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Principles, to disprove that Assertion, and shew that Meditation, under any possible Circumstances, cannot be so effectual a Means as Prayer may be made. In my Reply I attempted to prove This, and had the good Luck to do it to his Satissaction; and I make no doubt of doing it here to the Satissaction of every impartial Reader. But, before I enter upon the Argument, I must observe, that the Deists, when they would seem to substitute regular Contemplation in the room of Prayer, are not sincere, neither would it answer their Purpose, because such frequent Returns of serious Contemplation would keep their Consciences too often awake, and be too great a Check to the Indulgence of their Vices; which, I dare say, is their real Objection against Prayer. This Observation I thought proper, by way of Caution to unwary Christians, against the deceitful Artifices of the Deists.
All Deists, who profess to believe the Principles of natural Religion, must allow, that all Men are obliged to use the most effectual Means that our Reason is capable of shewing us, for the promoting of Religion and Virtue. The Passions of Fear and Love are the great Springs of human Actions: All Religion and Virtue consist in our Obedience to the Will of God, and in the Imitation of his imitable Perfections: Our Fear and Love of him are the strongest Incitements to such an Obedience and Imitation. The Question, then, between us and the Deists is, •what appears to our Reason, from the Nature of
E 2 things t Things, the most effectual Means of cultivating and improving those two ruling Passions. We say, that a constant and regular Intercourse between our Maker and us, by Prayer, is the most effectual Means; and that it appears from hence to be the Will of God that we Jhould pray to him. They say, that it will be sufficient for the Purposes of Religion and Virtue, because sufficent towards the Cultivation and Improvement of the Fear and the have of God, if we accustom ourselves constantly and regularly to think upon God and ourselves, and the Relation that we stand in towards him; and, consequently, that we cannot prove Prayer to be a reasonable Act, much less to be a Duty, or that the Honour of Jpeaking to the supreme Being is so much as permitted us. This, I think, is a sair State of the Question between us; and without the least Distrust of the Issue, I shall attempt as sairly to determine it; which I shall do by considering the natural Consequences of each Scheme. But, before I come to the main Argument,— a Comparison of the natural Effects of Meditation, and That Act of the Mind which we call Prayer, I shall make a short Observation, not impertinent to the Point in Dispute.—If This Business were left to be done by Meditation, very few, even of those who are capable of it, would ever give themselves the Trouble of meditating so seriously. It requires a Habit of thinking regularly, to be able to range their Thoughts in such an orderly Manner, as may imprint them so strongly upon their Minds, as may give them
a a proper Influence upon their Conduct. If it be said that This Insufficiency may be supplied by a written Abstract, upon those Subjects for their constant Use; I answer, that This would not fix the Attention so much as directing our Thoughts to some ObjeB is able to do; which naturally leads me to shew that Praying, that is, speaking, to God, is a stronger, and more influential Act of the Mind, than barely thinking of him; and, consequently, better fitted to promote Religion and Virtue than Contemplation, considered under all possible Circumstances of Advantage.—Speaking, or addressing ourselves to one another, is an habitual and familiar Act of the Mind, the Method of preserving an Intercourse between one another j the usual and most effectual Means of exciting the several Passions of Anger and Love, Desire and Hatred; by the Means of which habitual Practice, the Fear and the Love of God, a lively Sense of his Presence and Attributes, will be more strongly preserved by speaking, or addressing our Minds to him after the usual manner, in which we have been accustomed to speak to each other, than by bare Contemplation, the former Action of the Mind receiving a particular Force from Habit and Familiarity. Neither can Contemplation be made so habitual, and familiar, and easy to the Generality of Mankind, as the Acv tion of speaking to another Being; because the Occasions of speaking to one another are frequent and unavoidable, which makes That Action of the Mind habitual and familiar; whereas we are
so far from being under the Necessity of acquiring a Habit of serious and close Meditation, that most People find it a very difficult Thing, because the Attention is diverted by external Objects, or by Ideas before received into the Mind from such Objects. But Prayer, that is, speak' ing, or direSiing, our Minds to God, does, as it were, make the Divine Being present to our very Senses-, forasmuch as the fame Action of the Mind, has been usually accompanied with some external Object visible to the Senses: Besides, the Actions of the Body concurring with that of the Mind, must also, by the Force of Habit, help to fix the Attention, and make the Effects the stronger. I verily think This Argument can never be answered without denying human Nature, and the Power of Habit, to be what we daily fee and feel them to be; insomuch, that if the Duty of Prayer were to be wholly omitted, the very Notion of a God and his Providence would be quite lost among the Generality of Mankind, as to any religious Effects upon their Minds. This is not an abstracted metaphysical Argument, calculated only for the learned Philosopher who has been accustom'd to nice Speculation, but it is an Argument drawn from known FaSls and Experience, and such a one as any Person who will be at the Trouble of attending to it may understand. By the way of Illustration, let us suppose that We had offended one of our Fellow-creatures, no doubt can be made but that if we were seriously to reflect upon it, it would affect every honest and generous Mind; but if, instead of barely thinking upon it, we were to come into his Presence, sall upon our Knees before him, and in a most submissive Manner ask his Pardon j This would have a much greater Effect, help more to increase the Sense of our Guilt, and to form a Resolution to behave better for the future. Thus it is with regard to our Addresies to God. By using the same Actions, both of Body and Mind, by Which we constantly converse with one another, we shall make him more immediately present to our Thoughts, which will have a much greater Influence upon us than barely thinking of him could have.
If This Argument be conclusive with regard to private Prayer, (and I may safely defy the whole Body of the Deists to disprove it) it will hold much stronger, and more apparently, for publick and joint Prayer, tho' the latter has generally been thought less capable of being proved from natural Principles. In the Performance of publick and joint Prayer, the Looks and Gestures and Voices of the Congregation will help to kindle and inflame in each other religious Affections and Dispositions. For instance, the united Voice of a Number of People confessing their Sins, with a proper Tone of Voice, accompanied with suitable Looks and Gestures, expressive of Sorrow, and Shame, and Fear; I say, their united Voices, and Looks, and Behaviour, must in the very nature of Things, be more effectual towards promoting the proper ends of Confession, than any private Acknowledgement of our Sins can E 4 possibly