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III. To state the obligations incumbent on Christians to assemble together for public worship, and for engaging in the private duties connected with the observance of the sabbath.
These are many and forcible, arising both from the divine commands, and from our own interest. It is certain, that God did, from the beginning, appoint the seventh day of the week to be observed by our first parents in paradise, for commemorating the work of creation; and that it was kept sacred by the patriarchs for religious purposes. When however, men began to lose sight of the original institution of the sabbath, God renewed the injunction of it to the Israelites; by embodying it among those ten commandments, which have been usually denominated the moral law. Thus, the observance of the sabbath was rendered as indispensible in its obligation, as any other of those statutes, which have been always regarded as fundamental laws for the regulation of human conduct. There is no reason why the fourth commandment, which enjoins us to remember the sabbatll-day, to keep it holy, should not be as strictly obeyed as the sixth, which forbids us to kill; or why the violation of the former should not be reckoned as heinous a sin as that of the latter. If then we consider the murderer who transgresses the sixth command, or the adulterer who violates the seventh, sinners who deserve the vengeance of both God and man; shall we not also stigmatize the sabbathbreaker with the same character? He is guilty of a breach of the moral law, as well as others who may be deemed more notorious offenders. Accordingly we are taught thus to judge, “ that whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, do not commit adultery, said also do not steal; now if thon commit no adultery, yet if thou steal, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” For the same reason, we may say, though we neither kill nor steal; yet if we assemble not together on the sabbath-day, for worshipping God, we disobey the fourth commandment. If, then, we would not live in the transgression of
a positive precept; let us not spend the sabbath in doing `our own work, and seeking our own pleasure; for thereby we are guilty of sin, and should instantly return from the error of our ways, to the wisdom and obedience of the just. If we would have respect to all God's commandments, let us obey this as well as any others which we hold sacred; for our obligation to observe the divine statutes is universal, as we are required to walk in all his ordinances blameless. It is our duty to submit to his will, in every injunction by which it is made known; as he hath a right to impose whatever laws he may deem requisite for enforcing our obedience.
When, besides, we discover reasons which render the observance of a precept necessary for promoting some important purpose, our obligations to adhere to it appear in a clearer light. These reasons are obvious and undeniable. The institution of the sabbath, and the services to which it is devoted, are calculated to promote the glory of God, and the welfare of men; and therefore whatever can be proved to have this tendency, is obligatory on us to perform. It will readily be allowed, that we are bound to worship and glorify God; acknowledging our depen dence on him for life, and breath, and all things. The light of nature taught the heathen to erect altars and temples for honouring their deities, and they convened together for offering up their common devotions. The sacred scriptures teach us also, that "God is glorified in the assemblies of his saints, and honoured by those who draw near unto him." Is it not our duty therefore to pay him that homage which is due unto his name, and assemble together, to express in common our reverence and adoration to our common Creator? Is it not right to worship and bow down, to kneel before the Lord our Maker in one assembly; that by the united effusions of pious exclamations, we may heighten that glory which is so just a tribute from us his dependent creatures?
If the union of many tends to accomplish any purpose better than the single effort of one individual; in like manner the collection of a number of pious people to celebrate the divine praises, and supplicate the divine favour, is a
more solemn and appropriate mode of glorifying God, than the separate worship of every individual. If therefore we regard it as our duty to advance the glory of God; if we acknowledge that he is worthy of all honour, dominion, and praise; and if he hath enjoined that by all the people he will be glorified; we should consider social worship in the congregation of his saints, as an obligation of primary importance; by which we avouch the Lord to be our God, and that we are his people and the workmanship of his hands.
