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So far as the form of worship is not clearly pointed out in the scriptures, so far every church has a right to fix its own forms, and establish its own regulations. And it is worse than vain-it is wicked, in Christians, to have uncharitable contentions and variances with each other, about forms which they only infer, are fixed in the scriptures. It is very evident that the Holy Spirit left many things of this nature undefined, that the church, among all nations, and in all ages of the world, might, in some measure, accommodate its forms of discipline, and modes of worship, to the peculiar circumstances in which it might be placed. But it may be observed, that, since the form is serviceable only as it tends to keep up the spirit of devotion in the heart of the worshipper and extend it to others, that form which will best secure these objects is the best. The leadings of God's providence, corroborated by the test of experience, ought to direct in this matter. These have been the guide in establishing the forms of worship in our church. And since we have found our course a profitable one, we are not disposed to alter it, though it may be thought objectionable by some. Our lively exercises in devotion on the one hand-our fervour and zeal-our hearty accordance of soul, and sometimes of voice, may be thought by some 'to savour of enthusiasm; but this is to preserve us from dead formality. Our regularity, on the other hand our strict attention to order and method, may be thought by others, to savour of bondage ; but this is to preserve us from disorder and confusion.
It is for the reasons given above, viz. the guidance of God's providence, and the test of experience, that we still continue our warm and zealous method of preaching-our frequent appeals to the passions, and direct assaults upon the heart of the hearer. This was the method so successfully practised by WESLEY and WHITEFIELD, and which has been crowned with so much good, in the hands of their successors. Not that we exclude from our theory or practice, the necessity of enlightening the mind, and informing the judgment. Our ideas on this point have been sufficiently explained, in our first proposition. But experience proves, that the passions, like 'a strong man armed, keep the palace of the soul, even when the mind is well informed. So that the plainest and most experimental doctrines, proved by a course of cold reasoning, are not apt to affect the heart. You may convince men's understandings a thousand times, and if you do not make them feel you have gained little or nothing. The heart is bound up in the world-it is settled down in its own corruptions -it is bound to earth by numerous sensual ties, and carnal attachments; and can light in the understanding move it? No: the citadel itself must be attacked. The sharp two edged sword must be piercing-it must not only divide asunder the soul and spirit, but also the joints and marrow-it must cut its way to the thoughts of the heart.
The stupid feelings must be aroused, the fears alarmed, the sympathies touched, the false foundation shaken, the prospect of a better good exhibited, and the hopes of escape encouraged. This course of preaching, when directed and assisted by proper instruction and sound doctrine, will not fail of success--t has not failed of successit cannot fail of success.
If others do not choose to follow our forms, we do not reprobate them. We only wish the privilege of worshipping in that way in which God owns us. We cannot however, forbear expressing our increasing confidence in our method, when we see others, so generally, beginning to copy our example. Our forms are now substituted or closely copied, by those who once were strongly opposed to them. Those who complained that our strict method was a yoke of bondage, are now becoming methodical themselves; and those who condemned our lively devotions and peculiar forms, as irregularities, are adopting the same in their own worship. This leads us to conclude, that our forms are founded in the fitness of things; and are found useful by the common experience of Christians.
Public worship must not only have its form, it must also have its place. What this place shall be is not pointed out in the word of God. We learn however, from the subject before us, that the place is not essential. Our Lord and his apostles, preached in the grove, the temple, the synagogues, the public schools, in private houses, upper chambers, by the water side, and in every place where they could get hearers. Convenience, however, requires that there should be some place properly fitted up
for this purpose.
This has a tendency to cause a more general attention to public worship; and to make that attention more regular and uniform. The Jews, after their restoration from their Babylonish captivity, had synagogues erected in every city, where the law was regularly read and expounded. This, it is supposed, more than any other means, contributed to preserve them from falling again into idolatry; a sin to which they had before been extremely prone. And it is this regular attention to public worship in our land, that preserves us, if not from pagan idolatry, at least, from an indifference to all religion : which indifference is worse than some of the better modifications of paganism.
The first Christians, it is true, had not regular houses of worship. This, their outward circumstances, their poverty, and the malice of their persecutors, would not permit; but at a very early age of the church, we hear of their having houses of worship. And they have been common among Christian worshippers ever since.
Houses of worship should be comfortable, but they should be plain. All useless show and parade about a house of God, is so far a departure from simplicity and truth. They have a tendency to divert the mind from what is spiritual, and interest it too much in outward things. The dedicated temple is worshipped, and the
God to whom it is dedicated is forgotten. The pride of the heart is fed, and the flame of devotion is put out. This is not all, such needless expense might be better laid out. Houses might be built, and the gospel supported, in destitute places. Charitable institutions might be aided. Missionary operations among the heathens might be assisted. It is a truth, that ought to be spoken to the shame of the Christian world, that there has been expended uselessly, and worse than uselessly, on houses of worship, money enough, with the ordinary blessing of God, to evangelize the whole pagan world. And is God pleased with such costly devotion ? No: “Dearer to him is the prayer of the poor."
