« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
pens to them all.-That there are secret workings in human affairs, which over-rule all human contrivance, and counterplot the wisest of our counsels, in so strange and unexpected a manner, as to cast a damp upon our best schemes, and warmest endeavors.
And then, for those accidents to which our persons are as liable as our labors, he observes these three things ;-first, the natural infirmities of our bodies, which alternately lay us open to the sad changes of pain and sickness; which, in the fifth chapter, he styles wrath and sorrow; under which when a man lies languishing, none of his worldly enjoyments will singnify much.-Like one that singeth songs with a heavy heart,-neither mirth,
-nor power,—nor riches, shall afford him ease: -Nor will all their force be able to stay the stroke of nature,-"but that he shall be cut off in the "midst of his days, and then all his thoughts pe"rish." Or else, what is no uncommon spectacle -in the midst of all his luxury, he may waste away the greatest part of his life with much weariness and anguish; and with the long torture of an unrelenting disease, he may wish himself to go down into the grave, and to be set at liberty from all his possessions, and all his misery, at the same time.
2dly, If it be supposed,-that by the strength of spirits, and the natural cheerfulness of a man's temper, he should escape these, "and live many ' years, and rejoice in them all," which the lot of many ;-yet, "he must remember the "days of darkness ;”—that is,—they who devote themselves to a perpetual round of mirth and pleasure, cannot so manage matters as to avoid the thoughts of their future states, and the anxiety about what shall become of them hereafter, when they are to depart out of this world; that they cannot so crowd their heads, and fill up their
time with other matters, but that the remembrance of this will sometimes be uppermost,― and thrust itself upon their minds whenever they are retired and serious. And as this will naturally present to them a dark prospect of their future happiness,-it must at the same time, prove no small damp and allay to what they would enjoy at present.
But, in the third place,-Suppose a man should be able to avoid sickness,—and to put the trouble of these thoughts likewise far from him,—yet there is something else which he cannot possibly decline; old age will unavoidably steal upon him, -with all the infirmities of it,-when (as he expresses it) "the grinders shall be few, and appe"tite ceases, when those who look out of the win"dows shall be darkened, and the keepers of the "house shall tremble ;"- when a man shall become a burden to himself, and to his friends ;— when, perhaps, those of his nearest relations, whom he hath most obliged by kindness, shall think it time for him to depart, to creep off the stage, and make room for the succeeding generations.
And then, after a little funeral pomp of mourners going about the streets, a man shall be buried out of the way, and in a year or two be as much forgotten, as if he had never existed.-For there is no remembrance (says he) of the wise more than the fool;-seeing that which now is, in the days to come, shall be forgotten; every day producing something which seems new and strange, to take up men's talk and wonder, and to drown the memory of former persons and actions..
And I appeal to any rational man, whether these are not some of the most material reflections about human affairs,-which occur to every one who gives himself the least leisure to think about them?
-Now, from all these premises put together, Solemon infers this short conclusion in the text,
That to fear GOD, and keep his commandments, is the whole duty of man ;-that, to be serious in the matter of religion, and careful about our future states, is that which, after all our other experiments, will be found to be our chief happiness, our greatest interest,—our greatest wisdom -and that which most of all deserves our care and application.-This must ever be the last result and the upshot of every wise man's observations upon all these transitory things, and upon the vanity of their several pretences to our well-being; -and we may depend upon it, as an everlasting truth, that we can never find what we seek for in any other course, or any other object,-but this one ;—and the more we know and think, and the more experience we have of the world, and of ourselves, the more we are convinced of this truth and led back by it to rest our souls upon that GOD from whence we came.-Every consideration upon the life of man tends to engage us to this point, -to be in earnest in the concernment of religion;-to love and fear GOD;-to provide for our true interest, and do ourselves the most effectual service,-by devoting ourselves to him,and always thinking of him,-as he is the true and final happiness of a reasonable and an immortal spirit.
And indeed, one would think it next to impossible, did not the commonness of the thing take off from the wonder,-that a man, who thinks at all-should let his whole life be a contradiction to such obvious reflections.
The vanity and emptiness of worldly goods and enjoyments, the shortness and uncertainty of life, the unalterable event hanging over our heads,- -"that, in a few days, we must all of us
go to that place from whence we shall not return;"-the certainty of this,-the uncertainty of the time when,-the immortality of the soul,
the doubtful and momentous issues of eternity,— the terrors of damnation, and the glorious things which are spoken of the city of GoD,-are meditations so obvious, and so naturally check and block up a man's way,—are so very interesting, and, above all, so unavoidable,—that it is astonishing how it was possible, at any time, for mortal man to have his head full of any thing else.And yet, was the same person to take a view of the state of the world,—how slight an observation would convince him, that the wonder lay, in fact on the other side ;-and that, as wisely as we all discourse and philosophize de contemptu mundi et fuga sæculi ;—yet, for one who really acts in the world-consistent with his own reflections upon it, there are multitudes who seem to take aim at nothing higher ;-and, as empty a thing as it is, are so dazzled with it, as to think it meet to build tabernacles of rest upon it,-and say, It is good to be here.Whether, as an able inquirer into this paradox guesses,—whether it is, that men do not heartily believe such a thing as a future state of happiness and misery, or, if they do, -that they do not actually and seriously consider it, but suffer it to lie dormant and inactive within them, and so are as little affected with it, as if, in truth, they believed it not ;--or whether they look upon it through that end of the perspective which represents it as afar off,-and so are more forcibly drawn by the nearer, though the lesser loadstone ;—whether these, or whatever other cause may be assigned for it, the observation is incontestible, that the bulk of mankind, in passing through this vale of misery,-use it not as a well to refresh and allay,—but fully to quench and satisfy their thirst ;-minding, or (as the apostle says) relishing earthly things,-making them the end and sum total of their desires and wishes, -and, in one word,-loving this world....just as
they are commanded to love God ;- -that is, with all their heart, with all their soul,-with all their mind and strength. But this is not the strongest part of this paradox. A man shall not only lean and rest upon the world with his whole stress, but, in many instances, shall live notoriously bad and vicious :-When he is reproved, he shall seem convinced ;....when he is observed, he shall be ashamed ;....when he pursues his sin, he will do it in the dark ;....and when he has done it shall even be dissatisfied with himself :....Yet still, this shall produce no alteration in his conduct..... Tell him he shall one day die ;....or bring the event still nearer,....and show, that according to the course of nature, he cannot possibly live many years,....he wiil sigh, perhaps,....and tell you, he is convinced of that, as much as reason and experience can make him :....Proceed, and urge to him,....that after death comes judgment, and that he will certainly there be dealt with by a just GOD according to his actions ;....he will thank GOD he is no deist,....and tell you with the same grave face,....he is thoroughly convinced of that too ;....and as he believes,....no doubt, he trembles too....And yet, after all, with all this conviction upon his mind, you will see him still persevere in the same course,....and commit his sin with as certain an event and resolution, as if he knew no argument against it.....These notices of things, however terrible and true, pass through his understanding as an eagle through the air, that leaves no path behind.
So that, upon the whole, instead of abounding with occasions to set us seriously on thinking,.... the world might dispense with many more calls of this kind ;....and were they seven times as many as they are,....considering what insufficient use we make of those we have, all, I fear, would be little enough to bring these things to our remem