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How essential to man's highest happiness, to his present and ultimate true greatness, are the conflicts to which life calls him. War is sometimes defended, on the ground, that it ends in blessings not wholly disproportioned to the evils which palpably it brings along with it. The Christian warfare differs from this, in that it is a warfare for its own sake. It is a warfare, the end of which is not something else, and something better, but whose end is itself. Except that it is not, as every one's experience convinces him, in any respect sport, it might be more fitly compared to trials of skill with weapons. Strength, greater skill, are here the only objects, conflict and collision the only means by which they are to be attained. So it is in life. The bitterest and most dangerous encounters, we ever engage in, are but so many golden opportunities of the soul's more quick and vigorous growth. As in real or mimic fight the more equal, or sometimes even superior to ourselves, the antagonist, the more our arm is nerved and the whole energy of our being put forth for our deliverance, so, in life, the more violent the temptation, the more heart-oppressing the trial, the harder the labor, the greater the good that redounds to the soul. Its powers are the more put to their proof, and the sincerity of its attachment to God and his will the more satisfactorily shown. It is only through conflict and resistance that we may ever look to become real men on earth, and more than men in heaven.
If any one would only take the trouble to picture to himself such a scene as he in his thoughtlessness often wishes life was, where existence shall flow on placid and undisturbed, where desire shall never wander, nor passion betray, nor outward objects ever tempt, where knowledge shall pour itself into the passive mind, and, in a word, all virtue and all attainment come with a wish, and rest and repose make up the days and years of such a being; and then compare a creature, like man, formed under its influences, with man, as formed, or rather created, by the exposure, trial, temptation, duty, and toil of earth, could he hesitate one moment which to pronounce the greater, and more glorious of the two ? Would he not, then, see that it is this very difficulty and darkness of which we are so apt to complain, that in truth constitute the glory and worth of life, — that just as strength of body results from exercise, and rough encounters with others, with labor, and with the elements, so does strength of soul, rectitude, purity, conscientiousness, exaltation above the poor gratifications of sense, spring from the spiritual conflicts of the mind with the innumerable forms of temptation, error, and sin. . So that the presence of evil is the glory of human life ; for out of this grow, what could never grow otherwise, so far as we can see, a mind vigorous from the pursuit of knowledge, through a thousand forms of error, and a soul that has chosen virtue, and from choice adhered to it, in the face of temptations the most seducing, which the heart of man can conceive. And what good, of which we have any knowledge, or of which we can frame a conception, is to be compared with this? The opportunity afforded by the life on earth, to seize this good and make it our own, is one, than which we in vain attempt to imagine a greater or better, in any region of the infinite universe. Everything great and good seems thus to be placed within our reach. We have only to stretch out our hand, and it is our own.
Evil then is good. It is by this ministry that the true life of man is unfolded. He becomes a genuine man just in the proportion in which evil solicits and is withstood, just in the proportion in which difficulties throng and darken the way of knowledge, of truth, and of virtue. To find fault with such a state of things, what is it but to complain that the power is given us to raise ourselves not only to the highest point of humanity, but to seats of angels and archangels ; – to complain that we are men, and may make ourselves anything? Does not he, who complains of labor, of hard work, of the difficulties of goodness, of the evils that beset the path of life, in truth complain that he is a man — and not rather a mere animal – mindless, heartless, soulless animal. For with the first entrance of a reasoning mind, of the feeling of right and wrong, of the sense of duty, of a power to discriminate between truth and error — into a created being, is not the outward world that instant, wherever and whatever it may be, filled both with temptation and difficulty ? It is the nature we have that crowds the world so with what we call moral evil — the only evil. It surely is not in the material world, or any of its objects. Take away conscience, reason, the moral power of
choice, and this world is as free of evil as paradise, or Heaven itself. Impart these powers again — and where shall the soul be placed, and among what beings or objects, where there shall not spring up difficulty and labor, and motives drawing the mind ihis way and that, and perplexing its power of choice? but, at the same time, and by the self-same process, invigorating its faculties, raising it to higher and still higher spheres of glory and enjoyment. The evils that are in the world are the steps by which we mount up to heaven — the Jacob's ladder, that joins Heaven and Earth.
Though it be admitted that holiness is that without which no man shall see God, with which no man shall fail to see Him — " the pure in heart shall see God,” – it may still be true that worship is essential also. In truth, one might say that in the proportion that holiness is essential, in that very proportion is worship also ; and especially that form of worship which we denominate prayer, so helpful is it as a means of virtue.
