John Henry Newman.

Parochial sermons (Volume 1) online

. (page 18 of 76)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


times, and in a particular way, should have especially prevailing power
with Him. And the reason of it may ba as follows. It is Faith that
is the appointed means of gaining all bb.^si ig fro.n God. " All things
arc possible to iiira that believeth."* Now, at stated times, when we
gather up our thoughts to pray, and draw out our petitions in an orderly
and clear manner, the act of faith is likely to be stronger and more
earnest ; then we realize more perfectly the presence of that God
whom W3 do not see, and Him on whom once all our sins were laid, who
bore the weight of our infirmities and sicknesses once for all, that in
all our troubles we might seek Him, and tin i grace in time of need.
Then this world is more out of sight, and we more simply appropriate
those blessings, which we have but to claim humbly and they are really
ours.

Stated times of prayer, then, are necessary, first, as a means of
making the mind sober, and the general temper more religious ;
secondly, as a means of exercising earnest faith, and therefore of re-
ceiving a more certain blessing ia answer, tlian we should otherwise
obtain.

Other reasons, doubtless, may be given ; but these are enough, not
only as containing subject for thought which may be useful to us, but
besides are serving to show how wise and merciful those Divine pro-
visions really are, which our vain minds are so apt to question. All
God's commands, indeed, ought to be received at once upon faith,
though we saw no reason for them. It is no excuse for a man's dis-
obeying them even if he thinks he sees reasons against them ; for God
knows better than we do. But in great condescension He has allowed
us to see here and there His reasons for what He do'.s and enjoins ; and
we should treasure up thjsc occasional notices as memorials against the
time of temptation, that when doubt and unbelief assail us, and we are
perplexed at His revealed word,, we may call to mind those former in-
stances in our own experience, where, what at first seemed strange and

* Mark ix. 23.



148 TIMES OF PRIVATE PRAYER. [Serm.

hPT(^. on"^clos2r consideration was found to have a wise end. Now the
duty of observing slated times of private prayer is one of those concern-
ins which we are apt to entertain the unbeheving thoughts I have been
describing.

It seems to us to be a form, or at least a hght matter, to observe or
omit ■ whereas in truth, such creatures are we, there is the most close
and remarkable connexion between small observances and the perma-
nence of our chief habits and practices. It is easy to see why it is
irksome ; because it presses upon us and is inconvenient. It is a duty
which claims our attention continually, and its irksomeness leads our
hearts to rebel ; and then we proceed to search for reasons to justify
our own dislike of it. Nothing is more difficult than to be disciphned
and regular in our religion. It is very easy to be religious by fits and
starts, and to keep up our feelings by artificial stimulants ; but^regularity
seems to trammel us, and we become impatient. This is especially
the case with those to whom the world is as yet new, and who can do
as they please. Religion is the chief subject which meets them, which
enjoins regularity ; and they bear it only so far as they can make it
look like things of this world, curious or changeable or exciting. Satan
knows his advantage here. He perceives well enough that stated
private prayer is the very emblem and safeguard of true devotion to
God, as impressing on us and keeping up in us a rule of conduct. He
who gives up regularity in prayer has lost a principal means of remind-
ing himself that spiritual life is obedience to a Lawgiver, not a mere
feeling or a taste. Hence it is that so many persons, especially in the
polished ranks of society, who are out of the way of temptation to gross
vice, away into a mere luxurious self-indulgent devotion, which

they take for religion ; they reject every thing which implies self-denial,
and regular prayer especially. Hence it is that others run into all
kinds of enthusiastic fancies ; because, by giving up sot private prayer
in written forms, they have lost the chief rule of their hearts. Accord-
ingly, you will hear them exclaim againrt regular prayer, (which is the
very medicine suited to their disease,) as a formal service, and maintain
that times and places and fixed words are beneath the attention of a
spiritual Christian. And others, who are exposed to the seductions of
sin, altogether fall away from same omission. Be sure, my

brethren, whoever, of you is persuaded to disuse his morning and
evening prayers, is giving up the armour which is to secure him against
the wiles cf the Djvil. If you have left ofi' the observance of them,
you may fall any day ; — an.l yo will fall without notice. For a time
you will go oUj seeming to yoarselvos to be the same as before ; but the
IsraeUtes might as w^l. hope to lay in a stock of manna as you of grace..



