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SERMON divine blessing, to form at last a deep impression on the mind.
At the same time, I do not say that religious institutions work upon the mind like a charm; and that mere bodily attendance on them will always ensure us of some profitable effect. Let the means that are employed, for the improvement of rational beings, be ever so powerful in themselves, much of their success will always depend on the manner in which they are received and applied. I shall therefore conclude my reasonings on this subject, with a few observations concerning the dispositions requi site on our part, for deriving benefit from the public ordinances of religion.
THE ends for which we assemble in the house of God, are two; to worship God, and to listen to religious instructions.
The public worship of God is the chief and most sacred purpose of every religious assembly of Christians. Let it here be remembered, that it is not the uttering, or the hearing of certain words, that constitutes the worship of the Almighty. It is the heart that praises or prays. If the heart accom
pany not the words that are spoken or heard, SERMON we offer the sacrifice of fools. By the inattentive thought, and the giddy and wandering eye, we profane the temple of the Lord, and turn the appearance of devotion into insult and mockery.
With regard to religious instruction, attention and reverence are unquestionably due. All religious and moral knowledge comes from God. It is a light from heaven, first transmitted to man by the original constitution of his nature, and afterwards made to shine with fairer and fuller lustre by the revelation of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Its brightness may sometimes be stronger, and sometimes weaker, according to the mediums by which it is conveyed. But still, as far as the instructions delivered from the pulpit are illuminated by the ray from heaven, they are the truths of God, and ought to be received as such. Refinements of vain philosophy, or intricate subtilties of theological controversy, are undoubtedly not entitled to such regard. But when the great principles of natural or revealed religion are discussed; when the important doctrines of the gospel concerning the life,
SERMON and sufferings, and death of our blessed Re
deemer are displayed; or useful instructions regarding the regulation of life, and the proper discharge of our several duties, are the subjects brought into view; it is not then the human speaker, but the divine authority, that is to be regarded.
In the speaker, many imperfections and infirmities may be discovered. The discoveries of the Gospel are represented in scripture, as a hidden treasure brought to light; but, by the appointment of God, we have this treasure in earthen vessels *. It is not the spirit of curiosity that ought to bring us to church. Too often, it is to be feared, we assemble there merely as critics on the preacher; critics on his sentiments, his language, and his delivery. But, such are not the dispositions which become us on so serious an occasion. It is with humility, with fairness, and candour, with an intention to improve ourselves in piety and virtue, with a view to make personal application to our own character, that we ought to hear the word of God. When we
enter the sacred temple, let us ever consider
2 Corinth. iv. 7.
ourselves as creatures surrounded with dark- SERMON ness, seeking illumination from Heaven; as guilty creatures, imploring forgiveness from our judge; as frail and mortal creatures, preparing for that eternal habitation into which we know not how soon we are to pass.
IF with such sentiments and impressions we join in the worship of God, and the ordinances of religion, we may justly hope that they shall be accompanied to us with the divine blessing. It is the express precept of God, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together *. Gather together the people, men, women, and children, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and words of this law †. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give unto the Lord the glory due to his name.Thus hath God commanded, and he never commanded his people to seek his name in vain. For, where two or three are gathered together in his name, our Lord hath told us
*Heb. x. 25.
observe to do all the
Deut. xxxi. 12.
SERMON that he is in the midst of them*
God hats said, that he loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob †. prayer of the upright is his delight. Both in their temporal and spiritual concerns, they may be most expected to prosper, who can say with the Psalmist in the text, Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.