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The author of the following work had no intention, when he formed its plan, of carrying it to the extent in which it now appears. He thought only of writing a comparatively limited number of prayers, adapted to some of the most important occasions, and for the benefit chiefly of those in whom he has a particular interest. He found the composition of these, however, so pleasant and useful an exercise to himself, that he was induced, gradually, to continue the work, till it assumed its present enlarged form.
Of the utility of Books of Prayer it is surely not necessary to say much, whether they be viewed as intended for private persons only, or for families. Of the former, there must always be a considerable number, who, from want of habits of regular thought, are altogether destitute of the power of performing
their private devotions in a satisfactory manner, without the help of some manual. There are others who do not want the power of carrying on a train of thought, who would yet gladly take advantage of any written prayer, suited to their situation, for the purpose of having such thoughts suggested to them as it might be becoming in them to indulge, when performing so solemn a duty as that of holding communion with God. And, in the last place, a Book of Prayer may be considered as useful, like any
other religious work, merely from its power of exciting pious thoughts in the mind of him who peruses it, although he may not find it necessary to be actually used by him in the duty of prayer.
If a manual of devotion, however, be thus useful, even to private persons, it must, in by far the greater number of cases, be quite necessary for those who are to conduct the devotional exercises of families; because it is evident, that there are but a few persons who would undertake, without such a help, to confess before God the wants and feelings of others,
however they might be disposed, in their own private requests, to pour out their unpremeditated wishes before the Father of Spirits.
The author, however, is not certain that the qualities which ought to characterize a prayer have been distinctly stated in any of our treatises on composition, or are generally understood. In most of the devotional works which he himself has perused, one or other of two faults is found, either the different parts of the individual prayers have no perceptible relation to each other, and appear as entirely detached effusions,—or, by a contrary fault, they are connected with a formality and precision, which give to each prayer the appearance rather of a short treatise upon some moral or religious topic, than that of an expression of devout feelings in the
presence of God.
It is the opinion of the author of this work, that a prayer is composed upon the most perfect plan when it is free from both these errors,—when for
mality, and a regular deduction of consequences, are
avoided,—but, at the same time, no abrupt transition of thought is perceptible, and the whole prayer indicates, at least, that unity of feeling which may be supposed to belong to every person, during the comparatively short time which he is employed in addressing himself to his Creator.
The author is far from being friendly to tedious- , ness in devotion ; but he is of opinion, that a prayer which is really meant to be employed in private worship, must be inadequate to its purpose, if it is so short as to occupy too inconsiderable a portion of time. He has, therefore, extended the individual prayers of this volume to such a length, that, along with the reading of a portion of Scripture, they may be sufficient to fill up the time which a sincere worshipper is likely to devote to the duty of private or family prayer.
EDINBURGH, May 14, 1822.