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THE DAILY SERVICE A LAW IN GOD’S KINGDOM.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved/
WE here read the very remarkable fact, that the Apostles and the whole Church of Christ still continued,, after the day of Pentecost, to attend the daily service of the temple. It must be remembered, that at this time not only was the whole mystery of our Lord’s passion already completed and revealed; not only had He risen and given authority to His Apostles to gather out His Church by the sacrament of baptism; but He had also shed abroad on them the fulness of the Holy Ghost, and they had actually begun to gather together the members of His mystical body. In the words which go before those I have read to you, we are told that three thousand souls had been baptised into the Church; that this body of the faithful “continued stedfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers;” that they “had all things common:” and yet of this definite, organised, isolated body, a Church fully formed, and conscious of its own personality, we read that “they continued daily in the temple.” Surely nothing can more strikingly shew that the Apostles and first Christians knew themselves to be still bound by the primary laws of faith to worship God in public every day. The truth is this: God had commanded daily worship to His elder Church: morning and evening the sacrifice was offered to Him in the temple. So long as His elder Church was still on trial, and, though guilty of Christ’s blood, not yet cast off, the daily service was still accepted in its ancient line. The Apostles, with the full light of the Gospel, continued to partake of it. There was nothing contrariant between God’s elder and later dispensation. They both worshipped Him in His temple, and offered the eucharistical sacrifice in their upper chambers. The time was not yet come when the daily sacrifice should be taken from the elder, and given to the Catholic Church. Until this time came, the Church of Christ daily served God in the courts of the sanctuary on Mount Zion. When the time came that Jerusalem should be overthrown, and the Divine Presence forsake His temple, the daily service passed to the altars of the Catholic Church. The daily worship of the Apostolic Church was the daily service of the Jewish, taken up, continued, illuminated, and transfigured with the glory of the Gospel. It was the same daily service which Aaron offered fifteen hundred years before, filled with spirit and truth. And so we find from the earliest dawn of the Church of Christ, that the daily service was an universal law, lying at the very root of its spiritual life. We find even the very same hours of nine and three o’clock, the times of the morning and evening sacrifice, continued. The Church knew that the daily service was an heritage for ever; that the Jews had made forfeit of this blessed heir-loom, and that they in their stead had received it. Now, from what I have said, it is plain that the daily public worship of God is an absolute law, binding the Church of God at all times; that we are bound to observe and hand it on as much as were Moses and Aaron, or Eli, or Josedeck the high-priest; that the Apostles daily worshipped God in the temple, and all Christians received it as a primary, self-evident, or, as we are wont to say, axiomatic law of the Church, that public worship should be daily paid to the Most High.
It would be very easy to go on, and to give a multitude of other proofs, both in the words of holy writ, and from the facts and usages of the universal Church; but I have said enough—first, because it is a fact not denied, that the Catholic Church always from the beginning has daily worshipped God in public; and next, because the duty of excusing or justifying their neglect lies upon those who have departed from the unbroken, universal law of the Church for more than three thou sand years. I shall not therefore offer any more affirmative proofs; nor shall I add any arguments of a controversial sort to refute commonplace objectors. I am speaking not to gainsayers, but to men of good will. My aim now is to say what may assist those who are willing to be persuaded; but feel themselves beset by plausible objections. As for mere gainsayers, they must be dealt with apart. Charity forbids my classing with them the earnest but perplexed minds of whom I speak. I will therefore take and consider a few of the most specious objections which weigh with serious people.
