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And though at present this sort of Discipline is well nigh lost among us, it is nevertbeless a Disgrace to a Man to pass among his Neighbours for a Heathen, and will be so, till evil Customs have wrought out all Sense of what is fit and decent. You will say, perhaps, that to join in publick Worship merely to avoid Censure, is not Religion, but Art and Policy; and you . will say very right. But if the Motive begins here, it is not supposed to end here too. He that comes to Church at first only to save Appearances, may, by Degrees, see the Reasonableness, and feel the Benefits of it; and will do so, if no great Vices fand in the Way. It is by this kind of Management in other Cases, that we are often led as it were by the Hand to do reasonable Things, and all Mankind see the Necesfary of it; which shews, indeed, the Weakness of our Natures, but is no Disparagement to our Virtues, when such Means are followed by real Improrements.
2. It is likely to have a more general Effect. Few besides ourselves are the better for what is done in our private Retirements, but many may profit by a publick Example ; and there is that Force in those Vir. tues which others learn from us, which seldom fails to minister back an Increase of our own. Examples work reciprocally, as we see in War, where each Man, by brave and gallant Adions, breathes Courage into his Companion, and is again inspired by him. This is what St. Paul seems to allude to, when he exhorts
t0 PROVOKE one another to Love, and to good Works ; which indeed is the natural Effect of every good Example. But never is the Force of Example so experimentally felt, as among those who are devoutly met together in God's House, to join their Prayers and Thanksgivings to him ; where Zeal catches like Fire, and from small Sparks rises up into a mighty Flame. The Solemnity of the Place, the Awfulness of the Assembly, the Voices and Gestures of those about us, are all of them Circumstances which helpto raise Devotion, and leave strong and lasting Impres. fions upon our Minds ; and no Man can, with any
Heart, think of returning back to his Sins, who remembers, that in the Presence of God, and in the Face of so many Witnesses, he hath made such solemn Professions of Duty.
I speak not of what might reasonably be expected, not of what is always found in fact and Experieoce. It is but too common for Men to come to Church and join in the publick Worship, and to go Home again not one Jot the better Chriftians. The Cause is ; they take it as a Thing of Course, that they have been al. ways used and bred to, and do not come with that Preparation of Mind, which is neceffary to give it Force and Virtue. But there no doubt, are che Ends of publick Worship, and reasonable Ends they are, howsoever, through human Detects, they may, in many Instances, prove unsuccessful. And this shews one Thing very plainly, which will be of great Use to be observed, viz. That the Ends of publick Worthip can never be fully answered by private Devo. tion, how frequently soever it may be performed. For private Prayer yields no publick Example, and publick Example was the thing intended by publick Worship. Many are wont to excuse themselves in an habitual Neglect of publick Worship, by alledging that they say their Prayers at Home. I am always, I confess, suspicious of such Pretences; for if a Man is devout in his Closet, it is not very natural to suppose that he will think publick Prayer a Burthen. But fuppose the Thing done, I say it is by no Means an Equivalent. You may be the beiter for your private Prayers, but no Body else can. They are the Exercise of your Piety, but they are not the Profession of your Faith, or the Evidence of your Virtues.
Let us now consider the Eficacy of Prayer with respect to God. God hath noi the Passions of a Man, and therefore he is not to be moved by. Prayers and Intreaties, as Men are. But though he hath not the Failions of a Man, he hath the Wildom of a wife and good Governor; and as he hath commanded us to pray, in Jespect of we vveakness, fo, for our Encou.
ragement to do it, he hath annexed to the due Per. formance of this Duty, Blessings both Temporal and Spiritual. That we are directed to pray for Blessings of both Kinds is most evident.
For when we pray for our daily Bread, we pray for Temporal Blessings, as for Rain and fruitful Seasons, for Success in our Occupations and Callings, and the like. So it is when we pray for Deliverance from our Enemies, from Af. flictions and Calamities, for all which there are Di. rections in Scripture. We pray for Spiritual Bleflings when we pray for God's Holy Spirit to enlighten our Minds, or to correct our Wills; for these Things have Reference to the good of the Soul, as the other are fubferviept to the Welfare of the Body. Now it seems a natural Inference from our being commanded to ask these Things of God, that our Prayers will do something towards our obtaining them, and the Style of Scripture imports as much. Ak and it Mall be given you, siek and ye skall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you ; for every one that afketh receiveth, and he that focketh findeth, and to him that krockeih it fivall be opened, Luke xi. 9. But it is most exprefly allerted by St. James, Chap. iv. ver. 2. i'e have not, BECAUSE ye ak not. And Chap v. ver. 16. The effeclual fervent Prayer of a righteous Man AVAILETH much. These Passages, with others that are easy to be met with, fhew plainly, that Prayer is stridly and properly effica. cious with God; and it hath the Efficacy of a Condi. tion, by which God hath determined, in the Wisdom of his Providence, to grant many Things to those who alk him, which he will not grant to those who ask him nct.
