EXCELLENCY OF THE LITURGY [Note: This and the following Sermons on the same subject were preached before the University of Cambridge.]
Deu_5:28-29. They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!
THE historical parts of the Old Testament are more worthy of our attention than men generally imagine. A multitude of facts recorded in them are replete with spiritual instruction, being intended by God to serve as emblems of those deep mysteries which were afterwards to be revealed. For instance: What is related of our first parent, his creation, his marriage, his sabbatic rest, was emblematic of that new creation which God will produce in us, and of that union with Christ whereby it shall be effected, and of the glorious rest to which it shall introduce us, as well in this world as in the world to come. In like manner the promises made to Adam, to Abraham, and to David, whatever reference they might have to the particular circumstances of those illustrious individuals, had a further and more important accomplishment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the second Adam, the Promised Seed, the King of Israel.
The whole of the Mosaic dispensation was altogether figurative, as we see from the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which the figures themselves are illustrated and explained. But there are some facts which appear too trifling to afford any instruction of this kind. We might expect indeed that so remarkable a fact as the promulgation of the Law from Mount Sinai should have in it something mysterious; but that the fears of the people on that occasion, and the request dictated by those fears, should be intended by God to convey any particular instruction, we should not have readily supposed: yet by these did God intend to shadow forth the whole mystery of Redemption. We are sure that there was somewhat remarkable in the people’s speech, by the commendation which God himself bestowed upon it: still however, unless we have turned our minds particularly to the subject, we shall scarcely conceive how much is contained in it.
The point for our consideration is, The request which the Israelites made in consequence of the terror with which the display of the Divine Majesty had inspired them. The explication and improvement of that point is all that properly belongs to the passage before us. But we have a further view in taking this text: we propose, after considering it in its true and proper sense, to take it in an improper and accommodated sense; and, after making some observations upon it in reference to the request which the Israelites then offered, to notice it in reference to the requests which we from time to time make unto God in the Liturgy of our Established Church.
The former view of the text is that which we propose for our present consideration: the latter will be reserved for future discussion.
The Israelites made an earnest request to God: and God expressed his approbation of it in the words which we have just recited; “They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!” From hence we are naturally led to set before you The sentiments and dispositions which God approves;—the sentiments; “They have well said all that they have spoken;”—the dispositions; “O that there were in them such an heart!”
The sentiments which he approves.
Here it will be necessary to analyze, as it were, or at least to get a clear and distinct apprehension of, the speech which God commends. It is recorded in the preceding context from the 23d verse. “And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; and ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory, and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day, that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that hath heard the voice of the living God, speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it, and do it.” Then it is added, “And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken.”
Now in this speech are contained the following things; An acknowledgment that they could not stand before the Divine Majesty;—A desire that God would appoint some one to mediate between him and them;—and lastly, An engagement to regard every word that should be delivered to them through a Mediator, with the same obediential reverence, as they would if it were spoken to them by God himself. And these are the sentiments, on which the commendation in our text was unreservedly bestowed.
The first thing then to be noticed is, Their acknowledgment that they could not stand before the Divine Majesty.
Many things had now occurred to produce an extraordinary degree of terror upon their minds. There was a blackness and darkness in the sky, such as they never before beheld. This darkness was rendered more visible by the whole adjacent mountain blazing with fire, and by vivid lightnings flashing all around in quick succession. The roaring peals of thunder added an awful solemnity to the scene. The trumpet sounding with a long and increasingly tremendous blast, accompanied as it was by the mountain shaking to its centre, appalled the trembling multitude: and Jehovah’s voice, uttering with inconceivable majesty his authoritative commands, caused even Moses himself to say, “I exceedingly fear and quake [Note: Compare Exo_19:16-19 with Heb_12:18-21.].” In consequence of this terrific scene, we are told that the people “removed and stood afar off [Note: Exo_20:18-19.],” lest the fire should consume them, or the voice of God strike them dead upon the spot [Note: Exo_20:21.]. Now though this was in them a mere slavish fear, and the request founded upon it had respect only to their temporal safety, yet the sentiment itself was good, and worthy of universal adoption. God being hidden from our senses, so that we neither see nor hear him, we are ready to think lightly of him, and even to rush into his more immediate presence without any holy awe upon our minds: but when he speaks to us in thunder or by an earthquake, the most hardened rebel is made to feel that “with God is terrible majesty,” and that “he is to be had in reverence by all that are round about him.” This is a lesson which God has abundantly taught us by his dealings with the Jews. Among the men of Bethshemesh, a great multitude were slain for their irreverent curiosity in looking into the ark as Uzzah also afterwards was for his well-meant but erroneous zeal in presuming to touch it. The reason of such acts of severity is told us in the history of Nadab and Abihu, who were struck dead for offering strange fire on the altar of their God: they are designed to teach us, “that God will be sanctified in all that come nigh unto him, and before all the people he will be glorified [Note: Lev_10:1-3.].”
The next thing to be noticed is, Their desire to have some person appointed who should act as a Mediator between God and them. They probably had respect only to the present occasion: but God interpreted their words as general, and as importing a request that he would send them a permanent Mediator, who should transact all their business, as it were, with God, making known to him their wants, and communicating from him the knowledge of his will. That God did construe their words in this extended sense, we are informed by Moses in a subsequent chapter of this book. In Deu_18:15 th and following verses, this explanation of the matter is given: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him shall ye hearken, according to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb, in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in HIS mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I command him: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words, which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” Who this Prophet was, we are at no loss to declare: for the Apostle Peter, endeavouring to convince the Jews from their own Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, and that Moses himself had required them to believe in him, cites these very words as referring to Christ, and calls upon them to regard him as that very Mediator, whom God had sent in answer to the petitions which had been offered by their forefathers at Mount Horeb [Note: Act_3:22-23.].
Here it should be remembered that we are speaking, not from conjecture, but from infallible authority; and that the construction we are putting on the text is, not a fanciful interpretation of our own, but God’s own exposition of his own words.
Behold then the sentiment expressed in our text, and the commendation given to it by God himself: it is a sentiment, which is the very sum and substance of the whole Gospel: it is a sentiment, which whosoever embraces truly, and acts upon it faithfully, can never perish, but shall have eternal life. The preceding sentiment, that we are incapable of standing before an holy God, is good, as introductory to this; but this is the crown of all; this consciousness that we cannot come to God, and that God will not come to us, but through Christ. This acquiescence in him as the divinely appointed Mediator; this acceptance of him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life;” this sentiment, I say, God did, and will, approve, wheresoever it may be found. The Lord grant that we may all embrace this sentiment as we ought; and that, having tasted its sweetness and felt its efficacy, we may attain by means of it all the blessings which a due reception of it will ensure!
The third thing to be noticed is, Their engagement to yield unqualified obedience to every thing that should be spoken to them by the Mediator. This, if viewed only as a general promise of obedience, was good, and highly acceptable to God; since the obedience of his creatures is the very end of all his dispensations towards them. It is, to bring them to obedience, that he alarms them by the denunciations of his wrath, and encourages them by the promises of his Gospel: when once they are brought to love his law, and obey his commandments, all the designs of his love and mercy are accomplished; and nothing remains but that they attain that measure of sanctification, that shall fit them for the glory which he has prepared for them.
But there is far more in this part of our subject than appears at first sight. We will endeavour to enter into it somewhat more minutely, in order to explain what we conceive to be contained in it.
