Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 122:1 - 122:1

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 122:1 - 122:1


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

The House of the Lord

I was glad when they said unto me,

Let us go unto the house of the Lord.—Psa_122:1

All who have made the Book of Psalms their study must have been struck with the deep and unaffected piety of the authors. The psalmists speak throughout the whole book of praising God, and praying to God as none could speak unless they were in earnest. There is a fervour in the language used by them which proves how surely their hearts were interested in what they uttered; which shows that religion was not to them a hollow form, something put on for policy or custom’s sake, but a living, animating principle of conduct, the bread of their spiritual life, as necessary for their happiness as the food they ate was for their bodily existence.

Instances of this heart-felt piety might be quoted from every portion of the Psalms. To take a few out of the many, we read in Psalms 26 : “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. I will offer in thy dwelling an oblation with great gladness. I will sing and speak praise unto the Lord.” And in Psalms 27 : “One thing have I desired of the Lord which I will require, even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.” Again, at the opening of the famous Psalms 84 and all throughout it: “Oh! how amiable are thy dwellings, thou Lord of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they will be always praising thee.… One day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.” And in Psalms 116, that which is so fittingly read at the churching of women, this is his language after he had experienced a great deliverance: “What reward shall I give unto the Lord, for all the benefits that he hath done unto me? I will receive the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord in the sight of all his people; in the courts of the Lord’s house, even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.” And once more, in my text observe the psalmist’s joy at the prospect of worshipping in the tabernacle: “I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord.”1 [Note: R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, ii. 71.]

I

The Call to Worship

“They said unto me, Let us go.”

1. Worship is a necessity of our being. The Greeks called man “anthropos,” meaning the upward-looking one. “Man is the creature of religious instincts, and must worship something,” is the pronouncement of Kant. If dogmatism be sufferable anywhere, surely it is here; for man, wherever found, is a worshipping creature, capable of appreciating, capable of admiring, capable of extolling. That outburst of the soul, that rapture and rush of the emotions, that exclamation in the presence of the picturesque, that is the natural sentiment of worship. Education and study exalt it into a culture, revelation into a duty.

If there were no God, the human heart must make One, for where there is no vision of the Infinite, the people perish. Worship is a true soul-view of God; rather is it a soul-view of the true God. It is the highest admiration, because the admiration of the highest. Worship is worthship—a confession of worth. It is a reverential upward look. It is the attitude of the penitent rising and turning his face skyward.

One of the most popular legends in Brittany is that relating to an imaginary town called Is, which is supposed to have been swallowed up by the sea at some unknown time. There are several places along the coast which are pointed out as the site of this imaginary city, and the fishermen have many strange tales to tell of it. According to them, the tips of the spires of the churches may be seen in the hollow of the waves when the sea is rough, while during a calm the music of the bells, ringing out a hymn appropriate to the day, rises above the waters. I often fancy that I have at the bottom of my heart a city of Is, with its bells calling to prayer a recalcitrant congregation. At times I halt to listen to these gentle vibrations, which seem as if they came from immeasurable depths, like voices from another world.1 [Note: E. Renan, Recollections of my Youth, p. vii.]

2. Our social instincts cry out for common worship. “They said unto me, Let us go.” There is one thing in the services of the sanctuary that cannot otherwise be obtained. It is the social element in worship. The individual peculiarity is toned down in the general praise and prayer. The individual burden is forgotten in the common thanksgiving. The tempted, overburdened heart finds release in the assembling together with other souls. The solitary stranger, joining in praise and sharing the communal life of the congregation, forgets for the time his solitude. There is something infectious in the spiritual sense of so many wills gathered together with one accord. The social element in worship is not only part of the gregarious instinct, but in the convergence of many wills on one undertaking it produces a volume of prayers that is far greater than the sum of individual prayers would be. There is action and reaction of spiritual influences. This is perhaps most noticeable in great evangelistic meetings or spiritual conventions, where deep religious emotions are stirred up, and where waves of spiritual influence may almost be felt. But it is true, more or less, of every congregational group. Different hymns appeal to different minds and stir up different reactions. Different verses of the passages of the Bible which are read touch different natures and appeal to different experiences. One sentence in a prayer finds its way into one heart, another into another. The wistful, the weary, the colourless, the jubilant, the successful, the defeated draw from the service their cognate note. Each life-experience seems to attract as by a spiritual magnet its kindred thought.

