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To the Congregation of Protestant Dissenters,
Assembling for Worship in
PRAYER and praise constitute the two
grand essentials of human devotion. The one is the language of a necessitous, and contrite spirit, expressed in deep humility, or ardent desire : the other, the erpression of fervent gratitude, elevated affection, and sublime adoration. The former may be consistent with the perfection of the felicity of celestial spirits : ihe latter unquestionably is the constant, and the delightful employ of those pure beings. For we have scarcely a description of heaven on sacred record, but praise forms a prominent feature in the employment of its inhabitants. We wonder not that the heirs of glory, should possess similar feelings, while clothed with humanity, and delight to express their joys in strains, humbly imitative of those of their kindred spirits above.
Singing the high praises of God, and the wonders of redemption bears the nearest resemblance to the worship of heaven. It is the most elevated part of devotion. The pious soul is wafted by it, beyond the confines of earth, and feels the warm rays of celestial love.
Poetry has long been the venerable channel in which devotion has flowed. “The eld- . est song, says Dr. Watts, f which history has brought down to our ears, was a noble act of worship, paid to the God of Israel, when his right hand became glorious in power; when thy right hand 0 Lord dashed in pieces the enemy; the chariots of Pharaoh, and his hosts were cast into the red sea ; thou didst blow with thy wind, the deep covered them, and they sunk as lead in the mighty waters: This art was maintained sacred through the following ages of the church, and employed by Kings and Prophets, by David, Solomon, and Isaiah, in describing the nature, and the glories of God, and in conveying grace or vengeance to the hearts of men. By this method they brought so much of heaven down to this lower world, as the darkness of that dispensation
+ Preface to his Lyric Poems.
would admit: and now and then a divine and poetic rapture lifted their souls far above the level of that oeconomy of shadows, bore them away, far into a brighter region, and gave them a glimpse of evangelic day; the life of angels was harmoniously breathed into the children of Adam, and their minds raised near to heaven in melody and devotion at once.”
But it is a consideration sufficient to awaken the pang of grief in the pious breast, that this noble art has been debased to the vilest purposes. It has conveyed the poison of vice in the most unsuspecting and dangerous manner.
The friends of vital religion, who have mourned this degradation, and who have felt the glow of christian fervor, when reading the sacred poetry of the venerable Patriarchs, cannot but hail the period when the Lord raised up that illustrious luminary whose poetic ardour, whose consecrated genius directs and animates the devotion of thousands. DR. WATTS has rescued that art from the hands of the ungodly, and dedicated his superior powers to the service of Jesus. From him, several servants of God have caught the flame, and the Churches were never so amply stored as at present, with divine poems : adapted almost to every exigency, to every desire.