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By what Means true Devotion is destroyed.
Here the true spirit of devotion, which is in its own nature a liberal and reasonable service, is made wholly to evaporate in unnatural heats, and extatic fervours, such as are a disgrace and reproach to the dignity of a rational nature. And instead of speaking the language of a serious, rational, unaffected piety, they abound wholly with rapturous flights of unhallowed love, and strains of mystical diffoluteness; or as an ingenious author terms it, spiritualized concupiscence, invented by the carnal and wanton appetites and wishes of the unmarried nuns and friars; and thence either by design, or by the delusion of the de
vil, or both, foifted into the devotions of the reformed church, .. under a pretence of purer frames of divine love and spiritual
rapture; whereas they pollute the soul with luscious images, warm it into irregular ferments, and fire it with a false paffion; dissipating all due composure and recollection of mind, and laying open the heart to all the wild extravagancies of frantic enthusiasm: a manner of address much fitter for a diffolute lover, than for an acceptable worshiper of the all-pure and all-knowing God.
It was against this kind of devotion, that great light of the church of England, the learned and pious bishop STILLINGFLÉET thus exclaimed. “ Is it possiblé (faid he ) that any man “ can imagine, it is no dishonour to the christian religion to “ make the perfection of the devotion of it to confijt in such "jirange unaccountable unions and raptures, which take away “ the use of all (modesty) reason, and coinmon sense!” . Some causes of the decay of christian piety.
It is to such effusions as these we may ascribe, in a great mea[ure, the decay of christian piety: Because, they tend to mislead mens minds from the true subject both of their duty and happiness, and bring them to acquiesce in their false and mistaken fiibstitutes : they give great and signal Discouragement to the geral practice of piety in the world, by expofmg it to ridicule,
and the charge of affected singularity. On the one hand, they throw many honest and well-meaning, but weak minds into a despair of ever succeeding in the Business of religion; because, upon examination, they discover in theinselves, little or no acquaintance with those tumultuous heats, and ungoverned fallies of passion, upon which so great a stress is laid by these pretenders to such glorious frenzies and heavenly follies: and on the other, they harden the diffolute and unthinking part of mankind into an obsiinate reluctance towards the very first efforts of reformation, by confirming them in a prejudice, they are of themselves too willing to entertain againjt religion: that it is a rigorous impracticable fervice; a state of unnatural refinement, altogether incompatible with the common measures of human life. And.
This is no more than what the above-mentioned bishop had before asserted against the Romish devotions. “ T bis mvitical " divinity, says hem is not only unintelligible, but it leads per“ fons.into strange illusions of fancy; and this I take to be a very “ great injury, not only to those melancholy fouls, that are led 6 through this valley of shades and darkness; but even to the chri6 ftian religion itfelf, as though the way of perfection taught by 6. it were a low, mean, contemptible thing, in comparison of " these mystical flights.
In what the love of GOD confifts. 6It is true, que are commanded often to love God with allour a heart, but withal we are told, we must not funcy this love 10 66 be a mere languishing passion; no, the love of Christians os towards God is ne fond amorous affe&tion, but a due ap66 prehenfion and ejteem of the divine excellencies, 'a hearty finje - of all his kindness to us, and a constant readiness of mind to do - his will. And thus the beloved son of God hath déclared what "" He means by the love he expects from his disciples: If ye love 6 me, (lays Christ,) keep my commandments; and ye are 66 my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you. And if " (lays St. John) any man say I love God, and hateth his
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66 brother, he is a lyar; for he that loveth not his brother, So whom he hath feen, how can he love God whom he 6 hath not seen? No man hath seen God at any Time. If " we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love " is perfected in us. Thus the beloved disciple, who under
"flood the great mysteries of divine love, hath expressed them to - « 245. And, .
“ Here (j'ou fee) are no blind elevations of the will; no ex“ tatic nor luscious expression; no, it is very plain that all such a mystical notions, andluscious inetaphors and expressions so had another spring and a more impure fountain, than the “ christian doctrine.” For, as the said devout and judicious prelate adds, “ supposing that mystical way of perfection were “ posible, I could see no necessity at all of Christ's coming into " the world, nor of any influence his death, or suffering, or “ doctrine could have upon the bringing men to a state of Hap« piness.”
