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THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.-RELIGIOUS MEDITATION.
PROVERBS iv. 26.—Ponder the path of thy feet; and let all thy ways be established.
OUR next subject of consideration, in the order formerly proposed, is Religious Meditation.
This duty is enjoined in the text. Ponder, says David to Solo mon, the path of thy feet; and let all thy ways be established. By the path, here mentioned, is undoubtedly intended the course of life ; including all the thoughts, affections, and conduct, of the man. The latter clause is rendered in the margin, And all thy ways shall be ordered aright. The consequence, therefore, of pondering our course of life is here declared to be, that all ways shall be ordered aright.
Of course, the text obviously contains this doctrine:
That habitual Religious Meditation is a direct mean of our present and eternal well-being.
This subject I shall discuss under two heads :
1. That it alone enables us to make religious Truths a part of our own system of thought.
Knowledge is never of very serious use to man, until it has become a part of his customary course of thinking. This is accomplished, when'by familiar acquaintance we are enabled to call it up to view at pleasure ; to arrange the parts so, as easily to comprehend the whole ; to perceive readily their mutual connexion and dependence; to discern the evidence, by, which each is supported; to refer each to its proper place; and to judge concerning the whole with correctness, and expedition. In this manner every man of common sense thinks concerning every subject, with which he is well acquainted : and the power of thinking in this manner, he gains only by meditation. Whatever information we may possess, it is of no serious use to us, until it is thus made our own. The knowledge, which barely passes through the mind, resembles that which is gained of a country by a traveller, who is whirled through it in a stage; or by a bird, flitting over it in his passage to another.
No interesting subject is examined by the mind in this cursory way. Every such subject it instinctively turns over and over; and never désists, until it has gained a familiar, and comprehen
sive, knowledge of the whole. In this situation, we may be said to understand a subject, so as to constitute it a part of our system of thought, and to make it a directory of our opinions, and conduct.
This truth is at least as applicable to religious subjects, as to others. Whatever knowledge wc derive, either from the Bible, or from other sources of instruction, is thus made our own, only by meditation.
2. Meditation enables us to feel religious subjects with Strength and Efficacy.
Every person, who has attended to the state of his own mind, must have discovered, that there is a wide difference between perceiding, and feeling; and that of two things, equally understood, one has passed lightly over his mind; while the other has left a deep impression. A religious man, particularly, will easily remember, that the truths of the Gospel have, at times, barely swept the surface of his mind; and, at others, have powerfully affected his heart. He will easily remember, that the same things, whether arguments, images, or motives, have affected him in these widely different manners. If he will bestow a little pains on this subject, he will further remember, that he has often been aston. ished at this fact; and has looked back, to find what mysterious cause prevented him from realizing, at one time, what he so deeply felt at another. Thal, and !.!.!! only, whin's apon
feel, moves us to useful action. What is merely perceived, understood, scarcely moves us at all. The pipe must be relia before the dancing will begin. The mourning must be felt, before we shall unite in the lamentation. A great proportion of mankind, in Christian countries, believe loosely, and generally, the divine origin, and the genuine doctrines, of the Scriptures. But while they thus believe, they live, and feel, and act, just as if there was no Scriptures. Almost all men believe the existence and government of God. Still they live, as if there were no God; or as if he exercised no government over the world, or over themselves. Multitudes believe, that Christ is the Saviour of men: and yet never think of applying to him for their own salvation.
Religious Meditation is the only method, in which men learn to fec! the concerns of religion. In this method, the doctrines, precepts and motives, presented to us in the Scriptures, which are quietly and carelessly admitted by most men, in Christian countries, and which thus neither amend the life, nor affect the heart, are, when often and deeply pondered, brought home to the soul; set strongly before its view; applied to itself; and felt to be of real and momentous import. In this way, we begin to sear and hope, to mourn and rejoice, to desire and loathe ; and to seek and shun them according to their respective natures. In this way only do we regard the things of religion with profit to ourselves, and consider them, with an esticacious attention. In every ither
situation of mind, we are settled upon our lees, and instinctively say, The Lord will not do good, neither will the Lord do evil.
3. Religious Meditation renders the thoughts and affections, thus gained, Habitual.
Nothing in the moral concerns of man is of much importance to him, until it is formed into a habit. Every opinion, and every impression, which is transiently entertained, 'is entertained to little purpose. If it produce any consequences; they are momentary, and useless. In the mean time, other things, of an unhappy tendency, having already become habitual, and possessing the controlling power of habit, return with speed and violence, and drive away the feeble and short-lived influence of such opinions, and impressions. Thus that, which, if continued, might become the glory and beauty of man, is as the flower of the grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.
Habits are formed only by Repetition. That which is often repeated, becomes, by the mere tendency of nature, more and more interesting and necessary; and acquires, therefore, a daily increasing power over man. After it has continued for a season, and gained a certain degree of strength, it becomes in a sense immoveable; acquires a decisive control over the conduct; and is rarely, and not without extreme difficulty, overcome.
