Billeder på siden


exercises and those original ideas which permanently benefit mankind, such as this suggestion of Jethro's, the plan of printing by types, the first conception of Wesley's Class-meetings, and the idea of the British and Foreign Bible Society,-may well be thought to have been inspirations from on High. Moses, it would appear, had a third interview with Jethro, though under another name, at which he gave him a kind and pressing invitation to cast in his lot with the people of God. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee." (Num. x. 29-32.)

When Job was overtaken with great calamities, three of his friends "made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him;" (Job ii. 11 ;) and, if we except the first two chapters, and the last five, the Book may be described as a dialogue between the afflicted patriarch and his friends, on the perfections and providence of God, the character, trials, and privileges of the righteous, and the certain destruction which awaits the hypocrite and the profane. Several of the Psalms seem to have been composed for the edification of those who met for social worship; or, more probably, they were first spoken extempore at such services, and were afterwards penned for the benefit of the whole church. (See Psalms xxxiv., lvi., cxvi.) Taken as a whole, the Psalms constitute a rich and invaluable treasury of devotional sentiment and song. They exhibit all the heights and depths of godly experience, which intervene between the pangs of the penitent sinner, and the confident and exultant hopes of the dying saint. In the hands of the Holy Spirit, they impart knowledge, and inspire devotion; excite desire after God, and enhance delight in Him; furnish arguments to be pleaded in prayer, and thanksgivings for answers received; suggest motives for patient waiting on God in times of trouble, and examples of heroic fortitude in tribulation; indicate intimate acquaintance with, and high esteem for, the excellent of the earth: and, we may rest assured, they were chanted, not only by the priests in the sanctuary, but by the faithful at the family altar, and in the social circle, through the length and breadth of the land of Israel.

From Malachi we learn that the servants of God, in that degene rate age, were in the habit of meeting together for religious fellowship. "They spake one to another" of the majesty, perfections, providence, and promises of the God they "feared," and of the

covenant relations He sustained to them and His church. They were only a remnant, but they did not despond; they sought the Fociety of each other, and encouraged each other in the performance of duty, and in the patient endurance of persecution. The worldly of their day were bold in the practice of sin and in the profession of unbelief, and would fain have laughed the godly to scorn; but they neither feared their foes, nor were ashamed of their cause; and God, in whom they trusted, owned and honoured them. "The Lord hearkened and heard;" He was well pleased with them and their religious practice: He kept an account of their meetings: treasured up their tears, heard and answered their prayers, and registered in the book of His remembrance their pious conversations, their good deeds, and their earnest endeavours to stem iniquity, and strengthen each other in His work. While He regarded the wicked as refuse on the face of the earth, or as fuel for His righteous indignation, He said concerning them that thus "thought upon His name," "They shall be Mine, that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his son that serveth him."

The interview between Elisabeth and Mary, the mother of our Lord, and the responsive songs they uttered, afford a sublime specimen of the communion of saints; as does also the meeting which Joseph and Mary had with Simeon and Anna the prophetess in the temple. (Luke i. 39-56; ii. 25-38.) Our Saviour's own example may be adduced as evidence in this case. His immediate disciples constituted His inner circle of friendship and love; and often and again He took them apart, to a desert place, to a mountain, to Bethany, and to an upper chamber, that He might teach them to pray, instruct them in things pertaining to His kingdom, and explain to them the deep things hidden under the parables delivered to the multitude. The thirteenth and three following chapters of St. John's Gospel contain the instructions, consolations, exhortations, warnings, and predictions, which He addressed to them in connexion with the last celebration of the Passover, and the institution of His own Supper; all of which he concluded with the offering up of His intercessory prayer, and the singing of a hymn. The "holy mount" was distinguished not only by our Lord's transfiguration, the bright cloud, the voice from the "excellent glory," and the presence of Moses and Elias, but also by the conversation which took place between Him and His heavenly visitants; for "they spake of the decease He was to accomplish at Jerusalem." If the transfiguration, with its accompanying circumstances, was a symbolical epitome of "the kingdom of God," or the Gospel dispensation, then the conversation which took place on the subject of the Saviour's death may be regarded as a predictive type of that communion of saints, which was subse

quently established in the churches planted by the apostles. (Mark ix. 1, 2; Luke ix. 27, 28.)

