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PART SIXTH.
ON UNION WITH GOD IN HIS PROVIDENCES.



CHAPTER X.


ILLUSTRATIONS OF INTERIOR OR SPIRITUAL SOLITUDE.


"Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, [that is, into the solitary place,] and speak comfortably unto her." — Hosea 2:14.


To be alone with God, which implies being in solitude from the world, is indescribably pleasing to the devout mind. And in order to realize an idea, which carries with it so much attraction, it is not surprising, that many pious persons have, in all ages of the world, secluded themselves from society. In plucking the roses of the world, they have been pierced with the thorn; and in the depth of their sorrow they have sought to avoid that, which, under the appearance of good, conceals so much evil. Their designs have been right, but their methods have not always been successful.

We have briefly alluded to this subject in the concluding remarks of the chapter which considers Providence in connection with man's situation in life. We propose to make a few further remarks upon it here.

2. In order to have correct ideas on the subject before us, we may properly remark, in the first place, that interior or spiritual solitude is not to be confounded with physical or
personal solitude. It is something more, and something higher, than mere seclusion of the body in some hidden or remote place.

In the accounts of those, who, in the early periods of Christianity, retired into solitary places, with the object of perfecting their inward state in desolate caverns, in forests, and in the seclusions of monasteries, we find frequent mention of unexpected and heavy temptations. Often did the world, in the shape of evil desires and vain imaginations, follow them to their lonely retreats. It is related of St. Jerome, whose devout writings still edify the church, that, in the ardor of his young piety, he thought he could successfully escape the temptations of luxurious cities, and perfect his inward experience, by dwelling alone in the solitary deserts of Syria. In the midst of those vast plains, scorched by the burning sun, he sat down alone, emaciated, disfigured, with no companion but wild beasts. Strong were his resolutions; great were his sufferings; many were the penitential tears which he shed; — but, in the midst of this desolation and of these flowing tears, he informs us that his busy imagination placed before him the luxuries of Rome and the attractions of her thoughtless voluptuaries, and renewed the mental tortures which he hoped he had escaped. [See
Pantheon Litteraire. Œuvres de St. Jerome.]

To be secluded, therefore, in body is not enough. To be alone in caves and in forests is not necessarily to be alone with God.

3. Nor is this all. We may properly remark, further, that true spiritual solitude, which always implies the special operations of divine grace, is not merely
mental solitude. It is not the solitude, even when added to that of the body, of a merely disappointed and impenitent mind; of the mind as it now is.

The mind may become so intensely selfish that even the world cannot supply its wants. How many persons, the victims of intense avarice, of burning sensuality, of overleaping ambition, have renounced and cursed the world, because even the world, with all its adaptedness to their desires, could not give all that they asked! Men of wealth, voluptuaries, statesmen, warriors, kings, worn out with indulgence, or disappointed in their boundless aspirations, have separated themselves from society, when probably it did not occur to them
to separate from themselves. In forests and in dens of the earth, and wherever they could flee away, and shut themselves up alone, they have poured forth, not their prayers to God, but their misanthropy and hate against man. In leaving the world behind them, they have carried in their hearts that which gave the world its evil and its sin.

4. True spiritual solitude, in being something more than solitude of the body, and something more than solitude of the unholy mind, is solitude
from that in the mind, whatever it may be, which tends to disunite and dissociate it from God.

The soul, in the state of interior solitude, is in a state of solitude or separation from two things, in particular, namely, from its own desires and its own thoughts. IT IS SEPARATE FROM ITS OWN DESIRES. Sick of the world, if thou wouldst erect an inward oratory, and enter into the secret place of the heart, then let it be thy first purpose, as it certainly is an indispensable one, to cease from all desire, except such as God himself animates. In order to control the desires, and bring them into subjection to God, it is necessary to control the senses. The desires must have their appropriate objects; and in a multitude of cases the objects are made known by the senses. Keep a close watch, therefore, upon the senses. Let not your eye rest upon anything which is forbidden. Let not your ear listen to any corrupting or unprofitable conversation; but be as one who has no sight, and no hearing, and no touch, and no taste for anything, except what God allows and is pleased with. Contend with all because all have gone astray. Crucify all, because all have crucified him, who is the Eternal Life. Separate from all, so far as they have separated from God; in order that being united with them in their truth, you may be united with the God of truth.

