Imágenes de páginas
PDF

trial and enjoyment especially his own, and concerning which another person can judge but little, even when everysecret is revealed and his counsel earnestly sought. There are also some cases in which a person cannot persuade himself to disclose his mind to any, not even to his most intimate friends. Further, there are other circumstances, where, after all the efforts of ourselves and the wisest advisers, nothing can be done, but we remain in perplexity and confusion. On all these occasions, when earthly assistance and consolation seem finally to desert us, there is certainly an extraordinary refuge reserved to us in the encouragement and command held out in the Gospel, that we should go and submit our sorrows and every feeling of despair before God in Christ Jesus. At the throne of grace we may pour out our whole heart without any apprehension, open our most hidden distresses, confess our most humbling weaknesses, speak as to a friend of infinite compassion, of infinite patience, and of power sufficient to deliver us from every trouble. But I must here observe, that in the circumstances that have been supposed, a devout Christian has an advantage, and a mighty one, which a worldly man possesses not. The worldly man may, indeed, cry to God in the pressure of severe distress; but he has not the confidence towards Him which is the hope and consolation of a believer. A believer advances towards the Divine presence on firm ground. Though once, in common with the bulk of mankind, far off from the privilege of Divine communion, yet he is now “brought nigh by the blood of Christ.” In this state of reconciliation, he offers, not the extorted petitions of one who is compelled to pray to God because the world can do nothing for him, but the filial plea of one adopted unto the family of God, and, through the Son of the Blessed, entitled to the privileges of the kingdom of heaven. St. Paul *ys, “Let us come boldly to the

Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” I do not presume to assert that a person really reconciled to God is always conscious of the reconciliation; but it is safe to assure ourselves, that in proportion to the vigour of our graces we have reason to expect from the Almighty an answer to our prayers. As to such seasons of unusual trooble as overtake practical believer, they, perhaps, may be equally sewere with such as are endured by the most abandoned sinners. But be distress what it may, it will never be so poignant to a Christian as tea worldling. Chiefly because he lives in the spirit and practice of prayer, affliction loses much of its malignity: he regards it, indeed, as the natural consequence and penalty of sin, but still refers it to the partial tenderness of his Lord, who professes to administer chastisement as a means of increasing both the dignity and the enjoyments of the divine life. To a son thus disciplined the days of darkness are seasons of extraordinary devotion, and in the ma: tural course of grace, seasons of spiritual prosperity. If the affiction be not removed, the sufferer will have peace in looking back upon the unreserved surrender of himself, when he adopted the language, and humbly endeavoured to partake of the spirit of Christ, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And again; it may in this place be remarked, that the beginnings or the various accidents of a religious life are peculiarly marked out by the necessity and the exercise ol prayer. In many persons at an early period of their spiritual renevation, there is a strong reluctance to unveil their thoughts to others They would be glad to open their minds to their minister, or to some prudent friend; but this is not door, though counsel is much needed. Here then is a case where a private application to the Throne of Grace may at once point out and supply the deficiency of human means. If you are nnable to bring yourself to ask instruction of man, go to the Fountain Head, to the living Spring of all wisdom. Enter into your closet, and in the presence of God rereal all your ignorance, perplexity, wants—your whole mind. Himself declares, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” You find it impossible to overcome your unwillingness to refer your doubts to a fellow-creature. This may not be an ill sign. You had much better distrust yourself, and cultivate a modest and retiring temper of mind, than be forward and talkative about your new opinions: for, among the temptations which belong to the infancy of religion in the human soul, is that of thinking our hearts changed when we have merely altered our sentiments. Perhaps your principles may acquire more strength and maturity, if they are undisturbed either by the wis$om or folly of mankind; if they are left, as it were, to the unobstructed operation of that grace, which will * be vouchsased to fervent and sincere devotion. . . Circumstances in the advanced periods of the divine life not seldom oal for unusual measures of prayer. Religion, however unchangeable in itself, is confided to the mind of an ouncertain creature: “We have this "streasure in earthen vessels.” How few Christians safely reach their *ernal rest, who in the journey thither have not had sad occasion to weep over their mistakes, their occa- l deviations, and their falls! While connected with a mortal state, are ever in danger. When, herefore, a professed Christian has perplexed his conscience by a sin of omission, or by some practical guilt, is recovery must, under God, be obtoined by prayer. As religious decensions generally begin by the - of private devotion, so a firiner standing in the ways of godliChaist. Observ. No. 130.

