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Could a better thing happen to the Church than that it should again have to pass through the testing fires of persecution ? It would separate the chaff from the wheat. It would expose the hollowness and worthlessness of a large amount of mere outward profession. What the Church lost in bulk, however, it would gain in earnestness of conviction and unity of purpose. Gideon's army, reduced to a mere handful by the removal of the cowardly and the self-indulgent, was more potent and terrible than when the many thousands of Israel swelled its ranks. In this sense, perhaps, more than any other, is it true that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Persecution purges its ranks of the unworthy and half-hearted. Those who seal their testimony with their blood, preach by their deaths as they could never have done by their lives. Those who pass through the testing fires unhurt, are as tempered steel and refined gold.
The phrase "religious intolerance” in the title of this article is used advisedly. There is in the present day a good deal of intolerance which is in no sense religious, but much less respectable in character and motive. It does not spring from any deep-seated conviction of the truth of one set of dogmas and the falsity of another. It is the expression of petty pride and social prejudice. When the dominant sect refuses to admit Dissenters to equal privileges in the universities, whilst living, or in the cemeteries, when dead, nobody supposes that the intolerance thus displayed results from any sense of the theological pravity of Dissenting doctrines. This is hardly pretended by those who thus exclude them. It is the crème-de-la-crème who refuse to mingle, living or dead, with the skim-milk of society. It is the exclusiveness of the upper ten thousand sect who shrink from association with "those low people the Dissenters." Essayists and Reviewers, Bishops of Natal, English Benedictines, et hoc omne genus, may be denounced by Convocation, but they are welcomed within the charmed circle of respectability. No exclusion is attempted in their case. The Nonconformist, however, who accepts with full faith all the doctrinal articles of the Church, and only dissents in point of form and order, is visited with as many pains and penalties as the feelings of society and the state of the law will allow. And the persecution is as paltry in character as it is contemptible in motive. It consists of a series of petty annoyances, which, like a swarm of insects buzz, and sting, and irritate, without inflicting any serious injury. The bygone days of fire and fagot displayed intolerance, if in a more terrible, yet in a more respectable form. It is by no means clear that we have not gained a loss by the exchange of the religious intolerance of former days for the indifferentism and latitudinarianism which we call toleration in this nineteenth century.
HOW NOT TO PRAY.
LETTER I. MY DEAR HERBERT,—So you have been looking through some " Congregational Year Books,” and reading the reports of proceedings at the meetings of the Congregational Union. Well, I think you will find there a great deal that deserves more than a hasty perusal. You are pleased with some of the papers, and think the Chairmen's addresses excellent. I am glad you have been turning your attention to them, for therein you gain some knowledge of what is deemed most interesting to the Congregational body at large, and see reflected the opinions of good and judicious men who have thought over the subjects they write about. You seem to have specially noticed what was said by the Chairman at the Liverpool gathering about prayermeetings, and I can assure you, you are not the only one who has felt the force of what he said about the absence from those meetings of those who could best lead the devotions of their brethren. It is quite true that, as a rule, the more intelligent, cultivated, and capable men in our churches do not come. And their absence is to be lamented, both because their own spirituality might be better sustained, and because the pleasure and profit of others would be increased, if they were to exhibit their interest and employ their talents at the social gatherings for prayer. Vigour, freshness, variety, and suitability would more frequently characterise our worship if they would take their part in the service. Then, again, if these more cultivated and intelligent persons would habitually unite in prayer, many others would feel that the worship was not to be offered anyhow,--that a man ought not to get up in the assembly and say what comes first to his mind, in any words that happen to present themselves. Thus a spirit of reverence would be promoted which would greatly increase the enjoyment and enhance the hallowing which good men and women feel in offering their supplications to God. As matters now stand, the audible exercise of the creature's highest privilege is left to the more ignorant worshipper, as if a prayermeeting were not worth the attention and attendance of the more intelligent. I need not tell you that I think this is wrong. I say, that if it were otherwise, a reverential spirit would be promoted, and I would impress this upon you, that reverence for the Divine Being is far more nearly allied to propriety than to impropriety in prayer. So that everything that increases the order, decorum, quietness, and propriety of our social or public worship is no inconsiderable gain. You know me too well to
suppose for a moment that I am advocating a cold and formal service which should be merely an expression of politeness to the Majesty of heaven. I most earnestly deprecate this; but, on the other hand, I as earnestly desire the intelligent and orderly offering of prayer.
