« PreviousContinue »
they are to mix in all the stir and bustle of the world; where all the human powers are brought forth into full exercise; where all that is conceived to be important in human affairs is incessantly going on around them. The time of youth was the preparation for future action. In old age our active part is supposed to be finished, and rest is permitted. Middle age is the season when we are expected to display the fruits which education had prepared and ripened. In this world, all of us were formed to be assistants to one another. The wants of society call for every man's labour, and require various departments to be filled up. They require that some be appointed to rule, and others to obey ; some to defend the society from danger, others to maintain its internal order and peace; some to provide the conveniences of life, others to promote the improvement of the mind; many to work; others to contrive and direct. In short, within the sphere of society there is employment for every one; and in the course of these employments, many, a moral duty is to be performed; many a religious grace to be exercised. No one is permitted to be a mere blank in the world. No rank, nor station, no dignity of birth, nor extent of possessions, exempt any man from contributing his share to public utility and good. This is the precept of God. This is the voice of nature. This is the just demand of the human race upon one another.
One of the first questions, therefore, which every man who is in the vigour of his age should put to himself is, “What am I doing in this world ? What “ have I yet done, whereby I may glorify God, and “ be useful to my fellows? Do I properly fill up the place which belongs to my rank and station? Will
any memorial remain of my having existed on the “ earth ? or are my days passing fruitless away, now “ when I might be of some importance in the system “ of human affairs ?” — Let not any man imagine that he is of no importance, and has, upon that account, a privilege to trifle with his days at pleasure. Talents have been given to all; to some ten; to others five ; to others two. Occupy with these* till I come, is the command of the great Master to all. Where superiour abilities are possessed, or distin- . guished advantages of fortune are enjoyed, a wider range is afforded for useful exertion, and the world is entitled to expect it. But among those who fill up the inferiour departments of society, though the sphere of usefulness be more contracted, no one is left entirely insignificant. Let us remember, that in all stations and conditions, the important relations take place, of masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and friends, citizens and subjects. The discharge of the duties arising from those various relations, forms a great portion of the work assigned to the middle age of man. Though the part we have to act may be confined within a humble line, yet if it be honourably acted, it will be always found to carry its own reward.
In fine, industry, in all its virtuous forms, ought to inspirit and invigorate manhood. This will add to it both satisfaction and dignity; will make the current of our years, as they roll, flow along in a clear and equable stream, without the putrid stagnation of sloth and idleness. Idleness is the great cor
* Luke, xix. 13.
rupter of youth; and the bane and dishonour of mid
He who, in the prime of life, finds time to hang heavy on his hands, may with much reason suspect, that he has not consulted the duties which the consideration of his age imposed upon him; assuredly he has not consulted his own happiness. But, amidst all the bustle of the world, let us not forget,
In this pas
III. To guard with vigilance against the peculiar dangers which attend the period of middle life. It is much to be regretted, that in the present state of things there is no period of man's age in which his virtue is not exposed to perils. Pleasure lays its snares for youth ; and after the season of youthful follies is past, other temptations, no less formidable to virtue, presently arise. The love of pleasure is succeeded by the passion for interest. sion the whole mind is too often absorbed; and the change thereby induced on the character is of no amiable kind. Amidst the excesses of youth virtuous affections often remain. The attachments of friendship, the love of honour, and the warmth of sensibility, give a degree of lustre to the character, and cover many a failing. But interest, when it is become the ruling principle, both debases the mind and hardens the heart. It deadens the feeling of every thing that is sublime or refined. It contracts the affections within a narrow circle; and extinguishes all those sparks of generosity and tenderness which once glowed in the breast.
In proportion as worldly pursuits multiply and competitions rise, ambition, jealousy, and envy, combine with interest to excite bad passions, and to
At first, per
increase the corruption of the heart. haps, it was a man's intention to advance himself in the world by none but fair and laudable methods. He retained for some time an aversion to whatever appeared dishonourable. But here, he is encountered by the violence of an enemy. There, he is supplanted by the address of a rival. The pride of a superiour insults him. The ingratitude of a friend provokes him. Animosities ruffle his temper. Suspicions poison his mind. He finds, or imagines that he finds, the artful and designing surrounding him on every hand. He views corruption and iniquity prevailing; the modest neglected; the forward and the crafty rising to distinction. Too easily, from the example of others, he learns that mystery of vice, called the way of the world. What he has learned he fancies necessary to practise for his own defence; and of course assumes that supple and versatile character, which he observes to be frequent, and which often has appeared to him successful.
To these, and many more dangers of the same kind, is the man exposed who is deeply engaged in active life. No small degree of firmness in religious principle, and of constancy in virtue, is requisite, in order to prevent his being assimilated to the spirit of the world, and carried away by the multitude of evil doers. Let him, therefore, call to mind, those principles which ought to fortify him against such temptations to vice. Let him often recollect that, whatever his station in life may be, he is a man; he is a Christian. These are the chief characters which he has to support; characters superiour far, if they be supported with dignity, to any of the titles with which courts can decorate him ; superiour to all that
can be acquired in the strife of a busy world. Let him think that though it may be desirable to increase his opulence, or to advance his rank, yet what he ought to hold much more sacred is, to maintain his integrity and honour. If these be forfeited, wealth or station will have few charms left. They will not be able to protect him long from sinking into contempt in the eye of an observing world. Even to his own eye he will at last appear base and wretched. Let not the affairs of the world entirely engross his time and thoughts. From that contagious air which he breathes in the midst of it, let him sometimes retreat into the salutary shade consecrated to devotion and to wisdom. There, conversing seriously with his own soul, and looking up to the Father of spirits, let him study to calm those unquiet passions, and to rectify those internal disorders, which intercourse with the world had excited and increased. In order to render this medicine of the mind more effectual, it will be highly proper,
IV. That, as we advance in the course of years, we often attend to the lapse of time and life, and to the revolutions which these are ever affecting. In this meditation, one of the first reflections which should occur is, how much we owe to that God who hath hitherto helped us; who hath brought us on so far in life; hath guided us through the slippery paths of youth, and now enables us to flourish in the strength of manhood. Look back, my friends, to those who started along with yourselves in the race of life. Think how many of them have fallen around you. Observe how many blank spaces you can number in the catalogue of those who were once