« PreviousContinue »
members. A liturgy is more to be considered, first, in respect to its immediate and direct object; and, next, in regard to its collateral influences on the minds of the worshippers.
Prayer, in its nature and primary design, must be the same, whether exercised in communion with others, and in the Church, or in the most private retirement. There will, therefore, in both cases, be the same objects to provide for in the composition of prayer. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” is an universal precept, and on the principle which it involves should prayer of every kind be commenced. The pardon of sins—the increase of faith and other spiritual graces—the constant protection and blessing of God in the great work of salvation-these are the grand objects of supplication; and it matters not whether we be praying at home, or in the Church, they must ever be the first things sought by a devout and believing mind. When the thoughts themselves are not habitually inclined to the exercises of religion, or are not fixed on the attainment of those graces which lead to salvation, it is no small advantage to men to be taught by the language of those around them what are the highest benefits to be sought by an appeal to Heaven. In the composition of a liturgy, therefore, these are the two characteristics to be chiefly looked for—that it consists of petitions for the pardon of sins—for the application of Christ's merits—for the gift of grace, and the intervention of God's providence in the furtherance of general good; and that it be conceived in language both generally intelligible and tending to awaken the affections of those by whom it is employed. The first grand purpose of prayer will then be answered. Blessings most necessary to human happiness will be sought in a manner acceptable to God; and the hearts of the people, accustomed to the use of spiritual expression, will feel their worldly and selfish passions powerfully, and, with God's blessing, effectually, checked.
The second object to be contemplated in a liturgy is indirect and incidental, but scarcely less important. Our Lord conferred an inestimable blessing on His people by teaching them a prayer which embodies the essentials of devotion in language the most simple and intelligible. He thereby instructed them in the duty of regulating their petitions according to the will of God and the principles of a true faith. Taught from infancy to address the Almighty Creator by the endearing name of Father, thousands of hearts have imbibed without an effort the primary doctrine of religion. In the same manner, not left to their own crude notions of the language proper to prayer, they have learned from this divine model that the Almighty will listen to the simplest expression of love; and that the petitions which imply a trust in His wisdom and mercy, by the unlaboured, unparticularizing character of their language, are those which may expect the readiest answer. A liturgy framed according to the spirit and style of the Gospel will correspond in influence to this inspired type of prayer for the universal Church. Impressed upon the memories of people by constant use, it will enrich them with many seeds of heavenly knowledge. Its phraseology will naturally blend itself with the expression of serious thought, and often beforehand prompt the heart to take the theme of its meditations from the Book of divine mysteries. Serious error will thereby be prevented from concealing itself among the members of the Church, or circulating unopposed. The theology of the Clergy cannot be perverted without striking the least observant of minds; and the tone of preaching rendered at any time unspiritual, or cold and obscure, by the fashion of the age, will be in such manifest opposition to the character of the Church, that, with God's mercy, a corrective cannot long be needed.
Reasons like these in favour of an established Liturgy are proper to a period far remote from the time when Liturgies were first compiled. Experience alone can teach us such arguments in their favour. Their origin, therefore, is to be looked for in other causes than those which may be assigned for the respect in which they have been held in later ages by the wise and good. These more primitive reasons for the compilation of Liturgies may be briefly stated. The services of the Jews had been conducted with such a profound attention to order, that it was impossible for the precept which enjoined the constant assembling of Christians together to be separated from that which directed them to do all things with decency and regularity. In the use of psalms appointed for particular occasions, and other parts of the worship of the temple, or the synagogue, a precedent was found for the adoption of such a system as should leave as little as possible in public worship to experiment. The Lord's Prayer was a form of words which His disciples could not but feel a particular delight in repeating together. It was introduced, therefore, into all their ordinances; and, when offered up in assemblies where the Spirit of faith and love exercised His benignant sway, was in itself almost a Liturgy, and for the privilege of repeating which, in the company of God's children, penitent and anxious hearts would be devoutly thankful. The words used by our Lord at the institution of the two sacraments, and which could never be lawfully put aside for others, or even for a paraphrase, tended in the same manner to the introduction of established forms in the worship of the new Church. It was evidently not inconsistent with a divine institution to employ regularly the same prayers and hymns in the service of God; for this was authorized by the practice of the Jews : nor could it be considered as an infringement on Christian or spiritual liberty to repeat the same form of words in the most solemn exercises of evangelical devotion; for Christ Himself had given them a form in three instances, from which it would have been equally presumptuous and unspiritual to depart.
