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Creator in simplicity, in spirit and in truth? If it is, then the proper mode of leading him to this is not through forms. For, let forms be once introduced, and we might certainly know that they would be retained by selfishness and the love of power on the one hand, and by habit and association on the other; and thus either hold the race in perpetual childhood and imbecility, or greatly embarrass and retard its growth. If the young bird is to fly, let it be thrown into the atmosphere. If man is to worship God in spirit and in truth, he must not be encumbered with forms.
And what we might thus anticipate, all history shows has taken place. By means of forms and ceremonies, the mind has, Ist, been drawn from God; and, 2d, it has rested in them, so that they have been substituted for a Savior and for holiness of heart. Thus it is in the church of Rome. By her forms she does the two greatest possible evils to true religion. She corrupts the simple and spiritual worship of God, and she substitutes a false ground of hope to man. These two are intimately connected; for it will be found that whenever works are relied on as the ground of salvation, they most often consist in the observance of those forms by which the simplicity of worship is marred and corrupted. These evils have always resulted from forms and probably always will. They cling, to some extent, around those that are simplest ; and the danger is increased in proportion as forms are increased and rendered more imposing. The simple worship of God in spirit and in truth, in opposition to all superstition and hypocrisy; and justification by faith alone, in opposition to all priestly interposition and ceremonies of the church, and penances, and meritorious works, are the two great points for which we are now to contend. These have always been inscribed upon the true banner of the church of God. Over our churches that banner still waves. Let us gather around it. Let us abide steadfastly by it, if need be, even unto death.
We now proceed to inquire, whether the pure and spiritual worship of God may not be promoted by addressing the imagination and the taste through the fine arts. Do not these blend with the movements of the religious nature, and become as the wings of devotion to raise the soul nearer heaven? No doubt here is one great secret of the power of the Romish church over the minds of her people. She has intimately associated all the fine arts with religion, so that while she has her forms aud superstitions for the many, she has made the church, independently of religion, an agreeable place of resort for the refined. Men love excitement; there is a pleasure connected with emotion of almost every kind; but in the emotions awakened by the fine arts there is a high luxury. Let then these emotions be connected with the awe thrown around religion, and especially let them be made to soothe the conscience as a religious duty, and it is easy to see how strong the attraction they may constitute. But all this pleasure and emotion may arise in those who are entirely corrupt and worldly in their lives, or who are even infidel in their sentiments." What men wish to avoid, is a holy God, a perception of his moral government, and of their obligations and accountability to him. They wish to have their fears and their consciences quieted by something like religion, and they are willing and pleased to have all those emotions of awe, and sublimity, and admiration awakened, which arise in view of the natural attributes of God in distinction from those that are moral, or better still, to have excited by the fine arts, under the name of religion, emotions kindred to these.
In the present moral state of the world there will be something of this wherever the progress in wealth and refinement is considerable. For what can a man do who is cultivated, and lives in refined and fashionable circles, and who would keep upon good terms with himself and with the church or with the religious world, and who yet cannot submit to bring his conscience and his whole moral being into subjection to God? How can such a man spend his Sabbaths ? Will he be satisfied to go to a plain house of worship and simply listen to devout prayers and to the truth? No. He will either take a walk, or a ride, or a sail, and talk of seeing God in his works a God that, as he sees him in those works, has no moral law and does not speak to his conscience; or he will go to a church where there is architecture, and music, and it may be painting and sculpture, and where it is well if there be not a preacher whose preaching chimes in and harmonizes with all this. The same general tendencies which lead the hearer to seek gratification from the fine arts, will lead the preacher to cultivate elegant literature, and to become a general scholar and a fine writer, rather than a man of prayer and mighty in the Scriptures.
Would you then, it may be asked, exclude the imagination and the class of emotions now referred to from divine worship? I answer, No. But I would have them called forth by the attributes, and by the present or the remembered works of God, rather than by the works of man. If I cannot worship in the broad temple of God's works; if I cannot, like the Saviour, pray upon a mountain, where, it may be, the starry heavens are above me and the breathing stillness of nature is around me, or where, it may be, the voice of the tempest is in the top of the great oak by which I kneel, and its roar is among the hills, while the lightning writes the name of God on the sky and the thunder speaks of his majesty; if I cannot stand by the sea-shore and hear the bass of nature's great anthem, yet let no poor work of man come between me and the remembered emotions which such scenes excite in the hour of my worship before the great and holy God, whose hand made all these things. “ Where is the house that ye build for me ?" says God, “and where is the place of my rest ?” * Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” Far rather would I find in the simplicity of the place of worship a confession of its inadequacy to lead the mind up to God, than to find any beauty of
architecture, or any gorgeousness of decoration that would lead me to admire the work of man, and draw the mind from God.
Here, however, God has left man at liberty; and much is to be allowed for the influence of education, and constitutional peculiarity, and early associations and impressions. I have no sympathy with that state of mind which would prevent worship in a cathedral. God is there. But I would have it forgotten that it is a cathedral, and remembered that God is there. I would so magnify God, and bring his spiritual presence so near, that those things should be indifferent, and that in the cathedral, as well as in the plain church, or under the open heaven, men should equally worship God in spirit and in truth. - There is, however, great danger that the excitement of what is poetical and imaginative in man by architecture and music,* considered simply as music, and painting, and statuary, should be substituted and mistaken for the pure and holy worship of God.
On this point the simplicity of Puritanism has been regarded as austere. But so has the true worship of God always been
regarded by the many. While therefore we find in our Bibles, and in the works of God, the motives and the media of worship, while we are willing and desirous that the fine arts should have their appropriate temples and be cultivated as they ought to be among a refined people, we yet remember that even under the old dispensation, the acceptable worship went up from an altar of unhewn stone; and we think it best accords with the spirit of the New Testament, and is shown by history to be safest, and is most conducive to the worship of God in spirit and in truth, that a chaste simplicity should characterise all the structures and all the forms of our religion. We think that the appropriate object of religious services is to cultivate the moral and religious nature, and that there should be no attempt to produce an effect upon the mind by forms, or to blend the emotions appropriate to the fine arts with those higher emotions that belong to the worship of God.
