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SERMON LXI.

On the IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC WORSHIP.

PSALM Xxvi. 8.

Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and

the place where thine honour dwelleth.

GOD is a spirit, and they that worship him, must

worship him in spirit and in truth. That religion chiefly consists in an inward principle of goodness, is beyond dispute, and that its value and efficacy are derived from its effects in purifying the heart, and reforming the life. All external services, which have not this tendency, are entirely insignificant. They degenerate into mere superstition, equally unacceptable to God, and unprofitable to man. Hence they are so often treated in Scripture, with high contempt, when substituted in the room of the important duties of a virtuous life.

Notwithstanding this, it is certain that external services have their own place, and a considerable one too, in the system of religion. What their proper place is, no one can be at a loss to discern, who will only make a just distinction between the means, and the end, in religion. It is evident there is danger in man's erring here either on one side or other; and it is certain that they have erred on both. After it was observed, that mankind were prone to lay too much weight on the external parts of religion, it began to

be thought that no weight was to be allowed to them at all. The time was, when all religion centered in attending the duties of the church, and paying veneration to whatever was accounted sacred. This alone sanctified the character, and compensated every blemish in moral conduct. From this extreme the spirit of the age seems to be running fast into the opposite extreme, of holding every thing light that belongs to public worship. But if superstition be an evil, and a very great one it undoubtedly is, irreligion is not a smaller evil: And though the form of godliness may often remain when the power of it is wanting; yet the power cannot well subsist where the form is altogether gone. - The holy Psalmist, whose words are now before us, discovers much better principles. Expressing always the highest regard for the laws of God, and the precepts of virtue, he breathes at the same time a spirit of pure devotion. Though loaded with the cares of royalty, and encircled with the splendour of a court, he thought it well became him to show respect to the great Lord of nature; and on many occasions expresses, as he does in the text, his delight in the public service of the temple. Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. In discoursing from which words, I purpose to show the importance of the public worship of God, and the benefits resulting from it. I shall consider it in three lights ; as it respects God; as it respects the world; as it respects ourselves.

I. Let us consider it with respect to God. If there exist a Supreme Being, the Creator of the world, no consequence appears more natural and direct than

this, that he ought to be worshipped by his creatures, with every outward expression of submission and honour. We need only appeal to every man's heart, whether this be not a principle which carries along with it its own obligation, that to Him who is the fountain of our life and the Father of our mercies ; to Him who has raised up that beautiful structure of the universe in which we dwell, and where we are surrounded with so many blessings and comforts; solemn acknowledgements of gratitude should be made, praises and prayers should be offered, and all suitable marks of dependence on him be expressed. This obligation extends beyond the silent and secret sentiments of our hearts. Besides private devotion, it naturally leads to associations for public worship; to open and declared professions of respect for the Deity. Where blessings are received in common, an obligation lies upon the community, jointly to acknowledge them. Sincere gratitude is always of an open and diffusive nature. It loves to pour itself forth; to give free vent to its emotions; and, before the world, to acknowledge and honour a benefactor.

So consonant is this to the natural sentiments of mankind, that all the nations of the earth have, as with one consent, agreed to institute some forms of worship; to hold meetings at certain times in honour of their deities. Survey the societies of men in their rudest state; explore the African deserts, the wilds of America, or the distant islands of the ocean; and you will find that over all the earth some religious ceremonies have obtained.

You will every where trace, in one form or other, the temple, the priest, and the offering. The prevalence of the most absurd superstitions furnishes this testimony to the

truth, that in the hearts of all men the principie is engraved, of worship being due to that invisible Power who rules the world. --Herein consists the great excellency of the Christian religion, that it hath instructed us in the simple and spiritual nature of that worship. Disencumbered of idle and unmeaning ceremonies, its ritual is pure, and worthy of a Divine Author. Its positive institutions are few in number, most significant of spiritual things, and directly conducive to good life and practice. How inexcusable, then, are we, if, placed in such happy circumstances, the sense of those obligations to the public worship of God shall be obliterated among us, which the light of nature inculcated, in some measure, on the most wild and barbarous nations !

The refinements of false philosophy have indeed suggested this shadow of objection, that God is too great to stand in need of any external service from his creatures ; that our expressions of praise and honour are misplaced with respect to Him, who is above all honour and all praise ; that in his sight, the homage we seek to pay must appear contemptible; and is therefore in itself superfluous and trifling.

But who hath taught those vain reasoners, that all expressions of gratitude and honour towards a superior become unsuitable, merely because that superior needs not any returns ? Were they ever indebted to one whose favours they had it not in their power to repay; and did they, on that account, feel themselves set loose from every obligation to acknowledge, and to praise their benefactor ?. On the contrary, the more disinterested his beneficence was, did not gratitude, in any ingenuous mind, burn with the greater ardour, and prompt them the more

eagerly to seize every opportunity of publicly testifying the feelings of their hearts ? -- Almighty God, it is true, is too great to need our service or homage. But he is also too good not to accept it, when it is the native expression of a grateful and generous mind. If pride and self-sufficiency stifle all sentiments of dependence on our Creator ; if levity, and attachment to worldly pleasures, render us totally neglectful of expressing our thankfulness to Him for his blessings; do we not hereby discover such a want of proper feeling, such a degree of hardness and corruption in our affections, as shows us to be immoral and unworthy; and must justly expose us to the high displeasure of Heaven? On the contrary, according to every notion which we can form of the Father of the universe, must it not be acceptable to him to behold his creatures properly affected in heart towards their great Benefactor ; assembling together to express, in acts of worship, that gratitude, love, and reverence which they owe him ; and thus nourishing and promoting in one another an affectionate sense of his goodness ? Are not such dispositions, and such a behaviour as this, intimately connected with all virtue ?

O come, let us worship and bow down ! let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God; and we are the flock of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. The prayer of the upright is his delight. It cometh before him as incense, and the uplifting of their hands as the evening sacrifice. Having thus shown the reasonableness of public worship with respect to God,

let us now,

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