of his favour ; whilft they who continue regardless of Him, and disobedient to Him, remain the juft objects of his wrath and displeasure. • There may

be fome confusion in our ideas, or difficulty in our exprefsions, when we think or write on this subject ; but if we apprehend the cafe rightly, and state it clearly, there is no real mystery in it. The laws of God are unalterable ; the conditions on which He will receive us to favour, are publifhed, and will not, cannot be reversed. These conditions are well known to be, that we address ourselves to Him for asistance


both in our spiritual and temporal concerns, and that with faithful diligence in both instances we apply that affiftancé. Devotion therefore and industry and holiness are the necefTary terms of the divine favour; and when we pray to God, and perform our own part, and reform our own lives, then we are entitled to acceptance; and may reasonably expect a blessing, which they have no reason to expect, who do not comply with these terms. In such supposed case, the divine purpose is not altered but compleated by our becoming such persons, as the promises, according to their original intent, were calculated for, and proposed to. There is no alteration in the divine attributes, or in the effeas of them. The wisdom, justice and goodness of God did from all eternity propose the acceptance of returning finners, who mould apply for mercy in the method of true prayer, and mould thereby form theinseives to 1 temper, which fhould make them meet to be partakers of the divine grace. And this general purpose is fulfilled in particular instances, when men who heretofore were corrupt, thoughtless of duty, and destitute of grace, do yet in time recolleat themselves, pour out their hearts with fincerity to their Maker, exert their own best endeavours, recover in fome dea. gree to a state of holiness, and thereby recover a proportionable degree of favour with their Maker.

• All this is so far from implying any change in the Deity, that it illustrates the iteady and invariable rule by which He acts. It shews that He is not influenced by caprice or weakness, but that He will always do that which is right, and will render 10 every one according to his works. He would be truly liable to this charge, if He acted otherwise ; if He ever deviated from this unerring rule, and made no distinction between those who are so much distinguished in their behaviour towards Him. If the devout, who daily apply to God in prayer, were no otherwise regarded by Him, than those who own no Providence, or express no dependence on Him, then He might be thought to act by some other principle than the harmony of the divine attributes ; and mutability might be the consequence, if infinite wisdoin and holiness and justice did not direct every dirpensation ; and if a due regard was not expressed to a due imitation of those adorable perfe&tions.'

Having considered the reasonableness and efficacy of prayer, when offered up for our selves, the author proceeds to Mew its use and propriety when offered up for others.

Those writers, says he, either have entirely mistaken the intent of this institution, or very superficially have considered it, who have argued, however plausibly, that men's own private prayers would be fumicient, if they were in earnest them



selves ; end that if they were not, the prayers of others could be of no service to them. More public intercessions may excite the devotion of the thoughtless, and inprove that of the pious, and may be the means of bringing the wicked to a ferious sense of things, as well as of exalting the virtues of good

In all events they promote our love of each other, and even the glory of our common Creator, as far as dependent creatures can do it, by confessing our dependence on him, by acknowledging our infirmities natural and moral, and our only hope of relief in application to the divine perfections and attributes.'

These considerations lead him to observe, that it should be the great design of all devotional compositions, to inculcate plainly and express strongly those duties which are the terms of the Christian covenant; to promote that pious, benevolent and humble frame of mind which is the necessary qualification for the future state of happiness. He adds : « The love of God and man, and the due regulation of our own passions and de. sires

may. be taught in the very form of our addresses to our Maker; and may more warmly affect the heart in this, than in any other form or method of teaching. It is a failure in the execution, and not in the design, if these prayers here offered for public use, are not properly suited for instruction and admonition. It has been long my endeavour to accommodate them to the use of finners, as indispensibly obliged to the condition of reformation, yet as founding all their hopes, after their best proficiency, only on the merits of their Saviour's sufferings. This notion of the terms of salvation, with a sincere regard to the observance of them, it has been my faithful care to inculcate; that they, for whose assistance this collection is intended, might, as bishop Taylor advises, read their duty in their petitions.'

