Consider first, that spiritual sloth is a most pernicious evil, whether we consider it in a more general acceptation as a laziness of spirit, or a backwardness, negligence, and
carelessness, with regard to all the things of God and Christian virtues, with a loathing and repugnance to the taking of any pains for the acquisition of them; or, as it is taken by divines, when they number it amongst the seven capital sins - a particular indisposition of the soul with regard to the love of God, opposite to the virtues of godliness, devotion, and prayer, and a loathing, as it were, of divine love in the soul. The former is a more extensive evil, an enemy to all virtues in general, by opposing them all, and a mother or nurse of all other vices, by letting them all in, and nourishing them all in the soul. The latter is particularly opposite to the divine virtue of charity, the queen of all virtues, and to the glory of God's name and his kingdom in our souls. And therefore when it is considerable in its kind, it is a great mortal sin, by reason of its direct opposition to divine love, which it banishes from the soul. And no wonder, for if it be a great crime to oppose the spiritual good of our neighbour, by envying or resisting the reign of the love of God in his soul, it must be no less criminal to withstand and oppose the coming of the kingdom of God's grace and his love into our own souls.
Consider 2ndly, the numberless evils that flow from the vice of spiritual sloth, when once it possess the soul; more especially in the way of sins of omission, such as the neglect of prayer and of all other religious exercise, the keeping away from the sacraments, and consequently the stopping up, or turning off from the soul all the channels of divine grace, and laying her open, unguarded, and defenceless to all her enemies. And thus the slothful soul is made a daily prey to Satan and to sin, and lives, in a manner, without God. Hence the daughters of this spiritual sloth, according to St. Gregory, are, 1. Despair, or giving up the cause of God and of the soul, so as to have neither hope nor concern for one's eternal salvation; 2. Pusillanimity or cowardice, dreading or flying from the least pains or labour in the service of God; 3. A numbness of soul with regard to all the divine precepts; 4. Malice, or an aversion to all sanctity, and to the professors of it; 5. A rancour, or an indignation against all such as seek to bring us to God. and lastly, a dissipation of mind turned away from the things of God, and always running after creatures. From these unhappy fruits you may judge of the worthlessness of the tree which produces them, and learn to dread so pernicious a vice.
Consider 3rdly, that this vice of sloth is the more dangerous, because like the rest of the spiritual sins it lies deeper in the soul, and is easier overlooked, by such as will not take the pains to think, and to examine well the state of their interior. Carnal sins are more easily discovered, because their guilt carries with it greater shame in the eyes of men, which makes it fly in the face of the sinner, and he cannot disguise it, but spiritual sins are more heinous in the eyes of God, though not much considered by men, and often not regarded at all. And thus, as thousands live and die under the mortal guilt of the spiritual vices of pride, envy, hatred, or covetousness, unregarded and unrepented of, so 'tis to be feared thousand live and die under the mortal guilt of spiritual sloth, unregarded and unrepented of. For what other judgment can we make of those slothful servants whom the gospel so loudly condemns? Or what can be said in favour of them, who being sent into this world upon no other business but to learn to love and to serve their God, through this unhappy sloth live and die, without so much as once seriously thinking upon this great business, much less putting it into execution?
Conclude to look well to thyself, and to examine thyself well, how thy heart stands affected with regard to the glory of God's name, the advancement of his kingdom within thee, and the reign of his love. If this be what thou seekest in the first place, all is well; but if thou admittest of a loathing or repugnance to this, and givest the preference in thy heart to anything else, assure thyself that the demon of spiritual sloth possesses thy soul, and that God has no share in thee.
