Monthly Review (1792)

Monthly Review 8 (May 1792), 36-37.  

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. pp. 21. 6d. Knott. 1791.



    With a commendable zeal for the interests of religion, this female writer laments that institutions, from which she has received much personal satisfaction and improvement, and which have, in her judgment been productive of consequences the most salutary, should be treated with acrimony and derision; and she expresses an anxious fear that injurious impressions will be made on the minds of many, by the manner in which Mr. Wakefield has treated the subject of public worship:

‘Though devout aspirations can give no information to an Omniscient Being, nor alter his plans, originally designed for the greatest general and individual good; yet it is possible, that they may be links in the great chain of causes and effects, and by giving rise to pure and pious sentiments, be ultimately productive of consequences the most beneficial. Far as the world has advanced to maturity, and enlightened as is the present age, compared with former obscurity, yet are the generality of mankind by no means sufficiently spiritualized, as to be capable of rising into first principles, and regulating their practice from the reason and moral fitness of things; and where, through inattention or incapacity, this is not to be expected, even a mechanical devotion, a mere performance of external duties (and private prayer may frequently be no more) may have a restraining effect upon the conduct; as it is a general observation, that youth, who have received a religious education, though the precepts may not have reached the heart, are yet incapable of rushing into vice and dissipation with the same callous inconsideration as others, whose early associations have been of a different nature: when, through the medium of the senses, repeated impressions have been made on the brain, good or evil habits acquire an ascendancy not easily to be eradicated; words must first be taught, and ideas will afterwards cling to them. If, to avoid the appearance of a vain display, all outward acts and expressions of devotion are to be discouraged, piety will want the prevailing recommendation of example, or religion be reduced to mere system of morals, which unassisted reason might have discovered without needing a divine interference.’ 

Again, 

‘I confess I cannot but apprehend very pernicious consequences from this contempt of sabbatical observances, and material impressions, [37] still necessary (if not equally so) for the greater part of the votaries of religion, even at this advanced period. Mr. Wakefield seems not aware that a judgment formed of mankind at large from himself, and a circle of friends united by a congeniality of virtues, and talents, 

Whose minds are richly fraught

With philosophic stores, superior light,”

must necessarily be erroneous. Many, I fear, without entering into the spirit of the author, will avail themselves of an authority so respectable, to brand with hypocrisy and fanaticism, their more pious neighbors, and be in haste to shake off a yoke, which their vices and frivolity only, has rendered intolerable; to devote the day of leisure from business not to “studying the revealed will of God, and expounding the divine laws to the poor;” but to the indulgence of sensuality, or at best a criminal indolence.’

    Similar observations, respecting the reasonableness and the influence of public prayer, fill up the. greater part of these pages. With respect to authority, we find nothing added to what is advanced by Dr. Disney, except a reference to I Cor. xiv. 13. &c.