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all the splendor of the invisible world shall be thrown open to us, but a spirit of the deepest humility, and the purest benevolence 1 This alone can dispose us truly to rejoice in the view of every kind and degree of excellence, wherever found, without the least uneasiness arising from pride, envy, jealousy, or dislike; all which vicious qualities of the mind are nearly connected together. And how can a spirit of true humility and pure benevolence, which cannot exist without humility, be attained, if our regards be perpetually, or frequently, directed to ourselves? Where self is considered, pride, vanity, or self-conceit, with all their hateful consequences, seem, in some degree, to be unavoidable.
Whoever, therefore, lays the foundation of human virtue on the principle of self-interest, or, what is nearly the same thing, self-applause, is erecting a fabric which can never rest on such supports; and he will be found, in fact, to have been pulling down with one hand what he was endeavouring to build up with the other.
To draw to a conclusion. This doctrine abounds with the noblest practical uses, and points out directly the great rule of life and source of happiness; which is to give ourselves wholly up to some employment, which may, if possible, engage all our faculties, and which tends to the good of society. This is a field which is open to the exertion of all human powers, and in which all mankind may be equally, mutually, and boundlessly happy.
This will render all expedients to kill time, unnecessary. With our affections and our faculties thus engrossed by a worthy object, we scarce need fear being ever dull, pensive, or melancholy, or know what it is to have our time hang heavy upon our hands. And I think I may so far presume upon the known connexion of mind and body, as to say that this is the best preservative against hypochondriacal disorders, to which persons whose situation in the world doth not lead them into the active scenes of life, are peculiarly subject. Every day passed in the steady and earnest discharge of a man's known duty, will pass with uniform cheerfulness and alacrity. And in the glorious, animating prospect of a future happy state of mankind, on which, in a humble trust and confidence in the assistance and grace of God, he has spent all his cares and exerted all his powers, that joy will spring up in his heart here, which will hereafter be " unspeakable and full of glory."
If troubles and persecutions arise on account of our adhering to our duty; if we be opposed in the prosecution of laudable undertakings, or suffer in consequence of undertaking them; the true piety of a person who habitually lives to God, and not to himself, is capable of converting them all into pure, unmixed joy and transport. Then the human mind, roused to the most intense exertion of all its faculties, burdened with no consciousness of guilt, referring itself absolutely to the disposal of its God and Father, distrusting its own powers, and confiding in the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness of God, — acquires a fervor of spirit, a courage, fortitude, and magnanimity, tempered with the most perfect serenity, and the greatest presence of mind, that is sufficient, and more than sufficient, to bear a man through every difficulty, and even to convert all pain into pleasure. His highly agitated state of mind, in those trying circumstances, is almost pure rapture and ecstasy.
In those circumstances, which appear so distressing, numbers, I doubt not, have been able, according to our blessed Saviour's direction, to " rejoice and be exceeding glad, knowing that their reward was great in heaven"; and have experienced more real comfort, peace of mind, and inward joy, in the greatest adversity, than they had ever felt in the days of their prosperity. Yea, what is related by historians of some Christian and Protestant martyrs appears to me not incredible; namely, that in the midst of flames they have felt no pain. Their minds were so intensely agitated, and so wholly occupied with opposite sensations of the most exalted nature, as to exclude all external sensation whatever, vastly more than we can form any idea of from the trances and reveries which any person was ever subject to.
What the extraordinary exercises of devotion are able to do upon extraordinary occasions, the habitual, moderate exercise of piety, will be able to do in the ordinary course and the common troubles of our lives; so that it may not only be compared to a strong cordial, to be applied when the mind is ready to faint under adversity, but to that food which is the daily support of our lives.
To have God always in our thoughts is not possible in this world. Present objects, to the influence of which we are continually exposed, must necessarily engage a great part of our attention; and worldly objects, by continually engrossing our thoughts, are apt to become of too great importance to us. We grow anxious about them, and our minds are harassed and fatigued with a constant and close attention to them. Now it is when the mind is in this state, or rather tending towards it, that the benign influences of devotion are, in the ordinary course of our lives, the most sensibly felt; when the mind, looking off, and above all worldly objects, and deeply impressed with a sense of the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness of God, unburdens itself of every anxiety, and casts all its cares upon its heavenly Father; and when the preceding tumult and disorder in the passions, only serve to augment that unspeakable joy, satisfaction, and confidence, with which a deep sense of the presence and providence of God inspires the soul.
The relief a benevolent mind feels from communicating its troubles and cares to an intimate friend, in whose wisdom and integrity he can confide, though of the same nature, is but a faint image of what the truly pious soul feels in the delightful seasons of the devout intercourse which he maintains with his God.
This is a perpetual source of joy and satisfaction to a truly devout mind, which the wicked, those persons who live to themselves and not to mankind or to God, intermeddle not with. Not even an idea of that sweet tranquillity, exalted joy, and calm fortitude which true devotion inspires, can be communicated to another who hath had no experience of it himself. This is truly of those things which St. Paul says "the natural man" cannot comprehend, and that " they are foolishness to him, because they are spiritually discerned."
I would be no advocate for enthusiasm. The fervor of devotion cannot always be kept up. That is inconsistent with the condition of our nature, and far from being necessary in our present state: but that cheerful serenity and composure in which moderate acts of devotion leave the mind, is an excellent temper for entering upon, and persevering with spirit and alacrity in, any useful and honorable undertaking.
The sum of this practical doctrine, suggested by revelation and confirmed by reason and observation, is, that no man can be happy who lives to himself; but that true happiness consists in having our faculties wholly engrossed by some worthy object, in the pursuit of which the strongest and best of our affections have their full play, and in which we enjoy all the consistent pleasures of our whole nature; that though a regard to our greatest happiness be of excellent use, (particularly about the beginning of our progress towards perfection and happiness, in bringing our inferior appetites and passions into due subjection to the superior powers of our nature,) yet that self-love, or a regard to ourselves, is very apt to grow too intense, and is, in fact, the cause of a great deal of the useless anxiety, perplexity, and misery there is in the world, and that, therefore, it ought to be our care, that our minds be engrossed as much as possible by other objects; and that even motives to virtue, which turn our attention frequently upon ourselves, should be used with caution; for fear of feeding that vanity and self-conceit, which we ought to study every method of repressing, as the greatest bane of true religion, being most opposite to the genuine temper of Christianity, and the most destructive of human happiness.
THE DANGER OF BAD HABITS.
Hosea, iv. 17.
Ephraim is here put for the whole kingdom of Israel, of which it was a part; and this awful sentence pronounced upon it was delivered during its declension, and not long before its final dissolution by the kings of Assyria.
Many prophets had God sent to this unhappy nation, and by repeated messages had he expostulated with them, from time to time, for their crying wickedness and provocations. They had had line upon line, and precept upon precept; but all had been to no purpose. They showed no sign of repentance, but " held fast their iniquity, and would not let it go," till the Divine patience and forbearance were wearied out. Mercy could plead for them no longer; their fate was determined; and the execution of the just judgments of God upon them was only delayed, but was sure to take place in the end.
This is the case of a whole nation abandoned of God in this fearful manner. But whatever has been the case of one nation, may not only be the case of another nation, but also that of any individual; and it is the possibility of this being the case of our own nation, or of ourselves, that it makes to demand our attention. To the Almighty, with respect to