« PreviousContinue »
promised themselves nothing but ease and pleasure, they are made to experience restraints more severe, and mortifications more painful, than any which they would have undergone under the discipline of religion.
It will perhaps be contended by some, that although the representation which has now been given of the slavery of sin holds true in certain instances, yet that it is applicable only to those who come under the description of atrocious sinners. They imagine that a certain moderate course may be held in vice, by means of which, men, without throwing altogether aside the restraints of reason, may enjoy an easy and pleasurable life. By reasoning thus, my friends, you flatter and deceive yourselves to your own destruction. Be assured that, by every vicious indulgence, you are making an approach to a state of complete slavery; you are forfeiting a certain share of your liberty; how soon the whole of it may be forfeited, you are not aware. It is true, that all which has now been said of the servitude of sin, applies only to a character corrupted in the extreme. But remember, that to this extreme no man ever arrives at once. He passes through many of those intermediate stages, in one of which you are now perhaps found. Vice always creeps by degrees; and insensibly twines around us those concealed fetters by which we are at last completely bound. - As
you value therefore your liberty and your happiness, avoid every approach to evil. Consider all vicious pleasures as enchanted ground, by entering on which, you
will be farther and farther ensnared within the magic circle, till at length you are precluded from all retreat. The most pure and virtuous man is always
the freest. The religion of Christ is justly entitled the perfect law of liberty.* It is only when the Son makes us free, that we are free indeed : and it was with reason the Psalmist said, I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts.t
* James, i. 25.
+ Psalm cxix. 45.
On the IMPORTANCE of PUBLIC WORSHIP.
PSALM xxvi. 8.
Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and
the place where thine honour dwelleth.
GOD is a spirit, and they that worship him, must
worship him in spirit and in truth. That religion chiefly consists in an inward principle of goodness, is beyond dispute, and that its value and efficacy are derived from its effects in purifying the heart, and reforming the life. All external services, which have not this tendency, are entirely insignificant. They degenerate into mere superstition, equally unacceptable to God, and unprofitable to man. Hence they are so often treated in Scripture, with high contempt, when substituted in the room of the important duties of a virtuous life.
Notwithstanding this, it is certain that external services have their own place, and a considerable one too, in the system of religion. What their proper place is, no one can be at a loss to discern, who will only make a just distinction between the means, and the end, in religion. It is evident there is danger in man's erring here either on one side or other; and it is certain that they have erred on both. After it was observed, that mankind were prone to lay too much weight on the external parts of religion, it began to
be thought that no weight was to be allowed to them at all. The time was, when all religion centered in attending the duties of the church, and paying veneration to whatever was accounted sacred. This alone sanctified the character, and compensated every blemish in moral conduct. From this extreme the spirit of the age seems to be running fast into the opposite extreme, of holding every thing light that belongs to public worship. But if superstition be an evil, and a very great one it undoubtedly is, irreligion is not a smaller evil : And though the form of godliness may often remain when the power of it is wanting; yet the power cannot well subsist where the form is altogether gone. — The holy Psalmist, whose words are now before us, discovers much better principles. Expressing always the highest regard for the laws of God, and the precepts of. virtue, he breathes at the same time a spirit of pure devotion. Though loaded with the cares of royalty, and encircled with the splendour of a court, he thought it well became him to show respect to the great Lord of nature; and on many occasions expresses, as he does in the text, his delight in the public service of the temple. Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. In discoursing from which words, I purpose to show the importance of the public worship of God, and the benefits resulting from it. I shall consider it in three lights; as it respects God; as it respects the world; as it respects ourselves.
I. Let us consider it with respect to God. If there exist a Supreme Being, the Creator of the world, no consequence appears more natural and direct than
this, that he ought to be worshipped by his creatures, with every outward expression of submission and honour. We need only appeal to every man's heart, whether this be not a principle which carries along with it its own obligation, that to Him who is the fountain of our life and the Father of our mercies; to Him who has raised up that beautiful structure of the universe in which we dwell, and where we are surrounded with so many blessings and comforts ; solemn acknowledgements of gratitude should be made, praises and prayers should be offered, and all suitable marks of dependence on him be expressed. This obligation extends beyond the silent and secret sentiments of our hearts. Besides private devotion, it naturally leads to associations for public worship; to open and declared professions of respect for the Deity. Where blessings are received in common, an obligation lies upon the community, jointly to acknowledge them. Sincere gratitude is always of an open and diffusive nature. It loves to pour itself forth; to give free vent to its emotions; and, before the world, to acknowledge and honour a benefactor.
So consonant is this to the natural sentiments of mankind, that all the nations of the earth havé, aš if with one consent, agreed to institute some forms of worship; to hold meetings at certain times in honour of their deities. Survey the societies of men in their rudest state; explore the African deserts, the wilds of America, or the distant islands of the ocean; and you
will find that over all the earth some religious ceremonies have obtained. You will every where tráce, in one form or other, the temple, the priest, and the offering. The prevalence of the most absurd superstitions furnishes this testimony to the