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PART III. INWARD DIVINE GUIDANCE


CHAPTER SEVENTH.


On the state of Inward Recollection.


I BELIEVE it is the case, that all those, who have had much experience in the principles and methods of interior living, agree in attaching a very great importance to the state of INWARD RECOLLECTION. It is certainly difficult to meet the crosses and trials of life with composure, and to sustain the soul on other occasions, in purity and peace, without the aid of inwardly recollected habits of mind. However sincere may be our desire for entire devotedness of heart, and whatever resolutions we may form with that view, we shall often find ourselves in confusion of spirit and inadvertently failing in the fulfillment of our own resolutions, without this important aid.

INWARD RECOLLECTION is that serious and collected state of mind, in which God is realized and felt as the inward and present counsellor, guide, and judge of all our actions, both internal and external. In its results, when it becomes the fixed habit of the soul, it not only restores God to the inward possession and establishes Him upon the throne of the intellect and heart; but differing from that condition, in which He comes in broken and fragmentary visits, it sustains Him there essentially without interruption, in what may be termed a continuance or perpetuity of presence. In a word, it is the devoutly and practically realized presence of God in the soul, moment by moment. This is the state of mind, which, we cannot hesitate in saying, all Christians ought to be in. It is hardly necessary to say, that it is a scriptural state of mind. It is obviously implied and taught in those numerous passages of Scripture, which inculcate the duty of watchfulness, which speak of setting the Lord always before us, of walking with God, and of our inability to do any thing without him. And it is not more agreeable to God's Word, than it is suited to man's condition; not more scriptural, than it is necessary. We need it in order to know what to do. We need it in order to do what is proper and necessary to be done, in a just, Christian, and holy manner. We need it in all times and places, and in small things as well as great; since there are no times and places, from which God ought to be excluded; and nothing is so small, that it may not have great and important relations. It will be objected perhaps, that the state of Inward Recollection, considered as a state of long continuance and still more as perpetual, is an impracticable one. Whatever it may be to others, (and undoubtedly it is a state of mind, which is never experienced either in the absence of religion or in a low state of religion,) it is certainly not impracticable to a person of a truly devout spirit. But how can it be possible, says the objector, inasmuch as the religious life is made up, in a great degree, of specific religious duties, that a person can give the attention of his mind to those duties, and be occupied with the distinct idea of God at the same time? The difficulty, which is implied in this objection, whatever may be its reality or its extent, is met and obviated, at least for all practical purposes, by an acknowledged law of our mental nature. We refer to the principle or law of Habit. By means of this law the rapidity of the mental action may be increased to a degree, almost inconceivable; so much so that actions, which are distinct in time, will appear to be simultaneous; and objects, which are separately attended to, will appear to be embraced in one mental view. And so far as all practical purposes are concerned, the acts of the mind, which thus separately and successively take place, may be truly regarded as one act. And applying this law to the state of inward recollection, we may easily see, how the mind may be occupied with a specific duty and may at the same time be percipient of the divine presence, and may also connect the two together and impart to them a character of unity, so that the duty may properly be said to be done in a religiously recollected state. The movement of the mind in relation to the duty, and then in relation to God as cognizant of the duty, and the transition from one to the other, are all so exceedingly rapid, that memory does not ordinarily separate and recognize them as distinct acts; and thus in our apprehension and consciousness of them, they are blended together as one. God, therefore, in our mental contemplation of him, may be made present to all our specific duties; and thus the essential condition is fulfilled, which enables the mind to exist in the state of inward recollection. It is our privilege, therefore, a privilege too often undervalued and neglected, to do every thing which Christian duty requires, as in the divine presence, IN God and FOR God. We proceed now to specify some of those antecedent conditions or tendencies of mind, which may properly be regarded as preparatory, and even indispensable, to the state of Inward Recollection.

(I.) — In the first place, there must be a sincere and earnest desire to possess it. This eminent grace, without which the kingdom of God in the soul will be liable to constant irruptions and overthrows, will never be possessed by a heart, that is indifferent to its possession. It can belong to those and those only, who, with a sincere disposition to seek God in all things, can be truly said to "hunger and thirst after righteousness."

