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to listen. But this contention which makes us stretch all our faculties in search of something to fill the void, that all past and present enjoyments have left in our hearts, this doth not change the nature of things; all will be vanity in future, as all have been vanity in former times. The thing which hath been, is that which shall be ; and that, which is done, is that which hath been done : and there is no new thing under the sun.
Weigh these words, my brethren, the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. It seems, this is precisely the disposition of mind, which the wise man attacks, a disposition as I said before, common to mankind, and one of the principal causes of our immoderate attachment to life. Let each of us study his own heart, and let us examine whether we know the portrait, that we are now going to try to sketch.
We often declaim on the vanity of the world but our declamations are not unfrequently more intended to indemnify pride, than to express the genuine feelings of a heart disabused. We love to declaim against advantages out of our reach, and we take vengeance on them for not coming within our grasp by exclaiming against them. But such ideas as these, how just soever they may appear, are only superficial. It would be a fatal error indeed to persuade ourselves that we are really undeceived, and consider the world in a true point of light on this account.
A dying man is all taken up with his then present condition. A desire of health occupies all the capacity of his soul: but he does not observe that, should he recover, he would find the same troubles and pains as before, and on account of which he has felt so much uneasiness, and shed so many tears. A man waiting on the coast to go abroad wishes for nothing but a fair wind, and he does not think that he shall find other, and perhaps greater calamities in another climate than those, which compelled him to quit his native soil. This is an image of us all. Our minds are limited, and when an object presents itself to us we consider it only in one point of view, in other lights we are not competent to the examination of it.
Hence the interest we take in some events, in the revolutions of states, the phenomena of na
ture, and the change of seasons ; hence that per* petual desire of change; hence sportive phantoms
incessantly created by our imaginations; hence chimerical projects for ever revolving in our minds, or, as the wise man expresseth it, Eyes nerer satisfied wilh seeing, and ears never filled with hearing. O, saith one, could I get cured of this illness, which renders life a burthen-could I, says another, get free from the company that poisons all my pleasures—could I go, says a third, and settle in a country, where maxims and laws alto. gether different from those under which I livecould I but obtain that place, which would take me out of the obscurity, in which I am buried alive, and render me conspicuous—could I acquire a sufficient fortune to support a certain number of domestics, and to, procure me certain accommodations, then in retirement and silence I would gratify the desire, that alone animates me, of employing my life in a pursuit of wisdom and virtue and happiness ! Poor mortals, will you always run phantoms! No, it is not any of the revolutions you so earnestly desire can alter the vanity essential to human things; with all the advantages which you so earnestly desire, you would find yourself as void, and as discontented as you are now. The thing, which hath been, is that which shall be ; and that, which is done, is that which shall be done : and there is no new thing under the sun. O that it were as easy to imprint these truths on our hearts, as it is to give evidence that they are truths to the judgment !
II. Let us endeavor to admit these truths with all their effects, (and this shall be the second part of our discourse) let us attempt the work, though we have so many reasons to fear a want of success. Let us first examine the destination of man -next let us look into the school of the world then into the experience of Solomon-and lastly, let us review the history of our own lives. These are four barriers against imaginary projects; four proofs, or rather four sources of demonstrations in evidence of the truth of the text. The thing, that hath been, is that which shall be ; and that, which is done, is that which shall be done ; and there is no new thing under the sun.
1. Let us first observe the appointment of man, and let us not form schemes opposite to that of our Creator. When he placed us in this world, he did not intend to confine us to it: but when he formed us capable of happiness, he intended that we should seek it in an economy different from this. Without this principle man is an inexplicable enigma; his faculties and his wishes, his afflictions and his conscience, his life and his death, every thing that concerns man is obscure, and beyond all elucidation.
His faculties are enigmatical. Tell us, what is the end and design of the faculties of man? Why hath he the faculty of knowing » What, is it only to arrange a few words in his memory ? Only to know the sounds or the pictures, to which divers nations of the world have associated their ideas? Is it merely to learn Greek and Hebrew, to collect a chaos of ancient history, to go beyond remote ages, and to discover with some degree of probability what were the habits, the customs and the follies of the first inhabitants of this universe ? Hath man intelligence only for the purpose of racking his brain, and losing himself in a world of abstractions, in order to disentangle a few questions from metaphysical labyrinths, what is the origin of ideas, what are the properties, and what is the nature of spirit ? Glorious object of knowledge from an intelligent being! An object in general more likely to produce scepticism than demonstration of a science properly so called. Let us reason in like manner on the other faculties of mankind.
His desires are problematical. What power can eradicate, what power can moderate his desire to extend and perpetuate his duration? The human heart includes in its wish the past, the present, the · future, yea eternity itself. Explain to us, what proportion there can be between the desires of man and the wealth, which he accumulates, the honors he pursues, the sceptre in his hand, and the crown on his head?
His miseries are enigmatical. This article opens a more ample field of meditation than the former, for the pleasures of mankind are only a point, oply an atorn in comparison of the miseries, which pursue and overtake him. Who can reconcile the doctrine of a good God with that of a miserable man, with the doubts that divide his mind, with the remorse that gnaws his heart, with the uncertainties that torment him, with the catastrophes that envelope him, with the vicissitudes which are always altering his situation, with the false friends who betray him, with pain that consumes him, with indigence that contracts him, with neglect and contempt which mortify him, and with such a number of other inconveniencies and calamities as conspire to imbitter his existence.
His life is a mystery. What part, poor man, what part are you acting in this world ? Who misplaced you thus ?
His death is enigmatical. This is the greatest of all enigmas; four days of life, a life of sixty or an hundred years, is all that this creature called man hath to expect in this world; he disappears almost as soon as he makes his appearance, he is gone in an instant from the cradle to the coffin, his swadling bands are taken off and his shroud is put on.
Lay down the principle, which we have advanced, grant that the great design of the Creator, by placing man ainidst the objects of this present world, was to draw out and extend his desires after another world, and then all these clouds vanish, all these veils are drawn aside, all these enigmas explained, nothing is obscure, nothing is problematical in man.
His faculties are not enigmatical; the faculty of knowing is not confined to such vain science as he can acquire in this world. He is not placed here to acquire knowledge, but virtue, at least he is placed in this world to acquire knowledge only so far as contributes to the acquisition of virtue. If he acquire virtue, he will be admitted into another world, where his utmost desire of knowledge will be gratified.
His desires are not mysterious. When the laws of order require him to check and control his wishes, let him restrain them. When the profession of religion requires it let him deny himself agreeable sensations, and let him patiently suffer the cross, tribulations and persecutions. Let him subdue his