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A dull, cold, stupid heart, and its necessary consequence, a dull, cold, and stupid life, a life resembling more that of a Heathen moralist, than that of a disciple of Christ, robs a Christian of his proper usefulness; prevents the comfort, which he might enjoy; and overcasts his brightest hopes of future acceptance. I speak of this man as a Christian: for such Christians there are. Such there were in the Church of Sardis; on whom Christ calls to strengthen the things, which remained, which were ready to die. Nay, there are Churches, of this character. At Sardis there was such a church. But all persons of this character, whether churches, or individuals, are mere burdens upon the kingdom of Christ; heavy weights, under which Christianity struggles, and languishes, and faints. Their profession is so extensively contradicted by their life, as to wound every good man, and to provoke the censure, scorn, and ridicule, of every bad one. Not only is their own profession esteemed insincere, and themselves regarded as hypocrites; but Christians, universally, are scandalized for their sakes; and their religion pronounced to be a farce, a pretence, a cheat. The injury, done in this manner, is incalculable. Instead of improving at their side, in the enjoyment of their communion, and by means of their example; Christians learn from them only to be dull and slothful, as they are; to languish in all their duty; and, although they have a name to live, to become the subjects of such a benumbing torpor, as is scarcely distinguishable from the chill of Death.
In the mean time, unrenewed men, discerning the mighty difference between the religion, described and required in the Gospel, and that, which is displayed in the lives of such professors, not unnaturally, though very unhappily, conclude, that practical religion is no where to be found. To induce this conclusion, such examples need not be very numerous; but, whenever they become frequent, it is drawn of course. Thus by a lukewarm life, and a profession violated by stupidity and negligence, the hearts of Christians are broken, and the salvation of sinners prevented. Vice and infidelity, in the mean time, rear their heads in triumph. The ways of Zion mourn, because few come to her solemn feasts; and the path to Heaven is trodden only by here
and there a solitary traveller. He, who would not be chargeable with the guilt of effectuating these deplorable evils, must awake to righteousness; must watch, and strive, and pray, alway; must resolve to do whatever his hand findeth to do with his might; and must remember, that the day is approaching, when every man's work shall be made manifest: for that day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire.
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.
PROVERBS iv. 26.
Ponder the path of thy feet; and let all thy ways be established.
OUR next subject of consideration, in the order formerly proposed, is Religious Meditation.
This duty is enjoined in the text. Ponder, says David to Solomon, the path of thy feet; and let all thy ways be established. By the path, here mentioned, is undoubtedly intended the course of life; including all the thoughts, affections, and conduct, of the The latter clause is rendered in the margin, And all thy ways shall be ordered aright. The consequence, therefore, of pondering our course of life is here declared to be, that all our ways shall be ordered aright. Of course, the text obviously contains this doctrine,
That habitual, Religious Meditation is a direct mean of our present and eternal well-being.
This subject I shall discuss under two heads:
1. Religious Meditation, generally considered: II. Self-Examination.
Of the former of these I observe,
1. That it alone enables us to make religious Truths a part of our own system of thought.
Knowledge is never of very serious use to man, until it has become a part of his customary course of thinking. This is accomplished, when by familiar acquaintance we are enabled to call it up to view at pleasure; to arrange the parts so, as easily to comprehend the whole; to perceive readily their mutual connection and dependence; to discern the evidence, by which each is supported; to refer each to its proper place; and to judge concerning the whole with correctness, and expedition. In this manner every man of common sense thinks concerning every subject, with which he is well acquainted: and the power of thinking in this manner, he gains only by meditation. Whatever information we may possess, it is of no serious use to us, until it is thus made our own. The knowledge, which barely passes through the mind, resembles that, which is gained of a country by a traveller, who is whirled through it in a stage; or by a bird, flitting over it in his passage to another.
No interesting subject is examined by the mind in this cursory way. Every such subject it instinctively turns over and over; and never desists, until it has gained a familiar, and comprehensive, knowledge of the whole. In this situation, we may be said to understand a subject, so as to constitute it a part of our system of thought, and to make it a directory of our opinions, and
This truth is at least as applicable to religious subjects, as to others. Whatever knowledge we derive, either from the Bible, or from other sources of instruction, is thus made our own, only by meditation.
2. Meditation enables us to feel religious subjects with Strength and Efficacy.
Every person, who has attended to the state of his own mind, must have discovered, that there is a wide difference between perceiving, and feeling; and that of two things, equally understood, one has passed lightly over his mind; while the other has left a deep impression. A religious man, particularly, will easily remember, that the truths of the Gospel have, at times, barely swept the surface of his mind; and, at others, have powerfully
affected his heart. He will easily remember, that the same things, whether arguments, images, or motives, have affected him in these widely different manners. If he will bestow a little pains on this subject, he will further remember, that he has often been astonished at this fact; and has looked back, to find what mysterious cause prevented him from realizing, at one time, what he so deeply felt at another.
That, and that only, which we feel, moves us to useful action. What is merely perceived, or understood, scarcely moves us at all. The pipe must be relished, before the dancing will begin. The mourning must be felt, before we shall unite in the lamentation. A great proportion of mankind, in Christian countries, believe loosely, and generally, the divine origin, and the genuine doctrines, of the Scriptures. But while they thus believe, they live, and feel, and act, just as if there were no Scriptures. Almost all men believe the existence and government of God. Still they live, as if there were no God; or as if he exercised no government over the world, or over themselves. Multitudes believe, that Christ is the Saviour of men; and yet never think of applying to him for their own salvation.
Religious Meditation is the only method, in which men learn to feel the concerns of religion. In this method, the doctrines, precepts, and motives, presented to us in the Scriptures, which are quietly and carelessly admitted by most men, in Christian countries, and which thus neither amend the life, nor affect the heart, are, when often and deeply pondered, brought home to the soul; set strongly before its view; applied to itself; and felt to be of real and momentous import. In this way, we begin to fear and hope, to mourn and rejoice, to desire and loathe; and to seek and shun them according to their respective natures. In this way only, do we regard the things of religion with profit to ourselves, and consider them with an efficacious attention. In every other situation of mind, we are settled upon our lees, and instinctively say, The Lord will not do good, neither will the Lord do evil.
3. Religious Meditation renders the thoughts and affections, thus gained, Habitual.