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Foretaste of heaven on earth—pledges of joy
The account which we have of the apostles and the disciples of our Lord, who, immediately after his ascension, waited at Jerusalem, according to his direction, for the accomplishment of his promise concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is, that they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” And when, by the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost, as well as the preaching of St. Peter, in a few days afterwards, three thousand new converts were added to their number, and admitted members of the Christian church, by the initiating ceremony of baptism, administered according to divine direction, “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” we are informed concerning them all, that they “continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” They all together made one church or Christian assembly, they lived together in one visible communion, hearkening to the instructions of the apostles, partaking of the Lord's supper, and offering their united prayers to God, in the name of Christ.
Agreeably to the pattern of this primitive church, many others, as the number of Christians daily increased, were soon formed and modelled, in each of which the public worship of God, in the duties of adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving, was solemnized; the doctrines of Christianity were explained and enforced; baptism was administered to new converts, and the Lord's supper was celebrated. These are facts sufficiently evident and certain from the history of the Acts of the Apostles, and the contents of the Epistles of the New Testament. In which we perceive, that the apostles, wherever they had success in propagating the knowledge of Christ, founded a church for rendering public homage to God, as well as for instructing and edifying one another, and had a stated communion among themselves in the several duties and rites of the Christian worship. And to conduct the public worship of God among themselves with greater regularity and effect, some persons were chosen and set apart for the purpose of presiding in their religious assemblies, conducting the exercises of their devotions, imparting information in every part of Christian duty, and encouraging the faithful and constant practice of every enjoined precept. Now there is nothing in all these things that was any way peculiar to the early times of Christianity; nothing but what should be observed and practised by Christians in all succeeding ages; because neither the nature of these external duties of religious worship, which were performed by the primitive Christians, nor the direction of our Lord and the apostles concerning them, confine them to one period more than another. The most of them should always be attended to on account of their apparent good tendency and natural aptitude for promoting the great and beneficial ends of the Christian religion. The two rites of baptism and the Lord's supper, which depend purely on the positive will and appointment of Christ, are declared to be standing institutions in the Christian church, our Saviour having promised his disciples to be with them, in preaching the gospel, and in the administration of baptism, to “the end of the world;” and the apostle Paul, concerning the Lord's supper, having told us, that the death of Christ is to be commemorated in the church “till he come.”
BENEFICIAL REsults—The wise and good ends which will be served by a conscientious attendance on public worship, are numerous and valuable. The preservation of the knowledge and profession of Christianity in the world, is one of no small importance. Without the aid of public worship, it would have been impossible for the Christian religion to have subsisted for any length of time, in any large extent, among men." The miracles which were performed by our Lord and his apostles, would perhaps have been sufficient for introducing and supporting Christianity in the age in which they were performed; but when these had ceased, when no methods were instituted or used for propagating it, in any degree proportioned to the circumstances and capacities of mankind, there is sufficient reason to believe it would soon have been on the decline, and probably in succeeding periods would in most places have become extinct. .
The external institutions of Christianity, therefore, must be of the greatest use for preserving and propagating the knowledge of God. Preaching is designed for instructing men in the doctrines, precepts, and promises of Christianity; and all the other parts of Christian worship are apt, as often as they are used, to recall its principles, and make them familar to the mind. So that they are methods of propagating Christianity which are suited to the capacity and situation of the meanest persons; and if any thing will be effectual for diffusing the knowledge of evangelical truth among all sorts and orders of men, these institutions will. In fact, to these
• The truth of this remark has been exemplified in Ceylon, where, after Christian churches had been raised, the public worship of God being neglected, some of them soon degenerated into heathenism : an important fact brought to light by the labours of Christian missionaries.
it is owing that many of the lowest ranks of mankind, in Christian and Protestant countries, have always had some understanding of the principles and doctrines of our holy religion. As public worship has hitherto been effectual for preserving the knowledge, and supporting the profession of the Christian religion; so it is not to be doubted, but that, under the blessing of God, it will be the means of conveying and transmitting it to all succeeding generations. A due attendance on public worship also fixes a deeper impression of the doctrines of Christianity, and the principles of moral goodness, in the minds of men. This institution will not only furnish us with speculative notions of the doctrines of Christianity, but will elevate and enliven our perceptions of them, and consequently, through the blessing of God, will give them the greatest influence for engaging us to seek salvation, and practically to walk in obedience to the divine will. This, therefore, is a matter of great moment; every one may know, that the perception even of the most important truths, which are not impressed on the mind by the Spirit of God, will have but little or no force on the heart and conduct. But when we dwell on the consideration of them, “mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,” and have them habitually in our thoughts, they will then govern our affections, and become the seeds and principles of a spiritual and divine life. We may, as a general rule, venture to say, that if men are ever brought to a true and deep sense of their fallen and guilty condition, to the right exercise of faith in Christ, to the possession of scriptural holiness of heart, and to live under the direction and influence of the principles of Christianity, it must be by such means; which will check their natural levity, put a stop at proper
seasons to the hurry of their worldly affairs, change the whole course of their thoughts, fix their attention on spiritual and morally good objects, and engage them in a train of devout and profitable reflection. And it is evident, that the various parts of public worship are extremely well adapted to the promoting these beneficial effects; for what can be more proper to abstract, compose, and elevate the powers of the human mind, to fix them on the noblest objects, and to produce the most serious impressions, than solemn addresses to the God of heaven and earth, which bring men under the most immediate influence of his presence, and engage them in the most attentive consideration of his nature. and perfections P What can be better calculated for supplying men, naturally inconsiderate, and too apt to be diverted from all serious thoughts, by the pleasures and cares of life—for supplying such, I say, with matter of rational and useful reflection, and giving them a taste and relish for spiritual and divine things, than the obliging them, at stated times, to suspend their worldly or commercial pursuits, and to apply themselves to the exercises of devotion, and meditations on religious subjects; to receive instructions in the doctrines and duties of Christianity, and to have the several motives which it proposes earnestly and affectionately pressed home on them P What will lay good principles deeper in the heart, and give them a more complete possession of it, than men being frequently reminded of their having taken on them the profession of the Christian religion, and obliging themselves to the several duties it requires, by the solemn and significant rite of baptism P What can be more apt to inspire men with the most sublime sentiments, and the most generous and heavenly affections,