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relations with his dependent creatures. By placing religion in the light in which we have now made it appear, we gain a most grateful and inspiring view of the character of the Deity, who, in all his dealings with man, pursues, and pursues alone, man's welfare and felicity. He has made our duty to be our interest, his service our delight, our virtue our gain, our improvement our glory. He has made the impulse of the heart the exercise of reason, the dearest office of the affections the noblest employment of the understanding, the desires of nature the decrees of heaven, the hope of man the promise of God. He has made the yoke of Christ the easiest which we can bear, the burthen of religion the lightest which we can carry. He has perfectly adapted his demands to our condition and our wants. He has intimately connected our expectations with our exertions, our assistances with our efforts, our supports with our labours, our consolations with our sufferings. This gracious course will experience no alteration; these benevolent designs will suffer no change. He has joined time and eternity together, he has made our condition in the next world to depend upon our conduct in this, our characters here to fix our destination there, the course which we run in this narrow world to give its impulse to the race of ages. While we contemplate such goodness, our hearts are full; we feel as if we would never be unworthy of it again, as if the perversity which could wilfully lift itself up against it, if it were not madness, was a vile outrage upon humanity.
We would remark, secondly, that the object of revelation supplies us with a test in judging of those doctrines which are said to be parts of it. That object, as we have seen, is our virtue and happiness. All the true doctrines of revelation have a moral tendency. If then a doctrine be offered as true, which cannot be perceived to possess any such tendency, it may fairly be suspected, and if it have an apparent and decided immoral tendency, it must be rejected; it is no part of revelation; it did not come from God; scripture cannot contradict itself, and the whole tenor of scripture will be against it. Such a rejection will be demanded, by a regard for the holy volume which contains our faith, by every sentiment of right and wrong, by every good feeling which dwells in our bosoms, and by our gratitude to our Almighty Father who created us to be happy, and to find happiness only in a moral resemblance of himself.
The principles which we have laid down should calm the anxieties of those, whose minds are troubled and distressed concerning the particular creed which they should choose
among the various systems which claim for themselves the truth. If, having made patient and conscientious inquiry, we do not after all obtain the truth, or so much of it as others do, it is certainly our loss and our misfortune, but it cannot be our fault or our condemnation. Only this we may be sure of, that the better our faith is adapted to increase our virtue, the nearer does it approximate to perfect truth, for the better does it answer the design of God.
THE Scriptures of the old and new Testaments agree in enjoining prayer. Let no man call himself a Christian, who lives without giving a part of life to this duty. We are not taught how often we must pray; but our Lord in teaching us to say, "Give us this day our daily bread," implies that we should pray daily. He has even said to us, "pray always ;" an injunction to be explained indeed with that latitude which many of his precepts require, but which is not to be satisfied, we think, without regular and habitual devotion. As to the particular hours to be given to this duty, every Christian may choose them for himself. Our religion is too liberal and spiritual to bind us to any place or any hour of prayer. But there are parts of the day particularly favourable to this duty, and which if possible should be redeemed for it. On these we shall offer a few reflections.
The first of these periods is the morning, which even nature seems to have pointed out to men of different religions, as a fit time for offerings to the Divinity. In the morning our minds are not so much shaken by worldly cares and pleasures, as in other parts of the day. Retirement and sleep have helped to allay the violence of our feelings, to calm the feverish excitement so often produced by intercourse with men. The bour is a still one. The hurry and tumults of life are not begun, and we naturally share in the tranquillity around us. Haying for so many hours lost our hold on the world, we can banish it more easily from the mind, and worship with less divided attention. This then is a favourable time for approaching the invisible Author of our being, for strengthening the intimacy of our minds with him, for thinking upon a future life, and for seeking those spiritual aids which we need in the labours and temptations of every day.
In the morning there is much to feed the spirit of devotion. It offers an abundance of thoughts, friendly to pious feeling. When we look on creation, what a happy and touching change do we witness. A few hours past, the earth was wrapt in gloom and silence. There seemed "a pause in nature." But now, a new flood of light has broken forth, and creation rises before us in fresher and brighter hues, and seems to rejoice as if it had just received birth from its Author. The sun never sheds more cheerful beams, and never proclaims more loudly God's glory and goodness, than when he returns after the coldness and dampness of night, and awakens man and inferior animals to the various purposes of their being. A spirit of joy seems breathed over the earth and through the sky. It requires little effort of imagination to read delight in the kindled clouds, or in the fields bright with dew. This is the time, when we can best feel and bless the Power which said, "let there be light;" which "set a tabernacle for the sun in the heavens," and made him the dispenser of fruitfulness and enjoyment through all regions.
