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God so loved the world, that he sent his Son to die for it! We feel, that we are now using words — weak words. What can they say ? What are they, unless there is poured upon them the living breath of piety? Come that breath into our dwellings and our churches, and reanimate the dead !
We speak now in no poor, craven tone of entreaty. We speak in the manhood and manliness of our reason. It is no concern of ours that we are pressing. We have heard preachers who seem always to speak of devotion, we had almost said, of the Divinity, with something like a tone of patronage; as if religion were some small affair or interest of their own. Away with the cant, and the dead custom of it! We are not pleading for God with any slavish supplication. There, is the Infinite Beauty, the Infinite Grandeur! It is our privilege - that is all to bow down before it with lowliest, sweetest, most enrapturing devotion; to draw nigh to it, in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ, humbly and hopefully.
In truth, we might more specifically say that the Gospel is our remedy. Not some infinite beauty, as it were a haze of splendor in the sky, but the Father, the living God, is presented to us in the Gospel. No pantheistic dream beguiles us there. We know what that dream is ; we have dreamed it ourselves; and we have come to see that the Gospel of Christ is as much a Gospel to modern mysticism and abstraction as it is to old, solid, wooden idolatry. No; Jesus spake of the Father - of his father and our Father. That is no worn-out teaching. It is true and vital and needful to-day. That shall stand us instead of all the dreams of Zeno and Spinoza and Strauss. To the Father we can pray; but we cannot pray to “the soul of the world.” If we addressed ourselves to this, we might pray like an Indian, but not like a Christian. We do maintain, that Christianity, historical Christianity, the very Gospel as it is, is our grand resource. If any one can show us a wiser and more perfect being than Jesus Christ, we must resort to him; but till then we must say — while his touching words are in our ears, will ye also go away?”
6 Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Finally, let us attempt to speak of this subject, for a moment, in a more practical manner.
We have said that prayer is a great action. Let us add that it is a great end. Prayer is always represented as a means. We cannot regard it altogether in this light. Prayer too is an end. The adoring contemplation of God is the sublimest point of human attainment: and this, not because he is God, the Sovereign, the Ruler, but because he is the sum of all wisdom, goodness, perfection, and the end to which all true science, intelligence, virtue, purity, aspiration must forever lead.
Suppose that he is regarded in this light and that you humbly resolve to acquaint yourself with him ; not from fear, but for love's sake ; from an unforced desire to pry into this great mystery and majesty of the universe. Take then a season — and best in the morning, before you leave your apartment - and devote it to this sublime study. Many have done this to acquire a language. Say that it is your season of study. Make no mystery, make no superstition of it; say, we repeat, that it is your season of study. And let the topics of study be various — yourself, man, nature, the Bible. Have good books around you, and especially the biographies of good men ; such as the works of Fenelon, of Jeremy Taylor, of Channing; the biographies of Lindsey, Carpenter, William Penn, Baxter, Oberlin. Then, amidst those studies, pray; not of constraint ; not necessarily at all, we would even say ; pray as your mind disposes you, and after such manner as seems good to you; kneeling, or standing, or walking in your chamber, or in a sitting posture ; at intervals, in ejaculations, or in solemn concentration of thought. Let all be natural, unforced, free. You must have freedom. You must act willingly, or all is naught. We are proposing some far higher thing than ordinary, formal morning prayers. It is to plunge into the depths of your own nature; it is to study “the deep things of God.” It is to know yourself, to know the Gospel, to know Jesus Christ, to know God !
Let us dwell a moment longer upon the proposition which we have made. Perhaps we may not draw any one to enter fully into this practice on the single reading of this essay.
