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less, and I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Hence I observe,
2. That the chief advantage of religious retirement consists in its loosening qur attachment to the objects of sense, and in raising our desires to the things that are above; and thereby assimilating gạr souls (as has been already remarked) to the delightful employment and happiness of the heavenly world,
The Christian, when he leaves this world, only changes the place of his pilgrimage for that of his native home. He is already a citizen of heaven, born from above, and made a partaker of the divine nature. And as every thing tends to the place of its original, so the new and heavenly nature of which
the Christian is made a partaker, leads his thoughts and desires upwards to heaven, as naturally as the thoughts and desires of a stranger in a foreign land are directed towards the place of his nativity. He keeps up a frequent correspondence with it, just as a stranger in a foreign land does with his relatives at home. He has fellowship with God, with Jesus Christ, with angels, and with all, whether in heaven or on earth, that are members of that body of which Christ is the head. Ye are eome, says the apostle, unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are wrilten in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
It is by meditating upon these precious truths, and by maintaining this heavenly communion, that the Christian may be said to have his conversation in heaven even while on earth. He not only perceives but feels the truth and power of divine things upon his heart. They constitute a part of the system of his thoughts. And whatever information we may possess, unless it be thus made our own, and incorporated, as it were, with our sentiments, and with the general tenour of our conduct, it is of no material use to us as moral and account. able beings. It is only when we meditate upon, and seriously consider, the doctrines, precepts, and motives, presented to us in the scriptures, that we begin to fear and hope, to rejoice and mourn, after a godly manner; to hunger and thirst after righteousness; to deny ourselves and take up our cross, as the circumstances of our respective cases may require. In this way only can we learn our real state and character before God; the nature and extent of our depravity ; the deceitfulness of our own hearts, and our utter inability of ourselves to return to God, or to do any thing that is truly good in his sight.
In the same manner only can we come to any decision as to the reality of our repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; whether we are conformed unto the world, or renewed in the spirit of our minds; what, in short, we are, what we are doing, and whither we are going. The
doctrines which we believe, the motives which influence our conduct, and the affections which we exercise, must be carefully and frequently scrutinized; and from them all, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, we must endeavour to decide the momentous question-Am I a Christian ? This question can only be decided by conversing with God in his word, and with our own hearts in secret, by giving ourselves to meditation and prayer, and by continuing in humility and godly fear to work out our own salvation, to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and to press forward towards the mark for the prize of our high calling. On all these accounts, solitude (as one happily expresses it) is the hallowed ground which wisdom hath, in every age, chosen for her own.
The man of public spirit has recourse to it, in order to form plans for general good; the man of genius, in order to dwell on his favourite themes ; the philosopher, to pursue his discoveries; the Christian, to pour out his heart to God, and to taste the sweets of heavenly communion. Isaac went out to meditate in the fields at'evening tide. David, amidst all the splendors of royalty, often bears witness both to the pleasure which he received, and to the benefit which he reaped, from devout meditation. I communed with my own heart, and my spirit made diligent search. I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto God's testimonies. In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul. And our blessed Saviour, whose example has all the force of a law, has both honoured and hallowed
retirement for intercourse with heaven. He divided the precious hours which he spent upon earth betwixt the work of his high vocation and the most intimate communion with his heavenly Father. The garden and the mountain were resorted to for this end, sometimes before the sun had arisen to dissipate the darkness of the natural world, and sometimes in the silence of the night. And in the morning, says the sacred historian, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And again, When he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray.
This subject will furnish us with a very easy and a very certain criterion by which we may ascertain the state of our hearts towards God. Of the wicked it is said, that they live without God in the world, and that God is not in all their thoughts. They deny not, it may be, that there is a God; but it is the same to them as though he did not exist. No man, surely, who believes that there is a God, such as his works and his word reveal him to be, would dare to insult him by profane oaths and imprecations, or to set all his attributes at defiance by deliberate and multiplied transgressions. Let me appeal to yourselves, and ask you, Can you be said to believe in God, who live as if there were no God; who cannot bear to think of him; who shut him out, as it were, from your hearts and from your houses, and never call upon his name in secret and in social prayer ? Can you be said to believe in God, whose minds are so carnalized, or whose hearts are so depraved, that they can relish nothing that has a relation to God, or an impress of his holiness upon it; who, so far from calling the day which he has set apart from other days, for the special purpose of communing with himself, a des light, the holy of the Lord, honourable, are ready to exclaim, Behold what a weariness! when will the Sabbath be gone? Custom, indeed, brings many to the house of God, whose souls do not pant for his gracious presence and blessing Curiosity prompts others, that, like the Athenians, they may hear or see something new.
And not a few are laid under a kind of unwilling compliance with the outward form of godliness, through the convictions and challenges of their own consciences, which will not permit them to be at rest in the total neglect of so plainly commanded a duty. So that attendance upon public worship is of itself no criterion whatever of religious character, or of the state of the heart towards God. But when a person enters into his closet, and prays to his heavenly Father, who seeth in secret ; or when he communes with his own heart on bed, and is still, one motive only, devotedness to God, is likely to induce him habitually to engage in this duty. There is no company to excite his curiosity, no eloquent speaker to please his fancy, no outward object to raise his animal spirits ; it is a secret transaction between God and his own soul. It forms, therefore, a strong presumption that his heart is right with God. Love is best shewn by