1. As, for instance, it is often said that the daily service is unnecessary now, because of the prevalence of family prayer. There are many strange mistakes in this. First, it assumes that the fathers and masters of families in times past did not worship God in their households, as much as people do now; which is a mere assumption, having no grounds but the fancy of the speaker, and is, more over, contrary to the recorded facts of history. It is perfectly plain that family religion was a prominent feature of the Jewish dispensation, in which the daily service of God was made so absolute and binding. Indeed, this was grafted on the house hold worship of the patriarchs. Also the paschal supper was a household service; all the daily life of the Jews, in every family relation, was full of worship; all through the Old Testament history we have ever emerging tokens of family religion. We find Joshua saying, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;” and such was the rule of every faithful Israelite. The hundred and first Psalm is the very mind of a faithful head of a consecrated household. The same we find running into the New Testament; even among proselytes. Of Cornelius, we are told that he was “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house;” special mention is made of his communicating the vision of the angel to “two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually:”3939 Acts x. 2, and 7, 8. and so, throughout the apostolic writings, household religion is broadly recorded. Very little can they know of the history of the faithful, who in all ages of the Church have most stedfastly waited on God in His daily worship, if they imagine that their households were without God in the world. The private lives of all great saints shew that none so consecrated their homes as they did. In the great examples of the English Church in modern days, we have direct evidence of this.4040 See the lives of Hammond, Nicholas Ferrar, &c. Everybody knows that in the last century, when Christianity in this land seems to have grown both cold and dark almost to extinction, family prayer, no less than the daily service, had well nigh perished. By God’s mercy we have been brought back again to a consciousness of our decline; but it is only the vain self-flattery of the day to talk as if we had less need now of the daily service, because, forsooth, people have begun to hallow again their desecrated homes. The objection is false in its facts. They of old who worshipped God daily in His Church, worshipped Him, far more than we, day by day, in their own house holds. And we painfully overstate the extent to which family worship has been restored. At the most, it is to be found in the houses of the educated, and of some others among the less instructed but more devout of our people. But in the homes of the millions of our population, family worship is still unknown. There is something almost hard hearted in the narrow-minded, short-sighted way in which people use this objection, as if the few thousand households of the richer, or more leisurely, or more educated, or more religious, were all the Church had to care, and to provide, and to think, and to act for. People get into a way of thinking of themselves, and of the little horizon of their own consciousness, as if it were the whole Church of God. They are truly charitable towards all who come in contact with them; but of the wide rough world which howls round their little precinct they are unconscious altogether. But not for them only, her more favoured children, must the Church provide, but for the hundreds of thousands of house holds in which, through the sin of master or mistress, or father or mother, the voice of worship is never heard; that is, for the great bulk of the Church. The Church must open a shelter for the desolate, and dress an altar for those whose lot is cast in households where God is unknown. Therefore, even in this view, the objection rests on false assumptions. Nay, it turns against itself; for if family prayer were never so full an equivalent, as indeed it is not in any way, for the daily service of the Church, how few households possess that equivalent! The very objection would shew the necessity of a daily service for all the rest; that is, for the great bulk of the Church. But, in truth, we are reasoning on a false basis. Family worship is in no sense a substitute for public; and the objector, to be consistent, must extend the argument even to the Sunday, and abolish public worship altogether. Does not this shew that the whole is a confusion of things broadly distinct? Public worship is the perfection of all worship. Personal worship was in the world before the worship of a family, and the united worship of families is the worship of the Church. The private prayers of each member in the house does not discharge him from the duty of joining in the worship of the family; neither does the worship of the family discharge the household from the duty of joining in the daily worship of the Church. The daily ser vice of the Jews was grafted on the household worship of the patriarchs, or, rather, it was developed out of it; in the public worship of the tribes of Israel the household worship of Abraham rose to its perfection: and the same is the daily service of the parish church to the family prayers of every household; these unite men, the other unites families; and such, too, is the daily worship of the universal Church as conceived apart from its several altars, to the worship of all its spiritual families, each under its spiritual head. In a word, there is a personality in the individual man, in the family, and in the Church; and each of these personalities is so related to God as to demand a daily acknowledgment. It is by this means that the visible and conscious unity of the Church is maintained. And it is a remarkable and instructive fact, that, while the Catholic Churches in the East and in the West, from the beginning to this hour, have retained their daily service, they have—in the midst of whatsoever corruption in doctrine and practice may be other wise alleged against them—nevertheless retained also a visible and conscious unity: while certain portions of the Western Church, which in the last three centuries have abandoned the daily service, have lost their visible and conscious unity. They broke the bond, and trod under foot the symbol of unity, which is perpetual visible worship. And the end of this we see. Unity departed first, and truth followed speedily. The daily sacrifice was taken away, and they were broken up; and Churches fell into fragments—into congregations, ever changing, ever resolving themselves into new forms, ever wasting away, gathering round new centres, multiplying, and yet diminishing; they had let the embers on the altar die out untended, and then they sought to rekindle a sacred fire on their own hearth-stone; but the unity, and with the unity the energy, of spiritual life was gone, or it lingered first in families, and then in members of a family, and the chill of the neglected sanctuary spread through the family into the secret chamber; and men’s prayers in their own closets waxed faint and cold. Now this has been our state; and from this we are slowly recovering, anxiously chafing our numbed limbs to life. God be thanked that prayer has grown stronger in secret; that it is passing out of the closet into the family; but God forbid it should ever stay until it has passed out of the family into the sanctuary again. This is the end to which God’s mercy is leading us once more, as He led His servants of old. Ours is a sadder case. Theirs was the steady growth of the first design of God to its full perfection; ours a slow recovery from a perilous decline. Let us beware how we linger by the way, and think the reconsecrating of our homes is all. We have yet to regain the visibleness and consciousness of unity; yet to learn that, though private worship is meetest for our unuttered complainings, and family worship for our earthlier brotherhood, public worship is the bond of our spiritual fellowship, the most perfect work of redeemed man, the highest energy of the new-born soul, and nearest to the bliss of heaven.
