« PreviousContinue »
serious meditation and earnest prayer it be jus in a posture for duty. If we desert the moulded into submission. A habit of ac- duty because an immediate blessing does not quiescence in the will of God, will so operate visibly attend it, it shows that we do not on the faculties of his mind, that even his serve God out of conscience, but selfishness: judgment will embrace the conviction, that that we grudge expending on him that serwhat he once so ardently desired, would not rice which brings us in no immediate interhave been that good thing, which his blind-est. Though he grant not our petition, let ness had conspired with his wishes to make us never be tempted to withdraw our applihim believe it to be. He will recollect the cation." many instances in which if his importunity Our reluctant devotions may remind us of had prevailed, the thing which ignorance the remark of a certain political wit, who requested, and wisdon denied, would have apologized for his late attendance in parliainsured his misery. Every fresh disappointment, by his being detained while a party ment will teach him to distrust himself, and of soldiers were dragging a volunteer to his to confide in God. Experience will instruct duty. How many excuses do we find for not him that there may be a better way of hear- being in time! How many apologies for ing our requests than that of granting them. brevity! How many evasions for neglect ! Happy for us that he to whom they are ad-How unwilling, too often, are we to come dressed knows which is best, and acts upon into the divine presence, how reluctarit to that knowledge,
remain in it! Those hours which are least
valuable for business, which are least seaStill lift for good the supplicating voice,
sonable for pleasure, we commonly give to But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice;
religion. (ur energies which were so exImplore his aid, in his decisions rest,
erted in the society we have just quitted, are Secure whate'er he gives, he gives the best.
sunk as we approach the divine presence, We should endeavour to render our pri-|Our hearts, which were all alacrity in some vate devotions effectual remedies for our own frivilous conversation, become cold and inparticular sins. Prayer against sin in ge- animate, as if it were the natural property neral is too indefinite to reach the individual of devotion to freeze the affections. Our
case. We must bring it home to our own animal spirits, which so readily performed , heart, else we may be confessing another their functions before, now slacken their viman's sins and overlooking our own. If we gour and lose their vivacity. The sluggish have any predominant fault, we should pray body sympathizes with the unwilling mind, more especially against that fault. If we and each promotes the deadness of the other; pray for any virtue of which we particularly both are slow in listening to the call of dus stand in need, we should dwell on our own ty; both are soon weary in performing it. deficiencies in that virtue, till our souls be- As prayer requires all the energies of the come deeply affected with our want of it. compound being of man, so we too often feel Our prayers should be circumstantial, not, as if there were a conspiracy of boiy,soul and as was before observed, for the information spirit, to disincline and disqualify us for it. of infinite wisdom, but for the stirring up of When the heart is once sincerely turned our own dull affections. And as the reca- to religion, we need not, every time we pray, pitulation of our wants tends to keep up a examine into every truth, and seek for consense of our dependence, the enlarging onviction over and over again ; but assume our especial mercies will tend to keep alive that those cloctrines are true, the truth of a sense of gratitude. While indiscriminate which we have already proved. From a petitions, confessions, and thanksgivings general and fixed impression of these prinleave the mind to wander in indefinite devo- ciples, will result a taste, a disposedness, a tion and unaffecting generalities, without love, so intimate, that the convictions of the personality and without appropriation. It understanding will become the affections of must be obvious that we except those grand the heart. universal points in which all have an equall Toʻbe deeply impressed with a few fundainterest, and which must always form the mental truths, to digest them thoroughly, to essence of public prayer.
meditate on them seriously, to pray over On the blessing attending importunity in them fervently, to get them deeply rooted in prayer, the Gospel is abundantly explicit. the heart, will be more productive of faith God perhaps delays to give that we may per- and holiness, than to labour after variety, severe in asking. He may require importu-ingenuity or elegance. The indulgence of nity for our own sakes, that the frequency imagination will rather distract than edify, and urgency of the petition may bring our Searching after ingenious thoughts will rahearts into that frame to which' he will be ther divert the attention from God to ourfavourable.
selves, than promote fixedness of thought, As we ought to live in a spirit of obedi- singleness of intention, and devotedness of ence to his commands, so we should live in spirit. Whatever is subtile and refined, is in a frame of waiting for his blessings on our danger of being unscriptural. If we do not prayers, and in a spirit of gratitude when guard the mind it will learn to wander in we have obtained it. This is that 'prepara-quest of novelties. It will learn to set more tion of the heart' which would always keep value on original thoughts than devout affections. It is the business of prayer to cast with the fluency, but even with the fervendown imaginations which gratify the natu-cy of our prayers. Vanity may grow out of ral activity of the mind, while they leave the very act of renouncing it, and we may the heart unhumbled.
