Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Unitarian Sabbath

Another Sunday comes to a close and another look at how the Boston Unitarians kept the Sabbath (or at least encouraged others to do so) begins. This week it is from John Emery Abbot , (1793—1819) young and intensly pious minister at Salem. His Sermons can be found at Considered to have great promise, Abbot suffered longtime poor health and died a very young man. His Sermons remain rewarding for their devotional passion. An extract:

"WE need private prayer as a preparation for that which is social. If we desire that God should hear and accept us, our prayers must be offered with fervor and earnestness. A devotional spirit must warm our hearts, and hallow the petitions that rise from our lips. But a devotional spirit can be nourished best, if not only, in private. It must be made habitual too, if we would have it pervade our prayers. It cannot be assumed at will, like the consecrated garments of the priest, but must at all times array us. And this habitual feeling of devotion can only be sustained by the frequent excitement, and often renewed expressions of it, in our solitary prayers. Without this private preparation, we may indeed bow with our families when the day rises or the shadows of night descend, but our prayers will be generally distracted and formal. We may gather at the temple and listen to the voice of others, but our minds will be wandering and our hearts be unaffected. The altar may be spread and the sacrifice may be prepared, but the fire will be wanting, and no accepted offering will rise. Without this private preparation, we cannot enter into the spirit of social prayer. Public prayer must necessarily be general ; and general expressions are unaffecting. But when we go from the solitude in which we have held communion with God, have acknowledged his goodness, and implored his mercy and support particularly to ourselves, then the voice of public prayer will awaken the remembrance of thoughts and feelings we have been indulging in private. When the public confession of sin is made, we shall think of our own deficiencies of character, neglect of duty., and acts of sin. And when all around us are rendering their common praise to God for his universal goodness, our praises will be quickened by the recollection of the private mercies he has bestowed on us. In this way we shall apply to ourselves all the general praises of the public devotion, and join in it with sincerity and with feeling. It is in a great degree the want of this private preparation which renders public prayers so uninteresting, and causes us often to wait on them with so much careless inattention or lifeless formality. "
What would the Sabbath be for us if we entered into it nourished by an "habitiual... devotional spirit?" For myself, I often resolve to keep the Sabbath starting Saturday evening then find myself working on a Church Bible study, gathering last minute supplies for Church School, and many of the other duties that make up church work. When I am able to do these things in a devotional way, the experience of the Sabbath is immeasurably increased. When I am rushing about and thinking of the next thing, they can become matters of "careless inattention and my experience of the Sabbath suffers. All depends on the health of my prayer life.
May "a devotional spirit warm your hearts" (and mine) this week and every week. Amen

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