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- Isaiah Xxvi. 90.
Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee.
WITHOUT viewing these words in connection with what goes before or follows after, I shall consider them as containing an exhortation to religious retirement. Man was intended by his Creator for society. All the powers of his frame, the faculties of his mind, and the qualities of his heart, lead him to the social state as the state of his nature. But although man was made for action, he was also intended for contemplation. There is a time when solitude has a charm for the soul ; when weary of the world, its follies and its cares, we love to be alone, to enter into our chamber, to shut the door about us, and in silence to commune with our heart. Such a retirement, when devoted to pious purposes, is highly useful to man, and most acceptable to God. Hence the holy men are represented in Scripture as giving themselves to meditation ; hence Jesus Christ himself is described as sending the multitude away, and going apart to the mountain.
An opinion once prevailed in the world, and in many parts of it still prevails, that all virtue consisted in such a retreat; that the perfection of the Christian life consisted in retiring from the world altogether, in withdrawing from human converse, in shutting ourselves up in the solitude of a cell, and passing our days in barren and unprofitable speculation. Such notions of a holy life have no foundation in the word of God. Moses and the prophets, Jesus and the apostles themselves, acted a part in public life, and enjoin their disciples not to withdraw from the world, but to go about doing good ; not to wrap up their talent in a napkin, but to improve it by their industry ; not to put their light under a bushel, but to make it shine before men. The retreat, therefore, which Scripture recommends is temporary and not total ; is not the retreat of a monk to his cell, or a hermit to his cave ; but of men living in the world, going out of it for a time, to return with greater improvement. To retire at times into the closet for these purposes, is of general obligation upon all Christians. Io induce you, therefore, to the practice of this duty, I shall now shew you the advantages Which thereby you may expect to reap.
The advantages attending religious retirement are these: it takes off the impression which the neighbourhood of evil example has a tendency to make upon the mind; it is favourable for fixing pious purposes in the mind, and strengthening our habits of virtue; it brings us to the knowledge of ourselves; it opens a source of new and better entertainment than we meet with in the world.
In the first place, Religious retirement takes off the impression which the neighbourhood of evil example has a tendency to make upon the mind. The world, my friends, is not in general a school of virtue; it is often the scene of vanity and vice. Corrupted manners, vicious deeds, evil communications, surround us on every side. From our first entrance into life, we become spectators of the vicious, and witnesses to the commission of sin. This presence of the wicked lessens our natural horror at a crime, it renders the idea of vice familiar to the mind, and insensibly lulls asleep that guarded circumspection which ought always to be awake. Besides this contagion of evil example, the unhappy proneness of men to imitate the manners of those with whom they live, adds strength to the temptations of the world. Our favourable opinion of the person extends to the action he corrU mits; and by our fatal fondness of imitation, we dd what we see done. Our way then in the world lies through snares and precipices; we see and we hear at the peril of our souls. The contagion in which we live, transfuses irselfinto our own niinds. How Often is the purity of the closet lost amid the pollution of the world! The good resolutions of the morning give way to bustle and business, or to the career of pleasure; and the day that began with innocence and devotion ends in vanity and vice. Temptations in every form assault your innocence, and the adversary of your soul is for ever on the watch. One false step may send you to the bottom of the precipice. One word spoken in passion hath given rise to quarrels that have lasted through life. A single glance of envy, of revenge, or of impure desire, hath raised a conflagration which could only be quenched by blood. To avoid the pollution with which the world is infected, to keep offthe intrusion of vain and sinful thoughts, enter into thy chamber, and shut the doors around thee. There the wicked cease from troubling, there the man who is wearied of the world is at rest. There the glare of external objects disappears, and the chains that bound you to the world are broken. There you shut out the strife of tongue's, the impeitinencies of the iclle,- the lies of the vain, the scandal of the malicious, the slanders of the defamer* and all that world of iniquity which proceeds from the tongue. In this asylum thy safety dwells. To thy holy retreat, an impure guest dares not approach. Enjoying the blessed calm and serenity of thy own mind, thou hearest the tempest raging around thee and spending its Strength; the objects of sense being removed, the appetites which they excited, depart along with them. The scene being shifted, and the actors gone, the passions which they raised die away.
In the second place, This devout retirement is favourable for fixingpious purposesin the mind, and strength-* ening our habits of virtue. We are so formed by the Author of our nature, that the material objects with which we are surrounded, raise ideas in us, and make impressions upon us merely by their own nature, and without any assistance from Ourselves. There are motions in the body which are involuntary and spontaneous, and there are impressions in the mind which are as much out of our power. At the presence of cer» tain objects, we feel certain passions Whether we will c-r not; we cannot command the emotions which arise in the mind; on many occasions we are merely passive to the influence of external things. When imminent danger threatens, or the shriek of jeopardy is heard, the heart throbs, the blood takes the alarm, and the spirits are agitated without our direction or consent. As the nature of the plant is affected by the soil where it grows; as the nature of the animal is affected by the pasture where he ranges; so the character of the man who never thinks, who never retires into himself, arises from the mode of life in which he is engaged. His mind is in subjection to the objects which surround him. He passes from object to object as the scene changes before him, and he is delivered over from passion to passion, according to the events which vary his lite. Thus in society we are in a great measure governed by accidents, and the mind is passive to the impressions which it receives.
But in solitude we are in a world of our own. We can call up what ideas, and converse with what objects we please. We can say to one desire, " Go," and to another, " Come." Dazzled no longer with the false glitter of the world, we open our eyes to the beauties of that better country which is a heavenly one; stunned no more with the noise of folly, we can listen in silence to the still small voice. Escaped from the broad way, we set out on the narrow path. That is the place, and then is the time to seal the useful truth, and to fix the pious purpose. Then you can best recollect your native strength, and stir up the grace of God which is in you. Then at leisure you
can reflect by what temptations you were formerly foiled, that you may guard against them in the time to come; foreseeing the evil day, you will look out for the best support when it comes; and putting on the whole armour of God, you will be able to resist the fiery darts of the evil one, and to go forth conquering and to conquer. By these means, the good thoughts which were scattered up and down your lite will be collected together, and settle in a fixed purpose of new obedience. The various rays thus converging into one, will kindle into a fervent flame. In the third place, By means of religious retirement, thou wilt be brought to the knowledge of thyself. This is a part of our superiority to thy other creatures, that we are not confined to present objects; that we can extend our view beyond the province of; sense, and turn our attention wherever we please; throughout the whole system of nature. The mind can arrest itself in its motion, ,and become the object of its own contemplation. The noblest of sciences is to know ourselves. But however useful and important this study is, there is none with which we are so little acquainted. Delighting to wander abroad, and familiar everywhere, you are strangers at home, strangers to your own character, strangers to your own hearts, strangers to all that is most important for a rational creature to know. You give your thoughts to wander through the whole world ; on the wings of imagination you fly from pole to pole ; but you never descend into yourself. For what reason art thou so averse to know thyself? Because thou art afraid of losing thine own good opinion; because thou wantest to impose upon thyself, and then to impose upon the world. For this cause, thou darest not appeal to thine own mind, thou darest not meet thy heart alone. Thou avoidest the light, lest thine evil deeds should be made manifest. Thou fliest from the God within, as Adam when he had fallen 'fled from the Lord, because thou art afraid. What can be more suspicious than for reasonable creatures