Ye, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
THE two subjects, which have fallen to my lot in the course of sermons proposed for this interesting occasion, are the Order of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Rites and Ceremonies used and retained in the Church of which we are members. These two subjects comprise in themselves the whole question of public worship. For every question concerning the outward and public worship of Almighty God falls under these two heads; it must be included either in the substance, or the ceremony, of the sacred service; the "spiritual sacrifices" which we offer, or the form and outward rites with which we offer them. I humbly trust, that, if it please God's gracious Spirit to bless the meditations which I am about to lay before you on these two heads of instruction, they may tend in some degree to commend both the Prayer Book and the Order of the Book of Prayer to your devout affections, and to advance the end, which good men have sought and prayed for, that the sons and children of the Church should love the Church for the sake of her religion, not their religion for the Church's sake.
The first of the two subjects thus allotted to me concerns the substance of our outward worship in God's holy house. It was thus proposed to me by your respected minister; and most fitly. For in such questions every good Christian will wish to be satisfied first concerning the substance, before he goes to inquire about the form. Both are necessary; but in this order: for unless the worship itself be good and true, no decency or comeliness of ceremony can make it acceptable in the sight of God. We must bring our offering before the throne of our heavenly King, and then ask of the order to be observed in the courts where it is appointed to be offered.
Look to these words of St. Peter, and mark the end for which he tells us we are brought into the Church of Christ. May we not say, that that end is here expressed as summed up in this one thing, that we may offer unto God true worship? "Ye, as lively stones," coming to that "Living Stone," of which he had just spoken, the Saviour of men and Author of eternal life,--coming to Him, and receiving life from Him,--"are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood," made holy as the stones of His sanctuary, priests in this sense one and all, because by His grace and mercy enabled and appointed "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." The words look back to the times of the old law; for then was there a priesthood ordained to offer sacrifices; then also were the people in some sense partakers of the privileges and holiness of priests, having gifts and sacrifices ordained of God, which they were to^ offer. But that priesthood of the law being changed, the sacrifices also are changed;--the religion being a spiritual one, the sacrifices must be spiritual. And how far better and more excellent, as St. Peter would have us take notice, than the sacrifices of the law! how much easier for all to offer, if the service is done with a willing mind!-- and how much more precious in the sight of God! For what are these sacrifices, but those "prayers of the saints," which are presented in the "golden vials" of the spirits who minister before the throne of God and of the Lamb? This, then, is the very service, to offer which is at once our duty and our blessedness. It is this to which the Psalmist pointed in words of prophecy, "Let my prayer be set before Thee as the incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." Instead of the sweet odours of frankincense burnt in the ancient temple, let the spirit of prayer purify the thoughts and intentions of the heart; and instead of the fire that hallowed the outward sacrifice, let the flame of strong devotion ascend, from the altar of the heart, and send up an offering acceptable to the God who heareth prayer.
This is the doctrine of the text from St. Peter, and of other texts in the New Testament. We seem to acknowledge it ourselves in the Articles of our Christian Faith. We believe the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints: for these two are properly joined together in one Article. We believe the Communion of Saints, which we are to seek, is to be found in the bosom of the Catholic Church, that Church which one of our prayers declares to be "the blessed company of all faithful people." And in what is this communion with all faithful people to be shown to the world, or realized to ourselves? We have the full and comprehensive answer in the words of St. Paul, where he reminds us "there is one body and one Spirit,"--"one Lord, one faith, one baptism," as there is "one God and Father of all." That is, we must be joined together in one holy society, having one faith, and one worship. There is one way of entering this holy society, by Baptism; one way of continuing in that holy fellow-ship, by faith in Christ the Head; one way of communicating with Christ, by being partakers all of one Bread, and being made all to drink into one Spirit. True Christian worship is the end of our meeting in our religious assemblies; and what is true Christian worship, but such an honouring of God's Name, such an oblation of prayers, such an administration of Sacraments, as Christ has appointed, and the Father will accept in His Name? [See Kettlewell on Christian Communion, part iii. c. 3.]
If this be true,--if this public acknowledgment of God in outward observances of worship be so chief an end designed in our holy calling,--let us next inquire a little more particularly, in how many things it is to be shown; what, in short, are the essential points of public worship, without which its substance can scarcely be said to be maintained in the Church. The wisdom of those who have lived before us has briefly comprehended them under four heads, concerning each of which I propose to say a few words. They are these: 1st, Preaching; 2nd, Prayer; 3rd, Sacraments; 4th, Discipline. [Bp. Andrews.]
