By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.
THE text which I have laid before you, from St. Paul, is not far different from that which I lately took from St. Peter. Both speak of God's true worshippers as made priests, to offer to Him "spiritual sacrifices,"--not so much the fruit of our labour, or the increase of our worldly store, though these are due to God who gave them, as "the fruit of our lips," the continual offering of praise and thanksgiving, coming from a pure heart, and offered up with faith unfeigned. But, as the words of St. Peter, so these words of St. Paul most plainly point to the duty of public worship, and may well be considered in their bearing on the order of our religious assemblies.
"By Him," says the Apostle, that is, by our blessed Lord, who died for us,--by His mediation, and by the help of His Holy Spirit, "let us offer sacrifice." But what sacrifice? His ancient people brought their cattle, the blood of goats and calves, and offered them to the priest. It was a part of their solemn service. But we have only to offer thanks and praise, in such ways as our Lord and His Apostles have commanded, in remembrance of that one perfect sacrifice, once offered for us all. "To do good, and to communicate" in holy prayers and sacraments,--these are our Christian sacrifices; and "with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
It was my humble endeavour, in my former discourse, to set forth the several things which our fathers in the faith, and we who follow the faith of our fathers, have ever accounted necessary to the very substance and being of public worship. We account them so, because right reason confesses them to be requisite, and the word of Scripture confirms it. There must be preaching to make known God's truth; there must be prayer and praise to express our need of His grace, and our thankfulness for His benefits. There must be sacraments, the signs of His covenant, and the pledges of His mercy. And there must be holy discipline, obedience in spiritual things to those that are over the flock of Christ in the Lord. There is a reverence due to their office, and a religious respect due to their divinely-appointed ministry in the house of prayer.
If this be true, and the rule and order of all Christian Churches is an acknowledgment of its truth, there is nothing more requisite to be added on these essential points; nor would we seek to add any thing that is not essential, or claim a divine sanction for any ordinance of men. Yet that there is something more to be done for the peace and regularity of public service in the Church,--that some order must be taken for the ceremonies of public worship, which order no son of peace will wish to neglect or disobey,--that to such ceremonies, though ordained of men, our obedience, as private Christians, may be by God's word required,--these are things which, however the world may disregard them, the faithful children of the Church will cheerfully receive, and the tender conscience will earnestly ask to be directed in them, so as neither to take nor give offence. For, as God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace, there is an order to be taken by the Church, that what He has commanded and required in His service should be done orderly, and in ways accordant to the spirit of His commands. We shall best offer the public "sacrifice of praise to Him continually," when we can in one solemn form of words, "with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." [Bp. Andrews.]
There are, then, certain scriptural rules, which the wisdom of our fathers has handed down to us, for the ceremonies which the Church of our country retains in her public worship. And there are rites and ceremonies to be tried, if we wish to try them, by these rules1. Let me invite you to consider in turn both the rules and the ceremonies: these will form the two portions of the present discourse.
I. First, the scriptural rules, which ought to guide the spiritual governors of the Church in ordaining rites and ceremonies. I say, the spiritual governors; for you will all presently agree with our Reformers, in the Preface to the Prayer Book, that "the appointment of this Order pertaineth not to private men." "The Church hath power to decree Rites and Ceremonies," says the Twentieth Article; but the Church is in this represented by its Governors. It is impossible for any society to have any order of laws without reposing this power in its governors. But there are rules founded on Scripture, directing them how to exercise their power. Let these rules be enumerated.
1. First, the ceremonies of public worship should not be many. This is plainly accordant with the spirit of the New Testament, where we find the Apostles often pointing out the freedom of the Christian service, opposed to the multitude of Jewish or Heathen rites. "If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?" They were "a yoke, which neither they nor their fathers could bear."
2. Secondly, they should be such as are necessary for the time and place in which we live. There wore some ceremonies, which might at a former time have been serviceable and instructive, such as the anointing with oil, and putting on of a white robe at the administration of Baptism, and others which I might enumerate, but which are not so necessary or significant, that they should have been retained at the risk of offending a weak conscience. "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us," said the Apostles to the Gentile converts, "to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." And such was the rule of good St. Gregory, whose zeal was the means of converting our Saxon forefathers: for it was of a question like this that he said, "While the faith of the Church is one, it receives no hurt from a little difference of custom." [Epist. ad Leandr.]
3. Thirdly, the ceremonies retained in the Church should be for edification; or, as our Reformers say, in the Preface to the Prayer Book, "such as are apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God." It is very certain that there may be such ceremonies as tend rather to distract the mind from the truth of worship, or so to fix the attention on the outward form, as to make men forget the substance. The rule is more than once repeated in the New Testament, where the text speaks of acts of worship: "Let all things be done unto edifying."
