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"My own vineyard have 1 not kept." In the spiritual, still more than in the temporal neglect, "He that provideth not for his own, especially those of his own house, hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
"You wish to serve your generation?" It is well that it is in your heart but let it be according to the will of God. And how does this require you to proceed? From public relation into private, or from private into public? Does it order you to waste time and strength to go to a distance; and begin laboring where difficulties will be too great and means too few to allow of your improving the waste, back to your own door? Or to begin near; to cultivate onward; to clear and fertilize the ground as you advance; so as to feel every acquisition already made, converted into a resource to encourage, support, and assist you, in your future toil?
"You long to be useful?" And why are you not? Can you want either opportunity or materials-you, who are placed at the head of families; you who are required to rule well your own households; to dwell with your wives according to knowledge; to train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; to behave towards your servants, as remembering that you also have a master in heaven. Behold, O man of God, a congregation endeared and attentive, committed to thy trust. Behold a flock whom you may feed with knowledge and understanding, and before whom you may walk as an example, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Behold a church in thy house. Behold an altar on which to offe the morning and evening sacrifice of prayer and of praise.
Here, observe these things without preferring one before another; here teach and exhort, and reprove with all long suffering and patience; here officiateand "Ye shall be named the PRIESTS of the Lord; men shall MINISTERS of our God."
The remark of Baxter is worthy our regard-"If family religion was duly attended to, and properly discharged, I think the preaching of the word would not be the common instrument of conversion." And Gurnal says, The family is the nursery of the church. If the nursery be neglected, what in time will become of the gardens and the orchards?"
The Author will not endeavor to establish the duty of domestic worship. Many excellent things have been written upon this subject; and what he himself could offer in support of the practice, is already before the public.*
It is futile to allege, as some have done, that there is no positive and express command for it in the Scripture; when nothing would be more easy, than to prove the will of God-fre in the simplest deductions, fr m the fairest reasor ings, and from the most generally acknowledged principles.
God has bestowed
The examples of the faithful; the commendations whic upon them in his word; his promises and threatenings; the obvious and numberless advantages resulting from domestic devotion, as to personal religion, and relative government-with regard to those that preside in the family; and as to instruction, restraints, and motives-with regard to relations, children, and servants: All this must surely be enough to induce any man, capable of conviction, to terminate with a broken heart the mischiefs of neglect; and to swear unto the Lord, and vow unto the mighty God of Jacob-" Surely, I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed, I
See the Introductic to the Author's Four Volumes of Short Discourses, for the use of Families
will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eye. 'ds, until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob."
As to objections arising from shame, a want of time, the unfashionable. ness of the usage, or its interfering with visits or dissipations: all this in a being who yet owns himself to be a moral and an accountable creature, is unworthy of argument, and would be to much honored by the attempt of refutation.
There is one thing however which deserves notice. It is the apprehension of inability to perform this duty. With respect to some, if not many, it is no breach of charity to conclude that this is an excuse rather than a reason It is disinclination, or at least the want of a more powerful conviction, that hinders them from adopting this salutary usage, rather than incapacity. There are few cases in which the old adage is not to be verified: "Where there is a will, there is a way." You feel little difficulty in making known your distresses or wishes to a fellow creature; and the Lord looketh, not to the excellency of the language, but to the heart. The facility would be increased by practice and the divine blessing.
And I cannot but earnestly recommend the use of free and extemporaneous prayer, where it is practicable. There is in it a freshness, a particularity, an appropriateness, an immediate adoption and use of circumstances and events. which cannot be found in the best composed forms.
Yet there are those who have only a slender degree of religious knowledge, or discover a natural slowness and hesitancy of utterance, or feel a bashfulness of temper, so that they cannot gain confidence enough even to make a proper trial. And this diffidence is often found, even with persons of education and understanding. Indeed such are more likely to feel difficulty than the vulgar and illiterate, whose ignorance is friendly to fluency, and whose confidence is not perplexed by modes of expression, or embarrassed by the influence of reputation.
Now in cases of inability, or extreme danculty, surely the greatest zealot for extemporary prayer would recommend forms in preference to neglect.
Besides, there are others many in the Establishment, and no few out of it-who deem a form more eligible; and it is needless to remark that they have a right to their opinion; and as their practice will of course be regulated by it. it is desirable to aid them in their own way.
And surely in this case, as well as in many others, where we see so much talent, and religion, and even devotional aste, in the opposing advocates, candor requires and compels the concession, that all the arguments, all the advantages, cannot be on one side of the question.
Bigotry delights in exclusion; but the meekness of wisdom is satisfied with preference, and freely says, Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind. The amiable Dr. Watts observes, "Many a holy soul has found his inward powers awakened and excited to lively religion, in the use of a form, where the wants and wishes of the heart have been happily expressed; and considering the various infirmities that surround human nature, even the wisest and best of men may be glad of such assistance at some seasons."
Several books of prayers have issued from the press; and it is not necessary to undervalue or conceal them, in order to excuse or even justify another ef fort in the same cause. The great excellency of some of these composures is well known.
Yet it must be confessed that such works, compared with other religious pub
lications, tre still very few; and that the far greater part of what we possess is more for personal and private use than domestic. Even in the deservedly popular volume of Jenks, there are only family prayers for one week; the rest are all for individual service.
But whatever might have been the Author's own opinion of the expediency or necessity of such a work as this-in order to furnish a greater abundance, or to accommodate a difference of tastes, or to excite attention by newness, or to edify more by brevity and simplicity-he can truly aver, that he was principally induced to undertake it at the request of many, urged for years with importunity.
