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ness ? While they acknowledge the importance, and even the necessity of public religion to certain classes of men, do they nevertheless contribute by their behaviour to defeat the end of public religion, and to annihilate that importance which they ascribe to it?— They are employed in framing laws and statutes for preventing crimes, and keeping the disorderly multitude within bounds; and at the same time by personally discountenancing public worship, they are weakening, they are even abolishing, among the multitude, that moral restraint which is of more general influence upon manners than all the laws they frame. In vain they complain of the dishonesty of servants, of the insolence of mobs, of the attacks of the highwayman. To all these disorders they have themselves been accessory. By their own disregard of sacred institutions, they have disseminated profligacy among the people. They have broken down the flood-gates which served to restrain the torrent; they have let it loose to overflow the land; and by the growing deluge may themselves be swept away.
But I must next argue upon a different ground; and proceed,
III. To set forth the importance of the public worship of God to every individual in every rank of life. Whatever his station be, he is still a man; and
i has the duties of a man to perform. Were his attendance on divine worship of no other effect, than to add countenance to a salutary institution, this alone would render it his duty. But moreover, we assert it to be his duty on his own account; if it be
; the duty of every man to use the proper means of preserving and fortifying his virtue. All the Christian
institutions have a direct tendency to this end. They all serve to give warmth to piety, and to add solemnity to moral virtue. A very high opinion, indeed, that man must have of his own character, who imagines that, amidst all the follies and corruptions of the world, he stands in need of no assistance for enabling him to act his part with propriety and dignity.
The question is not, Whether persons of rank and education are to learn any thing that is new to them, by frequenting the places of public worship? The great principles of piety and morality are obvious and easily known; and we shall readily admit, that there are many to whom no new instruction is communicated in the house of God. But, my friends, the purpose
of your going there is to have known truths recalled to your mind, and their dormant influence awakened; is to have serious meditations suggested; to have good dispositions raised; to have the heart adjusted to a composed and tranquil frame. Is there any man of reason and reflection, who will not acknowledge such effects, as far as they follow from attendance on religious ordinances, to be of the most beneficial nature? These occasional cessations from the cares and anxieties of life, these interruptions to the bustle and the passions of the world, in order to think and hear of eternity, are both a relief and an improvement to the mind. By this retreat from its ordinary circle of thoughts, it is enabled to return with more clearness and more vigour to the business of the world, after a serious and
But I must ask the persons with whom I now reason, whether there be no other call to come to God's house, than to hear instruction there? Is not the. devout adoration of the God of heaven the principal object of our religious assemblies; and is this what any man of reflection, and of sober mind, dare to make light of? In the temple of the Lord, the rich and the poor, the prince and the peasant, appear as suppliants alike for the protection and favour of the Almighty. — Great and flourishing as thou mayest think thyself, know that thou standest as much in need of that protection, as the meanest of the crowd whom thou beholdest worshipping, with lowly reverence, the God of their fathers. The sun of prosperity shines at present on thy head, and the favourable gale carries thee softly along the stream of life. But, the Almighty needs only to give the word, and instantly the tempest shall rise; and thy frail bark shall be driven into the ocean, and whelmed in the deep. In my prosperity I said I shall never be moved. Thou, Lord, didst hide thy face, and I was troubled. Look up, with dread, to that awful hand of Providence which is stretched over your heads. Remember the instability of all human things ; remember it, and tremble, ye who despise the devout acknowledgement of him who disposes of the human fate! Though ye live many years and rejoice in them all, remember the days of darkness'; for they shall be many.
But after all that has been urged on this subject, I am sensible it may be objected, that many who make conscience of paying strict regard to the institutions of religion, do not appear to have derived much benefit from them. They are not, it will be said, more improved in moral conduct, and in the proper discharge of the several duties of life, than others who have been apparently negligent of the services of the church.
* Eccles. xi. 8.
On the contrary, a formal regard to these appears to be substituted by many in the room of the weightier matters of the law. Though this should be admitted, it goes no farther than to show that human weakness, or corruption, may defeat the purpose of the most promising means of moral improvement. That a superstitious attention to external worship has too often usurped the character, and supplanted the place of real virtue, will not be denied. Admonitions against so dangerous an error cannot be given too often. But because the best things have been often misapplied and abused, no argument thence arises for their being undervalued, and thrown aside. So also reason, instruction, and discipline of every kind, have been frequently perverted to bad ends; and yet their intrinsic worth and usefulness remain untouched, and acknowledged.
Besides this, it cannot be admitted that, because religious institutions produce not all the good that might be wished, and hoped for, they therefore do no good at all. This were a rash and ill-founded conclusion. If the morals of men are not always amended by them as they ought to have been, there is reason, however, to think that they would have been worse without them. Some check is always given by them to open profligacy. Some assistance is furnished to good dispositions of heart; at least, to decency of manners.
Even momentary impressions of seriousness made on the thoughtless by the solemnities of religion, are not without their fruit. They leave generally some trace behind them; and when the traces are often renewed, they may be hoped, through the Divine blessing, to form at last a deep impression on the mind.
At the same time, I do not say that religious institutions work upon the mind like a charm; and that mere bodily attendance on them will always ensure us of some profitable effect. Let the means that are employed for the improvement of rational beings, be ever so powerful in themselves, much of their success will always depend on the manner in which they are received and applied. I shall therefore conclude my reasonings on this subject, with a few observations concerning the dispositions requisite on our part, for deriving benefit from the public ordinances of religion.
THE ends for which we assemble in the house of God are two;
to worship God, and to listen to religious instructions.
The public worship of God is the chief and most sacred purpose of every religious assembly of Christians. Let it here be remembered, that it is not the uttering, or the hearing of certain words, that constitutes the worship of the Almighty. It is the heart that praises or prays. If the heart accompany not the words that are spoken or heard, we offer the sacrifice of fools. By the inattentive thought, and the giddy and wandering eye, we profane the temple of the Lord, and turn the appearance of devotion into insult and mockery.
With regard to religious instruction, attention and reverence are unquestionably due.
All religious and moral knowledge comes from God. It is a light from heaven, first transmitted to man by the original