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THE following pages have been compiled with as much diligence and care as could be commanded. For years this manual has engaged our attention, and involved considerable labour. Many Ministers and friends have been consulted who have approved our plan, and encouraged our efforts.
There is but little of the human element in this work except in the construction and arrangement of the services. All the teaching has been carefully selected from the word of God, and the passages are recorded as they stand in the English authorised version of the Holy Scriptures.
Some passages of Scripture are used more than once, as they clearly indicate more than one doctrine or duty, and illustrate and explain more than one Bible theme.
We commenced with an intention of arranging fifty-two services, but interest increased, and new topics suggested themselves, and with such large stores of truth at our command, it was found very difficult to bring the work to a close within its present limits. Should the book be thought too large and expensive for congregational or private purposes, it could be divided, and thus reduce the size and diminish the cost. We are anxious to obtain a wide circulation, and therefore are willing to meet any reasonable suggestion or urgent demand, though we think it most complete and useful in its present form.
The teaching of God on all the great themes of revelation have been collated, and so arranged as to present the subject in all its variety and fulness of meaning. Scattered truth is thus brought to a focus and one idea respecting God, His attributes, His works, His Son, and His Spirit runs through each service. Multiform instruction is also given in all the doctrines and duties of religion.
In the margin explanatory notes are supplied, and a reference to the chapter and verse of each selected passage.
The book contains a varied order of religious service, and is designed to combine fervent praise, Biblical instruction, and inspired prayers in Bible language. The prayers are brief, but comprehensive, and have a specific relation to the subject of the reading. In the devout aspirations it is intended that the minister and people should audibly unite. Its aim is not to supersede, but to stimulate, extemporaneous devotion.
Evidently some new element is needful to give interest, intelligence, unity, and inspiration to our ordinary Congregational worship. Often this important part of Christian service is dull, heavy, solitary, and destitute of concentrated thought, elevated feeling, and joyous emotion.
This preliminary service appears too much the performance of one man, rather than the lifting up of the hearts and voices of a worshiping assembly.
It is almost impossible for one man to embody in prayer all the wants and desires, and to meet the constantly recurring claims of a whole congregation, and under all circumstances profitably to keep alive and lead the devotions of an assembly. Therefore some liturgical form, or embodigment of Scripture truth appears essential to meet the many mental moods, and supply subject and matter for prayer, and all the requirements of true worship.
Liturgies have been used with avowed advantage even by our Nonconformist forefathers; and the grand old liturgy used by the Church of England is doubtless a means of attraction, and a source of great spiritual profit to all who join heartily in its use.
We are aware that many objections are urged against a fixed form of service, and there may be substantial reasons for these objections, for we know there is danger that the repetition of one form of service may beget weariness and formality. The orders of religious worship here introduced are not liable to the same adverse reasons:
Firstly.—They are not iterations of human composition, but the pure words of God, that yield an everlasting freshness.
Secondly.—They combine religious instruction with devout aspirations.
Thirdly. They are numerous and varied, supplying almost every variety of Bible-teaching and prayer.
Fourthly.—They may be used in harmony with free or extemporaneous service, and they are so diversified as to supply both
changes and variety in private or public worship. Should it be thought that many of the services are too long for general use, and would occupy more of the time than is usually allotted to the preliminary part of a public service; we think it would be found by a comparison of time that the reading would not exceed the period usually taken for an ordinary chapter, and might advantageously take the place of one scripture lesson. If needful the longer services might be divided without any violence to the subject, either by using the former or latter part of the order. But we know no reason why the service of the Lord's house is to be limited to ninety or one hundred minutes.
The first four parts are best adapted for congregational uses, but every chapter contains valuable instruction in the doctrines, laws, messages, and institutions of the gospel, and a revelation of life present and to come.
It is needless for us to attempt enlarged directions for the constant and profitable use of these readings. Though the order of the services is arranged, yet there is full scope for free and extemporaneous prayer, as well as the selection of hymns, anthems, and chants, and Scripture lessons adapted to the subject, time, and circumstances.
Although the book is mainly intended for the public services of the Lord's house, it is adapted to guide the truth-seeker. The Bible student will find in these pages that the word of God is largely its own interpreter. To the Sunday-school teacher it will supply a useful hand-book, and a valuable series of sacred lessons. In the Christian home it may be specially helpful to stimulate and guide family devotion.
We are aware of many faults which could be easily explained, but we trust these will be corrected by some future revision, and the aid of kind suggestion and friendly criticism.
We earnestly invite and urge our fellow Christian worshippers to adopt these scriptural forms of religious service, and specially to use them on the Lord's day morning, as the best period and most likely season of profitable devotion.
To the Christian world we respectfully dedicate these pages, and earnestly pray that they may largely contribute to the personal and collective edification and spiritual life of all in Christ Jesus; and redound to the honour and glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who only is the object of religious worship, and worthy of present and everlasting praise. Amen.
Stamford, October 1, 1878.