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SUBJECT :-Is the Devotional Part of the Sanctuary Service
usually Profitable ?
“ Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people.”— Ps. cvii. 32.
“ Take with you words, and turn to the Lord.”—Hosea xiv. 2.
“ And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us : and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.-1 John v. 14, 15.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Fistb.
My subject does not relate to the whole of our sanctuary services. It does not take in the reading of the scriptures, the preaching of the gospel, or include the service of holy song. I wish to look solely at the public prayers offered in connexion with our Lord's day services,—the regular services of God's house. I am being more and more impressed that our devotional services, as a rule, are the least edifying of any part of our public worship. I say as a rule, for there are, I am happy to say, many striking exceptions. It may be well at the outset to observe what I think should characterise the devotional parts of our worship. It is obvious that public prayers to edify some hundreds of devout persons, must be different to those that might be profitable and sufficient for a small social service, where several persons are engaged, and where the specific object is the united prayers of the brethren. The Christian minister is so to pray, that the people assembled may have their varied desires and supplications, with thanksgivings, presented to God. And to do this it is obvious :
I. THAT THE PRAYER MUST BE COMPREHENSIVE. Blessings of all kinds, temporal and spiritual, and for persons in various conditions, must obviously be sought. Forgiveness of sin, deprecation of wrath, pleading for mercy, seeking the renewing, sanctifying, and preserving, grace of God, with all those spiritual comforts and joys which the Holy Ghost sup
plieth. So also there must be prayers offered for the conversion of the sinner, the arousing of the formalist, the reclamation of the backslider, and the quickening of the supine. Public prayers must also be presented for all ranks and conditions of men. For kings and civil magistrates; for all persons bearing rule and having authority; for those distinguished by rank, or station, or influence. Then the poor, the destitute, and the afilicted, must not be forgotten; neither the orphan, or fatherless, or the widow. Our prayers must be offered for all in peril or suffering; for all the afflicted and bereaved; for all captives and prisoners; and for all who are sorrowful or desolate.
Prayers must include our respective churches, with their officers, and our fellow-labourers in the Sabbath school, or in the other departments of Christian activity. So, also, we must plead for the peace and prosperity of the Universal Church of Christ; and especially for missionaries laboring in spheres of imminent trial and peril. So, too, our prayers must not exclude our country and all its momentous interests; and finally, they must embrace the whole world and all men. Here there is a wide range, a comprehensive series of persons and blessings to be prayed for. Also, in public worship :
II. THAT THE PRAYER MUST POSSESS VARIOUS PECULIAR
God must be reverently adored and venerated. His glory must be proclaimed ; His wondrous works and ways celebrated; His boundless goodness and mercy acknowledged. How important, too, that not only deserved wrath should be deprecated, but His long-suffering and forbearance acknowledged ;--and lofty praise and hearty thanksgiving should be associated with the whole. Such prayers should be profoundly reverent, exhibiting no presumptuous familiarity, and using no light or unseemly terms. The manner and tone of voice, too, must be in harmony with the unworthiness the holiest must feel when in the presence of the Majesty of heaven and earth. Yet all this need not interfere with spiritual confidence, and
a strong faith and hope resting on the divine promises. How needful too :
III. THAT IN
WE EVER ASCEND TO GOD THROUGH THE MEDIATORSHIP OF JESUS. And it cannot be enough just cursorily to express this at the end ;-it must be felt throughout: the whole prayer should go up to God, step by step, through Him, who is the spiritual “ladder between heaven and earth," and the only way to the Father. His person, His work, His office, His merit, must give holy fragrance and spiritual power to every desire presented. Yes ! Jesus, the one Mediator, must be as “the scarlet thread” running through all our devotional exercises.
IV. THAT THE SPIRITS AID MUST BE IMPLORED AND EXPECTED, TO ENABLE US TO PRAY WITH ACCEPTANCE. He must excite desire, inflame our earnestness, stir up the gift of prayer within us, and lead the soul into enlarged supplication and intercession. We, too, must give the filial tone, the abased mind, and the longing heart. He must give us holy light, that our prayers may not be confused and dark; He must give life, that our offerings may not be dead and offensive; He must give us power, that our supplications may be effective ; And He must give skill, that we may plead and present the reasons to God, which His Word has so richly provided ; He must give the heavenly fire, that our corruptions may be purged away, and that we may not regard iniquity in our hearts ; He must be in us also as our advocate, and the helper of our infirmities.