(II.) — In the second place, in order to possess recollection of spirit, it will be necessary not to be involved, to an undue extent, in the perplexities of worldly business. There is such a thing as admitting so much of the world and its cares into the mind, as to crowd out the great idea of God. Indeed, this is often done. And thus men, and some of them too, who occasionally observe the formalities of religion, become practical atheists. I notice, in reading the religious writings of Antonia Bourignon, that she expresses her opinion to one of her correspondents, that God had sent a certain affliction upon him, in order to bring him to the state of mind, which we are now considering. "The multitude of your comings and goings," she remarks among other things, "and other agitations of body do, without doubt, disturb the INWARD RECOLLECTION. It is impossible to converse purely with God, [that is to say, when we permit them to have their natural effect upon us,] in the midst of external agitations." And again she says, in writing to another person, "if you could but proceed in this affair, keeping your spirit recollected in God, I doubt not but it would succeed to his glory and our great good. I speak always of this RECOLLECTION; because I myself can do nothing out of it. God's spirit is a well regulated, orderly spirit, which proceeds with temperance, and weight, and measure, and. discretion,
without any manner of precipitation." [Bourignon's Light in Darkness, pp. 12, 132.]

(III.) — In the third place, in order to possess inward recollection, we are to have nothing to do, as a general rule, in thought or in feeling, or in any other way, with any thing but the present moment, and its natural and necessary relations. Discursive thoughts of a flighty and purely imaginative character, either going back to the past, for the mere purpose of drawing pleasure from it, or prospective and anticipative of the future in the manner of an idle man's reverie, are great hindrances to a recollected state. We are, in that way, rather pleasing ourselves than God; and the divine presence cannot well be secured at such times. In other words, as a general rule, there must be before us some present object. And that object must be regarded by us particularly in its moral aspect and relations. The present moment is necessarily, to a certain extent, a declaration of the divine will; and furnishes the basis of present duty. And it is the duty of the present moment, considered in its moral extension, to which, and to which only, God will consent to be a party.

(IV.) — It may be added further, that the state of mind, which we are considering, will not be likely to be possessed without great fixedness of purpose; a holy inflexibility of will, which keeps the mind steady to its object. We must not only wish to be the Lord's in this matter; but
resolve to be so. It is well understood, that even worldly objects, restricted as they are in compass and importance, cannot, in general, be satisfactorily accomplished by an unfixed and vacillating mind. And still less can the vast objects of religion. I know, if the great object of interior recollection is proposed to be secured by the mere labor of the will alone, without the cooperation of the affections, it will be hard work, and useless work too. And on the other hand a favorable posture of the affections will be of but little avail, unless the desires and inclinations are aided by the superadded energy of a fixed determination. But when the decisive and uncompromising act of the will combines its influence with that of the aspirations of the heart, the most favorable results may, with the grace of God, be reasonably expected. It is true, without the grace of God, nothing can be done, whatever may be the applications and discipline of the mind. But when the conditions, which have been mentioned, are fulfilled, the divine assistance, if we may rely upon the promises, can never be wanting.

(1.) — It has already been intimated, that the state of mind, to which our attention has been directed, is one of great practical importance. And we proceed, therefore, to observe now, that one of the benefits connected with the state of inward recollection is, that it is favorable to the best improvement of time. It will be a matter of course, that the person, who lives in religious recollection, will avoid unnecessary employments. With the idea of God, and perhaps we may add with the reality of God, continually present in his heart, scrutinizing every motive and action, and continually enforcing the claims of moral obligation, he will find no time to be spent idly, nor for the mere purposes of pleasure. Nor can he under such circumstances be the subject of internal dissipation; of vain and wandering imaginations and reveries; but will be enabled, to a degree unknown before, to bring every thought as well as every feeling, into subjection.— In order to prevent misapprehension, it may properly be added here, that whatever recreation of body or mind, either by social intercourse or in any other way, is really required by the physical and mental constitution and laws, is entirely consistent with duty and with inward recollection. A remark, however, which requires, in its practical application, no small share of wisdom.

(2.) — Again, the state of inward recollection tends to diminish greatly the occasions of temptation. It is very obvious, that he, who knows nothing but his present duty in itself and in its relations, which is all that it is necessary for him to know, cannot be so much exposed in this respect, as other persons. Unspeakable dangers must, of necessity, beset the mind, which is full of worldly activity, and which is continually discursive: running upon errands where it is not called; curiously and unnecessarily speculative; prying oftentimes with microscopic minuteness, into the concerns of others, not only without reason but against reason. What a flood of tempting thoughts must flow out upon these various occasions, and throng around the mind! What suggestions, which Satan knows well when and where to apply, to envy, distrust, anger, pride, worldly pleasure, ambition; none of which probably would. have approached the mind that remained recollected in God.

