O PUBLIC WORSHIP.

BY LA T CARPE TER

HEBREWS, XII.; 28. LET US HAVE GRACE, WHEREBY WE MAY SERVE GOD ACCEPTABLY, WITH REVERE CE A D GODLY FEAR. That truly eloquent writer and real poet, to whose devotional sentiments we owe those Hymns in prose which, in numberless instances, have contributed to lead the simple heart of childhood to Him whose tender mercies are over all His works, — as well as those still higher strains of piety by which, in social worship, our souls are often solemnized, and our affections elevated and aright directed, and by which, in the individual exercises of religion, we learn what habitual devotion is, its supporting influences, and its consolations, — Mrs. Barbauld, in her Defence of Public Worship^ observes, that, as times and manners change, its circumstances will vary ; but that the root of the practice is too strongly interwoven vrith the texture of the human frame, ever to be abandoned. " While man has wants," she continues,-" he wiU pray; whUe he is sensible of blessings, he vnll offer praise; while he has

166 SBRMO XII. common wants and common blessings, he will pray and praise in company with his fellows ; and while he feels himself to be a social being, he will not be persuaded to lay aside social worship."

I rejoice in the conviction that he will not ; — ^that in proportion as the essence of religion flourishes in any Christian community, will be its estimate of the value and importance of the public exerc*:ses of religion ; — and that, if ever the time shall come when they vrill not be necessary, as they at present are, for the due culture, if not for the very existence, of religious principle and devotional sentiment among the great bulk of society, they will be spontaneously resorted to, as the just and natural expression of religious principle and devotional sentiment. Accustomed from our childhood to go statedly to the place where " prayer is wont to be made," and where the duties and sanctions of the Gospel are expounded and enforced, it may require some experience and observation, (when the custom is exposed to the scrutinizing enquiry of self-justifying indifierence or scepticism,) to enable him that undertakes to answer the enquiry, to give a sufficient reason for the observance. So complicated and so extensive are its influences, that nothing which can be stated will sufficiently express the ground for that deep conviction, which the long-continued and serious performance of this duty produces and fixes in the heart that has been fairly surrendered to it. Strongly as I have often expressed the ground for my own convictions, I feel I have only embodied a small portion of them ; and, because necessarily expressed in a general form, they must have

PUBLIC WORSHIP. 167 wanted that individual character^ which might completely bring them home to the hearty as well as to the understandings of those who have observed but little, and who have not perhaps themselves experienced as one could desire the efficacy which I have ascribed to it : while, on the other hand, they must have inadequately represented those convictions which others feel, v\rho have coinmonly experienced in the House of prayer

the sentiments of rational and earnest devotion, — ^who, in a course of habitual and serious attendance on its services, have received the knowledge which maketh wise to salvation, have effectually had the duties of religion disclosed and enforced, have been brought to search into their hearts and try their ways, have been driven to humble contrition and steadfast purposes of better obedience, have perceived their faith invigorated, and their hope strengthened, have been lightened of their most distracting cares, have found their keenest sorrows assuaged, have learnt impressively the purposes of life and the availing preparation for death, have had conscience enlightened and enlivened, and its powers confirmed and augmented, have been led to take the yoke of Christ upon them, to contemplate with self-application the excellences of his character, to understand in some measure his love which passeth knowledge, to feel its constraining influence, and to walk in his footsteps here with the humble hope of sharing in his blessedness hereafter. To the latter class I say, — Aid your Ministers, in communicating their convictions to the young and inexperienced, by your own expressed, or at least obvious^

168 SERMO XII. appreciation of the value of the public services of religion. You will and do aid and encourage them, by your own habitual and serious attendance, and by yonr giving clear proof that no needless cause can keep you at the stated hour from your place of worship; and by your manifesting, in conversation and by your demeanour, that you do not regard the importance and the obligation of Public Worship &s dependent upon the taste or the abilities of those who conduct it, so long as seriousness and sincerity mark their services and give them their inestimable efficacy ; — that you do

regard the due influences of it as dependent at least as much on the hearer as on the minister, and know that those influences may be sadly impeded by giving way to the disposition for trifling criticism, to fastidiousness of taste, to expectations which no individual can fully realize for every one, to levity of feeling, or to petty causes of inconvenience or vexation ; — ^while, on the other hand, you know that they may be essentially aided by quietly surrendering the heart to serious impression, by checking opposing thought, by awakening the attention, by considering the purposes of our solemn assembling together, by raising the soul upwards in the exercise of devotion, and by laying open the understanding and the conscience to the enlightening and sanctifying influences of truth and duty. — Those of my hearers who have had but few opportunities for extensive observation, and who have not perhaps individually experienced as one must desire that general efficacy which I have ascribed to Public Worship, I would entreat to believe that I have not

