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Preface to the reader.
It is altogether needless to premise any thing in this place concerning the necessity, benefit, and use of prayer in general. All men will readily acknowledge that as without it there can be no religion at all, so the life and exercise of all religion doth principally consist therein. Wherefore, that way and profession in religion which gives the best directions for it, with the most effectual motives unto it, and most aboundeth in its observance, hath therein the advantage of all others. Hence also it follows, that as all errors which either pervert its nature or countenance a neglect of a due attendance unto it are pernicious in religion, so differences in opinion, and disputes about any of its vital concerns, cannot but be dangerous and of evil consequence; for on each hand these pretend unto an immediate regulation of Christian practice in a matter of the highest importance unto the glory of God and the salvation of the souls of men. Whereas, therefore, there is nothing more requisite in our religion than that true apprehensions of its nature and use be preserved in the minds of men, the declaration and defence of them, when they are opposed or unduly traduced, is not only justifiable but necessary also.
This is the design of the ensuing discourse. There is in the Scripture a promise of the Holy Ghost to be given unto the church as “a Spirit of grace and of supplications.” As such, also, there are particular operations ascribed unto him. Mention is likewise frequently made of the aids and assistances which he affords unto believers in and unto their prayers. Hence they are said to “pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” Of the want of these aids and assistances to enable them to pray according to the mind of God some do profess that they have experience, as also of their efficacy unto that end when they are received. Accordingly, these regulate themselves in this whole duty in the expectation or improvement of them. And there are those who, being accommodated with other aids of another nature, to the same purpose, which they esteem sufficient for them, do look on the former profession and plea of an ability to pray by the aids and assistances of the Holy Spirit to be a mere empty pretence.
And in the management of these different apprehensions those at variance seem to be almost barbarians one to another, the one being not able to understand what the other do vehemently affirm: for they are determined in their minds, not merely by notions of truth and falsehood, but by the experience which they have of the things themselves, a sense and understanding whereof they can by no means communicate unto one another; for whereas spiritual experience of truth is above all other demonstrations unto them that do enjoy it, so it cannot be made an argument for the enlightening and conviction of others, Hence those who plead for prayer by virtue of supplies of gifts and grace from the Holy Spirit do admire that the use or necessity of them herein should be contradicted; nor can they understand what they intend who seem to deny that it is every man’s duty, in all his circumstances, to pray as well as he can, and to make use in his so doing of the assistance of the Spirit of God. And by “prayer” they mean that which the most 238eminent and only proper signification of the word doth denote, namely, that which is vocal. Some, on the other side, are so far from the understanding of these things, or a conviction of their reality, that with the highest confidence they despise and reproach the pretence of them. To “pray in the Spirit” is used as a notable expression of scorn, the thing signified being esteemed fond and contemptible.
Moreover, in such cases as this, men are apt to run into excesses in things and ways which they judge expedient, either to countenance their own opinions or to depress and decry those of them from whom they differ. And no instances can be given in this kind of greater extravagances than in that under consideration: for hence it is that some do ascribe the original of free prayer amongst us; by the assistance of the Spirit of God, unto an invention of the Jesuits, — which is no doubt to make them the authors of the Bible; and others do avow that all forms of prayer used amongst us in public worship are mere traductions from the Roman Breviaries and Missal. But these things will be afterward spoken unto. They are here mentioned only to evince the use of a sedate inquiry into the truth or the mind of God in this matter; which is the design of the ensuing discourse.
That which should principally guide us in the management of this inquiry is, that it be done unto spiritual advantage and edification, without strife or contention. Now, this cannot be without a diligent and constant attendance unto the two sole rules of judgment herein, — namely, Scripture revelation and the experience of them that do believe; for although the latter is to be regulated by the former, yet where it is so, it is a safe rule unto them in whom it is. And in this case, as in water face answereth unto face, so do Scripture revelation and spiritual experience unto one another. All other reasonings, from customs, traditions, and feigned consequences, are here of no use. The inquiries before us are concerning the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in the aids and assistances which he gives unto believers in and unto their prayers, according unto the mind of God; as also what are the effects and fruits of that work of his, or what are the spiritual abilities which are communicated unto them thereby. Antecedently hereunto it should be inquired whether indeed there be any such thing or no, or whether they are only vainly pretended unto by some that are deceived; but the determination hereof depending absolutely on the foregoing inquiries, it may be handled jointly with them, and needs no distinct consideration, lie that would not deceive nor be deceived in his inquiry after these things must diligently attend unto the two forementioned rules of Scripture testimony and experience. Other safe guides he hath none. Yet will it also be granted that from the light of nature, whence this duty springs, wherein it is founded, from whence as unto its essence it cannot vary, as also from generally-received principles of religion suited thereunto, with the uncorrupted practice of the church of God in former ages, much direction may be given unto the understanding of those testimonies and examination of that experience.
