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Great Christian Works:       Spiritual Exercises Of The Heart     by Thomas Reade, 1837

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Spiritual Exercises Of The Heart
Or Christian Retirement

by Thomas Reade, 1837

CONTENTS



Preface

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 heaven.

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.

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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.

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2. On Insensibility To Eternal Things

Come, Oh! my soul, call in your scattered thoughts; collect your wandering desires, and meditate with solemn awe on everlasting things. How busy is the world! How big with designs, all resting on tomorrow! But tomorrow's sun may never rise on thousands who are fondly hoping to behold a range of following years. Short-sighted mortals! He who rules over all, has assigned to each a limit, beyond which the worldling cannot pass. Man has an appointed time upon earth; his days are days of an hireling. Oh! for true wisdom to learn the measure of our days; and to compute with justness the extent of life.

The volume of inspiration has done this with peculiar force and beauty. There human life is compared to a sleep; to the rapidity of a flood; to a tale that is told; to a vapor that appears for a little time; to a flower which flourishes in the morning, and in the evening is cut down and withered; to vanity; to a shadow that passes away.

Eternity, that solemn word soon passes from the lip; but who can grasp the mighty, the immense idea, which this word ETERNITY conveys? All thought is lost in its immensity, and swallowed up in its fathomless abyss. The mind may conceive, though faintly, of millions of ages heaped upon millions, until numbers lose themselves; or rather until we are lost in the vast calculation. But who can measure eternity? compared with, whose everlasting lines, myriads of years are infinitely less than atoms floating in the mid-day sun?

All men are hastening to eternity. All are standing upon the brink of an interminable state of being. Yet all, except the little flock of Christ, are living as if life would never end; and die as if beyond the grave there was nothing to awaken their solicitous concern. Awful insensibility! How fatally has sin blinded the mind of those who believe not! Men are willing to believe that which they wish to be true. They flatter themselves that all will be well at the last, though they follow the corrupt desires of their hearts, in direct opposition to the revealed will of God.

Here indeed, in this present world, the wicked, from their animal nature, have many objects to gratify their sensualistic appetites, even at the very time when their spirits are enduring the stings and lashes of an upbraiding conscience. But in eternity, where the body shall no longer be the seat of carnal desire; in eternity, where all the sensual gratifications shall forever cease; the soul will experience no change from pain to pleasure, or from pleasure to pain; but all will be either unmixed pain or unalloyed pleasure. Surely no thought can be more awakening than this; and yet with what subtlety does the heart evade its force; with what shocking indifference is it treated by a world of dying sinners!

"Oh blessed Jesus! compassionate High Priest, awaken my drowsy sense. Deliver me from the fatal lethargy of unbelief. Captivate all my heart by the sweet constraining influence of redeeming love. You who are the Sun of Righteousness, dispel the mist of error; dissipate every darkening cloud which would intercept your cheering beam; and let all your brightness burst upon my ravished sight. Reveal yourself as my Savior; let all your goodness pass before me; say to my trembling heart "I am your salvation" then shall I be able to contemplate eternity, with joyful expectation; knowing, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."

Moses was well acquainted with the insensibility of the human heart to eternal things, when he prayed, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." We are walking every moment on the verge of eternity! A slight accident can loosen the cords which unite soul and body; and thus bring us instantly into the world of spirits. Then why should we calculate upon length of days? Why should we act as if we had years at command? This moment only is our own. So precious is time, that Infinite Bounty deals it out by seconds. And yet how prodigal we are of time, as if it were of all things the easiest to attain, or its loss the easiest to repair! Dying sinners whose consciences are awakened, and whose eyes are opened to see their danger, know the incalculable value of time. They feel every moment to be inconceivably precious, if, in this fleeting remnant of time, they can find the Savior whom they have basely slighted, and through his pardoning grace be saved from the wrath to come.

It is at dying beds that we learn something of the value of time. The keen self-reproaches of the convicted sinner show the folly of wasting days and hours, which have a value beyond the power of human calculation. The shortness of life is continually forcing itself upon us by the passing funeral-bell, the funeral procession, and the weekly voice of the obituaries. Yet its very commonness, which ought to alarm us, tends only to lull us into a strange security. This is observable in large towns, where multitudes are continually summoned into eternity; while in villages, where deaths are less frequent, a solemn awe is usually excited; at least for a time.

"Whatever others do, Oh! may I think seriously on my dying hour. Lord, teach me so to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom. Enlighten my understanding to perceive what things I ought to do, and give me grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same."

We are born in sin; therefore, to be happy we must be born again. We have lived in sin and to be happy, we must be delivered from its reigning power. As in this world there is no peace to the wicked, so, in the next, they have no rest day nor night; for the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever. Oh! that they were wise; that they understood this; that they would consider their latter end. All that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Then those who be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever.

"Oh! blessed Lord, sit upon my heart as a refiner's fire, and as a purifier of silver; that the dross of corruption may be purged away, and my soul prepared for the hour of death, and the never-ending glories of your heavenly kingdom."

