James Abercrombie.

A sermon on the liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church : preached before the convention held in Christ-Church, Philadelphia, June 15, 1808 online

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Online LibraryJames AbercrombieA sermon on the liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church : preached before the convention held in Christ-Church, Philadelphia, June 15, 1808 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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1808. '

VANIA, JUNE 15, 1808.

Resolved, That the thanks of the Convention
be presented to the Rev. Dr. Abercrombie, for
his Serinon^ delivered this Day^ and that he be re-
quested to furnish a copy of the same to be pinnted.

Extract from the ^ournal^

P. F. Glentworth, Secretary.

THE Authour of this Sermon, being unexpect-
edly called upon to preach before the Convention,
only four days previous to the meeting of that body ;
and having his time almost entirely occupied by the
duties of his academical and parochial charges, he
could not possibly pay that attention to its compo-
sition, which the importance of the occasion and
the dignity of his subject required. He, therefore,
trusts the candid reader will pardon those deficien-
cies and errours, which a more extended period for
its preparation might have enabled him to avoid.
A few sentences in the course of the Sermon are
transcribed from a Lecture on our Liturgy, attached
to his Lectures on the Catechism of the Protestant
Episcopal Church, lately published.

Philad June 2StJu 1808.






As a publick testimony of the sincere Esteem^ Attach-
ment^ and Gratitude, of

His affectionate Friend,

And faithful Servant,




1 Ep. to COR. 14 CH. 15 V.

The immediate cause of this declaration of the
holy Apostle was, the ostentatious display of the
gift of tongues, with which some of his brethren
distinguished themselves; speaking to the people
in an unknown language, by which they could
not be edified.

Against this practice, St. Paul reasons and re-
monstrates, in the chapter from which my text is
taken, declaring it to be the duty of a Christian,


and more particularly of a Christian minister, to
perform the publiek offices of religion, not only
with sincerity and zeal, but in such a manner as
should most effectually tend to promote the glory
of God, and the spiritual improvement of those
who were assembled to worship him. " I will
pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the under-
standing also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will
sing with the understanding also."

The occasion of my present address, Brethren,
originates in a resolution of our State Convention
two years ago, that its future annual meetings
should be opened with a Sermon or Charge: and
the admirably comprehensive Charge of our venera-
ble Bishop, delivered at the last meeting, and since
published, leaving no room to descant upon the
cstablislnuiiit of the Episcopal Church, and tlie
various duties of tJic clerical character, I ha\'e suppo-
sed that no other subject would be more appropriate,
than that of the duty of connecting wisdom with
zeal in our devotional exercises; as exemplified in
that fervid effusion of piety and wisdom, the estab-
lished Liturgy of our Church.

I propose, therefore, in the followmg Discourse,

1. Briefly to suggest a few arguments in favour of
a preconceived or written form of publick worship ;

2. To point out a few of the most prominent
excellencies of that adopted by us; and,

3. To recommend a uniform and general per-
formance of it, agreeable to the requisitions of its

That the best exertions of our noblest faculties
should be employed in praising and adoring that
Almighty Being to whom we are indebted for them
and every other privilege and enjoyment, is the
unequivocal dictate of Reason. Sound Reason,
however, and the impulses of passion, or the reve-
ries of a heated imagination, often impel to directly
opposite conduct. Reason, frequently styled " the
candle of the Lord in man," was given to regulate
and restrain the operations of passion, and to direct
and control the fervours of imagination. And, under
the influence of this Heaven-born guide, and the
precepts and examples recorded for our instruction
in the Sacred Scriptures, holy and learned men,
sanctioned by civil appointment, immediately after


that important era, the Reformation, assembled to
digest such a form of pubhck worship, as should
at once accord with the purity of Evangelical truth,
the general expression of religious homage by a
whole congregation, and the dignity and authority
of Episcopal administration. Accordingly, this truly
venerable association, in which a Cranmer, a La-
timer, a Ridley, and many others whose wisdom,
piety, and zeal were " known unto all men,'' and
" whose praise was in all the churches," after the
most mature deliberation, accompanied by prayer
to Almighty CtOd for the influence of his Holy
Spirit to direct and guide them, produced a Liturgy,
which forms the basis of that sublime and compre-
hensive series of Instruction and Devotion, that now
constitutes the publick service and offices of our
Church; and from the doctrinal part of which we
have in no degree departed; submitting only to such
deviations, as local and political circumstances ren-
dered necessary and unavoidable.

