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Ch. 16: Three Prayers

THREE PRAYERS USED BY THE DEAN FOR MRS JOHNSON,

IN HER LAST SICKNESS, 1727.[1]

[Footnote 1: "Dr. Swift, after his return to Ireland in the beginning of October [1727], having visited her [Stella] frequently during her sickness, not only as a friend, but a clergyman; he used the following prayers on that occasion; which are here printed from his own handwriting." [Note in volume viii. of Swift's Works, Dublin, 1746.]]


I.

A PRAYER FOR STELLA.

Almighty and most gracious Lord God, extend, we beseech Thee, Thy pity and compassion towards this Thy languishing servant: Teach her to place her hope and confidence entirely in Thee; give her a true sense of the emptiness and vanity of all earthly things; make her truly sensible of all the infirmities of her life past, and grant to her such a true sincere repentance as is not to be repented of. Preserve her, O Lord, in a sound mind and understanding, during this Thy visitation: Keep her from both the sad extremes of presumption and despair. If Thou shalt please to restore her to her former health, give her grace to be ever mindful of that mercy, and to keep those good resolutions she now makes in her sickness, so that no length of time, nor prosperity, may entice her to forget them. Let no thought of her misfortunes distract her mind, and prevent the means towards her recovery, or disturb her in her preparations for a better life. We beseech Thee also, O Lord, of Thy infinite goodness to remember the good actions of this Thy servant; that the naked she hath clothed, the hungry she hath fed, the sick and the fatherless whom she hath relieved, may be reckoned according to Thy gracious promise, as if they had been done unto Thee. Hearken, O Lord, to the prayers offered up by the friends of this Thy servant in her behalf, and especially those now made by us unto Thee. Give Thy blessing to those endeavours used for her recovery; but take from her all violent desire, either of life or death, further than with resignation to Thy holy will. And now, O Lord, we implore Thy gracious favour towards us here met together; grant that the sense of this Thy servant's weakness may add strength to our faith, that we, considering the infirmities of our nature, and the uncertainty of life, may, by this example, be drawn to repentance before it shall please Thee to visit us in the like manner. Accept these prayers, we beseech Thee, for the sake of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, our Lord; who, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth ever one God world without end. Amen.



II.

A PRAYER USED BY THE DEAN FOR MRS JOHNSON IN HER LAST SICKNESS

WRITTEN OCT. 17, 1727.

Most merciful Father, accept our humblest prayers in behalf of this Thy languishing servant: Forgive the sins, the frailties, and infirmities of her life past. Accept the good deeds she hath done, in such a manner, that at whatever time Thou shalt please to call her, she may be received into everlasting habitations. Give her grace to continue sincerely thankful to Thee for the many favours Thou hast bestowed upon her; The ability and inclination and practice to do good, and those virtues, which have procured the esteem and love of her friends, and a most unspotted name in the world. O God, Thou dispensest Thy blessings and Thy punishments, as it becometh infinite justice and mercy; and since it was Thy pleasure to afflict her with a long, constant, weakly state of health, make her truly sensible, that it was for very wise ends, and was largely made up to her in other blessings, more valuable and less common. Continue to her, O Lord, that firmness and constancy of mind, where with Thou hast most graciously endowed her, together with that contempt of worldly things and vanities, that she hath shewn in the whole conduct of her life. O all-powerful Being, the least motion of Whose will can create or destroy a world; pity us the mournful friends of Thy distressed servant, who sink under the weight of her present condition, and the fear of losing the most valuable of our friends: Restore her to us, O Lord, if it be Thy gracious will, or inspire us with constancy and resignation, to support ourselves under so heavy an affliction. Restore her, O Lord, for the sake of those poor, who by losing her will be desolate, and those sick, who will not only want her bounty, but her care and tending: Or else, in Thy mercy, raise up some other in her place with equal disposition and better abilities. Lessen, O Lord, we beseech Thee, her bodily pains, or give her a double strength of mind to support them. And if Thou wilt soon take her to Thyself, turn our thoughts rather upon that felicity, which we hope she shall enjoy, than upon that unspeakable loss we shall endure. Let her memory be ever dear unto us; and the example of her many virtues, as far as human infirmity will admit, our constant imitation. Accept, O Lord, these prayers poured from the very bottom of our hearts, in Thy mercy, and for the merits of our blessed Saviour. Amen.



