Chapter III. The Week-Day Prayers.
"WHAT! could ye not watch with me one hour?" was on a certain occasion the appeal made to some of the disciples of our Master. And how solemnly must it have sounded in the ears of those to whom it was addressed! The Person from whom it came--the time--the place in which it was uttered--all united to invest it with emphasis. The Person was the Lord Jesus Christ. The time was when His career on earth was just closing, and the morrow was to "behold Him stretched upon the Cross. The place was the garden of Gethsemane, the very name of which awakens in our minds, the remembrance of those fearful sorrows even unto death, of our suffering Lord.
We are told, that on that last night, after He had instituted the sacred rite which was through all ages, both to keep alive in the minds of His people, the "perpetual memory of His precious death and sacrifice until His coming again," and also to be their "spiritual food and sustenance," He delivered His final instructions to the disciples, and then once more solemnly commended them to the care of His Father who is in Heaven. This was the concluding scene of His ministry, and He therefore prepared Himself for the death which was at hand. Taking Peter, and James, and John, He went forth to the Garden, and "began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with me. And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed." And, oh! how fearful was the conflict of spirit which He then endured, when the terrors of the death He was about to suffer, were arrayed before His mind, and His human nature was forced to shrink back from the view! Listen to the earnest words of His petition, as amid the darkness of the night, He prostrated Himself upon the ground: "Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless, not what I will, "but what thou wilt." And then, "being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." It was when this prayer was ended--when he had poured out His soul to God, and been strengthened by an angel for His approaching trial, that returning to His disciples, He found them asleep, and awoke them with the mournful appeal--"What! could ye not watch with me one hour?"
And we think that our Lord might address this same touching inquiry to many among us, who in this day profess His name. There is too, in some respects, a degree of analogy between our situation, and that of the disciples who first listened to these words. We also are looking forward to that sacrifice on the Cross, the celebration of which will soon arrive. At this solemn season, we are--or ought to be--endeavoring by prayer, and weeping, and fasting, to prepare our hearts for uniting in its commemoration. And to aid us in this work, the Church has appointed peculiar services, well adapted to lead our thoughts away from the things of this world, to contemplate the mysteries of redemption. Daring each week in the season of Lent, in accordance with her regulations, the House of God is open, that his children may meet, and turn unto Him with that appropriate petition--"Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord." [Collect for Ash-Wednesday.]
This then, is the most solemn period of our Ecclesiastical year, whether we look at the nature of the services in which we are invited to join, or that mysterious event to which we are constantly pointed forward. And yet, how seldom do even those who "profess and call themselves Christians," embrace as fully as they ought, these opportunities of communing with God in His holy temple! How frequently, when the sanctuary each week opens its doors, and invites them to break off for a brief period from the bustle and engrossing cares of the world, do they permit the most trivial excuse to prevent them from answering to the call! May not our Lord then say to many among us, as He did to His disciples of old, in a tone of mingled sorrow and reproach--"What! could ye not watch with me one hour!
Let us then briefly look at some of the motives which should induce every Christian to avail himself of the week-day services of the Church during this period.
THE SEASON ITSELF presents its earnest appeal. When God delivered the law upon Sinai, the people of Israel were commanded for three days before, to sanctify themselves, that they might be prepared to behold, even from a distance, the glory of Jehovah, as the mountain was wreathed with clouds, and "quaked greatly, because the Lord descended upon it in fire." When therefore we are called upon to approach that more wonderful mountain, on which, by the tears and blood of the Incarnate Son of God, was wrought out the sublime mystery of man's redemption, should we not be earnest to put away from us our earthliness of feeling, and to purify our hearts in anticipation of that solemn scene? Yes, as the time draws near, when we are to be led to the Cross--to contemplate the Passion and bitter agonies of our Lord--and to behold Him dying for our salvation, it seems but proper, that we should undergo some additional preparation of heart. We should not rush at once from the tumult of this noisy world, to the foot of Calvary. When still far distant, we should veil our heads, and put our shoes from off our feet, realizing that we are on holy ground. As we slowly approach that spot, to which even angels would look with intense emotion, a holy fear should fall upon us, and in the depth of our souls we should meditate upon the solemn scene which is to be unfolded to our view.
