Plain Sermons by Contributors to ‘Tracts for the Times’
Volume Three—Edward Bouverie Pusey
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.
ROM. xii. 12.
“Continuing instant in prayer.”
SCARCELY any one, probably, can have studied the Bible ever so little attentively without observing that taken in its plain meaning, it requires of him far more than he has been accustomed to think or to do. Even the duties which he has in a measure done, it requires him to do more fully, in a different way, and in a way which seems at first impossible. I speak not now of those higher attainments, of which our LORD says, “He who can receive them let him receive them,” of a life of entire self-devotion to GOD, and forsaking every thing worldly, but of those which are enjoined on all Christians, as such. Such are those of the Sermon on the Mount, “love your enemies,” “do good to them that hate you,” “resist not evil,” “if any man will sue thee at law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;” so again, “render not railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing,” “whatever you do, do all to the glory of GOD;” and many others. The words are very plain; they can be understood but in one sense, if taken in their plain sense; yet in this sense, of ourselves, we should not like them, and so for the most part men get into the habit of treating them very disrespectfully. They either pass them by altogether, or will not read them; or will suppose that they are not to be taken so precisely, although they can find no other sense for them, or will take them in the sense in which men around them are wont to take them. When they meet what is against their notions, or requires a service to them hard, they say, “this belongs to the first times of the Gospel,” or “our Lord means that we are to form in ourselves such or such a disposition, not that we should do these particular acts;” as if a disposition could be formed, which should never show itself in such like acts; or as if our LORD, for nothing, named particular acts; or as if the everlasting Gospel belonged to the few first years in which it was preached; or as if, should we neglect duties, as being duties of a period of affliction only, GOD may not bring upon us a period of sore affliction, to restore us to our duties.
Now, even supposing the excuses made might have held in one or two passages, is it likely that they should in many? i. e. is it likely that when the SON of GOD condescended to come down among us, and to be our Teacher, HE should teach very many such things as were soon to pass away, or is it not more likely that every word uttered by the Eternal Word, should have an eternal meaning? We know that in many cases people of certain tempers of mind cannot see the truth, although those of a better sort, or who have kept faithfully to the Church’s teaching, cannot understand how any can fail to see it. Some, who yet think themselves Christians, cannot see that our LORD is GOD, although to us who believe it, all Scripture is full of witness to His GODHEAD; others speak as if Holy Baptism were scantily mentioned in Holy Scripture, or in no very eminent way, while to us, who follow the teaching of our Church, the Old Testament speaks of it throughout in types and prophecy; the New every where sets it forth as the instrument of our salvation, whereby GOD makes us partakers of His Cross, Death, Burial, Resurrection of His Ever-Blessed SON, yea, clothes us with HIM. But so then, it may be with us, as to practical duties; why should it not be likely that here too, very much is to be taken more strictly, or to the very letter, (unless indeed the Church has in any case always been instructed that any thing is not so to be taken,) which people now-a-days commonly “come to, and look upon, and pass by on the other side,” as though it concerned not them. Thus, when our LORD says, “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites;” this men say, contains no instruction to fast; “resist not evil,” men say, yes, resist evil, but not in an evil spirit; “if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also,” men say again, yes, defend thyself at law, or go to law to recover thy rights from others, only not in a litigious spirit, i. e. not in the spirit, which going to law brings with it; and this, not only in what would seem extreme cases, but so that every evil is and ought to be resisted, every right ought to be pursued, “give to him that asketh thee,” i. e. now and then give a petty dole in so-called charity, but give not time, give not money, give not labour when it inconveniences yourself; would men even think this a call upon them to sacrifice themselves, because another asked them? “from him that would borrow of thee turn not away;” and yet men turn, away, not only in those cases in which we may clearly know, that to give would hurt him we give to, but they do not even think that to be asked is in itself a reason for giving, unless there is good ground for thinking it a duty to withhold,—a duty not to ourselves or our families, but to him who asks us; i. e. GOD’S Word says, “turn not away,” that is, unless there be some plain reason in the case itself for turning away; men say, “turn away,” unless there be, now and then, some overpowering reason why you should not. And yet there are those, we know, who act upon these rules, and when men’s eyes fall upon them on a sudden, or GOD has stirred their consciences, they cannot but feel that this is not as it should be; that the words have a meaning; that they are spoken to them; that they require them to shake off their sluggishness, and the old habits, wherewith they are tied and bound, and arouse themselves, and do very differently; that in bearing any grudge, for instance, any unforgivingness to any one who has done them ever so much ill, they are doing contrary to what the Bible plainly teaches to be their duty, and more, contrary to the way in which men like themselves have understood and have done (as in the case of St. Stephen, who prayed for his murderers while he was suffering from them, and whom the Church has taught us to pray to follow, and so expects that we can); that GOD cannot have given them His Word for nothing, that “by those words they shall be judged at the last day,” that their everlasting salvation may depend upon it.
