Page images

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,

[ocr errors]

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 converts to a party, by reciting the articles of an unscriptural creed, and then requesting the Almighty to impress all present with a belief of their truth. I have heard others undertake to pray down all who dissented from their interpretations of scripture, by informing the Lord of their heresy, accusing them of wilful depravity in rejecting their opinions, and dictating to the divine mind how to bring such unbelievers to the reception of their theological views. I have even known some who earnestly implored God to convert certain ministers of a different denomination, and save them from the downward road to hell in which they were fast travelling; thus taking upon themselves to judge the hearts of others, and condemn those as unconverted who had long exhibited much more scriptural evidence of being true Christians than they had themselves.

Now all such are prayers to men; and instead of being devotional, are directly calculated to call into exercise the worst passions of the human heart; to inflame the pride of all who think themselves of the number of the elect; and to rouse the contempt, if not the anger, of all who are thus publicly pointed out as objects of man's pity and God's displeasure. They are also unchristian prayers. For the gospel addresses us all as sinners. As such we should ever feel when we offer our devotions to our heavenly Father. We should all, the very best as well as the most depraved, penitently confess our manifold transgressions; humbly implore the divine forgiveness, and earnestly seek spi

ritual aid to preserve us from temptation and deliver us from all evil. Realizing our entire dependence, we should also pour forth the gratitude of our hearts for the unnumbered mercies of our lives; and fervently beseech a continuance and increase of all needed temporal and spiritual blessings. Feeling that we are all brethren, we should devoutly pray that the sick may be healed, the sorrowful comforted, the ignorant enlightened, the wicked reformed, and that the rich blessings of good learning, civil liberty, religious freedom, and true holiness may be enjoyed by every individual and nation on the whole earth. Such devotions will render us more pure, humble, benevolent, devout and happy; and no sincere Christian of any sect can hesitate to unite in such scriptural offerings. By pursuing this course, we may reasonably hope to be ranked among those true worshippers whom the Father seeketh to worship him in spirit and in truth.

Such are the principal duties of a minister in relation to the public worship. What then are the corresponding duties of a people? They require all hearers to unite heartily in the public devotions. But I fear many excuse themselves from this exercise for very unsatisfactory reasons. Some think they cannot unite with those who offer their devotions to the Father alone, and do not close their prayers with ascriptions to Father, Son and spirit; not considering that this objeetion would prevent their uniting even with Jesus and his Apostles; since all their addresses were offered to the Father alone, and not one of their prayers

« PreviousContinue »