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ALTHOUGH Our Liturgy, among its other excellent qualities, possesses that of being plain and intelligible to every capacity, yet there is in this, as well as in other compositions, something that can only be discovered by close inspection and frequent examination; and the plainest things may likewise be rendered more striking by a little illustration.
It is intended, in the following pages, to give the result of such an examination; to shew the method of arrangement observed in the different services; to explain the connection and design of their parts; trace the sources from which the matter and wording are borrowed; and relate the manner in which the whole was originally formed, and has been successively reformed, revised, and augmented, by the ecclesiastical advisers of the crown. This sort of exposition will be confined to such of the services only as are congregational, and should be understood by all who frequent the Church.
As this short discourse on our Liturgy proceeds upon facts and reasonings, that are to be found in the writings of Others,* it pretends to no merit of its own, but that of selection and brevity; and the peculiar one of being placed in company with the work to which it belongs, where it may have a chance of being useful to many, who would never be at the trouble of turning to other volumes. If it affords, in the perusal, any portion of that satisfaction, which the writer found in his research, it will attain the only species of praise, that is coveted in this publication.
* Comber, Nichols, Wheatly, Horne, and Wells, who are now mentioned once for all.
HISTORY OF THE COMMON PRAYER.
LORD, teach us to pray, as John also taught his Disciples, Luke xi. 1. was a request, in which all of us might join, for me must all sympathize with our Lord's Disciples in the infirmity which suggested it; so reasonable did this request appear to their master, that he gave them at once, a Form of Prayer, which has ever since been the ground-work and model for all our devotions, both public and private.
Set forms of Prayer, precomposed, and daily repeated without variation, have ever been in use, where there has been any constant practice of religious duties; and such established forms are necessary, not only to assist the meditations of those who cannot always command their thoughts, and direct them to the proper object; but also for the purpose of uniting persons in public devotion, which could never be carried on without some settled and known expression of sentiment and words, in which they all agreed, and to which they all were accustomed. The practice of the Jewish and Christian Church has been the same in conforming to the use of some precomposed Prayers. We are told, that David appointed the Levites to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at even, 1 Chron. xxiii. 30, which could not be performed by many persons together, without some set form, in which they all could join. The whole book of Psalms may be considered as forms of prayer and praise, suggested by the Holy Ghost, for the joint use of the congregation; and this appears no less from the titles of several, than from other places of Scripture, which testify to their being so used, 1 Chron. xvi. 7. 2 Chron. xxix. 20. Ezra iii. 10, 11. Indeed there is so much evidence on this head, that one should no more doubt about the Jews having used set forms in their devotions, than of our using the Book of Common Prayer.
As our Saviour always joined in communion with the Jewish Church, he gave his sanction to such set forms, by his compliance with them; and he finally gave the strongest approbation to continuing the practice, by delivering to his Disciples, at least one set form of Prayer, when they asked it of him. No doubt, the Apostles and Disciples joined in the Jewish worship till our Lord's ascension; and when they had