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in her celebration of divine worship on the Christian sabbath. “ And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose.—And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people); and when he opened it, all the people stood up; and Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God; and all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.—So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and
sense, and caused them to under- stand the reading."
The priest, standing above the rest, commences the service—the congregation devoutly rise—he blesses the Lord—they assent to his prayers, and answer, Amen; and having thus united in supplication and thanksgiving, the Scriptures are expounded for the edification of the assembly.
I propose to make some slight observations, first, upon prayer in general; secondly, upon our established form : As I proceed I shall take notice of some objections, and conclude with such inferences as the subject may naturally suggest.
Whether devotion be a necessary duty, it seems scarcely possible that a thinking man should doubt. A Christian, certainly, cannot be ignorant that our acknowledged Master commands his disciples to "watch and pray,” and that it is an apostolical injunction to “ pray without ceasing:” nor can prayer be pronounced frivolous and vain by any one, who believes that a God exists who governs the world, and that man is an accountable and dependent creature. As we are ignorant, we have occasion for instruction; as we are feeble, we want support; as we are sinful, we need forgiveness ; and to what other protector or potentate should we apply, but to Him who hath “ all
in heaven and in earth ?" The ignorance which alone is truly deplorable—ignorance of “the things that belong unto our peace”-can only be dispelled by the Spirit of truth and knowledge; effectual support, in the perils and trials of this probationary state, can only be obtained from Him, who is “himself touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having been in all points, tempted, like as we are ;” and, although there is a Church which arrogantly lays claim to such authority, forgiveness can alone be rationally sought from
that Being, whose commandments we have transgressed, “ the Father of mercies"_" that heareth the
prayer, to whom all flesh shall come.” Yet it hath been imagined by some, that the attributes of the Deity render all addresses to him unnecessary. They argue, that, as He knows the secrets of our hearts, confession is useless ; as He sees what is requisite for our spiritual and temporal welfare, and is always disposed to supply our wants, supplication becomes superfluous; and that, as all his laws are dictated by unerring wisdom and perfect goodness; the entreaties of individuals, for any alteration in the established course of providence, must be impertinent and absurd. In answer to these objections, I shall only briefly observe—first, that we do not confess our offences under the fond notion of conveying information to God, but to render ourselves fit objects of mercy. Confession calls our iniquities to our remembrance, softens our hearts, humbles our pride, and produces self-abasement and contrition. Secondly, the habit of applying to the Creator in all dangers and distresses, draws off the mind from dependence upon the creature, and turns our attention from second causes to the great Original of all things. Thirdly, how far the general laws of the divine government may be suspended or altered by our solicitations, we can never precisely determine ; but this we know, that the awful decree has actually gone forth, and the arm of vindictive justice has been extended to punish, yet, on their repentance and supplication, the people have been spared. When the Angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, “ The Lord repented him of the evil; and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough; stay now thine hand." When the desolation of Nineveh had been positively pronounced, “yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown;" and “they repented, and cried mightily unto the Lord; God saw their works that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them, and he did it not."
No one, who attentively reads the Scriptures, will affirm, that any prayer, either for individuals, or for the community, which is prompted by sincere gratitude and pure affections, by reverence to God, or good will to men, can ever be impertinent or absurd. The Author of our faith has proclaimed, “ Whatsoever ye shall ask 'the Father in my name, He will give it you." And again, more pointedly, perhaps, as to the present argument, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Lest such declarations of our Saviour should be understood as directed only to the primitive disciples, St. James assures Christians in general, that, “ the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” We certainly cannot expect our petitions to be granted if they aspire to any thing derogatory to the honour of God, inconsistent with the welfare of his creation, or suggested by our worldly passions and prejudices. On this account, forms of public prayer are evidently preferable to extemporaneous effusions. A ritual, composed and digested by the wisdom and prudence of many, and confirmed by the sanction of civil, as well as ecclesiastical, authority, will doubtless reject the inconsiderate wishes, narrow views, and partial aims of individuals, and embrace only the general wants and interests of human kind.