« AnteriorContinua »
world, possesses a sanctity which belongs not to common sentiments or seasons: it commands not only gratitude, but veneration, and would involve the being capable of forgetting it in the guilt of sacrilege. Let us transfer the feelings which are familiar to us in our earthly relations, to those higher connections and dependencies to which Religion introduces us; let us give to those sentiments the amplitude and exaltation which they should acquire by being allied to the greatest and the best of Beings; and we shall need no other instructors. The voice of nature, and the dictates of piety, will for once be concurrent; and a just instinct conduct us to truth.
It is long before the mind becomes fully persuaded of the power of Prayer, and the reality of its consolations. Our sensibility in religion, as in social intercourse, is dependant, in some measure, upon the constitutional temperament. Fancy can imitate, with the skill of an enchantress, every impression, sensible or spiritual; and whatever be the persuasion of the presence and agency of God, which is experienced in the happier hours of devotion, it is not unnatural that doubts should afterwards arise, and some apprehension be felt lest we yield ourselves too readily to a delightful illusion. It is probable that the danger of mistake in this, as in other branches of religious knowledge and experience, was intended by our Heavenly Instructor for our discipline and improvement;-to teach us humility, caution, diffidence; to awaken a rational anxiety after truth; to inculcate the necessity of watchfulness; to stimulate and to reward that steady diligence which is one of the best evidences of our sincerity in his service. A hasty persuasion of questionable truths, a rapid and undoubting surrender of the mind to convictions
of the highest moment upon slight and disputable evidence, is neither characteristic of a just understanding, nor of that serious, modest, and somewhat scrupulous temper, which is generally allied to the best graces of Christianity. Yet the reality of those blessed communications which descend in prayer upon the humble and fervent suppliant, is in no manner rendered doubtful by the possibility of mistaking them. These are guaranteed to us by the faithfulness of the Revelation of God; and they have been authenticated, in every age, by the testimony of the most pious and spiritual Christians. Let us earnestly endeavour so “to watch unto prayer,” that we may enjoy also the rational evidence of our own experience. Religion does not merely enjoin duties; it communicates privileges; it imparts blessings. The Apostle of the Gentiles prayed for his converts, “that they might be filled with all joy and peace in believing;—that they might abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” St. Peter appealed to the experience of believers,—“if so be
ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” The beloved Disciple declared, “Verily our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." There is a practical conviction of the reality of heavenly things, “a sober certainty of bliss," which exceedingly differs from that general, though undisputing assent to the great truths of Revelation, with which we are far too willing to rest satisfied. In the ordinary economy of Providence, it is the reward of a diligent inquiry into the will of God, and persevering activity in his service. It is especially the fruit and the reward of Prayer; and if no other duties or advantages connected themselves with that blessed exercise, this would certainly be sufficient to render it the delight
of every experienced Christian. For what can be more truly desirable than to attain to a perception of that light and peace, which in their full measure belong to a higher condition; what more excellent than that occupation which connects the service, with the enjoyment of God, the duties of this life, with the glories of a better?
THERE is a passage in the Offices of Cicero, where that extraordinary writer is led by the course of his subject to contrast for a moment, the stern and masculine virtues which the Antients arranged under the head of Fortitude, with those milder graces which they assigned to the class of Temperance. Meekness, or lowliness of character, was included in this latter description; and the philosopher ventures to express a doubt (though it is only a doubt), whether the decided pre-eminence usually attributed to the class of Fortitude, might not be more questionable than inoral writers had been accustomed to imagine.
Truth has in general stolen gradually upon mankind; and, like the day, has been visible in imperfect glimpses and flashes of light before the full orb has appeared above the horizon. What the Roman philosopher faintly saw and timidly suggested, (so faintly that it appears in no sensible measure to have influenced his theories; so timidly that perhaps a similar intimation might be sought for in vain among all his other volumes), Christianity plainly affirmed, and most distinctly promulgated. And such has been the progress of knowledge in this department, such is at present the concurrence of opinion among thinking
men, that one of the ablest advocates * of Revealed Religion, has enumerated among the characteristic features which establish its Divine original, the declaration of a truth, which, even in an advanced age of the Heathen learning, Cicero barely ventured to intimate.
Of the virtues which the Antient Philosophy somewhat slighted, and which Christianity studiously exalts, Humility and Benevolence are certainly the most considerable; in their nature the most excellent, in their operation the most extensive. To the first of these I propose to devote the present paper; and I may perhaps hereafter find an occasion to offer a few remarks on the second.
The moral character which we now agree in attributing to Humility, does not depend exclusively on the discoveries which Revelation has opened; nor does its value solely rest on the authority of the sacred writings and the exalted station there assigned to it. This virtue is indisputably a part of Natural Religion. It is a plain result from those truths which were capable of being discovered, as they are plainly demonstrable, without the intervention of miraculous assistance. Every theory, not absolutely atheistical, which admits the existence of a God, and supposes the dependance of the creature on the Creator, necessarily implies the obligation of Humility; of that modest and lowly disposition, which these simple and primitive relations render manifestly becoming in a being such as Man. Whether we consider the immeasurable distance which separates us from the great Author of the Universe, or reflect on our absolute dependance upon
his bounty; whether we raise our eyes to contemplate the
* Dr. Paley.