Images de page
PDF
ePub

fold advantages that the public worship of a Deity would introduce among men. Accordingly temples were every where built, sacred ceremonies were insti. tuted, an order of men was appointed to officiate in holy things, and certain days were set apart for the people to join in the celebration of divine worship. Indeed, as to the objects, and the manner of worship, little care was taken. The magistrate gave his authority to the current belief, though ever so absurd and ridiculous, and established that form of religion which the people were best disposed to receive. It was thought sufficient, if by public and folemn acts of piety, a sense of Deity, and feelings of religion, could be impressed, and frequently renewed in the minds of men. But in some nations this practice, so highly beneficial to mankind, was enjoined by an authority superior to that of human governors. himself, in the system of laws which he delivered to his ancient people, hallowed the seventh day, and appointed other festivals in which the people should assemble together in order to join in the services of the fanctuary. In what concerns the celebration of the Sabbath, Christianity confirms the Mofaic law. Our Saviour, whose practice ought to be a rule of life to Christians, attended upon the public worship in the Jewish fynagogues ; and the Apostles followed his example, till by their labours in the ministry, they had gathered together in one place, a sufficient number of converts to form a church. Then they constituted regular assemblies of Christians, they ordained proper persons to preside in the public worship, and both by their precept and example, recommended a constant attendance on these meetings of the faithful.

governors. God That there must be an established religion in every state, is a principle in which not only Christians, but infidels, have been agreed. In order that the public religion may be productive of any good effects, it is necessary that it make a deep impression upon the minds of the people. But if it were not for our assembling together on the Lord's day, for public worship, that form of Christianity which is established in this country would perhaps take too feeble a hold of the mind, to produce its proper effects. The Chriftian religion is very different from those systems of superstition which prevailed in the Pagan wo The Heathen religion had attractions for

every

feeling of the human frame. It contained every thing that could strike the senses, or please the imaginations of men.

All the apparatus of false religion, which at once amuses and engages the mind, was exhibited: ceremonies, pompous festivals, costly sacrifices, were continually passing before the eyes of the worshipper. In the majesty of the temple, and the splendour of the worship, the Deity seemed to be present. Ancient superftition introduced the fine arts into her train, called the powers of genius to her aid, and employed the painter and the poet to hold out her charms to the world.

Very different was that religion of which Jesus Christ was the author. When the Son of God descended, he appeared not like the idols of the nations. The Christian religion is pure, spiritual, divine. It is the religion of the mind and the heart; the worship of God, who is a spirit, in spirit and in truth. There is nothing here but the simplicity of truth and the majesty of reason to persuade the world. Man, however, is not a pure intelligence, and reason is not the only attribute of his nature. Were it not there. fore for the mode of communication by discourse in public assemblies, Christianity, in its simplest form, could never be a popular religion. It might employ the leisure of philofophic men ; it might operate its effect upon the few who are given to inquiry; but it never could engage the generality of mankind. They, who have not considered the subject, cannot possibly conceive the astonishing difference there is between written and spoken language ; between the dead letter that appears to the eye, and the liv. ing voice that comes to the heart. The same difcourse that in a popular assembly would raise the passions of the audience to the highest pitch ; send it abroad in print, and it will often have no effect at all. Add to these, that it is to the meetings of the faithful, that the promise of the divine presence is made. In the gates of Zion, God delights to dwell; and when his disciples are gathered together, Jesus has promised to be in the midst of them. True pie. ty indeed is not confined to the fan&uary. High is the pleasure, and great the benefit of private devo- ' tion. But sure I am, that they who have entered into the fpirit, and tasted the pleasures, of devotion in secret, will not be thereby prevented from approaching to God in the ordinances of public worship. Society heightens every feeling, and improves every delight. All that charms the eye or the ear, or the imagination or the heart, is attended with double pleasure, when we share it in the company of others. In the presence of striking and exemplary piety, the careless worshipper will become devout, and the de

vout will become fervent. A holy emulation will rise in the bosoms of the faithful : the ardour will spread from breast to breast, and the passions of one inflame the passions of all. May I not appeal to your own experience, and ask, When you have been in the Spirit on the Lord's day, when the word of life was spoken from the heart to the heart, have you not felt that there was a divinity in virtue, have you not found yourselves as if translated from earth to heaven, and experienced the emotion of mind which the Patriarch felt, when he awoke from his dream, and cried out in rapture, “Surely the Lord is in < this place ! This is none other than the house of “ God, and this is the gate of heaven ?”

Secondly, Let us view the effect of religious institutions upon men, with regard to their moral character.

Whatever brings men together, and connects them in society, has a tendency to civilize and improve them. Especially when they assemble together for fuch important purposes as the worship of a Deity, this will be the effect. There is something in the very idea of drawing nigh to God, that inspires virtue. When men accustomed to meet together as busy and as social creatures, assemble at stated times as rational and immortal beings, a sense of propriety will prompt them to act up to that high character. When the sons of God come to present themselves before the Lord, whatever is displeasing to God, and hoftile to men, will vanilh from their mind. The connection between such exercises of piety, and the practice of virtue, is nearer and more intimate than superficial reasoners are apt to imagine. There are

indeed pretences to religion, without any virtue, as there are pretences to virtue without any religion ; but whoever in reality possesses the fear of God, will be thereby determined to keep his commandments. It must be obvious at first view, that the sense of a Supreme Being, the inspector of human affairs, the patron of virtue, the avenger of sin, and the reward. er of righteousness, has a powerful tendency to strengthen moral obligation, to annex a new sanction to the laws, and to inspire purity into the manners of a people.

By the operation of such a principle, open violence will be restrained, and secret enmity will be checked. Society will assume a happier form, the insolence of the oppressor will be humbled, and the wild passions of the licentious be subdued. What the Scripture calls, “ the power of the world to come, ” is felt strongly through every corner of this world. Heaven improves the earth, and the life which is to come, is a source of happiness to the life which now is. There are,

indeed, I acknowledge, to the honor of the human kind, there are persons in the world who feel that the possession of good dispositions is their best reward, who would follow goodness for its own sake, and do their duty, because it is their duty, although there were neither rewards nor punishments to come. But I know as well, that the world is not composed of such persons. Men in general are governed by their passions, their interest, the prevailing bias of their minds; and whenever their pafsions, their intereft, or the bias of their mind, stand in one scale, and their duty in the other, it is very evident where the balance will incline. To such persons you might

« PrécédentContinuer »