PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION.
THE POSTURE IN PRAYER.
WITHIN a few years many Presbyterian congregations have been gradually forming the habit of sitting in prayer. To find a practice so unfriendly to devotion constantly making progress, has been painful to not a few reflecting minds. An anxiety was expressed by a number to see some decisive steps taken to check the growing evil. The action of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church [United States of America], in the year of our Lord 1849, in reference to posture in prayer, was viewed by them as a prelude of a change for the better. The action of that body was as follows, viz:
"That while the posture of standing in public prayer, and that of kneeling in private prayer, are indicated by examples in Scripture, and in the general practice of the ancient Christian church, the posture of sitting in public is nowhere mentioned, and by no usage allowed; but on the contrary, was universally regarded by the early church as heathenish and irreverent, and is still in the customs of modern and western nations an attitude obviously wanting in the due expression of reverence; Therefore, this General Assembly Resolve, that the practice in question be considered grievously improper whenever the infirmities of the worshipper do not render it necessary; and that ministers be required to reprove it with earnest and persevering admonition."
As strange as it may seem, the action of the General Assembly has not been regarded in the least by many congregations. Now either the pastors or the people, or both must be in the fault. It occurred to the writer sometime since, that a suitable tract or manual on the importance of worshipping God with our bodies as well as with our minds might be, if put in circulation, of use. He flattered himself that one so much needed would be prepared by some able pen; but he has been disappointed in this expectation Though conscious of his incompetency to do justice to the subject, yet he has been influenced by the advice of others to undertake the work himself. Arguments are to be found on the following pages for which he claims no originality But it will be perceived by any one acquainted with the subject, that in a work like this nothing more can reasonably be expected but the re-casting and re-combining of that which is old.
Troy, Pa., Oct. 20, 1851.
Him shall ye worship.—2 Kings, 17:37.
JEHOVAH is the only proper object of religious veneration. He, and he only, is possessed of those perfections which are presupposed in one entitled to this service. Worshipping the Supreme Being consists, principally, in praising him for his glorious perfections and wonderful works; in rendering thanks to him for blessings, spiritual and temporal bestowed upon us; and in confessing before him our dependence and sinfulness, and in praying to him in humble confidence for those things which we need. Jehovah’s being omniscient, omnipotent, and infinite in goodness, renders him worthy of supreme respect, love and confidence.
To worship God is the highest duty of rational creatures. All who are living in the neglect of this duty, are living in a state of rebellion against the Sovereign of all worlds. This is clear, inasmuch as they are constantly disobeying one of the fundamental laws of his kingdom. As man consists of both body and mind, and both are derived from God, it is reasonable that both should be employed in his service.
I. God is to be worshipped with our minds!
Are we indebted to the Supreme Being for our existence? Are we under obligations to his bounty, for endowing us with the faculties of the mind? Is the Most High, in and of himself infinitely excellent? Surely then he deserves the very best service which we are capable of rendering; the choicest that we can give. The service of the soul, as this deathless principle is the noblest part of man, is certainly not to be withheld from the Supreme Being. While such is his nature that it is due to him, such is our nature that it is due from us. In worshipping God all the divine perfections are to be honoured. Now, how can these receive honour if the mind is not employed in contemplating them? God requires us to worship him with a knowledge of his true character. As this is the case, it must be our duty to make use of the reason with which we are endowed, in contemplating his character as made known by his works and his word. The principal end which he had in view, in making us intelligent beings, was that we might glorify him with our minds.
To no one but the Being who gave us our existence belongs the highest place in our affections. He demands this place. "My son, give me thy heart," are the words in which each one of us is addressed by infinite Wisdom. A service in which the affections share no part cannot be acceptable to God. In all worship the exercise of faith is essential. "Without faith it is impossible to please God for he that cometh to him must believe that he is and that he is the rewarder of all who diligently seek him." Without faith all worship would be a mere empty form. The principal exercise of faith in our approaches to God must have respect to Jesus Christ. In our worship we cannot make too much of the Mediator. We are to expect to fine acceptance only through his merits.
