Anna Letitia Barbauld

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"Remarks on Mr. Gilbert Wakefield's Enquiry Into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship." (1792)      TEI-encoded version

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Remarks on Mr. Gilbert Wakefield's Enquiry Into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship. (1792)

............... in swarming cities vast,
Assembled men, to the deep organ join
The long resounding voice, oft breaking clear,
At solemn pauses, through the swelling base;
And, as each mingling flame increases each,
In one united ardour rise to heaven.



1.          There are some practices which have not been defended because they have never been attacked. Of this number is public or social worship. It has been recommended, urged, enforced, but never vindicated. Through worldliness, scepticism, indolence, dissatisfaction with the manner of conducting it, it has been often neglected; but it is a new thing to hear it condemned. The pious and the good have lamented its insufficiency to the reformation of the world, but they were yet to learn that it was unfriendly to it. Satisfied with silent and solitary desertion, those who did not concur in the homage paid by their fellow-citizens were content to acquiesce in its propriety, and had not hitherto assumed the dignity of a sect. A late pamphlet of Mr. Wakefield's has therefore excited the attention of the public, partly, no doubt, from the known abilities of the author, but still more from the novelty and strangeness of the doctrine. If intended as an apology,


no publication can be more seasonable; but if meant as an exhortation, or rather a dehortation, it is a labour which many will think, from the complexion of the times and the tendencies of increasing habits, might well have been spared. It is an awkward circumstance for the apostle of such a persuasion, that he will have many practical disciples whom he will hardly care to own; and that if he succeeds in making proselytes, he must take them from the more sober and orderly part of the community; and class them, as far as this circumstance affords a distinction, along with the uneducated, the profligate, and the unprincipled. The negative tenet he inculcates does not mark his converts with sufficient precision: their scrupulosity will be in danger of being confounded with the carelessness of their neighbours; and it will be always necessary to ask, Do you abstain because you are of this religion, or because you are of no religion at all?

2.          It would be unfair, however, to endeavour to render Mr. Wakefield's opinions invidious; they, as well as every other opinion, must be submitted to the test of argument; and public worship, as well as every other practice, must stand on the basis of utility and good sense, or it must not stand at all: and in the latter case, it is immaterial whether it is left to moulder like the neglected ruin, or battered down like the formidable tower.

3.          It will stand upon this basis, if it can be shown


to be agreeable to our nature, sanctioned by universal practice, countenanced by revealed religion, and that its tendencies are favourable to the morals and manners of mankind.

4.          What is public worship? Kneeling down together while prayers are said of a certain length and construction, and hearing discourses made to a sentence of Scripture called a text! -- Such might be the definition of an unenlightened person, but such would certainly not be Mr. Wakefield's. The question ought to be agitated on much larger ground. If these practices are shown to be novel, it does not follow that public worship is so, in that extensive sense which includes all modes and varieties of expression. To establish its antiquity, we must therefore investigate its nature.

5.         Public worship is the public expression of homage to the Sovereign of the Universe. It is that tribute from men united in families, in towns, in communities, which individually men owe to their Maker. Every nation has therefore found some organ by which to express this homage, some language, rite, or symbol, by which to make known their religious feelings; but this organ has not always, nor chiefly, been words. The killing an animal, the throwing a few grains of incense into the fire, the eating bread and drinking wine, are all in themselves indifferent actions, and have apparently little connexion with devo-


tion; yet all of these have been used as worship, and are worship when used with the intention. The solemn sacrifices and anniversary festivals of the Jews, at which their capital and their temple were thronged with votaries from every distant part of the kingdom, were splendid expressions of their religious homage. Their worship, indeed, was interwoven with their whole civil constitution; and so, though in a subordinate degree, was that of the Greeks and Romans, and most of the states of antiquity. There has never existed a nation, at all civilized, which has not had some appointed form of supplication, some stated mode of signifying the dependence we are under to the Supreme Being, and as a nation imploring his protection. It is not pretended that these modes were all equally rational, equally edifying, equally proper for imitation, equally suitable for every state of society; they have varied according as a nation was more or less advanced in refinement and decorum, more or less addicted to symbolical expression -- to violent gesticulation -- and more or less conversant with abstract ideas and metaphysical speculation. But whether the Deity is worshiped by strewing flowers and building tabernacles of verdure; by dances round the altar, and the shouts of a cheerful people; by offering the first-fruits of harvest, and partaking in the social feast; by tones of music, interpreted only by the


heart; or by verbal expressions of gratitude and adoration -- whether the hallelujahs of assembled multitudes rise together in solemn chorus; or whether they listen with composed and reverential attention to the voice of one man, appointed by them to be the organ of their feelings -- whether a number of people meet together like the Quakers, and each in silence prefers his mental petition -- wherever men together perform a stated act as an expression of homage to their Maker, there is the essence of public worship; and public worship has therefore this mark of being agreeable to the nature of man, -- that is has been found agreeable to the sense of mankind in all ages and nations.

6.          It is, indeed, difficult to imagine that beings, sensible of common wants and common nature, should not join together in imploring common blessings; that, prone as men are in every other circumstance to associate together, and communicate the electric fire of correspondent feelings, they should act with unsocial reserve only where those interests are concerned which are confessedly the most important. Such is the temperament of man, that in every act and every event he anxiously looks around him to claim the gratulation or sympathy of his fellows. Religion, says Mr. Wakefield, is a personal thing: so is marriage, so is the birth of a child, so is the loss of a beloved relative; yet on all these occasions


we are strongly impelled to public solemnization. We neither laugh alone, nor weep alone, -- why then should we pray alone? None of our feelings are of a more communicable nature than our religious ones. If devotion really exists in the heart of each individual, it is morally impossible it should exist there apart and single. So many separate tapers, burning so near each other, in the very nature of things must catch, and spread into one common flame. The reciprocal advantages, which public and private worship possess over each other, are sufficiently obvious to make both desirable. While the former is more animated, the latter comes more intimately home to our own circumstances and feelings, and allows to our devotion to be more particular and appropriated. To most of the objections made against the one, the other is equally liable. Superstition can drop her solitary beads, as well as vociferate the repetition of a public collect: if symptoms of weariness and inattention may be observed in our churches, we have only to look into the diaries of the most pious christians, and we shall find still heavier complaints of the dullness and deadness of their spiritual frame: the thoughts may wander in the closet when the door is shut: folly and selfishness will send up improper petitions from the cell as well as from the congregation. Nay, public worship has this great advantage, -- that it


