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unseen LORD and Saviour is especially present; and you may learn from an example I will set before you, how we should behave ourselves in such a place.
It is related of King Charles the First, that when the news came of the death, indeed of the murder, of a favourite nobleman, His Majesty was at prayers, the public prayers of the Church, when the messenger came with a troubled countenance, and without any pause in respect to the duty they were performing, went directly to the king and whispered in his ear what had happened. His Majesty, it is said, continued unmoved, and without the least change of countenance, until the prayers were ended, when he went home, shut himself into his chamber, and burst into tears.—So deeply intent was he on the business he was about, and the words he was uttering; so well did he know what it is to come to Church and utter any thing before God. Had he come without thought, and entered without reverence, and been careless about what he was saying, how different would it have been ! But it seemed as if one object filled his whole soul, and one business took up all his thoughts—the Presence of ALMIGHTY God, and the prayers he was uttering in that most sacred Presence. How well must he have “ keep his foot” in going to God's House ! how little was he like a person “rash with his mouth, or hasty in his heart,” in this matter! Such was the deep devotion by which he learned in the midst of sad trials and troubles to receive them with reverence as from God's hand, and to meet death itself with calmness and resignation.
Now observe what care is taken, lest we should be “rash with our mouths,” in any thing we say here. Because we know not what to pray for as we ought, nor how to pray aright, the Church, which knows the mind of Christ in this matter, supplies us with words, with confessions, with prayers, and thanksgivings; and lest our heart should be hasty to utter any thing before Him, there are sentences and warnings at the beginning of the service to remind us, before we open our lips, what we are, and why we are met together, and where we are ; that so, with a “pure heart and humble voice" we may, one and all, draw near to the throne of the Heavenly grace, i.e. the Mercy-seat, the footstool of the Almighty God, our CREATOR, REDEEMER, and SANCTIFIER; where we kneel as miserable sinners to confess our sins past, and
ask for true repentance and forgiveness, and for His Holy SPIRIT to amend our lives.
The temper with which we should approach Him, is one of deep awe and reverence: the spirit in which we should
is with a lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; and lest we should pray without due preparation beforehand, there are these warnings, the sentences, and the exhortation to prepare us : what we have first to do then, after hiding our faces as we come into God's Presence, and secretly asking Him to bless us, and help our imperfect service, is “ to be ready to hear.” We ought not to need such things; but if we only just listened as we should to the opening sentences, we should be in less danger of being rash with our mouths, and offering the sacrifice of fools. Ob. serve, for instance, the opening sentence : " When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive;" does it not at once remind us, if we would only mark it, that unless we do so turn, we are in danger of losing our own souls, losing them to all eternity? And should not this thought convince us, that coming to Church is, indeed, what we may call a life and death matter; and every word we speak here of vast, infinite consequence, as uttered really by frail creatures, whose very soul is at stake? Again, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Hide Thy face from my sins, and put out all my
misdeeds ;” does not this seem to be a warning, how deep and heartfelt our confessions should be? as if we should scarcely dare to look up, but stand at a distance like the Publican as we hear it, and say with him, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” And so of the other sentences; they are all sentences which we should be“ swift to hear,” and which, if we hearken to any one of them as we should, should make us “slow to speak," and force us to weigh our words. I do not say this can all be done at Church; but you may learn the lesson at home. I only point it out, because you so often hear these sentences, and may not have weighed them duly, and seen what they really mean, and how truly they might help to remind you who and what you are, and so prevent you from being in any way
“ rash with
f you so think on them at home, and meditate, any single one with
which the service begins may help you to collect your thoughts, and prepare you to pray
hear them at Church. The best and holiest men in all ages have been overwhelmed almost at the great privilege of being allowed to speak to God at all; and so their words have been few. Remember Abraham's earnest and solemn prayer and intercession for the wicked cities of the plain ; how he felt, and how few his words were ! " Behold, now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes. O let not my Lord be angry, and I will speak but this once.” Remember the awe which the Psalmist felt, when he thought what it was to sing praises in the presence of Almighty God: “When I consider Thy Heavens, even the works of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou bast ordained,—what is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him!” Remember St. Thomas's exclamation, “ My LORD and my God!” Remember, above all, our LORD's own prayers ; how He fell down on His knees in the garden, and repeated again and again the same words; “FATHER, if it be possible, let this cup pass from ME; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Remember that prayer which He has provided for us, lest we should be rash with our mouths; how full, and yet how short it is! After this pattern it is, that our Church prayers are formed; broken up into Collects and short sentences, and as the Wise man says, into “ few words.”