It is not easy to make Sceptical Men enter into this Norion. For they observe that People live and profper,
and get Estates, who never go into a Church, or into their Closets to pray : And the Scriprure tells us tha: God is kind to the Unthankful and the Evil, and Jendeth Rain upon the Just and upon the Unjuf. That there is one Event to the Righteous and to the Wicked, to him that facrificeth, and to him that facrificeth not.
This Observation, no doubt, will shew that God hath not left every Thing to depend upon the Prayers of Men (which he could not do, without refigning the Sovereign Authority out of his own Hands into the Hands of his Creatures) but that nothing depends upon them, or that it will in all Cafes be equally the faine Thing, whether we pray, or whether we let it alone, no Experience can poslibly shew. For there are a thousand Ways in which the Hand of God may be employed in sending Good or Evil, which do not fall within our Notice; and amidst all that Inequality which is observable in God's Dealings with respect to this World, there may be ftill so much Regard paid to Virtue, as to verify the Promises of God, and make it worth every Man's while to serve him faithfully. The main Strokes of Providence which lie most within the Compass of our Observation, may be determined by lettled Laws respecting the general System of Nature, which the Behaviour of Men cannot alter. And yet there may be other Acts of it, serving only as Under-parts to fill up the Harmony of the whole (but of the greatest Importance to the Happiness of particular Persons) which admit of Variety, and leave God at Liberty to determine this Way or that Way, as particular Reasons Thall direct. We cannot point out these Instances ; but it is not there. fore the less probable that there are such Instances, If we had the same sensible Evidence, when God hears our Prayers, and when he rejects them, as we have when we deal with Men, this would yield the Conviction which some Men seem to want.
But as we have to do with an invisible Being, we cannot have fucb Evidence without a perpetual Miracle, and therefore it is unreasonable to expect it. But tho' we have not the Evidence of Sense that God hears the Prayers of good Men, we have the Evidence of his Word; and his Word is not the less to be relied on, because he fulfils it in such a Manner as to leave Room for the Exercise of Faith and Trust in him, which is the proper Work of a Chriftian in this State of Trial.
As to Spiritual Blessings, it will be more easy to conceive that they may depend upon our Prayers, because they are more special in their Nature, and have not (so far as it appears) that Connexion with any general System which Temporal Blessings have. God cannot, without a Miracle, make his Sun to rise upon the Good, but the Evil also will feel its Influences; por can he send Rain upon the Juft, but the Unjuft also will have a Share in the Advantages of it: But he may give the Graces of his Spirit to them that alk, and deny it to those who ask it not. The Gospel teaches us to expect that he will do so, and there is no Evidence from Experience to shew the contrary. God will give so much Help to all, as to leave Sinners without Excuse, and juftify himself in their Con. demnation. But he is in a more particular Manner nigh unto all that diligently seek him ; which should make us cautious, and fearful to neglect our Prayers, which is removing ourselves out of the Protection of God's Providence, and exposing ourselves naked and defenceless to those Temptations, which surround us in this miserable and naughty World. But the great Difficulty bere is to make Men understand that there are, or can be, any such influences of the Spirit upon our Minds as the Scripture speaks of. I have no Concern with this Question at present ; for I am arguing with Christians, who must be supposed to believe their Bibles. And yet I will say thus much to Unbelievers, that in treating this. Doctrine with Ridicule and Contempt, they shew no great Sign of their good Sense. Do ihey believe that the Soul operates within the Body, and directs its several Motions ? Why is it not as easy to conceive, that there may be another Principle working within the Mind, and directing its Motions likewise? They will aoswer; We feel it not. Hold off your Hands, and try if you can f.el your Heart beat. We grow in the Womb, and feel not the Fingers of him who fashioneth us; and whilft we increase in Wisdom and Stature, the Degrees by which we increase are imperceptible. Why may is not be