To the Right Reverend CHARLES INGLIS, D.D.
The Learned, the Pious, the Respected and Respectable
Bishop of Nova-Scotia, &c. &c. &c.
These Discourses are, with all submission, gratitude and affection dedicated by his most dutiful son, and most obedient, humble servant,
THAT there is a God, the creator and preserver of all things, is a maxim so evident that none but fools can deny it. It is equally evident that God is to be worshiped by all rational creatures. But this worship cannot be effectually supported and perpetuated without particular times and places set apart and devoted to that purpose. Of this point people of all ages and religions have been so full convinced, that all without exception have had their certain times and places dedicated to the uses of public worship.
THE doctrines, which nature and reason have taught all nations on this subject; the true God has taught in ancient times the jews, and in latter times the christians in a more perfect and distinct manner, by special revelation. As christians are bound to this duty by uncommon obligations, so is the path of their duty more plainly pointed out to them.
GOD has appointed one day in seven to be kept holy, to be dedicated to himself. This seventh part of time is to be employed in meditation, in reading, in religious thoughts and conversation, in examination of our own hearts; and especially in PUBLIC WORSHIP, in resorting to the church of God, to offer our united prayers and thanksgiving to Heaven, to sing praises, to hear God's word read and preached.
ALL nations and governments, which call themselves Christians have established times and places for the public worship of God. What lamentable defection [3/4] from this establishment individuals are guilty is, alas, too well known. Such defection gave occasion to this discourse.
REGARDLESS of exact order and method, I shall deliver my observations as they occur to my mind: Nor so much with design to prove a Duty, in itself plain and indispensible, as to impress on the minds of my hearers, some serious thoughts relative to a subject very influential on our eternal condition.
As a sentinel on the watch-tower of the church, it is my duty to warn those of their danger, whom I perceive travelling in the road of guilt towards destruction. As a physician of souls, it is my duty to probe the spiritual wound to the bottom, however painful or offensive it may be. Confident as I am, that it is infinitely better for me to be obey God and satisfy my own conscience, than to please the whole world.
WITH sincerity of heart to worship the true and living God, in whom we believe, and from whom we expect salvation, is the first and principal act of religion; as an act conducive to the dignity of human nature, and becoming the professors of the pure and perfect doctrines of the gospel.
 OUR attendance on the worship of God ought to be accompanied with purity of heart, and serious devotion of soul. Whilst we have the form of godliness, we must not deny or despise the power of it. Our Saviour says we must worship God in spirit and in truth; not only in truth, or in the true rational and scriptural method, free from superstition on the one hand and enthusiasm on the other: But also in spirit, with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Then shall we be the true and sincere worshippers of God, such as God the father seeks and requires to worship him.
It might be expected that a duty so reasonable in itself, so peremptorily requited by him, who has a right to all our services, a duty attended with such advantages thro'out time and eternity; the neglect of which incurs the displeasure of the Almighty, is followed by the most bitter remorse of conscience and by eternal misery; it might be expected that a duty like this, would meet with the full approbation of all men, would be neglected by no one, who believes in a God and a future existence.
But the greater part of people seem to consider attendance on divine worship as a matter of indifferency, as left entirely to their own choice and humour, like a vain amusement or a childish diversion, which they may neglect without guilt; that once in along time, it be well enough to go to the public worship of their Maker, provided it does not interfere with some visit or entertainment, or some worldly, vain or sinful employment.
How great and how dangerous [5/6] a mistake such labour under, will appear in the sequel of this discourse.
PUBLIC worship being a principal duty, that God requires of man, the neglect of it is very provoking to God--discouraging to the ministers of the gospel, and to all christians--it hardens men in their sins--fortifies them against all motions of the Holy Ghost--makes them deaf to the voice of their best interest--ripens them for eternal misery, and tends to banish all appearance of religion from the world. How then can any person imagine the worship of God to be an indifferent action; or the neglect thereof to be but a trifling, venial fault?
