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and goodness, till at last they end in a professed disregard to all fixed principles.
The fear of that Being, whose judgments no power can fence off, no skill elude, being absolutely necessary, it is the duty of every man, not only to cultivate this reverence in himself, but to promote it as far as he can in others. Now, he that would promote a sacred regard to the Deity, must do it by such actions as are most significant of that regard : he must express and ex. emplify to others, that awful, serious sense of the Deity, which is impressed upon his own mind, by a solemn and avowed acknowledgment of his power and glory, in assemblies set apart for that pūrpose! Whoever thinks justly, must be sensible that if public worship were once discontinued, a universal forgetfulness of that God would ensue, whom to remember is the strongest fence and preservative against vice; and that the bulk of mankind would soon degenerate into mere savages and barbarians, if there were not stated days to call them off from the common business of life, to attend to what is the most important of all business, their salvation in the next !
But I need not labour this point, since it is allowed even by those who are declared enemies to religion. They look upon religion and public worship as a political engine, to awe the common herd into a sense of their duty, not founded on reason, yet necessary to the good of mankind. How absurd this scheme is, may easily be shown. For, if they do not admit the existence of the Deity, they may be, without much difficulty, confuted; the existence of God being one of the most obvious truths. But if they do admit it, they must grant likewise, that an infinitely good Being must will whatever is for the good of his creatures; and consequently religion and public worship, which they own to be conducive to the good of mankind, must be his will : but what is the will of the Deity, must be founded on truth and
What is necessary to the public happiness is therefore true. For though our private interest and truth may not always coincide; yet there is always a strict correspondence, harmony, and alliance, between truth, and the general happiness.
Religion being once set aside, there will be nothing left to restrain the better sort, but a fear of shame and disgrace; and nothing to restrain the lower sort but the dread of temporal punishments ; which yet will be of little avail. For he, who is weary of life, who wants to lay it down as a burden, may command
yours, or mine, or any body's else. And what should
hinder him? The fear of the world to come ? That will be out of the question, when once a sense of religion is extinct. The fear of this world,—of an ignominious or lingering death ? Alas ! temporal punishments derive their chief efficacy from the dread of Divine vengeance ! For, without that, a man may evade them, by being his own executioner. There are a thousand
to death; and though the vigilance of the magistrate may secure some of them, yet others will stand open to receive the determined and resolved, and place them beyond the reach of the impotent power of their fellow-creatures. To destroy religion, therefore, is to let loose the wretched and the desperate, upon the easy, the affluent, and the happy. One would not choose to live in a world which has no notion or belief of another. For, however advantageous one's circumstances may be, we should lie at the mercy of those who despair of bettering their own, but by violence or fraud; there being nothing in this life to check that man to whom life itself, as it is circumstanced, is an insupportable load.
In a word, public worship is the great instrument of securing a sense of God's providence, and of a world to come ; and a sense of God's providence, and a world to come, is the great basis of all social and private duties.
PRIVATE PRAYER, MORNING AND EVENING,
SEED. Let us take care, that every morning, as soon as we rise, we lay hold on this proper season of address, and offer up to God the first fruits of our thoughts, yet fresh, unsullied, and serene, before a busy swarm of vain images crowd in
upon the mind. When the spirits, just refreshed with sleep, are brisk and active, and rejoice, like that sun which ushers in the day, to run their course ; when all nature, just awakened into being, from insensibility, pays its early homage; then let us, who are the only creatures in the visible creation capable of knowing to whom it is to be addressed, join in the universal chorus.
And in the evening, when the stillness of the night invites to solemn thoughts, after we have collected our straggling ideas, and suffered not a reflection to stir, but what either looks upward
to God, or inward upon ourselves, upon the state of our minds ; then let us scan over each action of the day, fervently intreat God's pardon for what we have done amiss, and the gracious assistance of his Spirit for the future: and, after having adjusted accounts between our Maker and ourselves, commit ourselves to his care for the following night. Thus beginning and closing the day with devotion, imploring his direction every morning as we rise, for the following day; and recommending ourselves, every night before we lie down, to His protection, “who neither slumbers nor sleeps ;" the intermediate spaces will be better filled each line of our behaviour will terminate in God, as the centre of our actions ; our lives, all of a piece, will constitute one regular whole, to which each part will bear a necessary relation and correspondence, without any broken and disjointed schemes, independent of this grand end, THE PLEASING OF God! And while we have this one point in view, whatever variety there may be in our actions, there will be a uniformity too, which constitutes the beauty of life, just as it does of every thing else ; a uniformity without being dull and tedious, and a variety without being wild and irregular.
How would this settle the ferment of our youthful passions, and sweeten the last dregs of our advanced age! How would this make our lives yield the calmest satisfaction; as some flowers shed the most fragrant odours, just at the close of the day ! And perhaps there is no better way to prevent a deadness and flatness of spirit from succeeding, when the briskness of our passions goes off, than to acquire an early taste for those spiritual delights, “whose leaf withers not,” and whose verdure remains in the winter of our days.
And when this transitory scene is shutting upon us, when the soul stands upon the threshold of another world, just ready to take its everlasting flight; then may we think with unalloyed pleasure on God, when there can be little or no pleasure to think of any thing else ; and our souls may undauntedly follow to that place, whither our prayers and affections, those forerunners of the spirit, are gone before.
One of the great philosophers of this age being asked by a friend, who had often admired his patience under great provocations, by what means he had suppressed his anger, answered, 5 that he was naturally quick of resentment; but that he had by daily prayer and meditation attained to this mastery over himself. As soon as he arose in the morning, it was, throughout life, his daily practice to retire for an hour to private prayer and meditation : this, he often told his friends, gave him a spirit and vigour for the business of the day: this he therefore recommended as the best rule of life. For nothing, he knew, could support the soul in all distresses, but a confidence in the Supreme Being : nor can a rational and steady magnanimity flow from any other source, than a consciousness of the divine favour."
Of Socrates, who is said to have gained an ascendant over his passions, it is reported, that his life was full of prayers and addresses to God. And of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, another great example of virtue, it is expressly recorded, that (contrary to a fashion now prevailing,) he never did eat of any thing, but he first prostrated himself, and offered thanks to the Supreme Lord of Heaven.—“ Leave not off praying,” said a pious man ; " for either praying will make thee leave off sinning, or sinning will make thee leave off praying.”—If we say our prayers in a cold, supine, lifeless manner, now and then, I know no other effect they will have, but to enhance our condemnation: in effect, we do not pray, we only say our prayers; we pay not the tribute of the heart, but an unmeaning form of homage; we “ draw near to God with our lips, while our heart is far from him.” And without perseverance in prayer, the notions of the amendment of our lives, and a sacred regard to the Deity, will only float for a while in the head, without sinking deep, or dwelling long upon the heʻart. We must be inured to a constant intercourse with God, to have our minds engaged and interested, and to be “rooted and grounded in the love of Him." But if we invigorate our petitions, which are otherwise a lifeless carcass, with a serious and attentive spirit; composed, but not dull; affectionate, but not passionate in our addresses to God; praying in this sense, will at last make us leave off sinning ; and victory, deciʻsive victory, declare itself in our favour.
THE STRANGER AND HIS FRIEND.
I had not power to ask his name,