This influence of habit seems to be inwrought, as a primary characteristic, in the very nature of Intelligent beings. No other consideration will explain, at least in many situations, the permaDent continuance of either virtue or vice. Under this influence only, does the drunkard resist all motives, and adhere immoveably 10 his cups; the idler to his sloth ; the swearer to his profaneness; the spendthrift to his prodigality; the thief to his stealing; and all other sidners to their respective iniquities. Under this influence, the mature Christian overcomes the most powerful temptations ; and advances firmly to the rack, or the faggot. Under the same influence, will the inhabitants of Hell persist in their rebellion, in spile of all the motives, which so powerfully persuade them to cease from sin. Finally, the Church of the first-born, and the innumerable company of Angels, will, under the same influence also, persevere in their obedience, whatever temptations may solicit them to revolt from God.
Moral Habits, their strength, and their consequences, are all produced by a repetition of those things, of which they are constituted, in the mind. In other words, they are produced by frequent meditation on the several subjects, out of which they are formed, together with a repeated indulgence of the emotions, which such meditation creates. Ultimately, therefore, they grow out of Religious Meditation.
Of self-examination, proposed as the second head of discourse, I observe,
1. That it alone makes us acquainted with Ourseldes.
Every man has a certain moral character; partly like that of others, and partly peculiar to himself. This character, in both respects, is incapable of being knowa withoui self-examination. Our own hearts answer, generally, to the hearts of others, as the face to the face in water. By knowing our own hearts only, can we, therefore, know ellectually the general character of man. It may, perhaps, be said, that this character is delineated with fect exactness, and supreme skill, in the scriptures; and by scarching them may, therefore, be known. The position I admit; the consequence I deny. The instruction, given us in the Scriptures concerning this subject, will never be understood, unless applied 10 ourselves in the examination of our own hearts. Invaluable as the knowledge is, which they communicate concerning this subject, it is, like all other knowledge, never realized, never made our own, except by neditation.
But there are many things in our own characters, which are peculiar to ourselves. All thesc exist in the heart alone: and there only can they be either taught or learned. Even the very opinions, which we entertain, together with the manner and degree in which we entertain them, will ever be imperfectly understood by us without this investigation for ourselves. We suppose ourselves to embrace many opinions, which, a critical inquiry will show, we have never received. Many others we imagine ourselves to have admitted without a doubt, which by this trial we shall find regarded by us, only in an uncertain and conjectural manner.
Still more ignorant are we of our dispositions. About no subject have the apprehensions of man been more erroneous, than about his will, allections, and propensities. Sell-Knowledge, in this respect chieily, has been proverbially acknowledged to be extremely difficuit, as well as highly important. Hence the memorable observation, Id, quedo reaUTOV, e cælo descendit : an observation, grounded, perhaps, equally on the usefulness, and the difficulties, of the precept. Whatever man can accomplish in this arduous concern must be accomplished by self-cxamination. He must watch carefully every movement of his disposition; the commencement, and the progress, of every affection, aim, resolution, and habit; the manner, in which everything affects him; and the means, by which he is affected; the causes of his success, and his failures, in regulating the state of his mind; and, generally, all his movements within, and all his impulses from without.
In this way, and in this alone, can the sinner learn effectually, that he is a sinner. In this way only, will he discern the nature, and extent, of his guilt; the strength of his evil propensities; the obstinacy of his unbelief, and impenitence; the uniformity of his disobedience; the completeness of his ruin ; his exposure to final condemnation ; and his utter indisposition to return to God. All these things he learns only, and effectually, by observing them, as
they exist, and operate, in himself; or arise, as consequences, from the state of his own mind. Whatever knowledge he may possess of them from instruction, even from that of the Scriptures; it can never be of any scrious use to him, until he has made it his own by an investigation of his heart, and life. Whatever he may have heard, or read, of sin, and guilt, and danger; it is, to him, merely news concerning other men; not knowledge of himself
. Other men, according to the views, which he entertains before he commences the examination of himself, are sinners, odious to God, children of wrath, and in danger of perdition. But for himself, he is almost innocent, and perhaps entirely safe. Should you prove the contrary to him, by arguments, which he will acknowledge to be unanswerable ; you have gained nothing. The application to himself will still be wanting: and the story might almost as well have been told to another person, or communicated in an unknown tongue.
In the same manner only, does the Christian learn, that he is a Christian. To decide this great point, even hopefully, his heart and his life must pass before him in continual review. The doctrines, by which he is governed, the affections which he exercises, the actions which he performs, and the views with which they are performed, must be daily scrutinized: and from them all must be derived the momentous result. Without this diligent investigation of himself, no man, however long, or however eminently, he has possessed the Christian character, can, even with well-founded hope, conclude that he is a Christian. In the same manner, also, must every question, which we ask concerning our moral character, be answered. Unless we thus explore ourselves, whatever may be our state, we cannot understand it; and shall on the one hand, be exposed to all its evils, and lose on the other, no small part of its blessings.
2. Self-examination naturally prepares men to turn from sin to holiness, and to advance from one degree of holiness to another.
Conviction of sin is eminently the result of self-examination : as, I think, must already be evident io a very moderate attention. Equally applicable is this remark to all apprehensions concerning our future destiny; all efficacious fears concerning the anger of God; all affecting views of our helplessness; all thorough convictions of the necessity of betaking ourselves to Christ for salvation. They, that are whole, need not a physician. But all are whole, in the sense intended by our Saviour, until convinced of their diseased condition by solemnly attending to their own case. as this is not done, there will be no recourse to the Physician of the soul.
Two objections, or at least two difficulties, may here, perhaps, arise in the minds of my audience. One is, that the effect, which I have attributed to self-examination, is to be attributed to the Spirit of Grace. The other is, that I have elsewhere attributed the same