We may rightly ask people to consider what is likely to be the effect of the neglect or disuse on a large scale of the worship of God. Doubtless it may mean a very little difference to individuals. We may let our worship be so poor and mechanical that the loss of it makes at the moment little difference. It is the way of such things that they mean little to those who use them little. But, even so, in the bulk they are worth a great deal. We make each our contribution, or fail to make it, to the nation’s worship, and through this to its higher life. This at the least; but how much more if worship is rightly used, if it brings the sense of God’s presence and the touch of eternal things, if conscience is brought weekly to the bar; if will and purpose receive reminder and encouragement, if worship is allowed to give that which is to be found in it by those who seek.

The boy was expressing the opinion of many older than himself when he said to his mother, “I should like to be just such a Christian as father is, for no one can tell whether he is a Christian or not.” This father is like the clock attached to a certain church, which possessed neither face nor hands, but which was wound up by the sexton on Sundays and continued to tick year after year, affording an apt illustration of the religion which many are content to possess. The movements of the clock were as regular and accurate as anyone could desire, but, inasmuch as it kept the time to itself, no one was the better for its existence.1 [Note: C. H. Robinson.]

3. Our highest moral life requires the open acknowledgment of God. If a man does not know and remember how much is above him, he will see nothing true. He will begin by thinking himself big, and end by finding himself and everything else little. He must look up because the truth of his nature is to belong and to depend. He cannot stand alone. His own strength is weakness. He is strong or wise only by what is given him, and put into him. Or he will begin by thinking he can do everything, and come to think that he can do nothing, and that there is nothing to do that is really worth doing. He must look up because the best in us is not what we are, but what we aspire to be. A man who does not look up has no ideals, no sense of mystery; he lacks reverence, and reverence is the essence of manhood. Without it life is dry, and petty and vulgar.

The Church stands for the most vital thing in life—the art of teaching men how to live. On creeds and articles the minds of men have always differed, and there is no sure evidence forthcoming that the future will not repeat the past; but right and wrong are as old as Orion and its nebulæ. Right will never lose its lustre; never wrong its shame. Repeatedly we hear the criticism made that the Church is narrow; but how otherwise could she be? Is she not the only organization in the world to-day that stands for unflinching antagonism to wrong? Abolish the Church and the supremacy of evil would be unchallenged, the field abandoned, and Satan have his own wicked swing.

Many years ago a merchant in Liverpool became financially involved, through no fault of his own, and had to come to a settlement with his creditors. He gave up everything and went to live in a small house with his wife and children. He came to church regularly twice each Sunday, and with him all his family. As the years passed his business grew and prospered, and in due time he called his creditors together, paid his debts with interest and stepped forth a free man. His creditors made him a valuable presentation of silver in recognition of his splendid fight and his sterling and honourable character. That man told me he could not have held on, or held out in the dark days that fell upon him and his, but for the courage which came to him through the services of the Church, and the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. He trusted in God and he was not confounded.1 [Note: T. J. Madden, in The Record, Feb. 7, 1913, p. 126.]

II

The Place of Worship

“Let us go unto the house of the Lord.”

