صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

he hears himself continually reproached with being an incumbrance on the face of the earth, and that he is occupying, too long, a place which he ought to resign to one who might be more useful to society?

But this is not the worst of the case. No

main undecided for some days, for some months, for some years. We could wish to suppress all those intervals of our existence, were God to put it in our power. Thus, a child wishes to attain in a moment, the age of youth; the young man would hasten at once into the condition of the master of a family; and something more is necessary, in many cases, than times the father of a family would rush for- a whim, a mere chimera, to disturb the hapward to the period when he should see the be- piest and most splendid condition of human loved objects of his affection settled in the life. world: and so of other cases.

In this class we may still rank certain seasons of preparation and design: such as the time which we spend in dressing and undressing upon the road, and in other similar occupations, insipid and useless in themselves, and to which no importance attaches, but in so far as they are the means necessary of attaining an object more interesting than themselves.

Reckon, if you can, what is the amount of this first class of our days; compare them with what we have called days of reality. Whoever will take the trouble to make such a calculation with any degree of exactness, must be constrained to acknowledge, that a man who says he has lived threescore years, has not lived twenty complete: because, though he has in truth passed threescore years in the world, forty of these stole away in listlessness and inaction, and during this period, he was as if he had not been. This is the first enumeration, the enumeration of days of nothingness compared with days of reality.

2. Let us reckon the days of adversity, and compare them with the days of prosperity. To what a scanty measure would human life be reduced, were we to subtract from it those seasons of bitterness of soul which God seems to have appointed to us, rather to furnish an exercise to our patience, than to make us taste the pleasures of living.

What is life to a man, who feels himself condemned to live in a state of perpetual separation from persons who are dear to him? Collect into one and the same house, honours, riches, dignities; let the tables be loaded with a profusion of dainties; display the most magnificent furniture; let all that is exquisite in music be provided; let every human delight contribute its aid: all that is necessary to render all these insipid and disgusting, is the absence of one beloved object, say a darling child.

What is life to a man who has become infamous, to a man who is execrated by his fellowcreatures, who dares not appear in public, lest his ears should be stunned with the voice of malediction, thundering in every direction upon his head?

What is life to a man deprived of health; a man delivered over to the physicians; a man reduced to exist mechanically, who is nourished by merely studied aliments, who digests only according to the rules of art, who is able to support a dying life only by the application of remedies still more disgusting than the very maladies which they are called in to relieve?

What is life to a man arrived at the age of decrepitude, who feels his faculties decaying day by day, when he perceives himself becoming an object of pity and forbearance to all around him, or rather becoming absolutely insupportable to every one; when he imagines

Now, in which of our days shall we find those pure joys, which no infusion of bitterness has poisoned? In which of our days is it possible for us to behold the perfect harmony of glory in the state of triumph in the church, of vigorous health, of prosperous fortune, of domestic peace, of mental tranquillity? In which of the days of our life did this concurrence of felicities permit us to consider ourselves as really happy?

Farther, if, in the ordinary current of our days, we had been deprived of only a few of the good things of life, while we possessed all the rest, the great number of those which we enjoyed, might minister consolation under the want of those which Providence had been pleased to withhold. But how often would an almost total destitution of good, and an accumulation of wo, render life insupportable, did not submission to the will of God, or rather, did not divine aid enable us to bear the ills of life?

Shall I have your permission, my brethren, to go into a detail of particulars on this head? For my own part, who have been in this world during a period not much longer than that which the children of Israel passed in the wilderness; I have scarcely heard any thing else spoken of, except disasters, desolations, destructive revolutions. Scarcely had I begun to know this church, into which I had been admitted in baptism, when I was doomed to be the melancholy spectator of the most calamitous events which can be presented to the eyes, or the imagination of man. Have you forgotten them, my dear compatriots, my beloved companions in affliction, have you forgotten those days of darkness? Have you forgotten those cries of the children of Edom: "Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof!" Ps. cxxxvii. 7. Have you forgotten those dead bodies of our brethren, "given to be meat unto the fowls of heaven, the flesh of the saints unto the beasts of the earth; their blood shed like water round about Jerusalem, and none to bury them?" Ps. lxxix. 2, 3.

