Front Page Titles (by Subject) DLV: PREFACE TO AN ABRIDGMENT OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. 1 - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775
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DLV: PREFACE TO “AN ABRIDGMENT OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER.” 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. VI (Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775).
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PREFACE TO “AN ABRIDGMENT OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER.”1
The editor of the following abridgment of the Liturgy of the Church of England thinks it but decent and respectful to all, more particularly to the reverend body of clergy, who adorn the Protestant religion by their good works, preaching, and example, that he should humbly offer some reasons for such an undertaking. He addresses himself to the serious and discerning. He professes himself to be a Protestant of the Church of England, and holds in the highest veneration the doctrines of Jesus Christ. He is a sincere lover of social worship, deeply sensible of its usefulness to society; and he aims at doing some service to religion, by proposing such abbreviations and omissions in the forms of our Liturgy (retaining every thing he thinks essential) as might, if adopted, procure a more general attendance. For, besides the differing sentiments of many pious and well-disposed persons in some speculative points, who in general have a good opinion of our Church, it has often been observed and complained of, that the Morning and Evening Service, as practised in England and elsewhere, are so long, and filled with so many repetitions, that the continued attention suitable to so serious a duty becomes impracticable, the mind wanders, and the fervency of devotion is slackened. Also the propriety of saying the same prayer more than once in the same service is doubted, as the service is thereby lengthened without apparent necessity; our Lord having given us a short prayer as an example, and censured the heathen for thinking to be heard because of much speaking.
Moreover, many pious and devout persons, whose age or infirmities will not suffer them to remain for hours in a cold church, especially in the winter season, are obliged to forego the comfort and edification they would receive by their attendance at divine service. These, by shortening the time, would be relieved; and the younger sort, who have had some principles of religion instilled into them, and who have been educated in a belief of the necessity of adoring their Maker, would probably more frequently, as well as cheerfully, attend divine service, if they were not detained so long at any one time. Also many well-disposed tradesmen, shopkeepers, artificers, and others, whose habitations are not remote from churches, could, and would, more frequently at least, find time to attend divine service on other than Sundays, if the prayers were reduced to a much narrower compass.
Formerly there were three services performed at different times of the day, which three services are now usually joined in one. This may suit the convenience of the person who officiates, but is too often inconvenient and tiresome to the congregation. If this abridgment, therefore, should ever meet with acceptance, the well-disposed clergy who are laudably desirous to encourage the frequency of divine service, may promote so great and good a purpose by repeating it three times on a Sunday, without so much fatigue to themselves as at present. Suppose, at nine o’clock, at eleven, and at one in the evening; and by preaching no more sermons than usual of a moderate length; and thereby accommodate a greater number of people with convenient hours.
These were general reasons for wishing and proposing an abridgment. In attempting it we do not presume to dictate even to a single Christian. We are sensible there is a proper authority in the rulers of the Church for ordering such matters; and whenever the time shall come when it may be thought not unreasonable to revise our Liturgy, there is no doubt but every suitable improvement will be made, under the care and direction of so much learning, wisdom, and piety, in one body of men collected. Such a work as this must then be much better executed. In the meantime this humble performance may serve to show the practicability of shortening the service near one half, without the omission of what is essentially necessary; and we hope, moreover, that the book may be occasionally of some use to families, or private assemblies of Christians.
To give now some account of particulars. We have presumed upon this plan of abridgment to omit the First Lesson, which is taken from the Old Testament, and retain only the Second from the New Testament, which, we apprehend, is more suitable to teach the so-much-to-be-revered doctrine of Christ, and of more immediate importance to Christians; although the Old Testament is allowed by all to be an accurate and concise history, and, as such, may more properly be read at home.
We do not conceive it necessary for Christians to make use of more than one creed. Therefore, in this abridgment are omitted the Nicene Creed and that of St. Athanasius. Of the Apostle’s Creed we have retained the parts that are most intelligible and most essential. And as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are there confessedly and avowedly a part of the belief, it does not appear necessary, after so solemn a confession, to repeat again, in the Litany, the Son and Holy Ghost, as that part of the service is otherwise very prolix.
The Psalms being a collection of odes written by different persons, it hath happened that many of them are on the same subject and repeat the same sentiments—such as those that complain of enemies and persecutors, call upon God for protection, express a confidence therein, and thank him for it when afforded. A very great part of the book consists of repetitions of this kind, which may therefore well bear abridgment. Other parts are merely historical, repeating the mention of facts more fully narrated in the preceding books, and which, relating to the ancestors of the Jews, were more interesting to them than to us. Other parts are local, and allude to places of which we have no knowledge, and therefore do not affect us. Others are personal, relating to the particular circumstances of David or Solomon, as kings, and can therefore seldom be rehearsed with any propriety by private Christians. Others imprecate, in the most bitter terms, the vengeance of God on our adversaries, contrary to the spirit of Christianity, which commands us to love our enemies, and to pray for those that hate us and despitefully use us. For these reasons it is to be wished that the same liberty were by the governors of our Church allowed to the minister with regard to the reading Psalms, as is taken by the clerk with regard to those that are to be sung, in directing the parts that he may judge most suitable to be read at the time, from the present circumstances of the congregation, or the tenor of his sermon, by saying, “Let us read” such and such parts of the Psalms named. Until this is done our abridgment, it is hoped, will be found to contain what may be most generally proper to be joined in by an assembly of Christian people. The Psalms are still apportioned to the days of the month, as heretofore, though the several parts for each day are generally a full third shorter.
