« AnteriorContinuar »
DIVERSITIES OP RELIGIOUS PROGRESS.
I take up my subject where I left it; hoping that, by the time this arrives, you will have been able to give a good deal of attention to what I have already offered. Yet it is not my expectation, or my wish, that you should hurry through any of these letters; but that you should meditate frequently on their contents, and observe how far they are applicable to your own experience.
It is an important subject for inquiry-and to this single point I will devote the whole of my present letter—Why some young persons grow well, and others grow ill, in the Divine Life. The kind of training they receive from others, and the manner in which they manage themselves, may in a good degree account for these diversities of growth. I have known some, who were unduly pushed forward by over-anxious parents or friends; who were taught to speak and look religiously; and who even have received the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ; but who, when they afterwards declined from this hopeful beginning, have confessed, that what they did, they did to please their parents. Others have felt, during their preparation for Confirmation, or for the first partaking of the Lord's Supper, so overpowered with religious emotions, that they have imagined there was now little more to do than to remain religious; unconscious that they could not keep up the same degree of fervour long together, and not understanding the necessity of a quiet, practical advance in holiness.
But all this seems more like a description of those who have ceased to grow in grace ;who did run well, but have been hindered, and even thrown out of their course. The question proposed was, rather, why some grow well, others ill, in the Divine Life. This question cannot be fully answered but by each individual for himself; for it has much to do with the secret exercises of the heart, in the closet. If, when we have regular opportunities for quiet devotion, we do not prize them and profit by them, we shall most certainly dwindle in our growth. To this single consideration, pri
marily, the favourable or unfavourable character of our piety is to be attributed. In a word, the healthiness of our piety bears a direct proportion to the faithfulness of our secret prayers.
A flourishing growth in piety is also much connected with steadiness of purpose, in aiming at habitual consistency. Those who are often changing their views, following the impulse of new feelingsled, now by one book or preacher, and now by another-are not likely to make good progress. I would compare them to some poor unhappy flower, which a child plants in his little garden-plat, but which he pulls up, and transplants every day, to see how it is growing—often handling it, propping it up, watering it, fancying that it wants, now more sun, now more shade: but, alas! with all his contrivances, the flower does not thrive, because he does not give it time to take root. In like manner, a changeable person cannot flourish in his graces : he is not settled enough in his heart, to let them grow vigorously.
This fickleness is at times further influenced by disadvantageous circumstances. The Minister under whom once we profited, may be removed, or may die; or our own abode, and relative position, may be changed, in some respects not for the better. We are so much affected by all outward things, that these vicissitudes alter the character of most persons. Yet some there are, who, in the eddy of events, still remain steadfast. The reason of which is, that they keep close to the true centre of the soul, Jesus, and his word: they abide in that word, and the word in them. They are regular in their approaches to the throne of grace: thus a perpetual dew descends upon them, and the warmth of grace glows within them. As by scanty knowledge, and feeble devotion, the soul must pine: so, on the other hand, it must grow vigorous, when it is strengthened by frequent prayer, and when the word of Christ dwells in it richly in all wisdom.
But among outward circumstances, there is not one that more certainly corrupts the heart, than the praise of our fellow-creatures; more particularly, praise for being religious. Nothing can be more injudicious than such commendation. As soon as a young person fancies himself noticed and admired for his seriousness, he is immediately in the greatest danger. He may then be tempted to seek his own honour, and not live to the glory of God only. No longer weighing himself according to his real character before God, but, in some degree at least, estimating himself according to the partial opinions and injudicious praises of those who cannot know him thoroughly, his inmost soul may begin to conceive selfflattery. Thus the worm of pride gnawing at the root, the plant cannot thrive : all the sunshine and dews of heaven are lost upon it. On the contrary, they who grow well, grow slowly: they are modest, retiring, unambitious, genuine. If they hear their own praises, they are surprised at the sound; for it is a very different sound from that of the prayers, sighs, self-renouncing vows, and acts of humiliation, by which they commune with God in secret. They believe God and their own conscience, more than mistaken men. They are convinced that their humbler feelings are the most genuine characteristic of a healthy piety. They avoid a talking religion: they judge of themselves by their conduct, and by the settled habit of their dispositions,