The moral law was never given with a view to men’s obtaining salvation by their obedience to it; for it was not possible that they who had transgressed it in any one particular, should afterwards be justified by it. St. Paul says, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law [Note: Gal_3:21.].” But the law could not give life to fallen man: and therefore that way of obtaining righteousness is for ever closed. With what view then was the law given? I answer, to shew the existence of sin, and the lost state of man by reason of sin, and to shut him up to that way of obtaining mercy, which God has revealed in his Gospel. I need not multiply passages in proof of this; two will suffice to establish it beyond a doubt: “As many as are under the law, are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Again, “The law is our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith [Note: Gal_3:10; Gal_3:24.].” But when the law has answered this end, then it has a further use, namely, to make known to us the way in which we should walk. In the first instance we are to flee from it as a covenant, and to seek for mercy through the Mediator: but when we have obtained mercy through the Mediator, then we are to receive the law at his hands as a rule of life, and to render a willing obedience to it.
Now all this was shadowed forth in the history before us. God gave Israel his law immediately from his own mouth: and, so given, it terrified them beyond measure, and caused them to desire a Mediator. At the same time they did not express any wish to be liberated from obedience to it: on the contrary, they engaged, that, whatever God should speak to them by the Mediator, they would listen to it readily, and obey it unreservedly. This was right; and God both approved of it in them, and will approve of it in every child of man.
We are afraid of perplexing the subject, if we dwell any longer on this branch of it; because it would divert your attention from the main body of the discourse: we will therefore content ourselves with citing one passage, wherein the whole is set forth in the precise point of view in which we have endeavoured to place it. We have shewn that the transactions at Mount Sinai were intended to shadow forth the nature of the two dispensations (that of the Law and that of the Gospel) in a contrasted view; that the terrific nature of the one made the Israelites desirous to obtain an interest in the other; and that the appointment of Moses to be their Mediator, and to communicate to them the further knowledge of his will with a view to their future obedience, was altogether illustrative of the Gospel; which, whilst it teaches us to flee to Christ from the curses of the broken law, requires us afterwards to obey that law: in a word, we have shewn, that though, as St. Paul expresses it, we are “without law,” (considered as a covenant,) we are nevertheless “not without law to God, but under the law to Christ [Note: 1Co_9:21.]:” and all this is set forth in the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the following words: “Ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard, entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (for they could not endure that which was commanded: and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) but ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general Assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel [Note: Heb_12:18-24.].”
I would only observe, in order to prevent any misconception of my meaning, that I do not suppose the Israelites to have had a distinct view of these things, such as we have at present; but that they spake like Caiaphas the high-priest, when he said, “It was expedient for one man to die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish [Note: Joh_11:49-52.]:” they did not understand the full import of their own words; but God overruled their present feelings so that they spake what was proper to shadow forth the mysteries of his Gospel; and he then interpreted their words according to the full and comprehensive sense in which he intended they should be understood.
We could gladly have added somewhat more in confirmation of the sentiments which have been set before you, and particularly as founded on the passage we are considering; but your time forbids it; and therefore we pass on to notice,
The dispositions which God approves.
These must be noticed with a direct reference to the sentiments already considered: for God, having said, “They have well said all that they have spoken,” adds, “O that there were such an heart in them!”
It is but too common for those desires which arise in the mind under some peculiarly alarming circumstances, to prove only transient, and to yield in a very little time to the rooted inclination of the heart. This, it is to be feared, was the case with Israel at that time: and God himself intimated, that the seed which thus hastily sprang up, would soon perish for want of a sufficient root. But the information which we derive from hence is wholly independent of them: whether they cultivated these dispositions or not, we see what dispositions God approves. It is his wish to find in all of us, A reverential fear of God—A love to Jesus as our Mediator—and An unfeigned delight in his commands.
First, he desires to find in us A reverential fear of God. That ease, that indifference, that security, which men in general indulge, is most displeasing to him. Behold, how he addresses men of this description by the Prophet Jeremiah: “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it; and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it? But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone: neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God [Note: Jer_5:21-24.].” Hear too what he says by the Prophet Zephaniah: “I will search Jerusalem with candles, and will punish the men that are settled on their lees [Note: Zep_1:12.].” It is thought by many, that, if they commit no flagrant enormity, they have no cause to fear: but even a heathen, when brought to a right mind, saw the folly and impiety of such a conceit, and issued a decree to all the subjects of his realm, that they should all “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, who is the living God, and steadfast for ever [Note: Dan_6:26.].” Such a state of mind is dreaded, from an idea that it must of necessity be destructive of all happiness. This however is not true: on the contrary, the more of holy fear we have in our hearts, the happier we shall be. If indeed our fear be only of a slavish kind, it will make us unhappy; but, in proportion as it partakes of filial regard, and has respect to God as a Father, it will become a source of unspeakable peace and joy. The testimony of Solomon is, “Happy is the man that feareth alway [Note: Pro_28:14.].” Nor should we shun even the slavish fear, since it is generally the prelude to that which is truly filial; the spirit of bondage is intended to lead us to a spirit of adoption, whereby we may cry, Abba, Father [Note: Rom_8:15.]. Another ground on which men endeavour to put away the fear of God is, that it argues weakness of understanding and meanness of spirit; but we are told on infallible authority, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever [Note: Psa_111:10.].” Permit me then to recommend to you this holy disposition. Learn to “fear that glorious and fearful name, The Lord thy God [Note: Deu_28:58.].” Stand in awe of his Divine Majesty: and dread his displeasure more than death itself. Bethink yourselves, How you shall appear before him in the day of judgment. Settle it in your minds, whether you will think as lightly of him when you are standing at his tribunal, with all his terrible majesty displayed before your eyes, as you are wont to do now that he is hid from your sight. Examine carefully whether you are prepared to meet him, and to receive your final doom at his hands. I well know, that such thoughts are not welcome to the carnal mind: but I know also that they are salutary, yea, and indispensably necessary too for every child of man. I would therefore adopt the language of the angel, who flew in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, even to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people; and like him I would say with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come [Note: Rev_14:6-7.]:” it is come already in the divine purpose; and it will speedily come to every individual amongst us, and will fix us in an eternity of bliss or woe.
The next disposition which God would have us cultivate, is, A love to Jesus as our Mediator. In proportion as we fear God, we shall love the Lord Jesus Christ, who has condescended to mediate between God and us. Were it only that he, like Moses, had revealed to us the will of God in a less terrific way, we ought to love him: but he has done infinitely more for us than Moses could possibly do; he has not only stood between God and us, but has placed himself in our stead, and borne the wrath of God for us. He has not only silenced the thunders of Mount Sinai, but “has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being himself made a curse for us [Note: Gal_3:13.].” In a word, “He has made reconciliation for us by the blood of his cross;” so that we may now come to God as our Father and our Friend; and may expect at his hands all the blessings of grace and glory. “Through him we have access to God,” even to his throne; and by faith in him we may even now receive the remission of our sins, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Shall we not then love him? Shall we not honour him? Shall we not employ him in his high office as our Advocate and Mediator? Shall we not glory in him, and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart?” It was said by the Prophet Isaiah, “Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory [Note: Isa_45:24-25.].” O that this prophecy may be fulfilled in us; and that there may henceforth “be in every individual amongst us such an heart!”
Lastly, God would behold in us An unfeigned delight in his commandments. This will be the fruit, and must be the evidence, of our love to Christ: “If ye love me,” says our Lord, “keep my commandments [Note: Joh_14:15.]:” and again, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me [Note: Joh_14:21.].” Indeed without this, ALL our sentiments or professions are of no avail: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God [Note: 1Co_7:19.].”