II. We should worship God with our bodies.
1. As the body as well as the soul is derived from God it is reasonable that it should be employed in his service. The internal respect, veneration, and homage which we pay him should be shown by external acts. God not only created the body as well as the soul, but he also preserves it. His right, therefore, to this service, is strengthened by preservation, and cannot be withheld without our sinning.
2. Are we God’s people? If so, our bodies, as well our souls, have been redeemed from hell. To redeem them Christ suffered in his body as well as in his soul. The apostle assigns this as a reason why we should honour God with both body and soul. His words are, "Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit which are God’s." 1 Cor. 6:20.
3. A foundation is laid in human nature for outward signs of devotion.
So long as we remain on earth our nature is closely allied to sense, and depends very much upon it. A worship, therefore, which is purely intellectual, is not wholly suited to it. But that which calls for the employment of the bodily organs and members, as well as our mental faculties, is well adapted to human nature. The sense is made to assist the mind, and at the same time to elevate the soul far, very far, above the sense. By the members and organs of our bodies being called into exercise, when we worship God, they, so to speak, reflect back upon the soul. The tongue, for instance, when we use it in worship, fixes the mind and sets, as it were, the heart on fire. An humble posture of body tends to bring the mind into a lowly frame. The same is true with regard to the soul: so long as it remains in its clay tenement it can hardly perform an act of real worship without bringing the body into a reverential posture.
4. The institution of social and public worship obviously demands the employment of our bodily organs and members.
Are we required to sing God’s praise in the congregation of his saints? Ps. 9:11; 149:1; 50:23. If so, our tongues are to be employed. Is the whole assembly unitedly to approach the mercy seat? 2 Chron. 7:14; Joel 1:14. Then it is obvious that it is the duty of all to manifest in public prayer, by external actions and gestures, their reverence for the divine Majesty. You need not be told that the Most High makes manifestations of himself by his works and by signs, which are visible. Ought we not then, in public worship, to express the acts of the soul by such signs as all who are present may be able to see or hear?
5. We are taught by the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Christ himself, by their own example, to worship God with our bodies as well as with our minds.
We certainly ought to aim to tread in their footsteps. Says one of them, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." 1 Cor. 11:1. Inasmuch as all the ancient worthies, and our Saviour himself, worshipped God with the body as well as the mind, it is unquestionably our duty to do so too.
6. The employment of our bodily organs and members in the worship of God is frequently enjoined as a duty.
We are directed thus to employ our tongues and our lips. Says the Psalmist, "Praise ye the Lord, for it is good to sing praises unto our God, for it is pleasant and praise is comely." Ps. 147:1. We find those who have wandered in forbidden paths addressed in these words, "Take unto you words and turn unto the Lord; say unto him, Take away all our iniquity and receive us graciously; so shall we render thee the calves of our lips." Hos. 14:2. By the expression "calves of our lips," is meant the sacrifice of our lips—the worship of our lips. When we are called upon to engage in humble prayer and supplication, we are given to understand that our bodies are to bear their part in the worship of God. Says an inspired penman, "O come, and let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." Ps. 95:6.
POSTURES IN PRAYER.
THE postures in prayer, for which there is scriptural authority, are such as these—prostration, kneeling, kneeling and sitting at the same time on the heels, bowing the head while standing, and standing erect. These postures are all expressive of reverence.
1. Prostration.—This was considered appropriate on days of deep humiliation and sorrow. At the time of Korah’s rebellion, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and prayed for Israel. Thus did Joshua and the elders of Israel pray when the Israelites were defeated by the men of Ai. Joshua 7:14. While prostrate on their faces, in deep humiliation they agonized in prayer, and continued so to do from morning till night. Thus did David and the elders of Israel pray when the angel of the Lord was seen, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched over Jerusalem. 1 Chron. 7:16. And thus did the Saviour himself pray in the garden of Gethsemane when in an agony, Matt. 26:39. Prostration is a posture in prayer which has never been viewed as adapted to worship on ordinary occasions. It is very suitable for one person, or for a small company, when burdened with a sense of guilt, or when favoured with extraordinary manifestations of the glory of God.
