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This volume is meant to provide material for daily use in household worship.
As many such prayer-books are in use, an addition to their number can only be justified if it meets a want which existing ones do not supply. How far the following manual does so, the future alone can show.
It is the belief of some persons that a time is reached, in which the forms of devotion are naturally superseded, and when worship, “mostly of the silent sort," takes the place of articulate expression. This might be so were human beings a number of separate units, each living in a world of his own; but for a Family to dispense with “common prayer,” is to abandon a practice, both helpful to their common life, and expressive of it.
The preface of a prayer-book is hardly the place, however, in which to vindicate at any length the pious custom of family devotion. It is enough to observe, that whenever a merely intellectual view of the Universe and of Human Life is felt to be incomplete, the worship that dispenses with expression will be found to be inadequate — at least by those who live in sympathetic relations to their fellow-men. Nay, the act of social worship is one of those links which unite characters otherwise unsympathetic, and prevent their differences from widening into alienations of thought and feeling. In addition to this, it must be remembered that, when thought is silenced, and reason dumb before the problems of the universe, the feelings of the heart still grope after their infinite Object, and crave expression in language. Moral aspiration continues to live when speculation is paralysed; and spiritual life—far less affected than some suppose by the conclusions which the intellect may reach—is both nourished and strengthened by explicit acts of devotion. The baffled speculative mind should never retire to its fortresses of meditation, to brood over the mysteries it cannot solve. If it gives expression to its perplexity in an act of worship, it will be found that this relieves the pressure of the mystery, which still remains to elevate the worship.
There can be no fixed rule as to the materials or the form most suited for domestic worship. These will naturally vary with the age, the culture, the character, and the temperament of those who use them.
Some, whose office it is to conduct the worship, will prefer the free utterance of the moment to the best liturgical directory; and of those who join in the service, many will derive more help for the duties of the day from an extemporaneous prayer, with its allusion to immediate wants, than from the most carefully constructed form. On the other hand, many find that they are never brought into the true spirit of devotion without the help of a form. The more familiar they are with it, the more easily do they forget that they are using it. There is no doubt that the main use of a liturgy-in addition to the order and reverence which it promotes—is its power of bringing each individual face to face with the Object of worship, undistracted by any other individuality.
The best prayers are the simplest, if they are at the same time expressive and full. The thought should never be involved, and yet it should not be commonplace. There should be nothing didactic, and nothing trivial. The triumph of perfect simplicity to which the writers of the old Church collects attained cannot perhaps be fully appreciated till one tries to add another to the series. It will then be seen that to avoid intricacy and to escape familiarity, to be neither rhetorical nor conventional, neither wordy nor flat, is the great difficulty and desideratum. To attain to it—to construct a series of devotional forms that shall be solemn, earnest, and fervent, yet simple and natural in diction—it is above all things necessary that the subject matter of the prayer be general, and not special; the thought outlined, but not filled in; and details suggested, rather than expressed.
Hence the form must be undogmatic. One great dogma—including some others within it-lies, of course, at the heart of all prayer; but with the Divine nature on the one hand, and the human on the other, all the materials for devotion are supplied, and may be wrought out of their spiritual relations and affinities. The devout life is but the pulse of the human heart beating towards the Divine, and in the Divine, with all the varied relations of recognition, love, and trust which exist between them. Dogmatic thought, therefore in the conventional sense of the term), ought to be rigorously excluded from family devotion, which should be the catholic utterance of human feeling and aspiration, broad as are the wants of humanity, and not overflowing