Consider first, that the sovereign remedy against spiritual sloth is the daily practice of consideration, particularly by meditating on those moving truths which either represent to us the infinite goodness of our God, his love for us, the passion of his Son, and those innumerable motives we have to love him and to be fervent in his service, or else denounce to us his many judgments, both in time and eternity, upon the obstinate opposers of his grace, and the rebels of his love. O what heart can be so far hardened by sloth as to stand out against such meditations as these, when frequently repeated? We have a God to serve, and a soul to save. This God is infinitely good, and good to us. He is all goodness, beauty, truth, and all perfection; he is infinitely lovely, and he is our ancient and eternal lover; his Son came down from heaven for the love of us; he employed his whole life in seeking out salvation; he even died for love of us; we have received and daily do receive many great benefits from him; his thought is always upon us. And shall not the consideration of all this goodness and love of his for us, oblige us to be fervent in the love of him, and diligent in his service? If we love him, and serve him as we ought, he will be our protector here, and our reward exceeding great hereafter. If we neglect his love and service, he threatens us with eternal evils, and death, judgment, and hell are always following us at our heels. And shall not the remembrance of all his promises on the one hand, and of all his threats and judgments on the other, effectually rouse us up out of our slothful indolence, and spur us on to labour in earnest for the securing our eternity?
Consider 2ndly, that another remedy against sloth is to reflect often, that the short time of this life is given us by our maker for nothing else but to labour therein, and to labour for eternity; that we can have no other stock to live on for eternity but what we provide and send before us, by working well during the twelve hours of this short day of our mortal life; that every moment of this time is precious, it is even worth an eternity, because by the good employment of every moment we may add to our eternal stock, and consequently to our eternal glory; that what we lose of it by sloth is lost for ever, and that the loss is irreparable; that the night will be quickly with us, in which no man can work, and therefore that we must husband well this short, this precious time,and spend it to the best advantage, labouring by good works to make our calling and election sure, 2 Pet. i. 10. Oh! what a strict account shall one day be demanded of us, of the employment of this whole time! And where shall the slothful hide their heads at that day?
Consider 3rdly, and set often before your eyes, in order to overcome all spiritual sloth, the life and death of the Son of God, the great pattern of a Christian, who was never idle, but always employed in doing the will of his Father. O how happy is the Christian that endeavours to be always employed in this manner! Read also, and meditate often on the lives of the saints, and excite yourself to fervour in the service of God, by their example and by the consideration of their eternal glory. O what pains do the children of this world daily take, what danger do they expose themselves to for the sake of a little dirt, which they must leave behind them to-morrow? And is it not a shame that Christians should not do as much for a happy eternity? Remember also on all occasions that the eye of your great master is always upon you; therefore take care to please him, not only by ever doing something - because such is his will and appointment - but also by labouring to perform all your actions with that perfection which becomes works done for so great a king.
Conclude to arm thyself, by these and such like considerations, against all the mischiefs that are otherwise to be apprehended from this pernicious vice of spiritual sloth; and that thou mayest keep thyself farther off from its approaches, beware of all tepidity or lukewarmness in the service of God. Often reflect upon the sentence that was past upon the barren fig-tree, Luke xiii., and fear lest, if thou also content thyself with a show of leaves, without bearing good fruit, the Lord of the vineyard may order thee also to be cut up and cast into the fire.
Consider first, that the life of a Christian is a perpetual warfare, according to that of holy Job, 'The life of man upon earth is a warfare,' Job vii. 1. His time of a true, settled, and solid peace, is not to come till after many a conflict, and many a victory. He must fight his way to heaven against a set of cruel, deceitful, and obstinate enemies, who will never let him alone, either in life or death. These are they of whom the apostle writes, Eph. vi. 11, 12, 'Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places,'- that is against all the legions of demons who dwell in this air that surrounds us. These wicked spirits mortally hate us, because we are created to fill up the places they have forfeited by sin, and therefore they never cease to employ a thousand tricks and artifices, a thousand snares and allurements, to draw us away from God, into the pit of sin and damnation. But for our comfort their power is greatly restrained; they can employ no force against us, nor do us any real hurt at all, except it be by our own free consent, by our unhappily yielding ourselves to them. And on the other hand, we have a far greater strength engaged to fight on our side, not only of all the host of heaven, ever ready to guard and defend us, but even of the king of heaven himself, whose battles we are fighting, and who never forsakes his soldiers in the war, if they do not first desert from him. And what can the soldiers of Christ desire more? God is for us, what matter is it than who is against us? We are sure of victory if we do not fling down our arms and desert to the enemy.