CHIEF MATERIALS FOR PRAYER.
V. THAT THE WORD OF GOD SHOULD SUPPLY US WITH THE
Here is a rich and varied store ; here are the words of the Holy Ghost ; the forms of address which have prevailed with God in bygone generations. From this scriptural arsenal our devotional armour may be amply supplied. Here we see how Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, and Samuel, prayed; how the holy psalmist presented his numerous petitions and requests to God; how Daniel and Nehemiah and the prophets addressed the throne of mercy; how our divine and blessed Saviour prayed, and how He has taught us also to pray.
Here we have the prayers of apostles and holy saints in the kingdom of Christ. So that, if needful, we might use wholly the very words of scripture in our public prayers. Well, not less than all this should characterise our public devotional services.
Do you object to the length of prayers constructed on this model ? I reply, that all this may be comprised in fifteen minutes, or even less, if the leader of the devotions is not verbose and repetitious. If he has the gift of sententiousness, avoiding a pompous style or mere wordiness of expression. I admit that it may require thought and care, and the formation of a succinct style ; but can we bestow attention on anything more important than glorifying God and edifying our fellow-men? But how often is the devotional part of worship unedifying and profitless. Sometimes : -(1) Through its wandering unconnectedness. No union of thought, no consecutiveness of aim, no natural cohesion of idea or sentiment. Some prayers are like a vague medley or fantastio patchwork, where you have every form and color, without harmonious adjustment. Prayers are often unedifying (2) Through their sterility. There is little water in the well, and therefore the utmost labor is required to produce even a moderate supply. The heart must have the desires within, or the mouth cannot give them expression : –(3) Through their wordiness. A mere heap of unnecessary terms and phrases, with few ideas or distinct aspirations. How wearisome this to the intelligent worshipper. How poor a service to present to the only wise God (4) Through their limitedness. The prayers of some are nearly all doctrinal forms of speech ; of others, experimental realizations; whilst others move in the most contracted circle, leaving out nearly everything that ought to be specially included. In four services during the last summer I worshipped in congregations where no prayer was offered for the Queen, the Magistracy, the Church, the nation, or the world in general ; where no petition was presented for the ministry, for the sick, or for the dying. Some prayers do not edify :-(5) Because they are homilies, or fragments of sermons, and not specifically devotional. How absurd to give a small outline of doctrines in prayers, or portions of didactic teaching, or theological illustration, or mere poetic embellishment. Many are worse even than this, for some persons do all their scolding to their fellow-men, when they are professedly addressing God. Others are profitless, because they are :-(6) So cold and formal. No " thoughts that breathe, or words that burn." No, the fire seems to be dying out on the altar; the spirit of devotion is either gone or departing. All is frigid, icy, and therefore chilling and soul-freezing. Prayers may be unedifying :(7) By their prettiness. The offering of solemn prayer is laid aside, and a sort of devotional bouquet collected, and fantastically tied together, and in the self-sufficiency of human vanity laid on the altar of God. How absurd to suppose God can be pleased by such attempts at what are no better than childish follies. But prayers may offend :-(8) By their self-elation or boasting. Where there is the absence of deep abasement, the want of self-immolation; and where the avowed suppliant exhibits himself, his learning, his rhetoric, or his high sounding phrases, which are no better than “sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.” Better than pray thus, more edifying would it be to the people to read in a devout manner portions of the Litany, or some of the short and expressive collects to be found in the book of Common Prayer. Men who have to lead the devotional service are bound to seek divine qualification for their office and work ; to seek both the gift and grace of prayer; to make suitable preparation, if they cannot depend on their extemporaneous powers. Poor as much of the preaching in some pulpits may be, I am satisfied the praying is poorer still; and I do not wonder that men of devotional minds should rather prefer the long and repetitious, and every Sabbath reiterated, prayers of the Church of England, than have the miserable