Page images

may so speak, by such 'outward actions or words as are made the signs and tokens of it ; and in the use of these that sense, and those affections may be highthened and increased.

I say true piety, devotion, &c. consists in such a just and worthy fense of God as is suitable to his natural and his moral perfections. For, were we to conceive of God as a bard and severe master, as one who lays burthens upon his servants that are great and grievous to be

born, who requires brick where he gives no straw, reaps where he has not sown, gathers where he has not strawed, and watches for the halting of his servants that he might take occasion from it greatly to punish them: or were we to conceive of the Deity as an arbitrary and tyrannical governor, who acts unreasonably in his legislative capacity, by commanding for commanding fake, and thereby extorting such obedience from his subjects as no ways answers the end of government to them: or were we to conceive of God as an unkind and cruel parent of mankind, who takes pleasure in their unhappiness and misery: and were we to be affected suitably; this would be so far from being true piety, that it would be just the reverse, viz. it would be the height of impiety and profaneness.

Again, I say, that true piety is in the mind, tho' it may be made visible as aforesaid. And, agreeably to this, the founder of our (viz. the Christian) Sect, hath justly observed, that God, in diftinétion from, and in opposition to, body


or matter, is a spirit or mind; and therefore, whoever will worship God truly and acceptably, and according to his nature, must worship him in spirit or mind, that being the only true or real worship ; because bodily worship when feparated from such a sense of the Deity as is usually intended to be set forth by it, is no other than a meer fietion or lye. And, as all acts of outward worship are nothing more than vifble marks and tokens of that inward piety which takes place in the mind, and when they are separated from that sense of the Deity are mere emptiness or nothing; so those outward marks are, in some cases, merely arbitrary; that is, they are not natural marks of that respect which is intended to be set forth by them, but are made tokens of respect by the fashion and custom of the world, and as such are liable to be altered and changed. Thus, amongst our selves, custom has made bowing the body to be a mark of respect for one sex, and bowing the knee to be a mark of respect for the other. And, as each sex perform different actions when they pay their respect to their neighbours ; so they use those different a&tions as marks of their respect to God. And indeed, custom must, in fome meafure, be our guide in this affair; because it would be very preposterous for a man to put off his hat as a mark of respect to his neighbour, and to put off his shoe as a token of his respect to God; seeing the latter action would not have the appearance of being a mark of respect, when, and where custom had



constituted the former. But then, tho' the visible marks of respect are, in some cases, at least, merely arbitrary; yet, I think, no action can, with

any propriety, be constituted a mark of respect that is in itself apparently a mark of the contrary. That is, no action can be made a mark of goodness that is in itself a bad action; nor can an act of cruelty be made a token of pity and kindness, because the action itself bespeaks the contrary, or, at least, such a conduct would be greatly preposterous. And therefore, were a man to cut and wound his body till the blood gushed out, as the Priests of Baal did, and do other such like actions, and were he to use these actions as tokens of that sense of God which he has upon his mind ; those actions, I think, could not convey to the beholders a just and worthy sense of God, because the actions themselves plainly bespeak the contrary; namely, they bespeak the being, who is applied to in this way, to be pleased with blood and Naughter; which, surely, would not be a just and worthy, but a false and unworthy, representation of the Deity, were he to be applied to in such a manner. And,

As true piety consists in our having a just and worthy sense of God impressed upon our minds, and in our being suitably affected therewith; so it is founded in nature, God is not only compleatly perfect in himself, but he is also the fountain of being, and of all good to us; and, as such, the nature of the thing requires, or it is just and reasonable, that we


[ocr errors]

should frequently and upon all proper occasions awaken in our felves a just and worthy sense of God, and be suitably affected therewith. This, I say, is a suitable and proper behaviour for such dependent beings as we are, towards their great and kind Creator, from whom we have received our being, and by whose providence we are continually upheld and preserved. It is likewise fit and reasonable with regard to the purpose it is subservient to, as it naturally tends to excite and engage our imitation of the Deity, and thereby to render our selves approvable in his fight. Moreover, perfe&tion is, in the nature of the thing, preferable to imperfection, and, as such, it is the proper object of our choice, and this makes it reasonable or our duty to make ufe of those means that are proper to lead us thereto, of which means, I think, it must be allowed that true piety is the principal. When we entertain our minds with a just sense of the wisdom and goodness of God, and how that wisdom and goodness has been exemplified in promoting our own and the common tranquillity; and when we are suitably affected therewith; this is, not only acting properly towards the Deity, but it also tends to excite our imitation of him, and therefore, it must be our duty or it is reasonable that we should be frequent in such exercises. Again, when we reflect seriously upon the rectitude of the divine nature, viz. that God's affections and actions are always most pure, as they are perfectly conformable to that rule of action that is founded in the reason

H 2



things; and when we likewise view our felves as it were in a glass, and see how greatly we þave departed from this rule, and when we are suitably affected therewith; this naturally tends to humble us in our own fight, to engage us to be watchful of our behaviour for the time to come, and to endeavour to render our felves the proper objeets of God's mercy. And as this is our case; so our present circumstances require or make it reasonable that we should be frequent in such exercises.

If it should be faid, that prayer, in this view of the case, is a needless performance, because meditation and reflexión may answer the end without it. Answer, admitting that one branch of piety, by a constant and proper application, may be suficient to answer the forementioned purpose ; yet, I think, that will not be a fufs ficient ground for discouraging or laying aside. the use of the rest, when, perhaps, the use of all may

scarce be sufficient to call in, and retain, our attention, and engage our affections and imitation as aforesaid.

If it should be asked, that if true piety consists in having a just and worthy sense of God. impressed upon the mind, and the being fuitably affe&ted therewith, and if St Paul's remark be just, viz. that bodily exercise profiteth little, and if our Saviour's doctrine be true, viz. that. God is a spirit, and they that worship him (truly and acceptably) must worship him in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship bim, then, to what purpose can

« PreviousContinue »