Eating is one of the lowest actions of our lives, it is common to us with mere animals, yet we see that the piety of all ages of the world, has turned this ordinary action of an animal life, into a piety to God, by making every meal to begin and end with devotion.
We see yet some remains of this custom in most Christian families; some such little formality, as shows you, that people used to call upon God at the beginning and end of their meals. But, indeed, it is now generally so performed, as to look more like a mockery upon devotion, than any solemn application of the mind unto God. In one house you may perhaps see the head of the family just pulling off his hat; in another half getting up from his seat; another shall, it may be, proceed so far, as to make as if he had said something; but, however, these little attempts are the remains of some devotion that was formerly used at such times, and are proofs that religion has formerly belonged to this part of common life.
But to such a pass are we now come, that though the custom is yet preserved, yet we can hardly bear with him, that seems to perform it with any degree of seriousness, and look upon it as a sign of a fanatical temper, if a man has not done it as soon as he begins.
I would not be thought to plead for the necessity of long prayers at these times; but thus much I think may be said, that if prayer is proper at these times, we ought to oblige ourselves to use such a form of words, as should show, that we solemnly appeal to God for such graces and blessings, as are then proper to the occasion. Otherwise the mock ceremony, instead of blessing our victuals, does but accustom us to trifle with devotion, and give us a habit of being unaffected with our prayers.
If every head of a family was, at the return of every meal, to oblige himself to make a solemn adoration of God, in such a decent manner, as becomes a devout mind, it would be very likely to teach him, that swearing, sensuality, gluttony, and loose discourse, were very improper at those meals, which were to begin and end with devotion.
And in these days of general corruption, this part of devotion is fallen into a mock ceremony, it must be imputed to this cause, that sensuality and intemperance have got too great a power over us, to suffer us to add any devotion to our meals. But thus much must be said, that when we are as pious as Jews and Heathens of all ages have been, we shall think it proper to pray at the beginning and end of our meals.
I have appealed to this pious custom of all ages of the world, as a proof of the reasonableness of the doctrine of this and the foregoing chapters; that is, as a proof that religion is to be the rule and measure of all the actions of ordinary life. For surely, if we are not to eat, but under such rules of devotion, it must plainly appear, that whatever else we do, must in its proper way, be done with the same regard to the glory of God, and agreeably to the principles of a devout and pious mind.