In order to escape calamities so many and so grievous, we were reduced to the necessity of fleeing from the place of our birth. We were constrained to drag about, from place to place, a miserable life, empoisoned by the fatal shafts which had pierced us. We were constrained to present objects of compassion, but often importunately troublesome, to the nations whither we fled in quest of a place of refuge. We were reduced to the misery of being incessantly haunted with the apprehension of failing in the supplies necessary to the most pressing demands of life, and to those of education, as dear as even the support of life.

Scarcely did we find ourselves under covert from the tempest, when we felt that we were

still exposed to it, in the persons of those with whom we were united in the tenderest bonds. "One post run to meet another, and one messenger to meet another:" to adopt the prophet's expression, Jer. li. 31, to announce dismal tidings. Sometimes the message bore, that a house had been recently demolished: sometimes that a church had just been sapped to the foundation: sometimes we heard the affecting history of an undaunted believer, but whose intrepidity had exposed him to the most cruel torments; at another time, it was of a faint-hearted Christian whom timidity had betrayed into apostacy, a thousand times more to be deplored than tortures and death in their most horrid form.

Received into countries whose charity extended their arms to embrace us, it seemed as if we carried, wherever we went, a part of those disasters from which we were striving to make our escape. For these forty years past, my brethren, what repose has Protestant Europe enjoyed? One war has succeeded to another war, one plague to another plague, one abyss to another abyss. And God knows, God only knows, whether the calamities which have for some time pressed these states around on every side; God only knows, whether or not they are to be but the beginning of sorrows! God only knows what may be preparing for us by that avenging arm which is ever lifted up against us, and that flaming sword, whose tremendous glare is incessantly dazzling our eyes! God only knows how long our bulwarks against the ocean may be able to withstand those formidable shocks, and those violent storms, which an insulted God is exciting to shatter them! God knows. But let us not presume to draw aside the veil under which Providence has been pleased to conceal the destiny of these provinces from our eyes. It is abundantly evident, that were we to subtract from the number of our days, those heavy periods of existence, when we live only to suffer; were we to reckon the days of prosperity alone, our life would be reduced to an imperceptible duration; we should not discover any exaggeration in the expressions which Moses employs to trace the image of the life of the Israelites in the preceding context: "Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men: thou carriest them away as with a flood: they are as asleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up: in the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withered."

3. Let us reckon the days of languor and weariness, and compare them with the days of delight and pleasure. This particular must not be confounded with the preceding. There is a wide difference between the days which we have called those of adversity, and which we, under this head, call days of languor and weariness. By days of adversity, we meant those seasons of life, in which the privation of some worldly good, and the concurrence of many evils, render us actually miserable. By days of languor and weariness we now mean those in which exemption from the ills of life, or the possession of its good things, leaves the mind void and dissatisfied.



his own life. How often has a man found himLet each of us here recollect the history of self a prey to languor and disgust in the midst of those very pleasures of life which he had conceived to be the most lively and affecting? Objects in which we generally take the greatest delight, sometimes depress us into the most intolerable languor. It is frequently sufficient for exciting distaste in us to an object, that we once doated on it; to such a degree is the will of man capricious, fluctuating, and inconstant. Parties of pleasure are sometimes proposed and formed; the place, the time, the company, every, thing is settled with the most solicitous anxiety; the hour is looked to with eager imthe fond imagination had promised to itself. It patience, and nothing less is found than what is a more phantom, which had an appearance of solidity, when viewed at a distance; we approach, we embrace it, and lo! it melts away into air, "thin air."

