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[This essay, as remarkable for the strength and beauty of its composition, as for its elevated and rational tone of piety, was written in reply to Mr Wakefield's treatise, in which this very learned and ingenious author attempted to show from the Scriptures, that there are no good grounds for the present custom of social, or public worship among Christians. He builds his argument on the practice of the Saviour, bis precepts, and the example of the Apostles. He quotes many passages to illustrate each of these, and concludes from the whole, that no proofs can be found in the sacred writings of its having been designed by the founder of our religion, that certain days and seasons should be set apart for ceremonial or formal worship in a public manner.
He thinks, also, that if such an institution as the sabbath had been intended to be perpetual in the christian church, it would have been enjoined by a direct, positive precept, or at least indicated by some explicit declaration on the part of the Saviour or his Apostles; whereas, nothing is said expressly on the subject, as implying a command, or rule, or recommendation, in any part of the Scriptures.
Mr Wakefield considers secret
devotion as most conformable to the practice and precepts of Christ, and as most acceptable to God.
“ The witness of our prayers,” says he, “according to the command of our great Instructer, is not to be the congregation of Christians, but the invisible Father of mankind. The theatre of our devotions must not be the Chapel, the Church, or the Cathedral, tumultuous with the busy hum of men, but the secresy and silence of the closet. It is not, Jesus tells us, the duty of an humble Christian, by ringing his bell or blowing his horn, to invite multitudes of spectators to stimulate the servour and to testify the patience of his devotions.
He is not expected to show his homage to the Ruler of the universe, as we pay our respects to earthly potentates, in crowds, and pomp, and tumult; we must shut the door even of our closet, that no eye, so much as of our own household, may obtrude upon the tranquillity of our meditations, and no vanity be gratified by the curious observance of an admiring brother. Our concern is with God only. Let his inspection be our applause ; and our recompense, his approbation. The features of resignation, unseen by man, will be faithfully marked by his eye; the secret whisper, the retired sigh, unheard in the congregation, will vibrate on his ear, and be registered in the volume of his remembrance, to testify in our favour before men and angels, when the formalities and sopperies of ceremonial worship are swept into oblivion."
Mr Wakefield's only argument against the use of public worship, which has much weight, is that drawn from the fact of the sabbath not being a positive institution under the christian scheme. But even taking this for granted, it does not follow, that the observance of a stated day of public worship is not of great importance, in fixing the principles and securing the inAuence of the christian religion in the minds of men, and therefore wisely perpetuated. But Mrs Barbauld speaks so fully and eloquently on this point, as well as on others, that nothing needs be said to anticipate her argument. Her essay, as originally published, is entitled Remarks on Mr Gilbert Wakefield's Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship. It was written more than thirty years ago. A second edition was published in 1792.]
The Nature of Social or Public Worship, and its
Accordance with the best Principles and Feelings of Man. THERE are some practices, which have not been defended because they have never been attacked. of this number is Public or Social Worship. It has been recommended, urged, enforced, but never vindicated. Through worldliness, skepticism, indolence, dissatisfaction with the manner of conducting it, it has been often neglected; but it is a new thing to hear it condemned. The pious and the good have lamented its insufficiency to the reformation of the worl' they were yet to learn that it was unfrien Satisfied with silent and solitary desertion, tl did not concur in the homage paid by thei citizens were content to acquiesce in it