Plain Sermons by Contributors to ‘Tracts for the Times’

Volume Three—Edward Bouverie Pusey

London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1841.






“Who in the days of His flesh, when HE had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto HIM That was able to save HIM from death, and was heard in that HE feared.”


SUCH is the pattern which HE, Who is our Pattern, gives us of acceptable effectual prayer. HE knew that HE should be heard. “I knew,” HE saith, “that Thou hearest ME always,” when yet HE had “gone groaning in HIMSELF” to the grave of Lazarus; and yet the more, because HE should be heard, did HE with intense suffering, with strong and mighty crying and tears, offer up His prayers and supplications. And “HE was heard in that HE feared.” HE knew, as GOD, that, as man, HE should be heard; yet as man, HE withdrew HIMSELF from none of the sufferings of awe, and earnest reverent dread, which attends impending, yet unaccomplished, trial; His GODHEAD sustained the sufferings of His manhood, but superseded them not. This, too, was prophesied of HIM: the Psalms which express the deepest agony of prayer, are those which shadow forth His prayers; which, while they were the prayers of those, who in old times offered them, of David and the rest of the suffering saints of GOD, had yet, in the Mind of the HOLY GHOST, through Whom they prayed them, and vented their unutterable groanings, a deeper, intenser meaning, and so became of a twofold character; in part and on the surface they were their prayers in HIM, Whose sufferings they dimly foreshadowed, and ours in HIM our HEAD; in the deepest, fullest meaning, they are His, and are those of the Church now, only because in HIM. What a picture, then, do they give of intense, suffering prayer! How do the strong crying and tears, of which the Apostle speaks, re-echo through them!

To view them as patterns of earnest prayer: in their words HE clothed that unutterable agony, when, bearing the FATHER’S wrath for us, HE endured to be forsaken by the FATHER, and uttered that mysterious cry, the depths whereof none but HIMSELF can ever (one must think) wholly understand, “My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” or again, to look on prayer only as suffering, since we think it much if it is not all joy; “I am weary of My crying; My throat is dry; Mine eyes fail, while I wait for My GOD:” “By reason of the voice of My groaning, My bones cleave to my skin:” as in the other Psalms, “They tell all My bones;” or again, “I have roared by reason of the disquietness of My heart. My groaning is not hid from THEE: My heart panteth, My strength faileth; the light of Mine eyes, it also is gone from Me;” or of the continuance of the prayer, “I have cried day and night unto THEE,” as we know HE continued all night in prayer to GOD: yea, HE says of HIMSELF, “I am prayer;” His very Being was one Prayer.

But the Psalms, in that they are adapted to us, are witnesses to us how we should pray; they have a lower sense, in which, imperfect as we are, we can still use them; while we should be tending upward toward that higher meaning in which they belong to HIM in Whom we are.

Or to take again eminent types of HIM; how strangely great was that mysterious action of the Patriarch Jacob, when he wrestled with the Angel until the break of day, and by his strength he had power with GOD; he wept, and made supplication unto HIM; HE found him in Bethel, and there HE spake with us; i. e. included us also in the blessing of Israel, if we were true children of Israel. Nay, we take to ourselves often the pattern of Jacob, and speak of His “wrestlings” being realized now; again bearing witness to ourselves how fervent our prayers should be; or again, how intense the prayer of Hannah, that even to Eli the priest, she seemed, from the excess of her silent emotion, like one beside herself with strong drink.