“The house of the Lord” is an expression which we at once recognize as figurative. “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded!” So it was said even in the Jewish dispensation. In the Christian dispensation it is still more strongly expressed that the only fitting temple of the Most High is the sacred human conscience, or the community of good men throughout the world, or that vast unseen universe which is the true tabernacle, greater and more perfect than any made by hands. Nevertheless, like all familiar metaphors the expression “the house of God” has a deep root in the human heart and mind. Our idea of the invisible almost inevitably makes for itself a shell or husk from visible things. This is the germ of religious architecture. This is the reason why the most splendid buildings in the world have been temples or churches. This is the reason why even the most spiritual, even the most puritanical, religion clothes itself with the drapery not only of words, and sounds, and pictures, but of wood, and stone, and marble. A Friends’ meeting-house is as really a house of God, and therefore as decisive a testimony to the sacredness of architecture, as the most magnificent cathedral.

1. There is a value in the association of religion with places. That value lies in the help which material things can be to the spiritual life of beings who have material forms. The wholly spiritual is at present unattainable by us. We are compelled to shape the spiritual in formal words, and to present the spiritual in material images. The sacraments are based on this value of sensible helps to spiritual feeling. And so historic and beautiful church-buildings cultivate reverence; familiar services nourish the spirit of worship; the church we have attended since childhood, or in which we have felt the power of Divine things, readily quickens emotion and renews faith. The hermit who retires even from hallowing associations does but make new ones for himself, for none of us can afford to neglect the help that sacred places and things may be to us.

An unfamiliar instance of special interest in sacred places was given by Professor Minas Teheraz to the “World’s Parliament.” Speaking of the Armenian Church, he said: “One result of the manifold persecutions has been to strengthen the attachment of the Armenians to the Church of St. Gregory, the Illuminator. Etchmiadzin has become a word of enchantment, graven in the soul of every Armenian. The Armenians of the mother country bow down with love before this sanctuary which has already seen 1591 summers. And as regards those who have left their native land, if it is far from their eyes it is not far from their hearts. A Persian monarch, Shah Abbas, had forcibly transported into his dominion fourteen thousand Armenian families. Like the captive Israelites at the remembrance of Jerusalem, these Armenians always sighed at the recollection of Etchmiadzin. In order to keep them in their new country, Shah Abbas conceived the project of destroying Etchmiadzin, of transporting the stones to Djoulfa (Ispahan), and there constructing a similar convent. He actually transported the central stone of the chief altar, the baptismal fonts, and other important pieces, but the emotion of the Armenians was so great that he was forced to give up his project of vandalism.”1 [Note: R. Tuck.]

2. God is not tied to particular places. He is not confined to temples made with hands, and in all ages and lands devout souls alone with God in the mountain or the valley or the unpeopled desert have been able to worship Him with great concentration in the solitudes of nature. Nor does it obviate private and personal prayer. “When thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” is Jesus’ prescription for personal devotion. The true believer prays naturally to God for help, for grace, rendering thanks, taking counsel with God. The sources of his strength are found mainly in his private prayers.

One of the grandest features of Christianity is its cosmopolitanism. It finds a home everywhere, and is everywhere at home. In this it differs from Paganism, which must have its hallowed groves ere the oracular response can be gained. It is unlike Judaism also, which had its solitary Temple where alone the symbol of Divinity was displayed. In the memorable conversation which our Saviour had with the woman of Samaria, He emphasized the superiority of the Christian religion. “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” That is, neither here nor there by way of restriction—the genius of the gospel is too expansive to limit itself to a solitary shrine. There is to be no tabernacle of exclusive worship, but anywhere and everywhere men may rear a temple, and the Lord God will dwell in it.

It is the life of the members, and not the form of structure, that makes a Church living. It is as each one is a temple of the Holy Ghost that the combined brotherhood becomes a Christian Church in the highest sense. It is the spirit of prayer and service pervading the people that makes a Church distinguished. The quickened heart, to give for others money, service, self, is a mark of the living Church. Devotion to the service of man in the house of God draws out the most devoted talent of the best men and women. In the great Christian lands there is a large army of Christian workers in every living congregation on whom, rather than on the minister, devolves the management of the various activities of the church. Behind them are the main body of the people aiding by prayer and effort. These are the living stones.