teaches those to pray, who, not being accustomed to think, cannot of themselves pray with judgement. To all, it teaches that we are not to pray for exclusive advantages, but to consider ourselves as members of community. Our inmost wishes learn restraint while our petitions are thus directed, and our desires by degrees conform themselves to that spirit of moderation and justice, without which we cannot join in the comprehensive prayer, that must include the joint supplications of a numerous assembly. Public worship has this further advantage over private, that it is better secured against langour on one side, and enthusiasm on the other. If the devotional sentiment has not taken deep root in his mind, a man will scarcely keep up, in silence and in solitude, an intercourse to which he is prompted by no external appearance, and of which he is reminded by no circumstance of time or place. And if his sense of invisible things is strong enough to engage his mind in spite of these disadvantages, there is room to fear, lest, by brooding in silence over objects of such indistinct vastness, his bewildered ideas and exalted imagination should lead him to the reveries of mysticism; an extreme no less to be dreaded than that of indifference. When Mr. Wakefield, to strengthen his argument for seclusion in our religious exercises, directs our attention to the mount of Olives and the garden


of Gethsemane, he should recollect that our Saviour sustained a character to which we cannot presume to aspire; and that, however favourable the desert and wilderness have been to prophets visited by extraordinary illuminations, they cannot be equally suitable to the regular devotion of ordinary christians. From the gloom of the cloister and the loneliness of the cell have proceeded the most extravagant deviations from nature and from reason. Enthusiasm is indeed most dangerous in a crowd, but it seldom originates there. The mind, heated with intense thinking, adopts illusions to which it is not exposed when its devotion is guided and bounded by addresses which are intended to meet the common sentiments of a numerous assembly. Religion then appears with the most benignant aspect, is then least likely to be mistaken, when the presence of our fellow-creatures points out its connexion with the businesses of life and duties of society. Solitary devotion, for worldly minds, is insufficient, for weak minds it is not profitable, for ardent minds it is not safe.

7.          We must however do that justice to the author of the Enquiry, as to confess that he betrays no disposition to carry these exercises to any extreme. On the contrary, some of his expressions seem to strike at the root of all prayer, properly so called, as being the weak effort of an infirm and unphilo-


sophical mind to alter the order of nature and the decrees of Providence, in which it rather becomes the wise man to acquiesce with a manly resignation. Without entering into a discussion, in which, perhaps, we might misrepresent his sentiments; as, in the greater part of his pamphlet, he has taken the ground of Scripture, which undoubtedly countenances the earnestness, and almost the importunity of petition; it may be sufficient for the present purpose to observe, that if there exists a man who, believing himself to be in the continual presence of Infinite Power, directed by infinite love and tender compassion to all his creatures -- thinking often of this Being, and habitually referring every disposition of events to his providence -- feeling himself more constantly and intimately connected with him than with all creation besides -- can in every vicissitude of his life, in sickness and in sorrow, in imminent danger, anxious uncertainty, desertion or loss of friends, and all the trying circumstances of humanity that flesh is heir to; forbear, for himself or for those dearer to him than himself, to put up one petition to the throne of God, -- such a one may be allowed to strike out every petition in the Lord's Prayer but that comprehensive one, "thy will be done." If his faith be equally lively, his devotional feelings equally fervent, his sense of dependence upon God equally felt in his inmost soul, we dare


not presume to censure the temperance of his religious addresses. We respect the subdued sobriety of his wishes; and we do not, we cannot suppose him deserted by the Supreme Being for that modest forbearance which proceeds from a resignation so absolute and complete. Others, however, whose philosophy is not of so firm a texture, may plead the example of him who prayed, though with meek submission, that the cup of bitterness might pass from him; and who, as the moment of separation approached, interceded for his friends and followers with all the anxiety of affectionate tenderness. But we will venture to say that practically there is no such philosopher. If prayer were not enjoined for the perfection, it would be permitted to the weakness of our nature. We should be betrayed into it, if we thought it sin; and pious ejaculations would escape our lips, though we were obliged to preface them with, God forgive me for praying!

8.          To those who press the objection, that we cannot see in what manner our prayers can be answered, consistently with the government of the world according to those general laws by which we find, in fact, that it is governed; it may be sufficient to say, that prayer, being made almost an instinct of our nature, it cannot be supposed but that, like all other instincts, it has its use; that no idea can be less philosophical that one


which implies, that the existence of a God who governs the world, should make no difference in our conduct; and few things less probable, than that the child-like submission which bows to the will of a father, should be exactly similar in feature to the stubborn patience which bends under the yoke of necessity.

9.          It may be further observed, that petitions for temporal advantages, -- such, I mean, as a spirit of moderation will allow us to wish with sufficient ardour to make them the subject of our prayers, -- are not liable to more objections than petitions for spiritual blessings. In either case the weak man does, and the wise man does not expect a miracle. That the arrogant, the worldly, and the licentious, should on a sudden, and without their own strenuous endeavours, be rendered humble, simple-minded, and pure of heart, would be as great a violation of the order of nature in the moral world, as it would be in the natural world that the harvest should ripen without the co-operation of the husbandman, and the slow influence of the seasons. Indeed, as temporal blessings are less in our power than dispositions, and are sometimes entirely out of it, it seems more reasonable of the two to pray for the former than for the latter; and it is remarkable that, in the model given us in the Lord's Prayer, there is not a single petition for any virtue or good disposition, but there is one for daily bread.


Good dispositions, particularly a spirit of resignation, are declared and implied in the petitions, but they are not prayed for: events are prayed for, and circumstances out of our own power, relative to our spiritual concerns, are prayed for, -- as, the not being led into temptation; but there is no prayer that we may be made holy, meek, or merciful. Nor is it an objection to praying for health, that sickness may possibly turn out a blessing, since it is no objection to the using all the means in our power to get rid of sickness, which we do as eagerly and as unreservedly as if we had not the least idea that it ever could be salutary. And we do right; for the advantages of sickness are casual and adventitious; but health is in itself, and in its natural tendencies, a blessing devoutly to be wished for. That no advantage of this nature ought to be prayed or wished for, unqualified with the deepest submission to the will of God, is an undoubted truth; and it is a truth likewise universally acknowledged by all rational christians.

10.         It cannot be denied, however, that great reserve is necessary in putting up specific petitions, especially of a public nature; but generally the fault lies in our engaging in wrong pursuits, rather than in imploring upon our pursuits the favour of Heaven. Humanity is shocked to hear prayers for the success of an unjust war; but hu-


manity and Heaven were then offended when the war was engaged in; for war is of a nature sufficiently serious to warrant our prayers to be preserved from the calamities of it, if we have not voluntarily exposed ourselves to them. The frivolous nature of most national contests appears strongly in this very circumstance, that petitions from either side have the air of a profanation; but if in some serious conjuncture our country was ready to be overwhelmed by an ambitions neighbour, -- as that of the Dutch was in the time of Louis the Fourteenth, -- in such a season of calamity, the sternest philosopher would give way to the instinctive dictates of nature, and implore the help which cometh from on high. The reason why both sides cannot pray with propriety, is because both sides cannot act with justice.