We humbly suppose the same service contained in this abridgment might properly serve for all the saint’s days, fasts, and feasts, reading only the Epistle and Gospel appropriated to each day of the month.
The Communion is greatly abridged, on account of its great length; nevertheless, it is hoped and believed that all those parts are retained which are material and necessary.
Infant Baptism in Churches being performed during divine service, would greatly add to the length of that service, if it were not abridged. We have ventured, therefore, to leave out the less material parts.
The Catechism, as a compendium of systematic theology, which learned divines have written folio volumes to explain, and which, therefore, it may be presumed, they thought scarce intelligible without such expositions, is, perhaps, taken altogether, not so well adapted to the capacities of children as might be wished. Only those plain answers, therefore, which express our duty towards God, and our duty towards our neighbor, are retained here. The rest is recommended to their reading and serious consideration, when more years shall have ripened their understanding.
The Confirmation is here shortened.
The Commination, and all cursing of mankind, is, we think, best omitted in this abridgment.
The form of solemnization of Matrimony is often abbreviated by the officiating minister, at his discretion. We have selected what appear to us the material parts, and which, we humbly hope, will be deemed sufficient.
The long prayers in the service for the Visitation of the Sick seem not so proper, when the afflicted person is very weak and in distress.
The Order for the Burial of the Dead is very solemn and moving; nevertheless, to preserve the health and lives of the living, it appeared to us that this service ought particularly to be shortened. For numbers standing in the open air with their hats off, often in tempestuous weather, during the celebration, its great length is not only inconvenient, but may be dangerous to the attendants. We hope, therefore, that our abridgment of it will be approved by the rational and prudent.
The Thanksgiving of women after childbirth being, when read, part of the service of the day, we have also, in some measure, abridged that.
Having thus stated very briefly our motives and reasons, and our manner of proceeding in the prosecution of this work, we hope to be believed, when we declare the rectitude of our intentions. We mean not to lessen or prevent the practice of religion, but to honor and promote it. We acknowledge the excellency of our present Liturgy, and, though we have shortened it, we have not presumed to alter a word in the remaining text; not even to substitute who for which in the Lord’s Prayer, and elsewhere, although it would be more correct. We respect the characters of bishops and other dignitaries of our Church, and, with regard to the inferior clergy, we wish that they were more equally provided for, than by that odious and vexatious as well as unjust method of gathering tithes in kind, which creates animosities and litigations, to the interruption of the good harmony and respect which might otherwise subsist between the rectors and their parishioners.
And thus, conscious of upright meaning, we submit this abridgment to the serious consideration of the prudent and dispassionate, and not to enthusiasts and bigots; being convinced in our own breasts, that this shortened method, or one of the same kind better executed, would further religion, increase unanimity, and occasion a more frequent attendance on the worship of God.
TO THOMAS CUSHING
London, 5 January, 1774.
I received the honor of yours dated October 28th, with the journals of the House and Mr. Turner’s election sermon. I waited on Lord Dartmouth, on his return to town, and learned that he had presented to his Majesty a petition for the removal of the governors. No subsequent step had yet been taken upon it, but his Lordship said the king would probably refer the consideration of it to a committee of council, and that I should have notice to be heard in support of it. By the turn of his conversation, though he was not explicit, I apprehend the petition is not likely to be complied with, but we shall see. His Lordship expressed, as usual, much concern at the differences subsisting, and wished they would be accommodated. Perhaps his good wishes are all that is in his power.
The famous letters having unfortunately engaged Mr. Temple and Mr. Whately in a duel, which, being interrupted, would probably be renewed, I thought it incumbent on me to prevent, as far as I could, any further mischief, by declaring publicly the part I had in the affair of those letters, and thereby at the same time to rescue Mr. Temple’s character from an undeserved and groundless imputation, that bore hard upon his honor, viz., that of taking the letters from Mr. Whately, and in breach of confidence. I did this with the more pleasure, as I believe him a sincere friend to our country. I am told by some that it was imprudent in me to avow the obtaining and sending those letters, for that administration will resent it. I have not much apprehension of this, but if it happens I must take the consequences. I only hope it will not effect any friend on your side of the water, for I have never mentioned to whom they were transmitted.
A letter of mine to you, printed in one of the Boston papers, has lately been reprinted here, to show, as the publisher expresses it, that I am “one of the most determined enemies of the welfare and prosperity of Great Britain.” In the opinion of some, every one who wishes the good of the whole empire may nevertheless be an enemy to the welfare of Great Britain, if he does not wish its good exclusively of every other part, and to see its welfare built on their servitude and wretchedness. Such an enemy I certainly am. But methinks it is wrong to print letters of mine at Boston, which give occasion to these reflections.
I shall continue to do all I possibly can this winter towards an accommodation of our differences; but my hopes are small. Divine Providence first infatuates the power it designs to ruin. With great esteem and respect, I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient humble servant,
[1 ]In a letter dated London, June 17, 1785, Grenville Sharp wrote to Dr. Franklin: “I have been informed that several years ago you revised the Liturgy of the Church of England, with a view, by some few alterations, to promote the more general use of it; but I have never yet been able to see a copy of the form you proposed. Our present public service is certainly, upon the whole, much too long, as it is commonly used, so that a prudent revision of it, by the common consent of the members of the Episcopal Church of America, might be very advantageous; though for my own part I conceive that the addition of one single rubric from the Gospel would be amply sufficient to direct the advisers to the only corrections that seem to be necessary at present I mean a general rule illustrated by general examples, references, and marks, to warn officiating ministers how they may avoid all useless repetitions and tautology in reading the service.”