(3.) — Another remark is, that Inward Recollection helps us to know the truth, especially moral truth. The supreme desire of him, who has fully given his heart to God, is, not merely that he may be happy and thus please himself, but that he may KNOW and DO God's will. Knowledge, therefore, (we do not mean all kinds of knowledge, but particularly that which has relation to the divine will,) is obviously of the greatest consequence. And those will know most, who are the most recollected. The truth opens itself to the mind, that faithfully perseveres in the state of inward recollection, with remarkable clearness. And the reason, in part, is, because the mind, in a religiously recollected state, ceases to be agitated by the passions. "The light of God," says the writer already referred to," shines as the sun at noon day; but our passions, like so many thick clouds opposed to it, are the reason that we cannot perceive it. Love, hatred, fear, hope, grief, joy, and other vicious passions filling our soul, blind it in such a manner that it sees nothing but what is sensible and suitable to it;
refusing all that is contrary to its own inclinations and being thus filled with itself, it is not capable of receiving the light of God." [Bourignon's Light in Darkness, p. 14.] Now there can be no question, that Inward Recollection secures the soul in a most remarkable degree, from inordinate passions. Such passions cannot well flourish, with the eye of God distinctly looking upon them. And accordingly, under such circumstances, the illuminative suggestions of the Holy Spirit readily enter the mind, and operate in it, and reveal the divine will. So that he, who walks in recollection, may reasonably expect to walk in the light of true knowledge and of a divine guidance.

And not only this, Inward Recollection tends to concentrate, and consequently to strengthen very much the action of the intellectual powers. It does this, in part, and indirectly, by disburdening the mind of those wandering thoughts and unnecessary cares and excitements, which, with scarcely any exception, overrun the minds of those who do not live in a recollected state.

(4.) — Another favorable result, connected with the habit of inward recollection, is, that, by confining the mind to the present moment, and retaining God in the position of a present counsellor and guide, it prevents the exercise of reflex and selfish acts on the past, and also undue and selfish calculations for the future. Self, if we permit it, will either secretly or openly find. nourishment every where; and every where, therefore, we are to fight against it, overcome it, slay it. When the past is gone and we are conscious that we have done our duty in it, if we would not have the life of self imbibing strength from that source, we must leave it with God in simplicity of spirit; and not suffer it to furnish food either for vanity or disheartening regrets. We should avoid also all undue and selfish calculations for the future, such as continually agitate.and distract the minds of the people of the world; and indeed all thoughts and anticipations of a prospective character, which do not flow out of the facts and the relations of the present.moment, and which are not sanctioned by a present divine inspection. "Happy is the man," says Fenelon, "who retains nothing in his mind, but what is necessary; and who only thinks of each thing just
when it is the time to think of it; so that it is rather God, who excites the perception and idea of it, by an impression and discovery of his will which we must perform, than the mind's being at the trouble to forecast and find it." [Fenelon's Directions for a Holy Life.] To these important results, there can be no question, that the habit of inward recollection is exceedingly favorable.

(5.) — Again, we have good reason for supposing, that the state of mind under consideration is eminently propitious to the spirit and practice of prayer. There certainly can be no acceptable prayer without a considerable degree of recollection. And the requirement that we should "pray without ceasing," seems almost necessarily to imply, that we should always be in a recollected state. "He, who is always dissipated," says a certain writer, "like a house open to all comers and goers, is very unfit for prayer. He, that will never pray, but in the hour that calls him to it, will never do it well. But he, that would succeed in this great exercise, ought, by continual RECOLLECTION, to keep himself always ready, and in an actual disposition for praying." [Letter of Instruction on Christian Perfection, by Francis de la Combe.]

FINALLY, one of the great excellencies of the state of inward recollection is, that it gives us the place of central observation and power, the KEY, if we may so express it, to the position of the religious life; and enables us to exercise an effective control over its whole broad extent. That is to say, it places us in the most favorable position to discover and meet the attacks of our spiritual adversaries, and also to render our own movements and efforts fully available. However well disposed may be our intentions, whatever good purposes we may have formed, whatever may be the formality and solemnity of our recorded resolutions, they will ever be found in a great degree useless, without this aid. It will be in vain to think of living a life of true religion, a life in which God himself is the inspiring element, without a present, permanent, and realizing sense of his presence. It is, therefore, not without a good degree of reason, that the pious Cecil has remarked, that "RECOLLECTION is the life of religion."