IT must be confessed that a person, who gives a steady, external attendance on public worship may possibly miss of salvation, for want of the sincerity requisite to make his devotion acceptable to God. But still, we, who can judge only by appearance, must in Christian charity think such person to be in the direct way to salvation, if the general course of his life be conformable to God's laws. Of if such devout person is sometimes overcome by temptations and falls into great sins, like David, Solomon, Peter, and many good men of old; yet he is in the way of repentance and reformation by steadily waiting on God in his house.
BUT what shall we say or think of him, who seldom or never worships his God? Who pretends to believe in God and calls himself a christian; but never prays to God, nor conforms to the sacraments and institutions of the gospel? What foundation for charity can we have in favor of such despiser of gospel privileges? What prospect of salvation can he entertain, whilst he will not even take pains to pray to Heaven for it? If he will not perform the most public and conspicuous part of devotion, is it probable that he will be anxious to follow the more secret and particular branches?
IT seems difficult to conceive that a constant absenter from the house of God, has any fear of God before his eyes, any religion in his heart. If he makes use of no means of grace how can he have any hopes of salvation?
 IF a man loves God supremely, as it is our duty to love him, nay, if he has any degree of love for God, he will eagerly desire to worship him. If he fears God, he will tremble at the very thought of a neglect and contempt of his worship. If he desires to honor God, how can he render more or better honor to him than to frequent his house of prayer? God himself has pronounced these tremendous words against such as contemn him--Them that honor me, I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. If a man is willing to serve God; celebrating his worship is the first and greatest instance of service that he can render him. If he would obey God's command; no command of God is more obligatory than to appear before him in the assembly of his children.
WITH design to palliate the great sin of neglecting public worship, it has often been asserted that a person may to good purpose employ himself at home in time of public, religious service; that he may in his own house exercise himself in private duties, in reading, in secret prayer, in meditation, and other spiritual business.
BUT I fear upon examination it will be found, that the time of public worship is but rarely well expended by those, who are not in the church. They are well known, generally, to busy themselves in secular matters, in vanity or wickedness: or at least in sloth and idleness. Indeed it would be absurd to suppose that the person, that has not conscience enough to send him to the house of God, would be very conscientious in expending his time either in his own house, in the houses of his neighbours, or in public houses of entertainment. But supposing the best that can be supposed; that he endeavours to employ himself in serving God at home: In what manner does he serve God? Does he undertake to read the scriptures? Those scriptures will direct him to go up to the house of God. Does he peruse the works of pious divines? All those divines will inform him that it is his duty to attend on public worship; that 'tis a great sin to absent himself. Does he attempt to pray to God? How will he form his [7/8] prayer? "I confess, O Lord, that I despise thy time and place of worship, I scorn and ridicule thy servants, who are now convened for public worship; yet grant me thy blessing in a state of needless and voluntary separation from thy worshippers; edify me, and save me in my great willful transgression. As to my disobedience to thy command to attend on thee in public, in this thing the lord pardon his servant." Would not such a prayer be mockery and abomination to the Lord?
EQUALLY frivolous is that common excuse of the more needy sort of people, that they have not apparel to make a decent appearance in the congregation. Altho' 'tis their duty to appear before God, and his people as decently as they are able; yet if they have the wedding garment of a devout heart and an holy life, they need give themselves but small concern for their outward appearance. Every true worshipper of God will rejoice to see the poorest of his neighbours attend with him, tho' cloathed in rags. Nor will the poorest man in the world, with a godly zeal, be detained from the church by want of gay attire.
THERE us another excuse for the great sin of neglecting God's worship, so frivolous and unreasonable, that for the honor of christianity and of mankind, I am almost ashamed to mention it. "I am not pleased" say they "with the officiating clergyman or some of the congregation, therefore will not go to God's house to pay my devotions to Heaven."
