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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 bad 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 ; whic nothing is said expressly on the subject, as in a command, or rule, or recommendation, in of the Scriptures. Mr Wakefield consider
devotion as most confortable to the practice and precepts of Christ, and as most acceptable to God.
- Tbe wildess of our prayers,” says be,“ according 10 tbe 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, tbe Church, or the Cathedral, tumultuous with tbe busy bum of men, but the secresy and silence of the closet. It is not, Jesus tells us, the duty of an bumble Christian, by ringing his bell or blowing his horn, to invite multitudes of spectators to stimulate the servour and to testify the patience of tuis devotions. He is not expected to sbow his bomage 10 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 housebold, may obtrude upon tbe tranquillity of our meditations, and do vanity be gratified by the curious obserrapce of an adıniring brother. Our concern is with God only. Let bis inspection be our applause; and our recompense, bis approbation. The features of resiguation, unseen by man, will be faithfully Iparked by his eye; the secret whisper, the retired sigh, unbeard in the congregation, wiil vibrate on his ear, and be registered in the volume of his remembrasce, to testify ir ou farour before men and angels, when the jornaises and fopperies of ceremonial worsa pure swept into obhrion."
Mr Womes cry argument against the use of pble womb. woich tas mucb weigert, is that dra fro'n tbe izet oí ve sabbata not being a positive in. tution under te consian sebeme. But even tat this for granted, is coes portowow, that tbe css of a stared day of pubic worso:p is not
portance, 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 insufficie
had not hitherto assumed the dignity of a sect. A late pamphlet of Mr Wakefield's has therefore excited the attention of the public, partly, no doubt, from the known abilities of the author, but still more from the novelty and strangeness of the doctrine. If intended as an apology, 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, however, 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 reto express this homage, some language, rite, or by which to make known their religious feelin this organ has not always, nor chiefly hem