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most or all of them still exist, in countries not claiming to be civilized or Christian; but that so many of them continue, not only in existence but in high repute and lionor, among nations claiming to be civilized and Christian, and even among those really most advanced in both these characteristics—this is truly amazing.
If a native of Canton, or Calcutta, or Constantinople, declining to follow, with blind obedience, the customs of his father, or the directions of his father's priest, should apply himself, by a diligent comparison of those cnstoms and directions with the contents of the books reputed sacred in that country, and of both these with such probable conclusions respecting God as may be gathered from His works in external nature, and of the whole with such judgments as reason and conscience night form as to the character fittest to be ascribed to God, and the service most likely to be required by Him of men—and if such a person, distinguishing, through such an investigation, a better mode of serving God than that practised by his countrymen, should thenceforward discard the latter and adopt the former—we should say that he did wisely and well.
We should say this unhesitatingly of every inhabitant of every foreign nation. The people of every foreign nation would say the same of us. Probably this judgment would be correct on the part of both. Probably such a scrutiny and comparison, applied to our own ideas and customs, would show us some observances akin to those which we stigmatize as irrational and superstitious in other nations, and perhaps also some deficiencies, the supply of which would bring us more into harmony both with reason and religion.
Every nation of the earth believes in, reverences and worships God. And they do this with none the less confidence that no one has yet demonstrated His existence. If, on one hand, the abundant and weighty reasons for this belief fall short of absolute proof, on the other hand, to relinquish this belief on that account would involve us in unspeakable absurdities, imposing upon us many incomprehensibilities in the place of one, and resisting a tendency of our nature so constant and so universal-exhibiting itself so equally in the present and in all past ages, both among cultivated people and savages—as to form a characteristic of the human family not less marked and peculiar than reason itself. To resist such a kind and such an amount of evidence, because it falls short of demonstration, would be to reverse a rule which we find it needful and wise to act upon in all the other affairs of life—namely, to value and act upon circumstantial evidence in proportion to its amount and its weight and would be alike unphilosophical and unpractical. The belief in God is as natural and as reasonable as the belief in our own existence, and the few instances of minds so peculiar and erratic as to deny each of these propositions are such exceptions as are justly said to prove the rule. We are compelled, in the whole of our course through life, to believe a great many things which we do not understand; and we find it wise, and safe, and advantageous to acquiesce in this compulsion, aud practically to act upon such subjects of belief. ' How much more readily, then, should we acquiesce in it when the nature of the subject itself forbids us to understand, as much as the evidence forbids us to doubt. Thus, while it is absurd for the thing made to assume that it thoroughly comprehends its maker, it is equally absurd for us to ignore and contradict the abundant evidence that we are made, because we do not so perfectly comprehend our Maker as to demonstrate Him.
It is certain that the entire family of man recognizes and worships God. The manner of doing this is exceedingly various.
As our natural religious instincts compel us to recognize the existence and the power of God, so the researches of reason, striving after a clearer, wider and deeper knowledge of Him, require us to assume the absolute perfection of His nature, and of every attribute and department of His being. We can no more afford to relinquish the idea of His infinite wisdom than of His infinite power, or of His infinite love than either. While, therefore, we must assume that He favorably accepts the tribute rendered by sincere honor, or reverence, or love—even when these are so unintelligently manifested, as by pulling out a tooth, or cutting off a finger, in compliance with the priestly assurance that such worship is most acceptable to Him—we must also assume that He is best pleased with a service directed by intelligence not less than by love, and accordant at once with His nature and ours. If we recognize our bodies, minds and souls, as created by Infinite Wisdom, we shall equally recognize the absurdity of mutilating either, in the hope of rendering Him more favorable to us, or us more acceptable to Him. Of course He does not wish His work undone or counteracted in any manner or degree; of course He will be pleased to see the various powers of His creatures voluntarily exercised in attempting to cooperate with His power and will; and it is equally certain that He will be best pleased by that voluntary exercise of their powers which is so intelligently directed as actually to forward His purposes.
Worship is honor, reverence, allegiance or love to God (one or all of these) manifested in act.
Assuming the actual existence of these dispositions in our hearts, how shall we appropriately manifest them to God and to our fellow-men? This is the question. Perhaps we shall best find the answer by dividing this into three questions.
1. How may we best honor God?
It seems evident, not merely that we should refuse no ray of light, from whatever source, that may come to us upon so important a subject, but that we should seek such light from every quarter; from the Scriptures of all past ages, and from every source of contemporary wisdom; from the works of God in material nature—from the careful investigations of that reason which He has given to guide us in all other things—and from that which we judge to be His “still, sinall voice,” uttered in the depths of our souls when we are most withdrawn from prejudice, passion, and self-will. We cannot spare one of these sources of information ; and in comparing and selecting from them all, we need not fear that one indication of God's will will contradict another.
How may we best honor God?
We call ourselves His children and His servants. The love belonging to the first of these relations, and the honor incumbent on the second, are both best shown by obedience; by diligently fulfilling the duties of children and servants, as they come before us, day by day, in the ordinary business of life; by using the talents intrusted to us, and using them in such a manner as to improve ourselves and benefit others; by faithfully doing the work for which we were sent into the world, that is, the very work, great or small, honored or despised among men, which our inward powers and our outward circumstances unite in pointing out as our proper business. The daily doing of just this thing, in just this manner, is the very best method of honoring our Father, God.
But how may we best show Him that we honor Him?
