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of Israel sang together of the wonderful works of the Lord; and partook together of the ordinances of his church. These ordinances were of a social nature, and were commanded to be celebrated from generation to generation. When this people became established in the land which the Lord God sware unto their fathers, they assembled, by divine appointment, once a year, either personally or by delegation, in one place, to acknowledge the providence of God, and to make mention of his holiness. At length Solomon built a splendid house in Jerusalem, their capital city; and thither the tribes went up, the tribes of the Lord, to the testimony of Israel. In times still subsequent, synagogues were built throughout the land, where those who lived in adjacent parts, assembled every sabbath for the worship of God; still continuing, however, the practice of going up to Jerusalem. When our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, he united with the Jews in their social worship, and was an example of conformity to all the ordinances of the church. His immediate followers did the same till the new dispensation was set up, when they met every first day of the week, to break bread and attend to all the duties of social worship.
With this idea of the facts existing during the periods in which the bible was written, the term “ assembly of the saints” is sufficiently intelligible. The text then is no other than a distinct allusion to the public worship of God. This is the subject, therefore, to which I would call your attention. . In doing this I shall endeavour to show,
I. That Public Worship is an appointment of God: II. The Manner in which it should be performed : and III. The Influence which it exerts.
In the first place—Public Worship is a divine appointment.
Almost all Christendom have agreed in one principle, and that is, that every institution or appointment of the Old Testament, is in full force now, except such as have been set aside by divine authority. On this principle we affirm, that the
moral law is binding upon us, because it was once given to the church of God, and has never been revoked. On the same principle we place the sanctity of the sabbath, and the dedication of the infant children of believers to God, in the initiatory ordinance of the church. On the other hand, we affirm, that the church is released from the ceremonial law, not merely because it was of temporary use, for of this we are not always competent judges, but because it is repealed by the authority of the New Testament. We affirm, too, on the same principle, that the whole system of sacrifices, which prevailed from the beginning till the appearance of the Saviour, is of no obligation now, because God has set that system aside, Christ having offered up himself once for all, as, by way of eminence, “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
Now, the public worship of God is, to say the least, an institution as early in its date as the time of Moses ; for at that time the various ordinances of the Jewish form of the church were established. It will not be doubted that the whole congregation united together in the wilderness, in celebrating the praises of God, as an assembly of the saints; nor that they did so after their establishment in the promised land; nor that the ark of the covenant was deposited in a certain place, and that thither they went to inquire of the Lord ; nor that they frequently, in the course of their history, stood before God with all their households, to engage themselves to be his. It will not be doubted, that the temple was built in conformity to this institution, and that the worship therein conducted, was of divine appointment, and was that social worship which constitutes an assembly of the saints. Nor will it be doubted, that when every city, containing a thousand inhabitants, was furnished with a synagogue, the same institution is manifest.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, when he came into the world, found the people of God in the habit of assembling together for divine worship. IIis silence on the subject, and his constant example of assembling with them, amount to a positive precept in favour of the practice. It was already established,
and that was sufficient for its continuance in the church. If it were to be given up, or afterwards placed only on the ground of expediency, our Lord would have said so, or have commissioned his apostles to say so; but since he did not do either of these things, the institution must remain. No authority but that which makes a law is competent to repeal it. It follows, therefore, from the principle already stated, that the public worship of God is an institution of present and universal obligation so long as the world stands.
Take another view of the subject. It is a matter of fact, that the church of God, in all ages, has sanctioned the practice of public worship. In the science of law, when a custom has obtained time immemorial, it becomes a principle of action. It is binding on the decisions of courts, unless the written statute shall have pronounced it null and void. Judges do not fear to act upon the principle in all their decisions; and that judge who is best acquainted with such customs, and is most skilful in applying them to cases which constantly occur, is, other things being equal, the best qualified for his station. The laws of England are almost entirely made up
of this kind of enactment; and if the memory of man does not reach to the contrary of any usage or custom, that usage or custom is considered in the light of a law, and binding upon all those who live where it has obtained. Now, the principles of theological jurisprudence, if I may so speak, though not so complicated, and far less difficult of application, and brought within a smaller compass, are yet just the same. Like the principles of the civil law, they are founded in common sense. A custom then which has always existed in the church, • no man can lawfully set aside, even though no book and page for it can readily be produced ; unless the written word shall plainly tell him to do so. If you can prove any thing in the church to be an innovation, you can set aside its authority and place it only on the ground of expediency. Men therefore are at liberty to adopt it or not, as they see fit. Neither a doctrine nor a usage of the church, which is not ancient, is of any obligation on the consciences of men.
Now, the church has always had the custom of assembling together for the purpose of worshipping God: and such a collection of people as is familiarly known by the appellation “assembly of the saints,” has always existed; at least no man can point out a time when it did not exist. It follows, therefore, upon this principle, as well as the other that has been stated, that public worship is a divine appointment which is binding upon all men.
Again—The example of the apostles presents itself in a prominent light on this subject. Though the example of any one of them at a particular time cannot certainly be pleaded as an authoritative precept, because they were all imperfect men; yet their constant example, uniformly approved by themselves, is of the same nature as a divine command, because they were commissioned to act in peculiar circumstances in setting up the Messiah's kingdom, and in fixing the laws which should govern that kingdom. Now, the example of the apostles on the subject of public worship, is abundant. I shall only adduce one specimen of it;-Paul and Barnabas are said to have assembled themselves with the church at Antioch, for a whole year, and to have taught much people. And so notorious did this fact become, that the “ disciples were called christians first in Antioch." It appears from this narrative that there was a church in that place, and that they were in the habit of assembling at certain periods. Paul and Barnabas are not represented as making any new appointments, but as only complying with those which were already in existence. They assembled with the church and taught -the same language precisely that we should use in describing the temporary residence of a minister of the gospel in a particular place.
Again—The New Testament evidently proceeds on the fact that the assemblies of the saints are held, and gives precepts accordingly. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, for example, tells us to “ hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Now, it is
very obvious that this subject was fully understood, or it would not have been mentioned in such an incidental man
The christians who were addressed, well knew what this assembling together was for, because they had been accustomed to it. It is plain that this assembling could not be for any other than religious purposes, because that would have no connexion with holding fast the profession of their faith without wavering, nor with provoking one another to love and good works, nor with exhorting one another with reference to the day of Judgment, as the passages joined with the exhortation in question, hold forth. How can he who neglects the public worship of God, partake of the social spirit of religion sufficient to provoke his fellow men to love and good works? How can such a man hold fast the profession of his faith? To whom is his faith shown and where is it acknowledged ? and to what object does it extend? If he asserts that he shows his faith to God and acknowledges it in his closet, and worships his Maker in secret, alone ; how can he enjoy that duty when, with all the social feelings of human nature about him, he does not join with his fellow men in their adorations of the same being? It is absurd to talk of it. All experience and observation show conclusively, that he who voluntarily neglects the public assemblies of the saints, never worships God in any other way. He that is a stranger to the communion of saints at the foot of the throne, is a stranger also to communion with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, in the retirement of the closet. These two kinds of divine worship are intimately connected; and the same spirit which dictates the one will dictate the other.
There is another consideration by which the fact that the assemblies of the saints are held, is recognized in the New Testament; and that is, the uniform representation of the necessity of preaching for salvation. It is asserted in many ways, that it pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Now, preaching can ordinarily be had only in the public assemblies of God's people. Our