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By what Means true Devotion is destroyed.
Here the true fpirit of devotion, which is in its own nature a liberal and reasonable fervice, is made wholly to evaporate in unnatural heat, and extatic fervours, fuch as are a difgrace and reproach to the dignity of a rational nature. And instead of fpeaking the language of a ferious, rational, unaffected piety, they abound wholly with rapturous flights of unhallowed love, and strains of myftical diffoluteness; or as an ingenious author terms it, fpiritualized concupifcence, invented by the carnal and wanton appetites and wifhes of the unmarried nuns and friars; and thence either by defign, or by the delufion of the devil, or both, foifted into the devotions of the reformed church, under a pretence of purer flames of divine love and fpiritual rapture; whereas they pollute the foul with luscious images, warm it into irregular ferments, and fire it with a falle paffion; diffipating all due compofure and recollection of mind, and laying open the heart to all the wild extravagancies of frantic enthufiafin: a manner of addrefs much fitter for a diffolute lover, than for an acceptable worshiper of the all-pure and all-knowing God.
It was against this kind of devotion, that great light of the church of England, the learned and pious bishop STILLINGFLEET thus exclaimed. "Is it poffible (faid he) that any man
can imagine, it is no dishonour to the chriftian religion to "make the perfection of the devotion of it to confift in fuch "frange unaccountable unions and raptures, which take away "the use of all (modefty) reason, and coinmon sense !”
Some caufes of the decay of christian piety.
It is to fuch effufions as thefe we may afcribe, in a great meafure, the decay of chriftian piety: Because, they tend to mislead mens minds from the true fubject both of their duty and happinefs, and bring them to acquiefce in their falfe and mistaken fubftitutes: they give great and fignal Difcouragement to the general practice of piety in the world, by expofing it to ridicule, A 3 and
and the charge of affected fingularity. On the one hand, they throw many honest and well-meaning, but weak minds into a defpair of ever fucceeding in the Bufinefs of religion; because, upon examination, they difcover in themselves, little or no acquaintance with those tumultuous heats, and ungoverned fallies of paffion, upon which fo great a stress is laid by thefe pretenders to fuch glorious frenzies and heavenly follies: and on the other, they harden the diffolute and unthinking part of mankind into an obftinate reluctance towards the very first efforts of reformation, by confirming them in a prejudice, they are of themfelves too willing to entertain against religion: that it is a rigorous impracticable fervice; a flate of unnatural refinement, altogether incompatible with the common measures of human life. And
This is no more than what the above-mentioned bishop had before afferted against the Romish devotions. "This mystical divinity, fays he, is not only unintelligible, but it leads perfons into frange illufions of fancy; and this I take to be a very great injury, not only to thofe melancholy fouls, that are led through this valley of fhades and darkness; but even to the chri"ftian religion itself, as though the way of perfection taught by it were a low, mean, contemptible thing, in comparison of thefe myftical flights.
In what the love of GOD confists.
"It is true, we are commanded often to love God with all our heart, but withal we are told, we must not fancy this love to "be a mere languishing paffion; no, the love of Chriftians “towards God is no fond amorous affection, but a due apsi prehenfion and efteem of the divine excellencies, a hearty fenfe of all his kindness to us, and a conftant readiness of mind to do his will. And thus the beloved fon of God hath declared what "He means by the love he expects from his difciples: If ye love
me, (fays Chrift,) keep my commandments; and ye are "my friends if ye do whatfoever I command you. And if (Jays St. John) any man fay I love God, and hateth his ❝ brother
"brother, he is a lyar; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath feen, how can he love God whom he "hath not feen? No man hath feen God at any Time. If 66 we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Thus the beloved difciple, who underfood the great mysteries of divine love, hath expreffed them to 6.us. And,
"Here (you fee) are no blind elevations of the will; no ex"tatic nor luscious expreffim; no, it is very plain that all fuch "myftical notions, and luscious metaphors and expreflions
had another fpring and a more impure fountain, than the "christian doctrine." For, as the faid devout and judicious prelate adds, " fupposing that mystical way of perfection were "poffible, I could fee no neceffity at all of Chrift's coming into "the world, nor of any influence his death, or fuffering, "doctrine could have upon the bringing men to a state of Hap"pinefs."