Is it then asking too much, if during the brief period of these forty days we are invited to assemble in the house of God twice in each week, for a short time to think of our dying Saviour, and to bewail the sins which brought Him to the Cross? Is there not an evident propriety in that regulation, commenced even in Primitive times, by which Wednesday, (the day on which the Jews took counsel to betray our Lord,) and Friday, (the day of his death,) are devoted to affectionate remembrance of Him, and humiliation for ourselves?a Did He suffer in agony for our transgressions, and yet, shall we think so lightly of them, that we will not "rend our hearts," and pray God to blot out our guilt \ Can we, while pursuing this course, realize as we should, the exceeding depth of our degradation? Can we truly estimate, from how fearful a woe we have been delivered, when we will not look to our Lord on the Cross, or remember how terrible were the sufferings which then crushed His human nature?
This indeed is a subject which appeals most plainly to our reason. Is there not every thing in the services, and the hallowed recollections of this period, to induce us to humble ourselves in the dust of abasement before God--to seek pardon for the past, and strength for the future? Should not every principle of gratitude to our Lord cause us to go gladly to the temple with those that keep holyday? Should our public worship be confined to the Sunday; or should we not endeavor, by practice as well as by words, to show our concurrence in that sentence of the Te Deum which we so often repeat--"Day by day we magnify Thee!" When therefore all these appeals call forth no response from the hearts of our Lord's professed followers, may He not say to them--"' What! could ye not watch with me one hour?' with me, who for your sake became 'a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief--with me, who was 'brought as a lamb to the slaughter,' that you might live? Must I disrobe myself of my Heavenly glory, and come to this earth of suffering and woe, and pass a weary pilgrimage of thirty years, and yet, my children not be able to watch one single hour, to prepare their hearts to think upon my sacrifice? Did I endure the crown of thorns--the scoffs of men--the malefactor's shame--and the agony of the Cross--and yet, are not those who reap the benefit of my sufferings able to endure a single hour of communion with me--one single hour of watchfulness and prayer?"
Again--by attendance on the week-day prayers, we are in some degree FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE SET TJS BY THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANS.
In the ancient Church, there were religious assemblies for prayer and preaching every day through the whole season of Lent. "I can not affirm"--says Bingham--"that it was so in every Parochial Church and country village, but that it was so in the greater or Cathedral Churches, is evident from undeniable proofs and matter of fact." [Orig. Eccles., lib. xxi, chap. 1, sec. 20.]
The Homilies of St. Chrysostom upon Genesis, from which we have already so often quoted, were sermons preached in this manner, day after day, as is evident from many allusions they contain. Take, for example, a single passage in one of them--"This is not the only thing that is required, that we should meet here every day, and hear sermons continually, and fast the whole Lent. For if we gain nothing by these continual meetings and exhortations and seasons of fasting to the advantage of our souls, they will not only do us no good, but be the occasion of a severer condemnation. If after so much care and pains bestowed upon us, we continue the same; if the angry man does not become meek, and the passionate mild and gentle; if the envious does not reduce himself to a friendly temper; nor the covetous man depart from his madness and fury in the pursuit of riches, and give himself to alms-deeds and feeding the poor; if the intemperate man does not become chaste and sober, and the vainglorious learn to despise false honor, and seek for that which is true; if he that is negligent of charity to his neighbor, does not stir up himself, and endeavor not only not to come behind the Publicans, (who love those that love them,) but also to look friendly upon his enemies, and exercise all acts of charity towards them; if we do not conquer these affections, and all others that spring up from our natural corruption; though we assemble here every day, and enjoy continual preaching and teaching, and have the assistance of fasting; what pardon can we expect, what apology shall we make for ourselves?"