And yet with such patterns even under the Old Covenant, such models and words provided for us, our LORD HIMSELF giving us both the pattern to pray, and the words to utter, and His Name wherein to offer them, and His SPIRIT whereby to utter them, and HIMSELF presenting our prayers, cleansed with His own Blood, what are our prayers? heavy, for the most part, and earthly; often unwilling to begin them, readily falling in with, some plea, why we should not pray now, readily ceasing; as well may we have no pleasure in prayers such as we too often offer. Unwilling to begin, distracted as we go on, glad to make an end, what a picture this of children coming to an all-bountiful and gracious FATHER, to have what they ask for! And yet is it not too true? How many prayers in any Church are uttered while the heart is far away! how many come hither without thinking in earnest about praying at all! of the sermon rather than of the prayers! or will not come when prayer alone is offered, even if it be (as in this place[1]) those deep supplications of our Litany, which bring before our GOD all our manifold wants, in that contrite spirit which may most hope to be heard: or thinking that they can pray of themselves without any great effort, or any special aid of GOD; and these, of course, must fail to pray: or of those who really desire to pray, how many have their minds so little controlled at other times, or so thronged with the things of this life, that the thoughts of the world pour in upon them, when they would pray; and when people come to themselves, they find that while their knees have remained bent, where they were, they themselves have been far away, in their counting-house or their shop, their cards or their society, talking or acting, competing with a neighbour, or disputing; advancing or aggrandizing themselves, it may be, while in posture they were remaining humble before GOD; or resenting a fancied injury, while they were praying forgiveness of their sins; busied about the things of time and sense, while, by coming before GOD at all, they were professing that what alone concerns them is Eternity. Would they could have been so long away, but “whither shall I go from Thy SPIRIT? or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence?” rather, we have been there in the Presence of GOD, under His Eye, by our own act inviting that Eye, Which is ever upon us, to regard us; and then in His temple, our mind, setting up our idols, “every man in the chamber of his imagery,” and offering incense to them. “Go in,” saith GOD to His prophet, “and behold the wicked abominations that they do here.” “So I went in and saw; and beheld every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about.” It is shocking and hideous to ourselves, to think what thoughts have been present with us, when we and they together were in the very Presence of GOD; and self was in some way the idol which we were worshipping, when we were making the show of serving GOD. And if so to us, whose faculties have been deadened by our sins and our evil habits, what must we have been in His sight! How again, in another and a better sort, will the very words of the prayers which they are using, carry their minds off to some train of thought, and they will find that the prayers have been going on without them, and they have perhaps been following the words with their eyes, thinking about the words in their prayer, or about the prayer, rather than offering it; speculating about the things of GOD, instead of praying to HIM, as if GOD and the things of GOD were subjects only to occupy their thoughts, and they themselves were not there before HIM, sinners, to ask forgiveness of our sins; criminals, to ask our Judge not to pass sentence upon us; guilty of His law and of its penalties, and praying not to be cast for ever into Hell. So that persons have been even afraid at the end to pray GOD to “grant effectually” what they have “asked faithfully,” fearing lest they have asked little or nothing “faithfully,” and they bring a curse upon themselves and not a blessing; or to say to GOD, “Who hast given us grace with one accord to make our common supplications unto THEE,” fearing that they have not had that grace given them, or if so,—which is worse, have received it in vain.

And if this be so with those who come to Church, what must be the case with those who are openly profane and come not, of come carelessly and irregularly? for since all prayer depends on His aid, Who “poureth out the SPIRIT of prayer and supplication,” that “SPIRIT Who maketh intercession for us,” how can they expect that GOD will bestow IT upon them morning and evening, who at other times despise His Ordinances, or who going forth to the business of the day, utter hurriedly a prayer, to satisfy their consciences rather than to obtain what they ask for, not because time is not allowed them for more, but because they will not make it? Not that it is not better to pray in any way almost, than not to pray at all, to pray more than to pray less; all neglect of devotion is open neglect of GOD, and independence of HIM; and so any prayer, however imperfect, or however little it have of the character of prayer, is better than neglect of prayer altogether, since it does retain some dependence upon GOD, which they who pray not at all cast aside. Alas! if we be such at our best, what must we be at our worst? If we be such, when we should be the most awed, what must we be, when most unrestrained? If such, when by our own act we have confessed ourselves in GOD’S immediate Presence, and must, if at any time, be most conscious of it, what when we are professedly amid the things of the world, and employed about them? If they thus engage us, when removed from them to another world, what when our very thoughts are on this?

