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PSALM XCV. 2.
LET US COME BEFORE HIS PRESENCE WITH THANKSGIVING, AND SHEW OURSELVES GLAD IN HIM WITH PSALMS."
We have endeavoured (in the former sermons) to shew, that Confession of Sin must be the first act with which a sinner should draw near to the Throne of the Holy God.-We have seen it to be agreeable to our reason and judgment, as well as to Scripture, that guilty and offending creatures, who never pass a day without "in many things offending all," should first come to God for mercy, with humble acknowledgment of our faults; and that until such confession have been made, and such pardon obtained, we cannot offer any acceptable praise to God. We have learnt that this must be the case with all prayer when it is rightly offered. Whether we "shut our door and pray to our Father which seeth in secret;" or whether we kneel among "the great congregation," and "in the assembly of the saints,' Confession of Sin must be our first act, and must come before any act of praise. Since to offer thanksgiving without having first acknowledged our sin, and sought pardon through the merits of the Son of God, would be, like Cain, to offer the fruits and the corn without offering the bloodit would be to approach God in our own way, and not His appointed way, and would therefore be itself an increase of sin.
We considered last Sunday that part of our service which relates to this first act of all becoming worship-the Confession of Sin. And if our consideration shall, through God's blessing, have led you, dear Brethren, to understand better, or to feel more, the Scriptural and Spiritual character of this opening part of our Service, so as to lead you to join in it with more heart and knowledge, "with the spirit and understanding" also, we shall bless God for it; since His glory will be set forth by your more devout and reasonable service, and your good forwarded by the blessing which such service will obtain for you at His hands.
The next part of our Service which follows the Confession of Sin is that in which we PRAY, and "set forth his most worthy PRAISE."
This part begins with the Lord's Prayer, so called, because He who "is our Master and Lord" taught it to His disciples. This Prayer is general, like the Confession, and is peculiarly well chosen to follow it, being an act of united Prayer, as that is an act of united Humiliation. We endeavoured to shew you, in the last Sermon, how, in making our Confession, each congregation, with the minister at its head, is like a great family, confessing with one voice their common faults to their common Father. So the next act of worship is, when the same family, believing that the faults they have humbly acknowledged are forgiven, join in a common prayer to that same blessed God whom His own Son, "the first-born among many Brethren," taught us to call "our Father and His Father-our God and His God."
Concerning the Lord's Prayer we know, that
our Lord meant it to be not only a pattern for our prayers-a model, after the likeness of which we are to make our prayers-but to be itself a form of Prayer; and for this reason, that the first time our Lord gave that prayer to his disciples (as we read in Matt. vi. 9,) he said, "After this manner pray ye;" that is, let this be a model for your prayers; but when he again gave it to them, (Luke xi. 1, 2) he said, "When ye pray, Say: There he meant to enjoin us to use the very words, that is, to use it as a form of united prayer;' and as such it has been used from the very beginning of Christianity. It is called by many ancient Fathers, the daily Prayer,'-not one of all the old Liturgies leave it out; and one ancient writer, speaking of it, says, (and with truth) If any of you do not say this Prayer, though you be present in body, you are out of the church.' (Augustine.)
The first word in this Prayer shews it to be meant for common and united worship-" Our Father." The Creeds begin with "I," because, though all say them together, yet each one must believe for himself; and it will not save me to sit next one who believes, if I do not believe for myself. So the Commandments begin with " Thou," because, though they are addressed to all God's people, they contain the duty of each one, and each man is to try to keep them himself. But the Lord's Prayer begins with "Our," because we are taught in it to pray as Brethren-to think of others, and not merely of ourselves. When we ask for daily bread, it is for " our bread"—when we ask for pardon, it is "of our trespasses"when we pray to be kept from temptation, it is that we may be kept from temptation-that we may be delivered from the evil one.
This is the
reason why we begin our public act of Prayer with the Lord's Prayer.
I will not here stay to explain this wonderful Prayer, so plain, "that the wayfaring man, though a fool, will not err therein"-so full, that it sets forth all our wants, and points out all our duty. We will rather now notice an objection which is very commonly made, not only by those who dissent from our Communion, but also by the members of it, to the frequent (as they say too frequent) use of the Lord's Prayer in our Church Service.
Our Morning Prayer, as we use it on Sundays, is made up of what were once several distinct services;-1, The Prayers, containing the Introduction from the beginning to the end of the Lord's Prayer-the Psalmody and Reading, reaching to the end of the Lessons-the Prayers and Collects, which carry on the Service to the end-2, The Litany-and 3, The Communion Service. So that in our Morning Prayer on Sundays we have three distinct and separate services. Now when our pious Reformers put together our Prayer-Book, believing (to use the words of Hooker) that though they should speak with the tongue of angels, yet words so pleasing to the ears of God, as those which the Son of God Himself hath composed, it was not possible for men to frame-they, therefore, made every Service, and each part of the Service, contain the Lord's Prayer; for when we begin a separate part of the Service with it (as after the Belief,) or a separate Service, (as the Communion Service,) the Lord's Prayer, being perfect in its own meaning, presents at once to us, in a short form, all that we have to ask; and when we end a separate part of the