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Chapter XXIII.

He Who, In Christ, Desires To Grow In Grace, Is Often Compelled To Withdraw From Worldly Society.

How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!—My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.—Ps. 84:1, 2.

Thou actest wisely, if thou avoidest too frequent an intercourse with worldly men. For as it is never better for our bodies than when they are at home; so it is ever best with the soul, when it is at rest in its own habitation, which is God himself; from whom it derives life and being. To him, therefore, the soul must return again, if ever she is to enjoy rest, and find safety.

2. It is observed of all creatures, that they nowhere thrive so well, as where they drew their first life and origin. Thus the sea to the fishes, the air to the birds, the earth to the plants, and God to the soul, is the place of rest, according to the Psalmist, “The sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.” Ps. 84:2. As that man will bring trouble upon himself, who gives young people too much liberty to go abroad; so shall he suffer much, who yields up the reins of his tongue and thoughts, 75 allowing them to wander through the affairs of the world, as so many circles of vanity. Be assured, that you will escape many faults, if you study to confine your thoughts within the limits of your heart.

3. “Those that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” Ps. 92:13. What are these courts? They are the internal and spiritual sabbaths of the heart; which, as Lebanon in the desert, flourish best in a retirement of mind, and abstraction of spirit. Labor to attain this solitude of soul, and thou shalt become fit to search thine own heart, and to contemplate that variety of wonders and mercies which God has bestowed upon us.

4. Nor are we to imitate those who admire subtle disputes and inventions, who take pleasure in reading fine, pleasant, and witty productions; which, if rightly considered, deprave, rather than improve the mind of the reader. Whatever does not promote the repose of the heart, and the continual renovation of the mind, should neither be heard, spoken, read, nor even be entertained in thought, by a disciple of Jesus. True Christians are like the trees of God, which should daily grow stronger, and take deeper root in Christ. St. Paul testifies of himself, that besides “Christ and him crucified,” he desired to know nothing. 1 Cor. 2:2. And this has been the practice of all the saints of God, who have endeavored, to the utmost of their power, by carefully cherishing this blessed tranquillity of heart, to approach nearer and nearer to a life raised above the world, and to emulate those elevated minds that entirely rest in God, as the centre of all their happiness. One of them once said: “As often as I converse with men, I return less a man in some part or other.” For since the dignity of human nature principally consists in the similitude of God, and therefore God hath described man to be the image and likeness of himself (Gen. 1:26); it follows, that the more unlike any man is to God, the less a man he is: and the more closely he unites himself to God, the more conformed to Him does he become. None can, however, turn himself to God, who does not first withdraw himself from the world. It is the nature of every seed, to bring forth a plant of its own kind; so if the seed of God, the Holy Spirit and Word, be in thee, thou shalt become a “tree of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” Isa. 61:3.

5. Nothing is more common, than that some word or other is dropped in the conversation of men, which being idle and vain, grievously wounds and pollutes the soul. No man, therefore, has more security and peace, than he who keeps at home, in the house of his heart, and restrains his thoughts, his words, and his senses, from straying beyond their bounds.

6. He that will speak well, must first learn to be silent; for to talk much is not eloquence, but prating. He who desires to command well, must first learn to obey; since it is impossible that he should be a good ruler over others, who knows not how to be subject and obedient to God. He that desires peace and serenity of mind, must set a watch over his tongue, and maintain a good conscience; for an evil conscience is like the troubled sea; yet shall it find rest if it return unto Christ in true repentance. The dove which Noah sent out of the ark, not finding any place of rest, returned to it. Gen. 8:9. 76 This ark is Christ and the Church, having only one door or window, which is that of repentance, through which we are to come to Christ. And as the dove retired into the ark immediately when she found no rest for her foot; so when thou art floating in a sea of worldly affairs, and art in danger of suffering shipwreck, retire immediately into thy heart to Christ; lest, being too much tossed on the floods of the world, thy rest be broken, and the tranquillity of thy mind entirely destroyed.

7. While thou conversest with men, and art engaged in the affairs of this world, be careful to manage everything with fear and humility. Avoid all self-confidence and rashness in acting. Remember that thou art as a tender shoot tied to a prop, in order that it may grow up with the more safety: so do thou constantly lean on the staff of humility, and the fear of God, lest a sudden tempest should arise, and lay thee level with the ground. Alas! how many a man is deceived when he, too unadvisedly, rushes into worldly affairs. Persuade thyself, therefore, that it is as unsafe to trust to the world, as to the sea. The external joy of the world, though for a time it soothe a man in his carnal security, and promise prosperous things, yet may soon be disturbed by an unexpected tempest, leaving nothing behind but the sting of an evil conscience.

8. If a man would, on the one hand, seek no pleasure in what is frail or perishing; and if, on the other, with a mind freed from secular joys and affairs, he would give himself up to those more heavenly concerns that become a true Christian, he would often be visited with a fervent devotion, a profound peace, a sweet tranquillity, a serene conscience, and other divine comforts. But, alas! we will not be persuaded of these things; and hence it follows, that our conversion, amendment, and devotion are, by our too free conversation with men, rather hindered than improved. We may find within us, what we easily lose in an inconsiderate pursuit of things without us. And as a tree nowhere prospers better than in its natural soil; so the inward man grows nowhere more happily, than in the inward ground of the soul, where Christ resides.

9. The conscience of man is possessed either with joy or sorrow. If the conscience be conversant with things internal and heavenly, it will refresh us with inward delight and comfort; but if it be polluted with an excessive cleaving to worldly concerns, it will be of necessity attended with inward sorrow and perplexity. 2 Cor. 7:10.

10. As often as the soul is affected with hearty remorse for sin, she bewails herself, and sends up secret groans to the throne of mercy. This penitential exercise is a wholesome fountain of tears, in which the soul, night after night, cleanses and washes herself by the Spirit and by faith, through the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11), that so she may be duly prepared to enter into the inward sanctuary, and holy of holies, and there enjoy a secret intercourse with the Lord.

11. And because the Lord is “a God that hideth himself” (Isa. 45:15), the soul must approach him in a way remote from the noise of the world, that she may the more freely partake of his divine communications. Hence the Psalmist says: “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” Ps. 85:8. 77 And “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” Psalm 34:4, 6. “Unto thee will I pray: my voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:2, 3. Thus the farther the soul retires from the world, the more intimately she converses with God; just as the patriarch Jacob conversed most familiarly with God and angels when he was farthest removed from friends and children. Gen. 32:24-29. It cannot, indeed, be expressed in words, how much a soul sequestered from the friendship and fellowship of the world, is loved by God and by angels.

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