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Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon XX. Self-Communion.

I commune with mine own heart, and search out my spirit. Psalm lxxvii. 6.

The active spirit of man will always be employed; the exercise of thought and reflection is inseparable from the human mind; and therefore there is no man who does not, in a greater or less degree, commune with his own heart, and search out his spirit. The objects indeed on which this meditation may be exercised are various. In the choice of them also, men are unhappily directed, not by the sober voice of considerate reason, not by the divine guidance of religion, but by the caprices of a wayward fancy, and by the powerful suggestions of corrupt passion. The thoughts of their minds, that should aspire after spiritual and immortal truths and blessings, are therefore principally confined to the degrading and short-lived objects of time and sense.

And yet, brethren, on this communion with our heart depend the perfection or the degradation of our nature in the present life, and our eternal happiness or misery in the life which is to come. If our thoughts are occupied solely or principally with the plans of sensual gratification; if vvealih, honour, and pleasure nlone engross our affections; if Worldly pursuits and enjoyments be thus the objects [237/238] of our supreme attention, our souls will be degraded from their true perfection and happiness in the present life, and totally disqualified for the pure and spiritual joys of the kingdom of heaven. Not in this sensual, degrading, and corrupting communion with the heart did the psalmist indulge: it was that holy meditation which was calculated to advance the dignity, the purity, and the perfection of the soul, and to qualify it for immortal joys--"He communed with his own heart."

Let us then consider the duly of communion with our hearts, in reference,

1. To the subjects on which it should be exercised; and,

2. To the motives which should lead to it.

1. We should commune with our own hearts, and search out our spirits, with regard to our spiritual character and destiny.

What are we? and for what are we designed? These are surely the first and the most important subjects that should engross our thoughts, and which should awaken our earnest and supreme solicitude. Are we the mere creatures of sense, made to obey only the mandates of the passions'? Do we hold no higher rank in the scale of being than the brutes, which, prompted only by appetite, and guided only by instinct, pursue, with undeviating course, sensual gratifications? Are our views designed to be confined solely to this transitory and corrupting world, in which those numerous paths which seem to invite to the bowers of pleasure, all terminate in the dreary waste of disappointment and vanity? Is the bright sun of our being to light up only a few short and clouded [238/239] years, and then to sink for ever in the darkness of eternal night? Is the arm of death, which no power can arrest, no art elude, to wither the powers of our nature and extinguish all our joys? No, surely. Reason, consciousness, the voice of God speaking to us in his holy word, assure us that we possess a nature far exalted above the brutes that surround us; that the spiritual agent which stirs within us, is sprung from a divine source--from that infinite, spiritual, eternal, perfect Being, who formed us after his own image; that we are distinguished by high and vigorous powers of intellect, not to be bounded by the narrow limits of corporeal existence, but to range through the infinite world of intelligences, and to ascend from the gross and sensual objects around us, to the contemplation of spiritual and immortal objects--to reach even the eternal Fountain of truth and felicity, and in the adoration and love of the greatest and best of Beings, to find all its powers perfected, all its affections gratified, all its hopes realized. Yes; reason, conscience, the word of God, teach that this life is but the commencement of our existence, the present world but the threshold of our being; and that, when translated from this transitory life and this perishing world, we shall be ushered into a perfect and endless existence, and into that celestial world which, through the revolution of ages, shall know no period. Reason, consciousness, the word of God assure us, that we were made for the knowledge and service of our Almighty Maker--for the fulness of felicity in his holy presence.

Let us then hold frequent communion with our hearts, brethren, on our high rank in the scale of [239/240] being, on the exalted destiny which the Almighty has assigned us.

