Page images
PDF
EPUB

Father will come unto them, and make their abode with them : let it, however, be remembered, that this promise belongs not to those who hear and approve, but to those exclusively who hear and keep his sayings. They who have the form of godliness, without the power, may sit under the sound of the Gospel, and, as soon as the service closes, throw off the constraint, which a sense of decency imposed, and eagerly mix in the company, and plunge into the concerns of the world. To them the best part of a sermon is the conclusion, because it is the signal of release from confinement: they leave the threshold of the House of God, and their religion together, and return to their own element: they exchange things which they just endure, for things which they love, relish, and constantly pursue. But those who are renewed in the spirit of their minds, ought to shew it by a different conduct. It should be their concern, after hearing the word, to preserve it engraven on the tablet of memory, and transfer it thence, as occasion requires, to regulate the devout affections of the heart. And where this is actually the case, the Christian's prayers, in the closet and in the family, will possess a richness and copiousness, a freedom and confidence, derived from the ministrations of the word, and the services of the Sabbath.

SECTION II.

ON READING, AS A MEANS OF PROMOTING PRAYER.

As Prayer is one of the most noble and interesting, so it is one of the most arduous and difficult duties we are called to perform. I have, in the former Section, shewed how the hearing of the word is calculated to promote it; and now I shall proceed to notice Reading, as another means conducive to the same purpose. Nor let any one suppose, that this matter is of too little importance, to require a separate and distinct treatment. I am disposed to think, it would often be better to limit ourselves to examine, with due seriousness and attention, a single point, than hastily to glance over a vast system. We are too apt to be fascinated with brilliant but barren generalities; experience however proves, that a train of ideas and reflections is seldom profitable, unless followed out in all its practical bearings. A countryman, being questioned and exhorted with benevolent solicitude by his religious teacher, said, “What need is there of so much reading, and catechising, and prayers,

when the whole of religion is contained in three words,-to think well, to speak well, and to do well ?" True,” replied his instructor; “ and a man, who wants to erect a large building, may easily say, all that is wanting, is a sufficient quantity of timber, brick, and mortar, with labour, and the work will be done.” But such a summary account will but go a very little way towards accomplishing the object desired. It will not fetch the materials, nor lay the foundation, much less carry up the superstructure, and complete the design, without the requisite skill, industry and perseverance.

I. That reading may promote prayer, there must be a judicious and careful selection of books, fitted for the purpose.

We live at a time, when the world is almost delaged and overwhelmed with publications of all kinds, from the portable tract of four pages, to the splendid quarto, and massy folio. Solomon complained, that of making many books there was no end; but since the invention of printing, the sentence of that wise king has become more emphatically applicable. This abundance produces indifference, satiety, and disgust; or, if such effects are not seen, variety, as in almost every other case, distracts atten

tion, and creates fastidiousness. It must be evident, that many books, by the gay flattering scenes and specious illusions which they present to the fancy, tend to dissipate the mind; while others, filled with deadly error, in proportion as they are relished and their contents imbibed, directly poison and pervert the whole soul. In the choice of those writings, which are intended to enkindle and feed the flame of devotion, the greatest care is necessary.

There is one book, which has in all things the pre-eminence. Its precepts, plain and unadorned, pure and unalloyed; its promises, rich and free, precious, and particularly directed to every possible condition; its warnings and admonitions, solemn and impressive ; its histories, stamped with veracity, and stored with heavenly instruction; its bright examples, displaying vital piety in every rank, from the lowest to the highest order, and in all the variety of circumstances to which human life is subject; render the Bible the devout man's best companion. We cannot attain to a just notion of prayer, while we remain ignorant of our own nature, of the nature of God as revealed, of our relation to him, and dependance on him. “The Scriptures," saith Paul, “ are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus;" and neither saving knowledge, nor sanctity of heart, are to be

found without them. Brilliant moral maxims, with a few separate shining qualities, like wandering meteors over a stagnant marsh, or verdant spots in a sandy desert, were not uncommon among the ancient Pagan sages.

Christianity alone,” says Mrs. Lucy Hutchinson, “ is the true royal blood that runs through the whole body of virtue ; and every pretender to that glorious family, who hath no tincture of it, is an impostor. By Christianity, I mean that universal habit of grace, which is wrought in a soul by the regenerating Spirit of God, whereby the whole creature is resigned up into the divine will, and love, and all its actions designed to the obedience and glory of its Maker."

It is necessary to know God, before we can offer to him any acceptable worship: hence we are told, that the Thessalonians, after they had received the Gospel, turned from idols to serve the living God. Oh, how beneficial and glorious are the effects produced, when the beams of divine truth chase away the darkness and the horrors of Pagan superstition! Nor are there wanting such effects even in our own times. Mr. Ward, who has spent more than twenty years in the honourable and unwearied labour of translating the Holy Scriptures into various languages of our eastern empire, and performing the other arduous duties of a

« PreviousContinue »