What then is to be done? The one plain rule is to set about doing it; it is by doing our duty that we learn to do it; so long as men dispute whether or no a thing is their duty, they get never the nearer; let them set ever so weakly about doing it, and the face of things alters; they find in themselves strength which they knew not of; difficulties which it seemed to them they could not get over, disappear, for HE accompanies it with the influences of His Blessed SPIRIT, and each performance opens our minds for larger influxes of His grace, and places them in communion with HIM. “If a man love ME, he will keep My words; and My FATHER will love him, and WE will come unto him, and make our abode with him;” and GOD has thereby annexed to it a joy, according to its measure of performance. And prayer, especially, has its blessings, not only in common with other duties, in that it brings us into (if I may so speak) a community with God, that it is an acting according to His will, that it opens our souls to receive more strength, but that it is direct speaking to HIM; in it the soul is directly brought, as it were, face to face towards GOD, and HE alloweth His face to shine upon us, and us to turn towards HIM, and to speak as a man speaketh to a father and a friend. It is not, however, ordinary prayer (as men call prayer) which has these privileges, or which the Apostle here enjoins: whether men may attain to heaven with less than he here speaks of, we know not; as what the amount of each other’s prayer is, we know not; hut this we know, that there is for us no safe rule, short of aiming at the utmost which GOD enjoins, and that any wilful falling short of this is sin.
The Apostle’s words are
strong, “continue instant in prayer;” and lest you should be tempted to think
that these words are not to be taken so strongly as they are said, I would add,
that in his own tongue they are yet stronger; they express more difficult
effort, more endurance. It is the same word which is used to express how the
first Christians, who had just been pricked in the heart, and been saved by
Baptism from the impending wrath, “continued
or held steadfastly to the teaching
of the Apostles, and the fellowship with them, and to the breaking of bread (or
the Holy Eucharist), and to prayer.”
It describes how men would cling and hold fast, mightily putting forth all
their strength, to that which was their life, and that which if they let slip
they perished; and this saying of St. Luke shows that the early Christians
actually did this, to which St. Paul
exhorts. We need not, however, take these passages by themselves, as if we
rested the need of a greater degree of prayer than now appears to be common on
one word of Holy Scripture, although that were a faithless heart which needs
more than one word from GOD, and even in our common intercourse we speak of
“one word’s sufficing.” To turn then to other places.
In old times they took these things to the letter. We have seen how the first converts went before St. Paul’s command, and “continued instant,” or “clung constantly to prayer;” so before the out-pouring of the HOLY GHOST at Pentecost, the Church which was gathered in that upper room were with one mind, men and women, (again our very word,) “holding fast to prayer and supplication;” and afterwards the Apostles, when putting from them the settling of worldly disputes, expressed their purpose in the same words, “to hold fast, give themselves continually to prayer.” Yea, prayer went beyond the bounds of the Christian Church, and the Heathen Cornelius prayed to GOD continually; and for his prayers’ and alms’ sake was accounted worthy to be made the first-fruits of us Gentiles: and so when St. Peter was in danger, “unceasing, intense prayer was made of the Church unto GOD for him,” and even by night it was still continued: and “a real widow and one really solitary,” St. Paul says, was one who “continued in prayer night and day;” and Anna the prophetess, who was thought worthy to behold the LORD’S CHRIST, had “served GOD with fastings and prayers night and day” more than the whole life of man, at his full strength; and after the service of eighty-four long years of widowhood, had, at the last, her full reward, and saw and spake of that redemption for which, during almost a whole century of prayer and fasting night and day, she had been looking.