I. First, Preaching is an essential part of Christian worship. And here by preaching I mean not only, nor chiefly, a discourse by the Christian minister in explanation of some portion of God's word, or some point of faith and duty; but more especially the reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation, "the words of the Lord in the Lord's house." For this, we know, was the good rule and order established in the Jewish Church: "the voices of the prophets were read" in their assemblies "every Sabbath-day." In preaching I include catechizing, and other ways of expounding the sense of Holy Scripture by the minister in the congregation. "It pleased God," as St. Paul speaks of it, in the first days of the Christian Church, "by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." It was the commission which our Lord Himself gave to His disciples, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." No good Christian therefore will undervalue preaching, or deny that it is a part of that "spiritual sacrifice "which is to be offered to God in our holy assemblies. It is the appointed means by which souls are instructed in the way of salvation, the public means of setting forth God's excellency, and imparting to those who hear, the word of wisdom, and the word of knowledge.
II. But, secondly, it is equally plain from Scripture and the reason of the case, that we must not over-value preaching, so as to esteem it more highly than Prayer. In preaching we may declare God's glory, and extol His greatness and goodness; but in prayer we more immediately draw near to Him, not only giving Him the honour due unto His Name, but making Him our own help and strength, our hope and confidence. In preaching we may say that "the Lord is great, and worthy to be praised;" but by prayer we show that He is great and mighty in our own behalf, our Refuge and our merciful God. In preaching we may admire His wonderful acts of grace, and say, "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him!" but in prayer we can in faith call down these acts of grace upon ourselves: "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that Thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation." Prayer, therefore, is a more direct "spiritual sacrifice" than preaching: for in prayer the service is more immediately concerned with the heart and affections. And if the holy force of prayer is declared to be great in one of God's saints, when he prays alone, how much more, when the multitudes of believers meet together, and with one heart and voice join together in the prayer of faith, and in that form of faithful prayer, which so commends to all who use it the spirit of unity and concord. Who can doubt that to those who so meet their brethren in the house of prayer, "mercy, and peace, and love will be multiplied?"
Be it however remembered, when we speak of prayer, that we speak of praise also. The words differ but little in our own native tongue; and good men have observed that they differ as little in the sacred language in which God first revealed His word to man. The acts which the words describe differ as little. "God's house in this world is called the house of prayer; but in heaven it is the house of praise." It is a blessed preparation for that state; to be here employed in commemorating God's goodness to us;--it is the best employment of men on earth; and what is our best employment here will be our only employment hereafter. Prayer and praise, they must meet like the waters of two kindred streams, and flow on in sweet accord, till the course of time shall lose itself in the mighty ocean of eternity!
III. Thirdly, The spiritual sacrifices of Christians in the house of prayer must include Sacraments. God has never had a religion of His divine appointment among men, but it was ordained with sacraments. So St. Paul instructs us to interpret the manifestations of the Almighty's power to His ancient people, and the chief ordinances of the law of Moses, as sacraments. The rite of w circumcision, the festival of the passover, and the ceremonies of the great day of atonement, were all of a sacramental character. Nay, before the giving of the law, when that mysterious meeting of Melchizedek with Abraham is recorded, it is said that this "priest of the Most; High God" "brought forth bread and wine" to give to the great patriarch, whom he was sent to bless; to signify, it would seem, by a literal figure, the kind of sacrament, which should long after be ordained by Him who came to be our Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
What are sacraments? They are signs of God's covenant with us; and by partaking of them we enter into covenant, and keep ourselves in covenant, with God. But they are also more than signs; they are, to the faithful, the instruments of God's grace, the means by which we receive all spiritual health and strength. What Christ has promised in the participation of His holy sacraments, we cannot faithfully seek of Him by any other way. Baptism is the beginning of the life of grace; the Lord's Supper is the means and earnest of its continuance to the end.
And are not these "spiritual sacrifices?" Let me ask a Christian parent, and especially a Christian mother, when she brings her infant to the font of holy Baptism, have not her thoughts been with the devout Hannah, when she stood before the Lord with the young Samuel? "For this child," she said, "I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth, he shall be lent to the Lord." It is to the Christian parent, like the redemption of the firstborn under the law, an oblation to God of the most precious of all our worldly possessions, a giving back to Him of the heritage and gift which He has given, that we may receive it back again more precious and more holy than before.