But had no reason of this kind existed, the circumstances of the Church would of themselves have shown the necessity of an established Liturgy. Inspiration itself had not been sufficient to suppress entirely the petulant zeal of some of the first members of the Christian community. It was not to be supposed that any kind of discipline could effect that for which the highest endowments of miraculous power had been insufficient. Under the most favourable circumstances, in very small congregations, and when affection and reverence had sealed the authority of the pastor, the worship of the Church might possibly be carried on without the discovery that a rule, or form of service, was absolutely necessary to its right conduct. The wisdom of the teacher, and the obedience of the people, might, perhaps, insensibly establish a discipline and order of worship which, written in the heart, would not require the aid of a literal transcription to give it force. But the case was altered when congregations became very numerous;—when obedience to the will of the pastor was less the habit of the age, and conflicting opinions could not be readily reconciled by his arguments or persuasions. It was then found that much would be gained by the use of forms of devotion for which the people were prepared, and the propriety and holiness of which could not be disputed. We accordingly find many allusions to set forms of prayer in the writings of fathers of the third century; and St. Basil, who lived in the fourth, is known to have composed a Liturgy which, in the course of the next century, is said to have been in general use throughout the East. From the works of St. Chrysostom it appears that, in his time, every festival had its appropriate service—its set prayers, psalms, and lessons; and that the ordinary days had, in a similar manner, their regular services. One of the canons of the Council of Laodicea sets this in a still clearer light, for it expressly enjoins that the same prayers should be read at matins and vespers.
For a considerable period each bishop had the undisputed right of arranging the Liturgy for his diocese without consulting other prelates. There were accordingly several Liturgies in existence at an early era; and at first, perhaps, little inconvenience resulted from this species of independence, The faith of the various churches was the same;—the groundwork of their services differed in no material point;—and the common spirit of brotherhood prevented the introduction of rites which might offend any
of the worshippers of the one God and the one Saviour. But, as the unity of the faith began to be assailed by open or secret heresy, and as the primitive simplicity yielded to a prouder spirit, the varieties in the several Liturgies were made use of to disturb the peace of men's consciences. The bishops, therefore, of the several provinces, at length found it expedient to assimilate their Liturgies more closely to each other ; but the existence of so many ancient forms, each claiming reverence either on account of the celebrity of its author or from the circumstances in which it had its origin, prevented the complete success of such a design. Even at the period just preceding the Reformation in this country different Liturgies were used in the different provinces; and the separate orders of monks claimed to themselves a still further right to conduct their services according to their own views.
This alone would have been sufficient to induce men of earnest piety to desire a change in the arrangement of public worship. But another consideration, of equal importance with any of those derived from this source, was drawn from the custom of performing the services in a language unknown to those who were asked to pray with the Church, and own the value of its ordinances. This, when combined with the numerous distressing proofs that the services of the sanctuary had degenerated into a series of the most wretched superstitions, led the Reformers of the English Church to regard
the change of the Liturgy as one of the objects which demanded their earliest attention.
The first step made towards this great and important design was the appointment of a committee by the Convocation which met in 1537. This committee was chosen for the express purpose of instituting an inquiry into the means afforded for the spiritual instruction of the people. From the character and learning of the members of the committee, there can be little doubt, that they foresaw much more was to be done than it would be right to attempt at the beginning of their labours. But it was the happy feature of the proceedings of the early Reformers that, zealous as they were, and abounding in knowledge, they were contented to act with the caution of men who wished rather to foster the rising spirit of intelligence than to force the population to acknowledge what it might not comprehend.
