Page images

Having arrived at this point, I may look back on the principles laid down in the beginning of this lecture; and offer our liturgy to the most rigid scrutiny that may be devised-as to its being agreeable to the dictates of the most sound and cultivated judgments; as to its breathing a feryour of affection, different indeed from any thing savouring of the extravagances of the imagination or of the passions, yet demonstrating more than cau be done by any thing of this sort, the Unction from above; as to its abounding in the expression of those salutary truths of Scripture, which have been received in the Christian Church in all times and places; so as always to afford rich instruction from the desk, when, as sometimes unhappily occurs, there is need of it to make up for the poverty of the pulpit; and finally, as to the end of all, in its tending to nourish gracious dispositions in the heart, and to call them forth to act in the life and conversation. To open and illustrate all these its excellencies, would be to make a review of the services of the book of Com. mon Prayer: which is not here the object. Instead of this, I go on to apply the result, to some points immediately affected by it, and intitled to our seri. ous consideration.

First; I apply the subject to the confirming of us in a satisfaction with the devotions of our liturgy; which have been handed down to us, partly from very early ages of the Church, and partly as the compositions of the martyrs of the English Refor. mation; and have since received the testimony of innumerable holy persons now with God, that they have found them the best means of lifting up to him their thoughts and their affections.

But however conspicuous and confessed the excellency of our liturgy; I wish to attach you to it, not principally on its own account, but because of its being unfavourable to every extravagance-every “ wind of doctrine,” as an apostle expresses himself; there evidently appearing of every thing of this sort, that it will not endure the limits so imposed.

:? Once more, let it be understood, that there is meant no disparagement of any prayers, which are rational and evangelical; however differing from our own in other respects. But when men and women become convulsed in publick prayer, by passion of any sort; and when such passion vents itself in groans and screams and frantick gestures; the question of the propriety of this goes much deeper, than the independent question of the propriety of forms: and such scenes are an evidence, that the persons concerned in them “have need to be taught the first principles of the doctrine of Christ." There can be no better exposure of the practices alluded to, than the supposing of them attached to the Lord's Prayer; or to any other of the prayers of the same blessed person, as recorded in the gospel of St. John; or to either of the two prayers already referred to in the acts of the apostles. If these holy compositions were uttered in connexion with such extravagance, there would be obvious to every eye and every ear, the incongruity between the prayers and the accompaniments. The unnatural alliance would throw an air of mockery over the whole proceeding: and what can be the cause of this; but that in the prayers of scripture, there is not the kind of passion found necessary by such ravings for their support? which is therefore an animal fire, that must be kept alive by a fuel not provided for it in the gospel.

Under this view of the subject, our liturgy is much more important, than as it contains forms of prayer, however excellent. It is a maintaining of us in a medium between superstition and enthusiasm; being a standing protest against the worst of the errours which have disturbed the peace of the Church, a security to "the faith once delivered to the saints,” and thus a keeping off from our ministry of unwelcome intruders; except indeed some-it is here spoken with grief-who have imposed themselves on us, by means of promises as well in private, as made publickly at the altar, at times of ordination; which have been given to the winds, as soon as the end to be accomplished by them has been obtained.

But further, and this is the second particular; while we duly estimate the authorized deyotions of our Church, let us also duly estimate the obligation thus brought on our consciences, to offer them up in that true spirit of prayer, under the influence of which they were indited. For how poor and lifeless is that show of piety, which rests in the head, or at most extends to the carriage of the outward man! In every concern, there must be a degree of sensibility, proportioned to the interest which we take in it: and therefore we take no interest in the duty in question, unless that distinguishing circumstance adorn it. Take any of the imitative arts, and consider how im. possible it is to become a proficient in it; without such a taste for its excellencies, as captivates the attention and fixes the inclination. But religion is also imitative, the perfections of God being the model to which we aspire; but to which we shall never make any approach, if our religion be only that of the understanding; much more, if it be mere habit, in which there is nothing either of judgmentor of desire. Were we to consider this part of the subject in its various points of view; we should perceive, that of all the vain pursuits in which we can engage, there can be none more vain, than that of uttering, with our lips, prayers and praises foreign to the heart.

