« PreviousContinue »
is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” The way to happiness does not lie in attempting to bring our circumstances up to our minds, but our minds down to our circumstances. Many birds wear a finer coat than the lark, nor is there any that dwells in a lowlier home ; yet which of the feathered songsters soars so high, or sings so merrily, or teaches man so well how to leave the day's cares and labors for the bosom of his family, as when, neither envying the peacock his splendid plumage, nor the proud eagle her lofty realm, it drops singing into its grassy nest, to caress its young, and with its wings to shield them from the cold dews of night? To indulge an unsanctified and insatiable ambition, to attempt to bring our circumstances up to our minds, is to fill a sieve with water, or the grave with dead, or the sea with rivers. The passions that in such a case seek gratification, are like that wretched drunkard's thirst ; they burn the fiercer for indulgence, and crave for more the more they get. It is often difficult, I grant, to bring our minds down to our circumstances, but he attempts not a difficult, but an impossible thing, who attempts to bring his circumstances up to the height of his ambition. Nature, says the old adage, is contented with little, grace with less, lust with nothing. And ours be the happiness of him who, content with less than little, pleased with whatever pleases the Father, careful for nothing, thankful for anything, prayerful in everything, can Say with Paul, I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Before directing your attention to the fullness that is in Christ, let me embrace the opportunity which the expression offers of exhorting you. .
I. To be pleased with whatever pleases God.
I have read of an Italian who had learned that difficult lesson so well, that all who witnessed his magnanimity, under the most adverse fortunes, stood astonished. He recalled to men's minds the grand saying of an old heathen, that a good man struggling with adversity was a sight for the gods to look at. It was not that his natural temper was too sweet to be soured or too phlegmatic to be moved ; nor was it that, like a coldblooded animal, he did not feel the iron when it entered his soul. No. He felt it keenly, and bore it bravely; and the secret of his tranquil, heroic patience lay in these four things. First, he said, I look within me, then without me, afterwards beneath me, and last of all, I look above me.
First, he looked within him ; and what saw he there? Corruption, guilt, so much unworthiness, as led him to conclude that he deserved no good thing at the hand of God; and that, therefore, whatever blessings his calamities had left to him, were more than he had any right to expect. We write our blessings on the water, but our afflictions on the rock. Those are forgot, these are remembered ; and yet, if we turn away our eyes from our trials, and look back on our lives and in upon our hearts, how would that check each rising rebellious murmur 2 Gratitude would temper our grief; and though we might continue to mourn, we should say with David, I will sing of mercy and judgment?
Next, he looked without him, and there he saw, what you all may see, many more severely tried than himself; thousands in point of merit not more unworthy, yet in point of circumstances much more unhappy.
Would it not help to clear away the vapours, and rebuke the discontent, and improve the temper of some grumblers among us, were they now and then to visit the sad abodes of wretchedness and poverty ? It would certainly teach them how thankful they ought to be that they are not as many are, and how thankful many would be to be as they are. Have I not seen many a poor wretch in this world who would gladly change places with those of you that are most weary of your burdens, and almost weary of your life. How has it reconciled us to the discomforts of a cold, blustering storm on land, to think of the poor seamen who were tossing on the deep in dread of shipwreck, or hanging on by the shrouds, or whelmed in the ocean, their last prayer washed from their lips, their cries for help drowned in the roar of breakers. When we lay stretched on a bed of sickness, with kind faces around us, angels, as it were, ministering to our wants, it has helped to reconcile us to the weary pillow to think of them who, far from home, lay bleeding on the battlefield, none near to raise their drooping head, or to answer their dying cry of “water, water l’ And when death, unwelcome visitor, entered our home, ab the one coffin felt less heavy, when, looking on sweet ones left, we thought of dwellings that the spoiler had, or had all but desolated. Such a thought has calmed the troubled breast, and said to murmuring passions, Peace, be still. It is with its potent spell that in this humble cottage a pious peasant approaches a mother who, wringing her hands, hangs in wild, frantic, terrible grief, over the body of her dead babe; by the wildness of her passion, as a vehement wind beats down the sea, calming the grief of others. Laying her hand kindly on her shoulder, she says, with eyes full of tears, and a voice trembling with emotion, “Hush, Mary; you have but one pair of empty little shoes to look on. Be you thankful. I have six of them.” And, when most severely tried, and all God's billows seem to be going over us, besides feeling that we are visited with far less than our iniquities deserve, we have only to look abroad to see that our afflictions are fewer than those which many others suffer. He looked next beneath him. And there, to his fancy's eye, lay his grave; a green grassy mound, six feet of earth ! How foolish it seemed to repine over the loss of broad lands, when so small a portion of this earth was all he soon would need, and all, though stretched out at his full length, he could occupy That man blunts the keen edge of misfortune, who meets its stroke with the thought, that when it does its worst, it cannot strip him so bare as death shall the most prosperous and envied of men? Adversity, at the worst, but takes time by the forelock, and, by a few brief years, anticipates the hand of the greatest spoiler, inexorable death. We came into the world naked infants, and we shall go out of it as naked. We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The men of fortune shall not carry away a penny of their gains, nor the men of fame so much as one leaf of their laurel crowns. When life's play in all its acts is over, and the curtain drops, and the lights are put out, and the stage is deserted, its kings, queens, priests, soldiers, peasants, statesmen, dropping their distinctive characters, must all return to one common level. There is one event to all. And let us remember that it shall be with us as with those actors on the stage whom men applaud, not because of the parts they play, but of the way in which they play them. Well done from God, well done from Christ, well done from the tongues of ten thousand angels, shall crown the life of a good servant, but not the life of a bad sovereign. God has no respect for persons, but will reward every man, not according to his place, but according to the way he filled it. He shall reward every man according to his work. He looked last of all above him, and saw his home in heaven. And how should that glorious prospect sustain us under our severest trials' To that refuge our thoughts may always fly; and as there is no pit so deep but it has that opening over head, though it may be dark below and all around, it is always bright above us. Let the world reel and shake, let banks break, let sudden changes whelm affluence into the lowest depths of poverty, let convulsion succeed convulsion, till the stateliest fabrics and firmest fortunes are hurled into the dust, how blessed at such a time to know that heaven is sure. No tempests sweep its sea of glass. Up there it is calm when it is stormy here ; up there it is clear when it is cloudy here; up there it is day when it is darkness here; nor are those realms of bliss any more affected by the events of earth, than are the stars of the firmament by the earthquakes that shake our world, or the thunders that shake our skies. By considerations like these we should strengthen our minds, and give them that firmness of texture which shall preserve us from devouring cares, as solid, closegrained oak is preserved from those insects that eat out the heart of softer woods. Let God give his blessing to such thoughts, and they will enable a Chris. tian man to meet evil as the mountain crag looks out on the approaching storm. Yet the Italian's explanation of his equanimity under