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feldom is it fo bright in our mind, fo filent in our heart, fo quiet around us, that we can thoroughly rejoice in thy existence and our own, thoroughly feel our fuperior deftination, and think and act in complete confiftence with it! O God, the father of our fpirits, grant us then more to feel, more highly to prize our connection with thee, and render us more fufceptible of thy influence upon us, more frequently to collect our scattered thoughts, to feek retirement, to exercife ourselves more in reflection and thus to come nearer to thee and to our fuperior appointment. Teach us to be jealous of the prerogative we poffefs as intelligent creatures, and let us find fo much pleasure and happiness in the proper application of it, that we may never be wanting in incitement and inclination to it. Strengthen alfo now our mind that it may perceive the truth intended to inform and to improve it, in a perfpicuous light; let it diffipate our prejudices and errors, and enable us by its luftre, more fecurely and happily to continue and to complete our journey of life. We ask it of thee in the name of Jefus, faying: Our father, &c.
MARK, i. 12.
And immediately the fpirit driveth him into the wilderness,
CONVERSE with mankind, and converse with
onefelf; the gaieties of focial, and the serious, nefs of folitary life; diffufive, beneficent activity among many, and the application of the entire at, tention on onefelf; vivacity in business and vivacity in reflection; noife and filence; diffipation and re, collection; are always to be interchangeably follow, ed, if we would attain the true end of our being, ful, fil our feveral duties, and arrive at a certain degree of wisdom and virtue. If we confine our existence to either fort exclufively of the other, we shall neglect either our own most important concerns, or the concerns of our brethren. In the uninterrupted buftle of bufinefs and diffipation, we may eafily for get ourselves; and by too severe a purfuit of folitary filence, we may as eafily become indifferent and infenfible to others. But, if we combine them both together, we fhall live as much for others as for ourfelves, promote as far as we are able our own felicity no less than that of other men, and shall neither be feduced to fally by levity and habitual distraction, nor to mifanthropy by the gloomy and querulous
aufterity of the reclufe. Two fide-ways, by which too many have miffed of the proper end of their being, and still mistake it, with only this difference, that now the one and then the other has been more thronged and frequented. At prefent, at least in our regions of the world, those times are past, when the folitary life, devoted to meditation, was fo highly esteemed, and a total feclufion from the world was thought the fole means of access to heaven. Now the oppofite path is more univerfally trodden: comis pany every thing; and filence and retirement are fallen, with the majority, into evil report. But whether they merit this report? Whether, under proper limitations, they ftill are not worthy of the use and esteem of the fage and the christian? Whether we have not caufe, in this particular likewife, to imitate our faviour Jefus, and like him to be led of the fpirit, to be led by the sentiment of our fpiritual wants, into the wilderness, or into retirement? This, my pious hearers, is what we shall now endeavour to discuss. I mean to discourse to you on the value and the difcreet use of folitude; firft ftating the fubject, then fhewing its utility, and laftly adding a few rules for the prudent employment of it.
By the folitude I recommend, I mean not a life passed in abfolute feclufion from all commerce with the world and all intercourse with mankind, not the life of the cœnobite, nor that of the hermit. Such a life is plainly in oppofition to the destination and felicity of man, and at moft is adapted only to the
feeble, fuch as the weight of misfortunes has entirely borne down and rendered unfit for the business and
joys of focial life. And he who thinks by such a life to ferve God, or to promote the falvation of his foul, neither knows God, nor understands what the term of faving his foul implies, and cannot be acquitted of the charge of fuperftition. No, to ferve God means, from love and obedience to him, to serve his creatures of the human race, and to fulfil all the duties of life; and the faving of the foul confifts in the application of all our faculties and powers to do the will of our creator; and by the best and most useful means to effect as much good with them as we always are able.
No, the folitude I mean is every place, every retreat, where a man, for a longer or a fhorter time, is alone and apart from the company of other perfons, that he may be at liberty to make reflections on himself and his more important concerns, wheit be in a fmall room of his houfe, or in the fpacious and open plain; in the blaze of the meridian fun, or by the milder light of the nocturnal moon. Neither darkness nor confinement, but filence and freedom from fuch matters and abfence of such persons, as might interrupt or disturb our thoughts, is the effence of folitude. The more extenfive however the fphere of our fight and fentiment; the farther our eyes can reach; the freer our breast can respire; the more our heart can comprehend, and the more unimpeded it may expand: fo much the more produc
tive to us is folitude in great, in generous, in pious thoughts and fentiments; fo much the more likely is it to be and to procure us what it ought to be and to procure. Even the presence of a mind in harmony with ours, of a heart purfuing and loving fuch objects as our own, is frequently, not only no hindrance, but rather an advantage to it. To fuch a folitude we afcribe great worth and manifold utility. And this for various reafons.
In folitude we think more fedately, more undifturbed and free; and thinking, my pious hearers, is the grand prerogative of man, the foundation of his utmost perfection and happiness. In fociety, and in the midst of our affairs, it frequently happens, that, in this refpect, we are more paffive than active. We must take the impreffions of outward things as they fall upon us; our mental representations will be exactly modelled on what furrounds us, on whatever we see and hear, on what we have to do. They commonly glide away from before us as quickly as they arife; one preffes upon the other; their impetuous torrent carries us away with it. But feldom can we chufe from among them; but feldom can we detain fuch as are most agreeable and important to us; feldom can we difinifs fuch as promise us neither profit nor pleasure; but seldom can we diftinguish between truth and falfehood, between reality and appearance. We there collect more materials for thought, than we are able to give our mental application to in all its force.