doubtedly better acquainted with this languor, The believer whose taste is purified, is unwhen, amidst the pleasures of this world, there occurs to his mind one or another of the reflections which have been suggested, respecting the vanity of all human things; when he says to himself, "Not one in this social circle, among whom I am partaking of so many delights, but would basely abandon me, if I stood in need of his assistance, did the happiness of my life impose on him the sacrifice of one of the dishes of his table, of one of the horses of his equipage, of one of the trees of his gardens." the tide of pleasure into which he was going to When stating a comparison between plunge, and those which religion has procured which I taste, when alone with my God, I him, he thus reflects: "This is not the joy pour out before him a soul inflamed to rapture with his love, and when I collect, in rich profusion, the tokens of his grace." When coming to perceive that he has indulged rather too far in social mirth, which is lawful only when restrained within certain bounds, he says within himself, "Are such objects worthy of the regard of an immortal soul? are these my divinities?" Then it is he feels himself oppressed with languor and disgust; then it is that objects, once so eagerly desired, are regarded with coldness or aversion. Hence that seriousness which overspreads his countenance, hence that pensive silence into which he falls, in spite of every effort to the contrary, hence certain gloomy reflections which involuntarily arise in his soul.

whose taste piety has refined. There is a reBut this languor is not peculiar to those markable difference, however, in this respect, between the men of the world, and believers; namely, that the disgust, which these last feel in the pleasures of life, engages them in the pursuit of purer joys, in exercises of devotion; whereas the others give up the pursuit of one worldly delight, only to hunt after a new one, equally empty and unsatisfying with that which they had renounced. From that scanty portion of life, in which we enjoy prosperity, we must go on to subtract that other portion, in which prosperity is insipid to us. Calculate, if you can, the poor amount of what remains after this subtraction.

pores over his book, he beholds on this leaf, one people, one king; he turns it, and lo, other laws, other maxims, other actors, which have no manner of relation to what preceded them!

4. Let us reckon the days which we have different scenery, a new decoration. I repredevoted to the world, and compare them with sent these vicissitudes to myself, under the emthose which we have devoted to religion. Hu-blem of what is felt by a man who is employed miliating computation! But I take it for grant-in turning over the pages of history. He ed, that in your present circumstances, it has been rendered familiar to your thoughts. Christians who have been just concluding the year with a participation of the holy ordinance of the Lord's Supper, could hardly fail to have put this question to their consciences, when employed in self-examination, preparatory to that solemn service: What proportion of my time has been given to God? What proportion of it has been given to the world? And it is sufficient barely to propose the discussion of these questions, to come to this melancholy conclusion: That the portion of our life, which alone deserves to be considered as containing something solid and substantial, I mean the por




tion which has been given to God, is of a du- So teach us to number our days, that we may ap

ration so short as to be almost imperceptible, when compared with the years which the world has engrossed.

ply our hearts unto wisdom.

WE have seen to what a measure human life is reduced. To be made sensible of this is a very high attainment in knowledge; but it is of still higher importance, thence to deduce conclusions, which have a tendency to regulate the workings of your mind, the emotions of your heart, the conduct of your life: and to assist you in this, is

5. I proceed to the last computation proposed. What is the amount of this total of human life which we have thus arranged in different columns? What is the sum of this compound account of days of nothingness and days of reality; of days of prosperity and days of affliction; of days of languor and days of II. The second object which we proposed to delight; of days devoted to the world, and ourselves in this discourse. This is what the days devoted to religion? My brethren, it is prophet asks of God in the text, this we would God, it is God alone, who holds our times in earnestly implore in your behalf, and this his hand, to adopt the idea of the prophet, Ps. prayer we wish you to adopt for yourselves: xxxi. 15; he alone can make an accurate cal-"Lord, so teach us to number our days, that culation of them. And as he alone has fixed the term of our life, he only is likewise capable of knowing it. It is not absolutely impossible, however, to ascertain what shall be, in respect of time, the temporal destination of those who hear me this day. Let me suppose that the present solemnity has drawn together an assembly of eighteen hundred persons. I subdivide these 1800 into six different classes.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

