صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

naturally be excited, and different reflections ought to arise, when the amount of so much time, as is comprehended in the space of an whole year, is found to have been added to the period we have already existed, and of course deducted from that portion which remains. In youth, such thoughts as these should recur. "I am a year older now than I was twelvemonths ago. This is a considerable addition to the space my life has hitherto occupied; and I feel that I ought to have made considerable improvement in it.-Have I made this improvement? Am I as much wiser and as much better, as I am grown older? Have I attended to the advice, which has been given me ? Have I listened to the instructions, which I have received at home or abroad? Have I improved in my worldly studies? Have I a more just view of the ends for which I was brought into the world, and of the destiny which awaits me at the close of life? Has my progress in religious knowledge been marked by a more efficient discharge of my duty; by obedience to parents, by affection to other relatives, by kindness to all? If I have hitherto failed to make an advance in the knowledge and practice of duty corresponding to the advance in years, it behoves me to call to mind that life is very uncertain; that its common infirmities, and still more, unforeseen accidents, frequently cut short the thread; and that I may not be spared till this same period in another year, so as to consider whether I may, or may not, have made suitable improvement of my time."

In middle age; when the education is completely

finished, and the man or woman is already launched into the world; the thoughts, which should be entertained at the beginning of another year, will take a somewhat different and wider direction.-" I am now left wholly to my own guidance, and am responsible for my conduct, not only to the laws of my country, but to the more awful tribunal of my God; who, in proportion to age and experience, will require a clearer knowledge, and a more correct performance, of duty? Have I then, in the first place, shewn due reverence to the public and solemn institutions of the land, in which I live? Have I abstained from violating not the letter only, but the spirit, of the law? Have I considered it not merely as throwing its ample shield over property and person, but as upholding the great rules of morality, and fencing them round with the sublime truths and holy ordinances of religion? Have I been as studious of these rules of morality and these ordinances of religion, as I have been observant of laws promulgated by statute? In a word, have I considered myself accountable for my actions, both as a member of society, and as a member of the Christian Church? Have I made the will of God the rule of my conduct, the hope of His final. approbation and reward the main-spring of my words and actions ?"

When we come to the more advanced term of human existence; that, in which a man can with strict truth declare, "I have been young, and now am old;" the reflections, which then suggest themselves, become still more serious and solemn. "Conscious I must needs be of a near approach to the

grave; and with whatever impunity I may have flattered myself in times past, that I still had a continuance of life before me, and that I might go on in thoughtless idleness or actual sin; in careless indifference or positive disregard to the truths of the Gospel; with whatever fancied security I may formerly have indulged the hope that repentance and amendment might be delayed, yet must I now cease to cherish such delusive imaginations. Life is wearing away apace; it cannot much longer be protracted. I must therefore set about a change of conduct resolutely and instantly; I must reform whatever has been amiss; I must endeavour also to improve, as well as continue, what has been otherwise; and thus only can I reflect with any degree of cheerfulness that I now am old; thus only can I have a comfortable prospect of descending to my grave in peace."

[ocr errors]

Such are the thoughts, which will naturally spring up in the mind of every one, who is accustomed to use his capacity for reflection, when he is made to perceive that a sensible change has taken place in the duration of his existence. They are obviously different, as I have already remarked, at different periods of life; and they will also be more or less cheering, more or less melancholy, according as the view we take of the time, which has gone by, is attended with more or less consciousness of having acted a good and wise part, or a sinful and foolish one. The result of these considerations surely is highly favourable to the wise and virtuous course of life; because that only can produce reflections, upon which we can dwell

with any sort of comfort. So that in truth the same conviction as to the wisdom, as well as necessity, of leading a good and useful life is enforced by both parts of the text.-We have just seen that an upright, industrious, in short a Christian course of life, is most strongly recommended to our practice by this consideration; that such conduct only affords us any pleasing retrospect when we grow older, or gives us any hope in that state, to which declining years inevitably lead.

The same conclusion upon the prudence, as well as propriety, of virtuous exertion throughout life, is pressed upon our understandings and consciences by the concluding part of the text: "yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread."

The argument which I propose to lay before you on this part of my subject in favour of righteousness is this; that there is, even in this world, a tendency in the course of things, to favour virtue and religion, and to discourage the contrary.-I do not mean to say, that the good or evil things in this world are distributed in exact proportion to the good or ill desert in men ; for certainly such is not the state of things here below. Neither indeed does it appear to have been ever intended by the good providence of God. For we are assured in Scripture, and we feel it to be in great measure confirmed by what we see around us, that this life was intended for a place of discipline and probation; to instruct us in the ways of virtue; to try our good dispositions to the utmost; and to ascertain by our behaviour here what degree of re

ward or punishment shall be in strict justice allotted to us in the world to come. Now if life be intended for the purpose of trial, it is evident there must be difficulties and discouragements put in the way of good men. For, if they were upon every occasion to prosper, and if undeserving men were in the same degree to be always exposed and punished, this life would cease to be a place of trial; it would be one of retribution. It would in fact occupy the place in the Divine dispensations, for which we are assured the next world is intended; and therefore, in arguing from the methods of Divine providence in favour of goodness and holiness, we must not be understood as carrying the argument farther than the nature. of things, as they really exist, will warrant us.-We contend then that, even in this world, with all the inequality and disorder that appear to prevail, there is a disposition to encourage virtue and goodness, industry and integrity; and to discourage vice and selfishness, irregularity and idleness; so as, on the whole, to make it far more desirable, even from the consequences which flow from it here, to follow after righteousness, than to pursue ungodliness; to lead an upright, industrious, sober, and pious life, than to indulge a disposition for dishonesty, idleness, intemperance, or profaneness.

In the first place, if any worldly object is aimed at, it is much more likely to be gained by activity and exertion; by industry and diligence. There are many pursuits, in which men cannot succeed at all without great efforts either of body or mind.-All, that are connected with manual labour, necessarily

« السابقةمتابعة »