'^ This form of sound words," says Archbishop
Seckek, '' was first compiled, tlicn reviewed, and
approved by Confessors and Martyrs for the Pro-


testant cause." It has since been deliberated upon
by Convocations, confirmed by Conventions, and
applauded by the great and good, through a long
succession of years.

The use and propriety of established forms of
publick worship, are sanctioned by high and various

We find, in the 6th chapter of the book of
Numbers, that God himself dictated the form of
blessing that the Priests should use. " And the
Lord spake unto Moses, saying, '' On this wise
ye shall bless the Children of Israel, sayi7ig unto
them^ The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the
Lord make his fa.ce to shine upon thee, and be
gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his counte-
nance upon thee, and give thee peace." And this
very form of blessing is prescribed by our Liturgy,
in the office for the visitation of the sick. In the
same book is recorded the form of benediction at
the removal and resting of the ark: and in the 21st
of Deuteronomy, the form of expiation of murder:
and in the 26th, the confession of him who offereth
the basket of first fruits ; and the prayer of him


who givcih ilic third year's tythes. To these and
other single instances may be added, that rich and
subhme variety of prayer and praise in the book
of Psahns, which were composed by David and
other pious members of the Jewish Church, for
the service of the Temple.*

" In the language of this divine book," says the
pious and learned Bishop Horne, '' the prayers of
the Chvirch have been offered up to the throne of
grace from age to age ; and it appears to have been
the manual of the Son of God in the days of
his flesh; who, at the conclusion of his Supper, is
generally supposed, and that upon good grounds,
to have sung a hymn taken from it; who pronoun-
ced upon the Cross, the beginning of the twenty-
second Psalm, '' My God, my God, wdiy hast thou
forsaken me!" and expired with a part of the thirty-
first in his mouth; "Into thy hands I commend my
spirit!" Thus he, " who spake as never man spake,"

* By Ambrosi-: tlic Psalms arc called ''the Instru-
ments of \'irtiic" — by Basil, " the Essence of The-
olo[^y" — and by Ath a n asius and others, ''the Epitome
of the Holy Scriptures."


chose to conclude his Hfe, to solace himself in his
greatest agony, and at last to breathe out his soul
in the Psalmist's ybrm of words rather than his own.
No tongue of man or angel, as Dr. Hammond
justly observes, can convey a higher idea of any
book, and of their felicity who use it."

If we now turn our attention to the New Testa-
ment, (for the copiousness of the subject requires
brevity in the respective branches of it) we find,
that St. John, the precursor of our Saviour, taught
his disciples diform of prayer, as the Jewish Doc-
tors had taught theirs; upon which is grounded
the application of Christ's disciples to him, as
recorded in the 11th chapter of St. Luke's Gospel:
" Lord" said they to him, " teach us to pray," or,
give us some form for our constant use, " as John
also," and the publick teachers of other religious
sects have taught theirs. t

t This was a very natural and proper application —
for these disciples, as well as Jesus himself, and his
precursor John, being Jews, held always been accusto-
med to an established form of prayer.

For a particular account of the form used in the
Synagogue, with extracts from it, see Dr. Prideaux's



Accordingly, Jesus Chiust (thereby in the strong-
est manner possible, attesting his approbation oi
that mode), dictated to them that admirably com-
prehensive form called the Lord's Prayer, and
enjoined their constant use of it. '' And lie said
unto them, when ye pray, say. Our Father, &cc."
and this, let it be observed, is an exact repetition
of the same form, given upon another occasion, as
recorded by St. Matthew in his 6th chapter.
'' But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as
the heathen do: for they think that they shall be
heard for their much speaking; be not yc therefore
like unto them; for your Father knoweth what
things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After
this manner therefore, pray ye: Our Father, 8vc."
It is observed by Grot i us, that so averse was
our Lord from unnecessary innovation, and the
affectation of novelty, that he who had '' the spirit
not by measure," (John 3. 34) and in whom were all
the " hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge"

Connexion of the Old and New Testaments, Fol. Edit.
Vol. 1, p. 296.


