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XII.

PUBLIC WORSHIP.

HEBREWS X. 15.

Forsake not the assembling yourselves together, as the

manner of some is.

The first thing recorded of the disciples of Christ after their Lord's ascension was their uniting with one accord in prayer and supplication ; and being with one accord in one place; continuing stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship ; continuing daily with one accord in the Temple; and breaking bread, that is, celebrating the Holy Communion, from house to house; lifting up the voice with one accord; their coming together the first day of the week to break bread; coming together in the church into one place to celebrate the Lord's Supper; meeting and keeping silence in the church; the whole church being gathered together in prayer, and coming into one place-a rich man and a

, poor man entering the assembly; and lastly, not forsaking the assembling of themselves together : so that the practice of assembling together at stated times for the

purpose of joint devotion, religious exercises, and religious instruction, stands upon the highest and earliest authority by which the practice can come recommended to us — the united example of the apostles and immediate followers of Jesus Christ.

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These persons acted under the instructions which themselves had received from Christ's own mouth, and under the extraordinary influence of the Holy Spirit : therefore, an institution founded on the common consent and practice of such persons, so circumstanced, is to be deemed a divine institution. Not to mention the words of Christ, as recorded in Saint Matthew's Gospel, which contain the strongest invitation to joint worship and prayer: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” — Agreeably herewith, all members and sects of Christianity, let them differ ever so much in the articles of faith or rules of practice, have concurred in this—the appointing stated times and hours for public devotion ; in complying with what they find to have been the usage and institution of the apostles and immediate preachers of Christ's religion, whose authority they all acknowledge. This may be clearly traced up to the very ascension of Jesus Christ ; especially when coupled with plain words, as above stated, in evidence of a divine command; and upon this command our obligation to attend upon public worship primarily and principally rests. For when we have once good reason to believe that a thing is the command and will of God, there is an end of all other consideration about it ; however, all other considerations are to be introduced only as auxiliary and subordinate to that. It is to no purpose to say that coming to church is only a ceremony or a custom : were that true, however, which it is not, it would be sufficient to reply, that it is what God is pleased to require. It is his pleasure which ultimately makes any thing a duty; and where that pleasure is declared or known, it is presumptuous in us to distinguish or to say that one thing must be

observed, and another dispensed with ; one institution is of a moral, another of a scriptural nature. They are all instituted by Him who has complete right and authority to direct us. When we add to this, what I believe will not often be found to fail, that one known deviation from the command of God introduces insensibly, yet inevitably, all deviations from duty, we shall see the force of the preceding obligation in its true light.

Having thus stated the first and principal ground of our duty to attend upon public worship, namely, the command and will of God, signified in the concurrent usage and judgement of those with whom God was pleased to carry on a communication of his will, and by whom he imparted it to the rest of mankind, I shall proceed to fortify the argument, by showing the propriety and expediency of the thing itself.

And first of all: the propriety of joint devotion appears, as it respects the object of all devotion—the supreme God himself.

His nature is so glorious, so infinitely exalted above ours, that we are not worthy, as it is truly said, to offer him any sacrifice. The only approach we can make towards him, in my mind, at all suited to his transcendent dignity, is by joining our hearts and voices, by rendering earnest and united adoration to the Author of the universe.

We read that God is worshipped in heaven by the joint praises of hosts and myriads of blessed saints. It is not each solitary angel offering its own thanksgivings to its Creator ; but the collection of beings presenting themselves together before the throne, and ascribing glory, and honour, and power to their great Father and Governor, with united and never-ceasing acclamations. Now, the only way in which we can imitate them, or

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produce the smallest resemblance of celestial devotion,
is by coming into one place, with hearts glowing with
piety to God, and with charity to one another; and
with decency of outward behaviour and expression,
accompanied with inward sensations of humble but
ardent devotion, falling down before him who is the
Parent, the Preserver, the Saviour, and Benefactor, and
Guide, and Guardian of the whole human race. A
king is pleased by the united addresses of faithful sub-
jects, a parent is moved by the joint supplications of
dutiful children. For the same reason that we see a
prince or a parent affected by the unanimous praise,
humble demeanor, and united voice of their subjects or
children, may we conceive the divine Being to accept
with complacency the public worship of a devout and
serious congregation.

Public worship, as it respects the great object of all worship, is the best and nearest advance which creatures like ourselves are capable of making towards a homage in anywise adequate to the glory and dignity of the Being whom we address; imperfect at best ; if perfect, unworthy of him, but still our all, and our utmost ; still it is attempting to hallow the name of God on earth as it is in heaven—that is, by a social and united act of prayer and thanksgiving.

The propriety may relate to the Supreme Being; the expediency must relate to ourselves. And this becomes the next subject of consideration.

The plain way of computing the utility of an institution is to calculate what would be the effect if the institution was altogether laid aside. Now it appears to me not too much to say, that if public worship was discontinued in a country, the very care and thought of God would vanish—not at once, but would insensibly decay and wear out, till it was forgotten and lost from the minds and memory of mankind. The generality of the people would come, in process of time, to know as little of their Creator's institution, and think and care as little about it, as they do of the religion of their forefathers, the ancient Britons: and the effect which any institution, or the omission of it, has upon the generality of mankind, is what ought chiefly to be attended to. It is not what two or three scholars, what a few who give themselves up to meditation and study might do without the assistance of these institutions, but what the general condition of mankind would be without it. Amongst these, something visible, something external, is absolutely necessary to remind them of religious matters; and the very visible external part of Christianity is its religious assemblies, and its sabbaths, and its sacraments.

In any, or in such change of civil polity, where all public worship and observance of the sabbath is obliged to be discontinued, it is wonderful how soon the impression and thought of religion begin to be laid aside. Man is an animal partly rational and partly sensitive. In the eye of cool abstract reasoning, the way to judge of the truth and importance of religion is not perhaps to see whether any outward public act of religion be upheld or not; and where we are under the direction of this and of nothing else, the influence and impression of religion would be neither more nor less for any external observation whatever. But that purely rational nature is not the nature of man: he has senses which must be applied to; for by these his conduct, if not his judgement, is guided and drawn, more than by speculation. Therefore if he be not kept up by something visible and obvious to his senses; if a man have not constantly some

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