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devout adoration of the God of heaven the principal object of our religious assemblies; and is this what any man of reflection, and of sober mind, dare to make light of? In the temple of the Lord, the rich and the poor, the prince and the peasant, appear. as suppliants alike for the protection and favour of the Almighty.-Great and flourishing as thou mayest think thyself, know that thou standest as much in need of that protection, as the meanest of the crowd whom thou beholdest worshipping, with lowly reverence, the God of their fathers. The sun of prosperity shines at present on thy head, and the favourable gale carries thee softly along the stream of life. But, the Almighty needs only to give the word, and instantly the tempest shall rise; and thy frail bark shall be driven into the ocean, and whelmed in the deep. In my prosperity I said I shall never be moved. Thou, Lord, didst hide thy face, and I was troubled. Look up, with dread, to that awful hand of Providence which is stretched over your heads. Remember the instability of all human things; remember it, and tremble, ye who despise the devout acknowledgement of him who disposes of the human fate! Though ye live many years and rejoice in them all, remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many.*
But after all that has been urged on this subject, I am sensible it may be objected, that many who make conscience of paying strict regard to the institutions of religion, do not appear to have derived much benefit from them. They are not, it will be said, more improved in moral conduct, and in
* Eccles. xi. 8.
the proper discharge of the several duties of life, than others who have been apparently negligent of the services of the church. On the contrary, a formal regard to these appears to be substituted by many in the room of the weightier matters of the law. Though this should be admitted, it goes no farther than to show that human weakness, or corruption, may defeat the purpose of the most promising means of moral improvement. That a superstitious attention to external worship has too often usurped the character and supplanted the place of real virtue, will not be denied. Admonitions against so dangerous an error cannot be given too often. But because the best things have been often misapplied and abused, no argument thence arises for their being undervalued, and thrown aside. So also reason, instruction, and discipline of every kind, have been frequently perverted to bad ends; and yet their intrinsic worth and usefulness remain untouched, and acknowledged. Besides this, it cannot be admitted that, because religious institutions produce not all the good that might be wished, and hoped for, they therefore do no good at all. This were a rash and ill-founded conclusion. If the morals of men are not always amended by them as they ought to have been, there is reason, however, to think that they would have been worse without them. Some check is always given by them to open profligacy. Some assistance is furnished to good dispositions of heart; at least, to decency of manners. Even momentary impressions of seriousness made on the thoughtless by the solemnities of religion, are not without their fruit. They leave generally some trace behind them; and when the traces are often
renewed, they may be hoped, through the Divine blessing, to form at last a deep impression on the mind.
At the same time, I do not say that religious institutions work upon the mind like a charm; and that mere bodily attendance on them will always ensure us of some profitable effect. Let the means that are employed for the improvement of rational beings, be ever so powerful in themselves, much of their success will always depend on the manner in which they are received and applied. I shall therefore conclude my reasonings on this subject, with a few observations concerning the dispositions requisite on our part, for deriving benefit from the public ordinances of religion.
THE ends for which we assemble in the house of God are two; to worship God, and to listen to religious instructions.
The public worship of God is the chief and most sacred purpose of every religious assembly of Christians. Let it here be remembered, that it is not the uttering, or the hearing of certain words, that constitutes the worship of the Almighty. It is the heart that praises or prays. If the heart accompany not the words that are spoken or heard, we offer the sacrifice of fools. By the inattentive thought, and the giddy and wandering eye, we profane the temple of the Lord, and turn the appearance of devotion into insult and mockery.
With regard to religious instruction, attention and reverence are unquestionably due. All religious and moral knowledge comes from God. It is a light from heaven, first transmitted to man by the original
constitution of his nature, and afterwards made to shine with fairer and fuller lustre by the revelation of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Its brightness may sometimes be stronger, and sometimes weaker, according to the mediums by which it is conveyed: but still, as far as the instructions delivered from the pulpit are illuminated by the ray from heaven, they are the truths of God, and ought to be received as such. Refinements of vain philosophy, or intricate subtilties of theological controversy, are undoubtedly not entitled to such regard. But when the great principles of natural or revealed religion are discussed; when the important doctrines of the gospel concerning the life, and sufferings, and death of our blessed Redeemer are displayed; or useful instructions regarding the regulation of life, and the proper discharge of our several duties, are the subjects brought into view; it is not then the human speaker, but the divine authority, that is to be regarded.
In the speaker, many imperfections and infirmities may be discovered. The discoveries of the Gospel are represented in Scripture, as a hidden treasure brought to light; but, by the appointment of God, we have this treasure in earthen vessels.* It is not the spirit of curiosity that ought to bring us to church. Too often, it is to be feared, we assemble there merely as critics on the preacher; critics on his sentiments, his language, and his delivery. But, such are not the dispositions which become us on so serious an occasion. It is with humility, with fairnoess and candour, with an intention to improve ourselves in piety and virtue, with a view to make
* 2 Corinth. iv. 7.
personal application to our own character, that we ought to hear the word of God.- When we enter the sacred temple, let us ever consider ourselves as creatures surrounded with darkness, seeking illumination from Heaven; as guilty creatures, imploring forgiveness from our Judge; as frail and mortal creatures, preparing for that eternal habitation into which we know not how soon we are to pass.
IF with such sentiments and impressions we join in the worship of God, and the ordinances of religion, we may justly hope that they shall be accompanied to us with the divine blessing. It is the express precept of God, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.* Gather together the people, men, women, and children, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give unto the Lord the glory due to his name.Thus hath God commanded, and he never com- . manded his people to seek his name in vain. For, where two or three are gathered together in his name, our Lord hath told us, that he is in the midst of them.‡ God hath said, that he loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. § The prayer of the upright is his delight. Both in their temporal and spiritual concerns, they may be most expected to prosper, who can say with the Psalmist in the text, Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth..
*Heb. x. 25.
+ Deut. xxxi. 12.
Ps. lxxxvii. 2.