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manner than when it is hardened and puffed up with pride and vanity. A deep sense of our ignorance disposes us to attend to, and follow every ray of light, how small soever; whereas pride of understanding shuts out the light, and turns away the attention from it. We should therefore consider prayer, and exercise ourselves in it, as the great means appointed by God for drawing down that wisdom from above, which is necessary to guide us to our higher country, and to settle us in eternal rest and happiness in our Father's house.
3. True devotion raises the human soul to an uncommon pitch of grandeur and elevation. The mind of man seems to adapt itself to the different nature of the objects with which it is conversant. It is contracted and debased by being employed in low and little things, and it is proportionally enlarged and exalted by the contemplation of those things which are great and sublime. The perfections of the Deity, his universal and eternal providence, the excellence of virtue and of those general laws of God which are the foundation and support of the order, the beauty, and the happiness of his whole rational kingdom; the dignity and immortality of the human soul, whereby it is capable of vast and endless improvements; these are objects of such a striking and exalted nature, that they must ennoble and enlarge the mind employed in contemplating them. All worldly and
transitory things must appear unworthy the love and pursuit of that soul which is raised above all created things, and which aspires to, and pursues that happiness which arises from the love, the resemblance, and enjoyment of the great Creator of all. There is no greatness of mind equal to that which springs from the divine ambition of aiming at a resemblance of God, and from the glorious hope of seeing him as he is, in some future period of existence. Now are we the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when" he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.'
3. True devotion gives a wonderful strength and firmness to the soul which is under the full power and influence of it. That man must adhere with inviolable constancy to whatever is good or great in life, who is animated with the hope of the Divine approbation, and who relies with assured confidence on the friendship, protection, and assistance of the great ruler of all things. No difficulties, no dangers, can terrify him who has that great being on his side, the sole, the sovereign disposer of all events. No temptations of pleasure or profit can allure him who trusts in an almighty friend, able to make him happy, in ten thousand methods, beyond what he can conceive. Every worldly thing vanishes at the presence of Him, before whom the world is as nothing, less than nothing, and vanity.
Even death itself is stripped of all its terrors to the pious man, when it is considered only as a removing that veil of flesh which interposes betwixt him and the invisible world; nay, death itself is desirable, as it discloses new scenes of wonder and delight, and admits the devout soul to the more immediate
presence of God, where there are rivers of pleasure for evermore.
The advantages which religious retirement affords us, are plainly such as these ; that it unites and fixes our scattered thoughts; places us out of the reach of the most dangerous temptations; frees us from the insinuating contagion of ill examples, and hushes and lays asleep those troublesome passions, which are the great disturbers of our repose and happiness.
A dissipation of thought is the natural and unavoidable effect of our conversing much in the world, where we cannot help squandering away a great deal of our time upon useless objects, of no true worth in themselves, and of no real concern to us. We roll on in a circle of vain, empty pleasures, and are delivered over from one slight amusement to another, ever seemingly very busy, and ever really very idle ; and applying ourselves without respite to that which it becomes us to neglect, and utterly neglectful of that one thing necessary, which it becomes us most to pursue. This gives us by degrees such a levity and wantonness of spirit, as refuses admittance to all serious thoughts, and renders us incapable of reflection; makes our closet a terrible place to us, and solitude a burthen. To retrieve ourselves from this vain, roving, distracted way of thinking and living, it is necessary to retire frequently, and to converse much with what we above all things love, and yet above all things hate to converse with, ourselves; to inure our minds to recollection, to fix them on the greatest and most concerning objects, those which religion suggests, and which will, by their importance, deserve, and engage and command, our attention, till the busy swarm of vain images that beset us be thoroughly dispersed, and the several scattered rays of thought, by being thus collected together, do by little and little, warm our frozen hearts, and at last produce an holy flame.
The expedience of retirement is yet greater, as it removes us out of the way of the most pressing and powerful temptations that are incident to human nature. Ye all know by experience, that these meet us most frequently in society, where our senses, the great inlets of temptation, are most awakened, and tempting objects, by their number and nearness make the most vivid and lasting impression upon us. Indeed, there is no place, no state or scene in life, that hath not its proper and peculiar temptations; even solitude itself is not without them; but they are few and faint, in comparison with those to which our appearance on the great stage of the world exposes us; and whenever they attack us in our recesses, they do, or may, find us prepared and upon our guard ; we are then at leisure to encounter them, and have helps near at hand, which, if made use of, will enable us to decline or baffle them. Whereas, in public we are merely passive to such impressions, which strike our minds so violently, and succeed each other so fast, that we have no opportunity, no strength, no inclination, almost, to withstand them.
The great risk which virtue runs in company, is, from the neighbourhood of ill examples, which are of so contagious a nature, that, if we live much amongst them, we shall as surely be corrupted by them, as he that often breathes in ill air, will at last partake of the infection. It is dangerous for the most innocent person in the world to be too frequently and nearly a witness to the commission of vice and folly. Such views lessen the natural horror we have for such actions, and render the thoughts of them more familiar and less displeas