« AnteriorContinuar »
tion of the ways of virtue, satisfaction of the understanding in the ways of religion, and resolutions to pursue them in the midst of all discomforts and persecutions; and our mental prayers or intercourse with God, which are the present emanations of our meditations, must be in order to these affections, and productions from those : and in all these, yet there is safety and piety, and no seeking of ourselves, but designs of virtue in just reason and duty to God, and for his sake; that is, for his commandment. And in all these particulars, if there be such a sterility of spirit, that there be no end served but of spiritual profit, we are never the worse ; all that God requires of us is, that we will live well, and repent in just measure and right manner; and he that doth so, hath meditated well.
17. From hence, if a pious soul passes to affections of greater sublimity, and intimate and more immediate, abstracted and immaterial love, it is well; only remember, that the love God requires of us, is an operative, material, and communicative love; “ If ye love me, keep my commandments :" so that still a good life is the effect of the sublimest meditation; and if we make our duty sure behind us, ascend up as high into the mountain as you can, so your ascent may consist with the securities of your person, the condition of infirmity, and the interests of your duty. According to the saying of Ildefonsus, “ Our empty saying of lauds, and reciting verses in honour of his name, please not God so well, as the imitation of him does advantage to us; and a devout imitator pleases the spouse better than an idle panegyrico.” Let your work be like his, your duty in imitation of his precept and example, and then sing praises as you list; no heart is large enough, no voice pleasant enough, no life long enough, nothing but an eternity of duration and a beatifical state can do it well : and therefore holy David joins them both : “ Whoso offereth me thanks and praise, he honoureth me; and to him, that ordereth his conversation aright, I will shew the salvation of Godf.” All thanks and praise, without
• Serm. 1. de Assumpt. Και ή των προσφερομένων πολυτέλεια τιμή εις Θεόν ου γίνεται, ει μη μετά του ενθέου φρονήματος προσάγοιτο. Δώρα γαρ και θυηπολίαι αφρόνων, πυρός τροφή και αναθήματα, ιεροσύλους χορηγία. Το δε ένθεον φρόνημα, διαρκώς ήδρασμένον, GUVÁW TEL @t. — Hierocl. Needh. p. 24.
| Psalm 1. 93.
à right-ordered conversation, are but the echo of religion, a voice and no substance; but if those praises be sung by a heart righteous and obedient, that is, singing with the spirit and singing with understanding, that is the music God delights in.
18. Sixthly: But let me observe and press this caution: It is a mistake, and not a little dangerous, when people, religious and forward, shall too promptly, frequently, and nearly, spend their thoughts in consideration of Divine excellencies. God hath shewn thee merit enough to spend all thy stock of love upon him in the characters of his power, the book of the creature, the great tables of his mercy, and the lines of his justice; we have cause enough to praise his excellencies in what we feel of him, and are refreshed with his influence, and see his beauties in reflection, though we do not put our eyes out with staring upon his face. To behold the glories and perfections of God with a more direct intuition, is the privilege of angels, who yet cover their faces in the brightness of his presence: it is only permitted to us to consider the back parts of God. And, therefore, those speculations are too bold and imprudent addresses, and minister to danger more than to religion, when we pass away from the direct studies of virtue, and those thoughts of God, which are the freer and safer communications of the Deity, which are the means of intercourse and relation between him and us, to those considerations concerning God which are metaphysical and remote, the formal objects of adoration and wonder, rather than of virtue and temperate discourses : for God in Scripture never revealed any of his abstracted perfections and remoter and mysterious distances, but with a purpose to produce fear in us, and therefore to chide the temerity and boldness of too familiar and nearer intercourse.
19. True it is, that every thing we see or can consider, represents some perfections of God; but this I mean, that no man should consider too much, and meditate too frequently, upon the immediate perfections of God, as it were by way of intuition, but as they are manifested in the creatures and in the ministries of virtue : and also, whenever God's perfections be the matter of meditation, we should not ascend upwards into him, but descend upon ourselves, like fruitful vapours drawn up into a cloud, descending speedily into a shower,
that the effect of the consideration be a design of good life; and that our loves to God be not spent in abstractions, but in good works and humble obedience. The other kind of love may deceive us; and therefore so may such kind of considerations, which are its instrument. But this I am now more particularly to consider.
20. For beyond this I have described, there is a degree of meditation so exalted, that it changes the very name, and is called contemplation; and it is in the unitive way of religion, that is, it consists in unions and adherences to God; it is a prayer of quietness and silence, and a meditation extraordinary, a discourse without variety, a vision and intuition of Divine excellencies, an immediate entry into an orb of light, and a resolution of all our faculties into sweetnesses, affeca tions, and starings upon the Divine beauty; and is carried on to ecstacies, raptures, suspensions, elevations, abstractions, and apprehensions beatifical. In all the course of virtuous meditation, the soul is like a virgin, invited to make a matrimonial contract; it inquires the condition of the person, his estate and disposition, and other circumstances of amability, and desire: but when she is satisfied with these inquiries, and hath chosen her husband, she no more considers particulars, but is moved by his voice and his gesture, and runs to his entertainment and fruition, and spends herself wholly in affections, not to obtain, but enjoy his love.