(Col. 2. 3) selected words and phrases of this
Prayer, principally from forms at that time well
known among the Jews.*

" Of all applications to the Supreme Being, that
are extant,'' says a judicious Commentator,! " this is
incomparably the most rational, the most devout,
and the best. Whilst its comprehensive conciseness,
has in all ages been the admiration of the learned,
its beautiful simplicity is not less remarkable. It is
so short that all may learn it, and so plain that all
may understand it. At the same time it is so full,f

* Decent nos ea, quae ex Hebraeorum libris ab aliis
sunt citata, non tam formulam banc a Christo, suis
verbis conceptam, quam in earn congestum quicquid in
Hebraeorum precibus erat laudabile, sicut et in admoni-
tionibus passim utitur notis eo seculo proverbiis. Tam
longe abfuit ipse Dominus ecclesiae ah omni affectatione
non nectssarice novitatis. Annotat. in Matt, vi, 9. See
also Capellus.

t Shepherd.

J In veritate spiritualiter copiosa, ut nihil omnino
praetermissum sit, quod in precibus et orationibus nostris
coelestis doctrinae compendio comprehendatur. (Cyprian)
Quantum substringitur verbis, tantum difFunditur sensi.
bus. Tertul.



that it includes all our wants, and so explicit, that
whilst it directs us, how to pray, and for what to
pray, it teaches us what wc should be.* It is, in
reality a complete rule of duty, as well as an admi-
rable form of prayer. The Fathers call it '^ The
Epitome of the* Gospel. "t

These authorities are amply explicit, conclusive,
and sufficient for us ; they fully authenticate the
truth and propriety of our position, with respect to
the use of an established form of Prayer ; which is
a mode of Publick Worship universally adopted by
the Christian Church from the earliest ages ; and
every-where observed, until a century or two ago,
when a rage for innovation, the frenzy of fanati-
cism, and the folly of enthusiasm, obtained unlimited
sway, leading their votaries to subvert all established
order, to resist the truth, and to become reprobate
concerning the faith. And when by vain and

* Unusquisque nostrum sic discat orare, et do orationis
lege, qualis esse dcbeat, noscerc. Cyprian.

t Brcviiirium cvangtlii, Tert. See also, CypRiANy
Austin, Augutine, &c.


illiterate pretenders to immediate inspiration, their
crude conceptions are uttered with distortions of
the countenance, convulsions of the frame, and an
affected, canting articulation, can it, consistently with
reason, be supposed, that " with such sacrifices
God is well pleased?" and can it be wondered at,
that the enemies of our holy faith should represent
it as a system of fanaticism, and charge such profes-
sing Christians with " offering to God the sacrifice
of fools?" Did Christ and his Apostles instruct
the people in this manner, or did any of the ancient
prophets practise such absurdities in their devotional
exercises, and publick addresses ? I am sure they
did not.* Forms of prayer were every-where used
by the dissenters from the established Church of
England, after the Reformation. Calvin, their leader
and guide, in a letter to the Protector under Ed-

* It is far from being intended to imply, that extern-
pore prayer is necessarily attended by these extravagan-
cies. The argument is, that the manner of publick prayer
the most liable to such abuse, is not likely to have been
that which was originally established in the Christian


ward Vlth, hath these words, " As to a form of
prayer, and of Ecclesiastical Rites, I highly approve
that it should be certaiii^ from which it may not be
lawful for any minister to depart ; as well in
consideration of the weakness and ignorance of
some, as that it may more plainly appear how our
Churches agree amongst themselves; and lastly,
that a stop may be put to the giddiness of those
who affect novelties."

Mr. Baxter, a well known eminent non-confor-
mist declared, " Every church on earth hath a
worse Liturgy than the Church of England."

Mr. Carpenter, a pious and respectable dissent-
ing minister, in the same country, a few years ago
proposed a Liturgy for the Presbyterians. He says,
in his prefatory address, '' Our mode of worship is
too refined for the young and ignorant, and I am
persuaded that something ought to be done to ren-
der our publick services less tiresome, and more
interesting to such persons. Forms of devotion
would give a dignity and solemnity to our publick
worship, and a stability to our religious societies,
in which they are now deficient : our publick wor-



ship is too uncertain and fluctuating — it depends
on the frame of the person's mind who officiates,
which is variable, and it changes when ministers
are changed. There is something more solemn and
venerable in publick Liturgies, where responses are
used, and where all the people are evidently employ-
ed in the worship of their Maker."

