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then, seeing to what it leads, we cannot be too careful how we give way to the idea of aiming at a degree of refinement and perfection, in the method of devotion, unknown to Christ or the apostles, so as to think ourselves at liberty to depart from their principles and practice.
We are certainly allowed by an universal and most indulgent Parent, who knoweth our frame, (and the practice is abundantly authorized in the Scriptures,) to indulge our natural wishes for whatever appears to us to be good for us at the time, and also to express that wish in the form of a prayer; but always with due submission to the will of God, who knows better than we do what is really good for us. Christ even prayed to be excused the pains of a violent death, though he had been apprized that it was the wise intention of God that he should submit to them, and was prepared so to do. To pretend to greater refinement and greater strength of mind than this, is unnatural. We only deceive and injure ourselves by the attempt.
OSTENTATION IN RELIGION.
You think, that by refusing to pray in public, you avoid ostentation, which is certainly a bad thing, and ought, no doubt, to be guarded against. But an apparent indifference to religion is another bad thing, and therefore ought likewise to be guarded against; and how is it to be known that a man is devout at all, if no person ever see, or know him to be so 1 To avoid ostentation on this rigorous idea, not only must a man never pray out of his closet, but be careful thai it be not known that he prays, even there; because his retiring for that purpose will, if it be known, have the same effect. And since the same reason requires that similar precautions be taken with respect to alms-giving, and every other moral virtue, how is the religious maii to be distinguished from the irreligious, at least from the careless ani indifferent? Is no man ever to discover any zeal for religion. or is his zeal to be shown in words only, and never by lis actions, lest his conduct should savor of ostentation 1
Our Lord absolutely requires of his disciples, that they should confess him before men; for that, otherwise, he will not confess or acknowledge them before his heavenly Father and the holy angels. But how is this to be done upon the plan of refraining from all public worship, and even from celebrating the Lord's Supper 1 Is there to be no outward badge or visible token of a man's being a Christian? Is he to wait till he be interrogated on the subject? The primitive Christians thought and acted very differently.
Ostentation of religion is not the vice of the present age. Mankind in general are verging to the opposite extreme. You may even attend to the whole conversation and conduct of many persons, who make profession of Christianity, and even habitually attend public worship, and, except in that single circumstance, you would not be able to discover whether they were Christians or not. How much more difficult, then, must it be to discover the Christianity of the man who does not attend Christian worship, never joining in the devotions of his fellow-christians, either in the church, or in his family! Ostentation of religion has existed in this country, especially among the Puritans and Dissenters; but there are few traces of it to be found at present. The peculiar practices mentioned with ridicule and contempt by Mr. Wakefield, (but which I own I should look upon with respect,) I never heard of before. Why, then, so much precaution against a vice from which there is no danger? It is like directing our whole force to the defence of one side of a fortress, when the enemy is making a breach at the opposite side.
Let us consider a little what is the ground of this so much dreaded ostentation. It is a man's valuing himself on something that is uncommon; not on doing what is merely proper in itself, and simply his duty, but something more than is expected of him. But is this the case with respect to the homage we owe our Maker 1 Why should it be deemed a subject of ostentation to acknowledge the being and providence of God, and our obligation and subjection to him? Is this a thing so extraordinary as to afford just cause of boasting? And if I do acknowledge the being and providence of God, and should not be ashamed to profess it, if I were interrogated on the subject, where can be the impropriety of doing it in the most public, as well as in the most private manner? If I wish, as I think I ought to do, that my belief, and corresponding practice, should be known, for the sake of any influence that it may have on others, am I not under obligation to do it in public, that my neighbours and the world may know that I do it 1 David thought himself bound in duty to do this "in the presence of all the people." Daniel was not content with praying in secret at the court of Babylon, but chose to pray in such a manner as to show that he was neither ashamed nor afraid to do it; and he is not blamed for his ostentation on that account.
When you have considered with attention what I have advanced in these Letters, in favor of public worship, I flatter myself you will be convinced of the reasonableness and real value of it; and not be carried away, as young persons are apt to be, with what has nothing to recommend it besides its novelty, seeming liberality, and remoteness from vulgar prejudice. Be especially upon your guard against that dislike of restraint which is peculiarly incident to youth, and suspect yourself, and suspend your determinations, when the experience of mankind is against you. An institution recommended by the constant observance of all ages and all nations, and especially all Christians, and which has never been objected to before yesterday, will probably be found to have serious uses, and certainly should not be abandoned till after a very deliberate examination.
Family prayer, if not of absolute necessity, is of great use in all Christian families. Dr. Hartley, one of the most judicious, as well as most pious of men, says, " I believe it may be laid down as a certain fact, that no master or mistress of a family can have a true concern for religion, or be a child of God, who does not take care to worship by family prayer. Let the observation of the fact determine." I would not choose to express myself quite in this manner, since much must be allowed for the different circumstances of families; but thus much may certainly be said with truth, — that if the practice of family prayer, or any other mode in which we give evidence to the world that we are Christians, be forborne through shame, or a compliance with the modes of the world, we have no just claim to the title and privilege of Christians, but fall under the awful sentence of Christ, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this — generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels."
Every practice by which we declare our belief of Christianity, such as attending Christian worship, receiving the Lord's Supper, or performing any other acknowledged Christian duty, tends to strengthen our faith, to inspire the proper spirit of the profession, and secure the performance of every duty which it enjoins; and, therefore, should by no means be neglected by us.