« AnteriorContinuar »
all the scenes which the heavens and the earth present, with more refined feelings, and sublimer emotions, than they who regard them solely as objects of curiosity, or amusement. Nature will appear animated, and enlivened, by the presence of its Author. When the sun rises or sets in the heavens ; when spring paints the earth, when summer shines in its glory, when autumn pours forth its fruits, or winter returns in its awful forms, we shall view the Creator manifesting himself in his works. We shall meet his presence in the fields. We shall feel his influence in the cheering beam. We shall hear his voice in the wind. We shall behold ourselves every where surrounded with the glory of that universal Spirit, who fills, pervades, and upholds all. We shall live in the world as in a great and august temple; where the presence of the Divinity, who inhabits it, inspires devo tion.
The benefits of religious retirement
An entire retreat from worldly affairs, is not what religion requires; nor does it even enjoin a great retreat from them. Some stations of life would not permit this; and there are few stations which render it necessary. The chief field, both of the duty and of the improvement of man, lies in active life. By the graces and virtues which he exercises amidst his fellow creatures, he is trained up for hea, ven. A total retreat from the world, is so far from being the perfection of religion, that, some particular cases excepted, it is no other than the abuse of it.
But, though entire retreat would lay us aside from the part for which Providence chiefly intended us, it is certain, that, without occasional retirement, we must act that part very ill. There will be neither consistency in the conduct, nor dignity in the character, of one who sets apart no share of his time for meditation and reflection. In the heat and bustle of life, while passion is every moment throwing false colours on the objects around us, nothing can be viewed in a just light. If we wish that reason should exert her native pow er, we must step aside from the crowd, into the cool and silent shade. It is there that, with sober and steady eye, she examines what is good or ill, what is wise or foolish, in human conduct; she looks back on the past, she looks forward to
the future; and forms plans, not for the present moment only, but for the whole of life. How should that man discharge any part of his duty aright, who never suffers his passions to cool? and how should his passions cool, who is engaged, without interruption, in the tumult of the world? This incessant stir may be called, the perpetual drunkenness of life. It raises that eager fermentation of spirit, which will be ever sending forth the dangerous fumes of rashness and folly. Whereas he who mingles religious retreat with worldly affairs, remains calm, and master of himself. He is not whirled round, and rendered giddy, by the agitation of the world; but, from that sacred retirement, in which he has been conversant among higher objects, comes forth into the world with manly tranquillity, fortified by the principles which he has formed, and prepared for whatever may befall.
As he who is unacquainted with retreat, cannot sustain any character with propriety, so neither can he enjoy the world with any advantage. Of the two classes of men who are most apt to be negligent to this duty, the men of pleasure, and the men of business, it is hard to say which suffer most, in point of enjoyment, from that neglect. To the former, every moment appears to be lost, which partakes not of the vivacity of amusement. To connect one plan of gaiety with another, is their whole study; till, in a very short time, nothing remains but to tread the same beaten round; to enjoy what they have already enjoyed, and to see what they have often seen. Pleasures thus drawn to the dregs, become vapid and tasteless. What might have pleased long, if enjoyed with temperance, and mingled with retirement, being devoured with such eager haste, speedily surfeits and disgusts. Hence, these are the persons, who, after having run through a rapid course of pleasure, after hat ing glittered for a few years in the foremost line of public amusements, are the most apt to fly at last to a melancholy retreat; not led by religion or reason, but driven by disappointed hopes, and exhausted spirits, to the pensive conclusion, that "all is vanity."
If uninterrupted intercourse with the world wears out the man of pleasure, it no less oppresses the man of business and ambition. The strongest spirit must at length sink under it. The happiest temper must be soured by incessant returns of the opposition, the inconstancy, and treachery of For he who lives always in the bustle of the world,
lives in a perpetual warfare. Here, an enemy encounters; there, a rival supplants him. The ingratitude of a friend stings him this hour; and the pride of a superior wounds him the next. In vain he flies for relief to trifling amusements. These may afford a temporary opiate to care; but they communicate no strength to the mind. On the contrary, they leave it more soft and defenceless, when melestations and injuries renew their attack.
Let him who wishes for an effectual cure to all the wounds which the world can inflict, retire from intercourse with men to intercourse with his Creator. When he enters into his closet, and shuts the door, let him shut out, at the same time, all intrusion of worldly care; and dwell among objects divine and immortal.-Those fair prospects of order and peace, shall there open to his view, which form the most perfect contrast to the confusion and misery of this earth. The celestial inhabitants quarrel not; among them there is neither ingratitude, nor envy, nor tumult. Men may harass one another; but in the kingdom of heaven concord tranquillity reign forever.-From such objects, there beams upon the mind of the pious man, a pure and enlivening light; there is diffused over his heart a holy calm. His agitated spirit reassumes its firmness, and regains its peace.. The world sinks in its importance; and the load of mortality and misery loses almost all its weight. The " green pastures" open, and the "still waters" flow around him, beside which the "Shepherd of Israel" guides his flock. The disturbances and alarms, so formidable to those who are engaged in the tumults of the world, seem to him only like thunder rolling afar off; like the noise of distant waters, whose sound he hears, whose course he traces, but whose waves touch him not.