Wherefore, the foundation of the whole ensuing discourse is laid in the consideration and exposition of some of those texts of Scripture wherein these things are expressly revealed and proposed unto us, for to insist on them all were endless. This we principally labour in, as that whereby not only must the controversy be finally determined, but the persons that manage it be eternally judged. What is added concerning the experience of them that do believe the truth herein claims no more of argument unto them that have it not than it hath evidence of proceeding from and being suited unto those divine testimonies. But whereas the things that belong unto it are of great moment unto them who do enjoy it, as containing the principal acts, ways, and means of our intercourse and communion with God by Christ Jesus, they are here somewhat at large, on all occasions, insisted on, for 239the edification of those whose concernment lieth only in the practice of the duty itself. Unless, therefore, it can be proved that the testimonies of the Scripture produced and insisted on do not contain that sense and understanding which the words do determinately express (for that only is pleaded), or that some have not an experience of the truth and power of that sense of them, enabling them to live unto God in this duty according to it, all other contests about this matter are vain and useless.
But yet there is no such work of the Holy Spirit pleaded herein as should be absolutely inconsistent with or condemnatory of all those outward aids of prayer by set composed forms which are almost everywhere made use of; for the device being ancient, and in some degree or measure received generally in the Christian world (though a no less general apostasy in many things from the rule of truth at the same time, in the same persons and places, cannot be denied), I shall not judge of what advantage it may be or hath been unto the souls of men, nor what acceptance they have found therein, where it is not too much abused. The substance of what we plead from Scripture and experience is only this, That whereas God hath graciously promised his Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of grace and supplications, unto them that do believe, enabling then to pray according to his mind and will, in all the circumstances and capacities wherein they are, or which they may be called unto, it is the duty of them who are enlightened with the truth hereof to expect those promised aids and assistances in and unto their prayers, and to pray according to the ability which they receive thereby. To deny this to be their duty, or to deprive them of their liberty to discharge it on all occasions, riseth up in direct opposition unto the divine instruction of the sacred word.
But, moreover, as was before intimated, there are some generally-allowed principles, which, though not always duly considered, yet cannot at any time be modestly denied, that give direction towards the right performance of our duty herein; and they are these that follow:—
1. It it the duty of every man to pray for himself. The light of nature, multiplied divine commands, with our necessary dependence on God and subjection unto him, give life and light unto this principle. To own a Divine Being is to own that which is to be prayed unto, and that it is our duty so to do.
2. It is the duty of some, by virtue of natural relation or of office, to pray with and for others also. So is it the duty of parents and masters of families to pray with and for their children and households. This also derives from those great principles of natural light that God is to be worshipped in all societies of his own erection, and that those in the relations mentioned are obliged to seek the chiefest good of them that are committed unto their ears; and so is it frequently enjoined in the Scripture. In like manner it is the duty of ministers to pray with and for their flocks, by virtue of especial institution. These things cannot be, nor, so far as I know of, are questioned by any; but practically the moat of men live in an open neglect of their duty herein. Were this but diligently attended unto, from the first instance of natural and moral relations unto the instituted offices of ministers and public teachers, we should have less contests about the nature and manner of praying than at present we have. It is holy practice that must reconcile differences in religion, or they will never be reconciled in this world.
3. Every one who prayeth, either by himself and for himself or with others for them, it obliged, as unto all the new, properties, and circumstances of to pray as well as he it able; for by the light of nature every one is obliged in all instances to serve God with his best. The confirmation and exemplification, hereof was one end of the institution of sacrifices under the Old Testament; for it was ordained in them that the chief and best of every thing was to be offered unto 240God. Neither the nature of God nor our own duty towards him will admit that we should expect any acceptance with him, unless our design be to serve him with the best that we have, both for matter and manner. So is the mind of God himself declared in the prophet: “If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen,” Mal. i. 8, 13, 14.
4. In our reasonable service, the best wherewith we can serve God consists in the intense, sincere actings of the faculties and affections of our minds, according unto their respective powers, through the use of the best assistance we can attain. And if we omit or forego, in any instance, the exercise of them according to the utmost of our present ability, we offer unto God the sick and the lame. If men can take it on themselves, in the sight of God, that the invention and use of set forms of prayer, and other the like outward modes of divine worship, are the best that he hath endowed them withal for his service, they are free from the force of this consideration.
5. There is no man but, in the use of the aids which God hath prepared for that purpose, is able to pray according to the will of God, and as he is in duty obliged, whether he pray by himself and for himself, or with others and for them also. There is not by these means perfection attainable in the performance of any duty, neither can all attain the same measure and degree u unto the usefulness of prayer and manner of praying; but every one may attain unto that wherein he shall be accepted with God, and according unto the duty whereunto he is obliged, whether personally or by virtue of any relation wherein he stands unto others. To suppose that God requireth duties of men which they cannot perform in an acceptable manner, by virtue and in the use of those aids which he hath prepared and promised unto that end, is to reflect dishonour on his goodness and wisdom in his commands. Wherefore, no man is obliged to pray, in any circumstances, by virtue of any relation or office, but he is able so to do according unto what is required of him; and what he is not able for he is not called unto.