When persons hear of our being “delivered from the law,” and “dead to the law,” they feel a jealousy upon the subject of morality, and begin to fear that we open to men the flood-gates of licentiousness: but their fears are both unnecessary and unscriptural; for the very circumstance of our being delivered from the law as a covenant of works, is that which most forcibly constrains us to take it as a rule of life. Hear how St. Paul speaks on this subject: “I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God [Note: Gal_2:19.]:” and again, “My brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God [Note: Rom_7:4.].” You perceive then that the liberty to which we are brought by Jesus Christ, has the most friendly aspect imaginable upon the practice of good works, yea, rather, that it absolutely secures the performance of them. Whilst therefore we would urge with all possible earnestness a simple affiance in Christ as your Mediator, we would also entreat you to receive the commandments at his hands, and to observe them with your whole hearts. Take our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, for instance: study with care and diligence the full import of every precept in it. Do not endeavour to bring down those precepts to your practice, or to the practice of the world around you; but rather strive to elevate your practice to the standard which he has given you. In like manner, take all the precepts contained in the epistles, and all the holy dispositions which were exercised by the Apostles; and endeavour to emulate the examples of the most distinguished saints. You are cautioned not to be righteous over-much; but remember, that you have at least equal need of caution to be righteous enough. If only you walk in the steps of our Lord and his Apostles, you need not be afraid of excess: it is an erroneous kind of righteousness, against which Solomon would guard you, and not against an excessive degree of true holiness; for in true holiness there can be no excess. In this we may vie with each other, and strive with all our might. St. Paul says, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God might be careful to maintain (or, as the word imports, to excel in) good works.” By these we shall evince the sincerity of our love to Christ; and by these we shall be judged in the last day. I would therefore recommend to every one to ask himself, What is there which I have left undone? What is there which I have done defectively? What is there which I have done amiss? What is there that I may do more earnestly for the honour of God, for the good of mankind, and for the benefit of my own soul? O that such a pious zeal pervaded this whole assembly; and “that there were in all of us such an heart!” To those amongst us in whom any good measure of this grace is found, we would say in the language of St. Paul, “We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more [Note: 1Th_4:1.].”
EXCELLENCY OF THE LITURGY
Deu_5:28-29. They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!
WHEREVER the word of God admits of a literal interpretation, its primary sense ought to be clearly stated, before any spiritual or mystical application be made of it: but when its literal meaning is ascertained, we must proceed to investigate its hidden import, which is frequently the more important. This has been done in relation to the passage before us; which primarily expresses an approbation of the request made by the Jews, that God would speak to them by the mediation of Moses, and not any longer by the terrific thunders of Mount Sinai; but covertly it conveyed an intimation, that we should all seek deliverance from the curse of the Law through the mediation of that great Prophet, whom God raised up like unto Moses, even his Son Jesus Christ.
The further use which we propose to make of this passage, is only in a way of accommodation; which however is abundantly sanctioned by the example of the Apostles; who not unfrequently adopt the language of the Old Testament to convey their own ideas, even when it has no necessary connexion with their subject. Of course, the Liturgy of our Church was never in the contemplation of the sacred historian: yet, as in that we constantly address ourselves to God, and as it is a composition of unrivalled excellence, and needs only the exercise of our devout affections to render it a most acceptable service before God, we may well apply to it the commendation in our text; “They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!”
As in the course of the month two other occasions of prosecuting our subject will occur, we shall arrange our observations on the Liturgy, so as to vindicate its use—display its excellence—and commend to your attention one particular part, which we conceive to be eminently deserving notice in this place.
In the present Discourse we shall confine ourselves to the vindication of the Liturgy; first, Generally, as a service proper to be used; and then, Particularly, in reference to some objections which are urged against it.
Perhaps there never was any human composition more cavilled at, or less deserving such treatment, than our Liturgy. Nothing has been deemed too harsh to say of it. In order therefore to a general vindication of it, we propose to shew, that the use of it is lawful in itself—expedient for us—and acceptable to God.
It is lawful in itself.
The use of a form of prayer cannot be in itself wrong; for, if it had been, God would not have prescribed the use of forms to the Jewish nation. But God did prescribe them on several occasions. The words which the priest was to utter in blessing the people of Israel, are thus specified: “Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace [Note: Num_6:23-26.].” In like manner, when a man that had been slain was found, inquisition was to be made for his blood; and the elders of the city that was nearest to the body, were to make a solemn affirmation before God, that they knew not who the murderer was, and at the same time in a set form of prayer to deprecate the divine displeasure [Note: Deu_21:7-8.]. At the offering of the first-fruits, both at the beginning and end of the service, there were forms of very considerable length, which every offerer was to utter before the Lord [Note: Deu_26:3; Deu_26:5-10; Deu_26:13-15.].
When David brought up the ark from the house of Obed-edom to the tent which he had pitched for it in Jerusalem, he composed a form of prayer and thanksgiving for the occasion, selected out of four different Psalms [Note: Compare 1Ch_16:7-36 with Psa_105:1-15; Psa_96:1-13; Psa_136:1; Psa_106:47-48.], and put it into the hand of Asaph and his brethren for the use of the whole congregation. In all following ages, the Psalms were used as forms of devotion: Hezekiah appointed them for that purpose when he restored the worship of God, which had been suspended and superseded in the days of Ahaz [Note: 2Ch_29:30.]; as did Ezra also at the laying of the foundation of the second temple [Note: Ezr_3:10-11.]. Nay, the hymn which our blessed Lord sang with his disciples immediately after he had instituted his supper as the memorial of his death [Note: Mat_26:30.], was either taken from the Psalms, from 113th to 118th inclusive, or else was a particular form composed for that occasion. All this sufficiently shews that forms of devotion are not evil in themselves.
But some think, that though they were not evil under the Jewish dispensation, which consisted altogether of rites and carnal ordinances, they are evil under the more spiritual dispensation of the Gospel. This however cannot be; because our blessed Lord taught his disciples a form of prayer, and not only told them to pray after that manner, as one Evangelist mentions, but to use the very words, as another Evangelist declares. Indeed the word
, by which St. Matthew expresses it, is not of necessity to be confined to manner [Note: Mat_6:9.]; it might be taken as referring to the very words: but, granting that he speaks of the manner only, and prescribes it as a model; yet St. Luke certainly requires us to use it as a form: “Jesus said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven [Note: Luk_11:2.].” Accordingly we find, from the testimonies of some of the earliest and most eminent Fathers of the Church [Note: Tertullian—Cyprian—Cyril—Jerom—Augustine—Chrysostom—Gregory. See Bennet’s London Cases, p. 52.], that it was constantly regarded and used in the Church as a form from the very times of the Apostles. As for the objection, that we do not read in the New Testament that it was so used, it is of no weight at all; for we are not told that the Apostles ever baptized persons in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; but can we therefore doubt whether they did use this form of baptism? Assuredly not; and therefore the circumstance of such an use of the Lord’s Prayer not being recorded, especially in so short a history as that of the Apostles, is no argument at all that it was not so used.
Nor was this the only form used in the apostolic age. Lucian, speaking of the first Christians, says, “They spend whole nights in singing of Psalms:” and Pliny, in his famous Letter to Trajan, which was written not much above ten years after the death of John the Evangelist, says of them, “It is their manner to sing by turns a hymn to Christ as God.” This latter, it should seem, was not a Psalm of David, but a hymn composed for the purpose: and it proves indisputably, that even in the apostolic age, forms of devotion were in use. If we come down to the times subsequent to the Apostles, we shall find Liturgies composed for the service of the different Churches. The Liturgies of St. Peter, St. Mark, and St. James, though they were corrupted in later ages, are certainly of high antiquity: that of St. James was of great authority in the Church, in the days of Cyril, who, in his younger years, at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth century, wrote a Comment upon it. And it were easy to trace the use of them from that time even to the present day. Shall it be said, then, that the use of a pre-composed form of prayer is not lawful? Would God have given so many forms under the Jewish dispensation, and would our blessed Lord have given a form for the use of his Church and people, if it had not been lawful to use a form? But it is worthy of observation, that those who most loudly decry the use of forms, do themselves use forms, whenever they unite in public worship. What are hymns, but forms of prayer and praise? and if it be lawful to worship God in forms of verse, is it not equally so in forms of prose? We may say therefore, our adversaries themselves being judges, that the use of a form of prayer is lawful.
