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Public Worship countenanced by Revealed Religion.
If Public Worship is thus found to be agreeable to the best impulses of our nature, the pious mind will rejoice to find it, at least, not discountenanced by revealed religion. But its friends, in endeavouring to prove this, must carry on the argument under some disadvantage, as Mr Wakefield, though he lays great stress on the presumptive arguments, which seem to favour the negative side of the question, will not allow the same force to those which may be urged on the other side. The practice of Christ, he tells us, is an authority to which all believers will bow the knee, a tribunal by which all our controversies must be awarded; yet he gives us notice at the same time, that to this authority, if brought against him, he will not bow the knee; and from this tribunal, if unfriendly to his cause, he will appeal ; for that prayers and all external observances are beggarly elements, to be laid aside in the present maturity of the christian church; and that, even if social worship were an original appendage of the Gospel, the idea of a progressive Christianity would justify us in rejecting it. With this inequality of conditions, which it is sufficient just to notice, let us consider the array of texts which are drawn up against the practice, in question ; and particularly those precepts which, Mr Wakefield says, are evidences that directly and literally prove public worship to be unauthorized by christianity, and inconsistent with it, and which he distinguishes from those which condemn it merely by inference.
The first of these direct evidences is the injunction, not to worship as the hypocrites, who are fond of exhibiting in the most public places. “And when thou prayest, be not as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men; verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret.” But is it not evident, that the force of this precept is not aimed against public prayer, but against private prayer performed in public; against the ostentatious display which seeks to distinguish us from others, not the genuine sympathy which makes us desirous of blending our feelings with theirs ? It was devotion obtruding itself in the face of business, amidst the show and bustle of the world. It did not seek for fellowship, but observation. It did not want the concurrence of men, but to be seen by them. Even in the synagogue it was silent, solitary, unsocial, and with sullen reserve and cold disdain kept itself aloof from communion, and invited only applause. The Pharisee and the Publican both went up to the temple to worship, but they worshipped not together. Certainly the delicate and modest nature of sincere piety must shrink from an exhibition like
this; and would not wish to have its feelings noticed, but where at the same time they may be shared. This text therefore seems to be only a caution respecting the proper performance of our closet duties.
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit.” True it is, the hour is come in which it is allowed by all rational believers, that the acceptableness of prayer does not depend on the sacredness of any particular place. The Jews wanted to be informed of this. They, naturally enough, were apt to consider their temple as the habitation of the divine Being, in the same manner as a palace is the habitation of an earthly sovereign, a place where men may come to make their court, and bring presents, and ask favours in return. These ideas have been done away by those more honourable notions of the divine Being, which our Saviour and good men after him have laboured to inculcate. We conceive of a church as of a building, not for God to reside, but for men to assemble in; for, though God is a spirit, men have bodies, and they cannot meet to do any thing without having some place to do it in. Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, means therefore exclusively, with an idea of any peculiar sacredness, or superstitious pre
ference to any other structure, which might be equally commodious.
With regard to the character of our Saviour himself, it is certain he did not always call upon his disciples to share that more intimate, and, if I may say so, confidential, intercourse with his heavenly Father, which he may be supposed to have been favoured with ; and it must be confessed, there is no formal mention made of any exercises of this kind either with them, or with the people at large. But his whole life was a prayer.
He, who in his most familiar and convivial moments, was raising the thoughts of his hearers to God, and nourishing their piety by occasional instruction, could not be supposed to leave them disinclined to the intercourses of social piety. The beautiful commendatory prayer, which he offered up when about to leave the world, though it was not entirely of the nature of social prayer, as his disciples did not join in it, yet, its being uttered in their presence, and their being the object of it, seems to place it nearly on the same ground. In the very miracle of the loaves, which Mr Wakefield has produced as an instance of an incident which might have given rise to public prayer, and which was suffered to pass without it; in the account of this very miracle there is a direct precedent for the practice in question ; for, looking up to heaven, he blessed before he brake the bread. This, indeed, appears to have been his constant practice. It certainly does not belong to private devotion, and is a species of prayer more apt, perhaps, than any other, to degenerate into a mere form.
But if we do not find public worship, properly so called, in the life of our Saviour, it is because we look for it in the wrong place. It is not to be sought for in his instructions, either to the multitude at large, or to his disciples in their more private conversations. This public worship was paid where the rest of the Jews paid theirs, in the temple. He came up, with the concourse of assembled multitudes, to the appointed religious festivals ; he eat the passover, and associated with his fellowcitizens, even in those rites and that form of worship, which he knew was so soon to be abolished.
Our Lord seems indeed to have been an early and regular frequenter of whatever public worship the Jews had among them. What this was, besides their sacrifices and ceremonial observances, Mr Wakefield is infinitely better able than the author of these remarks, to collect from the volumes of Rabbinical learning; but, without going deeper into their antiquities, than what may be gathered from those records of their history, which are in the hands of every one,
be seen that verbal addresses to the divine being often accompanied the public expressions of their thanksgiving. In their earliest times we have the song of Moses, in the burden of which the whole people, led by Miriam, joined in chorus.
In a more polished
age, the fine prayer of Solomon at the dedica