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At the same time, let the course of our employments be ordered in such a manner, that in carrying them on, we may be also promoting our eternal interest. With the busi
ness of the world let us properly intermix the exercises of devotion. By religious duties and virtuous actions, let us study to prepare ourselves for a better world. In the midst of our labours for this life, it is never to be forgotten, that we must first seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and give diligence to make our calling and election sure. Otherwise, how active soever we may seem to be, our whole activity will only prove a laborious idleness: We shall appear, in the end, to have been busy to no purpose, or to a purpose worse than none. Then only we fulfil the character of Christians, when we join that pious zeal, which becomes us as the servants of God, with that industry which is required of us, as good members of society; when, according to the exhortation of the Apostle, we are found not slothful in business, and, at the same time, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. *
Rom. xii. 11.
ON THE SENSE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE.
PSALM lxxiii. 23. ›
I am continually with thee.
We live in a world which is full of Divine
presence and power. We behold every where around us the traces of that supreme goodness which enlivens and supports the universe. Day uttereth speech of it to-day; and night sheweth knowledge of it to-night. Yet, surrounded as we are with the perfections of God, meeting him wherever we go, and called upon by a thousand objects, to confess his presence, it is both the misfortune and the crime of a great part of mankind that they are strangers to Him, in whose world they dwell. Occupied with nothing but their pursuits of interest and pleasure, they pass through
this world as though God were not there. The virtuous and reflecting are particularly distinguished from the giddy and dissolute, by that habitual sense of the divine presence which characterises the former. To them, nothing appears void of God. They contemplate his perfections in the works of nature; and they trace his Providence in the incidents of life. When retired from the world, he often employs their meditation. When engaged in action, he always influences their conduct. Wherever a pious man is, or whatever he does, in the style of the text, he is continually with God.
The happy effect of this sentiment on the heart, is fully displayed in the text, We see it allaying all the disquiet which the Psalmist, in the preceding verses, describes himself to have suffered on account of the prosperity of the wicked. The first reflection which restored tranquillity to his mind, was the remembrance of the presence of God. Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. He became sensible, that whatever distresses the righteous might suffer for a time, they could not fail of being compensated in the end, by that Almighty Protector, whose propitious presence ever continued to surround him. Whereupon follow those me
morable expressions of his trust and joy in God. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth I desire besides thee.
There are principally two effects, which the sense of the Divine presence is fitted to produce upon men. One is, to restrain them from vice; the other to encourage their virtue. Its operation, as a check upon the sinner, is obvious. The perpetual presence of so powerful and venerable a witness, is one of the most awful considerations which can be addressed to the dissolute. It removes all the security which secrecy can be supposed to give to crimes. It aggravates the guilt of them, from being committed in the face of the Almighty; and has power to strike terror into the heart of the greatest criminal, in the midst of his misdeeds. While this principle of religion thus checks and terrifies the sinner, it produces also another effect, that of strengthening, and comforting the good man, in the practice of his duty, It is the influence of the Divine presence on good men, which, in consequence of the Psalmist's sentiment, I propose to consider. To their character it belongs to be continually with God.
I shall endeavour to show the high benefit and comfort which they derive from such a habit of mind; and shall, for this end, first consider their internal moral state; and next, view them as they are affected by several of the external accidents and situations of life.
Let us begin with considering them in their internal state. The belief of Divine presence acts upon them here, first, as an incitement to virtue. The presence of one whom we highly esteem and revere, of a sovereign for instance, a father, or a friend, whose approbation we are solicitous to gain, is always found to exalt the powers of men, to refine and improve their behaviour. Hence it has been given as a rule, by ancient moralists, that in order to excel in virtue, we should propound to ourselves some person of eminent and distinguished worth, and should accustom ourselves to act, as if he were standing by, and beholding us. To the esteem and approbation of their fellow-creatures, none are insensible. There are few who, in the conspicuous parts of their life, when they know the eyes of the public to be fixed on them, act not their part with propriety and decorum. But what is the observation of the public; what is the presence of the greatest or wisest