Yet, miserable as this is, there is no way at once to be free. Slowly, year by year, and day by day, did we bring this hard bondage upon ourselves, and slowly only may we hope that it will be removed from off our necks. Yet the way in which we brought it upon ourselves, may show us the way in which we may hope to have it lightened. And praised be GOD, it is lightened, though not at once, yet in some measure, when we in earnest wish it; at least, some foretaste is given us, that it will be lightened; if we be yet in darkness, some gleams of light break through; though we see not the Sun, nor where HE is, even beneath the clouds it is lighter around us. Some prayers are from the first given us more free; some liftings up of the heart to GOD, which before we knew not of; some hidden “drawings,” as we hope, “of the FATHER,” which seem like beams of His countenance, and make us feel lighter and gladsome; something which, being unlike any thing of this earth, we trust is of Heaven.

But, while we have gracious undeserved encouragements to persevere, the steps must mostly be slow. Step by step, we sunk amid the distractions of the world, and step by step only may we hope that our FATHER will raise us out of the mire wherein we have plunged ourselves. But our first step, the very beginning and condition of our restoration, is to unlearn the distractions whereby we have been beset. In seeking to remedy our distractions, our first labour must be to amend ourselves. Such as we are at other times, such will our prayers be. GOD helps us in our prayers, as without HIM we cannot pray; but HE doth so in proportion as we admit His aid in the rest of our life. We cannot pray as we ought, unless we live as we ought. Our prayers will partake of our other infirmities. We cannot at once collect ourselves, and become other men in the Presence of GOD, from what we were just before. If we are in earnest, we are, of course, in a higher state, when we place ourselves consciously in the Presence of ALMIGHTY GOD; we must become, in, a degree, awed, subdued, respectful; we are on our knees; and the unwonted attitude tells people they are on a business other than that of this life; they have been accustomed so to ask of GOD, since in their purified and unstained infancy they knelt by their mother’s knees; and they feel that if they ask not, then the time for obtaining what they are there to ask will be past when they rise, a duty will have been done or left undone; yet though raised for the time above their ordinary selves, they are themselves still; the Pharisee was less proud than at other times, in that he thanked GOD for what he was; he acknowledged it was His gift, but he was proud still; a person cannot be full of the cares, and riches, and pleasures, and enjoyments, and vanities of this life, up to the very moment when he falls down at GOD’S footstool, and leave these companions of his other hours behind him, so that they will not thrust themselves in with him into the Holy Presence: “a dream cometh through the multitude of business,” and whoso has his thoughts at other times thronged with the manifold concerns of this life, must needs be in a confused dreamy state, when he appears before GOD: we are only to a certain degree in our own power; we have it in our own power, by the covenanted help of GOD, to do, one by one, the single acts, by which we become what we are; and having neglected that help, we still, by His undeserved mercy, have it in our power, slowly by repentance, to undo what we have become, so long as the same grace is continued to us; but we have not, at any given time, the power to act contrary to the habits we have formed and are continually forming; we are responsible, because it was by our own act that we became such; but we cannot at once help (and it is a very awful thing) the very act for which we are responsible; we cannot keep our thoughts disengaged at prayer, if they are through the day engaged; we cannot keep out vain thoughts then, if at other times we yield to them; the thoughts, to which we have been accustomed during the day, rush in upon us before we are aware, and carry us away; they master us then, because we have yielded to them before; they bind us, as lawful captives, because we have before sold ourselves to them, and taken their wages, and their yoke, and delivered ourselves into their hands. We must live more to GOD, if we would pray more to GOD; must be less engrossed with the world, if we would not have the world thrust itself in upon our prayers and stifle them. He who lives to the world, and he who lives to GOD, must do mostly the same things; but with the one, the things themselves are the end; with the other, to please GOD in them. If a duty, to be performed well, must for the time needs take up well-nigh all our thoughts, yet is there to the holy, all the while, a consciousness of the Presence of GOD, as the unseen Light of his life, just as in this bodily world we may have our eyes fixed on some object of sense, yet we are conscious of the presence of the light of this world. We need not fear lest our duties should be done less thoroughly, if done more calmly, and not for their own sakes” but for GOD’S; rather in that they are done in GOD, they will be done more as GOD wills; self and the wrong bias of our minds will be removed; they will be done truly and rightly, since they will be “wrought in GOD,” Who is Truth and Right.

