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selves. That which makes any body esteem us, is their knowledge or apprehension of some little good, and their ignorance of a great deal of evil that may be in us; were they thoroughly acquainted with us, they would quickly change their opinion. The thoughts that pass in our heart, in the best and most serious day of our life, being exposed unto public view, would ren
us either hateful or ridiculous: and now, however we conceal our failings from one another, yet sure we are conscious of them ourselves, and some serious reflections upon them would much qualify and allay the van. ity of our spirits. Thus holy men have come really to think worse of themselves, than of any other person in the world: not but that they knew that gross and scandalous vices are, in their nature, more heinous than the surprisals of temptations and infirmity; but because they were much more intent on their own miscarriages, than on those of their neighbours, and did consider all the age gravations of the one, and every thing that might be supposed to diminish and alleviate the other. Thoughts of God give us the lowest thoughts of
ourselves. But it is well observed by a pious writer, that the deepest and most pure humility doth not so much arise from the consideration of our own faults and defects, as from a calm and quiet contemplation of the divine purity and goodness. Our spots never appear so clearly, as when we place them before this infinite light; and we never seem less in our own eyes, than when we look down upon ourselves from on high. O how little, how nothing do all those shadows of perfection then appear, for which we are wont to value ourselves! That humility which cometh from a view of our own sinfulness and misery, is more turbulent and boisterous; but the other layeth us full as low, and wanteth nothing of that anguish and vexation wherewith our souls are apt to boil when they are the nearest objects of our thoughts.
Prayer, another instrument of religion, and the
advantages of mental prayer. There remains yet another means for begetting a holy and religious disposition in the soul; and that is, fervent and hearty prayer. Holiness is the gift of God; indeed the greatest gift he doth bestow, or we are capable to receive; and he hath promised his holy Spirit to those that ask it of him. In prayer we make the nearest approaches to God, and lie open to the influences of heaven: then it is that the sun of righteousness doth visit us with his directest rays, and dissipateth our darkness, and imprinteth his image on our souls. I cannot now insist on the advantages of this exercise, or the dispositions wherewith it ought to be performed, and there is no need I should, there being so many books that treat on this subject; I shall only tell you, that as there is one sort of prayer wherein we make use of the voice, which is necessary in public, and may sometimes have its own advantages in private; and another wherein though we utter no sound, yet we conceive the expressions and form the words, as it were, in our minds: so there is a third and more sublime kind of prayer, wherein the soul takes a higher flight, and having collected all its forces by long and serious meditation, it darteth itself (if I may so speak) towards God in sighs, and groans, and thoughts too big for expression. As when, after a deep contemplation of the divine perfections appearing in all his works of wonder, it addresseth itself unto him in the profoundest adoration of his majesty and glory: or when, after sad reflections on its vileness and miscarriages, it prostrates itself before him with the greatest confusion and sorrow, not daring to lift up its eyes, utter one word in his presence: or when having well considered the beauty of holiness, and the unspeakable felicity of those that are truly good, it panteth after God, and sendeth up such vigorous and ardent desires as no words can sufficiently express, continuing and repeating each of these acts as long as it finds itself upheld by the force and impulse of the previous meditation.
This mental prayer is of all others the most effectual to purify the soul, and dispose it unto a holy and religious temper, and may be termed the great secret of devotion, and one of the most powerful instruments of the divine life; and it may be the apostle hath a peculiar respect unto it, when he saith, that the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, making intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; or, the original may bear, that cannot be worded. Yet I do not so recommend this sort of prayer, as to supersede the use of the other; for we have so many several things to pray for, and every petition of this nature requireth so much time, and so great an intention of spirit, that it were not easy therein to overtake them all; to say nothing that the deep sighs and heavings of the heart which are wont to accompany it, are something oppressive to nature, and make it hard to continue long in them. But certainly a few of these inward aspirations, will do more than a great many fluent and melting expressions. Religion is to be advanced by the same means by
which it is begun; and the use of the holy Sacrament towards it.
Thus, my dear friend, I have briefly proposed the method which I judge proper for moulding the soul into a holy frame; and the same means which serve to beget this divine temper, must still be practised for strengthening and advancing it; and therefore I shall recommend but one more for that purpose, and that is the frequent and conscientious use of that holy Sacrament, which is peculiarly appointed to nourish and increase the spiritual life, when once it is begotten in the soul. All the instruments of religion do meet together in this ordinance; and while we address ourselves unto it, we are put to practise all the rules which were mentioned before. Then it is that we make the severest survey of our actions, and lay the strictest obligations on ourselves; then are our minds raised to the highest contempt of the world, and every grace doth exercise itself with the greatest activity and vigour; all the subjects of contem
plation do there present themselves unto us with the greatest advantage; and then, if ever, doth the soul make its most powerful sallies towards heaven, and assault it with a holy and acceptable force. And certainly the neglect or careless performance of this duty, is one of the chief causes that bedwarfs our religion, and makes us continue of so low a size.
But it is time I should put a close to this letter, which is grown to a far greater bulk than at first I intended: if these poor papers can do you the smallest service, I shall think myself very happy in this undertaking; at least, I am hopeful you will kindly accept the sincere endeavours of a person who would fain acquit himself of some part of that which he owes you.
O most gracious God, Father and Fountain of mercy and goodness, who hast blessed us with the knowledge of our happiness, and the way that leadeth unto it, excite in our souls such ardent desires after the one, as may put us forth to the diligent prosecution of the other. "Let us neither presume on our own strength, nor distrust thy divine assistance; but while we are doing our utmost endeavours, teach us still to depend on thee for success Open our eyes, O God, and teach us out of thy law Bless us with an exact and tender sense of our duty, and a knowledge to discern perverse things. O that our ways were directed to keep thy statutes, then shall we not be ashamed when we have respect unto all thy commandments. Possess our hearts with a generous and holy disdain of all those poor enjoyments which this world holdeth out to allure us, that they may never be able to inveigle our affections, or betray us to any sin: turn away our eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken thou us in thy law.
Fill our souls with such a deep sense and full persuasion of those great truths which thou hast revealed in the gospel, as may influence and regulate our whole conversation; and that the life which we henceforth live in the flesh, we may live through faith in the Son of God. O
that the infinite perfections of thy blessed nature, and the astonishing expressions of thy goodness and love, may conquer and overpower our hearts, that they may be constantly rising toward thee in flames of the devoutest affection, and enlarging themselves in sincere and cordial love towards all the world, for thy sake; and that we may cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in thy fear, without which we can never hope to behold and enjoy thee. Finally, O God, grant that the consideration of what thou art, and what we ourselves are, may both humble and lay us low before thee, and also stir up in us the strongest and most ardent aspirations towards thee. We desire to reign and give up ourselves to the conduct of thy holy Spirit; lead us in thy truth, and teach us, for thou art the God of our salvation; guide us with thy counsel, and afterwards receive us unto glory, for the merits and intercession of thy blessed Son our Saviour." Amen.