Does not the question answer itself? The God who sees, without the possibility of mistake, both our actions and our motives—who, being present with us, has beheld every circumstance of the daily life we have been leading-does not need to be informed whether we wish to do Him honor. The faitlıful labor in our ordinary occupation honored Him at the time it was performed, and He knew it; the penitence for any wrong act, and the effort at amendment, honored Him at the very moment when the first was felt and the second made, and He knew it; the attempt to improve ourselves or to help a fellow-creature honored Him when each was done, and He knew it; the perseverance under difficulty, the patience under provocation, the good returned for evil, the aspiration towards every form of excellence, the rising, undiscouraged, after every fall, each one of these honored God then and there, and He knew it.
It appears, then, that God does not need any demonstration or manifestation of a purpose on our part to do Him honor, other than that faithful fulfilment of our daily duties which in itself constitutes that honor, and the existence and purpose of which He already knows. Moreover, it seems manifest, that for the doer of any faithful and acceptable service to go to another place for the purpose of manifesting to God that he wishes to honor Him, as if He were more present elsewhere than in the place where the service was done, or as if He could receive better information, is a questioning both of His omnipresence and His omniscience, and thus is an
injurious inputation rather than an honor. On the other hand, the offering of formal, verbal expressions of honor to God by one who has not done, and is not disposed to do, the faithful service in the duties of life of which we have spoken, would be hypocrisy and presumption.
But, how little soever God may need a special demonstration for the purpose of showing Him our honor and reverence, do not men need one, for their own sakes?
In a world where we are often solicited by pleasure to neglect duty, and where we are so connected by sympathy with our fellow-beings that the knowledge of right or wrong principles, or the sight of right or wrong actions in others has often a powerful influence in helping or hindering one's self, is there not an obvious advantage in some manifestation by which those who can not read the heart, especially the thoughtless, the weak and the wicked, may recognize such sound principle, active faith and sincere piety as actually exist in the men and women around them? Is not a sense of obligation and responsibility to God so important a part of man's character, and so likely to tend towards an active sense of his responsibilities and duties to his fellow-men, as to make it desirable to them to know in whom such a principle really exists ?
Admitting that these questions are to be answered in the affirmative, let us inquire what the observances now in use, called Public Worship, do to supply this need, and whether it is so perfectly supplied as to leave no room for amendment?
The method ordinarily taken to secure the advantages of this public expression of the feelings of men towards God is the same in kind, however different in detail, among Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, and Pagans. It is to set apart a certain portion of time from ordinary uses, and call it holy time; to separate a certain place from the business of common life, and call it a holy place; to set apart certain men from the ordinary methods of gaining a subsistence, and, after they have passed through a prescribed discipline and course of ceremonies, to call them a consecrated or sacred class; and then, periodically assembling at the time and in the place thus designated, and using the mediation of the persons thus consecrated, to express, in certain customary formulas, that which they consider it reverential and proper to express to the Creator. This is called Public Worship; and some periodical simultaneous demonstration of this kind is considered indispensable alike by Christians, Jews, Mohammedans and Pagans, in addition to such more private expression of devotional feeling as individuals may choose, either for themselves or their families, or both.
We have seen that such demonstrations, considered in their aspect towards God, are useless and unsatisfactory, being a formal attempt to tell Him something that He already knows. But they have other objectionable features.
Since the observances practised by people of various forms of religion
in our country, including, as essential component parts, the recognition of holy times, holy places, holy rites or ceremonies, and consecrated or sacred persons, are represented to the people of those sects, as appointments of God, whose favor will be more surely gained by the use of these instrumentalities; we find an additional objection to the present systein of Public Worship in the misrepresentation thereby perpetuated of the character and commands of God, and in the perversion of the venerated name of Jesus of Nazareth, who is represesented as having appointed these superstitious observances.
Again. The invention of these observances, and the inculcation of them in the name of God, is not only a misuse of His name, and a libel upon His character; but it is an attempt, which must in the nature of things be vain and nugatory, to invent new duties, and gain credit with God for the performance of them, even while we leave the duties that are obviously of His appointment very imperfectly performed.
Every attempt to elevate things evil in themselves, or trivial and useless in themselves, to the dignity of duties, and to represent them as suited to gain for us the favor of our Creator, does harm in all these ways: it violates the truth; it corrupts and degrades our idea of the perfection of God, which of course re-acts injuriously upon our own characters ; it sets up a low and a false standard, by which to guide our aspirations, and measure our attainments; it wastes upon purely factitious and useless things that resolution, strength and fortitude, the whole of which are needed for the actual duties of life, and that power of self-restraint, the whole of which is needed to combat its actual temptations; and it adds to the difficulty of distinguishing hypocritical pretenders to piety ; since these can and will go through the factitious observances, and gain the credit connected with them, as seriously and punctiliously as honest men. Thus the pretences, (ali seriously urged, at the present day, by one form of religion or another in our own country,) that a man will inore surely render himself acceptable to God by cutting off a part of his body—or by renouncing marriage-or by wearing a peculiar garb-or by occasionally going without his dinner-or by committing his whole life implicitly to the guidance of a person, assumed to be consecrated or sacred—or by periodically receiving, from the hands of such a person, a bit of bread and a sip of wineor by yielding to such a person his own body, to be dipped in water—or the body of his infant son, to be sprinkled—or the body and soul of his grown-up daughter, to be kept in the sort of prison called a convent—are not only false but corrupting; they not only displace and nullify a certain amount of truth, but engraft upon the character, and interweave in the life a certain amount of pernicious error; taking the aspect of religion without being really religious, they not only give us the false for the true, but they give us erroneous notions about what the true religion is.
We have now to consider whether that part of the Sabbatical vbserv