This, then, is the chief, the most comprehensive remedy against distraction in prayer, to see that we be not distracted amid the manifoldness of the things of sense, at other times; that we make not any thing in this world our end, seek not our happiness in it, follow it not eagerly, be not passionately fond of any thing, else we make it our god, and what we have allowed ourselves to be captivated with, i. e. held captive by, will hold our thoughts captive in our prayers too, and bind them down to itself, and not let them soar freely unto GOD. We must make our choice; if we will be anxious about worldly things, we cannot pray as we ought, though we would.

But still further, even when we would serve GOD, or do our duty in this life, we must see that we do our very duties calmly. There is a religious, as well as a worldly, distraction. We may mix up self in doing duty, as well as when we make self our end. Religious excitement, or excitement about things of religion, may as effectually bar our praying as that about worldly things. We may be engaged about the things of GOD, yet our mind all the while centre in these things, not in GOD. Sad as it is, people may be engaged in the progress of religion, or of truth, (it is shocking to say it, yet worse that people should fall into it unwarned,) much as persons looking on a game or engaged in one; nay, the temptation is the greater, in that the interests are the more absorbing, and persons themselves more off their guard, because the subject and the cause are in themselves holy, and it is good to be interested in them, only in a right way. We may be diligent about the duties of our calling, and yet find our pleasure and our reward simply in our success or ingenuity, in doing them dexterously; nay, there is no more frequent snare than doing what we ought, but not as we ought; putting worldly activity in place of religious diligence. Thus people in providing for their families, which is a duty, become worldly; in serving the state, which may be a duty, become ambitious; in doing well what they have to do (which they ought), become vain; in some way putting self in the place of GOD. Whatever then be our employment, doing the duty of our callings, or seeking to promote GOD’S truth, or doing good to man, or to prepare, if it may be, for the coming of His kingdom, as citizens or as members of the Church, we must see that we do it soberly, labouring to have our minds fixed not on the things themselves, but on GOD, to look through them to HIM for Whom we do them. If our mind be in a whirl, hearing, thinking, speaking, about many things, it matters not whether they relate to the world or the Church, it will be dizzy and distracted, i. e. torn asunder among them when we come to our prayers; and we shall not be able to fix it. If we will be busied and careful about many things, we cannot do the one Thing needful, sit at JESUS’ feet and hear His words. And hence Holy Scripture joins these two together, calmness or sobriety and prayer; “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” “Let your moderation be known unto all men. Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto GOD; and the peace of GOD—shall guard your hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Peace is the beginning and end of prayer; its condition and its reward; resign yourselves, that ye may pray, and GOD will guard your thoughts, and hold them to HIMSELF.

If, also, you would guard against wandering in prayer, you must practise yourself in keeping a check upon your thoughts at other times. If, as Scripture saith of the fool, our “eyes are in the ends of the earth,” if we let our senses wander after every thing which presents itself to them, we are forming in ourselves a habit of distraction, which will oppress us in our prayers too; it is not a light matter that we be gazing on every thing which we can see, listen to all we may hear, keep all the avenues of our senses open, and let what will enter in; rather Holy Scripture so often says, “They lift up their eyes,” as if we should not for ever be gazing around us, but keep them rather staid, until we need them; the compass of our mind is narrow at best, and cannot hold many things; one thing thrusts out another; and if we admit these manifold things into our minds, we shall have small room for its true and rightful Owner and Inmate, GOD. If we let thoughts chase each other through our minds, at will, they will find their accustomed entrance there in our prayers too; if we close not the doors of our minds against them at other times, they will stand wide open then. It is not a light matter, but one, to which in this busy age—in which every one would know about every thing, and like the Athenians, our occupation seems to be to know some new thing, and what conveys news is thought the instrument of knowledge, and knowledge of every sort is thought a good—we must take great heed; what we hear, and admit into our minds. Our minds are holy things; they are the temples of GOD; and so, for His honour’s sake Who has so hallowed them, we should be on our guard what we allow to enter there; we are commanded to beware of idle-speaking; beware we also of things which foster it, idle-hearing and idle-seeing, and knowledge of idle things. As life draws towards its close, GOD dulls our eyes and ears and all our senses, that being thus shut out from the outer world, our minds may the more retire from the world, withdraw into their own sanctuary, there be occupied with HIM, and prepare to meet HIM. Be this method of His Providence a guide to us; keep the rein over your own minds; control them; master them; check them, for the very sake of keeping them in check, so shall you the better have them in your power in your prayers too; be not curious about things which concern you not, what happens in the street, or passes by you, or befals a neighbour, unless charity require it of you; these things waste the mind more than you can well think—rather recollect that your concern is not with the world; your home, your hopes, your abiding-place, is not here, but in GOD; your citizenship is not on earth but in the Heavens; your places shall shortly know you no more; the earth contain no more of you, than the dust of your bodies, in keeping for you against the Resurrection; why then so curious about what is so nothing to you? why, alas! but because the mind must be filled with something, and unless it be filled with GOD, it must deaden its cravings with the nothingnesses of this life? But, on that very ground, if it be so filled, it empties itself of GOD, and being void of GOD, cannot pray to GOD, since prayer is the voice of GOD within us to HIMSELF.

