Pure religion and undefiled before god and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1,27.
The poem begins with the quotation above. Then it describes remnants of primitive worship still practiced:
The Pagan’s myths through marble lips are spoken,
And ghosts of old Beliefs still flit and moan
Round fane and altar overthrown and broken,
O’er tree-grown barrow and gray ring of stone.
Blind Faith had martyrs in those old high places,
The Syrian hill grove and the Druid’s wood,
With mothers offering, to the Fiend’s embraces,
Bone of their bone, and blood of their own blood.
But, Whittier feels, God doesn’t want this:
As if the pomp of rituals, and the savor***
Of gums and spices could the Unseen One please;
As if His ear could bend, with childish favor,
To the poor flattery of the organ keys!
Not such the service the benignant Father***
Requireth at His earthly children’s hands;
Not the poor offering of vain rites, but rather
The simple duty man from man demands.
He asks no taper lights, on high surrounding***
The priestly altar and the saintly grave,
No dolorous chant nor organ music sounding
Nor incense clouding up the twilight nave.
The last three stanzas, which describe the worship that Whittier feels is best, were to become a famous hymn.
O Brother man! Fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of Him whose holy work was “doing good;”
So shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangor
Of wild war music o’er the earth shall cease;
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger
And in its ashes plant the tree of peace!
Full text of "Worship"