begin to feel proud at having humbled ourWe should confine ourselves to the pre-sclves so eloquently. sent business of the present moment; we There is, however, a strain and spirit of should keep the mind in a state of perpetual prayer equally distinct from that facility and dependence; we should entertain no long copiousness for which we certainly are neviews. Now is the accepted time,'-' Tover the better in the sight of God, and from day we must hear his voice.'-'Give us this that constraint and dryness for which we day our daily bread.' The manna will not may be never the worse. There is a simkeep till to-morrow : to-morrow will have ple, solid, pious strain of prayer, in which its own wants, and must have its own peti- the supplicant is so filled and occupied with a tions, Tomorrow we must seek the bread sense of his own dependence, and of the imof heaven afresh.
portance of the things for which he asks, We should, however, avoid coming to our and so persuaded of the power and grace of devotions with unfurnished: minds. We God through Christ to give him those things, should be always laying in materials for that while he is engaged in it, he does not prayer, by a diligent course of serious read-merely imagine, but feels assured that God ing, by treasuring up in our minds the most is nigh to him as a reconciled Father, so important truths. If we rush into the divine that every burden and doubt are taken off presence with a vacant, or ignorant, or un- from his mind. He knows,'as Saint John prepared mind, with a heart full of the expresses it, that he has the petitions he world; as we shall feel no disposition or desired of God,' and feels the truth of that qualification for the work we are about to promise, while they are yet speaking I engage in, so we cannot expect that our pe- will hear.' This is the perfection of prayer. titions will be heard or granted. There must be some congruity between the heart and the object, some affinity between the state of our minds and the business in which they
CHAP. VI. are employed, if we would expect success in the work.
Cultivation of a Devotional Spirit. We are often deceived, both as to the principle and the effect of our prayers. To maintain a devotional spirit, two things When from some external cause the heart are especially necessary-habitually to culis glad, the spirits light, the thoughts ready, tivate the disposition, and habitually to avoid the tongue voluble, a kind of spontaneous whatever is unfavourable to it. Frequent cloquence is the result ; with this we are retirement and recollection are indispensapleased, and this ready flow we are willing ble, together with such a general course of to impose on ourselves for piety,
reading, as if it do not actually promote the On the other hand when the mind is de- spirit we are endeavouring to maintain, shall jected; the animal spirits low; the thoughts never be hostile to it. We should avoid as confused; when apposite words do not readi- much as in us lies all such society, all such ly present themselves, we are apt to accuse amusements, as excite tempers which it is our hearts of want of fervour, to lament our the daily business of a Christian to subdue, weakness, and to mourn that because we and all those feelings which it is his constat have had no pleasure in praying, our pray- I duty to suppress. ers have, therefore, not ascended to the And here may we venture toobscrve, that Girone of mercy. In both cases we perhaps if some things which are apparently indojudge ourselves unfairly. These unready ac-cent, and do not assume an alarming aspect, cents, these faltering praises, these ill ex- or bear a dangerous character; things which pressed petitions, may find more acceptance the generality of decorous people affirm, than the florid talk with which we were so (how truly we know not to be safe for them; well satisfied : the latter consisted, it may yet if we find that these things stir up in us b., of shining thoughts floating on the fancy, improper prosensities; if they awaken cliquent words dwelling only on the lips : thoughts which ought not to be excited; if the former was the sighing of a contrite they abate our love for religious exercises, heart, abased by the feeling of its own un- or infringe on our time for performing them; worthiness, and awed by the perfections of if they make spiritual concerns appear insi a holy and heart-searching God. The heart pid; if they wind our heart a little more is dissatisfied with its own dull and tasteless repetitions, which, with all their imperfec- Where is the favoured being whose attention peter tions, infinite goodness may perhaps hear/wanders, whose beart accompanies his lips in every se with favour, * We may not only be elated tence? Is there no absence of mind in the petitioner, 18
Juandering of the thoughts, no inconstancy of the heart? .. of this sort of repetitions, our admirable church which these repetitions are wisely calculated to cotteet liturgy has been accused as a fault; buị this defect, if to rouse the dead attention, to bring back the stray it be use, bappily accommodates itself to our infirmities. I affections.
