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where we shall serve our God without weariness or wandering.
Some hints that may, by the help of God, assist you to avoid distractions, will now be mentioned.
There may be an infirmity arising from the state of bodily health, or constitution, and the like, of which timid and anxious Christians, who are most apt to be troubled by their wanderings of prayer, should not lose sight in judging of themselves. Preston observes, “ one may aim at a mark and do his best, and yet be hindered either by the palsy in his arm, or by one who jogs him when about it." But the general cause of our distractions is the power of Satan, and the remaining strength of corrupt nature. Though the Christian is born again of God, he has two contending parties within—" the old man,” and “the new man;" and distractions mainly arise from the weakness of grace, the strength of sin, the temptations of Satan.
Remember, first of all, your entire dependence on God. Know your own weakness. “ We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves;" but while you see this, know your Savior's strength, that his“ grace is sufficient for you;" and these things being duly impressed on your mind, in his strength seek to overcome this evil. For farther directions, as to the assistance which you may have from God, I refer you to the chapter on the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
Send up fervent petitions for Divine assistance, espccially when you first find that your heart is wandering. * This is an effectual help. It engages the power of God against the power of Satan and sin. The Psalms are full of suitable expressions that may be used with advantage. “My soul cleaveth to the dust, quicken thou me according to thy word. Create in me a clean heart, O God, renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Thus contend against your spiritual enemies, and you must overcome them.
Determine to strive against wanderings. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”+ Are you not in general
*“Cry unto God, Lord, wilt thou suffer thy slave to abuse thy child, before thy face, while he is on his knees for a blessing ?'”
Harrison. 1 James iv. 7.
going carelessly to the worship of God, as a matter of habit and custom, without much thought of engaging your heart to approach unto him? This seems to be a too general case from the inquiry,“ Who is this that hath engaged his heart to approach unto me, saith the Lord ?"* The heart must be engaged to serve God. We should resolve with Jeremiah, “Let us lift up our hearts with our hands, unto God in the heavens.”+ Before you enter on this holy duty, pause, and pray with David, “Unite my heart to fear thy name;"I as if he had said, “I find my heart divided, and my thoughts dissipated; gather in all my wandering affections; may they be fixed on one great object; may they all be united in this single act that is before me:".
“That all my powers, with all their might,
Kenn. Seek to gain a spiritual mind. “To be spiritually. minded is life and peace.” We are only cutting off a leaf or a twig from this evil tree, while we take away a particular distraction. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved! How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?"& Till the heart be washed from sin, by the blood of Jesus, and by the grace of his Spirit, vain thoughts will be sure to lodge, or take up an abode in you, and to mingle with all you do. The heavenly-minded Christian, whose heart is continually with God, finds it comparatively easy to keep it more closely fixed on him, in the particular act of prayer. But if you are under the full influence of the carnal mind, it is utterly impossible that you can offer spiritual worship. “You must be born again."|| Such want an entire new heart. When they gain that, they may the better hope to attend upon the Lord without distraction. « Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long," and then there will not be the difficulty which you find in fixing your thoughts, and staying your mind on God, during the act of prayer. T
Men of the world are not distracted about their worldly business, but will pursue it with all fixedness and inten
* Jer. xxx. 21. + Lam. iii. 41.
Ps. lxxxvi. 11. Jer. iv. 14.
Il John iii. 7. T See Owen’s Grace and Duty of being spiritually-minded.
tion of mind, hour after hour, day after day, and year after year. They have an earthly mind, and love earthly things. Seek you to have a spiritual mind, and then you will thus pursue spiritual things. All the lines of your affection should unite here; all the radii of the circle should meet in this centre-in a fixedness of heart of God in his worship.
The circumstances of our prayers often lead our minds from God. We have to think of our sins, and their circumstances, when we confess them, and of our wants when we pray for what we need, and of our mercies when we thank God for them, and of our friends when we intercede for them; but if the mind were in a spiritual state, these things would rather be the means of drawing our hearts nearer to God, than of drawing them from him. Our thoughts should not so run out on the particulars of worship, as to forget the presence of Him whom we worship.
