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tians profess to agree that of building houses to worship in. If public preaching and praying is necessary, it may be reasonable that
people should have an opportunity of doing so; but that they should appoint times to worship, and call their houses, “places of Worship," and " the houses of God," would be truly astonishing, if men were not unacquainted with that fountain of love in themselves, which shows them that the heart of man is the temple of the Most High
When we call a house, a place of worship, do we not as effectually make it the house of God, as if we called it so in as many words? Dif. ferent sects have different forms, and thuse who most zealously deny having stated times to preach and pray, appoint hours and places for worship
Why is it not altogether as consistent to preach and pray by appointment, as to worship by appointment ? I believe there will be found to be no real difference between them ! and yet some men are so attached to their own peculiar forms, that while they would censure their fellow members for assenting to the one, would equally blame them for denying the other. It would be well perhaps to consider what wor. ship is. Is it simply attending, at what is call
ed a place of worship? If this is worship, then indeed there may be some show of propriety in censuring those who do not attend there. If it consists in those heavenly feelings, which seem to make an approach to the Divine nature, these are I believe no more peculiar in meeting houses than in any other place : but if it consists, as every duty does, in simple obedience to God; then it may happen, that in censuring men, and visiting upon them the anathemas of the sect, they may be condemned for performing the most acceptable worship, which they can offer: for it hardly will be denied, but some may have had their eyes so far opened, as to realize that spiritual worship which Jesus directed the woman of Samaria to; which was not to be performed at places appointed for it, but in spirit and in truth.
Such are the inconsistencies to which societies are led, that are governed by written rules. For their preservation they sa rifice the very power of godliness, and though they call themselves religious societies, they deny fellowship with those whom they acknowledge to be inno. cent and virtuous, and who are most sincerely promoting religion, the only way that any man can do it, by performing their proper duty.
I have before spoken of the nature of much of the preaching which we hear, in what are called places of public worship; but in this there is less inconsistency-less to give offence to those who can be offended, than in the public prayers. Thousands of pages have been des voted to the composition of prayers; we have recorded, prayers for rain, and for fair weather; for times of peace, and for times of war; for deliverance from enemies, from sickness, and from every other thing which is called evil.
In proportion as men's minds are staid in a confidence in Divine goodness, a state of dependance and of praise is felt, rather than a state of prayer. Prayer is founded in selfishness; so that professing Christians most pray for what their selfish feelings most desire; and thus many of the public prayers, of men who profess to be spiritually minded, are of a nature which no truly pious man can adopt.
We hear public petitions, that “the Almighty will have mercy upon his humbly dependant creatures,” “ that he will have his eye over us for good,” “that he will be near us,” and a variety of others, which no man can take into his mouth, whose soul is so far alive unto God, as to feel full confidence in his justice and mercy, that all his dispensations are in unerring
wisdom, that He is always near us to do us good, and that all error and imperfection is on our part. If we could listen to those prayers, and quietly leave them to these who prefer them; simply feeling as mary must do, that · they are not their prayers; there would be no abridgement of liberty of conscience; but more is expected and enforced, that every one should give some demonstration of joining in them, by kneeling, or standing, or pulling off their hats ; thus they are called upon to do that from which their purest religious feelings revolt, publicly to assent to what they secretly dissent from ; and I am ready to believe that scarcely one solitary individual is to be found, liaving any pretensions to religion, who has not more than once found himself in this dilemma; but the idols are to be preserved, come what may of true religion, they love their order and forms, and to these those feelings must yield, which they themselves profess to believe, are only worthy of having place in religious minds. These inconsistencies are every day developed, but none can see them whose eyes are blinded by prejudice, to a traditional and formal religion governed by written rules.
I could pursue this subject much further, and show the formality which exists among dif
ferent sects of Christians in a more particular and palpable point of view, but I have no wish to bring them into notice : yet whilst there is so much hope and confidence placed in sects, it may do no harm to express those sentiments regarding them, which have been clearly opened on my own understanding; I do so, without condemning, or judging how much they may be adapted to the state men are in: but this I can say, that there are those living who have seen far beyond outward religious societies of any kind; their forms and their rituals.
There are, no doubt, very sincere and pious minds who place great hopes in the advantages to be derived from societies, but they seem to be like the people of Egypt already spoken of, who though they bowed down to images, really thought that they saw God in them. They can direct people from Paul, from Apollos, from Cephas, without appearing to be aware, that adhering to an individual society, is the same as to an individual man.
Paul and Apollos, were followed, we presume, for some excellence in their characters, and this is probably the reason that would be given by most men, for preferring one society before another. It is the principle of Divine love in the hearts of men, which alone can unite