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SERMON XVII. (IX.)
BY THE REV. NATHANAEL VINCENT, A.M.
OF CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD.
PUBLIC PRAYER OUGHT NOT TO BE MADE IN AN UNKNOWN TONGUE.
PUBLIC PRAYER SHOULD BE IN A KNOWN TONGUE.
I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.
- 1 Corinthians xiv. 15.
» « of light.”
The Spirit of God, foreseeing that in the latter days there would be an apostasy and departure from the faith, and that impious and corrupt doctrines would be published by men of corrupt minds, hath so compiled the holy scriptures, that from thence even those errors which arose long after the time of the apostles may be detected and confuted. With very good reason did Tertullian say, Adoro scripturæ plenitudinem, * “ I adore the fulness of the scripture."
." The perfection and sufficiency of it must needs be granted by all that understand it, and that will believe the testimony which it gives concerning itself. It is “profitable” apos. διδασκαλιαν, προς ελεγχον, « for doctrine and reproof.” (2 Tim. iii. 16.) It serves to inform and open the eyes of the ignorant ; it serves to stop the mouths of gainsayers. Hence we may be furnished with both offensive and defensive weapons : and the armour which is fetched from it is styled τα οπλα του φωτος,
“ the armour,” or “ the weapons, (Rom. xiii. 12.) And truly, sin and error being but discovered, that very discovery will have a great influence unto the mortification of the one, and our preservation from the contagion of the other.
I do not at all wonder that the church of Rome should take away the key of knowledge. Open but that door, and that command would more generally be obeyed which you read in Rev. xviii. 4: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." The Popish leaders are very much against the scripture's being known, because it makes so much against them, and speaks so plainly against their doctrines ; and they are jealous lest their own men, upon serious reading and consideration, might be brought to say, Aut hoc non est evangelium, aut nos non sumus evangelici : “ Either this is not the gospel, or we are not gospellers : “ Either this word of God is not true; or if it be true, then Popery is a mere falsehood.”
That there is such a great disagreement between the scripture and Popery, might easily be made manifest in all the points of controversy between the Romish church and ours; we having departed from them upon this very score,-because they have rejected the word of God, and left that « faith which was once delivered to the saints."
• Liber adversus Hermogenei, cap. 22.
But the point now to be insisted on is, the language or tongue in which prayer that is public ought to be made.
How near akin is mystical Babylon unto Babel of old in the land of Shinar! We read that there the aspiring builders' language was confounded, and they did not understand one another's speech ; (Gen. xi. 7 ;) and this confusion stopped the building of that tower which was designed to reach heaven. In the devotions of the Romish church, the priest speaks, but the people understand not what is spoken ; and this is an impediment unto the people's edification : so that their devotions reach not heaven, but are only a “speaking into the air ;” (1 Cor. xiv., 9 ;) and are as little regarded by God, as they are understood by themselves. The Protestant churches, on the other side, are for prayer in a known tongue : and good warrant they have from the apostle himself; who says, “I will pray with the understanding ;” and that “in the church he had rather speak five words,” that is, a few words, “with his understanding, that by his voice he might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." (Verse 19.)
The text informs us of the apostle's practice: which he proposes, surely, not that we should dislike it, and refuse to follow him ; but for our imitation.
Three things are here to be considered :1. What is meant by prayer ? — It must be understood concerning public prayer, or prayer with others : for the apostle, in this chapter where the text lies, is delivering a decency and order which was to be observed in the public assemblies ; he
persons to be present, that might answer “Amen” to the supplications and thanksgivings that were , made. (Verse 16.) This interpretation, as Beza observes, is most agreeable with the scope of the apostle and the drift of his discourse. *
2. What is meant by the spirit ?—“I will pray in the spirit ;” that is, “ by the gift of prayer which the Spirit bestows." This exposition I find in Chrysostom : Τα πνευματι, τουτέστι, τα χαρισματι.* Extraordinary abilities of prophesying and praying were given after Christ's ascension and the mission of the Holy Ghost; and the end of all was the church's increase and edification. Here it is not amiss to add, that by comparing other places with this, we must grant that "praying in the spirit” comprehends a great deal more than the bare gift of utterance in this duty, whether extraordinary in an unknown, or more ordinary in a known, language. To pray in the Holy Ghost, implies, and that chiefly, the having our infirmities helped by the Spirit of God; our graces quickened, our affections and desires raised, unto that strength and fervency unto which the Lord, for his Son our Advocate's sake, has promised satisfaction.