Then, on the other hand, as we seek, during the day, to weaken the hold which the world has upon us and our thoughts, so must we to strengthen our own capacity of turning to GOD. Away from the world and to GOD. To prevent the world having the mastery over you in your prayers, seek that the world itself be to you penetrated with GOD, speak to you of GOD. “Whether ye eat or whether ye drink,” says Holy Scripture, “or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of GOD.” “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the LORD JESUS, giving thanks to GOD and the FATHER by HIM.” Labour that whatever ye do, no matter how small and trivial, ye do as HE wills, and because HE wills; commit to HIM thoughts, words, and works, to be “ordered by His governance, to do that is righteous in His sight;” to be “begun, continued, and ended “in HIM; speak or refrain from speaking, eat or eat not, drink or drink not, labour or rest, with a view to HIM, having HIM in your eye, seeking aid from HIM to do whatever you do, aright; thank HIM if you have ease or joy; resign yourself to HIM, if you have sorrow or pain; seek to HIM, if you have temptation; ask His guidance, if in perplexity; make it an end with you to have HIM in all your thoughts; so when you come to your fuller and more set devotions, you may hope that HE Whom you serve continually, will keep you then also, and vouchsafe HIMSELF to visit you, and be in your thoughts, which you would fain make His, and shut out the world, by filling your thoughts with HIMSELF.

It is the infrequency of prayer which makes prayer so difficult; it is not a great effort now and then, which makes the things even of this life easy to us; it is their being the habit of our bodies or our minds; it was by continued exercise which we were not aware of, that our bodies, as children, were strengthened; by continued practice that we learnt any thing; by continued gazing at far-off objects, that the eye sees further than others; by continued practice that the hand becomes steadied, and obeys the motions of our mind; and so and much more must the mind, by continual exercise, be steadied to fix itself on HIM it cannot grasp, and look up to HIM it cannot see; yea so much the more exceedingly, because we cannot see HIM, or approach to HIM, but by His revealing HIMSELF and coming down to us, and giving us eyes to see and hearts to comprehend, and this HE will do only to the earnest and persevering, and to us severally, as we are such. They then will pray best, who, praying truly, pray oftenest: prayer is a being with GOD; a Christian’s life, a continual prayer—he who is with GOD most at other times, will be most with HIM then; he whose thoughts most rise to GOD amid his daily business, will find them rise most easily to HIM, when prayer itself becomes his business. And this was part of the wisdom of the Ancient Church, in fixing certain hours for briefer prayers during the day,-—nine, twelve, three, the hours of the descent of the HOLY GHOST, the crucifixion of our LORD, His precious Death, both to fix saving truths in our mind, and multiply prayer, but also to carry us on through the day in prayer, that so we might live more in and on prayer, i. e. in and on GOD, and pray to HIM more heartily at the times of fuller prayer, and have HIM more in our hearts, as not having1 had our thoughts during the day estranged from HIM. This, also, is one great blessing of the practice of ejaculatory prayer—prayer, that is, which is darted up from the mind in the little intervals which occur, whatever we are doing: nothing goes on without breaks, to leave us space to turn to GOD: amid conversation there is silence; in the busiest life there are moments, if we would mark them, when we must remain idle: we are kept waiting, or we must hear what is wearisome, let prayer take the place of impatience: in preparing for business, let prayer take the place of eagerness; in closing it, of self-satisfaction; are we weary? be it our refreshment; strong? let us hallow our strength by thanksgiving. The very preparation or close of any business brings with it of necessity a pause, teaching us by this very respite to begin and end with prayer; prayer beforehand for His help, or thanksgiving for having carried us through it, or pardon for what has been amiss in it. Nay, our ordinary duties for the most part may go on mechanically, without much attention on our part; we find that we can converse amidst them, discuss the concerns of our neighbours or what relates not to ourselves amidst them without hindrance; why not what alone concerns us, seek our peace with GOD and His mercy, His help and salvation? We are formed to be unable to continue long any exertion of body or mind without breathing-space; we must pause and take breath to begin afresh; why not breathe to and in HIM, Who is the Breath of our life, and rest in HIM Who is the Rest of the weary? People can sing during their work, and feel themselves refreshed by it; why not “one of the songs of Zion?” In so many ways would GOD teach us not to be engrossed with the duties and business of this life, but amid all to find a place for thoughts of HIM, and our endless life with HIM in heaven, or if without HIM, in hell. And HE HIMSELF commands, “Thou shalt talk of them, when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” And HE has His own in every station of life, whose bodies perhaps are busied about the meanest occupations, but their thoughts are on HIM, the Most High; the body has been sweeping the streets, the soul aloft among the golden streets of our heavenly Jerusalem, and with the LAMB Who lighteneth it.[2]