ness is acquired by a return to the forgotten duty. The spirit and the habit of devotion are a security against losing ground; and when a backslider begins to recover his former place, he will be sound in the posture of a supplicant. He will regard his future strength as essentially linked with prayer. As a relapse into sin discovered his weakness, he will, should he continue sincere, learn a salutary lesson of humility and caution. Thus far I have endeavoured to explain the meaning of “praying always.” The amount appears to be, that we should live not barely in the outward practice, but in the fervid spirit of devotion, suiting our prayers to our several circumstances, enlarging them at peculiar seasons, and making the leading events of our lives, whether temporal or spiritual, the causes and subjects of prayer. Indeed, without the habitual performance of a duty divinely appointed, and so well fitted to the nature and wants of mankind, there can be no growth in grace. The Son of God well urged upon us the efficacy of praying without weariness by the parable of the importunate widow, who, by continually imploring the judge to give her redress, finally prevailed, and obtained her petition. This account Jesus delivered, “to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.” St. Paul exhorts the Romans to continue “instant in prayer;” and says to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing.” Before I proceed to any farther explanation of the text, which will be reserved for a future opportunity, I would remark, how necessary it is to have a right judgment in religious concerns ! The connection of this observation with the general subject arises from the propriety of considering the proper seasons, subjects, and effects of prayer. Here a right judgment is certainly requisite. If we do not well select the seasons of devotion, we shall be in danger of confusing one duty with another. A person must not be on his knees 4 M * when he ought to be actively employed in the needful business of the world ; neither should the lawful engagements of life detain him from the essential duties of devotion. Christian sagacity discovers itself by dividing time most profitably among various duties, all of which are most usefully performed when transacted separately; for if they are managed without regard to time and place, they are confounded, and, of course, done with no certain and permanent effect. That which at the present hour may be our first duty, may in the next assume the character of sin itself. But if things be regularly arranged, devotion will prepare for other duties, and the whole range of other duties will disF. to prayer. We must ever ear in mind, that as true religion properly enters into every thing, so all portions of a Christian's time, and all the engagements of his life, may be improved to his religious advantage. Every lawful application of time may, in its degree, be “sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” —It is also highly necessary to understand the proper topics of prayer. Here also is required a sound judgment. We must endeavour to find out with accuracy what our princial wants are, and not exhaust our devotion in asking for things of merely secondary importance. It is well to examine and understand the modes of sin peculiar to ourselves, even such as “easily beset us,” and harass us by temptations. Does not this examination of our inward character call for the exercise of a sound judgment?—Farther; inquire into the natural or just effects of prayer. If we find that an ability to utter the language of devotion with fluency, and a feeling of present pleasure, tends rather to puss us up with a high notion of our religious attainments; or, if we find, that when we have gone from the eloset to the world, our lives contradict our prayers; in either case, *ur petitions must be regarded as *rmál and insincere. We have

[graphic]

talked, it may be, not unwisely; but we come forth and join the circle of folly and hypocrisy. . On the other hand, if devotion lead us onward to humility, to dependance upon the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, to new and self-abasing convictions of our natural aversion from the gospel and cross of Christ; if our confessions have verily been “the sighings of a contrite heart,” and not the borrowed language and unmeaning general expressions of a mere speculatist in evangelical doctrine; if we retire from our devotions to the duties of our stations, as those who in truth desire to have “ the mind which was in Christ Jesus;” if we become more like him, and perseveringly desire to place ourselves under his guidance ; then, we pray in spirit, in sincerity, in a disposition already sanctified and deriving increase of sanctification by every exercise of godliness; we realize our prayers in our lives; our general duties help forward our devotion; our devotion prepares us for the active and industrious discharge of life's daily duties; prayer is heard and evidently answered; the divine life receives fresh supplies of vigour and vitality; the opening visions of the eternal world become brighter; and we are waiting for that period when the prayers of sinners passing through a rough and thorny state shall be exchanged for the songs of the redeemed before the throne of God and of the Lamb.

In religion, as in the most solid systems of this world’s philosophy, we are required to reason from effects to causes; and the rule applies with peculiar accuracy to the subject of this discourse. We have no need to go to the professors of a corrupt scheme of Christianity (that, for example, from which the Reformation separated our own communion), to understand the waywardness of the human mind in mistaking an act of devotion outwardly performed for a proof of religious sincerity; for this error is natural to man as man, and not as a convert to any human creed. We, perhaps, give ourselves credit for having fathomed the shallowness, and detected the pollution, of the streams which heresy has diverted from the Fountain of living waters ; and so far the credit may be our due. But from what depths, and from what unsullied streams, have we ourselves drunk! We may have complained of the miserable mistakes and reprobate lives of such persons as were educated by the priests and patrons of a secularised gospel, and have wondered how men could imagine their salvation or ruin to depend upon the heartless utterance of strange and superstitious prayers; but, oh, let us wonder at ourselves, that we can fluently speak the scripturally authorised periods of devotion, and nevertheless rise from our knees and mingle in the business and relaxations of life, as though our prayers were heartless too, and their language and doctrine also strange,and superstitious! We are as we live, and not as we pray : and our prayers, in regard to their truth and efficacy, are as we sustain what may be termed the character of the closet by extending the proper influence of devotion to the hourly concerns of life. Let us then look to ourselves. We have before us a proof of our spiritual sincerity. Our prayers, in their effects, are the test of our faith. An ancient father of the church (St. Augustine) confesses, that in his unconverted state he prayed that he might be cured of a certain sin ; but in the very act of supplication, he secretly hoped that God, in this instance, would not hear him. How useful is the lesson that may be drawn from this confession | And how seriously ought we to try and examine our own hearts, in order to acquaint ourselves, whether we really wish to have our petitions grauted, or miserably delude and quiet conscience by persuading ourselves that the mere utterance of a prayer is all the debt we owe ; and that if God will not remove our sins when we have once or twice asked him to

do so, we may be excused in his sight, even when we habitually practise them, and hurry from the confessions of the closet to the indulgence of passion and vanity. May we all be saved from this, and every other delusion, for Jesus Christ's sake, Amen.

