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Certainly there are seasons in which it is best for a man to be alone, and to pour out his heart before his Father, who seeth in secret; but at other times, especially when the mind is less disposed to fervor, it is equally advantageous to join in the common forms of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and petition, with others. We also feel the sentiments of brotherly love with peculiar warmth when we present ourselves at the same time in the presence of our common Father, and jointly express the feelings that belong to our common and most interesting relation to him. This practice must, in a more especial manner, tend to repress all resentment, and promote compassion and good-will. We are all the offending children of the same Parent, and equally stand in need of the same indulgence and mercy: let us therefore join in supplicating it together.
I do not say that our present forms of devotion will suit a man in the more advanced state of being to which he will be raised in the state after death, because I know nothing of that state; but they appear to be well adapted to human nature in this present state ; and we shall consult our improvement infinitely better by conforming to them, than by attempting to get above them, and disregarding them. Besides, the bulk of mankind will never be in that high class of Christians which does not stand in need of the usual modes of improvement; and, in whatever rank our vanity may lead us to place ourselves, we should consider how our example may affect them.
You may think that you can employ your time more usefully in your closet than you can do in the church, or the meeting-house; and in some cases no doubt you may ; there being no general rule without some exceptions; and essential social duties may well occasionally supersede the attendance on public worship. But, in general, I am well persuaded that a man cannot spend his time to better purpose than by setting an example of a regard to the forms of religion to those who look up to him; to say nothing of the improvement that he may himself receive there, if he give due attention to the duties of the place. If he be inattentive to them, he may feel his time pass irksomely enough ; and, as far as his own improvement is concerned, it might have been better for him to have been elsewhere; but the same objection will lie against any other duty, in any other place.
The mind is improved by a repetition of good impressions. We all know that a serious turn of mind is acquired by reading serious books, and by serious conversation; and that levity of mind is acquired by impressions of an opposite nature; and if every person be the better for hearing a good discourse, on a moral subject, when the attention is not fatigued by the length of it, some real improvement may be had from a repetition of the same sentiments and ideas expressed in the form of a prayer, provided that be not too long.
There appear to me to be unreasonable complaints of long prayers, when pious discourses, of much greater length, are not particularly complained of; and a prayer may be considered as a particular mode of presenting the same pious sentiments to the mind, so that the hearer of it may be edified, whether he join in it so as to make it his own prayer or not. If this exercise, which requires a considerable effort of the mental faculties, be omitted, the mind, in a passive state, will still be subject to the impression of useful sentiments, and may derive considerable advantages from the service.
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It is even wise in a man to use some little effort with himself, and not to desist from religious exercises on the first symptoms of weariness, but to persevere in his attention to what he hears; and this is no more than we are obliged to do in a thousand other cases, and what we find our account in. An exercise of any kind that is tiresome at first may not only cease to be tiresome, but even become pleasant, so that we cannot well do without it; and if it be omitted, we
shall feel a vacuity which nothing else can supply. This will be equally the case with religious exercises; and is it not desirable that the mind be brought into such a state as not only to bear, but to relish, religious exercises of all kinds; since it must be an effectual security to virtue? We know by reading and observation, that some persons have been able to relish nothing so much. Our Saviour could
* continue a whole night in prayer to God; and the apostle
exhorts us, no doubt from his own practice, to pray without
Now, in many respects, we are all but children and in our noviciate, and we shall act a very unwise part, if we leave those practices which furnish the elements of religious feelings and habits, to our own arbitrary pleasure. In this case the practice will often be neglected, and, consequently, the habit will never be formed. } It is happy for many persons that the force of custom operates as a kind of law, and obliges them to attend to acts of public and private devotion from their early years, and even through the whole of life. By this means they are continually kept within the influence of good impressions, the silent operation of which is unspeakably beneficial to them. It may sometimes subject them to pass an hour in a manner rather unpleasant to them, but by degrees they become reconciled to it; so that, from being irksome, it becomes tolerable, and from tolerable, such as, whether positively pleasurable or not, they do not know how to do without. However, by this means they are kept out of the paths of vice, and in the practice of virtue. I own myself to be so far from Christian perfection, that I think myself happy in such a necessary mode of spending my time, especially on Sundays, as serves' to keep up a constant attention to my situation as an accountable being, to my relation to God, and my dependance upon him, so that I cannot be long without being reminded of my destination to a future and everlasting state; as by this means I hope I am more in the way of acquiring those sentiments and habits which will qualify me for it. Let others fancy that they can do without these ordinary helps; I cannot but think there would be more wisdom in a greater distrust of themselves. “Happy is he that feareth always.”
PRAYER FOR TEMPORAL BLESSINGS.
IN what unqualified, and therefore indecent, manner, some persons may pray for health, or for any thing else, I cannot say, and therefore cannot defend. But that health, or any other temporal blessing, or what is usually deemed such, may be very innocently prayed for, I have no doubt, if we conduct ourselves by scripture precept or example. Hezekiah prayed most earnestly for recovery from sickness, that is, for health and life, and was not censured, but graciously heard. David both prayed and gave thanks for the same blessing, and others of a similar nature; and our Lord authorizes us to pray for our daily bread, which is the means of supporting health and life.
If the mere possibility of any thing being no blessing, but a curse to us, be a reason why we should not pray for it, such is our ignorance, that we ought to forbear to pray for any thing. What is there in nature that is absolutely, and universally, either good or evil? Certainly not life itself, or any thing that contributes to the preservation of it. Nay, as we ought, in strictness, to judge of moral as of natural things, can any person be absolutely certain that he shall not be ultimately better, as Peter probably was, for falling by any particular temptation ? Might he not, therefore, on this principle, question the propriety of our Saviour's direction, to pray that we be not led into temptation? Surely,