« ПретходнаНастави »
not by the swelling of sentiment, and the current of devotion, be frequently carried away into a freer and fuller effusion of the heart.
As to the length of those duties, I would only say, that you must be governed by your condition both outward and inward ? that you are to avoid every thing careless, or formal, whether with or without preconceived words; that little intermissions are often extremely useful to relieve the mind, and fit it for new exertion of its powers : but that on the other side, by praying in continuity, the soul is often warmed into life and energy, till that exercise which was begun with languor is concluded with affection.
When I speak of affection, let me warn you not to mistake the effervescence of fancy for the spirit of devotion. They are two things widely different, " By their fruits ye shall know them.” The fluency, tears, and rapture, produced by the first, are mechanical, superficial, and ineffective ; engendering only the confidence of Enthusiasm, or wasting them in the scrupulosity of Superstition. The last, though frequently accompanied with fluency, tears, and rapture, at least in minds of much sensibility, is yet often not so; but then it leaves the heart better, however this may not be discerned immediately. She who sometimes perbaps, like the self-abased publican, is able only to sigh out “God be merciful to me a “ sinner,” may in that all-seeing eye be as acceptable as the most eloquent petitioner that ever ad. dressed the throne of heaven. We read of " the
Spirit's helping our infirmities” in this very exercise," and making intercessions for us with groan“ings that cannot be uttered.”
Mental prayer, and silent ejaculation, I will not now consider. They are the attainments of persons
far advanced in devotion. By pursuing the track I point out, you may hope to reach them in one degree or another; and some experience in them will lead you to more. Those who can abstract and concentrate their minds, so as readily to place themselves in the presence of God, wherever they are, and to converse with him even in a crowd, whether by continued contemplation, or by sudden dartings of pious affection towards him on the point of a vigorous thought, certainly possess a very noble secret, fruitful alike of edification and enjoyment; such too as renders them much less dependent on the accidents of their situation, since let their business or other engagements be what they will, they may be still with God, calm, self-possessed, and happily disposed to“ pray always:" a state of spiritual life, which there is reason to fear is known by few.
There is a kind of middle practice, which is probably less uncommon, as it is certainly more easy; that of praying with a repressed voice, or one not in the least audible to a second person, while yet the words are distinctly and deliberately spoken by the worshipper, who by such means preserves his ideas from dissipation, and impresses them more deeply on his own heart. I said deliberately ; because, in this as well as in every other method of prayer, hurry and precipitation are utterly incompatible with the spirit of devotion.
Of even the strongest and most retired minds it may, I believe, be affirmed, that they never think at all, on whatever occasion, without the secret or internal inse of language, although they seldom attend to it. Be that as it may,
I satisfied that vocal prayer, whether more or less articulate, will be found in general, by far the most
proportioned to the human and particularly to the female faculties. Of the manner last mentioned we have a remarkable example in the mother of Samuel. It is a beautiful passage, strongly expressive of the workings of a devout but sorrowful spirit, and at the same time of the power
of devotion to turn sorrow and sighing into joy and praise.
One thing we may boldly pronounce, as a maxim which will never fail; that she' has wor. shipped to purpose, in whatever mode she has worshipped, who comes away improved or established in worthy dispositions, whether these be attended with much emotion or with none, with much delight or with little, at 'the time. This remark I judged peculiarly necessary here, (orisidering how easily you, my young friends, inay be misled on this subject by that ardour of passion, and that vivacity of fancy, which are so natural to you; and which, wherever devotion is concerned, are so prone to assume its name, when at the very best they can only aid its flights.
On the same principle, I would caution you not to lose yourselves in generalities; which, however they may chance to engage the understanding, or entertain the imagination, seldom touch the conscience or interest the heart. In conversing with a virtuous and intimate friend, you - would choose certainly to dwell on those matters that afected you most nearly, or to throw out those reflexions that most daily occurred. In this higher correspondence, you should do the same ; only with more.solemnity, and greater abstraction from secular objects.
Nothing can be more erroneous than the common opinion, that the several parts of prayer, as they are usually termed, ought to enter into every longe er act of devotion. What is this, but to reduce into a mere trial of skill, or to restrain within the . trammels of a system, and thereby degrade into a laborious and jejune piece of formality, that which, ought to be free and unaffected, natural and noble?
I am going into the company of a bosom friend. · Let me settle beforehand the whole plan of our
conversation ; that I may be sure to introduce
such and such topics, in order to discuss them ' severally one after another, at full length, and • with due connexion.'-He who should talk in this nanner would discover, methinks, very little aca uaintance with the spirit of friendship. In that,
y sisters, and in true devotion, there is nothing, bei 'ieve me, artificial, nicelý managed, or elaborately studied. Esteem, sentiment, confidence, a svr.pathy of soul, and the overflowings of the heart, are all in all. I think not at present of the public offices of religion, where, in those who lead them · more regularity and accuracy, are no doubt
On the whole, when you address the seat of mercy
, you ought to speak what you feel most strong lý at that particular season ; to follow, withou. it scruple the inward attraction beforementioned; to
insist on those things of a spiritual nature,
= then attended with the greatest relish; to continu e your attention to them calmly, but fixed
ile that relish remains ; then to pass on, if cime ai id other circumstances permit, to something else, si till without any agitation or violent effort;
eming it necessary to follow out this new track, should another present itself that seems
promising or that lies more parallel to the course of your thoughts on the occasion ;
chiefly concerned to keep alive the sense of that great presence in which you are, of those wants and weaknesses under which you labour, of what you owe to others as well as to yourselves, and of that divinely efficacious intercession, through which alone you wish and hope to be heard and accepted.
A composed, affectionate, and steady attention to these and such like rules (for I cannot now enter into the full detail) will, if I be not greatly mistaken, prove one effectual mean of cultivating the life and power of religion within you. I need not add, what
have been told times without number, and what your own hearts cannot on the least reflexion fail to repeat ; that no prayers can be effectual for this or any one good purpose, which are not accompanied with a correspondent watchfulness and faithful discharge of every other duty.
But it may be necessary to subjoin, thäť the practice of devotion, now recommended, cannot take place without much preparation from time to time, of which one well known part is the Reading of the Scriptures. On this a very few observations shall suffice.
For acquiring wliat is generally styled Religious Knowledge, reading the scriptures throughout, and often large portions at a time, may be perfectly proper. For improving in that which those scriptures speak of chiefly under this denomination, I mean a practical and vital sense of things divine and everlasting, a different method, as I conceive, should be followed.
Short and select passages from both Testaments, 'but especially the new, and more particularly from the history and sermons of our Saviour, should be