Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: OF WRITTEN LITURGIES. - The Works of John Robinson, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER III.: OF WRITTEN LITURGIES. - John Robinson, The Works of John Robinson, vol. 3 
The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
OF WRITTEN LITURGIES.
We cannot but mislike that custom in use, by which the pastor is wont to repeat and read out of a prayer-book certain forms, for his and the churches’ prayers, and that for these reasons.
1. Because this external mien and manner of worshipping God in prayer is nowhere found in the written Word, by the prescript whereof alone he is to be worshipped, whatsoever either the Jews’ fable of the liturgy of Ezra; or the papists of St. Peter's, or St. James’ liturgies. Isa. xxix. 13; Matt. xv. 9; Col. ii. 23. Yea, contrariwise, I add for overplus, that it did not seem good to the apostles, the last penmen of the Holy Ghost, that any such prescript form for such end should come in use, in the churches. And this seemeth unto me very clear, from the former epistle of Paul to Timothy, chap. ii. 1,2. The kings of the earth in those days, and such as were in authority under them, being, as it were, so many sworn enemies of the name of Christ, this conceit might easily, and it seems did, creep into the minds of divers Christians, that these kinds of men were rather to he prayed against, than for, by the servants of Christ. And now, what was the medicine prescribed by the apostle for this malady in that epistle written to Timothy for that very end, that he “might know how to converse in the church of God?” 1 Tim. iii. 15. Did he now either send Timothy to any liturgy formerly set forth for his own and others’ direction? Or did he himself frame any for the purpose, whose beaten troad the churches following afterwards should not err? Nothing less: although a more fit, and full occasion for that business scarce be offered: which without doubt, Paul would no more have let slip, than did the other apostles, that which was more light, for the introduction of deacons, Acts vi. 2, 3, if it had seemed good to the Holy Ghost, by whose finger he was guided in the ordering of the churches, that any such book-prayer should have come into use.
Three things especially are objected, which must here be cleared. The first is, that David, and other prophets penned the book of Psalms for the mother church of Israel. The second, that Christ himself delivered to his disciples a certain form of prayer, commonly called, “The Lord's Prayer.” The third, that Moses from the Lord, Numb, vi., gave direction to Aaron, and his sons, in what form of words they should bless the children of Israel.
I answer first generally, that the consequence followeth not from the authority of Christ, and of Moses, and of the apostles, in ordaining these, and these forms of Divine worship, for the like authority in ordinary bishops, and pastors, to ordain other, and divers forms, for the same end. What can be spoken more insolently? Christ the Lord, Moses, the prophets, and apostles, being immediately and infallibly guided by the Spirit of Christ, have prescribed certain, set forms of God's worship; therefore others, though not immediately and infallibly guided by the same Spirit, may also prescribe them. Why may they not by this argumentation, as well frame us a new canon of Holy Scriptures, considering that even these very forms, wherewith also they equalize their own, are parts, and portions of the same scriptures? More particularly, and first for Psalms. I deny that there is the same reason of a prayer, and of a Psalm; or (whereupon the difference hangeth) that singing and praying are all one. For the question is not, which I desire the reader once for all to bear in mind, either of the internal affection of him that singeth, or prayeth; or of the subject-matter of the song or prayer: but of the external act and exercise of praying and singing. Now these two exercises both the Holy Scriptures, and common sense in every man, that pleaseth but to open his eyes, and look upon them, do plainly difference.
For first, if to sing be to pray, then whosoever singeth prayeth: but how far from truth this is, the Psalms of David, i., ii., and many others in which not the least parcel of prayer is to be found, do plainly evince.
2. “Is any man sad amongst you,” saith the apostle, “let him pray; is he merry, let him sing.” James v. 13. To pray then, and to sing, are not the same, nor which do agree, to wit primarily, with the same constitution of the mind.
3. In prayer the pastor's voice is only heard, unto which the people, as the apostle teacheth, 1 Cor. xiv. 14, 16, are to add their Amen: but in singing, all the multitude have as well their part for tuneable voice, as the pastor himself. Neither can divers possibly sing together, without con fusion, but fey a certain and set form, both of words and syllables, which yet may be done hi church prayer, and is everywhere.
4. We have the same apostle elsewhere teaching us thus: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Eph. v. 19. And again, “Let &e word of Christ dwell in you plenteously, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing yourselves mutually in psalms and, hymns,” Col. iii. 16. In singing then we do speak to ourselves, or one to another mutually: but in praying, neither to ourselves, nor to our brethren, but unto God alone. And the reason hereof is evident. Whenas we read or sing the Psalms of David (for what other thing is it to sing out of a book, than to read with a loud and harmonious voice? of which harmony singing is a kind):* these selfsame psalms in this very use do still remain, and so are read or sung, as a part of the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures: and in which God speaketh unto us: whereas on the other side, we do speak unto God, in all our prayers, whether mental only, or vocal withal.