XIX.] TIMES OF PRIVATE PRAYER. 149

You pray God for your daily bread, v ur bread day by day ; and if
you have not prayed for it this morning, it will profit you little that you
prayed for it yesterday. You did then pray and you obtained, — but
not a supply for two days. When you have given over the practice of
stated prayer, you gradually become weaker without knowing it.
Samson did not know he had lost his strength till the Philistines came
upon him ; you will (h' k yourselves the men you used to be, till sud-
denly your adversary will come furiously upon you, and you will as
suddenly fall. You will be able to make little or no resistance. This
is the path which leads to death. Men lirst leave off private prayer ;
then they neglect the due observance oi the Lord's day (which is a
stated service of the same kind ;) then they gradually let slip from their
minds the very idea of obedience to a fixed eternal law ; then they
actually allow themselves in things which their conscience condemns ;
then they lose the direction of their conscience, which being ill used,
at length refuses to direct them. A; d thus, being left by their true
inward guide, they are obliged to take another guide, their reason, which
by itself knows little or nothing about religion ; then this their blind
reason forms a system of right or wrong for them, as well as it can,
flattering to their own desires, and presumptuous where it is not actually
corrupt. No wonder such a scheme contradicts Scripture, which it is
soon found to do'; not that they are certain to perceive this themselves ;
they often do not know it, and think themselves still believers in the
Gospel, while they maintain doctrines which the Gospel condemns.
But sometimes they perceive that their system is contrary to Scripture;
and then, instead of giving it up, they give up Scripture, and profess
themselves unbelievers. Such is the course of disobedience, beginning
in (apparently) slight omissions, and ending in open unbelief; and all
men who walk in the broad way which leads to destruction are but in
different stages of it, one more advanced than another, but all in one
way. And I have spoken of it here, in order to remind you how inti-
mately it is connected with the neglect of set private prayer ; whereas,
he who is strict in the observance of morning and evening devotion,
praying with his heart as well as his lips, can hardly go astray, for
every morning and evening brings him a monitor to draw him back and
restore him.

Beware then of the subtilty of your Enemy, who would fain rob you
of your defence. Do not yield to his bad reasonings. Be on your
guard especially, when you get into novel situations or circumstances,
which interest and delight you ; lest they throw you out of your regula-
rity in prayer. Any thing new or unexpected is dangerous to you.
«Going much into mixed society, and seeing many strange persons,



150 TIMES OF PRIVATE PRAYER. [Skkm. XIX

taking share in any pleasant amusements, reading interesting books,
entering into any new line of life, forming soma new acquaintance, the
prospect of any worldly advantage, travelling, all thsse things and such
like, innocent as they are in themselves, and capable of a rehgious use,
become means of temptation if we are not on our g lard. See that you
are not unsettled by them, this is the dangor ; fear bscoming unsettled.
Consider that stability of mind is the chief of virtues, for it is Faith.
" Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee,
because he trusteth in Thee ;"* this is the promise. But " the wicked
are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire
and dirt; there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. "f Nor to
the wicked only, in our common sense of the word, " wicked," but to
none is there rest, who in any way leave their God, and rove after the
goods of this world. Do not indulge visions of earthly good, fix your
hearts on higher things, let your morning and evening though^l be the
points of rest for your mind's eye, and let those thoughts be upi)n the
narrow way, and the blessedness of heaven, and the glory and power of
Christ your Saviour. Thus will you be kept from unseemly risings and
fallings, and steadied in an equable way. Men in general will know
nothing of this ; they witness not your private prayers, and they wifl
confuse you with the multitude they fall in with. But your friends and
acquaintance will gain a light and a comfort from your example ; they
will see your good works, and be led to trace them to their true secret
source, the influences of the Holy Ghost sought and obtained by prayer.
Thus they will glorify your heavenly Father, and in imitation of you
will seek Him ; and He who sseth in secret, shall at length reward you
openlj .

* Isaiah xxvi. 3. t Isaiah Ivii. 20, 91.



