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belief in the existence of the Supreme Being, a most easy, rational and unavoidable exercise of the understanding : And we can scarcely conceive it possible for any man to support a fair claim to intelligence, who, amidst all the evidences of design which are every where displayed in the kingdom of nature, can deny the glorious being and attributes of the Maker and Preserver of all systems, worlds and beings.
If then, the existence and attributes of God be admitted, and I can discover no reason for their denial, since the whole volume of nature is crowded with evidences of their certainty; there can be no impossibility in the supposition of his making a revelation of his character, truth and designs to man; for it is a proposition self-evident to every human being, that he possesses moral intelligence, and is capable of constant improvements and the noblest attainments in the science of moral virtue and happiness. What possible reason, then, can be urged that man should not be furnished with that kind of instruction which is so perfectly suited to the elevation of his moral nature? No reason can be assigned why he should not be the subject of such a revelation, except it can be shown that he is not in a condition to need its instruction. But this cannot be shown; nor shall we allow the enemies of revelation to take it for granted, since it is totally inadmissible, and contrary to the testimony of universal experience. Matter of fact has long since proved that mankind are short-sighted and erring mortals-that they often mistake the path of happiness, fall into acts of indiscretion, commit atrocious wickedness, destroy their own peace and involve the happiness of those around them. The more ample and pure, therefore, the moral instruction which man receives, the less liable will he be to become a prey to the numerous evils and miseries which are inseparable from a life of depravity and wickedness: And the more constant, unremitting and sincere, his attention becomes to the pure and holy rules which it prescribes, the more refined and elevated will be his enjoyment. I can scarcely conceive it necessary to say to you, my hearers, that what we call a revelation from God, contains the purest system of morality which has ever been presented for the observance of
man. Indeed, this fact has been acknowledged by the ablest writers who have ever espoused the cause of infidelity. Admitting, therefore, that the Being who created man possesses the attributes of infinite wisdom and love, reason would inevitably lead us to expect from him a revelation of his will and his truth.
Having, as we believe, adduced sufficient evidence to establish in the rational and reflecting mind the belief of a supreme and intelligent First Cause, the unerring Ruler of the whole universe; and shown the consistency of the hypothesis that he has revealed his mind and will to man, we shall now devote a few reflections upon the nature of that service which he requires of his intelligent offspring.
The perfections of the divine nature must necessarily impress us with the conviction that he possesses all the resources of infinite enjoyment within himself, and therefore could never require any service from the creature man to promote his own happiness, that being already infinitely full and perfect. The conclusion is then unavoid able, that he requires no service of his creatures, except that which would conduce to their own, and the happiness of beings like themselves. That man was formed for activity, is too evident from his constitution, both of body and mind, to require a single argument for its support. And is any conclusion more consistent with the dictates of reason, than that a being of perfect goodness should direct these powers to be employed in such a manner as to promote the security of his present enjoyment and refine his soul for higher attainments of moral perfection and happiness? No man can be found in human society, who does not feel and know that he possesses the gift of moral intelligence; and if it were consistent for the Author of nature to furnish him with such powers, what reason can be assigned why the Deity should not impose on him such obligations as are correspondent to the nature and extent of those distinguishing powers which he has bestowed? Indeed, the possession of these powers were vain and useless, if wisdom had not assigned them some suitable exercise, or directed their employment to some useful end.
The inquiry may now, and will doubtless be urged; what are the services which God requires of his intelli
gent offspring? We answer: they are just such services as might rationally be expected would be demanded by a being of infinite wisdom and goodness. They require us to cultivate an acquaintance with the character of God, and to make him the object of supreme love and adoration, as the inexhaustible source of all perfection and happiness: To love him with all the heart, mind and strength, as the surest means of securing that constant obedience, which would invariably promote our own, and the highest enjoyment of the moral creation of God. In a word; the sum of all his moral requirements is to imitate the displays of his justice, his wisdom and his benevolence. To "love one another with pure hearts, fervently; out of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." To cultivate peace and friendship with all mankind; "to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate us, to bless them that curse us, and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute us." This would render us the practical imitators of our Father in heaven; an unspeakable blessing to the world; qualify us for the approbation of God, and the highest enjoyments of which our natures are sus susceptible. Surely then, the service which God requires is of the most ennobling kind, and the most honorable, as well as the most advantageous employment of our powers. And instead of questioning the authority of these obligations, we ought rather to rejoice and thank God that he has furnished us with powers for their performance. Is it now demanded, "What is the Almighty that we should serve him?" We answer; He is the glorious Sovereign of heaven and earth; on whom all creatures depend, and at the bar of whose impartial justice we must all render an account for the improvement of our time, our talents, and all the blessings and privileges which his wisdom and bounty. bestow. Hence the necessity of diligence and constant perseverance in all the duties and services which he requires at our hands.
