Imágenes de páginas

each petition before they hear it, and having little or no time to join in it after they have heard it, are confounded between their attention to the minister and to their own devotion. The devotion of the hearer is necessarily suspended until a petition be concluded ; and before he can assent to it, or properly adopt it, that is, before he can address the same request to God for himself and from himself, his attention is called off to keep pace with what succeeds. Add to this, that the mind of the hearer is held in continual expectation, and detained from its proper business, by the very novelty with which it is gratified. A congregation may be pleased and affected with the prayers and devotion of their minister, without joining in them; in like manner as an audience oftentimes are with the representation of devotion upon the stage, who, nevertheless, come away without being conscious of having exercised any act of devotion themselves. Joint prayer, which amongst all denominations of Christians is the declared design of " coming together,” is prayer in which all join; and not that which one alone in the congregation conceives and delivers, and of which the rest are merely hearers. This objection seems fundamental, and holds even where the minister's office is discharged with every possible advantage and accomplishment. The labouring recollection, and embarrassed or tumultuous delivery, of many extempore speakers, form an additional objection to this mode of public worship: for these imperfections are very general, and give great pain to the serious part of a congregation, as well as afford a profane diversion to the levity of the other part.

These advantages of a liturgy are connected with two principal inconveniencies : first, that forms of prayer composed in one age become unfit for another, by the unavoidable change of language, circumstances, and opinions; secondly, that the perpetual repetition of the same form of words produces weariness and inattentiveness in the congregation. However, both

these inconveniencies are in their nature vincible. Occasional revisions of a liturgy may obviate the first, and devotion will supply a remedy for the second : or they may both subsist in a considerable degree, and yet be outweighed by the objections which are inseparable from extemporary prayer.

The Lord's Prayer is a precedent, as well as a pattern, for forms of prayer. Our Lord appears, if not to have prescribed, at least to have authorized, the use of fixed forms, when he complied with the request of the disciple who said unto him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke, xi. 1.

The properties required in a public liturgy are, that it be compendious; that it express just conceptions of the Divine Attributes ; that it recite such wants as a congregation are likely to feel, and no other; and that it contain as few controverted propositions as possible.

1. That it be compendious.

It were no difficult task to contract the liturgies of most churches into half their present compass, and yet retain every distinct petition, as well as the substance of every sentiment, which can be found in them. But brevity may be studied too much. The composer of a liturgy must not sit down to his work with the hope, that the devotion of the congregation will be uniformly sustained throughout, or that every part will be attended to by every hearer. If this could be depended upon, a very short service would be sufficient for every purpose that can be answered or designed by social worship : but seeing the attention of most men is apt to wander and return at intervals, and by starts, he will admit a certain degree of amplification and repetition, of diversity of expression upon the same subject, and variety of phrase and form with little addition to the sense, to the end that the attention which has been slumbering or absent during one part of the service, may be excited and recalled by another; and the assembly kept together

until it may reasonably be presumed, that the most heedless and inadvertent have performed some act of devotion, and the most desultory attention been caught by some part or other of the public service. On the other hand, the too great length of church services is more unfavourable to piety, than almost any fault of composition can be. It begets, in many, an early and unconquerable dislike to the public worship of their country or communion. They come to church seldom; and enter the doors, when they do come, under the apprehension of a tedious attendance, which they prepare for at the first, or soon after relieve, by composing themselves to a drowsy forgetfulness of the place and duty, or by sending abroad their thoughts in search of more amusing occupation. Although there may be some few of a disposition not to be wearied with religious exercises ; yet, where a ritual is prolix, and the celebration of divine service long, no effect is in general to be looked for, but that indolence will find in it an excuse, and piety be disconcerted by impatience.

The length and repetitions complained of in our liturgy are not so much the fault of the compilers, as the effect of uniting into one service what was originally, but with very little regard to the conveniency of the people, distributed into three. Notwithstanding that dread of innovations in religion, which seems to have become the panic of the age, few, I should suppose, would be displeased with such omissions, abridgments, or change in the arrangement, as the combination of separate services must necessarily require, even supposing each to have been faultless in itself. If, together with these alterations, the Epistles and Gospels, and Collects which precede them, were composed and selected with more regard to unity of subject and design; and the Psalms and Lessons either left to the choice of the minister, or better accommodated to the capacity of the audience, and the edification of modern life; the church of England would be in possession of a liturgy, in which those who assent to her doctrines would have little to blame, and the most dissatisfied must acknowledge many beauties. The style throughout is excellent; calın, without coldness; and, though everywhere sedate, oftentimes affecting. The pauses in the service are disposed at proper intervals. The transitions from one office of devotion to another, from confession to prayer, from prayer to thanksgiving, from thanksgiving to “hearing of the word,” are contrived, like scenes in the drama, to supply the mind with a succession of diversified engagements. As much variety is introduced also in the form of praying, as this kind of composition seems capable of admitting. The prayer at one time is continued ; at another, broken by responses, or cast into short alternate ejaculations : and sometimes the congregation is called upon to take its share in the service, by being left to complete a sentence which the minister had begun. The enumeration of human wants and sufferings in the Litany is almost complete. A Christian petitioner can have few things to ask of God, or to deprecate, which he will not find there expressed, and for the most part with inimitable tenderness and simplicity.

II. That it express just conceptions of the Divine Attributes.

This is an article in which no care can be too great. The popular notions of God are formed, in a great measure, from the accounts which the people receive of his nature and character in their religious assemblies. An error here becomes the error of multitudes : and as it is a subject in which almost every opinion leads the way to some practical consequence, the purity or depravation of public manners will be affected, amongst other causes, by the truth or corruption of the public forms of worship.'

III. That it recite such wants as the congregation are likely to feel, and no other.

Of forms of prayer which offend not egregiously

against truth and decency, that has the most merit which is best calculated to keep alive the devotion of the assembly. It were to be wished, therefore, that every part of a liturgy were personally applicable to every individual in the congregation; and that nothing were introduced to interrupt the passion, or damp the flame, which it is not easy to rekindle. Upon this principle, the state prayers in our liturgy should be fewer and shorter. Whatever may be pretended, the congregation do not feel that concern in the subject of these prayers, which must be felt ere ever prayers be made to God with earnestness. The state style likewise seems unseasonably introduced into these prayers, as ill according with that annihilation of human greatness, of which every act that carries the mind to God presents the idea.

IV. That it contain as few controverted proposi. tions as possible.

We allow to each church the truth of its peculiar tenets, and all the importance which zeal can ascribe to them. We dispute not here the right or the expediency of framing creeds, or of imposing subscriptions. But why should every position which a church maintains be woven with so much industry into her forms of public worship? Some are offended, and some are excluded : this is an evil of itself, at least to them; and what advantage or satisfaction can be derived to the rest, from the separation of their brethren, it is difficult to imagine; unless it were a duty to publish our system of polemic divinity, under the name of making confession of our faith, every time we worship God; or a sin to agree in religious exercises with those from whom we differ in some religious opinions. Indeed, where one man thinks it his duty constantly to worship a being, whom another cannot, with the assent of his conscience, permit himself to worship at all, there seems to be no place for comprehension, or any expedient left but a quiet secession. All other differences may be compromised by silence. If sects and schisms be an evil, they are as much to be

« AnteriorContinuar »