Thus it was the custom of the Church, in her primitive and holier days, by constantly recurring periods of devotion, gradually to build up her children in the faith, and in a ripeness of Christian character. Then, she so often called them to prayer, that the world had no opportunity of enlisting their affections, or leading them from the truth. They were forced to walk, "as seeing Him who is invisible." They devoted to intercourse with Heaven, and to communing with their own hearts "before God, times which in this worldly age men could not bear to have snatched from secular employments. They were not contented with coming to their Lord's temple on the first day of each week alone, but they sanctified the hours of every day with devotion. Look, for instance, at what were called in the early Church, "the Canonical hours of Prayer,"5
[The subject of the daily services in the early Church deserves a brief notice, because in this day reference is often made to "the seven Canonical hours of public prayer in the Primitive Church," when in fact, no such seasons were known at that time. The appointed periods for daily prayer were probably three in number. One of the writers of the Oxford "Tracts for the Times," (who certainly would not be inclined to diminish these services of the early Church,) says "the Jewish observance of the third, sixth, and ninth hours for prayer, was continued by the inspired founders of the Christian Church. (N'o. 75, on the Breviary.) This also was Wheatley's view, (On Common Prayer, p. 84.) As late as the time of St. Chrysostom, there is no mention in any writer of more than these three periods. Thus in one place this Father represents an individual as complaining, "How is it possible for me, who am a secular man, and confined to the courts of law, to run to Church, and pray at the three hours of the day?" To which St. Chrysostom answers, "that if he could not come to Church, because he was so fettered to the Court, yet he might pray even as he stood there." (Hom. 4, de Anna, tom. ii., p. 995.) Tertullian also incidentally alludes to "tertia hora, et sexta, et nona," as the usual ones of public prayer (de Jejun., cap. 10.)
by which without interfering with the business of this world, she regularly called her members to remember the solemn realities of the world which is to come, and trained them up systematically for Heaven. "Unwavering, unflagging, not urged by fits and starts, not heralding forth their feelings, but resolutely, simply, perseveringly, day after day, Sunday and week-day, fast day and festival, week by week, season by season, year by year, in youth and in age, through a life, thirty years, forty years, fifty years, in prelude of the everlasting chant before the Throne--so they went on, ' continuing instant in prayer, after the pattern of Psalmists and Apostles, in the day with David, in the night with Paul and Silas, winter and summer, in heat and in cold, in peace and in danger, in a prison or in a cathedral, in the dark, in the day-break, at sun-rising, in the forenoon, at noon, in the afternoon, at eventide, and on going to rest, still they had Christ before them; His thought in their minds, His emblems in their eye, His name in their mouths, His service in their postures, magnifying Him and calling on all that lives to magnify Him, joining with Angels in Heaven and Saints in Paradise to bless and praise Him forever and ever.' It was this noble system which raised the early Church to that height of holiness, and enabled her to present her followers, as visibly crucified to the world.
The multiplication of these services began in the Eastern Monasteries, among those who were cut off from secular life, and whoso time was entirely given up to devotion. In this way, those appointed seasons were gradually expanded into what were called "the Seven Canonical Hours of Prayer." Yet even in the fourth century, writers who refer to the Six or Seven hours of prayer, speak of the observance of the Monks only, and not of the whole body of the Church. Such is the case frequently in St. Jerome's works. From this beginning, these services were in latter ages easily introduced into the principal Churches. We believe therefore, that our own Church, with the arrangement for daily morning and evening prayers, is much nearer the model of Primitive times, than those who increased those services to Seven (See BINGHAM, lib. xiii., ch. 9, sec. 8.)
We refer here to the public services, for with regard to the private devotions of the members of the Church we have reason to believe that the vivid picture given by Mr. Newman in the extract quoted above, is but a faithful view of their ordinary customs.
But how different at this day is the spirit which prevails! The services of the sanctuary are looked upon too often, as being merely addressed to the intellect. We come to it, too much to listen to the preaching, and too little to commune with our God. We forget, that there it is man holds audience with the Deity. The consequence is, that while our Churches can be filled to listen merely to a human teacher, on prayer days there are but few scattered here and there, who feel the wish to abase themselves before God.7 And the reason of this is evident. It is easy for individuals, to sit in their seats, and
[An old writer quaintly says--"To imagine that prayers at home will be as acceptable to God, as those made in the Church with our brethren, is as if one should have fancied, that the incense of the Temple (which was a compound of several precious gums,) made no other perfume than the spices would have done had they been burnt one by one."--(Bishop PATRICK on Prayer, p. 2IV.)]