Prayer is the intercourse which man holds with the invisible Creator. It is the utterance, as addressed to him, of holy purposes and desires. It is dwelling for a few moments upon our spiritual interests and our future hopes, upon our relations to our Maker and things eternal, upon life and death, and preparing ourselves by every holy art we can use for a return to scenes of temptation and danger. It is laying open to the eye of Heaven, not as if God needed any knowledge we could impart, but as an evidence of our sincerity, all the weaknesses and imperfections of our virtue, all the secret sinful desires of our hearts, seeking his pardon, and renewing in his presence vows of a better service. It is renewing our religious purposes under circumstances of solemnity, calculated, beyond any other means we could make use of, to cause us to remember them and act up to their spirit, when we shall have left our privacy and ventured forth again into the world.
This is not a complete definition of prayer, but these ideas would be embraced in any complete definition of it. But if this be only in part what is meant by it, can there be a doubt whether to perform this duty would have the most beneficial effect upon our virtue ? Will not he who begins the day - every day - with an enumeration in the form of prayer of the great purposes of human existence, reflects upon his exposures, dangers and duties, and expresses in earnest language, in all the added solemnity of an approach to God, his desire to do well and overcome all evil, — will not such a one enter upon the affairs of life in a state of mind more favorable to the higher worship of holy living, than if he had indulged in no such previous self-communion — than if he had rushed recklessly, without one thought that sprung not from earth and sense, into the great conflict of good and evil? There is philosophy, reason, and nature in prayer, not less than authority. Look at analogous cases. Would not the man who had every day a difficult task to perform, a statesman for example, go through the business of each day more successfully, for considering well beforehand what he had to do, and the principles by which he must be guided ? Nay, who would dare to engage in such transactions without the most anxious and careful deliberation ? Is there any worldly duty, the business of any office, the cares of which are at all complicated or mutable in their character, which would not be more intelligently discharged after previous thoughtfulness and a wise forecast, than if we depended upon the wisdom and strength of the moment ? The same must be true in every relation; and he is accordingly not only unobservant of the express command of his religion, but unwise as a man, who, if he aim at all or with earnestness at moral progress, foregoes the use of prayer as the best and strongest defence against the more serious dangers and cares of human life. And if in the common affairs of life we resort to every probable means of performing our tasks well, there is even more need of such prudence in the affairs of religion and the soul. For much more arduous, much more complicated than any other conduct, is the right conduct of life — much more difficult than any other art, the art of living well. It requires that our principles be deep-founded, our knowledge ready at a moment's warning, our faith intelligent and clear — our feet shod with the very preparation of the Gospel. Wholly indispensable, then, is prayer, and that previous arming of the soul for what it is to encounter, which is the necessary effect of prayer. There are various forms of mental preparation for the tasks which men perforn, as filling important stations in society. Prayer, in one aspect, is this previous spiritual preparation — seeking about on every side for strength and power. It is not a mere empty offering of praise to God, who needs it not. No error then can be more material, than because it is perfectly true, that holiness is the grand essential, the fulfilment of the whole will of God, we may therefore forbear worship as a duty unimportant; for it is, though not holiness itself, a means of creating it, which is resorted to, on the truest principles of human nature. Man may not safely dispense with this friend and ally of his virtue, nor believe, that whatever degree of virtue he may have reached without it, it is as true and as exalted as it would have been with it. To think so, were to believe what is contrary to all we know and experience of our nature; it were to believe not only without evidence, but against it. How much more likely, then, it is all we say, is he to worship God as he is required to do, and as he may desire to do, in the beauty of holiness, who shall first worship him in the beauty of prayer.
THE LOVE OF GOD. I cannot think it difficult to define what is meant by the love of God. It is described essentially, in any definition we may give of the love which we bear to an earthly parent. I should define it as a sentiment resembling in its nature, with great exactness, the affection we bear those earthly parents, from whom we have received a thousand proofs of the tenderest regard, whose aim has ever been to promote our happiness and our virtue, and whose amiable dispositions have bound us to them by cords which no power can dissolve. Our love of God may and ought to be a sentiment like this, — a sentiment of warm, grateful affection. We have not, it is true, seen this wonderful Being with the eye of the body. Is it necessary, in order to love him, that we should see him ? We love many things that we do not see. It is the character of a parent or friend that we love, not the outward, perishing form. And if our eye do rest with delight upon the countenance, still it is the expression of goodness we meet there, which attracts and warms us, not the mere features, which serve but as a medium by which that expression is conveyed. It is his virtues, his goodness, in a word, his character, that we love. If for a season we are separated from him, his moral image remains unchanged; and though death remove him forever from us, the heart, faithful to its early moral impressions, remembers to the latest hour of life, and with no loss of distinctness, the kind friend, the wise counsellor, the liberal benefactor,
VOL. XXXIII. — 3D S. VOL. XV. NO. II. 26