As for those passages of Scripture which are supposed to hold forth an expectation that under the Gospel we should have ability to pray without a form; for instance, that “God would give us a spirit of grace and of supplication,” and that “the Spirit should help our infirmities, and teach us what to pray for as we ought;” they do not warrant us to expect, that we shall be enabled to speak by inspiration, as the Apostles did, but that our hearts should be disposed for prayer, and be enabled to enjoy near and intimate communion with God in that holy exercise: but they may be fulfilled to us as much in the use of a pre-composed form, as in any extemporaneous effusions of our own: and it is certain, that persons may be very fluent in the expressions of prayer without the smallest spiritual influence upon their minds; and that they may, on the other hand, be very fervent in prayer, though the expressions be already provided to their hand: and consequently, the promised assistance of the Spirit is perfectly consistent with the use of prayers that have been pre-composed.
But the lawfulness of forms of prayer is in this day pretty generally conceded. Many however still question their expediency. We proceed therefore to shew next, that the use of the Liturgy is expedient for us.
Here let it not be supposed that I am about to condemn those who differ from us in judgment or in practice. The legislature has liberally conceded to all the subjects of the realm a right of choice; and God forbid that any one should wish to abridge them of it, in a matter of such high concern as the worship of Almighty God. If any think themselves more edified by extempore prayer, we rejoice that their souls are benefited, though it be not precisely in our way: but still we cannot be insensible to the advantages which we enjoy; and much less can we concede, to any, that the use of a prescribed form of prayer is the smallest disadvantage.
We say, then, that the Liturgy was of great use at the time it was made. At the commencement of the Reformation, the most lamentable ignorance prevailed throughout the land: and even those who from their office ought to have been well instructed in the Holy Scriptures, themselves needed to be taught what were the first principles of the oracles of God. If then the pious and venerable Reformers of our Church had not provided a suitable form of prayer, the people would still in many thousands of parishes have remained in utter darkness; but by the diffusion of this sacred light throughout the land, every part of the kingdom became in a good measure irradiated with scriptural knowledge, and with saving truth. The few who were enlightened, might indeed have scattered some partial rays around them; but their light would have been only as a meteor, that passes away and leaves no permanent effect. Moreover, if their zeal and knowledge and piety had been suffered to die with them, we should have in vain sought for compositions of equal excellence from any set of governors, from that day to the present hour: but by conveying to posterity the impress of their own piety in stated forms of prayer, they have in them transmitted a measure of their own spirit, which, like Elijah’s mantle, has descended on multitudes who have succeeded them in their high office. It is not possible to form a correct estimate of the benefit which we at this day derive from having such a standard of piety in our hands: but we do not speak too strongly if we say, that the most enlightened amongst us, of whatever denomination they may be, owe much to the existence of our Liturgy; which has been, as it were, the pillar and ground of the truth in this kingdom, and has served as fuel to perpetuate the flame, which the Lord himself, at the time of the Reformation, kindled upon our altars.
But we must go further, and say, that the use of the Liturgy is equally expedient still. Of course, we must not be understood as speaking of private prayer in the closet; where, though a young and inexperienced person may get help from written forms, it is desirable that every one should learn to express his own wants in his own language; because no written prayer can enter so minutely into his wants and feelings as he himself may do: but, in public, we maintain, that the use of such a form as ours is still as expedient as ever. To lead the devotions of a congregation in extempore prayer is a work for which but few are qualified. An extensive knowledge of the Scriptures must be combined with fervent piety, in order to fit a person for such an undertaking: and I greatly mistake, if there be found an humble person in the world, who, after engaging often in that arduous work, does not wish at times that he had a suitable form prepared for him. That the constant repetition of the same form does not so forcibly arrest the attention as new sentiments and expressions would do, must be confessed: but, on the other hand, the use of a well-composed form secures us against the dry, dull, tedious repetitions which are but too frequently the fruits of extemporaneous devotions. Only let any person be in a devout frame, and he will be far more likely to have his soul elevated to heaven by the Liturgy of the Established Church, than he will by the generality of prayers which he would hear in other places of worship: and, if any one complain that he cannot enter into the spirit of them, let him only examine his frame of mind when engaged in extemporaneous prayers, whether in public, or in his own family; and he will find, that his formality is not confined to the service of the Church, but is the sad fruit and consequence of his own weakness and corruption.
Here it may not be amiss to rectify the notions which are frequently entertained of spiritual edification. Many, if their imaginations are pleased, and their spirits elevated, are ready to think, that they have been greatly edified: and this error is at the root of that preference which they give to extempore prayer, and the indifference which they manifest towards the prayers of the Established Church. But real edification consists in humility of mind, and in being led to a more holy and consistent walk with God: and one atom of such a spirit is more valuable than all the animal fervour that ever was excited. It is with solid truths, and not with fluent words, that we are to be impressed: and if we can desire from our hearts the things which we pray for in our public forms, we need never regret, that our fancy was not gratified, or our animal spirits raised, by the delusive charms of novelty.
In what we have spoken on this subject, it must be remembered that we have spoken only in a way of vindication: the true, the exalted, and the proper ground for a member and minister of the Established Church, we have left for the present untouched, lest we should encroach upon that which we hope to occupy on a future occasion. But it remains for us yet further to remark, that the use of our Liturgy is acceptable to God.
The words of our text are sufficient to shew us, that God does not look at fine words and fluent expressions, but at the heart. The Israelites had “well said all that they had spoken:” but whilst God acknowledged that, he added, “O that there were such an heart in them!” If there be humility and contrition in our supplications, it will make no difference with God, whether they be extemporaneous or pre-composed. Can any one doubt whether, it we were to address our heavenly Father in the words which Christ himself has taught us, we should be accepted of him, provided we uttered the different petitions from our hearts? As little doubt then is there that in the use of the Liturgy also we shall be accepted, if only we draw nigh to God with our hearts as well as with our lips. The prayer of faith, whether with or without a form, shall never go forth in vain. And there are thousands at this day who can attest from their own experience, that they have often found God as present with them in the use of the public services of our Church, as ever they have in their secret chambers.
Thus we have endeavoured to vindicate the use of our Liturgy generally. We now come to vindicate it in reference to some particular objections that have been urged against it.
The objections may be comprised under two heads; namely, That there are exceptionable expressions in the Liturgy; and, That the use of it necessarily generates formality.
To notice all the expressions which captious men have cavilled at, would be a waste of time. But there are one or two, which, with tender minds, have considerable weight, and have not only prevented many worthy men from entering into the Church, but do at this hour press upon the consciences of many, who in all other things approve and admire the public formularies of our Church. A great portion of this present assembly are educating with a view to the ministry in the Establishment; and, if I may be able in any little measure to satisfy their minds, or to remove a stumbling-block out of their way, I shall think that I have made a good use of the opportunity which is thus afforded me. A more essential service I can scarcely render unto any of my younger brethren, or indeed to the Establishment itself, than by meeting fairly the difficulties which occur to their minds, and which are too often successfully urged by the enemies of our Church, to the embarrassing of conscientious minds, and to the drawing away of many, who might have laboured comfortably and successfully in this part of our Lord’s vineyard.
