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ON RELIGIOUS RETIREMENT.
Psalm iv. 4.
Commune with your own heart, upon your bed,
and be still.
Much communing with themselves there has always been among mankind; though frequently, God knows, to no purpose, or to a purpose worse than none. Could we discover the employments of men in retirement, how often should we find their thoughts occupied with subjects which they would be ashamed to own? What a large share have ambition and avarice, at some times the grossest passions, and at others times the meanest trifles, in their solitary musings? They carry the world, with all
its vices, into their retreat ; and
be said to dwell in the midst of the world, even when they seem to be alone.
This, surely, is not that sort of communing which the Psalmist recommends. For this is not properly communing with our heart, but rather holding secret intercourse with the world. What the Psalmist means to recommend, is religious recollection; that exercise of thought which is connected with the precept given in the preceding words, to stand in awe and sin not. It is to commune with ourselves, under the character of spiritual and immortal beings; and to ponder those paths of our feet, which are leading us to eternity. I shall, in the first place, show the advantages of such serious retirement and meditation; and shall, in the second place, point out some of the principal subjects which ought to employ us in our retreat.
The advantages of retiring from the world, to commune with our heart, will be found to be great, whether we regard our happiness in this world, or our preparation for the world to come.
Let us consider them, first, with respect to our happiness in this world. It will readily occur to you, that an entire retreat from worldly affairs, is not what religion requires ; nor
does it even enjoin a great retreat from them. Some stations of life would not permit this ; and there are few stations which render it necessary. The chief field, both of the duty and of the improvement of man, lies in active life. By the graces and virtues which he exercises amidst his fellow-creatures, he is trained up for heaven. A total retreat from the world is so far from being, as the Roman Catholic Church holds, the perfection of religion, that, some particular cases excepted, it is no other than the abuse of it.
But, though entire retreat would lay us aside from the part for which Providence chiefly intended us, it is certain, that, with occasional retreat, we must act that part very ill. There will be neither consistency in the conduct, nor dignity in the character, of one who sets apart no share of his time for meditation and reflection. In the heat and bustle of life, while passion is every moment throwing false colours on the objects around us, nothing can be viewed in a just light. If you wish that reason should exert her native power, you must step aside from the crowd, into the cool and silent shade. It is there that, with sober and steady eye, she examines what is good or ill, what is wise or foolish, in human conduct ; she looks back on the past, she looks forward to the future ; and forms plans, not for the present moment only, but for the whole of life. How should that man discharge any part of his duty aright, who never suffers his passions to cool ? And how should his passions cool, who is engaged, without interruption, in the tumult of the world ? This in. cessant stir may be called the perpetual drunkenness of life. It raises that eager fermentation of spirit, which will be ever sending forth the dangerous fumes of rashness and folly. Whereas he who mingles religious retreat with worldly affairs, remains calm, and master of himself. He is not whirled round, and rendered giddy, by the agitations of the world ; but, from that sacred retirement, in which he has been conversant among higher objects, comes forth into the world with manly tranquillity, fortified by the principles which he has formed, and prepared for whatever may befal.
As he who is unacquainted with retreat, cannot sustain any character with propriety, so neither can he enjoy the world with any ad vantage. Of the two classes of men who are most apt to be negligent of this duty, the men of pleasure and the men of business, it is hard to say which suffer most in point of enjoyment from that neglect. To the former every
moment appears to be lost, which partakes not of the vivacity of amusement. nect one plan of gaiety with another, is their whole study; till, in a very short time, nothing remains but to tread the same beaten round; to enjoy what they have already enjoyed, and to see what they have often seen. Pleasures, thus drawn to the dregs, become vapid and tasteless. What might have pleased long, if enjoyed with temperance and mingled with retirement, being devoured with such eager haste, speedily surfeits and disgusts. Hence, these are the persons, who, after having run through a rapid course of pleasure, after having glittered for a few years in the foremost line of public amusements, are the most apt to fly at last to a melancholy retreat ; not led by religion or reason, but driven, by disappointed hopes, and exhausted spirits, to the pensive conclusion, that all is vanity.
If uninterrupted intercourse with the world wear out the man of pleasure, it no less oppresses the man of business and ambition. The strongest spirits must at last sink under it. The happiest temper must be soured by incessant returns of the opposition, the inconstancy, and treachery of men. For he who lives always in the bustle of the world,