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Absolution, on what terms pardon may be obtained—repentance, and faith : we repeat the comprehensive prayer taught us by our Lord; we praise our Maker in some of those pious songs, composedby the royal Prophet, and by the elders of Israel ; we hear select portions of the Old and New Testament; we rehearse the articles of our common Faith : in the Litany is comprised every kind of blessing, temporal and spiritual, which is necessary for us as men and as Christians; in the general Thanksgiving, we acknowledge the general mercies of creation, preservation, and redemption. These prayers and praises are alike adapted to all ranks and societies of men: All have sinned, -all, therefore, confess their sins; all have need of food and raiment; all have hope of grace and glory; and therefore all are taught to implore them with one heart and one voice.
A form like this, can, I think, be liable to little objection. Some repetitions might, perhaps, be avoided; some redundancies retrenched ; and some denunciations, which have given offence to “ them that are without,” (as the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed) might be expunged. Absolute perfection cannot be ascribed to any composition merely human ; that can only be claimed for “Scripture, given by inspiration of God;” but we may justly boast, that no Formulary was ever compiled, so well suited to the necessities of man, and so strictly conformable to the Word of God, as the Liturgy of the Church of England.
I am aware that it may be said, “ But why are we to assemble in public ” We can supplicate and praise God, with our families and in our closets, where our thoughts are not likely to be seduced from devotion by surrounding objects. Solitude is, doubtless, more favourable to mental abstraction: in solitude, the heart is more disposed to feel and to indulge, the fervours of piety, and to pour forth all its hopes and all its cares, unrestrained and undisturbed. The man who never prays in private, will never pray, as he ought, in public. Private prayer is, therefore, indispensable: but we are to remember that even inspired Apostles 6 assembled themselves with the Church ;” and that the converted Hebrews were strictly enjoined "not to forsake the assembling themselves together.”—“ Whosoever shall confess me before men,” said the divine Redeemer, “him will I also confess before my Father:" and surely it is a part of our Christian profession, to exhibit some public mark of the faith we hold ; to awaken in each other that spirit of brotherly kindness and mutual forbearance, which is naturally inspired by the open acknowledgment of our common infirmities and common dependence; and so to “ let our light shine before men, that they may glorify our Father which is in heaven.” As human beings, we are all indebted to God for “ all things pertaining to life;" as Christians, for all things pertaining “ to godliness ;” as adopted sons, regenerated by baptism, we are all equally included in the same covenant of grace and mercy ; and, therefore, as children of the same Father, and heirs of the same promises, we should offer up united praise and thanksgiving. By all conditions of men thus joining in the same petitions, the poor will be taught a becoming confidence, the rich a necessary humility. In the closet, we scarcely lose sight of our particular situation and circumstances as individuals; but, in the Church we learn to feel our equality, as joint members of one body, as fellow-servants of the same Lord. In the Church we “call no man master;" “ for," there, “one is our master, even Christ." Assembled in the more immediate presence of that universal Parent, who is no respecter of persons, the distinctions of rank are, for a while, suspended; the prince and the beggar are here brethren-brethren in frailty, brethren in hope. In the same language they confess their unworthiness ; in the same terms they deplore their common corruption ; in the same words they cry to God for mercy-for peace and pardon through the one Mediator, the common Redeemer of the rich and poor.
But the strongest of all arguments for “assembling with the Church” is, I think, this;—that it is absolutely necessary, to preserve a due sense of religion among mankind. Were we not called together, at stated periods, for the performance of religious duties in the house of the Lord, I doubt they would very seldom be performed in our dwellings : were the places of public worship once closed, private devotion would soon cease ; and that, which every man thought he could do at any time, very few would do at all.
When the Jewish assembly had joined in devotion, the Levites " gave the sense, and caused the people to understand the reading." Much of what is advanced to establish the expediency of public prayer, might, with little variation, be adduced in support of public teaching and exhortation. Were I to attempt the discussion of this point at present, I should exhaust attention, and add little, or nothing, to what has been so often urged. Suffice it, therefore, to say, that few who have looked into the mind of man, who have remarked the helpless ignorance of the common people, in the leading principles of Christianity, the sordid insensibility of the middle classes, engrossed by worldly traffic, and the frigid indifference, or contemptuous scepticism, of the higher orders; few, I say, who have attended to the state of religion in society, will deny, that every branch of the community has need either of instruction, reproof, or warning “How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed ? and how shall they believe in Him, of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher ? and how shall they preach except they be sent ?"