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good and perfect gift, a sincere and spiritual worship? Such need not expect that they shall receive any thing of the Lord.
The deportment that becomes the house of God, is grave, solemn, attentive and devout. No one may go to the house of God as a spectator. All are personally interested. All go (professedly) to meet God and to worship. All go to pray, to praise, to make melody in their hearts, to ponder the words of life, to hear what the Lord
Does one become your mouth, and lead in your supplications and thanksgivings; he prays not for himself, but as the organ of the congregation. He utters their words, and expresses thoughts and feelings for them, which they are mentally to offer up, sentence by sentence, as they drop from the lips of the minister. Not the minister alone prays, but the whole worshipping assembly should pray with the same degree of ardor and fixedness of attention. Do you say that gravity, and devotion, and zeal become the minister of the Sanctuary, because he directs your services ? I say that the same gravity and holy ardor, and devotedness become the whole body of worshippers, because they, in like manner, are unbosoming to a holy God, and, as poor and miserable sinners, asking mercy at his hands. Were you to look abroad during the devotional part of the services, on many worshipping assemblies, and see the vacant stare of some, the irreverent posture of others, the roving eyes, and the generally undevotional appearance of a third class, you would suppose the minister nearly the only one who pretended to pray--that he alone had anght for which to praise and adore--that he alone had sins to confess, or mercies to crave.
None will question, that a marked and undoubted solemnity ought to characterize the deportment of those who lead and direct the devotions of others. I have refered to the minister-but there is another class that, next to the minister, bear a most important part in the performance of public worship. I mean the singers, and all who perform in sacred music. They, too, lead our devotions. With them we are to make melody in our hearts.
It is a matter of very serious grievance, with many pious people, that any should be called to this solemn part of divine service, who are not, in the eyes of Christian charity, really pious persons. To have it otherwise, is, we must confess, very nearly allied to the practice of engaging impenitent, perhaps immoral men, to lead our devotions in social or public prayer. Without stopping, however, to express an opinion on this particular point, we are very safe in saying, and, doubtless, may say, with the full approbation of every Christian reader, that unfeigned gravity, and profound reverence, and an undoubted devotional deportment, become all those who bear so important and solemn a part in the worship of the Sanctuary. Next to the minister, the singers stand responsible to sustain the honor and sacred dignity of the house.
I need not say, then, how unbecoming, how entirely misplaced, how revolting to every pious feeling, is all levity, or marked inattention, or unbecoming deportment of any kind, in one that holds this relation to a worshipping assembly. Singers are the conductors and organs of a most solemn part of divine service, and when they exhibit a corresponding deportment it adds much to the sacredness and solemnity of the occasion.
1. How is the Sanctuary profaned?
How has it come to pass, that the place of public worship has, to an alarming extent, ceased to be regarded with that pious awe that it was in the days of our fathers? It is now too much like any other building, common and unclean. And no one can mistake the influence of the existing state of things.
But you may be sure there is some sufficient cause, when a house of religious worship is scarcely esteemed more sacred than any secular building. The instinctive feeling of reverence for the Sanctuary can be overcome only by the habit of seeing it often perverted. Let the rising generation see the church used for the purposes of secular business, for pleasure or amusement, or for any thing short of a decidedly religious purpose, and they will soon cease to venerate it. And when they shall rise up to take the place of their fathers, they will no more honor, as they once did, the place where prayer was wont to be made.
It ought to grieve the heart of every good man, to have his church used for any purpose that is not decidedly religious. It is always undesirable, and should always be avoided if possible.
The sacred character of the house of God is lowered down, the place is profaned, by meetings for business, for common instruction, or entertainment.
We lose the idea of its sanctity, when we indulge in a careless way of entering, or assume an irreverent posture, or allow ourselves in the habit of inattention to the services. We lose our reverence for the place, when we see others, especially if they be professors of religion, or only our seniors, transacting some trifling business, or engaged in worldly conversation, or in any way seeking their own pleasure in the Sanctuary. And if this be on the Sabbath, the effect is yet more disastrous.
It is on this account, if on no other, exceedingly desirable that all such as do not return to their homes during the interval of divine worship, should be employed in a way that should altogether sustain the character of the house. If they are seen by those who do not regard holy things--if seen by children and youth by the children of the Sabbath school, who are themselves being taught the oracles of truth--if seen conversing on the common topics of the day, or whiling away an hour irksomely, will it not give an impression to the young mind that there is nothing, after all, very sacred in religious things--nothing in the Sanctuary, more than in any other place, that commands a sacred respect; and nothing in the feelings and conduct of them who profess godliness that makes any radical difference between them and the men of the world. Bible classes, or small associations for mutual instruction in the word of God, or prayer meetings, perhaps, afford the most suitable mode of spending the intermission that is practicable.
Aside from the good a church may gain to themselves by a proper attention to this subject, they would make a lasting and profitable impression on the mind of the rising generation, that would do more to bring them in contact with the truth, than any one thing. It would secure their attention while in the Sanctuary.
