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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 ceasing; and, allowing for strong expressions, there must surely be some meaning in such language as this. If we discontinue religious exercises in public, we shall in time become less disposed to them in private, and be in danger of losing all sense of habitual devotion, except what may remain from former good impressions. Habits of piety or benevolence require not only to be formed, but to be kept up and invigorated by repeated acts; and sure I am, that this habitual devotion, which is the highest attainment of man, and the most perfective of his rational nature, can never be acquired or kept up without such frequent meditation on subjects of religion, reading the Scriptures, and actual or virtual prayer, as will not in general be attained without the aid of public worship, in which the attention will be necessarily solicited at least by proper objects; where the Scriptures are always more or less read, where proper discourses are delivered, and where the Supreme Being is invoked, and numbers join in the same forms of adoration. In all matters of great importance, it is our wisdom not to depend wholly on voluntary acts, but to lay ourselves under a kind of necessity of doing that which is only ultimately, and not immediately and obviously beneficial to us. If a young person had nothing of the nature of a task imposed upon him, he would hardly be brought to learn any thing. Before he could be brought to apply from free choice, the proper season of acquiring some branches of knowledge would be past, and could never be recalled. 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 1 Surely,
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? To avoid ostentation on this rigorous idea, not only must a man never pray out of his closet, but be careful that 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 man to be distinguished from the irreligious, at least from the careless and indifferent 1 Is no man ever to discover any zeal for religion, or is his zeal to be shown in words only, and never by his actions, lest his conduct should savor of ostentation ?
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 ? 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.