The CCEL Times 3.7 (July 1, 2008)
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In This Issue:

From the

What is prayer? Is it asking God to give us our
daily bread, or is it fellowship with God? Is the aim to get health and
happiness from God or to grow into conformance with his will? Is it a
public, vocal practice, normally done in a worship service, or a private,
internal matter? Or both? Classic writings on prayer can be very
illuminating on what people have thought about prayer and how they have
practiced it over the centuries, and perhaps it can shed light on
limitations of thinking and practice in our era. For the next few months,
I hope to highlight certain classic writings on prayer.

The first classic is On Prayer by Tertullian
(155-222 A.D.), who has been called the "great founder of Latin
Christianity." For Tertullian, prayer replaced temple sacrifice. It was
essentially spoken petitions. Individual petitions could be added to the
Lord’s Prayer; the more diligent also added Psalms. Prayers were
apparently normally to be said standing, with hands raised, though for
modesty not too loftily elevated, nor the sound of the voice too loud.
Those praying should kneel or prostrate themselves, at the least in the
first prayer of the day. Women were to dress modestly and have a covered
(veiled) head. And no prayer was complete if divorced from the kiss of
peace, "which is the seal of prayer." No particular daily hours for prayer
have been prescribed, according to Tertullian, though he says that the
third, sixth, and ninth seem in scripture to be more solemn than the rest.

For Tertullian, prayer is essentially a worship
service or liturgy. There is no mention of prayer as private, continuous,
a means of fellowship with God or sanctification, or the like. (Future
classic writings will vary greatly on this view.) I wonder if there was a
notion of a "private devotional life" in the early church?

For those who are interested in reading and
discussing the classics on prayer that I highlight, we have set up a
discussion thread.

Harry Plantinga
Director of the CCEL

Featured Hymn

"O God, Our Help in Ages Past" by Isaac

—from the new Hymnary, developed by the
CCEL and co-sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (read more about the Hymnary)

Considered one of
the finest paraphrases written by Isaac Watts (see PHH 155), "O God, Our Help
in Ages Past" expresses a strong note of assurance, promise, and hope in
the LORD as recorded in the first part of Psalm 90, even though the
entire psalm has a recurring theme of lament. Watts wrote the paraphrase
in nine stanzas around 1714 and first published the text in his Psalms
of David (1719). The Psalter Hymnal includes the most well-known
stanzas. The first line, originally "Our God, our help …," was changed
to "O God, our help …" by John Wesley in his Collection of Psalms and
Hymns (1738).

Read more about this hymn at
the Hymnary
Find more hymns by this composer at the Hymnary

Featured Book

On the Incarnation by St.

"On the Incarnation" by St. Athanasius
has been called the "Mere Christianity" (in reference to C.S. Lewis) of
the ancient world. C.S. Lewis wrote an introduction for one edition of
the book (1944) and praised it over all contemporary books and stated
that he was "reading a masterpiece." It’s straightforward and easy to
read. St. Athanasius presents the whole of Christian theology, from the
creation to the cross. The book answers a lot of questions I think
Christians struggle with, such as: why did Christ have to die on the
cross—if Christ was God, couldn’t He have chosen another way? In many
ways it is also the foundation for theology in the ancient Church, and
it is still a staple in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Read or Join this Book Study Group
More Book Study Groups from
the CCEL


Against Heresies by
Irenaeus (c. 120–202)

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its
naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be
detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as,
by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous
as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. One far
superior to me has well said, in reference to this point, "A clever
imitation in glass casts contempt, as it were, on that precious jewel
the emerald (which is most highly esteemed by some), unless it come
under the eye of one able to test and expose the counterfeit. Or, again,
what inexperienced person can with ease detect the presence of brass
when it has been mixed up with silver?"

Read this classic at the


Classic Reflections On the Lord’s Prayer

In summary, how many utterances of the
prophets, the Gospels, the apostles—how many discourses, examples,
parables of the Lord, are touched on! How many duties are simultaneously
discharged! The honour of God in the "Father;" the testimony of faith in
the "Name;" the offering of obedience in the "Will;" the commemoration
of hope in the "Kingdom;" the petition for life in the "Bread;" the full
acknowledgment of debts in the prayer for their "Forgiveness;" the
anxious dread of temptation in the request for "Protection." What
wonder? God alone could teach how he wished Himself prayed to. The
religious rite of prayer therefore, ordained by Himself, and animated,
even at the moment when it was issuing out of the Divine mouth, by His
own Spirit, ascends, by its own prerogative, into heaven, commending to
the Father what the Son has taught.

— from "On Prayer," by Tertullian

Read this classic at the CCEL

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