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Things to be meditated on as thou goest to the Church.
1. That thou art going to the court of the Lord, and to speak with the great God by prayer; and to hear his majesty speak unto thee by his word; and to receive his blessing on thy soul, and thy honest labour, in the six days past.
2. Say with thyself by the way—“As the hart brayeth for the rivers of water, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, even for the living God: When shall I come and appear before the presence of God? For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tabernacles of wickedness. Therefore I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercies, and in thy fear will I worship toward thine holy temple.”
3. As thou enterest into the church, say—“How fearful is this place! This is none other but the house of God; this is the gate of heaven. Surely the Lord is in this place: God is in this people indeed.” And prostrating with thy face downward (1 Cor. xiv. 25), being come to thy place, say—“O Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy honour dwelleth: One thing, therefore, have I desired of thee, that I will require, even that I may dwell in thy house all the. days of my life, to behold thy beauty, and to visit thy temple: Therefore will I offer in thy tabernacle sacrifices of joy, I will sing and praise the Lord. Hearken unto my voice, O Lord, when I cry; have mercy also upon me, and hear me. Doubtless, kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell for ever in the house of the Lord.” And this is that preparation, or looking to our feet, to which Solomon advises us before we enter into the house of God (Eccl. v. 1.)
The Second sort of Duties which are to be performed at the time of the holy Assembly.
When prayers begin, lay aside thy own private meditations, and let thy heart join with the minister and the whole church, as being one body of Christ (1 Cor. xii. 12;) and because that God is the God of order, he will have all things to be done in the church with one heart and accord (Acts ii. 46;) and the exercises of the church are common and public (chap. iv. 32.) It is therefore an ignorant pride, for a man to think his own private prayers more effectual than the public prayers of the whole church. Solomon therefore advises a man not to be rash to utter a thing in the church before God. Pray, therefore, when the church prayeth, sing when they sing; and in the action of kneeling, standing, sitting, and such indifferent ceremonies (for the avoiding of scandal, the continuance of charity, and in testimony of thine obedience), conform thyself to the manner of the church wherein thou livest (Ezek. xlvi. 10; Psal. cx. 3.)
Whilst the preacher is expounding and applying the word of the Lord, look upon him; for it is a great help to stir up thine attention, and to keep thee from wandering thoughts: so the eyes of all that were in the synagogue are said to have been fastened on Christ whilst he preached, and that all the people hanged upon him when they heard him. Remember that thou art there as one of Christ’s disciples, to learn the knowledge of salvation, by the remission of sins, through the tender mercy of God (Luke i. 77.)
Be not, therefore, in the school of Christ, like an idle boy in a grammar-school, that often hears, but never learns his lesson; and still goes to school, but profiteth nothing. Thou hatest it in a child—Christ detesteth it in thee. To the end, therefore, that thou mayest the better profit by hearing, mark—
1. The coherence and explication of the text.
2. The chief sum or scope of the Holy Ghost in that text.
3. The division or parts of the text.
4. The doctrines; and in every doctrine the proofs, the reasons, and the uses thereof.
A method, of all others, easiest for the people (being accustomed to it), to help them to remember the sermon; and therefore all faithful pastors, who desire to edify their people in the knowledge of God, and in his true religion, much wish it to be put in practice.
If the preacher’s method be too curious or confused, then labour to remember—
1. How many things he taught which thou knewest not before; and be thankful.
2. What sins he reproved, whereof thy conscience tells thee that thou art guilty; and therefore must be amended.
3. What virtues he exhorted unto, which are not so perfect in thee; and therefore endeavour to practise them with more zeal and diligence.
But in hearing, apply every speech as spoken to thyself, rather by God than by man (Isa. ii. 3; Acts x. 33; Gal. iv. 14; 1 Thess. ii. 13;) and labour not so much to hear the words of the preacher sounding in thine ear, as to feel the operation of the Spirit working in thy heart. Therefore it is said so often, “Let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit speaks to the church,” (Rev. ii. 7;) and, “Did not our hearts burn within us whilst he opened unto us the Scriptures?” (Luke xxiv. 32.) And thus to hear the word, hath a blessing promised to it (Luke xi. 28.) It is the most acceptable sacrificing of ourselves unto God (Rom. xv. 16.) It is the surest note of Christ’s saints (Deut. xxxiii. 3;) the truest mark of Christ’s sheep (John x. 4;) the most apparent sign of God’s elect (John viii. 47; xviii. 37;) the very blood, as it were, which unites us to be the spiritual kindred, brethren and sisters of the Son of God (Luke i. 21; Mark iii. 35.) This is the best art of memory for a good hearer.