listen to the voice of the preacher. He is "unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument." His sentences fall upon the ear, and it is a pleasant excitement, to have the intellect aroused, and the imagination addressed, but it is not easy to pray. It requires effort to command the wandering thoughts--to shut out an intrusive world--to keep the mind intently fixed on God--and to kneel before him with a calm, collected, and awakened soul. To have the continual spirit of prayer, is not shown by now and then sending up glowing petitions to Heaven, when the mind is for a time excited. It is something far different from these paroxysms of devotion. It is to come daily before God, in a solemn, serious frame, realizing that He "readeth our thoughts, and trieth our hearts," and that "His saints and angels," even "a great cloud of witnesses compass us about." This therefore is the very discipline we need, and by which the Church endeavors to have wrought into our souls, the spirit of holiness. [The Apostle Paul, when declaring (l Cor. xi. 10,) that a woman should cover her head in time of Prayer, "because of the Angels," certainly seems to intimate, that at such times these heavenly visitants are about us. So at least this passage was looked upon by the ancient Christians, and it gave them great encouragement to attend upon the public Prayers. The same idea is curiously stated by Origen in his comments on those words of the Psalmist--"the Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him." "It is probable "--says he--"that when many are assembled together sincerely to the glory of Christ, the angel of every one of them there pitcheth his tent, together with him who is committed to his charge and custody; so as to make a double Church, where the saints are gathered together; one Church of men, and another Church of angels."]
There is indeed a subduing influence in Prayer, which a careless world seems never to know. The very sound of "the Church-going bell," speaks to the heart, and recalls us from our earthly feelings. As its solemn tones fall upon the ear, they seem like a voice from eternity, telling us of realities, while we wander in a world of shadows. Beautiful therefore was that superstition of the Middle Ages, which ascribed to them the power of driving far off the Evil Spirits which gather about the path of man, to tempt him to sin. As the deep sound of the evening bell was heard upon the breeze, and the sweet tones of the Vesper Hymn floated indistinctly to the traveler's ear, his heart was strengthened within him, and he felt, that here at least, where that holy sound came, spiritual enemies had no power. Yet not entirely was this a superstition. The wild legends which enibody it teach also a deep moral to the thoughtful mind, and one which a Poet of our own hath set forth, arrayed in all that "beauty with which genius can invest the truth.
I have read in the marvelous heart of man,
That strange and mystic scroll,
That an army of phantoms, vast and wan,
Beleaguer the human soul.
Encamped beside Life's rushing stream,
In Fancy's misty light,
Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam
Portentous through the night.
But when the solemn and deep Church bell,
Entreats the soul to pray,
The midnight phantoms feel the spell,
The shadows sweep away.
Down the broad Vale of Tears afar,
The spectral camp is fled;
Faith shineth as a morning star,
Our ghastly fears are dead.
[LONGFELLOW'S Beleaguered City.]
How wise then is that provision of the Church, by which she calls us to these oft-recurring prayers! She wishes thus, to render us "meet to "be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." It is for this reason too, that she so frequently in her Calendar commemorates the holy dead, Avho have already entered into their rest. Contracted indeed is the view of this subject which so many take, when they inquire, Why should we pay this reverence to "men of like passions with ourselves?" And yet do not these compose that "noble army," which gathers around the Christian pilgrim as he travels onward, and whom he may well remember as his bright examples? Is it not right therefore, as the year rolls round, that one by one they should meet him in the services of the Church, that he may thus be enabled to think of their self-denying labors, their holy lives, and their patient sufferings? The Church in this is but following the example of St. Paul, when in the eleventh chapter of his epistle to the Hebrews, he summons up, as with a trumpet's voice, name after name of those departed worthies who had long gone to their reward. And since his day, how gloriously has the list been extended, as the Gospel dispensation presents its holy array of apostles, and saints, and just men made perfect, until the long and bright procession passes before us, stirring our hearts up to a holy emulation.
But their example is not all. It is thus that we are reminded also of the dignity of our warfare. The Christian is too apt, in times of depression, to feel himself a solitary, and it may be, a derided traveler. He looks upon himself as standing isolated in a hostile world. These services then are like a chain, which connects him with the holy dead who have gone before. He finds, that he has inherited his privileges from martyrs and confessors--from kings of the earth, its princes, and its judges, who in their generation "fought the good fight," and then were gathered into the Paradise of God. His feelings of loneliness pass away. He realizes, that he is one of a great company, which embraces in its ranks all that is pure and dignified in the universe, and his heart rejoices in "the communion of saints." ["The thought of the dead makes us gentle and childlike, and leads us to forget ourselves, as well it may. For know that according to St. Paul's teaching the spirits of just men made perfect are not far from us. We are come to them, and they are come to us. They can touch us, and we can touch them; they are gliding by every hour. The spirit has but ceased to act upon and through the body, and so we do not see them in their places. They keep threading in and out among us, going up and down, and moving round about us; especially, so we believe from St. John, in holy Churches where their bodies rest in hope. (Rev. vi.) They are the first ranks of the Church, who have gone before us in the Lord, so far as to be out of sight. They are beyond our view. They may see us; we can not see them."--FABER'S Tracts on the Offices of the Church.]
