Page images
PDF
EPUB

hope that many amongst us have experienced a comfort and a blessing in that constant attendance, which would lead them to regard it as a great and valuable privilege, rather than a distasteful task. Confining our attention therefore, principally to the second branch of the text, we find it enjoined on those who assemble themselves together in the name of God, that, amongst other duties, they should practice that of mutual exhortation. Nor has our Church, in her wise provision for the general celebration of public worship, in this respect deviated from the requisitions of the Apostle's precept. Exhortation forms a very prominent feature in the solemnization of her divine services. It is for this object partly, together with doctrinal instruction, that a discourse is commonly delivered after the conclusion of the prayers. And more especially, perhaps, is that duty fulfilled in the preliminary address called “ The Exhortation,” in which the minister invites the congregation to join with him in common devotion to heaven, and reminds them of the proper character which that devotion should assume, and the spirit with which it should be offered. To this part, therefore, of the Liturgy of the Church of England, as natural order would suggest, let us direct our first attention, and endeavour, under the blessing of God, to inquire how far the general purport and tenor of this exhortatation are in unison with the precepts of Scripture.

Were every man left to the devices of his own imagination in framing the style of his public addresses to the throne of mercy, it could hardly be expected but that some unholy temper of mind should often intrude to destroy the due sanctity of his devotions, and to encumber those spiritual aspirations which ought to ascend freely and uninterruptedly unto heaven, with many of the gross appetites and carnal affections of the world. Nature, corrupt and rebellious nature, is too prone to indulge in proud and presumptous imaginations. She would lead us too hastily and too abruptly to intrude on our Maker's presence. She would bid us lift up our heads in confidence and self satisfaction, to demand, rather than to supplicate, the assistance and the blessing of hea.

She would insinuate the spirit and the language of the haughty Pharisee, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are." But how totally the reverse of this, how replete with humility and contrition, how pure, how meek, how essentially Christian, is the temper in which the service of our church calls on its members to pour out their hearts in prayer! As we enter the house of God, there is no syllable that salutes our ears calculated to gratify the proud imaginings of the na.

ven.

tural man.

Not even with the productions of the highest of human wisdom do we venture to begin the solemn ceremony. The words of God himself —the language of chosen parts of Scripture dictated by His holy Spirit--and all of the most startling character, are the first to break on the slumbering conscience. The Sentences, of which some are required to be read before the exhortation, are in many points different from each other, and addressed to different characters; but the injunction to penitence and self-abasement distinctly pervades them all. And the Exhortation continues, and carries on the strain. Repentance-confession-humility, this is the spirit with which it commences, and with which it ends. And while it invites us to pray, and to join in all the exercises of holy worship, it plainly tells us of our own unworthiness, denounces most strictly all ostentation of merit in the sight of God, and dictates only the burthen of the publican's prayer, “ Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner.”

I. But, to enter more into particulars, the Exhortation begins by assuring us that we must at all times be ready to confess; “ The Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of God our heavenly Father.” And it then

tuary of God.

proeeds to explain how that confession should be made, namely, “ with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart," and the reasons for which, " to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same by his infinite goodness and mercy.” This is the great and important truth which meets us, as it were, at the very threshold of the sanc

The scriptures are searched, not for matter of self-satisfaction, or of flattery to our corrupt and perverted passions, but to refer us rather to those passages which require men, sundry places" indeed, “to declare their iniquity, and to be sorry for their sin ;"* which assert that c he that covereth his sins shall not prosper;" | and which remind us that we are not worthy “even so much as to lift up our eyes unto heaven.” This formulary admonishes us that, when we draw near at any time unto God, the homage we have to pay is that of a fallen and a miserable creature who has no merit of his own to plead, and no claims whatever of himself on the mercy and compassion of heaven. If, like Nehemiah, we have petitions to present to the throne of grace, and would venture, in his words, to say, “I beseech thee, O Lord God, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his command

66 in

* Psalm xxxviii. 18.

† Proverbs xxviii. 13.

"*

we

ments, let thine ear now be attentive, and thine ears open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant which I pray before thee now; " are reminded, at the same time, that we must not presume thus to address him without adding, like the same holy man, “we have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept thy commandments, nor thy statutes, nor thy judgments" Or if, like Jeremiah, we have occasion to exhort each other, saying, “ Let us lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens,” † we cannot effectually and devoutly comply with that exhortation without addressing ourselves, like him, ere we venture on the office of thanksgiving, in the language of deep humiliation, unto God, “We have transgressed and have rebelled : thou hast not pardoned.” Thus our own feebleness and our own insufficiency– the principle on which is founded the urgent necessity of our prayers, and the consideration which, increasing, as it does, the sense of our need, should augment also the warmth and sincerity of our devotion—is the first point which is forced

upon our notice ere we begin the solemnities of public worship. Dissimulation before God is openly denounced, confession earnestly recommended : and, though we have no ground to hope for forgiveness but the infinite mercy and * Nehem. xv. 6.

+ Lam. iii. 41.

« PreviousContinue »