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preparation for a burnt offering to their god, and crying aloud to him, and leaping about his altar, and fetching blood of themselves with knives and lancets, but all to no purpose: their slain bullock was no sacrifice, because the fire from heaven was wanting, which alone could make the odour of it ascend, and become grateful to the Most High'.
And thus have I given a brief and plain account of what it is to be really devout ; namely, to be unfeignedly pious and good, and in all things heartily to endeavour to live up to our Christian obligations; being unmoveably fixed in a uniform, settled state of an affectionate and sincere religion.
I shall now recommend some few directions in order to our acquiring and increasing such a truly devout temper of mind as will carry us safe through all the temptations of this world to a happy eternity.
And, first, whoever would be truly devout must form in his mind right notions and apprehensions of God, that divine Being to whom he desires to devote himself; particularly of his infinite excellency, and as infinite goodness. For love is the true parent of devotion; and perfection and goodness are the great attractives of love: and therefore no man can so love God as entirely to devote himself to him, unless he first apprehends him as a Being above all others excellent and perfect, and withal as gracious and good. And consequently such notions of him, as represent him to be arbitrary, rigid, and inexorable, and the like, will never make any one devout, but rather very much the contrary, unless it be those who thrust themselves into the number of his particular favourites, and that for no other reason than because their confidence is greater than their neighbour's.
1 Kings xviii.
Not that we are to disregard those attributes of God which are apt to excite our fear and dread of his tremendous Majesty; such as his infinite power, exact justice, and holiness so perfect, as not to endure the least iniquity; which may well create in a poor, miserable, sinful creature, not only the profoundest awe, but a guilty fear and trembling, and anxious confusion of mind. But then we should remember likewise, that he is full of compassion and mercy, long suffering and of great goodness, and it is this charming addition that will change terror into veneration, and turn every other passion into devotion and love.
And who can want the most convincing demonstrations of the perfection of the divine goodness, that considers God not only as the author of his being and of all his comforts, but his great deliverer too, and that in a most amazing manner, from that endless misery and ruin which, by his ungrateful rebellion against him, he lay obnoxious to, without any possibility of help but from his mercy ?
Therefore the holy writings tell us that God is love, and that he first loved us, as vile and base and provoking as we were; and that to so wondrous a degree, as to give his only Son to be a public victim for us, and atone for our sins with his blood !
And though this alone would inflame a soul that hath any gratitude with a most ardent affection, yet further to encourage us to love again, we are assured, that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor can it enter into the heart of man to conceive, the
things that God hath prepared for those that love himm: and, says the blessed Jesus, he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him".
And what bliss may we not expect from such society as this? How will devotion then spring up apace, and overflow our glad hearts with the most delightful and even heavenly sensations! Then shall we have the greatest reason in the world to esteem religion as our most consummate happiness, when we taste its divine relishes, and find the practice of it so full of the highest satisfaction and pleasure. For true devotion, as it is the compendium and abbreviature of Christianity, and the only way to heaven, so it is the beginning of that heaven upon earth; the support of our spirits under the troubles and difficulties that attend our hazardous passage thither; and the most auspicious omen, and best sign of our being heirs of salvation, and rightly qualified and disposed for that everlasting kingdom of glory.
It was from a heart replenished with true devotion and holy love, that that triumph of St. Paul proceeded which we find in Rom. viii. 35. In the first verse of that chapter he expresses his assurance, that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For to be spiritually minded is life and peace, ver. 6. It makes us the sons of God, ver. 14; nay, heirs, joint heirs with Christ; and such as shall be glorified together with him, ver. 17. And then, if God be thus for us, who can be against us? ver. 31. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is at m 1 Cor. ii. 9.
n John xiv. 21. 23.
the right hand of God, continually making intercession for us, ver. 34. Now such thoughts as these had raised the blessed apostle's devotion to God and his Redeemer to so high a pitch, that in a triumphant rapture of joy he thus cries out; Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ver. 35. No, in all these things, says he, we are more than
conquerors through him that loved us, ver. 37. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, ver. 38, 39: that is, in short, neither pleasure nor pain, men nor devils, hope nor fear, prosperity nor adversity, all the terrors, nor all the allurements in nature, should ever be able to make him revolt from his great and most blessed Master; whose service he found to be more valuable than ten thousand worlds. This is the true spirit of devotion, and we see the admirable effects of it. It is like that divine charity of which the same apostle gives such high encomiums, and renders all our other duties acceptable: and, in conclusion, never fails, but enters with us into the glorious kingdom above; and is, as here, so there, the great instrument of our happiness, and that which raises it to the utmost degree of perfection.
And what invaluable blessings does it bring down from heaven upon us here below! what illuminations from the Father of lights ! for, the secret of the Lord is with the righteous ; and, If ye love me,
BRAGGE, VOL. IV.
I will manifest myself unto you, says our blessed Lord. What influences does it derive to us from the Holy Spirit, who is the comforter and guide and guardian of the faithful ! for so it is said of devout old Simeon, that the Holy Ghost was upon him, and led him to the embraces of his and the world's Redeemer. And so was holy Anna favoured too, because she departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day P. And good Cornelius likewise was in an extraordinary manner called to the knowledge of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, and honoured with a visit from St. Peter, by the particular direction of Christ himself; because he was a devout man, and feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. Nothing, we see, so much recommends to God's peculiar favour and regard, and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, as true devotion; it is the great endearment to him who knows the hearts of men, and values the sincerity of it above the most costly oblations.
Nor is there any thing of greater advantage to others, too, than such an exemplary piety. It makes religion look cheerful and lightsome, and is apt to warm people's frozen affections, when they see good men so much in earnest in their pursuit of the happiness of a future state. Ye are the light of the world, says our Lord to his disciples ; let your light, therefore, so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven r. And St. Paul exhorts the Hebrews to
p Luke ii. 37.
9 Acts x. 2.
r Matt. v. 14. 16.