"Thus, though oil depressed and lonely,
All his fears are laid aside,
If he but remembers only
Such as these have lived and died."
And here, we can not forbear quoting from one of the most admirable works of this generation--the only one we know giving the portraiture of a Christian family--a passage showing the manner in which these Festivals can be profitably observed. "For example, I take up the character of St. Peter for my especial meditation, which most probably, but for this notice of it by the Church, I never should have done; at least, I should have rested content with the vague, transitory, and unpractical notions suggested in the course of turning over, amid a multitude of others in Scripture, the passages which relate to him. But now I turn it in every possible light, refer to the minutest incident, analyzing and composing, till I frame to myself an adequate conception of his character. I then examine myself by it, and review his ardent and courageous spirit till I imbibe some portion of it myself, and discuss his temporary fall till I arrive at a wholesome fear of my own weakness; and on coming to his restoration, so completely do I feel identified with him, I rejoice and glorify his blessed Master, and my own, as if I had been restored together with him. And, last of all, I look intently upon that death, which according to his Master's prediction he underwent, and prepare myself also to take up the Cross of my Lord, and fear Him, and not man. All these thoughts may have passed through my mind often before; but it was in a floating, undirected, unpractical mass, and not arranged as now, in clusters, under suitable heads, tending to one definite end, and by the point given t<n them, leaving their impression distinct and deep, both on memory and feelings. Besides, by thus steadily following one train, I am led at last, to ideas on the subject, and combinations of ideas which had never before presented themselves; and I experience with the increase of my spiritual knowledge an accession also of mental wealth. At a due interval arrives another festival, the centre of attraction to another class of thoughts, which had else been too loose and vague to produce any impression; these too I fix in permanence. In this manner I am carried round the year; my views grow clearer, my resolutions more firm; such days are to me indeed holy days; in them I find a secure repose for my thoughts from the vulgar turmoil of the world around, to which I return at least refreshed, and I hope I may add, improved." [Rectory of Valehead, p. 54.]
The Church, it is true, in these services offers us no excitement. She never teaches that glowing devotion, (or what is miscalled devotion,) which on Sunday lifts its possessor up to the very gates of Heaven, yet during the week is never visible in his conduct. Her aim is to instruct us in a sober, constant, and Scriptural piety. She employs no spiritual whirlwind now and then to 'sweep over her, which when it has subsided, leaves her children during the remainder of the year, to sink back again to a death-like coldness, but she goes on the even tenor of her way, steadily building them up in a knowledge of the faith. Neither indeed does she present us with any novelties, for the prayers and praises in which we unite, have been heard in her services a long time, some of them for more than fourteen centuries. [For instance, the prayer of St. Chrysostom, at the close of the service. Also, the Doxologies, the Trisagion or cherubical hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, &c., and the Magnificat. The Te Deum has been generally ascribed to St. Ambrose, although some learner! men have disputed this. For a particular account of the most noted hymns in use in the service of the ancient Church, sec BINGHAM'S Orig. Eccles., lib., xiv., chap. 2.] They are a precious legacy, bequeathed to us by ages which have gone. They are "the form of sound words" which our fathers used, and with which the dead in Christ were accustomed to worship a thousand years ago. Thus it is, that her voice is lifted up through all the changing year, and we are but prolonging that anthem of praise, which has always been heard in her courts. The very words we utter, carry us back to days when the faith of the Church was purified by suffering. They connect us in thought and Spirit with those of whom the world was not worthy, who have long since passed away to their reward.
Again--another reason why every Christian should avail himself of these services is, THAT HE MAY DRAW DOWN A BLESSING UPON HIS CHURCH.
We meet at such times, to humble ourselves not merely as individuals, but also as a Church. In this respect, we have surely much to bewail for the time that is gone. Like Israel of old, we too may "remember our ways, and be ashamed." Compared with the opportunities placed in our hand, how little have we done as a Church, to advance the cause of pure and undefiled religion! Will; thousands in our own land straying into heresy and schism, and millions on the wastes of heathenism "perishing for lack of knowledge," how little through us has the glad news of our Redeemer's sacrifice been published through the earth, or the sweet incense of His name been borne to the hearts of the dying! Have we not sins then as a Church to confess? And when can we more appropriately remember these our deficiencies, than when we are preparing to celebrate that sacrifice, around which are gathered our own hopes of eternal life, and which was intended to bring salvation to all who will avail themselves of its benefits!