6. We are expressly commanded to pray, but are nowhere commanded to make prayers for ourselves, much less for others. This is superadded, for a supposed conveniency, unto the light of nature and Scripture institution.
7. There is assistance promised unto believers to enable them to pray according unto the will of God; there is no assistance promised to enable any to make prayers for others. The former part of this assertion is explained and proved in the ensuing discourse, and the latter cannot be disproved. And if it should be granted that the work of composing prayers for others is a good work, falling under the general aids of the Holy Spirit necessary unto every good work whatever, yet are not those aids of the same kind and nature with his actual assistances in and unto prayer as he is the Spirit of grace and supplications: for in the use of those assistances by grace and gifts, every man that useth them doth actually pray, nor are they otherwise to be used; but men do not pray in the making and composing forms of prayer, though they may do so in the reading of them afterward.
8. Whatever forms of prayer were given out unto the use of the church by divine authority and inspiration, as the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms or Prayers of David, they are to have their everlasting use therein, according unto what they were designed unto. And be their end and use what it will, they can give no more warranty for human compositions unto the same end, and the injunction of their use, than for other human writings to be added unto the Scripture.
241These and the like principles, which are evident in their own light and truth, will be of use to direct us in the argument in hand, so far as our present design is concerned therein; for it is the vindication of our own principles and practice that is principally designed, and not an opposition unto those of other men. Wherefore, as was before intimated, neither these principles nor the divine testimonies, which we shall more largely insist upon, are engaged to condemn all use of set forms of prayers as sinful in themselves, or absolutely unlawful, or such as so vitiate the worship of God as to render it wholly unacceptable in them that choose so to worship him; for God will accept the persons of those who sincerely seek him, though, through invincible ignorance, they may mistake in sundry things as unto the way and manner of his worship. And how far, as unto particular instances of miscarriage, this rule may extend he only knows, and of men, whatever they pretend, not one. And where any do worship God in Christ with an evidence of holy fear and sincerity, and walk in a conversation answerable unto the rule of the gospel, though they have manifold corruptions in the way of their worship, I shall never judge severely either of their present acceptance with God or of their future eternal condition. This is a safe rule with respect unto others: our own is, to attend with all diligence unto what God hath revealed concerning his worship, and absolutely comply therewith; without which we can neither please him nor come to the enjoyment of him.
I do acknowledge, also, that the general prevalency of the use of set forms of prayer of human invention in Christian assemblies for many ages (more than any other argument that is urged for their necessity) requires a tenderness in judgment as unto the whole nature of them, and the acceptance of their persons in the duty of prayer by whom they are used. Yet no consideration of this usage, seeing it is not warranted by the Scriptures, nor is of apostolical example, nor is countenanced by the practice of the primitive churches, ought to hinder us from discerning and judging of the evils and inconveniences that have ensued thereon, nor from discovering how far they are unwarrantable as unto their imposition. And these evils may be here a little considered.
The beginnings of the introduction of the use of set forms of prayer of human composition into the worship of the church are altogether uncertain, but that the reception of them was progressive, by new additions from time to time, is known to all; for neither Rome nor the present Roman Missal was built in a day. In that and the Breviaries did the whole worship of the church issue, at lease in these parts of the world. No man is so fond as to suppose that they were of one entire composition, the work of one age, of one man, or any assembly of men at the same time, unless they be so brutishly devout as to suppose that the Mass-book was brought from heaven unto the pope by an angel, as the Alcoran was to Mohammed. It is evident, indeed, that common people, at least of the communion of the papal church, do believe it to be as much of a divine original as the Scripture, and that on the same grounds of the proposal of it unto them, as the only means of divine worship, by their church. Hence is it unto them an idol. But it is well enough known how from small beginnings, by various accessions, it increased unto its present form and station. And this progress, in the reception of devised forms of prayer in the worship of the church carried along with it sundry pernicious concomitants, which we may briefly consider:—
First, in and by the additions made unto the first received forms, the superstitious and corrupt doctrines of the apostasy in several ages were insinuated into the worship of the church. That such superstitious and corrupt doctrines were gradually introduced into the church is acknowledged by all Protestants, and is sufficiently known; the supposition of it is the sole foundation of the Reformation. And by this artifice of new additions to received forms, they were from time 242to time admitted into and stated in the worship of the church; by which principally to this very day they preserve their station in the minds of men. Were that foundation of them taken away, they would quickly fall to the ground. By this means did those abominations of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass both leaven and poison the whole worship of the public assemblies, and imposed themselves on the credulity of the people. The disputes of speculative men, superstitious and subtile, about these things, had never infected the minds of the common people of Christians, nor ever been the means of that idolatry which at length spread itself over the whole visible church of these parts of the world, had not this device of prescribed forms of prayer, wherein those abominations were not only expressed but graphically represented and acted (so violently affecting the carnal minds of men superstitious and ignorant), imposed them on their practice, which gradually hardened them with an obdurate credulity; for although they saw no ground or reason doctrinally to believe what was proposed unto them about transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, and might easily have seen that they were contradictory unto all the conductive principles of men and Christians, — namely, faith, reason, and sense, — yet they deceived themselves into an obstinate pretence of believing in the notion of [the] truth of what they had admitted in practice. Men, I say, of corrupt minds might have disputed long enough about vagrant forms, accidents without subjects, transmutation of substances without accidents, sacrifice bloody and unbloody, before they had vitiated the whole worship of the church with gross idolatry, had not this engine been made use of for its introduction, and the minds of men by this means been inveigled with the practice of it; but when the whole matter and means of it was gradually insinuated into, and at length comprised in, those forms of prayer which they were obliged continually to use in divine service, their whole souls became leavened and tainted with a confidence in and love unto these abominations.
