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Lord Jesus Christ, when he ascended up on high, commissioned a class of men to preach the gospel to every creature; and promised to be with them, in their holy undertaking, to the end of the world. The grand theatre of these men's operations is the christian assembly. Here they proclaim from sabbath to sabbath - the tender mercies of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us ; " " the terrors of the Lord,” whereby the condemnation of the wicked is made known; the motives to obedience which God has set forth; the danger of error, and the importance and sanctifying efficacy of truth. In short, here they preach Christ crucified, to some a stumbling-block and to others foolishness, but to them that believe, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
We are so constituted, that the truths of God spoken by our fellow men, have more influence upon us, than when read in retirement. There are a thousand circumstances which contribute to this effect. There is the public assembly, the multitude that keep holy day,calculated to touch our sympathies. There are the social prayers of the church, the songs of Zion, the fact that one of ourselves is addressing us personally, the whole idea of public worship ;-all contributing together to make an impression on the mind. This is according to the principles of human nature which God very well knew when he ordained that preaching should be a means of salvation. It is by the preaching of the gospel that men are excited to look into the scriptures, and read what God has to say to them from the oracles of truth. He that sets up the bible alone, unaccompanied by the preaching of the word, as the means of his salvation, is setting up his own standard and putting aside the standard of God. He is contradicting Him who tells us in this very bible, that it is his pleasure to save men through the instrumentality of preaching. Besides, where attendance on the preaching of the gospel is voluntarily neglected, the bible will not be read with diligence and candour, if it be read at all. It is the preaching of the truths which the bible contains that awakens the care
less and the secure to a proper use of the scriptures. It is the living voice of the preacher that arrests the attention of men, and calls upon them to regard with interest the things that belong to their peace. The silent bible lies unnoticed on the shelf, till the living voice of the preacher sends men to their closet and their God. They are ignorant, it may be, of the momentous truths which the bible contains, till the preaching of the gospel excites them" to search the scriptures daily whether these things are so." The mere reading of the bible then, is not, in ordinary cases, the means of salvation. The treasure is committed to earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God. Men might be converted to the faith of Christ by the immediate power of God; but infinite wisdom has not so appointed. Even when Saul of Tarsus was struck to the ground by miraculous agency, he was instructed to go to Ananias a preacher of the gospel, for direction in the way to heaven. And when Cornelius was met by an angel who assured him that his prayer was heard, that angel was not commissioned to preach the gospel to him. Send men to Joppa to Peter, the man of like passions with yourself,' was the direction, “ he shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” The preaching of the gospel by feeble men is then the institution of God; and must be attended to if we wish to obtain “everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.” Where that preaching is neglected, sinners sleep the sleep of death. No voice breaks in upon the universal silence, and tells the sinner of the retributions of eternity. The sacred truths of the bible are all unheeded, and its awful threatnings are as if they were not, till the miserable subject of them experiences their execution in another world. Christians, if there be any in such an abode of spiritual death, are hardly to be distinguished from others. Being destitute of the appointed means of growing in grace, they go backward ; and so much are they like the world, that no enmity is excited against them, even in the hearts of the bitterest opposers. They are taken to be of the world, and therefore, as the Saviour declares, the
world loves its own. The whole region is one great moral waste, where none of the fruits of paradise spring up to gratify the taste, nor any of its flowers to regale the sight. And such invariably continues to be its character, except that it grows more desolate and wild, till the hand of the preacher sows the seed of vegetation and life ; till his voice pierces the moral gloom with the message of the Most High, “ Repent ye, and believe the gospel." The bible they may have; but that cannot speak till it is read. That cannot reason with the debauched and impious “ Felix, of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” and make him tremble. That only speaks to the conscience through the medium of the eye: the preacher compels the attention through the medium of the ear. The latter, presents the truth whether men will hear or whether they will forbear : the former, must wait till there is a willingness to receive it. Though the bible proclaims in the plainest terms, that, “ whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved;" yet the argument of the apostle remains in all its force, “ How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed ? and how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard ? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"
The objection to public worship, then, which is so often in the mouths of the indolent and the indifferent, that they can read their bible and other good books at home, is nothing to the purpose. This is not that way which God has appointed. Nor is the time when the assembly of the saints is convened on the sabbath the proper season for reading, unless we are necessarily detained from that assembly. We are not, therefore, to expect the divine blessing in such an occupation, under such circumstances, because we are setting up our own wisdom against the wisdom of God. Then is the time for the preaching of the gospel ; and if we neglect it, we are in fact neglecting the institution of God, and taking time which is not our own, for an employment which, in other circumstances, would be good.
The preaching of the gospel, then, being an important part of the business in the assembly of the saints, and that being clearly of divine appointment as the only means of salvation, where it can be had ; it follows, with increased evidence, that public worship is held by the authority of God.
One more thought on this part of my subject, and I shall have done with it. The feelings of good men have always been in favour of this duty. “I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord," is the declaration of the pious psalmist. “For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say peace be within thee." "I will pay my vows unto the Lord now, in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord's house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.” The experience of the ancient people of God, as recorded in the scriptures, tells us, that they praised God for his mighty acts, in the assembly of the saints,—they uttered abundantly the memory of his great goodness,--they went on from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appearing before God,—they esteemed a day in his courts better than a thousand,—their souls longed, yea even fainted for the courts of the Lord,- their heart and their flesh cried out for the living God.
In like manner do saints in every age of the church feel and act. True religion is the same in all ages and in all countries. They find, by the social acts of worship in which they engage, every holy principle strengthened within them, and when the word is accompanied by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, they are built up and established in the faith. Their eyes are turned away from beholding vanity and they are quickened in the way of the Lord. Thus they learn more of themselves and of God, more of the Saviour and the freeness of his salvation, and become more fixed in their love of holiness and the practice of every good work than they otherwise could be. Hence they grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The universal feelings of good men, then, since they are implanted by the spirit of God, are an argument which, add
ed to all the rest that have been adduced, places the subject of public worship, beyond all doubt, among the appointments of God. I pass now,
II. To the Manner in which that worship should be performed.
And here, though I freely avow my preference for the simple forms of our own church, as being, in my view, far the most agreeable to the spirit of the gospel, and the examples of apostolical practice recorded in the scriptures, and far the most calculated to fix the mind on the supreme object of worship and leave it unencumbered with foreign mixtures; yet I am not disposed to condemn my christian brethren who think otherwise. There is no question that we may worship God acceptably by means of a liturgy or by unpremeditated prayer, or even in some instances, in all the pomp and ceremony
of Rome itself. But there is a kind of holy patriotism when one looks back upon the venerable fathers of New England, men of whom the world was not worthy, and remembers, that they worshipped the same God in this same way; and that so many generations of them have gone to the grave and to the abodes of the blessed, leaving their mantle behind, to rest in some light manner at least upon their descendants. The spirit of liberty and religion too which they left as a legacy to enrich our beloved New England, shines gloriously through these simple ordinances, and this unadulterated mode of approaching the Lord God of our fathers.
The great point, however, under this head of discourse is, that public worship should be performed in spirit and in truth. Be our worship, in the external form of it, ever so pure and apostolical, it is nothing without this. There must be a devout sense of the character of Him into whose house we are
There must be an entire surrender of the soul to the business before us, without distracting thoughts or worldly affections. The objection which is often made to a liturgy, that the words are repeated without meaning and without