2. Another common objection is, that the daily service of the Church is unprofitable, because so few are able to attend it. Of the ability I will speak hereafter; at present we will take for granted that only few can attend. Certainly too many there cannot be. The more, the more blessed. But why should any be defrauded of a blessing because others deprive themselves of it? Daily service is either a blessing, or it is not. If any man will undertake to shew that it is no blessing, in God’s name let him speak out, or else for ever hereafter hold his peace. We have yet to see the man who will undertake this task. But if it be a blessing, why should any be defrauded of it; and they, too, for the most part, such as stand in most need of it? Why should Simeon and Anna be thrust back from the gate that is “called beautiful,” because others see “no comeliness “in it “that they should desire “it? What is it that men, and sometimes good men, would say, when they talk of the profitableness or unprofitableness of this or that in religion? In what company of the merchants of Midian were they so nurtured as to be unconscious of the bartering, selfish, unhallowed temper which breathes through such a word? Is it not fearfully like to his words who asked, “Doth Job serve God for naught?” Alas! we are cast upon an age of merchandise. All our life savours of it. Our theology draws its parallels from it. Our sanctuaries are built by its schemes. Our very hearts buy and sell in the temple; whereby we may know that He is not far off who, with a scourge of cords, once cleansed His Father’s house: and “who may abide the day of His coming, or who shall stand when He appeareth?” God forbid we should come to this place only because it is profitable to us! We worship God because it is an homage due to Him. What is right is always profitable; but woe to the man that does right only that he may be profited! Honesty is the best policy; but he is no honest man who pays his just debts only that he may be a gainer. He is no better than a sordid, unprincipled man, who would just as lief defraud his creditors as pay them, if only the balance of profit lay on that side. Even the heathen of old were wiser than our philosophers now-a-days. We are gravely told that the expedient will always be found to be the right. Most true; but conscience is man’s guide in moral actions; and it is not conscience, but calculation, which judges of the expedient. Let a man do right, and he will infallibly do what is expedient. God has given him a moral sight to discern the right as the test and as the including form of true expediency: to invert the order of our moral and reasonable constitution, is like pretending to judge of tastes by the smell or the hearing. For once that we may be right, we shall mistake a thousand times. And so in the holiest things; we have no test of what is profitable but what is right. We have no warrant to use the word, except in speaking of what it is our duty to do. St. Paul says, “I profited in the Jews religion above many my equals,”4141 Gal. i. 14. and that was in the way I speak of, i.e. exact conformity to the rule of duty. There is no form of evil, heresy and schism included, into which a man who, instead of what is ordered, makes what is profitable his test in religion, is not likely to fall. And now to take up once more our subject:
The daily worship of God in public is a visible act of homage due to Him as the Creator and Preserver of the world, and as the Redeemer and Sanctifier of the Church. It is a solemn approach and address to the Majesty unseen. The seraphim veil their faces before Him on high; the cherubim adore in the glory of His presence; arch angels and angels cry aloud; the heavens, and all the powers therein, night and day worship the Lord of Hosts; the holy Church throughout all the world evermore in matins and evensong doth acknowledge and confess the living and true God: it is a visible creed, uttered in symbol, set forth in oblations, chants, and bended knees; it is the new born life, reaching out its hands unto the Great Father, deep calling unto deep; the one baptism, calling upon the regeneration of all things; the new creation of God, manifesting itself to the eye of flesh in the midst of this wrongful and turbulent world. This is the meaning which angels read in the daily worship of the Church on earth. Let us read no less. Even though nothing else could be said for the daily public service of God in His Church, let this suffice. Whether it be profitable or no to pay God His due homage, if any doubt now, he shall know in the morning of the resurrection. It is plain, then, that though there be never so few in His house, this homage is both due and acceptable in His sight. He has been before hand with our objections, and has said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them;” to every, the smallest, gathering of His one Church He has pledged His presence. And their homage is no less acceptable than the worship of the heavenly companies whom no man can number, whose songs are as the voice of many waters. To object on the score of the smallness of the congregation, is a direct slight of our Lord’s promise, and an unintended confession that men have forgotten the whole theory of worship, which is homage paid to the unseen presence of God.