THIS excuse is founded on a supposition, that complaisance to the minister, or the congregation is our sole motive of resorting to God's house.
SUPPOSING their distaste is well grounded (tho' I am confident nine times in ten it is groundless) still it cannot be a reasonable excuse for robbing God of his requisite homage. As well might a son refuse a bountiful gift from a respectable parent, because it is sent by the hand of one, whom he dislikes. As well might a sentenced prisoner refuse a pardon from his gracious prince, because it was sent by the hand of one not happy enough to please his fancy. With full as much [8/9] reason might we refuse to read or to open a letter brought to us containing the best of tidings and the best of offers, because the bearer of the letter does not coincide with our unreasonable, perverse humour.
ANY man of common sense knows, that the efficacy of God's ordinances depends not on the disposition of him that administers, but on the grace of God, and the pious disposition of the hearer or receiver.
O BLESSED Jesus! are there such among thy meek and charitable disciples, who will reject the means of grace, spurn at God's command, and forego all the blessed, inestimable privileges of gospel worship from an unreasonable prejudice, a whimsical distaste against some particular minister of thy gospel? Tell it not in Mecca, publish it not in the streets of Pekin, lest the daughters of uncircumcised Pagans rejoice, lest the daughters of the circumcised Mussulmen triumph.
BUT the greater part are detained from social worship merely by idleness and evil habit; have been so long accustomed to this criminal neglect, that their reformation becomes extremely difficult. These have not even a shadow of excuse but must stand self-convicted; they are condemned by the word of God, by the judgment of all good christians, and by their own conscience.
CAN we think there is any sincere love of God in a man, that will take less pains to please God and serve him, than to accomplish the meanest part of his temporal business? What hope can we have of the salvation of such, as for whole years step not over the threshold of the church, tho' very near and commodious to their abode? God and their own conscience know whether they every put up a family, a secret or an ejaculatory prayer to Heaven.
WHEREVER a general attendance is given to public worship, there will be preserved at least a decent and amiable appearance of religion: This appearance will keep religion in countenance and reputation, it will induce many people to use the means of grace, to a diligent use of these means God has given a general promise [9/10] of his assistance, and of eternal happiness. Whereas a general neglect of this duty will infallibly plunge christianity into oblivion, and in the course of one or two centuries will introduce pagan ignorance, and wretchedness. Every absenter does his part towards extirpating all religion. Sacraments and other religious offices and especially social worship are the means appointed by God, for the purpose of preserving a sense and remembrance of religion among men. If men will not use the means appointed of God, for this purpose, 'tis not probable that they will use any other means, or that the purpose will be effected.
CAN there be produced many instances of families universally neglecting this duty of homage to God, that have for any length of time continued in the practice of other christian duties? Indeed can you find many such family preserve a tolerable reputation among mankind for more than one or two generations?
WERE the number but small, which refuse to render public acknowledgement to their maker, how great, how odious, how shocking would their transgression appear! But the general prevalence of the sin occasions it to appear in the sight of men small and very pardonable: But the omniscient views it not in this light; it appears to him in its odious, glaring colours. The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, were not excused, by the universal prevalence of them in that country. The universal practice of idolatry among the ancient heathen could not be esteemed a justification of it. The jews were not excused, in crucifying Christ, on account of their being so generally agreed in that horrible crime: Neither will the moderns, who crucify the son of God afresh and put him to an open shame, by neglecting his worship and despising his sacraments, be excused on the plea that the crime is fashionable and triumphant. God expressly says, thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil. God's fury is threatned in Jere. x. 25. To be poured out upon his people for this very sin of not calling upon his name in a collective capacity.
