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On Hopes and DISAPPOINTMENTS.
PROVERBS, X. 28.
The hope of the Righteous shall be gladness; but the
expectation of the Wicked shall perish.
ATTACHMENT to futurity has a remarkable
influence on the operations of the human mind. The present, whatever it be, seldom engages our attention so much as what is to come. Remembrance of the past may sometimes occupy our thoughts; but what for the most part fills them, is the anticipation of the future. The present is apt to be considered as an evanescent scene, just about to pass away; and in the midst of wishes and desires, of hopes and fears, which all respect futurity, we may be said to dwell. As on these the life of man is so much suspended, it becomes a very material part both of wisdom and of duty to attend to any regulations by which they may be properly conducted. For if expectations and hopes on one hand, and fears and alarms on the other, are suffered to arise with groundless precipitancy, and to acquire an undue ascendant, it is evident that they will produce much delusion in conduct, and often will engender much vice and guilt. As there is a hope of the Righteous which shall be gladness, so there is an expectation of the Wicked which shall perish. The anticipations of the former, con
ducted by prudence, and regulated by piety, mislead him not from his duty, and afford him satisfaction in the end. While the expectations of the latter, arising from fantastic imaginary prospects, delude him for a while with vanity, and terminate in misery. It will therefore be an useful subject of meditation, to consider, in a few instances, of what we may, and of what we may not, reasonably expect from the world, when we look forward to what is most likely to happen in the ordinary course of human affairs.
I. We are not to expect the uninterrupted continuance of any measure of health, prosperity, or comfort, which we now enjoy. There is the greater reason for beginning with this admonition, as there is a strong propensity in human nature to imagine that what we at present possess, is always to remain. When no warnings of any approaching change appear, we are all inclined to look forward to futurity with a smile; and to indulge the hope that to-morrow shall be as this day, and even more abundantly. Hence, in the lives of thoughtless men, there breaks forth so much folly and presumption, so much pride and levity, and often so much impiety and contempt of religion. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? Or what profit shall we have, if we pray unto him? Our mountain stands strong ; and shall never be moved.
On the lot of some men Providence is pleased to bestow a longer continuance of prosperity than on that of others. But as the term of that continuance is hidden from us, all flattering and confident expectations are without foundation. At one period or another, it is certain that the calm is to be troubled,
and the dark cloud is to arise; and how soon that period is to come, you cannot tell. In
your health, or your fortune, or among your connections and friends, be assured that some trial awaits you. For human life never stands still for any long time. It is by no means a fixed and steady object, like the mountain or the rock which you always find in the same situation; it is a river continually moving and flowing. Neither is it the still and smooth stream which glides along with the same constant tenor ; but a river which for a time may hold a regular course within its banks till, being interrupted by rocks, it foams into a torrent, or, swoln by foreign currents, it lays waste the neighbouring plains. Amidst such vicissitudes of time and life, who has any title to reckon upon the future ?- To faults, all are subject; to troubles, all are exposed. As that man is the most virtuous who can be charged with the fewest faults, so that life is the happiest which suffers the fewest troubles. To look for entire exemption from them, is to court disappointment.
At the same time, I do not mean to hold it forth as any precept of religion or wisdom, that we ought always to sadden the present hour by dwelling on the thoughts of future disappointment. What is given us, let us cheerfully enjoy, and render thanks to Him who bestows it. Virtue, conjoined with prudence, may reasonably afford the prospect of good days to come; for God giveth to a man that is good in his sight, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy.* Such a prospect therefore he may innocently indulge, if he
preserve always that temperance and moderation, that modesty and humility, which become one who knows that his state is ever in hazard of changing. But I mean to warn those, who, giving way to the elation of giddy hopes, lose the command of themselves, that by this intoxication of mind they are preparing the way for an alteration of state ; they are pushing forward the wheels of advancing change; they are accelerating their own downfall. To them belongs that admonition of the wise man, would they seriously listen to it; If a man live many years, and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many : all that cometh is vanity.*
* Eccles. ii. 6.
II. We are not to expect, from our intercourse with others, all that satisfaction which we fondly wish. What the individual either enjoys or suffers by himself, exhibits only an imperfect view of his condition. In the present state of human affairs, we are all so closely interwoven with one another, that a very material part of our happiness or misery arises from the connections which we have with those who are around us, and the relations in which we stand to them. These, therefore, open a field within which our wishes and expectations find an ample range. One of the first objects of wish to every one is to maintain a proper place and rank in society; not to fall behind his equals; but, rather, if he can, to surpass them, so as to command consideration and respect from his neighbours. This, among the vain and ambitious, is always the favourite aim. With them it arises to immoderate expectations, founded
on their supposed talents and imagined merits. But perhaps, in the hearts of all men, some wish of this nature lurks; some wish not to be overlooked in the crowd, but to attain that degree of distinction which they conceive they might reasonably claim.
With respect to claims of this sort it is to be apprehended, that among persons of all characters and descriptions, many an expectation must perish, and many a disappointment be endured. For such is the power which the sophistry of self-love exercises over us, that almost every one may be assured that he measures himself by a deceitful scale ; that he places the point of his own merit at a higher degree than others will admit that it reaches. All are jealous of the high pretensions of others.
He who suspects a rival in his neighbour, will study every method of bringing him down to what he takes to be his proper level; nay, often of depreciating him below it. Hence the endless mortifications which the vain and self-conceited suffer. Hence the spleen and resentment which is so often breaking forth, disturbing the peace of society, and involving it in crimes and miseries. Were expectations more moderate, they would be more favourably received. Did we more rarely attempt to push ourselves into notice, the world would more readily allow us, nay, sometimes assist us, to come forward. Were we content sometimes to remain in the shade, we would with more advantage come forth into sunshine, and find the brightness interrupted by fewer clouds.
In the closer connections which men form of intimate friendship and domestic life, there is still more reason for due moderation in our expectations and hopes. For the nearer that men approach to each other, the more