about the world : in short, if we have for-them ; which while they elerate the desires, merly found them injurious to our own souls, purify them, which show us our own nature, then let no example or persuasion, no belief and lay open its corruptions. Such as show of their alleged innocence, no plea of their us the malignity of sin, the deceitfulness of perfect safety, tempt us to indulge in them. our hearts, the feebleness of our best resoluIt matters little to our security what they tions; such as teach us to pull off the mask are to others. Our business is with our- from the fairest appearances, and discover selves. Our responsibility is on our own every hiding place, where some lurking evil heads.-Others cannot know the side on would conceal itself; such as show us not which we are assailable. Let our own un- what we appear to others, but what we real
sjassed judgment determine our opinion ; ly are; such as co-operating with our intelet our own experience decide for our own rior feeling, and showing us our natural conduct.
state, point out our absolute need of a ReIn speaking of books, we cannot forbear deemer, lead us to seek to him for pardon noticing that very prevalent sort of reading. from a conviction that there is no other rewhich is little less productive of evil, little fuge, no other salvation. Let us be conless prejudicial to moral and mental im- versant with such writings as teach us that provement, than that which carries a more while we long to obtain the remission of our formidable appearance. We cannot confine transgressions, we must not desire the reour censure to those more corrupt writings mission of our duties. Let us seek for such which deprave the heart, debauch the ima- a Saviour as will not only deliver us from gination, and poison the principles. Of these the punishment of sin, but from its dominion the turpitude is so obvious, that no caution also. on this head, it is presumed, can be necessa- Ånd let us ever bear in mind that the end ry. But if justice forbids us to confound the of prayer is not answered when the prayer insipid with the mischievous, the idle with is finished. We should regard prayer as a the vicious, and the frivolous with the pro- means to a farther end. The act of prayer frigate, still we can only admit of shades, is not sufficient, we must cultivate a spirit of deep shades we allow, of difference. These prayer. And though when the actual devoworks, if comparatively harmless, yet de- tion is over, we cannot, amid the distracbase the taste, slacken the intellectual nerve, tions of company and business, always be let down the understanding, set the fancy thinking of heavenly things ; yet the desire, loose, and send it gadding among low and the frame, the propensity, the willingness to mean objects. They not only run away with return, to them we must, however difficult, the time which should be given to better endeavour to maintain. things, but gradually destroy all taste for bet- The proper temper for prayer should ter things. They sink the mind to their precede the act. The disposition should be own standard, and give it a sluggish reluc- wrought in the mind before the exercise is tance, we had almost said, a moral incapa- begun. To bring a proud temper to an humcity for every thing above their level. The ble prayer, a luxurious habit to a self-denymind, by long habit of stooping, loses its ing prayer, or a worldly disposition to a erectness, and yields to its degradation. It spiritually-minded prayer, is a positive anobecomes so low and narrow by the littleness maly. A habit is more powerful than an act, of the things which engage it, that it re- and a previously indulged temper during the quires a painful effort to lift itself high day will not, it is to be feared, be fully counenough, or to open itself wide enough to em-teracted by the exercise of a few minutes brace great and noble objects. The appe- devotion at night. tite is vitiated. Excess, instead of producing Prayer is designed for a perpetual renoa surfeit, by weakening the digestion, only vation of the motives to virtue ; if therefore induces a loathing for stronger nourishment. the cause is not followed by its consequence, The faculties which might have been ex-a consequence inevitable but for the impedipanding in works of science, or soaring in ments we bring to it, we rob our nature of ibe contemplation of genius, become satisfi- its highest privilege, and run the danger of ed with the impertinences of the most ordi- incurring a penalty where we are looking nary fiction, lose their relish for the severity for a blessing. of truth, the elegance of taste, and the so- That the habitual tendency of the life berness of religion. Lulled in the torpor of should be the preparation for the stated repose, the intellect doses, and enjoys in its prayer, is naturally suggested to us by our waking dream,
blessed Redeemer in his sermon on the
| Mount. He announced the precepts of hoAll the wild trash of sleep, without the rest.
| liness, and their corresponding beatitudes; In avoiding books which excite the pas- he gave the spiritual exposition of the law, sions, it would seem strange to include even the direction for alms-giving, the exhortasome devotional works. Yet such as mere- tion to love our enemies, nay the essence and lv kindle warm feelings, are not always the spirit of the whole Decaloguie, previous to hig safest. Let us rather prefer those, which, delivering his own divine prayer as a pattern while they tend to raise a devotional spirit, for ours. Let us learn from this that the awaken the affections without disordering preparation of prayer is therefore to live in Vol. I.