Hence it was that the doctrines concerning the sacraments, and the whole worship of God in the church, as they became gradually corrupted, were not at once objectively and doctrinally proposed to the minds and considerations of men, to be received or rejected, according to the evidence they had of their truth or error (a method due to the constitution of our nature), but gradually insinuated into their practice by additional forms of prayer, which they esteemed themselves obliged to use and observe. This was the gilding of the poisonous pill, whose operation, when it was swallowed, was to bereave men of their sense, reason, and faith, and make them madly avow that to be true which was contrary unto them all.
Besides, as was before intimated, the things themselves that were the groundwork of idolatry, — namely, transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, — were so acted and represented in those forms of worship as to take great impression on the minds of carnal men, until they were mad on their idols; for when all religion and devotion is let into the soul by fancy and imagination, excited by outward spectacles, they will make mad work in the world, as they have done, and yet continue to do. But hereof I shall speak in the next place.
It had, therefore, been utterly impossible that an idolatrous worship should have been introduced into the church in general, had not the opinion of the necessity of devised forms of prayer been first universally received; at least, it had not been so introduced and so established as to procure and cause the shedding of the blood of thousands of holy persons for not complying with it. By this means alone was brought in that fatal engine of the church’s ruin, from whose murderous efficacy few escaped with their lives or souls. Had all churches continued in the liberty wherein they were placed and left by our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, it is possible that many irregularities might have prevailed in some of 243them, and many mistakes been admitted in their practice; yet this monster of the mass, devouring the souls of the most, and drinking the blood of many, had never been conceived nor brought forth, at least not nourished into that terrible form and power wherein it appeared and acted for many ages in the world. And upon the account thereof it is not without cause that the Jews say that the Christians received their Tephilloth, or Prayer-books, from Armillus, — that is, Antichrist.
It is true, that when the doctrine of religion is determined and established by civil laws, the laws of the nation where it is professed, as the rule of all outward advantages, liturgies composed in compliance therewithal are not so subject to this mischief; but this ariseth from that external cause alone. Otherwise, wherever those who have the ordering of these things do deviate from the truth once received, as it is common for the most so to do, forms of prayers answerable unto those deviations would quickly be insinuated; and the present various liturgies that are amongst the several sorts of Christians in the world are of little other use than to establish their minds in their peculiar errors, which by this means they adhere unto as articles of their faith.
And hereby did God suffer contempt to be cast upon the supposed wisdom of men about his worship and the ways of it. They would not trust unto his institutions and his care of them, but did first put the ark into a cart, and then, like Uzzah, put forth a hand of force to hold it when it seemed to shake; for it is certain that, if not the first invention, yet the first public recommendation and prescription, of devised forms of prayer unto the practice of the churches, were designed to prevent the insinuation of false opinions and corrupt modes of worship into the public administrations. This was feared from persons infected with heresy that might creep into the ministry. So the orthodox and the Arians composed prayers, hymns, and doxologies, the one against the other, inserting in them passages confirming their own profession and condemning that of their adversaries. Now, however this invention might be approved whilst it kept within bounds, yet it proved the Trojan horse that brought in all evils into the city of God in its belly; for he who was then at work in the mystery of iniquity laid hold on the engine and occasion to corrupt those prayers which, by the constitution of them who had obtained power in them, the churches were obliged and confined unto. And this took place effectually in the constitution of the worship of the second race of Christians, or the nations that were converted unto the Christian faith after they had destroyed the western Roman empire. To speak briefly and plainly, it was by this means alone, — namely, of the necessary use of devised forms of prayer in the assemblies of the church, and of them alone, — that the mess, with its transubstantiation and sacrifice, and all the idolatrous worship wherewith they are accompanied, were introduced, until the world, inflamed with those idols, drenched itself in the blood of the saints and martyrs of Christ, for their testimony against these abominations. And if it had been sooner discovered that no church was intrusted with power from Christ to frame and impose such devised forms of worship as are not warranted by the Scripture, innumerable evils might have been prevented: for, that there were no liturgies composed, no imposed use of them, in the primitive churches for some ages, is demonstratively proved with the very same arguments whereby we prove that they had neither the mass nor the use of images in their worship; for besides the utter silence of them in the apostolical writings, and those of the next ensuing ages, — which is sufficient to discard their pretence unto any such antiquity, — there are such descriptions given of the practice of the churches in their worship as are inconsistent with them and exclusive of them; besides, they give such a new face to divine worship, so different from the portraiture of it delivered in the Scripture, as is hardly reconcilable thereunto, and so not quickly embraced in the church.