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PUBLIC WORSHIP. 169 exa^erated its importance, — I would not intentionally do it, — and that what I have stated would be felt unsatisfying, incomplete, and perhaps even cold, by numbers whose individual experience would go far beyond the observations which here can be expressed only generally. But without too much considering individual experience, I confidently affirm (as I have before done) that it is the chief means, and aids every other, by which, among the great bulk of society, the knowledge and

influence of religious faith and duty, and especially of faith in the requirements and sanctions of the Gospel, are produced, and rendered efficacious ; — that it has been the source of all the institutions for diflFiising an acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, and for the extension of religious knowledge among the children of the poor; — ^that it causes the suspension of the ordinary engagements of life, and thereby interrupts that chain which would otherwise bind the soul to the objects of time and sense, and make man little more than the creature of a day ; — that it tends to enlarge the understanding, and to elevate the imagination, by exercising them on the greatest objects which can occupy the human mind, and to multitudes presents the only exercise for them which their circumstances in life permit ; — that it powerfcdly strengthens the bonds which unite man to man, and makes less injurious to high and to low, those distinctions in society which are hereafter (when they have answered their beneficial purposes) to yield to the differences in moral excellence ; — and that it widely affords to

170 SERMO XII. thousands, nay to millions, cheering hopes, and impressive consolation, as well as strengthening aids, which alleviate the burdens of life, and enable the Christian traveller to pursue his journey, from stage to stage, with more of comfort, of peace, and of real progress towards his heavenly home. To produce these eflFects in their due influence, it is requisite that the services of religion should be conducted (in a good measure) under the influences which are to be produced in the hearts of others ; — that they should be scriptural in their character and tendency ; — ^that they should be, in themselves considered, (as well as in the mode of performing them), fitted to cherish reverence

and godly fear ; — ^and diat, without cultivating fastidious refinements, or the disposition to useless novelty, still less to the disregard of the wants and wishes of any stated worshippers, there should be a due adapta^ tion to the circumstances of the times, to the progress of knowledge, and to the general habits of the religious community among whom we live. It must appear to the considerate mind, that the Minister of the Gospel has (independently of many private calls for his personal services and for the exercise of his judgment, which occur in a religious society,) a weighty responsibOity resting upon him ; requiring, in the days of early preparation, faithfulness in the means of intellectual and spiritual improvement ; and, in the period of actual service, the constant endeavour to improve his talents, and to enable himself to give a good account to his Lord and Master. It is well, when he is impressing duty upon others, that he should apply to himself what

PUBLIC WORSHIP. 171 he urges upon them ; he must himself cherish the sense of accountableness ; he must duly consider the purposes of the trust committed to him ; he must sow in faith ; he must ever he ready ^ and, as far as depends upon his own self-culture and self-discipline, he ahle^ to engage in any service, by which he may contribute to the effectual discharge of it. When the Minister of religion solemnly and earnestly considers lliese things, it is enough to humble him, as well to urge him to greater faithfulness of purpose and of exertion, — ^and, if he could look no further than himself, to shrink from the service. But preacher and hearer, the pastor and those for whom he ought to labour and to watch, may confidently feel in their respective spheres of duty, that there is grace to help if faithfully sought for, and that there is mercy to pardon

the weakness and imperfection of nature; — that our heavenly Father knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are but dust ; — and that our appointed Judge can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and will not forget, in the sentence he will pronounce, that we have this treasure in earthen vessels. In their respective spheres of service, they should remember that Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but that it is God that giveth the increase ; and, in every duty of reUgion, commend themselves and each other and all connected with them, to the Divine aid and blessing. There are two great errors on the subject of Public Worship, against which we have to be on our guard. The first is, the undervaluing its influence and importance, which leads to the total neglect of it, or to