2. Kneeling.—This is a posture, the use of which is sanctioned by many Scripture examples. We read that Daniel "kneeled upon his knees and prayed." Dan. 6:10. Peter kneeled down and prayed at the time Dorcas was raised to life. Acts 9:40. When the apostle Paul and the elders of the church of Ephesus were about to part, "he kneeled down and prayed with them all." Acts 20:36. Our Saviour, the evening before he was crucified, withdrew from his disciples, "about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down and prayed." Luke 22:41. No posture is more suitable in secret and in family prayer than kneeling. It is also an appropriate attitude in prayer when a small number meet for social worship. It is a very significant posture. It is expressive of earnestness as well as of humility and reverence.
3. Kneeling and sitting at the same time on the heels.—This posture is nearly the same as that of simply kneeling. On one occasion at least this was David’s attitude in prayer. Says an inspired writer, "Then went King David in, and sat before the Lord." 2 Sam. 7:18, and 1 Chron. 17:16. He so knelt as to rest or sit upon his heels. This has always been regarded as an humble attitude. Dr. Pococke informs us, that at the present day in the East inferiors make use of this posture to express their reverence, when they appear in the presence of great men. This attitude is considered among the orientals as a token of the deepest humility. The posture then in which David prayed was at once consistent with the majesty of Jehovah and the humility of the worshipper.
4. Bowing the head while standing.—This mode is expressive of devout reverence. Abraham’s servant, who was sent to Padan-aram on an important errand, on observing what he considered important indications of God’s favour and approbation, bowed his head and worshipped the Lord. Gen. 24:26. He was at the time standing near a well where he had just been engaged in conversation with Rebekah. Gen. 24:13, 23-25. Thus did the elders of Israel worship in the land of Egypt. "When they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he looked down upon their affliction, they bowed their head and worshipped." Ex. 4:31. At the present day in the East, when any one approaches a person of rank, in order to show peculiar respect, he bows his body almost to the ground. Bowing the head is very suitable in ejaculatory prayer; a worshipper may thus express his devout reverence in any place wherever he may happen to be standing.
5. Standing.—This posture in prayer has long been in use. Job was in the habit of standing when he prayed This appears from these words of his, "I cry unto thee and thou dost not hear; I stand up and thou regardest me not." Job 30:20. When Abraham prayed for Sodom he stood before the Lord. Gen. 18:22. In this posture Hannah prayed when at the tabernacle. This we learn from he own words. To Eli she said, "I am the woman that stood by thee praying unto the Lord." 1 Sam. 1:26. After the return of the Jews from Babylon, in a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, they, as Nehemiah informs us, "stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers." Neh. 9:2. They were afterwards directed to stand up and bless the Lord. Neh. 9:5. The humble publican is represented as standing when he prayed. Luke 18:13. Our Lord said to his disciples, "When ye stand praying," &c. Mark 11:25. Standing was in the temple, and afterward in the synagogue, the usual posture in public prayer. In the time of the apostles, Christian assemblies on the Lord’s day uniformly thus expressed their reverence when the approached the mercy-seat. This continued to be the posture in the days of their immediate succession. Justin Martyr, who was born in the apostolic age, in mentioning what took place immediately after the preacher had finished his discourse, says, "Then we all stand up together and offer up our prayers." At this early period it was only on days of fasting that Christians were in the habit of kneeling in public prayer. In order to prevent any from so doing on the Lord’s day, the preacher sometimes reminded them that they were not to kneel, but to rise and stand. Origen, who was born only eighty-five years after the time of the apostles, often exhorted his hearers not to kneel, but to stand in prayer. Says he at the close of one of his sermons, "Wherefore, standing up, let us beg help from God that we may be blessed of Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen." At the close of another, he makes use of these words, "Wherefore, rising up, let us pray to God that we may be made worthy of Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen." At the close of another still he says, "Standing up, let us offer sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen." It continued to be the custom of worshipping assemblies to stand in prayer on the Lord’s day long after Origen’s time. Nothing can be more easily made to appear than that it was the practice of the Christian church throughout the world, for the first three hundred years after Christ. We have the testimony of eye-witnesses, among whom are such men as these: Epiphanius, Jerome, Augustine, Basil and Ambrose. It was considered by the primitive Christians improper for worshipping assemblies to kneel on the Lord’s day, because it is a season which, in a special manner, is appropriated to spiritual joy; it being the day on which the resurrection of Christ from the