Thus it is said, 21. But this is a thing not to be discoursed of, but felt : and although, in other sciences, the terms must first be known, and then the rules and conclusions scientifical; here it is otherwise: for first, the whole experience of this must be obtained, before we can so much as know what it is; and the end must be acquired first, the conclusion before the premises. They that pretend to these heights, call them the secrets of the kingdom; but they are such, which no man can describe; such, which God hath not revealed in the publication of the Gospel ; such, for the acquiring of which there are no means prescribed, and to which no man is obliged, and which are not in any man's power to obtain ; nor such, which it is lawful to pray for or desire; nor concerning which we shall ever be called to an account.
22. Indeed, when persons have been long softened with
the continual droppings of religion, and their spirits made timorous and apt for impression by the assiduity of prayer, and perpetual alarms of death, and the continual dyings of mortification; the fancy, which is a very great instrument of devotion, is kept continually warm, and in a disposition and aptitude to take fire, and to flame out in great ascents : and when they suffer transportations beyond the burdens and support of reason, they suffer they know not what, and call it what they please ; and other pious people, that hear talk of it, admire that devotion, which is so eminent and beatified; p (for so they esteem it,) and so they come to be called raptures and ecstacies, which, even amongst the apostles, were so seldom, that they were never spoken of; for those visions, raptures, and intuitions of St. Stephen, St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John, were not pretended to be of this kind 8 ; not excesses of religion, but prophetical and intuitive revelations, to great and significant purposes, such as may be and are described in story; but these other cannot: for so Cassian reports, and commends a saying of Antony the Eremite, “ That is not a perfect prayer, in which the votary does either understand himself or the prayer;” meaning, that persons eminently religious were “divina patientes,” as Dionysius Areopagita said of his master Hierotheus, patics in devotion, suffering ravishments of senses, transported beyond the uses of humanity, into the suburbs of beatifical apprehensions : but whether or no this be any thing besides a too intense and indiscreet pressure of the faculties of the soul to inconveniences of understanding, or else a credulous, busy, and untamed fancy, they, that think best of it, cannot give a cer
και Acts, Χ. 10. επέπεσεν επ' αυτόν έκστασις, and cliap. xi. 5. και είδον εν εκστάσει ösaja. Raptus vidit visionem, dum oraverat.
Pectore.—Quod de Apolline dixit Lucunus, v. 168.
Mανίας δέ γε είδη δύο ή μεν υπό νοσημάτων ανθρωπίνων, ή δε υπό θείας εξαλλαγής. Plato in Phadr. C. 48. ed. Ast. p. 42.
Της δε θείας τεττάρων θεών τέτταρα μέρη διελόμενοι, μαντικήν μεν επίπνοιαν Απόλλω. νος θέντες, Διονύσου δε τελεστικήν, Μουσών δ' άυ ποιητικήν, τετάρτην "Ερωτος, &c.- Ibid.
“Eγνων ούν αυ σερί των ποιητών εν ολίγω τούτο: ότι ου σοφία ποιοϊεν, και ποιοϊεν, αλλά φύσει τινι, και ενθουσιάζοντες, ώσπες οι θεομάντεις και οι χρησμοδοί και γαρ ούτοι λέγουσι Mein oanà, iours dà oudly, cv aéyouso.- Plato in Apol. c. 7. p. 88. ed. Fischer.
tainty. There are, and have been, some religious, who have acted madness, and pretended inspirations; and when these are destitute of a prophetic spirit, if they resolve to serve themselves upon the pretences of it, they are disposed to the imitation, if not to the sufferings, of madness; and it would be a great folly to call such “ Dei plenos,” full of God, who are no better than fantastic and mad people.
23. This we are sure of, that many illusions have come in the likeness of visions, and absurd fancies under the pretence of raptures; and what some have called the spirit of prophecy, hath been the spirit of lying; and contemplation hath been nothing but melancholy and unnatural lengths; and stillness of prayer hath been a mere dream and hypochondriacal devotion, and hath ended in pride or despair, or some sottish and dangerous temptation. It is reported of Heron, the monk, that having lived a retired, mortified, and religious life, for many years together, at last he came to that habit of austerity or singularity, that he refused the festival refection and freer meals of Easter, and other solemnities, that he might do more eminently than the rest, and spend his time in greater abstractions and contemplations; but the devil, taking advantage of the weakness of his melancholy and unsettled spirit, gave him a transportation and an ecstacy, in which he fancied himself to have attained so great perfection, that he was as dear to God as a crowned martyr, and angels would be his security for indemnity, though he threw himself to the bottom of a well. He obeyed his fancy and temptation, did so, bruised himself to death, and died possessed with a persuasion of the verity of that ecstacy and transportation,
24. I will not say, that all violences and extravagances of a religious fancy are illusions; but I say, that they are all unnatural, not hallowed by the warrant of a revelation, nothing reasonable, nothing secure. I am not sure, that they ever consist with humility ; but it is confessed, that they are often produced by self-love, arrogancy, and the great opinion others have of us. I will not judge the condition of those persons, who are said to have suffered these extraordinaries; for I know not the circumstances, or causes, or attendants, or the effects, or whether the stories be true that make report of them; but I shall only advise, that we