Such are some of the more distant preparations for prayer, such as it should be, fixed and earnest; to strive to make GOD, not the world, the end of our lives; not to be taken up even with our duties in the world, but amid them to seek HIM; to subdue self, and put a restraint upon our senses at other times, that we may have the control over them then; to lift our thoughts to HIM at other times, so will they rise more readily then.

These are, in their very nature, slowly learnt; yet as, if wholly learnt, it were Heaven itself, so is each step, a step Heavenwards; each wish to pray is a breath from Heaven, to strengthen and refresh us; each act of faith, done to amend our prayers, is wrought in us by HIM, and draws us to HIM, and His gracious look on us; each amends our prayers, and our amended prayers are His gift to amend our lives, and so we may go on, in slow, it may be, through our manifold infirmities, yet ceaseless progress, until we find in His gracious and merciful Presence the end of our prayers, our faith, our hopes, our lives.

Yet are there many more immediate helps, at the very time of prayer, of which I may mention some few, if so be some may find herein what may be of use to them. Neglect nothing which can produce reverence. Pass not at once from the things of this world to prayer, but collect thyself. Think what thou art, what GOD is; thyself a child, and GOD thy Father; but also thyself dust and ashes, GOD, a consuming fire, before Whom angels hide their faces: thyself unholy, GOD holy; thyself a sinner, GOD thy Judge. And to this it will help, before you first pray, reverently to repeat your Belief, as confessing before GOD, all HE has wrought for you, and His own Majesty; or as they did of old, to think of the last four things, Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell; what thou hopest, everlasting life; what thou fearest, unceasing misery; what thou needest, GOD’S pardoning, preventing, assisting, perfecting grace, to save thee from the one, and along a strait and narrow path to guide thee to the other. Nay further yet, GOD’S help, that thou mayest fear the one and hope for the other, for the very power to dread hell or to hope for Heaven, is itself a great gift of GOD. Then forget not, that of thyself thou canst not pray. Without His softening grace Heaven and hell might stand before us, and we could not pray; there have been who have seen hell before them, clear as any object of man’s sight, and could not pray; we come before HIM, as helpless creatures, who need to be taught what to ask for, and knowing, to be enabled to ask, and asking, to be enabled to persevere to ask. If we think to pray of ourselves, we cannot pray. Then as it should be among our last prayers at night, that GOD should be in our waking thoughts, and when we wake up we should be with GOD, so should we be very watchful, how we allow the things of the world to enter into our minds, before our first prayers. We wake morning by morning to a new life: the cares and thoughts of yesterday have been buried in our sleep, the world around us is still hushed; the turmoil of life not yet come back to haunt us; we should deal reverently then with our first thoughts, beware how we awaken in ourselves any of the trains of plans, or business, or occupations, which take up our day; they are yet at a distance from us, and we have more power over them. Stop their first inroad; turn away from them resolutely to GOD, before one thought have awakened its fellow, that so thou mayest secure thy first prayers, wherein thou committest thy whole self, soul, body, spirit, for the day to GOD, undisturbed. Then watch thyself, what helps or hinders thee to fix thy mind on GOD; at times, the mind pours itself out most to GOD, when, closing the eyes on the outward world, it fixes itself directly upon GOD: at times, it prays best, by rivetting the eyes on the very words of its prayer, making the very senses, which would distract us, the means of fixing the yet more wandering mind itself; at times, we pray best silently; at times, the very hearing of the sound of our own prayer, impresses it on the mind: if we fail in one way, we should betake ourselves to another, and so GOD, seeing us in earnest, will the rather have mercy upon us. Then, as to the very words of our prayer; we should beware how we pass hastily over any of our prayers: it is not how much we say, but what we pray, which is of real moment: if we are not really masters of our own time, it were better to say but a portion of our prayers, resolving to use what after-time we can find, for the rest, than to crowd in them more than we can pray aright; better to delay some, than, by hurrying, to risk the loss of all; but better still to pray GOD to waken us at the time of prayer, and ourselves rise that we may have time. Then, the best models of prayer consist of brief petitions, as suited to men in need, for when they really feel their need, they use not many words; “LORD, save us, we perish,” is the cry of need: and so the petitions of the pattern of all prayer, our LORD’S, are very short, but each containing manifold prayers; so are the Psalms in prayer or praise; “blot out all mine iniquities,” “create in me a new heart,” “cast me not away from Thy Presence,” “save me by Thy Name;” so are our own primitive prayers; collects, litany, sentences, asking much in few words; even our longest prayer “for the Church Militant” is made up in fact of a number of separate prayers; and of our private devotions, such is that of one called “a Saint in his closet,” Bp. Andrews; so that we may collect our strength and attention for each petition, and so pray on, step by step, through the whole, resting at each step on HIM, Who alone can carry us to the end, and if, by human frailty, we be distracted, going back where we began to wander.

