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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, teach 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 it 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 liturgies 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
feeing the attention of most men is apt to wania der and return at intervals, and by starts, he will admit a certain degree of amplification and repetition, of diversity of expression upon the same fubject, 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 church services is more unfavourable to piety, than almost any fault of composition can be. It begets in many 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 foon 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 originally, 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 these 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 aflent to her doctrines would have little to blame,
and the most dissatisfied must acknowledge many beauties. The style throughout is excellent ; calm, without coldness; and, though every where sedate, oftentimes 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 thanksgiving 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 into the form of praying as this kind of composition seems capable of admitting. The prayer at one time is continued; at another, broken by responses, or cast into short alternate ejaculations; and sometimes the congregation are called upon to take their share in the service, by being left to complete a sentence which the minister 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 a 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
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