Several forms of prayer for different publick
occasions, iov family worship, sind private devotion,
have been given to the world as the habitual devo-
tional exercises of men, whose profound learning,
unquestionable energy of mind, and fluency of
diction, prohibit all doubt of their ability to express
themselves correctly in an extemporaneous address
to the Deity, who yet could not reconcile such un-
premeditated and familiar effusions, with their just
ideas of the awful Majesty of the object addressed,
and the propriety of employing their best and most
deliberate abilities on so important and solemn an
occasion. But, though men of learning and pious
dispositions should sometimes coherently and judi-
ciously express their devotional feelings, and sup-
plicate for the relief of their wants, and the pardon


of their sins, from the mere impulse of the moment,
without any preconceived form, tliat is not to be
wondered at, nor can any argument against a pre-
conceived form be grounded upon such premises ;
that which is true by accident, being no just foun-
dation of opposition to a general principle. And
ahhough no *' vain repetitions'' should be used,
which is rarely the case, no feeble or absurd petitions
offered, yet still such are the efforts of the petition-
er's mind to recollect the various subjects he would
suggest, and to clothe his sentiments in the most
expressive language, — and, on the part of the hear-
er, if it be a publLck address, such close attention
to the speaker is necessary, such a degree of una-
voidable curiosity is awakened to know what is to
be uttered, and such caution in each individual lo
judge whether the petitions thus offered are appli-
cable to himself, and such as he can honestly and
cordially join in, — that it is impossible there can exist
that energy and total devotion of the mind, that
surrender of the whole heart to God, which should
always take place when we presume to invoke his
immediate attention to us-


Another, among^ manjr more very powerliii
arguments in favour of precomposed prayers^ is^
that they prevent the introduction of heterodox
doctrines and false opinions, which are thus some-
times plausibly and artfully imposed upon the hear-
ers, thereby rendering their devotions a violation, of
their faith, and consequently a mockery and insult
to the Deity, instead of a rational and acceptable

Such being the general advantages of an estab-
lished Formulary of Devotions, I proceed tO' the
Second head of my Discourse, viz. To point out a
few of the most prominent excellencies of that
adopted by us. But here, contemplating the ama-
zing whole, the blaze of spiritual hght dazzles the
mental eye; and, where excelleneies are thus liie
distinguishing character of every part, a selection
from them embarrasses the mind. Like the sacred
Ark of the Covenant, under the 0(d Dispettsdtion,
which stood in the holy place of the Temple,, from
which the divine oracles were issued, and over the
mercy seat of which the Shechiiiah or symbol of
the Divine Presence hovered, — it should not be


approached but with the most profound reverence
and awe: for, as that Ark contained the Tables of
the moral law, the golden pot of Manna, Aaron's
rod that budded, and the Pentateuch or Covenant
of the Old Testament — so in this our Christian and
Episcopal Ark are contained, in its various orders
and offices, the principles and precepts of the same
moral law, improved and explained under the
New Dispensation^ — the precious Manna* of Evan-
gelical grace, — and the spirit of pure and unde-
filed Religion, wdiich, imbibed into the human heart,
will assuredly produce in us not only the buds and
blossoms of virtue and of piety, but the maturest and
most copious fruits of true righteousness: — and,
in it arc likewise contained, in various extracts from
the Gospels and Epistles, the substance of the whole
body of the New Testament Cove)ia/it^ w hicli is
able to make us wise unto Salvation. And as the
Jewish Ark was consecrated with sprinkling of

* Manna was itself prohal)ly fornud of dew, and both
arc intended as natural emblems of the divine grace,
which, like dew, is a nourishing substance, and distils in
a secret and invisible manner. Shepherd.



blood, and was carried by the Hebrews as a pro-
tection to them through the desert, and borne upon
the shoulders of the Priests through the river Jor-
dan, the swollen waters of which divided, and open-
ed a clear passage for the whole Congregation of
Israel; — so our Liturgical Ark is consecrated by the
great doctrine of Atonement by the blood of Christ,
which pervades the whole, and with the acknow-
ledgment of which all its prayers are fconcluded.
It is the great spiritual panoply' of our Church;
leading and protecting her children, through this
wilderness of sin and sorrow; and inspiring her
faithful worshippers vdth holy confidence, to pass
undismayed through the valley of the shadow of
Death, to the promised land of rest, the Heavenly