I shall now pass to a few remarks upon the propriety, reasonableness, duty and necessity of prayer.
Prayer is the devout aspiration of the soul, the offering up of our desires to the God and Father of the spirits of all flesh. To this religious exercise, objections of vari
ous kinds have been offered. It has been pronounced inconsistent with the sentiments which we ought to entertain of the infinite wisdom and goodness of the Creator: For we are told that Jehovah knows all our wants, and will, if consistent with what he knows to be for his glory and our good, bestow all needed blessings, without being importuned by weak and erring man. As plausible as this objection may appear, it is both unsound and deceptive : For as parents, you are aware of most of the wants and necessities of your children, before they are expressed, or even known to these children; and would you consider it improper, or incompatible with that filial and dignified respect which they ought to pay to you, to enumerate their wants, and ask the display of your kindness in supplying those wants? So far from this, you would consider it rather a mark of disrespect if they neglected to ask the bestowment of your favor,
Again.-Prayer is an acknowledgment of our dependence on God, for all the blessings and mercies which our condition requires. And is it not one of the strongest expressions of our sense of dependence to bow before the throne of the universe, in humble invocation for the blessings, which he alone can bestow? That it is eminently calculated to promote and keep alive the virtues of humility and meekness, is evident from the very nature of the exercise which the duty implies.
It is also proper to remark, that prayer is necessary to excite and maintain the duties of gratitude and devotion. For it is a fact, attested by common observation and common experience, that what we receive without asking for, seldom commands a grateful return, or a thankful tribute of the heart. And so far as the duty of devotion to God is, concerned, prayer is absolutely essential to its existence; for whoever neglects the wholesome duty of prayer, will be sure to cast off most of the salutary restraints of relig ious fear.
The duty of prayer is equally necessary in keeping alive a sense of the divine presence: And where is the man whose thoughts and moral feelings would not be chastened and his life amended, by a sober conviction that God is present with him, and is familiar with all the secrets of his soul and all the purposes of his heart ?
It is the means which God has appointed for the depressed and afflicted mind to unburden itself and cast off its gloomy thoughts and cares, and catch a glimpse of heavenly glory and peace. It is one of the highest privileges which we can enjoy in this vale of tears, to draw nigh to God in prayer and thanksgiving, and hold communion with our Maker. Then is the world, with all its busy cares, dismissed, while God and heavenly things gently absorb the powers of reflection, and kindle up unspeakable raptures in the conscious soul.
No privilege ought more highly to be prized than that of bending with reverence before the throne of mercy and love, in devout acknowledgment of our dependence upon God, and in the spirit of unaffected humility to implore his grace in the forgiveness of our sins, and to seek the salutary instructions of his wisdom to direct us in the faithful discharge of every duty. Here, at the footstool of heaven, the afflicted heart may pour forth its strong desires, present its needy condition, and commit all its interests to him who delights to communicate his favours, and extend his gracious protection and relief to the suffering and the oppressed. Nor is this duty incompatible with the first dictates of the law of nature: For it cannot be denied that the burden of affliction gives birth to those ardent desires of the soul, and acts as an impelling force in moving us to seek the assistance of a superior agency, and prompts us to lean upon a power which is independent of ourselves.
Prayer is a duty every where enjoined by the authoritative language of holy inspiration, and sanctioned by the luminous examples of patriarchs and prophets, from time immemorial; by the precept and worthy example of the Son of God, and by the examples and commands of all his apostles, to whom the unerring instructions of the spirit of divine inspiration were given: So that reason, nature and revelation, all harmonize to impress this duty upon the mind of man.
It is true that the Deity cannot be benefitted, affected, nor changed by the prayers of his creatures; but it is man, himself, that is benefitted, affected and changed. It is a method appointed by infinite wisdom to relieve the troubled mind of its sorrows and its woes; to tranquilize the