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- SECTION III.
The Pleasures of a devotional Retirement considered. , so -
. Before we proceed to the immediate subject of this section it may be proper to premise two cautions, in order to guard those retired men, whose turn of mind is at once religious and speculative, from the danger, to which they are very liable, of mistaking a devotion merely philosophical or mystical for that which is truly spiritual. Of a superstitious or monkish devotion we shall treat in our progress. *
A spirit of philosophic devotion, kindled by a survey of the works of creation, will often express itself in a language similar to what we find in the following passage of our great poet:
These are thy glorious works, parent of good,
Unspeakable, who dwell'st above these heavens,
These sentiments of adoration, ascribed to our first parents, doubtless ascended as . a grateful incense before the Almighty, prior to the original transgression. Since that event, the case has been widely different. Man is become a sinner; and, before any other acceptable homage can be rendered, he must repent, and embrace those overtures of mercy which are made to him on the part of his offended Creator. When this is done, when, penitent and reconciled he offers up his worship before the majesty of heaven, the least sacrifice of humble praise, presented through a mediator, will not fail to meet with a gracious acceptance. - w
When, in surveying the works of nature, a man feels himself inspired with those emotions which may be ranked under the head of philosophic devotion, it is because
he considers the Creator chiefly in the relation of a natural governor; otherwise, had he a proper sense of the righteousmess and purity of his moral administration, nature would be to him more a subject of terror than of grateful adoration; as it would then present to his view a wisdom which marked all his disorders, a goodness which he continued to abuse, and a power which he persisted to provoke, and which he was perfectly unable to resist.
Hence may appear the insufficiency of that devotion which is offered up on the altar of nature, without penitence and reconcilement.
It is this devotion which often finds its way into the retreat of a philosopher, while he is more curious to contemplate the heavens and the earth, and to investigate the laws of matter and motion, than to acquaint himself with God and his own moral situation.
Natural worship, rightly understood, is an elevated and holy service; it is the worship of angels; and, as we have already intimated, was so of man in his state of original perfection, when, as the priest of nature, he was ordained to offer up praises in behalf of all subordinate beings. But from this exalted office he fell by transgression; and, before he can again be qualified to minister in this high relation to the Creator of the universe, he must learn to bow before him as a just God and
This is a point which ought strongly to be enforced, in order to counteract the influence of that philosophy which would establish religion without Christianity, and bring men to the worship and service of the Creator, without the pardoning and medicinal grace of the Redeemer: for notwithstanding the absolute impracticability of such a project, it holds so much correspondence with our natural pride, that no
precaution can be too great against such a flattering imposture.
The second caution, which respects a mystic devotion, is peculiarly needful to those whose turn of mind is serious, tender, and susceptible, and whose imagination prevails over their judgment. When such persons withdraw themselves from the world, and especially when they carry their abstraction beyond a social retreat to a hermitage or a desert, there is danger lest, for want of objects to interest the natural affections, to limit the excursions of fancy, and mark out a determinate course of action which may afford a solid and regular exercise of piety, they should be led to wander in a region of chimeras, and be betrayed into an imaginary intercourse with heaven at the expence of their duty upon earth. Nor is there any man of such strength of understanding, or of such confirmed piety, who has not cause, in similar circumstancas, to guard against the same illusion.