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To assist you in this, the following directions are added.
I. A due approach to the house of God.
PREPARE FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP. The preparation of the heart is requisite before prayer. "If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands towards him." (Job xi, 13.) Amos, (ch. iv, 12.) tells us, Prepare to meet thy God. While this applies more particularly to that last great day, when we shall all be assembled before Him, let it also direct us to a suitable preparation of mind in all our intercourse with Him whose name is Holy. We are to remember the sabbath-day to keep it Holy. Exod. xx. Respecting the duties of the sabbath in particular, it is profitable to think of them, and prepare for them the evening before. Sir Matthew Hale says to his children, I would not have you meddle with any recreations, pastimes, or ordinary work of your calling, from Saturday night, at eight o'clock, till Monday morning. For though I am not apt to think that Saturday night is part of the Christian sabbath, yet it is fit thus to prepare the heart for it." We should not rush hastily into the divine presence. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him." Ps. lxxxix, 7. That great and glorious Lord and Saviour, who "holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, and who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks," (Rev. ii, 7.) is especially present. The Apostle seems to intimate, that the angels, who are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation," attend in Christian assemblies. 1 Cor. xi, 10. We should feel with David, holiness becometh thine
house, O Lord, for ever, (Ps. xciii, 5.) and shall thus be led to see that a due preparation of heart is suitable and needful. If you can, then, obtain time and opportunity for this purpose, I would exhort you to prepare your hearts by secret prayer and reading the Scriptures. It has been found by some to be a good practice to read the Lessons of the day before the service. One eminently good man was accustomed to spend most of the Sabbath morning in secret prayer and meditation, and was wont to say, "We many times blame the minister, when the fault is our own, that we have not prayed for him as we should."
BE WATCHFUL Over your spirit in going. Much of our spirituality and comfort in public worship depends on the state of mind in which we come. We should, as far as may be, abstain not only from worldly business, but wordly conversation, and thoughts on the sabbath. A dream cometh, says Solomon, through the multitude of business. Eccles. v. 3. If you are conversing or thinking on the things of this world till you enter the house of God, how is it possible that your heart can at once be raised to God?
Earnestly aim at going thither in the SPIRIT OF PRAYER, looking upwards for the divine blessing to give life, efficacy, and unction to the outward service. It would be happy for us if we could always go in that spirit which David describes, "O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." Ps. Ixiii, 1, 2. When we come in any thing of this spirit, how different a service is public worship to what it is when we come carelessly. How humbling, how awful, how elevating!
Let us also go in the SPIRIT OF PRAISE. "I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord." Ps. cxxii, 1. We should come up to his house with a thankful, grateful spirit; with the feeling of children going to their parents; not in the spirit of bondage, but in the spirit of adoption. A dutiful child, entirely dependent on the bounty, wisdom, and love of its kind father, after experiencing the contempt or unfriendly treatment to which a stranger in a foreign country is exposed, loves to go to the father's dwelling; and whilst we are in this hostile and ensnaring world, it is our privilege to "serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with joy. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise."
Yet let holy joy be ever connected with GODLY FEAR. The Jews were commanded, Reverence my sanctuary. Lev. xix, 30. And Solomon's directions should be often in our thoughts; Keep thy foot, (watch and mark all the motions of soul and body, restraining all that would be unbecoming) "when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to offer the sacrifice of fools. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God, for God is in heaven and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few." Eccles. v, 1. 2. We should endeavour to have that lively impression of the divine presence, which pervaded Jacob's mind, after his intercourse with his God; "Surely the Lord is in this place-how dreadful is this place; this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" Gen. xxviii, 16, 17. The more just and lively views we have of God's character, presence, and glory, the more we shall seek to honour him. This reverence St. Paul urges; Let us have grace, (we cannot do without it,) whereby we may
serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. Heb. xi, 33.
Closely connected with this reverence will be DEep We may always observe this, when God's servants have had near approaches to him, or a true view of his glory, they have been greatly humbled in the sense of their own sinfulness; as Abraham, "Behold, now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes;" (Gen. xviii, 27.) or as Job, "Behold, Iam vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth;" (Job. xl, 4.) or, as Isaiah, "Wo is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." Isa. vi, 5. We should come with that feeling which Daniel well expresses, "We do not present our supplications before thee, O Lord, for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies." Dan. ix, 18.
II. A due behaviour in the house of God.
Those who come with the views and feelings which I have mentioned, will readily admit the propriety and follow the practice of the custom among us, first to seek in private the grace of God to help us in our worship. Let this be done briefly and fervently; constantly, but not formally.*
* I cannot here but quote an admirable prayer of Bonnel's; his Biographer says, "When he came early to Church and could get to a retired place, he continued at his private devotions until the public service began, or a very little before; and how he employed those happy moments of privacy and devotion in the house of God, the following prayer, mentioned as used by him in the Church before morning prayer began, will shew.
Behold, O Lord, this portion of thy family, whom in this place thou hast so often graciously visited and favoured; and who, having addicted and given up ourselves to thy service, are here
The great thing is to keep our mind and affections fixed on the duty before us, so as to be able to say, this one thing I do. Aim, then, to have the mind engaged, and affections excited suitable to every part of the service. Protestants see at once the folly of praying in an unknown tongue; but, unless the heart join in the prayer-unless, when the minister "bless with the Spirit, he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say, Amen, (i. e. really join with his heart,) at thy giving of thanks," (1 Cor. xvi, 16.) it is as unprofitable as if he prayed in a foreign language. Prayers are not to be heard as sermons, but to be really offered up to God in the desire of the heart. In the word read and preached by the minister, let us hear God speaking, and receive it in faith. In joining the confessions of sin, let met together in behalf of ourselves and of the rest of our happy number, and of all our Christian brethren, even thy whole Church. We beseech thee to unite our hearts more and more in thyself, that we may have but one beart, and one mind, as we have but one design, one aim and hope. Let us now welcome each other, with hearts full of love and joy, into thy presence, as we hope one day to welcome each other into thy presence in glory. Let our civil respects before thy service begins, be such hearty and holy salutat ons as the blessed Elizabeth gave to the mother of our Lord, and may we have leave to say to each other, "Rail, thou that art favoured of God; the Lord is with thee!" Behold, we come with united hearts, to beg of thee the confirming of thy grace and favour to us; we come to present ourselves before thee, with most, thankful acknowledgments for thy mercies received, and to adore thee who hast so graciously visited us. We come humbly to implore of thee strength against our respective temptations and difficulties in life; to beseech thee to supply all our weaknesses; to make us happily victorious against all our corruptions; and more than conquerors through thee who bast loved us. But, O our bountiful Lord God! if it be such joy to meet those whom we love now in thy presence, what will it be to meet ten thousand glorified spirits, each of which we shall love infinitely more in thy kingdom of glory, than we can do any creature bere! Glory be to thee, O Lord of glory and of love, who hast given us such present pleasure in thy service, and such comfortable hopes of those eternal good things which thou hast prepared for them that love thee. Amen."