11.         But supposing we were to discard all petition as the weak effort of infirm minds to alter the unbroken chain of events; as the impatient breathings of craving and restless spirits, not broken into patient acquiescence with the eternal order of Providence -- the noblest office of worship still remains:

Praise is devotion fit for mighty minds,
The jarring world's agreeing sacrifice.

12.         And this is surely of a social nature. One class of religious duties separately considered, tends to depress the mind, filling it with ingenu-


ous shame and wholesome sorrow; and to these humiliating feelings solitude might perhaps be found congenial: but the sentiments of admiration, love, and joy, swell the bosom with emotions which seek for fellowship and communication. The flame indeed may be kindled by silent musing; but when kindled it must infallibly spread. The devout heart, penetrated with large and affecting views of the immensity of the works of God, the harmony of his laws, and the extent of his beneficence, bursts into loud and vocal expressions of praise and adoration; and, from a full and overflowing sensibility, seeks to expand itself to the utmost limits of creation. The mind is forcibly carried out of itself; and, embracing the whole circle of animated existence, calls on all above, around, below, to help to bear the burden of its gratitude. Joy is too brilliant a thing to be confined within our own bosoms; it burnishes all nature, and with its vivid colouring gives a kind of factitious life to objects without sense or motion. There cannot be a more striking proof of the social tendency of these feelings, than the strong propensity we have to suppose auditors where there are none. When men are wanting, we address the animal creation; and, rather than have none to partake our sentiments, we find sentiment in the music of the birds, the hum of insects, and the low of kine: nay, we call on rocks


and streams and forests to witness and share our emotions. Hence the Royal Shepherd, sojourning in caves and solitary wastes, calls on the hills to rejoice and the floods to clap their hands; and the lonely poet, wandering in the deep recesses of uncultivated nature, finds a temple in every solemn grove, and swells his chorus of praise with the winds that bow the lofty cedars. And can he who, not satisfied with the wide range of existence, calls for the sympathy of the inanimate creation, refuse to worship with his fellow-men? Can he who bids "Nature attend," forget to "join every living soul" in the universal hymn? Shall we suppose companions in the stillness of deserts, and shall we overlook them amongst friends and townsmen? It cannot be! Social worship, for the devout heart, is not more a duty than it is a real want.

13.         If Public Worship is thus found to be agreeable to the best impulses of our nature, the pious mind will rejoice to find it, at least not discountenanced by revealed religion. But its friends, in endeavouring to prove this, must carry on the argument under some disadvantage, as Mr. Wakefield, though he lays great stress on the presumptive arguments which seem to favour the negative side of the question, will not allow the same force to those which may be urged on the other side. The practice of Christ, he tells us, is an authority


to which all believers will bow the knee, a tribunal by which all our controversies must be awarded: yet he gives us notice at the same time, that to this authority, if brought against him, he will not bow the knee; and from this tribunal, if unfriendly to his cause, he will appeal; for that prayers and all external observances are beggarly elements, to be laid aside in the present maturity of christian church; and that, even if social worship were an original appendage of the Gospel, the idea of a "progressive chrisitianity" would justify us in rejecting it. With this inequality of conditions, which it is sufficient just to notice, let us consider the array of texts which are drawn up against the practice in question; and particularly those precepts which, Mr. Wakefield says, are evidences that directly and literally prove public worship to be unauthorized by christianity, and inconsistent with it, and which he distinguishes from those which condemn it merely by inference.

14.          The first of these direct evidences is the injunction, not to worship as the hypocrites, who are fond of exhibiting in the most public places. "And when thou prayest, be not as the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men; verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door,


pray to thy Father who is in secret." But is it not evident, that the force of this precept is not aimed against public prayer, but against private prayer performed in public; against the ostentatious display which seeks to distinguish us from others, not the genuine sympathy which makes us desirous of blending our feelings with theirs? It was devotion obtruding itself in the face of business, amidst the show and bustle of the world. It did not seek for fellowship, but observation. It did not want the concurrence of men, but to be seen by them. Even in the synagogue it was silent, solitary, unsocial, and with sullen reserve and cold disdain kept itself aloof from communion, and invited only applause. The Pharisee and the Publican both went up to the temple to worship, but they worshiped not together. Certainly the delicate and modest nature of sincere piety must shrink from an exhibition like this; and would not wish to have its feelings noticed, but where at the same time they may be shared. This text therefore seems to be only a caution respecting the proper performance of our closet duties.

15.          "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship


him. God is a spirit." True it is, the hour is come in which it is allowed by all rational believers, that the acceptableness of prayer does not depend on the sacredness of any particular place. The Jews wanted to be informed of this. They, naturally enough, were apt to consider their temple as the habitation of the Divine Being, in the same manner as a palace is the habitation of an earthly sovereign, -- a place where men may come to make their court, and bring presents, and ask favours in return. These ideas have been done away by those more honourable notions of the Divine Being which our Saviour, and good men after him have laboured to inculcate. We conceive of a church as of a building, not for God to reside, but for men to assemble in; for, though God is a spirit, men have bodies, and they cannot meet to do any thing without having some place to do it in. "Neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem," means therefore exclusively, with an idea of any peculiar sacredness, or superstitious preference to any other structure which might be equally commodious.

16.         With regard to the character of our Saviour himself, it is certain he did not always call upon his disciples to share that more intimate, and, if I may say so, confidential intercourse with his heavenly Father, which he may be supposed to have been favoured with; and it must be confessed,


there is no formal mention made of any exercises of this kind either with them, or with the people at large. But his whole life was a prayer. He, who is his most familiar and convivial moments was raising the thoughts of his hearers to God, and nourishing their piety by occasional instruction, could not be supposed to leave them disinclined to the intercourses of social piety. The beautiful commendatory prayer which he offered up when about to leave the world, though it was not entirely of the nature of social prayer, as his disciples did not join in it, yet, its being uttered in their presence, and their being the object of it, seems to place it nearly on the same ground. In the very miracle of the loaves, which Mr. Wakefield has produced as an instance of an incident which might have given rise to public prayer, and which was suffered to pass without it -- in the account of this very miracle there is a direct precedent for the practice in question; for, looking up to heaven, "he blessed" before he brake the bread. This, indeed, appears to have been his constant practice. It certainly does not belong to private devotion, and is a species of prayer more apt, perhaps, than any other, to degenerate into a mere form.

17.          But if we do not find public worship, properly so called, in the life of our Saviour, it is because we look for it in the wrong place. It is not to be


sought for in his instructions, either to the multitude at large, or to his disciples in their more private conversations. His public worship was paid where the rest of the Jews paid theirs -- in the Temple. He came up, with the concourse of assembled multitudes, to the appointed religious festivals; he ate the passover, and associated with his fellow-citizens, even in those rites and that form of worship which he knew was so soon to be abolished.