We cannot expect to accomplish every thing at once. But permit us to reason this matter a little further. Suppose that you have good books around you, - the Bible of course, and books of prayers, spiritual guides, aids to meditation, biographies. Suppose that you have them in your apartment, or your place of retirement wherever it is. We would indeed that in the construction of our houses more reference were had to this object; or that we had, as in Catholic countries, the ever open churches, to whose shaded and silent retreats and time-hallowed altars those might resort who have no other place for devotion. This, it will be perceived, however, would not be all that we desire. But if there were in our houses, and connected with their apartments, little oratories - we would even say, if there were altars in them, — but at least, if there were good books in them, we cannot help thinking that such an arrangement would be a powerful ministration to the general piety, to that thoughtfulness, to that meditative spirit, that becomes rational and immortal creatures. But if there be no such convenient arrangement, yet if there be some place where a man may pause for a few moments, in the busy and weary walk through life; suppose, we say again, that the good books be there. Surely the noble works of Jeremy Taylor and Fenelon and Channing can do no man any harm. He who has any books, ought to have these. And if any one were disposed to add the works of Marcus Antoninus or Plato or Seneca, we would make no objection. There were noble meditations among the ancients; and any thing that would lift the mind to a higher thought, to a serener atmosphere, than that which pervades the dusty street, we would value. And though it were for curiosity's sake, yet for any cause, would we rather that a man should surround himself with such ministrations than not to do it at all. We would fain break up, by any means, this fatal spell of common-place, of worldliness, by which men are enthralled. It is a dreadful thing to pass through this dusty cloud of life without ever looking above and beyond it. There are glorious realities around us, there is a presence of infinite beauty amidst which we walk, and most men know it not; and they do not know it, because they do not meditate. They have no insight into the grand realities of their being, because they give no fixed and piercing attention to them. The insight canhot possibly come in any other way.
Would it be a great thing, if any one were to rise half an hour earlier than usual, to engage in this sublime study? What a beautiful augury for life would it be, for those who are in its morning, thus to consecrate the morning of each day! What a fit exercise for true manly dignity, for woman's gentleness and piety, for the parent's charge, for the citizen's trust, for the duties and destinies of immortal creatures! Could we now, with the breath of a word, make the reader feel that he is immortal, the work of persuasion were done. But we must be humble in our hope to persuade. Would any one but surround himself with the simple and natural aids of which we have spoken ; would he but pause a little at any season of the day most convenient to him; would he but read a little, in a manner howsoever informal and free; would he but think a little ;
- sure we are that sometimes he would pray; the presence of God would come around him, visions of diviner things would open to him ; and he would become a new and nobler creature !
But howsoever this great conviction and this great blessing come, we would say, let every man see to it, as he values his soul's well-being, that they come in some way. If we cannot persuade him to engage in that special study and meditation which we recommend, yet let him lay upon himself the charge, as he has a spiritual and immortal nature, to penetrate through this universe of symbols which surrounds him, to the great Reality which they shadow forth. If he demands a freer mode of communion with it, only let him be sure that he resorts to that. Freedom he must have. Our special design in speaking of a time and a place and a mode has been, so to speak of them as to remove all irksome restraint, to throw off the shackles of superstitious bondage, to open the way to a willing and happy meditation. We are certain that this will never be attained without some special attention, and we fear that it never will be, without the consecration to it of some particular time and season.
What a grandeur and charm would this practice impart to life, and to the daily action of life! What a stability to principle! What a sweetness to the affections! What a gayety and gladness in the daily walk! What a conquest over nature and over the world! Are not these things, and such as these, to be desired, -joy unspeakable, full of glory, full of satisfaction; sacred freedom from wearing anxieties about property and fame and a place and position in society; holy calmness amidst the tumults of life, noble generosity amidst its rivalships, sustaining consolation in its sorrows. There in its single self, there in its loneliness, would the soul so favored feel that it was endowed with infinite treasures. It would be overwhelmed with thoughts of the infinite beneficence of God, amidst the uttermost poverty of the world.
Our minds want some stimulus, notwithstanding all that is said of the eagerness of human pursuits. They want some noble impulse. We have often remarked how happy a man seems to be made by an enthusiasm for music, or for art, or for some branch of science, even though it be the science of insects or flowers or of stones by the wayside. What then would it be, to strive with holy enthusiasm to realize in one's self the ideals of all pure art and wisdom, and to approach and commune with the living Fountain of all holy beauty and goodness !
It is such a mournful thing — that a man should be thirsting, starving, fainting, amidst an ocean of good ; that he should live in selfish isolation and pain, while he is embosomed in an infinitude of love ; that he should wander darkly amidst boundless light; that he should feel himself to be destitute and forlorn, to whom life, existence, earth, heaven, open their unbounded resources; that there should be but an “aching void” in this crowding plenitude of blessings; and that a poor, mourning complainer should walk abroad upon the earth, feeling himself alone, uncared for and unpitied, wanting companionship, friendship, help, who walks in the presence of the infinite God! We describe now
- every reader knows that we describe common state of mind. And really, not according to some peculiar religious appreciation, but according to a true and sober judgment of things, there is nothing on earth so lamentable, so mournful, as this state of mind. If we would escape from it, some purpose must be formed, and some exertion must be made. The greatest good in existence is not to be attained by idle hands and careless hearts. There must be earnest seeking. There must be a distinct object. There must be study, reading, meditation, prayer.
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