« PreviousContinue »
we could place them at some greater distance by excluding them from our thoughts. This indeed is the refuge of too many; but it is the refuge of fools, who aggravate thereby the terrors they must encounter. For he that cometh, shall come, and will not tarry. To his coming, let us look with a steady eye; and as life advances through its progressive stages, prepare for its close, and for appearing before Him who made us.
Thus I have endeavoured to point out the reflections proper to be made, when the question is put to any of us, How old art thou ? I have shown with what eye we should review the past years of our life; in what light we should consider the present ; and with what dispositions look forward to the future : In order that such a question may always leave some serious impression behind it; and may dispose us so to number the years of our life, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
On the Duties belonging to MIDDLE AGE.
1 CORINTHIANS, xiii. 11.
When I became a man, I put away childish things.
To every thing, says the wise man, there is a season;
and a time to every purpose under heaven. * As there are duties which belong to particular situations of fortune, so there are duties also which result from particular periods of human life. In every period of it, indeed, that comprehensive rule takes place, Fear God and keep his commandments ; for this is the whole duty of man. Piety to God, and charity to men, are incumbent upon persons of every age, as soon as they can think and act. Yet these virtues, in different stages of life, assume different forms; and when they appear in that form which is most suited to our age, they appear with peculiar gracefulness; they give propriety to conduct, and add dignity to character. In former discourses I have treated of the virtues which adorn youth, and of the duties which especially belong to old age. The circle of those duties which respect middle age is indeed much larger. As that is the busy period in the life of man, it includes in effect the whole compass of religion, and therefore cannot have its peculiar character so definitely marked and ascertained. At the same time, during those years wherein one is sensible that he has advanced beyond the confines of youth, but has not yet passed into the region of old age, there are several things which reflection on that portion of human life suggests, or at least ought to suggest, to the mind. Inconsiderate must he be, who, in his gradual progress throughout middle age, pauses not, at times, to think how far he is now receding from youth; how near he draws to the borders of declining age; what part it is now incumbent on him to act; what duties both God and the world have a title to expect from him. To these I am at present to call your attention; as what materially concern the greatest part of those who are now my hearers.
* Eccles. iii. 1.
+ Eccles. xii. 1S. | See vol. i. Sermons 11. and 12.
I. I BEGIN with observing, that the first duty of those who are become men is, as the text expresses it, to put away childish things. The season of youthful levities, follies, and passions, is now over. These have had their reign ; a reign perhaps too long; and to which a termination is certainly proper at last. Much indulgence is due to youth. Many things admit of excuse then, which afterwards become unpardonable. Some things may even be graceful in youth, which, if not criminal, are at least ridiculous in persons of maturer years. It is a great trial of wisdom, to make our retreat from youth with propriety ; to assume the character of inanhood, without exposing ourselves to reproach, by an unseasonable remainder of juvenility on the one hand, or by precise and disgusting formality on the other. Nature has placed certain boundaries, by which she discriminates the
pleasures, actions, and employments that are suited to the different stages of human life. It becomes us neither to overleap those boundaries by a transition too hasty and violent; nor to hover too long on one side of the limit, when nature calls us to pass over to the other.
There are particularly two things in which middle age should preserve its distinction and separation from youth; these are levities of behaviour and intemperate indulgence of pleasure. The gay spirits of the young often prompt an inconsiderate degree of levity, sometimes amusing, sometimes offensive; but for which, though betraying them occasionally into serious dangers, their want of experience may plead excuse. A more composed and manly behaviour is expected in riper years. The affectation of youthful vanities degrades the dignity of manhood ; even renders its manners less agreeable; and by awkward attempts to please, produces contempt. Cheerfulness is becoming in every age. But the proper cheerfulness of a man is as different from the levity of the boy, as the flight of the eagle is from the fluttering of a sparrow in the air.
As all unseasonable returns to the levity of youth ought to be laid aside - an admonition which equally belongs to both the sexes, — still more are we to guard against those intemperate indulgences of pleasure, to which the young are unhappily prone. From those we cannot too soon retreat. They open the path to ruin, in every period of our days. As long, however, as these excesses are confined to the first stage of life, hope is left, that when this fever of the spirits shall abate, sobriety may gain the ascendant, and wiser counsels have power to influence conduct.
But after the season of youth is past, if its intemperate spirit remain ; if, instead of listening to the calls of honour, and bending attention to the cares and the business of men, the same course of idleness and sensuality continue to be pursued, the case becomes more desperate. A sad presumption arises, that long immaturity is to prevail; and that the pleasures and passions of the youth are to sink and overwhelm the man. Difficult, I confess, it may prove to overcome the attachments which youthful habits had for a long while been forming. Hard, at the beginning, is the task, to impose on our conduct restraints which are altogether unaccustomed and new. But this is a trial which every one must undergo, in entering on new scenes of action, and new periods of life. Let those who are in this situation bethink themselves that all is now at stake. Their character and honour, their future fortune and success in the world, depend, in a great measure, on the steps they take, when first they appear on the stage of active life. The world then looks to them with an observing eye. It studies their behaviour; and interprets all their motions, as presages of the line of future conduct which they mean to hold.
Now, therefore, put away childish things; dismiss
former trifling amusements, and youthful pleasures ; blast not the hopes which your friends are willing to conceive of you. Higher occupations, more serious cares await you. Turn your mind to the steady and vigorous discharge of the part you are called to act. This leads me,
II. To point out the particular duties which open to those who are in the middle period of life. They are now come forward to that field of action where