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sacrifices made vows; for prayer is to move and oblige ourselves, not to move and oblige God. Clem. Alexandrinus, Strom. 7. p. 722. Edit. Colon. calls prayer (with an excuse for the boldness of the expression) Homila pros ton Theon. 'Tis conversing with God. And it is the scope of a discourse of his there, to show that his ho gnosticos ; i. e. his believer (for faith is called knowledge, and p. 719 he makes his companions to be hoi homoios pepisteucotes, those that have in like manner believed) lives a life of communion with God, and so is praying always; that he studies by his prayers continually to converse with God. Some (saith he) have their stated hours of prayer, but he para holon euchetai ton bion, prays all his life long. The scripture describes prayer to be our drawing near to God, lifting up our souls to him, pouring out our hearts before him.
This is the life and soul of prayer; but this soul in the present state must have a body, and that must be such as becomes the soul, and is suited and adapted to it. Some words there must be, of the mind at least, in which, as in the smoke, this incense must ascend; not that God may understand us, for our thoughts afar off are known to him; but that we may the better understand ourselves.
A golden thread of heart-prayer must run through the web of the whole Christian life; we must be frequently addressing ourselves to God in short and sudden ejaculations, by which we must keep up our communion with God in providences and common actions, as well as ordinances and religious services. Thus prayer must be sparsim, (a sprinkling of it) in every duty, and our eyes must be ever towards the Lord.
In mental prayer thoughts are words, and they are the firstborn of the soul, which are to be consecrated to God. But if when we pray alone, we see cause for better fixing of our minds and exciting of our devotion, to clothe our conceptions with words; if the conceptions be the genuine products of a new nature, we would think words should not be far to seek : Verbaque prævisam rem non invita sequuntur. Nay, if the groanings be such as cannot be uttered, he that searcheth the heart knows them to be the mind of the Spirit, and will accept of them, and answer the voice of our breathing, Lam. iii. 56. Yet through the infirmity of the flesh, and the aptness of our hearts to wander and trifle, it is often necessary that words should go first, and be kept in mind for the directing and exciting of devout affections, and in order thereunto, the assistance here offered, I hope, will be of some use.
When we join with others in prayer, who are our mouth to God, our minds must attend them by an intelligent, believing. concurrence with what is the sense, scope, and substance of what they say, and affections working in us suitable thereunto; and this the scripture directs us to signify, by saying Amen mentally, if not vocally, at their giving of thanks, 1 Cor. xiv. 16. And, as far as our joining with them will permit, we may intermix pious ejaculations of our own with their addresses, provided they be pertinent, that not the least fragment of praying time may be lost.
But he that is the mouth of others in prayer, whether in public or in private, and therein useth that parrosia, that freedom of speech, that holy liberty of prayer which is allowed us, and which we are sure many good Christians have found by experience to be very comfortable and advantageous in this duty, ought not only to consult the workings of his own heart, (through them principally as putting most life and spirit into the performance) but the edification also of those that join with him; and both' in matter and words should have an eye to that; and for service in that case, I principally design this endeavour.
That bright ornament of the church, the learned Dr. Wilkins bishop of Chester, has left us an excellent performance, much of the same nature with this, in his discourse con
oncerning the gift of prayer; which some may think, makes this of mine unnecessary; but the multiplying of books of devotion, is what few serious christians will complain of, and as on the one hand I am sure those that have this poor essay of mine will still find great advantage by that, so on the other hand, I think those who have that, may yet find some farther assistance by this.
It is desirable that our prayers should be copious and full: our burdens, cares, and wants, are many; so are our sins and mercies. The promises are numerous and very rich: our God gives liberally, and hath bid us open our mouths wide and he will fill them, will satisfy them with good things. We are not straitened in him, why then should we be stinted or straitened in our bosoms ? Christ had taught his disciples the Lord's prayer, and yet tells them, John xvi. 24. hitherto they had asked nothing; i. e. nothing in comparison with what they should ask when the Spirit should be poured out, to abide with the church for ever; and they should see greater things than these. Then ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full, we are encouraged to be particular in prayer, and in every thing make our request known to God, as we ought also to be particular in the adoration of the divine perfections, in the confession of our sins, and our thankful acknowledment of God's mercies.
But since at the same time we cannot go over the tenth part of the particulars fit to be the matter of prayer, without making the duty burdensome on the flesh, which is weak, even where the spirit is willing (an extreme which ought carefully to be avoided) and without danger of entrenching upon other religious exercises, it will be requisite that what is but briefly touched upon at one time, should be enlarged upon at another time: and herein this storehouse of materials for prayer may be of use to put us in remembrance of our several errands at the throne of grace, that none may be quite forgotten.
