« PrécédentContinuer »
tages, but to consider ourselves as members of a community. Our inmost wishes learn restraint while our petitions are thus directed, and our desires by degrees conform themselves to that spirit of moderation and justice, without which we cannot join in the comprehensive prayer, that must include the joint supplications of a numerous assembly.
Public worship has this further advantage over private, that it is better secured against languor on one side, and enthusiasm on the other. If the devotional sentiment has not taken deep root in his mind, a man will scarcely keep up, in silence and in solitude, an intercourse to which he is prompted by no external appearance, and of which he is reminded by no circumstance of time or place. And if bis sense of invisible things is strong enough to engage his mind in spite of these disadvantages, there is room to fear, lest, by brooding in silence over objects of such indistinct vastness, his bewildered ideas and exalted imagination should lead him to the reveries of mysticism; an extreme no less to be dreaded than that of indifference. When Mr Wakefield, to strengthen bis argument for seclusion in our religious exercises, directs our attention to the mount of Olives and the garden of Gethsemane, he should recollect that our Saviour sustained a character to which we cannot presume to aspire ; anel
From the gloom of the cloister and the loneliness of the cell, have proceeded the most extravagant deviations from nature and from reason. Enthusiasm is indeed most dangerous in a crowd, but it seldom originates there. The mind, heated with intense thinking, adopts illusions to which it is not exposed when its devotion is guided and bounded by addresses, which are intended to meet the common sentiments of a numerous assembly. Religion then appears with the most benignant aspect, is then least likely to be mistaken, when the presence of our fellow creatures points out our connexion with the businesses of life and the duties of society. Solitary devotion, for worldly minds, is insufficient, for weak minds it is not profitable, for ardent minds it is not safe.
We must, however, do that justice to the author of the Enquiry, as to confess that he betrays no disposition to carry these exercises to any extreme. On the contrary, some of his expressions seem to strike at the root of all prayer, properly so called, as being the weak effort of an infirm and unphilosophical mind to alter the order of nature and the decrees of Providence, in which it rather becomes the wise man to acquiesce with a manly resignation. Without entering into a discussion, in which, perhaps, we might misrepresent his sentiments; as, in the greater part of his pamphlet, he has taken the ground of Scripture, which undoubtedly countenances the earnestness, and almost the importunity of petition; it may be sufficient for the present purpose to observe, that if there exists a man who, believing himself to be in the continual presence of infinite power, directed by infinite love and tender compassion to all his creatures thinking often of this Being, and habitually referring every disposition of events to his providence-feeling himself more constantly and intimately connected with him, than with all creation besides—can in every vicissitude of his life, in sickness and in sorrow, in imminent danger, anxious uncertainty, desertion or loss of friends, and all the trying circumstances of humanity that flesh is heir to; forbear, for himself or for those dearer to him than himself, to put up one petition to the throne of God-such a one may be allowed to strike out every petition in the Lord's Prayer but that comprehensive one, thy will be done. If his faith be equally lively, his devotional feelings equally fervent, his sense of dependence upon God equally felt in his inmost soul, we dare not presume to censure the temperance of his religious addresses.
respect the subdued sobriety of his wishes, and we do not, we cannot suppose him deserted by the supreme Being for that modest forbearance, which proceeds from a resignation so absolute and complete.
Others, however, whose philosophy is not of so firm a texture, may plead the example of him who prayed, though with meek submission, that the cup of bitterness might pass from him; and who, as the
moment of separation approached, interceded for his friends and followers with all the anxiety of affectionate tenderness. But we will venture to say that practically there is no such philosopher. If prayer were not enjoined for the perfection, it would be permitted to the weakness of our nature. We should be betrayed into it, if we thought it sin, and pious ejaculations would escape our lips, though we were obliged to preface them with, God forgive me for praying!
To those who press the objection, that we cannot see in what manner our prayers can be answered, consistently with the government of the world according to those general laws by which we find, in fact, that it is governed; it may be sufficient to say, that prayer being made almost an instinct of our nature, it cannot be supposed but that, like all other instincts, it has its use; that no idea can be less philosophical than one which implies, that the existence of a God who governs the world, should make no difference in our conduct; and few things less probable than that the childlike submission which bows to the will of a father, should be exactly similar in feature to the stubborn patience, which bends under the yoke of necessity.
It may be further observed, that petitions for temporal advantages, such, I mean, as a spirit of moderation will allow us to wish with sufficient ardour to make them the subject of our prayers, are not liable to more objections than petitions for spiritual blessings. In either case the weak man does, and the wise man does not expect a miracle. That the arrogant, the worldly, and the licentious, should on a sudden, and without their own strenuous endeavours, be rendered humble, simpleminded, and pure of heart, would be as great a violation of the order of nature in the moral world, as it would be in the natural world that the harvest should ripen without the cooperation of the husbandman, and the slow influence of the seasons. Indeed, 'as temporal blessings are less in our power than dispositions, and are sometimes entirely out of it, it seems more reasonable of the two to pray for the former than for the latter; and it is remarkable that, in the model given us in the Lord's Prayer, there is not a single petition for any virtue or good disposition, but their is one for daily bread. Good dispositions, particularly a spirit of resignation, are declared and implied in the petitions, but they are not prayed for; events are prayed for, and circumstances out of our own power, relative to our spiritual concerns, are prayed for, as, the not being led into temptation ; but there is no prayer that we may be made holy, meek, or merciful. Nor is it an objection to praying for health, that sickness may possibly turn out a blessing, since it is no objection to the using all the means in our power to get rid of sickness, which we do as eagerly and as unreservedly, as if we had not the least idea that it ever