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ought to be esteemed no good counsellor, who is very ready and eager in giving, but averse from receiving the same counsel, as far as it may be also proper for himself.
The first advice I presume to set before your view shall relate to the manner of doing your part, in all the ordinary offices of the public liturgy.
As to that, it is my earnest request, that you would take very much care, and use extraordinary intention of mind, to perfect yourselves in a true, just, sensible, accurate becoming way of reading, and administering them as you have occasion.
A suggestion, which some perhaps, at first hearing, may think to be but of a slight and ordinary concernment: yet, if I am not much deceived, it will be found of exceeding moment and consequence in its practice: and of singular usefulness towards the raising of devotion in any congregation piously inclined : when your weekly or rather daily labours of this kind shall be thus performed ; I mean, not with a mere formal or artificial, but with such a grave, unaffected delivery of the words, as (if the defect be not in ourselves) will indeed naturally flow from a right and serious considering of their sense.
I pray therefore, take my mind aright in this particular. . I do not only mean, that you should be very punctual in reading the Common Prayer Book, as the law requires ; that is, not only to do it constantly, and entirely in each part, without any maiming, adding to, or altering of it, that so supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, may be made, by you, for all men ; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. If
you do not so, you are liable to a legal punishment and censure.
But my aim now is, not merely to prevent that, or to provide only against your breaking the law. What I intend is something higher, and more excellent; something that you cannot be punished for, though you do it not; but if you shall do it in any reasonable perfection, it will redound to the unspeakable benefit of your congregations.
The purpose then of this my plain motion to you is, in short, to beseech you all to employ much serious pains in practising the public and private reading of all your offices, as the use of any of them shall occur, distinctly, gravely, affectionately, fervently; so as every where to give them all that vigour, life, and spirit, whereof they are capable: which certainly is as great as in any human writ
ings whatsoever; if we be not wanting to them in the repetition.
The truth is, whatever some may imagine to the contrary, such a complete and consummate faculty of reading the Common Prayer, Quam nequeo monstrare, et sentio tantum, is of so great difficulty, as well as use, that I am fully convinced, it very well deserves to have some place among our constant studies ; at least in the first initiation into our ministry, if not throughout the whole course of it.
I could heartily wish, it were altogether needless for me to lay so much stress on this advice as I do. Yet, I hope, I may do it without offence; since it is not with design of censuring any particular men's failings or deficiencies, but only for the public good; that we may all strive to attain not only to a mediocrity, but to an excellency in this kind : which, in my small judgment, can never be done, unless we shall make this duty a business by itself, and assign it a special place among our other ecclesiastical studies.
It cannot be denied, but the church itself has provided for this with all imaginable circumspection; having so lemnly enjoined every clergyman, besides the times of his public ministry, to read some very considerable parts of his Office, once a day, at least, to himself, except he shall be excused by indispensable business.
By which wise injunction, though, no doubt, the church intended primarily to produce and increase, in the minds of all its ministers, a frame of spirit perpetually serious and devout; yet, if that be also accompanied with a proportionable regard to the manner, as well as to the matter of our public prayers, this other advantage of well reading, what is so often to be read, will follow of course, and by necessary consequence.
It seems indeed to me, that the very way of performing all the outward acts of religion has so wonderful an influence towards obtaining the inward effects of it on our hearts and consciences, that I cannot but think we can never be too laborious in preparing and exercising our thoughts, and even our very voices, in private, for a public service of so great importance.
It is true, we generally value and esteem preaching as our great privilege and honour. And so far we are in the right. But we are not so, if we look on the reading of prayers only as our task and burden; and, as such, shall be willing to get rid of it altogether, or to get through it in any undecent manner, with such heaviness or precipita
tion, as, in any affairs of worldly interest, we would never be content with: a preposterous custom, which, if due care be not taken, may be very prejudicial and mischievous to our church, by quenching the spirit of devotion in our own people, and giving occasion to our adversaries to throw scorn and contempt on our otherwise incomparable liturgy.
Consider, I pray you, how can we expect that others should revere or esteem it according to its true worth, if we ourselves will not keep it so much in countenance, as to afford it a fair reading ? if we will not do it so much common justice as to contribute, as much as lies in power, that it may have an impartial hearing, equal at feast to any other divine ordinance ? if we shall refuse to lay as much weight on those devotions, which our whole church has enjoined us to pour out before the throne of grace, for the people, as we do on those discourses, which we make, on our own heads, to the people ?