III.

WRITTEN Nov. 6, 1727.

O Merciful Father, Who never afflictest Thy children, but for their own good, and with justice, over which Thy mercy always prevaileth, either to turn them to repentance, or to punish them in the present life, in order to reward them in a better; take pity, we beseech Thee, upon this Thy poor afflicted servant, languishing so long and so grievously under the weight of Thy hand. Give her strength, O Lord, to support her weakness; and patience to endure her pains, without repining at Thy correction. Forgive every rash and inconsiderate expression which her anguish may at any time force from her tongue, while her heart continueth in an entire submission to Thy will. Suppress in her, O Lord, all eager desires of life, and lessen her fears of death, by inspiring into her an humble, yet assured, hope of Thy mercy. Give her a sincere repentance for all her transgressions and omissions, and a firm resolution to pass the remainder of her life in endeavouring to her utmost to observe all Thy precepts. We beseech Thee likewise to compose her thoughts; and preserve to her the use of her memory and reason during the course of her sickness. Give her a true conception of the vanity, folly, and insignificancy of all human things; and strengthen her so as to beget in her a sincere love of Thee in the midst of her sufferings. Accept and impute all her good deeds, and forgive her all those offences against Thee, which she hath sincerely repented of, or through the frailty of memory hath forgot. And now, O Lord, we turn to Thee in behalf of ourselves, and the rest of her sorrowful friends. Let not our grief afflict her mind, and thereby have an ill effect on her present distempers. Forgive the sorrow and weakness of those among us, who sink under the grief and terror of losing so dear and useful a friend. Accept and pardon our most earnest prayers and wishes for her longer continuance in this evil world, to do what Thou art pleased to call Thy service, and is only her bounden duty; that she may be still a comfort to us, and to all others who will want the benefit of her conversation, her advice, her good offices, or her charity. And since Thou hast promised, that where two or three are gathered together in Thy name, Thou wilt be in the midst of them, to grant their request; O gracious Lord, grant to us who are here met in Thy name, that those requests, which in the utmost sincerity and earnestness of our hearts we have now made in behalf of this Thy distressed servant, and of ourselves, may effectually be answered; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



AN EVENING PRAYER,

FROM THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT FOUND AMONGST DR LYON'S PAPERS.

OH! Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, and from whom no secrets are hid, who hast declared that all such as shall draw nigh to thee with their lips, when their hearts are far from thee, are an abomination unto thee; cleanse, we beseech thee, the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that no wandering, vain, nor idle thoughts may put out of our minds that reverence and godly fear, that becomes all those who come in thy presence.

