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service of God, and helps to speed us on our way. And on the other hand nothing is a greater obstacle to the success of social worship, than the prevalence of confusion and disorder. While it stirs up the latent evil of our hearts, it distracts and unhinges our thoughts, and by preventing us from serious reflection destroys the whole benefit that might otherwise be gained.
But in addition to this it bespeaks a levity and want of reverence, which ill become the occasion and place in which we are.
When God appeared unto Moses in the bush, he commanded him to put the sandals off his feet, “ for the place on which thou standest is holy ground.” And surely it may well be deemed an insult to the Majesty of Heaven, when we act in God's immediate presence as if we were engaged in any ordinary occupation. Were we summoned before a fellow-creature, whose character and rank entitled him to our respect, it would be difficult to divest ourselves of the feelings to which they would naturally give rise. And were we so thoughtless as to forget our comparative insignificance, we should be justly reproached for our folly by men of better judgment than ourselves. How then can we forget the infinite distance between man and his Creator, and put aside those feelings of awe, which it ought ever to inspire ? And though it be true, that God is every where present, we are certain that he is so in a special
manner in the assembly of his people. He is beautifully addressed by the Psalmist as the God that inhabiteth the praises of Israel, and we have the assurance of our Lord to the same effect. Verily, verily, I
say unto you, Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
It may be urged perhaps by some in extenuation of the evil which we are anxious to condemn, that “God is a spirit,” and that “he is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.” And this, as it is the grand discovery of revealed religion, is a point which should ever be kept in view. But while we allow it to its utmost extent, as respects the spirit of the worshipper, we disclaim any inference that can be drawn from it to the disparagement of good order in the mode of conducting worship. It is true that the body without the spirit is a lifeless corpse, but to imagine a spirit without a body, which it may inhabit, is to conceive of a state of things inconsistent with our present condition. “ There is one body,” says the Apostle to the Ephesians, “ and one spirit.” We should ever recollect that man is a compound creature, consisting of body and soul ; and that it is chiefly through the medium of the former that any internal impressions are produced. Were we purely spiritual, we might justly disclaim those helps to devotion, which it is capable of affording. But such unfortunately is not the case; so far from it, that unless we avail ourselves of the proper means to counteract the evil, the impressions produced upon our senses will greatly retard our progress, and prevent the spirit from soaring upwards in the contemplation of heavenly things. It is therefore our wisdom to bring them into subjection by proper discipline, and make them subservient instead of opposed to our spiritual improvement. And there is nothing that has a greater tendency to effect this, than the maintenance of propriety and order ; when a sober and exalted piety gives life to the decent ceremonial in which it is embodied, and is itself invigorated in return by the union between the two.
And of this there cannot be a better proof than that which experience affords. Who has not felt the chilling and fatal influence upon his own mind of irregularity and disorder in public worship? We have entered the courts of the sanctuary with some feelings of devotion and aspirations for greater holiness and a more lively sense of divine things. But our thoughts have been dissipated by what has passed before our eyes, and we have returned disappointed and unimproved. And who again has not experienced the cheering and enlivening effect of social worship, when conducted in a manner becoming its high importance ? How often has the unbeliever been convinced by a spectacle so imposing, the penitent confirmed in his repentance, the weak disciple strengthened, and the established Christian filled with joy and peace in believing? The Apostle in the chapter before us contrasts the different effects, which would probably be produced in an unbelieving mind by the sight of a Christian congregation, according to the mode in which their worship was conducted. “ If,” says he, “ the whole Church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” The Apostle is obviously speaking in these words of a mode of worship peculiar to the primitive ages; but we feel assured that the same effect will still
the ordinances of God, when they are celebrated with becoming reverence, and the same evil consequences attend them, when we intrude into his presence with unhallowed familiarity. Of the first of these at least we have a striking instance in the description given of his own feelings by one who was but lately an unbeliever in Christianity, but is now a minister and an ornament of our Church. “ An accident,” he says, “ (if any thing which leads to results so important can be so called,) made me
in an idle moment look into Paley's Natural Theology, which lay upon a table. I was struck by the author's peculiar manner and style. I borrowed the book, and read it with great interest. Feelings of piety toward the great Author of nature began to thaw the unnatural frost which misery, inflicted in his name, had produced in a heart not formed to be ungrateful. It was in this state of mind that, being desirous of seeing every thing worthy of observation ...... I went one Sunday to St. James's Church. The prayers, though containing what I did not believe, appeared to me solemn and affecting. I had not for many years entered a church without feelings of irritation and hostility but here was nothing that could check sympathy, or smother the reviving sentiments of natural religion, which Paley had awakened. It happened that before the sermon was given Addison's beautiful hymn
• When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
In wonder, love, and praise.'
“ At the end of the second verse my eyes were streaming with tears; and I believe that from that day I never passed one without some ardent aspirations towards the Author of my life and exist