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The duty of prayer is so great and necessary a part of religion, that every degree of assistance toward the discharge of it, will be always acceptable to pious minds. The inward and spiritual performance of this worship is taught us in many excellent discourses; but a regular scheme of prayer, as a Christian exercise, or a piece of holy skill, has been much neglected. The form, method, and expression, together with other attendants of it, such as voice and gesture, have been so little treated of, that few Christians have any clear or distinct knowledge of them : and yet all these have too powerful an influence upon the soul in its most spiritual exercises ; and they properly fall under va. rious directions of nature and scripture. Now, while institutions of Logic and Rhetoric abound, that teach us to reason aright, and to speak well among men, why should the rules of speaking to God be so much untaught?
It is a glory to our profession, that there is a great number of ministers in our day and nation, who are happy in the gift of prayer, and exercise it continually in an honorable and useful manner. Yet they have been contented to direct others to this attainme
merely by the influence of a good example. Thus, we are taught to pray, as some profess to teach French and Latin ; i. e. only by rote; whereas, those that learn by rule, as well as by imitation, acquire a greater readiness of just and proper expression in speaking those languages upon every occasion.
I am persuaded that one reason of this neglect has been, the angry zeal for parties among us, which has discouraged men of sober and moderate principles from attempting much on this subject, while the zealots have been betrayed into two extremes. Some contend earnestly for pre-composed set forms of prayer, and will worship no other way. These have little need of any other instructions but to be taught to read well, since the words, matter, and method of their prayers are already appointed. Other violent men, in extreme opposition to them, have indulged the irregular wander ings of thought and expression, lest by a confinement to rules, they should seem to restrain the Spirit, and return to carnal ordinances.
But, if the leaders of one party had spent as much time in learning to pray, as they have done in reading liturgies, and vindicating their imposition; and if the warm writers of the other side, together with their just cautions against quenching the Spirit, had more cultivated this divine skill themselves, and taught Chris tians regularly how to pray; I believe the practice of free prayer had been more universally approved, and the fire of this controversy had never raged to the de struction of so much charity.
My design in this treatise has been to write a Prayer book without forms; and I have sought to maintain the middle way, between the distant mistakes of contend ing Christians.
In describing the nature of the duty of prayer, thougði I have not enlarged much on each particular, nor mul tiplied sub-divisions, yet I have endeavored, with the utmost care and exactness, to divide the duty into all its necessary parts, that the memory of young Christians might be always furnished with some proper matter and method for their addresses to God.
The Gift, Grace, and Spirit of Prayer, have of late years been made the subject of plentiful ridicule : and while some have utterly abandoned all pretences to them, and turned the very terms to jest and reproach, it must be confessed, that others have given too just occasion for such scandal, by explaining all these words in so exalted a sense, as befits nothing but Divine inspiration. I have endeavored, therefore, to reduce those terms to their more proper and rational meaning, and to explain them in such a way as the wisest and best men, of all persuasions, who have not been warmed with party zeal, have generally allowed. And I have had this design in my view, that plainer Christians among the dissenters might understand what they themselves mean, when they speak of praying by a gift, and praying by the Spirit ; that they might not expose themselves to the censure of talking without a meaning, nor be charged with enthusiasm by their conforming neighbors.
In discoursing of the gift or ability to pray, I have been large and particular, both in directions to attain it, and describing the mistakes and indecencies that persons may be in danger of committing in this duty; being well assured, that we learn to avoid what is cul pable, by a plain representation of faults and folliet much better than by a bare proposal of the best rulas and directions
But here I am pressed between a double difficulty; and already feel the pain of displeasing some of my readers.
If I should describe these improprieties of speech and action in a moderate degree, scoffers would reproach a whole party of Christians, and say, that I had copied all from the life ; while my friends would be ready to suspect that I had published some of the errors of weaker brethren.
On the other hand, if I should represent these faults in their utmost degree of offensiveness, the adversary indeed could scarce have malice enough to believe any preacher in our day was guilty of them; but my friends would tell me I had played at impertinencies by exposing such faults as nobody practises.
Now, when two evils lie before me, I would choose the least. It is better to be impertinent, than a publisher of folly; and therefore I have set forth those indecencies in their very worst appearance, that they might never be practised. Upon this account, I have been forced to borrow instances of improper expressions from antiquated writers; and several of the descriptions of irregular voices and gestures from some obscure persons of the last age, whose talent of assurance was almost the only qualification that made them speakers in public: And this I was constrained to do, because my observations of the prayers I have heard could never have supplied my design.
Besides, had I described some tolerable follies, perhaps weak men might have been ready to vindi. cate them, because they did not see deforn.ity enough to be blamed. But now the instances I have given appear so disagreeable and ridiculous, that all men must be convinced they ought to be avoided; and