Page images
PDF
EPUB

humble and sincere, there is little doubt but we shall experience the truth of that comfortable declaration: “ Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and ye shall find.” · What said the wisdom of pagan antiquity, on the means of securing PEACE or tranquility ? Much that was plausible; little to the purpose. · It was the advice of an antient philosopher: “ Sub“ ject yourself to reason, and you shall be reduced “ to no other subjection.” Experience, however, has evinced, that human reason, under a variety of circumstances, is too weak and fallible to be depended upon, for the full security of human happiness. What he vainly attributed to reason, may with justice be ascribed to religion. Religion, duly understood, and duly attended to, is capable of giving much of that freedom from passion and perturbation, to which philosophy in vain pretended. Not that I mean to arrogate too much, or claim more than truth and experience will allow, even in favour of religion. While man preserves the nature which God gave him, he must continue subject to the transient impulse of those sensations from external objects which excite passion, and disturb repose. · All I contend for is, that religion, VITAL RELIGION, the religion of the HEART, is the most powerful auxiliary of reason, in waging war with the passions, and promoting that sweet composure which constitutes the peace of God. Reason may point out what is right, but she wants AUTHORITY in the minds of most men, to enforce obedience to her commands. Here religion steps in with majestic mien, and gives the sanction of a law to the dictates of discretion.

I recommend, therefore, to him who wishes to obtain the peace of God, a diffidence in human reason, however strong by nature, and however improved by study. A confidence in it leads to that pride which God resisteth. But I mean this diffidence to be chiefly confined to the operations of reason in religious disquisitions. Things above reason are not to be rejected as contrary to reason, but to be received with a reverential awe, and a devout submission of the understanding to the God who gave it.

He, then, who wishes to tranquillize his bosom, must have recourse to more powerful medicines than those of an empirical philosophy. Philosophy has been tried, from the earliest ages to the present hour, with little success. Philosophy is cold and inactive. She may influence and direct the understanding; but she cannot warm the affections with the love of God and virtue. SENTIMENT is necessary to impel the heart, to guide or regulate even the virtuous passions; and no sentiment is so efficacious for this purpose as the devotional. The word of God, as the strong language of scripture expresses it, is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heari.

From the shallow streams of philosophy, we must hasten to the living fountain of the Christian religion. It is the influence of God on the heart of man, the divine operation of the Holy Spirit on the spirit of human creatures, which alone can bestow a permanent tranquility; that peace of God, which passeth all understanding; that peace, which no human eloquence can clearly explain; which no human sagacity can, by its own unassisted efforts, procure; but which the devout heart of the believer feels with joy and gratitude.

This is the polar influence which can alone fix the tremulous needle, and point it directly to Heaven; streaming into the heart of man an emanation of divinity.

Let us then take a view of the fruits of the Spirit, as they are beautifully described by the Apostle. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.—These lovely virtues have a natural tendency to produce equanimity, self-possession, a serene, placid, delightful frame of mind, such as the sages of old conceived, indeed, but could not either procure or communicate. These make an earth a Heaven, and render it evident, beyond a doubt, that the true Christian, after all the boasts of the gay voluptuary, is the real MẠN OF PLEASURE.

The worldly man of pleasure is indeed, for the most part, a man of pleasure only in name. His pains, upon the whole, greatly outweigh his pleasures; or his insensibility, contracted by excess, leaves him in the midst of all that luxury can spread before him, in a state very remote from the enjoyments of the temperate, humble, and sincere believer.

It would not be right to describe things in a declamatory and rhetorical manner, so as to violate the truth of representation, for the sake of maintaining .even the cause of religion, But experience will justify me in asserting, that the numerous tribes in the gay and elevated circles, who pursue happiness in dissipation only, and never think of God, but to swear with levity by his name, exhibit many external signs of singular irritation, and public misery. They appear to have no resources in their own bosom. They depend on precarious externals, on the will and co-operation of others, for all their pleasures. CHANGE OF PLACE is their grand remedy for their uneasy sensations*. Like a sick man,

* Lucretius well describes this restlessness:

Commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit.
Exit scepe foras magnis ex ædibus ille.
Esse Jomi quem pertæsum est, subitoque revertit; .
Quippe foris nibilo melius qui sentiat esse.
Currit agens mannos ad villam; hic praecipitentur

who turns from sids to side on his bed, in hope of that sleep which his fever denies, they fly to various scenes of public resort, in the midst of amusements, unamused; in the midst of pleasure, unpleased; and reluctantly return to their home, where God has given them a good inheritance. They have used, or rather abused, all their comforts. They are glutted with pleasure. Nothing has the grace of novelty to recommend it. Behold their dissatisfied countenances, and their artificial smiles, to hide them at the gay places of public amusement. Their appetite grown dull, this world affording no new joy, and the next never in their thoughts, they are, at first, the slaves of folly, and, at last, the victims of despair.

How different is it with him who has happily been tinctured with religion in his early age, and learned to seek, as his chief good, “ the peace of God, which pass“ eth all understanding?” Great peace have they that love thy law*. I do not affirm that the Christian religion pretends, like the arrogant philosophy of the stoics, to place man out of the reach of evil, or to render him insensible of misery. A certain portion of evil and misery is to be the lot of every mortal; and wise purposes are effected by chastisement, when suffered to operate in its regular manner in the production of humility, godly sorrow, repentance, and amendment. But this I say, and am justified in the assertion by the scriptures of God, and by the experience of many pious

Auxilium tectis quasi ferre ardentibus instans :
Oscitat extemplo, tetigit cum limina villæ.
Aut abit in somnum gravis ; atque oblivia quærit;
Aut etiam properans urbem petit, atque revisit.
Hoc se quisque modo fugit: at, quod scilicet, ut fit,
Effugere haud potis est, ingratis bæret, et angit.'

LUCRETIUS * Psalm cxix, 165. .. ..

bélievers, there is nothing which can lessen the evils of life so much, or teach a man to bear them with such fortitude, as a full dependence on God, and a habit of seeking pleasure in warm yet rational devotion. It will ever be found by those who thus seek it faithfully.

It is not, indeed, to be believed, but that God, whose Providence superintends the animal and vegetable world, and the inanimate creation, should watch over the-spiritual with peculiar care, and conduct it by his immediate influence. A soul, therefore, which, by piety and charity, humbly endeavours to obey the revealed will of God, and to render itself acceptable to the eye which is too pure to behold iniquity without offence, will probably be sure of peculiar regard. No evil so great shall happen to it; no misfortune so heavy shall befall it, but that a way to escape shall be opened, or a supernatural power of bearing it afforded. A ray of sunshine will beam upon it from the fountain of spiritual light, when the world presents nothing but dark clouds. Like the Alpine mountain, the good and devout Christian rises above the clouds, and enjoys a glorious sunshine, which erring mortals below him cannot partake. He who enjoys the peace of God, may be said to resemble the halcyon, whose nest floats on the glassy sea, undisturbed by the agitation of the waves.

Men deem themselves fortunate in obtaining the patronage of a fellow-creature like themselves, elevated by the favour of a prince or by his own industry, above the common level. They feel themselves safe under his protection, from the evils of poverty. Yet what is the protection of man, of princes and nobles, to the protection of the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Ruler of Princes? But the pious Christian believes · firmly that he enjoys the unspeakable advantage. It is a continual feast to him. It is a perennial spring of living water. In adversity or prosperity, his chief

« PreviousContinue »