According to the most exact calculation of those who have made such kind of researches their study, each of these classes must, in the course of this year, present to death, a tribute of ten persons. On this computation, sixty of my present hearers must, before the beginning of another year, be numbered with the dead. Conformably to the same rate of computation, in 10 years, of the 1800 now present there will remain

In 20 years, only
In 30

In 40

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]





we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

1. The first conclusion deducible from the representation given, is this: the vanity of the life which now is, affords the clearest proof of the life to come. This proof is sensible, and it possesses two advantages over all those which philosophy supplies, towards demonstrating the immortality of the soul. The proof of our immortality, taken from the spirituality of the soul, has, perhaps, a great deal of solidity; but it is neither so sensible, nor so incontestable. I am lost when I attempt to carry my metaphysical speculations into the interior of substances. I do not well know what to reply to an opponent who presses me with such questions as these: "Do you know every thing that a substance is capable of? Are your intellectual powers such as to qualify you to pronounce this decision, Such a substance is capable only of this, and such another only of that." This difficulty, at least, always recurs, namely, that a soul, spiritual and immortal of its own nature, may be deprived of immortality, should it please that God who called it into existence, to reduce it to a state of annihilation.

But the proof which we have alleged is sensible, it is incontestable. I can make the force of it to be felt by a peasant, by an artisan, by the dullest of human beings. And I am bold enough to bid defiance to the acutest genius, to the most dexterous sophist, to advance any In 50 years, no more will be left than 70 thing that deserves the name of reasoning in Thus you see, my brethren, in what a per- contradiction to it. How! Is it possible that petual flux the human race is. The world is this soul, capable of reflecting, of reasoning, of a vast theatre, in which every one appears his laying down principles, of deducing consemoment upon the stage, and in a moment dis-quences, of knowing its Creator, and of servappears. Every successive instant presents ing him, should have been created for the pur

pose merely of acting the poor part which man fills on the earth? How! the souls of those myriads of infants, who die before they are born, to be annihilated, after having animated, for a few months, an embryo, a mass of unfinished organs, which nature did not deign to carry on to perfection? How! the Abrahams, the Moseses, the Davids, and the multitudes of those other holy men, to whom God made so many and such gracious promises, shall they cease to be, after having been "strangers and pilgrims upon the earth?" How! that "cloud of witnesses," who, rather than deny the truth, submitted to be "stoned," to be "sawn asunder," to be "tempted," to be "slain with the sword," who " wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented?" Heb. xi. 13. 37. How! that "cloud of witnesses" evaporate into smoke, and the souls of martyrs pass into annihilation amidst the tortures inflicted by an executioner! Ye confessors of Jesus Christ, who have borne his reproach for thirty years together, who have yielded up your back to the rod of a tormentor, who have lived a life more painful than death in its most horrid form! You to have no other reward of all your labours and sufferings, except those poor gratuities which man bestows after you have finished your career? How! those noble faculties of soul bestowed on man, merely to sit for a few years upon a tribunal, for a few years to dip into arts and sciences? What brain could digest the thought! What subtility of metaphysical research, what ingeniousness of sophistry, can enfeeble the proof derived from such appearances as these! O brevity of the present economy! O vanity of human life! O miseries upon miseries with which my days are depressed, distracted, empoisoned, I will complain of you no longer! I behold light the most cheering; the most transporting, ready to burst forth from the bosom of that gloomy night into which you have plunged me! You conduct me to the grand, the animating doctrine of immortality! The vanity of the present life, is the proof of the life which is to come. This is our first conclusion.

[ocr errors]

2. The second conclusion we deduce is this: neither the good things, nor the evil, of a life which passes away with so much rapidity, ought to make a very deep impression on a soul whose duration is eternal. Do not tax me of extravagance. I have no intention to preach a hyperbolical morality, I do not mean to maintain such a wild position as this, "That there is no reality in either the enjoyments or the distresses of life; that there is a mixture in every human condition, which reduces all to equality; that the man who sits at a plentiful table is not a whit happier than the man who begs his bread." This is not our gospel. Temporal evils are unquestionably real. Were this life of very long duration, I would deem the condition of the rich man incomparably preferable to that of the poor; that of the man who commands, to that of him who obeys; that of one who enjoys perfect health, to that of one who is stretched on a bed of languishing. But however real the enjoyments and the distresses of life may be in themselves, their transient duration invalidates that reality.