172 SERMO XII. only a casual and perhaps careless attendance upon it ; the other, the supposing that the duties of religion are discharged when public worship is statedly attended with solemnity, and that in its services we have only passively to leave our minds to the impressions produced by them. In reference to the first of these, I have pointed out some of the ways in which, in most cases, the services of Public Worship, when conducted with serious reverence and godly fear, contribute to produce the eflFects I have ascribed to them. We are not to look, however, to any single eflFects, however powerful at the time ; but to the gentle influence of the continual recurrence of the means, combined with those occasional and more extraordinary impulses, which may give a renewed vividness to the impressions that custom might otherwise render languid. Like the light and breath of heaven, the influences of this observance on the health of the soul are often

unnoticed by the inexperienced and the unreflecting; and they are too frequently undervalued by those, who, if they have the principle of religion in their hearts, do not consider its comprehensiveness, — or the ways in which it may be weakened or eflFaced, — or the necessity of cherishing it against the day of trial,— or the varied nature of the trials to which it may be exposed, and the duty of preparation for them. These influences will not, however, be estimated low, by those who (if they have not themselves been benefited by them, as — ^but for their own fault — ^they might have been,) have observed how they contribute to preserve, and to diffuse among others, within their personal

PUBLIC WORSHIP. 173 knowledge, and in society at large, the sense of religion, the faith of the Gospel, the knowledge of duty, the vigour of conscience, the general enlightenment of the mind, and the sentiments of mutual charity ; how much they contribute to check the causes of evil, and to bring the wandering heart to God. The lamp of reUgion may bum in the soul, with a w^eak and unsteady light ; but it is often kept burning by the oil which is supplied to it in the stated services of religion ; and, till deprived of those supplies, still more till those supplies are quite neglected, it may not appear to the individual, or to those who painfully observe his course, how much the evils of it have been checked, and what is good in it promoted. A large part of the professors of religion mainly depend upon Public Worship, for the maintenance in their hearts of the light and life of godliness : and the neglect of it can seldom be unattended with evils which are either directly sinful, or sinful by their eflFects on the mind ; — fettering it to the world, driving the sense of God from the heart, banishing the thoughts of eternity and ac-

countableness, deadening the conscience, perverting its judgment, weakening the sense of duty, and lowering its appreciation of spiritual excellence ; — and in these and various other ways, preparing for moral degradation and ruin. These evils may not all accrue in the same individual ; — they rarely take place all at once. And, on the other hand, they may not be altogether prevented by the influences of Public Worship. But to the serious-minded friend, solicitous for the spiritual welfare of those around him, and observing (not with

174 SERMO XII. censorious eye, but benevolent concern,) the course they pursue, there is necessarily most room for uneasiness and alarm where the public duties of religion are slighted, for trifling causes neglected, or altogether abandoned ; — there is necessarily (whatever other causes there may be for apprehension) much room to hope, whOe those who peculiarly need the warning, statedly appear where they will hear of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come, — regularly present themselves where God is worshipped and the Word of God explained and enforced, — and at least reverently listen to the exhortations and the services of religion. Thus, at least, may he who ought to have the welfare of each before lum at heart, be allowed to hope ; — that he may still be enabled to communicate his counsels, and aid in preserving them from destruction, in staying their wanderings, and in strengthening the things that are ready to die. But, for the due eflicacy of the public services of religion, more than even a reverent and serious attendance is requisite. — ^Without the well-adjusted influences of air, and warmth, and light, and moisture, the vegetable languishes, and becomes sickly and unproductive ; with them, (if the root is healthful,) without any effort

of its own, (and it can make none,) its principle of life is supported, its functions are properly discharged, its growth and nourishment are duly promoted, it becomes beautiful and productive. But man, endowed with more than organic life, rising far above even the most gifted of the brute creation, — ^possessed of an active principle within, which can exert and discipline itself.

PUBLIC WORSHIP. 175 whicli can bend its inward powers to self-contemplation and self-improvement^ or rise towards things unseen and eternal^ which can exclude, or expand itself to receive, the influences of religion, its hopes and its fears, its purifying and its elevating motives, — man, possessed of an active, intellectual, spiritual principle within him, — ^in order to be benefited by the guidance, and agency, and sanctifying tendency of religion, must himself contribute to its efficacy on his soul. A prepared mind, and serious attention, and sincere desires of improvement, and intentional self-application, may derive nourishment for the soul firom that which presents nothing to gratify the taste or to exercise the intellect ; and will derive it where the truths and duties of religion are plainly and faithfully expounded. But without such advantages on the part of the hearer, even the gratification of taste, or the exercise of intellect, may only serve to increase his self-delusion, and may call o£f the attention from that which should be the individual purpose of each of us in assembling ourselves together, — spiritual improvement, growth in the Divine life, and in preparedness for our last account. The Father of spirits will not, we are assured, leave His children to themselves while they forsake not His guidance. Our heavenly Teacher and Saviour hath told us that He will give good things to those who ask