18.          Our Lord seems indeed to have been an early and regular frequenter of whatever public worship the Jews had among them. What this was, besides their sacrifices and ceremonial observances, Mr. Wakefield is infinitely better able than the author of these remarks to collect from the volumes of Rabbinical learning; but, without going deeper into their antiquities than what may be gathered from those records of their history which are in the hands of every one, it may be seen that verbal addresses to the Divine Being often accompanied the public expressions of their thanksgiving. In their earliest times we have the song of Moses, in the burden of which the whole people, led by Miriam, joined in chorus. In a more polished age, the fine prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, a composition which has never been excelled, comes yet nearer to our ideas of an address to the Divine Being; and the whole


people bore a part in the worship by the response, "For he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever." A still more regular service is recorded by Nehemiah, when the people, after their return from the captivity, entered into the solemn renewal of their law described with so much affecting solemnity. They stood and confessed their sins, then they read the law; after which the Levites called upon them to stand up and bless the Lord their God. They stood up accordingly, and joined in what I suppose the author of the Enquiry would call a pretty long prayer. And when Ezra blessed the Lord, the people answered, Amen, Amen. All this is sufficiently similar not only to the spirit, but to the very routine of our present modes of worship. If it be said, that these instances all arose from peculiar and striking occasions, it may be answered, that it is not likely any other would be recorded; and that the regularity and grace with which they seem to have been performed, indicate a people not unaccustomed to such exercises. Indeed the Psalms of David afford every variety which any of our prayers do; confession, ascription, thanksgiving, &c. These, it should seem, were many of them set to music, and sung with proper responses; for even in the Temple, the chief business of which was not prayer but sacrifice, the Levites and other singers, at the time of the morning and evening sacrifice, sung psalms of


praise to God before the altar, and in the conclusion the priests blessed the people1. And it is not probable, that in a later period of their history, amidst a greater degree of refinement and cultivation, they should have contented themselves with mere ritual observances. This at least is evident, if in the time of our Saviour they had no worship similar to ours, he could not mean by any thing he said to hint a dislike of it; and if they had, he must have sanctioned the practice by conforming to it. But indeed it is acknowledged by most, and Mr. Wakefield seems to admit, that after their return from Babylonish captivity, when their hearts were purified by adversity and more attached to their religion, they had regular and stated worship in their synagogues, consisting of forms of prayer, reading the Scriptures, and expounding. In the former, we are told, a minister, called from his office the angel or messenger of the church, officiated as the mouth of the congregation; but for the latter part of the service it was usual to call upon any stranger to take his share, who appeared to be sufficiently qualified to read and expound the lessons of the day. And hence probably it was, that our Saviour did not pray in the synagogues, though he often taught there, and interpreted the Scriptures2. Of their forms of prayer eighteen are given, held to be of high


antiquity and peculiar sacredness; and these are in a strain not dissimilar to the Liturgies of more modern times. In short, if we trace the accounts given us both of the plan of the service, and of its presbyters, ministers, and deacons, it will be found, that the christian church, in its corresponding officers, its collects, litanies, and expositions, is the legitimate daughter of the Jewish synagogue; and we shall be led to admire the singular fate of nation, decreed to be at once imitated and despised.

19.         Thus much may be sufficient to say upon a subject which, after all, is purely a question of historical curiosity.

20.         To return to the character of our Saviour. His great business in the world was instruction; and this he dispensed, not in a systematic, but a popular manner; nor yet in a vague and declamatory style, but in a pointed and appropriated one; not where it would most shine, but where it was most wanted. He was the great reformer, the innovator of his day; and the strain of his energetic eloquence was strongly pointed against abuses of all kinds, and precisely those points of duty were most insisted on which he found most neglected. Almost all his discourses are levelled against some prevailing vice of the times, some fashionable worldy maxim, some artful gloss of a well known precept, some evasion of an acknowledged duty. They were delivered as occasion prompted,


and therefore it was that they came so home to men's business and bosoms; for he might have delivered the most elaborate lectures on morality, and religion too, without offending the Scribes and Pharisees, if he had confined himself to system, and not attacked corruption. We shall therefore meet with continual disappointment if, in the few scattered discourses, most of them too conversations, which are preserved to us of our Saviour, we expect to find any thing like a regular code of laws, and still less a formulary of rules. He referred to known laws, and only endeavoured to restore the spirit of them, and to exalt the motive of obedience. The great duty of honouring our parents had probably not found a place in his instructions, but to expose the tradition which had made it of none effect. It is therefore a very inconclusive argument against a practice, either, that we are not expressly enjoined it in the Gospel, or that the abuses of it are strongly dwelt upon; and this may serve for a general answer to Mr. Wakefield's objections built upon the animated denunciations against those who, for a pretence, make long prayers, and who cry, "Lord, Lord," -- against vain repetitions -- upon the exhortations to worship in spirit and in truth -- the declaration that the Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath -- with a thousand others in the same strain, with which the Gospel undoubtedly abounds. But


is the utility of a practice destroyed by the abuse of it; or is it of none, because it is not of the chief value? Are none of our duties subordinate, yet real? or have they all the proud motto, Aut Cæsar aut nullus.3 -- As to the idea of a "progressive Christianity," on which the author of the Enquiry lays so much stress, as no new revelation has been pretended subsequent to its original promulgation, it is difficult to conceive of any progress in it, distinct from the progress of reason and civilization in the different countries where it may be received. Now I do not know what right we have to suppose that the Jews in the time of our Saviour, were so gross in their ideas as to require a mode of worship which deserves to be stigmatized with the appellation of "beggarly elements and the twilight of superstition." They were probably as different from their countrymen in the time of the Judges, as we are from our ancestors of the Saxon heptarchy. They had long had among them most of those causes which end to develop the mental powers. A system of laws and polity, writers of the most distinguished excellence, commercial and political intercourse with other nations; they had acute and subtle disputants, and an acquaintance with different sects of philosophy; and, under these circumstances, it is probable that most of those questions would be agitated which, at similar periods, have exercised and perplexed the


human faculties. Be that as it may, Mr. Wakefield, by considering public worship as a practice to be adapted to the exigencies of the times, evidently abandons 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.

21.          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 is derived from this very source. If a legislator or philosopher were to undertake the civilization 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 cohesion; 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 solem-


nity 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 --


22.         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 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 humanizing 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 inhabitants 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.

23.         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.


24.         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.

