Page images
PDF
EPUB

Here, however, a distinction must be taken, for the patriarchal, the Levitical, and the evangelic worship differ greatly from each other. The Levitical was an advance on the patriarchal, and the evangelical on the Levitical ; and it is with the evangelical that we are concerned. Yet all were intimately connected. The first introduced the second, the second the third ; and while each has some things peculiar, all have some things in common, and some things intended to be permanent. We think that some error prevails respecting the old dispensation and its authority. There is much in it, doubtless, that was accidental and temporary, and that has now passed away: but there is much that remains. It is only its peculiar rites and symbolic institutions that have vanished. Its principles are divine, and endure for ever. To Judaize, is to subvert the gospel; but it becomes us to understand what Judaizing is, lest the horror we entertain of it should lead us to discard what is essential and abiding. The offering of the lamb or of the bullock in sacrifice was temporary, but not the doctrine of substitution—the Aaronic priesthood, but not a human ministry—the Jewish sabbath, but not a consecrated day—the mode and manner of approaching God at the mercy-seat, but not prayer in the name of a Mediator

-the appointment of Levites to sing, and play the harp, the psaltery, and the cymbal, but not the singing of the praises of God, nor yet the praising of Him with instruments of music by all his royal priesthood. The one has disappeared, for it was the shadow; the other is the substance, and abides. It agrees with the essential character of God, it harmonises as truly with the nature and constitution he has given to man, and is to be found characterising every Divine dispensation. The patriarchal worship was suited to the infant condition of human nature and society. The plan of salvation, as now revealed, could not then have been apprehended. The first revelation after the fall, contained the same truths as the last, but they were “conveyed in representations to the senses, chiefly that of sight, and in words descriptive of those representations ;” and were given, “not in the language of moral philosophers and rhetoricians, but in that of shepherds and herdsmen; not in Greek or English, but in Hebrew.” “In comparison with the glory of the gospel—the grace and truth which is by Jesus Christthis was a very imperfect proceeding; but it was a rudiment of the moral system, which was to be the excelling glory of a future age ; and, with all its imperfections, it was as high and spiritual as the condition of human nature was able to bear. It was adapted to a state of intellectual and of spiritual infancy," * and gave its peculiar character to the patriarchal worship. The Levitical economy, though still preparatory, was an advance on the former. It also dealt chiefly in

* Scripture and Geology, by J. P. Smith, D.D. See the whole of Lecture 7th, and note N., for a beautiful elucidation of this principle.

sensible representations, but they were of a higher character. It was designed and adapted to introduce the better covenant under which we live: that perfect economy, that spiritual institute, which is intended to be universal. It also has its modes and forms of worship as adapted for universality as itself, and more suited to its nature and genius than any other forms and modes; and we wish to keep it distinctly in mind, that our present and chief inquiry is, what are they? But a knowledge of the former dispensations, though they were imperfect and initial, is necessary to a right apprehension of the order of gospel worship; and while we would not corrupt the latter by retaining aught of the former that has passed away, we must guard as carefully against disparaging what they contained that is real and substantial, and rejecting the light they shed on the system they were intended to introduce.

Before advancing any further observations, we will state the order of worship adopted by Congregational churches; it may slightly vary in some cases, yet it is tolerably uniform, we believe, wherever such churches are known, and may be stated in a few words.

1. The full services of the Lord's day are usually conducted thus:

When the congregation, which is always promiscuous, is assembled, a psalm or hymn is sung; one or two portions of the Scriptures are then read, generally without comment ; after the lessons, free prayer is offered, which on the average may occupy fifteen minutes, and commonly embraces adoration, praise, confession, petition on behalf of those assembled, and general supplication for all men; another psalm or hymn is then sung; after which a discourse is delivered on some text of Scripture; the sermon is followed by singing, and the whole service of one hour and a half is concluded by a short prayer, and the benediction. The morning service, however, is not unfrequently somewhat prolonged and varied, by being commenced with a prayer of five minutes ; by introducing the longer prayer between the lessons; by a running comment on one of the portions read, or by an exposition of a paragraph of the word of God, instead of a sermon on a single text.

2. Meetings denominated prayer meetings are also held by us: say, one early on the Lord's day morning, a second on some other part of the day, and one on some evening of the week. At many of these prayer meetings the minister presides; they are attended chiefly by pious persons, and consist of singing, of prayer offered by such church members as may possess the gift, and sometimes of a short extemporaneous address from the pastor.

3. The Lord's supper is administered generally on the first Lord's day of each month : sometimes at the close of the morning service, sometimes in the afternoon, and in a few cases in the evening; the order of service being that, as nearly as possible, which seems to have been adopted by our Lord at its institution.

4. A service, similar to that of the Lord's day, only more brief, is often held on one of the week-day evenings; besides which the church usually assembles on an evening of the week prior to the administration of the Lord's supper, for special prayer, for exhortation, and for the transaction of the spiritual affairs of the church.

On this statement a few comments may be necessary. The psalms and hymns sung are, all but universally, uninspired compositions. The prayers are never read, and seldom precomposed. The Scriptures which are read are selected according to no established and generallyacknowledged rule ; some pastors, however, adopt a rule for themselves, e.g. reading for the first lesson the Psalms consecutively, and for the second some other book, or the chapter in which the text is found. In many cases, however, we believe all the Scripture lessons are indiscriminately fixed upon.

Such are the modes of Congregational worship. Are they right? are they the best ? are they such as the word of God prescribes, and as the apostolic churches adopted ? Are they, of all others, the most adapted suitably to affect and interest the general assembly, to promote the piety of the worshipper, and to show forth the glory of God?

