SPIRITUAL EXERCISES OF THE HEART
or CHRISTIAN RETIREMENT by Thomas
The Bible is the sacred storehouse of heavenly wisdom. Its pages are stamped
with the divine seal of eternal truth, and contain the charter of our hopes,
our privileges, and our joys. Whatever tends to lead us from the love and
study of the Holy Scriptures, should be dreaded as inimical to the highest
interests of mankind; while every attempt, however feeble, which has for its
object the promotion of the Redeemer's glory, and the good of souls, will be
received with affectionate indulgence by real Christians, who well know that
success in any effort of usefulness is 'from above'. "Not by might, nor by
power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord," is a declaration at once calculated
to strengthen the weak, and to humble the strong. The simple design in
publishing the following reflections, is to induce a habit of
self-examination and prayer; and to excite to a more diligent perusal of the
word of God. The author, therefore, desires to come in the kindly aspect of
a friendly visitor; and if privileged to enter into the sacred retirement of
the Christian, would there, through the blessing of God, endeavor to lead
him into a closer communion with his own heart, and with Jesus, his exalted
Savior. Nothing new is here presented to the Christian. The good old way in
which the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and all true believers in every
age have journeyed to the heavenly Canaan, is pointed out– Jesus is the way,
the only way to the Father; the living way to holiness, happiness, and
The prophet Isaiah was commanded to teach the people by line upon line, and
precept upon precept; where, therefore, the same unspeakably precious truths
recur again and again in these pages, their recurrence will not offend the
humble believer who has tasted that the Lord is gracious. As bread and water
are always pleasant to a healthy stomach, so the bread of life and the water
of life are peculiarly refreshing to the soul which is hungering and
thirsting after righteousness.
An original hymn is subjoined to each meditation, which, it is hoped, may
assist the spirit of piety, although it can lay little claim to the charms
of poetry. The Christian reader must kindly excuse the frequent lack of
close connection between the hymns and the meditations to which they are
attached, as they were composed before the present volume was contemplated
by its author.
Should the Lord condescend to bless these humble exercises of the heart, to
the guiding of some young inquirer to the Friend of sinners; to the
quickening of some lukewarm professor; to the convincing of some skeptic; or
the comforting of some afflicted believer; to the Triune God of our
salvation be all the praise.
1. CHRISTIAN RETIREMENT
How needful to the real Christian, surrounded as he is by sensible objects,
which have so powerful an influence on his mind and affections, are seasons
for retirement from the hurry and distracting cares of the world! The soul
cannot prosper in spiritual things, without much secret converse with its
God and Savior.
Many duties are unavoidably of a public nature; but these, except in
extraordinary cases, should not occupy those portions of time, which are
sacred to meditation, reading the Scriptures, and prayer.
There is something peculiarly pleasant and profitable in the interchange of
activity and retirement. As activity sweetens retirement, so retirement
prepares the mind for renewed activity. Those people who are most engaged in
active labors for the benefit of others, will find peculiar need for
frequent retirement. In their closets, they must draw down from the Fountain
of love, by faith and prayer, that spiritual strength, and those heavenly
graces, which alone can enable them to labor perseveringly, as well as
suffer patiently for Christ's sake.
The present times, which are so happily characterized by religious exertion,
render this duty highly needful. It is no uncommon thing to hear excellent
people complain, that their whole time is nearly divided between their own
jobs and the claims of multiplying religious societies; thus leaving little
or no leisure for the important duty of Christian retirement. Hence,
spirituality of mind is much injured from the constant bustle in which some
benevolent people live. They have frequent cause to join in the lamentation
of the Spouse in the Canticles: "They made me a keeper of vineyards; but
mine own vineyard have I not kept."
The increase of valuable institutions, formed for the purpose of extending
the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth, calls for perpetual gratitude to
God, who thus designs to bless our favored island with the light of his
truth, and to stir up his faithful servants to those interesting labors of
love. But it never was the design of Infinite Wisdom, that one
duty should extirpate another. As every thing is beautiful in its season, so
there is a time for every thing. The art of accomplishing much, consists in
giving to every duty its proper place, time, and quantity. Here much wisdom
is required; yet by prayer, watchfulness, and self-denial, much practical
knowledge may be attained.
When we seldom retire for holy converse with God, is there not great reason
to suspect some latent, though perhaps unconscious repugnance to the more
silent, unobtrusive offices of secret devotion? Some people grow almost
melancholy if much alone. This surely betrays a defect either in the
constitution or the heart. Absolute solitude is decidedly injurious; since
He who made us has declared, that "it is not good that man should be alone."
But occasional retirement, for the delightful purpose of holding converse
with the Savior, greatly refreshes the spiritual faculties, just as rest
from bodily labor recruits the wasted powers of our animal frame.
Some good men are so wedded to their studies, that they can scarcely force
themselves from their beloved retreat; while others are so fond of active
pursuits, that their minds seem averse to the sedentary employments of the
closet. Like birds of passage, they live upon the wing. Both these extremes
are faulty, and consequently hurtful to each party. Every man has his circle
of duty to fill up. This is larger or smaller, according to the station in
which God has placed him. Let no one think that he may live for himself
alone. Each individual has a sphere of usefulness to occupy; and his
happiness is closely connected with the performance of his duty. Our divine
Redeemer has left us an example that we should tread in his steps. May we
daily study the conduct of Him whose life was one continued exercise of
unwearied benevolence— "who went about doing good."
Nothing can more beautifully exemplify the duties of holy retirement and
active benevolence, than the life of Jesus. In the Gospels, we read how
incessant were his labors for the spiritual and temporal good of the
thousands who followed him. And there we also read, how "he went up into a
mountain apart to pray;" how "when the evening was come, he was there
alone;" how "he continued all night in prayer to God." This he did, not
occasionally, but frequently; thus setting us an illustrious example of
ardent devotion, combined with unceasing exertion for the present and future
happiness of fallen man.
Come, then, Oh! my soul, and withdraw yourself from a thoughtless world,
which is so eagerly pursuing the phantom of happiness. Look unto Jesus—place
all your affections upon him. He is the only source of spiritual felicity.
While delighting yourself in the active services of a loving obedience, seek
an increase of grace by daily secret converse with the Savior. We love the
society of a dear friend. Can we then be strangers to communion with Jesus,
if we indeed love him? Oh! that we may feel a sweeter relish for sacred
retirement, when this retirement is designed to cultivate a closer
acquaintance with our own hearts, and with Him who is "the chief among ten
thousand,"— the "altogether lovely One."
Blessed Spirit of grace and truth, shed forth your kindly influences on my
soul. Preserve me from spiritual sloth, under the specious mask of religious
retirement; and from ostentatious pride, under the imposing garb of active
benevolence. Oh! make me sincere in all my professions of love and
obedience; simply depending on your grace, while laboring to promote the
welfare of my fellow-creatures; that in all things I may be willing to do
and suffer your righteous will.
Jesus! my soul would now repose
Beneath the banner of your love:
Each rising storm do you compose,
Each darkening cloud far hence remove.
Beneath your smile is heavenly bliss;
How sweet in solitude with thee!
My soul, in such a world as this,
May now from anxious cares be free.
Reveal your mercies to my heart;
With joy my longing spirit fill;
Your grace unceasingly impart,
To do and suffer all your will.