There is one circumstance in the formation of our Liturgy, which is not sufficiently adverted to. The persons who composed it were men of a truly apostolic spirit: unfettered by party prejudices, they endeavoured to speak in all things precisely as the Scriptures speak: they did not indulge in speculations and metaphysical reasonings; nor did they presume to be wise above what is written: they laboured to speak the truth, the whole truth, in love: and they cultivated in the highest degree that candour, that simplicity, and that charity, which so eminently characterize all the apostolic writings. Permit me to call your attention particularly to this point, because it will satisfactorily account for those expressions which seem most objectionable; and will shew precisely in what view we may most conscientiously repeat the language they have used.
In our Burial Service, we thank God for delivering our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world, and express a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, together with a hope also that our departed brother rests in Christ. Of course, it often happens, that we are called to use these expressions over persons who, there is reason to fear, have died in their sins; and then the question is, How we can with propriety use them? I answer, that, even according to the letter of the words, the use of them may be justified; because we speak not of his, but of the, resurrection to eternal life; and because, where we do not absolutely know that God has not pardoned a person, we may entertain some measure of hope that he has. But, taking the expressions more according to the spirit of them, they precisely accord with what we continually read in the epistles of St. Paul. In the First Epistle to the Corinthian Church, he says of them, “I thank my God always on your behalf, that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you; so that ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet, does he instantly begin to condemn the same persons, for their divisions and contentions; and afterwards tells them, “that they were carnal, and walked, not as saints, but as men,” that is, as unconverted and ungodly men [Note: 1Co_1:4-7; 1Co_3:3.]. In like manner, in his Epistle to the Philippians, after saying, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,” he adds, “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all [Note: Php_1:3-7.].” Yet does he afterwards caution these very persons against strife, and vain-glory, and self-love; and tell them, that he will send Timothy to them shortly, in order to make inquiries into their state, and to give him information respecting them: and he even mentions two by name, Euodias and Syntyche, whose notorious disagreements he was desirous to heal.
A multitude of other passages might be cited to the same effect; to shew that the Apostles, in a spirit of candour and of love, spoke in terms of commendation respecting all, when in strictness of speech they should have made some particular exceptions. And, if we at this day were called to use the same language under the very same circumstances, it is probable that many would feel scruples respecting it, and especially, in thanking God for things, which, if pressed to the utmost meaning of the words, might not be strictly true. But surely, if the Apostles in a spirit of love and charity used such language, we may safely and properly do the same: and knowing in what manner, and with what views, they spake, we need not hesitate to deliver ourselves with the same spirit, and in the same latitude, as they [Note: To guard against a misapprehension of his meaning, the author wishes these words to be distinctly noticed; because they contain the whole drift of his argument.—He does not mean to say, that the Apostles ascribed salvation to the opus operatum, the outward act of baptism; or, that they intended to assert distinctly the salvation of every individual who had been baptized; but only that, in reference to these subjects, they did use a language very similar to that in our Liturgy, and that therefore our Reformers were justified, as we also are, in using the same.].
In the Baptismal Service, we thank God for having regenerated the baptized infant by his Holy Spirit. Now from hence it appears that, in the opinion of our Reformers, regeneration and remission of sins did accompany baptism. But in what sense did they hold this sentiment? Did they maintain that there was no need for the seed then sown in the heart of the baptized person to grow up, and to bring forth fruit; or that he could be saved in any other way than by a progressive renovation of his soul after the divine image? Had they asserted or countenanced any such doctrine as that, it would have been impossible for any enlightened person to concur with them. But nothing can be conceived more repugnant to their sentiments than such an idea as this: so far from harbouring such a thought, they have, and that too in this very prayer, taught us to look unto God for that total change both of heart and life, which, long since their days, has begun to be expressed by the term Regeneration. After thanking God for regenerating the infant by his Holy Spirit, we are taught to pray, “that he, being dead unto sin, and living unto righteousness, may crucify the old man, and utterly abolish the whole body of sin:” and then declaring that total change to be the necessary mean of his obtaining salvation, we add, “So that finally, with the residue of thy holy Church, he may be an inheritor of thine everlasting kingdom.” Is there, I would ask, any person that can require more than this? or does God in his word require more? There are two things to be noticed in reference to this subject; the term, Regeneration, and the thing. The term occurs but twice in the Scriptures; in one place it refers to baptism, and is distinguished from the renewing of the Holy Ghost; which however is represented as attendant on it: and in the other place it has a totally distinct meaning unconnected with the subject. Now the term they use, as the Scripture uses it; and the thing they require, as strongly as any person can require it. They do not give us any reason to imagine that an adult person can be saved without experiencing all that modern divines have included in the term Regeneration; on the contrary, they do, both there and throughout the whole Liturgy, insist upon the necessity of a radical change both of heart and life. Here, then, the only question is, not, whether a baptized person can be saved by that ordinance without sanctification; but, whether God does always accompany the sign with the thing signified? Here is certainly room for difference of opinion: but it cannot be positively decided in the negative; because we cannot know, or even judge, respecting it, in any instance whatever, except by the fruits that follow: and therefore in all fairness it may be considered only as a doubtful point: and, if we appeal, as we ought to do, to the Holy Scriptures, they certainly do in a very remarkable way accord with the expressions in our Liturgy. St. Paul says, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit:” and this he says of all the visible members of Christ’s body [Note: 1Co_12:13-27.]. Again, speaking of the whole nation of Israel, infants as well as adults, he says, “They were all baptized unto Moses, in the cloud, and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that Spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ [Note: 1Co_10:1-4.].” Yet behold, in the very next verse he tells us, that “with many of them God was displeased, and overthrew them in the wilderness.” In another place he speaks yet more strongly still: “As many of you,” says he, “as are baptized into Christ, have put on Christ [Note: Gal_3:27.].” Here we see what is meant by the expression “baptized into Christ:” it is precisely the same expression as that before mentioned, of the Israelites being “baptized unto Moses;” (the preposition
is used in both places;) it includes all that had been initiated into his religion by the rite of baptism: and of them universally does the Apostle say, “They have put on Christ.” Now I ask, Have not the persons who scruple the use of that prayer in the Baptismal Service, equal reason to scruple the use of these different expressions?
Again—St. Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins [Note: Act_2:38-39.];” and in another place, “Baptism doth now save us [Note: 1Pe_3:21.].” And speaking elsewhere of baptized persons who were unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, he says, “He hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins [Note: 2Pe_1:9.].” Does not this very strongly countenance the idea which our Reformers entertained, That the remission of our sins, as well as the regeneration of our souls, is an attendant on the baptismal rite? Perhaps it will be said, that the inspired writers spake of persons who had been baptized at an adult age. But, if they did so in some places, they certainly did not in others; and, where they did not, they must be understood as comprehending all, whether infants or adults: and therefore the language of our Liturgy, which is not a whit stronger than theirs, may be both subscribed and used without any just occasion of offence.
Let me then speak the truth before God: Though I am no Arminian, I do think that the refinements of Calvin have done great harm in the Church: they have driven multitudes from the plain and popular way of speaking used by the inspired writers, and have made them unreasonably and unscripturally squeamish in their modes of expression; and I conceive that, the less addicted any person is to systematic accuracy, the more he will accord with the inspired writers, and the more he will approve of the views of our Reformers. I do not mean however to say, that a slight alteration in two or three instances would not be an improvement; since it would take off a burthen from many minds, and supersede the necessity of laboured explanations: but I do mean to say, that there is no such objection to these expressions as to deter any conscientious person from giving his unfeigned assent and consent to the Liturgy altogether, or from using the particular expressions which we have been endeavouring to explain.
The other objection is, That the use of a Liturgy necessarily generates formality.
We have before acknowledged that the repetition of a form is less likely to arrest the attention, than that which is novel: but we by no means concede that it necessarily generates formality: on the contrary, we affirm, that if any person come to the service of the Church with a truly spiritual mind, he will find in our Liturgy what is calculated to call forth the devoutest exercises of his mind, far more than in any of the extemporaneous prayers which he would hear in other places.
