Most gracious Lord God, my merciful Father; from my youth up my Creator, my Redeemer, my Comforter: Thou, O Lord, soundest and searchest the depths and secrets of all hearts; thou acknowledgest the upright of heart; thou judgest the hypocrite; thou ponderest mens thoughts and doings as in a balance; thou measurest their intentions as with a line; vanity and crooked ways cannot be hid from thee.
Remember, O Lord! how thy servant hath walked before thee: remember what I have first sought, and what hath been principal in my intentions. I have loved thy assemblies, I have mourned for the divisions of thy church, I have delighted in the brightness of thy sanctuary. This vine, which thy right hand hath planted in this nation, I have ever prayed unto thee that it might have the first and the latter rain, and that it might stretch her branches to the seas and to the floods. The state and bread of the poor and oppressed have been precious in mine eyes; I have hated all cruelty and hardness of heart; I have, though in a despised weed, procured the good of all men. If any have been my enemies, I thought not of them, neither hath the sun almost set upon my displeasure; but I have been, as a dove, free from superfluity of mischievousness. Thy creatures have been my books, but thy Scriptures much more. I have sought thee in the courts, fields, and gardens; but I have found thee in thy temples.
O Lord, my strength! I have since my youth met with thee in all my ways, by thy fatherly compassions, by thy comfortable chastisements, and by thy most visible providence. As thy favours have increased upon me, so have thy corrections, so as thou hast always been near me, O Lord! and ever as my worldly blessings were exalted, so secret darts from thee have pierced me; and when I have ascended before men, I have descended in humiliation before thee. And now, when I thought most of peace and honour, thy hand is heavy upon me, and hath humbled me according to thy former loving kindness, keeping me still in thy fatherly school, not as a bastard, but as a child. Just are thy judgments upon me for my sins, which are more in number than the sands of the sea, but have no proportion to thy mercies; for what are the sands of the sea? Earth, heavens, and all these, are nothing to thy mercies. Besides my innumerable sins, I confess before thee that I am a debtor to thee for the gracious talent of thy gifts and graces, which I have neither put into a napkin, nor put it, as I ought, to exchangers, where it might have made best profit, but misspent it in things for which I was least fit; so I may truly say, my soul hath been a stranger in the course of my pilgrimage. Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for my Saviours sake, and receive me unto thy bosom, or guide me in thy ways.
To be sure that no day pass without calling upon God in a solemn formed prayer seven times within the compass thereof; that is, in the morning, and at night, and five times between; taken up long ago from the example of David and Daniel, and a compunction and shame that I had omitted it so long, when I heedfully read of the custom of the Mahometans to pray five times in the day.
I can assure you that all the fame which ever cheated humanity into higher notions of its own importance, would never weigh in my mind against the pure and pious interest which a virtuous being may be pleased to take in my welfare. In this point of view, I would not exchange the prayer of the deceased [Mrs. Shepherd] in my behalf, for the united glory of Homer, Cæsar, and Napoleon, could such be accumulated upon a living head. Do me the justice to suppose that video meliora proboque, however the deteriora sequor may have been applied to my conduct.
Lord Byron: Letter to J. Shepherd, Pisa, Dec. 8, 1821.
When the highest promises are made, God expects they should be put in suit; our Saviour joins the promise and the petition together; the promise to encourage the petition, and the petition to enjoy the promise: he doth not say perhaps it shall be given, but it shall, that is, it certainly shall; your heavenly Father is unchangeably willing to give you those things. We must depend upon his immutability for the thing, and submit to his wisdom for the time. Prayer is an acknowledgment of our dependence upon God; which dependence could have no firm foundation without unchangeableness. Prayer doth not desire any change in God, but is offered to God that he would confer those things which he hath immutably willed to communicate; but he willed them not without prayer as the means of bestowing them. The light of the sun is ordered for our comfort, for the discovery of visible things, for the ripening of the fruits of the earth; but withal it is required that we use our faculty of seeing, that we employ our industry in sowing and planting, and expose our fruits to the view of the sun; that they may receive the influence of it. If a man shuts his eyes, and complains that the sun is changed into darkness, it would be ridiculous; the sun is not changed, but we alter ourselves; nor is God changed in not giving us the blessings he hath promised, because he hath promised in the way of a due address to him, and opening our souls to receive his influence, and to this, his immutability is the greatest encouragement.
