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Sponsors, that we shall be brought up in the true faith and fear of God; and how earnestly does she lead us to pray for a progressive, total, and permanent renovation of our souls ! No sooner are we capable of receiving instruction, than she provides for us, and expressly requires that we be well instructed in, a Catechism, so short that it burthens the memory of none, and so comprehensive that it contains all that is necessary for our information at that early period of our life. When once we are taught, by that, to know the nature and extent of our baptismal vows, the Church calls upon us to renew in our own person the vows that were formerly made for us in our name; and, in a service specially prepared for that purpose, leads us to consecrate ourselves to God; thus endeavouring to confirm us in our holy resolutions, and to establish us in the faith of Christ. Not content with having thus initiated, instructed, and confirmed her members in the religion of Christ, the Church embraces every occasion of instilling into our minds the knowledge and love of his ways. If we change our condition in life, we are required to come to the altar of our God, and there devote ourselves afresh to him, and implore his blessing, from which alone all true happiness proceeds. Are mercies and deliverances vouchsafed to any, especially that great mercy of preservation from the pangs and perils of childbirth? the Church appoints a public acknowledgment to be made to Almighty God in the presence of the whole congregation, and provides a suitable service for that end. In like manner, for every public mercy, or in time of any public calamity, particular prayers and thanksgivings are provided for our use. In a time of sickness there is also very particular provision made for our instruction and consolation : and even after death, when she can no more benefit the deceased, the Church labours to promote the benefit of her surviving members, by a service the most solemn and impressive that ever was formed. Thus attentive is she to supply in every thing, as far as human endeavours can avail, our spiritual wants; being decent in her forms, but not superstitious; and strong in her expressions, but not erroneous. In short, it is not possible to read the Liturgy with candour, and not to see that the welfare of our souls is the one object of the whole ; and that the compilers of it had nothing in view, but that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in God, we should glorify his holy name.
II. The excellencies of our Liturgy will yet further appear, while we notice, next, its fulness and suitableness.
Astonishing is the wisdom with which the Liturgy is adapted to the edification of every member of the Church. There is no case that is overlooked, no sin that is not deplored, no want that is not specified, no blessing that is not asked: yet, whilst every particular is entered into so far that every individual person may find his own case adverted to, and his own wishes expressed, the whole is so carefully worded, that no person is led to express more than he ought to feel, or to deliver sentiments in which he may not join with his whole heart. Indeed there is a minuteness in the petitions that is rarely found even in men's private devotions; and those very particularities are founded in the deepest knowledge of the human heart, and the completest view of men's spiritual necessities : for instance, We pray to God to deliver us, not only in all time of our tribulation, but in all time of our wealth also ; because we are quite as much in danger of being drawn from God by prosperity, as by adversity; and need his aid as much in the one as in the other.
In the intercessory part of our devotions also, our sympathy is called forth in behalf of all orders and degrees of men, under every name and every character that can be conceived. We pray to him, to strengthen such as do stand, to comfort and help the weak-hearted, and to raise up them that fall, and finally, to beat down Satan under our feet. We entreat him also to succour, help, and comfort all that are in danger, necessity, and tribulation. We further supplicate him in behalf of all that travel, whether by land or by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons, and young children, and particularly entreat him to have pity upon all prisoners and captives. Still further, we plead with him to defend and provide for the fatherless children, and widows, and all that are desolate and oppressed : and, lest any should have been omitted, we beg him “ to have mercy upon all men,” generally, and more particularly, “ to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts." In what other prayers, whether extemporaneous or written, shall we ever find such diffusive benevolence as this?
In a word, there is no possible situation in which we can be placed, but the prayers are precisely suited to us; nor can we be in any frame of mind, wherein they will not express our feelings as strongly and forcibly, as any person could express them even in his secret chamber. Take a broken-hearted penitent; where can he ever find words, wherein to supplicate the mercy of his God, more congenial with his feelings than in the Litany, where he renews his application to each Person of the Sacred Trinity for mercy, under the character of a miserable sinner ? Hear him when kneeling before the altar of his God:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burthen of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father! For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I may venture to say that no finite wisdom could suggest words more suited to the feelings or necessities of a penitent, than these.
Take, next, a person full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; and if he were the devoutest of all the human race, he could never find words, wherein to give scope to all the exercises of his mind, more suitable than in the Te Deum : “ We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting. To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens, and all the Powers therein : To thee Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy Glory.”—Hear him also at the table of the Lord : “ It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God: Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory : Glory be to thee, O Lord most High.”
Even where there are no particular exercises of the mind, the Liturgy is calculated to produce the greatest possible good : for the gravity and sobriety of the whole service are fitted to impress the most careless sinner; whilst the various portions of Scripture that are read out of the Old and New Testament, not only for the Lessons of the day, but from the Psalms also, and from the Epistles and Gospels, are well adapted to arrest the attention of the thoughtless, and to convey instruction to the most ignorant. Indeed I consider it as one of the highest excellencies of our Liturgy, that it is calculated to make us wise, intelligent, and sober Christians: it marks a golden mean; it affects and inspires a meek, humble, modest, sober piety, equally remote from the unmeaning coldness of a formalist, the self-importance of a systematic dogmatist, and the unhallowed fervour of a
wild enthusiast. A tender seriousness, a meek devotion, and an humble joy, are the qualities which it was intended, and is calculated, to produce in all her members.
III. It remains that we yet further trace the excellence of our Liturgy, in its moderation and candour.
The whole Christian world has from time to time been agitated with controversies of different kinds; and human passions have grievously debased the characters and actions even of good men in every age. But it should seem that the compilers of our Liturgy were inspired with a wisdom and moderation peculiar to themselves. They kept back no truth whatever, through fear of giving offence; yet were careful so to state every truth, as to leave those inexcusable who should recede from the Church on account of any sentiments which she maintained. In this, they imitated the inspired penmen ; who do not dwell on doctrines after the manner of human systems, but introduce them incidentally, as it were, as occasion suggests, and bring them forward always in connexion with practical duties. The various perfections of God are all stated in different parts; but all in such a way, as, without affording any occasion for dispute, tends effectually to encourage us in our addresses to him. The Godhead of Christ is constantly asserted, and different prayers are expressly addressed to him ; but nothing is said in a way of contentious disputation. The influences of the Holy Spirit, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, are stated; and “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is sought, in order that we may perfectly love God, and worthily magnify his holy Name:" but all is conveyed in a way of humble devotion, without reflections upon others, or even a word that can lead the thoughts to controversy of any kind. Even the deepest doctrines of our holy religion are occasionally brought forth in a practical view (in which view alone they ought to be regarded ;) that, whilst we contemplate them as truths, we may experience their sanctifying efficacy