We forbear to enter into a fuller elucidation of this point at present, because we should detain you too long; and we shall have a better opportunity of doing it in our next Discourse. But we would here entreat you all so far to bear this objection in your minds, as to cut off all occasion for it as much as possible, and, by the devout manner of your attendance on the services of the Church, to shew, that though you worship God with a form, you also worship him in spirit and in truth. Dissenters themselves know that the repetition of favourite hymns does not generate formality; and they may from thence learn, that the repetition of our excellent Liturgy is not really open to that objection. But they will judge from what they see amongst us: if they see that the prayers are read amongst us without any devotion, and that those who hear them are inattentive and irreverent during the service, they will not impute these evils to the true and proper cause, but to the Liturgy itself: and it is a fact, that they do from this very circumstance derive great advantage for the weakening of men’s attachment to the Established Church, and for the augmenting of their own societies. Surely then it becomes us, who are annually sending forth so many ministers into every quarter of the land, to pay particular attention to this point. I am well aware, that where such multitudes of young men are, it is not possible so to control the inconsiderateness of youth, as to suppress all levity, or to maintain that complete order that might be wished; but I know also, that the ingenuousness of youth is open to conviction upon a subject like this, and that even the strictest discipline upon a point so interwoven with the honour of the Establishment and the eternal interests of their own souls, would, in a little time, meet with a more cordial concurrence than is generally imagined: it would commend itself to their consciences, and call forth, not only their present approbation, but their lasting gratitude: and if those who are in authority amongst us would lay this matter to heart, and devise means for the carrying it into full effect, more would be done for the upholding of the Establishment, than by ten thousand Discourses in vindication of it; and verily, if but the smallest progress should be made in it, I should think that I had “not laboured in vain, or run in vain.”
But let us not so think of the Establishment as to forget our own souls: for, after all, the great question for the consideration of us all is, Whether we ourselves are accepted in the use of these prayers? And here, it is not outward reverence and decorum that will suffice; the heart must be engaged, as well as the lips. It will be to little purpose that God should say, respecting us, “They have well said all that they have spoken,” unless he see his own wish also accomplished, “O that there were in them such an heart!” Indeed our prayers will be no more than a solemn mockery, if there be not a correspondence between the words of our lips and the feeling of our own souls: and his answer to us will be, like that to the Jews of old, “Ye hypocrites, in vain do ye worship me.” Let all of us then bring our devotions to this test, and look well to it, that, with “the form, we have also the power of godliness.” We are too apt to rush into the divine presence without any consciousness of the importance of the work in which we are going to be engaged, or any fear of His majesty, whom we are going to address. If we would prevent formality in the house of God, we should endeavour to carry thither a devout spirit along with us, and guard against the very first incursion of vain thoughts and foolish imaginations. Let us then labour to attain such a sense of our own necessities, and of God’s unbounded goodness, as shall produce a fixedness of mind, whenever we draw nigh to God in prayer; and for this end, let us ask of God the gift of his Holy Spirit to help our infirmities: and let us never think that we have used the Liturgy to any good purpose, unless it bring into our bosoms an inward witness of its utility, and a reasonable evidence of our acceptance with God in the use of it.
EXCELLENCY OF THE LITURGY
Deu_5:28-29. They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!
IN our preceding Discourses on this text, we first entered distinctly and fully into its true import, and then applied it, in an accommodated sense, to the Liturgy of our Established Church. The utility of a Liturgy being doubted by many, we endeavoured to vindicate the use of it, as lawful in itself, expedient for us, and acceptable to God. But it is not a mere vindication only which such a composition merits at our hands: the labour bestowed upon it has been exceeding great: our first Reformers omitted nothing that could conduce to the improvement of it: they consulted the most pious and learned of foreign divines, and submitted it to them for their correction: and, since their time, there have been frequent revisions of it, in order that every expression which could be made a subject of cavil, might be amended: by which means, it has been brought to such a state of perfection, as no human composition of equal size and variety can pretend to.
To display its excellence, is the task, which, agreeably to the plan before proposed, is now assigned us; and we enter upon it with pleasure; in the hope, that those who have never yet studied the Liturgy, will learn to appreciate its value; and that all of us may be led to a more thankful and profitable use of it in future.
To judge of the Liturgy aright, we should contemplate, Its spirituality and purity—Its fulness and suitableness—Its moderation and candour.
Its spirituality and purity
It is well known that the services of the Church of Rome, from whose communion we separated, were full of superstition and error: they taught the people to rest in carnal ordinances, without either stimulating them to real piety, or establishing them on the foundation which God has laid. They contained, it is true, much that was good; but they were at the same time so filled with ceremonies of man’s invention, and with doctrines repugnant to the Gospel, that they tended only to deceive and ruin all who adhered to them. In direct opposition to those services, we affirm, that the whole scope and tendency of our Liturgy is to raise our minds to a holy and heavenly state, and to build us up upon the Lord Jesus Christ as the only foundation of a sinner’s hope.
Let us look at the stated services of our Church; let us call to mind all that we have heard or uttered, from the Introductory Sentences which were to prepare our minds, to the Dismission Prayer which closes the whole: there is nothing for show, but all for edification and spiritual improvement. Is humility the foundation of true piety? what deep humiliation is expressed in the General Confession, and throughout the Litany; as also in supplicating forgiveness, after every one of the Commandments, for our innumerable violations of them all! Is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the way appointed for our reconciliation with God? we ask for every blessing solely in his name and for his sake; and with the holy vehemence of importunity, we urge with him the consideration of all that he has done and suffered for us, as our plea for mercy; and, at the Lord’s supper, we mark so fully our affiance in his atoning blood, that it is impossible for any one to use those prayers aright, without seeing and feeling that “there is no other name under heaven but his, whereby we can be saved.”
The same we may observe respecting the Occasional Services of our Church. From our very birth even to the grave, our Church omits nothing that can tend to the edification of its members. At our first introduction into the Church, with what solemnity are we dedicated to God in our Baptismal Service! What pledges does our Church require of our Sponsors, that we shall be brought up in the true faith and fear of God; and how earnestly does she lead us to pray for a progressive, total, and permanent renovation of our souls! No sooner are we capable of receiving instruction, than she provides for us, and expressly requires that we be well instructed in, a Catechism, so short that it burthens the memory of none, and so comprehensive that it contains all that is necessary for our information at that early period of our life. When once we are taught, by that, to know the nature and extent of our baptismal vows, the Church calls upon us to renew in our own person the vows that were formerly made for us in our name; and, in a service specially prepared for that purpose, leads us to consecrate ourselves to God; thus endeavouring to confirm us in our holy resolutions, and to establish us in the faith of Christ. Not content with having thus initiated, instructed, and confirmed her members in the religion of Christ, the Church embraces every occasion of instilling into our minds the knowledge and love of his ways. If we change our condition in life, we are required to come to the altar of our God, and there devote ourselves afresh to him, and implore his blessing, from which alone all true happiness proceeds. Are mercies and deliverances vouchsafed to any, especially that great mercy of preservation from the pangs and perils of childbirth? the Church appoints a public acknowledgment to be made to Almighty God in the presence of the whole congregation, and provides a suitable service for that end. In like manner, for every public mercy, or in time of any public calamity, particular prayers and thanksgivings are provided for our use. In a time of sickness there is also very particular provision made for our instruction and consolation: and even after death, when she can no more benefit the deceased, the Church labours to promote the benefit of her surviving members, by a service the most solemn and impressive that ever was formed. Thus attentive is she to supply in every thing, as far as human endeavours can avail, our spiritual wants; being decent in her forms, but not superstitious; and strong in her expressions, but not erroneous. In short, it is not possible to read the Liturgy with candour, and not to see that the welfare of our souls is the one object of the whole; and that the compilers of it had nothing in view, but that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in God, we should glorify his holy name.
