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In the presence of that august and venerable witness, all the noise and clamours of men, like the murmurings of a distant storm, die away.
Lastly, Supposing the character of a good man to be untainted by reproach, supposing also his external situation to be opulent or distinguished; many, notwithstanding, and severe, are the distresses to which he may be, exposed. Secret griefs may be preying upon him; and his heart left to feed in silence on his own bitterness. He may labour under sore disease, and discern his earthly frame gradually moulder into dust. He may be deprived of those friends and relatives who had been the chief comforts of his state; or may be ob liged to prepare himself for taking farewell of them for ever. In the midst of these various afflicting scenes of human life, no consolation can be more powerful than what arises from the presence of a Divine protector and guardian, to whom our case, with all its sorrows, is perfectly known. To him, says the Psalmist, I poured out my complaint. I shewed before him my trouble. I looked on my right hand and viewed; but, behold, there was no man who cared for my soul. I said unto thee, O Lord, thou art my refuge. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. *
Psalm cxlii. 2, 3, 4.
We all know, that to communicate our grief to a faithful friend, often gives ease and relief to the burdened heart. Such communication we are encouraged to make, and such relief we may expect to find, in pouring out our heart before that God in whom compassions flow. We may have no earthly friend to whom we can with full confidence disclose all our sorrows; or we may want words in which to express them. But God is the searcher of all hearts; and the hearer of all prayers. To the secret anguish of the soul, he is no inattentive witness. Every groan which is heaved from the labouring bosom, though heard by no human ear, reaches his throne. As he knows our frame, so he remembers we are dust; and thence light arises to the upright in darkness. For the hope naturally springs, that this beneficent Being will pity them as a father pitieth his children; and in the midst of those distresses which the present circumstances of man render unavoidable, will send them help from his sanctuary. Surrounded with this compassionate presence of the Almighty, good men never view themselves as left in this vale of tears, to bear, solitary and alone, the whole weight of human woe. In their dark, as well as in their brighter hours, God is with them. Even in that valley of the shadow of death,
where no friend, no comforter, can go along to aid them, he is with them still. In the last extremity of nature, the rod and staff of the Shepherd of Israel support them.
Thus I have shown, though in an imperfect manner, what benefits holy men derive from a habitual sense of the Divine presence. It animates and strengthens their virtue. It enlivens and brightens their prosperity. Under various forms of adversity, it affords them consolation and relief.-Such considerations, undoubtedly, form a strong argument in favour of a devout spirit, and a virtuous life. But they are considerations which may, probably, be regarded by some, as ideal and visionary; requiring aid from a heated, or an enthusiastic fancy, in order to give them force. I readily admit that, amid the hurry and turbulence of the world, it may be difficult to bring these religious sentiments as fully into view as is necessary for their making a just impression on the soul. This requires the effort of an intelligent and feeling mind; and therefore cannot be expected to be commonly found. To the unreflecting crowd, nothing appears real, but what is exposed to sense. What is invisible, is the same to them, as if it had no existence. But by the grossness of their own conceptions, they have no
title to measure those of others. While they affect to treat all considerations, taken from the sense of the Divine Presence, as visionary and enthusiastic, it can, on the contrary, be clearly shewn, that they are founded on the most certain and unquestionable principles of reason. They essentially belong, not to revealed only, but to natural religion. Their reality can be denied by none, but those who deny that God exists, or that he governs the world. For, if he exists, he must undoubtedly pervade and inspect the world which he governs. He must know what is going on throughout his own universe; and especially must know what passes within the hearts which he has made, and of which he is to judge. To be every where present, is the attribute of his nature, which, of all others, is the most necessary to his administration of the universe. This, accordingly, is an attribute which all religions have ascribed to him, All nations have believed in it. All societies appeal to it, in the solemnities of an oath, by which they determine controversies. This attribute being once admitted to belong to the Deity, the consequences which I have deduced from it, plainly and naturally follow: And every good man has ground to say, O Lord, I am continually with thee.
LUKE, xxi. 19. +
In your patience possess ye your souls.
THE possession of your souls is a very emphatical expression. It describes that state in which a man has both the full command, and the undisturbed enjoyment of himself; in opposition to his undergoing some inward agitation which discomposes his powers. Upon the least reflection, it must appear how essential such a state of mind is to happiness. He only who thus possesses his soul is capable of possessing any other thing with advantage; and in order to attain and preserve this self-possession, the most important requisite is, the habitual exercise of patience.