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all superstitious and dishonorable notions of him. Consider him as the good Father of the prodigal son, in that excellent parable of our Saviour. Let it sink deep into your minds, as one of the most important of all principles, that the God with whom we have to do, is essentially, of himself, and without regard to any foreign consideration whatever, “abundant in mercy, not willing that any should perish, but that he had rather that all should come to repentance; ” and then, notwithstanding you consider yourselves as frail, imperfect, and sinful creatures; and though you cannot help accusing yourselves of much negligence, folly, and vice; you may still approach him with perfect confidence, in his readiness to receive, love and cherish you, upon your sincere return to him.
In this light our Lord Jesus Christ always represented “his Father and our Father, his God and our God.” This is the most solid ground of consolation to minds burdened with a sense of guilt; and what is of great advantage, it is the most natural, the most easy and intelligible of all others. If once you quit this firm hold, you involve yourselves in a system, and a labyrinth, in which you either absolutely find no rest and wander in uncertainty and horror; or, if you do attain to any thing of assurance, it is of such a kind, and in such a manner, as can hardly fail to feed that spiritual pride which will lead you to despise others; nay, unless counteracted by other causes, too often ends in a spirit of censoriousness, hatred, and persecution.
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We well know, my Christian brethren, what it is that the Lord our God requires of us, in order to live and to die in his favor; namely, “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” To this plain path of duty, then, let us adhere, without being anxious about any thing farther. Whether we have those fervors of devotion which some feel, and are apt to be proud of, or not, we shall experience that great peace of mind which all those have who keep God's law; and having lived the life of the righteous, our latter end will also be like his; the foundation of our joy being “the testimony of our consciences, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, - we have had our conversation in the world.” It is true, we are imperfect, sinful creatures; but, notwithstanding this, we have all possible encouragement given us to trust in the abundant mercy of our gracious God and Father, in that mercy which is essential to his nature, as a Being who is infinitely good, and who is love itself; and which, if we could entertain the least doubt concerning it, he has fully declared to all the world, by Moses and the prophets, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, whom he sent into the world to preach the grateful doctrine of repentance and remission of sins, thereby to redeem (that is, to deliver) us from all iniquity and to reconcile us to God. Animated, therefore, by the glorious promises of the gospel, let us, my Christian brethren, be “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor shall not finally be in vain in the Lord.”
SOCIAL AND PUBLIC worship.
If an attention be paid to the real principles of human nature, which Mr. Wakefield calls the character of the human mind, it appears to me, that we must perceive the wisdom of all the usual means of virtue, and of social prayer among the rest, as what every man, be his attainments what they will, really needs, and may usefully avail himself of Every passion or affection of our minds is strengthened by proper exercise; and all the social passions (and those of devotion are all of this class) are best exercised in company. Will any person pretend that he can be so cheerful alone, as in the company of those who are as much exhilarated as himself? Does not every man feel the glow of patriotism with double fervor when others join him in expressing the same patriotic sentiments 7 Is not this the principle on which all clubs, and social meetings of that kind, are formed ! Must not, then, the sentiments of devotion be felt with peculiar fervor when others join us in them, either in hymns or in prayer Let any man go into a Catholic church, abroad, where he will see, as I have done, the natural expressions of devotion, unrestrained by shame, and where there is no suspicion of hypocrisy, and say whether he be not excited to devotion by the sight. If he do not choose to go into a church, he may be some judge in this case by seeing even the counterfeit devotion of an actor on the stage, or viewing it in a good picture,
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