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OF THE DIVINE SERVICES OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
O LORD, our God, send us thy light and thy truth, that they may guide us, and fill us with the spirit of thy dear
Son, that our prayer may be acceptable in thy sight. Bless the preaching of thy holy word, and let it not return to thee void, but give thy grace, that it may, as thou hast promised, accomplish that which thou pleasest, and prosper in the thing whereto thou sendest it. Amen
God's holy day has again assembled us in his sanctuary for public worship. We would“ build ourselves up on our most holy faith.” We feel the need of united lifting up of spirit and heart unto God. The illumination of the spirit, and the sanctifying of the heart are the goals which the church proposes to her members; it is her wish that they should consecrate their whole lives to a heavenly, and therefore a blessed life. To this end she has instituted congregational exercises of devotion, and he who takes part in them with right feelings, bears witness
thereby, that his salvation is not indifferent to him. But what means does our church employ to attain this end? Is it her plan to give nourishment to our senses, and to content an idle love of shew by means of worldly pomp, empty display, and multiplied ceremonies, or does not rather all that we see and hear in her bear the stamp of the most exalted simplicity? You can find nothing in our churches or our divine services which would fetter your curious looks, tickle your ears, disturb your spirits, or delight your senses. Our evangelical church disdains to effect passing im
pressions on the senses by means of outward splendour, which can neither advance us in knowledge of the truth, or in sanctification of heart and life; she never leaves out of her sight that highest principle of the Christian faith, “ God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” In this respect she differs in the most decided manner from the church of Rome, in which abundant food is offered to the senses, by the pomp and magnificence of their divine services; but, on the other hand, she approaches the primitive Christian church, whose services were particularly remarkable for dignified simplicity, and were especially calculated for the illumination of the spirit, and the sanctification of the thoughts, heart, and life.
We have already called your attention, my brethren, in our previous discourses, to the fact, that nothing so much struck the heathens as the simplicity of Christian worship, and that they often reproached the believers in the gospel, “ that they had no temples, no altars, no images.” In fact, there was to be found in the Christian worship no trace of the
and dead ceremonial worship of the Jews and heathens. The purpose of their sacred assemblies was no other than to arouse the partakers in them to lead a Christian life dedicated to God, and to strengthen them, and they therefore considered instruction and edification as the chief matters. Congregational prayer, therefore, and congregational meditation on God's word formed the chief duties of their ecclesiastical lives. And thus we read in the Acts of the Apostles of the first Christian church in Jerusalem, that they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers, and continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.” And this is the account which Pliny, a Roman governor, in the year 120, under the emperor Trajan, gives of the Christians who were brought before his judgment-seat in great numbers, when he tells him what he had heard from their own mouths concerning their occupations at their religious meetings, namely, that they are wont to assemble early on a fixed day, that is the Sunday, that they sang together a hymn to the praise of their God, Christ, and pledged themselves, not as popular reports had it, to acts of horror and crime, but to commit neither theft, nor adultery, to keep sacred their plighted word, never to deny a deposit left with them, but to restore it conscientiously ; and that having then separated they met again in the evening for an united and innocent feast, probably for the celebration of the holy com
mmunion, joined with the Agapæ or love-feasts.
The divine service of the first Christians had accordingly two chief objects, my brethren, viz. that of occupying themselves with God's word, and celebrating the holy communion, and the purpose of these was chiefly common edification and advancement in holiness and knowledge. And thus it still remains among us. In our public services, the most essential part is the reading and meditation on God's holy word, and the celebration of the communion. Let, us then, investigate what was the plan of these holy ordinances in the primitive Christian church, and how far our mode of public worship agrees with or differs from theirs. But as this would afford too much material for one discourse, we will confine ourselves to day to the consideration of the ecclesiastical life of Christians in the first centuries, as regarded their occupation in the word of God in their public services; and may the Lord give us his blessing in our task.
Text. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.-Jude, 20, 21.
The words which we have just read to you, my
brethren, give us clearly and precisely the highest purpose of our public worship. It is no other than the building up of the members of the church on their most holy faith, which the gospel proclaims, and confirmation and
preservation in the love of God, in order to a life of eternal blessedness, to which we are called through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the means by which this purpose may be obtained in all, are pious meditation and prayer. The early Christians held firmly and steadily to this point of view in their lives as churchmen, and in their assemblies for public worship. Of this we shall become convinced when we consider the particular sacred ordinances which composed their public worship. These were,
1. Reading of the holy Scriptures.
Let us dwell a few minutes on each head with earnest meditation and attention.
Holy Father, sanctify us with thy truth; thy word is truth. Amen.
I. To grow ever “ in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,” ever to advance in holiness of life and heart, to “ build themselves up on their most holy faith,” and ever to become more deeply grounded and rooted therein,—this was the glorious goal which the first Christians unremittingly hastened to, this was their primary care and anxiety, this they considered as their most holy calling. On this account they came together daily, on this account they, in later times, assembled on stated days of festivity, and this was the end which their separate religious ordinances, which took place at their meetings for divine service, had in view. One of the chief and most important was the reading of the holy Scriptures; and in this respect Christians had only to make use of the institution which already existed among the Jews; for it was an old custom in the Jewish synagogues to read publicly sections of the Old Testament. Thus, St James reminds the council at Jerusalem, “ For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” This ordinance then came into use in Christian congregations. At first, they used to read a portion of the Old Testament, particularly the prophetic writings, which contained allusions to the Messiah, who was the comfort and hope of all believers. To this, afterwards, were added readings
from the gospels, and still later, from the epistles. Their purpose was to make all Christians acquainted with the contents of the sacred Scriptures, and they were so much the more important, as in those times it was not possible that the Bible could be put into the hands of all, for what, in our days, the art of printing effects with incredible rapidity and ease, could then only be done slowly, and with great labour, by means of writing ; and it was therefore natural that these copies of the sacred books were scarce and dear, so that the greater number of poorer Christians could not provide themselves with them. Thus it came, that, as the majority were prevented from reading them, frequent hearing of them was obliged to stand in the place of personal reading. For the rest, they were read in the languages understood by all the hearers; and this in most of the Roman states, was either Greek or Latin; and where these were not understood by all, interpreters were provided, who immediately translated it into the language of the country, that it might be generally understood, for, had this not been done, the purpose of general edification would not have been answered,
The reading of the holy Scriptures is not entirely wanting among us, my brethren, but all that is done in this respect is manifestly insufficient, for it does not answer the purpose of making our hearers acquainted with the whole rich treasure of the Bible; and it were to be wished that we had institutions for especial readings of God's word, so as to spread the acquaintance with the full contents of the holy Scriptures. All that is done, the reading of the Sunday lessons, and the epistle at the altar, and the portions which are selected for our sermons, is too little for this purpose. But this can only make us press on you more urgently the necessity