SERMON XX.



FORMS OF PRIVATE PRAYER.



Luke xi. 1.
" Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples."

These words express the natural feelings of the awakened mind, per-
ceiving its great need of God's help, yet not understanding well what
its particular wants are, or how they are to bs relieved. The disciples
of John the Baptist, and the disciples of Christ, waited on their respec-
tive Masters for instruction how to -pray. It was in vain that the duty
of repentance was preached to the one, and of faith to the other ; in
vain that God's mercies and His judgments were set before them, and
their own duties ; they seem to have all that was necessary for making
prayers for themselves, yet they could not ; their hearts were full, but
they remained dumb ; they could offer no petition except to he taught
to pray ; they knew the Truth, but they could not use it. So different
a thing is it to be instructed in rehgion, and to have so mastered it in
practice, that it is altogether our own.

Their need has been the need of Christians ever since. All of us
in childhood, and most men ever after, require direction how to pray ;
and hence the use of Forms of prayer, which have always obtained in
the Church. John taught his disciples ; Christ gave the Apostles the
prayer which is distinguished by the name of the Lord's Prayer ; and
after He had ascended on high, the Holy Spirit has given us excellent
services of devotion by the mouth of those blessed saints, whom from
time to time He has raised up to be overseers in the Church, In the
words of St. Paul, " We know not what we should pray for as we
ought ;"* but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities ;" and that, not only by
guiding our thoughts, but by directing our words.

This, I say, is the origin of Forms of prayer, of which I mean to
speak to-day ; viz. these two undeniable truths, first, that all men
have the same spiritual wants, — and, secondly, that they cannot of
themselves express them.

Now it has so happened that in thes3 latter times self-wise reasoners

* Rom. viii. 21.



162 FORMS OF PRIVATE PRAYER. [Serm.

have arisen who have quostioned the use of Forms of prayer, and have
thought it better to pray out of their own thoughts at random, using
words which come into their minds at the time they pray. It may be
right then, that v/e should have some reasons at hand for cur use of
those Forms, which we have adopted because they were handed down
to us. Not, as if it were not quite a suj]icient reason for using them,
thit we have received them, and, (in St. Paul's words.) that "neither
we nor the Churches of God have known any other custom,"* and
that the best of Christians have ever used them ; for this is an abun-
dantly satisfactory reason ; — nor again, as if we could hope by reasons
ever so good, to pc: suade those who inquire of us, which most likely
we shall not be able to do ; for a man is far gone in extravagance who
deliberately denies the use of Forms, and is likely to find our reasons
as difficult to receive as the practice we are defending ; — so that we
can only say of such men, as St. Paul speaks in the epistle just referred
to, " if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant," there is no help for
it. But it may be useful to show you how reasonable the practice is, in
order that you yourselves may turn it to better account ; for when we
know why v/e do a thing, we are likely (the same circumstances being
supposed) to do it more comfortably than when we obey ignorantly.

Now, I suppose no one is in any difficulty about the use of Forms of
prayer in public worship ; for common sense almost will tell us, that
when many are to pray together as one man, if their thoughts are to go
together, they imist agree beforehand what is to be the subject of their
prayers, nay, what the words of their prayers, if there is to be any cer-
tainty, composure, ease, and regularity in their united devotions. To
be present at extempore prayer, is to hear prayers. Nay, it might hap-
pen, or rather often would happen, that we did not understand what
was said ; and then the person praying is scarcely praying " in a
tongue understanded of the people," (as our Article expresses it ;)
he is rather interceding for the people, than praying u-ith them, and
leading their worship. In the case, then, of public prayer the need of
forms is evident ; but it is not at first sight so obvious that in private
prayer also we need use written Forms, instead of praying extempore
(as it is called ;) so I proceed to show the use of them.

1. Let us bear in mind the precept of the wise man. " Be not rash
with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing be-
fore God ; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth ; therefore let
thy words be few."f Prayers framed at the moment are likely to be-
come irreverent. Let us consider for a few moments before we pray,

» Cor, xi. 16. tEccles.v. 2.