In public prayer, the case is different; for here, if we wander, the prayers meanwhile go on, and we find that we have lost a portion of our daily bread; that GOD’S Church on earth has been praising with Angels and Archangels and the Church in Heaven, while we have been bringing our sheep and our oxen and our money-changing, the things of this life, into GOD’S Presence, and the Court of Heaven. Yet the remedies are the same, and we have even greater helps; for here, if we would but strive to realize it, is GOD’S more immediate Presence, in the house which is called by His Name; here are the holy Angels with their “golden censers” “offering the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne;” here especially is HE, Who promised to be “in the midst where two or three are gathered together in His Name.” The majesty of the very place may well awe us into devotion, and will aid us to it, if we waste not its impressiveness by our negligence or frivolity; if we demean ourselves here as in GOD’S Presence, enter it and leave it reverently, not exchanging worldly compliments, but acting as though we saw His Eye on us. Then also for ourselves, recollect we, that our Lord’s-Day services, as our days, are numbered; to most of us, they are our chief and fullest devotions of this life, and so our chief preparation for the endless worship of Heaven; they are means of gathering strength for our six days of toil, of knitting on week to week in one holy company, of hallowing our week to GOD with Whom we begin; but they are also beginnings of the employment of Heaven, which they shadow forth; we here faintly practise the first imperfect notes of that endless song, which is to sound on for ever; at most, we have but few of them; a few fifties of these days of rest over, and we must have gained our endless rest or missed it; a few fifties of these solemn services, and we must have closed all the confessions, cries for mercy, prayers, tears, which shall avail then, the door will be shut to for us, and we admitted or shut out for ever. We know not what we do when we waste one of them; and so we should enter this holy place, impressing on ourselves, that we have herein a treasure offered us of which but few more are in store for us, and which, if wasted, is lost for ever. Come we then calmly to this holy place, not thinking or speaking up to its very threshold of things of earth, but as men bent on a great service, where much is at stake, coming to a Holy Presence, from Whom depends our all; pray we, as we enter it, that GOD would guard our thoughts and compose our minds and fix them on HIM; employ we any leisure before the service begins, in thought or private prayer; guard we our eyes from straying to those around us; listen we reverently to His holy word; use the pause before each prayer to ask GOD to enable us to pray this prayer also, and so pray each separate prayer, as far as we can, relying on His gracious aid; beware we how we let the mind relax, as though some prayers—those which GOD has especially commanded, for kings and those in authority—were of less importance to us, (for this has often been the first inlet and occasion of distraction,) and yet GOD has especially enjoined these prayers, and HE has annexed a blessing to them, “that we nifty lead a peaceable and godly life,” and any ills which people so readily complain of in governments, may be the punishment of their own coldness in these prayers, and it is an act of dutiful charity, since kings are for our sakes exposed to especial dangers and trial which we are freed from—but strive we to pray as we should serve GOD, with all our heart and all our mind; and HE will graciously help our infirmities, and accept our longings, and hear, we may even hope, what we longed to pray for, but failed. And if we have wandered, let us, as soon as we perceive it, collect ourselves with all our might, and when the “Amen” comes, let us seek to gather into one the petition of the prayer, and crave, by a hearty assent, to be allowed to join in that which by our frailty we have missed. Prayer for pardon should close all our prayers, and if, when returned home, we could find some intervals for praying anew the prayers, which in public we missed, GOD would doubtless join us on with His faithful worshippers, look favourably on our earnestness, and strengthen us for the future.

