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Ostentation of religion is not the vice of the present age. Mankind in general are verging to the opposite extreme. You may even attend to the whole conversation and conduct of many persons, who make profession of Christianity, and even habitually attend public worship, and, except in that single circumstance, you would not be able to discover whether they were Christians or not. How much more difficult, then, must it be to discover the Christianity of the man who does not attend Christian worship, never joining in the devotions of his fellow-christians, either in the church, or in his family Ostentation of religion has existed in this country, especially among the Puritans and Dissenters; but there are few traces of it to be found at present. The peculiar practices mentioned with ridicule and contempt by Mr. Wakefield, (but which I own I should look upon with respect,) I never heard of before. Why, then, so much precaution against a vice from which there is no danger ? It is like directing our whole force to the defence of one side of a fortress, when the enemy is making a breach at the opposite side.
Let us consider a little what is the ground of this so much dreaded ostentation. It is a man's valuing himself on something that is uncommon ; not on doing what is merely proper in itself, and simply his duty, but something more than is expected of him. But is this the case with respect to the homage we owe our Maker? Why should it be deemed a subject of ostentation to acknowledge the being and providence of God, and our obligation and subjection to him? Is this a thing so extraordinary as to afford just cause of boasting 7 And if I do acknowledge the being and providence of God, and should not be ashamed to profess it, if I were interrogated on the subject, where can be the impropriety of doing it in the most public, as well as in the most private manner If I wish, as I think I ought to do, that my belief, and corresponding practice, should be known, for the sake of any influence that it may have on others, am I not under obligation to do it in public, that my neighbours and the world may know that I do it? David thought himself bound in duty to do this “in the presence of all the people.” Daniel was not content with praying in secret at the court of Babylon, but chose to pray in such a manner as to show that he was neither ashamed nor afraid to do it; and he is not blamed for his ostentation on that account. When you have considered with attention what I have advanced in these Letters, in favor of public worship, I flatter myself you will be convinced of the reasonableness and real value of it; and not be carried away, as young persons are apt to be, with what has nothing to recommend it besides its novelty, seeming liberality, and remoteness from vulgar prejudice. Be especially upon your guard against that dislike of restraint which is peculiarly incident to youth, and suspect yourself, and suspend your determinations, when the experience of mankind is against you. An institution recommended by the constant observance of all ages and all nations, and especially all Christians, and which has never been objected to before yesterday, will probably be found to have serious uses, and certainly should not be abandoned till after a very deliberate examination.
- FAMILY WORSHIP.
TAMILY prayer, if not of absolute necessity, is of great use in all Christian families. Dr. Hartley, one of the most judicious, as well as most pious of men, says, “I believe it may be laid down as a certain fact, that no master or mistress of a family can have a true concern for religion, or be a child of God, who does not take care to worship by family prayer. Let the observation of the fact determine.” I would not choose to express myself quite in this manner, since much must be allowed for the different circumstances of families ; but thus much may certainly be said with truth, – that if the practice of family prayer, or any other mode in which we give evidence to the world that we are Christians, be forborne
through shame, or a compliance with the modes of the world, .
we have no just claim to the title and privilege of Christians, but fall under the awful sentence of Christ, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this—generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.”
Every practice by which we declare our belief of Christianity, such as attending Christian worship, receiving the Lord's Supper, or performing any other acknowledged Christian duty, tends to strengthen our faith, to inspire the proper spirit of the profession, and secure the performance of every duty which it enjoins; and, therefore, should by no means be neglected by us.
Thus should we be urgent, even to exhort one another, and all should gladly and thankfully receive “the word of exhortation; ” to “be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor will not be in vain in the Lord.”
The author of this epistle says, We should exhort one another “so much the more as we see the day” (meaning, no doubt, the great day, or the second coming of Christ) “approaching.” If this motive had weight in the times of the apostles, it must have more now ; since that great day, which will “try every man's work of what sort it is,” must be nearer than it was then ; and though this time was not known to our Lord himself, but only the signs of its approach, many intelligent Christians, who are attentive to the signs of the times, are of opinion that it cannot now be far distant, and may be expected even in the present generation. But since the coming is certain, though the time be uncertain, let us be ready, that, when our Lord shall return and take account of his servants, we may be found without spot, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD'S DAY,
If one day in seven be appointed to be a season of rest from labor, and for serious recollection of mind, by that Being who has made us capable both of labor and of reflection, let us conscientiously appropriate this, as well as every other portion of our time, to the use for which it was intended, and for which, we may therefore presume, it is really wanted; and let us not, out of too great a dread of superstition (which ought certainly to be guarded against, in this as well as in every thing else), pass into the contrary extreme, of a gross abuse of a divine ordinance, and a scandalous licentiousness of conduct.
Works of necessity and mercy are allowed to be a sufficient reason for setting aside the distinction of the Lord's day from the rest; but that journey, for instance, cannot be said to be necessary, for which nothing but convenience can be pleaded; neither can it be necessary to confine yourselves at home by taking a medicine on that day, when your health would not suffer by its being taken on the day before, or the day after. Also a cold, or other slight indisposition, is with a very ill grace pleaded as an excuse for absence from public worship, by those who are known to run much greater risks on other accounts. I wish it were merely a matter of doubt, whether, in many cases, the plea of necessity be justly alleged, and that it could be supposed that persons acted according to their judgments, though biassed by their inclinations. But, alas! so generally, and so manifestly, is
business of a nature altogether foreign to the proper design