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1 CORINTHIANS xiv. 15.
"I WILL PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, AND I WILL PRAY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING ALSO.
The Church of the Corinthians excelled in their spiritual gifts. Among other gifts, that of "speaking with tongues" was common among them. When the Christians came together to worship, those persons who had the gift of tongues, desirous of exercising their gift, frequently spoke in unknown tongues, and while they were edified themselves, the other believers, from not understanding what was spoken, were not profited at all. Saint Paul wrote to instruct the Corinthians, among other things, that their great desire, in wishing for spiritual gifts, should be to benefit others and edify those who heard them.
The simple principle thus laid down by the Holy Spirit in this Epistle, viz. that prayer must be made both "with the spirit and with the understanding," is one, which common sense and reason at once confess to be just. It is a principle which our spiritual Church acknowledges in one of her Articles (the 24th), wherein she declares, that 'it is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have Public Prayer in the Church or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded of ' (understood by) the people.' It is needless for me to tell you, (as you most probably know it already), that the prayers of the church of
Rome are in Latin; and though they have added a translation side by side with the Latin, to enable the people to understand the meaning of the prayers which the priest is repeating, still it is plain, that this practice is as contrary to Scripture, as to good sense; and has arisen from the perverse "traditions of men," and not from "the commandment of God."
That branch of the Church, to which we have the privilege to belong, has endeavoured to secure, in her Public Worship, the principle laid down by the apostle, viz. that prayer, in order to be acceptable, must be made both with the spirit and the understanding; and if the very words of Scripture, setting forth our various wants, are suited to call out and arouse a spirit of supplication-if the words of the same Book, declaring the object of all faith, are proper to excite our faith, and those which tell of God's many mercies to us, are such as should increase as well as set forth our thankfulness, then is our Scriptural Liturgy suited to excite as well as express the spirit of prayer; and, inasmuch as the English translation of the Bible is as remarkable for the simplicity of its language, as for the faithfulness with which it gives the meaning of the ancient Scriptures, it is plain, that as the same simplicity of expression belongs to the Prayer Book (in consequence of its being gathered out of the Bible) it is plain therefore, that the Prayer Book is also suited to the understanding; and therefore all that the Church can do to ensure that Public Prayer shall be made with the spirit and the understanding also, has been done, inasmuch as we pray in the simple words of the Bible itself, and are led to the knowledge of our wants-the object of our faith-the subject of our gratitude-in language gathered from the same holy source.
Yet although the words of our Church Service are thus simple and scriptural, and therefore fit words to express the prayer, both of the spirit and the understanding; still the better those Prayers are understood, and the reason for their being arranged in the order in which they stand, are known, the more likely is it that we shall pray with the spirit and the understanding also. It will be our endeavour therefore, with God's blessing, to draw your special attention to the Prayers of our Church generally, and to those parts of them especially, which it is important that you should understand;-and let no one undervalue such considerations as the present will be, since the object of all sermons is to draw men to pray, and the best preparation for hearing sermons profitably, is to pray heartily and sincerely. If, therefore, these considerations shall be so blessed by God, as to lead you, dear brethren, to understand better the Prayers you repeat-to shew you their spirituality and fulness, and thus excite you to pray with the spirit, and help you to pray more with the understanding,-if these considerations shall (under God) help you to do this, they will not be in vain; and let us remember, that in such considerations we are not going over a barren field, since Christ and his salvation are as much the objects of our thought, and subjects of our meditation in the Prayer Book, as they are in that Book from which every word is gathered, and each Prayer of the Prayer Book is drawn. Some may perhaps think these words too strong, but they are true, as any one may see by turning to a Prayer Book with references at the sides, or as we could shew (if time allowed us, or it were necessary to do so) by reading first the words of our Prayer Book, and then the same words from Scripture.
We have already shewn the advantages of a stated form of Prayer. However great may be the gifts of prayer which some persons have, yet those gifts often vary, being more at one time than another; and as all have not those gifts alike, and those who would fail of them are more than those who would possess them, it must be clear that plain and Scriptural Prayers, expressing our feelings of godly sorrow for sin - our faith in the great sacrifice for sin—our thankfulness for mercies received and setting forth our wants, and those of all mankind, must, on the whole, be more desirable than if each minister were left to conduct the service as he might like or be able; and when we consider that the words in which we pray every Sabbath, are, many of them, the same in which, from the very earliest times, Christians have worshipped God: this consideration must add to that weight, which the Scriptural words of the Prayers should have with all who know the Scriptures.
Taking for granted then, the desirableness of a stated form of Prayer, let us consider such points as may be profitable to us to know.
One of the first things to which I would direct your attention concerning our Public Prayer is
THE GREAT SHARE WHICH THE PEOPLE HAVE IN IT.
Though the minister leads the people, he does not take all the service to himself. The people ought to have a considerable part in the Public Prayer of the Church. To mention a few parts. The General Confession is meant for all the congregation. The minister kneels, as it were, at the head of a crowd of suppliants--he leads the Confession, but each one of those suppliants ought to join his humble voice to that of his minister.
Again, the Lord's Prayer is to be said by the whole congregation, like one great family of repenting (and as such) pardoned children, calling on their gracious and forgiving Father. Of the - Verses which follow, the people ought to repeat every second verse.-The Psalms are to be read, one verse by the minister, the next by the people, and so each psalm and hymn that comes between the Lessons and the Creed is to be said in the same way. The Creed again, like the General Confession, is to be said by each person in the Church, sentence by sentence, after the minister. In the Litany, the people are to finish each prayer, which the minister has begun; for you will observe, that in the latter part of the Litany, the prayers are imperfect, without those words which the people are to repeat aloud, 'That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people. We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.' You will see that the last words which the people are to repeat, make up the prayer, as those words which the minister says by himself, have no perfect meaning without those which the people say. Thus a very great part of the Public Service of God belongs to the people. And even those prayers, which the minister repeats aloud by himself, are to be followed by each person in the church silently in his heart, and assented to by the amen at the conclusion. This then is the first point to which I would call your attention in considering the Public Services of our Church. In no other form of worship have the people so large a share as in our own. In most Dissenting Communions, except in the hymns sung, the people are only listeners the minister conducts the worship almost entirely. In our Church, the minister leads, but it is not his service-it is meant to be the united service of minister and people-a Liturgy.