And so afterwards, for many centuries, they took to the letter the words of Scripture. “Seven” set “times a day” did they pray to GOD, because GOD had by holy David set forth this as an example; and so also they fulfilled the Psalmist’s words, “at midnight I will rise to give thanks unto THEE because of Thy righteous judgments:” and so again, “I came before the dawning of the morning and cried:” at midnight and before break of day they rose to meditate upon GOD, and “in the night His song was with them, and their prayer unto the GOD of their life.” So that after some hundred years, when prayer might be thought to have become colder, one says, “Many of those engaged in worldly business most carefully observe this devotion, rising before day-break or at twilight, and do not involve themselves in the common and necessary actions of this world, before that, hasting to the Church, they labour to consecrate to the Divine Presence the first fruits of all their doings:” and another says, “The customs among us are agreeable to all the Churches of God. For with us the people rising early, while it is night, come to the house of prayer, and there with much labour, and contrition, and tears, make confession of their sins to GOD;” and then goes on to speak of a regular full service. And on the two solemn weekdays of supplication, the Wednesday and Friday, they remained in the Church, praying, hearing, praising, receiving the Holy Eucharist, from morning until three in the afternoon; and down to the times of our own Reformation, the daily service, even when the people had forsaken it, and the priest prayed it alone for all, occupied three hours at least daily. Such was their public weekly prayer, and what think you was their private? Think you that GOD was at other times out of their thoughts, who laboured thus to “sanctify HIM in their hearts.” Their very meals were hallowed with the reading GOD’S word; does not this approach to explaining what prayer without ceasing is? and men have so prayed. And what are we, that we should tamper with GOD’S word, and presume to pass over as figurative and impossible what they found to be possible and real? How may we venture to say that our LORD, when HE bids us pray “at all times,” means “sometimes;” that when GOD by St. Paul says, “pray without ceasing,” HE means “pray now and then, but for the most part cease;” that when HE bids us “hold fast to prayer,” HE means that “we should let it go;” that “by night and day” means “a few thoughts of GOD morning and evening;” that “watchfulness and sleeplessness” means “slumber and sleep, to sleep on and take our rest;” that to “pray at all seasons” means, (and this is the very best of these explanations,) to “be at all times in a state fit for prayer, if we were called upon, but, not thinking ourselves called upon, not to pray, except at two seasons perhaps, morning and evening?” What is this but to mock GOD, and to trifle with His word and our own souls? Yet men act as if they meant this, although they obviously would not dare to speak with such naked profaneness.
But men are apt to picture to themselves Christians of old time, as different men, men of another race, with other feelings, trials, difficulties, not encumbered by worldly occupations as we are, and that this was possible for them, but not for us. It was possible, neither for them nor for us; it is not possible for man; fasting, prayer, continued, unwearied supplication, are not the works of the flesh; the flesh is too weak; these very men, the very chief of the Apostles, St. Peter, St. James, and St. John, “could not watch with” their LORD “one hour” in His most bitter agony. By praying, they learnt to pray; by praying, they had strength given to them to pray effectually, continually; and we, by neglecting prayer, have unlearnt to pray, and find more difficulty in half-fulfilling our scanty measure to which we have stinted ourselves, than they in watchings and unceasing prayer; even as one unpractised is soon wearied of the labour, which increases but the energy of those inured thereto. Our very laxity in prayer, our infrequency, our want of perseverance, have also made many practically think that they can pray of themselves; they have made their burdens so light, that they think they can bear them themselves; they can pray, such as prayer now is; but when it was the employment of life, when men watched thereto, fasted thereto, denied themselves lawful pleasures, that they might give themselves thereto; tore themselves from worldly thoughts and dwelt in Heaven, i. e. “meditated,” in order thereto; when it was looked upon not merely as a means for obtaining what men wanted, but an end—in that it was communion with GOD—when it was an end of other means, and people employed other things, fasting, self-denial, abstinence, abstraction from the world, resolute fixedness of soul, as means to fit themselves for this; when it formed a large part of life, then men saw, and felt that prayer was a weighty work, which of themselves they could not do; that “of ourselves we know not what to ask,”—and so “the SPIRIT helped their infirmities, and made supplication for them with groanings unutterable, according to the will of GOD.”
