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For, independent of the peculiar object of public religious assemblies, many collateral advantages are derived from them which the liberal thinker will by no means despise. The recurrence of appointed days of rest and leisure, which, but for this purpose, would never have been appointed, divides the weary months of labour and servitude with a separating line of a brighter colour. The church is a centre of union for neighbours, friends, and townsmen; and it is a reasonable and a pleasing ground of preference in our attachments, that we have “walked to the house of God in company.” Even the common greetings that pass between those who meet there, are hallowed by the occasion of the meeting, and the spirit of civic urbanity is mingled with a still sweeter infusion of christian courtesy. By the recurrence of this intercourse, feuds and animosities are composed, which interrupted the harmony of friends and acquaintance : and those who avoided to meet because they could not forgive, are led to forgive, being obliged to meet. Its effect in humanizing the lower orders of society, and fashioning their manners to the order and decorum of civil life, is apparent to every reflecting mind. The poor who have not formed a habit of attending here, remain from week to week in their sordid cells, or issue thence to places of licentiousness more sordid; while those who assemble with the other inhabitants of the place, are brought into the frequent view of their superiors; their persons are known, their appearance noted; the inquiring eye of benevolence pursues them to their humble cottages, and they are not unfrequently led home from social worship to the social meal. If the rich and poor were but thus brought together regularly and universally, that single circumstance would be found sufficient to remove the squalidness of misery, and the bitterness of want; and poverty would exist only as a sober shade in the picture of life, on which the benevolent eye might rest with a degree of complacency when fatigued with the more gaudy colouring of luxury and show. The good effect of public worship in this light is remarkably conspicuous in the Sunday schools. Many of the children who attend have probably not very clearly comprehended any religious system; but the moving and acting under the public eye, together with a sense of duty and moral obligation, which, however obscure, always accompanies the exercises of religion, soon transforms them into a different kind of beings. They acquire a love of neatness and regularity; a sense of propriety insinuates itself into their young minds, and produces, instead of the sullen and untamed licentiousness which at once shuns and hates the restraints of better life, the modest deference and chastened demeanour of those who respect others because they respect themselves.
Public worship conveys a great deal of instruction in an indirect manner. Even those didactic prayers which run out into the enumeration of the attributes of the Divine Being, and of the duties of a virtuous life, though, perhaps, not strictly proper as prayer, have their use in storing the minds of the generality with ideas on these important subjects; and the beauty and sublimity of many of these compositions must operate powerfully in lifting the heart to God, and inspiring it with a love of virtue. Improper as public prayers may have sometimes been, private prayers are likely to be still more so. Whatever contempt Mr. Wakefield may choose to throw on the official abilities of those who lead the service, it will not be denied that they are generally better informed than those who follow. Men to whom spiritual ideas are familiar from reading and study, do not sufficiently appreciate the advantage which the illiterate enjoy by the fellowship and communication of superior minds, who are qualified to lead their ideas in the right track.
Public worship is a means of invigorating faith. Though argument be one means of generating belief, and that on which all belief must ultimately rest, it is not the only means, nor, with many minds, the most efficacious. Practical faith is greatly assisted by joining in some act in which the presence and persuasion of others gives a sort of reality to our perception of invisible things.
The metaphysical reasoner, entangled in the nets of sophistry, may involve himself in the intricacies of contradictory syllogisms till reason grows giddy, and scarcely able to hold the balance; but when he acts in presence of his fellow-creatures, his mind resumes its tone and vigour, and social devotion gives a colour and body to the deductions of his reason. Berkeley, probably, never doubted of the existence of the material world when he had quitted his closet. Some minds are not capable of that firmness of decision which embraces truth upon a bare preponderancy of argument—some, through a timorous and melancholy spirit, remain always in a perplexed and doubting state, if they rest merely on the conclusions built upon their own investigation. But every act in consequence of our faith, strengthens faith. These, when they enter a place of worship, amidst all the animating accompaniments of social homage, are seized with a happy contagion; slow hesitating doubts vanish in a moment, and give way to sincere and cordial feeling. These are not proofs, it is true; but they are helps, adapted to our nature, necessary to the generality, expedient for all. As for the multitude, so unaccustomed are they to any process of abstruse reasoning, and so much do they require the assistance of some object within the grasp of their senses, that it is to be doubted whether they could be at all persuaded of the existence of a spiritual invisible power, if that existence was not statedly acknowledged by some act which should impress the reality of it upon their minds, by connecting it with places, persons, and times. Let it be observed, in the next place, that Public Worship is a civic meeting. The temple is the only place where human beings, of every rank and sex and age, meet together for one common purpose, and join together in one common act. Other meetings are either political, or formed for the purposes of splendour and amusement; from both which, in this country, the bulk of inhabitants are of necessity excluded. This is the only place, to enter which nothing more is necessary than to be of the same species;–the only place where man meets man not only as an equal but a brother; and where, by contemplating his duties, he may become sensible of his rights. So high and haughty is the spirit of aristocracy, and such the increasing pride of the privileged classes, that it is to be feared, if men did not attend at the same place here, it would hardly be believed they were meant to go to the same place hereafter. It is of service to the cause of freedom therefore, no less than to that of virtue, that there is one place where the invidious distinctions of wealth and titles are not admitted; where all are equal, not by making the low, proud; but by making the