Yet are we not to think that by these or any other remedies distraction is to be cured at once; we cannot undo at once the habit, it may be, of years; we must be content to drag with us the chain of our former sins; thankful that GOD in any degree lightens it and enables us to hold on in our course; distraction has distressed eminent saints; how much more such as we! Only it is likely that they were more shocked by one worldly thought intruding upon the Holy Presence, than we by many. Distraction will come through weakness, ill-health, fatigue; only pray, guard, strive, against it; humble yourselves under it, and for the past negligences, of which it is mostly the sad fruit; rely less upon yourself, cast yourself more upon GOD, hang more wholly upon HIM, and long the more for that blessed time, when the redeemed of the LORD shall serve HIM day and night without distraction.

So may the very distractions, the fruits of our former infirmities, or messengers wherewith Satan, for our sins, is permitted to buffet us, turn the rather to our salvation; GOD needeth not our weak prayers, as neither doth HE need us; HE “knoweth our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking;” HE will give us, we trust, “what for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask,” if we seek of HIM to heal for His worthiness, and give sight to our blindness; it is we, who need to hang on HIM, as by our imperfect prayers we do, and by doing, learn to do; and this we may learn to do, out of our very miseries; not looking upon them as though necessary evils, but as withdrawals of GOD’S grace, that we may seek that grace more lowlily; ashamed and confounded that we cannot pray, and so confessing our confusion and shame and transgressions, that HE may forgive us the iniquity of our sin; ashamed that we are so little sons, as approaching our FATHER with so little love, and so returning as repentant prodigals, whom though a great way off, our merciful FATHER will own; ashamed that we have not “the offering of a free heart to give,” and cannot “praise His Name, because it is so comfortable,” and so offering to HIM “a broken and contrite heart, which HE will not despise.”

So, confessing our misery, and shame, and sin, may HE clothe us all with the garb best fitted to our state, the clothing of humility, and when HE hath by death unclothed us of sin and frailty and mortality, clothe us anew at the last day with that His “best robe” of immortality, even HIM, Whom we put on in Baptism, and in Whom, frail as we are, we trust to be found abiding, “our iniquities blotted out, and our sin covered.”

[1] Preached where the Sermon was in the Afternoon Service.

[2] A man employed in sweeping the street was overheard speaking to his fellow, out of the latter chapters of the Revelation, which he had learnt, of “the streets of pure gold.” “What comfort could I have,” he said, ‘‘but in thinking of them”