Yet, alas! in communing with our hearts concerning our spiritual character and state, truths humiliating and painful will force themselves upon us. Formed originally with powers which both fitted and prompted us to aspire after the knowledge and enjoyment of the infinite Fountain of truth, goodness, and felicity, the view of our present character and condition will force us to exclaim--"How is the gold become dim! how is the fine gold become changed! The crown is fallen from our heads--Wo unto us, for we have sinned!" Our nature degraded and corrupted by transgression, we are obnoxious to the displeasure of Him who is great in power and inflexible in justice, and who will not spare the guilty. There is "a law in our members warring against the law of our mind, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin." "When we would do good, evil is present with us." Conscience bears her testimony, that, in disobeying the dictates of reason, we have violated the righteous laws of Him who made, and rules, and is to judge us. Serious and faithful communion with our hearts will force on us the lamentable truth, that we are sinners, undeserving of the favour of our God, and obnoxious to his displeasure. "Wretched men that we are, who shall deliver us from the body of this death?"

Thus, then, we should commune with our hearts,

2. Concerning the means of release from the bondage of sin, and of securing our spiritual perfection and happiness.

[241] Can we find these means in the world--in the lights and efforts of unassisted reason?

Can we find the means of securing our spiritual perfection and happiness in the world? The world is the enemy of our spiritual and immortal hopes; the world is the enemy whose temptations we are to shun with the greatest solicitude, whose allurements we are to resist with the most sacred resolution: for inspiration hath pronounced--"The friendship of the world is enmity with God." With the world, indeed, we must in some measure be occupied; to its numerous duties we must be sedulously attentive; of its innocent pleasures we may occasionally and with moderation partake. But if we give up to the world the whole of our affections and of our time; if we expect, by the devoted pursuit of its treasures and honours, and by the eager indulgence of its pleasures, to advance our true perfection and happiness, how great will be our disappointment! how deplorable our mistake!

Commune then with your own hearts concerning the world; consult your own experience, appeal to your experience, and see how vain are all its allurements, how uncertain all its plans, how unsatisfying all its joys, and how dangerous and corrupting its temptations. Idle and delusive, then, the expectation to advance our spiritual perfection and happiness by devotion to a world which lieth in wickedness, whose flattering prospects terminate in disappointment, and which is to be consumed by the fires of the last day.

Can we advance and secure our spiritual perfection and happiness by the unassisted lights and efforts of reason?

[242] But what does unassisted reason teach us? Does it yield certain information concerning any one topic interesting to our perfection and happiness? Does it disperse the darkness which surrounds the existence and character of the invisible first cause? Does it allay the apprehensions which transgression, alarming and rousing the conscience, excites? Does it open to the trembling spirit the bosom of mercy, on which it may in safety repose? Does it dispel the anxious doubts which agitate the soul when she approaches the confines of time, and with eager, but with vain desire, seeks to explore the unknown region of eternity? Ah! here it is that human reason, when we most need her consoling support, leaves us to cruel uncertainty and doubt. Commune, then, brethren, with your own hearts; call in the wisdom of the sages of the world, and see how little light, how little satisfaction reason can afford you in the interesting concerns of your spiritual perfection and happiness.

Baffled in our appeal to the world, to the light and strength of unassisted reason, we have but one resource--the Gospel of Christ.

The exalted truths which it reveals afford the only certain means of advancing and securing our everlasting perfection and happiness. How bright the lustre which the Gospel sheds on the character and attributes of the Almighty Being whom we are to serve, and by whom we are to be judged! How rich the provision which it makes, in the grace and mercy of a Saviour, for our recovery from our low estate of guilt and misery! How luminous the path which conducts through the valley of the shadow of death to immortal glory! The treasures which the gospel unfolds, while they enrich and gladden the [242/243] heart, can never be corroded by care and disappointment--can never be wrested from us by death, the destroyer of all earthly treasures. On the unsearchable riches of the Gospel commune seriously and earnestly with your own hearts, and you will find at length the pearl of great price--that exalted happiness which will gratify your most ardent desires, which will prove worthy of your most noble powers, which will be your companion throughout the ages of eternity.

In the Gospel of Christ, then, you find the only certain means of securing your spiritual perfection and happiness. Commune then,

Lastly, with your hearts, and inquire concerning the progress which you have made towards the attainment of these infinitely important objects.

