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Of the Lord’s prayer, and what may be concluded from thence as to the invention and imposition of liturgies in the public worship of God — The liberty whereunto Christ vindicated and wherein he left his disciples.
The first plea used to give countenance unto the composing and imposing of liturgies is taken from that act of our Saviour himself, who, upon the request of his disciples, composed for them a form of prayer; which, being recorded in the gospel, is said to have the force of an institution, rendering the observation or use of that form a necessary duty unto all believers to the end of the world. And this plea is strengthened by a discovery which some learned men say they have made, — namely, that our blessed Saviour composed this form, which he delivered to his disciples, out of such other forms as were then in ordinary use among the Jews; whereby, they say, he confirmed that practice of prescribing forms of prayer among them, and recommended the same course of proceeding, by his so doing, unto his disciples. Now, though it be very hard to discover how, upon a supposition that all which is thus suggested is the very truth, any thing can be hence concluded to the justification of the practice of imposing liturgies, now inquired into; yet, that there may be no pretence left unto a plea, though never so weak and infirm, of such an extract as this lays claim unto, it will be necessary to consider the severals of it. It is generally apprehended that our Saviour, in his prescription of that form of prayer unto his disciples, did aim at two things:— 1. That they might have a summary symbol of all the most excellent things they were to ask of God in his name, and so a rule of squaring all their desires and supplications by. This end all universally concur in; and therefore Matthew, considering the doctrinal nature of it, gives it a place in the first recorded sermon of our Saviour, by way of anticipation, and mentions it not when he comes to the time wherein it was really first delivered by him. 2. For their benefit and advantage, together with other intercessions that they should also use the repetition of those words, as a prescript form wherein he had comprised the matter of their requests and petitions. About this latter all men are not agreed in their judgments, whether indeed our Saviour had this aim in it or no. Many learned men suppose that it was a supply of a rule and standard of things to be prayed for, without prescribing to them the use or rehearsal of that form of words, that he aimed at. Of this number are Musculus, Grotius, and Cornelius à Lapide, with many others; but it may suffice to intimate, that some of all sorts are so minded. But we shall not, in the case in hand, make use of any principle so far obnoxious 14unto common prejudice as experience proves that opinion of these learned men to be. Let it, therefore, be taken for granted that our Saviour did command that form to be repeated by his disciples, and let us then consider what will regularly ensue thereupon. Our Saviour at that time was minister of the Circumcision, and taught the doctrine of the gospel under and with the observation of all the worship of the Judaical church. He was not yet glorified, and so the Spirit was not as yet given; I mean that Spirit which he promised unto his disciples to enable them to perform all the worship of God by him required at their hands, whereof we have before spoken. That, then, which the Lord Jesus prescribed unto his disciples, for their present practice in the worship of God, seems to have belonged unto the economy of the Old Testament. Now, to argue from the prescription of, and outward helps for, the performance of the worship of God under the Old Testament, unto a necessity of the like or the same under the New, is upon the matter to deny that Christ is ascended on high, and to have given spiritual gifts unto men eminently distinct from and above those given out by him under the Judaical pedagogy. However, their boldness seems unwarrantable, if not intolerable, who, to serve their own ends, upon this prescription of his, do affirm that our Lord Jesus composed this form out of such as were then in common use among the Jews. For as the proof of their assertion which they insist on, — namely, the finding of some of the things expressed in it, or petitions of it, in the writings of the Jews, the eldest whereof is some hundreds of years younger than this prayer itself, — is most weak and contemptible; so the affirmation itself is exceeding derogatory to the glory and honour of his wisdom, assigning unto him a work so unnecessary and trivial as would scarce become a man of ordinary prudence and authority. But yet, to carry on the work in hand, let it be supposed that our Saviour did command that form of prayer out of such as were then customarily used among the Jews (which is false, and asserted without any colour of proof); also, that he prescribed it as a form to be repeated by his disciples (which we have shown many very eminently learned men to deny); and that, though he prescribed it as a minister to the Judaical church, and to his disciples whilst members of that church, under the economy of the Old Testament, not having as yet received the Spirit and gifts of the New, yet that he did it for the use and observance of his disciples to the end of the world, and that not as to the objective regulation of their prayers, but as to the repetition of the words; yet it doth not appear how, from all these concessions, any argument can be drawn to the composition and imposition of liturgies, whose rise and nature we are inquiring after: for it is certain that our Saviour gives this direction for the end which he intends 15in it, not primarily as to the public worship of the assemblies of his disciples, but as to the guidance of every individual saint in his private devotion, Matt. vi. 6–8. Now, from a direction given unto private persons, as to their private deportment in the discharge of any religious duty, to argue unto a prescription of the whole worship of God in public assemblies is not safe. But, that we may hear the argument drawn from this act of our Saviour speak out all that it hath to offer, let us add this also to the fore-mentioned presumptions that our Saviour hath appointed and ordained, that in the assemblies of his disciples, in his worship by him required, they who administer in his name in and to the church should repeat the words of this prayer, though not peculiarly suited to any one of his institutions: what will thence be construed to ensue? Why, then, it is supposed that this will follow, — That it is not only lawful, but the duty of some men to compose other forms, a hundred times as many, suited in their judgment to the due administration of all ordinances of worship is particular, imposing them on the evangelical administrations of those ordinances to be read by them, with a severe interdiction of the use of any other prayers in those administrations. Bellarmine, De Pont. Rom., lib. iv. cap. 16, argues for the necessity of the observation of rites indifferent, when once commanded by the church, from the necessity of the observation of baptism, in itself a thing indifferent, after it was commanded by Christ. Some think not to dispute, but blaspheme. Nor is the inference before mentioned of any other complexion. When it shall be made to appear, that whatever it was lawful for the Lord Christ to do and to prescribe to his church and disciples, in reference to the worship of God, the same, or any thing of the like nature, it is lawful for men to do, under the pretence of their being invested with the authority of the church, or any else whatever, then some colour will be given to this argument; which being raised on the tottering suppositions before mentioned, ends in that which seems to deserve a harder name than at present we shall affix to it.
And this is the state and condition wherein the disciples of Christ were left by himself, without the least intimation of any other impositions in the worship of God to be laid upon them. Nor in any thing, or by any act of his, did he intimate the necessity or lawful use of any such liturgies as these which we are inquiring after, or prescribed and limited forms of prayers or praises, to be used or read in public administration of evangelical institutions; but indeed made provision rendering all such prescriptions useless, and (because they cannot be made use of but by rejection of the provision himself by made) unlawful.
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