Having never before attempted to write in the form of classical oratory, I found occasion recently to try my hand at it. Below is what I have written as exordium, narratio and partitio, the rest being as yet unwritten.
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It is always unpopular to meet the prevailing tastes of any time with a sceptical eye, and always in vogue to discard what is old as having lost its manly virtue through age. For this reason I know that my words might often be silenced by the prejudice of base men. But I trust that those who hear me, being of nobler character than those who rage against reason, will not let their vision be clouded by want of true distinctions, nor their judgement confused by false distinctions. As Christians who love the Lord and desire earnestly both to know him as he is and to praise him as he is, you will, I know, be intent when gathered together to worship him well, that the earth may be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea; and you will be zealous to vindicate what is most edifying to the people of God. Though my skill is slight, I say what honest reason shows and simple piety urges. And though I speak as an American and not as a Briton, I hope the things I say will speak not to the British national character but to the nature common to all men, with which Almighty God has gifted us all. If my thoughts, then, have ever been to the good of the Church, the power lies with you to uphold and practise what best redounds to the glory of our God.
The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, first made in 1549 under Edward VI, revised three years later and again under Elizabeth I, then brought to its classical form in 1662, has for centuries been an important part of the people’s piety, however crude and imperfect their hearts, and however crude and imperfect our own hearts are today. Under the discipline of this book, from week to week, many whom we still honour today learned to worship God and ennoble their fellow men: William Shakespeare, John Donne, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson, Charles Wesley, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis and others. Much of English literature, which has shaped the mind of the nation, would not be what it is without the Bible and the prayer book. It is certain, then, that the prayer book, containing the riches that it does, has not only the ability to edify but a history of edifying the nation; but what is charged against it is that its liturgy, on account of a now-educated populace, is no longer needed as a standard for public worship.
At issue, therefore, is not whether a liturgy has in fact been helpful to the people of God but whether it be expedient to continue worshipping according to a prayer book. I contend that it still is. To this end my case will be divided into three parts. First I shall speak against rationalism, then I shall consider the idea of common sense, and finally I shall advocate a Protestant established church that normatively uses a prayer book for public worship.