Consider 2ndly, that he devil and all his wicked ones, knowing how little they can do against us of themselves, have unhappily engaged the world and the flesh to side with them as auxiliaries in this warfare. Upon these they depend more than upon all their own troops; and these, in effect, annoy us more, and commonly do much more mischief to our souls, than all those spirits of darkness. By the world we mean the whole collection of poor mortals who have been already deluded by Satan into the broad road of sin and perdition, and who have embraced, both in principles and practice, the wicked laws, maxims, and customs which he has introduced, and continually propagate them both by word and example. This is that world, the slave of Satan and the mortal enemy of the gospel of Christ, against which he so often pronounces his woes; this is that Babylon, the city of the devil, that is waging war against the people of God, and seeking to carry them away captives and to subject them to its wicked laws. This wicked world is made up of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, 1 John ii. 19. This wicked world and all its pomps we have renounced at our baptism. Against this capital enemy of our souls we must fight till death.
Consider 3rdly, that if the world be a dangerous enemy to a Christian soul - because it requires a great courage and strength to go against the current of all its maxims and practices, and to despise both its allurements and its censures - the flesh, on the other hand, is still more difficult to overcome; because it is a domestic enemy that is always at hand, even within this very castle of ours, which is continually besieged by the devil and the world; 'tis a traitor that holds a perpetual correspondence with these enemies, and is ever ready to open the gates of the soul to them. For by the flesh we mean our own evil inclinations, passions, and lusts, which never cease to wage war against the Spirit, and which violently incline us to take part with the devil and the world against our God. Hence our Lord, in his gospel, not only requires that we should renounce all other things in the world, how near or dear soever they may be to us, to follow him; but more especially inculcates that we must renounce also ourselves, and hate ourselves in this life, if we desire to be his disciples and to save our souls. This, then, is the very chief part of the Christian's warfare - to fight continually against ourselves, and to spare no pains to subdue our own flesh - that is, all our corrupt inclinations and passions.
Conclude to declare an eternal war against all these three enemies, and to fight manfully against them till death, and thou shalt not fail to receive the crown of life.
Consider first, the wonders of God in these and in all the rest of the apostles, whom he raised up as it were from the earth and from the dunghill, and made princes of his people. 'The foolish things of the world hath God chosen,' saith St. Paul, 1 Cor. 1. 27, 28, 29, 'that he may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the strong; and the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible hath God chosen, that no flesh should glory in his sight.' The Apostles, when they were chosen by Christ, were poor and contemptible in the eyes of the world; they were ignorant and illiterate; they had no power, credit, or interest to recommend them; nor any one of those qualities which the world is fond of to make them shine in the eyes of men; and yet they are preferred by the wisdom of God before all the wise, rich, eloquent, learned, noble, or great ones of this world, as most fit to be his instruments in this great work of the conversion of the world, and best qualified, by their simplicity and humility, to show forth his glory. Adore here, my soul, the wonderful ways of God, and learn to prefer with him the things that this world despises, before all its false grandeur, deceitful appearances, and ostentation of wisdom.