But God does not require us to engage in social worship so much to glorify himself, as to promote our own advantage. He knows how much we stand in need of every means to impress us with a sense of religion, and how much we want to be reminded of our duty; and therefore hath appointed the public services of the church, to serve as constant remembrancers of those religious and moral obligations incumbent on us as men and Christians. By them we may increase our devotional feelings, by them we may advance in useful knowledge; by them we may improve in the Christian character, and by them be prepared for the kingdom of heaven. And is it not our duty to avail ourselves of such useful aids in working out our salvation ? Shall. we be regardless, whether we attain these ornaments of our nature, or neglect them; whether we arrive at glory or come short of it ? Surely not. As sure, however, as the possession of knowledge, piety, and virtue, are necessary to render us meet for serving God here and enjoying him hereafter; so sure is it that the assembling of ourselves together to acquire a relish for spiritual exercises, and impressing our minds with religious sentiments is necessary, as the outward and ordinary means of promoting our edification and growth in grace. If therefore we would secure the better part which shall never be taken away from us, if we would employ the instruments which God hath ordained for saving them that believe; let us consider attendance on the public ordinances of Christianity as an indispensible obligation, which we dare not violate but at our utmost peril. Another consideration which should have no small
weight in determining us to wait upon God in his house of prayer, is, that there in an especial manner may we expect the divine blessing. The Almighty of old declared, that "he loved the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob." There accordingly the pious and the holy men of old resorted for presenting their morning and evening oblations, and for hearing the words of the law read and expounded for their instruction in righteousness. And often doubtless did they experience the loving-kindness of the Lord, and rejoice in the God of their salvation. The Christian in these days of the gospel, may cherish the same expectation, of deriving gracious communications from on high, when inquiring in the temple of God. For his Saviour hath promised, that where two or three are gathered together in his name, there is he in the midst of them. By the secret influences of his Spirit, he will quicken the devotions of the pious worshipper; by kindling in his soul the holy flame of sacred love, he will inspire him with ecstatic rapture; by convincing his understanding of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, he will excite him to purposes of new obedience; and by soothing his mind with the consolations of the gospel, he will produce a joy unspeakable and full of glory. If such be the effects arising from the holy use of religious ordinances, is it not incumbent on every Christian, to employ the means which may be blessed with the communications of grace, and strength for every time of need? If we would have the ordinances of religion beneficial for our sanctification, let us not cease to assemble ourselves together, and implore that divine assistance, which is usually bestowed on those who worship God in spirit and in truth.
A last motive which should influence us, not only to attend the ordinances of religion in public; but also to engage in the duties of reading and meditation, self-examination of our own conduct, and communicating instruction to our dependents, in private, is; that thereby we may impress upon our minds, by our own reflections, the sacred truths which we learn from the scriptures, and render them effectual for inspiring our hearts with the love of holiness. It is only by our own resolutions formed upon
serious reflection, that we can profit by the means of grace afforded us for our edification. It is only by considering in the hours of retirement the sins that most easily beset us, that we can be brought to a sense of their demerit; it is only by communing with our own hearts, that we can perceive the obligations of new obedience; and it is only by private devotion, that we can earnestly implore the divine aid to help our infirmities, and strengthen us for the performance of our several duties.—When then, the sabbath has been appropriated for these important purposes, let us employ it in those spiritual exercises which are so indispensible for our improvement. Is not the well-being of our souls the most momentous concern of every one who would secure his salvation ? And are not the means of grace as necessary to be used for attaining everlasting life, as labour and industry for procuring the meat which perisheth? Shall we spend a whole week in providing for the body, and allot no time for the sanctification of the soul? Alas! our worldly occupations render us so much cumbered about many things, that we have no leisure to attend to the one thing needful. But, when the sabbath is appointed, for the purpose of affording us an opportunity of withdrawing our affections from the world, that we may think of God and the things above; is it not incumbent on every one, who would prepare for that future state which awaits us, to inquire diligently at this season of leisure what he must do to be saved? Is it not the duty of every one, who would wish to see his domestics and children walk in the truth, to instil into their minds on this day of relaxation from the business of life, such principles as may direct them in the path of righteousness ? Let then every one be duly sensible of the importance of consecrating the Christian sabbath to those public and private exercises, which may enable him so to pass through things temporal, as not finally to lose the things eternal. That we may be excited to do this, consider, shortly,
IV. As the application of the subject;