Of the several species of Prayer, under the cha-
racters of Confession, Adoration, Supplication,
Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Petition, the most
sublime and perfect models of composition are to
be found in the Daily Morning and Evening Ser-
vice. The general Confession in each, introduced
by an affectionate and impressive exhortation, is in


the highest degree calculated to solemnize the mind,
and humble the heart of the worshipper; thus pre-
paring it for the reception of the divine truths con-
tained in the Lessons and Psalms appointed for the
day, and for those strains of praise and grateful
adoration, contained in the Te Deum, and general
Thanksgiving.* The fervid glow of devotional ar-
dour which the various and comprehensive petitions

^ The Daily service of our Church may be reduced to
four general parts, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplica-
tion, and Intercession: and agreeably to this order, are
its different parts arranged. We are called upon by the
Minister first to propitiate the Deity by humbly con-
fessing our sins ; ux may then be considered as properly
qualified to thank him for benefits received; to supplicate
for a continuance of his blessings to ourselves; and to
intercede in behalf of others. f

Kxi tiYi u6 »r«? ff^itoxiui Trt5 «>tiTSi«5 wgo^^f^fiir. 1 iiKon. ill I'pist. ad
Phifip. c. iv.

An yxp vTi^ Tvt oidof>e,iyut ivy;,xpirT%i¥ ^p»ri^»ty xui rr.fiKxvra rr,i tKirutit
7rg»7(J><^u». III. in Kp. ad. Col. r. iv.

tkiduvKtfAi^a "Tr^vref wy^x^iV-rin y»f^ tw» n ^cj'Tf.^yuiiaJi j^ui* xyxfivf ttt
fjTu<; xiTtif Tx iXXitToyrx — reyx* ytt^ ia-rtt iv»u* rrxi i xy,o'j ToicvfTx ze* hi6v
ocTccTTc/ov. Id. in 1>,), Lad Tukss. c. 1.


in the Litany inspire, embrace all the wants, and
extend to all the weaknesses and temptations of
'^ poor, bewilder'd, miserable man."

The constant reading of the Holy Scriptures,
both of the Old and New Testament, communi-
cates, not only historical, but moral and religious
instruction: and the Lessons from each are so select-
ed, that where the Service is performed daily^
as it is the intention of our Church that it should
be, the Old Testament is read over once, and the
New Testament three times every year. By this
means, the poor and illiterate who cannot read, the
laboriously active who have not leisure, and the
foolishly " wise in their own conceits," who think
there is no necessity to read them, hear these sacred
oracles of divine truth promulgated, and are there-
by instructed in the way of Salvation.

The admirable arrangement of the various parts
of our service, and the judicious alternation of pre-
cept, prayer, and praise, prevent the mind from
being fatigued by too protracted an attention to
either: such variety relieves it, and consequently
gives energy to its action.


The Offices for the Administration of the two Sa-
craments of Baptism and of the Lord's Supper, and
those for the Visitation of the sick, and Burial of
the Dead, convey, in the purest strains of eloquence,
that Divine Consolation which is the peculiar cha-
racteristick of our Holy Religion.

The established Fasts and Festivals, are wisely
calculated to keep alive in our minds, the most im-
portant incidents and principles which attended the
introduction of the Christian system, by annually
presenting them before us, and affectionately solici-
ting our most attentive consideration of them.

In short, the majestick simplicity, and sublime
energy of this wonderful series of devotional exer-
cises, must ever command the affectionate attach-
ment of the members of our Church,* and has even
obtained the liberal praise of some of the most in-
telligent and eminent of the non-episcopalians.

* For the Church ol" Kngland, I am j)c rsuadcd, that the
constant doctrine of it is so pure and orthodox, that who-
soever believes it, and lives accordins^ to it, undoubtedly
shall be saved; and that there is no crrour in it, which may
warrant any man to disturb the peace, or renounce the
communion of it. C » i l r, i n r. w o r t ir .


With respect to our Rites and Ceremonies, they
are neither numerous nor burdensome ; preserving
a just medium between the fastidious and melan-

1 3

Online LibraryJames AbercrombieA sermon on the liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church : preached before the convention held in Christ-Church, Philadelphia, June 15, 1808 → online text (page 1 of 3)