« PreviousContinue »
gation of our fellow Christians there collected; it accompanies us in our joint offices of religion in an especial manner; and it returns us to our homes holier, and happier, and better ; and lastly, what greatly enhances its value to every anxious Christian, it affords to himself a proof that his heart is right towards God: when it is followed up by a good life, by abstinence from sin, and endeavours after virtue, by avoiding evil and doing good, the proof and the satisfaction to be drawn from it are complete.
PRAYER IN IMITATION OF CHRIST.
Luke v. 16.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and
The imitation of our Saviour is justly held out to us, as a rule of life; but then there are many things in which we cannot imitate him. What depends upon his miraculous character must necessarily surpass our endeavours, and be placed out of the reach of our imitation. This reason makes those particulars, in which we are able to follow his example, of great importance to be observed by us; because it is to these that our hopes of taking him for our pattern, of treading in his footsteps, are necessarily confined.
Now, our Lord's piety is one of these particulars. We can, if we be so minded, pray to God, as he did. We can aim at the spirit, and warmth, and earnestness, of his devotions; we can use, at least, those occasions, and that mode of devotion, which his example points out to us.
It is to be remarked, that a fulness of mental derotion was the spring and source of our Lord's visible piety. And this state of mind we must acquire. It consists in this; in a habit of turning our thoughts towards God, whenever they are not taken up with some particular engagement. Every man has some subject or other, to which his thoughts turn, when they are not particularly occupied. In a good Christian this subject is God, or what appertains to him. A good Christian, walking in his fields, sitting in his chamber, lying upon his bed, is thinking of God. His meditations draw, of their own accord, to that object, and then his thoughts kindle up his devotions; and devotion never burns so bright, or so warm, as when it is lighted up from within. The immensity, the stupendous nature of the adorable Being who made, and who supports, every thing about us, his grace, his love, his condescension towards his reasonable and moral creatures, that is, towards men ; the good things which he has placed within our reach, the heavenly happiness which he has put it in our power to obtain ; the infinite moment of our acting well and right, so as not to miss of the great reward, and not only to miss of our reward, but to sink into perdition ; such reflections will not fail of generating devotion, of moving within us either prayer, or thanksgiving, or both. This is mental devotion. Perhaps the difference between a religious and an irreligious character, depends more upon this mental devotion, than upon any other thing. The difference will show itself in men's lives and conversation, in their dealings with mankind, and in the various duties and offices of their station : but it originates and proceeds from a difference in their internal habits of mind, with respect to God; in the habit of thinking of him in private, and of what relates to him ; in cultivating these thoughts, or neglecting them; inviting them, or driving them from us; in forming, or in having formed a habit and custom, as to this point, unobserved and unobservable by others (because it passes in the mind, which no one can see); but of the most decisive consequence to our spiritual
character and immortal interests.
interests. This mind was in Christ-a deep, fixed, and constant piety. The expressions of it we have seen in all the forms, which could bespeak earnestness and sincerity; but the principle itself lay deep in his divine soul. The expressions likewise were occasional, more or fewer, as occasions called, or opportunities offered ; but the principle fixed and constant, uninterrupted, unremitted.
But again ; our Lord, whose mental piety was so unquestionable, so ardent, and so unceasing, did not, nevertheless, content himself with that. He thought fit, we find, at sundry times, and, I doubt not, also, very frequently, to draw it forth in actual prayer, to clothe it with words, to betake himself to visible devotion, to retire to a mountain for this express purpose, to withdraw himself a short distance from his companions, to kneel down, to pass the whole night in prayer, or in a place devoted to prayer. Let all, who feel their hearts impregnated with religious fervour, remember this example-remember that this disposition of the heart ought to vent itself in actual prayer. Let them not either be afraid nor ashamed, nor suffer any person, nor any thing, to keep them from this holy exercise. They will find the devout dispositions of their souls strengthened, gratified, confirmed.
This exhortation may not be necessary to the generality of pious tempers. They will naturally follow their propensity, and it will naturally carry them to prayer.
But some, even good men, are too abstracted in their way of thinking upon this subject. They think, that since God seeth and regardeth the heart, if their devotion be there, if it be within, all outward signs and expressions of it are superfluous. It is enough to answer, that our blessed Lord did not so think. He had all the fulness of devotion in his soul ; nevertheless, he thought it not superfluous to utter and pronounce audible prayer to God; and not only so, but to retire and withdraw himself from other engagements; nay even from his most intimate and favoured companions, expressly for this purpose.
Again ; our Lord's retirement to prayer appears commonly to have followed some signal act and display of his divine powers.
He did every thing to the glory of God; he referred his divine powers to his Father's gift; he made them the subject of his thankfulness, inasmuch as they advanced his great work; he followed them by his devotions. Now every good gift cometh down from the Father of light. Whether they be natural, or whether they be supernatural, the faculties which we possess are by God's donation. Wherefore, any successful exercise of these faculties, any instance in which we have been capable of doing something good, properly and truly so, either for the community which is best of all, for our neighbourhood, for our families, nay even for ourselves, ought to stir and awaken our gratitude to God, and to call forth that gratitude into actual devotion; at least, this is to imitate our blessed Lord, so far as we can imitate him at all : it is adopting, into our lives, the principle which regulated his.
Again ; it appears, on one occasion at least, that our Lord's retirement to prayer was preparatory to an important work, which he was about to execute. The manner in which St. Luke, states this instance is thus : “ And it came to pass in those days that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God; and when it was day, he called unto