It might be reasonably presumed by any one who did not know the contrary, that every Christian is acquainted with all the items of the long catalogue of his wants in the sight of God; and that he is able to spread them before the Throne of Grace in appropriate language. Yet every person, at all intimate with church members, and especially with those who are young in the christian life, has had abundant opportunity to observe, that most of them know but few of their religious necessities, as subjects of prayer; and that they are in consequence without definite feelings respecting them, and adequate words to express them.
The influence of prayer, in forming private piety, and in giving tone to the character and success to the efforts of the church, is fully acknowledged by all. Indeed the theory of all God's people is, that without this instrumentality religion would die as surely and as speedily as the panting animal in an exhausted receiver. And their views are equally positive, that with this means of grace, used in its fullest power, a mental and moral renovation would take place through all the earth's inhabitants that would be almost as complete and blessed in its kind as that creation of a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
It is moreover a conceded fact that the devotional character of Christians by no means keeps pace with their religious activities. Action, action, is the watchword of their present history: and it is surely a requisite of obedience to God. But without prayer it becomes a mere lifeless apparatus. Nor will it be regarded as uncharitable to say, that a large amount of their efforts, in each of the various departments of benevolent enterprize, is deficient in this vitality; and that in this defectiveness we find the explanation why their success is so utterly disproportioned to their exertions.
Yet notwithstanding these correct opinions so generally entertained, it i3 still a melancholy truth that but few professing Christians carry them out into practice. Individual piety, except in comparatively few instances, still lingers in its infancy. The church of Christ is still feeble in her energies, and limited in her triumphs; and the latter day glory which might even now, so far as human agency is concerned, be pouring the full blaze of its meridian splendours over a regenerated world, is only dimly seen in the distant sky, breaking the outline of darkness with the faint promise of future light.
The inquiry naturally arises—" Why have not Christians used this power of prayer?" The answer submitted here is, that a principal reason is to be found in the fact that, as a body, they have never made its various topics matters of close and heartfelt familiarity and suitable expression, in their private devotions. They have not furnished their understandings with a particular knowledge of the things they need, nor exercised their affections by the frequent presentation of them before God, in all their particularity, and in language that will at once express and excite the feelings suitable to such an important service.
The following work has been humbly undertaken with the view of furnishing Christians, and especially 4 young converts, with a manual of the subjects and modes of prayer; and thus of pointing out (if not of supplying to some extent) the means of remedying the deficiencies noticed above. The author is fully aware that his effort is a feeble one. His path was untrodden and difficult; and it ought not to be wondered at, if he has cast up a highway which the traveller will not find to be level and direct in all its length. Moreover, the peculiar character of the undertaking has forbidden the use of such ornaments of style as are permitted in almost every oiher composition; and it has thus been left almost destitute of literary interest.
This volume should not be regarded merely as a book of forms. It has not been the intention of the writer to furnish a complete prayer under each topic; but to offer the leading ideas which would seem to belong to each, to arrange them in some order, and to give them a scriptural and evangelical expression. The proper use of the book, it is hoped, will store the reader's memory with a vocabulary of his wants, supply his understanding with a train of thought suitable to them, and give his heart an intelligent and fervent habit of stated and ejaculatory devotion.
It may be considered a serious defect by many devout persons, that these topics are not severally closed by the invocation of a blessing through the Mediator, or an ascription of praise to God. They do not, however, appear justly liable to this charge, inasmuch as they are intended only as parts of prayer, which, except in special cases, are to be employed in various combinations with other parts, at the user's pleasure. The important and essential feature of a distinct reference to the merits of the Saviour will, it is expected, be found in sufficient frequency throughout the body of the work; and it is presumed, that every Christian is competent and mindful, in closing his petitions, to supply that part of the exercise which is technically called the " blessing."
As some may be disappointed in not finding particular points more copiously expressed, it may be remarked that this apparent deficiency will, in most cases be found supplied under other heads, the language of which could not be used at the points that may be noticed as defective, without unpleasant and unnecessary repetition.
Others may think that there is too great a disproportion between the personal and intercessory supplications. The mode pursued has been intentionally adopted, so as to give a greater degree of unity to the work. Although intercessory prayer is introduced in lesser proportions than might seem consonant with the petitioner's strong yearnings of heart for the best welfare of mankind, yet it was known that the mere substitution of pronouns would make nearly the whole language of the book available in supplicating blessings on others.
It has been a sedulous desire throughout these pages to keep them free from sectarian peculiarities, and to furnish a volume which would (without offence to any) contribute to the devotion of every evangelical denomination. If any bias should be discovered in it, the reader may be assured that it was wholly unintentional.
This work is principally designed to furnish an assistant to closet devotion. But the plan it suggests is not intended to end with this advantage. It is well known that the business of leading in public prayer is limited to a few who are gifted with more courage, capacity or zeal, than the large majority of the church, which is thus left without employment in that particular sphere of Christian duty.
The hope is entertained that the system of devotional thought presented in these pages will assist in bringing out into this service some who, having been intimidated by its difficulties, are now relying supinely on the gifts of their more favoured brethren. It should be a prominent object with every church to have a numerous band, who are able intelligently and fervently to lead its devotions: but the great body of church-members will not be able to discharge this important duty without diligent attention to the gifts and graces of supplication.
It should not be understood that the author regards the machinery of prayer as possessing more value than its spirit. Far, very far otherwise. It would be infinitely better to employ the broken and disjointed sentences of untutored but craving religious want, than to use with heartless formality the most finished liturgy. Still it is true, on the whole, that the excellency and efficacy of prayer will depend very much on our knowing definitely and thoroughly what we want, and how to express our desires.