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THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.
FORMS OF PRAYER.
MATTHEW vi. 9-13.
After this manner, therefore, pray ye. Our Father, which art in
heaven; Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation ; but delider us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
In the preceding discourse I finished the observations, which I thought it necessary to make concerning the Nature, and Seasons, of Prayer; the Obligations to pray; the Usefulness of pray. er; the Encouragements to it; and the Objections against it.
The next subject, which claims our attention in a system of Theology, is Forms of Prayer.
In the first verse of the text, our Saviour directs us to pray after the manner, begun in that verse, and continued through those which follow. There are two modes, in which this direction may be understood. The first is, that this is a form of prayer, prescribed to us; a form, which, therefore, we are required to use, when we approach to God in this solemn service. Hence it has been considered as a strong proof, that we are required to use a form of prayer, at least in the public worship of God; if not in that which is private. Even the candid and enlightened Paley says, “ The Lord's prayer is a precedent, as well as a pattern, for forms of prayer. Our Lord appears, if not to have prescribed, at least to have authorised, the use of fixed forms, when he complied with the request of a disciple, who said unto him, Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke
The other mode of construing this direction is this. Christ is supposed to have taught, here, those subjects of prayer, which on all occasions are its proper subjects; the Spirit, with which we are to pray, and the simplicity of Style and Manner, with which our thoughts are to be clothed, when we are employed in this duty.
That our Saviour is not, here, to be considered as prescribing a form of prayer to his followers, seems not improbable from a comparison of the text with the context. In the context he directs us not lo do our alms before men, but in secret; when we pray, to enter into our closets ; when we fast, not to be of a sad countenance, that we may not appear unto men to fast ; and not to lay up for ourselves treasures upon earth. None of these passages is, I apprehend, to be understood in the absolute, or literal, sense. We may give alms before others. It is our duty to give bread to a starving man in the sight of our families. Nay, it is often our duty to contribute publicly to public charities. We are warranted, and required, to pray, and to fast, before others ; and comznanded to provide for our own, especially for those of our own households. As none of these assertions will be disputed; they clemand no proof. I shall only observe therefore, that the object of our Saviour in these precepts, was to forbid ostentation, and covetousness ; and to establish a sincere, humble, self-denying temper in our minds.
As these directions, which are unambiguously expressed, are cvidently not to be construed in the literal sense ; there is no small reason, from analogy, to believe, that the direction in the text, which is plainly ambiguous, and indefinite, ought also not be construed in this manner. There is, to say the least, as little reason to suppose, that our Saviour has here directed us to use this form of prayer, as that he has required us to do alms, pray, and fast, only in secret; and not to lay up property for the exigencies of a future day,
This presumption is, I think, changed into a certainty by the following arguments.
1. According to this scheme, we are required always to use this form, and no other.
The words, After this manner pray ye, if understood literally, plainly require, that we always pray in this manner; and therefore, in no other. If they require us to use this form; they require us always to use it. But this will not be admitted by those, who hold the opinion, against which I contend.
2. When our Saviour gives directions to his disciples, at another time, to pray after this manner ; he uses several variations from the form, which is here given.
In Luke xi. 2, &c. our Saviour recites, in substance, the form of prayer, which is contained in the text; and adopts no less than ten variations. These, He, who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, adopted unquestionably with design. Of this design, it was not improbably a part to teach us, that mere words are matters of such indifference, as at any time to be altered, with propriety, in whatever manner the occasion may require.
One of the variations, used by our Saviour in this place, is the omission of the doxology. I am aware, that this is also omitted by a considerable number of manuscripts, in the text. But the authority for the admission of it is such, as to have determined in its favour almost all critics, and given it a place, so far as I know, in almost every Bible. It is, therefore, to be considered as a genuine part of this prayer of our Saviour. This shows, that the substance even of this prayer may without impropriety be varied, in one part, or another; as the particular occasion may demand, or allow.
3. The petitions, here recited, are not presented in the Name of Christ.
But our Saviour says, John xvi. 23, 24, 26, Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name. Ask, Vol. V.
and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. At that day ye shall ask in
St. Paul also, in Col. iii. 17, says, Whatsoever ye do in word, or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, even the Father, by him. This prayer, therefore, is defective in one particular, which Christ and St. Paul have, in these passages, made essential to the acceptableness of our prayers.
4. Christ himself does not appear to have used this prayer.
We have several prayers of Christ recorded. All of these are such, as plainly arose out of the occasion, on which they were offered up. They were in the strictest sense, extemporaneous: the mere effusions of his heart concerning the subjects, by which they were prompted. So far, then, as the example of Christ may be supposed to bear upon this question, it is unfavourable to the supposition, that we are obliged to use this form ; and favourable to the use of extemporaneous prayer.
5. The Apostles do not appear ever to have used this prayer.
There are many prayers of the Apostles recorded. All these were extemporaneous, like those of Christ, and the Prophets who went before him; and sprang out of the occasion. If it be ad- . mitted, that the Apostles are here an example to us; it will follow, that our own prayers may, to say the least, be with the strictest propriety, extemporaneous; and grow out of that state of facts, by which we have been induced to pray. A full proof, also, is furnished here, that the Apostles did not consider this form as obligatory on themselves.
6. This prayer contains no expressions of thanksgiving.
St. Paul, in Phil. iv. 6, says, Be careful for nothing ; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. A similar injunction is recorded 1 Tim. ii. 1. From both these it is evident, that St. Paul considered thanksgiving as universally, and essentially, a part of prayer. Had he considered this form as obligatory, on himself, or upon Christians in general; or had Christians in general so considered the subject at that time; he must, I think, have added a form of thanksgiving, as a supplement to this prayer; and not left them to express their thanksgivings extemporaneously in their own words. There is no perceptible reason, why Christians should utter thanksgivings extemporaneously, in words of their own, rather than adorations, petitions, or confessions for sin. If the Spirit of Inspiration thought proper to prescribe a form to us, in which we were required to present our petitions; it is reasonably believed, that he would also prescribe to us a form, in which the other parts, also, of this devotion were to be uttered.
7. St. Paul refutes this supposition, when he requires us To pray always with all prayer. Eph. vi. 18.
From the prayers, recorded in the Scriptures, of the ancient Saints, of Christ, and his Apostles, we know, that there is much prayer, which, unless by very distant implication, cannot be said to be contained in this form. In the sentence, which contains this precept of St. Paul, he directs the Ephesians to pray, that Utterance might be given unto him; and that he might open his mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel. It will hardly be pretended, that this request is clearly contained in the Lord's Prayer. The same thing is true of a vast multitude of other prayers, found in the Scriptures. The truth plainly is, that the prayers, contained in this Sacred Book, almost universally sprang from particular occasions; are exactly such, as suited those occasions, the natural effusions of the heart, contemplating their nature, and feeling their importance. This fact effectually teaches us what it is to pray always with all prayer : viz. what I formerly explained it to be: To pray, on every proper occasion, with prayer suited to that occasion. But this cannot be accomplished, unless we pray, often at least, without a form, and in the extemporaneous manner.
These arguments, if I mistake not, prove, that the Lord's prayer was not prescribed to Christians as a form, which they were intended, or required, to adopt. That it may be used, both lawfully and profitably, at various times, both in public and private; and that it may be very often thus used; I entertain not a single doubt.
The question concerning forms of prayer is now become a question of mere expediency. If the Lord's prayer is not enjoined upon us ; it is certain, that no other form of prayer can lay the least claim to such an injunction.