« AnteriorContinuar »
4. In a more especial manner, never fail to have recourse to God upon every occasion of strong emotion of mind, whether it be of a pleasurable, or of a painful nature. When your mind is laboring under distressing doubts and great anxiety, or when you are in any way embarrassed in the conduct of your affairs, fly to God, as your friend and father, your counsellor and your guide. In a sincere and earnest endeavour to discharge your duty, and to act the upright and honorable part, commit your way unto him, repose yourselves upon his providence, confiding in his care to overrule every thing for the best; and you will find a great, and almost instantaneous relief. Your perturbation of mind will subside, as by a charm, and the storm will become a settled calm. Tumultuous and excessive joy will also be moderated by this means; and thus all your emotions will be rendered more equable, more pleasurable, and more lasting. And this is produced not by any supernatural agency of God on the mind, but is the natural effect of placing entire confidence in a Being of perfect wisdom and goodness.
But the capital advantage you will derive from this practice will be, that the idea of God being, by this means, associated with all the strongest emotions of your mind, your whole stock of devotional sentiments and feelings will be increased. All those strong emotions, now separately indistinguishable, will coalesce with the idea of God, and make part of the complex train of images suggested by the term, so that you will afterwards think of God oftener, and with more fervor than before; and the thought of him will have greater influence with you than ever.
5. In order to cultivate the spirit of habitual devotion, labor to free your minds from all consciousness of guilt and self-reproach, by means of a constant attention to the upright and steady discharge of the whole of your duty. In consequence of neglecting our duty, we become backwards, as we may say, to make our appearance before God. We cannot look up to him with full confidence of his favor and blessing; and are, therefore, too apt to omit devotion entirely. Besides, we always feel an aversion to the exercise of self-abasement and contrition, which are all the sentiments that we can with propriety indulge in those circumstances; especially as we have a secret suspicion, that we shall, for some time at least, go on to live as we have done; so that rather than confess our sins, and continue to live in them, we choose not to make confession at all.
But this, my brethren, is egregious trifling, and highly dangerous. Thus, at best, all improvement is at a stand with us, if we be not going fatally backwards in our moral state. If this be our character (as I believe it is, more or less, that of a very great number even of those I have called the better sort of the middle classes of men) let us in time, and in good earnest, cast off all our sins, negligences, and follies, by true repentance. Let us draw near, and acquaint ourselves with God, that we may be at peace. You can have no true peace, assurance, or satisfaction of mind in this life without it: for, if you be of the class I am now referring to, it is too late for you to have a perfect enjoyment of a life of sin and dissipation. And between that kind of peace, or rather stupor, which those who are abandoned to wickedness, those who are wholly addicted to this world, and make it their sole end (or those who are grossly ignorant of religion) enjoy, and that inward peace and satisfaction which accompanies the faithful and earnest discharge of every known duty, there is no sufficient medium. You may go about seeking rest in this wide space, while your hearts are divided between God and the world, but you will find none; whereas, the fruit of righteousness, of a sincere and impartial, though imperfect, obedience to the law of God, is peace and assurance for ever.
6. To facilitate the exercise of devotion, cultivate in your minds just ideas of God with whom you have to do upon those occasions, and divest your minds, as far as possible, of all superstitious and dishonorable notions of him. Consider him as the good Father of the prodigal son, in that excellent parable of our Saviour. Let it sink deep into your minds, as one of the most important of all principles, that the God with whom we have to do, is essentially, of himself, and without regard to any foreign consideration whatever, " abundant in mercy, not willing that any should perish, but that he had rather that all should come to repentance;" and then, notwithstanding you consider yourselves as frail, imperfect, and sinful creatures; and though you cannot help accusing yourselves of much negligence, folly, and vice; you may still approach him with perfect confidence, in his readiness to receive, love and cherish you, upon your sincere return to him.
In this light our Lord Jesus Christ always represented "his Father and our Father, his God and our God." This is the most solid ground of consolation to minds burdened with a sense of guilt; and what is of great advantage, it is the most natural, the most easy and intelligible of all others. If once you quit this firm hold, you involve yourselves in a system, and a labyrinth, in which you either absolutely find no rest and wander in uncertainty and horror; or, if you do attain to any thing of assurance, it is of such a kind, and in such a manner, as can hardly fail to feed that spiritual pride which will lead you to despise others; nay, unless counteracted by other causes, too often ends in a spirit of censo
riousness, hatred, and persecution.
# # *
We well know, my Christian brethren, what it is that the Lord our God requires of us, in order to live and to die in his favor; namely, " to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God." To this plain path of duty, then, let us adhere, without being anxious about any thing farther. Whether we have those fervors of devotion which some feel, and are apt to be proud of, or not, we shall experience that great peace of mind which all those have who keep God's law; and having lived the life of the righteous, our latter end will also be like his; the foundation of our joy being " the testimony of our consciences, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, — we have had our conversation in the world."
It is true, we are imperfect, sinful creatures; but, notwithstanding this, we have all possible encouragement given us to trust in the abundant mercy of our gracious God and Father, in that mercy which is essential to his nature, as a Being who is infinitely good, and who is love itself; and which, if we could entertain the least doubt concerning it, he has fully declared to all the world, by Moses and the prophets, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, whom he sent into the world to preach the grateful doctrine of repentance and remission of sins, thereby to redeem (that is, to deliver) us from all iniquity and to reconcile us to God. Animated, therefore, by the glorious promises of the gospel, let us, my Christian brethren, be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor •hall not finally be in vain in the Lord."
SOCIAL AND PUBLIC WORSHIP.
If an attention be paid to the real principles of human nature, which Mr. Wakefield calls the character of the human mind, it appears to me, that we must perceive the wisdom of all the usual means of virtue, and of social prayer among the rest, as what every man, be his attainments what they will, really needs, and may usefully avail himself of. Every passion or affection of our minds is strengthened by proper exercise; and all the social passions (and those of devotion are all of this class) are best exercised in company. Will any person pretend that he can be so cheerful alone, as in the company of those who are as much exhilarated as himself? Does not every man feel the glow of patriotism with double fervor when others join him in expressing the same patriotic sentiments 1 Is not this the principle on which all clubs, and social meetings of that kind, are formed? Must not, then, the sentiments of devotion be felt with peculiar fervor when others join us in them, either in hymns or in prayer? Let any man go into a Catholic church, abroad, where he will see, as I have done, the natural expressions of devotion, unrestrained by shame, and where there is no suspicion 'of hypocrisy, and say whether he be not excited to devotion by the sight. If he do not choose to go into a church, he may be some judge in this case by seeing even the counterfeit devotion of an actor on the stage, or viewing it in a good picture.