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By this discipline of the heart, you will learn what St. Paul means by “the sin which doth so easily beset us." For every one of us has some sin, into which he more readily falls, than into other sins: and every heart must know its own burden and plague:
There is one thing that hinders many from dealing honestly with their consciences : they fear, that if they should know the worst of themselves, they would be tempted to despair of the mercy of God. This I have already, in a measure, alluded to, in my Letter on Temptation. This fear is a manifest snare of the devil. The use we ought to make of our knowledge of our own sins and depravity, is, to be led thereby to partake more eagerly of the water of life—to magnify the free grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hourly offers us pardon and peace, through his blood. We should be stirred up, also, tó greater diligence and watchfulness in our holy warfare: for we shall be beset by sins, new or old, to our dying day. But Jesus says, “ My grace is sufficient for thee.” Going over the old ground of Self-examination will perfect us in these two lessons; teaching us both to renounce all dependence on ourselves, and also to look for all in Christ. It will lead us to holiness in the right way—the way of humility and faith.
I would caution all, against getting into a speculative, dreaming, nervous manner of selfexamination. Some pore over their own characters so long and so sensitively, as to render their hearts quite miserable, and almost helpless. Perhaps one of the soundest methods is, to fix your view on some text of Scripture which you had made the rule of the day; or on some duty or duties which you know you had to perform. Dealing calmly and faithfully with yourself, you may in a few minutes learn how your heart and conduct stand in those particulars. At certain stated times, also, bring under review many of these particulars, so as to form a more enlarged estimate of your real state. But beware of a rambling, irregular course of thoughts in self-examination; for such a turn of mind is particularly ensnaring at such a time. We go on, musing and musing, till we forget what we were thinking about. When self-examination degenerates into a sentimental reverie, break off at once; and close with humble prayer. Then, rouse yourself to action. It is a most important duty, to forbid the rambling of the imagination, and diligently to cultivate close thought and vigorous exertion.
It may be well also to suggest the wisdom of not thinking on Self too long together : it is tó fanciful persons very fascinating, but it is very enervating to the mind, and sometimes betrays them into strange notions of self-importance. View self-examination as a business in which you should be faithful and decisive: and when, by knowing yourself, you have found out your misery, then quickly turn to the Saviour, for fresh supplies of his pardoning and renewing grace.
I remain, faithfully yours, &c. LETTER VI.
On the subject of Prayer, it would be more easy for me to write you a volume, than a letter. There are, however, so many good Treatises on this subject, that I may with safety be brief; confining myself to a very few remarks, such as I deem most suited to your present state.
1. In the first place, as to the portion of time allotted to prayer, I am sensible that your opportunities may be occasionally interrupted by school-hours, or by duties that sometimes run out into a greater length than usual, or by the presence of school-fellows who may be noisy and troublesome. To all this I would say, for your encouragement, that if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, not according to what he hath not. It may be impracticable for you to keep up to those exact rules which some books on this subject recommend, placed as you are in circumstances not under your controul: but keep to them so far as you can: never let yourself off, by idle excuses. Especially, guard against í alse shame; and quietly, yet courageously, be attentive to regular prayer. And when you have more free and unobserved opportunities of devotion, seek for grace fully to improve them. I believe that some young persons have desired the period when they should leave School for College, or for other situations, in the hope that they should then have time and retirement a little more at their own command, for private devotions. Happy for them, if, when that period arrives, they improve it to this golden advantage! Meantime, use faithfully such opportunities as you have; put a force upon yourself for this end; and remember, that even in the course of the day, beside morning and evening prayers, you may often ejaculate a short petition to God, whose ears are always open to your cry.