grave is commemorated. Standing in prayer, inasmuch as it was regarded as a joyful, as well as a reverential attitude, was considered at such times as the only suitable posture. Ambrose somewhere remarks, that the faithful stand in prayer on the Lord’s day to commemorate the Saviour’s resurrection. This was considered a matter of so much weight that it occupied the attention of the General Council which met at Nice in the year of our Lord 325. A number of canons were passed by that Council relative to the different matters which were deemed important. It was ordered in the twelfth of these canons that all kneeling in public prayer on the Lord’s day be prohibited. As worshipping assemblies during the early ages of the church were in the habit of appearing before the mercy-seat in this posture, when there was occasion for more than ordinary humiliation, to do so on the Lord’s day they considered as not at all befitting the privileges and the hopes of the believer. As standing in prayer was viewed as expressive of spiritual joy as well as of respect and reverence, it was regarded as the prerogative of all consistent professors of religion to employ this posture in their public devotions. The early Christian writers speak of it as a real privilege which was denied those who had so fallen into sin as to incur the discipline of the church. At the time they began to manifest penitence, they were required to kneel as expressive of deep humiliation. As soon as they were restored to all the privileges of the church, they stood in public prayer as formerly. It was therefore said of them that they were again "lifted up and set upon their feet." In consequence of standing in prayer being the posture which was every where employed by worshipping assemblies, the word station (statio,) passed into common usage. Ambrose evidently has in view this universal custom, when he says, "the Christian soldier repelled the attacks of his spiritual enemies standing."
Many and weighty are the objections to a congregation’s sitting in prayer. It is a practice directly at variance with the principal ends had in view by the great Head of the Church in instituting public worship.
I. One of these was the promotion of our own spiritual advancement.
1. Sitting in prayer is never expressive of either solicitude or reverence. This being the case, its direct tendency must be to increase the want of a spirit of devotion. So unfriendly is this posture to a devotional frame, that if we possessed in any measure such a spirit, it would be liable wholly to remove it. As a proper attitude of soul serves to bring the body into a reverential posture, so an humble posture of body tends to bring the mind into a lowly frame. As this is the case, let no one say that it matters not what the posture of the body is, if the mind is really devout, since an irreverent posture of body in prayer seems to indicate an irreverent state of mind. Where is there a Christian that does not know, from his own experience, that the more deep and solemn his sense of the Divine presence, or his sense of his own guilt and perishing need, the more forcibly he is impelled to present his supplications in some other than a sitting posture? The spirit of devotion, when it really exists, can hardly fail to discover itself in the posture of the body.
2. Sitting in prayer is an indolent posture; consequently, its tendency is to produce a spirit of lounging indifference. To sit and recline the head on the back of the seat before us, is not only an indolent, but also a drowsy posture. Of course it ought to be regarded as an unseemly and highly improper attitude in prayer.
3. When we keep our seats in prayer, we do violence to the instinctive sense of propriety which God has made a part of our very being. This appears evident, inasmuch as an attitude in supplication which seems to indicate indolence, has always been viewed as unseemly and highly revolting, by even the most uncultivated savage tribes. None of the pagan nations, in any ages of the world, however rude they might be, presented their most solemn acts of worship in a sitting posture.
4. As often as we sit in prayer we disregard in many ways the laws of association, which God in his goodness has made a part of our very nature. This being the case, a person who professes in some measure a spirit of supplication, must necessarily possess at the same time an instinctive aversion to remaining on his seat in prayer.
II. Another end which God had in view in instituting public worship, was the benefit of all who might witness us when we are engaged in our devotions.
Sitting in prayer is directly at variance with this end.
1. This is clear, for as often as we refuse to rise when called upon by our minister to unite with him in approaching the throne of grace, we are guilty of nothing less than a careless or wanton violation of the law of love, a regard to which is so beautifully exemplified by Christ and his apostles. Many pious persons conscientiously believe that sitting in prayer, excepting in cases of indisposition, is contrary to the teachings of Scripture, and therefore sinful; whilst it is admitted by all that some other attitude may be taken without sin. Now, can we be Christians if we have so little regard for the feelings of others, as to wound them by keeping our seats, when we ourselves cannot but acknowledge that some other posture may be taken without our contracting the least degree of guilt?
