Page images



1 Cor. vii, 29.


THIS concise, but emphatic, and solemn declaration of the faithful preacher Paul to his brethren, remains, as applied to us, equally true; and may lead us to ponder a while upon the obvious, but unheeded truth, that the time of man on earth is short; and suggest the wisdom, therefore, of devoting it to Virtue and Religion.


All History, and all Nature, are a solemn paraphrase on this truth. This World has ever been a World of Graves. Where now are they, who built those vast cities of old, Babylon and Nineveh? Where are they, who reared that Tower, whose top might reach unto heaven? Where are they, who since founded those stupendous piles on the plains of Egypt, that threaten to outbrave time? Their bodies crumbled into dust; their souls gone to Judgment. The Antediluvians, they lived several hundreds of ages; but the close of their story is they died. The wide surface of the earth is hallowed with mortal ashes. The ships of the ocean sail over floating corpses. The miner turns up human bones with his mattock. every town, we note a grave-yard. Each weekly paper has its square for the dead. Our carriages are sometimes turned out of the way by the slowly-coming hearse. Day after day, the tolling bell tells of a passed, or a passing soul.


In the Book of Providence, and the Book of Inspiration, the Ancient of Days warneth us, that the time of man on earth is short; and yet we regard it not. One of the three things never satisfied is the grave. We often seek the living among the dead. Man lieth down, and riseth not, till the heavens be no more; they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not; they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them. Both the seasons, and the reasons, of our deaths, are secret. Each hour has its changes, which we call chances; for we look not beyond the visible effect, to the invisible Cause. When they shall say, Peace and Safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them; they shall not escape in all the plain. To the infant in the cradle, that has just begun to distinguish its mother by her smiles; to the youth, who boasts of the vigour of health, and the pride of strength; to the man of middle life, whose natural energies are yet unabated, but who hath gray hairs here and there upon him, yet knoweth it not; time is but a reprieve from the sentence of death. To the man of feeble knees, and quivering voice, who hath passed his allotted term; time is nothing at all - he is already dying. Surely, every man walketh in a vain show; he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. Go to now, ye that say,

to-day, or to-morrow, we will go into such a city, and continue there a year; and buy, and sell, and get gain; whereas, ye know not what shall be on the morrow. Death, says the proverb, stands behind the back of a young man, but before the face of an old man. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. Each year, God hands to his grim messenger the long black-sealed roll, of those marked out to die. He saith, Go, take that good man away from the evil to come. Go, cut down that aged sinner, who cumbers the ground. Death walks near each of our doors, and overpasses those only, whom the angel of mercy has reprieved for one term longer of

probation. All here are sojourners in a strange land; both the judge, and the prudent; the ancient, and the honourable man; the counsellor, and the eloquent orator. What flattery has ever soothed the dull cold ear of death? Even the paths of glory have led but to the grave. Those who have been worshipped as gods, have died like men, The mounting, and glowing spark of ambition has gone out, and fallen into the heap of common ashes. Our life is in our nostrils. Health and ease are variable as the weather. Danger prowleth at midnight, and pestilence wasteth at noonday. If accident do not cast us out of the world, nature herself soon will. Our shattered bodies will become unfit for the soul to live in. We shall be as a dead man, out of mind. Even to those, who lived the lives of the patriarchs, their years, when they were past, seemed evil and few. Said aged Jacob to the inquiring king of Egypt: The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my pilgrimage been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage. In our times, our lives are dwindled to a shorter span. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. When we reflect on such truths, How low, how little are the proud; how indigent the great.'

[ocr errors]

I have not thus dwelt upon this affecting topic, because it required discussion, or was not universally self-evident to the understanding. But although a truth of infinite moment, it is generally overlooked by a thoughtless world; and demands to be often recalled, and reimpressed upon the heart. It is a consolation, however, that the shortness of life; and especially the deaths of so many infants; with the trials of the good, and the forbearance towards the evil; independent of Revelation, give strong assurance of a retributory world. 20*




If man knoweth not his time, how hazardous to presume on one day. Seeing then, that these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness. How should we watch, lest Judgment should be turned away backward, and Justice stand afar off; lest Truth should be suffered to fall in the streets, or Equity be refused to enter. Not only Inspiration, but Italian and Spanish wisdom teaches us: That mercy and goodness alone make us like to God; and the best thing in this world is to live above it. That while it is more painful to do nothing, than to do something; God's providence is the surest and best inheritance; and virtue is the best patrimony for children. That, heaven once named, all other things are trifles; therefore, in every work we should begin and end with God. That the love of God prevails forever; all other things come to nothing. That the truest content is that, of which no man can deprive us; and the short and sure way to reputation is, to take care to be in truth, what we would have others think us to be. That a man is valued as he makes himself valuable; and no man knows more to any good purpose than he practises. That all vice infatuates and corrupts the judgment; and every sin brings its punishment along with it. That there is a much shorter pass from virtue to vice, than from vice to virtue; yet things are so ordered, that a man must take more pains to perish, than to be happy. That he who lives disorderly one year, does not enjoy himself for many years after. That he is unhappy, who wishes to die; but more so, he who fears it; and the more we think of dying, the better we shall live. That happy is he, who knows his follies in his youth; who reproves others, but corrects himself. That the knowledge of God, and of ourselves, is the mother of true devotion, and the perfection of wisdom. That he who amends his faults puts himself under God's protection; and the best and noblest conquest is that of a man's own reason over his passions and follies. Then should we not be over-joyful in prosperity, nor over-anxious in adversity. We should enjoy cheerfully, what we obtain

honestly. If we possess internal endowments, which fit us for private life, how should we hold them in all usefulness and sobriety. If we possess an eminency of them, which fits us for public stations, how should we minister as those, who must give an account. If earthly enjoyments do not soon leave us, we shall soon quit them. For the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thine heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment. It is a fearful thing, to fall into the hands of the living God.

The true definition of time is, a term given for repentance. We are ever murmuring that our days are so limited, and yet we act as though they would never end. We waste life, in doing what we ought not, or in doing little that we ought to do. How many of us do good to those who affront us; overcome evil with good; turn the face again, rather than be revenged; and lose our interest rather than our charity? for by these precepts we shall be judged.' Many hope all is well with them, if they refrain from civil, penal crimes, such as have a name in the laws; but that secret sins, crafty cozenage and malicious lawsuits, revelling and petty spites, and rudeness, and pride, and lying, and churlishness, will be winked at. If every idle word shall be brought into judgment, what shall those answer, who corrupt justice, and pervert innocence; who preach evil doctrines, or declare perverse sentences? We call ourselves Christians, and we defame our Lord; we call men brothers, and we oppress one another. Man destroys his neighbour, and makes the poor fear him, and builds up new religions, and confounds the old, and lets the trivial affairs of the world take up so much of his time, that little is left for piety. All this while, God is silent, except by his Word, and our conscience.' But soon, God will speak, and no man shall answer. What profit will you then have of those things, of which you should now be ashamed? However well you may have improved your time in temporal pursuits, all is mispent, unless you have gained the one thing needful, Every man that lives

« PreviousContinue »