4. The fourth and last rule, which I think it necessary to add, is, that they should also be conducive to the decency and order of our services. The Apostle gives this rule also: "Let all things be done decently and in order." In order,--for God is a God of order; and His law of order sustains the world which He has made, giving to all created things their place and office, and ordaining the services of angels and men in wonderful order. And decently,--for there is plainly a decency required in the behaviour of worshippers in the house of prayer. If we have any inward affection towards God and His service, we shall wish to express it by outward reverence. "Judge in yourselves: is it comely?" says St. Paul, speaking of a practice which was to be decided by this rule, and which has ever been decided by this rule in all well-ordered Churches.
These four rules, then, that Church ceremonies shall be few, that they should be modified by time and place, that they should be in themselves edifying and instructive, and that they should be directed to the decency and good order of public worship, are the rules by which this question should be tried. A Church may lawfully enjoin such ceremonies as do not contradict or violate any of these rules; and what the Church enjoins lawfully, we must dutifully receive. "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother."
II. The first portion of the question being thus, I trust, sufficiently for the occasion, considered, it remains to say a few words on the second head proposed,--Are the rites and ceremonies of our public worship in the Church of our country such as will abide the test of these rules? There are two ways of treating this question. We might cither enumerate severally the few ceremonies which the Church has retained, and defend them one by one; or we might take the question as involving, as it does, the whole book of our Common Prayer, in which the ceremonies are enjoined.
I confess, my Christian brethren, when I think of you as members of our Scriptural and Primitive Church, and see you present here as faithfully joined together in your devotion and hearty affection to the form and order of worship which the Church enjoins, I feel some degree of unwillingness to detain you with either of these arguments, which, I trust, for your own confirmation in the truth are alike unnecessary. But since there have been, and still are, some who have disputed against the Church's ceremonies, and have rejected the good forms of sound words, with which it is our comfort "to offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually," let us so far consider this point as to be ready to give an answer to any ingenuous inquirer, and to remove any prejudice that may obscure the truth in his mind, whether derived from education, or misrepresentations of those who love not what we love.
1. First, there was a time, when the several ceremonies which the Church retains were severally accused as relics of old superstition, unscriptural, and unlawful to be required of Christians. The controversy was not appeased till the Church itself had been for a time subverted, and the Prayer Book banished from the house of prayer. But the violence which made this sad change undid itself. Men found that in disputing about shadows they had destroyed the substance of true worship. To avoid the ordinances of men, they had set aside also the ordinances of God; and dared not even enjoin that the minister who prayed in the people's name should sometimes use the words of our blessed Saviour's Prayer. They who began by inveighing against the decent surplice, ended by declaring the pulpit itself a forbidden thing, and the hour-glass, the preacher's ancient monitor, a carnal device, by which the preacher unlawfully confined his genius, or the motions of the Holy Spirit. ""We have seen and known many in our days," says a devout man of that time, "that thought it their duty to abstain from all ordinances; yea, who thought it their duty to perform no duty at all to God." [Bp. Hopkins, ii. 124.] Such, indeed, must be the final necessary result of a religion which rejects all ceremonies.
We are in less danger of this error now; because that result once seen has served for a warning to those who came after. It is not common now to hear of Christians who object to kneel at the Lord's Table: we almost wonder at the strange strifes once provoked by a ceremony so decent in itself, so innocent, as the Church explains it, so reverently expressing our humble thankfulness in partaking of the bread and wine which Christ has blessed. Scarcely do we now meet with any one who is offended with the significant use of the cross in holy Baptism, or the ring in the Marriage Service. And who that honours our Blessed Saviour in his heart and with his lips, refuses to bow his head at the mention of His holy Name? These ceremonies, and whatever else there is of the same kind, are comely and reasonable in themselves, and they have borne the brunt of men's unreason.
2. I shall, therefore, beg to consider any more particular defence of these innocent ceremonies unnecessary, and go on to what is of more importance,--the general question of a Liturgy, or prescribed Form of Prayer and Public Worship. For the use of a Form of Prayer may be considered, in one sense, a ceremonial question: that is, granted that Christians who meet in one religious assembly should use the same prayers and the same order of worship, it may still be asked, whether it would not be well to grant a little more liberty than, the Church allows. And some teachers of late years, within the Church as well as out of it, have thought that, without quite abrogating the Liturgy, it might be used alternately with some prayers of the minister's own making, or of his choice. "Good and excellent as it is, have we not a little too much of it?" [The late Dr. Arnold.] This, I believe, is the latest proposal of a change which we have heard. It is felt, probably, by those who made it to be a weak proposal, as it rests on no firm reasons. Let us see what answer should be made to it.
