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Concerning the Nature of Prayer.
k 1T)R AYER mustbe ah Act of the Soul, of JL the spiritual and rational Part of us: If it were otherwise, it could ridt be a religious Act, which supposes it to be an Act of the Vndetjlanding; neither, indeed, could it be a moral and human Action, for That supposes two Things: First, that it be known to the Agent; secondly, that it be freely acted. The Reader, I hope, will have Patience to wait for the Use that I intend to make of these Observations, Whichj at present may not appear to be so pertinent is he will find them to be. First, I fay, it must be "known to the Agent, because, otherwise, it cannot, in a moral Sense, be called his Action, nor does it flow from himself as a conscious Principle of Action. And, if it be not freely acted, it-cannot be imputed to him, whether it be good, or bad. Prayer, therefore, must be performed by one that knows when he prays, and is conscious of what he does; without which Knowledge and Consciousness a Parrot may pray, as weft as a Man, forasmuch as the Bird may be taUght to utter the Words of a Prayer. Freedom of Action is, likewise, as necessary as Knowledge and Consciousness, because, otherwise, a musical Instrument may be said to pray when it is made, as it may be made by a Performer, to utter articulate Sounds. It is the Soul, then, the Thought of
the the Mind that makes our Words Prayer. If he knows what he fays, and means, and wills the. doing it, this makes it an Action flowing from himself, and is truly and properly Prayer. If,
2. To this Knowledge, (Consciousness, and Intention we add the Direction of the Mind while we speak the Words. Prayer is speaking to the Object of our Prayers, or conversing with him; but, unless the Mind be directed to him while the Mouth utters the Words, we cannot properly be said to speak to him, ox converse with him, the Mouth being only the Soul's Instrument in Conversation. It is the Soul, only, that converses, and its Conversation is, its being directed to the Object with whom it converses, David, in the Words which I have already quoted, has rightly desined the Nature of Prayer. I will Direct my Prayer unto thee, and will Look Up. And, elsewhere, he speaks of lifting up his Soul. This is what distinguishes Prayer from Contemplation, Reading, or Hearing' the Words of Prayer. Tho' this necessary Distinction may be quite new to a great many of my Readers, the most ordinary Capacity may clearly understand it, if he will but observe how his Mind, as well as his Voice, is directed to a Man when he speaks to him.
Before I proceed any farther in the Chain of my Work, 1 shall stop, to apply what 1 have said concerning the Nature of Prayer, to the People of the Church of England, the Dissenters, and the Papists.
B 4 First,
First, I would desire those of my Reader who are of the Church of England, to recollect what has pase'd in their Minds at their Devotions, whether in publick, or in private; comparing it with what I have above said, concerning the Nature of that Action of the Mind which is properly Prayer, lest they mould have mistaken hearing, or reading, of Prayers, for praying j for, it is evident that a Man may be attentive to every Part of the Service which the Minister reads at Church, or he, himself, reads out of a Book in his Closet; and that he may feel himself very much affected with what he hears, or reads, and, yet never pray at all. In order to illustrate my Meaning, I (hall instance in that Part of Prayer which we call Confession; while the Minister is reading it, let the Congregation have in their Minds ever so distinct a View of the Force of every Branch of it; let them, at that Time, be possessed with the strongest Sense of their Guilt, and Folly; let the Passions of Self-indignation, Shame, and Fear, be ever so strongly excited, and their Resolutions of Amendment ever so firmly fixed, yet all this does not amount to praying, or cons effing, any more than hearing a Sermon, or reading a Discourse upon that Subject, with the same Affections, does. This Act of the Mind consists in addreffing, or speaking, those Thoughts to the Object of our Worship. If this Address of the Mind be accompanied with a Voice, and outward Gestures, we then, speak to him in the same manner that we speak to one another j but, as the Object-of
our Worstip is always present to our Minds, and privy to all our Thoughts, we may speak to him by an internal Direction of our Souls, without the Help of the Organs of Speech, or of bodily Gestures; but, without this DireBion, or Address of the Mind, which is properly, speaking, we cannot be said to confess our Sins, but only to think of them. And thus it is with regard to every other Part of Prayer. It is very difficult to make myself understood by common Readers, who are unaccustomed to DistinSfions of this kind, or, indeed of any other j but, I express myself as intelligibly as I can; and the Subject is of such Importance that it deserves their most serious Attention, and Consideration, in order to know whether they have really performed the Duty of Prayer, or only seemed to have done it; for, upon the Propriety of their Performance must, in a great measure, depend the Success of it.
In answer to this, it may be objected, that the Congregation, by saying Amen, at the end of every Collect do as effectually make the whole their own; and that by directing their Minds to God while they repeat that Word, they may be as truly said to have offered up every Part of it, as if they had offered up every Part of it along with the Minister: But, this I must utterly deny. They do, indeed, thereby publickly declare to the People their Approbation of the whole, and offer up to God the whole Collect together; but it is not the same thing as if they had so joined with the Minister in every Part of the Collect, as to have offer*d up every Part of it in their
own own Minds (by such a Direction os them ias I have been speaking os) at the fame Time that the Minister spoke the Words; neither can such a general Offering up the whole, after the Minister has done, have the fame Effect upon the Minds of the People, as if they had, all along, joined with him in a particular Direction of every Part of it to God, at the same link; thaj he did. To illustrate this, let us suppose the Congregation, knowing, and remembring, every Part of a Collect, not to attend to it while the Mimfler is reading., but to think of something else till he has read the whole, and then to say Amen j I ask, would this be as truly, and effeStually, offering up to God every. Part of it in their own Minds, as if they had jsined with him in a particular Direction of their Minds to God, thro' every. Part of it at the same Time with him-, yet, feying Amen, at the end of those Collects which we do not repeat after the Minister, is necessary in order to publish our having mentally joined in every Part of it.
2. It is possible that this Discourse may chance to sall into the Hands of some of the Dissenters j and, if it should, with the utmost Benevolence and Chriflian Affection I intreat them seriously to apply what I have said to themselves; hoping, that they will have Integrity and Wisdom -enough to lay aside all manner of Prejudice, and Weigh this important Affair with the Impartiality which it deserves. It is very sar from my Intention to be any ways affrontive or provoking, (and let the Reader remember this in every Part of my Book,