« AnteriorContinuar »
Christ. Then, if his devotions, whether public or private, be performed with decency and propriety, he need not doubt of being everlastingly rewarded in the kingdom of heaven.
No one can reasonably object to the solemn prayers and decent ceremonies of the church of England, which are so admirably contrived to excite dovotion in every pious mind. - .
Let the advocates for extempore prayers defend them if they can. We see, that notwithstanding the incohcrency, tautology, and weakness of them, which evidently demonstrate that they are not the dictates of the holy Spirit, there are men credulous enough to look upon them as such ; though, if they would but reflect, they must know that they do not pray themselves: their teachers pray indeed, but they only hear prayers in the very same manner as they hear the sermon. : Now, as prayer is speaking or conversing with God, unless I speak to him myself; unless my own soul discourse with him, I cannot be said to pray. For no one can be so senseless as to imagine, that if I was in company with two persons who were discoursing together, and not utter a word to either of them, that I discoursed with them. And is it not strange that so groundless a conceit should ever enter into men's heads as that hearing another pray should be praying? Yet it is inanifest, from daily experience, that the geneTality of mankind do think that they pray when they only hear another pray. Eventi
We have a form of prayer, and the congregation may, if they please, make theniselves
perfectly acquainted with it before land, and may join with the minister in every word, and, by that means, make both theirs and his a joint prayer. But a man that offers up an extempore prayer, or one of ois own composing, only prays himself, and the minds of his hearers must be constantly employed to know what he is going to say, and judging of it; consequently, never can have time themselves, by the direction of their own minds to God, to offer up any part of his prayer ; much less can the minister's and people's be a joint prayer, because he must have actually offered up every part of it before they can tell what he will say.
But notwithstanding that we have a most excellent liturgy, yet it is too visible that many in our churches do not pray. If we may judge from outward appearance, we may conclude that when people are gazing about them, whispering, lolling, or using any irreverent postures, that they do not direct their minds to God while the minister is repeating the words: and when they do not, they cannot be said to pray. A man may draw near to God with his lips, and his heart be far from him; his mind may be intent upon other things : and, when this is the case, it is slownright mockery, consequently a very great sin.
As there can be no religion, without mode or ceremony, so no pious Christian will neglect to comply with the decent ceremonies of the church, such as kneeling at prayers, and standing when we sing the praises of our great Creator. When people neglect to do this, it is no uncharitable assertion to say, they have then no thoughts of God at all, at least, if they have, they are very loose and profane.
We see, then, that God is to be worshipped, and that not privately only, but in a public and social manner; and, according to St. Paul, it must be done decently, and in order. Some time, then, of course, must be consécrated and set apart for this purpose; and this, by general practice of Christians, is one day in seven. The Jews, by divine appointment, observed the seventh day, but that obligation terminated with the Hebrew nation; for Christ, after compleating the work of our redemption, by rising on the first day of the week, and afterwards by his miraculous mission of the Holy Ghost, on the first day of the week, which we this day commemorate; Christ; I say, by this means, has translated the religious observation of the seventh day to the first day of the week: and the moral obligations of the fourth commandment, with regard to the Jewish sabbath, are equally binding on that of the Christian.
On this day we are not to follow our occupations, but are to rest from our labours, not only ourselves, but our servants and our cattle ; by which we shall observe the two incumbent obligations of piety and mercy. And what day can be so proper for Christians to assemble together and worship God as that on which their Redeemer rose from the dead?' Since, on this glorious event, all their hopes, all their prospects, and the truth of their religion, depend.
Now, from what has been observed, thi. must be the natural conclusion, that to observe a stated form and time of worship, and to per form it with decency, is highly reasonable, because it keeps in our minds a constant sense of. our dependance upon God, and the obligations we owe him. It is this which influences the conduct of a good man, and makes him set God always before him ; whereas the wicked is so proud that he careth not for God, neither is God in all his thoughts: he neglects the means of grace, and by so doing, grows every day more loose in his notions of piety and virtue.
But a fian that attends the public worship of God may, by the lectures which are there delivered, be put upon his guard against the dangerous snares of vice, which are laid open to the view of the unguarded and inconsiderate; virtue is exalted, vice exposed, and the duties of morality are enforced by the glorious sanctions of eternal happiness to the good, and everlasting misery to the wicked.
I know it is allowed on all hands, that public sermons are very useful and fit instructions for the vulgar and ignorant, but we are told that they are useless with respect to men of reason and reflection. That is, in plain English, they are of no service at all; for who is the man, if he may judge for himself, that will place himself in the elass of the ignorant and thoughtless? I fear, if this were to be admitted as a sufficient plea of absence, we should have but a thin congregation ; for people would stay at home to avoid being thought ignorant. But this plea of vanity must not be admitted, because there is no man 'so deep read to whose memory some important truths may not be discovered ; or, at least, represented in a light in which they were never considered ; and, perhaps, in a light fairly adapted to their own tenipers, and which, consequently, may lead them to good and worthy actions.
No man is so compleatly master of every subject, as that nothing new can be suggested to him, and as prejudice and prepossession are misfortunes that attend the most finished education, something in a studied discourse may be offered, if not immediately to enlarge his understanding, at least to put him upon a cool examination, by which his wrong bias may be removed.
However, after all, public lectures must be looked upon by far the less noble and sublime part of divine service, if it can be called any part of it all; though, by some sectaries, the sermon is thought to be the principal part of their public worship; at least, one would imagine so, since their whole service consists almost entirely of preaching.
But a judicious person will easily perceive that the whole design of public lectures is to persuade men, by proper arguments, to a constant attendance upon the public worship, and to every other Christian duty; therefore, to attend to a sermon, and, in a manner, neglect the prayers, is to confound the means with the end, which is a manifest absurdity. · Men should be careful, when they coine into