If it had pleased the Holy Spirit to direct the last surviving apostle to insert in his writings, as a model, a detailed account of the services of one of the primitive churches—the church at Jerusalem, or Ephesus, or Rome, --when it was duly organised and established, how interesting would the record have been! what disputes would it have saved ! what schisms prevented! So we are apt to think. But it did not seem good to Him to adopt this course. Of the style and manner of the preaching of apostolic times, we can form, from the notices preserved, a tolerably correct idea ; of the character and order of their worship also, we receive a general impression, by the perusal of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, whilst further light is doubtless thrown upon it by the earliest Christian writers. But no such particular account of the manner and forms of the devotional and public services of the primitive Christian assemblies has been transmitted to us, as can enable us to accompany them in their worship, and to realise their procedure as a pattern to which, in every point, we may conform our own.

Nevertheless, the New Testament contains much positive information which was designed to guide us; and to collect that information must be our first business. It must be remembered, however, that our inquiry at present is confined to the worship of the churches strictly apostolic, and to the information afforded by the New Testament alone. We shall omit the mention, moreover, of what at the institution of Christianity was peculiar and accidental, such as prophesying, speaking with tongues, &c., and aim to ascertain the principles and practice of the ordinary worship of the churches, enjoined or conducted by inspired men. With us, what they did is authoritative. We believe they were appointed to order the worship of the church, as truly as to develope the doctrines of the cross. But they have done neither systematically - they have done neither so fully as to preclude every secondary inquiry; but they did and said enough. To what is said and done, it is a fundamental principle with us scrupulously to adhere; and from it on no consideration to depart; whilst we believe, that what is left unsaid and undone, may be supplied by the serious, the conscientious, and unprejudiced inquirer.

1. We have the principle of social worship clearly established. The early disciples did meet for the worship of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. All the disciples residing in one place, as at Jerusalem, were expected and required to congregate ; and the injunction was laid upon them, “neglect not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is.”

2. The worship they were required to offer was pre-eminently a spiritual worship. We know that the worship of God, at all times, must be spiritual ; and that that of the Old Testament saints was accepted only so far as it possessed this character. But when that dispensation which consisted so much of carnal ordinances, gave place to the ministration of the Spirit, peculiar emphasis was laid on this feature of the worship now to be offered, which was so far more spiritual than the former worship could be, that in comparison with it, it might be spoken of as if opposed to the worship they had been accustomed to offer, and contradistinguished from it. Hence, Peter says, that the disciples are built up a spiritual house, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Hence, the Saviour said, “ The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth... God is a spirit : and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” It is not to be understood, however, by this requirement, that the mind alone is to be engaged in God's worship ; and that when we approach him, we are to forget the fact that we have a material frame, and are creatures of sense. The means of grace all suppose the contrary. We are to keep our foot when we go to the house of God; we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice. Jesus knelt in worship, and lifted up his eyes to beaven ; and John fell down before the Son of God, as dead. Nevertheless, it does require us to place spirit far above matter; it teaches us that, comparatively, the ritual and ceremonial now are of less consideration ; what is outward and formal, though not unimportant, is of inferior moment; whilst it demands a higher and a purer worship according to the higher and purer views of God afforded by the Gospel, in which our entire nature shall sympathise, body, soul, and spirit.

3. The New Testament teaches, that the worship to be offered by Jew and Gentile alike, is to be presented to the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

4. We have no doubt that the early disciples met, invariably and statedly, on one day of the week for the purpose of presenting such worship ; and that on the first, or Lord's day. For a time they often assembled also on the Jewish sabbath ; they might meet on other days also; but we think they felt it incumbent on them to spend the first day in the service of God and in honour of Christ.

5. The worship of the assembled church was not conducted by the disciples indiscriminately, but by individuals qualified by the Holy Spirit ; and, when not specially appointed by the apostles, called and recognised by the church, i.e. ordinarily. Those persons were denomi. nated επίσκοποι, or πρεσβύτεροι, bishops or elders. We have instances of deacons, and perhaps of others, who both prayed and preached, as Stephen ; but whether in the case of deacons, it was as deacons; and whether in the case of others, it was an extraordinary arrangement, it is not necessary now to inquire ; thus much however may be affirmed, perhaps, without hesitation ; that of the bishops or elders, the ministry of the word and prayer was the proper business, the appointed work.

It may be proper here to make a distinction between those assemblies which were gathered together for the purpose of publishing among men the Gospel, and convincing them that Jesus was the Messiah ; and those which consisted only, or chiefly, of the disciples : the ékkinoia, which met together for mutual edification and the worship of God. Whether in the former case it was usual for the heralds of mercy to read the law, to sing or to offer prayer, we know not. The probability would seem to be, that the first was sometimes done, the second and third seldom or never. Paul, in his own hired house at Rome, read the Scriptures, and expounded what he read; while at Mars' Hill, he appears to have done neither, but to have acted simply as the ambassador of Christ. It is what was done in the ékkinoia, the congregation, we are anxious to ascertain ; and remark, therefore,

6. That they met where it was suitable or convenient,-in the temple, the synagogue, the private house, or under the canopy of heaven. They met for fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, and with each other. The means they used to secure this fellowship, seem to have been the following :- 1. The breaking of bread ; the communion (kouvwvia, joint participation) of the body and blood of Christ ; and we think there can be little doubt, that as they met for this purpose every Lord's day, this was also a principal object of their assembling. They prayed, they continued in prayer, which was offered in the name of the Lord Jesus. After the manner of the synagogue service, they doubtless read the Scriptures, and also the letters they might receive from the apostles, or from sister churches,

« PreviousContinue »