Him, — ^ask Him with faithful perseverance and watchful duty. If we thus seek, we shall find. If we thus approach the Throne of Grace, we shall obtain mercy to pardon, and grace to help in time of need. If we

176 SERMO XII. work out our salvation with fear and trembling, God will work in us and by us to promote our spiritual well-being, and the eternal welfare of others. If we acknowledge God in all our ways, He will direct our steps. But with every such encouragement you see that there is a work required from ourselves. I do not mean that we must be always doing, always in restless motion of body or of mind. We must sometimes employ all our eflForts in the work of duty to those around us ; and be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, by the exertion of our intelligence or our activity, or our patient toil ; but we must also exercise quiet reflection and discipline on the state of things within, on that from which are the issues of life. Too much hurried agitation will prevent the lamp from burning steadily. Blessed be God, in the calm of the Sanctuary, it often recovers the lustre which it has lost in the rough gales of the world. And there, too, the purer air is often supplied, which may prevent its being extinguished by the noxious vapours through which it has had to pass. God hath made abundant provision for the mwitenance of the light within us. He teaches us where we may find the oil ; and how to trim the lamp of the spirit. He hath lighted it with beams from above. He provides the air which is to nourish the heavenly flame ; nay sometimes, when it has been suffered to go out, He again enkindles it with the lightning of the

tempest. But mad is he who lets it droop and die, in the sunshine of the world ; still madder he, who

PUBLIC WORSHIP. 177 extinguishes it by sordid selfishness or gross sensuality, ip^ith the vain hope that those celestial flames may be directed to him, and light him to heaven. It is required from us that we apply the oil, that we trim the wick, that we avoid the impure atmosphere, that, if exposed to it, we escape from it as soon as we can, and, while in its influence, exercise double vigilance to maintain the vigour and the lustre of the heavenly principle within us. Much may be hoped for from the faithful preaching of the Word of God, and from the seriously-performed exercises of devotion. Where the great purposes of Public Worship are steadily kept in view by those who conduct its services, and there is an adaptation of the means employed to the wants and circumstances of the hearers, they may reasonably hope that their humble efiPorts meet with the acceptance of the great Lord of the harvest, and that His blessing will make them effectual to the well-being of the soul, sometimes even when they may for a time have appeared altogether ineffectual. The spiritual husbandman must plough and sow and

toil in faith and hope ; and persevere whatever his discouragement. But must he alone exert himself? Must not the hearer lay his mind open, by attention, and by desire of good, to the influences which are prepared for, and offered to him ? Must he not aim, by habitual training, to fix his mind's eye on the thoughts and engagements of the place ? — ^to keep out of sight those which carry him back to the world ? — or, if they should intrude, to avoid dwelling upon them, cherishing

178 SERMO XII. disturbing recollectioiis, and recalling distracting cares and worldly pleasures? This discipline of mind is not to be eflFected at once ; but in general, especially if begun early, when the soul is duly impressed with the concerns of religion, and with the conviction of their immense importance, it is not difficult. And it is one advantage of Public Worship, on the Lord's day more particularly, that it presents, by the complete change of circumstances, by the devotedness of the House of prayer to its peculiar object, by the general cessation of the business and amusements of the world, by the sympathy of these around us in the purposes of religion, and by the nature of its external services, so much to solace the spirit, and to interrupt the usual current of thought, — so much that contributes to lead us to look upwards to God, and onwards to eternity, to contemplate the example and requirements of Jesus Christ, to consider our own ways and whither they are tending, to look into our own hearts, to receive there the good seed of the word, to cherish purposes of duty

and sentiments of love, — so much that contributes to humble, to strengthen, to elevate, and to purify, and to shed influences on the course of life which shall prove that we have indeed sat at the feet of Jesus, and been led by him to prepare — ^by the worshipping of God on earth — ^for the nobler worshipping of Him in heaven. But once more I say, that for all this, and indeed for the essential influences of Public Worship, you must contribute your share, — ^your intentions, your aims, your disposedness of spirit, your desires and aspirations

PUBLIC WORSHIP. 179 for the growth of reKgion in your own souls ; you must exercise yourselves unto godliness. God grant that preacher and hearer may be so habitually under the influence of the sense of duty, and of the solemn concerns of eternity, that our services here may have His gracious approval and blessing, and contribute to prepare us for that all-important period, when we shall meet together for our sentence of life or condemnation.

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