Wherefore, I say again, this very commendable skill of devout and decent reading the holy Offices of the church is so far from being a perfunctory or superficial work, a mean or vulgar accomplishment, or a subordinate lower administration, only fit for a curate; that it deserves to be placed among your ministerial endowments of greater superiority and preeminence; as being one of the most powerful instruments of the holy Spirit of God, to raise and command men's hearts and affections: of the holy true Spirit of God, I say; which, though in our inward ejaculations, or private supplications towards Heaven, it often helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; yet, in the public worship, is most frequently pleased to operate by such words and sounds, as are expressed with the best utterance.
So that now, with a just assurance, I may assert this to, be a very proper qualification of a parochial minister ; that he has attained to an habitual faculty of setting forth the public prayers to all their due advantage, by pronouncing them leisurably, fitly, warmly, decently; with such an authority in the speaker, as is, in some degree, suitable to the authority of what is spoken.
Thus much I may safely say, that the reader of the prayers, if he does his part, in the manner I have mentioned, by such a vigorous, effectual, fervent delivery of the words and conceptions, put into his mouth by the church itself, may give a new enlivening breath, a new soul, as it were, to every prayer, every petition in it: he may quicken
and animate those confessions, intercessions, and thanksgivings, which, when read coldly and indifferently, with irreligious carelessness, or ignorant flatness, will seem to some to be but a dead letter: he may make every Hymn, every Psalm, every Lesson, Epistle, and Gospel, to become well nigh a new sermon; at least he may give to the old standing text of the Bible a very good clear exposition, even by his very way of reading it to the congregation.
This, upon experience, you will find to be apparently true. For if, as is usually observed by men of learning in printed books, the very accurate and critical pointing of
is one of the best kinds of good new commentaries on any old author; how much more, in all the offices of devotion, would that, which consists not only in good pointing, and observing all due stops, but in so much more besides, I mean a good, distinct, forcible, yet easy, and unforced reading of every prayer, and portion of the holy scriptures; how much more would all this really serve for a good new paraphrase and illustration of every sentence in them!
It is indeed almost incredible, how quite another thing the daily morning and evening prayers will appear; what new figures and beauties, and hidden treasures of sacred eloquence, they will continually discover when thus pronounced; how much apter they will be to kindle in us and our auditors all manner of heavenly affections, of spiritual grief and contrition, of love and gratitude, of faith, hope, and charity, and joy in the Holy Ghost; when the harmony of the tongue shall be tuned, as it were, to the harmony of the matter; when the zeal of the reader shall keep company with his voice; and his voice shall be adapted to, and varied together with, every sense and expression ; when by long use, and imitation of the best masters, or the best we can come at, we shall know familiarly how to give every word and sentence its due poise; where to lay a greater or smaller weight on every clause, according to its natural or spiritual force; where to be quicker or more vehement, where slower and more sedate; how to 'observe equally all pauses and distances; how to avoid monotonies on the one hand, and immoderate elevations and depressions on the other; yet, where to use the same tones, where to rise or fall in the right place: when, I say, the reader shall be throughly expert and versed in practising these, and many more such natural decencies of pronouncing; though they may seem but light and petty things, taken singly, and apart, yet all together, in their full united power, they will be found to have an admirable concurrence towards the creating, augmenting, well-tempering, and well-governing of devotion.
Had I time, it were easy to exemplify this, in every Office of our church. Give me leave only to mention one instance within the compass of my own knowledge, which perhaps may not be unworthy your special remarking: though I doubt not but many of you have met with several examples of the like nature.
It was immediately after the happy restoration of king Charles the Second, when, together with the rights of the crown, and the English liberties, the church and the liturgy were also newly restored; that a noted ringleader of schism in the former times was to be buried in one of the principal churches of London. The minister of the parish, being a wise and regular conformist, and he was afterwards an eminent bishop in our church, well knew how averse the friends and relations of the deceased had always been to the Common Prayer ; which, by hearing it so often called a low rudiment, a beggarly element, and carnal ordinance, they were brought to contemn to that degree, that they shunned all occasions of being acquainted with it.
Wherefore, in order to the interment of their friend, in some sort, to their satisfaction, yet so as not to betray his own trust, he used this honest method to undeceive them. Before the day appointed for the funeral, he was at the pains to learn the whole Office of Burial by heart. And then, the time being come, there being a great concourse of men of the same fanatical principles, when the company heard all delivered by him without book, with a free readiness, and profound gravity, and unaffected composure of voice, looks, and gestures, and a very powerful emphasis in every part, (as indeed his talent was excellent that way,) they were strangely surprised and affected; professing they had never heard a more suitable exhortation, or a more edifying exercise, even from the very best and most precious men of their own persuasion.
But they were afterwards much more surprised and confounded, when the same person, who had officiated, assured the principal men among them, that not one period of all he had spoken was his own; and convinced them by ocular demonstration how all was taken word for word out of the very Office ordained for that purpose, in the poor contemptible Book of Common Prayer.