244I do not say that this fatal consequence of the introduction of humanly-devised set forms of prayer in the worship of the church, in the horrible abuse made of it, is sufficient to condemn them as absolutely unlawful; for where the opinions leading unto such idolatrous practices are openly rejected and condemned, as was before intimated, there all the causes, means, and occasions of that idolatry may be taken out of them and separated from them, as it is in the liturgies of the reformed churches, whether imposed or left free; — but it is sufficient to lay in the balance against that veneration which their general observance in many ages may invite or procure; and it is so also to warrant the disciples of Christ to stand fast in the liberty wherewith he hath made them free.
Another evil, which either accompanied or closely followed on the introduction of devised forms of prayer into the church, was a supposed necessity of adorning the observance of them with sundry arbitrary ceremonies. And this also in the end, as is confessed among all Protestants, increased superstition in its worship, with various practices leading unto idolatry. It is evident that the use of free prayer in church administrations can admit of no ceremonies but such as are either of divine institution, or are natural circumstances of the actions wherein the duties of worship do materially consist. Divine institution and natural light are the rules of all that order and decency which is needful unto it. But when these devised forms were introduced, with a supposition of their necessity, and sole use in the church in all acts of immediate worship, men quickly found that it was needful to set them off with adventitious ornaments. Hereon there was gradually found out, and prescribed unto constant observation, so many outward postures and gestures, with attires, music, bowings, cringes, crossings, venerations, censings, altars, images, crucifixes, responds, alternatives, and such a rabble of other ceremonies, as rendered the whole worship of the church ludicrous, burdensome, and superstitious. And hereon it came to pass that he who is to officiate in divine service is obliged to learn and practice so many turnings and windings of himself, eastward and westward, to the altar, to the wall, to the people; so many gestures and postures, in kneeling, rising, standings, bowings, less and profound, secret and loud speakings, in a due observance of the interposition of crossings, with removals from one place to another, with provision of attires, in their variety of colours and respect to all the furniture of their altars, — as are difficult to learn, and foolishly antic in their practice, above all the preparations of players for the stage. Injunctions for these and the like observances are the subject of the rubric of the Missal and the cautels of the Mass.
That these things have not only no affinity with the purity, simplicity, and spirituality of evangelical worship, but were invented utterly to exclude it out of the church and the minds of men, needs no proof unto any who ever read the Scripture with due consideration. Nor is the office of the ministry less corrupted and destroyed by it; for besides a sorry cunning in this practice, and the reading of some forms of words in an accommodation unto these rites, there was little more than an easy good intention to do what he doth, and not the quite contrary, required to make any one man or woman (as it once at least fell out) to administer in all sacred worship.
Having utterly lost the Spirit of grace and supplications, neglecting at best all his aids and assistances, and being void of all experience in their minds of the power and efficacy of prayer by virtue of them, they found it necessary by these means to set off and recommend their dead forms; for the lifeless carcass of their forms merely alone were no more meet to be esteemed prayer than a tree or a log was to be esteemed a god, before it was shaped, fashioned, gilded, and adorned. By this means they taught the image of prayer, which they had made, to speak and act a part to the satisfaction of the spectators; for the bare reading of a 245form of words, especially as it was ordered in an unknown tongue, could never have given the least contentment unto the multitude, had it not been set off with this variety of ceremonies, composed to make an appearance of devotion and sacred veneration. Yet, when they had done their utmost, they could never equal the ceremonies and rites of the old temple-worship, in beauty, glory, and order; nor yet those of the heathen, in their sacred Eleusinian mysteries, for number, solemnity, gravity, and appearance of devotion. Rejecting the true glory of gospel-worship, which the apostle expressly declares to consist in the “administration of the Spirit,” they substituted that in the room thereof which debased the profession of Christian religion beneath that of the Jews and Pagans, especially considering that the most of their ceremonies were borrowed of them or stolen from them. But I shall never believe that their conversion of the holy prayers of the church, by an open contempt of the whole work of the Spirit of God in them, into a theatrical, pompous observance of ludicrous rites and ceremonies, can give so much as present satisfaction unto any who are not given up to strong delusions to believe a lie. The exercise of ingrafted prevalent superstition will appease a natural conscience; outward forms and representations of things believed will please the fancy, and exercise the imagination; variety, and frequent changes of modes, gestures, and postures, with a sort of prayer always beginning and always ending, will entertain present thoughts and outward senses, so as that men, finding themselves by these means greatly affected, may suppose that they pray very well when they do nothing less: for prayer, consisting in a holy exercise of faith, love, trust, and delight in God, acting themselves in the representation of our wills and desires unto him, through the aid and assistance of the Holy Ghost, may be absent, where all these are most effectually present.