We know, O Lord, that while we are in these bodies, we are absent from the Lord, for no man can see thy face and live. The only way that we can draw near unto thee in this life, is by prayer; but, O Lord, we know not how to pray, nor what to ask for as we ought. We cannot pretend by our supplications or prayers to turn or change thee, for thou art the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; but the coming into thy presence, the drawing near unto thee, is the only means to be changed ourselves, to become like thee in holiness and purity, to be followers of thee as thy dear children. O, therefore, turn not away thy face from us, but let us see so much of the excellencies of thy divine nature, of thy goodness, and justice, and mercy, and forbearance, and holiness, and purity, as may make us hate everything in ourselves that is unlike to thee, that so we may abhor and repent of and forsake those sins that we so often fall into when we forget thee. Lord! We acknowledge and confess we have lived in a course of sin, and folly, and vanity, from our youth up, forgetting our latter end, and our great account that we must one day make, and turning a deaf ear to thy many calls to us, either by thy holy word, by our teachers, or by our own consciences; and even thy more severe messages by afflictions, sicknesses, crosses, and disappointments, have not been of force enough to turn us from the vanity and folly of our own ways. What then can we expect in justice, when thou shalt enter into judgment with us, but to have our portion with the hypocrites and unbelievers? to depart for ever from the presence of the Lord; to be turned into hell with those that forget God! But, O God, most holy! O God, most mighty! O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death, but have mercy upon us, most merciful Father, and forgive us our sins for thy name's sake; for thou hast declared thyself to be a God slow to anger, full of goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, and forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. O Lord, therefore, shew thy mercy upon us. O let it be in pardoning our sins past, and in changing our natures, in giving us a new heart, and a new spirit, that we may lead a new life, and walk before thee in newness of life, that so sin may not have dominion over us for the time to come. O let thy good Spirit, without which we can do nothing, O let that work in us both to will and do such things as may be well pleasing to thee. O let it change our thoughts and minds, and take them off the vain pleasures of this world, and place them there where only the true joys are to be found. O fill our minds every day more and more with the happiness of that blessed state of living for ever with thee, that we may make it our great work and business to work out our salvation,--to improve in the knowledge of thee, whom to know is life eternal. But, Lord, since we cannot know thee but by often drawing near unto thee, and coming into thy presence, which in this life, we can do only by prayer, O make us, therefore, ever sensible of these great benefits of prayer, that we may rejoice at all opportunities of coming into thy presence, and may ever find ourselves the better and more heavenly minded by it, and may never wilfully neglect any opportunity of thy worship and service. Awaken thoroughly in us a serious sense of these things, that so to-day, while it is called to-day, we may see and know the things that belong to our peace, before they be hid from our eyes, before that long night cometh when no man can work. O that every night may so effectually put us in mind of our last, that we may every day take care so to live, as we shall then wish we had lived when we come to die; that so when that night shall come, we may as willingly put off these bodies, as we now put off our clothes, and may rejoice to rest from our labours, and that our war with the world, the devil, and our own corrupt nature, is at an end. In the meanwhile, we beseech thee to take us, and ours, and all that belongs to us, into thy fatherly care this night. Let thy holy angels be our guard, while we are not in a condition to defend ourselves, that we may not be under the power of devils or wicked men; and preserve us also, O Lord, from every evil accident, that, after a comfortable and refreshing sleep, we may find ourselves, and all that belongs to us, in peace and safety. And now, O Lord, being ourselves still in the body, and compassed about with infirmities, we can neither be ignorant nor unmindful of the sufferings of our fellow-creatures. O Lord, we must acknowledge, that they are all but the effects of sin; and, therefore, we beseech thee so to sanctify their several chastisements to them, that at length they may bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness, and then be thou graciously pleased to remove thy heavy and afflicting hand from them. And O that the rest of mankind, who are not under such trials, may, by thy goodness, be led to repentance, that the consciences of hard-hearted sinners may be awakened, and the understandings of poor ignorant creatures enlightened, and that all that love and fear thee may ever find the joy and comfort of a good conscience, beyond all the satisfactions that this world can afford. And now, blessed Lord, from whom every good gift comes, it is meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should offer up unto thee our thanks and praise for all thy goodness towards us, for preserving peace in our land, the light of thy Gospel, and the true religion in our churches; for giving us the fruits of the earth in due season, and preserving us from the plague and sickness that rages in other lands. We bless thee for that support and maintenance, which thou art pleased to afford us, and that thou givest us a heart to be sensible of this thy goodness, and to return our thanks at this time for the same; and as to our persons, for that measure of health that any of us do enjoy, which is more than any of us do deserve. We bless thee, more particularly, for thy protection over us the day past; that thy good spirit has kept us from falling into even the greatest sins, which, by our wicked and corrupt nature, we should greedily have been hurried into; and that, by the guard of thy holy angels, we have been kept safe from any of those evils that might have befallen us, and which many are now groaning under, who rose up in the morning in safety and peace as well as we. But above all, for that great mercy of contriving and effecting our redemption, by the death of our Saviour Jesus Christ, whom, of thy great love to mankind, thou didst send into this world, to take upon him our flesh, to teach us thy will, and to bear the guilt of our transgressions, to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification; and for enabling us to lay hold of that salvation, by the gracious assistances of thy Holy Spirit. Lord, grant that the sense of this wonderful love of thine to us, may effectually encourage us to walk in thy fear, and live to thy glory, that so when we shall put off this mortal state, we may be made partakers of that glory that shall then be revealed, which we beg of thee, for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, who died to procure it for us, and in whose name and words we do offer up the desires of our souls unto thee, saying,

"Our Father," &c.


Jonathan Swift