« AnteriorContinuar »
“ openly*." Here is required no splendid and costly rite, and no burdensome and afflictive duty. The injunction is, indeed, grave, but it is not oppressive; solemn, but it demands only that which purity and love may supply. The good and gracious parent is heard to claim the affections of the child. The friend and legislator of man, averting himself from the worldly ostentation of hypocritical worship, declares the value of the sincere oblation of humble faith, and annexes to the devotion of the heart the unfailing promise of celestial acceptance.
There is singular beauty in the manner in which the devotion thus required, is connected with the graces of social benevolence. Before we presume to address the Almighty in prayer, we are called upon to subdue every malignant and revengeful passion of the heart, and the works and sentiments of mercy, are to give efficacy to the prayers and supplications of piety. All sin is offensive to God; but the sins of wrath and malice, brought to the altar, convert the worship into an insult and an abomination; and the pardon and protection which are implored, are averted by the vices of the temper which implores them. “ Ye have heard that it was “ said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill, and “ whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say, that whosoever is
angry “ with his brother without a cause, shall be in
danger of the judgment. Therefore, if thou bring
thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy “ brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy
gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be “ reconciled to thy brother, and then come and
* Matt. vi. 6, &c.
" offer thy gift*.”—Explore the religions of human contrivance; collect the most admirable and useful of their precepts ; but where shall you find any to compare in excellence with doctrines like as these? any in purity so perfect, in tendency só salutary, in motive so affecting, in reference to God and man so holy and so just? The tenets of sages and bards may have been occasionally good and wise; but by these only piety has been indissolubly .connected with morals, and the devotion due to God associated with the humanity and compassion due to our fellow creatures. The principles of Pagan worship may have been occasionally pure and salutary; but by these only the worship has been taught which is to involve, at once, the love of God and the love of man, to derive its efficacy from the mercies of the heart from which it flows, and, while it conciliates the divine favour, to exalt and to purify the passions, the principles, and the will.
Of the devotion which is thus required of man to his Maker, we are not instructed in the temper and spirit only, but in the mode and language in which it is to prefer its petitions. To implore the superfluous vanities of life, and the pomps and pleasures of the world, we are encouraged neither by precept nor by promise, because such things are foreign from the real welfare of man. But for those blessings which are consonant with the genuine interests of our nature, the aspirations of piety may ascend not only without blame, but with confidence and hope. “ therefore, and pray alway, that ye may be ac“ counted worthy to escape all those things that “ shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of
" Watch ye,
* Matt. v. 24, 25.
ye up holy hands without wrath and “ doubting. Let supplications and giving of thanks “ be made for all men, that we may lead a quiet “ and peaceful life, in all godliness and honesty, for “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our “ Saviour*.” And, when the disciples asked of Christ in what manner they should offer up their petitions to God, how interesting are the instructions which he gives them, and how admirable is the model of prayer which he prescribes ! We are oppressed or repelled by no dark and dogmatical injunctions. To whom are we to offer up our supplications? Not to him who is represented solely as the Omnipotent and mysterious Sovereign of nature, whom it is awful and fearful to approach, but to him who is described to us under the endearing and encouraging appellation of “ Our Father which is in heaven." For what are we to pray? That his will may be done in earth as it is in heaven ; that his kingdom, the kingdom of righteousness and peace, may be established amongst men; that his paternal goodness may supply our daily wants; that his compassion may “forgive
us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass .“ against us ;” and that his grace may guide us in the hour of infirmity and temptation, and his protecting care may rest upon us and “ deliver us from “evil.”-In these instructions all is simple, but aļl is sublime. They recall man to himself and to God. We are reminded of the bodily and spiritual wants of our nature. The genuine source of comfort and of aid is opened to us. The lesson is impressed on the heart, that we must forgive, if we would be forgiven. And we are encouraged, in the purity and humility of the spirit, to address God with that holy confidence in his benignity, which, amid all the changes and chances of this fluctuating scene, may afford rest, and peace, and comfort to our souls.
*-1-Tim. ii. 1, 2, 3. See also Matt. vii. 7,9;-Luke xxi. 36; Rom. xii. 12; Philip. iv. 6; 1. Thess. v. 17.
According, then, to the doctrines of the Gospel, the devotion claimed by the Almighty is not so much an exercise of abstract and contemplative piety, as a pure, sublime, and energetic sentiment, regenerating the hearts and rectifying and ennobling the principles of men. The splendid sacrifices of kings and poten-tates are here as nothing. The supplications that issue from upright and holy lips, are here as every thing. No offering from impure hands, no prayer from the polluted bosom, is to be accepted or heard. The love of God which approaches the altar, is to bring there also the love of man; and the piety, if so it may be called, which does not include a principle of obedience to the divine will, which does not chasten and reform all the malignant and wrathful passions of the heart, which does not glow with the mingled flame of devotion and of charity, is but an insult to the Being whom it presumes to supplicate. In this manner is religious inseparably connected with moral duty. The temple of celestial mercy is opened to all who approach it with clean hands and a pure heart. And man is led into an intercourse with his Creator, which, while it confirms his spirit in resignation and hope, sends him forth into the world with views, and motives, and persuasions, that equally contribute to the dignity of his nature, the purity of his conduct, and the happiness of his life,
It has been already observed, that the best and -wisest of the sages of antiquity admitted the necessity of a divine revelation to instruct mankind in the duties of worship. Enough was seen to discover the defects of reason, but not to remedy; and the philosophers of the schools were not only to condemn the ignorance and folly demonstrated in the form and in the spirit of the public worship, but openly to avow the deficiency of their own proud and elaborate systems . Referring, then, to the view which has been just taken, let it be asked, Has this want been supplied, has this darkness been illuminated, has this admitted ignorance been succeeded by truth and wisdom! Do we indeed possess doctrines, on the subject of devotion, in perfect harmony with the nature of God and the necessities of man? Are the temple and the altar no longer to be profaned, under the sanction of religion, by the vile worship of abject servility, of unholy passions, of unsanctified desires, of idolatrous reverence, of a sanguinary faith? Has the meek and lowly Jesus, the despised, uneducated, and unaided child of abasement and want, while he supplied the precepts which the learning and inquiry of so many ages had sought in vain, dissipated the glooms which hung between the creature and the Creator, and perfectly instructed the first in what manner to serve and adore the last? Here, then, we must admit that mere reason, in a Person whose portion was poverty, obscurity, and neglect, was adequate to discover, to promulgate, and to familiarize, truths, which the wisest of uninspired men had been utterly unable to conceive or to approach; or that Christ was, indeed, the messenger of heaven, commissioned to impart to mankind the knowledge of the divine will, and to conduct a benighted and superstitious world from the abject and degraded shrines of idolatry, to the pure temples of the living God.