John Cosin – Of the Ancient and Accustomed times of Prayer in General

John Cosin (1594-1672), English churchman, wrote of the ancient and accustomed times of prayer in his Collection of Private Devotions:

An engraving of Cosin as Bishop of Durham.

An engraving of Cosin as Bishop of Durham.

At all times and in all places to give thanks and praise unto Almighty God our heavenly Father, with all manner of devout prayer and supplication, is no more than our very meet, right, and bounden duty. But inasmuch as the common employments of most, and the natural infirmities of all sorts of people be so great, that, whiles they have this body of flesh upon them, they cannot possibly attend the heavenly exercise of prayer and thanksgiving without any intermission at all, it hath therefore been the custom of religious and godly persons in all ages, to appoint themselves certain set times and hours of the day, wherein to perform their devotions. By which means it came to pass, that, as other careless people spent the whole day either in their own affairs or pleasures, these men bestowed it, or the chief and more eminent parts of it at least, in the affairs and service of God.

They that understood Christ’s parable so as if “men ought always to pray,” and to do nothing else, mistook the matter, and were put into the catalogue of heretics for their labour. They, on the other side, that went about to take away all set times of prayer, to maintain their affected liberty, and to do it only when they list, have deserved no less blame, and incurred no milder censure. Wise men have gone an even path, and, expounding the Scripture for continual prayer, by the continual practice of the Church, have neither one way nor other offered any violence to devotion.

The practice, then, of old hath been, so to keep up prayer that men might keep up themselves withal. Three times a-day to perform this duty, and otherwhiles seven times a-day to do it, was King David’s sacred resolution; but three times a-day, howsoever, “at evening, and morning, and at noonday,” was his custom to pray, and that “instantly,” in solemn and devout manner. After him the great Prophet of God that lived in Babylon, accustomed himself to kneel upon his knees, and in his chamber to pray three times a-day towards Jerusalem, (saith the story,) “as he was always wont to do.”

From which holy examples it afterwards came to pass, that what was by them so religiously observed under the law, three times a-day (at least) to offer up prayers and thanksgiving to Almighty God, besides the morning and the evening sacrifice, was by Christians as piously continued and practised under the Gospel also; both Jews and Christians being in this duty but equal servants to the same Trinity, the God both of Law and Gospel. “It is from the prophet Daniel (saith St. Cyprian) that we Christians have our third, our sixth, and our ninth hour of prayer, which we duly observe in reverence of the Blessed Trinity.”

Besides these, (such was the ardour of ancient piety,) they added yet more, and, as well in imitation of King David’s holy resolutions before mentioned, as also in honour of those times, which the special actions of God, and of our Saviour, had, in a manner, made sacred unto them, they augmented their hours of prayer, (saith that godly Father,) and made their devotions more frequent and fervent than they were before.

Such are these hours and prayers that hereafter follow; which be not now set forth for the countenancing of their novelties that put any trust in the bare recital only of a few prayers, or place any virtue in the bead-roll, or certain number of them, at such and such set hours; but for the hearty imitation of that ancient and Christian piety, to whom the distinction of hours was but an orderly and useful, no superstitious or wanton performance of their duties.

And, surely, so small a part of our time taken up from other common actions, if not perhaps from doing ill, or doing nothing; and so small a task, though but voluntarily imposed upon ourselves for God’s service, will never undo us nor ever prove to be an abridgment of our Christian liberty, who say, our delight is to be numbered with the saints of old, and profess every day that God’s service is perfect freedom.

Certain choice sentences out of Holy Scripture, whereby the frequency of Prayer and Devotion is highly commended to us.

The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers. (Psalm 34.15)

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (St. Matthew 7.7)

Watch and pray, for ye know not at what hour the Lord will come. (St. Mark 13.35)

Because of his importunity, he will rise and give him what he needeth. (St. Luke 11.8)

It behoveth always to pray, and not to be weary. (St. Luke 18.1)

And shall not God hear, and avenge His servants, that pray night and day unto Him? (St. Luke 18.7)

Pray always with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watch thereunto with all instance and supplication for all saints. (Ephesians 6.18)

Pray without ceasing. And in all things give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5.17)

I will therefore, that, first of all, prayers and supplications, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty: for this is good, and acceptable in the sight of God our Father, who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of His truth. (1 Timothy 2.1)

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5.16)

The prayers of the saints are like the golden vials, that are full of sweet odours. (Revelation 5.8)

Prayer is a work of the same dignity and honour wherein the angels and saints of heaven themselves are employed. It is an advocate for the guilty, a redemption for the captive, a rest for the wearied, and a comfort for the sorrowful. It is our watchtower whilst we sleep, and our safeguard whilst we are awake. (Gregory of Nyssa)

When I see a man that loveth not his prayers, and is not frequent at his devotions, I shall presently conclude him to be a miserable creature, and to have nothing in him at all that is worthy of commendation. (John Chrysostom)

As the light of the sun is to the eye of the body; so is prayer to the soul. (John Chrysostom)

I cannot but admire and wonder at the great love of God towards man, for vouchsafing him so high an honour, as familiarly to speak unto Him by prayer. (John Chrysostom)

Hear how the blessed Apostle crieth out unto us to be “instant in prayer,” to “pray without ceasing;” that is, though not every minute of our life without intermission, yet that as long as we live, and upon all occasions, we never give over prayer, but still and still continue in it. Pray, therefore, when thou art at home in thy house, and when thou art abroad in thy journey. Pray when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. But when thou prayest, pray with humilty, &c. (John Chrysostom)


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