If there be not an immediate attention to this subject—if reverence to the house of God be not restored to its former regard, it needs not a prophetic eye to foresee that scarcely a generation will pass before the honor of God's house will be prostrate.
How much reverence have the younger branches of your congregation now for the house of God, or, to come yet nearer home, how much regard for the Sanctuary have the younger branches of the church ? they, I mean, who have, by the holy seal, been made, in an important sense, members of the same houschold? Do they—your children, so regard the place of the divine presence, as to give you a comfortable warrant that they will soon yield themselves up in love and obedience to the God of the upper Sanctuary? If so, let me beseech you to retrace the steps by which you have led them, and stop and weep where you have, in any degree, contributed to rob the place of sacred instructions of its holy dignity, and, consequently, those who should above all others be profited by them, of their restraining and sanctifying influences.
If you see children and youth careless and indifferent, noisy and inattentive; if you see them paying little or no deference to the place, or to the services of the Sanctuary, you are in little danger of misjudging, if you suppose there must have, somewhere, been some gross desection in the example they have had before them. Many things contribute to this melancholy result, some of which have been named. I shall name but one or two others.
And the first is, the practice of separating families at church. The parents, and the older or more sober children, are generally seated in the pew below; while the younger part of the household at least the more thoughtless, are allowed to choose their own companions and sit where they please in the gallery. This practice need only be named, and every one instantly sees how injurious to the peace and comfort of the minister, and to the worshipping assembly, how injurious to themselves, and how derogatory to a place of worship, are its consequences.
Nothing but stern necessity, should ever induce a family to be thus divided; and in case of such a necessity, those members only who have sufficient maturity of character and sobriety, that they may withstand the temptations which are, in most churches, incident to a seat in the gallery, should, by all means, be selected for that part of the house, while those who so much require the constant vigilance of parents or guardians, should be where they may have it. Were an audience to sit by families, both above and below, it would do very much in the first place, to preserve the good order and solemnity of the house; and do more, in the second place, to secure an attentive hearing to the word preached, and a devout regard of the services.
There is too a suitableness-it is altogether becoming, that parents and children, and as far as possible, the whole household, should be seated together. It is an agreeable association, and not without a substantial benefit. For your religious profession is by households. Many of your duties are duties of households, and as households your minister nust often address you. How pleasant, then, how becoming, how profitable to be represented in the house of God as you really are in this lise, and as you wish to be in heaven.
A moment's reflection will convince any one, that no inconsiderable share of the evils from which few churches are exempt, is attributable to this cause.
The other cause which I would name, as being also a fruitsul source of the evil in question, is the habit of attending any place of worship, or no place, just as inclination, or fancy, or some trivial circumstance dictate. In all societies where there are different denominations of worshippers, and consequently where almost every individual may choose to what house of worship he will go, it is not uncommon to find many who never seem to have had any opinions, or to have formed any habits with regard to the place and manner of their worship. Hence they float on the surface, and find anchor,
age no where. They are equally strangers, to see and be scen, whereever they go. They are in the worst possible state to be savingly or even intellectually benefitted by the instructions and services of the Sanctuary. For they do not go to hear, but to judge-not to worship, but to see others worship-not to learn what God is, and what he requires, and to look into their own hearts and learn what they are; but they go to learn what different denominations arewhat they do, and how they differ one from the other. Such must not expect to be benefitted; for they do not go for benefit, but for curiosity. Would they choose out some one place of worship, and make that their home, even were that the less perfect one, they would find it to be for their great gain.
If from necessity, however, or from conscientious scruples, one becomes, temporarily, the attendant at another place of worship, the case is essentially changed. The motive is altogether different, and consequently the act is different.
But what shall we say of the thonghtless indulgence of some parents, even christian parents, in allowing their children to go, as a mere matter of curiosity, from one place of worship to another, not that they may be better instructed in the truth, but that they may see what is going on—that they may see the show. For they do not suppose them old enough, or if old enough, not desirous to judge of those denominational differences that induce different portions of the church to worship, as to form, according to their own peculiar views of propriety. They cannot take a more effectual way to distract their minds, to turn them away from all truth, and to make religion seem to consist in mere rites and forms.
Go where you will, and you will find that the sacredness of the Sanctuary was never promoted, nay, that it has always been sadly impaired, by the whole class of curious hearers--by them of itching ears; by all those children and youth, who, more than for any other reason, wander from church to church that they may break away from parental restraint, and enter into other folds to disturb the flock.
5. How may the sacredness of the Sanctuary be preserved, or recovered when lost?
On this head I may not enlarge. It is needless. Remove the causes, and the evil will disappear. When in the house of God, demean yourself as if you realized that you were indeed in the presence of the heart-searching God. Be grave, solemn, attentive, prayerful. Never, for a moment, feel yourself to be a spectator. No one can be more interested than you. Go to the Sanctuary for no ether purposes than those for which its services are appointed. Go