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ON SILENT WORSHIP.
Our profession and our desire, when we meet together to worship the Father, is to perform this sacred duty in spirit and in truth. To this end we conceive that a condition of outward silence is preeminently adapted. For worship in spirit and in truth consists neither in the practice of typical rites, nor in the forced or formal use of words, which may or may not agree with the feelings of those who utter them, or in whose behalf they are spoken; but in the communion of the soul with God, in inward prostration before him, and in those heartfelt offerings of prayer and thanksgiving which, in order to enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, need not the intervention of any vocal utterance.
In order to unfold this interesting subject with some degree of clearness, it will be desirable to advert to a few of its principal particulars.
I. Were the inquiry addressed to me, What is the first and most essential qualification for a right and spiritual worship of the Almighty-for such a worship as would at once edify the creature and glorify the Creator?—I should feel but little hesitation in replying, A deep humiliation and subjection of soul before the divine Majesty. True worship may often be properly expressed by the services of the lip; but it is, in itself, the homage which the soul offers to its Maker ;-it is the reverential communion of man with his God. Now, this homage can never be acceptably offered—this communion can never take place in a right or perfect manner—until the mind of the worshipper is made in some degree sensible of the real relative situation of the two parties concerned—of himself and bis God. The worshipper is the creature; the object of his worship is the Creator; the former is finite, ignorant, weak, and helpless; the latter is omniscient, eternal, and omnipotent: the former, without grace, is fallen, sinful, and corrupt; the latter is of “purer eyes than to behold iniquity;" the former is capable of receiving either wrath or mercy; the latter is able either to punish or to forgive.
Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.” “All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity." In order, therefore, to make acceptable approaches in spirit to the Almighty, it is abundantly evident that men ought to be humbled, prostrate, and in a mental condition of profound reverence and awe, under a sense of their own vileness and of his perfections of their own unworthiness and of his power—of their own nothingness and of his infinity. Nor will our heavenly Father fail to regard such a state of humiliation. “ The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool : where is the house that ye build unto me, and where is the place of my rest? For, all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
The frame of mind which I have now attempted to describe is, indeed, in some measure, at all times, inherent in the true Christian: but on occasions appointed for the high and especial purpose of communion with the Almighty, such a frame is peculiarly necessary; and is required to be formed in a much more perfect and uninterrupted manner, than during the mixed and active pursuits of common life. Now, in order to this end—in order to the production of this entire humiliation, in those who are met together for divine worship—there is, perhaps, no outward condition nearly so well adapted as one of silence. The soul of man, although it may often be fraught with honest and pious intentions, is laden with many infirmities; and, on these solemn occasions, it appears to require the opportunity which silence so naturally affords, before it can find its true level; before it can be brought to entertain, with a sufficient degree of completeness, a just sense of itself and of its Creator. There is reason to fear that such a sense is often very imperfectly formed, and that it is sometimes materially interrupted, by the use of words, which form prescribes, or which human imagi
i Ps. lxii. 9.
2 Isa, xl. 17.
3 Isa. lxvi. 1, 2.
nation invents. Even sincerely religious people may draw nigh unto God with their lips, while their souls are far from being sufficiently humbled before him; and, if it be so, they worship their Creator superficially, and their religious exercises will ever be found unprofitable, in proportion as they are shallow. It is when the soul of the Christian is thoroughly subjected in the presence of the Most High; when his pride and activity are subdued; when the restless imaginations of his natural mind are quieted and laid low—that he is prepared to adopt the words of the Psalmist,“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.”!
Now, silence may be considered, not only as affording a most useful opportunity for the production of this complete prostration before God in divine worship, but as being eminently suited to that condition of mind when it is already produced; for experience may serve to convince us that it is the natural and frequent accompaniment of humiliation and subjection. As such, it is repeatedly described by the ancient Hebrew prophets. “I was dumb with silence, I held my peace even from good,” said David, when he had been suffering under the chastisement of the Lord—“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” “Why do we sit still ?” cried the mournful Jeremiah—"assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there; for the Lord our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the Lord.”3
I know of no passages, however, which throw so much light on the point now before us, as the following verses in the prophecies of Habakkuk, and Zechariah: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” “Be silent, all flesh (i.e. all mankind) before the Lord; for he is raised up out of his holy habitation."