Perhaps our Puritan ancestors carried their feelings on these poirts too far; but we think it can be shown from the nature of things, and from the developments of the times, that they were substantially right, and we abide in their faith. I would rather have joined in one prayer with the simple pastor and his persecuted fock among the glens and fastnesses of the rocks in the highlands of Scotland; I would rather have heard one song of praise rise and float upon those free breezes in the day when the watch was set, and the bloody trooper was abroad, set on by those who worshipped in cathedrals; I would rather have kneeled upon the beach with the company of the Mayfower when persecution was driving them into the wildernesss, than to have listened to all the rituals and Te Deums in every cathedral in Europe.
On no account would I say any thing to discourage the universal and high cultivation of sacred music. This differs from the other fine arts, because its appropriate office is not impression but expression. Where it is regarded and admired for its own sake, it obstructs instead of promoting the worship of God.
We next inquire whether we may not take advantage of the principle of association to aid devotion, and especially of that well known fact that our ideas of things invisible become more vivid and affecting, and permanent, when they are associated with sensible objects. Has not our Savior himself taken advantage of this principle in instituting the sacraments ? and may we not follow his example and carry out the same principle in other things? Will not a cross, erected or represented in the church, remind us of our Savior's sufferings? Will not consecrated water at the door, remind us of our need of purification? Will not incense ascending, give us an affecting sense of the efficacy of prayer? Will not a relic of some ancient saint, remind us of his virtues and lead us to imitate them? May we not usefully set apart, as they did under the old dispensation, a particular form of vestment in which the ministers of religion shall officiate, and which shall be associated in the minds of the people only with the solemn services of religion? May we not, in these, and in many more ways, employ this principle to aid true devotion ?
It is not surprising that this should have been attempted. Probably it has been done in most instances from good motives, but the result has shown that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” It might have seemed to the wisdom of man that to have the body of their great prophet buried among them, and a monument erected over it, would remind the ancient Israelites of their deliverance from Egypt, and of the law he gave. But God buried him where no man knoweth of his sepulchre till this day. He left no relic or vestige of him to be a source of superstition in other days. This shows his estimate of the principle, and the results where this has been attempted are such as to make us feel, that though it may be sometimes innocent, it is always dangerous, and to lead us to observe only those forms which the Savior instituted as necessary to the visibility of his church. When we see, at this day, a whole city moved because a bone of a good man, who died some one thousand four hundred years ago, is, or is supposed to be found ; and when we see the dignitaries of a church performing over it ceremonies and carrying it in pompous procession; and when we see the same people burning Bibles and persecuting those who would enlighten the people, we feel that we cannot be too careful how we take the first step towards a degeneracy and a perversion of the gospel so awful.
The question is not whether the principle of association shall operate in connection with religion. It will and must do so in connection with the visibility of the church in any form, and around that church associations the most tender, and hallowed, and enduring, will cluster. But it is whether we are to adopt the principle and act upon it as a system. No doubt it gives the church a strong hold upon the people. It enables her to fix a stamp early and firmly on the minds of the young; but that stamp is the mark of the beast, and not the seal of the Spirit. It is one great instrument by which the systems of heathen superstition are sustained and riveted. It always has led to su
perstition, and it always will. Paul said, “ though I have known Christ Jesus after the flesh, yet now henceforth know I him no more.” The religion of Christ is a moral and a spiritual system, and all attempts to associate its great truths with sensible objects, will bring the mind down to them, instead of carrying it up to those truths.
But, my brethren, if there are these dangers connected with the introduction of forms and of the fine arts, and of the principle of association, neither is our simple mode of worship without its dangers. The danger on the one side is of formality and superstition ; on the other, of indifference and want of reverence. This is often painfully evident in our congregations to the neglect of what may be called expressive forms, and the natural language of the emotions. God has so connected the mind with the body, that to every emotion there is a natural form of expression; and that the emotions connected with worship should not be expressed by some appropriate external sign, is both unseemly, and tends to destroy the emotion itself. In many of our congregations we are pained to notice during worship an entire want of uniformity of posture and of the appearance of devotion.
Another danger is, that worship, appropriately so called, will lose its proper relative place. We meet in public for the purpose of social worship, and of instruction, and every thing done may be said to consist of worship and of the sermon. In ancient times, the great thing was the worship. When the gospel was preached, instruction evidently became much more prominent, but still worship is the highest employment. The object of knowledge is to lead to intelligent worship. I care not how high a place the sermon may hold absolutely, I would honor the preaching of the gospel as the great means appointed by God for saving men, but relatively the sermon should be subordinate to the worship. But without being formally stated, it has been practically felt, that in the simplicity of our worship, more must be done in the sermon to make the house of God attractive; and hence it is undoubtedly true, that the power of preaching has been more cultivated, and the relative position of the sermon has been higher with us than with most other denominations. Perhaps this must be so to some extent.
The sermon is the proper place for an address, not only directly to the understanding and heart, but also incidentally to the taste and the imagination; and while the irreligious man cannot be expected to join in the worship of God, he may be gratified and instructed by the sermon, and it would seem a matter of course that it should form the chief attraction for him. It is not of this that I complain, but that ministers themselves, and religious people, too often think more of the sermon than of the other parts of divine service, and that there is among us a want of the proper cultivation of the feeling of reverence and of devotion in the worship of God. The house of God is not a mere place for preaching. This I am persuaded it is in the power of