Persevere in prayer, notwithstanding distractions. In the path of duty, every obstacle gives way to the faith of the Christian. When the Israelites were come to the Red Sea, and to the waters of Jordan, they were directed to go forward. It might have been objected, If we go forward, shall we not be drowned? But still their duty was to go forward; and so shall we go in the path of a plain command, leaving to our God the removal of all obstacles. The reluctance and the discouragement of prayer will be overcome in the performance of the duty. When their heart is in this distracted frame, in private prayer, by giving more time to the duty, and dwelling on the petitions till you are able to attend to what you say, you will often be enabled to overcome your difficulties. "Patience is a grace as necessary sometimes in devotion, as in afflictions; and the want of patience does as often make our devotions defective as the want of recollection."
The difficulty of praying without distraction, and the fact that distractions do mingle with our holiest services, should inculcate many practical lessons ; such as humility, brokenness of spirit, and, as has been already noticed, entire dependence on Christ for righteousness and strength, breathings after the influence of the Spirit, and a longing to be in heaven, where all our services will be pure and holy. That prayer is not lost which produces any of these effects. Nay, if a distracted prayer do but deeply humble us, it may be one of our most profitable prayers.
And when our distractions are lamented, and our desire after spiritual blessings unfeigned, it may encourage us to remember that we pray to a Father. A little child often finds a difficulty in expressing its wants to an earthly fa-' ther; yet he, being desirous to meet the wishes of the child, will be ingenious, and patient, to discover and supply those wishes: so shall our "heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him.”
Our incapacity, indeed, is not physical, but moral; yet God, notwithstanding these many sins, considers those who trust in his Son as children, and pities them, and sparès them, “ as a man spareth his son.”
On Devotional Feelings merely.
THERE are a number of persons whom we have no reason to believe to be under the influence of real religion; their tempers are frequently unsubdued and irritable; their affections, in the main, are worldly; and their pride of heart is evident; that yet express themselves in a devout way, and talk as if they found pleasure in devotion. The beau ties of creation, the charms of nature, the fancied pictures which they draw of the goodness of the Deity, fill their minds with lively ideas of the benevolence of the Creator. They love to contemplate these things, and to converse about them in a strain of devout admiration and praise. Deists and idolaters sometimes express themselves in this way; and Socinians often talk as if their view of religion encouraged real devotion.
What then are the great defects of the kind of devotion which has been described ? It is accompanied by some one or other of the following marks.
With respect to those who profess to have it, it has little or no bearing on the temper, which still remains unsane tified, either self-indulgent or fretful, and exposed to bursts of passion. It puffs up, and fosters pride of heart, and fills
the mind with self-conceit, and self-sufficiency. It leads men to court rather than shun the admiration of others; or, it is often a mere indulgence of natural imagination, of a pensive disposition, of taste, and the like. Pleasurable sensations are excited by the idea of the dignity of such contemplations, and it is supposed that they indicate a superior state of mind to the common class of persons: and this pleases and satisfies the carnal mind.
With respect to God, it has no regard to his holiness or justice; it overlooks the Scripture account of his character, and those sorrows and evils of life which visibly mark his hand and the sinfulness of man. It greatly, if not totally, disregards the only mediator by whom we may draw near to God. “No man cometh unto the Father but by Him."
And with respect to others, there is little or no separation from vain and sinful company, from worldly habits, practices, and maxims; no fulfilling of the precept, “ Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing ;" and therefore no obtaining of the promise, “and I will receive you, and I will be a father into you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
In the feelings to which we allude, there is no real communion with God: that is ever humbling and purifying. Men of the description which has been mentioned, know nothing of the character of God as “the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy;" who says, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
This deceptive appearance of devotion sometimes arises from a spurious sentimentality; from notions not founded on the word of God, but on human fictions and vain reasonings, or foolish imaginations, assuming the character without the scriptural reality of religion. Sometimes men of real devotion, (like Law in his Spirit of Prayer,) have gone off into that which is mystical and unintelligible. Let us in all things adhere to the written word. This sort of devotion is not that plain, simple, home, and every-day life religion which so eminently marks the discourses of our Savior, and of his Apostles. It has its seat more in the imagination of a recluse, than in a broken spirit, enlight