3. What is meant by understanding ?—This must not be referred to the understanding of the apostle ; for it is difficult to suppose that he at any time did not understand what himself did speak. But it relates to the understanding of others; as, verse 19: “I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also.”
• Si de privatis precibus ageret, videri posset a suo proposito aberrare.- Beza in locum. "If he were treating of private prayers, he would seem to wander froin his purpose.”EDIT. † Aoyous Aeyouevois in 1 Epist, ad Corinth.
To teach with the understanding, in the apostle's sense, is to accommodate what we say to the understanding and capacity of those whom we teach. In like manner, to pray with the understanding, is to pray so, as that those whom we pray with may apprehend what we beg for at the throne of grace, and for what we return thanks unto God; else how is it possible they should be edified ?
Upon the words thus opened I build this thesis, which I am to maintain :
That public prayer is not to be made in an unknown tongue, but in such a language as is understood by the common people.
In “public prayer” I include confessions of sin, petitions for gracę and mercy, intercessions for others, and giving of thanks, which are uttered in the hearing of the congregation : and I affirm, that all such public worship and service is to be performed in such a tongue as the congregation is acquainted with. Hearken to the apostle :
“ Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest ? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” (1 Cor. xiv. 16, 17.) Chrysostom upon these words speaks thus : ldwTyv TOY hacxov deyer “By “the man unlearned' the apostle means the layman. Even he must understand the words that are spoken in prayer, that thereby he may be edified.”
In the handling of this thesis,
1. I shall give you the judgment of the church of Rome in the matter :
II. Produce arguments to prove that public prayer ought not to be made in an unknown language.
III. I shall make it manifest that antiquity is utterly against the Papists in this business.
IV. I shall answer the objections of the Romish doctors ; and show the weakness of their arguments which they urge for their Latin, and by the people not-understood, service.
V. I shall discover “the mystery of iniquity” in this Papal doctrine, which preaches ир
encourages to an ignorant devotion. VI. Conclude with a practical application.
I. In the first place I am to give you the judgment of the church of Rome.—And that they indeed hold that public prayer may be made in a language that the people understand not, appears two ways :
1. By their general practice.—Their Mass-book is in Latin ; their divine service and Offices, as they call them, are performed in the Latin tongue. But this is certain,—that the Latin tongue is not now the mother-tongue of
nation under heaven. In former ages, indeed, it was spoken in Italy. But that nation has been so often invaded and over-run by foreign enemies, especially by the Goths and Vandals, that there has been a great alteration in their language ; the present Italian being vastly different from that language which the Romans of old used. But though Latin be not understood by the common people, yet in Italy and Spain and Germany and France, and other places where the pope
governs and is obeyed, the public service is Latin ; and to teach that the people should understand what they pray for, is declaimed against as a piece of heresy.
2. It is not only the practice of that church to have Latin prayers ; nor the opinion only of some private doctors, nor the judgment of a provincial or national synod, that thus it ought to be : but that very council of Trent which they (though without reason) call "holy and @cumenical,” or “general,” does determine that prayer need not be made in a vulgar language.—The words of the council are these : Etsi Missa magnam contineat populi fidelis eruditionem, non tamen expedire visum est patribus ut vulgari linguá passim celebraretur : (Sessio xxii. cap. 22 :)
Though the Mass do contain a great deal of instruction for the faithful people, yet it did not seem expedient to these fathers that it should be every where celebrated in a vulgar tongue.”
Indeed, afterward they command that the pastors exponant aliquid, “expound something ;” but since “something” is only mentioned, and not what, nor how much, and to be sure not all, we may well
say, Нос aliquid nihil est : “This something' is as good as nothing." Moreover the ninth canon runs thus : Si quis dixerit lingud tantùm vulgari Missam celebrari debere, anathema sit : “Whosoever shall say that the Mass ought to be celebrated only in a vulgar language, let him be accursed.” You see how a Popish council determines that public prayer need not be in a known tongue, and thunders out an anathema against those who are otherwise-minded.