This also produced all the pretended ornaments of their temples, chapels, and oratories, by crucifixes, images, a multiplication of altars, with relics, tapers, vestments, and other utensils.
None of these things, whereby Christian religion is corrupted and debased, would ever have come into the minds of men, had not a necessity of their invention been introduced by the establishment of set forms of prayer, as the only way and means of divine worship; and wherever they are retained, proportionably unto the principles of the doctrine which men profess, some such ceremonies must be retained also. I will not, therefore, deny but that here lieth the foundation of all our present differences about the manner of divine worship. Suppose a necessity of confining the solemn worship of the church unto set forms of prayer, and I will grant that sundry rituals and ceremonies may be well judged necessary to accompany their observance; for without them they will quickly grow obsolete and unsatisfactory. And if, on the other hand, free prayer in the church be allowed, it is evident that nothing but the grace and gifts of the Holy Ghost, with a due regard unto the decency of natural circumstances, is required in divine service, or can be admitted therein.
Neither yet is this consequent, how inseparable soever it seems from the sole public use of set forms of prayer in sacred administrations, pleaded to prove them either in themselves or their use to be unlawful. The design of this consideration is only to show that they have been so far abused, that they are so subject to be abused, and do so alway stand in need to be abused, that they may attain the ends aimed at by them, as much weakens the plea of the necessity of their imposition.
For this also is another evil that hath attended their invention. The guides of the church, after a while, were not contented to make use of humanly-devised forms of prayer, confining themselves unto their use alone in all public administrations, but, moreover, they judged it meet to impose the same practice on all whom they esteemed to be under their power. And this at length they thought lawful, 246yea, necessary to do on penalties, ecclesiastical and civil, and in the issue capital. When this injunction first found a prevalent entertainment is very uncertain. For the first two or three centuries there were no systems of composed forms of prayer used in any church whatever, as hath been proved. Afterward, when they began to be generally received, on such grounds and for such reasons as I shall not here insist on (but may do so in a declaration of “the nature and use of spiritual gifts, with their continuance in the church, and an inquiry into the causes of their decay”155155 See this volume of the author’s works, p. 420. — Ed.), the authority of some great persons did recommend the use of their compositions unto other churches, even such as had a mind to make use of them, as they saw good. But as unto this device of their imposition, confining churches not only unto the necessary use of them in general, hut unto a certain composition and collection of them, we are beholden for all the advantage received thereby unto the popes of Rome alone, among the churches of the second edition: for, from their own good inclination, and by their own authority, without the advice of councils or pretence of traditions, — the two Gorgons’ heads whereby in other cases they frighten poor mortals, and turn them into stones, — by various degrees they obtained a right to impose them, and did it accordingly; for when the use and benefit of them had been for a while pleaded, and thence a progress made unto their necessity, it was judged needful that they should be imposed on all churches and Christians by their ecclesiastical authority. But when afterward they had insinuated into them, and lodged in their bowels, the two great idols of transubstantiation and the unbloody sacrifice, not only mulcts personal and pecuniary, but capital punishments, were enacted and executed to enforce their observance. This brought fire and fagot into Christian religion, making havoc of the true church of Christ, and shedding the blood of thousands; for the martyrdom of all that have suffered death in the world for their testimony against the idolatries of the mass derives originally from this spring alone of the necessary imposition of complete liturgical forms of prayer; for this is the sole foundation of the Roman Breviary and Missal, which have been the Abaddons of the church of Christ in these parts of the world, and are ready once more to be so again. Take away this foundation, and they all fall to the ground. And it is worth consideration of what kind that principle is, which was naturally improved unto such pernicious effects, which quickly was found to be a meet and effectual engine in the hand of Satan to destroy and murder the servants of Christ.