Why not then worship only in the open air? Convenience forbids it as the normal form of worship. Why not worship in a barn? Is God not there? Yea, verily. And in times of persecution in the past, in Scotland and other lands, men and women have been glad to worship anywhere—in caves, on the mountain-side, in barns, or any shelter that offered. But in settled times Christian people, animated by the same feeling as King David expressed, felt that it was unfitting to worship God in circumstances less worthy than they themselves possessed. Their gratitude to God, and their own æsthetic tastes, dictated tasteful churches, simple yet elegant, rich in hallowed associations, solemnized by spiritual transactions between the soul and God.1 [Note: Alexander Tomory, Indian Missionary, 77.]

3. A common centre of worship promotes unity and brotherhood. It was a national religion that was celebrated and reinforced during these pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The little village synagogue was a temporary makeshift, the Temple at Jerusalem was the house of worship. In the former the religious heart was fed but not satisfied. Life was maintained, duty was taught, but there was neither the beauty of holiness nor the glory of God that was enshrined in the central Temple. In a way, the throne of David was set right in the middle of the Temple. The law of the land and its administration issued from the Jewish Church. The arrangements of social life issued from the Jewish Church. The regulations of commerce issued from the Jewish Church. And so the Jew was glad as he went up to Zion because king and court, social convention and social habit, the rulers of commerce, all found their inspiration and their mandate in the Church.

There was a time in Scotland when the Church stood immediately behind the King’s throne as counsellor, when the Church regulated the homes of men, and their habits, when the Church conducted commercial treaties, when the Church granted charters to boroughs. All that is now changed in Scotland. It is so much changed that some say the Church has become little more than a mere relic in this land. It is so much changed that some declare the province of the Church is so limited as to be on the point of disappearing altogether; but I think I read the signs of the times sufficiently accurately when I declare that again in our time the conviction is deepening and growing apace that a nation can be strong in the various aspects of its life, its social life, its commercial life, its political life, only as it is infused with those ideals and eternal verities that are summed up in the name of religion.1 [Note: A. B. Scott.]

III

The Spirit of Worship

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord.”

The Hebrew poet was sure of one thing—that it did him good to go into the House of God. For though God is always near us, so that we cannot get away from Him though we may close our hearts and lock our doors, yet in public worship we are drawn closer to God. We come into His very presence, we seek to look into His face, we desire to enter into His pavilion and into the secret of His tabernacle. Our hearts are stirred, and, like the disciples of old, we feel that the flame of love is fanned as He talks to us and allows us to talk to Him.

Oliver Wendell Holmes does not hesitate to bear witness to the need, in his own case, of the weekly “means of grace.” He says: “I am a regular church-goer. I should go for various reasons if I did not love it, but I am fortunate enough to find pleasure in the midst of devout multitudes, whether I can accept all their creed or not. For I find there is in the corner of my heart ‘a little plant called Reverence,’ which wants to be watered about once a week.”

Better known, perhaps, than that of any other Christian household, is the domestic life of Gregory Nazianzen, the poet of Eastern Christendom, and one of the greatest of its orators and theologians. Gregory’s mother, Nonna, a woman of ardent piety, born of a Christian family, and carefully trained in the faith, was “a housewife after Solomon’s own heart”—so her son describes her—“submissive to her husband, yet not ashamed to be his guide and teacher.” It was Nonna’s constant prayer that her husband, Gregory, should become a convert, for, though a man of high character and exemplary life, he was a pagan. A dream inspired by a psalm helped her to gain her heart’s desire. Pagan though he was, her husband seems to have known the Psalms, for he dreamed that he was singing the words, “I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the House of the Lord” (Psalms 122). The impression was too deep to pass away when he awoke. After a short preparation, he was baptized, and eventually became, and for forty-five years remained, Bishop of Nazianzus (329–74).1 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, 15.]

