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worship at this day, as to the forsaking the religious assemblies of Christians in the age of the apostle. Independently of these passages of Scripture, a disciple of Christianity will hardly think himself at liberty to dispute a practice set on foot by the inspired preachers of his religion, coeval with its institution, and retained by every sect into which it has been since divided.
CHAP. V. Of forms of prayer in public worship. LITURGIES, or preconcerted forms of public de. votion, being neither enjoined in Scripture, nor forbidden, there can be no good reason for either re. ceiving or rejecting them, but that of expediency; which expediency is to be gathered from a compa. rison of the advantages and disadvantage= attending upon this mode of worship, with those which usually accompany extemporary prayer.
The advantages of a liturgy are these : 1. That it prevents absurd, extravagant, or impious addresses to God, which in an order of men so numerous as the sacerdotal, the folly and enthusiasm of many must always be in danger of producing, where the conduct of the public worship is intrusted, without restraint or assistance, to the discretion and abilities of the officiating minister.
II. That it prevents the confusion of extemporary prayer, in which the congregation being ignorant. of each petition before they hear it, and having little or no time to join in it after they have heard it, are confounded between their attention to the minister, and to their own devotion. The devotion of the hearer is necessarily suspended, until a petition be concluded; and before he can assent to it, or properly adopt it, that is, before he can address the same request to God for himself, and from himself, his attention is called off to kee what succeeds. Add to this, that the mind of the hearer is held in continual expectation, and detain. ed from its proper business, by the very novelty with which it is gratified. A congregation may be
pleased and affected with the prayers and devotion of their minister, without joining in them; in like manner as an audience oftentimes are with the representation of devotion upon the stage, who, never. gheless, come away without being conscious of having exercised any act of devotion themselves, Joint prayer, which amongst all denominations of Christians is the declared design of " coming together," is prayer in which all join; and not that which one alone in the congregation conceives and delivers, and of which the rest are merely hearers. This objection seems fundamental, and holds even where the minister's office is discharged with every possible advantage and accomplishment. The labouring recollection, and embarrassed or tumultu. ous delivery, of many extempore speakers, forman additional objection to this mode of public worship : for these imperfections are very general, and give great pain to the serious part of a congregation, as well as afford a profane diversion to the levity of the other part,
These advantages of a liturgy are connected with #wo principal inconveniences : first, that forms of prayer composed in one age become unfit for another, by the unavoidable change of language, circumstances, and opinions; secondly, that the perpetual repetition of the same for of words produces weariness and inattentiveness in the congregation. However, both these inconveniences are in their nature vincible. Occasional revisions of a liturgy may obviate the first, and devotion will supply a remedy for the second: or they may both subsist in a considerable degree, and yet be outweighed by the objections which are inseparable from extemporary prayer.
The Lord's Prayer is a precedent, as well as a pattern, for forms of prayer. Our Lord appears, if not to have prescribed, at least to have authorized, the use of fixed forms, when he complied with the request of the disciple who said unto him, "Lord, reach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke xi. 1.
The properties required in a public liturgy are, that it be compendious; that it express just conceptions of the Divine Attributes ;' that is recite
such wants as a congregation are likely to feel, and no other; and that it contain as few controverted propositions as possible,
1. That it be compendious. It were no difficult task to contract the liturgles of most churches into half their present compass, and yet retain every distinct petition, as well as the substance of every sentiment, which can be found in them. But brevity may be studied too much, The composer of a liturgy must not sit down to his work with the hope, that the devotion of the congregation will be uniformly sustained throughout, or that every part will be attended to by every hearer. If this could be depended upon, a very short service would be sufficient for every purpose that can be answered or designed by social worship : but seeing the attention of most men is apt to wander and return at intervals, and by starts, he will admit a certain degree of amplification and repetition, of diversity of expression upon the same subject, and variety of phrase and form with little addition to the sense, to the end that the attention, which has been slumbering or absent during one part of the service, may be excited and recalled by another; and the assembly kept together until it may reasonably be presumed, that the most heedless and inadvertent have performed some act of devotion, and the most desultory attention been caught by some part or other of the public service. On the other hand, the too great length of churchservices is more unfavourable to piety, than almost any fault of composition can be. It begets, in Inany, an early and unconquerable dislike to the public worship of their country or communion.
