« PreviousContinue »
The revolutionary principle, which has been subdued and smothered in France, and against whose inroads upon our own practical freedom all wise and good men are arrayed in Great Britain, is bursting forth, with a fearful contagion, in the South of Europe. Spain, the most absolute of despotisms, because its system of government had its strong holds in the superstitions and prejudices of the people-Spain has suddenly passed into a perfect democracy. And now, the weak, and bigotted, and indolent, and unprincipled Neapolitans at once take up the weapons of offence, and obtain from their King the promise of a Constitution-a Spanish Constitution-a spick-and-span new Constitution-a Constitution of eight days' journeywork. Most heartily should we rejoice to see all Europe gradually and temperately adapt ing its systems of government to the changes of society-permitting the popular intelligence to be reflected in practical forms of liberty-.. and assimilating the political condition of its various states, step by step, to the safe and beneficial Constitution, of which England presents the example. But these principles do not keep pace with the rapid march of modern freedom. The habits of nations are to be changed in a minute. All is to be new, from the foundation to the pediment. This is at best impolicy-we trust that the effects of these changes will not manifest how much of latent evil there is in them.
These recent revolutions are ostentatiously held up to British imitation. But the attempt will not succeed. Ours is no home of despotism, and therefore no theatre for change. We live under merciful and equal laws; and every man amongst us may go forward to riches and distinction. We have won for ourselves and our descendants as much practical liberty as any people of the world ever attained, or ever can attain; and we are too enamoured of the reason and the beauty of our national faith, to pass over to the extremes of infidelity like the votaries of superstition. We are content to preserve what we have acquired, rather than desire an unattainable good, at the risk of all that is valuable in happiness, or all that is virtuous in principle. The English people, properly so called, know and feel that no other state of society in Europe offers a parallel with their own ;-and they will not, therefore, be prompted into the imitation of any community, strenuously but ignorantly struggling to attain what was long ago bequeathed to us. They know that a well-governed society presents a system of equipoise-an equality of rights and obligations, from the prince to the peasant; and they will not disturb this balance because an ancient despotism may beget an experimental democracy. Lastly, they will inquire who are their prompters to discontent aud revolt; and when they behold bankrupts in fortune and reputation, men whose ill name is their only means of existence, speculators upon popular excitement, changelings who barter their minds with the best bidder, and enlist in a cause, not because it is just, but because it is profitable ;when they look upon such as these, they will turn to the array of the noble, and the enlightened, and the virtuous, gathered round the Altar and the Throne, and they will feel that while the volcano devastates, and the pestilence walks unseen, in other lands, England is composed of tranquil elements; and that if the storm now and then passes over her, it leaves her pure and healthful atmosphere more purè and more healthful.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another.-HEB. X. 25.
BEFORE We proceed to the examination of our Church Service, it may not be improper to look back upon the early accounts we have respecting public worship, and show the authority through which it came to be established.
The duty of public and private prayer was commanded by God. The observance of the seventh day as an holy Sabbath was enjoined from the beginning of the world. Adam we learn offered up his daily services to the Creator; and we know that the sacrifice of Abel, his pious son, was graciously accepted. The first act of Noah and his family, when saved from the waters, was to build an altar to God; and in the lives of the Patriarchs we are informed of the exactness with which they performed their daily devotions to the Supreme Being, in presence of their kindred and people. In the Book of Exodus we are told, that he instructed the Israelites to offer up sacrifice and prayers to him every morning and evening, renewing to them the com
* The preceding course of Lectures on the Bible were delivered many years ago to the crew of one of his Majesty's ships in the East Indies. The author afterwards repeated them to other shipmates in the Mediterranean, in the year 1814. It then occurred to him that it would be useful to his hearers to pursue the examination in a second series of Lectures on the Liturgy, for the purpose of explaining the nature and object of the several services contained in the Book of Common Prayer, as well as to afford them some general information as to the leading doctrines of the Established Church. He is encouraged to hope the perusal of them may afford some advantage to the readers of the Plain Englishman's Library.
mand for the observance of the Sabbath; and in the Book of Leviticus we find very full directions as to the manner in which the public services of religion were required to be performed. We read that the Levites (the tribe appointed to fill the offices of the priesthood) were directed to rehearse the law to the people in public assemblies; these teachers explaining the sacred Scriptures on such occasions: and this practice has continued among the Jews from the time of Moses to the present day.
In compliance with these appointed regulations, our blessed Saviour is related to have constantly attended the public worship of the Jews; and has thus given his high authority to this duty. After his ascension his Apostles zealously imitated his great example. Wherever they went they brought together assemblies of Christians, preaching to them the religion he had taught, and exhorting them to meet together continually," in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."
The accounts which we possess of those times immediately following the age of the holy Apostles, inform us, that very early in the establishment of Christianity, set forms of public prayer were composed and performed by the appointed ministers of worship, under the approval of those sacred persons who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and acted under divine inspiration. The Apostles appointed them with much solemnity, after prayer and devout preparation for the ministry, laying their hands on them and blessing them in their holy office. These reverend persons appointed others after them, in like manner, to the sacred charge of teaching the Gospel, and performing divine service; and thus came to be established, as among the Israelites, a separate profession of the clergy, set apart expressly for these solemn duties.
