From Devout Exercises of the Heart
What is hell, what is damnation, but an exclusion from your presence? ‘Tis the loss of that which gives the regions of darkness all their horror. O when will you scatter this melancholy darkness? When will the shadows flee before you? When will the cheerful glory of your grace dawn upon my mind at your approach? I will revive at your light; my vital spirits will confess your presence. Grief and anxiety will vanish before you, and immortal joys surround my soul.
Where you are present, Heaven and happiness ensue; hell and damnation fills the breast where you are absent. While God withdraws I am encompassed with darkness and despair; the sun and stars shine with an uncomfortable luster; the faces of my friends grow tiresome; the smile of angels would fail to cheer my languishing spirit. I grow unacquainted with tranquility; peace and joy are empty sounds to me, and words without a meaning.
Tell me not of glory and pleasure – there are no such things without God. When God withdraws, what delight can these trifles afford? All that amuses mankind are but dreams of happiness, shadows, and fantasies. What compensation can they make for an infinite good departed? All nature cannot repair my loss; Heaven and Earth would offer their treasures in vain. Not all the kingdoms of this world, nor the thrones of archangels, could give me a recompense for an absent God.
O where can my grief find redress? Whence can I draw satisfaction, when the fountain of joy seals up its streams? My sorrows are hopeless till God return. Without God my night will never see a dawn, but extend to everlasting darkness. Contentment and joy will be eternal strangers to my breast. Had I all things within the compass of creation to delight me, God’s frowns would blast the whole enjoyment. Unreconciled to God, my soul would be forever at variance with itself.
Even now, while I believe your glory hidden from me with only a passing eclipse, and while I wait for your return as for the dawning day, my soul suffers inexpressible agonies at the delay. The minutes seem to linger and the days are lengthened into ages. But Lord, what keener anguish should I feel if I thought your presence had totally forsaken me, if I imagined your glory should no more arise on my soul! My spirits fail at the thought: I cannot face the dreadful apprehensions of my God forever gone. Is it not hell in its most horrid prospect, eternal darkness and the undying worm, infinite ruin, and irreparable damage? Compared to this, what were all the plagues that Earth could threaten or hell invent? What are disgrace, and poverty, and pain? What are all that mortal fear, real or imaginary evils?
They are nothing compared to the terrors raised by the thought of losing my God. O Lord, you are my boundless treasure, my infinite delight, my all, my ineffable portion; how can I part with you? I may see without light and breathe, without air, sooner than be blessed without my God. Happiness separate from you is a contradiction, an impossibility (if I dare speak it) to Omnipotence itself. I feel a flame which the most glorious creation could not satisfy, an emptiness which nothing but infinite love could fill. I must find you or weary myself in an eternal pursuit. Nothing shall divert in the endless search, no obstacle shall frighten me back, no allurement withhold me; nothing shall flatter or relieve my impatience. My bliss, my Heaven, my all depends on my success in this. Show me where you are, O my God; conduct me into your presence, and let my love confine me there forever.