My soul, on Pisgah's mount ascend,
Where Moses once admiring stood;
There view the promised land extend
Beyond the swelling Jordan's flood.

By faith survey the landscape over,
Where living waters gently flow;
Until earth usurp your love no more;
Until all your kindling passions glow.

In that blest region of delight,
The saints not sin nor sorrow feel
Eternal day excludes the night,
And all possess the Spirit's seal.

The ransomed soul, in glory clad,
Shines brighter than meridian sun;
The weary pilgrim, now so sad,
There finds his toilsome journey done.

Cheer up, you saints, oppressed with grief
With joy expand your drooping wing;
Jesus affords the kind relief;
Jesus extracts the envenomed sting.

Soon will you reach the blest abode,
Where happy pilgrims ever reign;
Soon shall you see the face of God,
And all the bliss of heaven obtain.

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3. On The Fall

He who can contemplate the introduction of moral evil into our world without feelings of deep humiliation, is little prepared to receive with gratitude the stupendous mystery of redemption. The doctrine of the fall, with all its direful consequences, shines with awful clearness in the Book of God "as by one man sin entered into the world, death by sin: so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."

The doctrine of the fall lies at the foundation of atonement: for "those who are whole need not a physician, but those who are sick." Jesus came not "to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." He came "to seek and to save those who are lost." "This," therefore, "is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into world to save sinners." His glorious work was announced to Joseph by the angel, when he said, "His name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.

While viewing the once happy pair after their awful fall, we are constrained to use the language of weeping Prophet: "how is the gold become dim, how is the most fine gold changed!" The sin of Adam was a compound of unbelief; pride, sensuality, ingratitude, and rebellion.

Unbelief; in giving credence to the tempter, rather than to God. Pride; in the fond desire of being wise as gods, knowing good and evil. Sensuality; in lusting after the forbidden fruit. Ingratitude; in leaguing with the fallen angels. Rebellion; in trampling the authority of Jehovah.

The Apostle says, "Adam was not deceived; but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression." The serpent first beguiled Eve through his subtlety and then Eve gained an easy conquest over her husband; for it is recorded, "She took of the fruit then and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her and he did eat." By this act Adam acquiesced in sinful compliance with the temptation, and became a full sharer in her guilt and misery. In this guilt their whole posterity were likewise involved; for it is written "by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation. In Adam all die."

The effect of the fall was shame, the never-failing companion of sin. "They knew that they were naked." The image of God was gone. Their native robe of innocence was gone. Their peace and purity were gone. Awful condition! They were indeed naked and exposed to all the terrors of incensed justice, without a covering from its wrath.

Another effect of the fall was the darkness of the mind. "They hid themselves from the presence of Lord God among the trees of the garden." Amazing blindness! to hide themselves from that Being, who eyes are brighter than ten thousand suns; who fill heaven and earth with his presence, and from whom no secrets are hid.

Slavish fear was another fruit of the fall. When God asked Adam why he hid himself, he replied, "I was afraid." Ah! what inward torment did sin produce in the soul of our first parents! How changed their condition! They are now afraid to look upon Him whose presence was their heaven and their joy.

Impiety and impenitence were also the baneful offspring of the fall. When God charged Adam with eating of the tree whereof he commanded that he should not eat, Adam replied, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Mark the impiety. "The woman whom you gave to be with me;" thus charging the guilt upon the Almighty: as if he had said, "If you had never given me this woman, I would have never sinned against you." Oh! the impious insult upon divine benevolence, goodness, and love. Then mark also the impenitence of Adam; "she gave me of the tree and I did eat;" thus throwing the blame of his eating upon Eve; as if he were compelled to eat because she presented the fruit to him; and as if his own will had no part in it.

We see here no conviction of sin no confession of guilt no contrition on account of it. The garden of Eden exhibited no signs of penitence, no brokenness of heart; nothing but hardness and obduracy. Eve was just as bad as her husband. She, in like manner, endeavored to exculpate herself by saying, "The serpent beguiled me and I did eat."

Now observe, Oh! my soul; yes, observe with wonder, gratitude, and love, the boundless grace and mercy of Jehovah.

He, who spared not the angels that sinned, proclaimed a rich and free salvation to rebellious man. The Lord promised a deliverer, even the seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent's head. In the fullness of time, Jesus, the Savior, was born of a pure virgin; born to save his people from their sins, and to vanquish the powers of death and hell. This precious Jesus is now preached, through the everlasting Gospel, to all the guilty sons and daughters of Adam; with the blessed assurance, that all who believe in him shall be saved.

