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understand them. The same Spirit that gave the word, giveth likewise the interpretation thereof. And the latter, as well as the former, is best received in solitude, which appears to be thus admirably calculated for the attainment of wisdom, as it requireth study and attention, a dispassionate and unprejudiced mind, and that illumination which is from on high.
Sin, in the language of Scripture, is styled folly, to intimate to us, that true wisdom and holiness are inseparable companions. That, therefore, which conduceth to the acquisition of one, can never bear an unfavourable aspect towards the other, and solitude will be found the best nurse of sanctity, more particularly as it consisteth in the exercise of mortification.
This is a work which no man can set about, till he knoweth what those failings are, to which he is subject. And such is the power of self-love, that the person concerned is generally the last who comes to a knowledge of this most important point. If neither the fidelity of his friends nor the malice of his enemies let him into the secret, there is only a third way in which it is possible for him to become master of it, which is self-examination, constantly, sincerely, and thoroughly practised. And this requireth stated seasons of retirement; for want of which, we see those, who are engaged in a circle of business, or pleasures, living entire strangers to themselves and their own infirmities, though intimately acquainted with the follies and foibles of all around them. "In the night," the psalmist tells us, he communed with his own heart, and "his
"spirit made diligent search." Then silence and solitude afforded him an opportunity of scrutinizing the tempers of his soul, of discovering the maladies to which he was inclined, and of applying the proper remedies to each.
That medicines may be administered with success, it is necessary to cut off the provisions, which nourish and increase the disorder. The world, in the case before us, is full of such provisions; and therefore the patient must withdraw, for a while, from the influence of its temptations. "Where no wood is, "the fire goeth out"." Remove the object, and the passion will by degrees die away. In solitude, the pleasures and glories of the world no longer strike upon the senses, and solicit the affections. The soul, therefore, in this situation, like one escaped out of a battle to a place of security, hath leisure to reflect upon her condition, and to provide for her future safety. By looking into herself, she perceiveth how much she standeth in need of mercy and grace; and then she is naturally led to look up to heaven, as the only place from whence they are to be obtained. The former of these prospects filleth her with compunction, and causeth her to mourn for her sins with that godly sorrow which worketh a repentance never to be repented of; the latter encourageth her to pour forth herself in continual prayer to the God of her salvation, until he have mercy upon her. St. Peter, when reminded of his offence by the crowing of the cock, and the affectionate look of an abjured Master,
Psal. lxxvii. 6.
P Prov. xxvi. 20.
went out from the high priest's hall where he was, and in solitude, with strong crying and tears, made supplication for pardon and peace. In retirement it is, that we find ourselves best able to practise all the holy arts of abstinence and self-denial, so needful for the perfecting repentance by mortifying the whole body of sin.
When men cannot be induced voluntarily to take this course, they are often forced into it by Providence visiting them with some heavy calamity, which by a stroke, like the amputation of a limb, severe but salutary, separating them at once from the world, shall oblige them to converse first with themselves, and then with God. Thus was Babylon's haughty monarch driven, in an extraordinary manner, from society, to learn humility in the fields and woods, until he acknowledged the power and the righteousness of the King of heaven. And thus the idolatrous and superlatively wicked Manasseh became a sincere and hearty penitent in the solitude of a Chaldean prison. Nor can we but admire, upon this occasion, the wisdom and goodness of God in sending sickness, as a preparative for death. Sickness takes a man, as it were, out of this scene of things, to fit him for another. It draws the curtain between him and the world, shutting out all its cares, and all its pleasures. It puts away his idle and noisy acquaintance far from him; and having thus secured his attention to the one thing needful, gives him ideas of the nature of sin, and the importance of death, the vanities of time, and the glories of eternity, to which he was before an utter stranger. Now appear to him, in
their proper colours and natural deformity, the diabolical nature of pride and envy, the brutality of intemperance, the folly and torment of lasciviousness, the wretchedness of avarice, and the stupidity of sloth. Now he hath no longer any unlawful desires, and grieves that he ever had such. Now he is what he always ought to have been, and what retirement, at proper seasons, should and would have made him.
In morality, as in husbandry, the preparation of the soil is a great step towards the production of a plentiful harvest. If carnal desires are dead in us, all things belonging to the Spirit, will live and grow in us. If the affections are disengaged from things on earth, the difficulty of the work is over; they will readily and eagerly lay hold on things above, when proposed to them. If the snare of concupiscence be broken, and the soul be delivered out of it, she will presently fly away, on the wings of faith and charity, towards heaven. They who have duly practised mortification in the school of retirement, will, at their appearance in the world, afford it the brightest examples of every thing that is "honest, just, pure, "lovely, and of good report."
We may, therefore, conclude, that he who desires to undertake the office of guiding others in the ways of wisdom and holiness, will best qualify himself for that purpose by first passing some time in a state of sequestration from the world; where anxious cares and delusive pleasures may not break in upon him, to dissipate his attention; where no sceptical or sectarian spirit may blind his understanding, and nothing
may obstruct the illumination from above; where every vicious inclination may be mortified through grace, by a prudent application of the proper means; and every fresh bud of virtue, sheltered from noxious blasts, may be gradually reared up into strength, beauty, and fragrance; where, in a word, "he may grow and wax strong in spirit, until the day of his "showing unto Israel."
Considerations on the Prophecies relative to St. John in the Old Testament.
BEFORE we proceed to view the Baptist in the exercise of his ministry, it will be proper to look back to the predictions in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, concerning his office and character. We shall begin with that remarkable one, "Behold, I "will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming "of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And "he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, "and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest "I come and smite the earth with a curse."
As there was amongst the Jews a general expectation of Messiah's appearance, at the time when he did appear, so an opinion likewise prevailed, that the world should be first prepared for his reception,
9 Mal. iv. 5, 6.