2. All who keep their seats when their minister rises to lead in prayer, will be liable to be considered by some as mere learners. Such an impression will have an unhappy effect. A congregation ought therefore to be found in the posture of supplication, instead of in that of receiving instruction. They ought at the same time to be praying instead of learning how to pray.
3. By sitting in prayer, we give others to understand that we make very little, or make nothing of our bodies. An impression like this on the minds of those who are looking up to us for guidance, cannot but be a very unhappy one indeed. Surely our bodies ought to be viewed as a part of ourselves; for they are so united with our souls as to constitute oneness. They ought not to be regarded as of no account, for God himself declares that the bodies of believers are the temples of the Holy Ghost. He commands them to present them a living sacrifice. We are directed to bring our bodies in subjection. The bodies of all, whether believers or unbelievers, are destined to a resurrection from the grave, and to a participation of the joys of heaven, or the torments of hell. Are these things so? Surely then we ought to make it manifest that we are disposed to honour God with our bodies in every possible way.
4. By sitting in prayer we give the young to understand that there is nothing more solemn in approaching the throne of grace, than there is in the other services of the sanctuary. When they discover a similarity in that which is visible, it will be very natural for them to come to the conclusion that there is a corresponding similarity in that which is invisible. Thus they who remain in the same posture in prayer, that they were in when listening to the word of God, are guilty of placing, apparently, preaching and prayer on one common level. The impression produced in the minds of the young must be a very unhappy one.
5. By sitting in prayer we give the rising generation to understand also that we may with propriety, when moved by mere caprice, set aside any long established usage. It will be useless to deny this, since our refusing to rise when about to engage in a most solemn act of worship is not only an unnecessary, but also a wanton departure from the established practice of our pious ancestors. In all Presbyterian churches in every land, standing was considered the appropriate posture in prayer. No longer than thirty-five years ago [i.e., 1816], all Presbyterian worshippers, excepting those who were constrained by debility to remain sitting, were in the constant habit of standing in public prayer. Ask those whose heads are beginning to whiten with age, how it was in the days of their childhood, and they will tell you that such a thing as a congregation keeping their seats in prayer was then unknown. Could our fathers rise from their graves and visit some of our churches where they were once wont to worship, what think you would be their emotions on finding none standing in prayer but the pastor? In their day, when any sat in prayer they thought that an apology was due for their so doing. But the practice of indulging in this indolent and irreverent posture, which was at first introduced with the "new measures," has been gradually making such progress that in many of our churches sitting has become the general rule, and standing the exception. It is now a common thing, not only for others, but for even professors of religion, not simply to sit in prayer, but to sit in such an attitude of lounging indifference as clearly to evince that they lack nothing more than they do a spirit of devotion.
Sitting in prayer is not only contrary to the usage of our Presbyterian ancestors, but also to that of the church in general for more than 1800 years after the coming of Christ. Even at the present time [i.e., 1851] none of the churches in Europe sit in prayer. The origin of this unseemly custom must be attributed to sheer indolence, in connection with a love of novelty.
6. By keeping our seats in prayer while others stand, we produce the impression on the minds of the young, that we consider the want of uniformity in public worship in the same church no great evil. But is it not written, "Let all things be done decently and in order?" Now it is unquestionably the duty of all, belonging to the same denomination, to make it manifest that they view this injunction as binding upon them as individuals. There is not only a Scripture impropriety but also a moral unseemliness in some sitting while others stand in prayer. Let a Presbyterian, who is in the habit of standing in prayer, go to a church where they keep their seats as if spell-bound, and he finds himself in an exceedingly awkward predicament. He must either countenance a practice which he knows to be unscriptural, or he must take such a course as will subject him to the charge of wishing to distinguish himself by his singularity. A lady belonging to a denomination which is in the habit of kneeling in prayer, remarks, "I have gone to churches that differ in non-essentials from the one to which I belong, with the intention of conforming to the usage peculiar to them; but in so doing I have found myself singled out from the majority of the worshippers, in consequence of my standing in prayer while they kept their seats. I have since come to the conclusion to act in the case in accordance with my own views of propriety. Though perhaps the only one in the assembly, I turn and kneel, being determined not to approach the majesty of heaven in such an attitude as I dare not approach an earthly sovereign."