For the Christian Observer. ON TrustiNG IN GOD.

The Re is a sonnet, in a collection of Italian poetry, by Muratori, which struck me, when I formerly read it, as eloquent and affecting. I do not recollect the words, and can give even the idea only imperfectly; but it is something of this sort: “Where shall I find a friend whose merits will never disappoint, and whose love never will forsake me 2 I have surveyed the world, and sought where my affections might repose. But some have forgotten me, some have proved faithless to my hopes, and some have been torn from me by death. Oh my Saviour, thou remainest always true, and for ever present with me!” The complaint of the poet expresses, perhaps, a little of the character which often belongs to persons of a very quick sensibility: it betrays a delicacy rather too refined, and a tone of feeling naturally somewhat disposed to sadness. Yet his sorrows were probably real; and the sentiment he utters, though slightly shaded with melancholy, is just, noble, and affecting. Such is the imperfection of human characters, and such the uncertainty of earthly blessings, that few probably pass even through a third part of life without witnessing the dissolution of some attachments which were once dear to them ; and none certainly can advance to a mature age without being sensible of a pang still more severe in a long and awful separation from those they love. Yet, in all our disappointments and sorrows, one Friend is still near to us, whose kindness is ever most wakeful when we most need it; who can neither forsake us from levity, nor be snatched away from us by death. It is indeed an unspeakable consolation, to every reflective and feeling mind, that, amidst all the changes and chances, the disappointments and vanities around us, there is One who is permanent and perfect. The idea of that awful Being, who is the Father of the universe and the Centre of all excellence, is so congenial to the human mind, that, even if it were impossible to prove his existence by reasonable inferences, I think we should be constrained to believe it from a necessity of finding something to sustain us under the sense of our weakness. For such a support, it is in vain that we look round upon each other. Every face is pale with the same fear; and the tongue of the wise, which should speak consolation, is faultering with i. confession of its own helplessmess. Take but God away, and the mighty vision around us is only a feverish dream;--a short, irregular, incomprehensible drama, of which man is at once the feeble actor and unmeaning spectator, “strutting his hour upon the stage,” and then vamishing for ever. But God, of his great goodness, has not suffered us to wander about in darkness. He has taught us, by the works of his providence, and by the word of his Spirit, “that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Nor is this all. To know indeed this alone, would have been an unspeakable privilege and blessing; it is more than the wisest discerned clearly in ancient days. Hut to us, the chosen seed, adopted and beloved in the Redeemer, God has revealed himself, not merely

as the Maker and Judge of the uni

verse; nay, not simply as its general Guardian and Benefactor: He has taught us to regard him as a reconciled Father; a watchful, tender, and unfailing Friend. This is the character he has vouchsafed in mercy to assume; to this blessed relation he invites us; a relation of dignity un

rivalled, of incomparable security, and ineffable happiness. He calls upon us to come to him with humble and thankful hearts; to place our whole confidence in him ; to believe that he really loves us, and act as if we believed it ; to accept, as freely as he offers it, the gift of everlasting life; and, casting away together our sins and our solicitude, to walk henceforth as children of a Parent who can never fail them,“ heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” Surely I need not stop to qualify what has been said. The God of purity can be approached only by the pure; and though all are freely addressed, they only may presume to trust in God as their Father, who have first learned to trust in Christ as their Saviour ; who have laid down the burden of their sins before the cross ; and received from their Redeemer, “ into an honest and good heart” the Spirit of sanctification. But “ leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ" (which, though, like other rudiments, the foundation of all knowledge, we ought not to be for ever employed in laying afresh), let us employ a few moments in contemplating more nearly the duty which I have inscribed as a title to this paper—the duty of trusting in God. Consider who it is that calls upon us to put our trust in him: “God, that made the earth, and all things that are therein.” In what language shall I presume to speak of him! The most extraordinary genius of modern times * never pronounc the awful name of God, without a pause. It is an idea which fills the mind at once, and which the highest natures will always contemplate with the profoundest rever, ence. As the most perfect optical instruments, enabling us to extend on every side the range of our vision, only discover new worlds and celes. tial wonders bursting upon our vo" in every direction through the illmitable regions of space; so when * Sir Isaac Newton,

« AnteriorContinuar »