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Inquiry after Happiness.
PSALM iv. 5, 6.
There be many that say, who will show us any good? -Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
THE great pursuit of man is after happines :
nature-In every stage of his life, he searches for it, as for hid treasure ;-courts it under a thousand different shapes ;—and, tho' perpetually disappointed-still persists-runs after, and inquires for it afresh-asks every passenger who comes in his way, Who will show him any good?. who will assist him in the attainment of it, or direct him to the discovery of this great end of all his wishes?
He is told by one, to search for it amongst the more gay and youthful pleasures of life, in scenes of mirth and sprightliness, where happiness ever presides, and is ever to be known by the joy and laughter which he will see at once painted in her
A second, with a graver aspect, points out to the costly dwellings which pride and extravagance have erected:Tells the inquirer, that the object he is in search of inhabits there; that happiness lives only in company with the great, in the midst of much pomp and outward state :-That he will easily find her out by the coat of many colors she
has on, and the great luxury and expense of equipage and furniture, with which she always sits surrounded.
The miser blesses GOD!-wonders how any one would mislead, and wilfully put him upon so wrong a scent-convinces him that happiness and extravagance never inhabited under the same roof;
that if he would not be disappointed in his search, he must look into the plain and thrifty dwelling of the prudent man, who knows and understands the worth of money, and cautiously lays it up against an evil hour: That it is not the prostitution of wealth upon the passions, or the parting with it at all, that constitutes happiness, but that it is the keeping together, and the HAVING and HOLDING it fast to him, and his heirs for ever, which are the chief attributes that form this great idol of human worship, to which so much incense is offered up every day.
The epicure, tho' he easily rectifies so gross a mistake, yet at the same time he plunges him, if possible, into a greater; for hearing the object of his pursuit to be happiness, and knowing of no other happiness than what is seated immediately in the senses, he sends the inquirer there ;-tells him, it is in vain to search elsewhere for it, than where Nature herself has placed it—in the indulgence and gratification of the appetites, which are given us for that end: And, in a word,if he will not take his opinion in the matter-he may trust the word of a much wiser man, who has assured us that there is nothing better in this world, than that a man should eat and drink, and rejoice in his works, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor, for that is his portion.
To rescue him from this brutal experiment, Ambition takes him by the hand, and carries him into the world,-shows him all the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them,-points out the
many ways of advancing his fortune, and raising himself to honor,lays before his eyes all the charms and bewitching temptations of power-and asks if there can be any happiness in this world like that of being caressed, courted, flattered and followed.
To close all, the philosopher meets him bustling in the full career of this pursuit-stops him tells him, if he is in search of happiness, he is far gone out of his way
That this deity has long been banished from noise and tumults, where there was no rest found for her, and was fled into solitude, far from all commerce of the world; and, in a word, if he would find her, he must leave this busy and intriguing scene, and go back to that peaceful scene of retirement and books, from which he at first set out.
In this circle too often does man run; tries all experiments, and generally sets down weary and dissatisfied with them all at last-in utter despair of ever accomplishing what he wants-nor knowing what to trust to, after so many disappointments, or where to lay the fault; whether in the incapacity of his own nature, or the insufficiency of the enjoyments themselves.
In this uncertain and perplexed state-without knowledge which way to turn, or where to betake ourselves for refuge-so often abused and deceived by the many who pretend thus to show us any good-LORD! says the psalmist, lift up the light of thy countenance upon us. Send us some rays of thy grace and heavenly wisdom, in this benighted search after happiness, to direct us safely to it. O GOD! let us not wander for ever without a guide in this dark region, in endless pursuit of our mistaken good; but enlighten our eyes, that we sleep not in death-open to them the comforts of thy holy word and religion-lift
up the light of thy countenance upon us-and make us know the joy and satisfaction of living in the true faith and fear of Thee, which only can carry us to this heaven of rest where we would be -that sure heaven, where true joys are to be found, which will at length not only answer all our expectations-but satisfy the most unbounded of our wishes, for ever and ever.
The words thus opened, naturally reduce the remaining part of the discourse under two heads -The first part of the verse-"there be many "that say, who will show us any good?"-To make some reflections upon the insufficiency of most of our enjoyments towards the attainment of happiness, upon some of the most received plans on which it is generally sought.
The examination of which will lead us up to the source, and true secret of all happiness, suggested. to us in the latter part of the verse"LORD! "lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon "us."―That there can be no real happiness without religion and virtue, and the assistance of God's grace and holy spirit to direct our lives in the true pursuit of it.
Let us inquire into the disappointments of human happiness, on some of the most received plans on which it is generally sought for and expected, by the bulk of mankind.
There is hardly any subject more exhausted, or which, at one time or other, has afforded more matter for argument and declamation, than this one, of the insufficiency of our enjoyments. Scarce a reformed sensualist, from Solomon down to our own days, who has not, in some fits of repentance or disappointment, uttered some sharp reflection upon the emptiness of human pleasure, and of the vanity of vanities which discovers itself in all the pursuits of mortal man.-But the mischief has been, that, tho' so many good things have been
said, they have generally had the fate to be considered, either as the overflowings of disgust from sated appetites, which could no longer relish the pleasures of life, or as the declamatory opinions of recluse and splenetic men, who had never tasted them at all, and consequently were thought no judges of the matter. So that it is no great wonder, if the greatest part of such reflections, however just in themselves, and founded on truth, and a knowledge of the world, are found to leave little impression, where the imagination was already heated with great expectations of future happiness; and that the best lectures that have been read upon the vanity of the world, so seldom stop a man in the pursuit of the object of his desire, or give him half the conviction that the possession of it will, and what the experience of his own life, or a careful observation upon the life of others, do at length generally confirm to us all.
Let us endeavor, then, to try the cause upon this issue; and, instead of recurring to the common arguments, or taking any one's word in the case, let us trust to matter of fact; and if, upon inquiry, it appear, that the actions of mankind are not to be accounted for upon any other principle, but this, of the insufficiency of our enjoyments, it will go farther towards the establishment of the truth of this part of the discourse, than a thousand speculative arguments which might be offered upon the occasion.
Now, if we take a survey of the life of man, from the time he is come to reason, to the latest decline of it in old age-we shall find him engaged, and generally hurried on in such a succession of different pursuits, and different opinions of things, thro' the different stages of his life-as will admit of no explication but this, that he finds no rest for the sole of his foot, on any of the plans where he has been led to expect it.