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as the one ought to be done, so the other ought not, by any means, be left undone.-As God is to be obeyed, so he is to be worshipped also.-For, altho' inward holiness and integrity of heart is the ultimate end of the divine dispensations ;—~ yet external religion is a certain mean of promoting it. Each of them has its just bounds :—And therefore, as we would not be so carnal as merely to rest contenfed with the one,-so neither can we pretend to be so spiritual as to neglect the other.
And tho' God is all-wise, and therefore understands our thoughts afar off,-and knows the exact degrees of our love and reverence to him, tho' we should withhold those outward marks of it ;— yet God himself has been graciously pleased to command us to pray to him ;—that we might beg the assistance of his grace to work with us. against our infirmities ; that we might acknowledge him to be, what he is, the supreme LORD of the whole world ;- -that we might testify the sense we have of all his mercies and loving kindness to us,and confess that he has the propriety of every thing we enjoy ;-that the earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof.
Thus much of this duty of prayer in general.
-From every individual, it may be reasonably expected from a bare reflection upon his own station, his personal wants, and the daily blessings which he has received in particular;-but, for those blessings bestowed upon the whole species in common, reason seems farther to require, that a joint return should be made by as many of the species as can conveniently assemble together for this religious purpose. From hence arises, likewise, the reasonableness of public worship, and sacred places set apart for that purpose; without which, it would be very difficult to preserve that sense of GoD and religion upon the minds of men, which is so necessary to their well
being, considered only as a civil society, and with regard to the purposes of this life, and the influence which a just sense of it must have upon their actions. Besides, men who are united in societies, can have no other cement to unite them likewise in religious ties,as well as in manners of worship and points of faith,but the institution of solemn times,and public places,destined for that use,
And it is not to be questioned, that if the time, as well as the place, for serving GoD, were once considered as indifferent, and left so far to every man's choice, as to have no calls to public prayer, how ever a sense of religion might be preserved a while by a few speculative men, yet, that the bulk of mankind would lose all knowledge of it, and, in time, live without GoD in the world.-Not that private prayer is the less our duty, the contrary of which is proved above; and our SAVIOUR says, that when we pray to GoD in secret, we shall be rewarded openly; -but that prayers which are publicly offered up in GoD's house, tend more to the glory of GoD, and the benefit of ourselves, for this reason,that they are presumed to be performed with greater attention and seriousness, and therefore most likely to be heard with a more favorable acceptance. And for this, one might appeal to every man's breast, whether he has not been affected with the most elevated pitch of devotion, when he gave thanks to the great congregation of the saints, and praised GoD amongst much people?. -Of this united worship, there is a glorious description which St. John gives us, in the Revelations, where he supposes the whole universe joining together in their several capacities, to give glory in this manner to their common LORD.- -Every creature which was in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and such as were in the seas, and all that were in them, heard I, crying,-Blessing, and honor,
and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne.
But here it may be asked, that if public wor ship tends so much to promote the glory of GoD, -and is what is so indispensible the duty and benefit of every christian state,how came it to pass, that our blessed SAVIOUR left no command to his followers, throughout the gospel, to set up public places of worship, and keep them sacred for that purpose?—It may be answered, -That the necessity of setting apart places for divine worship, and the holiness of them, when thus set apart, seemed already to have been so well established by former revelation, as not to need any express precept upon that subject For, though, the particular appointment of the temple, and the confinement of worship to that place alone, were only temporary parts of the Jewish covenant; yet the necessity. and duty of having places somewhere solemnly dedicated to GOD, carried a moral reason with it, and therefore was not abolished with the ceremonial part of the law. Our SAVIOUR came not to destroy, but to fulfill the law ;and therefore, the moral precepts of it, which promoted a due regard to the divine Majesty, remained in as full force as ever. -And accordingly, we find it attested, both by christian and heathen writers, that so soon as the second century, when the number of believers was much increased, and the circumstances of rich converts enabled them to do it,that they began to erect edifices for divine worship ;and, though under the frowns and oppression of the civil power, they every Sabbath assembled themselves therein,that,with one heart and one lip, they might declare whose they were, and whom they served, and, as the servants of one LORD, might offer up their joint prayers and petitions.
I wish there was no reason to lament an abatement of this religious zeal amongst christians of latter days. Though the piety of our forefathers seems, in a great measure, to have deprived us of the merit of building churches for the service of God,there can be no such plea for not frequenting them in a regular and solemn manner. How often do people absent themselves (when in the utmost distress how to dispose of themselves) from church, even upon those days which are set apart for nothing else but the worship of GOD;
when, to trifle that day away, or apply any portion of it to secular concerns, is a sacrilege almost in the literal sense of the word!
From this duty of public prayer arises another which I cannot help speaking of, it being so dependant upon it;-I mean, a serious, devout, and respectful behavior, when we are performing this solemn duty in the house of GoD.. This is surely the least that can be necessary in the immediate presence of the Sovereign of the world, upon whose acceptance of our addresses, all our present and future happiness depends.
External behavior is the result of inward reverence, and is therefore part of our duty to GOD, whom we are to worship in body as well as spirit.
And as no one should be wanting in outward respect and decorum; before an earthly prince or superior, much less should we be so, before Him, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain.
Notwithstanding the obviousness of this branch of duty, it seems often to be little understood; and whoever will take a general survey of church behavior, will often meet with scenes of sad variety. What a vein of indolence and indevotion sometimes seems to run throughout whole congregations!-what ill-timed pains do some take in putting on an air of gaiety and indifference, in the most interesting parts of this duty,-even
when they are making confession of their sins, as if they were ashamed to be thought serious with their GoD!-Surely, to address ourselves to his infinite Majesty, after a negligent and dispassionate manner, besides the immediate indignity offered, it is a sad sign we little consider the bles sings we ask for; and far less deserve them. BeI sides, what is a prayer, unless our hearts and affections go along with it?-It is not so much as the shadow of devotion; and little better than the papists telling their beads,—or honoring GoD with their lips, when their hearts are far from him. The consideration that a person is come to prostrate himself before the throne of high heaven, and in that place which is particularly distinguished by his presence, is sufficient inducement for any one to watch over his imagination, and guard against the least appearance of levity and disrespect.
An inward sincerity will of course influence the outward deportment; but where the one is wanting, there is great reason to suspect the absence of the other. I own it is possible, and often happens, that this external garb of religion may be worn, when there is little within of a piece with it ;-but I believe the converse of the proposition can never happen to be true, that a truly religious frame of mind should exist without some outward mark of it. The mind will shine thro' the veil of flesh which covers it, and naturally express its religious dispositions; and, if it possesses the power of godliness,-will have the external form of it too.
May God grant us to be defective in neither, but that we may so praise and magnify GoD on earth, that when he cometh, at the last day, with ten thousand of his saints in heaven, to judge the world, we may be partakers of their eternal inheritance. Amen.