And the Lord's Supper,--need I go about to prove that it is, both on the part of the ministering priest, and of the devout receiver, a spiritual sacrifice? On the part of the ministering priest, it is a commemorative sacrifice, to call to mind the true sacrifice of the death of Christ, or, in St. Paul's words, "to show the Lord's death till He come." We offer up to God the bread and wine, and pray that He, who commanded them to be received, will make us by them partakers of His most blessed body and blood. And on the part of the devout receiver it is a spiritual sacrifice of himself to God; as the words of the Liturgy express. We make an oblation of our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice to our heavenly Father. It is, as we confess, our bounden duty and service. God gi-ant that we may so discharge it as in the sight of Him to whom all hearts are open, that it may be our support in life, and our comfort at the hour of death.
IV. Yet once more, my Christian brethren, suffer the word of exhortation. There is one thing more, which is essential to true Christian worship, as I before enumerated these things:--it is holy Discipline. Alas! the word itself is scarcely heard among us; and the name has been enough to set Churches and kingdoms at strife, and to divide the Christian household against itself. When we think of these dangers and offences, let the thought send us to our prayers, that God may preserve to us the peace that we have found, and extend more and more the reign of peace. But can there be peace without the order of godly discipline in the worship and service of our religious assemblies? And must not the preachers of God's word plead for such godly discipline, that those who name the name of Christ may receive it with willing hearts, as a duty to God and not to men? Look to your Prayer Books, and see what your Clergyman promised, when the Bishop ordained him to the holy office which he bears. It was among his vows, that "he would give his faithful diligence to minister," not only "the doctrine and sacraments," but also "the discipline of Christ;" and "to teach the people committed to his cure and charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same." These are the words of the promise which the Church requires of all her priests ordained to minister in holy things. The Church, of which we are members, requires nothing superfluous or in vain.
Might I not then speak, as St. Paul does more than once, almost in the same words, and say, "Though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for your edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed?" I might enlarge on this ordinance of Christ, whose words show that He considered the honour of His priests to be a part of His own honour. "He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me: and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me." There must be, where God is truly worshipped, the yoke of order; which is indeed an easy yoke and light burden to the obedient heart. There must be authority in the priest, that he may fulfil his solemn charge, as it was laid upon him in the words of the great Apostle, and "be instant in preaching the word of God, whether in season or out of season; and reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine." It is his office, as it was delivered to him in succession from those whom Christ first sent into the world, to instruct the weak, and direct the doubting conscience, to pronounce the words of absolution to the humble who desire it, and guide the penitent soul in the way of acceptance with a pardoning God.
In particular, in the worship of the house of prayer, you should regard the ministering priest as one who is divinely appointed to offer in your name the sacrifice of prayer and praise. He is in this holy place the ambassador of God to you, and your orator and representative to God. In your name he prays; in God's name he absolves, declaring to the penitent the remission of their sins. He is, as St. Paul's words again describe his office, "the messenger of the Church, and the glory of Christ;" that is, he represents on earth the office of Christ, interceding for you in those solemn prayers, that, when you look on him, you may remember your one Mediator, who is interceding for you evermore in heaven.
Search the Scriptures, my brethren, and see whether or not these things are so. Search the words of Christ and His Apostles: or rather let their words search your hearts, and make you willing and ready to invite your minister to fulfil his holy commission among you, and make full proof of his ministry. "Let nothing be done," on either side, "through strife or vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind,"--such lowliness, as this doctrine must needs produce in those who consider how near to us our God has come to be in all these things. Envy not the priest's office; it is difficult and dangerous: but pray, as our daily service bids you, that the Lord may be with the spirit of those who "pray you in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God." Say not, with the unhappy Korah, that they take too much upon them, and that the whole congregation is holy: but think how their office is ordained as the means of the highest advancement, not only to them, but to you; that you should all be in your several orders built up as "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood," and brought near "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
Let us shut up our meditations with these closing-words. Our service to God in His house of prayer must be a sacrifice. The word itself tells us that the heart and its affections must be offered up; we must give ourselves, and all we have, and all we are. "I will not offer," said David, "unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing." No; we will begin with that sacrifice, which a penitent must ever bring: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." And to Him, "who poureth out upon His servants the Spirit of grace and of supplications," "speaking to the heart" with words of peace,---to Him who maketh our sacrifices, "the fruit of our lips," acceptable to Himself "through Jesus Christ," through Whom alone we can obtain any good, or make any acceptable offering,--to Him we will evermore ascribe the honour due unto His Name.
To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be all glory, might, majesty, and dominion, now and evermore.