THE Sermons contained in this volume were preached on the occasion indicated by the title, and are now committed to the press in compliance with the request of those who heard them. To other members of the Church of England, into whose hands they may come, it is hoped they will require no great apology for their appearance; since they have no other object or design, than to commend the religious use of the Church's Book of Common Prayer, and to supply a short practical commentary on its ordinances and rules of Divine Worship. And it seemed a fitting occasion for a series of Discourses on this subject, when a new church had just been consecrated; in which, it was the earnest wish and prayer of those most concerned in its erection, that the good order of the English Church in her forms of Public Worship might be fully carried out, and might be made effectual in fruits of edification to the portion of Christ's flock which should assemble within its walls.
We are living in an age, in which something has been done towards a more devotional observance of the instructive ceremonial of the Church of England. Something has been done to awaken men's minds to the danger of that scornful disregard, which has resulted in so prevalent a neglect, not only of ceremonies, but of holy Sacraments. We have begun to see, in the words of a devout preacher of the last century, that it is possible to be "formal in the very abhorrence of forms;" [Ogden, Serm. ii., On the Commandments.] and to wonder how even religious persons have defended Christian truth by arguments calculated to weaken its hold upon the imagination and affections; so that, as an able female writer complains, "many, who have confirmed themselves in the belief of religion, have never been able to recover that strong and affectionate sense of it, which they had before they began to inquire, and have wondered to find their devotion grow weaker, when their faith was better grounded." [Mrs. Barbauld's Essay on Devotional Taste.]
The truth surely is, that a religious mind, of the sort that Jeremy Taylor most approved, one that can both "consider and love," will count nothing of trifling importance in the ceremonies which the Church has retained and sanctioned. Nothing can be trifling, if the end of its appointment is to promote the love of God, and the beauty of holiness in His sanctuary. It is one of those cases, in which the rule applies, "He that despiseth small things, shall perish by little and little;" and the more authoritative words of our Lord, "he that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much." It is in obedience to such precepts that the preachers of these Sermons have endeavoured to speak in all that has been said in vindication of that worship, which it is at once their privilege and their duty to offer up in the solemn assembly with, and for, the congregation to which they minister.
To add a few words on a point connected with this ceremonial question, which is also the subject of one of the following Sermons, Church Music; it appears very clearly on the face of the directions in the Prayer Book, that our Reformers intended to leave as much liberty for a congregation to have a chanted or choral Service, where there was skill and other facilities to be found for it, as for that plain mode of reading the Psalms and Hymns, which is now so much more general. There is evidence enough, that our Reformers were desirous in this, as in all points, to reform the Church Services on the plan of the Primitive Church. [See a Document, to which Bp. Jewel's name, with others, is affixed, in Burnet's Hist. Reform., B. iii. No. 3; particularly the quotation from St. Basil.] But it is also clear, that the Primitive Church, whether in the East or West, used a chanted Service. [St. Basil, Epist. ccvii. St. Ambrose, Hexæm. iii. 5. L'Estrange on Divine Offices, c. ii. Bisse's Beauty of Holiness in the Common Prayer, Serm. ii.] We have no reason for supposing that anciently the Greek or Latin Christians had any metrical version of the Psalms; yet we find continual mention of congregational psalmody. It is singular, that, from the prevalent neglect in late times of the practice of chanting, it has come to be considered a more difficult acquirement than the singing of metrical psalms; and hence a degree of prejudice has been created against its restoration. But there is no reason why it should not be as general among the members of our English congregations, as it appears to have been in the East, in the time of St. Chrysostom, who speaks of the poor almsmen of the rich, and of artisans at the work of their trade, as beguiling their labour, or returning thanks for bounty bestowed, by singing psalms of praise. [St. Chrysostom, Hom. in Psalm, xii. Psalm, xli. in Isai. v.] It is surely no inconsiderable reason for preferring the chanted psalm, that we thus send up to heaven the words of the Holy Spirit in their simplest form, as they have come down from heaven to us, without human additions, often painfully unfaithful to their sense. And good men of former ages have left on record their sense of its high value, as "a check to that drowsy dulness of devotion, which is brought in, when the solemn melody of the organ, and the raptures of warbling and sweet voices are excluded." [Bp. Racket's Christian Consolations, c. iii.]
From what has been done of late years to revive this ancient melody of the Church, it may be confidently hoped that the difficulties which have attended many earnest efforts for its restoration are in the progress to be removed. The objections have indeed been most strengthened by the abuses introduced by ambitious composers, who, in ignorance of the true character of the chant, have loaded the choral service-books with the most incongruous adaptations of music, never intended for sacred purposes. The true chant, as it has been well described, is, indeed, no more than a way of reading the Psalms musically; and there is something in its very tone, which marks it as set apart for holy uses, speaking the words of ancient days, in melodious sounds which seem to claim kindred with the words, and, like the words, to have been created for perpetuity. [See the "Parish Choir," for February, 1847.]
Should any profits arise out of this publication, they will be devoted to replacing the Church Plate of St. James's Church, Morpeth, which was unhappily stolen on the 25th of January last, and to other strictly charitable purposes.