O RELIGIOUS RETIREMET.

BY ROBERT MOREHEAD, A.M.
MATTHEW, iv. 1.
" Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness."
AT this season we are summoned by the Church to
suspend, in some degree, the usual course of our
thoughts and employments, and to set apart a portion
of our time for meditation and recollection. Here,
as in every other department of conduct, the example
of our Saviour is held out to us ; and from that world,
which is the great field of our temptations, and too
often, alas ! of our fall, we are required to follow
Him into the wilderness, and there to become
witnesses of that strength which he summoned up
in the hours of abstinence and retirement, and by
which he was enabled to defeat the attempts of the
spiritual Enemy of man.
To those who are much wedded to common
occupations and pleasures, the notion even of a
temporary secession from their allurements appears
to be dark and disagreeable. They are generally
acknowledged, indeed, to lead to disappointment,
* Preached on the first Sunday in Lent.
X 3
182 On Religious Retirement. [ROBERT
yet those who are the most sensible of their fallacies
are, perhaps, the most loth to desert them ; and the
distraction of thought which accompanies them,
while it is quite devoid of real enjoyment, yet
disqualifies the mind from deriving any satisfaction
from contemplation and retirement. At the same
time, my brethren, there are many circumstances
which show that an occasional retreat from the
hurry of our lives is agreeable to our natural dis-
positions ; and however the worldly habits which we
have fostered may obstruct the cultivation of these
dispositions, they are yet seldom entirely eradicated.
It is not often that the world possesses so strong
a hold of our thoughts as to make us unwilling to
quit it, at least in imagination. We may not have
the courage really to seclude ourselves from its
enticements, but we feign to ourselves pictures of
seclusion which seem to us more delightful than all
that ambition or vanity can offer ; and hi the works of
fiction, and the descriptions of poetry, we are pleased
to contemplate those representations of humble life,
which, remote from the strong glare of society,
reposes amidst the simple forms of rural and do-
mestic tranquillity.
The same general taste appears, likewise, from
the attachment which all men, in some degree,
possess for the beauties of nature, and for the
country. Long habits of intercourse with the
world may, indeed, frequently incapacitate us from
enjoying these with a true relish, yet we look back
with regret upon the time when they were delightful
MOREHEAD.] On Religious Retirement. 183
to us ; and we are often willing to hope that the
time may again arrive, when we shall retire from all
the labours and all the dissipations of men, into those
quiet scenes which still reflect from their bosom the
infant innocence of creation.
Even while we are ourselves incapable of sharing
in these pleasures, we yet admire those who have
hearts alive to them ; we believe that in their minds
the seeds of genius and of taste are sown ; and we
reckon upon finding in their characters the amiable
and the gentle virtues. We admire them when they
have their minds in harmony with nature in all its
aspects ; when they not only delight to contemplate
its softer and more regular features, but even to be
" led up of the Spirit into the wilderness," and can
find in desolation itself something which touches the
higher chords of their souls. It is in the world of
Man, indeed, that we are conscious we ought to act ;
but to those who love at times to retreat from that
crowded stage, and to give a scope to their thoughts
in the boundless world of ature, we are apt to ascribe
spirits of a loftier cast, and to believe that they will
bring into their conduct among men the character
and the temper of a more exalted order of beings.
There is still another principle which gives to
retirement a charm, which we might not at first
expect to find in it : I mean the principle of our
social nature itself. Man is indeed born for society ;
but how often does human society fail of accomplish
ing its true purposes! It is in it that all the ma-
lignant and all the selfish passions find their scope ;
4
184 On Religious Retirement. [ROBERT
and it is frequently in retirement alone, that a mind
disgusted with the spectacle of human folly and
crime can recover its tone, and can again be restored
to the genuine sympathies of the heart. What Man
has exasperated and inflamed, the benignity of
ature soothes and appeases, and insinuates into
the heart the milder feelings of charity and can-
dour! There is, too, a society which follows us
into retirement, that to hearts of sensibility possesses
a peculiar charm, the society of those who are no
longer to be met with among men ; the wise and the
good who have left us for higher scenes ; the parents
whom we venerated, or the companions whom we
loved, and with whom, in our hours of retreat from
the vulgar current of existence, we still seem to
enjoy a pure and sacred converse !
Such, my brethren, are some of the feelings
which force even the most dissipated to acknowledge
that occasional seclusion is congenial to the mind of
man, and which evidently point out the intention of
his Creator to be, that this tendency is not to be
thwarted, but to be improved. It is, indeed, liable
to much perversion. Some minds, of a delicate
texture indulge it to an extent, which unqualifies
them for the business and the enjoyments of social
life. Others quit the world from disappointed am-
bition, and, amidst the peace of nature itself, brood
over their gloomy discontent. It is only when they
contribute to moral improvement, that our various
natural dispositions can ever be directed to the ends
for which, we may be sure, they were principally
MOREHEAD.] On Religioits Retirement. 185
designed. The moral and religious advantages
which follow from a wise use of retirement, are of a
kind sufficiently obvious.