From this short view of man's apostasy and recovery it is evident that man is the sole author of his destruction; and that his salvation is altogether of free, unsought for, unmerited grace. Through the fall, man lost all spiritual power and will to love and serve God. But through the covenant of grace, he regains both; "for God works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

An attentive perusal of the third and fourth chapters of Genesis will convince every humble inquirer after truth, through the teaching of the divine Spirit, that every man born into this world deserves nothing but everlasting damnation; since "that which is born of the flesh is flesh;" and "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." "Marvel not that I said unto you, you must be born again," was the reply of the Savior to the inquiring Nicodemus. The sinner may cavil and dispute, but his own heart will condemn him. His own life will condemn him. The law of God will condemn him. The sin of his nature, as a child of fallen Adam, will condemn him. He will find nothing but condemnation here, and judgment in the world to come. But let him look out of himself, to the second Adam, the Lord from heaven; to Jesus Christ, the promised deliverer; and there he will find every thing needful to repair the ruins of the fall; yes, to raise him to a more glorious state than if Adam had never sinned.

And what in yonder realms above
Is ransomed man ordained to be?
With honor, holiness, and love,
No seraph more adorned than he.

Nearest the throne and first in song,
Man shall his hallelujah's raise;
While wondering angels round him throng,
And swell the chorus of his praise.

Amazing mystery! Oh wonderful wisdom of God, in thus educing such good out of such evil; and making that to redound to his glory, and manifest the bright display of his perfections, which Satan intended as an awful blight on his new and fair creation!

Thus Satan is foiled, and "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." "Sing, Oh! you heavens, for the Lord has done it. Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth in singing, you mountains, Oh! forest, and every tree therein; for the Lord has redeemed Jacob; and glorified himself in Israel."

Surely none but fools can make a mock at sin.

Sin transformed the angels of light into powers of darkness. Sin rendered the happy pair in Eden wretched outcasts in a world of woe. Sin was the cause of the universal deluge, and the fiery overthrow of the cities of the plain. Sin has ever marked its steps by misery and blood. Pride, malice, envy, murmuring, uncleanness, and every abomination hateful to a holy God, and destructive to our wretched race, spring from this poisonous root. Every particle of sin contains an infinity of evil, and deserves everlasting damnation.

But, Oh! my soul, if you would view sin in darkest colors and most terrible effects, go to Bethlehem, and ask, "Why did the King of heaven become infant of days? Why was He who fills all space, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger?" Go to Gethsemane, and ask, "Why did the incarnate God agonize, and sweat great drops of blood?" Go the judgment-hall, and ask, "Why did the Sovereign Judge of men and angels submit to be judged? Why did the innocent suffer such indignities? Why was the guiltless condemned to die?" Go to Calvary, and ask, "Why did the Lord of glory hang on the accursed tree? Why did the Lord of life condescend to pour out his soul unto death?"

It was to save you from your sin to redeem you from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for you; to deliver you from going down into hell, by becoming your ransom: it was to merit heaven for you by his precious atonement and obedience unto death; it was to purchase for you the eternal Spirit, by whose powerful aid you might believe, and love, and delight in this precious Savior this adorable Redeemer, this almighty Deliverer through whom your sins are pardoned, and by whom you have access unto God, as your reconciled Father. Oh! my soul, praise the Lord for his mercy, and never cease to speak good of his name.

Let this view of sin, and of a sin-bearing Savior humble you in his presence; and empty you of pride and vain glory. Let it, at the same time, fill you with gratitude to God, for having provided such a remedy against the evils of the fall.

Sin, even your sin, nailed, pierced, and agonized the Lord of glory! Oh! then, hate sin, and avoid it as you would tremble to plunge a spear into your Savior's bosom; as you would shudder to trample under foot his sacred blood. "The wages of sin is death." But Oh! rejoice in this gracious declaration, "The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

And what is sin? "Sin is the transgression of the law." "All unrighteousness is sin." Sin is enmity against God; an inveterate opposition to the gospel method of salvation; a preference of our own will and the enjoyment of the creature, to the will and favor of the Creator. As sin crucified the Son of God, so it hates and persecutes him in all his faithful people. Sin is a daring rebellion against the Majesty of heaven, and would if it were possible, pluck the Eternal from his throne. The proud sinner presumptuously asks "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him!" And "the fool has said in his heart, There is no God."

Oh! my soul, is this hideous evil the inmate of your heart? Can you cherish such a serpent in your bosom? Lord, I tremble at the thought. "Blessed Jesus, turn out your enemy my sin, and make me wholly yours; the purchase of your blood, the trophy of your grace, the monument of your mercy, a living temple consecrated to your praise.

Why is my heart so prone to leave
A God of mercy and of love?
Why dare the Holy Spirit grieve?
Why far from Christ and heaven remove?

Lord, it is the fruit of Adam's sin,
The awful taint which nature bears;
Create me all anew within;
Dissolve my flinty heart to tears.

To you I look, my only Lord;
On you, my trembling soul depends;
Blest Savior! speak the healing word;
Your pardoning mercy never ends.

Then will my heart overflow with joy,
My life proclaim its grateful praise,
Until safe in bliss, without alloy,
My soul shall chant celestial lays.

Continued

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© 1999 The Old Time Gospel Ministry
"When to seek God has become life and to glorify God has become self, then you have truly found God."