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which tendeth to eat out seriousness in the worship of God, and turn all into dead imagery or formality. Quest. Is it lawful to read a prayer in the church?
Arisw. 1. That which is not forbidden is lawful: but to read a prayer is not forbidden (as such, though by accident it may). 2. The prayers in the Scripture psalms, were usually read in the Jewish synagogues lawfully; for they were written to that end, and were indeed the Jewish liturgy. Therefore to read a prayer is not unlawful. 3. He that hath a weak memory may read his own sermon notes; therefore he may read his prayers. 4. I add as to this case and the former together; that 1. Christ did usually frequent the Jewish synagogues. 2. That in those synagogues there were forms of prayer, and that ordinarily read, at least Scripture forms: and if either the Jewish rabbins (cited by Scaliger, Selden in Eutych., Alexandr., &c.,) or the strongest probability may be credited, there were also human forms. For who can imagine that those Pharisees should have no human forms, (1.) Who are so much accused of formality, and following traditions: (2.) And used long and frequent prayers: but if indeed they had no such forms, then long and frequent extemporate prayers are not so great a sign of the Spirit's gifts as is imagined, when such Pharisees abounded in them. But there is little probability, but that they used both ways. 3. That Christ did not separate from the synagogues for such prayers' sake. 4. Yea, that we never read that Christ meddled in the controversy, it being then no controversy; nor that he once reproved such forms, or reading them, or ever called the Jews to repent of them. If you say, his general reproof of traditions was enough: I answer, 1. Even traditions he reproved not as such, but as set before, or against the commands of God. 2. He named many of their particular traditions and corruptions, Matt. xv. xxiii. &c., and yet never named this. 3. His being usually present at their assemblies, and so joining with them in their worship, would be such an appearance ofhii approbation, as would make it needful to express his disallowance of it, if indeed he thought it sinful. So that whoever impartially considereth all this, that he joined with them, that he particularly reproved other corruptions, and that he never said any thing at all against forms or reading prayers, that is recorded, will sure be moderate in his judgment of such indifferent things, if he know what moderation is.
Quest, Lxxvii. Is it lawful to pray in the church without a prescribed or premeditated form of words?
Answ. There are so few sober and serious Christians that ever made a doubt of this, that I will not bestow many words to prove it. 1. That which is not forbidden is lawful. But church prayer without a premeditated or prescribed form of words is not forbidden (by God); therefore (as to God's laws) it is not unlawful. 2. To express holy desires understanding^, orderly seriously, and in apt expressions, is lawful praying. But all this may be done without a set form of words; therefore to pray without a set form of words may be lawful. 3. The consent of the universal church, and the experience of godly men, are arguments so strong, as are not to be made light of. 4. To which Scripture instances may be added.
Quest, Lxxviii. Whether are setforms of words, orfree praying without them the better way? And what are the commodities and incommodities of each way? Answ. I will first answer the latter question, because the former dependeth on it. I. The commodities of a set form of words, and the discommodities of free praying are these following. 1. In a time of dangerous heresy which hath infected the pastors, a set form of prescribed words tendeth to keep the church, and the consciences of the joiners from such infection, offence, and guilt. 2. When ministers are so weak as to dishonour God's worship by their unapt, and slovenly and unsound expressions, prescribed or set forms which are well composed, are some preservative and cure. When free praying leaveth the church under this inconvenience. 3. When ministers by faction, passion, or corrupt interests, are apt to put these vices into their prayers, to the injury of others, and of the cause and church of God, free praying cherisheth this, or giveth it opportunity, which set forms do restrain. 4. Concordant set forms do serve for the most exact concord in the churches, that all at once may speak the same things. 5. They are needful to some weak ministers that cannot do so well without them. 6. They somewhat prevent the laying of the reputation of religious worship upon the minister's abilities: when in free praying, the honour and comfort varieth with the various degrees of pastoral abilities; in one place it is excellently well done, in another but drily, and coldly, and meanly; in another erroneously, unedifyingly, if not dishonourably, tending to the contempt of holy things: whereas in the way of set liturgies, though the ablest (at that time) doth no better, yet the weakest doth, (for words) as well, and all alike. 7. And, if proud weak men have not the composing and imposing of it, all know that words drawn up by study, upon sober premeditation and consultation, have a greater advantage, to be exact and apt, than those that were never thought on till we are speaking them. 8. The very fear of doing amiss, disturbeth some unready men, and maketh them do all the rest the worse. 9. The auditors know beforehand, whether that which they are to join in be sound or unsound, having time to try it. 10. And they can more readily put in their consent to what is spoken, and make the prayers their own, when they know beforehand what it is, than they can do when they know not before they hear it; it being hard to the duller sort of hearers, to concur with an understanding and consent as quick as the speaker's words are. Not but that this
may be done, but not without gTeat difficulty in the duller sort.