But how had men time for this prayer? We must provide, men say, for our families, do our duties in our several callings, and in the sweat of our brow we must eat bread. So did they; even to St. Paul, who prayed continually, night and day, when occasion called, his “own hands ministered to his necessities;” and the Apostolic rule was, “if any man will not work, neither let him eat.” They worked with their own hands, not for their families merely, but that “they might have to give to him that needeth.” But they had leisure! The needs, which GOD lays upon us, hurt no man’s leisure; as leisure given to GOD hurts no man’s work; it is our own self-chosen employments, the cares wherewith we cumber ourselves, which hinder prayer; a worldly, mistrusting, selfish, plotting, spirit, looking out for gain, or for advancement; scheming for the morrow, anxious to equal or to outdo a neighbour, discontent with what GOD has given; “getting on in life;” or, in a better sort, loving the employments, and activity, and business, and bustle of this life, for its own sake; instead of enduring it in order to serve GOD therein, and do our appointed task to His glory, not for any end of our own. These are the things which leave no room for prayer, because they leave no desire to pray. They, “whose god is this world,” how should they afford time for prayer to any other than the god which they have chosen? The Ephesians could cry out “for the space of two hours, Great is .Diana of the Ephesians,” but they had no hearts to pray to the to them “Unknown God.” If men will make this world their object, they cannot pray except to the god of this world—Satan; and to him they pray, though they think it not, and pray not to GOD, though they think it. They, in the Faith’s better days, cumbered themselves not with perishable things, and so they had leisure for eternal; they prided themselves not about having the rule of the cities or of the empire wherein they lived; they thought not that power was theirs, and they were its dispensers, and so they had leisure to “pray for kings and those who were in authority;” and by their prayers they upheld empires, wherewith they meddled not, and obtained for themselves and others to “live a peaceable and godly life;” they (at least such as left not the Church) criticized not their ministers, nor employed themselves in “doubtful disputations;” and so they had leisure to pray for their Ministers, as St. Paul often beseeched them: they pried not each into their neighbours’ faults, and entertained themselves not with scandal, and things which should not be spoken of, and so had leisure to pray for them, and to help to restore them; and thus the prayers, which men now often count “a weariness,” those “for kings, and those in authority,” and for the Clergy and their congregations (what men class together as the state prayers), they prayed with thankfulness. Our daily service, which men now count long, would to them have appeared (as it is) short. They did not, like Martha, cumber themselves with many things, and so they had leisure, with Mary, to sit at their SAVIOUR’S feet, and chose that good part which hath not been taken away from them.
Such is the teaching of GOD in Holy Scripture—such the conduct of them who in old times were “Christians indeed”—not of the few or of eminent Saints, but of the people—of Churches; not for reward simply or for glory, but to save their souls—“that they might stand before the SON of MAN;” and if they so understood Scripture, who of us may in these days say that less is necessary for us? ALMIGHTY GOD might, had it so pleased HIM, commanded us to pray, morning and evening, as HE ordered to the Jews a morning and evening sacrifice, but HE has not; HE might have bid us pray by day only, but HE has joined the night thereto: HE tells us of “His elect, who cry day and night unto HIM;” of them who have been washed in the blood of the LAMB (as we in Baptism were), being before the throne of GOD, and serving HIM day and night in His temple. He has enforced upon us in so many ways continual, unceasing prayer, and never has enjoined it without speaking of its unceasingness.
It may be one reason, why GOD speaks thus largely, that we may never rest short, never think that we have enough, that we may strive to fill up the measure which is immeasurable. Anna doubtless, in her eighty-fourth solitary year of continual prayer, understood more what to “pray without ceasing” was than she ever had before; Moses, after he had twice “fallen down before the LORD “forty days and forty nights, and did neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, but, sustained by GOD, prayed continually, knew something what to “pray without ceasing “was: he had seen an image, he had had a foretaste of the unceasing prayer and praise of Heaven; St. Paul knew something after he had been struck to the earth, and for three days neither ate nor drank, nor saw any thing of this world, but prayed: and far more he knew, after having served GOD for above thirty years “without ceasing (as we know), having remembrance in his prayers “of all his converts, of all the Churches, of his own nation, and (of which alone he does not speak) of himself; but who in these days might venture to say, what to “pray without ceasing” is? The very best, the few among us, are but learning it; and they, when advanced some years more in their pilgrimage, would tell us differently, and speak more nearly the truth, as they had learnt more; and if they were to speak, their words would “seem but as idle tales,” and men would “not believe” them. GOD only can teach men what it is, as HE only can help them on each step towards it; and will help those who follow HIM.