And it is requisite to the decent performance of the duty, that some proper method be observed, not only that what is said, be good, but that it be said in its proper place and time; and that we offer not any thing to the glorious Majesty of heaven and earth which is confused, impertinent and indigested. Care must be taken then more than ever that we be not rash with our mouth, nor hasty to utter any thing before God; that we say not what comes uppermost, nor use such repetitions as evidence not to the fervency, but the barrenness and slightness of our spirits; but that the matters we are dealing with God about being of such vast importance, we observe a decorum in our words, that they be well chosen, well weighed, and well placed.
And as it is good to be methodical in prayer, so it is to be sententious; the Lord's prayer is remarkably so; and David's psalms, and many of St. Paul's prayers, which we have in his epistles. We must consider that the greatest part of those that join with us in prayer will be in danger of losing or mistaking the sense, if the period be long, and the parentheses many; and in this, as in other things, they who are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. Jacob must lead, as the children and flocks can follow.
As to the words and expressions we use in prayer, though I have here in my enlargements upon the several heads of prayer confined myself almost wholly to scripture language, because I would give an instance of the sufficiency of the scripture to furnish us for every good work, yet I am far from thinking but that it is convenient and often necessary to use other expressions in prayer, besides those that are purely scriptural; only I would advise that the sacred dialect be most used, and made familiar to us and others in our dealing about sacred things; that language, Christian people are most accustomed to, most affected with, and will most readily agree to; and where the scriptures are opened and explained to the people in the ministry of the word, scripture language will be most intelligible, and the sense of it best apprehended. This is sound speech that cannot be condemned; and those that are able to do it, may do well to enlarge by way of descant or paraphrase upon the scriptures they make use of; still speaking according to that rule, and comparing spiritual things with spiritual, that they may illustrate each other.
And it is not to be reckoned a perverting of scripture, but it is agreeable to the usage of many Divines, especially the Fathers, and I think is warranted by divers quotations in the New Testament out of the Old, to allude to a scripture phrase, and to make use of it by way of accommodation to another sense, than what was the first intendment of it, provided it agree with the analogy of faith. As for instance, these words, Psalm lxxxvii. 7. All my springs are in thee---may very fitly be applied to God, though there it appears by the feminine article in the original, to be meant of Zion; nor has it ever been thought any wrong to the scripture phrase, to pray for the blessings of the upper springs, and the nether springs, though the expression from which it is borrowed, Judges i. 15. hath no reference at all to what we mean; but by common use every one knows the signification, and many are pleased with the significancy of it.
Divers heads of prayer may no doubt be added to those which I have here put together, and many scripture expressions too, under each head (for I have only set down such as at first occurred to my thoughts) and many other expressions too, not in scripture words, which may be very comprehensive and emphatical, and apt to excite devotion. And perhaps, those who covet earnestly this excellent gift, and covet to excel in it, may find it of use to them to have such a book as this interleaved, in which to insert such other heads and expressions as they think will be most agreeable to them, and wanting here. And though I have here recommended a good method for prayer, and that which has been generally approved, yet I am far from thinking we should always tie ourselves to it; that may be varied as well as the expression; thanksgiving may very aptly be put sometimes before confession or petition, or our intercessions for others before our petitions for ourselves, as the Lord's prayer. Sometimes one of these parts of prayer may be enlarged upon much more than another; or they may be decently interwoven in some other method; Ars est celare artem.
There are those (I doubt not) who at some times have their hearts so wonderfully elevated and enlarged in prayer, above themselves; at other times such a fixedness and fulness of thought, such a fervour of pious and devout affections, the product of which, is such fluency and variety of pertinent and moving expressions, and in such a just and natural method, that then to have an eye to such a scheme as this, would be a hindenance to them, and would be in danger to cramp and straiten them; if the heart be full of its good
matter, it may make the tongue as the pen of a ready writer. But this is a case that rarely happens, and ordinarily there is need of proposing to ourselves a certain method to go by in prayer, that the service may be performed decently and in order, in which, yet one would avoid that which looks too formal. A man may write straight without having his paper ruled.
Some few forms of prayer I have added in the last chapter, for the use of those who need such helps, and that know not how to do as well or better without them; and therefore I have calculated them for families. If any think them too long, let them observe that they are divided into many paragraphs, and those mostly independent, so that when brevity is necessary, some paragraphs may be omitted.
But after all, the intention and close application of the mind, the lively exercises of faith and love, and the outgoings of holy desire towards God, are so essentially necessary to prayer, that without these in sincerity, the best and most proper language is but a lifeless image. If we had the tongue of men and angels, and have not the heart of humble serious christians in prayer, we are but as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal,
Tis only the effectual fervent prayer, the Deesis energumene, the inwrought, inlaid prayer that avails much. Thus, therefore, we ought to approve ourselves to God in the integrity of our hearts, whether we pray by or without a pre-composed form.
When I had finished the third volume of Expositions of the Bible, which is now in the press, before I proceed, as I intend, in a humble dependence on the Divine providence and grace,