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even when they prayed to the God of Israel in distant places—Hearken to the supplication of thy people Israel, when they shall pray towards this place. And the practice was duly observed by Daniel in his captivity at Babylon; it was his manner to open his window toward Jerusalem, and to kneel, and pray three times a day. His respect was to the temple: and he held to the practice, though there was then no more than the ruins of it remaining. In fact, the tabernacle and temple were the places, where the devotion of the people and the favour of God met together; the house of God was the common assembly of heaven and earth; there God was to be found, and there the people sought him; there Hannah, in the bitterness of her soul, offered up her devotions, and her petition was granted. Yea and Christ himself allows, that the Temple sanctified the gold which was offered in it; and, if it could sanctify gold, it would rather sanctify the more valuable offerings of prayer and thanksgiving. This was known to that godly woman Anna, the prophetess, who, having devoted herself to God, departed not from the temple, but served him there with fastings and prayers night and day. It is not said, that she ran gossipping after sermons, but that she served God with prayers. There the prayers of Simeon were granted, and the promise of God fulfilled to him, when he took up the child Jesus in his arms, and blessed God, who in his temple had indulged him with a sight of what his eyes had most desired to behold.
But it is particularly worth our notice, that private devotion seems to have met with the regard of heaven on account of its connection with the services of the temple. It appears from the scripture, that there were settled hours of prayer, when the people resorted
to public worship; such as the third hour of the day, the sixth hour or noontide, the ninth hour, which answered to our three o'clock in the afternoon, and the sun setting when they offered the evening sacrifice. These hours were preferred as the best for private devotion, that the prayer of the closet might be the prayer of charity and uniformity, and ascend to God, with the incense of the church. Peter went up to the house-top to pray at the sixth hour, one of the seasons of public devotion at the temple. The prayer of Cornelius was answered by a vision from heaven at the ninth hour. Daniel confessed his sin and presented his supplication before the Lord about the time of the evening oblation, and was then favoured with a revelation from the Angel Gabriel : and lastly, on occasion of that great contest of Elijah with the worshippers of Baal, we read, that the prophet waited from the morning till the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, and then put up the prayer which brought down fire from heaven, and determined the dispute. 1 Kings xviii. 36.
These examples shew us plainly, that both God and man have had regard to stated hours of prayer; and that private prayer was most acceptable, when it agreed with the services of the church. In the primitive ages of Christianity, certain hours of the day and night were set apart for public and private devotion, that the people of God might be upon their knees together, whether in the church or in their own families : and there are still extant the forms of devotion anciently adapted to the hours of prayer, which were put into the Saxon language eight hundred years ago, and were probably used in Latin some hundreds earlier. If all ages and nations have shewn so much regard
to the places and the times of public worship, and all this reverence was commanded and encouraged by God himself in his dealings with his people, whether Jews or Christians; we shall be disobedient to God, and contrary to good men of all ages, if we neglect the duty of public 'worship. It hath pleased God in his wisdom to inspire us with reverence for his name, by hallowing some places and things above others : and if God hath regard to what is so set apart for his own honour, we must displease him and injure ourselves, if we do not conform to his institutions; none of which were appointed without a view to our advancement in holiness and happiness. For consider the consequence of uniting in public worship. Does it not serve as a principle of unity, to promote charity among Christians, and bind them in affection to one another? Men, who resort to the same place by choice, that they may pray together, will contract an habit of considering themselves as constantly under the eye of God, and as members of the same family; and with such a relation, they cannot lightly offend or speak evil one of another. And will not every place become happier, in proportion as there is less offence and less evil to set men against one another? If the experiment were to be made, I dare be answerable for it, that the happiness of every society would be found to keep equal pace with their devotion. Where there is no prayer, there is no religion; and where there is no religion, there is no peace; but instead of it the blusterings of pride, the cruelty of malice, the oppressiveness of avarice, the rage of blasphemy, slander, and evil speaking. When Abraham sojourned in a land where the true God was either unknown or disregarded, he said within himself, the fear of God is not in this place ; and accord
ingly he looked for nothing but injury and violence. Where the public is corrupt, private happiness must always be affected by it; and we know of no remedy for public corruption but public devotion.
There is only one thing farther that need now be observed in behalf of public prayer, which is this; that the devotion of heaven is the devotion of society. Angels and saints all join in the adoration of the same Divine Being: there are no monastics, no professors of retirement; but they are all of the same heart and mind, praising God with one voice, and inflaming the rapture of every individual by the powerful union of an infinite multitude. Men united together in great numbers have a powerful influence on one another's passions here upon earth; how much more will the multitudes of immortal spirits in heaven spread abroad the flames of divine love in the hearts of those who shall be blessed with their society? This consideration should draw Christians together; whose chief duty it is now, to join their voices together in charity, and make intercession to God for the forgiveness of their own sins, and of the church and nation to which they belong: that so they may be prepared to meet in heaven, and join in the worship of the church triumphant; where intercession shall be changed to thanksgiving; where there shall be no more sorrow, because there shall be no sin; where the devotion of the day shall not be interrupted by the darkness of the night; and where the God, whom they worship, shall no longer be an invisible object of their faith, but present to their sight in glory everlasting.
Thus far I have endeavoured to justify and recommend the public worship of God. I have warned
and of the error of the sectaries on the other; who in a manner excluded the charitable duties of prayer, to make room for vain and seditious discourses from the pulpit. I have insisted according to the words of the text that the house of God is a place intended for the office of prayer, the proper employment of poor sinners, who may hear sermons all their lives, but will never find themselves nearer to God, till they know how to taste the pleasures of devotion. All the sacrifices which were offered from the beginning of the world, all the incense of the tabernacle, all the smoke of the altar, did not minister to the work of preaching, but were the vehicles of prayer, intercession, and atonement. Prayer ever was, and ever will be, the vital part of religion: without it there is no religion; and with it, the person who has only learned his catechism, may with God's blessing find his way to heaven, with little or no assistance from sermons. I have likewise observed, that public prayer borrows its efficacy from the place in which it is offered; a place separated from common use, and holding communication with heaven itself, the dwelling-place of God; that the servants of God in all ages had a reverend esteem for the place of divine worship; having regard to it always in the manner and the time of their private devotions: and that God hath shewed special favour to those who applied to him at the appointed time; that the great end of all these appointments is the edification and happiness of the people of God, who are knit together in charity, by uniting in prayer ; that public blessings are the sure reward of public devotion; and that individuals cannot be at peace, unless there is religion in the society to which they belong. Above all, that the devotion of the congregation upon earth is preparatory to the felicity