Analytical Review (1792)

Analytical Review 12 (March 1792), 332-33.

 

Cursory Remarks on an Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship; respectfully inscribed to Gilbert Wakefield, B. A. late Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. By Eusebia. 8vo. 21 pages. Price 6d. Knott. 1791. 

 

    This female advocate for public worship replies to Mr. Wakefield, in substance, as follows:


    The promise of our Savior, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing they shall ask, it shall done for them of my father,” is an evident authority for social prayer. We have an example of it in John xvii, where it is asserted, that the disciples were present, and it is exceedingly probable, that they attended to their master’s prayer with lovely emotions of gratitude and affection. The Acts of the Apostles afford repeated instances of their joining in religious homage. Acts i. 14, 24; iv. 24; vi. 6; xii. 5, 12; xiii. 3; xiv. 23; ski. 13, 16; xx. 36; xxi. 5: -- In I Cor. xiv. 13, &c. St. Paul speaks of praying with his understanding, and not with tongues, that the church may be edified, and the unlearned hearer say amen. The rebuke of our Lord to the vain repetitions and long prayers of hypocritical pharisees, taken in its connection, seems merely intended to censure ostentation in private prayers.  With respect to the expediency and utility of public worship, it is evident, that the bulk of mankind, engrossed by inferior concerns, are incapable of a religion entirely intellectual. Even a mechanical devotion, a mere performance of external duties, may have a restraining effect upon the conduct. If, to avoid the appearance of ostentation, all outward expressions of devotion were to be discouraged, piety would want the prevailing recommendation of example, and religion be reduced to a mere system of morals. The majority, by giving up all exterior means of generating devotional affections, would soon cease to give themselves any concern on the subject. Much improvement and consolation are actually derived by multitudes from religious exercises; and to deprive them of these benefits would be injudicious and unkind.

    There is nothing in prayer itself irrational; though it can have no effect upon the Supreme Being, it may be one of the links in the great chain of causes and effects, and by giving rise to pure and pious sentiments be productive of the most beneficial consequences. A number of fellow creatures voluntarily assembled to offer their united homage to their Maker has nothing in it ludicrous or irrational. Religious institutions, like every thing else, are liable to abuse; but this is no proof of their inexpediency. Where real benefits may be derived (admitting that some degree of superstition is commonly mingled [333] with the forms of religion,) shall we rend the garment, in stripping off superfluous ornament?

    The piece is agreeably written, and does credit to the understanding as well as the heart of the author.