Had the churches of Christ been left unto their primitive liberty under the enjoined duties of reading and expounding the Scripture, of singing psalms unto the praise of God, of the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and of diligent preaching the word, all of them with prayer, according unto the abilities and spiritual gifts of them who did preside in them, as it is evident that they were for some ages, it is impossible for any man to imagine what evils would have ensued thereon that might be of any consideration, in comparison of those enormous mischiefs which followed on the contrary practice. And as unto all the inconveniences which, as it is pretended, might ensue on this liberty, there is sufficient evangelical provision for their prevention or cure made in the gospel constitution and communion of all the true churches of Christ.
But this was not the whole of the evil that attended this imposition, for by this means all spiritual, ministerial gifts were caused to cease in the church; for as they are talents given to trade withal, or manifestations of the Spirit given to profit or edify the church, they will not reside in any subject, they will not abide, if they are by any received, if they are not improved by continual exercise. We see every day what effects the contempt or neglect of them doth produce. Wherefore, this exercise of them being restrained and excluded by this imposition, they 247were utterly lost in the church, so that it was looked on as a rare thing for any one to be able to pray in the administration of divine worship, yea, the pretence of such an ability was esteemed a crime, and the exercise of it a sin scarce to be pardoned; yet do I not find it in any of the ancient canons reckoned among the faults for which a bishop or a presbyter was to be deposed. But that hereon arose, in those who were called to officiate in public assemblies, as unto the gifts which they had received for the edification of the church in divine administrations, that neglect which hath given a fatal wound unto the light and holiness of it, is openly evident; for when the generality of men of that order had provision of prayers made for them, which they purchased at an easy rate, or had them provided for them at the charge of the people, they were contented to be at rest, freed from that labour and travail of mind which are required unto the constant exercise and improvement of spiritual gifts. This imposition was the grave wherein they were buried; for at length, as it is manifest in the event, our Lord Jesus Christ being provoked with their sloth and unbelief, did withhold the communication of such gifts from the generality of those who did officiate in divine worship. And hereby they lost, also, one great evidence of the continuance of his mediatory life in heaven for the preservation of the church.
It is known that this was and is the state of things in the Roman church with reference unto their whole worship in their public assemblies; and, therefore, although they have indulged divers enthusiasts, whose revelations and actings, pretended from the Holy Spirit, have tended to the confirmation of their superstitions, and some of them have ventured at notions about mental prayer which they understand not themselves, yet as unto free prayer by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, in the church assemblies or otherwise, they were the first, and continue to be the fiercest opposers of it: and it is their interest so to be; for shake this foundation of the imposition of an entire system of humanly-clerked prayers for the only way and means of the worship of the church, and the whole fabric of the mass, with all the weight of their religion (if vanity and imagination may be said to have any weight) which is laid thereon, will tumble into the pit from whence it came. And, therefore, I must here acquaint the reader that the first occasion of writing this discourse was the perusal of Mr Cressy’s preface to his Church History,156156 Hugh Paulin de Cressey was a noted controversialist in defence of Popery, and, among other productions devoted to this object, wrote two treatises in reply to Stillingfleet. The work to which Owen alludes is entitled “Church History of Britain; or, England from the Beginning of Christianity to the Norman Conquest,” and was published in — Ed. wherein, out of a design to advance the pretended mental prayer of some of his enthusiasts, he reflects with much contumely and reproach upon that free praying by the aids of the Spirit of God which we plead for; and he will find that all his pretences are examined in the latter part of this discourse.
But notwithstanding these things, those of the Roman church do at this day boast themselves of their devotions in their prayers private and public, and have prevailed thereby on many, disposed unto a compliance with them by their own guilt, ignorance, and superstition. The vanity of their pretence hath been well detected, by evincing the idolatry whereby all or the most of their devotions are vitiated and rendered unacceptable. But this also is of weight with me, that the provision of the system and order of their whole devotion, and its exercise, are apparently composed and fitted unto the exclusion of the whole work of the Spirit of God in prayer; and yet do they continue under such an incredible delusion as to oppose, revile, and condemn the prayers of others who are not of their communion, on this consideration, that those who make them have not the Holy Spirit nor his aids, which are all confined unto their church! But if any society of men in the world maintaining the outward profession of Christian religion can do more to exclude the Holy Ghost and all his operations, in prayer and divine worship, than 248their church hath done, I shall acknowledge myself greatly mistaken. It is nothing but ignorance of him and his whole work, with all the ends for which he is promised unto the church (that I say not a hatred and detestation of them) that causeth any to embrace their ways of devotion.
But to return. The things pleaded for may be reduced unto the ensuing heads:—
1. No persons, no churches, are obliged, by virtue of any divine constitution, precept, or approved example, to confine themselves, in their public or private worship, unto set or humanly-devised forms of prayer. If any such constitution, precept, or example can be produced (which hitherto hath not been done) it ought to be complied withal. And whilst others are left unto their liberty in their use, this is sufficient to enervate all pleas for their imposition.