II. In the second place follow the arguments against the Papists, which prove that public prayer ought not to be made in a language unknown to the people.
ARGUMENT 1. When prayer is made in an unknown tongue, the name of God is taken in vain.—Aquinas speaks of four ways of taking God's name : 1. Ad dicti confirmationem, “ wben we call God to witness the truth of what has been spoken.” 2. Ad sanctificationem, “to the sanctifying and separating of a thing to an use that is holy.” Thus the water in baptism is separated to a sacramental use, by the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 3. Ad operis completionem, “unto the performing of any work which we undertake.” Thus David went forth against Goliath in the name of the Lord of hosts, whose armies that proud giant had defied. 4. Ad confessionem et invocationem, when we make confession of God's name before others, or call upon his name ourselves."
Now, when thus in prayer we take the name of God into our mouths, we must remember the third commandment, and how the great Lawgiver has expressly signified that he will not hold the transgressors guiltless. It is the first petition in the Lord's Prayer, “ Hallowed be thy name : but how can those that understand not the words of prayer, hallow God's name? How can their hearts and their words go together? And if they do not, the worship is vain : “ This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips ; but their heart is far from me,” and “in vain do they worship me.” (Matt. xv. 8, 9.) The people in Latin prayers understand not when sin is confessed, nor when pardon and grace are asked, nor when praise is offered : how,
then, can their hearts be suitably affected ? It follows, therefore, that the Lord's name is taken, and an ordinance used, in vain. Certainly the end of oral prayer is not attained in the church of Rome. The reason of using words in this duty is, that others may understand, and join with us ; and also that our own thoughts and hearts by the words may be kept more close to God and intent upon his service : but, in both these regards, Latin prayers, to those that understand not Latin, are just as good as none at all.
ARG. 11. Prayer in an unknown tongue is ignorant worship.—The Samaritans were blamed by Christ for worshipping they knew not what ; (John iv. 22 ;) and he speaks by way of reprehension to his disciples, “ Ye know not what ye ask :
(Mark x. 38 :) so that not only the object of prayer must be known, but likewise the matter which we pray for. But in both these regards the poor Papists are miserably ignorant. Their idolatry plainly shows [that] they have not right conceptions of the Godhead. How like are they to the Heathen Romans of old, who, before their conversion to the Christian faith, “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man!” (Rom. i. 23 ;) which is an evident argument, that they are “become vain in their imaginations, and that their foolish hearts are darkened.” (Verse 21.) The Papists multiply altars, indeed ; but upon all their altars this inscription may be written, which was upon the altar at Athens :
: Aywota Eq. (Acts xvii. 23 :) they are dedicated “to a God [whom] they know not."
And as they know not the God [whom] they pray to, so neither do they understand what they pray for. And what is ignorant worship, if this be not,—to make unknown prayers to an unknown God ? Surely it is the will of God [that] we should understand what we pray: but the Papists are willingly ignorant ; and it abundantly suffices them, if so much time is but wasted in their devotions, and so many words are but pronounced, though they understand those words no more than a parrot does the meaning of those words of ours which it has learned to imitate.
Arg. JI. How can such prayers as are made in an unknown tongue be made in faith? And yet faith is so necessary an ingredient in prayer, that the apostle sticks not to say, “ Let not that man," who asks not in faith, “think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” (James i. 7.)— We must believe that what we ask is according to the will of God. To this end the word, which is the declaration of God's will, ought to abide in
“ If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John xv. 7.) There must also in prayer be a reliance upon the promises of God;
all which are “ Yea and Amen in Christ." But how can we either believe that we ask according to the will of God, or rely upon those promises which God hath made, if we know not what we pray ?
Faith in prayer, which is true, always pre-supposes knowledge. “ How shall they call on him,” says the apostle, “in whom they have not believed ? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ?” (Rom. x. 14.) He that understands, not the tongue in which the prayers are made, cannot certainly tell whether the Lord be praised or blasphemed; whether grace be implored, or liberty begged to continue in