You, who have passed thirty years in affliction! there are thirty years of painful existence vanished away. You, whose woes have been lengthened out to forty years! there are forty years of a life of sorrow vanished away. And you, who, for these thirty, forty, fifty years past, have been living at ease, and drowned in pleasure! What is become of those years? The time which both the one and the other has yet to live, is scarcely worth the reckoning, and is flying away with the same rapidity. If the brevity of life does not render all conditions equal, it fills up, at least, the greatest part of that abyss which cupidity had placed between them. Let us reform our ideas; let us correct our style: do not let us call a man happy because he is in health; do not let us call a sick man miserable: let us not call that absolute felicity, which is only borrowed, transitory, ready to flee away with life itself. Immortal beings ought to make immortality the standard by which to regulate their ideas of happiness and misery. Neither the good things, nor the evil, of a life so transient, ought to make a very deep impression on a soul whose duration is eternal. This was our second conclusion.

3. But if I be immortal, what have I to do among the dying? If I be destined to a neverending duration, wherefore am I doomed to drag out a miserable life upon the earth? If the blessings and the miseries of this life are so disproportionate to my natural greatness, wherefore have they been given to me? Wherefore does the Creator take a kind of pleasure in laying snares for my innocence, by presenting to me delights which may become the source of everlasting misery; and by conducting me to eternal felicity, through the sacrifice of every present comfort? This dif ficulty, my brethren, this pressing difficulty leads us to

A third conclusion: this life is a season of probation, assigned to us for the purpose of making our choice between everlasting happiness or misery. This life, considered as it is in itself, is an object of contempt. We may say of it, with the sacred writer, that it is "a shadow which passeth away;" a vanity," which has nothing real and solid; "a flower which fadeth;" "grass" which withers and is cut down; "a vapour" which dissolves into air; "a dream" which leaves no trace after the sleep is gone; "a thought" which presents itself to the mind, but abides not; an apparition, a nothing" before God.

[ocr errors]

But when we contemplate this life, in its relation to the great end which God proposes to himself in bestowing it upon us, let us form exalted ideas of it. Let us carefully compute all its subdivisions; let us husband, with scrupulous attention, all the instants of it, even the most minute and imperceptible; let us regret the precious moments which we have irrecoverably lost. For this shadow which passes, this vanity which has nothing real and solid, this flower which fades, this grass which is cut down and withers, this vapour which melts into air, this forgotten dream, this transient thought, this apparition destitute of body and substance, this nothing, this span of life, so vile and contemptible, is time which we must redeem, Eph.

v. 16; "a time of visitation" which we must | viated from the views of his Creator, present know, Luke xix. 44; "a time accepted, a day to God this day, a heart overflowing with graof salvation" which we must improve, 2 Cor. titude, that this tremendous sentence has not vi. 2; a period of "forbearance, and long-suf- yet been fulminated against him: "Give an fering" which we must embrace, Rom. ii. 4; a account of thy stewardship," Luke xvi. 2. It time beyond which "there shall be time no is for this that life ought to be prized as infilonger," Rev. x. 6, because after life is finished, nitely dear; for this we have unspeakable tears are unavailing, sighs are impotent, pray- cause to rejoice, that we still behold the light ers are disregarded, and repentance is ineffec- of this day. tual. We proceed to deduce a

4. Fourth conclusion. A life through which more time has been devoted to a present world, than to preparation for eternity, corresponds not to the views which the Creator proposed to himself, when he placed us in this economy of expectation. We were placed in this state of probation, not to sleep, to eat, and to drink; we were placed here to prepare for eternity. If, therefore, we have devoted more of our time to such functions as these, than to preparation for eternity; if, at least, we have not adapted these functions to the leading object of eternity; if we have not been governed by that maxim of St. Paul, 1 Cor. x. 31: "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God," we certainly have not conformed to the views which the Creator proposed to himself, in placing us under this economy of expectation and trial.