1. If we take the psalm as referring to the return from the Captivity we may imagine how the pilgrim would express his delight at finding himself once more in sight or in prospect of home. The psalms and prophecies of the time describe the delight with which the travellers started on their westward journey; how they mounted ridge after ridge, and caught the first view of their own country; how the beacon-fires flashing from their native hills welcomed them onwards; how at last their feet stood fast “within thy gates, O Jerusalem.” This is one part of the feeling of the return of the exiles, and it became the root of that patriotic sentiment which flourished henceforth in the Jewish nation with a vigour never known before.

There is another feeling in the background, which gives additional force to this passionate home-sickness and patriotic fervour. They had not merely been absent from home. They had been sojourning in a mighty empire wholly unlike their own. They had seen the splendours of Babylon; they had mixed with the princes and potentates of Chaldea, Persia, and Media; they had drunk in all the influences of those far-off seats of Oriental wisdom. Their ideas of religion, of history, and of science had become enlarged. If in some respects they were a lesser nation than they were before the Exile, in some respects they were much greater. For they had received a new and serious impulse which ended in nothing less than the greatest event of the world’s history—the advent of Christianity.

There has not been a generation of men for the last three thousand years, there will not be a generation of men to the end of time, in which some will not read with sympathy that story on which the greatest master of ancient poetry has spent all his art—which tells of the return of Ulysses after his long absence; the wife counting the weary days in the hills of Ithaca; the dog leaping up in his master’s face and dying of joy; the aged servants recognizing their long-lost chief as he treads once more his father’s threshold. To any man worthy of the name, the thoughts of mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, are among the most inspiring, the most purifying, the most elevating of all the motives which God has given us to steady our steps, and guide our consciences, and nerve us for duty, through all the changes and chances of this mortal life. Happy, thrice happy, is he or she who keeps this sanctuary pure and undefiled. False to his country, and false to the true interests and the holy progress of mortals, is he or she who undermines or betrays it. Not charity only, but all the virtues of which charity is the bond begin and end at Home.1 [Note: A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, 111.]

2. The Psalmist was glad because he approached God as a son and not as a slave. We delight in the services of the House of God when we realize that the Great God Himself is pleased with the spiritual sacrifice, the offering of prayer and praise and thanksgiving and intercession which we bring. We must remember that our God is a Father, and “Father” is the name whereby He especially manifests Himself to us. A King He is of course; a Judge too, a Revealer, a Saviour, even a Friend; but, beyond and above all, He is a Father. And when we really grasp the idea of His Fatherhood, it is not so difficult for us to understand the feelings with which He regards the approaches of His children to His sacred presence.

I can imagine a monarch seated on high, on his throne, looking coldly down upon his subjects, and receiving with little or no emotion but that of a gratified pride, and of a resolve to have his due, the presents which they pour out profusely at his feet. But if the monarch were also a father the circumstances would be radically altered, and I should expect the feeblest offering, if it were but really made in love, to find favour in his eyes; just as I expect that whilst the great Sovereign of the universe listens with complacency to the glorious hymns and anthems of the hosts of heaven, He finds perhaps a sweeter music in the lispings of a little child, or in the broken utterances of a penitent sinner just turning from his sin, and scarcely able at present to believe that he will be accepted, or in the worship of such people as we are, offering our sacrifice sincerely, offering it in the name of Jesus Christ, but yet painfully conscious of the imperfection with which we realize unseen and eternal things, and of the wandering thoughts which so frequently drag our souls down from the heights of spiritual contemplation to engage them with the veriest trifles of the passing moment.1 [Note: G. Calthrop.]