It is rather for us to say what it is not—who are not even on their way towards it—and if not, who are not in earnest preparing themselves to stand before the SON of MAN, their Judge. I speak herein not of persons openly profligate, living in gross sin, plainly before the eyes of men breaking GOD’S laws— what have they to do with prayer or with the SON of GOD? “The prayer of the wicked” (Of him who goeth on in his wickedness) “is an abomination:” GOD said, “My soul hateth iniquity and the solemn meeting”—Church-going and wilful sin. These have their own punishment. I speak not of these, but of regular worldly persons; industrious, diligent, kindly in their way, but worldly, i. e. living for this world, with occasional thoughts, when it must be, of another.
They then (to speak of our public assembling together) are not even in the way of continual prayer, who wilfully abstain from any opportunity of coming to the house of GOD; who come at one time of day, and not another, when, by a little contrivance or some self-denial, they might come at both times; or who come chiefly for the sermon, and come not when there are prayers only; much more when people leave the Church altogether, and go to places where there is less of prayer (and this is very often the real ground why people prefer meeting-houses to the Church of GOD); or who choose for themselves employments or professions, or services, without thinking or heeding whether they “will prevent their coming to GOD’S house or no; or who, having chosen them, stay in them, without doing all in their power to perform this duty, and if they cannot, do not leave them; or who make the sight of friends, whom they of long time have not seen, a reason for breaking the duty of coming hither, preferring the society of their earthly friends to the Presence of their LORD, and the Communion of the HOLY GHOST; or who make slight illness or other causes, which would not detain them from their worldly business or amusement, an excuse why they should not come to the house of GOD; or who come, but without impressing upon their minds “how holy and dreadful is this place; this is none other but the house of GOD, and this is the gate of Heaven;” or they who bring their worldly thoughts, “their sheep, and oxen, and money-changing “to the very threshold of GOD’S temple, and who rush into the presence of the Holy GOD, without having “prepared their hearts to GOD,” to serve HIM; or who, as soon as they leave it, return forthwith to “the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this world,” and quench the gleam of prayer, which for a while shone around them, taking up at the very church-door the thoughts, and subjects, and conversation of this world, and taking no pains to keep alive in their hearts the holy thoughts, which GOD may have kindled, as if they might be one self in Church and another out of it, and yet receive no harm. Would that one must not rather say, that these are not in the way to pray to Gou at all, much less to pray to HIM continually! for it is not such dull hearts, so closed and choked up with the concerns of this world, which can receive “the Spirit of prayer and supplication “Which GOD pours forth, and by Which alone men can pray.
Then again, they who come here on the LORD’S day, as a matter of duty, but, although they are not hindered, or might easily remove the hindrance, or even have full leisure and scarcely know what to do with it, come not to the prayers which are provided for them during the week; and take not the same pains to come hither, which they would be at for some pleasurable meeting, were it permitted; who would “rise early and late take rest” for any unusual worldly matter, but will not “rise early” to “seek the LORD,” or to order their business so (if it be possible) as to come when they can, here: they, in a word, who miss any opportunity of public prayer, which they might by any means have, how are they on the way toward continual prayer? They show that, though they come as a duty, (and it were sadder yet if they neglected this also,) they have no real love for prayer or for the house of GOD. And it must be told, that within the memory of man, nay within my own, public prayer has almost everywhere miserably declined; yea, it has been declining, even while we have been flattering ourselves that in the knowledge of GOD we have been so much increasing, though prayer and the communion of saints together and with HIM have been much decreasing; and it makes one’s very heart faint, and one’s hopes shrink back within one’s bosom, to read how, even in the last century, which we look back upon as so inferior, public prayer so much abounded, and we seem to have lost the very sense of the blessing of daily public prayer. We have increased preaching, but diminished prayer; i. e. increased the means towards devotion, and diminished the end, devotion; increased the culture and diminished the fruit.