It will be readily acknowledged, that this design is useful and judicious'; but as nothing has been more common than false notions concerning the terins of our acceptance, writers in compositions of this kind should be particularly careful not to suggest any idea which may beget an unwarrantable dependence, or

which is not perfectly reconcileable with the genuine and uncorrupted doctrines of divine revelation. It must be confessed, that few books of devotion are in this respect more unexceptionable than the present ; yet we do not apprehend, that there is any occasion, in our addresses to the Deity, to fpeak of the ineritorious facrifice, the all-Jufrcient merits, the all-Jufficient aronement, and the all-fufficient satisfaction of Jesus Chrift; nor does it appear that these expressions are authorized by our Saviour or

his apostles, though we find them frequently used by theolbgical writers.


The author justly observes, that in devotional compositions fuch a dignity of language should be maintained as niay preferve the reverence due to the supreme Disposer of all blessings ; and such a plainness observed, as that the meanest understand. ing inay be able to go along with the prayers, and may not lie under the inputation of praying in an unknown tongue. • Somewhat, he says, of this kind has appeared to me to need correction even in the collection most in use, and generally reputed the best by' my brethren of the clergy. The file is fometimes too lofty, and sometimes too low, and not seldom intricate and obscure. Figurative expressions, and allusions to parts of the Old Testament little known and less understood by the common people, have darkened many paffages in it ; and emblems taken from particular professions, or particular infirmities, have been carried on so far, that they look more like an exertion of wit, than an effort of devotion; and have not been suitable to that solemn ferious strain in which humble penitents should apply to God for the pardon of all their fins, and supply of all their wants. The language of our prayers should neither be unintelligible, nor yet over-familiar, but such as may both excite our devotion and may express it."

This remark is unquestionably juft. The language of our devotions ought to be plain, and yet pathetical. In our religious exercises the mind is apt to be cold and languid ; and therefore we want to have the attention awakened, and every generous affection warmed and exalted. But this can never be effected by dull, tedious, and insipid forms of prayer, which are more likely to lull the petitioner afleep, than excite his devotion.

Let us see how these compositions are calculated to enliven the affections.

Gracious God, who in the midst of judginent haft remembered mercy, and hast made the forest calamities to which we are liable, to bę attended with some advantages ; give thy grace to this thy servant, that he may look on the distressful part of his condition, to remind him of his fins, and on the beneficial part of it, to remind him of thy mercy ; by both to quicken him to earnest repentance. Let the tedious distemper, which he suffers under, raise his thoughts to the cause of all human forrow in the disobedience of man, and to an humble reflection on the disobedience of each man, as the just cause of each one's suffering, &c.'

In the latter part of this quotation we have a formal, unintelligible piece of logic.-Let us take another example.

• O blessed Jesus, to thee, who art such an high-priest as can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; to thee,


twho when on earth waft made perfect through fuffering, we defire to pour forth our hearts, and utter our fupplications. Have pity on us, we beseech thee, when in this human nature, which thou once assumedft, we become subject to such fevere fufferings, as thou didst once experience ; and relieve us under them, either by the removal of them, or by converting them, through a patient endurance of them, to our greater advantage, &c.'

This concluding period is intolerably rough and uncouth. Some people; however, may think, that finoothness of stile is of no confequence in forms of prayer. But they are mistaken; the language which is offensive to the ear is not likely to engage the attention, or affect the heart.

Once more.

• We confess, O Lord, that of ourselves we are not able to think of to do that which is right, but we can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth us. For his grace we apply, that when it is present with us to will that which is good, we may likewise be able to perform it. And fince it iş the singular recommendation of our duty, that we always judge in favour of it, when we are best able to judge of it, when we are fres from the influence of temptation, give us the grace to be more careful against it, to decline, as much as poslīble, the path of it; or to lessen its weight, or to resist its strongest efforts.'

This passage is grievously encumbered by the repetition of the pronoun it; and is utterly destitute of that warmth and energy which the most insensible reader inay perceive in the following collect :

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid ; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name, through Christ our Lord.”

This short address to the Deity is plain, simple, and unaffected ; yet at the same time expressed with remarkable force and folemnity. In our Liturgy there are many others which, in this respect, are admirable. But above all, the prayer which our Saviour has taught us, is inimitable. If we view that sacred composition with a critical eye, we perceive no impropriety, redundancy, or defect. It is so short, that the meanest may learn ; so easy, that the most ignorant may understand it : and yet so perfect, that it intimates all our duty, and comprehends all our necessities. In this excellent prayer there is nothing mean, intricate, or obscure ; there are none of those myftical expreflions, those enthusiastic rants, those rapturous


« AnteriorContinua »