When upon the battle-field we receive our dying comrade’s last message to his wife, when we pass in the rude hospital from one sufferer to another, when with a few we have to sacrifice life without one single hope of being saved, that we may keep a post for the safety of an army: we do not speak then of a God of ideas, of an impersonal Essence of Love and Truth, but of a living, loving Friend, who will be a Father to the widow, who stands, as if in human form, and speaks in human voice to the wounded who is torn with pain, to the doomed who dies, unknown, for duty. In such hours the Idealist worships the personal Fatherhood of God. Go to the poor mechanic who has worked all his life in a city garret, and talk of the God who is infinite Life in Nature; go to men at some great crisis, when their work has broken up, when their heart is broken, and speak of the pitiless action of Force, and the hard fighter with the real ills of poverty, or the tortured man, will mock at your consolation. “When I ask bread,” he will say, “you give me a stone.” But tell them of a personal Father who loves and pities them, who chastens because He loves, whose tenderness goes hand in hand with justice, who sits with them at the bench, and bears, through sympathy, their poverty: who knows their suffering, and will not leave them or forsake them in the hour of their bitter need; who is human to them with a higher, tenderer humanity than any they can get on earth, and I know their eyes will light with hope, their spirits take a Divine courage, their patience grow so beautiful that all around will see that there is a higher Power there than earthly gratitude.2 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]

3. In true worship, reverence and intelligent interest must be joined to enthusiasm. Indeed we cannot have worship without reverence. Reverence is the very essence of true religion, and therefore wherever reverence is wanting there can be no true worship. The belief of the Gospel, which implies the possession by us of Jesus as our Saviour from sin and death, should make us glad—glad with a great, deep joy of which the world knows nothing. But a happy or glad heart is not opposed to, or inconsistent with, a devout and reverent spirit; and however great may be our joy in communion with God, we ought to be reverent when we come before Him.

One cannot help wondering that some people who do go to the House of God should go at all, they show so little interest in the services. You see their want of interest even in the manner in which they go to their pews; and you see it further in their habit of gazing around them at the gathering worshippers before the services begin, and in their vacant look during the time the services are going on. With them, church-going is a mere religious form. They resemble the Northern Farmer of whom Tennyson tells us in one of his poems, who said about his minister—

An’ I hallus coom’d to ’s chooch afoor moy Sally wur deäd,

An’ ’eärd ’um a bummin’ awaäy loike a buzzard-clock ower my ’eäd,

An’ I niver knaw’d whot a meän’d but I thowt a’ad summut to saäy,

An’ I thowt a said whot a owt to ’a said an’ I coom’d awaäy.

One of the best men whom I have ever known, a man of great intellectual gifts and acquirements, who had cherished through life the most exalted views of God, and much of whose time was spent on his knees in prayer, as he drew near the close of his life felt a sense of awe almost amounting to fear—though the had no doubt of his safety—as he thought of entering into the presence of God. Yes, and the more holy anyone really becomes—the more anyone knows about God—the more like to God anyone becomes, the greater will be his reverence for God, the more solemnized will he feel when in God’s presence.1 [Note: W. Duncan, God’s Book: God’s Day: God’s House, 84.]

4. The Psalmist’s gladness was inspired by the feeling that he was a member of a goodly fellowship. He has his eye upon the past. He is regarding the days that are gone, as he mounts up this road to Jerusalem; as his own feet trace the way that leads up to Zion he finds there footprints of vanished generations of God’s own pilgrim people, and in his mind’s eye he finds himself enrolled in the august procession of God’s own people that, going up this road before him in past days, have found it the road of duty, the road of salvation, the road of their soul’s peace; and so he says “I have joy.” He had the joy which is begotten in us by the communion of saints; he had the gladness which is engendered in us by what the writer to the Hebrews calls being “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.”

