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There are some persons, indeed, who have entirely given up all public means of grace; men, whose revolt from religion began in renouncing that article of the Christian creed, “the communion of saints;” and the truth is, that this retreat is the common inlet to apostacy. Their former zeal for God's house is become the matter of their own profane jest. They laugh at all their past devotion, and wonder they should have been so silly as to attend sermons and sacraments; and being, as they imagine, grown wiser, they have left their seats in the sanctuary of the Lord, and placed themselves in the seat of the scornful, turning all religion into banter and ridicule. Such is the profaneness of these persons, that they have an utter contempt of sacred ordinances, the ministers of the gospel, and the day set apart for public worship. They prefer their licentious liberty and sensual pleasure to all the privileges and advantages of religious worship: but this will most assuredly be attended with bitterness in the end.
Among those who attend the house of God, there are evidently some who feel no interest in the services performed; their countenance shows their uneasiness, and plainly manifests that they take no delight in being there. It would be easy to mention a great many indecencies in which persons allow themselves in the time of public worship, who, though they attend on it, yet have no regard to the solemnities of the place, and show no reverential awe of the Presence in which they are. They come, possibly, to fill up the vacuity of an idle hour, to serve some secular convenience, or else, perhaps, to exercise their noble talent at cavilling and scoffing; but, to be sure, to give disturbance and scandal to the serious part of the congregation, by the indecency of their behaviour. Such are guilty even of a greater profanation, than those who totally absent themselves. MANNER.—It is requisite, that they who attend worshipping assemblies take great care that their hearts be not absent from the holy exercises of religion, when their bodies are present there. The main point that God looks at, and always expects, is the heart. This is a qualification absolutely necessary for rendering their acts of worship acceptable to him, and for deriving any benefit from them to themselves. God complained of the Jews of old, that when they drew near to him with their mouth, and honoured him with their lips, their hearts were removed far from him. So far will the most specious expressions of devotion, in which the heart has no concern, be from honouring and pleasing God, that he will rather deem them to be an impious mockery and contempt of him. And so far will a mere customary performance of the duties of public worship be, for contributing to their establishment and improvement in piety and virtue, that it will be the means of hardening their hearts, and rendering them insensible of the most powerful impressions and motives to religion. So that it very much concerns such persons to bring a serious and attentive mind to their devotions, to pray and give thanks to God with earnestness and warmth of affection, and to attend to the several institutions of the Christian religion with a sincere desire to be further informed and improved by them in the whole system of doctrine, experience, and practice. They should be deeply sensible of their own insufficiency for the right and spiritual peformance of religious duties, disclaim all confidence in their own strength, and depend entirely on the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which God has promised to them that ask him, to help their infirmities; and, with it, see that they depend on the Redeemer's merit, for the acceptance of all their religious duties. They are to assemble together for religious services in his name; they must ask every blessing they want in his name, with faith in him, and a reliance on his intercession with the Father. “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, and the Father by him.” Thus they will be favoured with his gracious presence, have audience and acceptance, and glorify God in the way in ..which he delights to be honoured. Where the heart is wanting in the worship offered to God, nothing else is valued, and accepted by him. He will not be satisfied with an outward show, or with mere bodily worship, with the labour of the lip, the honour of the tongue, and the devotion of the knee—these will not do. This, how laborious soever, where there is no more, where the heart is not engaged, is never pleasing to God, nor profitable to the worshipper. To worship God with the body only, without the spirit or soul, is as unsuitable now, as it would have been under the law, to have offered a dead carcase instead of a living animal in sacrifice. The spirituality of God's nature renders it necessary that men worship him with their spirit: thus it did even when he required a material worship, in modes, rites, and ceremonies, of his own prescribing. But now, under the gospel dispensation, a more spiritual worship is expected. The worship of God includes, that our thoughts are to be duly employed in acts of divine worship. God has made us thinking beings; what we call thought is the act of the mind, or spirit within us, for matter is incapable of thinking. We worship God, when we exercise our power of thinking in his service, when we compose ourselves seriously to consider, who He is whom we worship, what we ourselves, the worshippers, are, and the relations in which we stand to him as his creatures, and especially redeemed creatures, together with the obligations we are under to him and his service. When we engage in the worship of God, we are neither to be thoughtless, nor careless of our thoughts, but are obliged to keep our minds in proper exercise, and the Object we worship within view, in all the several parts of worship in which we are concerned. If we should appear outwardly very devout, yet, if, in the mean time, our thoughts were distant from God, or employed on some other thing than the object of worship; whether by allowance or indulgence, or by accident and without design, we could not be said, in that instant, to worship him—we should not then be with him, or properly worshipping him. But here we may observe, that if this wandering of the thoughts in acts of worship be by allowance and indulgence, it renders our worship not only unacceptable to God, but a mere mockery; it is a virtual denial of his spirituality and omniscience: but if it be owing to some unavoidable cause, as to indisposition of the body, which frequently much affects the mind; or to some particular unforeseen accident, and be contrary to the habitual disposition of the heart, though it should tend to humble us, yet it ought not to discourage us; for He, whom we worship, knows our frame, our state of frailty, and remembers we are dust; and, according to the grace of the gospel, we may hope for acceptance of our upright designs and attempts, to worship him with the best of our powers, notwithstanding such unallowed and bewailed interruption of thought. To worship God acceptably, is to have a due esteem of him, love to him, desire after him, and delight in him, on the account of his glorious perfections. These several
acts of the soul must be put forth in his worship, and our doing so, supposes that we have affecting apprehensions of his transcendent excellencies, and a sense of our deep obligations to him. When we employ our thoughts on God, and consider him as most amiable and excellent, having every perfection in the highest degree, as originally, necessarily, perfectly, and unchangeably good; that he is a Being of unerring wisdom, almighty power, inexhaustible goodness, unblemished truth, and spotless holiness, in a word, who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all:—when we farther think, in how many instances he has been gracious to us, the innumerable blessings of his providence in securing us from many dangers, in conducting us safely through numerous snares, in supplying us with all those temporal favours we now enjoy 3–and more especially, when we meditate on the suitable and effectual provision he has made, through the mediation of his beloved Son, for the pardon of our sins, the acceptance of our persons, the sanctification of our souls, and our perfect and endless happiness in a future state:—such thoughts as these will lead us to entertain the highest esteem of him, as most worthy of our regard, affection, and cordial adoration, and to desire a special interest in him, as our reconciled Father through Christ, and to love and delight in him as our satisfying portion. If we have obtained an interest in Christ, we shall be no strangers to the language of the apostle, “We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement.” Now, such acts as these, of esteem, love, desire, and delight, are a part of that worship we owe to God; and as these are acts peculiarly belonging to the mind, they may very properly be called spiritual worship.