Again, how can they be said to care about continual prayer, who might have family (itself a poor substitute for public) prayer, but still very acceptable to GOD, where it only can be had, or where many members of the family could not attend public-prayer? What master of a family who has it not, or what mistress who asketh not for it, can be thought to be concerned about prayer?
Public prayer may be measured; its hours can be counted; private prayer is immeasurable, for it may be at all times; when in company, as well as when alone; in conversation, as when silent; “when thou sittest in the house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up;” in the midst of business and employment, as when unoccupied; in short intervals, when for the moment thou seemest to have nothing else to do, and when most employed, that thou mayest do what thy hand findeth to do with all thy might, and “as unto the LORD, not unto men.” “Most businesses,” says a good Doctor of our Church, “have wide gaps, all have some chinks, at which devotion may slip in. Be we never so urgent, or closely intent upon any work, (be we feeding, be we travelling, be we trading, be we studying,) nothing can forbid but that we may together wedge in a thought concerning GOD’S goodness, and bolt forth a word of praise for it; but that we may reflect on our sins, and spend a penitential sigh on them; but that we may descry our need of GOD’S help, and dispatch a brief petition:—a ‘GOD be praised,’ a ‘LORD have mercy,’ a ‘GOD bless’ or ‘GOD help me,’ will no wise interrupt or disturb our proceedings.”
He then cannot be said to have any care about continual prayer, who passes any day, between morning and evening, without it; who lets his thoughts run on through the day on his daily business, without checking them to offer at least some brief prayer to GOD; whoso begins a work without asking GOD to bless it; receives a mercy, or his daily food, without blessing HIM; comes into his daily temptations without asking GOD to deliver him from them; who is beset by any care, and casts it not on GOD; who does not labour to fix his heart, like David, upon GOD, that he may praise HIM; does not consider prayer (whatever he may yet have come up to) as the main business of life, as it will be of life eternal, and so wish and strive at least to interpose it at all intervals he may have; does not, at least, divide each day into portions, and begin, at least, each such portion with some prayer.
Alas! my brethren, how many more such proofs might one number up, and some of them would reach us all, and convict us all of not praying continually; and many of them would show that very many know nothing at all of prayer; and mark us as negligent, if not now, yet formerly; if not habitually, yet many times; if at intervals it have been otherwise, yet negligent for the longer periods: and yet the most of us, not formerly only, but now; not many times only, but habitually; not for long periods only, but for a whole life.
And yet our LORD says to each of us, one by one, “Be wakeful, praying at all times, that ye may be thought worthy to escape all these things which shall come to pass, and to stand before the SON OF MAN.” “Who then shall be saved?” “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O LORD, for in Thy sight shall no man living he justified.” Yet it is not our concern who or how many shall be saved. “What is that to thee?” Only strive thou to pray constantly. “GOD will have all men to be saved.” save thou thyself; by prayer in our REDEEMER’S Name thou mayest be saved, not by questioning; yea, and thou mayest help to save others, by praying for them, not by asking how they can be saved.
Especially it is of moment at once to begin any duty which is put into thy thoughts. Let any one who has been in the habit of negligently coming hither but once on the LORD’S day, henceforth come twice; let those who have prayed solemnly hut morning and evening, try to find some settled time in every day between, if but for a short prayer, yet regular prayer; let him pray thrice, where all Christians of old prayed seven times. Let him take any one hour which they set apart for their devotions, nine, when our LORD vouchsafed to receive from His creature the sentence of condemnation, to die for us, and when the HOLY GHOST first came down upon the Christian Church; or twelve, when our LORD was nailed to the cross for us; or three, when, having borne for us His FATHER’S wrath, HE resigned His Blessed Spirit into His FATHER’S hands: and let those who can, take all. “How,” says an ancient Bishop, “can we do less than three times in the day at least (besides morning and evening, which will of themselves invite us to prayer) fall down and worship the Blessed TRINITY, FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST.”
