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the common distresses of life place us all on a level, and render the high and the low, the rich and the poor, companions in misfortune and mortality, we shall learn to set no man at nought, and least of any our afflicted brother. Prejudices will be extinguished, and benevolence opened and enlarged, when looking around on the multitude of men, we consider them as a band of fellow-travellers in the valley of woe, where it ought to be the office of every one to alleviate, as much as possible, the common burden. While the vain and the licentious are revelling in the midst of extravagance and riot, how little do they think of those scenes of sore distress which are going on at that moment throughout the world; multitudes struggling for a poor subsistence to support the wife and the children whom they love, and who look up to them with eager eyes for that bread which they can hardly procure; multitudes groaning under sickness in desolate cottages, untended and unmourned; many, apparently in a better situation of life, pining away in secret with concealed griefs; families weeping over the beloved friends whom they have lost, or, in all the bitterness of anguish, bidding those who are just expiring the last adieu.
May we not appeal to the heart of every good man, nay almost to the heart of every man who has not divested himself of his natural feelings, whether the admission of such views of human life might not, sometimes at least, furnish a more worthy employment to the mind, than that mirth of fools which Solomon compares to the crackling of thorns under a pot*; the transient burst of unmeaning joy; the
* Eccles. vii. 6.
empty explosion of giddiness and levity? sallies of jollity in the house of feasting are often forced from a troubled mind; like flashes from the black cloud, which, after a momentary effulgence, are succeeded by thicker darkness. Whereas compassionate affections, even at the time when they draw tears from our eyes for human misery, convey satisfaction to the heart. The gracious appointment of Heaven has ordained that, sympathetic pains should always be accompanied with a certain degree of pleasure; on purpose that we might be more interested in the case of the distressed, and that by this mysterious bond, man might be linked closer to man. The inward satisfaction which belongs to the compassionate affections is at the same time heightened by the approbation which they receive from our reason; and by the consciousness which they afford us of feeling what men and Christians ought to feel.
In the fourth place, The disposition recommended in the text, not only improves us in piety and humanity, but likewise assists us in self-government, and the due moderation of our desires. The house of mourning is the school of temperance and sobriety. Every wise man will find it for his interest to enter into it sometimes of his own accord, lest otherwise he be compelled to take up his dwelling there. Seasonable interruptions of our pleasures are necessary to their prolongation. For, continued scenes of luxury and indulgence hasten to a melancholy issue. The house of feasting too often becomes an avenue to the house of mourning. Short, to the licentious, is the interval between them; and speedy the transition from the one to the other.
But supposing that, by prudent management, the men of pleasure could avoid the pernicious effects. which intemperance and dissoluteness are likely to produce on their health or their fortune, can they also prevent those disorders which such habits will introduce into their minds? Can they escape that wrath of the Almighty, which will infallibly pursue them for their sins both here and hereafter? For whence, so much as from the unchecked pursuit of pleasure, do all those crimes arise which stain the character of men with the deepest guilt, and expose them to the severest judgments of Heaven? Whence, then, is the corrective of those mischiefs to be sought, but from such discipline as shall moderate that intemperate admiration of the world which gave rise to the evil? By repairing sometimes to the house of mourning, you would chasten the looseness of fancy, abate the eagerness of passion, and afford scope to reason for exerting her restraining powers. You would behold this world stripped of its false colours, and reduced to its proper level. Many an important instruction you would receive from the humiliation of the proud, the mortification of the vain, and the sufferings of the voluptuous, which you would see exemplified before you in the chambers of sorrow, of sickness, and of death. You would then be taught to rejoice as though you rejoiced not, and to weep as though you weeped not; that is, neither in joy and in grief, to run to excess; but to use this world so as not to abuse it; contemplating the fashion thereof as passing away.
Moreover you would there learn the important lesson of suiting your mind, beforehand, to what you had reason to expect from the world; a lesson too
seldom studied by mankind, and to the neglect of which, much of their misery, and much of their guilt, is to be charged. By turning away their eyes from the dark side of life, by looking at the world only in one light, and that a flattering one, they form their measures on a false plan, and are necessarily deceived and betrayed. Hence, the vexation of succeeding disappointment and blasted hope. Hence, their criminal impatience of life, and their bitter accusations of God and man; when, in truth, they have reason to accuse only their own folly.· -Thou who wouldst act like a wise man, and build thy house on the rock, and not on the sand, contemplate human life not only in the sunshine, but in the shade. Frequent the house of mourning, as well as the house of mirth. Study the nature of that state in which thou art placed; and balance its joys with its sorrows. Thou seest that the cup which is held forth to the whole human race is mixed. Of its bitter ingredients, expect that thou art to drink thy portion. Thou seest the storm hovering every where in the clouds around thee. Be not surprised if on thy head it shall break. Lower, therefore, thy sails. Dismiss thy florid hopes; and come forth prepared either to act or to suffer, according as Heaven shall decree. Thus shalt thou be excited to take the properest measures for defence, by endeavouring to secure an interest in his favour, who, in the time of trouble, can hide thee in his pavilion. Thy mind shall adjust itself to follow the order of his Providence. Thou shalt be enabled, with equanimity and steadiness, to hold thy course through life.
In the fifth place, By accustoming ourselves to such serious views of life, our excessive fondness for life itself will be moderated, and our minds gradually formed to wish and to long for a better world. If we know that our continuance here is to be short, and that we are intended by our Maker for a more lasting state, and for employments of a nature altogether different from those which now occupy the busy, or amuse the vain, we must surely be convinced that it is of the highest consequence to prepare ourselves for so important a change. This view of our duty is frequently held up to us in the sacred writings; and hence religion becomes, though not a morose, yet a grave and solemn principle, calling off the attention of men from light pursuits to those which are of eternal moment. What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? if he shall lead a life of thoughtless mirth on earth, and exclude himself from eternal felicity in heaven? Worldly affec tion and sensual pleasure depress all our higher powers. They form an unnatural union between the human soul and this earth, which was only designed for its temporary abode. They attach it too strongly to objects from which it must shortly part. They alienate its desires from God and heaven, and deject it with slavish and unmanly fears of death. Whereas, by the discipline of religious seriousness, it is gradually loosened from the fetters of sense. Assisted to discover the vanity of this world, it rises above it; and, in the hours of sober thought, cultivates connection with those divine and immortal objects among which it is designed to dwell.