When the sermon is ended—
1. Beware thou depart not like the nine lepers, till, for thine instruction to saving health, thou hast returned thanks and praise to God by an after prayer, and singing of a psalm. And when the blessing is pronounced, stand up to receive thy part therein, and hear it as if Christ himself (whose minister he is) did pronounce the same unto thee: For in this case it is true, “He that heareth you heareth me,” (Luke x. 16;) and the Sabbath day is blessed, because God hath appointed it to be the day wherein by the mouth of his ministers he will bless his people which hear his word and glorify his name (Num. vi. 23, 27.) For though the Sabbath day in itself be no more blessed than the other six days, yet, because the Lord hath appointed it to holy uses above others, it as far excels the other days of the week as the consecrated bread which we receive at the Lord’s table does the common bread which we eat at our own table.
2. If it be a communion-day, draw near to the Lord’s table in the wedding garment of a faithful and penitent heart, to be partaker of so holy a banquet.
And when baptism7575I cannot refrain from remarking the careless and indifferent manner in which too often this divine ordinance is administered, as well as witnessed. And it is a fact, evident to the most common observer, that, generally, the minister who lays the greatest stress upon the regenerating efficacy of the mere rite itself, is the most remarkable for the indevout and regardless manner in which he performs the sacred service; so that spectators who knew no better might well suppose that he was hurrying over some unmeaning and distasteful ceremony, destitute of divine sanction, which had been imposed upon him, instead of dispensing a holy ordinance, necessary to salvation, commanded by Christ himself. is to be administered, stay and behold it with all reverent attention, that so thou mayest—First, Shew thy reverence to God’s ordinance; Secondly, That thou mayest the better consider thine own ingrafting into the visible body of Christ’s church, and how thou performest the vows of thy new covenant; Thirdly, That thou mayest repay thy debts, in praying for the infant which is to be baptized (as other Christians did in the like case for thee), that God would give him the inward effects of baptism, by his blood and Spirit; Fourthly, That thou mayest assist the church in praising God for grafting another member into his mystical body; Fifthly, That thou mayest prove whether the effects of Christ’s death killeth sin in thee, and whether thou be raised to newness of life by the virtue of his resurrection; and so to be humbled for thy wants, and to be thankful for his graces; Sixthly, To shew thyself to be a freeman of Christ’s corporation, having a voice or consent in the admission of others into that holy society.
And thus far of the duties to be performed in the holy assembly.
Now of the Third sort of Duties after the holy Assembly.
As thou returnest home, or when thou art entered into thy house, meditate a little while upon those things which thou hast heard. And as the clean beasts which chew the cud (Lev. xi. 3), so must thou bring again to thy remembrance that which thou hast heard in the church. And then kneeling down, turn all to prayer, beseeching God to give such a blessing to those things which thou hast heard, that they may be a direction to thy life, and a consolation unto thy soul (Psal. cxix. 11.) For till the word be thus made our own, and, as it were, close hidden in our hearts, we are in danger lest Satan steal it away, and we shall receive no profit thereby (Matt. xiii. 19.) And when thou goest to dinner, in that reverent and thankful manner before prescribed, remember, according to thy ability, to have one or more poor Christians, whose hungry bowels may be refreshed with thy meat; imitating holy Job, who protested that he did never eat his morsel alone, without the good company of the poor and fatherless (Job xxxi. 17, 18:) that is the commandment of Christ our Master (Luke xiv. 13.) Or at leastwise, send some part of thy dinner to the poor who lies sick in the back-lane, without any food (Esth. ix. 22;) for this will bring a blessing upon all thy works and labours (Deut. xv. 10, &c.;) and it will one day more rejoice thy soul than it doth now refresh his body, when Christ shall say unto thee, “O blessed child of God! I was an hungered, and thou gavest me meat,” &c. And, “forasmuch as thou hast done it for my sake to the least of these my brethren, I take it in as good part as if thou hadst done it to my own self.”
