Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Boston Unitarian (in Philadelphia) Sabbath Prayer

William Henry Furness (on the right with his lifelong friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel Bradford) was a Unitarian Minister and scholar best known for his abolitionism and his controversial works on Jesus of Nazareth.
Furness was the minister of First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia from 1825 to 1875.
I will write and exerpt much from Rev. Furness on this blog, but for today this prayer from his wonderful collection of Morning, Evening, and Occasional Prayers called Domestic Worship.

OUR Father who art in heaven, again the sun has risen at thy command. Through thine unsleeping providence, refreshed by slumber, we stand upon the threshold of another day, a day of rest, of meditation, of worship and of prayer. May it be sanctified in the outward observance and in spirit and in truth. Let that holy light, of which the sun shining in the firmament is but a dim symbol, dawn upon our souls, dispelling unhallowed thoughts, revealing thy glorious presence, and leading us onward to that better life upon which, through thy grace, we may enter when we will. May this day, by the use which we make of its opportunities, by the answers of peace which it brings to our prayers, by the cleansing influences which it dispenses, prove a day never to be forgotten, a day worth ten thousand spent in the ways of the world.
O God, our Maker, who alone canst give us the light that we need, unseal our spiritual vision. Make us to discern the greatness of the grace which this day commemorates. It speaks of thine abundant mercy, of that best gift of thine, thy holy child Jesus, who appeared among men in the power of thy spirit and in the fulness of thy divinity, and the world saw in him the glory as of an only Son of God. Glad tidings of great joy he .brought from heaven to earth, tidings of infinite love and immortal hope. Teach us the value of these gracious messages, that we may know how to thank Thee, that the hymns and praises that we utter this day may be the prompting and the tribute of our souls. Let our faith be not in word but in power. May the spirit of thy Son be our spirit, the spring of our conduct, giving us strength to avoid every form of evil, and to cleave amidst all temptations to thy law, even although it should command the cutting off of the right hand or the plucking out of the right eye. And then, when Christ is thus formed within us, enthroned among our affections, then shall we be found meet for thy sanctuary ; for who, O Lord, shall stand before Thee but they that have clean hands and pure hearts. Then too shall we know its priceless worth, when we have once tasted, by personal experience, of the heavenly gift. Then shall we bring no dead offering, but a living sacrifice, and our praises shall rise like incense up to the very throne of God. And Thou, ever more ready to give than we are to ask, wilt delight to pour down upon us more abundant measures of truth and holiness. So, by true spiritual worship, by the private meditations and the public services of this day, we shall go from grace to grace and from strength to strength, until we stand for ever in thy presence. Merciful Father, we mourn that these our best desires are so faint, that we are so fondly attached to the things that perish, to the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, so seldom and so faintly impressed with the guilt of our ingratitude and disobedience, and that we live so willingly without God and a true hope. Increase our sorrow for our un- worthiness, and make it that godly sorrow which will quicken us to instant and thorough amendment. Encompass our minds this day with thoughts of heaven. Give thine angels charge concerning us that our feet may never more stumble, that we may run with patience the race that is set before us, in the straight and narrow way, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, and flinging aside every besetting sin. O come, thou Spirit of truth, come and take up thine abode evermore in our souls. Be the life of our lives, a fountain springing up within us to everlasting life, that we may never thirst again, and that these waste places, our hearts, may become like Eden, like the garden of the Lord. Almighty God, may thy kingdom be advanced in all hearts this day. May the truth, as it is in Jesus, be everywhere faithfully proclaimed, and received into honest and good minds, where it shall spring up and bring forth the immortal fruits of holy living. Send its blessed consolations into afflicted souls, and let it bind up the broken hearted and give liberty to the captive. May it be like a sword to pierce the hearts of the thoughtless and the rebellious ; and let all who profess and call themselves Christians depart from iniquity, and lead godly and peaceable lives, and glorify thy Son and his gospel, and Thee, the God and Father of all ; and thine shall be the praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Make the Sabbath "a day worth ten thousand spent in the ways of the world." Amen


PeaceBang said...

This is a humdinger of a prayer. But tell me this, BU, when Furness writes,
"And then, when Christ is thus formed within us, enthroned among our affections, then shall we be found meet for thy sanctuary ; for who, O Lord, shall stand before Thee but they that have clean hands and pure hearts,"
is this a vestige of Calvinism, or would you just consider it an expression of the Christian discipline, humility, reverence and obedience he exhorts us to observe elsewhere in the prayer?

The forms of prayers like this fascinate me, as they go back and forth from praise, admission of sin, exhortation to live the godly life, praise and thanksgiving, confession, etc. without following the traditional order of such elements.

My favorite aspect of this particular prayer that seems original is the emphasis that THIS day - this *particular* Sabbath day -- is holy and wholly memorable and sacred. That's very touching.

slt said...

Hello Peacebang,
Thanks for your comment. I think that just about everything the Boston Unitarians wrote and preached has some vestige of Calvinism, which, after all, was a large and sometimes magnificent intellectual and spiritual edifice. Even Emerson had to admit the power of the New England Calvinists.
I think, though, that Furness parts from Mr. Calvin in his belief that we form Christ within us and do not need to have been chosen first. It is our obedience and the wonderful list of virtues that he prays for later that then prepare us to stand before God.
I, too, love the somewhat "back and forth" nature of these prayers. They were written for domestic or family prayer and they have a spontaneous feel that is wonderful.