Consider 2ndly, the eminent dignity to which the apostles were raised by our Lord: they were made his disciples, his individual companions, his familiar friends and confidants - yea, his brethren too, John xx. 17; they were made under him the chief priests of the New Testament, the first bishops and pastors of his church, the prime ministers of his kingdom, the stewards and dispensers of all his mysteries; his ambassadors to men; his vicegerents upon earth; the doctors and teachers of the whole world; and next after him, who is the chief corner-stone, the twelve foundations of his church, Eph. ii. 20 - yea, the twelve foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem, Apoc. xxi. 14. Reflect also on the distinguishing graces, and the excellency of power which our Lord conferred upon them, suitable to their great office and callings; such as the power of consecrating and of offering in sacrifice his sacred body and blood; of remitting sins; and of opening or shutting heaven's gates to men; the commission of feeding his flock, and of ruling and directing his church, with the promise of the Holy Ghost to assist them therein; the authority of publishing throughout the whole world his new law, the law of grace; and the covenant of salvation through him, & c.: besides the gifts of tongues, and prophecy, and other eminent graces of the Holy Ghost; and a power of working all kind of miracles, yea, even greater than those of Christ himself, St. John xiv. 12. Christians, bless your Saviour on the festivals of the apostles, for all these great things he has done for them, and through them for his church in general, and in some degree for every one of you in particular. For as they were, under Christ, the fathers and founders of the Christian religion, so from them, and through their ministry, the faith, the word, the sacraments, the graces of Christ, and all spiritual goods and treasures are derived down to your souls by the channel of their successors in the church of Christ.
Consider 3rdly, the eminent sanctity of the apostles; on account of which they have been so highly honoured by all succeeding generations in the Christian church. They received great graces, and they faithfully cooperated with these graces. At the first call they left all things else to follow Christ, and as he bears them witness, Luke xx. 28, they remained with him in his temptations. They were indefatigable in their labours for the propagation of his kingdom, and for the salvation of souls; their zeal and courage were invincible; their love for him was stronger than death; they were ready to meet death in every shape for his glory; they even rejoiced that they were esteemed worthy to suffer for his name. In a word, they were perfect in an eminent degree in all virtues. By their preaching and labours, by their doctrine and miracles, by their sufferings and death, they planted the faith and church of Christ throughout the world; but nothing contributed more to this great work than the sanctity of their lives: by the help of which, as well as by the fervour and efficacy of their prayers, they effectually established virtue religion, and Christian perfection in every place where they came, upon the ruins of infidelity and vice; and left behind them a succession of saints, as the fruits of their labours, which have been kept up ever since in the true church of Christ, according to that of their divine master, John xv. 16, 'I have appointed you that you should go, and should bring forth fruit, and your fruit should remain.'
Conclude to celebrate with a particular devotion the festivals of the apostles, as the most eminent amongst the favourites of God, and the fathers of the other saints. Glorify God, who is wonderful in all his saints, for the extraordinary wonders he has wrought in them and through them, and to that eternal glory to which he has raised them. But study also to learn the great lessons they perpetually taught, both by word and work, and to aim with all your power at an imitation of their virtues and sanctity.
Consider first, that the life of a Christian here upon earth being a perpetual warfare, he is under a necessity of providing himself with proper armour, if he hopes to come off with victory. What this armour should be we may learn from the apostle, Eph. vi. 13, & c. 'Take unto you,' saith he, 'the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, in all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, (which is the word of God,) by all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the spirit, and in the same watching with all instance,' & c. O how completely shall that Christian be armed against all his enemies that makes such a provision for himself as is here recommended by the apostle, of arms, both defensive and offensive. Let us descend to each particular.
Consider therefore, 2ndly, that the soldier of Christ, in order to be fit to put on his armour, and to stand in the battle, without being hindered by his earthly garments hanging loosely about him, must first gird up his loins; that is, he must set out with a firm resolution of restraining his passions and lusts, and all irregular affections to these earthly things which very much encumber and hinder the Christian in his spiritual conflicts, and give the enemy a great hold of him. Now the girdle or belt he must make use of for this end is truth, 'for he must be girt about with truth,' says the apostle; that is with sincerity, uprightness, Christian simplicity, and purity of intention in his undertaking; having purely in view God and his soul, and being resolved at all events to fight till death, and to sacrifice on all occasions his dearest inclinations to the love of God and the salvation of his soul. Thus must he begin, and then proceed to put on the breastplate or coat of mail of Christian justice; by which is here understood not one particular virtue, but the collection of them all, which the soldier of Christ must labour to furnish himself with against the temptations of all their opposite vices. He must also have 'his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.' But what is meant by this? The feet of the soul are his affections, by which she moves towards the things she loves. These, in the Christian soldier, must be properly shod with the preparation, that is, with the readiness and promptitude, of the soul to direct all her steps, not towards the lying vanities and fooleries of the world, in which there is no peace; but to walk in the ways of the gospel, which alone can insure to us any true peace, either for time or eternity.
