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It seems almost unneceffary to add, that the contrary practice which prevails with many parents, in confequence of their having taken up an erroneous opinion refpecting infant baptifm, of leaving their children as it were to their own training, in expecta tion of an extraordinary call from the Spirit, when their day of converfion fhall arrive; has been the most ruinous to the Christian cause, and the most advantageous to that of its grand enemy, that ever could proceed from the human mind. A practice, which, were it to become general, would prove the most effectual mean, not only of banishing Christianity from the world, but of reducing the inhabitants of it to a wild state of nature, that could poffibly be devised. A confideration, which must powerfully enforce itself upon the mind of every parent, who regards the welfare of his own children; who has formed any idea of his own duty; who has remarked, what his Bible teaches him to do, the great attention that was paid to children under the Jewish dispensation; and has, for a moment, confidered, that one of the reafons given by GOD himself for the particular favour with which He was pleased to distinguish ABRAHAM, is thus expreffed, Gen. xviii, “For I know
him," fays GoD," that he will command his children and his houfhold after him, and they fhall keep the way of the LORd.’
There is one point more, upon which it may be proper to add a short word, by way of obviating an objection very commonly made against the fervice of our church, by those who are either unpoffeffed of candour or difcrimination.
When the church of England first emancipated herself from the fhackles of the Romish worship, it was not to be wondered at, that fome Proteftants, with more zeal than judgment, fhould entertain a jealoufy of forms and ceremonies, as tending to preferve the veftiges of that idolatry which they had wifely renounced. But had they confidered, that the divines, who fcrupled not to use thofe forms and ceremonies, which were judged expedient to be retained in our church, were fome of the moft powerful advocates the Proteftant caufe ever had, they would in candour have concluded, that the objection to forms and ceremonies must chiefly depend upon the idea with which they are accompanied in the mind of the party engaged in them; and that, confequently, they may be not only very innocent, but very advantageous affiftances to religious worship,
Forms, confidered merely in themselves, are but the outfide of religion; and if they lead to nothing beyond that, it matters not in what place they are practifed, or by whom. Thus far all rational men readily agree. Their disagreement confifts in this: fome men reject forms, from a remembrance of their past abuse; whilst others more wifely determine, that the advantage they are calculated to produce, ought not to be facrificed to the evil which, through the corruption of human nature, may, occafionally be derived from them. And this determination is cer
tainly best fuited to the state of the party concerned.
Man is a being compounded of foul and body; This religion, therefore, must be fuited to his circumftances. That must also have a foul and body, a fpiritual and a corporal part; upon the proper union of which two parts, the fpiritual life of its profeffor will, upon experience, be found to depend. For certain it is, that religion may be too refined for the present grofs state of the human understanding; which must receive much of its information on divine fubjects through a fenfible medium. Hence the language of the Bible is, for the most part, a language of fimilitudes; the eye of sense being made to minister to the eye of the understanding; natural and visible
objects being employed to convey to the mind those ideas, which it is not in a condition to receive in any other way.
Correfpondent with this figurative language of Icripture, are the forms or figurative services which have been introduced into religious worship. They are defigned to minister to a fimilar purpofe; namely, to inform the understanding, and, at the fame time, to awaken and keep alive the attention to thofe fpiritual fubjects, which might otherwife make little or no impreffion. Taken in this light, they may be confidered as a fort of explanatory appendages to religious worship; and if made that ufe of for which they were appointed, muft, in a great degree, tend to the fpiritual advantage of the parties engaged in them.
On this account they have made a part of every religion, true as well as falfe, that has appeared in the world. The Jewish religion, that peculiar difpenfation of God, abounded with them; from which Cour SAVIOUR felected thofe which were adapted to the Chriftian inftitution. From whence the conclufion is, that forms have always been deemed neceffary
to the fupport of religion in every age.
Abuses there have been, and always will be, in a business in which man is concerned. The Jew, in our SAVIOUR's day, was a fcrupulous obferver of forms, whilft he knew nothing of the spirit to which they were defigned to lead. "He washed diligently the outside of the platter," whilst the infide was fuffered to remain unclean.
The Roman Catholic, who regulates his religious fervice by his bead-roll, is in a fomewhat fimilar condition. And fo is every member of our communion, who fubftitutes the form of godlinefs for the power of it.
The object of true religion has been at all times the fame; namely, to make man a fpiritual being. So far as forms contribute to this purpofe, and from their impreffion upon the mind they contribute greatly to it, they are an effential part of religion.
But there are two extremes in this cafe, between which the line of the wife man's conduct will be carefully drawn; from a conviction, that the abufe and neglect of forms tend nearly in an equal degree to defeat the defired purpofe; the one leading as certainly to fuperftition and hypocrify, as the other does to irreligion and prophaneness. A confideration, which, it may be hoped, will give additional weight