« ÎnapoiContinuă »
good ensues; very great and important good, compared with the cases, in which they do
not operate; yet not all the good we would desire, not all which is attainable, not all which we ought to aim at, in our christian course. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but calling it the beginning implies that we ought to proceed further; namely, from his fear to his love.
To apply this distinction to the subject before us; the man, who serves God from a dread of his displeasure, and, therefore, in a certain sense by constraint, is, beyond all comparison, in a better situation, as touching his salvation, than he, who defies this dread, and breaks through this constraint. He, in a word, who obeys, from whatever motive his obedience springs, provided it be a religious motive, is of a character, as well as in a condition, infinitely preferable to the character and condition of the man, whom no motives whatever can induce to perform his duty. Still it is true, that if he feels not within himself a taste and relish for the service, which he performs,
(to say nothing of the consideration, how much less acceptable his service may be,) and for devotion itself, he wants one satisfactory evidence of his heart being right towards God. A further progress in religion will give him this evidence, but it is not yet attained: as yet, therefore, there is a great deficiency.
The taste and relish for devotion, of which we are speaking, is what good men, in all ages, have felt strongly. It appears in their history: it appears in their writings. The book of Psalms, in particular, was, great part of it, composed under the impression of this principle. Many of the psalms are written in the truest spirit of devotion, and it is one test of the religious frame of our own minds to observe whether we have a relish for these compositions; whether our hearts are stirred as we read them; whether we perceive in them words alone, a mere letter, or so many grateful gratifying sentiments towards God, in unison with what we ourselves feel, or have before felt. And what we are saying of the book of Psalms, is true of many religious books, that are put N 2
into our hands, especially books of devotional religion: which, though they be human compositions, and nothing more, are of a similar cast with the devotional writings of scripture, and excellently calculated for their purpose.* We read of aged persons, who passed the greatest part of their time in acts of devotion, and passed it with enjoyment. "Anna, the prophetess, was of great age, which departed not from the temple but served God with fastings and prayers, night and day." The first christians so far as can be gathered from their history in the acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, as well as from the subsequent accounts, that are left of them, took great delight in exercises of devotion. These seemed to form, indeed, the
Amongst these I particularly recommend the prayers and devotions annexed to the new Whole Duty of Man. Bishop Burnet, in speaking of such kind of books, very truly says, "By the frequent reading of these books, by the relish that one has in them, by the delight they give, and the effects they produce, a man will plainly perceive, whether his soul is made for divine matters or not; what suitableness there is between him and them, and whether he is yet touched with such a sense of religion, as to be capable of dedicating himself to it."
principal satisfaction of their lives in this world. "Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread," that is, celebrat
ing the holy communion, from house to house, they eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God." In this spirit christians set out, finding the greatest gratification, they were capable of, in acts and exercises of devotion. A great deal of what is said in the new Testament, by St. Paul in particular, about "rejoicing in the Lord, rejoicing in the Holy Ghost, rejoicing in hope, rejoicing in consolation, rejoicing in themselves, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing," refer to the pleasure and the high and spiritual comfort, which they found in religious exercises. Much, I fear, of this spirit is fled. There is a coldness in our devotions, which argues a decay of religion amongst us. Is it true that men, in these days, perform religious exercises as frequently as they ought? or as those did, who have gone before us, in the christian course? that is one question to be asked: but there is also another question of still greater importance, viz. do
they find in these performances that gratification, which the first and best disciples of the religion actually found? which they ought to find, and which they would find, did they possess the taste and relish, concerning which we are discoursing, and which if they do not possess, they want one great proof of their heart being right towards God.
If the spirit of prayer, as it is sometimes called, if the taste and relish for devotion, if a devotional frame of mind be within us, it will shew itself in the turn and cast of our meditations, in the warmth, and earnestness, and frequency of our secret applications to God in prayer; in the deep, unfeigned, heart-piercing, heart-sinking sorrow of our confessions and our penitence; in the sincerity of our gratitude and of our praise; in our admiration of the divine bounty to his creatures; in our sense of particular mercies to ourselves. We shall much in secret. We shall address ourselves to