For thefe reafons I thought it my duty, as a christian, to explode that fulfome and luscious method of the Old Week's, Preparation, which has most scandalously put into the mouth of the devout reader fuch carnal expreffions as are mentioned above* : and in their flead I have endeavoured to fubftitute fuch prayers A 4 and
* «The two great errors into which a men devotion may betray us, are enthusiasm and superstition. There is not a more melancholy object than a man who has his head turned with religious enthusiasin. A perfon that is crazed, tho' with pride or malice, is a fight very mortifying to human nature; but when the diftemper arifes from any indifcreet fervours of devotion, or too intense an application of the mind to its mistaken duties, it deferves our compaffion in a more particular manner. We may however learn this leffon from it, that fince devotion itself (which one would be apt to think could not be too warm) may diforder the mind, unless its heats are tempered with caution and prudence, we should be particularly careful to keep our reafon as cool as poffible, and to guard ourfelves in all parts of life against the influence of paffion, imagination, and conftitution.'
"Devotion, when it does not lye under the check of reafon, is very apt to degenerate into enthufiafin: when the mind finds herfelf very much
and meditations, as may be warranted from the word of God: being thoroughly fenfible how well grounded that complaint of the pious bifhop FLEETWOOD is, "that the devotions of the ig"norant are generally fuperftitious and grofs, fixing themselves "commonly on fenfible objects; whereas in true religion all is intelligible and divine,and God, who should be the only object of their devotion, hath hardly any fhare therein." Some account of this work.
As it has been my endeavour on the one hand not to flatter finners; fo on the other, I have been careful not to fill the minds of any with unneceffary fears, and fcruples, with respect to a duty, which ought to be the practice of their whole lives; as if no body ought to go to this facrament, but fuch as are as perfect as ever they can hope to be.
On the contrary; it is the judgment of the most orthodox divines, that (abftracting from particular circumftances) the receiving of the bleffed facrament, is the most divine and folemn act of our religion; and it ought to be the zealous endeavour of every true chriftian, by God's affiftance, to prepare his foul with the most ferious, and most devout difpofitions he poffibly can, to approach the holy altar: a man cannot too often commemorate our Lord and his passion, nor too often return devout thanks and praifes for the fame, nor too often repeat his refolutions of amendment, nor too often renew his folemn engagements, nor too often receive pardon of fins, and fresh fuccours of divine grace: and if coming to the Lord's table (prepared or unprepared) were a fure and infallible way to answer thofe good and great ends, there could then be no queftion, but that it would be both our wisdom and our
enflamed with her devotions, the is too much inclined to think they are not of her own kindling, but blown up with something divine within her. If the indulges this thought too far, and humours the growing paffion, the
laft flings herself into imaginary raptures and exftafies; and when once the fancies herself under the Influence of a divine impulfe, it is no wonder if the flights human ordinances, and refufes to comply with any estabifhed form of religion, as thinking herself directed by a much fuperior
ide" See Mr. ADDISON'S works,
duty to communicate as often as opportunities fhould invite, and health permit. But it is certain, on the other hand, that bare communicating, is not the thing required, but communicating worthily. Here lies the main firefs of all, not to urge frequency of com"munion fo far as to render this holy facrament hurtful, or fruitlefs to parties concern'd; neither yet to abate fo far of the frequency, as to make a kind of dearth or famine of this fo falutary and neceffary food. For the clearer understanding of this matter, it may be neceffary to take notice, that fince it is allowed on all bands, that there can be no juft bar to frequency of communion, but the want of preparation, which is only fuch a bar as men may themselves remove, if they pleafe; it concerns them highly to take off the impediment as foon as poffible, and not to trust to the vain hopes of alleviating one fault by committing another. The danger of mifperforming any religious duty, is an argument for fear and caution, but no excufe for neglect: God infifts upon the doing it, and the doing it well alfo. It was no fufficient plea for the flothful fervant, under the Gospel, that he thought his mafter hard to pleafe, and thereupon neglected his bounden duty: but on the contrary, the ufe he ought to have made of that confideration was, to have been fo much the more wakeful and diligent in his master's Jervice. Therefore in the cafe of the holy communion, it is to very little purpofe to plead the frictness of the felf-examination or preparation by way of excufe either for a total, or for a frequent, or for a long neglect of it. A man may fay, that he comes not to the Lord's table, because he is not prepared, and so far he affigns a good reafon; but if he should be further afked, why he is not prepared, when he may; then he can only make fome trifling, infufficient excufe, or remain speechless.
But to return: I have fpared no pains to render these meditations and prayers as generally useful, as can be expected in a book of this kind; yet, as the best performances have their imperfections, fo this (to be fure) is not without feme. However, I hope, there are none fo material but what a Chriftian may over-look for the fake of that good which is intended by it. Again: that all thefe meditations and prayers are entirely new, is by no