When the faith of Christ, under the blessing of God, had spread throughout all countries, from the Holy Land whence it first arose, numerous churches, or societies of Christians, were established in all parts; bishops and other ministers of the Gospel being appointed to instruct and guide them, and to manage their religious concerns. But after the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost had ceased, upon the death of the Apostles, and men were left to the guidance of their own imperfect judgment, many errors and corruptions began to creep in, as Christ himself and his Apostles had foretold; and instead of following the purity of that holy faith delivered by the saints, the vanity of one, the obstinacy of another, and the presumption of a third, soon introduced disputes and dissensions among the different assemblies of Christians, which gave great offence to true religion. After a period of 600 years the Bishop of Rome took upon himself to declare his superiority to all others, demanding peculiar reverence and obedience thenceforward to be paid to his authority. He assumed the title of Pope, or Father of the Christian Church, declaring himself the representative of St. Peter, to whom Christ had given a special charge; and pronouncing that the decisions of himself and all who should succeed him in that high station were to be considered infallible; that is, as the certain will of God. That this amazing act of
presumption should take place, and for a certain period be accompanied with general success, had been distinctly foretold in Scripture. Prophecy also has declared its final overthrow; and the symptoms of its approaching decay are very manifest in these our times, and some of us possibly may live to see great part of these prophecies accomplished. The authority of the Pope of Rome being acknowledged in almost every nation of Europe, the Liturgy, or form of public ministry peculiar to that Church, came into general use; and the whole service was performed in the Latin language, peculiar to the Roman States, notwithstanding the manifest absurdity of requiring the people of all nations to join in the use of prayers in a tongue which they could not understand.
The Roman Catholic religion continued to be maintained in England until the Reformation; when the most learned and pious men of that time called for a reform in the established faith, and began to expose the errors of the established doctrines, protesting against the assumed authority of the Church of Rome, from which the whole nation at length separated, as well as several others in many parts of Europe; and from that time the members of the Reformed Church came to be distinguished by the name of PROTESTANTS.
The Bible having been translated into the mother tongue, all ranks of people were eager to receive the word of God; and when they came to consult the Scriptures for themselves, and compare them with the articles of the Popish faith, they were astonished at the errors by which they had so long been misled. Such was the zeal manifested throughout all parts of England to read the Bible, that in every church (where Bibles were placed for public use) crowds attended to listen to the divine instructions of the Gospel; and many persons learned to read even in their old age, that they might share the comfort of studying the Scriptures for themselves.
It was next necessary to give the people a form of public prayer in their own language, suited to the doctrines of the true faith they had now embraced.* The first English Protestant Liturgy was thus completed in the reign of King Edward the Sixth, in 1547. You will naturally look upon it with high veneration when I inform you, that the learned and pious authors who composed it became, in the next reign, martyrs to the Protestant faith, and forfeited their lives at the stake rather than renounce the pure principles of the Reformation. These were the venerable Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; Ridley, Bishop of London; and other eminent divines ;- -men not more distinguished for the sanctity of their lives, their great wisdom and learning, than for the fortitude with which they endured the flames, and died glorying in the righteous cause in which they were sacrificed.
This excellent Liturgy, which was put forth with an anxious design to guard against the errors and corruptions of Popery, was repeatedly
*For this purpose such of the prayers used by the Romish Church were retained, as were not inconsistent with the doctrines of the Bible, and much of the ancient forms and ceremonies, to do as little violence as possible to the established prejudices of the people.
revised and corrected during the following reigns, until the Book of Common Prayer, as we now have it, was published by authority in 1661; since which no alteration has been made. The length of time which has elapsed may account for some few expressions being a little obscure and requiring explanation; but in general every thing is expressed with surprising plainness and simplicity: its venerable language is admirably suited to the solemnity of prayer; and I think no true friend to our religion would desire to see it altered by any meddling hand, except it be some slight obscurities which have arisen from a change of circumstances since the time it was originally put together.
The word Liturgy signifies public service-a form of worship in which all may join in a religious assembly. Almost every class into which Christians have divided themselves, have established a common form of prayer for general use when met together; but some (as the Church of Scotland for instance) have no such form, prayers being offered up by the minister alone, while the congregation listen in silence.
The objections which have been made by the Presbyterians and others to any set form of prayer is, that in time the language in which it is composed must become so changed as to be unsuited to the understanding of the people. This, under proper authority, might be readily provided against by such occasional changes of the expressions which were fallen into disuse (without altering the meaning of the prayers), as would render it always easy of comprehension,
Another objection to a fixed form of words is, that by frequent repetition of the same expressions, we are apt to lose our interest in the prayers, and acquire a habit of repeating them without attending to their meaning. This appears to me a much stronger objection than the former; but I think it is rather the fault of those for whose use they were intended than of the form itself; for if the heart be deeply impressed, no frequency of repetition will diminish the solemnity and interest of such prayers.
The advantages of an established form of prayer are these:The congregation know beforehand what the minister is going to deliver, and therefore their thoughts can go along with him in the prayers; whereas, in extempore prayer, their attention is divided, and before their minds can understand and consent to the petitions offered up in one sentence, they are called upon to attend to another.
A further advantage is, that it is so contrived that the minister and people join in the business of devotion; which is not only a relief to him, but engages their thoughts in repeating those parts of the service which are allotted to them, and thereby furnishes every devout man with such expressions, to confess his sins and to pray for mercy, as he could scarcely invent so well for himself, at the moment.
Another advantage is, that an established form of prayer prevents the mistakes, the improprieties, and absurdities into which both the minister and people are liable to fall; few having the gift of such ready words as will express with suitable reverence those petitions