To this house we come, drawn not by arbitrary command which we fear to disobey; not by self-interest, temporal or spiritual, which we deem it prudent to consult; not, I trust, from dead conventionalism, that brings the body and leaves the soul; but by a common quest of some holy spirit to penetrate and purify our life; by a common desire to quit its hot and level dust, and from its upland slopes of contemplation inhale the serenity of God; by the secret sadness of sin, that can delay its confessions, and bear its earthliness no more by the deep though dim; consciousness that the passing weeks do not leave us where they find us, but plant us within nearer distance, and give us a more intimate view, of that fathomless eternity wherein so many dear and mortal things have dropped from our imploring eyes. It is no wonder that in meditations solemn as these we love and seek each other’s sympathy. It is easy, no doubt, to journey alone in the broad sunshine and on the beaten highways of our lot: but over the midnight plain, and beneath the still immensity of darkness, the traveller seeks some fellowship for his wanderings. And what is religion but the midnight hemisphere of life, whose vault is filled with the silence of God, and whose everlasting stars, if giving no clear light, yet fill the soul with dreams of immeasurable glory? It will be an awful thing to each of us to be alone, when he takes the passage from the mortal to the immortal, and is borne along—with unknown time for expectant thought—through the space that severs earth from heaven: and till then, at least, we will not part, but speak with the common voice of supplicating trust of that which awaits us all.1 [Note: James Martineau, Endeavours after the Christian Life, 138.]

When religious worship has become a customary social act, a man who sympathizes with the religious idea is right to show public sympathy with it; he ought to weigh very carefully his motives for abstaining. If it is indolence, or a fear of being thought precise, or a desire to be thought independent, or a contempt for sentiment that keeps him back, he is probably in the wrong; nothing but a genuine and deep-seated horror of formalism justifies him in protesting against a practice which is to many an avenue of the spiritual life. A lack of sympathy with certain liturgical expressions, a fear of being hypocritical of being believed to hold the orthodox position in its entirety, justifies a man in not entering the ministry of the Church, even if he desires on general grounds to do so, but these are paltry motives for cutting oneself off from communion with believers. It is clear that Christ Himself thought many of the orthodox practices of the exponents of the popular religion wrong, but He did not for that reason abjure attendance upon accustomed rites; and it is far more important to show sympathy with an idea, even, if one does not agree with all the details, than to seem, by protesting against erroneous detail, to be out of sympathy with the idea. The mistake is when a man drifts into thinking of ceremonial worship as a practice specially and uniquely dear to God. There are some who have a quickened sense of fellowship and unity, when prayers and aspirations are uttered in concert; but the error is to desire merely the bodily presence of one’s fellow-creatures for such a purpose, rather than their mental and spiritual acquiescence. The result of such a desire is that it is often taught, or at all events believed, that there is a kind of merit in the attendance at public worship. The only merit of it lies in the case of those who sacrifice a personal disinclination to the desire to testify sympathy for the religious life. It is no more meritorious for those who personally enjoy it, than it is for a lover of pictures to go to a picture-gallery, for thus the hunger of the spirit is satisfied.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle, 63.]

Literature

Burrell (D. J.), The Spirit of the Age, 51.

Cuckson (J.), Faith and Fellowship, 205.

Duncan (W.), God’s Book: God’s Day: God’s House, 73.

Farindon (A.), Sermons, ii. 634.

Leach (C.), Sunday Afternoons with Working Men, 253.

Rawnsley (R. D. B.), Village Sermons, ii. 70.

Stanley (A. P.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 87, 110, 224.

Talbot (E. S.), Some Aspects of Christian Truth, 292.

Tomory (A.), in Alexander Tomory, Indian Missionary, 75.

Voysey (C.), Sermons, ix. (1886), No. 13; x. (1887), No. 26; xvi. (1893), No. 31; xxi. (1898), No. 13; xxvi. (1903), No. 34.

Christian World Pulpit, xvii. 190 (J. F. Haynes); xxix. 56 (W. Scott); lxxvi. 123 (J. G. Davies), 316 (A. B. Scott).

Church Family Newspaper, Feb. 3, 1911, 88 (H. H. Robinson).

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xi. (G. Calthrop).

Record, Feb. 7, 1913 (T. J. Madden).