.99 Here we ought to observe, that the word rendered “ temple,” in the former of these passages, does not properly apply to the holy of holies—that inmost apartment, where the glory of God resided—but to the sanctuary, in which the priests performed their daily service. On the other hand, the "holy habitation,” out of which Zechariah describes the Lord as being “raised up,” may be regarded as another name for the holy of holies.
3 Ch. viii. 14.
1 Ps. cxxx. 1. 4 Hab. ii. 20.
2 Ps. xxxix. 2, 9.
oby. See Gill. in loc.
The meaning of both these verses may be illustrated by a reference to that remarkable circumstance which occurred on the dedication of Solomon's temple. “ And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister, because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord.”” It appears that on this memorable occasion, the cloud of glory, which for the most part dwelt in the holy of holies, burst forth into the sanctuary, and filled the whole house. And what was the consequence? The service of the priest was of necessity suspended; and all was silence, as in the immediate presence of the Lord.
Now, the holy of holies was a type of heaven, God's glorious dwelling-place; and the idea, conveyed in both these solemn proclamations, appears to be this—that God was come forth out of heaven, the holiest place of all, and was manifesting himself, by some remarkable dispensations of his wisdom and power, in the sanctuarythat is, in the church on earth. He is described as visiting his people; and, therefore, all mankind are commanded to keep silence before him. Not only the sanctuary, but the whole house, is to be filled with his glory.
With these sublime views, and with the principles on which this command is founded, the practice of silent congregational worship appears to be in full accordance. The meeting of the Lord's people for the solemn purpose of presenting themselves before God, in the name of Jesus Christ, is precisely one of those occasions on which, as we have reason to believe, God condescends, by his Spirit, to visit his sanctuary upon earth, and to be peculiarly present with his church. What then can be more desirable for us, when thus assembled, than literally to comply with the inspired precept, and in awful reverence of soul, to keep silence before the Lord ?
II. A second particular, indispensably requisite for a true and spiritual worship, is waiting upon God. The worshippers of the Almighty Jehovah must not only be humbled and cast down under an awful apprehension of his divine power and majesty; they must not only feel their own vileness and wants; but they must also look upwards unto God, as unto the Father of mercies, the Fountain of wisdom and life, the Author of every good and perfect gift. Their expectation must be placed on him alone; and they must learn patiently to wait upon him, until he shall be pleased to reveal his mercy, and to bestow upon his unworthy children“ grace to help in time of need.” On the subject of this important part of true worship, none of the sacred writers appears to have received a more powerful impression than the devout and afflicted David. “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, 0 thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants (look) unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress ; so our eyes (wait) upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us.” “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.""3
1 1 Kings viii. 10, 11.
When a person is anxiously expecting any particular benefit from his fellow-creatures, it is very natural for him to be silent ; for anxious expectation and silence, even in the common affairs of life, are closely allied. Still more plainly, however, does this appear to be the case, when the blessings and benefits which he desires are of a heavenly nature, and when the great and glorious God is the Being on whom his expectation and reliance are placed. A holy silence of soul, accompanied by an outward stillness, is a condition peculiarly well suited to this waiting upon the Lord; and such a frame will, I believe, often be found a very salutary introduction to the more active communion of the soul with its Creator-to the actual offerings, whether secret or vocal, both of confession and prayer.
Were such offerings, as they are presented on the altar of the Most High by Christian worshippers, less the product of their own efforts; were they dictated more completely by the Spirit who “maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered;" and did they more generally arise out of that condition, which has now been described, of reverent waiting on the Lord; there is much reason to conclude that they would be still more acceptable than they now are to the great Searcher of hearts; as well as more effectual for the edification of those who worship him. And now it
i Ps. cxxiii. 1, 2. 2 Ps. lxii. 5.