ON THE EXERCISE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Consider first, that a lively sense of the presence of God is a sovereign means to banish sin from the world; to bring the worst of sinners back to God; to spur on the lukewarm, and to make them fervent, and to advance the just in all virtues, till it bring them to perfection – according to that which God spoke to his servant Abraham, Gen. xvii. 1, ‘Walk before me, and be perfect,’ as if he should have said, in all thy conversation and in every step thou shalt take in thy mortal pilgrimage, keep thyself in my presence, by the remembrance of me, and thou shalt be perfect in all virtue. This holy patriarch and all the ancient fathers observed this lesson, of whom it is written, that they ‘walked in the sight of God,’ Gen. xlviii. 15. The psalmist practised the same, Ps. xvi. 8, ‘I set the Lord,’ saith he, ‘always in my sight;’ and he calls upon all others to do the like, Ps. civ. 4, ‘Seek ye the Lord, and be strengthened: seek his face’ (that is his presence) ‘always.’ This same has ever been the practice of all the saints: yea, ’tis this has made them saints.
Consider 2ndly, that this exercise of the presence of God is to be performed, partly by the understanding, and partly by the will; for, as the blessed in heaven are eternally employed about God, partly by the contemplation and vision of him, which belong to the understanding, and partly by love and fruition, which belong to the will; and by this means they are eternally happy in the enjoyment of this sovereign and infinite good, and eternally united both by will and understanding, to the source of all happiness: so the souls of God’s servants here upon earth ought, in both these ways, to apply themselves to God, and to be employed about him; and this is done by the exercise of his divine presence, which employs the understanding in the thought and remembrance of him, by means of a lively faith and sense of his being always with us, and within us; and entertains the will, that is the heart and the affection, with him by continually turning it towards him by aspirations of love, by oblations of our whole being to him, and by longing desires after the embraces of him, and an eternal union with him. O how happy is this exercise of the presence of God, which by a perpetual application of all the powers of the soul to God, in some measure anticipates the immortal joys of heaven.
Consider 3rdly, that in order to learn and practise this heavenly exercise of the presence of God, we must rid our souls of three mortal enemies to this devotion – which are a dissipation of mind; an anxious solicitude for the things of this world; and a disorderly affection to creatures. Where these three, or any one of the three reign in the soul, God is usually forgotten. A dissipation of thought carries the soul from home, to run after the multitude of vain amusements where she loses the remembrance both of herself and of her God. Worldly solicitude chokes all better thoughts, and suffers them not to take root in the soul. And the disorderly affections of the heart to any things out of God, turn away thy heart from God. In order then to practise this necessary attention to the presence of God, we must banish dissipation by recollection of thought, we must overcome worldly solicitude, by faith and confidence in God and by conformity in all things, with his blessed will; and we must correct the irregularity of our affections by turning them from the creature to God.
Conclude to guard against these enemies by setting a watch both upon the roving imagination, which is ever fond of running after butterflies, and thy unwary heart, that is so easily taken in the nets of wanton love or other idle, vain, and worldly affections, and to accustom all the powers of thy soul to be employed about thy God, who is to make thee happy for eternity.