Imágenes de páginas

that is truly good. And where great pretences are made to honesty and justice, without regard to devotion, or a show of devotion without regard to honesty and justice, it is past a suspicion that there is a trick put upon the world, and things are not as they should be

To be devoutly unjust was the character of the Pharisees of old, and fits some very exactly that are mighty like them now; and to talk much of justice and honesty, with a slight to religion and devotion, is that whereby the good moral men, as they would be called, desire to be distinguished from those they in scorn term priestridden and superstitious. But the truth is, that which is indeed moral honesty and religion are so inseparable, that when we meet them parted, what goes by the name of either we may be sure is not really so, but something widely different, that should have another name; and every man that is sincerely good will be both just and devout.

The latter part of which excellent character of good old Simeon is what I shall now consider; and the rather, because what it is to be truly devout is not only an inquiry of very great concern to us, as we shall see by and by, but because nothing is more easily counterfeited, nor men more ready to be deceived into false notions of it, and strange variety of opinions about it, as their fancy and their temper, and the prepossessions of their education lead them, to the great hinderance of what is devotion indeed ; to which, though all allow its due praises, yet they differ mightily in their thoughts about it.

Some place it in great corporal austerities, and a total recess from the world into deserts and unfre

quented solitudes, or cloisters and cells, where they shut themselves up from the conversation of the rest of mankind, that they may be wholly taken up with meditation, fasting, and prayer; or else in making religious visits to the holy city, and the shrines of certain celebrated saints, and offering costly presents there, and numerous prayers to them and all the company of heaven, together with a glittering way of public worship, in which nothing is wanting that can please the eye and ear.

Others run into the contrary extreme, and for fear of ceremony have scarce regard to decency in their religious exercises, and speak of nothing but the great endearments between God and them in private; and converse with him in long prayers, shall I say, or colloquies rather, and familiar talk, full of acknowledgments (not over-reverendly and modestly expressed) of his peculiar favour to them, how dear and precious above all others they are in his sight, and that from all eternity. And he that can do this with an affecting, melting voice, and zealous way of action, and turn his common conversation too into a kind of prayer; this, with very many, is the only heavenly person, holy and devout.

Now here is a very widely different account of this matter, and such as will give a just occasion for us to look into it carefully; that amongst such great diversity of opinions we may know whether either or neither of them is right, and be at length informed what it is to be really devout. A thing which it highly concerns every one of us to be well instructed in, that our religion may be acceptable to God, and have its due influence upon ourselves; and without which in vain shall we worship him, and miserably deceive ourselves into great expectations, from what will signify nothing. Now,

The word h that St. Luke uses in his character of good Simeon, and in other places, which in our Bibles is translated devouti, does in its primary acception signify one that takes, or apprehends things aright; and that he may do so, proceeds in his inquiries with great care and caution and circumspection: and then, as applied to religion, it signifies our having attained to such right notions of God as the most excellent, and most sovereign, adorable Being, and the blessed source of all our happiness, that we entirely dedicate ourselves to his service, and with reverence and godly feark endeavour to recommend ourselves to his favour by such behaviour as may be most acceptable to him.

And in this sense the fathers and ecclesiastical writers use that word, in imitation of the Evangelist, to whom, as so understood, it is peculiar; and accordingly they styled their most holy bishops eiraßeotátous, men of sound religion, as an expression of the great veneration they had for them.

So that to be truly devout is the same thing as to be truly religious: that is, to have such a constant, lively sense of our duty and obligations to God, upon a due consideration of his nature and our own, as with that awe, humility, and reverence, which his Divine Majesty and our infinite distance from him requires, to admire and adore his infinite excellencies, to praise and magnify and bless his holy name for all his mercies, to tremble at and deprecate his judgments, and entirely dedicate and deκαι Ευλαβής.

i Acts ii. 5. viii. 2. k Heb. xii. 28. μετά ευλαβείας.

vote ourselves to his service; bewailing our past offences, and heartily endeavouring to amend what has been amiss, by his gracious assistance, which, with earnest prayer we beg of him, through the merits of his eternally beloved Son our Saviour; and with an entire resignation to his blessed will for every thing here below, casting our care upon him, and in all his disposals learning to be content, since they are all directed by infinite wisdom and goodness.

And these, with other duties of like nature, which are too many to be here particularly enumerated, are so founded in the immutable reason of things, that they may well be called, as they usually are, natural religion ; when in the best manner we can, and with a hearty sincerity, we express the high esteem and veneration we have of the supreme excellency and sovereignty of God, and our readiness to pay to him all possible homage and obedience.

When our hearts are thus ready and prepared for a holy intercourse with Heaven, if the acts of it be mental only, and in short, discontinued dartings of thought, it is what is called ejaculation ; if it be carried on to any length, it is either mental prayer, or meditation, or contemplation, or praise. If it consists in petition, it is the first; if in forming right apprehensions of divine things, by musing attentively upon them, and comparing one thing with another, in order to the exciting religious affections in our souls, it is the second ; if in the actual exercise of admiration, and love, and joy, and grateful recognition of God's mercies to us, then it is the two last. But all is devotion still, only as the subject-matter of it differs, it is differently expressed; and which, in proper times and places, becomes more

public, and clothes its pious thoughts in apt expressions, and adds to them the most reverential gestures of the body.

True devotion then does not consist in a few transient acts, but in a sincerely religious frame and habitual temper of mind; and as for warmth of affection in the exercises of it, it depends so much upon the constitution of the body, that no just argument can be drawn from that alone of a man's being truly devout if he has it, or otherwise if he has it not. But he that really esteems it as his glory and happiness to be a Christian, that employs his thoughts and his desires upon divine and heavenly objects in good earnest, and makes religion the governing principle of his life, in full persuasion that it is not cnly his duty, but best interest to do so; this man, and he only, is truly devout, and has his conversation in heaven. And there is as much, and to a judicious eye, as apparent difference between the noisy pretenders to devotion, and those that thus truly have it, as between good old Simeon and a hypocritical Pharisee. For sincere devotion does as far excel, and as discernibly too, that which is only affected and put on, as nature excels art; and those that by their own experience know how men express and behave themselves when their souls are really warmed with those divine affections in which devotion consists, will give a shrewd guess whether other men's pretences to it proceed from a right principle within, or not.

The fire of true devotion is kindled from above, and will therefore be an acceptable sacrifice; but where that sacred flame is wanting, all the stir men make about it is but like Baal's priests making great

« AnteriorContinuar »