If we wish then, that the ultimate triumph of the Gospel should not be held back through any fault of ours, is it not well that we should call upon God for strength to enable us to fulfill our recorded vows, and to realize the interest which we have in the spiritual welfare of our race? There is indeed no better instrument than prayer, to aid the progress of our Master's cause. When we look over the world, and see how iniquity abounds, and the love of many waxes cold, we feel at times tempted to despond and to let the conflict go on. But Scripture teaches us a different lesson with regard to the power of prayer. St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians--"Brethren! pray for us, that the word of God may have free course and be glorified." And in accordance with this, the Church directs us to offer up petitions "for all sorts and conditions of men." She even instructs us to pray for spiritual blessings upon ourselves, only that they may be imparted to others also. The language of her Evening Anthem is--"God be merciful unto us, and bless us, and show us the light of His countenance and be merciful unto us." And why? "That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations." We find then, that we also as a Church have, in this respect a duty to perform with regard to the advancement of our faith.
And here we would remark more particularly on the duty of presenting our petitions to God, for those who attend with us in the same sanctuary. When we remember how often the Gospel is proclaimed in our Churches, and that it is God's own appointed means for publishing the truth, we can not but ask, Why is it that so few receive it? Why do the majority of those who listen, still refuse to be reconciled to our Lord, or be numbered with his followers? Must there not be guilt resting on those who "profess and call themselves Christians," that they do not petition Him to pour out upon our Churches "the healthful spirit of His grace?" If the voice of prayer were not restrained, we should witness no spiritual desolation, but "God, even our God, would give us His blessing." Let those 'then who believe that they are "children of the light and of the day," think how much they owe to the love of Him who hath called them to His service. Who made them to differ from the thousands around, who are still seeking to draw comfort from this vain world, and wasting their strength in pursuit of its fleeting shadows? "Who opened their eyes to see the solemn realities of eternity, and put a new song in their mouth, filling them with the rich comforts of His grace? Let us think too of the state of those, who are still without the ark of safety--How blindly they are rushing on to an inheritance of woe--how they are standing in jeopardy every hour, reckless of the storm which is gathering against them--and our sympathies will be awakened in their behalf. Then, we shall need no other inducement to "watch for one hour" with the people of God, where prayer is offered up, that we also may present that appropriate petition--"Return, we beseech Thee, O God of hosts: look down from Heaven, and behold, and visit this vine, and the vineyard which Thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that Thou madest strong for Thyself."
There is one other motive which pleads with us, to avail ourselves of the solemnities of this Season. It is the truth, THAT WE MAY NOT LIVE TO SEE AGAIN THE RETURN OF THIS PERIOD OF OUR ECCLESIASTICAL YEAR. This may be our last Lent on earth, to herald in either an eternal Festival in Heaven, or to be but the prelude to that "lamentation and mourning and woe," in which the desolate spirit can look forward to no joyful Easter. But the reflection, that life is passing rapidly away, and that its continuance is uncertain, although often brought before us, is still one which to most, is any thing but familiar. The remembrance of it, as a fact, exerts but little practical influence over our thoughts and our conduct. We acknowledge it as a general truth, and yet silently make an exception in our own favor. Let us endeavor then, to bring it home to our own hearts and consciences, as a reality in which we have a deep and fearful interest. And how solemn--how awakening should be the effect of the thought, that we may be passing through this period of improvement for the last time--that when the next year the people of the Lord are thus summoned to come up, and make ready for the celebration of His Passion, we may not hear the call! 'Then, our probation may have ended--our account be sealed up against the Great Day of moral retribution--and our graves in th£ quiet Churchyard, be growing green amidst the graves of our kindred. And yet, this is possible with all who witness the services of this season, and certain with regard to some. It would be strange indeed, if even among those who may read these pages, some should not be borne to their last resting-place before twelve months have rolled round. Think of those who at this time last year sat in the same seats with us in the temple of God, but who have now departed forever. Can not memory recall the images of some who have since then passed from our own little circle to the silence of the tomb, and whose familiar forms and faces we shall see no more, until that mighty word goes forth, which heard on sea and land shall call up the dust of the sepulchre to new life, and mould it again into its ancient shapes? Yes, the Destroyer has been among us, since last with joy we sang together our Easter anthem. In many a household there have been bitter lamentations for the dead; and a vacant seat by the hearth, and an added tombstone in the Churchyard are the sole earthly memorials of some, who in the weeks of the last year's Lent were often found in the house of God. The loved ones are not all here. Smiles of affection which once were ready to greet us, and tones which fell like music on our ears, have faded away from the earth. The dust has claimed its own, and our hearts even now turn in sorrow to the place of graves, where the dead so silently await our coming.
