« VorigeDoorgaan »
soever be his outward circumstances of life, may reach to any the highest point of devotion. I do not say that all states of life are equally favorable ; far from it; but that outward circumstances are only bindrances, not absolute prohibitions. It is most true, that they who are permitted by the Providence of God to withdraw from worldly employments, to wait at His altar, to be content with food and raiment, to live lives of self-denial, in works of love and spiritual mercy, being themselves without carefulness, and disburdened of the many thinys which cumber other Christians : that is, in one word, who are permitted to choose with Mary that “one thing needful,” “that good part which shall not be taken away from " them; most true it is, that such persons may, and do, for the most part, more surely and deeply than others, perfect in their souls the work of humiliation, penitence, and devotion.
But this is a lot not given to all. And it is most certain, that for those who are not called for from the duties of the world and the cares of life, the path in which God is pleased to lead them must be the best and safest. Nay, one among the wisest of the Church's early teachers* tells us that the most perfect man is he who, in the midst of the charges, and cares, and relations of life and home, yet attends upon the Lord without distraction. Such a way of life will indeed require greater spiritual strength. For worldly cares weigh down the soul, and entangle it in manifold obstructions. To be in the world, and yet dead to it, is the highest reach of faith.
But there is no need for the great multitude of Christians to weigh these states in a balance against each other. This at least is most certain, and makes all such comparisons unprofitable—I mean, that there is hardly one of us
* S. Clem. Alex. Strom. vii. 874.
whose outward circumstances in life do not admit of a far higher reach of devotion than we actually attain. We repine at the obstructions of our outward lot, as if they were the cause of our wandering thoughts, careless hearts, selfish wishes, inattentive prayers, unchastened tempers, languid affections. We think we should do better in some other condition, under some other circumstances, with somewhat less of ordinary life, and somewhat more of uncommon events and practices. And yet the hindrance is not from without but within us. It is not only in the household, or in the market-place, or at the seat of custom, or in the crowd of men, that this, which makes our religious character imperfect, cleaves to us, and defeats our wishes and intentions. We should carry it with us into a cell. It would lower the tone of our devotions in a solitude, or even at the foot of the altar : for what is it but the want of fervor and perseverance, a lack of inward force and of spiritual affections ? What do the examples of Holy Scripture teach us? They show us that those who have been called to serve God out of the world, so to speak, are few; and that they who have served Him in the world are the multitude of His saints. Samuel was brought up in the temple; Elijah dwelt in Carmel; Elisha in the school of the prophets; John Baptist in the wilderness; the Apostles forsook all for Christ's sake and the Gospel : but Enoch walked with God, and had sons and daughters ; Abraham had great possessions; Joseph governed Egypt; Moses was king in Jeshurun ;* Jeremiah dwelt in a royal curt; Daniel was third ruler in the kingdom of Babylon ; Nehemiah was prince and governor in Jerusalem. .
So in all ages the saints of the Church have been mingled in all the duties and toils of life, until age or the
* Deut. xxxiii. 5.
events of Providence set them free. There was nothing uncommon about most of them but their holiness. Their very lot in life ministered to them occasions of obedience and humiliation. They sought God fervently in the turmoil of homes and armies, of camps and courts; and He revealed Himself to them in love, and became the centre about which they moved, and the rest of all their affections.
There is no reason why we should not likewise live unto God, whatsoever be our trade, labor, profession, or state.
live after the example of the Blessed Virgin in lowliness and thoughtful care, pondering in her heart, watching over her children, and fostering, them for God, leading them up to His temple, teaching them betimes to be about their heavenly Father's business. Children may grow up in affection, patience, gentleness, and uniform obedience, like our Lord. A poor laboring man may live by the sweat of his face, tilling the earth, or working with the tools of his craft, as “the Carpenter at His toil, and yet have his “ life hid with Christ in God.” Statesmen, merchants, lawyers, soldiers, all they who “ maintain the state of the world," may reach to any height of Christian devotion. There is no limit to their advance, except in the measure of their own energy, zeal, selfdiscipline, and purity of heart.
What has been said may suggest many thoughts of comfort in the present state of the Church among us. It cannot be denied that the visible marks of sanctity are but faintly seen. The world has outgrown the Church, and left its character and impressions every, where. In the whole civil and social state, in public and private life, in our sciences of government and schemes of civilization, in our institutions, undertakings, and usages, that which meets us every where is the world, its powers, wisdom, self
trusting, its softness, polish, and refinement. The notes of the Church are suppressed and seldom seen: the counsels, precepts, laws of holy living, the public solemnities of a visible religion, are well nigh withdrawn from our personal, domestic, and political life. Where are the high days of the Church's joy, as in the former days of old? The very consolations of Holy Scripture have become unmeaning to
Who knows what is promised when it is said, shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel ? "* Where are our feasts of Christian joy? Chilled off into a formality, which to the multitude is tame, wearisome, and inexpressive; or the mercies of God are suffered to pass without any token of acknowledgment. And for our public fasts, even Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment and condemn us. “ The people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water : but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God.”+ But we have come to partake in great public wrongs, and can bear to be smilten by awful public chastisements, without confession or humiliation. And, moreover, those visible institutions and privileged rules of life by which repentance, devotion, and charity manifested themselves in other days, are gone. Isaiah xxx.' 29,
† Jonah'ii. 5-8
The surface of religion among us is a monotonous plain, unbroken by variety; marked by few visible features of devotion, standing out in relief from the level of ordinary life.
We may hope, indeed, that these things are the excess of a recoil from a popular system, which may have been more visible than real; and that the secrecy of private devotion is a sensitive and not unwise retirement, into which men are provoked by the coarse and unfeeling exhibition of fanatical and self-conscious professors. Let us hope that there is yet a severe reality at heart, that men have been taught to apprehend with an intense and even overstrained interpretation the words of our Lord in the midst of an ostentatious and obtrusive religious profession “ Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth : that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret, Himself shall reward thee openly. And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. ... Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may