In complete public worship, there should be united public prayer.  I can find no account of religious assemblies in the New Testament in which prayer and supplication do not form a principle business.  I find Paul telling Timothy, “I exhort, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 1.21).  Such prayers should be plain and intelligible, that all the worshipers may know what is going on and be able to go along with him who prays.  They should, as far as possible, be the joint act of all the assembly and not the act of one man’s mind alone.  A congregation of professing Christians which only meets to hear a grand sermon and takes no part or interest in the prayers seems to me to fall far short of the standard of the New Testament.  Public worship does not consist only of hearing.

(The reader is requested to observe that I purposely abstain from saying anything about the vexed question whether public prayers in the congregation should be liturgical and pre-composed or extemporaneous.  I say nothing because nothing is said about it in Scripture.  Neither liturgies nor extemporaneous prayers are expressly sanctioned or expressly prohibited in God’s Word.  A large liberty is mercifully given to the churches.  I think the Christian (so-called) who anathematizes and abuses his brother because he uses a liturgy is an ignorant, narrow-minded bigot on one side.  I think the Christian (so-called) who anathematizes and excommunicates his brother because he does not use a liturgy is a narrow-minded, ignorant bigot on the other side.  Both are wrong.

My own mind has been long made up.  If all ministers prayed extempore always, as some ministers pray sometimes, I should be against a liturgy.  But, considering what human nature is, I decidedly think it better, both for minister and people in the regular, habitual, and stated assemblies of the church, to have a liturgy.  With all its imperfections, I am very thankful for the Book of Common Prayer.  It may have defects because it was not compiled by inspiration.  But, for all that, it is an admirable and matchless manual of public devotion.  I would not impose the use of it on a brother’s conscience for a thousand worlds.  But I claim the right to use it myself undisturbed.)

From: Worship: Its Priority, Principles, and Practice by J. C. Ryle (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), pp. 19-20.  This booklet is excerpted from Ryle’s Knots Untied (1877).

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