Billeder på siden

dons the textual ground, in which narrow path he seemed hitherto to have trod with such scrupulous precaution, and places it on the broader footing of utility. The utility of this practice therefore comes next to be considered.


Advantages derived from the Practice of Social or

Public Worship It is an error, which is extremely incident to minds of a delicate and anxious sensibility, to suppose that practices do no good, which do not all the good that might be expected from them. Let those who, in a desponding mood, are apt to think thus of public worship, calculate, if they can, what would be the consequence if it were laid aside. Perhaps it is not easy to estimate how much of the manners as well as the morals, how much of the cultivation as well as the religion of a people are derived from this very

If a legislator or philosopher were to undertake the civilisation of a horde of wild savages, scattered along the waste in the drear loneliness of individual existence, and averse to the faces of each other, if he had formed a plan to gather them together, and give them a principle of conesion; he probably could not take a more effectual method than by persuading them to meet together in one place, at regular and stated times, and there to join together in a common act, imposing from its solemnity and endearing from the social nature of its exercises.


If an adventurer' were stranded on some foreign shore, and should find the inhabitants engaged in such an act, he might draw the conclusion, that the blessings of order, internal peace, mutual confidence, and a considerable degree of information, existed there, as surely as the philosopher drew a similar inference from the discovery of mathematical diagrams traced upon the sand. And thus, in fact, it was, that in the

. early beginnings of society, legislators called in the assistance of religious ideas, and with the charm and melody of solemn hymns, like those of Orpheus or of Linus, gathered round them the stupid, incurious barbarians, roused them to attention and softened into docility. Agreeably to this train of thinking, our great dramatic moralist places the influences of social worship upon a par with the sacred touches of sympathetic sorrow, and the exhilarating pleasures of the hospitable board, and makes it one of the features which distinguish the urbanity of polished life, from the rude and unfeeling ferocity which belongs to a clan of unprincipled banditti.

If ever you have looked on better days,
If ever been where bells have knolled to church,
If ever sate at any good man's feast,
If ever from your eyelids wiped a tear,
And known what 'tis to pity and be pitied ;
Let gentleness your strong enforcement be.

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 humanising 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 inhabit

! ants 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 give 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,

« ForrigeFortsæt »