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y which God requires of man.Especially is it implied in the duty of prayer. It is the homage of the heart which God demands. If this is withheld, the duty is not performed. But can we be said to give God our hearts, when in the very act of our professed devotion, they are placed on other objects? Do we worship God in spirit and in truth, when every spiritual view of his character is intercepted by carnal objects which float before the mind? No matter how humble our posture, how solemn our manner, and how appropriate our language; it is the heart which God requires. If this is utterly withheld, our services are vain, and become an abomination in his sight. If it is partially withheld, or suffered to wander, just so far our worship is marred, and God is defrauded of his due.
It is a species of hypocrisy. Whenever we engage in the duty of prayer, we profess to render to God the homage of our hearts. We profess to adore him, to love him and to praise him. We profess to repent of our sins, to believe in the Saviour and ardently to desire that his name may be glorified, that his kingdom may come, that his will may be done, and that we may share in the blessings of his love. But if while these professions are on our lips, our thoughts are employed on other subjects, we are manifestly insincere and hypocritical. We are guilty of the very sin of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied not unto men, but unto God. It is like the sin of Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire upon the altar; and like the sin of those Israelites, who offered maimed and sickly beasts in their sacrifices."Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing, for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts." It needs no arguments to prove, that hypocrisy in our transactions with God, is a sin of the deepest dye. It was the hypocritical worship of the Jews, that called forth the following solemn declarations.—
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of hegoats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." It has already been suggested, that every degree of the sin in question, does not constitute a person a hypocrite; for it is the habitual disposition of the heart which forms the character. It is still true, however, that just as far as our worship is tainted with this sin, so far it is hypocritical, and partakes of the nature of those sacrifices, which God has so pointedly reprobated and which he cannot regard but with the utmost abhor
It betrays irreverence to the divine character. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him." Before him, angels veil their faces, and cast their crowns at his feet, crying one to another, holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts. With what reverence then should sinful creatures approach into his presence. While all heaven bows with the profoundest awe before the spotless purity and glorious majesty of Jehovah, shall guilty worms rush into his presence with presumptuous boldness, and while confessing their sins, and imploring his mercy, suffer their thoughts to be wandering upon other subjects?
Every act of pretended worship which we offer to God without the heart, can be regarded in no other light than that of solemn mockery.— Let a familiar example, which I have somewhere seen, serve to illustrate the nature of this sin. Suppose we should dress up an image of ourselves and send it into our closets, or to the
sanctuary instead of appearing there ourselves. Would not this be deemed the height of impiety? Can we well conceive of a greater affront, which we could offer to the Majesty of heaven? But how much better is it, to go into our closets and leave our hearts upon the world; or to pretend to worship God in the sanctuary when our hearts are going after their covetousness? This example, it will be seen, illustrates the nature of the sin, when in any act of worship, the heart is wholly withheld. It is subject, of course, to some abatement in those cases where the evil but partially exists. In all cases, however, so far as the sin exists, the nature of it is the same; and that it is a sin of the most heinous kind, is I trust, apparent from the preceding considerations.
In tracing the causes of this evil, the first which strikes the mind, is the weakness or absence of faith.The being, perfections and presence of God are not duly realized; and this is owing to the want of faith.Faith makes invisible things real to the mind. It may be called "the mind's eye," by which it discerns spiritual and invisible objects, as the natural eye discerns those which are visible. It gives to them the same kind of reality as if they were discerned by our senses, and makes them equally powerful motives to action. Hence it is, that believers are represented as seeing God, and looking at things unseen and eternal; as living by faith, walking by faith, beholding the glory of the Lord, and enduring as seeing him who is invisible. If our faith were sufficiently strong, we should always have as lively a sense of the presence of God, as we have of the presence of each other. We should also have a sense of his glorious perfections, of his adorable majesty, of his infinite knowledge, and of his spotless purity. If this were the case, should we trifle in his presence? Should we mock him with hypocritical worship? Would our thoughts wander in the midst of our solemn ad
realizel te we shold'
dresses to Him, whe be a present God come before him with the profoundst awe. His fear would fall upon 1. His excellency would make us afrai We should feel as Job did, whe he said, "I have heard of thee b the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor my. self and repent in dust and ashes.”— And as Isaiah did, when he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up; And when he exclaimed. "Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips. and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."— One principal cause, therefore, of the evil we are contemplating, is unquestionably to be found in the entire abscence, or the weakness of faith.
Another cause of the evil, is the want of due attention and watchfulness. Our minds are naturally volatile and easily diverted. Our thoughts fly from object to object in such rapid succession, that it is impossible to fix them for any length of time, without great exertion. There must be effort. The mind must be bent and fastened to its object, and the first roying thought must be checked.
