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CULTIVATION OF A DEVOTIONAL SPIRIT.. 61 Eran, le reconciled father, so that every burden and doubt are ta
reisten ken off from his mind. “He knows," as St. John exprés. How we ses it, “ that he has the petitions he desired of God," and
I feels the truth of that promise" while they are yet speak. ed, the ing I will hear." This is the perfection of prayer.
To maintain a devotional Spirit, two things are espe. cially necessary-habitually to cultivate the disposition, and habitually to avoid whatever is unfavourable to it. Frequent retirement and recollection are indispensable, together with such a general course of reading, as, if it do not actually promote the spirit we are endeavonring to maintain, shall never be hostile to it. We should avoid as much as in us lies all such society, all such amusements as excite teinpers, wbich it is the daily business of a Chris. tian to subdue, and all those feelings which it is his constant duty to suppress. :." And here may we venture to observe, that if some things which are apparently ipnocerit, and do not assume an alarming aspect, or bear a dangerous character; things which the generality of decorous people affirm, (how truly we know not) to be safe for thein ; yet if we find that these things stir up in us improper propensities, if they awaken thoughts which ouglit not to be excited ; if they abate our love for religious exercises, or infringe on our time for performing them; if they make spiritual concerns appear insipid ; if they wind, our heart a little more about the world ; in short, if we have formerly found them injurious to our own sonis, then let no example or persuasion, no helief of their alleged innocence, no plea of their perfect safety, tempt us to indulge in them. It matters little to Our sécurity what they are to others. Our business is with ourselves. Our responsibility is on our own heads. Others cannot know the side on which we are assailable. Let our own unbiassed judgment determine our opinion, let our own experience decide for our own conduct.
In speaking of books, we cagnot forbear noticing that
yery prevalent sort of reading, which is little less produetive of evil, little less prejudicial to moral and mental improvement, than that which carries a more formidable appearance. We cannot confine our censure to those more corrupt writings which deprave the heart, debauch the imagination, and poison the principles. Of these thie turpitude is so obvious, that no caution on this head, it is presumed, can be necessary. But if justice forbids us to tonfonnd the insipid with the mischievous, the idle withi the vicious, and the frivolons with the profligate, still we can only admit of shades, deep shades we allow, of difference. These works, if comparatively harmless, yet debise the taste, slacken the intellectual nerve, let down file understanding, set the fancy loose, and send it gadding among low and mean objects. They not only run away with the time which shoniu be given to better things, but gradually destroy all taste for better things. They sink the mind to their own standard, and give it a sluggish reluctance, we had almost said, a moral incapacity for every thing above their level. The niind, by long habit or stooping; loses its erectness, and yields to its degradation. It becomes so low and narrow by the littleness of the things, which engage it, that it requires a painful effort to lift itself high enough, or to open itself wide enough, to embrace great and noble objects. The appe. tite is vitiated. Excess, instead of producing a surfeita by weakening the digestion only induces a loathing for stronger non'isliment. The faculties which might have been expanding in works of science, or soaring in the contemplation of genins, becoine satisfied with the impertinences of the most ordinary fiction, lose their relish for the severity nt' truth, the elegance of taste, and the soberbess of religion. Lilled in the torpor of repose, the intellect dozes, and enjoys in its waking dream,
All the wild trash of sleep, without the rest. In avoiding books which excite the passions, it would seem strange to incinde even some devotional works. Yet such as merely kindle warm feelings, are not always the safest. Let us ratlier prefer those, which, while they tend to raise a devotional spirit, awaken the affections withont disordering them, whichi, while they elevate the desires, purify them; which shew us our own natine, and day open its corruptions. Such as sliew jis tiie malignity
efsin, the deceitfulness of our hearts, the feebleness of
The proper temper for prayer should precede the act. The disposition should be wrought in the mind before the exercise is begun. To bring a proud temper to an hun. ble prayer, a luxurious babit to a self-denying prayer, or a worldly disposition to a spiritual minded prayer, is a positive anomaly. Ababit is more powerful than an act, and a previously indulged temper during the day will not, it is to be feared, be fully counteracted by the exercise of a few minutes devotion at night.
