« PrécédentContinuer »
eved for variean indicatifind many
interest of your prayers if you guard against long and involved sentences. Do not add clause to clause, till you and your fellow-worshippers have forgotten the beginning of the petition, and at last blunder out some ungrammatical if not unconnected conclusion. In every way, then, avoid length.
Avoid repetitions, too. By this I do not mean avoid repetition in the same prayer (that I have already noticed), but I mean avoid repetition of subjects and phrases every time you offer prayer. Vary the topics you refer to, and vary the petitions you present in respect to the same topic. By this suggestion I also mean, avoid reference to those topics which have been taken up by some one who has preceded you. There is amply sufficient variety in our mercies and wants to render such repetition needless. Indeed, if brevity becomes a habit, there will be more scope and greater need for variety. I fear that the frequent reference to the same subjects is an indication of spiritual poverty. A heart glowing with gratitude will find many things to be thankful for; and one deeply sensible of destitution will be at no loss for requests to urge at the throne of grace. A little reflection will recal something that has not been previously alluded to, and which will form a most appropriate subject for gratitude or supplication. The range of wants we all feel is very extensive; the variety of blessings we have all received is almost boundless; the interests, domestic, social, congregational, pertaining to the church, and affecting the world, are so numberless, that repetition is quite uncalled for. I am quite sure that the frequent recurrence of the same subjects, the same petitions, the same phrases and order of words, seriously diminishes the enjoyment of our social worship. And here I may say, that it is very desirable to avoid the frequent repetition of particular words and phrases, such as, Oh, O Lord, great God, we pray Thee, we beseech Thee. They help to fill up, and they give the mind a momentary resting-place to find a new petition; that is all that can be said in favour of their very frequent use. Before I conclude this letter, let me caution you against the use of the phrase which I have sometimes heard, when the speaker has been referring to the topic of a preceding prayer—"As thy servant has already requested.” You have requested it as well, if you have been joining him in supplication. The speaker is not the only petitioner where there is true social worship. If you wish to renew the supplication which has been previously offered, you might say, “ As we have already requested.” But avoid what conveys the impression that the speaker is the only one who prays. It is, however, of more importance to avoid the repetition, which is suggestive of want of topic. May the Lord preserve you from poverty and leanness of soul Yours sincerely,
Thee, we bese phrases, such as the frequent reme
LETTER III. My dear Herbert,-You ask how you may secure the variety of subjects which I commended to you in my last letter. I think I gave you some hint then. But, at any rate, you will easily secure it if you think, as you are going to the meeting, of the last sermon you heard, or the last chapter or book you read, and resolve to make that the subject of your prayer. Take a survey of your own and your fellow-worshippers' sins, wants, and mercies. Think of the majesty of the Being whom you address, and of the importance of your errand. Many devotional meetings are held with the ostensible purpose of seeking the Divine blessing on the services of the previous Sabbath. Now it would be very refreshing to the worshippers if there were special reference to the subjects of the sermons, and the instructions were turned into supplications. This leads me to make the next suggestion I have to offer to you.
Avoid indefiniteness. Do not go round and round about a subject, and indulge in circumlocutions and vague allusions. Come to the point. Say what you have to say in plain, simple, unmistakeable, but reverent language. If a beggar were in want of bread, he would not ask you for “that which the Scriptures denominate the staff of life.” There is a vigour about some of the prayers of ignorant country people, arising from the very definiteness of their petitions. No doubt there is often an expression which shocks a cultivated ear, and, perhaps, provokes a smile. But a man of culture and devoutness will know how to be definite and refined, stopping short of a refinement that makes distant allusions and indirect references. Our forefathers were more definite, spoke out more plainly than we do, as I dare say you have observed in several of the recent bicentenary memoirs. We might profitably imitate their example in this, as in some other matters.
The next caution I have to give you is to avoid talking to God. Pray to Him, present your adoration, make your confession, urge your petitions, offer your thanksgiving, but don ot speak to the All-wise as if you were telling Him something of which He needed to be informed. Do not indulge in didactic platitudes. Remember that He does not require to be told anything, so much as to be entreated. It is surprising how some good people form the habit of describing to God what He is, or what they are, or what others are, or what has happened. Now this is not improper in some degree, when it is designed to impress the mind and produce reverence, or to form the reason and basis of a plea. I admit that there are two remarkable instances of prayers recorded in Scripture, which you might quote against me. One is the prayer of Jeremiah after he had purchased Hanameel's field-(Jer. xxxii. 17–25). But on careful examination you will find that it is the expression of adoration, gratitude, lamentation. There is nothing like talking to God. The other instance is the prayer of the Levites on the revival of the Temple service—(Neh. i.5-38). Read it thoughtfully, and you will come to the conclusion that the references to the national history and privileges amount to a grateful acknowledgment of the goodness of God, and a confession of sin and of the justice of the Divine punishments. Very different is all this from the statements introduced by the phrase, “ Thou knowest that,” which do not indicate a very fervent spirit of prayer and a very deep sense of need.