25.          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 gives 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, his mind resumes its tone and vigour, and social devotion gives a colour and body to the deductions of his reason. Berkeley, probably, never doubted of the existence of the material world when he had quitted his closet. Some minds are not capable of that firmness of decision which embraces truth upon a bare preponderancy of argument -- some, through a timorous and melancholy spirit, remain always in a perplexed and doubting state, if they rest merely on the conclusions built upon their own investigation. But every act in consequence of our faith, strengthens faith. These, when they enter a place of worship, amidst all the animating accompaniments of social homage, are seized with a happy contagion; slow hesitating doubts vanish in a moment, and give way to sincere and cordial feeling. These are not proofs, it is true; but they are helps, adapted to our nature, necessary to the generality, expedient for all. As for the multitude, so unaccustomed are they to any process of abstruse reasoning, and so much do they require the assistance of some object within the grasp of their senses, that it is to be doubted whether they could


be at all persuaded of the existence of a spiritual invisible power, if that existence was not statedly acknowledged by some act which should impress the reality of it upon their minds, by connecting it with places, persons, and times.

26.         Let it be observed, in the next place, that Public Worship is a civic meeting. The temple is the only place where human beings, of every rank and sex and age, meet together for one common purpose, and join together in one common act. Other meetings are either political, or formed for the purposes of splendour and amusement; from both which, in this country, the bulk of inhabitants are of necessity excluded. This is the only place, to enter which nothing more is necessary than to be of the same species; -- the only place where man meets man not only as an equal but a brother; and where, by contemplating his duties, he may become sensible of his rights. So high and haughty is the spirit of aristocracy, and such the increasing pride of the privileged classes, that it is to be feared, if men did not attend at the same place here, it would hardly be believed they were meant to go to the same place hereafter. It is of service to the cause of freedom therefore, no less than to that of virtue, that there is one place where the invidious distinctions of wealth and titles are not admitted; where all are equal, not by making the low, proud; but by making the


great, humble. How many a man exists who possesses not the smallest property in this earth of which you call him lord; who, from the narrowing spirit of property, is circumscribed and hemmed in by the possessions of his more opulent neighbours, till there is scarcely an unoccupied spot of verdure on which he can set his foot to admire the beauties of nature, or barren mountain on which he can draw the fresh air without a trespass. The enjoyments of life are for others, the labours of it for him. He hears those of his class spoken of, collectively, as of machines, which are to be kept in repair indeed, but of which the sole use is to raise the happiness of the higher orders. Where, but in the temples of religion, shall he learn that he is of the same species? He hears there (and were it for the first time, it would be with infinite astonishment,) that all are considered as alike ignorant and to be instructed; all alike sinful, and needing forgiveness; all alike bound by the same obligations, and animated by the same hopes. In the intercourses of the world the poor man is seen, but not noticed; he may be in the presence of his superiors, but he cannot be in their company. In every other place it would be presumption in him to let his voice be heard along with theirs; here alone they are both raised together, and blended in the full chorus of praise. In every other place it would be an offence to be


near them, without showing in his attitudes and deportment the conscious marks of inferiority; here only he sees the prostrations of the rich as low as his, and hears them both addressed together in the majestic simplicity of a language that knows no adulation. Here the poor man learns that, in spite of the distinctions of rank, and the apparent inferiority of his condition, all the true goods of life, all that men dare petition for when in the presence of their Maker -- a sound mind, a healthful body, and daily bread, -- lie within the scope of his own hopes and endeavours; and that in the large inheritance to come, his expectations are no less ample than theirs. He rises from his knees, and feels himself a man. He learns philosophy without its pride, and a spirit of liberty without its turbulence. Every time Social Worship is celebrated, it includes a virtual declaration of the rights of man.

27.          It may be further observed, that the regular services of the church are to us the more necessary, as we have laid aside many of those modes and expressions which gave a tincture of religion to our social intercourse and domestic manners. The regard to particular days and seasons is nearly worn off. The forms of epistolary correspondence, and the friendly salutations which, in the last century, breathed a spirit of affectionate piety, are exchanged for the degrading ceremo-


nial of unmeaning servility. The "God be with you," "God bless you," "If God permit," "Heaven have you in its keeping," -- like the graceful Salam, or salutation of peace among the eastern nations, kept up in the mind a sense of the surrounding providence of the Divine Being, and might, in some measure, supersede the necessity of more formal addresses; whereas, in the present state of society, a stranger might pass day after day, and week after week, in the bosom of a christian country, without suspecting the faith of its inhabitants (if public worship were laid aside) from any circumstance, unless it were the obscure, half-pronounced blessing which is still sometimes murmured over the table.

28.          Let it therefore be considered, when the length and abstracted nature of our public prayers is objected to, that we have nothing to take their place. If our attention was excited by processions, garlands, altars, and sacrifices, and every action of our lives intermixed with some religious rite, these expressions of our homage might be more readily dispensed with; but, in reality, tedious as Mr. Wakefield may think long prayers, they suit better with the gravity of the national disposition and the philosophic turn of our ideas, than any substitute which could be suggested by the most classic taste. Our prayers are become long, because our ceremonies are short.


29.         If we suppose these views of the subject to have established the general utility of public worship, a question still arises, Is the obligation to it universal? Is attendance on its exercises to be expected from those whose own minds are temples more hallowed than any they can enter; and whose knowledge and cultivation render it probable, that in every popular service they will meet with much to object to, and little to interest a taste rendered fastidious by critical accuracy and elegant refinement? Without presuming to condemn the conduct of those who are in every respect so competent to form their own plans according to their own judgement, I would mention some considerations which, even to them, may present it in a light not unworthy their attention. It is, in the first place, an act of homage, and as such equally incumbent on all. It is a profession of faith, less dubious even than the performance of moral duties, which may proceed from a well-directed prudence, or the harmony of a happy temperament. It is right and proper that Religion should have the honour of those who are calculated to do her honour. It is likewise useful for a pious man to be connected with pious people as such. Various associations are formed upon the ground of something which men wish to improve or to enjoy in common. Literary men associate, musical men associate, political men associate to-


gether; and as there is a great deal of the commerce of the world in which it would be impossible to introduce religion, there ought by way of balance to be some society of which that is the ground and principle; otherwise, from the very nature of our connexions with each other, we shall find religion less in our thoughts than almost any thing else in which we have an interest, and insensibly it will waste and die away for mere want of aliment. But the attendence of men of literature and knowledge is perhaps most important from its effect upon others. The unenlightened worship with most pleasure where those worship whose opinions they respect. A religion that is left for the vulgar will not long satisfy even them. There is harshness in saying to the bulk of mankind, "Stand aside, we are wiser than you." There is harshness in saying, "Our affections cannot move in concert; what edifies you, disgusts us; we cannot feel in common, even where we have a common interest." In the intercourses of life, the man of urbanity makes a thousand sacrifices to the conciliating spirit of courtesy and the science of attentions. The exercises of devotion, Mr. Wakefield says, are wearisome. Suppose they were so; how many meetings do we frequent, to how many conversations do we listen with benevolent attention, where our own pleasure and our own improvement are not the


objects to which our time is given up? He who knows much must expect to be often present where he can learn nothing. While others are receiving information, he is practising a virtue. He, who in common life has learned to mix a regard to the feelings and opinions of others with the pursuit of his own gratifications, will bear, in the spirit of love and charity, the instruction which to him is unnecessary, the amplification which to him is tiresome, the deficiencies of method or of elocution, to which his ear and his judgement are acutely sensible; the imperfections, in short, of men or of societies inferior to himself in taste or knowledge; -- as in conversation he bears with the communicative overflowings of self-importance, the repetition of the well-known tale, and the recurrence of the numerous, burdensome forms of civilized society.