Jesus Christ is offered to us in the Gospel, as our all-sufficient Saviour. That mercy which allays the pangs of guilt, and diffuses through the heart the holy peace of God--that grace which will be made perfect in our weakness, which will enable us to triumph over all the enemies of our salvation--that fulness of bliss eternal in the heavens, surpassing at once our conceptions and our desires--he offers us, as the free gift of his infinite love. Our complete and final title to them he rests on our sincere repentance for our sins--on our lively faith in his power, mercy, and grace--on our steadfast obedience to his laws, and submission to his ordinances, as our rightful Sovereign and Lord. Are we desirous to fulfil the conditions on which he suspends these infinitely exalted blessings? Are we, through his grace, continually advancing towards the fulfilment of those conditions?

[244] Let these be the infinitely important topics on which, in the hours of sacred retirement, you commune with your hearts. If the result of the solemn inquiry should be, that you are indifferent to those means of securing your spiritual perfection and happiness which Jesus Christ has provided in his Gospel; if it should appear, that, while he offers you the inestimable blessings of his mercy, you continue insensible of their value and of your need of them, regardless of his ordinances and laws; determine, without delay, no longer to contemn that Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation--no longer to cast from you the immortal glories which a divine Redeemer offers you. Consecrate the moments of retirement to your eternal interests, to your souls, to God your Saviour, and implore his pardon, his intercession, his renewing and sanctifying grace.

If, on the contrary, the result of this sacred communion should be, that in the humble exercise of penitence and faith you have devoted yourselves to your Saviour, and sought his mercy and grace in the ordinances of his church, resolve to adhere, with a stronger faith and more ardent devotion, to him, who alone is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of your God.

You have now seen, brethren, the subjects on which this sacred communion with the heart should be exercised--on our spiritual character and destiny--on the means of attaining our spiritual perfection and happiness--on the progress which we have made in securing these infinitely important objects.

[245] Let us consider the motives that should urge us thus to commune with our hearts.

It is an honourable employment.

What is it which in the world affixes reputation to character? Is it not thoughtfulness, consideration, prudence, and caution in the management of worldly business, and in the various pursuits of life? This thoughtfulness, this consideration, so honourable to you in the world, we call on you now to exercise on objects infinitely more important, and which of themselves will stamp dignity on all the means employed to obtain them. To pass through the world totally regardless of those pursuits and duties which are necessary to our welfare and prosperity in it, would be justly deemed folly and madness. What shall we say of those who pass through the world entirely indifferent to their spiritual character, heedless of those immortal interests, in comparison with which all temporal concerns are but as dust in the balance? What shall we say of him who never retires from the busy scenes and gay pleasures that surround him, to commune with his heart concerning his spiritual and immortal interests, the means of securing the favour of that Almighty Judge, at whose tribunal he is to receive his everlasting doom?

Brethren, this sacred communion with the heart is essentially necessary.

It is necessary to the sinner--to him who is living in a state of impenitence and forgetfulness of God.

Alas! if he never stops for a moment in the career of transgression; if he never for a moment pauses, and permits conscience to raise her remonstrances at his sinful course; if he never gives [245/246] himself time seriously to reflect that there is a God, a judgment, an eternal existence--obduracy will soon seal his heart; given up to a reprobate mind, God will not be in all his thoughts. Arouse, then, sinner; reflect on the guilt and danger of thy impenitent course: seek thy God while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.

This sacred communion with the heart is also necessary to the sincere Christian.

It is necessary to his perfection in the Christian graces, and to his enjoyment of the Christian hopes.

In proportion as you retire, Christians, from the bustle and gayety of the world, to commune with your own hearts, to hold converse with your God, to meditate on the mercy and love of your Saviour, on the riches of the eternal inheritance which he has provided for you, will be your progress in piety and virtue, and your consolation and joy in your holy course. Blessed is the privilege of meditating on heaven and heavenly things! Happy above the happiest moments which you can find in the world, are those which are devoted to your God, to communion with him, to the anticipation of the bliss prepared for you in his presence. In these devout exercises you will find a solace for all your cares, a healing balm for your wounded spirit. In sacred communion with your hearts, you will experience that God is gracious; that blessed are all they that trust in him; that you are strengthened against temptation; that you are raised above the imperfect joys of the world, and prepared for that heaven where there is fulness of joy, and where there is pleasure for evermore.

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