Page images

unite with others in giving utterance to their common sentiments of gratitude to the common Benefactor; their penitence for transgressions of his will ; and their humble but earnest desire of whatever may be calculated to render them the fit objects of his favour,-to give dignity, usefulness, and value to their being. Will not such a practice prove as acceptable an offering to God as it is congenial with the best feelings and propensities of men ? Why then, in the name of common sense, must these feelings and propensities be suppressed? If their existence be not endangered, why must their influence be greatly impaired by consigning them altogether to silence and retirement ? For what purpose, moreover, was the faculty of speech bestowed, but to express the sentiments of the heart? And where is the use of this faculty, if not in society? In what again consists spiritual or mental prayer, but in the devout affections and desires of the mind addressed to God? And if it be right to cultivate such affections and desires, how can it be wrong to express them? If devotional sentiments are felt in society, what just reason can be given why they should not be uttered in society? And what tribute of gratitude can be more worthy of a rational being in the relation in which he stands to his supreme Benefactor and his best friend ? If, in every thing else that is virtuous and good, man is allowed to be social and communicative, why in his devotions must he be required to di

[ocr errors]

vest himself of his social nature, and become altogether recluse and solitary? If there be any who can say they have no religious principles in common with their fellow men; no benefits to be thankful for, no sins to confess, no wants to be supplied, like the rest of their species; no feelings of sympathy, no sentiments of devotion in which others may participate; then let them refuse to unite with others in the delightful employment of rendering the social tribute of gratitude and veneration where it is most due, and of making known their wants and requests, together with thanksgiving, to Him who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not. 6 O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. We will enter thy courts with thanksgiving, and thy gates with praise. We will give thanks at the remembrance of thy holiness. O come, let us worship and bow down ; let us kneel before the Lord our maker; let us call upon the name of Jehovah, for he is our God; we are his people and the work of his hands."

In the second place, will it be denied, that public social prayer is highly beneficial, that it tends to produce the best fruits of morality and practitical religion? or will it be maintained, that it is calculated to do. more harm than good ? To me at least it appears that the prevalence of religion depends upon its observance, and that without it the influence of Christianity upon society would gradually decay, and in the end become annihi

[ocr errors]

lated. Others may think differently; but we are thankful that we live in an age when the liberty of every one to express his convictions in decent language on religious topics, without restraint and without censure, is admitted. Misrepresentation and abuse, the remaining fruits of the spirit of persecution and bigotry, may continue to exist; but if fire, faggot, and the sword, have no power to silence what appears to be the voice of truth, reproach and calumny certainly will not have this effect. They may greatly injure, but can render no benefit to the cause which they are intended to assist.

To the beneficial tendencyand high importance of private prayer we give a ready assent: without it, the genuine and habitual influence of religion on the life can scarcely be supposed to exist. Nothing certainly can be more reniote from ostentation than real devotion; humility is essential to its existence, and its principal source at least will always be found in reflection and communion with the Father of spirits, and with our own hearts, when secluded from the world: one of the most valuable benefits of public prayer arises from its tendency to promote that which is private.

As both however have their peculiar advantages, so each of them is liable to defects and tendencies to evil peculiar to itself. Private devotion may be more free; less subject to restraint; better adapted to individual feelings, wants, and experience, and not at all liable to suspicions of

deceit and ostentation. But it is also in danger of becoming enthusiastic on the one hand, or destitute of fervour and animation on the other. The thoughts may wander, and the affections grow cold and indifferent. At any rate, its good effects will be confined to one individual. Public prayer is more limited in its subjects, and may have less of personal interest; and, what is far worse, it may also degenerate into parade and hypocritical formality, and may thus become a cloak for some of the worst of vices : but at the same time its salutary influence is more general and extensive; its effect will probably be greater; it is calculated to afford more encouragement and strength to religious principle, and especially to cherish the true spirit of general sympathy and fraternal affection, which Christ appointed to be the test by which his followers should be known a.

Who can be a stranger to the influence of society upon his feelings and his motives? Who that has any sensibility at all, does not know that some of his best emotions are more powerful in company than when alone ? Who is not aware that attention is kept alive, the memory and all the faculties of the mind roused into action, by the presence of others, when in solitude they would become torpid and dull ? And who can be ignorant especially, that by the union and concurrence of the friends of the same cause, unani.

a John xiii. 35.

mously engaged in the same occupation, his own mind receives additional encouragement, firmness and support? Why should this advantage be denied to religious exercises whilst it is allowed to those of any other description? When engaged in company with his brethren of mankind in pre. senting to the universal Parent and Benefactor their humble but sincere offering of adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication, every one must be sensible that his devotional sentiments experience a considerable accession of vigour and activity; his faith becomes more powerful in its influence; the satisfaction he derives from the consolations and hopes of Christianity is more lively and exhilarating; his devotedness to God and his service, more cheerful and complete. But above all, the principle of benevolence and Christian charity towards all men can scarcely fail to be drawn forth into its greatest energy and extent, by the union of many in the social exercises of spiritual and true worship, rendered to that Be. ing who is love itself, who stands in the same relation to all, and whose blessing, like the dew which falls equally on the neglected shrub and the stately oak, descends and rests, without di. stinction, on every upright worshiper. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one religious profession, one God and Father of all; the same Christian principles and hopes; the same rule of conduct, and the same glorious expectation of everlasting union and felicity in the like employments of be

« PreviousContinue »