Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

the various advantages which were afforded him and that he recalls nothing for which he has reason either to grieve or to blush? When we recollect the several stages of life through which we have passed; the successive occupations in which we have been engaged, the designs we have formed, and the hopes and fears which alternately have filled our breast ; how barren for most part is the remembrance; and how few traces of any thing valuable or important remain ? Like characters drawn on the sand, which the next wave washes totally away; so one trivial succession of events has effaced the memory of the preceding; and though we have seemed all along to be busy, yet for much of what we have acted, we are neither wiser nor better than if such actions had never been. Hence. let the retrospect of what is past produce, as its first effect, humiliation in our own eyes, and abasement before God. Much do human pride and self-complacency require some correction; and that correction is never more effectually administered, than by an impartial and serious review of former life.

But though past time be gone, we are not to consider it as irredeemably lost. To a very profitable purpose

it may yet be applied, if we lay hold of it while it remains in remembrance, and oblige it to contribute to future improvement. If you

have gained nothing more by the years that are past, you have at least gained experience; and experience is the mother of wisdom. You have seen the weak

your character; and may have discovered the chief sources of your misconduct. To these let your attention be directed; on these, let the proper guards be set. If you have trifled long, resolve to

parts of

trifle no more. If your passions have often betrayed and degraded you, study how they may be kept, in future, under better discipline. Learn, at the same time, never to trust presumptuously in your own wisdom. Humbly apply to the Author of your being, and beseech his grace to guide you safely through those slippery and dangerous paths, in which experi. ence has shown that you are so ready to err, and to fall.

In reviewing past life, it cannot but occur, that many things now appear of inconsiderable importance, which once occupied and attached us, in the highest degree. Where are those keen competitions, those mortifying disappointments, those violent enmities, those eager pursuits, which we once thought were to last for ever, and on which we considered our whole happiness or misery as suspended? We look back upon them now, as upon a dream which has passed away. None of those mighty consequences have followed which we had predicted. The airy fabric has vanished, and left no trace behind it. We smile at our former violence; and wonder how such things could have ever appeared so significant and great. We may rest assured, that what hath been shall again be. When time shall once have laid his lenient hand on the passions and pursuits of the present moment, they too shall lose that imaginary value which heated fancy now bestows upon them. Hence, let them already begin to subside to their proper level. Let wisdom infuse a tincture of moderation into the

eagerness of contest, by anticipating that period of coolness, which the lapse of time will, of itself, certainly bring. When we look back on years that are past, how swiftly do they appear to have fleeted

away! How insensibly has one period of life stolen upon us after another, like the successive incidents in a tale that is told! Before we were aware, childhood had grown up into youth; youth had passed into manhood; and manhood now, perhaps, begins to assume the grey hair, and to decline into old

age. When we are carrying our views forwards, months and years to come seem to stretch through a long and extensive space. But when the time shall arrive of our looking back, they shall appear contracted within narrow bounds. Time, when yet before us, seems to advance with slow and tardy steps; no sooner is it past, than we discern its wings.

It is a remarkable peculiarity in the retrospect of former life, that it is commonly attended with some measure of heaviness of heart. Even to the most prosperous the memory of joys that are past is accompanied with secret sorrow. In the days of former years, many objects arise to view, which make the most unthinking, grave; and render the serious, sad. The pleasurable scenes of youth, the objects on which our affections had been early placed, the companions and friends with whom we had spent many happy days, even the places and the occupations to which we have been long accustomed, but to which we have now bidden farewell, can hardly ever be recalled, without softening, nor sometimes without piercing the heart. Such sensations, to which few, if any, of my hearers are wholly strangers, I now mention, as affording a strong proof of that vanity of the human state, which is so often represented in the sacred writings: And vain indeed must that state be, where shades of grief tinge the recollection of its brightest scenes. But, at the same time, though it

be very proper that such meditations should some. times enter the mind, yet on them I advise not the gentle and tender heart to dwell too long. They are apt to produce a fruitless melancholy; to deject, without making much improvement; to thicken the gloom which already hangs over human life, without furnishing proportionable assistance to virtue.

Let me advise you rather to recall to view such parts of former conduct, if any such there be, as afford in the remembrance a rational satisfaction. And what parts of conduct are these ? Are they the pursuits of sensual pleasure, the riots of jollity, or the displays of show and vanity? No: I appeal to your hearts, my friends, if what you recollect with most pleasure be not the innocent, the virtuous, the honourable parts of your past life; when you were employed in cultivating your minds, and improving them with useful knowledge; when, by regular application and persevering labour you were laying the foundation of future reputation and advancement; when you were occupied in discharging with fidelity the duties of your station, and acquiring the esteem of the worthy and the good; when, in some trying situation, you were enabled to act your part with firmness and honour; or had seized the happy opportunity of assisting the deserving, of relieving the distressed, and bringing down upon your heads the blessings of those that were ready to perish. — These, these are the parts of former life which are recalled with most satisfaction ! On them alone, no heaviness of heart attends. You enjoy them as a treasure which is now stored up, and put beyond all danger of being lost. These cheer the hours of sadness, lighten the burden of old age, and, through the mor

[blocks in formation]

tifying remembrance of much of the past, dart a ray of light and joy. - From the review of these, and the comparison of them with the deceitful pleasures of sin, let us learn how to form our estimate of happiness. Let us learn what is true, what is false, in human pleasures; and from experience of the past, judge of the quarter to which we must in future turn, if we would lay a foundation for permanent satisfaction. After having thus reviewed the former of our life, let us consider,

years

II. WHAT attention is due to that period of age in which we are at present placed. Here lies the immediate and principal object of our concern: For, the recollection of the past is only as far of moment as it acts upon

the

present. The past, to us, now, is little; the future, as yet, is nothing. Between these two great gulphs of time subsists the present, as an isthmus or bridge, along which we are all passing. With hasty and inconsiderate steps let us not pass along it; but remember well, how much depends upon our holding a steady and properly conducted

Whatsoever thine hand findeth to do, do it now with all thy might ; for now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation. Many directions might be given for the wise and religious improvement of the present; a few of which only I shall hint.

Let us begin with excluding those superfluous avocations which unprofitably consume it. Life is short; much that is of real importance remains to be done. If we suffer the present time to be wasted either in absolute idleness or in frivolous employments, it will hereafter call for vengeance against us. Removing, therefore, what is merely superfluous, let

Course.

« PreviousContinue »