Consider 3rdly, that after these previous dispositions and general preparations for the spiritual warfare, the apostle recommends as the chief pieces of the Christian's armour, the shield of faith, which has a particular efficacy in extinguishing all the fiery darts levelled at us by the wicked one; and the helmet of salvation, that is, divine hope, which protects the head of the soul from being wounded by any of his weapons. Yes, Christians, if you would keep your souls from being pierced with the hellish darts of Satan, you must take care to carry about with you the shield of faith, that is, a strong and lively belief of the great truths of the gospel, with a sense of the presence of God, and a remembrance of death, judgment, heaven, and hell, and you shall be out of their reach. But then you must also provide yourselves with the helmet of hope, by joining an absolute distrust in yourselves with an entire confidence in God; lest otherwise your head be left naked and exposed on all sides to the wounds of the enemy, and there be no soundness in it, which is the case of all those who in this kind of warfare build upon themselves and not upon our Lord.
Conclude to spare no pains to procure every part of this heavenly armour; that you may be able to fight the battles of your Lord in such manner as to overcome his and your enemies, and to triumph eternally with him. Especially take care to secure to yourselves the shield of a lively faith by the means of daily meditations on the truths of eternity.
Consider first, that in this spiritual warfare the Christian soldier must not only be furnished with arms of defence, such as breastplate, shield, and helmet, but he must also provide himself with a proper sword, with which he may be able to attack and to beat down the enemy. Now this sword of the spirit, or spiritual sword, to be employed in the Christian's conflict is, according to the apostle, the Word of God. The truths of God's heavenly word, heard from his ministers, or read in good books, and received as the seed of life, and laid up in the heart when embraced with a lively faith, and pondered at leisure by deep meditation, serve in a double capacity, both to defend us and to annoy the enemy; they are both a shield and a sword. They are a shield, because the continual remembrance of these great truths baffles and defeats all the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; none of them have any force against a soul that daily meditates on God's holy Word and enters into the true spirit of it. And they are a sword too, which none of them all can withstand, when drawn against them by a lively faith; it attacks them whenever it meets them, and never fails of victory; it beats down all their fortifications, and forces them out of all their entrenchments. Such is the efficacy of daily meditation on divine truths: it roots out all vices, and establishes all virtues.
Consider 2ndly, that in the Christians' conflict this sword of the spirit is to be used, according to the apostle, in such manner as to be accompanied with all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the spirit, and in the same watching with instance. From which words we gather the great importance, yea, the absolute necessity, of fervent prayer in this our spiritual warfare; and that, not only in the time of more dangerous and obstinate temptations, but as he says, at all times, and with instance. Oh! 'tis the want of observing this prescription makes so many shamefully yield in the time of temptation. And indeed we may say with absolute truth, that no one is ever overcome but for want of prayer; and that a neglect of prayer is the original cause of the fall of all them that fall from God by sin. For his infinite goodness never forsakes them that do not first forsake him; he never withdraws his grace from them that do not first withdraw themselves from his grace; he is faithful, and will not suffer us to be tempted above our strength, but will assuredly give us the victory if we always cast ourselves upon him by fervent and humble prayer.