5. Even these very psalms, whose matter is prayer and “thanksgiving, were framed and composed by the prophets into psalms, and spiritual songs, for this very end, that the men of God might in them teach us, as in the written Word of God, whereof they are parts, both what petitions they in their distresses put up to the Lord, and also what thanksgiving they returned upon their deliverance, that so we in reading and singing them, might instruct and admonish ourselves both publicly and privately, whether by way of doctrine, or admonition, or consolation, for the promoting of the glory of God in our hearts.
Lastly, That I may descend unto them, who are only taught by experience; if any going out of the temple, whilst the church were singing a psalm, either before or after sermon, being asked of one that met him, what the church were then doing, should answer that it were at prayer, would he not be judged by all men to tell a lie? but altogether without cause, if to sing, he to pray, as many imagine.
Touching the Lord's Prayer. We deny it to be the meaning of Christ, teaching his disciples, when they pray to say, “Our Father,” &c., to bind them, and the Holy Ghost in them, Jude 20, by which they ought to pray, to a certain form of words and syllables, which they should repeat by heart, or, which is our question, read out of a book. Because, 1. The two evangelists, Matthew and Luke, of whom both the one and other did aright both understand and express the meaning of Christ, do not precisely keep the same words. 2. By these words, “when you pray,” is meant, whensoever you pray: whereupon it should follow, that we were tied to this stint of words alone, and always: and so might lawfully use none other, except it be lawful for us sometimes to pray rather by the level of our own device, than of Christ's prescript. The words therefore of Cyprian.* are good in a good sense. To pray otherwise than Christ hath taught, is not only ignorance, but guilt, seeing he himself hath said, you reject the precepts of God, that you may observe your own tradition. Matt. vi. 6. 3. Amongst the many, and manifold prayers of the apostles to be seen in the Holy Scriptures, this form of words is not found: and yet can it not be denied, but they always prayed as they were taught in this place by their master Christ: whose meaning therefore it could not be to tie them necessarily to any such certain form of words. 4. It appears by the context, that the purpose of Christ is to speak of private, or rather secret prayer, and such as every Christian apart from others, and in his closet, with the door shut unto him, should pour out unto the Lord. Now that one alone, and by himself, should say, “Our Father,” seems not very congruous. Lastly, Seeing of the like, there is the like consideration; if the apostle James in these words, “Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city,” &c., James iv. 13; and verse 15, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that,” do neither simply find fault with the form of words, nor prescribe necessarily any other, but only (to use Calvin's words† ) wakens them from their dream, who without respect of the Divine providence, will make themselves masters of a whole year, when there is not a moment in their power: so neither are we to conceive that our Saviour, Christ, Matt. vi. and Luke xi., doth enjoin unto his, any set words to pray in, but only shows whither all our prayers and vows ought to be referred, as with all other orthodox writers‡ about this matter, the said author§ speaketh: howsoever divers unskilful men cease not still to sing unto us, even to loathsomeness, the song, when you pray, say, as the papists do theirs, “This is my body:” as though the controversy were about the words, and not rather about the meaning of them.
But for that we are very odiously traduced by divers, as abhorring from this form, and that we will not, as they use to speak, say the Lord's Prayer, I will in few and plain terms set down what our judgment is about it.
First, It seems to cross all good order, and method, by which men should descend from the more general unto that which is more special: and not go the clean contrary way, as in this they do.
Secondly. Since the rule, according to philosophy, and good reason, is always before the thing ruled, and that this form is by Christ instituted, for this purpose, that it might be the rule and square of all our prayers, and as Tertullian saith,* is premised, as the foundation of all our accessory desires, methinks the same should rather be used in the first place; upon which as the same author hath it, every one should build the circumstances of his occasioned requests,
It remaineth that in a few words I answer that, which. is by some objected touching those solemn blessings, at the first imparted by the patriarchs to their first-born, and after by the priests to Israel the first-born of God. Exod. iv. 22.
And to let pass, 1. That the composers, and imposers of the liturgies now in use have not equal authority with Moses the man of God, nor axe their writings any way comparable with his, 2. That Moses did not prescribe unto the priests a stint of words for blessing, much, less to be read out of a book, but the substance of the thing; which, by many arguments, save that I study for brevity, might be proved.† 3. If that were Moses’ mind, and the Lord's by him, the minister were bound to the same form of blessing upon the Israel of God now, Gai vl 16, which the church is: since there is nothing in it not moral, and perpetual, or not concerning the church now, as then. I de answer this one thing, and the same in Calvin's words, viz. that these blessings were not ordinary prayers, but a lawful authority divinely interposed to testify the grace of election:* which he also confirms by divers reasons. Neither can any man who considers the words of the text make question, but that the priests in blessing Israel, not God, do direct their speech unto Israel by way of promise, and not unto God by way of prayer. “So bless you,” saith Moses, “the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee,” &c. The same is to be judged of the salutations of the apostles in their epistles, whereof they are a part, and so a part of the Holy Scriptures, albeit yet they, in them, as the priests in their blessings, desired to have their truly loving affection taken knowledge of by them to whom they wrote: and what good things they both desired at the hands of the Lord for them, and also promised them in his name.