In the first place, retirement removes us at a
due distance from the world, and enables us to esti-
mate rightly and dispassionately the different pur-
suits of life. When we are in the midst of these,
we are carried on by the common stream, our
passions are inflamed by those of the multitude,
and we appreciate the objects of pursuit, not ac-
cording to their real value, but as they are valued
by those around us. It is surprising how manageable
our passions are in themselves, and how much of
their strength is owing to the influence of society.
Remove the contagion of the opinions of men, and
how insignificant would all the objects appear of
avarice and ambition ! Even the love of pleasure,
which seems more the work of nature, would yet
be confined within very moderate bounds, did not
imagination and vanity contribute to extend them,
Whenever we retreat a little from the scene, we
gain some insight into the delusion which is practised
upon us ; we find that we have been acting, not
from ourselves, but from the contact of others ; and
we perceive that we are only pursuing shadows
which will soon, alas ! vanish in the grave ! Of
that grave the silence of retirement reminds us,
and we already begin to feel somewhat of that se-
paration from all our ardent pursuits, which, at no
distant period, must be accomplished for ever.
When the loud noise of man is shut out, the voice
186 On Religious Retirement. [ROBERT
of conscience is heard ; and those calls of duty which
are so often neglected amidst the tumult of the pas-
sions, can make themselves be listened to and re-
garded. We then feel what kind of occupations
alone are suited to our nature ; what only the heart
will approve of; and what, among all our perishing
operations, alone seem worthy to extend beyond the
present limits of our being. From the sacred ground
of retreat we look upon the world, not as the theatre
in which honours are distributed, but as the field of
combat on which they are won ; not as the Palace
of Delight in which the senses are to be gratified,
and the imagination indulged ; but as the Temple of
Reason and of Virtue, where the understanding is
to be employed, and the heart to be improved.
Before the shining path, which now opens upon
our view, we behold even the darkness of the grave
dispelled ; and we return into it with the determin-
ation of men who feel that this alone is the path to
immortal honour.
This consideration, my brethren, brings me, in
the second place, to say, that, as retirement re-
moves us at a due distance from present objects, so
likewise it opens to us a nearer view of those of
religion. It is, indeed, only when we shut out the
former from our thoughts, that we can catch any
glimpse of the latter which is at all steady and clear.
When we look merely on the scene of human life,
and have all our passions interested in the pursuits
which it affords, it is impossible that any higher system
of being can acquire in our minds a character of suffi-
MOREHEAD.] On Religious Retirement. 187
cient distinctness and certainty. We may continue
to believe, indeed, what we have been taught to
believe ; but we can have no firm impression of its
truth, and shall often be unable to distinguish
well between the principles of faith and the preju-
dices of infancy.
To acquire a distinct impression, and a deep
feeling of those invaluable principles, let us, for a
time, shut out the world from our thoughts ; let us
follow the Son of God into the wilderness ; and, in
the solitude of our hearts, and amid the magnificence
of nature, let us listen to that voice which will in-
deed assure us, that there is a loftier order o*
existence to which we belong ; and that, when all
the perplexed scenes of human society shall come
to a close, and the fabric of creation shall itself
decay, there is yet a spirit in man which will survive
the universal fall, and there is yet a society sur-
rounding the throne of God, to which he will be for
ever joined.
Such, my brethren, are the moral and the reli-
gious impressions to which, in these hours Oi
meditation and retirement, we are called by the
offices of our Church ; and such is the use which we
to ought make of that remarkable circumstance in
the history of our Lord, his retreat into the wil-
derness. He possessed all the treasures of wisdom,
and all the strength of a superior nature; yet, as a man
he was destined to act among men ; and before he
entered upon his eventful course, he retired to con-
sider with himself the temptations which lay before
188 On Religious Retirement. [ROBERT
him, and the enterprise which was given him to
perform. It was not to seclude himself from the
world that he retired, but to prepare himself for its
conflicts and its duties ; it was not to indulge in the
visions of enthusiasm, but to return from the con-
templation of God, and the intercourse of the Spirit,
confirmed in his resolution of accomplishing the
salvation of man. He thus exhibits to us both the
necessity of private meditation, and its connection
with the duties of life ; and in the strength which
he seemed to derive from it, in defeating those
temptations with which he was soon so violently
assailed, and in the unbroken dignity of his future
course, we are encouraged to hope that the noblest
fruits may spring from the wise cultivation of seasons
of retirement.
May that Spirit, by which he was led up into the
wilderness, watch over us in these hours of thought,
and lead our meditations into wisdom and peace :
may it inspire us with the firm resolution to over-
come the temptations which lie in the way of our
duty, and animate us with that fervour of piety,
which will say to every one of them, " Get thee
hence, Satan ; for it is written, Thou shalt worship
the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve ! "
May we be enabled to obtain the victory ; and, at
our last hour, when the world and all its seductions
are about to leave us, may " angels come and
minister to us, " and bring us the blessed assurances
of the favour of God.
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