If we next look at ourselves, what materials does the morning furnish for devout thought. At the close of the past day, we were exhausted by our labours, and unable to move without wearisome effort. Our minds were sluggish, and could not be held to the most interesting objects. From this state of exhaustion, we sunk gradually into entire insensibility. Our limbs became motionless; our senses were shut as in death. Our thoughts were suspended, or only wandered confusedly and without aim. Our friends, and the universe, and God himself were forgotten. And what a change does the morning bring with it! On waking we find, that sleep, the image of death, has silently infused into us a new life. The weary limbs are braced again. The dim eye has become bright and piercing. The mind is returned from the region of forgetfulness to its old possessions. Friends are met again with a new interest. We are again capable of devout sentiment, virtuous effort, and Christian hope. With what subjects of gratitude then does the morning furnish us? We can hardly recal the state of insensibility from which we have just emerged, without a consciousness of our dependence, or think of the renovation of our powers and intellectual being, without feeling our obligation to God. There is something very touching in the consideration, if we will fix our minds upon it; that God thought of us when we could not think; that he watched over us when he had no power to avert peril from ourselves; that he continued our vital motions, and in due time broke the chains of
sleep, and set our imprisoned faculties free. How fit is it at this hour to raise to God the eyes which he has opened, and the arm which he has strengthened; to acknowledge his providence; and to consecrate to him the powers he has renewed? How fit that he should be the first object of the thoughts and affections which he has restored! How fit to employ in his praise the tongue he has loosed, and the breath which he has spared!
But the morning is a fit time for devotion, not only from its relation to the past night, but considered as the introduction of a new day. To a thinking mind, how natural at this hour are such reflections as the following:-1 am now to enter on a new period of my life, to start afresh in my course. I am to return to that world, where I have often gone astray; to receive impressions which may never be effaced; to perform actions which will never be forgotten; to strengthen a character, which will fit me for heaven or hell. I am this day to meet temptations which have often subdued me; I am to be entrusted again with opportunities of usefulness, which I have often neglected. I am to influence the minds of others, to help in moulding their characters, and in deciding the happiness of their present and future life. How uncertain is this day! What unseen dangers are before me! What unexpected changes may await me! It may be my last day! It will certainly bring me nearer to death and judgment!-Now, when entering on a period of life so important, yet so uncertain, how fit and natural is it, before we take the first step, to seek the favour of that Being on whom the lot of every day depends, to commit all our interests to his almighty and wise providence, to seek his blessing on our labours, and his succour in temptation, and to consecrate to his service the day which he raises upon us. This morning devotion, not only agrees with the sentiments of the heart, but tends to make the day happy, useful, and virtuous. Having cast ourselves on the mercy and protection of the Almighty, we shall go forth with new confidence to the labours and duties which he imposes. Our early prayer will help to shed an odour of piety through the whole life. God, having first occupied, will more easily recur to our mind. Our first step will be in the right path, and we may hope a happy
So fit and useful is morning devotion, it ought not to be omitted without necessity. If our circumstances will allow the privilege, it is a bad sign, when no part of the morning is spent in prayer. If God find no place in our minds at that early and peaceful hour, he will hardly recur to us in the tumults of
life. If the benefits of the morning do not soften us, we can hardly expect the heart to melt with gratitude through the day. If the world then rush in, and take possession of us, when we are at some distance and have had a respite from its cares, how can we hope to shake it off, when we shall be in the midst of it, pressed and agitated by it on every side. Let a part of the morning, if possible, be set apart to devotion; and to this end we should fix the hour of rising, so that we may have an early hour at our own disposal. Our piety is suspicious, if we can renounce, as too many do, the pleasures and benefits of early prayer, rather than forego the senseless indulgence of unnecessary sleep. What! we can rise early enough for business. We can even anticipitate the dawn, if a favourite pleasure or an uncommon gain requires the effort. But we cannot rise, that we may bless our great Benefactor, that we may arm ourselves for the severe conflicts to which our principles are to be exposed. We are willing to rush into the world, without thanks offered, or a blessing sought. From a day thus begun, what ought we to expect but thoughtlessness and guilt.
Let us now consider another part of the day which is favourable to the duty of prayer; we mean the evening. This season, like the morning, is calm and quiet. Our labours are ended. The bustle of life has gone by. The distracting glare of the day has vanished. The darkness which surrounds us favours seriousness, composure, and solemnity. At night the earth fades from our sight, and nothing of creation is left us but the starry heavens, so vast, so magnificent, so serene, as if to guide up our thoughts above all earthly things to God and immortality.
This period should in part be given to prayer, as it furnishes a variety of devotional topics and excitements. The evening is the close of an important division of time, and is therefore a fit and natural season for stopping and looking back on the day. And can we ever look back on a day, which bears no witness to God, and lays no claim to our gratitude? Who is it that strengthens us for daily labour, gives us daily bread, continues our friends and common pleasures, and grants us the privilege of retiring after the cares of the day to a quiet and beloved home? The review of the day will often suggest not only these ordinary benefits, but peculiar proofs of God's goodness, unlooked for successes, singular concurrences of favourable events, sigual blessings sent to our friends, or new and powerful aids to our own virtue, which call for peculiar thankfulness. And shall all these benefits pass away unnoticed? Shall we retire to repose as insensible as the wearied brute?