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ON PUBLIC WORSHIP *.
PSALM CXI, 1.
Praise ye the Lord, I will praise the Lord with my
whole Heart, in the Assembly of the Upright and in
the Congregation. THAT
HAT the tribes of Israel assembled together for the worship of Jehovah no one can reasonably doubt, who reads with attention the language of their moral and devotional writings, or adverts to the facts recorded in their history.
From these writings it is easy to adduce many passages, were it necessary, beside that which I have read, in which the writer calls upon others, and professes his own resolution, to praise the Lord in the assembly of the upright, i. e. in the assembly of believers in the true God, who are called upright, in opposition to the heathens, who were denominated sinners. It is well known, that before the erection of the temple a tabernacle or great tent was pitched, to which the twelve tribes resorted three times a year to offer the sacrifices which their law required, and to give thanks. For the better performance of these ser
* Preached at Wrexham on the last Sunday but one before the author's death,
vices we also find, that a distinct order of men was in. stituted, called priests, who were to be assisted by ano. ther class of persons of inferiour rank, denominated Levites. When the superstructure above mentioned had been completed, it was consecrated to the service of religion by the Jewish monarch by solemn prayer, uttered in the presence, in the name, and with the concurrence, of the whole congregation of Israel. In consequence of the use made of it in succeeding times it was styled “ the house of prayer for all nations.” Nor was the temple the only place of pub. lic devotion. Synagogues were erected in every part of the land, where Moses was read every sabbath day, and where the reading of the law was accompanied by prayers.
A custom sanctioned by so high authority, of so venerable antiquity, as well as of such utility, could not fail to recommend itself to Christians, who embraced a religion differing in some degree from the religion of their ancestors, yet bearing a resemblance to it in many points, having the same object and embracing the same fundamental articles of faith. Accordingly, the earliest records of the New Testament and of heathen authors, which speak of Christians, describe them as assembling together for public worship, a practice which has continued, although under different forms, to the present day.
A few solitary individuals may perhaps be found, who have openly disputed the propriety of assembling together to worship the divine Being. Doubts
may have been entertained by others respecting the existence of such an obligation, and by many more. respecting it's extent. It is not my present purpose, however, to address myself in particular to the one class of persons or the other. I mean to state only in a few words the arguments, which may be adduced in favour of public addresses to the divine Being, with a view to obviate one or two objections to the nature of that worship, or to the frequency of our attendance on it. I assume no ground, however, be it observed, but the humble ground of utility, which I think best adapted to my present purpose, easy as it would be to take a higher position; and treat of nothing which does not come under the denomination of public worship strictly so called, without including public instruction.
Are we doing wrong, then, my brethren, in assembling in this place to worship the God of our fathers ? Is the practice not only unauthorized, but unnecessary ? So some would persuade us to think. But no one can entertain this opinion, who seriously considers the nature of devotion in connection with the temper and urgent wants of mankind.
A devout temper is manifested, when we meditate with pleasure and admiration upon those cublime subjects, which are presented to the view of the mind by the existence, the attributes, the works, and administration of the supreme Being. Prayer consists in putting our ideas and feelings into words, and in presenting them as addresses to him. The
benefit felt to arise from such a practice is found to proceed from this circumstance, that, when the ideas and feelings of the mind are expressed in words and clothed in language, they acquire a strength, a vigour, a lustre, which they seldom possess, while the subject of silent contemplation in the breast. Faith thus assisted rises into assurance; gratitude becomes more ardent, benevolence more glowing, resignation more complete, contrition more poignant and genuine. Views and feelings, of the existence of which men were before scarcely conscious, now acquire a colour, a shape, and life, which leave no room to doubt of their re-. ality or their power; and those ideas, which were somewhat more clearly perceived, become much more forcible and impressive. Such is the natural effect and benefit of prayer, when the act of an individual and performed in private.
Yet it cannot be denied, that persons may be found, whose minds are scarcely equal to such an effort, whose scanty stores will not furnish a suitable supply of devotional sentiments, who, when they attempt to look upwards toward an invisible being, behold nothing but a painful blank and void ; or, if for a moment this most venerable of beings be presented to their apprehensions in the fulness of almighty power and perfect excellence, their thoughts are soon diverted to some other object, the affections grow languid, the language becomes unconnected, and, in a word, when they flattered themselves that
they were ascending to Heaven, they still find that they are chained to the earth. Such is the inaptitude of a great proportion of mankind for the services of private devotion, arising from defective information, or the want of early habit and custom.
To the languid piety of men of this character public worship is of the highest importance, offering precisely that kind of aid, which their situation requires. For, first, they are hereby furnished with those correct and animating representations of the character of the deity, of the wants and obligations of his creatures, of the faith and hope of a Christian, which their own minds would not supply, but which are necessary to the existence and strength of the devotional feelings. Some things they learn, which never occur to themselves ; with many more they are brought acquainted in that form and dress, which renders them most striking and attractive, calculated to awaken the best affections of the heart, and to animate to useful exertion. To them, therefore, this worship is most desirable, either as the means of supplying an essential defect in their con, ceptions, or for doing justice to sentiments, which, however well conceived, cannot be well expressed, and wanting this aid lose much of their efficacy and effect.
To hear the deity addressed as the parent of the human race, who has given life and intelligence to incalculable multitudes, bestowed upon them numerous sources of present pleasure, and the means of