THE church is the proper and peculiar place, where [10/11] God has appointed to meet us, and gracious promised to bless us; the place of God's special presence, beloved and admired by all good men; the place where edification is to be expected, and the beauty of holiness to be seen; where the bounty of heaven is distributed, our spiritual enemies subdued, our faith strengthened, and our eternal felicity secured. Are all these blessings and privileges to be neglected upon the most frivolous pretences, or upon no pretence at all? Are such unspeakable advantages to be despised or rejected as worthless toys? It is not crime to trample them under foot? How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?
IT will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, for Tyre and Sidon, for Pagans, Jews and Mahometans, at the day of judgment, than for christians, within reach of all gospel privileges, and yet making no use of them. How aggravated and tremendous will be our punishment, if we, who are exalted to Heaven by privileges, should be thrust down to Hell, by our neglect or abuse of them?
A CONSTANT and sincere attendance on public worship, preserves and promotes religious knowledge and practice. All that is necessary to be known, believed and performed in order to salvation, is taught, inculcated and often repeated both in our devotions and sermons. But ignorance and vice always have, always will, and inevitably must increase in proportion to the neglect and contempt of God's instituted worship. To convince us of this, we need but look into the history of christendom. Nay we need look no further than the history of our own nation: How much has ignorance of religion, how much have the various branches of the wickedness increased, with the increasing neglect of divine worship! In visiting the sick how surprisingly deficient do we find them in spiritual science! What number of sins burden their conscience, which many of them confess to have arisen from a neglect of God's public service! What profound ignorance of religion is discovered in the greater part of malefactors sentenced to death! How many of these, at the place of execution, have confessed [11/12] that a disregard to the public duties of God's church first led them to the vices so fatal to them! And no wonder; for a person absenting from worship, is on satan's ground, and invites the evil one to meet him, nor is it surprising that, in such a crisis, "the devil should enter into him, and fill him full of all iniquities, and bring him to destruction both of body and soul."
IF any should inquire why the Greeks, Romans and some other nations of old arrived to the utmost height of national glory and prosperity, in a state of religious ignorance and paganism? It may be answered that they had their national religion, to which they seriously and strictly adhered: Altho' this was not the true religion, yet it was sufficient to support their national grandeur and prosperity. Had they paid as little regard to t heir religion as we pay to ours, their national fame as well as power would have soon been humbled to the dust. Their own poets and historians take notice, that their learning, power, wealth and reputation, gradually advanced or declined, according as they regarded or disregarded their Gods, their temples and their sacrifices.
THEY possessed national virtues. They were not in general effeminate, luxurious, deceitful, treacherous, selfish, contentious, stupid and ungrateful. As christians (so called) must be, before they can despise and reject the privileges of the gospel. Had we even the same national, moral, heathen virtues, of which the ancient Romans were possessed: Those virtues would greatly conduce to our national peace and prosperity. But its not probably that he, who is so depraved as to throw away superior christian virtues, will ever sincerely espouse inferior heathen virtues. He that casts off the easy yoke and light burden of Christ, will hardly assume a yoke so much harder, a burden so much heavier.
"BUT many, who are esteemed sober, honest people do not resort to the house of prayer."
MANY people, who have no religion at heart, may support a good character in the world for a few years by a plausible appearance, and may behave themselves as good neighbours and wholesome members of society. [12/13] Self-interest alone will induce a prudent man to conduct himself with sobriety, justice and kindness, because such conduct will gain the good opinion, confidence and benevolence of the world; but if a man had faith or conscience as a grain of mustard-seed, it would impel him to the first and most obvious act of duty, to pay homage to his maker, preserver, redeemer, sanctifier. How can he be called a good man in the eye of an holy, heart-searching God, who lives in the steady, voluntary neglect of a great and plain duty? The worship of God is so great a duty, that none can be esteemed greater, so plain, that none can be esteemed plainer.
