« PreviousContinue »
country? At thy call I cheerfully leave them. Dost thou summon me away from this world? Lo! I am ready to depart. Thou hast made, thou hast redeemed me, and I am thine. Myself, and all that belongs to me, I surrender to thy disposal.'
This, surely, is one of the noblest acts of which the human mind is capable, when thus, if we may be allowed the expression, it unites itself with God. Nor can any devotion be genuine, which inspires not sentiments of this nature, For devotion is not to be considered as a transient glow of affection, occasioned by some casual impressions of divine goodness, which are suffered to remain unconnected with the conduct of life. It is a powerful principle, which penetrates the soul; which purifies the affections from debasing attachments; and, by a fixed and steady regard to God, subdues every sinful passion, and forms the inclinations to piety and virtue.
Such, in general, are the dispositions that consti. tute devotion. It is the union of veneration, gratitude, desire, and resignation. It expresses, not so much the performance of any particular duty, as the spirit which must animate all religious duties. It stands opposed, not merely to downright vice; but to a heart which is cold, and insensible to sacred things; which, from compulsion perhaps, and a sense of interest, preserves some regard to the divine commands, but obeys them without ardour, love, or joy.
ADVANTAGES OF DEVOTION.
The devotional spirit, united to good sense and a cheerful temper, gives that steadiness to virtue, which it always wants when produced and supported by good natural dispositions only. It corrects and humanizes those constitutional vices, which it is not able entirely to subdue; and though it too often fails to render men perfectly virtuous, it preserves them from becoming utterly abandoned. It has, besides, the most favourable influence on all the passive virtues ; it gives a softness and sensibility to the heart, and a mildness and gentleness to the manners; but, above all, it produces an universal charity and love to mankind, however different in station, country, or religion. There is a sublime yet tender melancholy, almost the universal attendant on genius, which is too apt to degenerate into gloom and disgust with the world. Devotion is admirably calculated to soothe this disposition, by insensibly leading the mind, while it seems to dulge it, to those prospects which calm every murmur of discontent, and diffuse a cheerfulness over the darkest hours of human life.—Persons in the pride of high healtli and spirits, who are keen in the pursuits of pleasure, interest, or ambition, have either no ideas on this subject, or treat it as the enthusiasm of a weak mind. But this really shows great narrow. ness of understanding ; a very little reflection and acquaintance with nature might teach them, on how precarious a foundation their boasted inde. pendence on religion is built; the thousand name.
less accidents that may destroy it; and that though for some years they should escape these, yet that time must impair the greatest vigour of health and spirits, and deprive them of all those objects for which, at present, they think life only worth enjoying. It should seem, therefore, very necessary to secure some pernianent object, some real support to the mind, to cheer the soul, when all others shall have lost their influence.—The greatest inconvenience, indeed, that attends devotion, is its taking such a vast hold of the affections, as sometimes threatens the extinguishing of every other active principle of the mind. For when the devotional spirit falls in with a melancholy temper, it is too apt to depress the mind entirely, to sink it to the weakest superstition, and to produce a total retirement and abstraction from the world, and all the duties of life.
INFLUENCE OF DEVOTION ON THE HAPPINESS
OF LIFE. WHATEVER promotes and strengthens virtue, whatever calms and regulates the temper, is a source of happiness. Devotion produces these effects in a remarkable degree. It inspires composure of spirit, mildness, and benignity; weakens the painful, and cherishes the pleasing emotions ; and by these means carries on the life of a pious man in a smooth and placid tenour.
Besides exerting this habitual influence on the mind, devotion opens a field of enjoyments, to which the vicious are entire strangers; enjoy ments the more valuable as they peculiarly belong to retirement, when the world leaves us, and to adversity, when it becomes qur foe. These are the two seasons, for which every wise man would most wish to provide some hidden store of comfort. For let him be placed in the most favourable situation which the human state ad. mits, the world can neither always amuse him, nor always shield him from distress. There will be many hours of vacuity, and many of dejection, in his life. If he be a stranger to God, and to devotion, how dreary will the gloom of solitude often prove! With what oppressive weight will sickness, disappointment, or old age, fall upon his spirits! But for those pensive periods, the pious man has a relief prepared. From the tiresome repetition of the common vanities of life, or from the painful corrosion of its cares and sorrows, devotion transports him into a new region; and surrounds him there with such objects, as are the most fitted to cheer the dejection, to calm the tumults, and to heal the wounds of his heart. If the world has been empty and delusive, it gladdens him with the prospect of a higher and better order of things, about to arise. If men have been ungrateful and base, it displays before him the faithfulness of that supreme Being, who, though every other friend fail, will never forsake him. Let us consult our experience, and we shall find, that the two greatest sources of inward joy, are the exercise of love, directed towards a deserving object, and the exercise of hope, terminating on
some high and assured happiness. Both these are supplied by devotion ; and therefore we have no reason to be surprised, if, on some occasions, it fills the hearts of good men with a satisfaction not to be expressed.
The refined pleasures of a pious mind are, in many respects, superior to the coarse gratifications of sense. They are pleasures which belong to the highest powers, and best affections of the soul; whereas the gratifications of sense reside in the lowest region of nature. To the latter, the soul stoops below its native dignity. The former, raise it above itself. The latter, leave always a comfortless, often a mortifying, remembrance behind them. The former, are reviewed with applause and delight. The pleasures of sense re-' semble a foaming torrent, which, after a disorderly course, speedily runs out, and leaves an empty and offensive channel. But the pleasures of devotion resemble the equable current of a pure river, which enlivens the fields through which it passes, and diffuses verdure and fertility along its banks. To thee, O Devotion! we owe the highest improvement of our nature, and much of the enjoyment of our life. Thou art the support of our virtue, and the rest of our souls, in this turbulent world. Thou composest the thoughts. Thou calm. est the passions. Thou exaltest the heart. Thy communications, and thine only, are imparted to the low, no less than to the high ; to the poor, as well as to the rich. In thy presence, worldly distinctions cease; and under thy influence, worldly sorrows are forgotten. Thou art the balm of the wounded mind. Thy sanctuary is ever open to