To encourage His disciples to meet by themselves for prayer and mutual edification, when He should be taken from them, Jesus said, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. xviii. 19, 20.) That the disciples understood their Lord's meaning, and carried out His design, is evident from the repeated instances in which He found them assembled in their social capacity, after His resurrection and before His ascension. The effusion of the Holy Ghost which took place on the day of Pentecost, was obtained in answer to joint supplications offered during a series of protracted meetings, extending over ten successive days, at which none but disciples were present. "And when they," the disciples, "were come in" from Mount Olivet, "they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphæus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and suppli cation, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren." (Acts i. 13, 14.) "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.... And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts ii. 1-4.) Thus social prayer and Christian fellowship were instrumental in bringing down a blessing which not only enriched the church with miraculous gifts, a vast increase of power, purity, and light, together with a large accession of members, but which, in its results, changed the moral aspect of the world. In the case of Peter's liberation from prison by angelic agency, we are told that while he "was kept in prison, prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." (Acts xii. 5.) Not only the elders and deacons, but the "CHURCH,"-all its officers and members, rich and poor, young and old,-prayed. And it would appear that, on the night previous to the Apostle's intended execution, they, in order to give full expression to their intercessions, and at the same time escape the malignant vigilance of their enemies, divided themselves into bands; and concerning one of these we learn that they met in the house of Mary the mother of Mark, and continued in prayer far into the night; yea, until Peter appeared in their midst.

In the apostolic Epistles exhortations are given which plainly imply that social worship and Christian fellowship were practised in

"Bear ye one

the churches to which the Epistles are addressed. another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (Gal. vi. 2.) "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Rom. xii. 15.) "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do." (1 Thess. v. 11.) "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." (Verse 14.) "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Heb. x. 24, 25.) "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." (James v. 16) Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous." (1 Peter iii. 8.) The obligation of a duty does not, indeed, depend on the frequency with which it is enjoined, but on the authority by which it is enforced. One clear command binds us to obey; but here we have a series of Divine injunctions addressed to us, not as isolated individuals, or as citizens of the world, but as members of Christian churches; and we do not see how they can be obeyed, if meetings for social worship and Christian fellowship be neglected. Not only so, but the apostles Peter and Jude expressly mention "feasts of charity," or love, as well-known social means of grace in the primitive churches; and ecclesiastical writers tell us that, for a long period, they were truly what their name imports. They were intended to promote brotherly love, and were often connected with the administration of the Lord's supper. Sometimes they were commenced with a sermon, but ordinarily only with singing and prayer. The rich provided the feast; and both rich and poor ate at the same table, in token of their equality in Christ. Tertullian, who flourished at the close of the second and the early part of the third century, speaking of these "feasts of love," says, "We fill ourselves in such a manner, as that we remember still that we are to worship God by night. We discourse as in the presence of God, knowing that He bears us. Then, after water to wash our hands, and lights brought in, every one is moved to sing some hymn to God, either out of Scripture, or, as he is able, of his own composing...... Prayer again concludes our feast; after which we men that have fed at a repast of philosophy and discipline, rather than a corporeal supper."

The Apostle's Creed, whatever its date may be, makes the communion of saints an article of Christian belief; and though Popery proscribed social worship, just as it condemned free inquiry and liberty of conscience wherever its reign extended, yet in Piedmont, Bohemia, and our own country, the men who feared the Lord "spake often one to


[merged small][ocr errors]

another," about the common salvation, read Wycliffe's books, aud worshipped God as His word directed. The dawn of the Reformation in England and other lands was indicated by earnest men and women assembling in little groups by night, or in secluded places by day, to sing Psalms, offer up prayer, and read the Holy Scriptures. The opening of Wesley's evangelical commission in the last century, by the faithful preaching of the neglected doctrine of justification by faith, constituted a new era in the history of social worship; for the "United Societies 99 were formed on the assumption that it was part and parcel of every Christian man's duty to declare what God had done for his soul. Such an usage, in other words the class-meeting, is thus seen to be in effect both ancient and scriptural.

2. This practice involves a principle which is sanctioned by the habits and conduct of men who are busied with the trade and commerce of the country.

Men of all trades and professions, from our merchant princes down to the humblest class of mechanics, find it necessary to meet together, and consult how to surmount the difficulties with which they have to grapple, counterwork the opponents with whom they have to con tend, and secure success in their several callings. The necessity of these business and professional associations is felt by all, their propriety, when regulated by a due regard to the rights and interests of others, is admitted by all, and their advantages, when wisely managed, are shared by all. Now if it be wise and necessary for worldly men to take counsel how to carry out their schemes and projects, it cannot be considered less wise or necessary for Christians to do the same, in the prosecution of their heavenly calling. Or, if the principle of associating for mutual aid and encouragement be in any case justly chargeable with enthusiasm, the charge lies more directly, and with far greater force, against the men of the world, than against the people of God. The loftiest designs which the former can frame are mean, and the most herculean labours in which they can engage are childish, compared with the labours and designs of the true Christian. They scheme for time, he for eternity; they labour for "the bread which perisheth," he for that which "endureth to everlasting life; they are striving to gain the praise of men, he lives so as to secure the approbation of God; they are occupied about things temporal, which may be managed, relished, understood, and secured, without supernatural influence; whereas he aims at the things which are unseen and eternal,-which no man can relish, understand, or secure, without Divine teaching and Almighty aid. "The children of this world," our Saviour has said, are wiser in their generation than the children of light:" and if He deduced a lesson of prudent foresight from the conduct of the "unjust steward," surely their judicious practice of taking mutual counsel about the affairs of this life, ought

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »