« AnteriorContinuar »
ON SOCIAL WORSHIP.
Praise is devotion fit for mighty minds,
AND this is surely of a social nature. One class of religious duties, separately considered, tends to depress the mind, filling it with ingenuous shame and wholesome sorrow; and to these humiliating feelings, solitude might perhaps be found congenial: but the sentiments of admiration, love, and joy, swell the bosom with emotions, which seek for fellowship and communication. The flame indeed may be kindled by silent musing; but when kindled, it must infallibly spread. The devout heart, penetrated with large and affecting views of the immensity of God's works, the harmony of his laws, and the extent of his beneficence, bursts into loud and vocal expressions of praise and adoration; and, from a full and overflowing sensibility, seeks to expand itself to the utmost limits of creation. The mind is forcibly carried out of itself, and, embracing the whole circle of animated existence, calls on all above, around, below, to help to bear the burthen of its gratitude. Joy is too brilliant a thing to be confined within our own bosoms: it burnishes all nature, and with its vivid colouring gives a kind of fictitious life to objects without sense or motion. There cannot be a more striking proof of the social tendency of these feelings, than the strong propensity we have to suppose auditors where there are none. When men are wanting we address the animal creation; and, rather than have none to partake our sentiments, we
find sentiment in the music of the birds, the hum of insects, and the low of kine: nay, we call on rocks, and streams and forests, to witness and share our emotions. Hence the royal shepherd, sojourning in caves and solitary wastes, calls on the hills to rejoice, and the floods to clap their hands; and the lonely poet wandering in the deep recesses of uncultivated nature, finds a temple in every solemn grove, and swells his chorus of praise with the winds that bow the lofty cedars. And can he, who, not satisfied with the wide range of existence, calls for the sympathy of the inanimate creation, refuse to worship with his fellow men? Can he who bids Nature attend, forget to join every living soul in the universal hymn? Shall we suppose companions in the stillness of deserts, and shall we overlook them among friends and townsmen. It cannot be ! Social worship, for the devout heart, is not more a duty, than it is a real want. Barbauld.
REASONABLENESS OF PUBLIC WORSHIP.
God is to be regarded as the universal benefactor of mankind, from whom we all have received public blessings, and to whom therefore we owe public acknowledgements. For private praisings and thanksgivings are by no means proper returns for public mercies.
Every creature ought to do homage to his Creator; he ought to pay the tribute of honour, where honour is due. Now the honour of God is more promoted by his being worshipped publicly than privately, because private prayer is piety confined
within our own breasts; but public prayer is piety exemplified and displayed in our outward actions: it is the beauty of holiness made visible; our light shines out before men, and in the eye of the world; it enlarges the interests of godliness, and keeps up a face and sense of religion among mankind.
Were men only to repair to their devotions, as the disciple of quality did to his lord and master, secretly and by night for fear of the Jews; religion, thus lonely and unfriended, would soon decay for want of public countenance and encouragement. For what would be the consequence if religion sought the shades, and lived a recluse, entirely immured in closets; while irreligion audaciously appears abroad, like the pestilence that destroyeth at noon day? It requires no great depth of penetration to perceive, nor expense of argument to prove, that the want of a public national religion, or a general absenting from that national religion, must end in a general national irreverence to the Deity, in an universal dissolution of morals, and all the overflowings of ungodliness. The service of the church, and the word of God read and expounded, must awaken those reflections which it is the business of bad men to lay fast asleep, and let in upon the soul some unwelcome beams of light; but, when these constant calls to virtue are neglected, men will become gradually more and more estranged from all seriousness and goodness, till at last they end in a professed disregard to all fixed principles.
The fear of that Being, whose judgments no power can fence off, no skill elude, being absoIntely necessary, it is the duty of every man, not
only to cultivate this reverence in himself, but to promote it as far as he can in others. Now, he that would promote a sacred regard to the Deity, must do it by such actions as are most significant of that regard: he must express and exemplify to others, that awful serious sense of the Deity, which is impressed upon his own mind, by a solemn and avowed acknowledgment of his power and glory in assemblies set apart for that purpose. Whoever thinks justly must be sensible, that if public wor ship were once discontinued, an universal forgetfulness of that God would ensue, whom to remember is the strongest fence and preservative against vice; and that the bulk of mankind would soon degenerate into mere savages and barbarians, if there were not stated days to call them off from the common business of life, to attend to what is the most important of all business, their salvation in the next.
But I need not labour this point, since it is allowed even by those who are declared enemies to religion. They look upon religion and public worship, as a political engine, to awe the common herd into a sense of their duty, not founded on reason, yet necessary to the good of mankind. How absurd this scheme is, may easily be shown. For if they do not admit the existence of the Deity, they may be, without much difficulty, confuted; the existence of God being one of the most obvious truths. But if they do admit it, they must grant likewise, that an infinitely good being must will whatever is for the good of his creatures; and consequently religion and public worship, which they own to be conducive to the good of
mankind, must be his will: but what is the will of the Deity must be founded on truth and reason. What is necessary to the public happiness is therefore true. For though our private interest and truth may not always coincide; yet there is always a strict correspondence, harmony, and alliance between truth and the general happiness.
Religion being once set aside, there will be no thing left to restrain the better sort, but a fear of shame and disgrace; and nothing to restrain the lower sort but the dread of temporal punishments; which yet will be of little avail. For he who is weary of life, who wants to lay it down as a burden, may command yours, or mine, or any body's else. And what should hinder him? The fear of the world to come? That will be out of the question, when once a sense of religion is extinct. The fear of this world, of an ignominious or lingering death? Alas! temporal punishments derive their chief efficacy from the dread of divine vengeance. For, without that, a man may evade them, by being his own executioner. There are a thousand avenues to death; and though the vigilance of the magistrate may se cure some of them, yet others will stand open to receive the determined and resolved, and place them beyond the reach of the impotent power of their fellow-creatures. To destroy religion, there fore, is to let loose the wretched and the desperate (a formidable body) upon the easy, the affluent, and the happy. One would not choose to live in a world which has no notion or belief of another. For however advantageous one's circumstances may be, we should lie at the mercy of those who despair of bettering their own, but by violence or