This attention is necessary even in our secret devotions, and especially so, in our public and social worship, when we join in the prayers of others. On these occasions, it not unfrequently happens, that an expression in the prayer, gives birth to a train of reflections that is sometimes pursued till we forget the duty in which we are engaged. This species of wandering thoughts, is probably the least culpable of any; but even this is by no means to be justified. and should be guarded against with peculiar diligence. The divine direction is, "watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation." And perhaps, in no circumstances have we more need of this caution, than in our seasons of devotion; because, the sin to which we are exposed is peculiarly aggravated, and our danger of
faling into it, peculiarly great. If w come into the presence of God in aareless frame of mind, and take n pains to fix our attention, our toughts will most certainly wander, ad our prayer, instead of coming up efore God as incense, will be but the acrifice of fools.
Another source to which this evil may be traced, is the strong and unmortified corruptions of our nature. The best saints find a warfare within. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh."Even Paul could say: "When I would do good, evil is present with me." As long as the heart remains but partially sanctified, so long the christian will find obstructions in his course, and interruptions in his duties. And when there are any lusts unmortified in the soul, any vile affections which have the ascendency, they will most certainly disturb our devotions. If we allow ourselves to be over anxious about our secular concerns, if we hanker after the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world, if we indulge improper feelings under the providences of God, or if we harbour jealousy, envy or revenge, toward any of our fellow men; it will be impossible to worship God without distraction. Any object of undue attachment, or undue aversion, will be sure to place itself between us and God, and intercept our intercourse with heaven.
The angels and glorified saints worship God without distraction. Their hearts are always fixed, and never wander upon forbidden objects; and the reason of this is, their love to God is perfect. And in proportion as the christian finds his heart warm with divine love, he will experience freedom from the evil we are considering. But when our love to God is cold and feeble, other objects insensibly engage our affections, and prevent that sweet and uninterrupted communion, which it is the privilege of the lively christian to enjoy.
Another source, to which this evil may be traced, is that multiplicity of
cares with which our minds are frequently crowded. A mind distracted with cares, is poorly prepared for the duty of devotion. Any thing which agitates the mind, whether it be a press of worldly business, or any trial or affliction to which we are not duly submissive, will invariably produce wandering thoughts in prayer. In order to worship God without distraction, our minds must be composed.
The cares of the world must be laid aside. All improper anxiety must be dismissed, and our attention must be absorbed in the business in which we are engaged.
Let us endeavour to impress our minds with a deep and constant sense of the greatness of the sin of drawing nigh to God with our mouth, while our heart is far from him. That it is a sin of inconceivable magnitude, has been made, I trust, sufficiently apparent. Were it ever viewed by us in this light, our danger of committing it would be greatly diminished.
Let us cultivate a more lively faith in the being, perfections and presence of God. Let us always endeavour to set God before our face, and to realize that he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, that he searcheth the heart and trieth the reins, that he cannot be deceived, and will not be mocked. A constant and lively sense of these things would be a powerful antidote to the evil in question.
Let peculiar efforts be made to fix the attention. Let us never come into the presence of God in a careless and thoughtless frame. Let us pause and solemnly ponder on the duty in which we are about to engage, and let the most intense watchfulness accompany our supplications. Let every avenue to temptation be guarded, and every roving thought be immedi ately recalled. Let us mortify our corruptions. Let this be our habitual and daily employment. search out our easily besetting sins, bewail them before God, and watch against them with peculiar diligence. If our right eye offend, let us pluck it out; if our right hand, let us cut it
off. Let no lust be harboured, and no vile affection be indulged, which is calculated to interrupt our communion with God.
But the most important and most effectual remedy for the evil in question, and that indeed which includes all the rest, will be found in cultivating that habitual temper of mind, which is appropriately termed heavenly-mindedness. That man whose frame of mind is habitually spiritual, who daily lives above the world, and has his conversation in heaven, whose thoughts are much employed in the contemplation of divine objects, and who makes even his secular concerns subservient to his growth in grace, will find little difficulty in commanding his thoughts in the seasons of devotion. An old writer remarks: "Such as men are out of prayer, such they will be in prayer." If our minds are habitually worldly; if our thoughts are suffered to rove at large, while we are not immediately engaged in the duties of religion, we shall attempt in vain to collect them when we are thus engaged. Religion must be our constant employment;-the heart must be kept with all diligence; every vain thought must be stifled in its birth ;-our affections must be habitually set on things above;―our treasure must be in heaven, and our heart there also ;-the world must be put under our feet;-our conversation must be spiritual;—and our minds must be kept in a devotional frame. Then will our hearts rise to God as spontaneously as the needle points to the pole, and our communion with him will be undisturbed and joyful. Thus to live, is to walk with God. He who thus lives honours his Maker, adorns his profession, and enjoys a peace which passeth all understanding. ELEUTHEROS.