I would not however, advocate the cause of indolence and covetousness, in building houses of worship. They should be finished, and comfortably finished, and kept in repair. To withhold what ought to be appropriated in building, or finishing, or keeping in repair, the house of God, is idolatry—for “covetousness is idolatry.” Yea, in this case it is worse--it is sacrilege. It is taking what of right belongs to the temple of God, and dedicating it to mammon, that great idol of the professed Christian world. If I were to describe a house in a few words, that I think would be suitable for the worship of that God, who “dwelleth with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit,” it should be, not showy, but decent and plain; not sumptuous, but comfortable; not rough and uncouth, but neat and well constructed-in short, to give you a specimen at one view, having a suitable reference to the size of the congregation, it should be much such a house as this, which we are now consecrating, save that, if the habits and liberality of the people would permit
, I would leave off the doors from these seats, and invite in from the highways and hedges, the poor, the halt, and the maimed, to come and hear the gospel, To without money and without price." Once more.
The public worship of God must bave its appointed time. And for this purpose, God, from the creation, set apart one day in seven. It is true, the Christian churches, though they observe the same portion of time, are not sure that they observe the same day of the seven, with the ancient institution. The waiversal practice of the primitive church, and the general practice of the church in all ages, authorize us to observe the first day of the week, as a day of worship. This is the weekly festival of our Lord's resurrection, and is hence called the Lord's day.
On this day especially, men ought to calculate as certainly, as regularly, and as promptly, to attend the public worship of God, as they calculate to go about the concerns of the world on the other days of the week; and, as far as circumstances will permit, they should, on this day, have their families at the place of worship. Many people among us are culpably negligent in this respect. The impiety of some keeps them at home generally; their indifference and irregular habits keep others at home frequently; and the sloth and indolence of many, make them tardy and behind the hour at the house of God. Is this worshipping God in truth? We may here add, that the public worship of God is not confined to the Sabbath. Paul exhorted Timothy in preaching the word, “to be instant in season, and out of season." That is, not only at stated and regular times, but at every time when the situation and circumstances of the people should permit or require it.
III. We come in a few words, to confirm and enforce the doctrines of the two foregoing propositions, by the introductory clause in our text-"God is a Spirit.” A clause that conveyed no new truth to the woman of Samaria--nor did our Lord design this. He only made use of this atknowledged truth, to prove and enforce the doctrine that he was now teaching. For the same purpose would we now use it.
1. “God is a Spirit," and therefore cannot be pleased with any of the outward forms and circumstances of worship, in themselves considered. They are serviceable only as they are calculated to assist the spiritual worshipper himself, or produce an effect upon the minds of others. So far God is pleased with them. But, abstractly considered, what are outward things to a spiritual being? If he were a God of a material form, if he were a God of sense, then his senses might be delighted with sensible objects and sensible exercises; but not otherwise.
2. God is every where, and since he is a Spirit, he is every where with his spiritual presence; and therefore every where as an object of worship. Of this, the ancient Israelites seemed not to be fully aware. God, in their estimation, was only there as an object of worship, where he made himself known by some outward and extraordinary sign. Hence, after Jacob had had those remarkable visions, when he slept at Bethel, he exclaimed, “Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” He thought there was something peculiar in the place, in consequence of which God ought more especially to be worshipped there. So the Jews worshipped in the tabernacle, and afterwards in the temple, because God visibly revealed his glory there in a pillar of cloud or of fire; and because the divine Shekinah, or visible glory of God, constantly beamed forth from underneath the wings of the cherubim over the mercy seat.
So the Samaritans worshipped in mount Gerrizim, because there the ancient patriarchs built altars to God, and because there, when the children of Israel had passed over Jordan, six tribes stood to pronounce the blessings of God upon the people.
Indeed, God's more usual method of revealing himself to his people under the former dispensation, was by some outward manifestation; by some extraordinary visible sign; and this was
necessary to prepare the way for that extraordinary manifestation of God in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ; who was God with us—who was Divinity miraculously revealed, through a human medium; and this put an end to manifestations by signs. Now a new system of worship was introduced. And hence, Christ says to the woman-“The hour cometh, and now is," already the bright, the spiritual dispensation is opening, the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth." That is, shall worship him by a direct communion of Spirit, without any outward sign; and because his spiritual presence is every where, shall worship him every where. Every place may now be a Bethel, may be the “house of God, the gate of heaven,” to the soul; and every soul may be the temple of the Holy Ghost.
Now the outward senses are not affected by outward manifestations, but the senses of the soul are more clearly opened. “All (spiritual and true worshippers) with open face, beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.” “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." The communication between God and the soul is direct. God only speaks to the soul; and the soul holds sweet converse with God. “And thus the devotion of the soul is spiritual. possible,” say you," for the mind to receive impressions, except through an outward medium ?" By no means impossible; for “ God is a Spirit.” This is the reason why the worship of God can be spiritual ; and it is the reason why it must be spiritual and true.
3. “God is a Spirit," and therefore cannot be deceived by any outward ceremony, or formal pretence of worship, in which the heart is not interested. Neither can he be deceived by any intellectual exercise, or sympathetic excitement, which does not spring from a spiritual experience. Such apparent devotion, such specious exercises, do but deceive the worshipper, not God. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." And he clearly discerns and accurately distinguishes, all the different workings of the heart. If that is right, all is right; but if that is wrong, all is wrong. Finally, we maintain and enforce the necessity of all that we mean, by inward religion, experimental grace, spiritual devotion, and communion with God, from this one position—"God is a Spirit.”
To conclude. I have given you, as far as I understand them, and as far as was practicable in one discourse, the general outlines of these principles of worship, which will be insisted upon, and practised in this house. You, who are expecting to make this your stated place of worship, will now be able to judge Vol. VII.