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tion of the temple, a composition which has never been excelled, comes yet nearer to our ideas of an address to the divine being; and the whole people bore a part in the worship by the response, “ for he is good, for his mercy endureth forever.”
A still more regular service is recorded by Nehemiah, when the people, after their return from the captivity, entered into that solemn renewal of their law described with so much affecting solemnity. They stood and confessed their sins, then they read the law, after which the Levites called upon them to stand up and bless the Lord their God; they stood up accordingly, and joined in what I suppose the author of the Enquiry would call a pretty long prayer.
And when Ezra blessed the Lord, the people answered, Amen, Amen. All this is sufficiently similar not only to the spirit, but to the very routine of our present modes of worship. If it be said, that these instances all arose froin peculiar and striking occasions, it may be answered, that it is not likely any other would be recorded ; and that the regularity and grace with which they seem to have been performed, indicate a people not unaccustomed to such exercises. Indeed the Psalms of David afford every variety which any of our prayers do; confession, ascription, thanksgiving, &c. These, it should seem, were many of them set to music, and sung with proper responses ; for even in the temple, the chief business of which wa not prayer but sacrifice, the Levites and other singers,
at the time of the morning and evening sacrifice, sung psalms of praise to God before the altar, and in the conclusion the priests blessed the people. And it is not probable, that in a later period of their history, amidst the greater degree of refinement and cultivation, they should have contented themselves with mere ritual observances.
This at least is evident, if in the time of our Saviour they had no worship similar to ours, he could not mean by anything he said to bint a dislike of it ; and if they had, he must have sanctioned the practice by conforming to it. But indeed it is acknowledged by most, and Mr Wakefield seems to admit, that after their return from the Babylonish captivity, when their hearts were purified by adversity and more attached to their religion, they had regular and stated worship in their synagogues, consisting of forms of prayer, reading the Scriptures, and expounding. In the former, we are told, a minister, called from his office the angel or messenger of the church, officiated as the mouth of the congregation ; but for the latter part of the service it was usual to call upon any stranger to take his share, who appeared to be sufficiently qualified to read and expound the lessons of the day. And hence probably it was, that our Saviour did not pray in the synagogues, though he often taught there, and interpreted the Scriptures. Of their forms of
* See Prideaux's Connection, Vol. ii. p. 528.
Ibid. p. 538.
prayer eighteen are given, held to be of high antiquity and peculiar sacredness; and these are in a strain not dissimilar to the Liturgies of more modern times. In short, if we trace the accounts given us both of the plan of the service, and of its presbyters, ministers, and deacons, it will be found, that the Christian church, in its corresponding officers, its collects, litanies, and expositions, is the legitimate daughter of the Jewish synagogue ; and we shall be led to admire the singular fate of a nation, decreed to be at once imitated and despised.
Thus much may be sufficient to say upon a subject which, after all, is purely a question of historical curiosity.
To return to the character of our Saviour. His great business in the world was instruction; and this he dispensed, not in a systematic, but a popular maniner ; nor yet in a vague and declamatory style, but in a pointed and appropriated one; not where it would most shine, but where it was most wanted. He was the great reformer, the innovator of his day; and the strain of his energetic eloquence was strongly pointed against abuses of all kinds, and precisely those points of duty were most insisted on which he found most neglected. Almost all his discourses are levelled against some prevailing vice of the times, some fashionable worldly maxim, some artful gloss of a well known precept, some evasion of an acknowledged duty. They were delivered as occasion prompted, and therefore it was that they came so home to men's business and bosoms; for he might have delivered the most elaborate lectures on morality, and religion too, without offending the Scribes and Pharisees, if he had confined himself to system, and not attacked corruption. We shall therefore meet with continual disappointment if, in the few scattered discourses, most of them too conversations, which are preserved to us of our Saviour, we expect to find any thing like a regular code of laws, and still less a formulary of rules. He referred to known laws, and only endeavoured to restore the spirit of them, and to exalt the motive of obedience.
The great duty of honouring our parents had probably not found a place in his instructions, but to expose the tradition which had made it of none effect. It is therefore a very inconclusive argument against a practice, either that we are not expressly enjoined it in the Gospel, or that the abuses of it are strongly dwelt upon; and this may serve for a general answer to Mr Wakefield's objections built upon the animated denunciations against those who, for a pretence, make long prayers, and who cry, Lord, Lord,—against vain repetitions-upon the exhortations to worship in spirit and in truth the declaration that the Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath—with a thousand others in the same strain, with which the Gospel undoubtedly abounds. But is the utility of a practice destroyed by the abuse of it, or is it of none,
because it is not of the chief value ? Are none of our duties subordinate, yet real? Or have they all the proud motto, Aut Casar aut nullus ?
As to the idea of a progressive Christianity, on which the author of the Enquiry lays so much stress, as no new revelation has been pretended subsequent to its original promulgation, it is difficult to conceive of any progress in it, distinct from the progress of reason and civilisation in the different countries where it may be received. Now I do not know what right we have to suppose that the Jews in the time of our Saviour, were so gross in their ideas as to require a mode of worship, which deserves to be stigmatised with the appellation of beggarly elements and the twilight of superstition. They were probably as different from their countrymen in the time of the Judges, as we are from our ancestors of the Saxon heptarchy. They had long had among them most of those causes, which tend to develop the mental powers.
A system of laws and polity, writers of the most distinguished excellence, commercial and political intercourse with other nations; they had acute and subtle disputants, and an acquaintance with different sects of philosopby; and, under these circumstances, it is probable that most of those questions would be agitated which, at similar periods, have exercised and perplexed the human faculties. Be that as it may, Mr Wakefield, by considering public worship as a practice to be adapted to the exigencies of the times, evidently aban