7. So very unfavourable is the effect which the novel practice of sitting in prayer is calculated to produce on the minds of the young, that they will in all probability soon take little or no interest in the devotions of the domestic circle. Its withering blight many a family is already beginning to experience.
8. By keeping our seats in prayer we really, though perhaps not intentionally, aid the cause of infidelity. As often as we refuse, to place ourselves in the posture of supplicants, when the minister calls upon us to unite with him in prayer, we are liable to be considered by not a few as saying that prayer is useless. "What is the Almighty that we should serve him, and what profit shall we have if we pray unto him?" Job 21:15.
Again, by sitting in prayer we give countenance to the infidel notion that we are under no obligation to make the Scriptures the rule of our faith and practice, any further than may happen to be agreeable to our feelings. This appears evident, inasmuch as by keeping our seats we seem to manifest an unwillingness to pay the least regard to such intimations as are given in reference to the will of God on this point. Every one who reads with any degree of attention the sacred Scriptures, well knows that sitting in prayer does not harmonize in the least with the typical representations of the ceremonial law. He also perceives that it does not accord with the emblematical representations which the Scriptures give of the world of glory. Holy beings in heaven are never represented as coming to God in direct acts of worship in a sitting posture, but if seated they are uniformly represented as leaving their seats.
As often as we sit in public prayer, we give countenance to the idea of unbelievers that we are not bound to regard the will of God as made known to us by the examples of inspired men. Hardly any thing is urged upon us by more frequent examples than standing and kneeling in prayer. Now if these do not bind us in the matter of attitude when we appear before our Maker, it will be difficult to make it appear that we are bound by Scripture examples in any other matters.
By sitting in prayer we countenance the notion of unbelievers, that men are at liberty to violate every precept found in the Bible. This must appear evident to all, if they bear in mind that by taking this posture we seem to be inclined to make it manifest, that we are disposed to treat as unworthy of our regard the authority of that Being who says, in so many words, "Glorify God in your body," or with your body. 1 Cor. 6:20. As often as we refuse to take the posture of supplicants in prayer, this precept is violated. By so doing we encourage others to treat with contempt the authority of their Maker, and thus we lend our aid to the cause of infidelity. To pursue such a course, as is calculated to lead our fellow-men to understand that we view ourselves as having a right to substitute novelties in the place of usages which have the sanction of Scripture authority, cannot but be highly offensive to God.
9. The apparent apathy, and the feeling of irresponsibility which we manifest by sitting in public prayer, can hardly fail to have a very unhappy effect on the mind of our pastor.
Every minister of the gospel, when he attempts to lead in the devotions of the sanctuary, should have the sympathy and union of his flock. He certainly is entitled to it, and needs some indications that he has this sympathy and union of those who are the people of his charge. If they keep their seats in prayer, they are guilty of withholding the evidence which their standing would seem to give, that they are disposed to unite with him in approaching the throne of grace. There is a language in actions as well as in words. By not changing their posture when their minister rises to pray, a congregation says, and that emphatically too, We will not unite with you. To find his people habitually making such a declaration is calculated to greatly depress and dishearten any godly pastor.
