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societies among us introduced other objects of adoration and praise. I have heard ministers address one part of their devotions to our heavenly Father; another part to his well beloved Son; and a third part to his holy spirit; and, to avoid the charge of worshipping three God's they concluded with ascriptions to Father, Son and spirit, the triune Jehovah.
Now this practice appears to me very unscriptural. I cannot find the least shadow of authority, in any part of revelation, for such divided prayers, and such united ascriptions. I have not been able to discover one example of a prayer addressed to Jesus as God; nor one example of a prayer addressed to the holy spirit as a being, distinct from the Father; nor one example of a prayer closing with ascriptions to Father, Son and spirit as the One true God.
It is perfectly plain to me, that our Saviour uttered the whole truth, when he solemnly affirmed, that our heavenly Father is the only true God. This fundamental doctrine is indeed four times asserted in the most unequivocal language of inspiration? It is equally certain to my mind that our heavenly Father is the only Being ever worshipped, as the supreme Jehovah, either by the ancient patriarchs and prophets, or by the anointed Jesus and his apostles. Not only so. Our Saviour has given us very explicit directions on this subject. "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the FATHER." "In that day ye shall ask me nothing. Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you." Two
plainer precepts are not contained in the word of life. I should as soon think of calling myself a practical Christian, if I murdered my neighbor in open disobedience of the sixth commandment, as of considering myself a true Christian worshipper, if I offered my devotions to any other being or beings besides my heavenly Father. I should feel exceeding guilty in the sight of God, if I did not follow the plain instructions and examples of scripture, in addressing my prayers to our heavenly Father, in the name of his Son, by the assistance of his sustaining spirit. And while we imitate the uniform practice of our Saviour, we have all the evidence, of which the case admits, that ours is the true Christian worship.
2. In the second place, what should be the form of Christian worship? Concise. A minister may indeed become so completely absorbed in this exercise as to be unmindful of the lapse of time, and even forgetful of the worshipping congregation; or he may wish to gratify the weak prejudices of a few, who measure a person's piety by the length of his prayers, and thus make his public devotions so unreasonably long as to weary and disgust the assembly.
Now this practice appears to me, not only unscriptural, but really pernicious. On this topic our Saviour has given us very plain instructions. We are not to use vain repetitions as the heathen do, who expect to be heard for their much speaking. Our heavenly Father knows what favors we need, before we ask him. He has appointed prayer not as a motive for changing
his own will, but as a means of improving our character; as a method of making our hearts more humble, grateful, pure and devout, and as a medium for the conveyance of his blessings. To accomplish this glorious purpose, we are required to pray without ceasing; that is, to be always of a prayerful disposition. And in the retirement of our closets, we may clothe our devotional thoughts with words, so long as we can profitably continue the exercise. But in public worship, we cannot expect to receive benefit any longer than the assembly can confine their attention to the proper object of prayer; and keep their devotional feelings excited, and preserve their pious affections engaged. And this cannot be done for any considerable time, in a congregation composed of all ages, and of every variety of disposition. And when weariness pervades the worshippers, there is not only an end to all devotion, but the minds of many are disturbed by improper thoughts and wishes, and the cause of devotion is greatly injured. Hence you find that all the examples of prayer recorded in scripture are short. Even the sublime offering of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, the most splendid occasion ever known in the religious world, is concise, in comparison with many modern prayers on ordinary occasions. And the perfect model which our Saviour has left us, containing general petitions for all temporal and spiritual blessings, is worthy of universal imitation. While, therefore, a minister endeavors to be so long as to excite devotional feelings, and express the common desires of all
hearts; and still so short as to prevent weariness, disgust and fainting, he may reasonably hope to edify his fellow worshippers, and prepare them for the reception and enjoyment of the best of heaven's blessings.
3. In the third place, what should be the sentiment of Christian worship? Appropriate and devotional. It should be appropriate. Our addresses to God are unappropriate, when we either neglect to advance those ideas which are particularly called for by the occasion; or when we utter thoughts which have no sort of connexion with the special object of the exercise. Such instances however, frequently occur. You have doubtless heard introductory prayers at ordinations which contained most of the sentiments which should have been advanced by all the succeeding speakers. So also you may have noticed that many things are said at funerals and weddings, on the anniversaries of civil, charitable and religious societies, as well as in the family and church, which are neither called for by the occasion, nor calculated to produce the desired effect of the exercise.
Now this practice does not accord with the example of our Saviour. When he sought divine aid to raise Lazarus from the dead, he did not undertake to inform his heavenly Father of the many miracles which he had wrought by his ancient prophets, or by himself on former applications for miraculous power; neither did he endeavor to acquaint the Almighty with the great glory he might secure by granting his present request. He simply asked for the needed assistance,
and returned his sincere thanks for the favor bestowed. When he desired deliverance from approaching death, he did not attempt to remind the omniscient God of the various instances in which he had averted threatened danger from his obedient children; neither did he dare to prescribe a way in which human redemption might be accomplished without his sufferings and death. He fervently prayed that the bitter cup might pass from him, and accompanied each successive petition with expressions of unfeigned resignation. In short, whenever he addressed the throne of grace, he offered those expressions, and those only, which were clearly appropriate to the time, place, situation and circumstances. I think, therefore, that we cannot imitate a more perfect model. There are certain things which are proper to be said on every particular occurrence of public worship; and when these are mentioned, the devotional exercises are appropriate, whether they contain one sentence or many sentences. But when a minister aims to fill up a certain space of time, by alluding to an almost endless variety of topics, and reciting the history of man from the creation to the present moment, he departs from the uniform custom of our Lord, and most generally disgusts all persons of sense who attempt to unite in his devotions.
But I consider all this as a very small evil in comparison with the other violation of the prescribed rule; the want of a devotional character. I have occasionally been shocked in hearing prayers of this description. I have heard some ministers attempt to make