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TASTE FOR DEVOTION.
John, iv. 23, 24. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true wor
shippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth : for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit ; and they that worship him must
worship him in spirit and in truth. A taste and relish for religious exercise, or the want of it, is one of the marks and tokens by which we may judge whether our heart be right towards God or not. God is unquestionably an object of devotion to every creature which he has made capable of devotion ; consequently our minds can never be right
! towards him unless they be in a devotional frame. It cannot be disputed but that the Author and Giver of all things, upon whose will and whose mercy we depend for everything we have and for everything we look for, ought to live in the thoughts and affections of his rational creatures. “ Through thee have I been holden up ever since I was born : thou art he that took me from my mother's womb: my praise shall be always of thee.” If there be such things as first sentiments towards God, these words of the Psalmist express them. That devotion to God is a a duty, stands upon the same proof as that God exists. But devotion is an act of the mind strictly. In a certain sense, duty to a fellow-creature may be discharged if the outward act be performed, because the benefit to him depends upon the act.
Not so with devotion. It is altogether the operation of the mind.
God is a spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit, that is, in mind and thought. The devotion of the mind may be, will be, ought to be, testified and accompanied by outward performances and expressions : but, without the mind going along with it, no form, no solemnity, can avail, as a service to God. It is not so much a question under what mode men worship their Maker ; but this is the question, whether their
. mind and thoughts and affections accompany the mode which they adopt or not. I do not say that modes of worship are indifferent things; for certainly one mode may be more rational, more edifying, more pure, than another ; but they are indifferent in comparison with the question, whether the heart attend the worship or be estranged from it.
These two points then being true; first, that devotion is a duty; secondly, that the heart must partici. pate to make anything we do devotion ; it follows, that the heart cannot be right towards God, unless it be possessed with a taste and relish for his service, and for what relates to it.
Men may, and many undoubtedly do, attend upon acts of religious worship, and even from religious motives, yet, at the same time, without this taste and relish of which we are speaking. Religion has no savour for them. I do not allude to the case of those who attend upon the public worship of the church, or of their communion, from compliance with custom, out of regard to station, for example's sake merely, from habit merely; still less to the case of those who have particular worldly views in so doing. I lay the case of such persons, for the present, out of the question ; and I consider only the case of those who, knowing and believing the worship of God to be a duty, and that the wilful neglect of this, as of other duties, must look forward to future punishment, do
join in worship from a principle of obedience, from a consideration of those consequences which will follow disobedience; from the fear indeed of God, and the dread of his judgments (and so far from motives of religion), yet without any taste or relish for religious exercise itself. That is the case I am considering. It is not for us to presume to speak harshly of any conduct which proceeds in any manner from a regard to God and the expectation of a future judgment. God, in his Scriptures, holds out to man terrors as well as promises ; punishment after death as well as reward. Undoubtedly he intended those motives which he himself proposes to operate and have their influence. Wherever they operate, 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 farther ; 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 farther 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 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 ga
* 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, 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."
thered 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 principal satisfaction of their lives in this world.
Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread,” that is, celebrating 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 Saint 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 filed. 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 state and relish for devotion, if a devotional frame of mind, be within us, it will show itself in the turn and cast of our meditations, in the warmth and ear