Then, again, avoid dullness. A monotonous tone or a uniform cadence from the beginning to the end of a sentence are objectionable. People do not ordinarily speak in monotones. There are inflexions. Be fervent and importunate in words and sound as well as in spirit. The utterance of sentence after sentence without any expression of feeling seems to me like“ paying out” a rope, with something of the hum that sometimes attends the operation. Humdrum such prayers are. Or they sound like the saying of a schoolboy's lesson,-a lesson in which he feels no interest, but repeats because he is obliged to do so. Inanimate such prayers are. Avoid such. And here let me remind you that the end of speaking is that you may be heard, therefore do not mumble. Speak out that all may hear, yet not so as to bawl irreverently to the Most High. Further, avoid hurry. Some have such a rapid, incessant flow of words that they are in very great danger of uttering “things rashly before God." Their tongues seein too fast even for their own thoughts, much more for the thoughts of their fellow-worshippers, who cannot keep pace with them. A deliberate, not drawling, delivery in prayer will render the exercise both more easy to the speaker and more intelligible and edifying to the hearer. A gabbled prayer is bewildering, a shouted prayer is painful, a mumbled prayer is unheard, a dull prayer makes people open their eyes and look about them. In either case there is very little social worship.
Once more, before I conclude this letter:-avoid familiarity. Nothing can atone for a presumptuous and self-sufficient style in addressing the Most High. Above all earthly potentates and everything that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come, He should be addressed with a sense of inferiority. Even in realizing and expressing the relation of sonship, and with a hallowed sense of close and intimate friendship with our Heavenly Father, there should always be a recognition of the superiority of the Father to the child. Be reverent. It is the sine qua non of true prayer to be reverent. Such expressions as these are most unbecoming,—“Dear God,” “ Dear Jesus," "Dearest Saviour,” “Lovely Jesus." You will meet with them in some hymns, but never in the Scriptures. Prophets and apostles never used such language. If it is admissible (and I am not sure that it is) in the private worship of enthusiastic mystics and of highly imaginative devotees, it is quite inadmissible in the worship of a promiscuous assembly. There is a deliciousness and sensuousness about such a style which may suit the depraved taste of some, but it is much to be deprecated. Imitate the grandly simple and humble style of the ancient Hebrews. By all means indulge the sense of personal relation and communion with God. But remember that even the Son uses the simple vocative “Father,” or “ Righteous Father,” or “Holy Father.” The highest presumption is involved in the use of more familiar expressions than He employed. May you realize the blessedness of sonship, and with all filial reverence be able to say, “ My Lord and my God!”-Yours sincerely,
0.0. LETTER IV. My dear Herbert, I am prepared to admit a great deal that you say with regard to the advantages of a Liturgy. It certainly would secure some excellences, and it, would avoid some blemishes. But while much would be gained in correctness and propriety, much would be lost in freedom, fervour, freshness, and appropriateness. I have read a good deal about the advantages and disadvantages of free and formal prayer, and the conclusion to which I have come is that free prayer has by far the greater advantages, and that, if there be some preparation and a devout, reverent, earnest spirit, most of its disadvantages will be corrected or removed. But I must not enter upon this discussion now.
Akin to the hints with which I closed my last letter, is the one I now offer. Avoid brilliant expressions and grand phrases. Bombast and affectation give disgust to judicious hearers. I have heard some men whose air seemed to say, There, that's a splendid prayer--as they wound up with a peroration and sat down to wipe their faces with a handkerchief. You cannot be too careful in avoiding what is fine and fanciful, little turns of wit, hard words, extravagant and superlative adjectives. Be simple, remembering, on the one hand, that you are addressing God, not men; and, on the other hand, that you are speaking in the hearing of some who are plain and unlearned Christians, who cannot fly with your wings, or soar on your pompous clouds, or appreciate your wordy fireworks. Dean Alford in his recently published little work on “ The Queen's English,” gives the following judicious counsel, applicable to the use of words in prayer :-"Be simple, be unaffected, be honest in your speaking and writing. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Call a spade a spade, not a well known oblong instrument of manual industry: let home be home, not a residence ; a place a place, not a locality; and so of the rest. Where a short word will do, you always lose by using a long one. You lose in clearness; you lose in honest expression of your meaning; and, in the estimation of all men who are qualified to judge, you lose in reputation for ability. . . . Avoid all oddity of expression. No one ever was a gainer by singularity in words, or in pronunciation. The truly wise man will so speak that no one may observe how he speaks. . . . Talk as sensible men talk : use the easiest words in their commonest meaning. Let the sense conveyed, not the vehicle in which it is conveyed, be your object of attention,” Such counsel is wise. Further, do not quote poetry and hymns. If one adopts the practice, another may. But very few know how to read or say poetry well. The emphasis is often laid upon some unfortunate, insignificant syllable; and then you wish the good man had confined himself to plain prose. And what shall I say about quoting Scripture? Well, often it increases the excellence and profitableness of a prayer, and with judgment is a valuable accession to the spirit and style. But here I must caution you against the injudicious introduction of obscure phrases, such as refer to ancient Jewish customs, which the greater number of ordinary Christians cannot be acquainted with. Here are examples :—“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” “Take away all iniquity, so will we render the calves of our lips.” “Send the rod of thy strength out of Zion.” "From the womb of the morning, let Christ have the dew of our youth.” I have often heard a good man thank God “that our feet have not stumbled upon the dark mountains." These, and many other Scripture phrases, are unintelligible to most persons. To introduce them into public prayer, and thus to make them the language of our most ignorant fellow-worshippers, is little better than to use an equal number of words in a foreign language.
Now a word or two about another matter. Avoid complimenting others, even your minister. Of what value are your compli. ments to God? In what respect are they at all suitable in addressing Him?
Again; avoid using the language of a high state of Christian experience which you have never attained ; and expressions of a self-abasement which you do not feel. Compare such phrases as these with the language and bearing of the men who make use of them,"dust and ashes,” “ worms of the earth,” “ sinful, guilty, hell-deserving sinners.” Look at this last phrase. What an accumulation of awful epithets! what a state of humiliation and self-condemnation they denote! Yet they are rolled out