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to improve their religious addresses, and model them to the temper of the public mind.
But, with regard to those practices of suberabundant devotion, which have drawn down upon them the indignation of the critic, it is the opinion of those who best know the Dissenters of the present day, that they might have been suffered to fall quietly of themselves; they are supported by no authority, defrayed by no impost. If they make long prayers, it is at the expense only of their own breath and spirits ; no widows' houses are devoured by it. If the present generation yawn and slumber over the exercises, which their fathers attended with pious alacrity, the sons will of course learn to shorten them. If the disposition of their public services wants animation, as perhaps it does, the silent pews will be deserted one by one, and they will be obliged to seek some other mode of engaging the attention of their audience. But modes and forms affect not the essence of public worship; that may be performed with a form or without one; by words alone, or by symbolical expressions, combined with or separated from instruction; with or without the assistance of a particular order appointed to officiate in leading the devotions; it may be celebrated one day in seven, or in eight, or in ten; in many of these particulars a certain deference should be had to the sentiments of that society with which, upon the whole, we think it best to connect ourselves, and as times and manners change, these circumstances
will vary; but the root of the practice is too strongly interwoven with the texture of the human frame ever to be abandoned. While man has wants, he will pray ; while he is sensible of blessings, he will offer praise ; while he has common wants and common blessings, he will pray and praise in company with his fellows; and while he feels himself a social being, he will not be persuaded to lay aside social worship.
In what Respect many of the Forms and Habits of
Public Worship are susceptible of Improvement.
It must, however, be acknowledged, that, in order to give Public Worship all the grace and efficacy of which it is susceptible, much alteration is necessary. It is necessary here, as in every other concern, that timely reformation should prevent neglect. Much might be done by judgment, taste, and a devotional spirit united, to improve the plan of our religious assemblies. Should a genius arise amongst us qualified for such a task, and in circumstances favourable to his being listened to, he would probably remark first, on the construction of our churches, so ill adapted are a great part of them to the purposes either of hearing or seeing. He would reprobate those little gloomy solitary cells, planned by the spirit of aristocracy, which deform the building no less to the eye of tast
than to the eye of benevolence, and insulating each family within its separate inclosure, favour at once the pride of rank and the laziness of indulgence. He might choose for these structures something of the amphitheatrical form, where the minister, on a raised platform, should be beheld with ease by the whole wave of people, at once bending together in deep humiliation, or spreading forth their hands in the earnestness of petition.
It would certainly be found desirable, that the people should themselves have a large share in the performance of the service, as the intermixture of their voices would both introduce more variety and greater animation; provided pains were taken by proper teaching to enable them to bear their part with a decorum and propriety, which, it must be confessed, we do not see at present amongst those whose public services possess the advantage of responses. The explaining, and teaching them to recite such hymns and collects, as it might be thought proper they should bear a part in, would form a pleasing and useful branch of the instruction of young people, and of the lower classes; it would give them an interest in the public service, and might fill up agreeably a vacant hour either on the Sunday, or on some other leisure day, especially if they were likewise regularly instructed in singing for the same purpose.
As we have never seen, perhaps we can bardly conceive, the effect which the united voices of a whol
congregation, all in the lively expression of one feeling, would have upon the mind. We should then perceive not only that we were doing the same thing in the same place, but that we were doing it with one accord. The deep silence of listening expectation, the burst of united praises, the solemn pauses that invite reflection, the varied tones of humiliation, gratitude, or persuasion, would swell and melt the heart by turns; nor would there be any reason to guard against the wandering eye, when every object it rested on must forcibly recall it to the duties of the place. Possibly it might be found expedient to separate worship from instruction ; the learned teacher from the leader of the public devotions, in whom voice, and popular talents, might perhaps be allowed to supersede a more deep and critical acquaintance with the doctrines of theology. One consequence, at least, would follow such a separation, that instruction would be given more systematically.
Nothing that is taught at all is taught in so vague and desultory a manner as the doctrines of religion. A congregation may attend for years, even a good preacher, and never hear the evidences of either natural or revealed religion regularly explained to them: they may attend for years, and never hear a connected system of moral duties extending to the different situations and relations of life; they may attend for years, and not even gain any clear idea of the history and chronology of the Old and New Testament, which
are read to them every Sunday. They will hear abundance of excellent doctrine, and will often feel their hearts warmed and their minds edified; but their ideas upon these subjects will be confused and imperfect, because they are treated on in a manner so totally different from everything else, which bears the name of instruction. This is probably owing, in a great measure, to the custom of prefixing to every pulpit discourse a sentence, taken indiscriminately from any part of the Scriptures, under the name of a text, which at first implying an exposition, was afterwards used to suggest a subject, and is now, by degrees, dwindling into a motto. Still, however, the custom subsists; and while it serves to supersede a more methodical course of instruction, tends to keep up in the minds of the generality of hearers a very superstitious idea, not now entertained, it is to be presumed, by the generality of those who teach, of the equal sacredness and importance of every part of so miscellaneous a collection.
If these insulated discourses, of which each is complete in itself, and therefore can have but little compass, were digested into a regular plan of lectures, supported by a course of reading, to which the audience might be directed, it would have the further advantage of rousing the inattentive and restraining the rambling nearer by the interest which would be created by such a connected series of information. They would occupy a larger space in the mind, they would