And, besides this, it is manifest that the duty of worshipping God day by day rests upon the same ground as the obedience of faith. How incongruous is it for those who so jealously contend that the works of faith are a free service, to talk of profitableness, as if that were the test of public worship! The whole life of faith is a free service—as it were, a perpetual eucharist: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.” And how intimately does this harmonise with all that has been said of the daily homage due to God! From the rising to the going down of the sun, the Church redeemed from the gates of hell offers her daily eucharist; not asking, How shall this profit me? but ever saying, “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God.” By this, again, that is by the whole idea and spirit of a life of faith, the low calculations of profit are excluded from the subject of the daily service.
But that it may not seem as if the objection had the lightest weight, I will say that the highest and most real profit of the Christian is, after all, to be found in the daily worship of Almighty God. I might content myself with saying, it must be so, because it is a homage and an eucharistical offering due to God our Redeemer. But I will explain what I mean more fully. In the daily service of the Church, we are brought more sensibly under the shadow of the unseen world than at any other time. Though we may have livelier feelings at other times of prayer, certainly never have we so great a sense of awe and reverence as in the house of God. It thereby sustains, by a perpetual help, the ever-fainting faith of our hearts: it keeps a daily check upon this visible world, which is always growing up about us and closing us in on every side. First, then, it is a witness for the unseen world. Next, it strengthens the habits of devotion. Let any one who has kept a watch upon himself say, whether it is not most certain that at no time is his mind more fenced from distraction, and more drawn towards the object of worship, by the out ward admonitions of the eye and ear, than in the church. And this passes into all the acts of divine service,—into the confessions, prayers, praises, thanksgivings. Again; there is a direct incitement to devotion in the consciousness of united worship. So it was ordained by the constitution of man’s heart; and this natural feeling is the bond of the communion of saints. Man was as little made to worship alone, as to live alone: united homage is the destined bliss of man. And, once more; there are special promises made to united prayer: Christ has promised to be in the midst of us, and to grant what we ask with one accord. We cannot limit this blessing: no man can say how great it may be. And shall any man say that this is not profitable? or that all this is not necessary for every redeemed soul of man? or that daily worship is a duty less binding, and a blessing less to be longed for, in a parish where there are only two or three who come to share it, than in a parish where there are two or three thousand? Duties and blessings are no more to be determined by numbers than are the gifts of the Holy Ghost to be purchased with money. Wheresoever there is a church, an altar, and a priest, there God looks for His daily homage, and there He will hallow, by large gifts of daily benediction, the souls of the two or three who wait upon Him. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” All the services and sacraments of Christ are as necessary for the sanctification of one soul as of the whole Church on earth.
3. Again; it is sometimes said, that the pastors of the Church have no time for daily service; that if they were every day in the church, they would have less time to give to visiting their people, managing their schools, and the like. It is considerate in people to allege these reasons for them, though assuredly they would not allege them for themselves. And that because they know that the Church strictly commands “all priests and deacons” to “say daily the morning and evening prayer, either privately or openly, not being let by sickness or some other urgent cause;” and also, that “the curate that ministereth in every parish church or chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the parish church or chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto, a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God’s word, and to pray with him;”4242 Preface to Book of Common Prayer. and also that the Church, in the Ordination Service, places the ministering in the church foremost among the offices of the priest hood. So far from diverting their time, it would give it a fixedness and regularity which would wonderfully extend their pastoral usefulness. Every day, at a certain hour, their people would know where to find them, for counsel, or consolation, or help of any kind. Nothing would more assist them in their office, than a habit formed in their people, of coming to seek them in the place where the parish priest is daily known to stand ministering in the order of his office. They are now too often compelled to act in an obstructed and unheeded way, as a mere visitor or reader in the cottages of their people; and they that have most tried it will best know how hard it is to win their thoughts from the crowd of household-work which lies around them. What we want is, to stir our people to some more direct, personal, energetic acts of religion, than the passive listening to a sermon, either in church or out of it. The act of coming to the house of God, and praying, is such an act; but of this part of the subject we are not speaking now. The clergy of the Church would be greatly furthered in their pastoral work, by a disposition in their people to join them in daily worship. It would restore, also, to their office its true but most forgotten character, and bring down unknown blessings upon their ministry.
