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PART II. THE LIFE OF FAITH AND LOVE FOLLOWED BY THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE LIFE OF NATURE.


CHAPTER ELEVENTH.


On the necessity of possessing the Gifts and Graces of God in purity of spirit.


IT is difficult to express and even to conceive of the subtleties and insinuations of selfishness. It enters every path. It lurks in every secret place. And wherever it finds its way, it pollutes, poisons, and destroys. It sometimes attaches itself, by a process almost imperceptible, to God's most valuable gifts and graces; those which are spiritual, as well as those which are natural. An individual, for instance, is possessed of great natural ability. This ability is a gift of God. But how often it is, that the possessor, thinking but little of the great Author of the gift, regards it as something peculiarly his own, and instead of seeing God in it, sees only himself. Almost unconsciously to himself, and greatly to his spiritual injury, he is experiencing a secret elevation of spirit, and is taking a hidden complacency in an intellectual possession, which, when properly considered, should have increasingly detached him from self, and led him nearer to his Maker.

But what is surprising and almost inexplicable, there is danger of the same insinuating and infectious influence, attaching itself even to the spiritual gifts of God. It is an important fact, on whatever principles it may be explained, that the possession of holiness does not exclude the liability to an opposite state. Satan, when expelled from the heart, will endeavor to find the means of returning; and nothing can prevent it but the closest and most constant circumspection, aided by the grace of God. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."

A man, for instance, is endowed, through the operations of the Holy Spirit, with the invaluable grace of HUMILITY. He ascribes nothing to himself. He takes a low place; and he feels that he ought to take a low place before God. But before he is aware of it, unless he is constantly on his watch, self-love is secretly winding itself about this ennobling Christian affection, and endeavoring to extract some personal merit out of it. There is a secret and almost imperceptible feeling, (for in this matter Satan is careful not to show himself too prominently,) not only that his humility is some evidence in his favor, but that his humility itself is worth something.

Again, how often it is that the man, who possesses true Christian benevolence, is assailed in the same insidious way! There is no question that he is truly benevolent, and benevolent too on the highest christian principles; but after a time he begins, almost unconsciously to himself, to poison this eminent Christian grace by an infusion of self-gratulation. Even the missionary of the Cross, as he toils beneath the frozen skies of Greenland or amid the burning sands of Africa, finds the secret but deceptive suggestion springing up, he hardly knows whence or how, that his life of toil and suffering has some little merit, which he can
call his own.

And similar results may be noticed in other cases. The soul, charmed by some soothing and insidious whispers, begins to lull itself to rest and to repose upon the couch of its own virtues, its humility, its gratitude, its inviolable veracity, its benevolence, or some other moral and christian grace, instead of resting exclusively upon the merits of Christ, and ascribing its gifts and graces to the mere mercy of God. These views will apply essentially, among other things, to joyous states of mind. The Scriptures abundantly assure us, that there is such a state of mind as holy joy. But true joy, "the joy of the Holy Ghost," flows up and refreshes the inward heart as a pure fountain, only so long as the soul is fixed upon God, as the centre of its thought and of its undivided affection. As soon as we begin to think how happy we are, and to dwell upon and to please ourselves with the thought, the joy itself becomes an offense, and diffuses a secret, but destructive influence through the inward life. To be happy in our own happiness, instead of being happy in God, is to drink from a cistern of our own construction, "a broken cistern which can hold no water." And it is in connection with such views and facts, that Fenelon has very correctly said, that "the most eminent graces are the most deadly poisons, if we rest in them and regard them with complacency." "It is the sin" he adds "of the fallen angels;
they only turned to themselves, and regarded with complacency their state; at that instant they fell from heaven and became the enemies of God."

It is exceedingly important, therefore, that all the Christian gifts and graces should be possessed in purity of spirit, uncontaminated by any unholy mixtures of an earthly nature. The mere suggestion, that they have merit of themselves and separate from the God who gives them, if it be received with the least complacency, necessarily inflicts a deep wound. They are, accordingly, held in purity of spirit and with the divine approbation, only when their tendency is to separate the soul from every thing inward and outward, considered as objects of complacency and of spiritual rest, and to unite it more and more closely to God. In the language of the writer just now referred to, "we must sacrifice even the gifts of God;" that is to say, we must cease to regard them and to take complacency in them, in themselves considered, that we may have God himself. We do not find the parent, who has that degree of affection for his child, which may be called entire or perfect love, making his love a distinct object of his thoughts, and rejoicing in it, as such a distinct object; that would not be the genuine operation of perfect love. If his love is perfect, he has no time and no disposition to think of any thing but the beloved object, towards which his affections are directed. His love is so deep, so pure, so fixed and centered upon one point, that the sight of self and of his own personal exercises, is lost. It ought to be thus in the feelings, which we exercise towards God; and undoubtedly such will be the result, when the religious feeling has reached a certain degree of intensity. That is to say, when the feeling is perfect, the mind is not occupied with the feeling itself, but with the object of the feeling. The heart, if we may so express it, seems to recede from us; it certainly does so as an object of distinct contemplation; and the object of its affections comes in and takes its place. Oh the blessedness of the heart, that, free from self and its secret and pernicious influences, sees nothing but God; that recognizes, even in its highest gifts and graces, nothing but God; that would rather be infinitely miserable with God, if it were possible, than infinitely happy without him.

In connection with these remarks we are enabled to understand and appreciate the state of mind, which is described in some primitive writers on interior experience, as a state of cessation from "reflex acts." By REFLEX ACTS as we employ the phrase here and as it appears to be employed by the writers referred to, we mean those acts of the mind, in which the soul turns inward upon itself, and ceasing for a time to regard the mere will of God as the only good, takes a self-conscious satisfaction in its own exercises. Such acts, when they are indulged in, stand directly in the way of the highest results of the religious life. On the other hand, he, who has entirely ceased to put forth acts of this kind, and loves God to the entire forgetfulness of self, losing sight even of his own exercises, in consequence of being fully occupied with an infinitely higher object, has reached the broad and calm position of spiritual rest, the region of inward and abiding peace. A region, where there is no noisy clamor; no outcries and contests of the passions; no contrivances of prejudice, interest, and ambition; no rebellious sighing and tears of the natural spirit; but all is hushed and lost in the one deep conviction, that there is nothing good, nothing permanently true, nothing desirable, no, not in heaven itself, but pure and everlasting union with the will of God. Of such a soul it may be said eminently, that it holds the gifts of God in purity; since it loses the distinct perception and knowledge of the gifts, in the consciousness of union with the Giver.






"Lord! Thou hast won, at length I yield.
My heart, by mighty grace compelled,
Surrenders all to Thee.
against thy terrors long I strove,
But who can stand against thy love!
Love conquers even me."