2. There is a promise in the Scripture, there are many promises, made and belonging unto the church unto the end of the world, of the communication of the Holy Spirit unto it, as unto peculiar aids and assistance in prayer. To deny this, is to overthrow the foundation of the holiness and comfort of all believers, and to bring present ruin to the souls of men in distress.
3. It is the duty of believers to look after, to pray for, those promised aids and assistances in prayer. Without this all those promises are despised, and looked on as a flourish of words, without truth, power, or efficacy in them. But, —
4. This they are commanded to do, and have blessed experience of success therein. The former is plain in the Scripture, and the latter must be left unto their own testimony living and dying.
5. Beyond the divine institution of an the ordinances of worship in the church, with the determination of the matter and form which are essential unto them, contained in the Scripture, and a due attendance unto natural light in outward circumstances, there is nothing needful unto the due and orderly celebration of an public worship in its assembly. If any such thing be pretended, it is what Christ never appointed, nor the apostles ever practised, nor the first churches after them, nor hath it any promise of acceptance.
6. For the preservation of the unity of faith, and the communion of churches among themselves therein, they may express an agreement, as in doctrine by a joint confession of faith, so in a declaration of the material and substantial parts of worship, with the order and method thereof; on which foundation they may in an things communicate with each other as churches, and in the practice of their members.
7. Whereas the differences about prayer under consideration concern Christian practice in the vitals of religion, great respect is to be had unto the experience of them that do believe, where it is not obstructed and clouded by prejudices, sloth, or adverse principles and opinions, Therefore, the substance of the greatest part of the ensuing discourse consists principally in the declaration of those concernments of prayer which relate unto practice and experience. And hence it follows, —
8. That the best expedient to compose these differences amongst us, is for every one to stir up the gift and grace of God that is in him, and all of us to give up ourselves unto that diligence, frequency, fervency, and Perseverance in prayer which God requireth of us; especially in such a season as that wherein we live, — a time wherein they, whoever they be, who trouble others may, for aught they know, be near unto trouble themselves. This will be the most effectual means to lead us an unto the acknowledgment of the truth, and without which an agreement in notions is of little use or value.
But, I confess, hopes are weak concerning the due application of this remedy unto any of our evils or distempers. The opinions of those who deny all internal, real, efficacious operations of the Holy Spirit on the souls of men, and deride all 249their effects, have so far diffused and riveted themselves into the minds of many that little is to be expected from a retreat unto those aids and reliefs. This evil in the profession of religion was reserved for these latter ages; for although the work and grace of the Holy Spirit in divine worship was much neglected and lost in the world, yet no instances can be given in ages past of such contempt cast upon all his internal grace and operations as now abounds in the world. If the Pelagians, who were most guilty, did fall into any such excesses, they have escaped the records and monuments that remain of their deportment. Bold efforts they are of atheistical inclinations in men openly avowing their own ignorance and utter want of all experience in things spiritual and heavenly. Neither doth the person of Christ or his office meet with better entertainment amongst many; and by some they have been treated with scurrility and blasphemy. In the meantime, the contests about communion with churches are great and fierce. But where these things are received and approved, those who live not on a traditionary faith will not forsake Christ and the gospel, or renounce faith and experience, for the communion of any church in the world.
But all flesh almost hath corrupted its way. The power of religion, and the experience of it in the souls of men, being generally lost, the profession of it is of no great use, nor will long abide; yea, multitudes, all the world over, seem to be weary of the religion which themselves profess, so far as it is pleaded to be of divine revelation, be it true or false, unless it be where they have great secular advantages by their profession of it. There is no greater pretence of a flourishing state in religion than that of some churches of the Roman communion, especially one at this day; — but if the account which is given us from among themselves concerning it be true, it is not much to be gloried in; for set aside the multitude of atheists, and scripturists, and avowed disbelievers of the supernatural mysteries of the gospel, and the herd that remains influenced into a hatred and persecution of the truth by a combination of men upholding themselves and their way by extravagant secular interests and advantages, is not very highly considerable, yea, their present height seems to be on a precipice. What inroads in other places, — bold opinions concerning the authority of Scripture and the demonstration of it, the person and office of Christ, the Holy Spirit and all his operations, with the advancement of a pretence of morality in opposition to evangelical grace in its nature and efficacy, — are made every day is known unto all who consider these things. And although the effects of this poison discover themselves daily, in the decays of piety, the increase of immoralities of all sorts, and the abounding of flagitious sins, exposing nations unto the high displeasure of God, yet the security of most in this state of things proclaims itself in various fruits of it, and can never be sufficiently deplored.
Whereas, therefore, one means of the preservation of the church, and its deliverance out of these evils, is a due attendance unto the discharge of this duty of prayer, the declaration of its nature, with a vindication of the springs and causes from whence it derives its efficacy, which are attempted in the ensuing discourse, may, I hope, through the blessing of God, he of some use unto such whose minds are sincere in their inquiries after truth.
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