Now, perhaps, you may think, that because these words are found us, and are put into our mouths by the Church, we are in less danger of being rash with our mouths, and of using vain repetitions. It is true, it is a great blessing to us to pray according to these set forms, by which the holy Church throughout all the world has prayed in the Spirit, and praised God acceptably, and confessed the faith of Christ crucified for so many hundred years ; that so with all the saints departed, and with the faithful yet on earth, in all parts of Christendom, we may glorify Him; may, with one mind, and one mouth, glorify God, even the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ. But if we worship Him, we must worship Him in spirit and in truth : if we pray and sing praises, we must pray and sing praises with the Spirit and understanding also.
Be not then deceived ; do not suppose you are doing His service, when you are not: you may be "rash with your
mouths' in using any of these solemn words, unless you endeavour to make them your own, and mean what you say.
To confess sins, which you do not feel and do not mean to forsake, in the daily service, and especially at God's altar, in the Communion Service, is to be rash, very rash with your mouths.
To call Him “Our FATHER" in the Lord's Prayer, without arising in earnest to go to Him as our Father,” as the Prodigal did, and serve Him truly henceforth, is to be rash with our mouths before Him.
To say the Creed over and over again, without laying it to heart, and, e. g. secretly saying, as we go, “LORD, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief;" is to use rash words, and to make vain repetitions.
To sing Psalms without meaning, e.g. as in some places many join in Hymns about coming to the Holy Communion, without once so much as intending to come, all these several instances may serve to remind you, that you may make those words which the Church would give us for our wealth, an occasion of falling : we may have our prayers, our best acts, turned into sin.
Yes, my brethren, we may, and, alas ! many do, make Divine Service itself a mere dream and a vanity; and speak before our God and Saviour, and of Him, and to Him, to no better purpose, than if we were talking in our sleep, Now, theu, ponder these things deeply
Do not consider that to do this, is to do no evil : you must be rather the better or the worse for every word you utter here, May God give you grace to come, but, as I said, to come in earnest; to come with prepared hearts, prepared to hear, and, above all,
prepared to pray; that so every confession may make you more humble, more earnest to forsake sin ; every time you repeat the Creed more stedfast in faith ; every Collect and Prayer more “joyful through hope ;” every Psalm and Thanksgiving more rooted in charity; and so less unfit to join that blessed company, those thousand thousand who minister unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand who stand before Him.
EXAMPLES OF THANKFULNESS IN DISTRESS.
EPHESIANS v. 20.
“ Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the FATHER, in the Name
of our LORD JESUS CHRIST."
St. Paul repeats an injunction very like this to the Colossians also ; for in like manner speaking, as in this place, concerning spiritual songs, he adds, “ Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the Name of the LORD JESUS; giving thanks to God and THE FATHER by Him.”
That many things are occasions of thankfulness to God, all will naturally allow; but that in Jesus Christ we are to give thanks for all things, and at all times, sounds almost strange in our ears ; and we too little consider how very certain, and how very important, this duty is.
But however strange any command in Holy Scripture may appear to those who do not consider, it will be found to agree perfectly with what is taught, in other ways, in other parts of Scripture.
And in this case, if we will only remember what it is that all true religion consists in, as set before us in the Bible, we shall perceive how very necessary a part of it is this thankfulness, as here described; not as an occasional feeling, or to be called forth by particular circumstances only, but for all things and at all times.
For the Christian religion may be considered to consist