11. And it tendeth to avoid the pride and self-deceit of many, who think they are good Christians, and have the spirit of grace and supplication, because by learning and use they can speak many hours in variety of expressions in prayer; which is a dangerous mistake.
II. The commodities of free extemporate prayers, and the discommodity of prescribed or set forms are these following.
1. It becometh an advantage to some proud men who think themselves wiser than all the rest, to obtrude their compositions, that none may he thought wise enough, or fit to speak to God but in their words; and so introduce church-tyranny.
2. It may become a hindrance to able, worthy ministers that can do better.
3. It may become a dividing snare to the churches, that cannot all agree and consent in such human impositions.
4. It may become an advantage to heretics when they can but get into power (as the Arians of old) to corrupt all the churches and public worship; and thus the Papists have corrupted the churches by the mass.
5. It may become an engine or occasion of persecution, and silencing all those ministers that cannot consent to such impositions.
6. It may become a means of depraving the ministry, and bringing them to a common idleness and ignorance, (if other things alike concur). For when men perceive that no greater abilities are used and required, they will commonly labour for and get no greater, and so will be unable to pray without their forms of words.
7. And by this means Christian religion may decay and grow into contempt; for though it be desirable that its own worth should keep up its reputation and success, yet it never hitherto was so kept up without the assistance of God's eminent gifts and graces in his ministers; but wherever there hath been a learned, able, holy, zealous, diligent ministry, religion usually hath flourished; and wherever there hath been an ignorant, vicious, cold, idle, negligent and reproached ministry, religion usually hath died and been reproached. And we have now no reason to look for that which never was, and that God should take a new course in the world.
And the opinion of imposing forms of prayer, may draw on the opinion of imposing forms of preaching as much, and of restraining free preaching as much as free praying, as we see in Moscovy. And then when nothing but bare reading is required, nothing more will be ordinarily sought; and so the ministry will be the scorn of the people.
9. And it will be a shameful and uncomfortable failing, when a minister is not able on variety of occasions, to vary his prayers accordingly; and when he cannot go any further than his book or lesson; it being as impossible to make prayers just fitted to all occasions which will fall out, as to make sermons fit for all, or as they say, to make a coat for the moon; and the people will contemn the ministers when they perceive this great deficiency.
10. And it is a great difficulty to many ministers to learn and say a form without book; so that they that can all day speak what they know, can scarce recite a form of words one quarter of an hour, the memory more depending upon the body and its temper, than the exercise of the understanding doth. He that is tied just to these words and no other, is put upon double difficulties (like him that on height must walk on a narrow plank, where the fear of falling will make him fall); but he that may express the just desires of his soul in what words occur that are apt and decent, is like one that hath a field to walk in: for my own part, it is easier to me to pray or preach six hours in freedom, about things which I understand, than to pray or preach the tenth part of an hour in the fetters of a form of words which I must not vary. And so the necessity of a book coming in, doth bring down the reputation of the minister's abilities, in the people's eyes.
11. But the grand inoommodity, greater than all the rest is, that it usually occasioneth carelessness, deadness, formality, and heartless lip-labour in our prayers to God; whilst the free way of present prayer tendeth to excite our cogitations to consider what we say. And it is not only the multitude of dead-hearted hypocrites in the church that are thus tempted to persevere in their lip-labour and hypo