The first publication issued was entitled • The Godly and Pious Institution of a Christian Man.' This book contained the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, “with many other godly lessons, &c., according w the command and injunctions of the King's Highness, to be used through the realm.” The mixed character of this work may be understood from the heading of one of the chapters, in which it is said, “ First ye shall pray for the whole congregation, especially for the Church of England, wherein first for the King's Majesty, supreme head of the spirituality and temporality of the same Church. 2. For the Lords and Commons. 3. Ye shall pray for the souls that be departed, that they may have fruition of God's presence."
About the same time the large English Bible was set up, and appointed to be read in churches. In the year 1540 the work above alluded to was revised, and a further revision took place three years afterwards, when, as stated in the preface, “it was set forth by the King, with the advice of his Clergy; the Lords, both spiritual and temporal, wiih the nether House of Parliament, having both seen and liked it very well.” At length, in 1545, the work appeared under the title of the King's Primer,' in the preface to which the people were taught the necessity of uniformity in the public services of the Church, and the evils under which they laboured when obliged to attend upon ordinances performed in a language with which they were unacquainted. The chief contents of the book as thus revised were the Lord's Prayer, the Ave, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and Graces. Besides which there were the Matins, the Seven Psalms, the Commendations, the Collects, and other Prayers, the translation closely resembling, or being the same as, that now in use.
But it was reserved for Edward VI. to complete the design commenced with so much piety and caution. In the first year of his reign (1547), a resolution was passed by the Convocation, that the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ought to be administered in both kinds. The statement of the Convocation was followed by an act of Parliament, and a committee of bishops and others was formed with authority to draw up a service in English for the proper performance of this sacred ordinance. In the list of this committee occur the names accounted most venerable in the ecclesiastical chronicles of the country. At the head stands that of Cranmer, then Archbishop of Canterbury: with him were associated Ridley, at that time Bishop of Rochester ; Goodrich, Bishop of Ely; the Bishops of Lincoln, Chichester, Hereford, and others of corresponding note and dignity.
The mass-book presented the most melancholy proofs of the long reign of superstition. It would have demanded the severest revision in any age of growing intelligence, supposing even that the reformation of doctrine had been a thing unheard of. But this was much more the case now that the views of men respecting divine mysteries themselves were undergoing so important an alteration. Every time the sacrament was offered according to the old forms, the most grievous offence was given to the consciences of those who had begun to imbibe and rejoice in the pure light of the Gospel. The acknowledged right of all believers in Jesus Christ to partake of the Communion in both kinds, afforded further reasons for making a vital change in the Service. But it was not in the spirit of innovation that such men as Cranmer and Ridley could act. They were anxious to promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls by the use of those consecrated means known in the happiest ages of the Church. It was not for the sake of intruding contrivances of their own that they proposed to alter the hitherto-received offices. They desired to do nothing more than remove what had been introduced in corrupt times ;-to separate that which was weak, false, and dangerous, from that which had received the indelible stamp of Divine grace and truth. When they took the mass-book in their hands, therefore, it was with the feeling, that from its pages might be derived the substance of a communion service which should have the real authority of antiquity, and the spiritual pathos of the devotions which had ever been dear to pious hearts, but be free, at the same time, from long-standing errors and superstitions. They accordingly selected and translated the most valuable of the prayers and bymns contained in the old form. Where it was deficient they made the necessary additions; and expressions were carefully corrected which either conveyed a false notion or seemed deficient in force. A work of the utmost importance to the Reformation was effected by this compilation of a New Service Book for the Communion. The Office was published separately, and the nation had thereby the means of learning more exactly than ever what were the views entertained by those to whom was committed the charge of purifying the Church. Reverence for the mass, with its innumerable ceremonies, was one of the feelings most deeply seated in the hearts of the people. No thoughtful and religious mind could have contemplated without dread the consequences of any design which should tend to diminish a reverence for the Sacrament itself. But had not the Reformers proceeded with the utmost caution such would have been the case. The people, seeing the Service stripped of its wonted ornaments, or appealing less forcibly than formerly to their imaginations, might have begun to doubt whether any strong sentiment of awe would not be misapplied in respect to an ordinance which they had venerated for reasons now proved to be unreal. But the care employed in the compilation of the Service prevented this danger. The