We were placed in this state of probation, not merely to labour for the provision and establishment of our families; we are placed here to prepare for eternity. If, therefore, we have devoted more of our time and attention to the provision and establishment of our families, than to preparation for eternity; if, at least, we have not adapted to the leading object of eternity, our solicitudes and exertions in behalf of our families, we certainly have not conformed to the views which the Creator proposed to himself, in placing us under this economy of expectation and trial.

"I have been in the world these thirty, forty, threescore years; and ever since I arrived at the exercise of reason, and felt the power of conscience, I have enjoyed every advantage towards attaining the knowledge, and exhibiting the practice of religion. Every display of mercy, and every token of fatherly displeasure have been employed to reclaim me. Not a book written to convince the understanding, but what has been put into my hands; not a sermon calculated to move and to melt the heart, but what has been addressed to my ears. My corruption has proved too powerful for them all. My life has been a tissue, if not of enormous crimes, at least of dissipation and thoughtlessness. If at any time I have shaken off my habits of listlessness and inaction, it was usually only to run into excesses, which have already precipitated so many precious souls into hell. When visited with sickness, when death seemed to stare me in the face, I seemed to behold, collected into one fatal moment, all the sins of my life, and all the dreadful punishments which they deserve. I carried a hell within me; I believed myself to be encompassed by demons and flames of fire; I became my own executioner, when I called to remembrance that wretched time which I had lavished on the world and its lying vanities; and I would have sacrificed my life a thousand and a thousand times to redeem it, had God put it in my power; I would have given the whole world to bring back but one poor moment of that precious time which I had so prodigally squandered away; and God in mercy ineffable, is still prolonging that day of visitation."

We were placed in this state of probation, not merely to govern states, to cultivate arts and sciences; we are placed here to prepare for eternity. If, therefore, we have not direct- 6. Finally, we farther deduce a sixth conclued all our anxieties and exertions, on such sub- sion. Creatures, in whose favour God is jects as these, to the leading object of eternity, pleased still to lengthen out the day of grace, we certainly have not conformed to the views the economy of long-suffering, which they have which the Creator proposed to himself, in plac- improved to so little purpose, ought no longer ing us under this economy of expectation and to delay, no not for a moment, to avail themtrial. Imagine not that we shall be judged selves of a reprieve so graciously intended. according to the ideas which we ourselves are Creatures who stand on the brink of the grave, pleased to form of our vocation. We are un- and who have too just ground to fear that they der an economy of expectation and trial: time should be thrust into hell, were the grave imthen is given us, that we may prepare for eter-mediately to swallow them up, ought instantly nity. A life, therefore, through which more time and attention have been devoted to the pursuits of this world, than to preparation for eternity; corresponds not to the views which the Creator proposed to himself, when he placed us under this economy of expectation and trial. This is the fourth conclusion.

5. We go on to deduce a fifth. A sinner who has not conformed to the views which God proposed to himself in placing him under an economy of discipline and probation, ought to pour out his soul in thanksgiving, that God is graciously pleased still to lengthen it out. Let each of you who, on taking a review of his own life, must bear the dreadful testimony against himself, that he has most miserably de

to form a new plan of life, and instantly to set about the execution of it. I conjure you, my brethren, by the gospel of this day, I conjure you by all that is powerful, all that is interesting, all that is tender, in the solemnity which we are now assembled to celebrate, and in that of last Lord's day: I conjure you to enter in good earnest into the spirit of this reflection, to keep it constantly in view through every instant of the years which the patience of God may still grant you, to make it as it were the rule of all your designs, all your undertakings, of all your exertions. Without this we can do nothing for you. The most ardent prayers which we could address to heaven on your behalf, this day, would be as ineffectual

« السابقةمتابعة »