They come to church seldom; and enter the doors, when they do come, under the apprehension of a tedious attendance, which they prepare for at first, or soon after relieve, by composing themselves to a drowsy forgetfulness of the place and duty, or by sending abroad their thoughts in search of more amusing occupation. Although there may be some few of a disposition not to be wearied with religious exercises ; yet, where a ritual is prolix, and the celebration of divine service long, no effect is in general to be looked for, but that indolence will
find in it an excuse, and piety be disconcerted by impatience.
The length and repetitions complained of in our liturgy, are not so much the fault of the compilers, as the effect of uniting into one service what was ori. ginally, but with very little regard to the conveniency of the people, distributed into three. Notwithstanding that dread of innovations in religion, which seems to have become the panic of the age, few, I should suppose, would be displeased with such omissions, abridgments, or change in the arrangement, as the combination of separate services must necessarily require, even supposing each to have been faultless in itself. If, together with those alterations, the Epistles and Gospels, and Collects which precede them, were composed and selected with more regard to unity of subject and design; and the Psalms and Lessons either left to the choice of the minister, or better accommodated to the capacity of the audience, and the edification of modern life; the church of England would be in possession of a liturgy, in which those who assent to her doctrines w uld have little to blame, and the most dissatisfied inust acknowledge many beauties. The style throughout is excellent; calm, without coldness : d, thougb every where sedate, often- . times affecting. The pauses in the service are disposed at proper intervals. The transitions from one office of devotion to another, from confession to prayer, from prayer to thanksgiving, from thanks giving to “ hearing of the word,” are contrived, like scenes in the drama, to supply the mind with a succession of diversified engagements. As much variety is introduced also in the form of praying, as this kind of composition seems capable of admitting. The prayer at one time is continued ; at another, broken by resnonses, or cast into short al. ternate ejaculations: and sometimes the congregation is called upon to take its share in the service, by being left to complete a sentence which the mic n ster had begun. The enumeration of human wants and sufferings in the Litany, is almost complete. A Christian petitioner can have few things to ask of God, or to deprecate, which he will not find
there expressed, and for the most part with inimitable tenderness and simplicity.
II. That it express just conceptions of the Divine attributes.
This is an article in which no care can be too great. The popular notions of God are formed, in a great measure, from the accounts which the people receive of his nature and character, in their religious assemblies. An error here, becomes the error of multitudes : and as it is a subject in which almost every opinion leads the way to some practical consequence, the purity or depravation of public manners will be affected, amongst other causes, by the truth or corruption of the public forms of worship.
III. That it recite such wants as the congregation are likely to feel, and no other.
Of forms of prayer which offend not egregiously against truth and decency, that has the most merit, which is best calculated to keep alive the devotion of the assembly. It were to be wished, therefore, that every part of a liturgy were personally applicable to every individual in the congregation; and that nothing were introduced to interrupt the passion, or damp the flame, which it is not easy to rekindle. Upon this principle, the state prayers in our liturgy should be fewer and shorter. Whatever may be pretended, the congregation do not feel that concern in the subject of these prayers, which must be felt, ere ever prayers be made to God with earnestness. The state style likewise seems unseasonably introduced into these prayers, as ill according, with that annihilation of human greatness, of which every act that carries the mind to God, presents the idea.
IV. That it contain as few controverted propositions as possible.
We allow to each church the truth of its peculiar tenets, and all the importance which zeal can ascribe to them. We dispute not here the right or the expediency of framing creeds, or of imposing subscriptions. But why should every position which a church maintains, be woven with so much industry into her forms of public worship? Some are offended, and some are excluded; this is an