all those pursuits which we may safely beg cherish sensual ideas during the rest of the of God to bless, and in a conflict with all day, can they expect that none of these imathose temptations into which we pray not toges will intrude, that none uf these impresbe led.
sions will be revived, but that the temple If God be the centre to which our hearts into which foul things have been invited, are tending, every line in our lives must meet will be cleansed at a given moment ; that in him. With this point in view there will worldly thoughts will recede and give place be a harmony between our prayers and our at once to pure and holy thoughts? Will that practice, a consistency between devotion Spirit grieved by impurity, or resisted by and conduct, which will make every part levity, return with his warm beams and! turn to this one end, bear upon this one cheering influences, to the contaminated point. For the beauty of the Christian mansion from which he has been driven out? scheme consists not in parts (however good Is it wonderful if finding no entrance into a in themselves) which tend to separate views, heart filled with vanity he should withdraw and lead to different ends; but it arises from himself? We cannot, in retiring into our its being one entire, uniform, connected plan, closets, change our natures as we do our *compacted of that which every joint, sup-clothes. The disposition we carry thither plietli,' and of which all the parts terininate will be likely to remain with us. We have in this one grand ultimate point.
no right to expect that a new temper will The design of prayer therefore as we be- meet us at the door. We can only hope fore observed, is not merely to make us de- that the spirit we bring thither will be cbevout while we are engaged in it, but that its rished and improved. It is not easy, rather odlour may be diffused through all the inter- it is not possible, to graft genuine devotici mediate spaces of the day, enter into all its on a life of an opposite tendency ; nor can occupations, duties and tempers. Nor must we delight ourselves regularly for a few staits results he partial, or limited to easy and ted moments, in that God whom we bare pleasant duties, but extend to such as are not been serving during the day. We may less alluring. When we pray, for instance, indeed to quiet our conscience, take to the for our enemies, the praver must be render- employment of prayer, but cannot take up ed practical, must be made a means of sof-the state of mind which will make the entening our spirit, and cooling our resent-ployment beneficial to ourselves, or the ment toward them. If we deserve their en- prayer acceptable to God, if all the previous mity, the true spirit of prayer will put us day we have been careless of ourselves, and upon endeavouring to cure the fault which unmindful of our Maker. They will not has excited it. If we do not deserve it, it pray differently from the rest of the world, will put us on striving for a placable temper, who do not live differently. and we shall endeavour not to let slip so fa- What a contradiction is it to lament the vourable an occasion of cultivating it. There weakness, the misery, and the corruption of is no such softener of animosity, no such our nature, in our devotions, and then to soother of resentment, no such allayer of ha- rush into a life, though not perhaps of vice, tred, as sincere, cordial prayer,
yet of indulgence, calculated to increase It is obvious, that the precept to pray that weakness, to inflame those corruption, without ceasing can never mean to enjoin a and to lead to that misery! There is either continual course of actual prayer. But no meaning to our prayers, or no sense in while it more directly enjoins us to embrace our conduct. In the one we mock God, in all proper occasions of performing this sa- the other we deceive ourselves. cred duty, or rather of claiming this valua-! Will not he who keeps up an habitual ir ble privilege, so it plainly implies that we tercourse with his Maker, who is vigilant is should try to keep up constantly that sense thought, self-denying in action, who strives of the divine presence which shall maintain to keep his heart from wrong desires, his the disposition. In order to this, we should mind from vain imaginations, and his bija inure our minds to reflection ; we should en- from idle words, bring a more prepared spicourage serious thoughts. A good thought rit, a more collected mind, be more en barely passing through the mind will make gaged, more penetrated, more present to little impression on it. We must arrest it, the occasion ? Will he not feel more deligt constrain it to remain with us, expand, am- in this devout exercise, reap more benet: plify, and as it were, take it to pieces, it from it, than he who lives at random, prays must be distinctly unfolded, and carefully from custom, and who, though he dares til examined, or it will leave no precise idea : intermit the form, is a stranger to its sp it must be fixed and incorporated, or it will rit? () God my heart is ready,' cannot be produce no practical effect. We must not lawfully uttered by him who is no more prt dismiss it till it has left some trace on the pared. mind, till it has made some impression on We speak not here to the self-sufficient the heart.
