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away without being conscious of having exercised any act of devotion themselves. Joint prayer, which amongst all denominations of Christians is the declared design of 'coming together,' is prayer in which all join, and not that which one alone in the congregation conceives and delivers, and of which the rest are merely hearers. This objection seems fundamental, and holds even where the minister's office is discharged with every possible advantage and accomplishment. The labouring recollection, and embarrassed or tumultuous delivery, of many extempore speakers, form an additional objection to this mode of public worship; for these imperfections are very general, and give great pain to the serious part of a congregation, as well as afford a profane diversion to the levity of the other part.
These advantages of a liturgy are connected with two principal inconveniences-first, that forms of prayer composed in one age become unfit for another, by the unavoidable change of language, circumstances, and opinions; secondly, that the perpetual repetition of the same form of words produces weariness and inattentiveness in the congregation. However, both these inconveniences are in their nature invincible. Occasional revisions of a liturgy may obviate the first, and devotion will supply a remedy for the second; or they may both subsist in a considerable degree, and yet be outweighed by the objections which are inseparable from extemporary prayer.
The Lord's Prayer is a precedent, as well as a pattern, for forms of prayer. Our Lord appears, if not to have prescribed, at least to have authorised the use of fixed forms, when he complied with the request of the disciple who said unto him: 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples;' Luke, xi. 1.
The properties required in a public liturgy are that it be compendious; that it express just conceptions of the Divine Attributes; that it recite such wants as a congregation are likely to feel, and no other; and that it contain as few controverted propositions as possible.
I. That it be compendious.
It were no difficult task to contract the liturgies of most churches into half their present compass, and yet detain every distinct petition, as well as the substance of every sentiment, which can be found in them. But brevity may be studied too much. The composer of a liturgy must not sit down to his work with the hope, that the devotion of the congregation will be uniformly sustained throughout, or that every part will be attended to by every hearer. If this could be depended upon, a very short service would be sufficient for every purpose that can be answered or designed by social worship; but seeing the attention of most
men is apt to wander and return at intervals, and by starts, he will admit a certain degree of amplification and repetition, of diversity of expression upon the same subject, and variety of phrase and form with little addition to the sense, to the end that the attention, which has been slumbering or absent during one part of the service, may be excited and recalled by another; and the assembly kept together until it may reasonably be presumed that the most heedless and inadvertent have performed some act of devotion, and the most desultory attention being caught by some part or other of the public service. On the other hand, the too great length of church-services is more unfavourable to piety than almost any fault of composition can be. It begets in many an early and unconquerable dislike to the public worship of their country or communion. They come to church seldom, and enter the doors when they do come under the apprehension of a tedious attendance, which they prepare for at first, or soon after relieve, by composing themselves to a drowsy forgetfulness of the place and duty, or by sending abroad their thoughts in search of more amusing occupation. Although there may be some few of a disposition not to be wearied with religious exercises, yet where a ritual is prolix, and the celebration of divine service long, no effect is in general to be looked for but that indolence will find in it an excuse, and piety be disconcerted by impatience.
The length and repetitions complained of in our liturgy, are not so much the fault of the compilers, as the effect of uniting into one service what was originally, but with very little regard to the conveniency of the people, distributed into three. Notwithstanding that dread of innovations in religion which seems to have become the panic of the age, few, I should suppose, would be displeased with such omissions, abridgments, or change in the arrangement as the combination of separate services must necessarily require, even supposing each to have been faultless in itself. If, together with these alterations, the Epistles, and Gospels, and Collects which precede them, were composed and selected with more regard to unity of subject and design-and the Psalms and Lessons either left to the choice of the minister, or better accommodated to the capacity of the audience and the edification of modern life-the Church of England would be in possession of a liturgy, in which those who assent to her doctrines would have little to blame, and the most dissatisfied must acknowledge many beauties. The style throughout is excellent-calm, without coldness; and though everywhere sedate, oftentimes affecting. The pauses in the service are disposed at proper intervals. The transitions from one office of devotion to another-from confession to prayer, from prayer to thanksgiving, from thanksgiving to
'hearing of the word '—are contrived like scenes in the drama, to supply the mind with a succession of diversified engagements. As much variety is introduced also in the form of praying as this kind of composition seems capable of admitting. The prayer at one time is continued; at another, broken by responses, or cast into short alternate ejaculations; and sometimes the congregation is called upon to take its share in the service, by being left to complete a sentence which the minister had begun. The enumeration of human wants and sufferings in the Litany is almost complete. A Christian petitioner can have few things to ask of God, or to deprecate, which he will not find there expressed, and for the most part with inimitable tenderness and simplicity.
II. That it express just conceptions of the Divine Attributes. This is an article in which no care can be too great. The popular notions of God are formed in a great measure from the accounts which the people receive of his nature and character in their religious assemblies. An error here becomes the error of multitudes; and as it is a subject in which almost every opinion leads the way to some practical consequence, the purity or depravation of public manners will be affected, amongst other causes, by the truth or corruption of the public forms of worship. III. That it recite such wants as the congregation are likely to feel, and no other.
