Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

no publication can be more seasonable; but if meant as an exhortation, or rather a dehortation, it is a labour which many will think, from the complexion of the times and the tendencies of increasing habits, might well have been spared. It is an awkward circumstance for the apostle of such a persuasion, that he will have many practical disciples whom he will hardly care to own; and that if he succeeds in making proselytes, he must take them from the more sober and orderly part of the community; and class them, as far as this circumstance affords a distinction, along with the uneducated, the profligate, and the unprincipled. The negative tenet he inculcates does not mark his converts with sufficient precision : their scrupulosity will be in danger of being confounded with the carelessness of their neighbours; and it will be always necessary to ask, Do you abstain because you are of this religion, or because you are of no religion at all??

It would be unfair, howeter, to endeavour to render Mr. Wakefield's opinions invidious; they, as well as every other opinion, must be submitted to the test of argument; and public worship, as well as every other practice, must stand on the basis of utility and good sense, or it must not stand at all: and in the latter case, it is immaterial whether it is left to moulder like the neglected ruin, or battered down like the formidable tower. ,

It will stand upon this basis, if it can be shown

to be agreeable to our nature, sanctioned by universal practice, countenanced by revealed religion, and that its tendencies are favourable to the morals and manners of mankind.

What is public worship? Kneeling down together while prayers are said of a certain length and construction, and hearing discourses made to a sentence of Scripture called a text!-Such might be the definition of an unenlightened person, but such would certainly not be Mr. Wakefield's. The question ought to be agitated on much larger ground. If these practices are shown to be novel, it does not follow that public worship is so, in that extensive sense which includes all modes and varieties of expression. To establish its antiquity, we must therefore investigate its nature.

Public worship is the public expression of homage to the Sovereign of the Universe. It is that tribute from men united in families, in towns, in communities, which individually men owe to their Maker. Every nation has therefore found some organ by which to express this homage, some language, rite, or symbol, by which to make known their religious feelings; but this organ has not always, nor chiefly, been words. The killing an animal, the throwing a few grains of incense into the fire, the eating bread and drinking wine, are all in themselves indifferent actions, and have apparently little connexion with devo

2 E

VOL. II.

tion; yet all of these have been used as worship, and are worship when used with that intention. The solemn sacrifices and anniversary festivals of the Jews, at which their capital and their temple were thronged with votaries from every distant part of the kingdom, were splendid expressions of their religious homage. Their worship, indeed, was interwoven with their whole civil constitution; and so, though in a subordinate degree, was that of the Greeks and Romans, and most of the states of antiquity. There has never existed a nation, at all civilized, which has not had some appointed form of supplication, some stated mode of signifying the dependence we are under to the Supreme Being, and as a nation imploring his protection. It is not pretended that these modes were all equally rational, equally edifying, equally proper for imitation, equally suitable for every state of society; they have varied according as a nation was more or less advanced in refinement and decorum, more or less addicted to symbolical expression—to violent gesticulation and more or less conversant with abstract ideas and metaphysical speculation. But whether the Deity is worshiped by strewing flowers and building tabernacles of verdure; by dances round the altar, and the shouts of a cheerful people; by offering the first-fruits of harvest, and partaking in the social feast; by tones of music, interpreted only by the

heart; or by verbal expressions of gratitude and adoration-whether the hallelujahs of assembled multitudes rise together in solemni chorus; or whether they listen with composed and reverential attention to the voice of one man, appointed by them to be the organ of their feelings—whether a numberof people meet together like the Quakers, and each in silence prefers his mental petitionwherever men together perform a stated act as an expression of homage to their Maker, there is the essence of public worship; and public worship has therefore this mark of being agreeable to the nature of man,--that it has been found agreeable to the sense of mankind in all ages and nations.

It is, indeed, difficult to imagine that beings, sensible of common wants and a common nature, should not join together in imploring common blessings; that, prone as men are in every other circumstance to associate together, and communicate the electric fire of correspondent feelings, they should act with unsocial reserve only where those interests are concerned which are confessedly the most important. Such is the temperament of man, that in every act and every event he anxiously looks around him to claim the gratulation or sympathy of his fellows. Religion, says Mr. Wakefield, is a personal thing : so is marriage, so is the birth of a child, so is the loss of a beloved relative; yet on all these occasions

we are strongly impelled to public solemnization. We neither laugh alone, nor weep alone,--why then should we pray alone? None of our feelings are of a more communicable nature than vur reli. gious ones. If devotion really exists in the heart of each individual, it is morally impossible it should exist there apart and single. So many separate tapers, burning so near each other, in the very nature of things must catch, and spread into one common flame. The reciprocal advantages, which public and private worship possess over each other, are sufficiently obvious to make both desirable. While the former is more animated, the latter comes more intimately home to our own circumstances and feelings, and allows our devotion to be more particular and appropriated. To most of the objections made against the one, the other is equally liable. Superstition can drop her solitary beads, as well as vociferate the repetition of a public collect: if symptoms of weariness and inattention may be observed in our churches, we have only to look into the diaries of the most pious christians, and we shall find still heavier complaints of the dullness and deadness of their spiritual frame: the thoughts may wander in the closet when the door is shut: folly and selfishness will send up improper petitions from the cell as well as from the congregation. Nay, public worship has this great advantage,—that it

« AnteriorContinuar »