30.          It becomes us well to consider what would be the consequence, if the desertion of men of superior sense should become general in our assemblies. Not the abolition of public worship, -- it is a practice too deeply rooted in the very propensities of our nature; but this would be the consequence, that it would be thrown into the hands of professional men on the one hand, and of uninformed men on the other. By the one it would be corrupted; it would be debased by the other. Let the friends of moderation and good sense consider


whether it is desirable, whether it is even safe, to withdraw from the public the powerful influence of their taste, knowledge, and liberality. Let them consider whether they are prepared to take the consequences of trusting in the hands of any clergy, so powerful an engine as that of public worship and instruction, without the salutary check of their presence who are best able to distinguish truth from falsehood, to detect unwarrantable pretensions, and to keep within tolerable bounds the wanderings of fanaticism. Attentive to the signs of the times, they will have remarked on the one hand, a disposition to give into deception, greater than might naturally have been presumed of this age, which we compliment with the epithet of enlightened. Empiric extravagancies have been adopted, which violate every sober and consistent idea of the laws of nature, and new sects have sprung up distinguished by the wildest reveries of visionary credulity. On the other, they will have observed indications of a desire to discourage the freedom of investigation, to thicken the veil of mystery, and to revive every obsolete pretension of priestly power, which, in the most ignorant periods, the haughtiest churchman has ever dared to assume. They will have read with astonishment an official exhortation to the inferior clergy -- it was not fulminated from the Vatican, it was not dragged to light from the mould and rust of remote ages -- It


was delivered by an English divine of the eighteenth century, brilliant in parts and high in place: he knew it was to meet the notice and encounter the criticism of an enlightened and philosophic people, and he has not scrupled to tell them -- that good works of a heretic are sin; and that such a one may go to hell with his load of moral merit on his back. He has not scrupled to rank the first philosopher of this kingdom, and the man in it perhaps of all others most actively solicitous for the spread of what he at least believes to be genuine christianity, with infidels and atheists; and thus by obvious inference has piously consigned him to the same doom. He has revived claims and opinions which have upon their heads whole centuries of oblivion and contempt; and by slandering Morality, has thought to exalt Religion. -- Reflecting on these things, they will consider whether the man of judgement does not desert the post assigned him by Providence, when he withdraws from popular assemblies both the countenance of his example had the imposing awe of his presence; they will conceive themselves as invested with the high commission to take care nequid respublica detrimenti capiat; they will consider themselves as the salt of the earth, the leaven of the lump, not to be secluded in separate parcels, but to be mingled in the whole mass, diffusing through it their own spirit and savour.


31.          The author of the Enquiry chooses to expatiate, -- it is not difficult to do it, -- on the discordant variety of the different modes of worship practised amongst men, and concludes it with characterizing this alarming schism by the comparison of the poet:

One likes the pheasant's wing, and one the leg;
The vulgar boil, the learned roast an egg.

32.          But might we not venture to ask, -- Where, pray, is the harm of all this? unless indeed I will not allow my neighbour to boil his egg because I roast mine. Eggs are good and nutritious food either way; and in the manner of dressing them, fancy and taste, nay caprice, if you will, may fairly be consulted. If I prefer the leg of a pheasant, and my neighbour finds it dry, let each take what he likes. It would be a conclusion singularly absurd, that eggs and pheasants were not to be eaten. All the harm is in having but one tale for guests of every description; and yet even there, were I at a public ordinary, good in other respects, I would rather conform my taste in some measure to that of my neighbour, than be reduced to the melancholy necessity of eating my morsel by myself alone.

33.         The dissenters cannot be supposed to pass over in silence Mr. Wakefield's strictures upon the manner in which they have chosen to conduct their public and social worship. They are surprised


and sorry to find themselves treated with such a mixture of bitterness and levity by a man whose abilities they respect, and whom they have shown themselves ready to embrace as a brother. They have their prejudices, they acknowledge -- and he perhaps has his. Many forms and observances may to them be dear and venerable, through the force of early habit and association, which to a stranger in their Israel may appear uncouth, unnecessary, or even marked with a shade of ridicule. They pity Mr. Wakefield's peculiar and insulated situation. Separating through the purest motives from one church, he has not found another with which he is inclined to associate; divided by difference of opinions from one class of christians, and by dissonance of taste from another, he finds the transition too violent from the college to the conventicle: he worships alone because he stands alone; and is, naturally perhaps, led to undervalue that fellowship which has been lost to him between his early predilections and his later opinions. If, however, the dissenters are not so happy as to gain his affection, they must be allowed to urge their claims upon his esteem. They wish him to reflect, that neither his classical knowledge, nor his critical acumen, nor his acknowledged talents, set him so high in the esteem of good men, as that integrity which he possesses in common with those whom he de-


spises; they believe further consideration would suggest to him, that it were more candid to pass over those peculiarities which have originated in a delicate conscience and the fervour of devotion; and they cannot help asking, Whether they had reason to expect the severity of sarcastic ridicule from him, whose best praise it is that he has imitated their virtues and shared their sacrifices?

34.         The dissenters, however, do not make it their boast that they have nothing to reform. They have, perhaps, always been more conspicuous for principle than for taste; their practices are founded upon a prevalence of religious fervour, an animation and warmth of piety, which, if it no longer exists, it is vain to simulate. But what they do make their boast is, that they acknowledge no principle which forbids them to reform; that they have no leave to ask of bishops, synods, or parliaments, in order to lay aside forms which have become vapid. They are open to conviction; they are ready to receive with thankfulness every sober and liberal remark which may assist them to improve their religious addresses, and model them to the temper of the public mind. But, with regard to those practices of superabundant devotion which have drawn down upon them the indignation of the critic, it is the opinion of those who best know the dissenters of the present day,


that they might have been suffered to fall quietly of themselves: they are supported by no authority, defrayed by no impost. If they make long prayers, it is at the expense only of their own breath and spirits; no widows' houses are devoured by it. If the present generation yawn and slumber over the exercises which their fathers attended with pious alacrity, the sons will of course learn to shorten them. If the disposition of their public services wants animation, as perhaps it does, the silent pews will be deserted one by one, and they will be obliged to seek some other mode of engaging the attention of their audience. But modes and forms affect not the essence of public worship; that may be performed with a form or without one; by words alone, or by symbolical expressions, combined with or separated from instruction; with or without the assistance of a particular order appointed to officiate in leading the devotions: it may be celebrated one day in seven, or in eight, or in ten. In many of these particulars a certain deference should be had to the sentiments of that society with which, upon the whole, we think it best to connect ourselves, and as times and manners change, these circumstances will vary; but the root of the practice is too strongly interwoven with the texture of the human frame ever to be abandoned. While man has wants, he will pray; while he is sensible


of blessings, he will offer praise; while he has common wants and common blessings, he will pray and praise in company with his fellows; and while he feels himself a social being, he will not be persuaded to lay aside social worship.