And of whom shall this history next be written? Do we all shrink from the question, and feel we can not bear to realize that this may be the 'case with us? Do we close our ears, as the solemn tones of life's curfew bell are heard, warning us of the gathering night? Oh, let us remember, that we have no exemption from this common lot, and that the Master may come in an hour when we look not for Him. With the flush of health upon the cheek, and the vigor of manhood in the limbs, we may be unconsciously treading the edge of the crumbling precipice, about to be launched into Eternity.
Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still like muftled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
[LONGFELLOW'S Psalm of Life.]
Let the determination then be strengthened within us, that while life lasts, we will neglect no opportunity of making ready for our solemn change--that if it should be decreed in the councils of Heaven, that we shall never again on earth witness this interesting season in the Church, this at least shall not be neglected, but we will repair to the House of God, there to pour out our souls in the prayer of penitence and faith.
Are not these then motives enough to induce us to take our part in these week-day services? Methinks our Lord is thus age after age, even from the garden of Gethsemane, lifting up to His faithful followers the voice alike of entreaty and of agony, saying unto them--""What! could ye not watch with me one hour!" And is it not our business here, to train ourselves for the ceaseless worship of Heaven? Are we then gaining this spirit of prayer which will render us "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light?" Let us examine our own hearts, and scrutinize our affections, lest we may be deceived, and the spirituality and holiness of the Christian be still wanting in our breasts. Neither is it all that is necessary, merely to be bodily present in the House of God, for we may at the same time "be absent in spirit," and thus in our best services be accumulating guilt. He whom we mock with the offering of the lips while the heart is far from Him, will say to us, as He did to His ancient people--"The calling of assemblies I can not away with: it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." The world therefore must be shut out--the spirit of devotion must be with us--or we are not truly watching with our Lord.
And should there chance to rest upon these pages, the eye of any one who does not profess to be a disciple of our once suffering but now glorified Master, and who therefore may feel disposed to pass by this appeal as being in his case inapplicable, we would address to him also a single inquiry. Have you no need of prayer--no necessity for that atonement on the Cross, to which these services point us forward? If such are your feelings, the disclosures of a coming day will show, that you have been the victim of a fatal delusion. We look beyond the few remaining days of this fleeting life--we stand with our fellow men before the bar of God--we behold "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world"--but what is the condition of those, who have no interest in his Redemption? For them there is no song of triumph--no victor's crown. They are arrayed before their Judge in speechless despair. The neglected opportunities of earth are Arising in their memories, and they feel that they would give the universe, were it possible, for "one hour" of that probation which once they trifled away. The future offers to them no gleam of hope, but shrinking from "the Great White Throne, and the face of Him that sitteth thereon," they commence the desolate travel of Eternity--lost--undone forever.
We would entreat yon then, O restless and disappointed child of immortality! to avail yourself of this solemn season, when all things invite you to thoughtfulness and prayer. Turn away from this decaying, perishing world, whose enchantments only mock your sight, and whose promised blessings fade and disappear while you seek to grasp them, and gain in their place, "the peace which passeth understanding"--the calm and solid happiness which our faith only can bestow. It is to be found--not in feverish and vain desires--not in the aspirings of wild, ambition--not amid the rush and hurry of this busy life--but in the whispers of an approving conscience, and in silent communion with your God. Come then, and in a spirit of earnest supplication, pray Him to blot out the dark record of the past, and to strengthen you for his service during the years which may yet remain to you on earth. Come, before life is departing, and the terror-stricken soul seeks in vain for a single hour in which to make its peace with Him. Come, before the darkness of the grave gathers around, and the despairing cry is heard--"Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out."