| formalist, or the careless profligate. Amoc. On the other hand, if we give the reins to those whom we now take the liberty to 80a loose ungoverned fancy, at other times; if dress, are to be found, especially in the high we abandon our minds to frivolous thoughts; er class of females, the amiable and their if we fill them with corrupt images; if we teresting, and in many respects the virtit:
and correct; Characters so engaging, sollabour after any grace, that of prayer for inevidently made for better things, so capable stance, without resisting whatever is oppoof reaching high degrees of excellence, so site to it. If then we lament, that it is so formed to give the tone to Christial practice, hard to serve God, let us not by our conduct as well as to fashion; so calculated to give a furnish arguments against ourselves; for, as beautiful impression on that religion which if the difficulty were not great enough in itthey profess without sufficiently adoring ; self, we are continually heaping up mounwhich they believe without fairly exempli- tains in our way, by indulging in such purfying ; that we cannot forbear taking a ten- suits and passions, as make a small labour der interest in their welfare; we cannot for- an insurmountable one. bear breathing a fervent prayer that they But we may often judge better of our may yet reach the elevation for which they state by the result, than by the act of praywere intended; that they may hold out a uni- er. Our very defects, our coldness, deadform and consistent pattern, of whatsoever ness, wanderings, may leave more contrition things are pure, honest, just, lovely, and of on the soul than the happiest turn of thought. good report !' This the Apostle goes on to The teeling of our wants, the confession of intimate can only be done by THINKING ON our sins, the acknowledgment of our depenTHESE THINGS.' Things can only influence dence, the renunciation of ourselves, the supour practice as they engage our attention. plication for mercy, the application to the Would not then a confirmed habit of serious fountain opened for sin,'the cordial entreaty thought tend to correct that inconsideration, for the aid of the Spirit, the relinquishment which we are willing to hope, more than of our own will, resolutions of better obediwant of principle, lies at the bottom of the ence, petitions that these resolutions may be inconsistency we are lamenting.
directed and sanctified ; these are the subIf, as is generally allowed, the great diffi-jects in which the suppliant should be engaculty of our spiritual lite is to make the fu-ged, by which his thoughts should be absorture predominate over the present, do we bed. Can they be so absorbed, if many of not by the conduct we are regretting, ag- the intervening hours are passed in pursuits gravate what it is in our power to diminish ? of a totally different complexion ; pursuits Miscalculation of the relative value of things which raise the passions which we are seekis one of the greatest errors of our moral ing to allay? Will the cherished vanities go life. We estimate them in an inverse pro- at our bidding? Will the required disposiportion to their value, as well as to their du- tions come at our calling? Do we find our ration: we lavish earnest and durable tempers so obedient, our passions so obsequithoughts on things so trilling, that they de- ous in the other concerns of life? If not, serve little regard, so brief, that they'perish what reason have we to expect their obsequiwith the using,' while we bestow only slight ousness in this grand conceri). We should attention on things of infinite worth, only therefore endeavour to believe as we pray, transient thoughts on things of eternal dura- to think as we pray, to feel as we pray, and tion.
to act as we pray. Prayer must not be a Those who are so far conscientious as not solitary, independent exercise ; but an exerto intermit a regular course of devotion, and cise interwoven with many, and inseparably who yet allow themselves at the same time connected with that golden chain of Christo go on in a course of amusements, which tian duties, of which, when so connected, it excite a directly opposite spirit, are incon- forms one of the most important links. ceivably augmenting their own difficulties. Business however must have its period as
They are eagerly heaping up fuel in the well as devotion. We were sent into this day, on the fire which they intend to extin- world to act as well as to pray; active duguish in the evening; they are voluntarily tics must be performed as well as devout exadding to the temptations, against which ercises. Even relaxation must have its inthey mean to request grace to struggle. terval, only let us be careful that the indulTo acknowledge at the same time, that we gence of the one do not destroy the effect of find it hard to serve God as we ought, and the other ; that our pleasures do not enyet to be systematically indulging habits, croach on the time or deaden the spirit of which must naturally increase the difficul- our devotions : let us be careful that our ty, makes our characters almost ridiculous, cares, occupations, and amusements may be while it renders our duty almost impracti- always such that we may not be afraid to cable.
implore the divine blessing on them ; this is While we make our way more difficult the criterion of their safety and of our duty. by those very indulgences with which we Let us endeavour that in each, in all, one think to cheer and refresh it, the determin- continually growing sentiment and feeling, ed Christian becomes his own pioneer : he of loving, serving, and pleasing God, mainmakes his path easy by voluntarily clearing tain its predominant station in the heart, it of the obstacles which impede his pro- An additional reason why we should live gress.
in the perpetual use of prayer, seems to be, These habitual indulgences seem a con- that our blessed Redeemer after having tradiction to that obvious law, that one vir- given both the example and the command, tue always involves another; for we cannot while on Caith, condescends still to be our