Prayer is designed for a perpetual renovation of the motives to virtne, if therefore the cause is not followed by its consequence, a cousequence inevitable but for the impediments we bring to it, we rob our nature of its bighest privilege, and run the danger of incurring a peralty where we are looking for a blessing.
That the habitual tendency of the life should be the preparation for the stated prayer, is naturally suggested to us by our blessed Redeemer in his servuon on the Mount. He aunonnced the précepts of holiness, and their corresponding beatitudes, he gave the spiritual es
position of the Law, the directions for almsriving, the exhortation to love our enemies, nay the essence and spirit of the whole Decaloglie, previons to bis delivering his own divine prayer as a pattern for our's. Let us learo from this that the preparation of prayer is therefore to live in all those pursots which we may safely beg of God to bless, and in a conflict with all those temptations into which we pray not to be led...'
If God be the centre to which our hearts are tending, every fine in our lives must meet in him. With this point in view there will be a harmony between our prayers and our practice, a consisteney between devotion and conduct, which will make, every part turn to tàis one end, bear upon this one point. For the beauty of the Christian scheme consists not in parts, (however good in themselves) which tend to separate views, and lead to different en:ls; hut it arises from its beiog one entire, uniform, connected plan, “ compacted of that which every joint supplieth," and of which all the parts termin. ate in this one grand ultimate point. : The design of Prayer therefore as we before observed, is not merely to make us devout while we are engaged in it, but that its odour may be diffused through all the intermediate spaces of the day, enter into all its oc upations, duties, and tempers, Nor innst its results be partial, or 111ited to easy and pleasant duties, but extend to such as are less alluring. When we pray, for instance, for our ene nies, the prayer must be rendered practical, must be made a means of softening onr spirit, and cooling our resentment toward thein. If we deserve their en inity, the true spirit of prayer will put us upon endeavouring to cure the fault which has excited it. If we d: not deserve it, it will put is on striving for a placable temper, and we shall endeavour not to let slip so favoni. agiean orcasion of cultivating it. There is no such softener of animosity, no such soother of resentment, to sich al
layer of hatred, as sincere, cordial prayer ? It is obvious, that the precept to pray without ceasing
can never mean to enjoin a.continual course of actual prayer. But while it more directly enjoins us to embrace alt proper occasions of performing this sacred duty, or rather of claiming this valuable privilege, so it plainly implies that we should try to keep up constantly that sense of the dirine presence which shall maintain the dis
position. In order to this, we should inure our minds to reflection; we should encourage serious thoughts. A good thought barely passing through the mind will make little impression on it. We must arrest it, constrain it to remain with us, expand, amplify, and as it were, take it to pieces. It must be distinctly unfolded, and carefully examined, or it will leave no precise idea; it must be fixed and incorporated, or it will produce po practical effect. We must not dismiss it till it has left some trace on the mind, till it has made sonje impression on the heart. . On the other land, if we give the reins to a loose unigoverricd fancy, at orter times, if we abandon oar niinds to frivolotis thoughts; if we fill them with corrupt images; if we cherish sensual ideas during the rest of the day, can we expeet that none of these images will intrude, tliat none of these impressions will be revived, but that " the temple into which foul things” have been invited, will be cleansed at a given moment; that worldly thonghits will recede and give place at once, to pure and holy thoughts? Will that spirit, grieved by impurity, or resisted by levity, return with his warm beans, and cheering influences, to the contaminated mansion from which he has been driven out? Is it wonderful if finding no entrance into a heart filled with vanity he should withdraw himself?---We cannot, in retiring into our closets, change our natures as we do our clothes. The disposilion we carry thither will be likely to remain 'withi ns. We have no right to expect that a new temper: will meet as at the door. We can only hope that the spirit we bring thither will be cherished and improved. It is not easy, rather it is not possible, to graft genuine devotion on a life of an opposite tendency; nor cad we delight ourselves regularly for a few stated moments, in that God whom we have not been serving during the day. We may indeed to quiet onr conscience, take up the employment of prayer, but cannot take up the state of mind which will make thie employment beneficial to ourselves, or the prayer acceptable to God, if all the previous day we liave been careless of ourselves, and urmindful of our Maker. They will not pray differently from the rest of the world, who do not live differently.
What a contradiction is it to lament the weakness, the misery, and the corruption of our nature in our devo.