In complying with their desires, he still fears he shall not satisfy their wishes He unquestionably has not satisfied his own. In the want of that leisure which allows a man to throw his whole soul into the composition of his work, and then to employ all his skill in correcting and completing it, he has done in a few months, at the intervals of much public duty and interruption, what he could. Should the effort obtain acceptance, he shall consider it the greatest honor that could have been conferred upon him, that the service of God should ever be performed in words which he has furnished so imperfectly.
He can reckon on some esteemed connexions, whose partiality, as it has often admitted him into their circles as a friend, and employed him at their domestic altar as an expositor and intercessor, will retain him as an assistant, in this volume; and thus while absent in body, he will be present with them in spirit. He is also blessed with children, who will not neglect a practice, to which in the order of a happy family they were so early accustomed, and which was never rendered irksome by tediousness; and they will-yes, he knows they will-train up their children in the same holy and lovely usage. And should relationship and endearment serve to render the bo k the m' re valued and useful, as a sacred bequest to his descendants, this alone would krp nim from thinking he had labored in vain
PERCY PLACE, April, 1820.
THE Auth:: begs leave to offer a few words on the execution of the work itself here submitted to public attention.
Family prayers ought to be short, especially where reading the Scripture makes a part of the service-and it ought always to make a part. Hence the prayers for the week-days may be read in five or six minutes; those for the Sabbath are commonly a little longer, as families have then more leisure, and are more united; those for particular occasions, as they rarely return, and the events are remarkable, are the longest of all.
A prayer is distinguishable from the repetition of a creed, or the annunciation of a system of theology; how much more from the sparring and reflec tions of controversy! A tincture of the Author's own particular sentiments was hardly avoidable; but he has sought after nothing that would be offen sive to Christians who differ from him. And as religious persons accord much more when kneeling than sitting, he ventures to think no one will be unable to join in these forms, who believes in the fall of man, the redemption of the cross, justification by faith, the necessity of divine influence, and of that holiness without which we cannot see the Lord. The Author braves the sus picion of those who are illiberal enough to guage a man's orthodoxy by the use of an invariable doxology, in the language too which man's wisdom teach eth. Not that he thinks it wrong to close a prayer with a scriptural meas ing in human terms; but he prefers the words which the Holy Ghost use th and where they afford a diversity, why should we be afraid to avail ourselva of it? In this respect the sacred writers would not bear the ordeal of some sys tem-critics.
The Author thinks no one can blame him for using so much of the language of the Scripture; there is a sacredness in it, and it is well known; much of i too has been used devotionally, and contains the adorations, confessions, suppli cations, and thanksgivings, uttered by men of God before us, while kneeling at a throne of grace.
Besides being scriptural, he has endeavored to be very plain and simple in the diction. There is a great difference between addressing men and addres sing God. The least artificial mode of uttering our thoughts in prayer is the best. Prayer admits of no brilliancies; every studied ornament it rejects with disdain. He who feels interested in prayer will forget all critical and elaborate phraseology. And it is an infelicity to be deplored rather than an excellency to be admired, when ingenuity of thought or surprisingness of expression catches and keeps off the attention from devotion. There are young
divines who not only err in preaching, by substituting finery for elegance, and the affectation of art for the eloquence of feeling; but in their devotional exercises too, showing off their tawdrinesses, even in the presence of God, and praying in a strained, inflated style, unintelligible to the ignorant, lamented by the pious, and contemned by the wise The greatest men have always been distinguished by the plainness and simplicity of their devotional language. What a difference is there between the other compositions of Johnson and his prayers! No hard word, no elaborate sentence, no classical, no metaphorical allusion, is to be found in any of the few forms of devotion which he has left us. The same excellency pervades the Liturgy. And it is worthy of remark, that in no prayer recorded in the Bible, is any figure employed unless as familiar as the literal expression.
This however does not forbid the use of sentences not directly of the nature of petition. Prayer is designed not only as an homage to God, but as a moral exercise to affect ourselves; and to accomplish this purpose we must be informed or reminded. What therefore tends to make us feel the things we implore, is not to be considered, as some call it, a preaching or talking in prayer. Read all the prayers given us in the Scripture: there is not one of them which does not contain expressions of enlargement, not immediately petitionary, yet conducive to the design.
With regard to appropriateness, Jenks has observed, "That we may as well expect to find a shoe that will fit every foot, as a form of prayer to suit every purpose." Family prayers must be necessarily general, o. adapted to the state of a household, devoid of its peculiarities. No form ca.: be made to include every particular circumstance or occurrence; the very things that would render it suitable to one family would even hinder the use of it by another. The Author fears whether in a few instances he has not forgotten this.
Yet events and circumstances are perpetually arising, and it is of great importance to notice them devotionally Almost every prayer recorded in the Scriptures arose out of particular occurrences, and was designed to improve them. Here is a difficulty which there is only one way of removing. It is by adding some short addresses applicable to certain events and circumstances, and which the reader may insert in their proper place in the prayer, or use at the end of it. Many of these, therefore, the Author has supplied in the close of the volume Many more might have been added, had the prayers been designed for personal and private use.
In seventy forms of the same kind, it was not easy to maintain so much diversity as some would wish. Family devotion in itself admits of less va riety than either private or public worship. But though similarity will be sometimes found, sameness, he believes, with a very few trifling exceptions, has been avoided. This does not extend however to the repetition of the same scripturs sentences.
The Author has felt what a difference there is between offering and writ. ing a prayer; but he endeavored as much as possible when he retired to compose, to place himself by thought in the situation of perfor nance; and followed the same mode in writing which he has always found he best in praying, to exclude formality and to gain variety-to yield to the present feeling of the mind, whether it leads to indulge principally in confession or in thanksgiving, petition, or intercession.
Some things must be always expressed; others can only be admitted occaRionally. Yet these should not be forgotten. Cases of affliction; the state