5. The soul, in a state of spiritual solitude, is in a state of solitude or separation, also, from
its own thoughts. By its own thoughts are meant thoughts which are self-originated, and have selfish ends. When all such thoughts, as well as all desires which are not from God, are extinct, the inward solitude is greatly increased.

Let it be remembered that the state of spiritual solitude does not exclude
all thoughts from the mind; but only those which are its own, which are self-originated, and which tend, therefore, to dissociate it from God. Accordingly, it does not exclude those thoughts, to what ever subjects they may relate, of which God may properly be regarded as the author. And it is proper to say here, in order to determine what thoughts are from God and what are not, that thoughts which are from God are characterized by this mark, in particular, that they always harmonize with the arrangements of his providence. Thoughts, which arise from the instigations of self, and not from a divine movement, are not in harmony with what God in his providential arrangements would desire and choose to suggest; but, on the contrary, they busy themselves with recollections and images of persons, things, and plans, which are wholly inconsistent with such arrangements. All conceptions of persons, things, and situations, all imaginations, all thoughts, and all reasonings, which, in coming in our own will, are out of harmony with the existing providential arrangements are not only not from God, but they constitute so many disturbing influences, which separate God from the soul. The evil is inexpressibly great. In the truly holy soul, which, after many temptations and hesitancies, is fully established in the way of holiness, thoughts so discordant and out of place are not permitted to enter. It stands apart, if one may so express it, constituting an unoccupied space, a closet shut up, a still and sacred seclusion, unapproachable to everything which comes unbidden by its great Master.

6. Again, the true solitude of spirit, in the full import of the terms, may be regarded as including, to some extent at least, a cessation or solitude from words. If speech is a blessing when it is under the regulation of holy principles, it is a source of great and almost unmitigated evil when it proceeds from unsanctified passions. And when we consider how closely and extensively it is connected with such passions, we have good reason, at least in a multitude of cases, for regarding silence as a sign of moderation, truth, and peace. To say nothing but what is appropriate, to say nothing but what Christ would say, bearing reproaches without reply, and uttering the truth in love, is a virtue, which is a product of the Holy Ghost, and which belongs to him only who has been taught of God. The speech of him who is the subject of spiritual solitude, like everything else that comes within the reach of moral obligation, is under the restrictions of a divine law; and he can no more speak without God to guide him in his utterance, than he can do anything else without God. In being silent, with the exception of those occasions in which the providence of God calls him to speak, he has sundered one of the strong links, which would otherwise have bound him to what is vain, frivolous, and wicked in the world.

7. It may be added here, that solitude from words is not solitude from communication. The soul that, in consequence of its sanctification, does not speak outward to things that are temporal, speaks inward to things that are eternal. And in proportion as it ceases from those communications with men which God does not call for and does not authorize, it increases its communications with God himself.

8. And these last remarks indicate the true result of spiritual solitude, when it is rightly understood and experienced. The soul is not left alone with
itself,— which would be much the same as to say, that it is left alone with Satan, — but is left alone with God, who is Eternal Life. Separation, in its spiritual application, is not only seclusion, but transition. Separation from the world, when predicated of a being to whom absolute separation is an impossibility, is transition to God; and he who is not of the world, is of God; alone and in unison at the same time; in solitude from that which is evil, but in union with that which is good. He has hidden himself, not in the dark and weak enclosure which selfishness furnishes to those who do not believe, but in the strong fortress of the Infinite. He is not only with God, but in him; not only in harmony of action, but in the sacred enclosure of his being: — so that God may be said, in the language of Scripture, to “compass him round about." No noise of unholy thoughts, no suggestions of unhallowed reason, no clamors of unsatisfied desire, no confusion of the tongues of men, nothing that is hurtful, nothing that is unprofitable, reaches him. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people." Ps. 125:2.