« ElőzőTovább »
but to be sung as poetry; and it is all the truer and more truly confessed because so rendered. The fresh critic says of much of this service, why not change it? Why not suit it to the times ? And indeed one may justly press such questions, but the answer also has force : “We want an unchanging assertion of our faith in the worship of God: it ought not to change with the fickle tide of human thought; its real meaning is keyed to unchanging human need; it has met these needs in ages past, and it will meet them for years to come; if you require changes, make them for yourself as you go along - the church is broad and tolerant."
The practical question arises, Has this great system real power; does it keep alive reverence and speak back to the lives of the people? It would be idle to claim that it is the only or main channel of religious life in England. The dissenting churches reach more of the people and enforce a more direct and cogent influence; but neither will or ought to yield to the other; the wise men on either side do not antagonize one another ; each has its field and method. The main value of the established church is its lofty and unshaken assertion of the worth of worship — keeping alive reverence, which is the mother of morality, and furnishing a public environment of the common faith.
This system of form and worship is kept up because the highest culture and intelligence in England believe in it. There is there as here a tide of shallow and conceited thought setting against external observance; it will not deny God but will build Him no altar; it will be reverent but it will not worship by voice or knee. The service, as it is observed in the cathedrals and in the parish churches all over England, and in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland, which are presided over by men equally intelligent and robust in intellect, is the protest of the best minds in Great Britain against the divorce of religion from the forms of religion. We have not, in our country, the aids and bulwarks against this disintegrating influence that are there so effective. The immemorial usage and the thorough organization of worship afford, at least, a covert while the fitful winds of unbelief sweep over the people. Here we have no antiquity that commands veneration, and our organization of worship is slight and shifting. But all the more we need, as individuals and churches, to hold right principles on this subject and cling to good customs. We cannot afford, in this day, to let anything in the way of religious observance pass away without the severest challenge. We can do nothing better for ourselves, for our families, for the faith, than secure for each a full, ministering environment of religious custom. A man should have for himself certain religious habits and usage, — something of an external nature that shall speak back to him in confirmation of his belief; it helps to make it definite, to keep it constant; it bridges over the weak and languid spots in one's experience; it is a body holding together the soul and playing into it from the external world. It is the belief of all churches that the sacraments are an outward sign of inward grace. It is a relation sanctioned by the highest thought of all ages; without religious observance there can be no full, strong, rewarding spiritual life, and hence no real life.
More imperatively is it needed in the household. A family without prayer, without a domestic ritual of worship, is an anomaly; it is as though the body were without an eye or a limb; it will be weak where strength is most needed; it will lack a certain fine flavor and sweetness, and will grow hard and dreary, and at last desolate because the avenues of light and lasting joy and peace have been kept closed. And for like reasons, the claims of the Church should be heeded. It is the altar before which every man should worship, because he is linked to an external world, and also to a world of fellow-men.
If you would have a faith, put under it a solid earth, and overarch it with an infinite heaven; stand firm on one, and look steadfastly into the other.