35.         It must, however, be acknowledged, that, in order to give public worship all the grace and efficacy of which it is susceptible, much alteration is necessary. It is necessary here, as in every other concern, that timely reformation should prevent neglect. Much might be done by judgement, taste, and a devotional spirit united, to improve the plan of our religious assemblies. Should a genius arise amongst us qualified for such a task, and in circumstances favourable to his being listened to, he would probably remark first, on the construction of our churches, so ill adapted are a great part of them to the purposes either of hearing or seeing. He would reprobate those little gloomy solitary cells, planned by the spirit of aristocracy, which deform the building no less to the eye of taste than to the eye of benevolence, and insulating each family within its separate inclosure, favour at once the pride of rank and the laziness of indulgence. He might choose for these structures something of the amphitheatrical form, where the minister, on a raised platform, should be beheld with ease by the whole wave of people, at once bending together in deep humiliation, or spreading forth their hands in the earn-


estness of petition. It would certainly be found desirable that the people should themselves have a large share in the performance of the service, as the intermixture of their voices would both introduce more variety and greater animation; provided pains were taken by proper teaching to enable them to bear their part with a decorum and propriety, which, it must be confessed, we do not see at present amongst those whose public services possess the advantage of responses. The explaining, and teaching them to recite, such hymns and collects as it might be thought proper they should bear a part in, would form a pleasing and useful branch of the instruction of young people, and of the lower classes; it would give them an interest in the public service, and might fill up agreeably a vacant hour either on Sunday or on some other leisure day, especially if they were likewise regularly instructed in singing for the same purpose. As we have never seen, perhaps we can hardly conceive, the effect which the united voices of the whole congregation, all in the lively expression of one feeling, would have upon the mind. We should then perceive not only that we were doing the same thing in the same place, but that we were doing it with one accord. The deep silence of listening expectation, the burst of united praises, the solemn pauses that invite reflection, the varied tones of humiliation, gratitude, or persuasion, would swell and melt the heart by turns;


nor would there by any reason to guard against the wandering eye, when every object it rested on must forcibly recall it to the duties of the place. -- Possibly it might be found expedient to separate worship from instruction; the learned teacher from the leader of the public devotions, in whom voice, and popular talents, might perhaps be allowed to supersede a more deep and critical acquaintance with the doctrines of theology. One consequence, at least, would follow such a separation, that instruction would be given more systematically. -- Nothing that is taught at all is taught in so vague and desultory a manner as the doctrines of religion. A congregation may attend for years, even a good preacher, and never hear the evidences of either natural or revealed religion regularly explained to them: they may attend for years, and never hear a connected system of moral duties extending to the different situations and relations of life: they may attend for years, and not even gain any clear idea of the history and chronology of the Old and New Testament, which are read to them every Sunday. They will hear abundance of excellent doctrine, and will often feel their hearts warmed and their minds edified; but their ideas upon these subjects will be confused and imperfect, because they are treated on in a manner so totally different from every thing else which bears the name of instruc-


tion. This is probably owning, in a great measure, to the custom of prefixing to every pulpit-discourse a sentence, taken indiscriminately from any part of the Scriptures, under the name of a text, which at first implying an exposition, was afterwards used to suggest a subject; and is now, by degrees, dwindling into a motto. -- Still, however, the custom subsists; and while it serves to supersede a more methodical course of instruction, tends to keep up in the minds of the generality of hearers a very superstitious idea, -- not now entertained, it is to be presumed, by the generality of those who teach, -- of the equal sacredness and importance of every part of so miscellaneous a collection.

36.         If these insulated discourses, of which each is complete in itself, and therefore can have but little compass, were digested into a regular plan of lectures, supported by a course of reading, to which the audience might be directed, it would have the further advantage of rousing the inattentive and restraining the rambling hearer by the interest which would be created by such a connected series of information. They would occupy a larger space in the mind, they would more frequently be the subject of recollection and meditation; there would be a fear of missing one link in such a chain of truths; and the more intelligent part of a congregation might find a useful and interesting employment in assisting the teacher in the in-


struction of those who were not able to comprehend instruction with the same facility as themselves. When such a course of instruction had been delivered, it would not be expected that discourses, into which men of genius and learning had digested their best thoughts, should be thrown by, or brought forward again, as it were, by stealth; but they would be regularly and avowedly repeated at proper intervals. It is usual upon the continent for a set of sermons to be delivered in several churches, each of which has its officiating minister for the stated public worship; and thus a whole district partakes the advantage of the labours of a man eminent for composition. Perhaps it might be desirable to join to religious information some instruction in the laws of our country, which are, or ought to be, founded upon morals; and which, by a strange solecism, are obligatory upon all, and scarcely promulgated, much less explained. -- Many ideas will offer themselves to a thinking man, who wishes not to abolish, but to improve the public worship of his country. These are only hints, offered with diffidence and respect, to those who are able to judge of and carry them into effect.

37.          Above all, it would be desirable to separate from religion that idea of gloom which in this country has but too generally accompanied it. The fact cannot be denied; the cause must be


sought, partly in our character, which I am afraid is not naturally either very cheerful or very social, and which we shall do well to meliorate by every possible attention to our habits of life; -- and partly to the colour of our religious systems. No one who embraces the common idea of future torments, together with the doctrine of election and reprobation, the insufficiency of virtue to escape the wrath of God, and the strange absurdity which, it should seem, through similarity of sound alone has been admitted as an axiom, that sins committed against an infinite being do therefore deserve infinite punishment -- no one, I will venture to assert, can believe such tenets, and have them often in his thoughts, and yet be cheerful. Whence a system has arisen so incompatible with that justice and benevolence, which in the discourses of our Saviour are represented as the most essential attributes of the Divine Being, is not easy to trace. It is probable, however, that power, being the most prominent feature in our conceptions of the Creator, and that of which we see that most striking image here on earth (there being a greater portion of uncontrouled power than of unmixed wisdom or goodness to be found amongst human beings), the Deity would naturally be likened to an absolute monarch; -- and most absolute monarchs having been tyrants, jealous of their sovereignty, averse to


freedom of investigation, ordering affairs, not with a view to the happiness of their subjects, but to the advancement of their own glory; not to be approached but with rich gifts and offerings; bestowing favours, not in proportion to merit, but from the pure influence of caprice and blind partiality; to those who have offended them severe, and unforgiving, except induced to pardon by the importunate intercession of some favourite; confining their enemies, when they have overcome them, after a contest, in deep dark dungeons under ground, or putting them to death in the prolonged misery of excruciating tortures -- these features of human depravity have been most faithfully transferred to the Supreme Being; and men have imaged to themselves how a Nero or a Domitain would have acted, if from the extent of their dominion there had been no escape, and to the duration of it no period.