It must indeed be acknowledged, that sensibility, depending much on animal constitution, is not always a standard, by which to judge of the habitual disposi. tion of the mind: and therefore, we ought not to make the proportion of the former, on every particular occasion of divine worship, the measure of our sincerity. Still, if there be a value of the benefits implored, fear of the evils deprecated, and a grateful sense of the mercies celebrated, the general effect of them will be a glow of affection, correspondent 'to such existing causes of them. If however the heart should not possess a degree of sensibility, proportioned to its own deliberate desire of the good contemplated, and of the worth of this in the estimation of the judgment; we at least have it in our power to humble ourselves under this our frailty, before him to whom all hearts are open, in the spirit of the prayer prompted to us by one of the Collects of our Church; beseeching him, that “having put into our minds good desires, he would enable us to bring the same to good effect:" being assured, that the effect is accomplished, in proportion as, in the words of another Collect, “ we love the thing which he commandeth, and desire that which he doth promise."

Although these are the matters to which the subject is wished principally to be applied; yet it is to be hoped, that the influence of them will not be disminished by the mention of another matter essential to the maintaining of consistency, and even a mean of accomplishing the highest ends. It is the use of our liturgy, in the manner directed by the Rubricks.

Not wishing to be minute, I shall mention but two particulars; in regard to which there is a great defici. ency, in many of the members of our Church. *

The first is, the not kneeling at the service; which in all ages and nations, has been held a suitable accompaniment of the act of prayer. Our blessed Saviour kneeled, when he offered up his addresses 10 “ his Father and our Father, to his God and our God.” We read of St. Paul's kneeling, of St. Peter's kneeling, and of St. Stephen's kneeling, in such a way as shows, that it must have been the known usage. From that downward, it was the general prac. tice of the Christian Church; until among some people, within these few ages past. There seems no way of accounting for the contrary, but this. Wild vision. aries imagined, that they soared towards Christian perfection, by disregarding all connexion between the inward and the outward man; a delusion by which social worship has, in many places, been stripped of much of its dignity and ornament. What originated in the enthusiasm of some, was continued and extend. ed by the indifference of others. Now one would hope that, with persons to whom neither of these can be imputed, the infamy of the origin of the neglect, would be a motive for the abandoning of it: although doubt. less the principal motive should be, to maintain in the contrary custom, a suitable expression of homage from dependent beings to their great Creator.

* In the matters which follow, there has been, within these few years, considerable improvement in the congregations, for whom these lectures were prepared: yet with a view to further improvement, the suggestions are retained.


The other particular, is the people's not joining vocally, in the parts appropriated to them in the service; which is so arranged, as that one of its principal excel. lencies was intended to arise from the alternate speak. ing of the minister and of the people. But what is the consequence of inattention to the design? To perceive this, let us represent to ourselves the different effects which the same service, according to the manner of the performance, must bave on an intelligent person, who had never read or heard of it before. When he should hear the minister and the Church dividing the reading of a sentence, as if it were interesting to none besides themselves; he would perhaps apply to the compilers and to the users of the service, the remark of St. Paul in regard to another abuse in worship—“ If there come in those who are unlearned and unbelievers, will they not say, ye are mad?"'* But let the same person hear the service performed in the manner intended: In the confession, let the principal speaker be no more than the leader of a devout congregation, confessing on bended knees, that they are sinners: In the hymns and in the Psalms read, let the minister and the people be alternately praising the Creator, and rising on one another in strains of thanksgiving: Let the intermediate responses likewise be so used, as if all were under a sense of their interests in the duties of the occasion: And immediately, the whole would wear a quite different appearance. The person who, in the other case,

I Cor. xiv. 23.

« PreviousContinue »