Page images
PDF
EPUB

that our external situation frequently operates powerfully on our moral character; and by consequence that it is strictly connected, not only with our temporal welfare, but with our everlasting happiness or misery. He who might have passed unblamed, and upright, through certain walks of life, by unhappily choosing a road where he meets with temptations too strong for his virtue, precipitates himself into shame here, and into endless ruin hereafter. Yet how often is the determination of this most important article left to the chance of accidental connections, or submitted to the option of youthful fancy and humour ? When it is made the subject of serious deliberation, how seldom have they on whom the decision of it depends, any further view than so to dispose of one who is coming out into life, as that he may the soonest become rich, or, as it is expressed, make his way to most advantage in the world? Are there no other objects than this to be attended to, in fixing the plan of life? Are there no more sacred and important interests which deserve to be consulted? You would not willingly place one whose welfare you studied in a situation for which you were convinced that his abilities were unequal. These, therefore, you examine with care; and on them you rest the ground of your decision. decision. Be

Be persuaded that not abilities merely, but the turn of the temper, and the heart, require to be examined with equal attention in forming the plan of future establishment. Every one has some peculiar weakness, some predominant passion, which exposes him to temptations of one kind more than of another. Early this may be discerned to shoot; and from its first rising its future growth may be inferred. Anticipate its progress.

Consider

how it is likely to be affected by succeeding occurrences in life. If you bring one whom you are rearing up into a situation where all the surrounding circumstances shall cherish and mature this fatal principle in his nature, you become, in a great measure, answerable for the consequences that follow. In vain you trust to his abilities and powers. Vice and corruption, when they have tainted the heart, are sufficient to overset the greatest abilities. Nay, too frequently they turn them against the possessor ; and render them the instruments of his more speedy ruin.

In the third place, We learn from the history which has been illustrated never to judge of true happiness, merely from the degree of men's advancement in the world. Always betrayed by appearances, the multitude are caught by nothing so much as by the show and pomp of life. They think every one blest, who is raised far above others in rank. From their earliest years they are taught to fix their views upon worldly elevation, as the ultimate object of their aims; and of all the sources of error in conduct, this is the most general. - Hazael, on the throne of Syria, would, doubtless, be more envied, and esteemed by the multitude a far happier man, than when, yet a subject, he was employed by Benhadad to carry his message to Elisha. Yet, O Hazael! how much better had it been for thee never to have known the name or honour of a king, than to have purchased it at the expence of so much guilt ; forfeiting thy first and best character; rushing into crimes which were once thine abhorrence; and becoming a traitor to the native sentiments and dictates

of thy heart! How fatal to thy repose proved that coveted purple, which was drenched by thee in so much innocent blood! How much more cheerful were thy days, and how much calmer thy nights, in the former periods of thy life, than when, placed on a throne, thy ears were invaded by day with the cries of the miserable whom thou hadst ruined; and thy slumbers broken by night with the shocking remembrance of thy cruelties and crimes ? Never let us judge by the outside of things; nor conclude a man to be happy, solely because he is encompassed with wealth or grandeur. Much misery often lurks where it is little suspected by the world. The material enquiries respecting felicity are, not what a man's external condition is, but with what disposition of mind he bears it; whether he be corrupted or improved by it; whether he conducts himself so as to be acceptable to God, and approved of by good men. For these are the circumstances which make the real and important distinctions among the conditions of men. The effects of these are to last for ever, when all worldly distinctions shall be forgotten.

In the fourth place, From all that has been said, we should learn never to be immoderately anxious about our external situation, but to submit our lot with cheerfulness to the disposal of Heaven. To make the best and most prudent arrangements which we can, respecting our condition in life, is matter of high duty. But let us remember that all the plans which we form are precarious and uncertain. After the utmost precautions taken by human wisdom, no man can foresee the hidden dangers which may await him in that path of life on which

he has pitched. Providence chooses for us much more wisely than we can choose for ourselves; and, from circumstances that appeared at first most unpromising and adverse, often brings forth in the issue both temporal and spiritual felicity.

IVho knoweth what is good for a man in this life, all the days of his vain life, which he spendeth as a shadow ? When we consider the darkness of our present state, the imbecility of human nature, and the doubtful and ambiguous value of all that we call prosperity, the exhortation of the Psalmist comes home with great force on every reflecting mind, Commit thy way unto the Lord. * Form thy measures with prudence; but divest thyself of anxiety about the issue. Instead of seeking to order thine own lot, acquiesce in the appointment of Heaven, and follow without hesitation the call of Providence, and of duty. In whatever situation of life God shall place thee, look up devoutly to Him for grace and assistance; and study to act the part assigned thee with a faithful and upright heart. Thus shalt thou have peace within thyself, while thy course is going on; and when it draws towards a close, with satisfaction thou shalt review thy conduct. For, after all the toils and labours of life, and all the vain struggles which we maintain for pre-eminence and distinction, we shall find at the conclusion of the whole scene, that to fear God and keep his commandments is the whole duty of man.

* Psalm xxxvii. 5.

SERMON XXVIII. .

On the BENEFITS to be derived from the House of

MOURNING.

ECCLESIASTES, vii. 2, 3, 4.

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go

to the house of feasting ; for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter! for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning ; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

MANY of the maxims contained in this book of

Ecclesiastes will appear strange sayings to the men of the world. But when they reflect on the character of him who delivers them, they cannot but admit that his tenets deserve a serious and attentive examination. For, they are not the doctrines of a pedant, who, from an obscure retirement, declaims against pleasures which he never knew. They are not the invectives of a disappointed man, who takes revenge upon the world, by satirising those enjoyments which he sought in vain to obtain. They are the conclusions of a great and prosperous prince, who had once given full scope to his desires; who was thoroughly acquainted with life in its most flat.

« PreviousContinue »