« PreviousContinue »
shall attempt to do under the two divisions suggested by the text.
I. 1. In the first place, the circulation of the scriptures is a powerful means of effecting this object. They are, in one sense, the word of God, though not in the sense of our text, as the New Testament did not exist at the time of the apostle's writing this epistle. This volume is the repository of those facts and instructions on which the whole system of our religion rests. The more widely, then, it is known, and the more carefully it is studied, the more generally will religious truth prevail; and if any errors have been mingled with it in its passage down to the present age, the more readily will they be removed. One chief cause of error is want of knowledge. Men uphold false systems, because they are ignorant of the true. And the great book of truth cannot be familiarly in the hands of all, exercising its rightful influence over minds and hearts, and yet the dominion of error and falsehood stand. The evil at present is, that the scriptures are neither sufficiently read, nor with sufficient freedom. The many still pay too great deference to their theological standards and religious superiors, and to the impressions of early years. They suppose that they know their religion already, and therefore, either do not study the Bible at all, or they study it for some other purpose than that of learning. So that the light of truth is prevented from reaching their understandings and hearts, either by closing the volume which contains it, or by closing their eyes, when the volume is opened. Whatever is done then, toward promoting the frequent, studious, intelligent perusal of sacred volume, is so much for the advancement and influence of the Gospel ; and as it was the bringing out of the scriptures from their hidden places, which shook the power of the Papal throne; so it is the thorough removing of the veil from them, and introducing them freely and fearlessly to the understandings of men, which shall ensure the dominion of the consistent and glorious Gospel.
2. The prevalence of religion is to be ensured by the maintenance of Public Worship; a means the more particularly to be noticed, as it is the principal object for which Christian societies are organized. The influence of this is incalculable. No one can doubt, who reflects but for a moment, that more is owing to it than to all other causes; and that no mode of diffusing and perpetuating knowledge, and the influence of knowledge, has ever been devised, to be compared with the wisdom of this. Public worship among the heathen was quite a different thing; for it was not familiar, social, and personal, and above all, it was not attended with regular instruction concerning truth and duty. It was rather the magnificent spectacle of a high festival, which gratified the senses with its opulence and pomp, but had no concern with the intellectual and moral nature. In the Christian system, it addresses itself to the hearts of men, to their interests, feelings, and wants. It exercises its power over individual character. It meets the people in all their little communities, renews, at short intervals, its lessons on the most important truths, and maintains an unintermitted oversight of their moral sentiments and habits. It is impossible that the effect should not be vast. This silent, steady, uniform operation, must act upon the moral world, like the quiet and equal warmth of the sun upon the vegetable creation. The action of one day may seem insignificant; but the constant and permanent action works wonders. Men are sometimes led, doubtingly, to complain, that no greater effects are witnessed. They should consider that this institution of our religion is a vast and extensive machine, operating on an immense scale. A single congregation is but one of the little wheels in the complicated arrangement, and may seem to move on without bringing much to pass. We must survey it in its connexion with the whole. We must think of this action as exerted upon a whole people, and as going on from year to year, and from generation to generation. We must consider what society would be without it. Level with the ground your places of social worship. Let the voice of the preacher be hushed. Let the people be no more collected to hear of their duties to God and to one another. Let the seventh day be undistinguished -no respite from the vain pleasures and passionate bustle of worldly pursuits; no intermission of the eager chase of enjoyment and gain; but from year to year, generation after generation, let the whole community be given up to temporary interests, unreminded of God and eternity. It is easy to conjecture the religious ignorance and moral desolation that would ensue, and how rapidly the march would be taken backward to the melancholy condition of the heathen. What reflecting man is not aware, that a large portion of the Christian community have no knowledge of their religion, except what they gain from the weekly services of God's House. They are excited to read the scriptures only by the impulse which is given there. And therefore the institution of public worship is that which sustains among men, certainly the salutary influence, and probably the very existence, of Christianity itself. Without this indeed, it might be known to the studious and inquiring, just as the systems of Plato and the Stoics : but its blessings would not be diffused, nor its holy and rejoicing light be shed upon the dwellings, and poured into the hearts of its now countless votaries.
There is a striking illustration of the truth of these remarks in the history of the Jewish people. That people, although the selected nation of God, acquainted familiarly with a law which had been revealed under circumstances the most imposing and impressive; every step of their existence marked with the most surprising displays of the divine presence and power; possessing a temple and a ritual which surpassed in magnificence the most splendid institutions of the heathen world ;-yet were not restrained from constant proneness to other religions, and frequent relapses into idolatry. Observe the cause of this. The sacrifices could be offered but at one spot. Their place of public assembling was but at one city; to which indeed all the men were compelled to resort three times a year; but only three times, and they became not very scrupulous for more than one attendance, while the women and children were not bound to attend at all. It therefore happened that the inhabitants on the distant borders derived no satisfaction from the pompous ceremonials of their law, of which they were scarcely witnesses or partakers; they were far nearer to the altars of the Gentiles than to their own, better acquainted with their worship, and therefore easily drawn into it. After their long sufferings in the captivity of Babylon, they erected synagogues in all their villages, collected in them for reading and expounding the law every sabbath day, and being thus perpetually interested in their own religion, were no longer attracted by that of their neighbours.
It is evident, therefore, brethren, how much is due to the institution of public worship. Whenever you assemble here with those who keep holy time, you are giving essential aid to the cause of divine truth and human happiness. There is said by philosophers to be such a connexion between the distant spheres of the material system, that no impulse or motion can be felt by one without the participation of all; so that even the falling of a stone to the earth, creates a concussion which is recognised and answered in the remotest star. There is a connexion not unlike this, between the different bodies that compose the Christian system on earth. The operation of each is necessary to that of the whole; the hindrance of one is the hindrance of all. When you bind yourselves by a vow to-day to labour with your pastor for the regular maintenance of the social institutions of our faith, you are doing what affects the Church universal of our Lord, and is recognised in that distant world where the angels rejoice over every repenting sinner. And whenever, by neglect, or contempt, or absence, you think merely to testify your dislike of a poor preacher, or your love of an afternoon's repose, you in fact do all, which you can do, to destroy the influence of the Gospel in the world ;—which, if all should follow your example, would soon eradicate its very existence.
3. Intimately connected with public worship, so that indeed we can hardly separate it even in thought, is the next means which I shall mention of spreading the influence of religion,-namely, Preaching. This is the great divinely appointed instrument of truth and salvation. It pleases God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them who believe. Without this, public worship, as may easily be observed, would lose its chief efficacy as a moral means, and the Bible would soon cease to be the most common and powerful of books.
We cannot but admire the wisdom which made this happy provision for the perpetuity of religious knowledge. Simple and efficacious as it is, the Founder of Christianity appears to have been the first to discern in it that moral power, which should move and control the