For the Christian Spectator.
On Religious Fortitude. NEBUCHADNEZER, the king of Babylon, being employed as an instru
ment in the hand of the Lord, to punish the guilty nations, was permitted to extend his power and dominion over immense regions of the East. In proportion to the increase of his empire and glory, his pride and arrogance arose. His heart was puffed up with a spirit of haughty independence and unprincipled despotism, which could brook no opposition, and which rendered it a capital crime for any of his subjects to resist his will. At a period, when he had arrived at the summit of his power and pride, he caused an image of gold to be made, of colossal stature and unpar alleled magnificence, and ordered i to be erected upon an extensive plair probably in honor of Bel, the grea idol of the Babylonians. In th mean time, he gave command th all the officers, civil and militar, throughout his vast dominions, shou assemble and worship the imageAccordingly they assembled from ery quarter, in immense multitues, upon the plains of Dura, and stød before the golden idol. A heild then cried with a loud voice: "o you it is commanded, O people, ations, and languages, that, at wat time ye hear the sound of the coret, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, durimer, and all kinds of music, ye all down and worship the golden imge which Nebuchadnezer, the king, hah set up. And whosoever falleth ot down and worshippeth, shall, he same hour, be cast into the mids of a burning, fiery furnace.”
This decree, proceeding from so mighty a monarch, and enforced by so tremendous a sanction, struck the multitude with awe. Fond of life, shuddering at the thought of such a death, and entertaining no real regard for Jehovah the true God, they were easily persuaded to comply with the king's order, and to prostrate themselves before the idol, in contempt of the glorious majesty of the universe.
But we are informed that three individuals of the people of the Jews, were possessed of piety and fortitude sufficient to be singular on that occa
sion. Resolving still to adhere to the Lord's side, and reposing the fullest confidence in his infinite power and sufficiency, they absolutely refused to submit to the king, or to follow the multitude in their idolatry. An accusation, therefore, was immediately brought in, by certain Chaldeans, against them. Then Nebuchadnezer, in his rage and fury, commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, before him. They introduced these men before the king, who expressed his surprise, that they should presume thus to trample upon his authority, by refusing to worship he image which he had erected. At he same time, he distinctly repeated > them, the words of the decree, and iterated the awful denunciation, dearing, with all the terrors of inused royalty, that, should they perst in disobedience, a furnace of deViring fire should be their portion, al that no God would be able to deliv them out of his hands. They reained calm and undismayed; nor w: the strength of their resolution shken. They dreaded the displeasu of the King of kings, more than th wrath of the king of Babylon. In prference to yielding to known sin, ore guilty of an act, openly impious an idolatrous, they were ready, if the will of heaven should demand it, to neet death itself, even in its most frightful form. "O king, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. With the utmost alacrity would we serve and please thee, in every thing, not incompatible with duty, but in this we are constrained to incur thy displeasure. Jehovah must be obeyed, rather than man. Do with us as thou wilt. Torture us upon the rack, or plunge us into the fiercest flames which thy wrath can kindle. We put our trust in the Lord God of Israel-we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the image which thou hast set up." Who can fail to admire this decision of principle and action? this invincible fortitude in the cause of the Most High? It was this, which also eminently
distinguished the prophet Daniel, inspiring him, on a certain occasion, with the resolution, rather to be cast into a den of lions, than to suspend his practice of making supplication before the God of his fathers. It was this, which gave a divine elevation of character to the Patriarchs and prophets generally, to the apostles and primitive christians, which caused them to stand firm, amid the shocks of temptation and persecution; so that, under the influence of it, the great Apostle of the Gentiles could exclaim: "None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself. I am ready, not to be bound only, but to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus," By the same fortitude and firmness, Luther, Calvin, and Knox, with their associates, unmoved by the thunders of Papal power and vengeance, were carried through all the struggles and perils of the Reformation, and rendered immortal benefactors to mankind. It is this, indeed, which, through the special grace of God, influences every true christian to hold fast the profession of his faith without wavering. It raises him above the flatteries and the frowns of the wicked; enables him to stem the current of popular impiety; to withstand, at once, the world, the flesh, and the devil; and, taking up the cross, to follow the lamb, whithersoever he goeth. What is it to be a soldier, when there are no conflicts, and no enemy? In the halcyon days of peace, or at a distance from the battleground, a man may talk of his valour, and lead you to believe, that he would never turn his back to any foe. But the question is, will he actually endure, in a time of war, and on the field of battle? When the trumpet of alarm is sounding, and the enemy is coming in, like a flood, will he then fly to the standard, and maintain his ground? If he will stand firm, and fight manfully, in an actual engagement, exhibiting himself to be proof, equally, against the arts of bribery and seduction, and the appalling in