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another. Religion, which in one age had little or no preaching, in the next had scarcely any thing else. Men of seditious inclinations, who were poisoned with foreign prejudices, took advantage of this humour of the people to inflame them against their goyernors, and turn their hearts from the apostolical constitution of the Church. In the days of Elizabeth, this spirit wrought furiously, but was kept under by authority, and prevented at that time from doing the mischief it meditated. In the next reign, it was reasoning and plotting, but the nation was not enough prepared till the days of Charles the First; when the combustible materials, which had been gradually introduced, and laid up in store for many years past, by artful and insinuating preachers, took fire at last, and spread a fame over the land, which devoured both Church and State, and was visible to all the western parts of Christendom. Then there was nothing but preaching. The ears of all orders of men, from the highest to the lowest, were filled with it. When one preacher had finished his sermon, another got up into the same pulpit, and then another; so that on great days there was no intermission from morning till night. The people, however, awaking at length from the delusion which had seized upon them, and feeling the misery and oppression with which they had been loaded by their new masters, were surfeited with that preaching which had deceived their understandings, and driven them upon their own ruin, instead of leading them to true Christian godliness. They discovered that there was a great difference betwixt walking with God, and talking with him : the former was the profession of their leaders, but the latter was their practice; and the freedom and sauciness of their language was often
temperate Codliness, ha the spirit or under wh
but little short of blasphemy. When there was no preaching, superstition and corruption prevailed; when there was overmuch, it was of a flatulent and inflammatory kind; and it appeared at length so ridiculous, that the style and nanner of it was purposely avoided after the Restoration by most men who were regularly educated. But alas ! when they did this, they fell into another error, under which we are now suffering. The spirit of prayer and of Christian godliness, having exposed itself in the intemperate and hypocritical effusions of fanatic zeal, was now more coldly affected, and preachers were shy of betraying any symptoms of religious warmth, lest they should be suspected for hypocrites. Interpretations of the Scripture had been made so cheap, and had been so ill managed, that they had given great disgust. The preachers of the former time had made an ostentatious shew of understanding all-mysteries. They could find the Pope's errors and their own fancies any where in the minor prophets; and could tell you the mystical intention of the snuffers and fire-shovels * of the tabernacle. This evil was corrected by what was called moral preaching ; and unfortunately for the times, a generation of metaphysicians arose, who gave a new turn to the thoughts of Christian scholars, and furnished them with dry, speculative, unprofitable, and sometimes very dangerous matter. The Old Testament, with which the Puritans had held such ridiculous familiarity, came to be much neglected, and of course much misunderstood; of which I could give some frightful examples from writers of high reputation. Where this happens,
- The celebrated John Bunyan wrote a mystical Exposition of every article in Solomon's Temple.
the New Testament can never long maintain its authority; and we are all witnesses, that the neglect of its doctrines by our preachers has offended the common people, and laid them open to the attempts of mercenary enthusiasts, who preach without discretion, and act without authority. Our Dissenters also, are, in general, much departed from their original profession, and, in their discourses, preached and printed, some of them approach nearer to the cold philosophy of Bolingbroke, and the wildness of Voltaire, than to the faith and language of their forefathers : and this I would tell them, not out of any ill-will, but that they may consider from whence they have departed, and learn, that soundness of teaching is always brought into great danger, when we affect separate ways of worship. The duty of a Christian minister requires him therefore to know and to avoid all these dangers; to keep up the knowledge of Christian doctrine in the people, by the light of his preaching; and to warn them at all times of the necessity of praying. We may preach again and again; but unless we can preach till we make men pray, it is all to no purpose. Be ye doers of the word, says the Apostle, and not hearers only. But how are we to do it? Hearing only shews us what it is; the grace of God enables us to perform it; and that grace is never to be obtained; but by prayer. St. Paul saw a great light from the heaven which struck him and his companions to the earth ; and he heard the voice of Christ himself speaking to him: then he went blind to Damascus, and remained for some time in this dreadful state of suspense, under the hand of God. All this train of miracles was designed only to turn his heart, and bring him to his prayers; and the means, with such an heart to work
upon, had the proper effect. Upon which, Ananias received a commission to go and relieve him
The Lord said to him, in a vision
“ Arise, and go into the street, which is called “ straight,(strait)and inquire in the house of Judas for “one called Saul, of Tarsus, for behold, he prayeth,”
The importance and excellence of prayer may be collected from the words of the text; which do not relate to the duty of private devotion, however necessary, but to public prayer only. The house of God does not take its name from the practice of preaching there, but from the practice of praying.–My house shall be called the House of Prayer. Accordingly we find, that when the temple of Solomon was finished, it was immediately applied to its proper use. We hear of no preaching on this great occasion, but only of prayers and religious offerings. The king, the priests, and all the people attended at the solemn service of its dedication. Sacrifices were offered without number, and the king in his capacity of a prophet, prayed publicly for the blessing and favour of God upon the house which he had built. His words are very striking, and a part of them will furnish an excellent commentary upon the text. Will God, indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven, and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have builded? Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and unto the prayer which thy servant prayeth before thee this day. That thine eyes may be opened towards this house night and day; even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there; that thou mayest hearken to the prayer which thy servant shall make towards this place. And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and
of thy people Israel, when they shall pray towards this place, and hear thou in heaven, thy dwelling place, and when thou hearest, forgive. In this part of king Solomon's prayer, these things following are to be observed; 1st. That the temple was an habitation of God; a circumstance which the piety of the king dwells upon with wonder-will God indeed dwell on earth! The cloud, which denoted the presence of God, had already filled the house, so that the Priest could not stand to minister: and in the ages after, as well as before, the divine presence was manifested about the ark, and between the cherubims which overshadowed it. On special occasions it appeared in a visible manner, under the symbol of a cloud with a light or glory attending it; and, when the cloud was not seen, the place was always understood as being inhabited in a particular manner by the glory of the God-head.
In the words that follow, the use of the temple is signified-have thou respect unto the prayer which thy servant prayeth before thee this day. This house was the place, where God would give audience, and have respect to the petition, out of regard to the place in which it was offered. They, who expect to be heard, when they address a king, go into his court, and present themselves in a proper place for an audience. The temple is the court of the great King; and though he can hear the voice of men in every place, yet it was expedient, that one place should be honoured above all others, to stir up reverence in men, and give them a reasonable ground of hope, when they should offer their petitions. It seems by the expression, that the people were encouraged not only to pray within the temple, but to have respect to it, and turn themselves toward it in their devotions,