2. We dislike all reading of prayer, in the act of praying, as inconvenient, yea, directly contrary unto that act? In prayer we do pour out matter, to wit the holy conceptions of the mind, from within to without; that is, from the heart to God: on the contrary, in reading, we do receive and admit matter from without to within; that is from the book, into the heart. Let him that prayeth do that which he doth, not another thing, not a divers thing. Let the whole man, and all that he is, both in soul and body, be bent upon God, with whom he converseth. The eyes of the mind are lifted to God in prayer; and why not the eyes of the body also? both which, he that prayeth, by intending them upon a book, both depresseth and averteth from God. The Apostle exhorteth, that “the men pray, lifting up pure hands to God in every place.” 1 Tim. ii. 8. In like manner, besides the reason of the thing, we have the patriarchs, prophets, Christ himself, with his apostles, and disciples, for ensamples of lifting up the eyes to heaven in prayer. Not that this gesture of body is simply necessary but most convenient, save in some great temptation, and depression of mind, both to express and further the intention of a godly heart.
Let devout and learned men, if they please, commit to writing their holy meditations, and secret conferences with God, as did Austin, and others amongst the ancients; and many of later times: which may be read, and that with no small benefit, both by pastor and people; but privately, and for better preparation unto prayer. Now the preparation unto prayer is very unseasonable at the self-same time of the solemn performance thereof; and unreasonable in and by the self-same act.
3. Seeing that “public prayer,” as Bucanus saith,* “is a second part of the ministry;” as also that amongst the gifts of the Holy Ghost, wherewith the pastor is endued from above, that is not small, nor to be despised, by which he is able conveniently both for matter and form, to conceive a prayer according to the church's present occasion, and necessities; by the reading of this prescript form, that truly excellent gift, given of God for this end is made void, and of none use, and the Spirit, contrary to that which ought to be, extinguished. 1 Thess. v. 19. “The manifestation of the Spirit,” saith the apostle, “is given to every one,” especially to every pastor, “to profit withal.” 1 Cor. xii. 7. But he who reads a form of prayer conceived and consigned by another, doth not manifest the pastoral gift, (for of the internal affection our question is not) of the Spirit given to him to profit withal, but to that other by whom the form of prayer was indited.
4. If to read such a form of prayer be to pray aright, and pastor-like, no probable reason can be rendered, wherefore to read a sermon, or homily, is not as well to preach aright, and as is required of the pastor of the church. Which so being, small reason had the apostle, treating of the ecclesiastical ministry, which principally consists in these two exercises, Acts vi. 4, to cry out, as he did, “Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Cor. ii. 16. For who is not sufficient even of the vulgar sort? who cannot read a liturgy, and an homily?
5. “The Spirit,” saith the same apostle, speaking of all Christians, “helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what to pray, as we ought.” Rom. viii. 26. Yes, Paul, with your leave, right well; for we have in our prayer-book, What we ought to pray, word for word, whether the Spirit be present or not. What then is to be done in this business? That which Tertullian saith. the Christians of his time did. “We pray,” saith he, “without any to prompt us, because we pray from the heart”* But he who reads his prayers, or rather the prayers of him that penned them, and his lesson out of a book, hath one that prompts him, and that diligently, both what, and how much, and after what manner, and with what words and syllables he ought to pray.
Lastly, If it would be just matter of shame to any earthly father, that his child, who desired of him bread, fish, or an egg, should need to read out of a book, or paper, “Father, I pray you give me bread, fish, or egg;” how much more contumelious is it, to our heavenly Father, and his Holy Spirit, wherewith he furnisheth all his children, especially his ministers according to their place, that an help so unworthy, and more than babyish, and indeed the instrument of a “foolish shepherd,” Rom. viii 26; Jude 20; Zec. ii. 15; xii. 10; namely a bare reader, with which kind of vermin Home and England are pestered, should be used by such godly and learned pastors, as wherewith the re formed churches are furnished.
Scalig. Poet. lib. 1. cap. 2.
Cyprian. de Orat. Domin.
Calv. in Jac. ch. 4, v. 1, 15.
Ursinus, Bucanus, Piscator, Perkins, &c.
Calv. in Matt. vi. 7.
Tertull. lib. de Orat.
Johnson on Written. Liturgies.
Calvin in. Genes, c. 27, v. 1.
∗ Bucanus, loc. Com. de Orat.
Tertul, adver. Gentes.