« FöregåendeFortsätt »
sentiments along with us, and act in conformity to them, through life? How seldom does it happen that we are proof against the freedom of conversation, or the contagion of example, which insensibly corrupt the simplicity of our hearts, and distort the uprightness of our opinions. We are aware, perhaps, of the open attacks upon our virtue, which every one may see, and guard against, if he pleases; but it is not every one that sees those more secret enemies, that are perpetually at work, undermining his integrity. It is scarce possible to be always with the multitude, without falling in with its sentiments, and following it to do evil, though we never intended it. The crowd carries us involuntarily forward, without our seeming to take one step ourselves in the way that they are going.
We learn, by degrees, to think with less abhorrence on what we see every day practised and applauded. We learn to look on bad examples with complacency; and it is but too easy a transition, from seeing vice without disgust, to practising it without remorse. We quickly find out the art of accommodating our duty to our interests, and making our opinions bend to our inclinations. We lose sight of the honest notions we first set out with, and adopt others more pliant in their stead. The issues of life thus corrupted, the infection soon spreads itself to our actions. We are enslaved by habits, without feeling the chain thrown over us, and become guilty of crimes, which we once could not think of without shuddering. It is, therefore, of the last consequence, to step aside sometimes from the world, in order to compare our present way of thinking and acting with our past; to try and sift ourselves thoroughly ; " to search out our “ spirits, and seek the very ground of 5 our hearts; to prove and examine our “ thoughts; to look well, extremely well, 66 if there be any way of wickedness in us; 6 that if there be, we may turn from it into “ the way everlasting.”
IV. As by frequently conversing with a man, we may gain a tolerable insight into his true temper and disposition ; so a repeated communion with our own hearts brings us intimately and entirely acquainted with them ; discovers to us their weak sides, their leading propensities, and ruling foibles. It lays open to us all their windings and recesses, their frauds and subtleties. We penetrate through the thin covering of their fair pretences, into their real motives. We see, that in most cases it is hazardous to indulge their suggestions too easily and too often ; we see, that one compliance only paves the way for a second, till we have it no longer in our power to refuse their solicitations. Hence we learn to be jealous of their encroachments, and to suspect their most specious proposals. We keep a strict eye over all their motions, and guard every issue of life with the utmost diligence. By tracing the progress of our passions on former occasions, and observing the fatal mischiefs that followed from suffering them to gain the ascendency over us, we shall learn the proper art of managing and subduing them ; we shall acquire that extremely necessary science of self-government, those admirable habits of prudence and circumspection, which, however by some men neglected and despised, we shall find to be exceedingly conducive to right conduct and real happiness. Without thus reflecting on
our past miscarriages, and enquiring into their causes, we must for ever fall into the same mistakes, be deceived by the same appearances, surprised by the same artifices, and lose the only consolation (poor as it is) which our past follies and transgressions can afford us, experience.
Such are the more general uses of religious retirement and reflection : but they will have more peculiar advantages, according to the particular situation that we are placed in.
If Providence has cast our lot in a fair ground, has given us a goodly heritage, and blessed us with a large proportion of every thing that is held most valuable in this world, rank, power, wealth, beauty, health, and strength; though we may then, perhaps, be less disposed, yet have we more occasion for self-communion than ever. Reflection will, at that time, be particularly needful, to check the extravagance of our joy ; to preserve us from vanity and selfconceit; to keep our pampered appetites in subjection; to guard us from the dangers of prosperity and the temptations of luxury, from dissipation and debauchery, from pride and insolence, from that wanton cruelty and incredible hardness of heart, which high spirits and uninterrupted happiness too often produce. Instead of these wild excesses, religious meditation will turn the overflowings of our gladness into their proper channels, into praises and thanksgivings to the gracious Author of our happiness, and a liberal communication to others of the blessings we enjoy : which are the only proper expressions of our thankfulness, and the only suitable return for such distinguishing marks of the divine favour.
If, on the contrary, we are oppressed with a multitude of sorrows, with poverty or disease, with losses and disappointments, the persecution of enemies, or the unkindness of friends, it is to retirement we must fly for consolation ; not to indulge ourselves in the sullen satisfaction of a secret melancholy, much less to vent the bitterness of our heart in frantic exclamations, and indecent reflections on the dispensations of Providence ; but after pouring out our souls before God, to go at once to the bottom of the evil, to search for the causes of our affliction where they are too often, alas ! to be found, but