« AnteriorContinuar »
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
moral government, a nation is as one man, and one man as a whole nation. He punishes vice, and he rewards virtue, in both ; and whatever is agreeable to wisdom and equity in the case of a nation, is likewise agreeable to wisdom and equity with respect to individuals. Supposing, therefore, that the cases are exactly similar, I shall, in discoursing from these words, 1. State the case with as much exactness as I can ; 2. Show the probability and danger of it with respect to human nature; and, 3. Consider the equity and propriety of it with respect to to God, applying the whole doctrine to the cases of individuals. In the first place, I am to state this case with as much exactness as I can. In general, when any person is in the condition of Ephraim, in my text, so that God shall, as it were, say of him, “he is joined to idols,” (he is joined to his lusts and vices,) “Let him alone,” his day of trial and probation may be said to be, to all important purposes, expired. He is no longer a subject of moral government, because he is utterly incapable of amendment, which is the end of all moral discipline; and though, through the goodness of God, which is over all his works, he may live many years longer, yet his final doom is in reality fixed; his sentence is irrevocable, and the execution of it only deferred. Not that the reformation of any sinner is ever naturally impossible, or that, if he truly repent, he shall not find favor at the hand of God: for “nothing is impossible with God,” and “a truly humble, penitent, and contrite heart he will never despise, whenever, and wheresoever he finds it. But the change may be morally impossible, or not to be expected according to the usual course of things; and this is sufficient to authorize us to make use of the language. Supposing a man to have lived so long in the habits of vice, as to have lost all relish for every thing that is good, that he has no pleasure in the company of the sober, the virtuous, and the pious, but only in that of those who are as abandoned as himself, and that the greatest satisfaction he has is in corrupting others, (and farther than this depravity cannot go;) supposing that, in the course of his life, this man, besides every advantage for instruction, had experienced a great variety of prosperity and adversity; and yet that prosperity, instead of making him more thankful and obedient to God, made him forget him the more; and that afflictions, instead of softening and bettering his heart, only served to harden it and make it worse. Do I say that this abandoned wretch cannot be reformed, that God cannot, by any methods whatever, work upon his heart, and bring him to serious thought and reflection ? By no means. That would be to limit the power of God, to whom all things are possible. He can work miracles, if he should think proper so to do. But then I say this would be a proper miracle, such as, at this day, we are not authorized to expect. And judging by what we see actually to take place, and what we must conclude to be just and right, God may, and probably will, leave such a one to himself. He may determine to try him no longer by any of those methods of his providence which are usually employed for the purpose of reclaiming sinners. For instance, afflictions, and especially bodily sickness, are a great means of softening and bettering the minds of men; but God may resolve that he shall be visited with no remarkable sickness, till he be overtaken with his last; or he may cut him off by a sudden and unexpected death, in the midst of his crimes. The death of our friends, or any calamities befalling them, have often been the means, in the hands of Divine Providence, of bringing to serious thought and reflection those who have survived those strokes; but God may resolve never to touch him in so tender a part, but rather make use of his death as a warning and example to others. Now when a man is thus left of God, and no providential