The excellencies of our Liturgy will yet further appear, while we notice, next, its fulness and suitableness.
Astonishing is the wisdom with which the Liturgy is adapted to the edification of every member of the Church. There is no case that is overlooked, no sin that is not deplored, no want that is not specified, no blessing that is not asked: yet, whilst every particular is entered into so far that every individual person may find his own case adverted to, and his own wishes expressed, the whole is so carefully worded, that no person is led to express more than he ought to feel, or to deliver sentiments in which he may not join with his whole heart. Indeed there is a minuteness in the petitions that is rarely found even in men’s private devotions; and those very particularities are founded in the deepest knowledge of the human heart, and the completest view of men’s spiritual necessities: for instance, We pray to God to deliver us, not only in all time of our tribulation, but in all time of our wealth also; because we are quite as much in danger of being drawn from God by prosperity, as by adversity; and need his aid as much in the one as in the other.
In the intercessory part of our devotions also, our sympathy is called forth in behalf of all orders and degrees of men, under every name and every character that can be conceived. We pray to him, to strengthen such as do stand, to comfort and help the weak-hearted, and to raise up them that fall, and finally, to beat down Satan under our feet. We entreat him also to succour, help, and comfort all that are in danger, necessity, and tribulation. We further supplicate him in behalf of all that travel, whether by land or by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons, and young children, and particularly entreat him to have pity upon all prisoners and captives. Still further, we plead with him to defend and provide for the fatherless children, and widows, and all that are desolate and oppressed: and, lest any should have been omitted, we beg him “to have mercy upon all men,” generally, and more particularly, “to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts.” In what other prayers, whether extemporaneous or written, shall we ever find such diffusive benevolence as this?
In a word, there is no possible situation in which we can be placed, but the prayers are precisely suited to us; nor can we be in any frame of mind, wherein they will not express our feelings as strongly and forcibly, as any person could express them even in his secret chamber. Take a broken-hearted penitent; where can he ever find words, wherein to supplicate the mercy of his God, more congenial with his feelings than in the Litany, where he renews his application to each Person of the Sacred Trinity for mercy, under the character of a miserable sinner? Hear him when kneeling before the altar of his God: “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burthen of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father! For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I may venture to say that no finite wisdom could suggest words more suited to the feelings or necessities of a penitent, than these.
Take, next, a person full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; and if he were the devoutest of all the human race, he could never find words, wherein to give scope to all the exercises of his mind, more suitable than in the Te Deum: “We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting. To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens, and all the Powers therein: To thee Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy Glory.”—Hear him also at the table of the Lord: “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God: Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High.”
Even where there are no particular exercises of the mind, the Liturgy is calculated to produce the greatest possible good: for the gravity and sobriety of the whole service are fitted to impress the most careless sinner; whilst the various portions of Scripture that are read out of the Old and New Testament, not only for the Lessons of the day, but from the Psalms also, and from the Epistles and Gospels, are well adapted to arrest the attention of the thoughtless, and to convey instruction to the most ignorant. Indeed I consider it as one of the highest excellencies of our Liturgy, that it is calculated to make us wise, intelligent, and sober Christians: it marks a golden mean; it affects and inspires a meek, humble, modest, sober piety, equally remote from the unmeaning coldness of a formalist, the self-importance of a systematic dogmatist, and the unhallowed fervour of a wild enthusiast. A tender seriousness, a meek devotion, and an humble joy, are the qualities which it was intended, and is calculated, to produce in all her members.
It remains that we yet further trace the excellence of our Liturgy, in its moderation and candour.
The whole Christian world has from time to time been agitated with controversies of different kinds; and human passions have grievously debased the characters and actions even of good men in every age. But it should seem that the compilers of our Liturgy were inspired with a wisdom and moderation peculiar to themselves. They kept back no truth whatever, through fear of giving offence; yet were careful so to state every truth, as to leave those inexcusable who should recede from the Church on account of any sentiments which she maintained. In this, they imitated the inspired penmen; who do not dwell on doctrines after the manner of human systems, but introduce them incidentally, as it were, as occasion suggests, and bring them forward always in connexion with practical duties. The various perfections of God are all stated in different parts; but all in such a way, as, without affording any occasion for dispute, tends effectually to encourage us in our addresses to him. The Godhead of Christ is constantly asserted, and different prayers are expressly addressed to him; but nothing is said in a way of contentious disputation. The influences of the Holy Spirit, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, are stated; and “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is sought, in order that we may perfectly love God, and worthily magnify his holy Name:” but all is conveyed in a way of humble devotion, without reflections upon others, or even a word that can lead the thoughts to controversy of any kind. Even the deepest doctrines of our holy religion are occasionally brought forth in a practical view (in which view alone they ought to be regarded;) that, whilst we contemplate them as truths, we may experience their sanctifying efficacy on our hearts. The truth, the whole truth, is brought forward, without fear; but it is brought forward also without offence: all is temperate; all is candid; all is practical; all is peaceful; and every word is spoken in love. This is an excellency that deserves particular notice, because it is so contrary to what is found in the worship of those whose addresses to the Most High God depend on the immediate views and feelings of an individual person, which may be, and not unfrequently are, tinctured in a lamentable degree by party views and unhallowed passions. And we shall do well to bear in mind this excellency, in order that we may imitate it; and that we may shew to all, that the moderation which so eminently characterizes the Offices of our Church. is no less visible in all her members.
Sorry should I be, when speaking on this amiable virtue, to transgress it even in the smallest degree: but I appeal to all who hear me, whether there be not a want of this virtue in the temper of the present times; and whether if our Reformers themselves were to rise again and live amongst us, their pious sentiments and holy lives would not be, with many, an occasion of offence? I need not repeat the terms which are used to stigmatize those who labour to walk in their paths; nor will I speak of the jealousies which are entertained against those, who live only to inculcate what our Reformers taught. You need not be told that even the moderate sentiments of our Reformers are at this day condemned by many as dangerous errors; and the very exertions, whereby alone the knowledge of them can be communicated unto men, are imputed to vanity, and loaded with blame. But, though I thus speak, I must acknowledge, to the glory of God, that in no place have moderation and candour shone more conspicuous, than in this distinguished seat of literature and science: and I pray God, that the exercise of these virtues may be richly recompensed from the Lord into every bosom, and be followed with all the other graces that accompany salvation.