We need not hesitate to affirm, my Christian brethren,--we have most certain grounds for affirming and believing, that a public Liturgy is an ordinance of Divine authority. Our Liturgy, or any other, may be imperfect in some particulars; it may be defective, or it may, if it can be proved, have admitted errors or superfluities. It may be altered; it may be improved;--even of our own, good and satisfactory as it is, I do not say it cannot be improved; but it cannot, without offence to duty and piety, be abolished.
[It may perhaps be asked in what particulars it may be improved. We must speak cautiously, and in no tone of dissatisfaction with our services; but if at any time it should be thought advisable by those who have authority in such matters, there are a few things which might be added with some advantage to the fulness of the Prayer Book, on principles which the Prayer Book already recognizes. For instance, in the Calendar, a few days before Christmas, you may see a day distinguished by the words, 'O Sapientia.' What do the words mean? They are the first words of an ancient Hymn, which was chanted in churches at that season, inviting our Lord by His Scriptural titles, the Wisdom of God, the Root of Jesse, and Him who holds the key of David, to come to enlighten His people, to make fruitful the branches of His Vine, to set the prisoners free. There could be no objection to restore this Advent Hymn, as we have an Easter Hymn, to vary the Service at the solemn season to which it belongs. Again, our Prayer Book notices the Rogation Days in Spring, when there once were, as there still are in some Christian countries, some especial services to entreat the blessing of God on the fruits of the field. If it were ever thought fit to add a few prayers to our Liturgy for these solemn days, it might, perhaps, add something to its completeness, while it would change nothing of its principles. I would also suggest, that, as in many populous districts it has become almost a practice of necessity, and in other parishes a matter of expedience, to have the Churches open for a third Service every Sunday, whether the time has not now come, when another Form of Prayer, on the model of the Hours of the Ancient Offices, might be advantageously added to the two Forms of Morning and Evening Prayer.]
Without a Liturgy, there must be either no public prayers in our religious assemblies, or we must depend upon the unknown and uncertain imaginations of different ministers to guide us in our prayers. But what could be more unscriptural than this? If we will take only the Word of God for the ground of our belief, how can we take the words of men to be the ground of our prayers? "The prayer of faith" can only be offered, where men believe as they pray. No private man can offer it for another; you cannot pray with me, if I give you words for prayer, which you never heard before. So that it is not too much to say, as was said by a countryman of our own, who saw the Prayer Book abolished: "False Liturgy is superstitious; but no Liturgy is Atheistical. It is Atheistical, because it must bring religion to uncertainties, and may bring it to impieties: uncertainties are as nothing, impieties are worse than nothing; uncertainties cannot honour God as God; impieties must dishonour Him as God!" [Dr. Edward Hyde.] And at least where there is no Liturgy, there can be no communion of worship; and where there is no communion of worship, it is but the next step to have no worship at all.
As our fathers therefore opposed the abolition of the Liturgy, and ceased not to pray by it, till it was again restored, so let us oppose any such weak compromise, as would leave us only half our spiritual inheritance. We have good reason to do so. Those contending parties, which once threatened its destruction, have scarcely left a record of themselves behind: [See Bp. Jebb, Practical Theol.] while our Prayer Book remains uninjured, the treasure of devotion to the thousands of our native land. It is the best service-book of Christ's Church on earth, fit for the use of that temple, which is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, of which our Lord Himself is the chief corner-stone. It is not of yesterday, but is full of the spirit of those saints, and the words of those good fathers, whose efforts, following in the track of the Apostles, by faith and patience converted the world. It has in it the choicest devotions of the Eastern and Western Churches, but the superstitions of neither. O, despise it not: "destroy it not; for a blessing is in it."
Rather let us, by the help of Him who died for us, bear the reproach of men, if it be God's will, while to Him we "offer the sacrifice of praise continually." From week to week, and from day to day, let us listen to the words of instruction, and join in the solemn words of these prayers, till their deep meaning opens upon our inward sense, and their spirit goes with us in our works abroad. And while we pray for ourselves, and for all who are near and dear to us, let us not forget to pray for all the Church of Christ, that God may heal its divisions, and enlarge its borders,--and for our own, believing that, in God's wonderful protection of it during the years that are past, we have a pledge and earnest of hope for better things to come. "Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." This is that holy boldness, to which, as our blessed Saviour taught us, the powers of the kingdom of heaven will yield. For our heavenly Father will withhold no good thing from those who make His service their delight, who make their boast in His praise, and find their chief earthly joy in imitating the anthems of the seraphim above, "crying out to one another," in songs of eternal praise, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory."