« PreviousContinue »
everlasting presence of God, into an active and abiding principle, is converted into an engine of superstition. It not only ceases to be of any use, but, by creating a habit of selfdelusion and of dissimulation, is positively injurious.
A subject which involves in it consequences of so very serious a nature, demands a little further attention. Let us then endeavour to find out the cause why people, sometimes even through life, go on repeating their prayers in this careless and reprehensible manner; and then inquire how the fatal error may most effectually be avoided.
That children should, even from early infancy, be accustomed to begin and end the day with prayer, will not be disputed by any one who considers the force of habit, and observes how the return of any stated period serves
to to recall the same trains of thought to which we have for any length of time been used regularly to devote it. On this account it becomes proper, even before children can form any adequate idea of the duty of prayer, to enforce its performance, and to teach them the form before they can acquire the spirit of devotion.
It however too often happens, that the habit, thus acquired, of repeating a certain set of words mechanically, at certain hours, is all that it is thought necessary to teach. The habit remains, perhaps, through life; but it remains as it was at first — mechanical. It produces no impression of the presence of God upon the mind: it excites no emotion of love, or of gratitude, or of veneration, in the heart, and consequently has no influence upon the conduct.
When people have been long accustomed
customed to slur over their devotions in this careless manner, and to cheat themselves into a belief, that by repeating a form of words they do all that is required in the performance of this momentous duty, the consequences which I have pointed out must inevitably follow; for it must be very evident to your understanding, that if even at the moment when we solemnly invoke the Most High with our lips, no serious consideration of his immediate presence comes into our minds, there is little chance that amid the business or pleasures of life it will intrude upon our thoughts. "The fool says in his heart, there "is no God;" but to say that there is a God, and yet to live as if there were none; to address him with the lips as if he were present, and yet never seriously to reflect whether he be really so, is folly, of a. nature
still still more strange and unaccountable.
A poet, with whose writings you will, I hope, be one day acquainted, in speaking on this subject, justly observes, that
"Men may live fools, but fools they cannot "die." *
True as this certainly is, it is no less true, that the wisdom which does not arrive till death begins to open the gates of eternity, arrives too late to be of use. To you, my dear child, may it come on the wings of life's early morn, and accompany you to its closing day; and may you never forget, that if in the fear of God wisdom has its beginning, it is in a continual sense of his presence that it has its best support.
By what I have said, you will ob- • serve the fatal consequences of trusting in the efficacy of any mere outward forms of devotion, and be sensible of the disadvantage under which those must labour, who have never been led beyond the first mechanical rules, which are in fact of no other use than as a preliminary towards the formation of devotional habits.
By those who have never learned to lift their hearts to God, he may be addressed with punctual regularity through every stage of life, without producing any sense of his immediate presence on the mind. But never can it be thus with any of the beloved children to whom I now address myself. So easily were they impressed with love, and reverence, and gratitude, towards their great Creator, that piety seemed in them the spontaneous offspring of feeling.