As religious retirement is thus evidently conducive to our happiness in this life, so it is absolutely necessary in order to prepare us for the life to come. He who lives always in public, cannot live to his own soul. Our intercourse with the world, is, in several respects, an education for vice From our earliest youth, we are accustomed to hear riches and honours extolled as the chief possessions of man; and proposed to us, as the principal aim of our future pursuits. We are trained up, to look with admiration on the flattering marks of distinction which they bestow. In quest of those fancied blessings, we see the multitude around us eager and fervent. Principles of duty, we may, perhaps, hear some
times inculcated; but we seldom behold them brought into competition with worldly profit. The soft names, and plausi ble colours, under which deceit, sensuality, and revenge, are presented to us in common discourse, weaken, by degrees, our natural sense of the distinction between good and evil. We often meet with crimes authorised by high examples, and rewarded with the caresses and smiles of the world. Thus breathing habitually a contagious air, how certain is our ruin, unless we sometimes retreat from this pestilential region, and seek for proper correctives of the disorders which are contracted there? Religious retirement both abates the disease, and furnishes the remedy. It lessens the corrupting influence of the world; and it gives opportunity for better principles to exert their power. Solitude is the hallowed ground which religion hath, in every age, chosen for her own. There, her inspiration is felt, and her secret mysteries elevate the soul; there, falls the tear of contrition; there, rises towards heaven the sigh of the heart; there, melts the soul with all the tenderness of devotion, and pours itself forth before him who made, and him who redeemed it. How can any one who is unacquainted with such employments of mind, be fit for heaven? If heaven be the habitation of pure affections, and of intellectual joy, can such a state be relished by him who is always immersed among sensible objects, and has never acquired any taste for the pleasures of the understanding and the heart?
The great and the worthy, the pious and the virtuous, have ever been addicted to serious retirement. It is the characteristic of little and frivolous minds, to be wholly occupied with the vulgar objects of life. These fill up their desires, and supply all the entertainment which their coarse apprehensions can relish. But a more refined and enlarged mind leaves the world behind it, feels a call for higher pleasures, and seeks them in retreat. 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 saint, to improve himself in grace. "Isaac went out to meditate in the fields,t the evening tide." David, amidst all the splendour of royalty, often bears witness both to the pleasure which he received, and to the benefit which he reaped from devout meditation. Our blessed Saviour himself, though, of all who ever lived on earth, he needed
least the assistance of religious retreat, yet, by his frequent practice, has done it signal honour. Often were the garden, the mountain, and the silence of the night, sought by him, for intercourse with Heaven. "When he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain, apart, to pray."
The world is the great deceiver, whose fallacious arts it highly imports us to detect. But in the midst of its pleasures and pursuits, the detection is impossible. We tread, as within an enchanted circle, where nothing appears as it truly is. It is only in retreat, that the charm can be broken. Did men employ that retreat, not in carrying on the delusion which the world has begun, not in forming plans of imaginary bliss, but in subjecting the happiness which the world affords to a strict discussion, the spell would dissolve; and in the room of the unreal prospects, which had long amused them, the nakedness of the world would appear.
Let us prepare ourselves, then, to encounter the light of truth and resolve rather to bear the disappointment of some flattering hopes, than to wander forever in the paradise of fools. While others meditate in secret on the means of attaining worldly success, let it be our employment to scrutinize that success itself. Let us calculate fairly to what it amounts; and whether we are not losers on the whole, by our apparent gain. Let us look back for this purpose, on our past life. Let us trace it from our earliest youth; and put the question to ourselves. What have been its happiest periods? Were they those of quiet and innocence, or those of ambition and intrigue? Has our real enjoyment uniformly kept pace with what the world calls prosperity? As we advanced in wealth or station, did we proportionally advance in happiness? Has success, almost in any one instance, fulfilled our expectations? Where we reckoned upon most enjoyment, have we not often found least? Wherever guilt entered into pleasure, did not its sting long remain, after the gratification was past?-Such questions as these, candidly answered, would in a great measure unmask the world. They would expose the vanity of its pretensions; and convince us, that there are other springs than those which the world affords, to which we must apply for happiness.
While we commune with our heart concerning what the world now is, let us consider also what it will one day appear to be. Let us anticipate the awful moment of our bidding it an eternal farewell; and think, what reflections will