By GOD’S mercy, as a means of grace, and as a test to you of your sincerity, two additional weekly services have, at the desire of your minister, been obtained for this place. Great may be the blessing to you all. True, that they are but two services, when our Church would have bestowed twelve; that they are but two mornings in the week, when our Church would have had us, morning by morning and evening by evening, present our morning and evening sacrifice to GOD in this His house of prayer. But though not all which your Church or your minister could wish, it is something; something that this holy house is not, from one LORD’S day to another, to be left desolate, in one unbroken silence from prayer and praise, in one sabbath from prayer; something, that it may hinder the unholy thought from arising in the heart of any, as if by giving each seventh day, in a way, to GOD, they thereby acquired a right to deal with the other six as their own; something, yea and a great thing, that there will be a band of worshippers, who, while they sanctify the week to themselves, may obtain blessings for others who are lawfully hindered; yea, and those who are hindered from being present in body, may yet in spirit join, when the sound of the bell invites such as can come; and those who come, be they few or many, will not be alone; they will be joined by those who in other temples of GOD throughout this land, or in other branches of our Church, or of the “holy Church throughout all the world,” with the same devotion, “acknowledge HIM;” they will be joined here below by more than the seven thousand in Israel, to pray GOD to be entreated for our Church and for our land; they will be joined by, rather they will join, cherubim and seraphim, in crying, “Holy, holy, holy, to the LORD GOD of hosts;” nay, were our eyes opened, like those of the prophet’s servant, or the shepherds, we might see this place, wherein we are assembled, “full of the heavenly host,” perhaps also of the spirits of departed saints, who once with you worshipped here, “praising GOD, and saying, Glory to GOD in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men;” and were but two or three gathered together, there, as HE has promised, is a Fourth ever with you, and “the form of the Fourth is “not as,” it is “the SON OF GOD.”
It is a great mercy of GOD, that after the past negligence of members of our Church, HE in any degree restores to us the public worship of HIMSELF; each such restoration holds out the hope that HE has mercies in store for us; it is a mercy also that HE restores to us the two days of solemn supplication, whereon our Church has provided for us the deepest words of humiliation; brings before GOD all the diseases of our souls, for which we need forgiveness and His deliverance; all the blessings which for ourselves, our friends, or the whole Church, we need crave; all blessings for this life, and His mercies “in the hour of death and at the Day of Judgment.” If these be used aright, it may be He will grant more; at all events, those who penitently and faithfully remember HIM in this house of prayer, HE will not forget; those whom HE teacheth to “remember the Name of the LORD their GOD” on earth, HE will “remember when He cometh in His kingdom.”
It is an anxious thing to think how any unaccustomed mercy of GOD will be used, how any call of His to unaccustomed duty will be obeyed; yet I cannot think that, in this place, where so many have been brought near to CHRIST in the Holy Communion, there will not be many also glad to come when HE will be “in the midst” of them, and say “Peace be unto you.” Frequent communions require frequent humiliations; and the more: solemn, the more blessed; the more we humble ourselves, the more shall we receive HIM, Who “dwelleth in the humble and contrite heart.” And it is not, doubtless, without His good Providence, “without Whom not a sparrow falleth to the ground,” that the permission to open this house of prayer during the week has just coincided with the administration of the Holy Communion, that they who have now received the pledges of the remission of their sins, may continue the more cheerfully on those solemn days to implore the full and final remission of them at the Day of Judgment; that they who by this partial cleansing of their sins have the more boldness to approach to GOD, and, through His Ever-Blessed SON, to call HIM, FATHER, may with the greater profit, assemble in this their FATHER’S house, and obtaining fresh strength through these services of humiliation may, when, by His mercy, the Holy Communion shall next be vouchsafed to them, receive the larger measure of His unspeakable Gift.
To all Communicants then, these services are offered as a special gift; as to them, if they be faithful, every other gift of GOD is heightened by their being partakers of HIM; yet they are a blessing to all: a special blessing to the broken in heart and to the mourner, that they may mourn the sins for which GOD sent their chastisement, and breathe here the air and the balm of heaven; yet a blessing to those in joy, that they may learn to “use this world as not abusing it,” and amid this world’s joys forget not the joys everlasting: they are a blessing to “those who stand,” that they may be strengthened; to “the weak-hearted” that they may be comforted and holpen; to “those that fall,” that they may be raised up: to the aged, they will be blessed resting-places in their way to their approaching home, that having met their GOD here, they may, with less fear, meet HIM in the hour of death; to the sickly, a support; to the strong, a spiritual strength, that they may be strong against themselves; to the lonely, a home; to the disappointed, satisfaction; to the empty, fulness; to the fearful, encouragement; to the drooping, restoration; to the anxious and perplexed, ease and sure trust in GOD; to the penitent sinner, they are an approach, to GOD, and a gleam from his FATHER’S countenance.
