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thing to see and to join in ; some outward public expression of worship, some distinction of times and places, something, in a word, to revive from time to time, and refresh the fading ideas of religion in his imagination, they will by degrees lose all their hold and all their effect. His will, and his sluggish resolutions to will, are then dull and languid. And yet in his judgement and understanding, religion may have all the evidence of its truth, and must of necessity be equally important as it ever was. But judgement and understanding are not what direct the ways of men, or ever can do, without the assistance of impressions made upon the imagination by means of the senses.

But secondly: I do not find that any are inclined to dispute the point so far as to say that the knowledge of Almighty God, of our relation to him, of our dependence upon him for all that is to come, and the duties which we owe to him, and to our fellow-creatures for his sake, are such in themselves as can do without any kind of religious act and religious worship at all. But why (say they) is it necessary to come to church for this? Is it not equally effectual, equally acceptable to God and useful to myself, when performed in my own chamber or in my own family?

In the first place : I wish it were generally true, that those who seldom frequent church were regular in their devotion at home; for whatever face and reasonableness there may be in the excuse, it must still depend upon the fact being true, or it cannot stand them in any stead. Men are not less remiss and negligent in their private than their public worship.—But in the second place : May it not be said, that without public worship

greater part would exercise no religious worship at all? It is not every man that is capable of conceiving

the

an address to his Creator ; however, it is not every one that thinks and feels himself capable. This would be a constant excuse. It is easy to direct men to retire into their hearts and their own closets, there to commune with God and with themselves; and an excellent and spiritual exercise this is : but there are but a few who are qualified for such a task. There are men who would never feel inclination for such a task, through the whole course of their lives. Besides that, nothing is done regularly which is not done at stated times and seasons.

When times and seasons are stated and appointed by public authority and common consent, they are always observed, and will be observed, more or less. But is it to be expected from the generality of men, occupied in the constant round of daily business and daily amusements, or interested in the providing a subsistence for themselves and family; or that others, no less eager in raising a fortune, or engaged in spending one ; is it, I say, to be expected that men thus conditioned and circumstanced should in general prescribe to themselves regular returns of private or domestic devotion, or should withdraw themselves from all engagements to attend these returns? Therefore if any one, as an apology for absenting himself from public worship, says that public assemblies are not necessary to the men who would and do perform their devotions at home; I answer, that whatever they may be to you, they are necessary for others, or the generality of others: who neither could nor would, without stated returns of public devotion, exercise any religious worship at all. They would be without that opportunity of religious instruction which Christian assemblies afford. Let no one say,

I stay at home because I can hear nothing at church but what I know already; but what I learn at

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home is learnt better by my own reflection. Be it so: but if this be the case with you, it is not so with all, or with the generality of others; and whatever is for the benefit of the whole is binding upon the whole. For, to let you see how necessary your attendance upon public worship and instruction, if not for yourself, is for others, you need only reflect what would be the consequence

if

any one was to withdraw himself from religious assemblies who found that he was above receiving any benefit from them. First one would drop, and then another, till none was left but those whose humility and low opinion of themselves disposed them to seek assistance and instruction from any quarter, and who, in fact, were probably nearer the spirit of Christianity than the others. In one word, assemblies for religious purposes would speedily be put out of countenance and out of credit, if what we call the higher class of mankind were to absent themselves from the appointed places, that they might be qualified to exercise their religious duties without them, and every one who pleased was at liberty to rank himself of that class. You must also observe one thing, which you must expect will be quite your own case.—You absent yourself from church to employ your time more, you think, to your edification, in reading or meditation ; and possibly you may, but your ignorant neighbour, who stays from church to spend his day in idleness and drunkenness, and less religious society than any other day in the week, will think he only follows your example, because you both agree in this—in staying from church. Now one is bound to consider, not only what the actions are in themselves, but the effects they are likely to produce by their example: for loving to do good is virtue ; loving to do harm is vice; and it matters little whether the

,

good or harm is the immediate consequence of our own conduct, or proceed from the influence which our conduct has

others. I forbear to mention at present any subordinate, though important advantages, which result from social worship; because it is enough for one time to understand the direct ground of our obligation. I propose in the foremost place, the command of God, evidenced by the practice and example of all the apostles and first followers of Christ. I propose, in the second place, the propriety of social worship, with respect to the object of worship—the Supreme Being himself, as the only and best advance we are capable of making towards a homage in any way suited to the dignity of his nature and the immensity of our obligation. I propose, in the third place, the utility of public devotion to ourselves ; which utility I ground upon three plain propositions : Religious worship, of some kind, is absolutely necessary, to uphold a sense of religion in the world. Without public worship at stated times and places, a great part of mankind would exercise no religious worship at all. If those who thought themselves needlessly instructed and directed to hear in our religious assemblies unnecessary truths, were for that reason to forsake the assembling themselves together, religious assemblies would soon be put out of countenance and out of credit, and in process of time would be laid aside : for the most ignorant and incapable, provided they were of a presumptuous temper, would take courage from the example of their betters to withdraw themselves as well as others, and convert that time which was intended for the best purposes to idleness, debauchery, and

upon

excess.

XIII.

OUTWARD ACTS OF DEVOTION NO EXCUSE

FOR NEGLECT OF MORALITY.

MATT. v. 20.

Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteous

ness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.

It will be sufficient at present to observe, that the Pharisees were a religious sect among the Jews, who set up for extraordinary sanctity and strictness, as St. Paul says,

“after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” The Scribes were the persons employed to interpret the Jewish law, as our Saviour asks, “How say the Scribes, that Christ is the son of David ?" They were appointed to instruct the people, and probably the youth in particular, in that law. Both these descriptions of men were at that time of day of the greatest reputation in the country, for holiness and wisdom; and both valued themselves chiefly upon, and made their righteousness consist in, a most strict and rigid observance of the rites, ceremonies, and outward offices of religion : such, for example, as fasting, making long prayers, avoiding all unclean meat, and unclean persons, according to the distinction of their law—attending upon the Temple at their great feast, not eating with unwashed hands, and many other such outward acts as were commanded; some very proper and reason

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