38.         These ideas of the vulgar belief, terrible, but as yet vague and undefined, passed into the speculations of the schoolmen, by whom they were combined with the metaphysical idea of eternity, arranged in specific propositions, fixed in creeds, and elaborated into systems, till at length they have been sublimed into all the tremendous horrors of the Calvinistic faith. These doctrines, it is true, among thinking people, are losing ground; but there is still apparent, in that class called se-


rious christians, a tenderness in exposing them; a sort of leaning towards them, -- as in walking over a precipice one should lean to the safest side; an idea that they are, if not true, at least good to be believed, and that a salutary error is better than a dangerous truth. But that error can neither be salutary nor harmless, which attributes to the Deity injustice and cruelty; and that religion must have the worst of tendencies, which renders it dangerous for man to imitate the being whom he worships. Let those who hold such tenets consider, that the invisible Creator has no name, and is identified only by his character; and they will tremble to think what being they are worshiping, when they invoke a power capable of producing existence, in order to continue it in never-ending torments. The God of the Assembly's Catechism is not the same God with the deity of Thomson's Seasons, and of Hutcheson's Ethics. Unity of character in what we adore is much more essential than unity of person. We often boast, and with reason, of the purity of our religion, as opposed to the grossness of the theology of the Greeks and Romans; but we should remember, that cruelty is as much worse than licentiousness, as a Moloch is worse than a satyr. -- When will christians permit themselves to believe that the same conduct which gains them the approbation of good men here, will secure the favour of Heaven


hereafter? When will they cease making their court to their Maker by the same servile debasement and affection of lowliness by which the vain potentates of the earth are flattered? When a harmless and well-meaning man, in the exaggerated figures of theological rhetoric, calls himself the vilest of sinners, it is in precisely the same spirit of false humility in which the courtier uses degrading and disqualifying expressions, when he speaks of himself in his adulatory addresses to his sovereign. When a good man draws near the close of a life, not free indeed from faults, but pure from crime, a life spent in the habitual exercise of all those virtues which adorn and dignify human nature, and in the uniform approach to that perfection which is confessedly unattainable in this imperfect state; when a man -- perhaps like Dr. Price, whose name will be ever pronounced with affectionate veneration and deep regard by all the friends of philosophy, virtue, and mankind -- is about to resign his soul into the hands of his Maker, he ought to do it, not only with a reliance on his mercy, but his justice; a generous confidence and pious resignation would be blended in his deportment. It does not become him to pay the blasphemous homage of deprecating the wrath of God, when he ought to throw himself into the arms of his love. He is not to think that virtue is one thing here, and another


in heaven; or that he one whom blessings and eulogiums are ready to burst from all honest tongues, can be an object of punishment with Him who is infinitely more benevolent than any of his creatures.

39.         These remarks may be thought foreign to the subject in question; but in fact they are not so. Public worship will be tinctured with gloom while our ideas of its object are darkened by superstition; it will be infected with hypocrisy while its professions and tenets run counter to the genuine unperverted moral sense of mankind; it will not meet the countenance of philosophers so long as we are obliged to unlearn our ethics, in order to learn divinity. Let it be considered that these opinions greatly favour immorality. The doctrine that all are vile, and equally merit a state of punishment, is an idea as consolatory to the profligate, as it is humiliating to the saint; and that is one reason why it has always been a favourite doctrine. The indecent confidence of a Dodd,4 and the debasing terrors of a Johnson, or of more blameless men than he, spring from one and the same source. It prevents the genuine workings


of real penitence, by enjoining confessions of imaginary demerit; it quenches religious gratitude, because conceiving only of two states of retribution, both in the extreme; and feeling that our crimes, whatever they may be, cannot have deserved the one, we are not sufficiently thankful for the prospect of the other, which we look upon as only a necessary alternative. Lastly, it dissolves the connexion between religion and common life, by introducing a set of phrases and a standard of moral feeling, totally different from those ideas of praise and blame, merit and demerit, upon which we do and must act in our commerce with our fellow-creatures.

40.          There are periods in which the human mind seems to slumber, but this is not one of them. A keen spirit of research is now abroad, and demands reform. Perhaps in none of the nations of Europe will their articles of faith, or their church establishments, or their modes of worship, be able to maintain their ground for many years in exactly the same position in which they stand at present. Religion and manners reciprocally act upon one another. As religion, well understood, is a most powerful agent in meliorating and softening our manners; so, on the other hand, manners, as they advance in cultivation, tend to correct and refine our religion. Thus, to a nation in any degree acquainted with the social feelings, human sacrifices


and sanguinary rites could never long appear obligatory. The mild spirit of christianity has, no doubt, had its influence in softening the ferocity of the Gothic times; and the increasing humanity of the present period will, in its turn, produce juster ideas of christianity, and diffuse through the solemnities of our worship, the celebration of our sabbaths, and every observance connected with religion, that air of amenity and sweetness, which is the offspring of literature and the peaceful intercourses of society. The age which has demolished dungeons, rejected torture, and given so fair a prospect of abolishing the iniquity of the slave-trade, cannot long retain among its articles of belief the gloomy perplexities of Calvinism, and the heart-withering prospective of cruel and never-ending punishments.

41.         THE END.

1. * See Prideaux's Connection, vol. ii p. 528. [author, Anna Barbauld] BACK

2. ** Ibid. p. 538. [author, Anna Barbauld] BACK

3. "Either Caesar or nothing." [Poetess Archive Editor] BACK

4. *** "And admitted, as I trust I shall be, to the realms of bliss before you, I shall hail your arrival where with transport, and rejoice to acknowledge that you was my comforter, my advocate, and my friend," - Letter from Dr. Dodd to Dr. Johnson. See Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. ii. p. 140. [author, Anna Barbauld] BACK

Date: 1825 (revised 07/16/2007) Author: Anna Letitia Barbauld (revised Laura Mandell).
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