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Time and Chance.
ECCLE S. 1x. II.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
HEN a man casts a look upon this melan
contrary to all his guesses and expectations, what different fates attend the lives of men,-how oft it happens in the world, that there is not even bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, &c.-he is apt to conclude with a sigh upon it,-in the words, tho' not in the sense of the wise man, that time and chance happeneth to them all. That time and chance,-apt seasons and fit conjunctures, have the greatest sway in the turns and disposals of mens fortunes: And that, as these lucky hits (as they are called) happen to be for, or against a man,-they either open the way to his advancement against all obstacles,
or block it up against all helps and attempts; that, as the text intimates, neither wisdom, nor understanding, nor skill, shall be able to surmount them.
However widely we may differ in our reasonings upon this observation of Solomon's, the authority of the observation is strong beyond doubt, and the evidence given of it in all ages so alternately confirmed by examples and complaints, as to leave the fact itself unquestionable.
things are carried on in this world, sometimes so contrary to all our reasonings, and the seeming probabilities of success-that, even the race is hot to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nay, what is stranger still-nor yet bread to the wise, who should last stand in want of it,yet riches to men of understanding, who you would think best qualified to acquire them, nor yet favor to men of skill, whose merit and pretences bid the fairest for it--but that there are some secret and unseen workings in human affairs, which baffle all our endeavors,and turn aside the course of things in such a manner,that the most likely causes disappoint and fail of producing for us the effect which we wished and naturally expected from them.
You will see a man, of om, was you to form a conjecture from the appearances of things in his favor-you would say was setting out in the world with the fairest prospect of making his fortune in it-with all the advantages of birth to recommend him,of personal merit to speak for him,
and of friends to help and push him forwards : You will behold him, notwithstanding this, disappointed in every effect you might naturally have looked for from them: Every step he takes towards his advancement, something invisible shall pull him back; some unforeseen obstacle shall rise up perpetually in his way, and keep him there.In every application he makes,--some untoward circumstance shall blast it-He shaf rise early,late take rest,and eat the bread of carefulness;yet some happier man shall still rise up, and ever step in before him, and leave him struggling, to the end of his life, in the very same place in which he first began it.
The history of a second, shall in all respects be the contrast to this. He shall come into the world with the most unpromising appearance,
shall set forwards without fortune, without friends -without talents to procure him either the one or the other. Nevertheless, you will see this clouded prospect brighten up insensibly, unaccountably before him; every thing presented in his way, shall turn out beyond his expectations; -in spight of that chain of unsurmountable difficulties which first threatened him-time and chance shall open him a way,a series of successful occurrences shall lead him by the hand to the summit of honor and fortune, and, in a word, without giving him the pains of thinking, or the credit of projecting it, shall place him in safe possession of all that ambition could wish for.
The histories of the lives and fortunes of men are full of instances of this nature,-where favorable times, and lucky accidents, have done for them, what wisdom or skill could not: And there is scarce any one who has lived long in the world, who, upon looking backwards, will not discover such a mixture of these in the many successful turns which have happened in his life, as to leave him very little reason to dispute against the fact, and, I should hope, as little upon the conclusions to be drawn from it.
Some, indeed, from a superficial view of this representation of things, have atheistically inferred, that because there was so much of lottery in this life, and mere casualty seemed to have such a share in the disposal of our affairs, that the providence of God stood neuter and unconcerned in their several workings, leaving them to the mercy of time and chance, to be furthered or disappointed as such blind agents directed.Whereas, in truth, the very opposite conclusion follows. For consider,-if a superior intelligent power did not sometimes cross and overrule events in this world-then our policies and designs in it, would always answer according to the wisdom
and stratagem in which they were laid, and every
Vid. Tillotson's sermon on this subject.
For tho' at sundry times-sundry events fall out, which we, who look no farther than the events themselves, call chance, because they fall out quite contrary, both to our intentions and hopes, yet, at the same time, in respect of GOD'S providence overruling in these events, it were prophane to call them chance, for they are pure designation; and, tho' invisible, are still the regular dispensations of the superintending power of that Almighty Being, from whom all the laws and powers of nature are derived,-who, as he has appointed,- so holds them as instruments in his hands; and, without invading the liberty and free-will of his creatures, can turn the passions and desires of their hearts to fulfil his own righteousness, and work such effects in human affairs, which to us seem merely casual,-but to him, certain and determined, and what his infinite wisdom sees necessary to be brought about, for the government and preservation of the world, over which providence perpetually presides.
When the sons of Jacob had cast their brother Joseph into the pit for his destruction,-one would think, if ever any accident which concern. ed the life of man deserved to be called chance, it was this,that the company of Ishmaelites should happen to pass by, in that open country, at that very place, at that time too, when this barbarity was committed. After he was rescued by so favorable a contingency- -his life and future fortune still depended upon a series of contingencies equally improbable. For instance, had the business of the Ishmaelites, who bought him, carried them from Gilead, to any other part of the world besides Egypt; or, when they ar rived there, had they sold their bond-slave to any other man but Potiphar, throughout the whole empire,or, after that disposal, had the unjust accusations of his master's wife cast the youth into