Men have naturally such slight thoughts of the majesty and law of God, that they think any service is good enough for him, and conformable to his law. The dullest and deadest time we think fittest to pay God a service in: when sleep is ready to close our eyes, and we are unfit to serve ourselves, we think it a fit time to open our hearts to God. How few morning sacrifices hath God from many persons and families! Men leap out of their beds to their carnal pleasures or worldly employments, without any thought of their Creator and Preserver, or any reflection upon his will as the rule of our daily obedience.
God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach to him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address him with purity; he is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we must therefore acknowledge his excellency in all that we do, and in our measures contribute to his glory, by having the highest aims in his worship; he is a Spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying Mediator and Intercessor.
As it is our duty to pray, so it is our duty to pray with the most fervent importunity. It is our duty to love God, but with the purest and most sublime affections; every command of God requires the whole strength of the creature to be employed in it. That love to God wherein all our duty to God is summed up, is to be with all our strength, with all our might, etc. Though in the covenant of grace he hath mitigated the severity of the law, and requires not from us such an elevation of our affections as was possible in the state of innocence, yet God requires of us the utmost moral industry to raise our affections to a pitch at least equal to what they are in other things. What strength of affection we naturally have, ought to be as much and more excited in acts of worship, than upon other occasions and our ordinary works.
Many times we serve God as languishingly as if we were afraid he should accept us, and pray as coldly as if we were unwilling he should hear us, and take away that lust by which we are governed, and which conscience forces us to pray against; as if we were afraid God should set up his own throne and government in our hearts. How fleeting are we in divine meditation, how sleepy in spiritual exercises! but in other exercises active. The soul doth not awaken itself, and excite those animal and vital spirits, which it will in bodily recreations and sports; much less the powers of the soul: whereby it is evident we prefer the latter before any service to God.
I. It is to be confessed that these starts are natural to us. Who is free from them? We bear in our bosoms a nest of turbulent thoughts, which, like busy gnats, will be buzzing about us while we are in our inward and spiritual converses. Many wild beasts lurk in a mans heart, as in a close and covert wood, and scarce discover themselves but at our solemn worship. No duty so holy, no worship so spiritual, that can wholly privilege us from them; they will jog us in our most weighty employments, that, as God said to Cain, sin lies at the door, and enters in, and makes a riot in our souls. As it is said of wicked men, They cannot sleep for multitude of thoughts (Eccles. 5:12); so it may be said of many a good man, he cannot worship for multitude of thoughts; there will be starts, and more in our religious than natural employments; it is natural to man. Some therefore think, the bells tied to Aarons garments, between the pomegranates, were to warn the people, and recall their fugitive minds to the present service, when they heard the sound of them, upon the least motion of the high-priest.
Motions from Satan will thrust themselves in with our most raised and angelical frames; he loves to take off the edge of our spirits from God; he acts but after the old rate; he from the first envied God an obedience from man, and envied man the felicity of communion with God; he is unwilling God should have the honour of worship, and that we should have the fruit of it; he hath himself lost it, and therefore is unwilling we should enjoy it; and being subtle, he knows how to make impressions upon us suitable to our inbred corruptions, and assault us in the weakest part. He knows all the avenues to get within us (as he did in the temptation of Eve), and being a spirit, he wants not a power to dart them immediately upon our fancy; and being a spirit, and therefore active and nimble, he can shoot those darts faster than our weakness can beat them off.
God suffers those wanderings, starts, and distractions, to prevent our spiritual pride, which is as a worm at the root of spiritual worship, and mind us of the dusty frame of our spirits, how easily they are blown away; as he sends sickness to put us in mind of the shortness of our breath, and the easiness to lose it. God would make us ashamed of ourselves in his presence; that we may own that what is good in any duty is merely from his grace and Spirit, and not from ourselves; that with Paul we may cry out, By grace we are what we are, and by grace we do what we do; we may be hereby made sensible that God can always find something in our exactest worship, as a ground of denying us the successful fruit of it. If we cannot stand upon our duties for salvation, what can we bottom upon in ourselves?
How happy it is to believe, with a steadfast assurance, that our petitions are heard even while we are making them; and how delightful to meet with a proof of it in the effectual and actual grant of them!
In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favour. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I have lived for a long time [81 years]; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel: we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests; our prospects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.
Benjamin Franklin: Speech in Convention for forming a Constitution for the United States, 1787.
Many times that which we ask would if it should be granted be worse for us, and perhaps tend to our destruction; and then God by denying the particular matter of our prayers doth grant the general matter of them.
Prayer kindleth our desire to behold God by speculation, and the mind, delighted with that contemplative sight of God, taketh everywhere new inflammations to pray the riches of the mysteries of heavenly wisdom, continually stirring up in us correspondent desires towards them.
