Page images

activity in the minds of the congregation, and a contempt, or at least a disregard, of the worship itself. So that the observation is ordinarily true, that the want of decency and cleanliness in the house of God is a sign of the want of true piety and devotion in the hearts of the people. God be thanked, there has of late years been an unusual zeal in this nation for the repairing and beautifying parochial churches, and furnishing them with all proper accommodations for the decent and orderly performance of divine service: but where that spirit has not yet prevailed, and the churches appear to need it, I must beseech you to do all that is in your power to raise it among the people; and particularly, I must beseech every rector to set his parishioners a good example upon this head, as well as others, by keeping his chancel not only in good repair, but in a decent condition.

The decency and solemnity of the place being thus provided for; that which comes first under consideration among the duties to be performed in it is,

II. The reading of divine service to the congregation. An office that is usually reckoned a matter of course, which all clergymen are equally capable of performing, and which they can hardly perform amiss; and yet it is most certain, that the edification of the people, and the honour of the liturgy itself, depend a great deal upon the manner of performing it; that is, upon the reading it audibly, distinctly, and solemnly. It is an absurdity, and an iniquity, which we justly charge upon the church of Rome, that her public service is in a tongue unknown to the people; but though our service is in a known tongue, it must be owned that as the reading it without being heard makes it to all intents and purposes an unknown tongue, so confused and indistinct reading, with every degree thereof, is a gradual approach to it. The dissenters object against our public liturgy, that it is cold, and lifeless, and unaffecting but though the objection has no force in itself, (what they call cold and lifeless being no more than grave and serious, as all public liturgies ought to be,) yet we may give it very great force by running over the service in a cold and unaffecting manner. Our people themselves are too apt, in their own minds, to vilify and depreciate this part of our public service, as that which is ready composed to the minister's hand, and requires no further talent than the bare reading; but we find by experience to what degrees this objection vanishes, and how devoutly and reverently the service is attended to, where it has the just

advantage of being read in a distinct, solemn, and affectionate manner. In a word, it is in vain to hope, that the people will be zealous, if they see the minister indifferent, or that any service will be duly attended to, which is not recommended to them as a matter of great concern and importance, by being performed in a serious and affecting way; and whenever we perform it carelessly and precipitately, we must forgive them if they believe that we account it a task and a burden to us, which we are willing to get rid of with as little trouble, and in as short a time, as we can a consideration, that will oblige me to resist, to the utmost of my power, and where there is not the most evident necessity, all attempts in ministers to charge themselves with the performing of divine service on any Lord's day more than twice; as it is a practice, which for the most part must render the service less affecting and edifying as to the people, and almost unavoidably draws the reproaches I have mentioned, both upon the liturgy and the minister.

I am aware, that the duty which I am now pressing is not equally in every one's power; all men having not an equal strength and felicity of voice. And, considering how much depends upon these qualifications, in order to an useful and honourable discharge of the ministerial office, it is much to be wished, that greater regard were had to them, in making choice of persons for the sacred function; and particularly, that, in the education of those who are designed for the ministry, the right forming of the voice were made one special care from the very beginning, in our schools, as well as universities: a care, which, however omitted by others, it is to be hoped will not be forgotten by such clergymen who have sons that are intended for the ministry; because they know by experience, and cannot but sensibly feel, the great importance and advantage of it. In the mean time, with regard to those who are already admitted to holy orders, I must beg leave to observe, that as on one hand there are few whose perfections and abilities in this way are so complete by nature, as to supersede all endeavours after further improvement; so, on the other hand, there are not many, whose natural talents are so very defective and unhappy as to be incapable of being bettered by care and observation. At least, it is very certain, that none are so irregularly framed, as not to be capable of officiating in a devout and serious manner, such as shall shew that the person who officiates is himself thoroughly affected; and this, where it appears, makes

such a strong and constant impression upon the minds of the congregation, as goes a great way to atone for other failings, which they see to be natural and unavoidable. But a supine, careless, and indevout way of performing divine service is utterly inexcusable both with God and man.