4. I will notice only one more objection. It is said, that the habits of life are so changed as to make daily service impossible. And certainly, when we see that from sunrise to sunset the working-man is at his labour; the mechanic or manufacturer twelve or sixteen hours a day at his furnace or his loom; the man of business, the lawyer, the trader, from nine or ten in the morning to five or six in the evening, ever toiling; the man of the world, even still more laboriously, and without relaxation, bound down to the round of courtesies, and engagements, and usages of life,—we may well confess that the habits of life are changed—but for the worse. Once the world waited upon the Church, and took its hours and seasons from the hours and seasons of God’s worship; His service went first in the cycle of all the goings-on of life: but now all is reversed. The Church must wait upon the world. Worship is thrust aside; is pent up in one day of the seven; is narrowed to one service in that one day. The poor working-man wrings a scant livelihood out of an over-laboured week. Six whole days are his earthly master’s share: one is all he has for God and his own soul. Far worse is it with the poor sicklied workman in the manufactory; and hence comes a sour and restless discontent. Life is an uncheered, grating toil, which jars and galls the whole man in soul and body. Life has for them few gleams, little or nothing of gladness or of freedom: even wife and children, which make the natural heart to spring, give to a wearied and saddened people but little happiness. In them they see their own toil-worn life, as if it would never end, beginning over again. So, too, with the learned professions, and with rich traders, and men of commerce; they are ever complaining of an unrelieved pressure of daily toil. Many men fairly break down in body or mind, under the stress of life. Of those who cannot wait on God daily, because they are so over-laboured in doing the nothingnesses of society, I need hardly speak; and yet these are the habits of life which are pleaded in bar of the daily worship of God. Times and habits are changed; indeed, and miserably for the worse: changed so that all men are crying out for rest, and for release from an oppressive burden; so that the great adversary of God’s Church has prevailed, through these changes, to turn God’s house to a desolation, and to make fast its porches against our endeavours to return. Well were it if this merely external hinderance were all he had raised between us and the daily homage of the Church. Perhaps at no time was the moral disposition of man so alienated from daily public prayer. We have not only lost this great axiom of the Church, but the very intuition to perceive it. It has become a matter of inquiry, and doubt, and argument. It is faintly affirmed, and vehemently gainsayed. Be it then ever remembered, that the daily service of the Apostolic Church was grafted on the daily service of the Jewish. The whole body of the first Christians assumed it as a law in God’s Church for ever. Men have now abandoned it as a body; and its hold, even over individual minds, is comparatively faint. The best are unconscious how awful a silence there is between God and a Church which does Him homage only one day in seven: and in this silence must grow up a still more awful strangeness; and the Church have fewer tokens of the Divine presence, and fainter reflections of His imparted sanctity.
Now it is most certain, that the habits of life are not so absolute, but that a little firmness would soon throw them again into a better order. Let us only resolve to “seek first the kingdom of God;” to take the cycle and the seasons of the Church as our governing rule, and to make our lives bend to its appointments. When once the Church has restored the solemn days of fast and festival, and the stated hours of daily prayer, there will be an order marked out for all men of good will to follow. And, at the last, we shall once more see this fretful, busy world checked, and for a while cast out, by the presence of the world unseen. Its bur den will be sensibly lessened; and the hearts of men will have some shelter, and rest to turn to, in the dry and glaring turmoil of life.
Then among us, as of old, men may go up in secret to the house of prayer, to make their sin-offerings, and their peace-offerings, and their offerings of thanks. No sun should then go down on sins unconfessed, or blessings unacknowledged; and if any be truly hindered, still in their own home, or by the way-side, or in crowded marts, or in busy cities, or in the fields,—when the bell is heard afar off, or the known hour of prayer is come, they may say with us the confession and the Lord’s prayer; and though far from us on earth may meet us in the court of heaven.
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