I cannot think then, that in this place, in which so many must have leisure, this gift of GOD will be ungratefully thrown back upon HIM; many must have full leisure; many, by a little contrivance, (as rising a little earlier,) could make it; many an aged member, even of the poorer families, might well come here, to pray that their own departure may be peace, and to beg GOD’S blessing on those of their family who still bear the burthen and heat of the day; even they who labour must find days, during which their work is, for a time, at a stand: let all take what means they can, make what opportunities they can; and GOD will bless them according to the means HE has given, and their diligence in using them,—bless them and their families here, bless them with His favour and the light of His Countenance hereafter.
Only remember that this gift is not only a privilege; it is one for which, as for every gift, you must give account; you cannot wilfully abstain from coming to these weekly prayers, and be in the same state as you were when there were none; you cannot neglect GOD’S gifts and be guiltless; rather to such as can come, these fresh opportunities maybe a test of your sincerity; and by your gladness to avail yourselves of them, you may see whether you attended the service of the LORD’S day out of habit, or sluggishly as a duty, or out of real love to GOD and gladness in serving HIM. GOD forbid that one should discourage any ever so weakly or even slavish service of GOD: better to serve HIM as a slave, than not serve HIM at all; better to attend the public worship of GOD on the LORD’S day only, than to forsake it altogether; yet they only have the privilege of sons, who delight in serving HIM, serve HIM gladly whenever they can, rejoice in the multiplied offers of serving HIM, look upon them not as duties only, but as blessings. Nor can they who serve HIM not as sons here, reckon themselves safe that HE will acknowledge them as sons hereafter; they who wilfully neglect praying to and praising HIM here, that HE will admit them to share in the endless hallelujahs round His throne, to that heaven where all is His praise.
Lose then no time; avoid all things which may he hinderances to prayer; think on the four last things, death, judgment, heaven, hell; think how much depends upon thy prayers; pray morning by rooming to he enabled to pray; strive against covetousness, or sensuality, or the cares of this life, which prevent thy thinking upon GOD; make efforts to win thy soul from the business of this life, if but now and then, for a thought on GOD; use all the stated means in thy power, and make what thou canst; if thou wakest in the night, pray; when thou wakest in the morning, be thy first thought prayer; bethink thee that the journey is hard for thee, the way slippery, thy feet easily wearied, thy strength small, and haste thee “to the mountain,” the Rock of ages, “lest thou be consumed.”
And above all, neglect not any thought which GOD puts into thy heart (as HE does oftentimes) to pray; the thought to pray must come from HIM, it cannot come from thyself or from the evil one; pray, wherever thou art, whatever thou art doing; man will not see it, but GOD will; and thy FATHER Who seeth in secret HIMSELF shall reward thee openly. The first step on this way of frequent prayer, is the first step on Jacob’s ladder, its foot on earth, its top in heaven; look not above, lest thou faint and sink back; nor downwards, lest thou turn dizzy; but go on, step by step, labouring to make thy prayers more and more continual and fervent, and GOD shall send His angels to conduct thee, and thy SAVIOUR shall intercede for thee, and the HOLY GHOST shall strengthen thee, and thou shalt win thy way step by step, until the cloud of death close round thee, and then thou shalt find that the first step to continual earnest prayer was “the gate of heaven.”
 Cassian Collat. xxi. 26.
 S. Basil. Ep. 63. ad Neocaesar.
 Barrow, Sermons.
 Isidore, Elym. 1. 6. c. ult., quoted by Bishop Cosins, Devotions.
 Preached in a considerable hamlet, where the chapel, being the private property of a nobleman, and not consecrated, the Clergyman, though officiating with the sanction of the Bishop, had no power to increase the services when or as he would.