XX.] FORMS OF PRIVATE PRAYER. 153

into whose presence we are entering, — the presence of God. What
need have'^we of humble, sober, and subdued thoughts ! as becomes
creatures, sustained hourly by his bounty ; — as becomes lost sinners
who have no right to speak at all, but must submit in silence to Him
who is holy ; — and still more as grateful servants of Him who bought
lis from ruin at the price of His own blood ; meekly sitting at His feet
like Mary to learn and to do His will, and like the penitent at the great
man's feast, quietly adoring Him, and doing Him service without dis-
turbance, washing His feet (as it were) with our tears, and anointing
them with precious ointment, as having sinned much and needing a
large forgiveness. T. erefore to avoid the irreverence of many or unfit
words and rude half-religious thoughts, it is necessary to pray from
book or memory, and not at random.

It may be objected, that this reason for using Forms proves too much ;
viz. that it would be wrong ever to do without them ; which is an over-
rigorous bond upon Christian liberty. But I reply, that reverence in
our prayers will be sufficiently secured, if at our stated seasons for
prayer we make use of Forms. For thus a tone and character will be
imparted to our devotion throughout the day ; nay even the very peti-
tions and ejaculations will be supplied, which we need. And much
more will our souls be influenced by the power of them, at the very
time we are using them ; so that, should the occasion require, we shall
find ourselves able to go forward naturally and soberly into such addi-
tional supplications, as are of too particular or private a nature, to
admit of being written down in set words.

2. In the next place, forms of prayer are necessary to guard us
against the irreverence of wandering thoughts. If we pray without
set words (read or remembered,) our minds will stray from the subject ;
other thoughts will cross us, and we shall pursue them ; we shall lose
sight of His presence whom we are addressing. This wandering of
mind is in good measure prevented, under God's blessing, by Forms of
prayer. Thus a chief use of them is that o^ fixing the attention.

3. Next, they are useful in securing us from the irreverence of ex-
■cited thoughts. And here there is room for saying much ; for it so
happens Forms of prayer are censured for the very circumstance about
them which is their excellence. They are accused of impeding the
current of devotion, when, in fact, that (so called) current is in itself
faulty, and ought to be checked. And those persons (as might be ex-
pected) are most eager in their opposition to them, who require more
than others the restraint of them. They sometimes throw their objec-
tion into the following form, which it may be worth while to consider.
They say, •' If a man is in earnest, he will soon find words ; there is



154 FORMS OF PRIVATE PRAYER. [Sehm.

no need of a set Form of prayer. And if he is not in earnest, a Form
can do him no < od." Now that a man who is in earnest will soon
find words, is true or not true, according to what is meant by being in
earnest. It is true that in certain times a strong emotion, grief or joy,
remorse or fear, our religious feelings outrun and leave behind them
any Form of words. In such cases not only is there no need of Forms
of prayer, but it is perhaps impossible to write Forms of prayer for
Christians agitated by such feelings. For each man feels in his own
way, — perhaps no two men exactly alike ; — and we can no more v/rite
down how men ought to pray at such times, than we can give rules
how they should weep or be merry. The better men they are, of
course the better they will pray in such a trying time ; but you cannot
make them better ; they must be left to themselves. And, though good
men have before now set down in writing Forms of prayer for persons
so circumstanced, these were doubtless meant rather as patterns and
helps, or as admonitions and (if so be) quietings of the agitated mind,
than as prayers which it was expected would be used literally and en-
tirely in their detail. As a general rule, Forms of prayer should not
be written in strong and impassioned language ; but should be calm»
composed, and short. Our Saviour's own prayer is our model in tliis
respect. How few are its petitions ! how soberly expressed ! how
reverently ! and at the same time how deep are they, and how com-
prehensive ! — I readily grant, then, that there are times when the heart
outruns any written words ; as the jailor cried out, " What shall I do
to be saved "?" Nay, rather I would maintain that set words sliould not
attempt to imitate the impetuous workings to which all minds are sub-
ject at times in this world of change, (and therefore religious minds in
the number,) lest one should seem to encourage them.

