The value of liturgical prayer

Daily Reading for November 12 • Charles Simeon, priest, 1836

But we must go further, and say, that the use of the Liturgy is equally expedient still. Of course, we must not he understood as speaking of private prayer in the closet; where though a young and inexperienced person may get help from written forms, it is desirable that every one should learn to express his own wants in his own language; because no written prayer can enter so minutely into his wants and feelings as he himself may do: but in public, we maintain, that the use of such a form as ours is still as expedient as ever. To lead the devotions of a congregation in extempore prayer is a work for which but few are qualified. An extensive knowledge of the Scriptures must be combined with fervent piety, in order to fit a person for such an undertaking: and I greatly mistake if there be found a humble person in the world, who, after engaging often in that arduous work, does not wish at times that he had a suitable form prepared for him.

That the constant repetition of the same form does not so forcibly arrest the attention as new sentiments and expressions would do, must be confessed: but, on the other hand, the use of a well-composed form secures us against the dry, dull, tedious repetitions which are but too frequently the fruits of extemporaneous devotions. Only let any person be in a devout frame, and he will be far more likely to have his soul elevated to heaven by the Liturgy of the Established Church, than he will by the generality of prayers which he would hear in other places of worship: and, if any one complain that he cannot enter into the spirit of them, let him only examine his frame of mind when engaged in extemporaneous prayers, whether in public, or in his own family; and he will find, that his formality is not confined to the service of the Church, but is the sad fruit and consequence of his own weakness and corruption.

Here it may not be amiss to rectify the notions which are frequently entertained of spiritual edification. Many, if their imaginations are pleased, and their spirits elevated, are ready to think, that they have been greatly edified and this error is at the root of that preference which they give to extempore prayer, and the indifference which they manifest towards the prayers of the Established Church. But real edification consists in humility of mind, and in being led to a more holy and consistent walk with God: and one atom of such a spirit is more valuable than all the animal fervour that ever was excited. It is with solid truths, and not with fluent words, that we are to be impressed; and if we can desire from our hearts the things which we pray for in our public forms, we need never regret, that our fancy was not gratified, or our animal spirits raised, by the delusive charms of novelty.

From Sermon II in The Excellency of the Liturgy, in Four Discourses preached before the University of Cambridge in November 1811, by the Rev. Charles Simeon, M.A. (New York: Eastburn, Kirk, and Co., 1813).

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