III. Another end still had in view by the great Head of the Church in instituting public worship, was that the Triune Jehovah might receive from his creatures an outward manifestation of their desire to reverence and obey him. As often as we sit in public prayer we are guilty of withholding from the Supreme Being that manifestation to others of our reverence for him, of which he is infinitely worthy, and which it is every one’s duty to render him. Very few of us would be willing to withhold from our fellow men what are generally known to be the tokens of respect. When we come before magistrates, and address them in their official capacity, we never fail to make it manifest to all who are present, that we are disposed to render honour to whom honour is due. It is very painful to find that so very many can slight and offend God when they are so decorous towards human dignity. Guilt, and great guilt, is contracted by those who are disposed to manifest before others a greater degree of reverence towards a fellow worm than towards God. The listlessness of demeanour indulged in by those who are in the habit of sitting in prayer, ill becomes so sacred a place as the house of God. Some are gazing upon the congregation. Others place themselves in an attitude favourable to repose. Now, such conduct in the house of a friend would be regarded in polite society as a mark of ill taste. If indulged in the presence of some earthly potentate, the aggressor would most certainly be spurned from his presence. Who would think of approaching in this posture before the governor of the state, with a view of pleading in behalf of a near and dear relative condemned to be hung? Sitting is not the attitude of supplication. He, therefore, who is really in earnest in pleading for the life of his friend, chooses to take some other posture. Many years ago a mother and her children appeared before Washington, who was then President of the United States, in behalf of a husband and a father. He had been guilty of high treason, and for this crime he had been condemned to be hung. What posture, think you, this lady and her children took the very moment they found themselves in the presence of the President? Did they seat themselves? No; they all prostrated themselves before him, and in this attitude they earnestly pled that the life of one who was near and dear to them, and on whom they were dependent, might be spared; and they did not plead in vain.
By withholding from the Most High that honour which may be rendered by our bodies, we seem disposed to cast contempt upon the brightest pattern of excellence ever beheld by mortals. The most spiritual worshipper that ever trod this earth, when he approached the Father in prayer, either stood or kneeled, or prostrated himself; but never, never sat. Our Saviour was disposed to glorify the Father in every possible way. He blessed with his mouth. "Father," said he, "I thank thee," &c., and he lifted up his eyes as well as elevated his soul. Now who can deny that it is safe, with regard to posture in prayer, to follow the example of Him who never erred? Is it not dangerous to cast contempt upon it, by keeping our seats when our minister calls upon us to unite with him in approaching the throne of grace?
Two objections to standing in prayer have been advanced. Say some it is a fatiguing posture. Now this objection has no weight. A change of posture during public worship is rather a relief than otherwise. But even admitting that it is somewhat fatiguing, the performance of this or may other duty ought not to be viewed as burdensome. If this objection be regarded as having the least weight, it may lie against all religious service. On the ground of it being fatiguing to go to the house of God, men may justify themselves in remaining at home on the Sabbath. Who are the persons that are the most inclined to sit in public prayer? Are they the aged and infirm? No, no, they are the young, and those who are favoured with health. A venerable father, [Dr. Samuel Miller.] now gone to his rest, speaks thus of the late Dr. Ashbel Green: "In regard to the service of the sanctuary, I know not that I ever saw any man who seemed to engage in public prayer with manifestations of more entire and cordial devotion. And to one point in this connection, I think it my duty to say, in these days of sedentary sluggishness in public prayer, when so many of the young and healthy are seen indolently lounging amidst the devotional exercises of the Lord’s house, that the example of our departed father ought ever to shame them. I was never placed near him as a fellow-worshipper without observing how uniformly, amidst all his bodily weakness, and sometimes when I knew he was hardly able without distress to stand erect, he stood up and maintained a posture of solemn reverence, and evidently joined with a striking manifestation of fervency in every petition. His joining in public prayer was no doubtful matter. Every one that saw him was satisfied that he was no cold and indifferent member of the assembly, but was absorbed in the exercise."[Life of Dr. Green, page 532.]
The same is true of the father who penned the above. Even after the infirmities of fourscore years were pressing upon him, and his health very feeble, he ever manifested an aversion to allowing himself to sit in prayer. The late venerable father, the Rev. Robert G. Wilson, when unable to rise from his knees without assistance, would still kneel in family worship.
Others object to standing in public prayer, because it is viewed by them as unfavourable to close and solemn attention. Females, say they, if they stand are more liable to be gazed at than if they kept their seats. But let them only depress their countenance, and withdraw their eyes from surrounding objects, and they will not be disturbed in this way. And this they should do, if they would engage in the devotions of the house of God.
All that is asked of the reader is to examine this subject in the spirit of Him who purchased the church with his own blood. And may the Lord in mercy incline him so to do for Christ’s sake, Amen.