Consider 3rdly, that the apostle prescribes to the Christian soldier, in order to overcome the enemy, to join watching with his prayer, agreeable to the doctrine of our redeemer; who on many occasions enjoins to all his followers a perpetual watchfulness; and in particular the night before his passions bid his disciples 'watch and pray, lest they should enter into temptation,' Matt. xxvi. 41, clearly intimating by these words, that our best and only security against being overcome by temptation, is to join watching with prayer, and to oppose these two against all our spiritual enemies; ever remembering, that though our spirit be willing the flesh is frail. And what makes this watching still more necessary, is the nature of this warfare in which we are engaged against these wicked spirits, who are continually laying ambushes for us, and use a thousand deceits to ensnare us, and oftener prevail by tricks and stratagems, or by coming upon us unawares, than by open assault.
Conclude to make proper use of these weapons prescribed by the apostle and by our Lord himself, by filing thy mind with the word and the truths of God, and by diligence in watching and praying, and all thy conflicts shall be crowned with victory.
Consider first, that there are four moral virtues which are called cardinal; because they are, as it were, hinges upon which the whole life of a Christian must constantly move, if he would be good for anything. These are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, which the wise man tells us, (Wisdom viii. 7,) are all taught by divine wisdom, and are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life. All other moral virtues have a necessary dependence on these four; they all fall to the ground without them. Every virtue must be prudent and discreet in all it takes in hand, otherwise it degenerates into vice. Every virtue must be stout and valiant, firm and constant, in adhering to what is right, and opposing what is wrong. And every virtue must be sober and temperate, lest it exceeds the bounds of due moderation prescribed by right reason and religion. But, oh! what treasures of virtues do they possess that have acquired these four principal ones! These will effectually arm them against all vices.
Consider 2ndly, that Christian prudence is a virtue which teaches us in all things what is good and what is evil; what is right and what is wrong; and what ought to be done, and what ought to be left undone, in all the occurrences of life. 'Tis a virtue that directs all our words and actions in such a manner as that we neither decline out of the way, or offend ourselves, nor give occasion to others to offend; but ever setting before our eyes our great business and last end, makes always a proper choice of the means that are to bring us to this great end, and apply them accordingly. 'Tis a virtue that directs all other virtues; combining them all by the royal middle way of our great king, that they may not go aside by excess or defect, either to the right hand or to the left. The offices of this great virtue are to design and consult well, to judge right, and to direct well the execution, of what has been rightly concerted and judged to be proper. In all which it is helped, indeed, by the remembrance of things past, by the understanding of things present, by the forecasting of things to come, by reasoning, attention, caution, and circumspection; but all this with dependence on divine grace, and not on one's own industry, and with a continual application to our Lord, by frequent and fervent prayer for his light and assistance, without which our prudence will avail us nothing.
Consider 3rdly, the offices of the other three cardinal virtues and the excellence of them. Justice tenders to every one his due, and wrongs no one. It renders to every one his due, and wrongs no one. It teaches how to restrain every thought, every desire, every act of the will, every judgment, every word, every action, and every omission too, that any ways tend to injure one's neighbour, or that do not rightly square with that great principle of morality, 'Do as thou wouldst be done by.' And with regard to God, (who has the most undoubted right, by all manner of titles, to our whole being, and to all our service,) it obliges us, before all things, to dedicate our whole hearts and souls to him by worship and love. Then fortitude arms the soul with invincible courage in her warfare against her spiritual enemies, and gives her strength and constancy to enable her to overcome all fear or dread of any of those evils which she may be exposed to in her mortal pilgrimage for doing her duty, and resolution to suffer everything rather than to sin. Lastly, temperance restrains all immoderation in eating or drinking, with all other excesses of our passions or lusts, and all that any ways carry us out of the due bounds prescribed either by right reason and the law of nature, or by the precepts of God, or by them that have their authority from him, in the employment or functions of any of our senses, whether the exterior or interior. See, my soul, how admirable are all these virtues! Oh! there is not a day, there is scarce an hour of thy mortal life, in which thou dost not stand in need of them all.
Conclude to esteem and desire, love and seek, all these blessed virtues. O spare no pains to acquire them - they are richly worth all thy labour. But ever remember whose gifts they are, and that they must come to thee by fervent prayer. All thy labour, without this, will be labour in vain.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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