HOW glaring is the absurdity of doing that, of which we expect hereafter bitterly to repent! Who can harbour the least doubt that he will in some future time most sincerely and deeply repent of his robbing God of the homage due to him, and peremptorily required by him? Look forward to the interesting period of a death bed; let me seriously ask you whether you imagine that you shall in the extremity of sickness and the hour of death, rejoice that you have despised God's worship, contemtuously rejected the means of grace and the hopes of salvation, disdainfully trampled on divine institutions, sold your christian birthright for the diversions, follies and vices of an idle, wicked world?
FOR brevity's sake I will omit those many places in God's word, where this duty is mentioned with all the force of persuasion; where the opposite transgression is rebuked with all signs of the Almighty's displeasure; and will adduce two or three similar allusions, not foreign to my design.
SUPPOSING a kind and gracious father should invite and command his numerous offspring to meet him at his house, once in seven days to demonstrate their affection and regard for him: One half the number meet according to the paternal injunction, the other half needlessly and wantonly absent themselves. What would be thought of the absent half? would not they be esteemed glaringly deficient in point of filial duty?
 SUPPOSING a great and good prince in a tour thro' his own dominions, should send a message to a particular city appointing a time and place in that city, to meet all the citizens, with an earnest desire and command that all the inhabitants would appear to shew their homage and respect to him. One quarter of them appear according to his appointment; the other three quarters spend the day in idleness or wickedness; frequent public houses and vain company; some sauntering about the house, wherein the prince is giving a gracious audience; would not all judicious people cry out that this delinquent part of the citizens were criminally deficient in complaisance as well as loyalty?
ONCE more, supposing a gracious kind had at the expence of his own life delivered his country form the greatest misery and slavery, and procured for them the most perfect liberty and happiness; and desired them, as his last and dying request, or rather injunction that they would once in seven days meet together to celebrate the benefits purchased; and three times in every year hold a feast to commemorate his death. What would be thought of such as neglected and despised not only the feast, but the weekly assembly? would they not be justly deemed unworthy of all benefits?
ACCORDING to the common method of God's dealings; a country, that falls into a general neglect of gospel worship and sacraments, must expect to be deprived of the blessed gospel itself; and to fall into pagan darkness, or mahometan absurdity. To some people this may appear no great calamity: But by wretched experience they may find themselves grossly mistaken. Altho' some nations, who never embraced christianity, have been great and happy in their national capacity, what nation, which was once christian, and afterwards rejected christianity, has long supported her national dignity, knowledge or credit? The loss of christianity always has been and probably, always will be attended with the loss of arts and sciences, good government, liberty, commerce, power and influence. For the most ample proof of this allegation, look into [14/15] the ancient and present state of those people, who first embraced the christian religion. There christianity once flourished, in the utmost purity and splendor: But with the loss of gospel privileges, they have lost almost every other privilege worth the desire of a rational creature.
OUR obligations to wait upon God in his house, are as strong as those of the ancient Hebrews, our motives are much stronger. We find the most positive injunctions laid on them, to attend on the times, places and ceremonies prescribed to them; but in a more especial manner three great annual festivals were appointed, and a command given in these words, THREE TIMES in the year all thy males shall appear before the LORD GOD. And he that did not appear, even the same soul shall be cut off from his people. When that nation became very corrupt, they fell into a neglect of the public services due to Heaven; at which God declares his just indignation by his prophet Malachi. Will a man rob God? yet ye have robbed me: But ye say, wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
YET in particular cases there may be sufficient and reasonable causes for not attending on public worship.
IF our residence be at a very great distance from public worship, or from such public worship as we can with a safe conscience partake of, or attend--If we are detained by sickness, lameness, old age or other similar calamities--If we are unavoidably withholden by business of necessity or charity--If the weather be extremely severe and we too old or feeble to endure it with comfort and safety--Those circumstances and some others may be admitted as sufficient excuses. Every one's conscience (if he be a man of conscience) is the best judge, whether his excuse be sufficient. But he must carefully examine whether the same causes would detain him from temporal business of great profit? Whether he would not, under the same disadvantages, travel as far and take as much pains to gain some great worldly [15/16] advantage, as would be requisite to attend on God in the public assembly of his saints?
