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 Issues | Book of Common Prayer | Ryle Thoughts

Thoughts on the Prayer Book : J.C. Ryle
The English Book of Common Prayer

Having discussed the relative merits of extempore and precomposed prayer in public worship, we must now turn our attention to the special value of the Liturgy of the Church of England. In recent years there have been many attempts to decry the Book of Common Prayer; many are too ready to forget its merits, and to see its alleged blemishes. Now it must be made clear that it is not for a moment maintained that the Prayer Book is free from defects. It was not given by inspiration like the Bible. It was drawn up by uninspired men who had their failings and weaknesses. Like everything else that comes from uninspired men, it is imperfect. It is admitted that there are things in it which might have been done better. But yet, its merits far outstrip its defects; its blemishes are few and its excellencies many and great.

So now let us examine some of the leading merits of the Church of England Prayer Book.

1. The amount of Scripture.

The first merit of the Prayer Book is the large quantity of God's Word which it contains. Very much of it consists of extracts from the Bible. A large part of the Prayer Book is the Psalter and the Epistles and Gospels. More than one half of the Church of England form of worship consists of selected passages of Holy Scripture.

2. The sound doctrine.

Throughout the Prayer Book it will be found that the doctrines in the prayers and petitions are based entirely upon Scripture. Continually we find such doctrine as the sinfulness of man, the holiness of God, the redemption of sinners by our Lord Jesus Christ, the daily need of the Holy Spirit in which we all stand, the importance of godly living, the sinfulness and guilt of sin, the weakness of human nature, the personality of the devil, the reality and eternity of hell and heaven, the full supply of mercy and grace which is laid up for us in Christ. All of these are to be found again and again in the liturgy. No doubt there are some expressions, in the services for Baptism, Burial and the Visitation of the Sick, which can be wrongly interpreted. But these expressions are very few, and no impartial judge can deny that the Prayer Book is Scriptural. Evangelical and sound.

3. The wide variety of subjects.

The petitions in the Prayer Book cover just about the whole field of man's wants, necessities and relations. Our bodies and souls ; our interests in this life and in the life to come ; our position as subjects and members of families ; our sorrows and joys, sickness and health, poverty and riches, as well as our travelling. All these are remembered in the liturgy. Nothing seems to be forgotten or left out. It is not too much to say that no Church on earth brings so many matters before God in its public worship as the Church of England.

4. The congregational worship.

The Prayer Book does not give the office of praying entirely to the minister, leaving the people to sit by in silence and listen. I t gives to every member of the congregation a place in the worship. Everyone is invited to join in, audibly, the confession of sin and declaration of faith ; all take part in the service, as well as saying “amen” after every prayer read by the minister. No church on earth makes so much use of the laity in public worship, so that it can hardly be called a “priest-ridden” Church!

5. Suitability for everyone.

Long, argumentative doctrinal prayers, however clever and gifted they may seem, are utterly unfit for the minds of many people. They are just unable to follow them. This is probably true of a very large number of people. But the English liturgy is most helpful at this point, for it is full of short collects which are easily understood. Short prayers and frequent breaks give the congregation time to take breath, and to begin again, if they have lost the thread of the last prayer. The Litany, for example, is a simple but comprehensive collection of petitions which even a child, if attentive, can hardly fail to understand.

6. The proportion of intercession.

In no other church perhaps, is the command to “pray for one another” so faithfully remembered, at least in theory, if not always in practice, as in the Church of England. The Prayer Book calls on Us users to remember before God others as well as themselves ; it encourages habits of sympathy and fellow feeling with all mankind. It invites you to speak to God for others as well as for yourselves.

These are the six leading excellencies of the English Prayer Book, and much more could be said on each one. But the practical considerations which can be drawn from what has been said deserve serious consideration. They ought to be well pondered by members of the Church of England.

Firstly, although salvation does not depend on going to church, and a prayer book is not necessary to get to heaven - a personal interest in Christ is the one thing needful; yet there is no denying that our edification in public worship depends greatly on the kind of prayers that are prayed. Better preaching may be heard in a Chapel, but seldom better prayers. So no one should esteem the Prayer Book lightly, or think it no consequence whether we hear it used on Sunday or not.

Secondly, if the Prayer Book has so many excellencies. the members of the Church of England ought not to be ashamed of defending it and upholding it. If anyone decries it, ask if they know any better form of worship. It is easy to say that the Prayer Book is imperfect and faulty. It is not quite so easy to show that extempore prayers are better. The Church of England may well be ashamed of its ministers sometimes. It never need be ashamed of its liturgy.

Thirdly, members of the Church of England ought to study the book more, and become more acquainted with its contents. So many, who consider themselves excellent Churchmen, know little about it and its teaching. They can hardly tell you what their church asks them to believe and how to worship. There is need for people to know it more fully.


>> The Leading Principle of the Prayer Book

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