Pulpit Prayer Part 1: Reading Forms & Monotonous Repetition

Romans 8:26
      We know not what to pray for as we ought.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): Is it, then, best to study our prayers, and even at times to write them?

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688): The Apostle Paul said he knew not what to pray for, and yet, there are many infinitely inferior to the Apostle Paul, who can write prayers, who do not only know what to pray for, and how to pray, but who know how other people should pray, and not only that, but who know how they ought to pray from the first day of January to the last of December…One word spoken in faith is better than a thousand prayers, as men call them, written and read in a formal, cold, lukewarm way.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): One hearty prayer is better than ten thousand forms. One prayer coming from the soul is better than a myriad cold readings.

JOHN CLAYTON (1754-1843): Forms much hinder the free exercise of the heart. They cramp the powers which God has given. They lead to hypocrisy and lip-service. Extempore prayer is a test to myself of my spiritual state. Our communion with God is contracted and limited by forms.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): Is it not too hastily taken for granted by many, that God cannot be worshipped in spirit and in truth by those who use a form of prayer? Or that He will not afford them who so approach Him, any testimony of His acceptance? If the words of a form suit and express the desires and feelings of my mind, the prayer is as much my own as if I had conceived it upon the spot.

JOHN DAVIES (circa 1804): Sometimes it is said that a form of prayer limits the spirit of prayer. But there is no promise of the Spirit as to the manner and words of prayer. It respects the spirit and temper of the mind.

HENRY FOSTER (1760-1844): There is a danger, no doubt, that a form should lead to formality. Yet we should be cautious of charging the evil upon the form, which [rather] originates in the mind.

MARY WINSLOW (1774-1854): I would earnestly recommend to you extempore prayer. Lay aside your forms of prayer, and the Lord Himself will teach you to pray from the heart. The blessed Spirit has promised to help our infirmities in prayer.

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661): As to read prayers, madam, I could never see precept, promise, or practice for them in God’s Word; our church never allowed them, but men took them up at their own choice. The Word of God maketh reading, I Timothy 4:13, and praying, I Thessalonians 5:17, two different worships. In reading God speaketh to us, II Kings 22:10,11; in praying we speak to God, Psalm 22:2; 28:1. I had never faith to think well of [reading prayers]. In my weak judgment, it were good they were out of the service of God: I cannot think them a fruit or effect of the Spirit of adoption, seeing the user cannot say of such prayers, Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and Redeemer; which the servants of God ought to say of their prayers, Psalm 19:14. For such prayers are meditations set down in paper and ink, and cannot be his heart-meditations who useth them. The saints never used them, and God never commanded them, and a promise to hear any prayers, except the pouring out of the soul to God, we can never read.

JOHN NEWTON: It cannot be denied that the Lord Himself appointed forms of prayer and praise to be used in the Old Testament Church. When the ark set forward, and when it rested, Moses addressed the Lord, not according to the varied emotions of his own spirit, but statedly in the same determinate expressions, Numbers 10:35,36. So likewise in the solemn benediction which the high-priest was to pronounce upon the people, Numbers 6:23-27. Again, at the presenting of the first fruits, though the heart of the officer might be filled with gratitude, he was not to express it in his own way, but the Lord himself prescribed the form of his prayer, Deuteronomy 26:12-15.
       But it may be said, these were enjoined under the Levitical institution, which is now abrogated, and that we live under a dispensation of greater light and liberty. I wish, however, with all our light and liberty, we could more fully come up to the spirit of some of the devotional parts of the Old Testament, which were recorded for our instruction, and most certainly are not abrogated. The Book of Psalms, especially, contains a rich variety of patterns for prayer, if we may not call them forms, adapted to all the various exercises of the life of faith. And if, when I read or repeat such Psalms as the sixty-third, eighty fourth, or eighty-six, I could feel, in the manner I wish, the force of every expression, I should think I prayed to good purpose, though I were not to intermingle a single word of my own.
       So likewise with respect to that summary which our Lord condescended to teach His disciples…Though, besides, giving us a pattern to pray after that manner, He has, at least, permitted us to use it as a form, directing us, when we pray, to say, “Our Father which art in heaven.” If Scriptural warrant be required, I think we have one more clear and express for the use of this prayer than can be found for some things upon which no small stress is laid by our dissenting brethren.

C. H. SPURGEON: It is possible, even without a liturgy, to pray in a very set and formal style; indeed, it is so possible as to be frequent, and then the long prayer becomes a severe infliction upon an audience, and the shorter prayers are not much better…Monotonous repetition frequently occurred, and is not yet extinct. Christian men, who object to forms of prayer, will nevertheless use the same words, the same sentences―We have known some brethren’s prayers by heart, so that we could calculate within a few seconds when they would conclude…How many prayers are like the grocer’s bills?―“Ditto, ditto, ditto,” or “as per usual.”

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Same thing exactly. You can be as mechanical in extempore prayer as you can in [reading] prayers.

WILLIAM S. PLUMER: It is very desirable that sameness in public prayer should be avoided. In some places the people complain they find no variety in the modes of expression, and that the public prayers might as well be printed, for they are the same the year round. It is very different in Scripture. There we find a delightful variety.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: We’ve got to learn how to pray…Mechanical cold lifeless prayers in the end avail very little.

C. H. SPURGEON: [Some] prayers lend a colour of support to the theory of Dr. William Hammond, that the brain is not absolutely essential to life. Brethren, I trust that not even one of you will be content with mechanical services devoid both of mental and spiritual force.


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