Himself not only comprehended all our necessities, but in such sort also framed every petition as might most naturally serve for many; and doth, though not always require, yet always import a multitude of speakers together.
They pray in vain to have sin pardoned, which seek not also to prevent sin by prayer, even every particular sin, by prayer against all sin; except men can name some transgressions wherewith we ought to have truce.
To propose our desires which cannot take such effect as we specify shall (notwithstanding) otherwise procure us his heavenly grace; even as this very prayer of Christ obtained angels to be sent him as comforters in his agony.
Pray for others in such forms, with such length, importunity, and earnestness, as you use for yourself; and you will find all little, ill-natured passions die away, your heart grow great and generous, delighting in the common happiness of others, as you used only to delight in your own.
I know not if, or no, I am deceivd; but since by a particular favour of the divine bounty a certain form of prayer has been prescribd and dictated to us, word by word, from the mouth of God himself, I have ever been of opinion that we ought to have it in more frequent use than we yet have; and if I were worthy to advise, at the sitting down to and rising from our tables, at our rising and going to bed, and in every particular action wherein prayer is requird, I would that Christians always make use of the Lords Prayer, if not alone, yet at least always.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lvi.
We are not to pray that all things may go on as we would have them, but as most conducing to the good of the world; and we are not in our prayers to obey our wills, but prudence. We seem, in truth, to make use of our prayers as of a kind of gibberish, and as those do who employ holy words about sorceries and magical operations: and as if we made account the benefit we are to reap from them depended upon the contexture, sound and gingle of words, or upon the composing of the countenance. For having the soul contaminated with concupiscence, not touchd with repentance, or comforted by any late reconciliation with almighty God, we go to present him with such words as the memory suggests to the tongue, and hope from thence to obtain the remission of our sins.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lvi.
But whatever may be the fortune of our lives, one great extremity at least, the hour of approaching death, is certainly to be passed through. What ought then to occupy us? What can then support us? Prayer. Prayer with our blessed Lord was a refuge from the storm: almost every word he uttered during that tremendous scene was prayerprayer the most earnest, the most urgent; related, continued, proceeding from the recesses of the soul; private, solitary; prayer for deliverance; prayer for strength; above everything, prayer for resignation.
None but the careless and the confident would rush rudely into the presence of a great man: and shall we, in our applications to the great God, take that to be religion which the common reason of mankind will not allow to be manners?
But you will ask, Upon what account is it that prayer becomes efficacious with God to procure us the good things we pray for? I answer, Upon this, that it is the fulfilling of that condition upon which God has promised to convey his blessings to men.
Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest: prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts; it is the daughter of charity, and the sister of meekness; and he that prays to God with an angry, that is, with a troubled and discomposed, spirit, is like him that retires into a battle to meditate, and sets up his closet in the out-quarters of an army, and chooses a frontier-garrison to be wise in.
Do not omit thy prayers for want of a good oratory: for he that prayeth on Gods account cares not what he suffers, so he be the friend of Christ; nor where nor when he prays, so he may do it frequently, fervently, and acceptably.
When the clock strikes, or however else you shall measure the day, it is good to say a short ejaculation every hour, that the parts and returns of devotion may be the measure of your time: and do so also in all the breaches of thy sleep; that those spaces which have in them no direct business of the world may be filled with religion.
There is no greater argument in the world of our spiritual weakness, and the falseness of our hearts in matters of religion, than the backwardness most men have always, and all men sometimes, to say their prayers; so weary of their length, so glad when they are done, so ready to find an excuse, so apt to lose an opportunity. Yet it is no labour, no trouble, they are thus anxious to avoid, but the begging a blessing and receiving it: honouring our God, and by so doing honouring ourselves too.
Mental prayer, when our spirits wander, is like a watch standing still because the spring is down: wind it up again, and it goes on regularly. But in vocal prayer, if the words run on and the spirit wanders, the clock strikes false, the hand points not to the right hour, because something is in disorder, and the striking is nothing but noise. In mental prayer we confess Gods omniscience, in vocal prayer we call angels to witness. In the first, our spirits rejoice in God; in the second, the angels rejoice in us. Mental prayer is the best remedy against lightness and indifferency of affections, but vocal prayer is the aptest instrument of communion. That is more angelical, but yet is fittest for the state of separation and glory; this is but human, but it is apter for our present constitution. They have their distinct proprieties, and may be used according to several accidents, occasions, or dispositions.