WHEN you are thus necessarily deprived of the pleasures and privileges of God's house; let me beseech you to expend the Lord's day, in the most suitable, solemn, edifying employment possible; in reading, meditation, prayer, holy conversation, and instruction of your families. Likewise I earnestly recommend and press upon you, the same godly exercises to be performed before and after public service, upon such days as you can and do give public attendance. Preparation is very needful and very expedient to the worshipping God acceptably in his house. And when we depart from God's house very much instructed and edified, our good impressions will be lost or very much impaired by going directly from the house of God into vain, not to say dissolute and profane company.
BUT the abuse of the mornings, noons and evenings of Lord's days in in part obvitaed by the late excellent institution of Sunday schools, for the establishment and support of which we are very much indebted to the piety and assiduity of our worthy Prelate, who is never weary in well-doing.
THUS have I with a pure and earnest zeal for the honor and worship of God, and with plainness of speech, without respect of persons or parties, represented as fully as the length of a common discourse would admit, the follow, sin and danger of despising and neglecting the worship of the true and living God. If I have given offence to any one, I am sorry, it being far from my intention; having said nothing more than was necessary to the discharge of my public duty. If I shall have reformed even one person, it will give me great joy in this life and I hope will add to my eternal felicity.
IF all that I have said should be ridiculed or despised (which God forbid) still I meekly hope that I have exculpated myself to my great divine master, and shall stand acquitted of the awful guilt of souls lost by my remissness in warning them of their peril. In all that I have said, I have kept an attentive eye upon that divine [16/17] injunction: Son of Man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul.
HAVING said so much of the wickedness and hazard of withholding the homage due to our heavenly father: It is proper to say a few words by way of just praise and encouragement of those, who give constant and devout attendance on divine service.
ALTHO' the honor of God and the salvation of your souls ought to be, and I hope are your primary motives in frequenting the house of prayer; yet many other benefits flow from this laudable, edifying duty. The church of God, the ministers of the gospel and the civil government are indebted to you, as the principal means (under God) of their stability and prosperity. Your example will shine as the sun in the firmament--Generations yet unborn will arise up and call you blessed--When your bodies shall be laid in the silent grave and mixed with their kindred clay, as they will shortly be; the influence of your example will do unspeakable service to the cause of religion. Those who are now expending their time in idleness or sinfulness or ridiculing the worship and worshippers of God, will soon be taught by a death bed, or by future misery to wish that they might die the death of the righteous, and their last end might be like yours!
ATHEISTS, deists and abandoned sinners represent all worship of God to be mere pretence and hypocrisy: How absurd as well as malevolent is this reflection! To judge a person's heart to be evil and deceitful, because his actions are good. If those who seriously pay due homage to God, are to be esteemed wicked hypocrites, [17/18] what shall we think of those who cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God.
WITH a constant view to the honor of God, and the command of God, proceed, persevere and prosper in the business of holy worship, a business most worthy of our nature, most acceptable to our God and most profitable to ourselves. A business that will afford the unspeakable satisfaction of a good conscience, to comfort you in your short journey thro' this life, till you arrive at the place, where worship will be your whole employment, and the pleasures of this employment will be improved, increased and made perfect.
FEAR not little flock; for it is your father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. A spiritual, invisible kingdom, consisting of an approving conscience in this life, and perfect felicity in the life to come; a kingdom infinitely more valuable than all the empires and dominions of this transitory world.
SUCH as will not come to the house of God, to join in prayers with their spiritual guide, to receive his instructions, or submit to his admonitions; such can receive no advantage from him; at least from his public administrations, tho' he were a most learned, able, faithful and exemplary man of God. But of you my dear, spiritual children, I am persuaded better things, and things that accompany salvation. I hope at the last day to present you (washed in the blood of Christ) holy and without blemish to the great Judge, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming?