« PreviousContinue »
DE VOUT SOUL.
SECTION I. Devotion is the life of religion, the very soul of piety, the highest employment of grace; and no other than the pre-possession of heaven by the saints of God here upon earth; every im. provement whereof is of more advantage and value to the Christian soul, than all the profit and contentments which this world can afford it.
There is a kind of art of devotion, if we can attain unto it, whereby the practice thereof may be much advanced. We have known, indeed, some holy souls, which, out of the general precepts of piety, and their own happy experiences of God's mercy, have, through the grace of God, grown to a great measure of perfection this way ; which yet might have been much expedited, and completed, by those helps, which the greater illumination and experience of others might have afforded them. Like as we see it in other faculties, there are those, who, out of a natural dexterity, and their own frequent practice, have got into a safe posture of defence, and have handled their weapon with commendable skill, whom yet the fence-school might have raised to a higher pitch of cunning. As nature is perfected, so grace is not a little furthered by art; since it pleaseth the wisdom of God, to work ordinarily upon the soul, not by the immediate power of miracle, but in such methods, and by such means, as may most conduce to his blessed ends. It is true, that all our good affections come from the Spirit of God; neither is it less true, that all the good counsels of others proceed from the same Spirit; and that good Spirit cannot be cross to itself; he, therefore, that infuses good thoughts into us, suggests also such directions, as may render us apt both to receive and improve them. If God be bounteous, we must not be idle, and neglect our spiritual aids.
II. If you tell me, (by way of instance in a particular act of devotion,) that there is a gift of prayer, and that the Spirit of God is not tied to rules, I yield both these; but withal, I must say there are also helps of prayer, and that we must not expect immediate inspirations. I find the world much mistaken in both : they think that man has the gift of prayer, who can utter the thoughts of his heart roundly unto God—who can express himself smoothly in the phrase of the Holy Ghost, and press God with most proper words and passionate vehemence. And surely, this is a commendable faculty, wheresoever it is : but this is not the gift of prayer ; you may call it, if you will, the gift of elocution. Do we say that man has the gift of pleading, who can talk eloquently at the bar, who can, in good terms, loudly and earnestly importune the judge for his client; and not rather he who brings the strongest reason, and quotes his books and precedents with most truth and clearest evidence, so as may convince the jury, and persuade "he judge ? Do we say he has the gift of preach