« PreviousContinue »
The setting apart one day in seven for public worship is not a pious institution merely, but highly moral. With regard to the latter, all men are equal in the presence of God; and when a congregation pray for mercy and protection, every one must be inflamed with good-will and brotherly love to every one.
In the next place, the serious and devout tone of mind inspired by public worship, suggests na-' turally self-examination. Retired from the bustle of the world on that day of rest, the errors we have been guilty of are recalled to memory: we are afflicted for these errors, and are firmly resolved to be more on our guard in time coming. In short, Sunday is only a day of rest from worldly concerns, in order to be more usefully employed upon those that are internal. Sunday accordingly is a day of account; and a candid account
"cipiamus innocentiæ voluntatem, et ab omni nos labe de"lictorum omnium amputatione purgemus."-In English thus: "It is our custom, to prostrate ourselves before him; and we "ask of him such gifts only as are consistent with justice and "with honour, and suitable to the character of the Being "whom we adore. Not that he receives pleasure or satisfac❝tion from the humble veneration of thousands of his crea❝tures. From this we ourselves derive benefit and advantage; "for being the slaves of appetite, and prone to err from the
weakness of our nature, when we address ourselves to God "in prayer, and study by our actions to merit his approba❝tion, we gain at least the wish, and the inclination, to be <virtuous."
every seventh day, is the best preparation for the great day of account. A person who diligently follows out this preparatory discipline, will seldom be at a loss to answer for his conduct, called upon by God or man. This consideration leads me necessarily to condemn a practice authorised among Christians with very few exceptions, that of abandoning to diversion and merriment what remains of Sunday after public worship, parties of pleasure, dancing, gaming, any thing that trifles away the time without a serious thought; as if the if the purpose were to cancel every virtuous impression made at public worship.
Unhappily, this salutary institution can only be preserved in vigour during the days of piety and virtue. Power and opulence are the darling ob jects of every nation; and yet in every nation possessed of power and opulence, virtue subsides, selfishness prevails, and sensuality becomes the ruling passion. Then it is, that the most sacred institutions, first, lose their hold, next, are disregarded, and at last are made a subject for ridicule.
I shall only add upon the general head, that lawgivers ought to avoid with caution the enforcing public worship by rewards and punishments: human laws cannot reach the heart, in which the essence of worship consists: they may indeed bring on a listless habit of worship, by separating the external act from the internal affection, than which nothing is more hurtful to true religion. The ut
most that can be safely ventured, is to bring public worship under censorian powers, as a matter of police, for preserving good order, and for preventing bad example.
The religion of Confucius, professed by the literati and persons of rank in China and Tonquin, consists in a deep inward veneration for the God or King of heaven, and in the practice of every moral virtue. They have neither temples, nor priests, nor any settled form of external worship: every one adores the Supreme Being in the manner he himself thinks best. This is indeed the most refined system of religion that ever took place among men; but it is not fitted for the human race; an excellent religion it would be for angels; but is far too refined even for sages and philosophers.
Proceeding to deviations from the genuine worship required by our Maker, and gross deviations there have been, I begin with that sort of worship which is influenced by fear, and which for that reason is universal among savages. The American savages believe, that there are inferior deities without end, most of them prone to mischief; they neglect the supreme Deity because he is good; and direct their worship to soothe the malevolent inferior deities from doing harm. The inhabitants of the Molucca islands, who believe the existence of malevolent beings subordinate to the supreme benevolent Being, confine their worship
to the former, in order to avert their wrath; and one branch of their worship is, to set meat before them, hoping that when the belly is full, there will be less inclination to mischief. The worship of the inhabitants of Java is much the same. The Negroes of Benin worship the devil, as Drapper expresses it, and sacrifice to him both men and beasts. They acknowledge indeed a supreme Being, who created the universe, and governs it by his providence: but they regard him not: " for," say they, "it is needless, if not impertinent, to "invoke a being, who, good and gracious, is incapable of injuring or molesting us." Gratitude, it would appear, is not a ruling principle among savages.
The austerities and penances that are practised in almost all religions, spring from the same root. "One way to please invisible malignant powers, is to make ourselves as miserable as possible. Hence the horrid penances of the Faquirs in Hindostan, who outdo in mortification whatever is reported of the ancient Christian Anchorites. Some of these Faquirs continue for life in one posture: some never lie down some have always their arms raised above their head and some mangle their bodies with knives and scourges. The town of Jagrenate in Hindostan is frequented by pilgrims, some of them from places 300 leagues distant; and they travel, not by walking or riding, but by measuring the road with the length of their
bodies; in which mode of loco-motion, some of them consume years before they complete their pilgrimage. A religious sect made its way some centuries ago into Japan, termed Bubsdoists, from Bubs, the founder. This sect has prevailed over the ancient sect of the Sintos, chiefly by its austerity and mortifications. The spirit of this sect inspires nothing but excessive fear of the gods, who are painted prone to vengeance and always offended. These sectaries pass most of their time in tormenting themselves, in order to expatiate imaginary faults; and they are treated by their priests with a degree of despotism and cruelty, that is not paralleled but by the inquisitors of Spain. Their manners are fierce, cruel, and unrelenting, derived from the nature of their superstition. The notion of invisible malevolent powers, formerly universal, is not to this hour eradicated, even among Christians; for which I appeal to the fastings and flagellations among Roman Catholics, held by them to be an essential part of religion. People infected with religious horrors, are never seriously convinced that an upright heart and sound morality make the essence of religion. The doctrine of the Jansenists concerning repentance and mortification, shows evidently, however they may deceive themselves, that they have an impression of the Deity as a malevolent being. They hold the guilt contracted by Adam's fall to be a heinous sin, which ought to be expiated by acts of mortification,