When ministers have given it the utmost advantages they can, they will find it to be all little enough to keep up the attention and devotion of the people; whose minds are overwhelmed with worldly cares, and too little accustomed to spiritual exercises of any kind. However, ministers who officiate in that devout and affectionate way do a great deal towards the raising in them a spirit of devotion; and more they cannot do, unless the people will be persuaded to the practice of family devotion; which would hinder the mind from being drowned in worldly thoughts, and habituate it to the moving and approaching towards heaven; and which therefore I must entreat you to promote in your several parishes to the utmost of your power, with this view, among others, that greater degrees of attention and devotion may be seen in our public assemblies. For the same end, I will take this occasion to mention one thing more; and that is, the practice of saying grace before and after meals; which, however small it may seem, yet being a devout acknowledgment of the providence of God over us, and of our dependence upon him, it would be another good means of keeping up a spirit of piety and devotion in families, if it were brought into constant prac


III. Besides that part in our public devotions which properly belongs to the minister, there is another, which, though it belongs to the whole body of the congregation, will hardly be performed in a decent and edifying manner, without some previous care and assistance on his part; I mean the singing of psalms. This is a divine and heavenly exercise, which the scripture recommends to us as one special means of edification; and being then in its greatest perfection, when it is performed by Christians in a joint harmony of heart and voice, it has been ever accounted a standing part of public devotion, not only in the Jewish, but in the Christian church. And in the church of England particularly, whose Sunday-service is made up of three offices, which were originally distinct, and in their natures are so, there is the greater need of the intervention of psalmody, that the transitions from one service to another may not be too sudden and abrupt. This exercise therefore, being a part of our public devotions, and very

useful when it is duly and regularly performed, must not be forgotten, while we are considering of proper rules for decency and edification in the church; especially, since it is so plain in experience, that where no care is taken in this matter, the performance will be very indecent, and indeed shocking.

To prevent that, and to provide for due solemnity in this part of our public service as well as the rest, I have often wished, that every minister would take the trouble of directing the choice of proper psalms; or rather, that they would once for all fix and establish a course of psalms, to be given out and sung in their order. By which means, the congregation might be furnished with those which are most proper, and also with a due variety; and, by degrees, the most useful parts of the Book of Psalms would be implanted in the minds of the people, and become familiar to


With a view to those good ends, and by way of assistance to the younger clergy, I have subjoined to these directions a course of singing-psalms; which may be gone through every six months, and is so ordered, as to consist of a proper mixture, 1. of praises and thanksgivings, 2. of prayer to God and trust in him, and, 3. of precepts and motives to a godly life. But when I put this into your hands, I would not be understood to direct, but only to recommend the use of it; leaving you at full liberty to choose any other parts of the Book of Psalms which you may judge proper; provided you leave not the choice to the parish clerk, which I earnestly desire you will not.

And, to the end the psalms so chosen may be sung in a more decent manner, it is further to be wished, that the people of every parish, and especially the youth, were trained up and accustomed to an orderly way of singing some of the psalm tunes which are most plain and easy, and of most common use; since that is the proper season of forming the voice as well as the mind, and the regularity into which it is then cast with great ease will remain with them during life, and not only enable them to contribute their part to the decency of this performance, but, even for the sake of that talent, will incline them to be constant in attending the public service of the church.

But when I recommend the bringing your people, whether old or young, to a decent and orderly way of singing psalms, I do by no means recommend to you or them the inviting or encouraging those idle instructors, who of late have gone about the several countries to teach tunes


uncommon and out of the way; (which very often are as ridiculous as they are new; and the consequence of which is, that the greatest part of the congregation, being unaccustomed to them, are silenced, and do not join in this exercise at all;) but my meaning is, that you should endeavour to bring your whole congregation, men and women, old and young, or at least as many as you can, to sing five or six of the plainest and best known tunes, in a decent, regular, and uniform manner, so as to be able to bear their part in them at the public service of the church.

Which last advantage, of bringing the whole congregation to join in this exercise, will be best obtained, especially in country parishes, by directing the clerk to read the psalm, line by line, as they go on; by which means, they who cannot read will yet be able to bear a part in singing; and even they who can neither read nor sing will receive from the matter of the psalm both instruction in their duty, and improvement in their devotion.

Under this head, I must take notice of the choice of parish clerks, who are assistants to the minister in performing divine service, and are still in his nomination, by canon in all places, and by custom also in most. And upon this account, their qualifications, "of honest conversation, "and sufficiency for reading, writing, and singing," are specially provided for in the ninety-first canon of our church; which was made on purpose to guard against the indecencies that parish clerks, who are not duly qualified, always bring into the public worship. In conformity to which canon, it is to be hoped, that, as there shall be occasion, ministers (setting aside all private regards and applications) will choose such persons to be their clerks, as are known to be of sober conversation, and of ability to perform the part that belongs to them (especially in the point of psalmody) decently and laudably.

If what I have said under this head concerning psalmody, and the qualifications of parish clerks, shall be thought a descending to points too little, and unworthy of regard, let it be remembered, that nothing can be called little, which conduces in any degree to so great an end, as is the decent and orderly performance of the public worship of God.

But to return to the duties which belong to the minister alone.

IV. What has been said under the second head, concerning the advantages of reading in a distinct and affectionate manner, equally holds in the duty of preaching; the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »