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Trebonius asks how often he shall pray: he thinks the nicety of the question shows the piety and exactness of his heart; but Trebonius is deceived, for the question proves that he is a stranger to devotion.
Trebonius bas a friend, he is constantly visiting him, he is never well out of his company; if he is absent, letters are sent at all opportunities. Now what is the reason that he never asks how often he shall visit, how often he shall delight in, how often he shall write to his friend? It is because his friend has his heart, and his heart is his faithful and sufficient instructor. When Trebonius has given his heart to God, when he takes God to be as great a good, as substantial a happiness as his friend, he will have done asking how often he shall pray.
Julius goes to prayers, he confesses himself to be a miserable sinner, he accuses himself to God with all the aggravations that can be, as having no health in him: yet Julius cannot bear to be informed of any imperfection, or suspected to be wanting in any degree of virtue. Now can there be a stronger proof, that Julius is wanting in the sincerity of his devotions? Is not this a plain sign, that his confessions to God are words only of course and humble civility of speech to his Maker, in which his heart has no share?
If a man was to confess that his cyes were bad, his hands weak, his feet feeble, and his body helpless, he would not be angry with those that supposed he was not in perfect strength, or that he might stand in need of some assistance. Yet Julius confesses himself to be in great weakness, corruption, disorder, and infirmity; and yet is angry at any one that does but suppose him defective in any virtue. Is it not the same thing as if he had said, You must not imagine that I am in earnest in my devotions ?
It would be endless to produce instances of false devotion; I shall therefore proceed no farther in it, but rather endeavour to explain and illustrate that which
is true. Devotion,we see, is an earnest application of of the soul to God as its only happiness. This is devotion, considered as a state and temper of the mind. All those texts of Scripture which call us to God, as our true and only good, which exhort us to a fulness of faith, of hope, of joy, and trust in God, are to be considered as so many exhortations to devotion; because devotion is only another name for the exercise of all these virtues. That soul is devoted to God, which constantly rises and tends towards God in habits of love, desire, faith, hope, joy and trust. The end and design of religion, as it proposes to raise men to a life of glory with Christ at the right hand of God, carries a stronger reason for devotion, than any particular exhortation to prayer. Beloved, saith St. John, it doth not yet appear, what we shall be; but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. St. Paul also saith, As we have borne' the image of the earthly, we shall also
1 Cor. xv. bear the image of the heavenly.
Now these and such like texts seem to me to carry the most powerful motives, to awaken the soul into a a state of devotion. For as the apostle saith, He that hath this hope, purifieth himself even as he is pure: so he that hath this hope of being taken into so glorious an enjoyment of the divine nature, must find his heart raised and enliveued in thinking upon God. For these truths cannot be believed without putting the soul into a state of prayer, adoration, and joy in God. The seeing thus far into heaven, is seeing so many motives to praise and thanksgiving.
It was this view of future glory, that made the apostle break out in this strain of thanksgiving, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us to a lively
1 Pet. i. 3. hope by the resurreetion of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance undefiled, and that fadeth not away. And would we praise and adore
God with such thanksgiving as filled the heart of this apostle, we must raise it from a contemplation of the same truth, that incorruptible inheritance that is prepared for us.
Again; the same apostle saith to the Philippians, our conversation is in heaven; and as the reason and. motives to this heavenly conversation, he addeth, Whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, Phil. üi. 20. that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body. So that the most powerful motive to heavenly-mindedness, the plainest reason for our conversation in heaven, is our expectation of Christ's glorious appearance, when he shall come to. put an end to the miseries of this life, and clothe us with robes of immortality. These truths much more effectually raise the heart to God, than any particular precepts to prayer; they do not so much exhort, as carry the soul to devotion: he that feels these truths, feels himself devout; they leave a light upon the soul, which will kindle into holy flames of love and delight in God.
The way therefore to live in true devotion, is to live in the contemplation of these trutlıs; we must daily consider the end and hope of our calling, that our minds may be formed and raised to such tenpers and desires as are suitable to it, that all little anxieties, worldly passions, and vain desires may be swallowed up in one great desire of future glory. When the heart is in this state, then it is in a state of devotion, tending to God in such a manner as justly suits the nature of our religion : for whither should our hearts tend, but where our treasure is ? This devotion to God is signified in Scrip ture, by living by faith and not by sight, when the invisible things of the other life are the reason, the motive, and the measure of all our desires and tempers. When Christians are thus settled in right. judgments of things, and tending towards God in
such motions and desires as are suitable to them, then are they devout worshippers of God everywhere; this makes the common actions of their life, acts of religion, and turns every place into a chapel. And it is to this state of devotion that we are all called, not only by particular precepts, but by the whole nature and tenor of our religion..
Now as all states and tempers of the mind must be supported by actions and exercises suitable to them, so devotion, which is an earnest application of the soul to God, as its only happiness, must be supported and kept alive by actions and exercises suitable to it, that is; by hours and forms of prayer both public and private.
The devotion of the heart disposes. us to observe set times of prayer; and on the other hand, set times of prayer as naturally increase and enliven the devotion of the heart. It is thus in all other cases; habits of the mind dispose us to actions suitable to them, and these actions : likewise strengthen and improve the habits from whence they proceed.
It is the habitual taste for music, that carriespeople to concerts; and again, it is concerts that increase the habitual love of music. So it is the right disposition of the heart towards God, that: leads people to outward acts of prayer; and on the other side, it is outward acts of prayer, that preserves and strengthen the right disposition of the heart towards God. As therefore we are to judge of the significancy of our prayers, by looking to the state and temper of our heart, so are we also to. judge of the state of our heart, by looking to the frequency, constancy, and importunity of our prayers. For as we are sure that our prayers are insignificant, unless they proceed from a right heart, so unless our prayers be frequent, constant, and full of importunity, we may be equally sure that our heart is not right towards God.
Our blessed Saviour had indeed condemned one
sort of long prayer. But when ye pray use not vain repetitions, as the Heathens do; for Matth. vi. 7. they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Now it is not length, or a continuance of prayer that is here forbid; but vain repetitions, when instead of praying, the same words are only often repeated. Secondly, The Heathens are not here condemned for being importunate and persevering in their prayers, but for a wrong judgment, a false devotion, in that they thought they were heard, because they spoke much, that is, often repeated the same words. So that all that Christians are here forbid, is only this, they are not to think that the efficacy of prayer consists in vain and long repetitions, but are to apply to God upon a better principle, a more enlightened devotion. Now though this is plainly all that is here condemned, yet some people imagine, that a continuance and importunity of prayer is here reproved; and thencë conclude, that shortness is a necessary qualification
But how willing must such people be to be deceived, before they can reason in this manner? For the words have plainly no relation to length or shortness of prayer; they no more condemn the one than the other; but speak altogether to another matter. They only condemn an opinion of the Heathens, which supposed that the excellency and power of prayer consisted in a multitude of repetitions. Now to think that a short prayer is better because it is short, is the same error as to hold with the Heathens, that a prayer is more powerful, the longer the same words are repeated. It is the same mistake in the nature of devotion.
But supposing the meaning of these words was something obscure (which it is not) yet surely it is plain enough, that our Saviour has expressly taught and recommended a continuance and importunity in prayer. And how perversely do they read the