You see I agree with you in the wish for general improvement in the character and style of our prayer-meetings, and I think that this improvement might be effected to a considerable extent by the attendance and service of the more intelligent men. But I also think it might be effected to no little extent if those who do attend and render service were more careful about the manner in which they render that service. I am glad that your wish for improvement is not of so general a character as to lose sight of yourself, and that you, as a beginner in this service, are desirous to know how you can cultivate your talent so as to make it most acceptable and useful; and if anything I say is helpful, I shall not regret the employment of time in giving you a few hints on public prayer,
You ask what works you can consult upon the subject. There are not many. “Henry on Prayer " is good, but scarcely serviceable to you. The two best works I know are by Dr. Watts and Dr. Porter, of Andover. Dr. Porter's “Lectures on Public Prayer,” addressed to students, are appended to his "Lectures on Homiletics and Preaching," They were reprinted from the American edition some years ago, in Ward's Library of Standard Divinity, and are well worth a very careful perusal. But I think Dr. Watts's “Guide to Prayer" would be found more adapted for general use. A small compact edition has been published by Tegg, which would be convenient for you to carry in your pocket. I mention these works in answer to your inquiry, but hope you will not regard them as anything more than suggestive guides. Pray avoid everything that approaches to the offering of thanks, or confession, or supplication, according to rule. If you allow the suggestions which are made to be anything more than reins you will most assuredly find them curbs, if not fetters. Do not, however, infer that I think preparation for prayer to be improper. On the contrary, I deem it in the highest degree suitable. I remember that it is written, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God” (Eccl. v. 22). And I would remind you of the wise saying of the Son of Sirach, “Before thou prayest prepare thyself, and be not as one that tempts the Lord.” If it is right to be careful in the phraseology of an important letter, to set in order the materials of a speech or lecture, or to prepare a sermon which is to be addressed to a congregation, it is infinitely more desirable that there should be some degree of preparation in addressing the Most High. Indeed,
I think if there were more preparation there would be more propriety and more profit in our social prayers. To think of special topics for thanksgiving and supplication, to have some idea of the order in which they are to be referred to, to "seek out acceptable words," can be only becoming and reverent in approaching the All-wise. And it would certainly increase the interest of our prayer-meetings. This, however, is different from "getting up” a prayer, which would at once diminish if not destroy the life which ought to pervade it. But enough on this subject now.—Yours sincerely,
LETTER II. My dear Herbert,—I do not feel disposed to censure very strongly, or to ridicule very sarcastically, the peculiarities and imperfections of the good men you refer to. I think some allowance ought to be made for ignorance and want of instruction. But I admit it is very difficult to teach men how to pray with propriety, especially when there is no sense of impropriety. I fear instruction and suggestion would often be resented. In my younger days I knew a minister who endeavoured in the most simple way to offer a few suggestions to those who were in the habit of praying in public. He tried to avoid giving offence, and did not address them in the presence of others; but great offence was taken. Some of the men refused to pray again. I have now in my eye one of the deacons, a man with a fluent utterance, indeed somewhat florid and inflated in his style, but on most occasions an acceptable speaker. He could generally make a good speech for any political, benevolent, or religious object, ore rotundo, and he often prayed with no little excellence. But whether or not he thought his prayers perfect in style, or that a man of his position and abilities was above instruction, he certainly was piqued at what the minister said, and resolutely refused for a long while to lead the prayers of his brethren. Why he and others should submit to be taught from week to week how to live, or how to prepare for the worship and service of heaven, but not how to pray, on earth, I could not see. But I was younger then. However, I saw most distinctly what I now repeat, that it is very difficult to teach men to pray aright. Some few are willing to learn, and receive suggestions and corrections with thankfulness. I am pleased that you are disposed to range yourself among the few, and that you express your willingness to receive any counsels I may offer. As I have never had the opportunity of hearing you pray, I can offer no corrections. And the suggestions I make will refer chiefly to what you are not to do, rather than to what you are to do; in this respect I think you will find what I say some
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what different from what you will find elsewhere. I will point out, then, what it will be well to avoid, rather than describe what you should attempt.
Let me begin by entreating you, if you would lead the devotions of others with profit, to avoid length in your prayers. Be short. It will be far better for you to leave off when others wish you to go on, than to go on when others wish you to leave off. Many excellent prayers are spoiled by their length, few by their brevity. Many persons have found their devotional feeling diminished, because the speaker has unduly protracted his petitions. It is related that Whitfield once said to a friend on their rising from prayer, “You prayed me into a good frame, and you have prayed me out of it.” Many others could make the same remark. Perhaps you think this is a very easy suggestion to carry out, and wonder how it is that good men are often so very verbose. I think I can tell. There seems to be a prevailing idea that it is necessary to pray for everybody and everything that can be thought of, and that a prayer is deficient if certain persons or subjects are not alluded to. Now this is a mistaken idea, and leads to the perpetration of a mistake in the length of the prayer. There is no necessity at all why one should exhaust all the topics which may be suitably referred to in thanksgiving or supplication. Some should be left for other persons who may follow. And this reminds me that it seems to be thought necessary to bring in some reference to certain important and fundamental doctrines on every occasion when prayer is offered. So that in our addresses to God we are hampered by our theological systems—very good in their place, but certainly not good when a man feels that he must pray according to them, or have his orthodoxy questioned. Then, again, I dare say you have observed how some persons return to the same subject again and again in the same prayer. They have not said enough about it, or they have not said all that was proper about it. Or they go on from one subject to another evidently with little true devotion, because they must go on. It seems like praying against time, or like praying with the hope that a decent prayer will be made up by the time the speaker comes to an end. Now the remedy for this is some little forethought and preparation. If I am right in my suppositions, you will see how it is that good men are sometimes unreasonably long ;-and the explanation will give you very good reasons why, in the circumstances I have alluded to, they should be particularly short. If length is to be avoided when the prayer is chastened, devotional, and profitable, it is much more to be avoided when the prayer is undevotional and unprofitable. Let me add also, while speaking about length, that you will find it improve the quality and