In 1661, the Bishops at the Savoy Conference made a rather pointed comment about the length of some preacher’s prayers. “It is well known,” they complained, “that some men’s prayers before and after sermon have been usually not much shorter, and sometimes much longer, than the whole church service.” (Reliquiae Baxterianae II.245). In their view, “the wisdom of the church” in ancient times was that prayers should be gathered into shorter prayers or “collects” rather than trying to say everything in one long, uninterrupted petition.
Well, one thing you may notice about George Herbert, is that he prays like a Baptist. Beginning with the Majesty of God, he falls to confessing the sin of humanity. He then moves into a rehearsal of the great truths of the gospel, as God in his mercy sent his Son to live and die as one of us, “scorned by the ones he came to save” as a more recent hymn puts it.
He praises God’s mercy and love, and prays for a blessing on all who that day hear God’s word read and preached, everywhere in the world. He then especially prays for the assembled congregation, that God’s word would accomplish its purpose in their lives, and he be enabled to speak as he should. “Teach me, that I may teach them,” he asks. He ends by leading the people in the Lord’s Prayer, before finally preaching his sermon.
It’s a great model prayer, if a little wordy. Let’s pray (for 5 minutes)…
The Author’s Prayer before Sermon
O Almighty and ever-living Lord God! Majesty, and power, and brightness, and glory! How shall we dare to appear before your face, who are contrary to you, in all we call you? For we are darkness, and weakness, and filthiness, and shame. Misery and sin fill our days. Yet you are our creator, and we your work. Your hands both made us, and also made us lords of all your creatures; giving us one world in ourselves, and another to serve us. Then you did place us in Paradise, and were proceeding still on in your favours, until we interrupted your counsels, disappointed your purposes, and sold our God, our glorious, our gracious God for an apple.
O write it! O brand it in our foreheads for ever. For an apple once we lost our God, and still lose him for no more — for money, for meat, for diet. But you Lord, are patience, and pity, and sweetness, and love; therefore we sons of men are not consumed. You hast exalted your mercy above all things; and have made our salvation, not our punishment, thy glory: so that then where sin abounded, not death, but grace superabounded; accordingly, when we had sinned beyond any help in heaven or earth, then you said, “Lo, I come!” Then did the Lord of life, unable of himself to die, contrive to do it. He took flesh, he wept, he died; for his enemies he died; even for those that derided him then, and still despise him.
Blessed Saviour! Many waters could not quench your love! Nor no pit overwhelm it. But though the streams of your blood were current through darkness, grave, and hell; yet by these your conflicts, and seemingly hazards, did you arise triumphant, and therein made us victorious.
Neither does your love yet stay here! For this word of your rich peace and reconciliation, you have committed not to Thunder, or Angels, but to silly and sinful men: even to me, pardoning my sins, and bidding me go feed the people of thy love.
Blessed be the God of Heaven and Earth! Who only does wondrous things. Awake therefore, my Lute, and my Viol! Awake all my powers to glorify you! We praise you! We bless you! We magnify you forever!
And now, O Lord, in the power of your victories and in the ways of your ordinances, and in the truth of your love, Lo, we stand here, beseeching you to bless your word, wherever spoken this day throughout the universal Church. O make it a word of power and peace, to convert those who are not yet yours, and to confirm those that are. Particularly bless it in this your own Kingdom, which you have made a land of light, a store-house of your treasures and mercies.
O let not our foolish and unworthy hearts rob us of the continuance of this your sweet love. But pardon our sins, and perfect what you have begun. Ride on Lord, because of the word of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach you terrible things.
Especially bless this portion here assembled together, with your unworthy servant speaking unto them. Lord Jesu! Teach me, that I may teach them. Sanctify and enable all my powers, that in their full strength they may deliver your message reverently, readily, faithfully, and fruitfully. O make your word a swift word, passing from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the life and conversation, that as the rain returns not empty, so neither may your word, but accomplish that for which it is given.
O Lord hear. O Lord forgive! O Lord, hearken. And do so for your blessed Son’s sake, in whose sweet and pleasing words, we say, Our Father, &c.