Page images

happy effects are often produced by sickness; and to the natural and moral disorders which prevail, we owe the production and the growth of the highest excellences of our nature. In a word, an attentive consideration of what are termed the evils of life, enables us to discover so much of the truest benevolence in many of them, as may well induce us to bear with resignation those which we shall not fully comprehend, until it pleases our Heavenly Father to give us clearer light and stronger vision.




OF all that come into the world, it has been cal

culated that one half go out of it again in the short space of the first seventeen years, and of the other half, it is surely a very small proportion, can we say a hundredth part, that reach the limit assigned by the royal psalmist. Threescore and ten is the patriarchal age of our insect race: him who has attained to it we pronounce full of days, and when he sinks into the tomb, we say of him, that he falls like

shock of corn in its season,” ripe for the sickle of the reaper. A life of threescore and ten, or fourscore years, compared with the common life of men, is certainly long; yet what does the psalmist say, “ It is soon cut off,” he exclaims, “and we fly away.” “ Thou carriest them away as with a flood,


[ocr errors]

they are as a sleep; in the morning they are like grass which groweth up: in the morning it flourisheth and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth. We spend our years as a tale that is told.” It is true, when we compare the longest duration of man with that of Him who “ is from everlasting to everlasting,” in whose sight“ a thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night,” we cannot but feel that we are short-lived, transient, perishable creatures, flowers fading before evening,-as billows rising and falling upon the ocean,

-as bubbles appearing and disappearing on the stream,- -as the meteor that glances across the heaven,-as the thin cloud that fleets before the storm. Short indeed, yea, momentary is our fleeting day, compared with the everlasting now of God; and so far as it may contribute to humble us in the dust before Him, and to teach us that we are insects and atoms, vanity and nothing in the comparison, so far will it be useful to dwell upon this part of the subject.

But there is another view, perhaps of still greater practical importance, in which we may regard our existence, even when most protracted, as short. Life is short, when considered in connection with the number, the magnitude, and the importance of the duties that are to be transacted in it. Consider what we have to do in this fleeting moment of time. We have to serve God,- -we have to benefit our fellow creatures,—we have to guide and govern ourselves,--we have, in short, to prepare for eternity. And surely this is no trifling task. Surely it is a business which may profitably employ every moment of the longest life which God may be pleased to grant.

That life is uncertain, is a truth which needs no long or laboured illustration. Its meaning is clear and simple, and the melancholy proofs by which its certainty is established, daily pass before our eyes. Even now, alas ! how many of them crowd our memories with sad thoughts and mournful images ! Even now, the beloved friends, to whose sweet and instructive converse we had fondly looked forward, as the delight of future years, the source of many joys, and the solace of many sorrows, have taught us, in the painful parting hour, the mournful lesson, that terrestrial hope is but the baseless fabric of a vision. They have passed away suddenly, and vanished as shadows from our view : our eyes were upon them, and they are not. Unwilling to believe, we look around for them on every side, but in vain ; —their favourite haunts are peopled only with ideal images ;—the places that knew them but a few hours since, know them no more ;—they have left us to sorrow and ourselves,—and all that we can do, is to look up to God for comfort in the hour of bereavement, and to improve their departure, by mournful reflections on the uncertainty of human life, and on the frail and perishable nature of human happiness. Can proofs be wanting that life is uncertain ! Surely the assertion will not be made. Suppose that a year since, we had met to determine, or rather conjecture of which of our associates the coming year would probably deprive us ; think you that we should have

made the election that God has made? Think you that we should have marked out so noble a prey as he has marked out for himself? Oh, no! our conjectures would doubtless have been altogether fallacious, our selection entirely wrong. We should have assigned to the king of terrors some, perhaps, whom he has not taken, and held back from him, probably, almost all whom he has. Little should we have expected to find, amongst the marks of more than one of his victims, vigorous youth, increasing knowledge, expanding virtue, growing usefulness, rising reputation, fair opening prospects of private, social, and domestic happiness. No! the gloomy monarch does not consult us. He makes his own choice; and we know, too well, that he often crops the fairest flower, and seizes on the pearl of finest water:

As death upon his hand turns o'er

The various gems the world displays,
He seizes oft to swell his store

The brightest jewel he surveys.”





EATH is, in almost all circumstances, an awful

and distressing object. The severe sufferings which frequently precede it, the entire change which it produces in our situation, the expectation that it will place us in the more immediate presence of the holiness and majesty of God, joined with that consciousness of imperfection and of error which the very best of men must feel-generally mingle some painful apprehensions with the purest Christian resignation, and render a manly and becoming death, not a scene of misplaced exultation, but of calm and dignified composure. It has been remarked indeed by a great writer, that “ There is no passion in the mind of man, but it mates and masters the fear of death ; that revenge triumphs in it; that love slights it; that grief flies to it.”* Nor is this surprising ; since it is the nature of violent passion entirely to occupy the thoughts, and to exclude every object but itself. In the absence of any high excitement of the feelings, and where life is estimated at all its worth, and is surrounded with all its charms, we have likewise numerous and animating examples of a cool and noble sense of honour and of duty rising superior to the dread of death. Yet if we admire such conduct as an indication of firmness and dignity of mind, we acknowledge death to be an object which may justly inspire terror. When the victory is glorious, the enemy must have been formidable. But they are not merely selfish terrors that hang round this last enemy of man. It separates us from those whose happiness is dearer to us than our own

- from those who may be looking up to us for instruction, for counsel, for protection, for support. To be insensible of what they must suffer, would not

* Bacon's Essays.

« PreviousContinue »