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joy or hope, in too free and airy a manner, with too bold an exultation, or with a broad smile ; which indeed looks like too familiar a dealing with the great God. Every odd and unpleasing tone should be banished from divine worship ; nor should we appear before God in humility upon our knees, with grandeur and magnificence upon our tongues, lest the sound of our voice should contradict our gesture ; lest it should savor of irreverence in so awful a presence, and give disgust to those that hear us.
OF GESTURE IN PRAYER
We proceed now to the fifth and last thing considerable in the gift of prayer; and that is, gesture.
And though it may not so properly be termed a part of the gift, yet inasmuch as it belongs to the outward performance of this piece of worship, I cannot think it improper to treat a little of it in this place.
Since we are commanded to pray always, and at all seasons, there can be no posture of the body unfit for short ejaculations and pious breathings towards God ; while we lie in our beds, while we sit at our tables, or are taking our rest in any methods of refreshment, our souls may go out towards our Heavenly Father, and have sweet converse with him in short prayers. And to this we must refer that passage, 1 Chron. xvii. 16, concerning David, where it is said, “ He sat before the Lord, and said, Lord, who am I, or what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” But when we draw near to God in special seasons of worship, the work of prayer calls for a greater solemnity, and in every thing that relates to it we ought to compose ourselves to greater reverence, that we may worship God with our bodies, as well as with our spirits, and pay him devotion with our whole natures. 1 Cor. vi. 20.
In our discourse concerning the gestures fit for worship, we shall consider, first, the posture of the whole body ; and secondly, of the particular parts of it : and endeavor to secure you against indecencies in either of them.
1. Those postures of the body, which the light of nature and rule of scripture seem to dictate as most proper for prayer, are, standing, kneeling, or prostration.
Prostration is sometimes used in secret prayer, when a person is under a deep and uncommon sense of sin, and falls flat upon his face before God, and pours out his soul before him, under the influence of such thoughts, and the working of such graces, as produce very uncommon expressions of humiliation and self-abasement. This we find in scripture made use of upon many occasions ; as, Abraham fell on face before God. Gen. xvii. 3 ; and Joshua before the Lord Jesus Christ, the Captain of the host of God. Josh. v. 14. So Moses, Ezekiel and Daniel, at other seasons : so in the New Testament, when John fell at the feet of the angel to worship him, supposing it had been our Lord. Rev. xix. 10. And who could choose but fall down to the dust at the presence of God himself ?
Kneeling is the most frequent posture used in this worship; and nature seems to dictate and lead us to it as an expression of humility, or a sense of our wants ; a supplication for mercy and adoration of, and a dependance upon, him before whom we kneel. This posture has been practised in all ages, and in all nations, even where the light of the scripture never shone; and, if it might be had with conveniency, would certainly be a most agreeable posture for the worship of God, in public assemblies, as well as in private families, or in our secret chambers.There are so many instances and directions for this posture in scripture, that it would be useless to take pains to prove it. So Solomon, 2 Chron. vi. 13. Ezra, Ezr. ix. 5. Daniel, Dan. vi. 10. Christ himself, Luke xxii. 41. Paul, Acts xx. 36. and xxi. 5. Eph. iii. 14.
In the last place, standing is a posture not unfit for this worship, especially in places where we have not conveniency for the humbler gestures. For as standing up before a person whom we respect and reverence is a token of that esteem and honor which we pay him ; so standing before God, where we have not conveniencies of kneel. ing, is an agreeable attestation of our high esteem of him whom we then address and worship. There are instances of this gesture in the word of God. Our Saviour says to his diciples, “When ye stand praying.” Mark xi. 25. and “The publican stood afar off and prayed.” Luke xviii. 13.
Standing seems to have been the common gesture of worship, in a large and public assembly, % Chron. xx. 4, 5, 13. And in this case it is very proper to conform to the usage of Christians with whom we worship, whether standing or kneeling, since neither of them is made absolutely necessary by the word of God.
But I cannot think that sitting, or other postures of rest and laziness, ought to be indulged in solemn seasons of prayer, unless persons are in any respect infirm or aged, or the work of prayer be drawn out so long as to make it troublesome to human nature to maintain itself always in one posture:-And in these cases, whatsoever gesture of body keeps the mind in the best composure, and fits it most to proceed in this worship, will not only be accepted of God, but is most agreeable to him. For it is a great rule that he hath given, and he will always stand by, that bodily exercise profiteth little ; for he looks chiefly after the heart, and he will have mercy and not sacrifice.
2. The posture of the several parts of the body, that are most agreeable to worship, and that may secure us from all indecencies, may be thus particularized and enumerated.
As for the head, let it be kept for the most part without motion, for there are very few turns of the head, in the worship of prayer, that can be accounted decent. And many persons have exposed themselves to ridicule, by tossings and shakings of the head, and nodding, while they have been offering the solemn sacrifice of prayer to God. Though it must be allowed, that in cases of great humiliation, the hanging down of the head is no improper method to express that temper of mind.--So the praying publican, in the text afore-cited: so the Jews, in the time of Ezra, in a full congregation bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord, with their faces towards the ground. Neh. viii. 6. But in our expressions of hope and joy, it is natural to lift up the head, while we believe that our redemption draws nigh; as in Luke xxi. 28. I might also mention the apostle's advice, that “he that prays ought to have his head uncovered, lest he dishonor his head." 1 Cor. xi. 4.
In the face, the God of nature hath written various indications of the temper of the mind; and especially when it is moved by any warm affection.
In divine worship the whole visage should be composed to gravity and solemnity, to express a holy awe and reverence of the majesty of God, and the high importance of the work wherein we are engaged.
In confession of sin, while we express the sorrows of our soul, melancholy will appear in our countenances ; the dejection of the mind may be read there, and according to the language of scripture, shame and confusion will cover our faces. The humble sinner blushes before God, at the remembrance of his guilt. Jer. li. 51. Ezra ix. 6. Fervency of spirit in our petitions, and holy joy when we give thanks to our God for his mercies, and rejoice in our highest hope, will be discovered by very agreeable and pleasing tra.es in the features and countenance.