When dinner is ended, and the Lord praised, call thy family together;7676If thou be a private man, either perform these holy duties by thyself, or join with some godly family in the performance of them. examine what they have learned in the sermon (Acts xvii. 11; Heb. v. 14;) commend them that do well, yet discourage not them whose memories or capacities are weaker, but rather help them, for their wills and minds may be as good. Turn to the proofs which the preacher alleged, and rub those good things over their memories again (Deut. vi. 7.) Then sing a psalm or more (Matt. xxvi. 30; Jam. v. 13.) If time permit, thou mayest teach and examine them in some part of the catechism (Heb. vi. 1), conferring every point with the proofs of the holy Scripture. This will both increase our knowledge and sharpen our memory; seeing by experience we find, that in every trade they who are most exercised are ever most expert (Heb. v. 14.) But in anywise, remember so to dispose all these private exercises, as that thou mayest be with the first in the holy congregation at the evening exercise; where behave thyself in the like devotion and reverence as was prescribed for the holy exercise of the morning.
After evening prayer, and at thy supper, behave thyself in the like religious and holy manner as was formerly prescribed. And either before or after supper, if the season of the year and weather do serve—
1. Walk into the fields and meditate upon the works of God; for in every creature thou mayest read, as in an open book, the wisdom, power, providence, and goodness of Almighty God (Psal. xcii. 5; xix. 1, &c.; viii. 1, 3, &c.; Rom. i. 19, 20;) and that none is able to make all these things in the variety of their forms, virtues, beauties, life, motions, and qualities, but our most glorious God (Isa. xl. 26.)
2. Consider how gracious he is that made all these things to serve us (Psal. viii.)
3. Take occasion hereby to stir up both thyself and others to admire and adore his power, wisdom, and goodness; and to think what ungrateful wretches we are, if we will not, in all obedience, serve and honour him.
4. If any neighbour be sick, or in any heaviness, go to visit him (Jam. v. 14, &c.) If any be fallen at variance, help to reconcile them.
To conclude, three sorts of works may lawfully be done on the Sabbath day.
1. Works of piety, which either directly concern the service of God, though they be performed by bodily labour; as, under the law, the priests laboured in killing and dressing of sacrifices, and burning them on the altar (Matt. xii. 5.) And Christians under the Gospel when they travel far to the places of God’s worship, it is but a Sabbath day’s journey (Acts i. 12), like to that of the Shunamite, who travelled from home to hear the prophet on the Sabbath day, because she had no teaching near her own dwelling (2 Kings iv. 22.) And the preacher, though he labours in the sweat of his brow to the wearying of his body, yet he doth but a Sabbath day’s work. For the holy end sanctifieth the work, as the temple did the gold, or the altar the gift thereon;—or else such bodily labour, whereby the people of God are assembled to his worship, as the sounding of trumpets under the law (Numb. x. 2, 3), or the ringing of bells under the gospel.
2. Works of charity, as to save the life of a man (John v. 9; Mark iii. 4), or of a beast (Matt. xii. 11;) to fodder, water, and dress cattle (Luke xiii. 15;) to make honest provision of meat and drink (Matt. xii. l;) to refresh ourselves, and to relieve the poor, to visit the sick, to make collections for the poor, and such like (1 Cor. xvi. 1.)
3. Works of necessity, not feigned, but present and imminent, and such as could not be prevented before, nor can be deferred to another day—as to resist the invasion of enemies, or the robberies of thieves; to quench the rage of fire, and for physicians to stanch or let blood, or to cure any other desperate disease; and for midwives to help women in labour; mariners may do their labour; soldiers, being assailed, may fight; and such like. On these or the like occasions, a man may lawfully work. Yea, and when they are called, they may, upon any of these occasions, go out of the church, and from the holy exercises of the word and sacraments: provided always, that they be humbled that such occasions fall out upon that day and time; and that they take no money for their pains on that day, but only for their stuff, as in the fear of God, and conscience of his commandment.
When the time of rest approaches, retire thyself to some private place; and knowing that in the state of corruption no man living can sanctify a Sabbath in that spiritual manner that he should, but that he commits many breaches thereof, in his thoughts, words, and deeds, humbly crave pardon for thy defects, and reconcile thyself to God, with this or the like evening sacrifice:—
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