Of forms of prayer which offend not egregiously against truth and decency, that has the most merit which is best calculated to keep alive the devotion of the assembly. It were to be wished, therefore, that every part of a liturgy were personally applicable to every individual in the congregation; and that nothing were introduced to interrupt the passion, or damp the flame, which it is not easy to rekindle. Upon this principle, the state-prayers in our liturgy should be fewer and shorter. Whatever may be pretended, the congregation do not feel that concern in the subject of these prayers, which must be felt or ever prayers be made to God with earnestness. The state style likewise seems unseasonably introduced into these prayers, as ill according with that annihilation of human greatness, of which every act that carries the mind to God presents the idea.
IV. That it contain as few controverted propositions as possible.
We allow to each church the truth of its peculiar tenets, and all the importance which zeal can ascribe to them. We dispute not here the right or the expediency of framing creeds, or of imposing subscriptions. But why should every position which a church maintains, be woven with so much industry into her forms of public worship? Some are offended, and some are excluded; this
is an evil of itself, at least to them: and what advantage or satisfaction can be derived to the rest, from the separation of their brethren, it is difficult to imagine; unless it were a duty to publish our system of polemic divinity, under the name of making confession of our faith, every time we worship God; or a sin to agree in religious exercises with those from whom we differ in some religious opinions. Indeed, where one man thinks it his duty constantly to worship a being, whom another cannot, with the assent of his conscience, permit himself to worship at all, there seems to be no place for comprehension, or any expedient left, but a quiet secession. All other differences may be compromised by silence. If sects and schisms be an evil, they are as much to be avoided by one side as the other. If sectaries are blamed for taking unnecessary offence, established churches are no less culpable for unnecessarily giving it: they are bound at least to produce a command, or a reason of equivalent utility, for shutting out any from their communion, by mixing with divine worship doctrines which, whether true or false, are unconnected in their nature with devotion.
OF THE USE OF
An assembly cannot be collected, unless the time of assembling be fixed and known beforehand; and if the design of the assembly require that it be holden frequently, it is easiest that it should return at stated intervals. This produces a necessity of appropriating set seasons to the social offices of religion. It is also highly convenient that the same seasons be observed throughout the country, that all may be employed, or all at leisure together; for if the recess from worldly occupation be not general, one man's business will perpetually interfere with another man's devotion; the buyer will be calling at the shop when the seller is gone to church. This part, therefore, of the religious distinction of seasons; namely, a general intermission of labour and business during times previously set apart for the exercise of public worship, is founded in the reasons which make public worship itself a duty. But the celebration of divine service never occupies the whole day. What remains, therefore, of Sunday, beside the part of it employed at church, must be considered as a mere rest from the ordinary occupations of civil life; and he who would defend the institution, as it is required by law to be observed in Christian countries, unless he can produce a command for a Christian Sabbath, must point out the uses of it in that view.
First, then, that interval of relaxation which Sunday affords to the laborious part of mankind, contributes greatly to the comfort and satisfaction of their lives, both as it refreshes them for the time, and as it relieves their six days' labour by the prospect of a day of rest always approaching; which could not be said of casual indulgences of leisure and rest, even were they more frequent than there is reason to expect they would be, if left to the discretion or humanity of interested task-makers. To this difference it may be added, that holidays, which come seldom and unexpected, are unprovided, when they do come, with any duty or employment; and the manner of spending them being regulated by no public decency or established usage, they are commonly consumed in rude, if not criminal pastimes, in stupid sloth, or brutish intemperance. Whoever considers how much sabbatical institutions conduce, in this respect, to the happiness and civilisation of the labouring-classes of mankind, and reflects how great a majority of the human species these classes compose, will acknowledge the utility, whatever he may believe of the origin, of this distinction; and will consequently perceive it to be every man's duty to uphold the observation of Sunday when once established, let the establishment have proceeded from whom or from what authority it will.
Nor is there anything lost to the community by the intermission of public industry one day in the week. For, in countries tolerably advanced in population and the arts of civil life, there is always enough of human labour, and to spare. The difficulty is not so much to procure, as to employ it. The addition of the seventh day's labour to that of the other six, would have no other effect than to reduce the price. The labourer himself, who deserved and suffered most by the change, would gain nothing.
2d, Sunday, by suspending many public diversions, and the ordinary rotation of employment, leaves to men of all ranks and professions sufficient leisure, and not more than what is sufficient, both for the external offices of Christianity, and the retired, but equally necessary duties of religious meditation and inquiry. It is true, that many do not convert their leisure to this purpose; but it is of moment, and is all which a public constitution can effect, that to every one be allowed the opportunity.
3d, They whose humanity embraces the whole sensitive creation, will esteem it no inconsiderable recommendation of a weekly return of public rest, that it affords a respite to the toil of brutes. Nor can we omit to recount this among the uses which the Divine Founder of the Jewish Sabbath expressly appointed a law of the institution.
We admit, that none of these reasons shew why Sunday should