Still the question is not at all settled ; granting there are times when
a thankful or a wounded heart bursts through all forms of prayer, yet
these . re not frequent. To be excited is not the ordinary state of the
mind, the extraordinary, the now and then state. Nay, more than
this, it ought not to be the common state of the mind ; and if we are en-
couraging within us this excitement, this unceasing rush and alternation
of feelings, and think that this, and this only, is being in earnest in
religion, we arc harming our minds, and (in one sense) I may even say,
grieving the pcacotul Spirit of God, which would silently and tranquilly
work His Divine work in our hearts. This, then, is an especial use
of Forms of prayer, when we are in earnest, as we ought always to be,
viz. to keep us from irreverent earnestness, to still emotion, to calm us,
to remind us what and where we are, to lead us to a purer and serener



XX.] FORMS OF PRIVATE PRAYER. 155

temper, and to that deep unruffled love of God and man, which is really
the fulfilling of the law, and the perfection of human nature.

Then, again as to the usefulness of Forms if we are not in earnest,
this also is true or not, as we may take it. For there are degrees of
earnestne.«s. Let us recollect, the power of praying, being a habit,
must be acquired, like all other habits, by practice. In order at length
to pray well, we must begin by praying ill, since ill is all we can do.
Is not this plain 1 Who, in the case of any other work, would wait
till he could do it perfectly, before he tried it 1 The idea is absurd.
Yet those who object to Forms of prayer on the ground just mentioned,
fall into this strange error. If, indeed, we could pray and praise God
like the Angels, we might have no need of Forms of prayer ; but
Forms are to teach those who pray poorly to pray better. They are
helps to our devotion, as teaching us what to pray for, and how, as St»
John and our Lord taught their disciples 1 and, doubtless, even the best
of us prays but poorly, and iieecls the help of them. However, the per-
sons I speak of, think that prayer is nothing else but the bursting forth
of strong feeling, not the action of a habit, but an emotion, and, there-
fore, of course to such men the very notion of learning to pray seems
absurd. But this indulgence of emotion is in truth founded on a mis-
take, as I have already said.

4. Further, forms are useful to help our memory and to set before us
at once, completely, and in order, what we have to pray for. It does not
follow, when the heart is really full of the thought of God, and alive to
the reality of things unseen, that then it is easiest to pray. Rather,
the deeper insight we have into His Majesty and our innumerable
wants, the less we shall be able to draw out our thoughts into words.
The publican could only say, " God be merciful to me a sinner ;" this
was enough for his acceptance ; but to offer such a scanty service was
not to exercise the gift of prayer, the privilege of a ransomed and ex-
alted Son of God. He whom Christ has illuminated with His grace, is
heir of all things. He has an interest in the world's multitude of mat-
ters. He has a boundless sphere of duties v/ithin and without him.
He has a glorious prospect before him. The saints shall hereafter
judge the world ; and shall they not here take cognizance of its doings ?
are they not in one sense counsellors and confidential servants of their
Lord, intercessors at the throne of grace, the secret agents by and for
whom He guides His high providence, and carries on the nations to
their doom ? And in their own persons is forgiveness merely and ac-
ceptance (extreme blessings as these are) the scope of their desires ? else
might they be content with the publican's prayer. Are they not rather
bidden to go on to perfection, to use the Spirit given them, to enlarge



156 FORMS OF PRIVATE PRAYER. [Serm.

and purify their own hearts, and to draw out the nature of man into
the fulness of its capabiUties after the image of the Son of God 1 And
for the thought of all these objects at once who is sufficient 1 Whose
mind is not overpowered by the view of its own immense privilege, so
as eagerly to seek for words of prayer and intercession carefully com-
posed according to the number and the nature of the various petitions
it has to offer 1 so that he who prays without plan, is in fact losing a
great part of the privilege, with which his Baptism has gifted him.

5. And further, the use of a Form as a help to the memory is still
more obvious, when we take into account the engagements of this
world with which most men are surrounded. The cares and businesses
•of life press upon us with a reality which we cannot overlook. Shall
we trust tas matters of the next world to the chance thoughts of our
own minds, which come this moment, and go the next, and may not be
at hand when the time of employing them arrives, like unreal visionf,
having no substance and no permanence 1 This world is Satan's effica-
cious Form, it is the instrument through which he spreads out in order



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 76)