From this view of our subject it will be naturally asked, Do I then consider the Liturgy as altogether perfect? I answer, No: it is a human composition; and there is nothing human that can claim so high a title as that of absolute perfection. There are certainly some few expressions which might be altered for the better, and which in all probability would have been altered at the Conference which was appointed for the last revision of it, if the unreasonable scrupulosity of some, and the unbending pertinacity of others, had not defeated the object of that assembly. I have before mentioned two, which, though capable of being vindicated, might admit of some improvement. And, as I have been speaking strongly of the moderation and candour of the Liturgy, I will here bring forward the only exception to it that I am aware of; and that is found in the Athanasian Creed. The damnatory clauses contained in that Creed, do certainly breathe a very different spirit from that which pervades every other part of our Liturgy. As to the doctrine of the Creed, it is perfectly sound, and such as ought to be universally received. But it is matter of regret that any should be led to pronounce a sentence of damnation against their fellow-creatures, in any case where God himself has not clearly and certainly pronounced it. Yet whilst I say this, permit me to add, that I think this Creed does not express, nor ever was intended to express, so much as is generally supposed. The part principally objected to, is that whole statement, which is contained between the first assertion of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the other articles of our faith: and the objection is, that the damnatory clauses which would be justifiable, if confined to the general assertion respecting the doctrine of the Trinity, become unjustifiable, when extended to the whole of that which is annexed to it. But, if we suppose that this intermediate part was intended as an explanation of the doctrine in question, we still, I think, ought not to be understood as affirming respecting that explanation all that we affirm respecting the doctrine itself. If any one will read the Athanasian Creed with attention, he will find three damnatory clauses; one at the beginning, which is confined to the general doctrine of the Trinity; another at the close of what, for argument sake, we call the explanation of that doctrine; and another at the end, relating to the other articles of the Creed, such as the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, and his coming at the last day to judge the world. Now, whoever will compare the three clauses, will find a marked difference between them: those which relate to the general doctrine of the Trinity, and to the other articles of the Creed, are strong; asserting positively that the points must be believed, and that too on pain of everlasting damnation: but that which is annexed to the explanation of the doctrine, asserts only, that a man who is in earnest about his salvation ought to think thus of the Trinity. The words in the original are, Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat: and this shews in what sense we are to understand the more ambiguous language of our translation: “He therefore that will be saved, (i. e. is willing or desirous to be saved,) must thus think (let him thus think) of the Trinity.” Thus it appears that the things contained in the beginning and end of the Creed are spoken of as matters of faith; but this, which is inserted in the midst, as a matter of opinion only: in reference to the first and last parts the certainty of damnation is asserted; but in reference to the intermediate part, nothing is asserted, except that such are the views which we ought to entertain of the point in question. Now I would ask, was this difference the effect of chance? or rather, was it not actually intended, in order to guard against the very objection that is here adduced?
This, then, is the answer which we give, on the supposition that the part which appears so objectionable, is to be considered as an explanation of the doctrine in question. But what, if it was never intended as an explanation? What, if it contains only a proof of that doctrine, and an appeal to our reason, that that doctrine is true? Yet, if we examine the Creed, we shall find this to he the real fact. Let us in few words point out the steps of the argument.
The Creed says, “The Catholic faith is this, That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance:” and then it proceeds, “For there is one person of the Father,” and so on; and then, after proving the distinct personality of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and their unity in the Godhead, it adds, “SO that in all things as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.” Here are all the distinct parts of an argument. The position affirmed—the proofs adduced—the deduction made—and the conclusion drawn in reference to the importance of receiving and acknowledging that doctrine.
From hence, then, I infer, that the damnatory clauses should be understood only in reference to the doctrine affirmed, and not be extended to the parts which are adduced only in confirmation of it: and, if we believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is a fundamental article of the Christian faith, we may without any breach of charity apply to that doctrine what our Lord spake of the Gospel at large, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Thus, in either view, the use of the Creed may be vindicated: for, if we consider the obnoxious part as an explanation, the terms requiring it to be received are intentionally softened; and if we consider it as a proof, it is to the doctrines proved, and not to the proof annexed, that the damnatory clauses are fairly applicable.
Still, after all, I confess, that if the same candour and moderation that are observable in all other parts of the Liturgy had been preserved here, it would have been better. For though I do verily believe, that those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity are in a fatal error, and will find themselves so at the day of judgment, I would rather deplore the curse that awaits them, than denounce it; and rather weep over them in my secret chamber, than utter anathemas against them in the house of God.
I hope I have now met the question of our Liturgy fairly. I have not confined myself to general assertions, but have set forth the difficulties which are supposed to exist against it, and have given such a solution of them as I think is sufficient to satisfy any conscientious mind: though it is still matter of regret that any laboured explanation of them should be necessary.
Now then, acknowledging that our Liturgy is not absolutely perfect, and that those who most admire it would be glad if these few blemishes were removed; have we not still abundant reason to be thankful for it? Let its excellencies be fairly weighed, and its blemishes will sink into nothing; let its excellencies be duly appreciated, and every person in the kingdom will acknowledge himself deeply indebted to those, who with so much care and piety compiled it.
But these blemishes alone are seen by multitudes; and its excellencies are altogether forgotten: yea, moreover, frequent occasion is taken from these blemishes to persuade men to renounce their communion with the Established Church, in the hopes of finding a purer worship elsewhere. With what justice such arguments are urged, will best appear by a comparison between the prayers that are offered elsewhere, and those that are offered in the Established Church. There are about eleven thousand places of worship in the Established Church, and about as many out of it. Now take the prayers that are offered on any Sabbath in all places out of the Establishment; have them all written down, and every expression sifted and scrutinized as our Liturgy has been: then compare them with the prayers that have been offered in all the churches of the kingdom; and see what comparison the extemporaneous effusions will bear with our pre-composed forms. Having done this for one Sabbath, proceed to do it for a year; and then, after a similar examination, compare them again: were this done, (and done it ought to be in order to form a correct judgment on the case,) methinks there is scarcely a man in the kingdom that would not fall down on his knees, and bless God for the Liturgy of the Established Church.
All that is wanting is, an heart suited to the Liturgy, and cast as it were into that mould. It may with truth be said of us, “They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were in them such an heart!” Let us only suppose that on any particular occasion there were in all of us such a state of mind as the Liturgy is suited to express; what glorious worship would ours be! and how certainly would God delight to hear and bless us! We will not say that he would come down and fill the house with his visible glory, as he did in the days of Moses and of Solomon; but we will say, that he would come down and fill our souls with such a sense of his presence and love, as would transform us into his blessed image, and constitute a very heaven upon earth. Let each of us, then, adopt the wish in our text, and say, “O that there may be in me such an heart!” Let us cultivate the moderation and candour which are there exhibited; divesting ourselves of all prejudice against religion, and receiving with impartial readiness the whole counsel of our God. More particularly, whenever we come up to the house of God, let us seek those very dispositions in the use of the Liturgy, which our Reformers exercised in the framing of it. Let us bring with us into the presence of our God that spirituality of mind that shall fit us for communion with him, and that purity of heart which is the commencement of the divine image on the soul. Let us study, whenever we join in the different parts of this Liturgy, to get our hearts suitably impressed with the work in which we are engaged; that our confessions may be humble, our petitions fervent, our thanksgivings devout, and our whole souls obedient to the word we hear. In a word, let us not be satisfied with any attainments, but labour to be holy as God himself is holy, and perfect even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. If now a doubt remain on the mind of any individual respecting the transcendent excellence of the Liturgy, let him only take the Litany, and go through every petition of it attentively, and at the close of every petition ask himself, What sort of a person should I be, if this petition were so answered to me, that I lived henceforth according to it? and what kind of a world would this be, if all the people that were in it experienced the same answer, and walked according to the same model? If, for instance, we were all from this hour delivered “from all blindness of heart; from pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness;” if we were delivered also “from all other deadly sin, and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil;” what happiness should we not possess? How happy would the Church be, if it should “please God to illuminate all bishops, priests, and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of his word, so that both by their preaching and living they set it forth and shew it accordingly!” How blessed also would the whole nation be, if it pleased God to “endue the lords of the council, and all the nobility, with grace, wisdom and understanding: and to bless and keep the magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice and to maintain truth; and further to bless all his people throughout the land!” Yea, what a world would this be, if from this moment God should “give to all nations, unity, peace, and concord!” Were these prayers once answered, we should hear no more complaints of our Liturgy, nor ever wish for any thing in public, better than that which is provided for us. May God hasten forward that happy day, when all the assemblies of his people throughout the land shall enter fully into the spirit of these prayers, and be answered in the desire of their hearts; receiving from him an “increase of grace, to hear meekly his word, to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit!” And to us in particular may he give, even to every individual amongst us, “true repentance; and forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and endue us with the grace of his Holy Spirit, that we may amend our lives according to his holy word.” Amen and Amen.