« PreviousContinue »
there remember that our brother hath aught against us, we should leave our gift before the altar, and go away and first be reconciled to our brother, and then come and offer our gift. But besides the authority of the precept, religious considerations and impressions have a natural tendency to sweeten our dispositions towards our fellow worshippers; for when we seriously reflect, that even such persons, against whom we may think we have reason to entertain grudges, are now worshipping their and our Creator along with us; that they are perhaps as sincere as we are; that they are as much the children of his great family, as really entitled to his favor, and, perhaps, as acceptable to him, or more so, than we can pretend to be; such reflections have a natural tendency to soften our hearts, and make us forget our animosities. Our little interfering interests and competitions seem trifling and inconsiderable, when we consider ourselves in the august presence of the Great Judge of all the earth. When we are desirous above all things to please God, we become unconcerned and indifferent about lesser interests.
Nothing can be more suited to humble the pride and insolence of the rich and great, than to reflect upon themselves as equally with all others in the presence of that God who is no respecter of persons. A just sense of the presence of a
great, impartial Judge, annihilates all worldly distinctions, and places the high and the low quite on a level. When, therefore, the proud and haughty see those persons, whom, on ordinary occasions, they are accustomed to overlook and despise; when they see them engaged in the worship of God along with themselves; it must naturally suggest to them, that they are creatures of the same make with themselves, equally the offspring of God, and having immortal souls equally capable of the same high attainments and sublime enjoyments, arising from the knowledge, love, resemblance, and friendship of their Maker; that they may be as far advanced in every thing really virtuous, and may be in all respects as worthy, in the eye of God who judges not by outward appearances, as they themselves can pretend to be. Such considerations, which naturally arise on the occasion, have a tendency to moderate, and even to root out, that pride and vanity which is apt to shoot up in the minds of those who are accustomed to contemplate their outward advantages with too selfish a complacency. The distance between the highest and lowest of mankind, must appear nothing to those who attend to the infinite distance between God and the most exalted order of creatures. And thus public worship is adapted to excite humble sentiments in the hearts of the highest of mankind, and to unite them in
the bonds of kindness and charity with the low
In many cases, it may be difficult to point out the particular positive good effects, that have actually been produced by these religious institutions. But to convince us of the importance of them, let us suppose that all public worship and public instructions, that all the exhortations, admonitions, and reproofs, which are usually given in christian congregations, were totally interrupted for a considerable time; for half a century, or even for twenty years. We should soon see that the worst effects would follow, that a sense of God and providence, of Jesus Christ and his divine religion, a sense of virtue and humanity, would be greatly weakened, if not entirely extinguished, and that the generality of the people would degenerate into a kind of barbarians. It has been the acknowledged sentiment of the wisest part of mankind, that, were it not for that sense of religion and order which is principally preserved, so far as it is preserved, by public forms and habits of worship, men would lose it entirely, run wild, prey upon one another, and soon become little better than the savages.
The great usefulness and importance of regular weekly assemblies for religious and moral purposes, was clearly discerned and acknowledged by the Roman emperor Julian, commonly called