For these reasons I thought it my duty, as a christian, to explode that fulsome and luscious method of the Old Week's PreDuration, which has most scandalously put into the incuth of the devout reader such carnal expresions as are mentioned above * : and in their ftiad I have endeavoured to substitute fuch prayers
* « The two great errors into which a mistiken devotion may b?. tray us, are trebuiasm and fuperfiition. There is not a more nielancholy mbject than a man who has his head turned with religious enthufiafm. A person that is crazed, tho' with pride or malice, is a light very mortifying to human nature; but when the disteinper arises from any indiscreet fervows of devotion, or too intense an application of the mind to its mislaken duties, it deserves our compassion in a more particular manner. We may however learn this lefion from it, that since devotion itself (which one would be apt to think could not be too warm) may disorder the mind, unless its heats are tempered with caution and prudence, we should be particularly careful to keep our reason as cool as poflible, and to guard ourselves in all parts of life against the influence of passion, imagination, and conftitution,
" Devotion, when it does not lye under the check of reason, is very açt to degenerate into entbufiasm; when the mind finds herself very much
and meditations, as may be warranted from the word of God: being thoroughly sensible how well grounded that complaint of the pious bishop FLEETWOOD is, “ that the devotions of the ig* norant are generally superstitious and gross, fixing themselves « commonly on sensible objeets; whereas in true religion all is • intelligible and divine,-and God, who should be the only “ object of their devotion, hath hardly any share therein.”
- Some account of this work. As it has been my endeavour on the one hand not to flatter finners; fo on the other, I have been careful not to fill the minds of any with unnecessary fears, and scruples, with respeet to a duty, which ought to be the practice of their whole lives; as if no body ought to go to this facrament, but such as are as perfect as over they can hope to be.
On ihe contrary; it is the judgment of the most orthodox divines, that (abstracting from particular circumstances) the receiving of the blessed facrament, is the most divine and folemn act of our religion; and it ought to be the zenlous endeavour of every true christian, by Goll's aliance, to prepare his soul with the most serious, and most devout dispositions he possibly can, to approach the holy altar: a man cannot too often commemorale: our Lord and his passion, nor too often return devout thanks and praises for the same, nor too often repeat his resolutions of amenda. ment, nor too often renew his foleinn engagements, nor too often. receive pardon of fins, and fresh succour's of divine grace: and if coming io the Lord's talle (prepared' or emprepared) wkre a sure and infallible way to ansiver those good and girait ends, there could then be no question, but that it would be both our wisdom and our
- A 4 en Aamed with her devotions, she is too much inclined to think they are not of her own kindling, but blown up with something divine within her. If the indulges this tlought too far, and humours the growing passion, The at last Aings herself into imaginary raptures and exftafies; and when one the fancies herfelf under the Influence of a divine impulte, it is no wnder if the lights human ordinances, and refuses to comply with any tablished form of religion, as thinking lierself directed by a much sverior guide." See Mr, ADDISON's works,
duty to communicate as often as opportunities fould invite, and health permit. But it is certain, on the other hand, that bare communicating, is not the thing required, but commuricating worthily. Here lies the main stress of all, not to urge frequency of communion so far as to render this holy facrament hurtful, or fruitless to parties concern'd; neither yet to abate so far of the frequency, as to make a kind of dearth or famine of this so falutary and necesary food. For the clearer understanding of this matter, it may be necessary to take notice, that since it is allowed on all hands, that there can be no just bar to frequency of communion, but the want of preparation, which is only such a bar as men may themselves remove, if they please; it concerns them highly to take of the impediment as soon as posible, and not to trust to the vain hopes of alleviating one fault by committing another. The danger of misperforming any religious duty, is an argument for fear and caution, but no excuse for neglect: God infifts upon the doing it, and the doing it well allo. It was no jufficient plea for the Nothful servant, under the Gospel, that he thought his master hard to please, and thereupon neglected his bounden duty: but on the contrary, the use he ought to have made of that consideration was, to have been so much the more wakeful and diligent in his master's service. Therefore in the case of the holy communion, it is to very little purpose to plead the strictness of the self-examination or preparation by way of excuse either for a total, or for a frequent, or for a long neglect of it. A man may fay, that he comes not to the Lord's table, because he is not prepared, and so fur he assigns a good reason; but if he should be further asked, why he is not prepared, when he may; then he can only make forne trifling, insufficient excuse, or remain speechless.
But to return: I have spared no pains to render these meditations and prayers as generally useful, as can be expected in a booof this kind; yet, as the best performances have their imperfecti. ons, fo this (to be sure ) is not without some. However, I hope, there are none so material but what a Christian may over-look for the sake of that good which is intended by it. Again: that '? these meditations and prayers are entirely new, is by no